Thursday, 12 May 2016

A rainy day in the Meda100, a UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World series event

I am very proudly associated with two organisations driven by powerful strong women. One is my ambassadorship with Strongher and the other is my role as creative director for a small but feisty off road female team Aloha racing  Both groups promote and want to grow the exposure of women in sport through the media with the ultimate goal to achieve gender equality in sports. I personally have already noticed the level of women racing becoming a lot higher in the last few years and racing at elite level becoming very professional.

This is absolutely great for the sport. The downside is that it has become a lot harder for a non professional to compete at elite level. For me personally it is not the day to day training which I find challenging, I am a motivated person enough to fit it all in around a busy full time work schedule. It is the lack of recovery I am struggling with. When my training starts to unwind before a big race, I finally have more time to organise everything and find myself running  around to the bike shop to get my bike sorted, washing my clothes, preparing my race kit, organising flights, accommodation, race nutrition and pack everything before rushing out of work to make it in time to the airport. This is my life and I love it, but as my priorities have changed, so has the desire to keep on battling away at the back of the pack of an international elite field of athletes.

Whilst I was preparing for a MTB Marathon World Series race in Portugal in an attempt to qualify for the MTB World Championships, I also decided that this would be my last season chasing the elite dream. Although it had taken me a while to get here, I was finally ready to let go.

With this in mind I felt very relaxed about the days ahead. It was a long travel to the picturesque little village Longroiva, Meda.  I stayed at the beautiful event hotel Longroiva Rural. The service I received from all the staff during my stay was second to none; I cannot thank them enough for all their help. Unfortunately it rained from the moment I set foot in Portugal. I explored the beautiful trails of Meda, regardless of the weather, which meandered through endless little vineyards set around the river Douro. It was an amazing place to be.
Jeff coming to the rescue for last minute bike repairs
Saturday before the race I caught up with Jeff Bossler. Jeff had received legendary status after winning the Cape Epic MTB stage race earlier in the year and it was nice to see his friendly face after spending a few day’s alone. Old Friends made through the MarathonMTB network catching up! We decided that this was what it was all about, riding with friends rather than racing against world’s best.

Exploring the beautiful trails of Meda
The rain never stopped since I had arrived.  So there I was on the start line wearing my summer kit with dry tyres on the bike. Not ideal. The start included the shorter races and when the gun went off it seemed like an explosion of riders. I did not start very well and it took me a while to wave through the field and settle in a little group with another female rider. The course was saturated with water and had turned into a mud bath. I was moving along ok until I heard a big bang and my bike came to a screaming halt. “Race over” I thought. I manually untangled the chain which to my surprise was still intact. However my gears were non-functional and I had to manually move the chain to change gears.70 km’s to go. The conditions were extreme; there were mud waterfalls on the climbs, mud rivers on the flat and torrential rain pouring down with freezing strong winds. The notoriously tough muddy Selkirk MTB Marathon in the Scottish Borders had nothing on this race. I got so cold that at one point I wondered if I could actually finish. The irony of it all, a DFN in Portugal due to hypothermia from a Scottish based rider.
One of the most comfortable kit I have ever worn by Ashmei
A few km’s further I got hit by a small mud covered rock in my face. A sharp excruciating pain took over my right eye and I kept riding with my eye closed hoping for the best. I don’t know how I kept going but I did. I washed my eyes out at the technical zone’s which would relieve the pain for a few minutes. Everything turned into a blur, literally. My bike was barely working and my body was running on empty. The last 10km’s were a never never-ending steep mud climb which felt like riding through treacle. I cried myself to the finish line; all I knew was that I had not given up. I aimed straight for the firemen and asked for help, at this point I had lost complete vision out of my right eye. “Where is your team?” they asked me “I am my team” I answered” Within an hour, my eye was looked at and treated by a doctor, my bike washed by a team of firemen (was I dreaming?) and I was dropped back at the hotel. Big thanks to the Pompiers of Meda and especially the lovely Patricia for being absolute heroes. Back at the hotel I soaked my tired body in a hot bath and felt half human again, “I had not given up” I thought to myself.

When I looked up the results online,  I did not see my name. My heart sank. This could not be happening. Within 5 minutes I had written many emails to the organisers and begged Jeff to help me sort this out. I needed official recognition that I had not given up. After the hell I went through with a broken bike and a broken eye, I deserved this.
The after math, a corneal scratch and a whole heap of mud

After what seemed an endless wait I cannot thank the organiser Joaquim enough for his persistence to prove to the UCI that I had met all the regulations of the race and amongst many DNF’s finished in 12th place. I was included in the results. 6 hours and 55 minutes of suffering had gained me automatic qualification into the UCI Mountain Bike  World championships. Mission complete.                                   Another chance to wear the national kit at an World Championship
It was not until I came home that I had an immense feeling of satisfaction, not necessarily of gaining entry into the world championships, because let’s face it; I am only a tourist at that level. It was not about that. It was about the mental determination and strength I had shown by finishing this insanely brutal race. And I had done it with no support. A strength I felt I had lacked in recent years, but which I believed defined me as a person. After two years of having been disappointed in myself I finally felt truly proud of what I had achieved.

“It is within herself she finds the strength she needs”
Happy being back in Scotland enjoying some sunshine and friends!

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