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Rediscovering XC racing

There is a light that never goes out

I guess this has been coming for a while now, I should really have noticed the signs. Sure I might have passed mention of it during moments of reminiscence or drunken bravado, but they were only words, statements that I wouldn’t expect anyone to remember, let alone hold me to the following day.

I had been getting fitter and faster, but probably not quite what it used to be I would tell myself; and it was always reassuring to hear the voice inside agreeing that “it was not yet time” and “best not to make a fool of yourself, that was half your life ago!”

Conversations with friends discussed whether we had the mental strength to put our bodies through that kind of suffering again. But slowly these niggling doubts were being extinguished one by one; a fast fell race here, a storming run across the moors on the roads that I had trained on in my prime there and a spot of spectating at a world class event to finish it off.

If that were not enough, the event I had been waiting for had cropped up and where better to get back into XC racing than the fast (and hopefully) dusty trails of Dalby, a place where I couldn’t ever remember having a bad race.

Sure it started innocently enough, I was meant to be doing a low key downhill race on the Saturday, no problem. Both in one weekend would sit well with my claims of being an all-rounder. As time went on, my commitment to the downhill race had waned, from only doing a couple of practice runs and a steady race run to that of a spectator. During the coast-to-coast, on some of the spirit sapping climbs an old mindset was elbowing its way to the front, forcing me to not only keep on pedalling, but to push even harder in the vain hope that I would see some benefits come race day.

On my return the entry was completed and my thoughts have become more and more focused on the big day. New faster rolling tyres have been purchased, bike modifications have been considered as have ones for my body (my partner will be pleased to hear that my legs are staying hairy). Clothes have to be questioned too; should I go for the full Lycra like I did in the good old days or should I go baggy like any other ride?

This is conflicting to say the least. Back in the day there was no other option and anyway the XC crowd seem to love the Lycra, so am I now trying to conform to a different crowd, or is there a small bit of rebellion that makes me want to stay baggy? Will it make me faster or am I just doffing my helmet peak to the masses – maybe that has to go too?

Then there is food to think about, not too much of a tricky one here, its more of an excuse to eat some steak and salmon in the run up and then go wild with the carbs the evening before, I am also secretly a bit of a fan of the energy powder and excessively chewy bars that will have the psychosomatic effect on me.

Some of you will be reading this and hopefully nodding and smiling, others will be reading with puzzled expressions and quite possibly breathing sighs of relief that they are not affected by this affliction. But why does this desire to race burn so deeply inside some of us, while it can barely register with others? Some would say that it’s in the blood, but that to me suggests that it is a family trait and the only thing in the in my families blood is probably red wine residue.

It is something that defines a lot of us, giving us some of our best and at times our worse qualities (board games as a child were never fun for others). Why can I feel my pulse rate increasing when I catch myself thinking about the race; that I felt a small surge of adrenaline as I was reading the pre-entry list on my lunch break today.

That I will be willing to get out of bed at an ungodly time on a weekend to put myself thorough what could be described as a thoroughly unpleasant time; from the gut wrenching nerves and sometimes terror of racing downhill, to the burning legs and lungs of the xc circuit.

I guess it will always come down to one point for most people; the broken bikes and bodies from previous races, the bad runs, the crashes and mechanicals will evaporate away with the suffering that you were feeling seconds ago as you cross the line with a good result. For want of a more articulate explanation I will pass you over to Eric Shipton…

“There are few treasures of more lasting worth than the experiences of a way of life that is in itself wholly-satisfying. Such after all, are the only possessions of which no fate, no cosmic catastrophe can deprive us; nothing can alter the fact if for one moment in eternity we have really lived”

And one last thing, if you are racing at Dalby on Sunday and get passed by someone on a bright green chameleon; through the mask of pain, the gritted teeth and bright red face; I will be smiling!

Henry Norman


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