I always knew it was going to be tough coming to race the World Marathon Championships with limited time to acclimatise and limited racing time in my legs. The reality was somewhat more of a shock. Most of the top competitors arrive a week or more before and recce the whole course. For me, with limited holiday from work and limited funding, that was never going to be possible.
Instead of tackling Alpine climbs with 1000m height gain in 7km, the previous week, I managed a fun but slightly less hilly ride including 1300m of climbing in total over 65km through the Surrey Hills (although it did not feel like a flat ride at the time). During the Kitzalpbike I would face nearly three times this vertical ascent, but only spread over an extra 20km.
I thought I might on a good day equal my finish position from last year’s muddy World Marathon Championships where I finished 33rd. By the time I was half way up the first of the three large alpine ascents I had to tackle I had downgraded my ambitions somewhat.
It turns out that to ride Alps fast (in fact to ride them at anything more than survival pace) you need to practice riding Alps. Given that this was my second trip to the Alps ever I was clearly asking quite a bit of my legs. I asked anyway.
Wearing national team kit has the (possibly not) surprising effect of allowing you to drag a lot more out of yourself than you actually thought possible. By the final climb, despite my suffering, I was actually overtaking other women in my race.
Then there was the final descent.
Anyone who has cut their teeth winter MTB riding in the UK will understand riding in mud. I came into this descent just as it started to rain with a Hungarian and Argentinian who were clearly not as experienced at wet and rooty courses. Where I came into my element they dropped back. It was a really amazing descent and I crossed the finish line with a grin on my face that is going to take some time to disappear.
After eating a substantial amount of recovery cheese I discovered I had placed 50th. Given how tough I found the race I find myself pretty pleased with this result.
It means a lot to represent your country and I find myself extremely proud to be in the Great Britain team. The rest of the team were eventual silver medallist Sally Bigham, along with Cath Williamson and Jane Nuessli who finished 15th and 16th respectively. They were definitely in a different league to me and showed what great talents they all are. Sally is the first senior women’s XC medallist ever for Great Britain and only the second person to win a senior championship medal overall.
I love mountain biking and marathon racing takes you to some of the most amazing places in the World but this race has made me realise just how much it takes to race at the top level.