Racing: Tales from the other side of the tape
My partner Carl and I first met when I started racing NDH (Northern Downhill) events, but it wasn’t until we were at Jayfest (in memory of Jaymie Mart) that we were quite literally thrown together by a tipsy Helen Gaskell and a spark ignited. Not too long after that, Carl asked if I wanted to spend the night under the stars in the middle of Kielder Forest. That was really when I got behind the tape with NDH pre-race day and it is safe to say I’ve spent a lot of time with a can of spray paint and rolls of tape since then.
Carl started NDH about 6 years ago as he wanted to bring DH racing to the North East, build tracks and make it more accessible. Although it started with gnarly DH races, it is now more about fun DH style Time Trials (TTs) which are entry level races, and a variety of enduro events. I am relatively new on the scene as we have been together now just over two and a half years. As a female racer, I was disappointed by the numbers of girls racing in the North East. There were typically about three and usually they were a lot faster than me! So I was keen to try to bring a woman’s perspective and encourage girls to get racing, especially girls new to racing as I was. I am not the most confident of people and I was fairly anxious going to my first few events.
It may seem obvious but race organisation really does takes a lot of work. Carl doesn’t sleep much the week before the event. I try to keep my head down and avoid asking questions the week before an event! Being really a one-man (and one-woman!) band with great support from family and close friends, we try to keep NDH low cost. That means no fancy entry system. So after entries close, all names and data are transferred by hand. It is not perfect system, open to human error. If a riders details aren’t right when they sign in, we apologise and work to get it changed before the start. Don’t panic, we won’t make you race another category!
All the costs involved in operating a race really add up. Marshals and medics are there for your safety and ours, and quite rightly they need to be compensated for their efforts. Toilets, forestry fees, insurance and timing are all on top. All that taken into account I would love to say NDH results in an occasional holiday but the margins are slim! Grassroots racing needs to be accessible and we do it for the love of the sport. We aren’t the only ones who put the love (and sweat and tears) in; there is a small army of people who do it for nothing and it wouldn’t happen without them. The volunteers dig, tape tracks and keep the day flowing. Auntie Sandra stood out all day in the snow recently and nearly every rider said thanks to her. It is appreciated and we notice.
When I started racing with the NDH Race Team, there were a very small group of three pretty awesome girls at most races. Since then it has expanded and I think we had a record 35 at Hamsterley TT last year. I would like to think that we have made our events more welcoming to women.
When it comes to entering one of our races I can answer questions beforehand, we can give you extra time at the start of a stage if you need it and will make sure you know the format when you sign up in the morning.
We run three formats, ND(H)Uro, hard and technical, Funduro, fun and short tracks, TT, DH style events which usually take place on red or black trail centre tracks (you won’t need a DH bike). For some events you need a full face helmet. Not because they are technical but because our insurers require it. You can check out the race descriptions on our website.
We seem to have drawn a community of girls who race who have got that covered and will help out newcomers and first timers; they are supportive, welcoming and eager to beat their own goals whilst remaining caring and having a lot of fun.
We have had great support from MTBChix&Trails as we provide racing events in their home territory in the North East. The MTB Chix&Trails forum is a great way to get in touch with me about our race series’ or anything else, there are no silly questions. This year we also have women specific prizes from @sheshreds.co as well as great support from @start_cycles. Both companies are also supporting the girl’s meet ups I am organising through MTB Chix&Trails at Hamsterley Forest. These are really a way to get girls together out riding and build confidence. Any female comfortable on a mountain bike can come along but I emphasise these are not guided rides and you are responsible for yourselves. You will find the events on the Chix’ Facebook page.
Despite all of our efforts, I would love to see even more girls racing. And remember; when you see a Marshall or anyone else helping out say cheers!
Want to challenge yourself this year? Get entered!
March 7, 2017