Monday, 29 June 2009


The Trans Germany is a 7-day stage race starting in Erbach, West Germany and finishing in Seiffen, East Germany. The 660km route included 15,300 metres of climbing. This was my first stage race and I had no idea what to expect.

Our Topeak Ergon team of riders included Alban Lakata, Robert Mennen and me, and we were supported by our Team Manager, Dirk Jucker, Team Mechanic, Lars Hartwich, Team Physiotherapist, Werner Faust, and last but not least, Dave Padfield, my amazingly supportive boyfriend.
Lars set up his mechanics office each day

The first stage started on Sunday 21st June and we arrived in Erbach the day before. The start list looked pretty impressive and all eyes were on Esther Suss from Switzerland, who is currently ranked number 1 in the world for marathon racing.

Stage 1: Erbach – Frammersbach 102.08 km - 2257 metres

Each day my morning routine involved forcing down breakfast (pre-race nerves suppress my appetite), packing up our baggage, and a 20-minute warm up on the rollers before heading off to the start line. I was in start block A and I tried to get as near to the start line as possible. In true style I was as nervous as ever but I figured that as each day progressed the nerves would lessen –wrong! AC/DC High Way to Hell signalled the count down to the start each day before the gun was fired.

The first day nerves are clear to see!

I found this stage one of the hardest. I had no idea how tactical these races are. I just naively did what I normally do – race alone. I knew that there were at least two girls ahead of me, including Esther Suss and Nina Gassler, Kona Norway. I figured that it was a long race and that I might be able to catch them as the race progressed. I didn’t feel great in the early part of the race, partly because I had been ill (again!) in the week leading up to the race and also because my legs needed waking up! I normally get stronger as the miles clock up, so I hoped to catch glimpses of them in the latter part of the stage. Sure enough I did start to make up some time and on one of the long fire road stretches I could see Nina and the German Marathon Champion Elisabeth Brandau, Team Haibike. I was quite tired at this point and I decided that I wouldn’t worry about podium positions so early in the week, time is most important and I wasn’t that far behind them. It was going to be a long week and conserving energy was more important. I crossed the finish line less than 1 minute behind 2nd and 3rd place but 6 minutes behind Esther.

I was a little disappointed but I focussed on making sure that I spent the rest of the day recovering, i.e. eating, eating, a little more eating and some massage.

Stage 2: Frammersbach - Bischofsheim 82,89 km – 2050 metres

Lars collected our clothes at the start

I started this stage armed with the knowledge that a successful stage would mean a fast start to get in with a fast group of riders, and most importantly that I must not ride alone but instead I should always look for opportunities to save energy and draft as often as possible, taking my turn to lead when necessary. This worked well and I found myself in a group of men with one other lady, Nina Gassler. One of the guys in the group told us that he had worked with Esther the day before and that today he wanted to help us. Thanks! It was really nice to ride with Nina and I saw her as a team mate rather than someone I was racing against. I had miscalculated my feeding and when I started to run low on carbs Nina kindly gave me one of her gels.

Taking the lead

As we approached the final descent Nina took off and knowing that I was in third and that we were near the finish I decided not to take the risk of crashing in a chase. The terrain was quite wet, rocky and steep in places. Losing time on the descent meant that I had lost contact with the group and I had to contend with the head wind to the finish on my own. I finished less than 40 seconds behind Esther and 10 seconds behind Nina. This put me in third place overall.

Stage 2: Third place

Stage 3: Bischofsheim - Oberhof 94,60 km - 2696 metres

This stage started off with a fire road climb before an exposed road section. It was fairly windy so a good start today up the first ascent was even more critical. Nina and I worked together to chase Esther up the climb. When I tired Nina took the lead and when Nina tired I took the lead. When we finally emerged onto the road section Esther was in a group of guys ahead. Nina took the initiative to get the guys in our group working hard with us to bridge the gap. It was hard work but eventually we did it. Esther seemed a little surprised to have us for company. Nina advised me to tuck in now and rest. It was interesting to see how tactical the race was and I was learning very quickly what I needed to do in order to be at the front of the pack.

Chasing Esther's group

There was a fair bit of climbing in this stage, which suited me well and it also meant that it was more of a level playing field for me, Esther and Nina. In other words, there was little benefit from drafting on the climbs. I was looking forward to the latter part of the stage because there was some nice climbing to the finish. Unfortunately Nina dropped off the pace and this left me hanging on to the group without her. We descended down a muddy slippery track and one of the men in front slid off his bike. Esther managed to get round him but I didn’t and I slid off behind him. I jumped back on quickly but Esther was already disappearing round the corner. I worked hard to get back to the group and with the help of the guy that crashed we eventually caught them. We had to hike-a-bike over a railway bridge and, out of our group, Esther was the only one that rode down the steep steps on the other side. This meant that I lost contact with her again but luckily the course climbed steeply and I was able to regain contact.

It didn't rain every day!
Not long after my last feedzone I lost my bottle on one of the rooty descents and I had to ride for some time without any fluids. This meant that I started to dehydrate but I was kindly given a bottle of coke by one of the supporters of another team. This caused me to lose contact with the group and I had to chase to try and catch them. I started to run out of energy and faded fast. The climbs just seemed to keep coming and the ground was muddy and energy zapping. I was filled with relief to finally cross the finish line albeit 4 minutes behind Esther and 5 minutes ahead of Elisabeth Brandau who finished 3rd. I was disappointed to have been with Esther for so many miles and to have lost so much time in the last 10km but I was pleased to have been in contention for the first 80kms. Esther told me that it was good to have raced me and that I had pushed her – to hear this was an honour :0)

Lars set to work on my bike

Stage 3: 2nd place

Stage 4: Oberhof - Bad Steben 120,44 km – 2502 metres

I planned to take this stage a little easier. Although there was a fair amount of climbing, the climbs were short and not long and draggy the way I like them. I decided to save energy for one of the later stages that was better suited to me. Perhaps this was a bad decision – I lost another 8 minutes to Esther. Nevertheless, I still finished in 2nd place and 9 minutes ahead of Kertsin Bratchtendorf, Team Fiat Rotwild.

Stage 4: Second

Stage 5: Bad Steben – Schöneck 97,95 km - 2232 metres

Today I woke up and decided that I had to stay with Esther from the start. I wanted to see how much I could push her. From the gun I sat with her and managed to get in a fast group. I tended to stay at the back but a couple of times I pushed on and Esther followed. Dave and Lars were excited to see that I was still in the fast group when I past them at the 3rd feedzone. It made me smile to hear Lars shouting “go Surfa!” (Surfa is my nickname due to my windsurfing adventures!). It was raining and misty, which made it difficult to see at times. I felt like I was riding well and became more confident with the fast cornering and descending. The kilometres clocked up and I still felt strong. At the last feedzone Werner shouted that today was my day – I hoped so. From here on the course climbed gradually to the finish. When I saw Esther go I went with her. Our group dispersed – some of the guys went with her and others got left behind. The climb got steeper and a gap started to emerge between us. We past a crowd of cheering spectators who shouted words of encouragement, unfortunately my German is terrible and wasn’t able to understand what they were saying, however I guessed that they were telling us how much further it was until the finish. I wish I had of known because this might of helped me to judge how hard to push. We turned a corner and the course continued to climb through the streets. At this point Esther pulled away and I couldn’t go with her. I could see the finishing straight and Esther heading straight for it. Damn. There were children lining the road waving huge cardboard hands for the riders to high five. I eased off and gave some of them high fives. I crossed the line 24 seconds behind Esther and 7 minutes ahead of Milena Lantwing, Cube. Esther had said that she wasn’t sure she could win that stage and that I had once again pushed her. I would of course liked to have won but to hear her say this made it a sweeter pill to swallow :0) That evening we stayed in a great hotel and the Champions Party was in the bottom of the valley, which could be reached by a ski lift. Lars, Dave and I decided to go back to the hotel on the ski lift while Dirk and Werner took the team van. As we were half way to the hotel we managed to drop the hotel room key. We watched it fall in slow motion 100 feet to the ground. We all rolled around laughing until we realised that one of us needed to go and find it - Dave pulled the short straw and had to go back down to retrieve it :0)

Digging deep

Stage 6: Schöneck - Oberwiesenthal 80,93 km - 2017 metres

This was the stage that I was REALLY looking forward to. Although it didn’t have lots of climbing the climbs were long and dragging – Wahoo, my favourite :0)

Not long into the stage there was a single track section that was really rooty and slippery. Roots have never been my forte, particularly when they are wet and on a narrow section with small drops to either side. This was not good. I made a complete mess of it, though I wasn’t the only one. Esther however didn’t seem to have any trouble and was quickly out of sight while I got held up and held others up. Sorry! I decided that running was probably quicker so I legged it to the fire road and hopped back on. The chase was now on. Rather than staying with the group I was now with, I decided I had to close the gap to Esther. Oh why, oh why, did I make this decision??? We were only approximately 20km into the stage. As I powered along chasing hard I braked for a corner. The road was wet and I felt my back wheel lose traction and slide out. It then seemed to re-grip and I got high-sided. I hit the ground first on my right side, taking most of the impact with my thigh and elbow. I remember sliding along the road and then flipping onto my left side. This wasn’t good :0( The guys behind stopped and I asked them to help me. Someone picked my bike up and twisted the handlebars back round while someone else picked me up. The next thing I know I was on the bike riding cautiously down the road. Someone asked if I was ok and I said I wasn’t sure, he asked if I felt sad to which I replied “yes” :0( I decided I’d ride to the next medic. I didn’t really look at the damage to my body. Ignorance is bliss. However I couldn’t help seeing that my shorts were ripped open on the left side, my left leg was covered in road rash, and blood was running from my right arm onto the handlebars. I hate seeing blood, especially mine. OK, time to focus all efforts on not fainting. I decided I needed to drink lots and deny. I gingerly rode on while telling myself that blood always makes things look much worse than they are and that I probably just had a few scratches that were bleeding lots more than necessary. I got to the next marshals and I decided that if I stopped and saw the damage then I probably wouldn’t be allowed or able to continue. I carried on riding.

At the feed zone Werner saw me and asked if I was OK. I replied with a quite “no” but didn’t slow as I grabbed the bottle and gel. I had completed 5 stages of this race and was comfortably in second place overall. I was not going to throw it away and stop without a fight.

No too long later a group from behind caught me and in it was Milena Landwing, Cube. I was riding the descents really cautiously partly because the bumps exacerbate the pain but also because my confidence was at rock bottom. I had to let her fly by me on the descents but I was able to pull her back on the flats and the climbs. As I passed Dave at the third feedzone I could see he was worried. I said I was fine and took the bottle. I made a plan: stick with Milena and save energy until the final climb at 65 km. The climb was perfect for me and so long as I rested and stayed fuelled then I should be able to make a lead over the 10km climb and this should be sufficient for me to take the descent to the finish slowly without being caught. As soon as the climb began I went and didn’t look back. I passed lots of men and kept the power on. Eventually I reached the top of the ski lift and knew that it was all down from here. I rode slowly. I didn’t want to crash again. I finally turned one of the last corners and saw Dirk waiting at the side of the track I shook my head and said sorry as I passed him to the finish arch. Werner and Dave were waiting for me with a medic. Everyone was talking in German and this helped me continue to deny and pretend that it was just a few scratches. My wounds were cleaned and my shorts cut off around my left hip. I had to go and have some X rays taken of my elbow at a clinic near the finish area. The X rays were fine but showed some stones stuck under the skin of my elbow. I had to go to hospital to be cleaned up.

Dirk drove Dave and me to the hospital 40km away. I was signed in and told to wait. We waited for a couple of hours until in true ‘Sally style’ I fainted. I had seen all the road rash on my hips and thighs. Shock set in and the windows closed. Dirk stayed with me because none of the doctors or nurses spoke English. I was told that in order to fix my elbow the doctor needed to give me a local anaesthetic, cut some of the damaged skin off, and staple it. I had slid along the road on my elbow and this had cause a dip ‘defect’. I then had more X rays of my elbow and pelvis, and finally ultra sound to check there was no internal damage. I got the all clear and we went back to the hotel.

I told everyone that I would ride tomorrow.

Stage 7: Oberwiesenthal - Seiffen 78,83km - 1590 metres

Werner bandaged me up and I went for a cautious ride on the road near the hotel to test if I had the strength in my arm to hold the handlebars. I did and my decision was made. I didn’t want to ride but I had no choice.

Feeling very tentative

I stood on the start line more nervous than ever. My arm was bandaged conspicuously to look like a liquorice allsort, so I hoped no one would hit it. I had a 38 minute lead on third placed Milena Landtwing, so all I needed to do was to finish the stage and not lose too much time. I rode really cautiously and didn’t chase any of the girls. I simply couldn’t make any more mistakes. The course was wet and pretty slippery in places and this made me even more nervous. Not long into the stage I could see that there had been a crash on the fire road ahead. Some other riders were already dealing with it and we were being waved past. I could see one rider lying in a ditch at the side of the track and another lying on the track. Their injuries looked pretty serious and I told myself not to look. I rode on and pushed it out of my mind. At the next feedzone someone asked if I had seen Nina and if she had crashed. I said that I didn’t think so. It then dawned on me that Nina must have been one of the injured riders. I felt sick. Poor Nina.

Starting the final stage

It felt like a long stage

I finally reached the final descent which was pretty steep, slippery and rooty. As I looked at what lay ahead I had doubts that I could ride it, but I got off the back of the saddle and slowly rode down. I thought the finish must be round the corner but the marshals sent me up another steep road climb. At the top there were lots of people cheering and a commentator called my name and said that I had finished second overall. Someone offered me a small glass of champagne. I was confused. Was this the finish? There was no finishing arch so I figured I wasn’t there yet and carried on along the road. I turned a corner and saw the finishing arch. I had to hold back the tears as I realised it was over and the job was finished.

Holding back the tears

I think that it has only just sunk in now while I am writing this. I feel very emotional. What an intense week. I had finished the Trans Germany, beaten only by Esther Suss, the European Marathon Champion.

Me, Esther, and Milena

I have been to hospital today. The doctors here in the UK were surprised to see how my arm had been repaired. Small pieces of dressing had been stapled over the skinless areas. The consultant took the decision to remove the staples and the dressing. OUCH! The dressing had already started to heal into my skin. One piece has been left there because it would have been too painful to remove. It will now be my permanent souvenir. I have to wait now and see if the skin grows over the holes. If not then I might need to have a skin graft. The road rash is healing nicely and I might try a gentle spin on the turbo tomorrow :0)

I would like to say a MASSIVE thanks to Dirk, Lars, Werner, and Dave for all of their amazing support and encouragement. I could not be part of a better team – Topeak Ergon Racing Team.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Exploring Koblenz

We have been relaxing in Koblenz for the last few days which has given us time to find our way around. There is some fun riding in Koblenz forest and Dave has been doing his usual stunts in an attempt to impress me - he forgot that the brakes are the wrong way round and took a tumble!

Inspector Clouseau kindly offered to look at my saddle sores
Dave and his injury ;0)

Dave can keep up with me when I ride my new bike ;0)

We have also had time to get to know all of the guys from the team, which has been a lot of fun. We leave for Erbach on Saturday morning which is where the first stage of the Trans Germany starts.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

To pee or not to pee?!

On Saturday it was the second in the series of the Rocky Mountain Bike Marathons. Last month I finished in third place in the first race of the series in Italy so I was secretly hoping for another podium finish. We flew to Frankfurt on Thursday evening where the Topeak-Ergon Team Manager, Dirk Juckwer, met us and drove us to Koblenz. The next day we set off on the four hour drive in the team van to Willingen with Lars Hartwich the Team Mechanic. We arrived in the afternoon and met up with the other team riders, Alban Lakata, Kim Tofaute, and Benny Brochhagan. The festival in Willingen is one of the largest in Europe and the expo area was even bigger than the one in Italy. The atmosphere was buzzing and as well as Marathon riders there were also downhill racers, four cross rider, and dirt jumpers. Once again Dave was in his element but unfortunately for him there was no time to relax – we needed to get everything ready for the 7.30am race the next morning.

Lars, AKA Super Star DJ

Lars and Dave worked hard to get the bikes ready while Kim and I went out for a quick ride. The course was very different to the one in Italy. In Italy there were three long mountain climbs, but in Willingen the profile was much more undulating. In total the long course was 124km with 3600metres of climbing. There would be no respite. I wasn’t sure how it would suit me because I tend to prefer long climbs. Parts of the course were pretty wet and muddy but there were also lots of fire road sections, so I decided to run the Race Kings which would give me more of a speed advantage.

Alban warming up before the race

After our ride I went to see a physiotherapist to have my thigh checked over because it was still painful and swollen following my crash at the British Champs two weeks ago. Although it had improved massively I still didn’t have the full range of movement in my quad and I still had a very pronounced lump. I had a gentle massage which loosened things up and helped to get rid of some of my now familiar race nerves. I then dashed back to the hotel for dinner with the other team riders and some of the Ergon and Topeak reps who had stands in the Expo area. This gave us time to plan out the feedzones. The course consisted of three different loops all starting and finishing in the main Expo area. After each loop you could decide whether to finish or to carry on and start the next loop. Benny and Kim decided that they would do the first 55km loop, while Alban and I were going to ride the full 124km. We decided that Dave would stay in the main area and feed Alban and I, and Lars would drive to the other three feedzones out on the course.

Nervous? Never!

We tried to get an early night ready for the 5am wake up call but once we had finally finished last minute preparations it was already 11pm. I very rarely sleep well the night before a race and I have learned not to let this affect me. We woke up to bright sunshine which was a relief because the area is renowned for rain! Before I knew it I was jostling for a space on the start line. I wasn’t quite as nervous as normal which was odd, but that changed when I looked over and saw Katrin Schwing who always manages to scare me ;-) I knew that this course would suit her much better than it would me. I needed to get a better start in this race than the one in Italy because the first climb was much shorter so I wouldn’t have my usual advantage. When the gun went off I needed to stick with the main group and not let the mass start intimidate me. I felt like I managed this well and I was with 5 other girls on the first 400 metre climb. The other girls seemed strong and I tried to push on and get past them. My legs didn’t feel as powerful as normal and I started to get stomach cramps, which was very unusual. This started to concern me and I had thoughts of finishing the race after the first 55km. I tried to push them out of my mind.

The weather was great!

After the top of the first climb there was a nice steep, muddy and rooty descent which claimed a few victims. The trees were dense and I had dark lenses in my glasses which made it hard for me to pick my lines. I was slowed by a girl in front of me who was pretty tentative, but I managed to pass her and reach the bottom in one piece. I could sense that I had pulled away from some of the other girls but I knew that there were at least 3 or 4 ahead of me. Time seemed to drag and I was looking forward to reaching the first feedzone where Lars would be waiting. At last I saw Lars leap up from the crowds and shout my name. This was a relief but I knew that I was only about half way around the first lap. I really doubted if I could start the second lap.

I was riding with a small group of men and I decided not to push on but instead to keep with their pace. It wasn’t long until Kerstin Brachtendorf (Team Fiat Rotwild) caught me and I had to pick up the pace to keep on her wheel. I knew that Kerstin would be strong on the climbs because she lives in Riva del Garda, Italy, which was where the first race of the series was held. She told me that she was going to ride the 124km race and I knew that it could be a challenge to keep with her. As we entered the start/finish area I couldn’t bring myself to turn left to the finish arch even though I suspected I would have won the women’s short distance race. Instead I started the second lap, just behind Kerstin, and grabbed some more bottles and gels from Dave.

I decided to relax behind Kerstin for a while and I followed her up the next steep singletrack ascent which had some tight switchbacks. Once I saw the top of the ski lift I knew we were almost at the top. Phew, what a relief - my legs still didn’t feel 100%. I followed Kerstin down a fast fire road descent but I followed her too closely and when she missed the left hand turn we both skidded straight on past it. She told me that she had a problem with her front brake and this gave me the opportunity to pull away from her on one of the slippery singletrack descents. It was here where I also caught my first glimpse of one of the other girls ahead of me. She rode the descent well but I noticed that she was struggling on the next ascent which gave me the chance to pull away. My stomach cramps started to ease and my legs began to feel lighter and more responsive. This gave me a huge boost and I began to push on.

To my surprise I just got stronger and stronger. Yehaa! I was riding with one of the men for quite a while and this was helping me to set a good pace. I really needed to make a toilet stop which is unusual for me but I didn’t want to stop and lose contact with him. When he had a problem with his pedal and stopped I decided that I would push on hard for a while and then find somewhere for a quick loo stop. I was just about to stop when I turned a corner and saw something I honestly didn’t expect to see – Katrin. Stopping was no longer an option! I put in a burst to catch up with her and quietly stayed behind for 5 minutes to watch. The pace was slower than I wanted so I decided to pass her saying “Hallo” as I passed. I am working on my German :0) I could sense that she upped the pace and stuck to my wheel but it wasn’t long before she slipped behind. Shortly afterwards the guy who had had a problem with his pedal finally caught back up with me, he took the lead and I followed. Unfortunately I also followed him when he missed one of the course markings and we whizzed past the left turn. Luckily Katrin shouted and we quickly realised our mistake. Now Katrin had taken the lead. She descended well and it took me a while to catch her again and I had to be content to sit behind her for a while. I asked her which distance she was going to ride and she told me she was going to go out for the third and final loop. It was decision time: finish the 100km race in first place or battle with Katrin in the 124km race? As I approached the start finish area I just couldn’t take the left turn to the finish line. Instead I followed Katrin up the climb to begin the final loop. I really hoped that I had the strength to push on hard for the remaining 24km.

Katrin worked hard to lose me. She was out of the saddle and climbing well. It was important not to let her pull away and gain a lead. Yikes, I was desperate for the toilet but there was absolutely no way I could stop! I had to do it on the go :0( We both dug deep for the first quarter of the third lap until eventually I was able to pass her and pull away on one of the longer climbs. I was happy to reach the top and start what I hoped was the final descent. As I reached the final feedzone I could hear Lars shouting excitedly that I was the first lady – what a great feeling. Wow, I never thought that I would be in this position. The race wasn’t over yet and I knew that I couldn’t relax. Mistakes could still be made and I had to remain focussed. As I turned out of the feedzone the course went straight up another climb – eek! My legs felt empty. I had a Torq gel with caffeine and started drinking my coke. I felt like I was riding really slowly and I was worried Katrin might have fresher legs. Finally I reached the top and made my through a fun singletrack section which was covered in a maze of roots. I needed to concentrate hard and not make mistakes so I took it cautiously. I was spat out onto a fire road section which then took me to the arena where I began my final descent into the finish. I couldn’t believe it. I was elated and I saw Dave punch the air and shout “YES!” I had won. Well that was what I thought. Little did Katrin and I know but another elite rider, a German pro road rider and ex German Champ, had started the race in start block B, 15 minutes behind us. We had an anxious wait to see if she was going to beat my time. It just didn’t seem fair that another rider was racing against us and we didn’t know. Katrin and I had relaxed in the last 30 minutes of the race thinking that we both had second and first respectively. Finally Kim gave us the news that I had won by just 51 seconds. Blimey, I was glad I didn’t make that toilet stop ;o) Katrin wasn’t so lucky and had to settle for third. I felt very disappointed for Katrin, but ecstatic that I had won!

On the top step :0)

What a great Day! Alban had also won his race and are both now leading the series. Wahoo! The next series race is in Austria next month.

The Series Leaders!

I am now looking forward to the Trans Germany which starts on Sunday. This will be a new adventure and a new experience. Dave and I are now able to spend some time in Koblenz getting to know all of the people who work for Topeak-Ergon. I feel very honoured to be part of such an amazingly fun and professional team.

A quick pint for the road


Elite Women:

1st Sally Bigham 6:12.33

2nd Birgit Söllner 6:13.24

3rd Katrin Schwing 6:17.56

Elite Men:

1st Alban Lakata 4:50.30

2nd Urs Huber 4:52.08

3rd Tim Böhme 5:02.47

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

One Good Leg

After my crash at Margam I didn't think that I would be able to make my next couple of races, but amazingly my thigh has improved massively everyday. Arnica cream is absolutely magic and has really helped with the bruising, and ultra sound has been helping to get rid of the 'lumpy' bits. I still have a pretty pronounced lump which is painful but I can now train again and I have just had a really great interval session that has left me feeling confident in my strength.

We leave for Germany on Thursday and I will thankfully be racing at the second in the series of the Rocky Mountain Bike Marathons in Willingen this weekend. We will then have a week to prepare for the Trans Germany which starts on the 21st June. It'll be my first stage race and I am really looking forward to it :0) Team mates Alban Lakata, Wolfram Kurschat, and Robert Mennen will also be racing, so it'll be a great team affair.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

British Marathon Championships, Margam Park, Wales

I always get nervous before a race but this time I was REALLY nervous. I won the race last year so this year I needed to try and defend my title…blimey! The elite line up was looking pretty impressive with some great girls ready to fight it out, including Jenny Copnall (5 times National XC Champ and Marathon Champ in 2006), Elizabeth Scalia (an incredibly strong climber and winner in 2007), plus some other fast girls from the XC circuit and a few unfamiliar names. I always see everyone as a contender…in the case of marathons anything can happen and anyone has the potential to win.

Mental prep before the start!

I had a great race in Italy three weeks ago and I wanted to stand on the start line knowing that I was strong, but the few weeks leading up to the race were less than perfect, as coach Matt Hart admitted to me after the race! I had been ill twice and my training was yo-yoing up and down. This didn’t help me psychologically, though not much will ;0)

We travelled up to Margam the day before the race to catch some of the XC action that was taking place. It was a really hot day so I drank lots of Elete water to make sure that I stayed hydrated, I also tried to eat loads of carbs but pre-race nerves manage to make my normal ox-like appetite somewhat mouse-like. We were able to test ride about 30% of the marathon course that evening and from what we saw it looked very dry and had some fast rocky fire road descents. Punctures were going to be the main worry. I decided to run Continental Race Kings (the supersonic with black chilli compound tubed version) tubeless with lots and lots of stans. It was still very hot at 6.30pm so hydration was going to absolutely essential, there would be no room for mistakes. I made up all of my carb drinks and added Elete to them to be extra sure that I didn’t dehydrate.

We headed off back to the MTB friendly B and B where there was a kitchen for me to cook dinner. I have a bit of an odd diet because of a gluten intolerance so whenever possible I prefer to cook the night before a race to make sure that I get plenty of gluten-free carbs. James Towlson from Ergon, my psychological support, travelled all the way down from Edinburgh to help. He arrived later that evening after a monster of a journey. That night I couldn’t sleep; I woke up every couple of hours thinking about the race. It’s odd how nervous I get but I know that as soon as the gun goes off I switch straight into race mode and become a different person.

Dave made some final checks before the start

10am arrived really quickly and before I knew it I was on the start line trying to look relaxed. For some reason I had been gridded at the back, but Mel Alexander and one of the other girls kindly moved over to make room for me on the front line, thank you! The elite men went off first and we set off 1 minute later, closely followed by all of the other categories. The course followed a short start loop before it headed straight up a steep rocky ascent where we soon started to catch some of the elite men. I could hear that another girl was close behind and when I managed to lose traction on the back wheel momentarily she overtook me. It was Jane Nuessli riding for Credo Bikes. She was unfamiliar to me and I remember thinking that she could be the dark horse of the race! She had climbed the first ascent well and I rode on her back wheel up the next climb. She took the first rocky fire road descent well too so I knew she was going to be one to watch. I decided that I needed to enter the first bit of single track first which led down through a river crossing before heading straight back up a steep rocky single/double track section. So I put in a little burst and passed her. She was still with me when I emerged on the fire road at the top.

The course wound around a few bits of single track and fire road for a while before some nice descents. As I went round a switchback into the first descent I could see that she was still with me. For some stupid reason I decided that I would try and lose her on the descent….BIG MISTAKE! It was all going really well at first; I was descending well and following some guys. I commended myself on how fast and confident I felt – something knew to me but I liked it! With my new found confidence I decided to overtake them before entering the next fast descent. I remembered this one from the practice lap and I knew I could take it pretty fast, so I decided to try and not use the brakes…. oh what a bad decision! I can’t quite remember exactly what happened next I just remember swerving around for a while, momentarily thinking ‘phew that was close’ before hitting the ground hard. I remember taking the impact first with my leg, flying through the air some more, and then landing on my head. I jumped up as quickly as I had fallen while two or three of the startled guys that were following asked me if I was OK. I was stunned and didn’t know if I was OK but I repeatedly said I was…because I find that denial is always the best thing in these circumstances! My glasses had broken so I picked them up off the floor and stuffed them in my pocket. I hobbled back over to my bike while thinking that it might be in a bad way but to my surprise it was fine apart from a twisted bar end. I jumped back on and then looked down at my leg, which was pretty painful. YIKES! I panicked – it looked like someone had stuffed two half-tennis balls under the skin of my thigh. It had swelled instantly and looked weird. I instinctively pulled my shorts down over it and thought to myself, ‘OK just don’t look at it!’ I have a tendency to faint in these circumstances, so I focussed all of my efforts on staying conscious and on the bike. I took the rest of the descent to the second river crossing slowly because the bumps exacerbated the pain in my leg and also because I felt pretty nauseous.

Cooling off

I figured that I would continue to deny and ignore until I got back to the feed zone, by which time the girls behind would be sure to have caught me. I was gutted. I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I didn’t want this to be the end of the race for me but it seemed unlikely I could manage to knock out three more laps in this state. Some of the guys that I knew I should be as fast as, or faster than, started to overtake me and I felt rubbish. ‘Oh well…just make it back without fainting’. When I saw Dave at a section before the feed zone I shouted to him about the crash and said my leg really hurt. As I got back round to him he told me how well I was doing, stuffed some new bottles on my bike, patted me on the back and said keep going. Huh?? I thought he’d be shocked when he saw my leg and I thought my Mum would have kittens. I must just be being a big wimp. The other girls were nowhere to be seen, so off I went. I was still shaken and I still panicked when my eyes wondered to my leg but I reasoned that it must be OK if I had still been riding for the last 20 minutes, ‘right?’

I couldn’t put anywhere near full power through my leg but I managed to reach the top of the first climb and in doing so I caught up with the guys who saw my crash. They seemed pleased to see that I was still riding and encouraged me to go on. One of them said that my crash had shocked him and he told me to take the next lap steady and to build my confidence again.

When I got to the second feed zone where James and my Dad were stationed, I could see my dad looking at my leg. Thankfully he said nothing and this helped me to carry on with the denial thing. I shouted that I needed Ibuprofen and some more glasses on the next lap. I was getting dirt in my eyes, which can be a big problem because I wear contact lenses. If I lost one then there would be no way I could ride. Somehow I managed to finish the second lap without being caught. Dave stuffed some banana containing ibuprofen tablets into my mouth while my mum put new bottles on my bike. Off I went back up the climb to see if I could hold the girls off for another lap. The race is all a bit of blur to be honest, I remember trying to fire myself back up and make myself race but I just seemed not to have my usual urge to chase the men. When I got back to the second feed zone James told me that I had 5 minutes on second place and 6 minutes on 3rd. I wondered how that could be possible but I figured that I just needed to keep doing what I was doing: take the descents easy and not bounce my leg around too much and spin up the climbs. As I was entering the start/finish area to begin my final lap a couple of young male spectators were encouraging the riders on. One of them shouted “You’re fit you are…I’d date you if I were older!” Ha-ha that made me smile :0)

Climbing from the river crossing

I wound round the trees and through the feed zone for a final time. I started to believe that it was possible to not only finish the race, but to win! My spirits lifted and I gave thumbs up to the commentators. Thanks for the encouragement guys! In my head I knew that if I could make it to the second feed zone for the final time then I was almost done because it was pretty much down hill from there on and although the descents hurt my leg they weren’t as painful as the climbs! I passed James and my Dad, and they told me that I had increased my lead…blimey. James told me to relax, stay on the bike, and enjoy it. I tried to do all three.

I would like to apologise to the person who asked me for an air canister near the end of my last lap. I wanted to give him one but I didn’t want to get off the bike. I figured that the minute I did there could be a chance I wouldn’t be able to get back on again because I might not be able to ignore the pain any more. I had just spent three hours blocking it out and I didn’t want to stop when I was so close to finishing. Sorry! I hope you made it back OK.

Chaperoned to drug control and the medics

I crossed the line a little fuzzy headed and in disbelief. It was only at this point that Dave and my Mum saw my leg. They were pretty shocked and I couldn’t put my weight on it. Drug control informed me that I needed to go off and give a urine sample. From this point onwards I had to be chaperoned until I had given the sample. Luckily the medics and drug control were in the same tent. When the medics saw my leg the swelling concerned them. As the adrenaline started to wear off the pain and shock started to dawn on me. I lay down and my leg was elevated. I was in the tent for what seemed like hours. There was talk of deep vein thrombosis and possible cracked femur….surely not! I told them that a fracture couldn’t be possible as I had ridden for the last 3hours, but they said that adrenaline is an amazing thing and stranger things have happened. They took the decision to call an ambulance.

Meanwhile the British Cycling drug control people were still negotiating whether I need to give the sample. I didn’t want to risk disqualification so I said that I would try. The tent was cleared leaving the chaperone, Dave, and me alone. It was all pretty undignified but I managed to pee in the little pot while Dave held it and me! All that was left to do was to split the sample. The chaperone asked me to sit at the table and as Dave helped me over I started to feel faint. The next thing I remember was the paramedic trying to bring me round. I was laying in the corner of the tent on the floor, trying to figure out where I was. My blood pressure had dropped and I was unable to stand. Déjà vu…off to hospital by ambulance again. This brought back all of the memories of Sleepless in the Saddle in 2007 when I collapsed of dehydration and was taken to hospital. At the hospital I was told that I had a bad haematoma and that rest, ice, elevation, and ibuprofen should do the trick. I have to be careful for the next few days because of the risk of infection and circulation problems but it is already looking so much better and not as gremlin-like as it did!

Wahoo! Another Jersey :0)

I was really disappointed not to have made the podium, but Dave stood in for me and he thoroughly enjoyed himself as he stood between Jenny and Jane!

Dave enjoying the top spot

I'd like to say a BIG thanks to the medics at the race site who were just brilliant and also to the paramedics who I later found out are also passionate MTB’ers. Thanks also go to the great spectator support. It always lifts me up to hear people cheer me on. I particularly enjoyed seeing Ryan Sherlock sharing the race with us as he sweated it out on his turbo trainer at the side of the track. Ryan was out of action after breaking his collarbone at Dalby. I wish you a fast recovery! Thanks also to Jenn O’Connor who shouted words of encouragement, picked up my broken glasses, and kindly poured some lovely cold water down my back. Cheers Jenn!

As always a massive thanks to my team Topeak-Ergon and sponsors, Dave my number one supporter, James Towlson, my parents, and the guys at Ride Bike.


Elite Women

1st Sally Bigham 4 hours 33 mins
2nd Jenny Copnall 4hours 43 mins
3rd Jane Nuessli 4 hours 50 mins

Elite Men

1st Oli Beckingsale 3 hours 38mins
2nd Paul Oldham 3 hours 53 mins
3rd Ian Bibby 3 hours 58 mins

Full results and report can be found at British Cycling.

Sal :0)