On Friday evening at 11pm we arrived in a field outside Edinburgh, in the foothills of the Pentland Hills regional park. We set up our tent and climbed inside, listening to the gale outside and tried to sleep in anticipation for the following two days.
The Red Bull Foxhunt has been run for the past few years in Northern Ireland, where hundreds of guys compete in a mass-start race before being hunted down by Gee Atherton (the 'Fox'). This year Red Bull upped the ante, and put on a women's only version of the event in Scotland with Rachel Atherton - former DH World Champion, World Cup winner many, many times over and overall lovely lass.
Waking up on Saturday morning I was nervous of what to expect - I have taken part (I can't say that I "raced" with any sort of credibility) in a couple of races over the last year, and while I made it to the finish line in both cases my nerves took over and race day became the scene for many minor meltdowns. I therefore made me way to the registration teepee and before I had even entered there were girls chatting and milling around and all trepidation melted away. I picked up my jersey (more on this later), race plate and goody bag, grabbed some breakfast and finally sat down with Rachael Gurney - a sponsored rider since earlier in the summer, who I have exchanged many emails with but who I had never met! Unfortunately Rachael couldn't race due to a hand injury but she made the long journey up to Scotland from the South Coast to cheer on all her enduro buddies and soak up a bit of the atmosphere.
Before too long it was time to grab our bikes and jump in the uplift queue for practice. I had been warned about the jersey earlier in the weekend - it was definitely not one to be missed, and individually the tweed-effect printed horse-riding jacket was a definite statement. But once everyone had theirs on and was ready to go I had to admit the effect was fab! Everyone was excited for the weekend ahead and chatting with their neighbours - who quickly turned into friends and we all set off up the hill in a convoy of Land Rovers and pickup trucks. We got out and readied ourselves for the pre-warned 20 minute push up, which turned out to be a warm-up indeed, but once we waded through the heather, pushed along dirt tracks and scaled a vertiginous slope before reaching the summit we were rewarded with spectacular views across Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth. After regaining our breath Hannah T and I set off for practice - which (for me) was halted rather abruptly. The first few corners of the course were wide open and off-camber, made up of tufty soft grass. Slowly making my way around these corners I could feel myself getting lower and lower on the track, snapping the tape and coming to a dead stop on my front wheel - I thought I had held on, but no. All to quickly I was lying in the grass tangled in a mess of bike frame, wheels and pedals. At least I got my crash over and done with! I picked up, got back on line and made my way down the rest of the hill.
I found the top half of the track difficult all weekend - the tufty grass was so dissimilar to rocks or roots and it was hard to pick up speed without bashing into every soft mound. However, after crossing an access road and a short climb into the wooded section (thank you dropper post!) the fun really began! Riding through steep, loamy dirt and drifty corners before coming out of the woods with a quick drop before a flat out pedal down the fairway of the once-golf course and onto a putting green. This was then followed by a great descent onto the green of the 18th hole and the Red Bull finish area.
During the practice day everyone was buzzing and having great fun - friends made on the uplift were quickly cemented during the push up, whooping and cheering all the girls who passed on their way down the track.
At the end of the day Red Bull had organised some very welcome treats - yoga sessions with Yoga Mix to stretch out all of those tired and achy muscles was an absolute delight followed by a BBQ in the (heated) event teepee with a fab DJ and drinks into the evening.
A broken night of sleep (we pitched our tent pretty near a main road) later and it was race day. I have to admit I felt awful! A back injury from a few weeks ago had reared its ugly head and I was not looking forward to that push up! Some breakfast, coffee and a quick snooze on our ever-useful bean bags helped to bring me to a near-human state and Hannah T and I got in the uplift queue to grab a quick practice before heading up for the main event. We decided to forget the push up and ride down from where the uplift left off - which I couldn't complain to, this was my favourite bit of the track and I would have happily ridden it again and again. I decided that was enough for me, my legs had got moving and my brain was in gear, so instead of more practice I decided to hang out at our pitch, chat with Rachael some more (insider info on spring/summer 2015!) and give the boys tips on best position of the track for photos.
So there we were, 12.45pm, 116 girls lined up in a grid formation (we were timed on the last run on Saturday afternoon so the fastest girls were at the front, I, naturally, was near the back), two flags denoting the start line and a World Champion bringing up the rear. I felt as though I was about to be sick in my helmet, but there wasn't much I could do at that point but grit my teeth and wait for the starting horn that would come at 1pm.
And then it came. Everyone set off like a wave, those girls at the front eager to claim a place on the podium and beat Rachel Atherton at her own game. Round the first set of corners I was surprised to find enough space in which I could find a line and stick to it. All the fear and nerves were gone - this was fantastic! Everyone around me was cheering and clearly having just as much fun as I was. I even heard someone say "it's never like this riding with the boys!". I was happy with my bike choice (I brought my Juliana Roubion trail bike rather than the full on DH rig) during the pedally sections where I could quite easily overtake and climb up a few places. I heard shouts of my name in the wood section where my boyfriend and Hannah T's husband were stood taking pictures but then they were gone, it was flat out to the finish and I found I still had energy to crank the pedals round a few more times before crossing the finish line.
The atmosphere at the finish was electric. Everyone was cheering and Rachel Atherton was going round high-fiving and congratulating everyone. It turned out that 16 girls had beaten her to the finish - no mean feat, and the top three were Elaine Hopley in 3rd, Claire Bennett in 2nd, and I was stoked to see Elena Melton in 1st! (I had ridden with Elena at the end of August at a Diva Descent coaching camp).
That was it, tent packed, bikes on the rack and a tired me bundled into the car. I find it hard to describe the weekend in just a few words, but it felt quite special to take part in a such a huge women's only event, and I think it is a mark of things to come.
He thanks go to Red Bull and Rachel Atherton for organising the weekend (I didn't mention that the cost to participate was just a £5 charity donation with an extra £10 for camping) and see you next year!