On a baking hot July day in 2008 I raced my first National XC Championships at Crow Hill in the New Forest. It was hot, very hot and to me, at the time based in Cambridge, very hilly. I remember the start being insanely fast and feeling completely like a fish out of water but the atmosphere was really buzzing more like a festival than a bike race. I had no expectations about my result. My coach at the time Jenny Copnall became National Champion for the 5th time. I managed to get one Elite scalp and was the top Expert finisher. Chris had a great Sport race and was 3rd, becoming completely starstuck when he got his trophy from XC legend Barry Clarke.
I finished in 10th place.
In 2009 it could not have been more different. We were in Innerleithen Scotland, there was mud, lots of mud and some proper hills! I hitched a lift up with the AW Cycles team from Reading - making what would have been a lonely and long drive much more bearable. The only worry I had was when Simon Ernest got a bit crazy behind the wheel on the winding Scottish roads. The course was hard, up a big climb and then down the otherside, and the start/finish field for the XC (the DH was held at the same venue) was nasty and lumpy. The atmosphere could not have been more different from 2008 and us XC racers felt like we were insignificant compared to the DHers in the next field. I didn't even make it around the first lap as a pucture at the top of the descent made me realise I needed to practice using a CO2 canister.
This National Championships is not one that sticks in my memory. I was having a bad year - working for British Cycling and racing just didn't work for me. The race was at Pippingford SE of London and was another hot one. For the second year I punctured - only this time I was able to fix it and get back on the bike. I was never really in the race, but the course was such great fun that I kept riding round and chucking myself down the fun descents.
I finished in 9th place.
Another year another National Championships this time in Richmond, Yorkshire. 2011 was the year I remembered why I race bikes after a bit of time in the wilderness. Racing for AW Cycles it was great to be part of a successful and friendly team. The course in Richmond was very varied and really challenging. One steep ferny descent which I slid down on my bum a number of times really sticks in my mind. The conditions were changing all the time and an ever present layer of mud kept things slippy. Having been living up in Scotland though I was more prepared for muddy conditions than I would have been for dry. I felt really strong and had a good battle with a number of riders. When the heavens opened on my final lap and the course became a river I think I enjoyed it even more!
I finished in 10th place.
And so we get to this year. In the tradition of alternating conditions it was baking (particularly unusual for this year) and I was very worried about dehydrating. The race was down in the South again at the Wasing Estate near Reading. The course was pretty much flat with only a few short, sprint hills. This year I felt more competitive than I ever have and my race was a great battle with a couple of girls that I have been racing for years. I don't think it is my result of the year but as ever the AW Cycles team spirit was bubbling over. We all had good rides, notably Simon Ernest who won the gold in the Masters 35-39 age category.
I finished in 10th place!
So... 5 years, 5 races, 3 x 10th places, one 9th place (which was actually my worst result) and a DNF. The National Championships is, for most people, the event of the year. Every year I have competed there have been more racers and more competitive fields. My continual 10th placing despite improvements in my abilities just shows how strong women's XC racing is becoming in the UK. Long may it continue....