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It's 3 AM, I've barely had three hours sleep, and my alarm is kicking off.
I had a taster of the celebrity life, at the Women's Sport Trust #BeAGameChanger awards in London; after working closely with Sealskinz and Crowd on producing the second edit of their ‘I am Endurance’ campaign, I was overjoyed to have my story in the final for the Imagery of the Year awards. It was an incredible evening which I knew I couldn’t miss, however, it clashed with round 3 of the Enduro World Series in Ireland, so to be able to attend the two, I got the train to London, attended the awards and then jetted off to Dublin on a 6am flight, giving me just enough time to practice on the Friday.
By midday, I'd been up for 9 hours and finally met up with my brother, Joel, to start practice together. Stages 1-4 were open for practice on Friday, 5-7 on Saturday, and race day Sunday.
Massively lacking sleep I tried to reserve as much energy to as possible, as did Joel.. It was a long weekend ahead of us.
The sun beamed down, bringing out that Irish Green we hear of, putting everyone in the legendary jolly Irish mood. In true Chidley style we just managed to practice all stages by the skin of our teeth. We were followed by the closing track marshal, Dave "Bullet", on his trials bike and had a friendly chat with him; in his lovely, jolly Irish accent he said to Joel, "ah, what a gift to be riding with your sister, on such a beautiful day."
We explained that we have a certain style, where we're probably too laid back for most at race weekends, our friends do one or two runs with us, then usually peace out.
Which led him to his classic line; "ah, you're so laid back, the sheep count you." [legend]
My legs actually felt OK, I thought I'd be bonking with the amount of sleep I was running off, I did however feel very wobbly on the bike, but the legs were strong. I’ve been having regular sessions of the Bowen Technique by Ben Calder at Shrewsbury’s Centre for Integral Health; and I swear it’s working wonders, I can tell my body is working more efficiently, I had no idea how wonky and out of balance I was, so it was a marvel to be riding tired without the heavy, led filled legs.
There were certain tracks I was anxious about, as there was a lot of hype in the pits about the top of 2, 3 and 7. Which meant a lot of the other tracks were a bit of a blur and I didn't really remember them.
After Friday's practice I was relieved to be done and headed back to Hidden Valley camp site to finally catch up on some sleep. Mike was with me, he’d flown in from Europe to meet me for the awards, then I dragged him along to Ireland, so we both needed some shut eye.
We had a nice little racing family, including: Myself, Mike Hopkins, Bro Joel Chidley, Dan Wyre Photography, Lee Jordan, Fay Jordan, Orsa Bear and The Colonel, and of course my ever supporting parents joined us on the Saturday.
Mike had been riding too hard in Germany resulting to a completely smashed wheel, which meant he couldn’t ride with us, but he had his running trainers and ran all over the hill trying to meet us, find us, run with us. Quite a few people recognised him as “That guy from Redbull Rampage, what’s he doing here, and where’s his bike”. HA!
Fun, flowy, fast; a great warm up getting you in the flow for the rest of the day, and a perfect one to calm the nerves before the top of stage 2.
Sat in the open looking all regal, right on top of the hill, with views for miles, where the skies blended into the ocean; which I totally missed until race day, I was rather spaced out and anxious on Friday. The top started on a pretty unforgiven rock garden; rock garden sounds too tame, let's call it a 'gauntlet of rock', packed with riders watching, scoping lines, gearing up to ride it. Everyone seemed to struggle, it was a trials riders dream. Annoyingly the longer I watched, the more anxious I got, I need a timer to tell me when to stop looking at something. I finally gave it a go, it was slow, but controlled and smooth. The next section was awesome, taking you to the very bottom of the hill, it was a decent, physical, technical and long stage.
Come race day, it was heaving with crowds! Hundreds of people dotted around catching a spot of the carnage. I was so worked up on the start I completely forgot to unlock my shock .. Perfect! I rode the entire top section on what felt like a hard tail, I didn't realise till I'd got to the bottom half of the track, where it actually suited it, so left it locked out.
During practice this track threw me, (literally over the bars a couple of times), my legs were fine, but I was wobbly running on reserved energy. Stage 3 was a track you could do with knowing from top to bottom, the top section was another burly gauntlet of rock, leading into a nicer flowing track, but if you didn't know it, it's very easy to line yourself up wrong, making it pretty hard for yourself. Come race day, after practicing it once I remembered the sections I needed to, but forgot what I needed to remember, not solving any of the problems, it was messy, with my seat stuck up and poking out at the side.
From top to bottom was a pleasure, a bit of a breather and breath of fresh air after 2 and 3, flowing orgasmically through the trees, popping over roots, ruts and trenches, I couldn't wait to race it. Turns out its way more fun to ride than race, as soon as you try racing it, a lot of its natural flow is lost, corners become tighter, I found myself coming in too hot for corners and loosing too much speed, I probably should've just cruised it like I had in practice, but it was still fun, and a good pause in the race for a spot of lunch.
Every rider had to check in to the pits for "lunch", whether that finally meant you had time to pop to the loo, or fix a mechanical or like a small percentage.. Actually have lunch, you had about 20 minutes before heading back out again.
During practice I remember there wasn't anything too daunting, but I was so anxious after hearing the whispers of stage 6 and 7, I retained zero information from 5. but of course, it was flowy, fun, fast and poppy.
At this point, we'd climbed up that hill a total of 14 times, and all I could think about was how we only had to do it one more time.. I was psyched!
It also helped that stage 6 was my 'pot of gold', such a fun, fast track, it is the old National DH track and you can see why, flat out with nice jumps, drops, rock gardens, tight trees, it has it all and helped me tap into the reserves, re-firing the cylinders.
High fives were flying around at the top of the final stage of the weekend, emotions were leaking out the bag knowing we were so close to finishing. After pushing through those climbs and physical stages together, Ireland rang the bell for the 'Spirit of Enduro' louder than ever. I could feel my body shutting down, beginning to bonk and call it a day, but we had 1 more stage, and probably the most technical and physical stage of them all. With the women heading out before the pro men, we always had huge crowds, which was great, but on stage 7 they all crammed in on 'carnage corner', I managed this fine during practice, but come race time, I was fading and just hoped I had the strength to hold myself up.
Once 'Carnage Corner' was dealt with, it's wasn't over, I'd forgotten how long the stage was, it seemed to go on forever, I kept pushing and had that finish line in sight.
I crossed the line and there was my Dad and Bro, emotions took over and I was stoked to have completed the Irish round of the Enduro World Series.
I waited for my friend and race day motivator, Fay Jordon, to cross the line, we hugged it out and headed to the finishing field together. Where we were met with beaming smiling faces by Mike, Mum, Lee and Awesome Orsa (the Cockapoo).
With plenty of room for improvement I was pumped I managed to finish 16th overall.
Fay also finished top 20 with 19th, Joel had a mechanically forcing him to miss stages 3 and 4, but although he was out of the game he fixed his bike and completed the final 3 stages with a huge smile on his face.
I have never seen anything like it, hundreds of people being supportive throughout the entire day, everyone cheering you on, even on the climbs. "Keep her lit" and "fair play" were constant 'pick me ups' the Irish gave as you passed them. They came in every size and age out there. They helped get me up those climbs and through the tough sections of the stages, a lot of other races tend to have crowds build where they know you're going to fail, and are waiting for it. Yet, in Ireland, you could feel that the crowd wanted you to do well, dressed as leprechauns, cave men, wearing beer hats or simple coloured head to toe in white, green and orange triggering their party poppers, they were spurring us on.
Is it 'The Luck of the Irish', or are they just really nice people, showing how positivity and kindness rubs off on you.
Either way, it was an incredible event that I'm so proud to have been a part of.
Well done to all the riders, and thank you to all the spectators and marshals.
"Keep her lit"
Photography credit to Mike Hopkins & Graham Chidley.