The Red Bull Foxhunt started a few years back in 2011 with Gee Atherton chasing down riders in a mass start event, and for a time, it was largely male dominated. So his younger sister, the world cup champ and overall awesome lady, Rachel Atherton, decided to follow in his footsteps and create a women's only Foxhunt in Scotland in 2014. A mass start downhill race just outside of Edinburgh in the Scottish mountains. This year the Rachel Atherton Foxhunt is running for the second time, and it promised to be even more gnarly than before. And this year, I was ready.
Friday - The Journey
Leading on from my meltdown on the previous night, I woke up early Friday morning feeling determined and focused. I loaded the truck and headed to town to get the lights and USB port fixed so I could drive at night, and have a charger for the sat-nav. Fortunately, the lovely boys at Halfords had me fixed up and ready to go in no time, and so began the 7.5 hour journey from South Wales to Scotland.
I'll be honest, it wasn't so bad. I had my tunes, my sat-nav and a variety of car snacks to keep me going. I stopped twice for a pee and fuel break, as well as a sanity break because 99 miles on the M6 is enough to break anyone. I made good time though and arrived at the event site in The Pentlands for 17:15 and parked up. A wave of relief rippled through me because I had finally made it. Moments like these, I like to think I'm in an old school video game where I've just defeated a boss and you reach the all important save point, which is when it's ok to take that pee break you've been so desperate for. Pentlands Hills: Checkpoint. Auto-save.
I decided to get my bearings and check out the main site before unloading anything. I followed the signs for “Rider Registration” which led me into the big tipi tent and I got myself signed in. Number board, Foxhunt jersey and a neat multi-tool and I was official ready to roll. As I was wandering around the nearly empty site, I felt as though I was in a dream state and I couldn’t quite take it all in. I suspect this was the travelling and junk food delirium from the day, but it was a tranquil feeling that I had finally made it and I was actually going to be racing in the Red Bull Foxhunt.
I scoped out the camp-site which was quite empty at this point and I headed back to the truck to set up camp before the light failed me. In the car park, I heard someone call my name and when I looked around, it was Amber Charity and her friend Lucy. Thankfully, Amber and Lucy are tent wizards and helped me get my Alpkit tent pitched. I unloaded my stuff into the tent, made a nice cosy wee nest for myself and headed up the main tent with the girls for a little down time. We met another girl on the way called Emily who is a student in Edinburgh, but who is originally from Sweden. She told us how this was her first time racing the Foxhunt and how excited she was to be a part of it this year. Join the club! We sat down and played Amber’s Star Wars cards for a while which was a great way to ease into the weekend ahead.
A few months prior to the Foxhunt, I had met Sarah Wylie online and we’ve been speaking on-and-off about the Foxhunt and biking, and now I would finally get to meet her. She messaged to say she and her sister, Rebecca, were running super late, but that I should find Victoria and Gael and go for food with them. So I did! The three of us went down the road to the pub for a nice hot meal. I figured that this would be the last big thing I eat for a few days, so I went all out and got a hefty steak. Perfect. Both Victoria and Gael ran the Foxhunt last year, so we spend the meal discussing all things Foxhunt and bikes. These ladies are awesome and made me feel super welcome, and excited for the weekend ahead. Thanks girls!
After food we headed back to the arena and the cosy Red Bull tipi where I finally met Sarah and her sister Rebecca. We spent a while chatting, catching up and getting to know one another better which really settled my nerves. It dawned on me that I didn’t actually know anyone there apart from speaking with a few ladies on the internet beforehand. I was feeling quite proud of myself for this, and the reason being is that I’ve never really thrown myself out into anything this big before. I use to stop myself doing a lot of things when I was younger because it was so too much out of my comfort zone, and then I would kick myself about it later on. This event was far from my comfort zone, about 380 miles out of it. However, the uneasiness subsided with every new person I met, and I asked myself “what was I so worried about?”
Saturday: The Bacon Riot
My first night camping was warm and cosy because I was all wrapped up in the snuggley sleeping bag that Alpkit had sent me. However, the wind was howling that night. I’d forgotten my ear plugs, and every few hours I was awoken by the fear that my tent had come un-pegged. It hadn’t, but the wind was so loud and strong that I sadly didn’t get much sleep at all. I was warm and dry though, thanks Alpkit!
Practise day started with super healthy yoghurt and cooked apples for breakfast. Erm... hrmph. Where the heck was the bacon? This was a race event, I needed bacon, eggs, and pancakes! I need nitro fuel, and sadly yoghurt and apple wasn’t going to cut it. So I went to a nearby store and grabbed a Subway. Sorry Red Bull. I just hoped that lunch and dinner would be a little more substantial... with bacon. Rachel Atherton led a brief in the big tipi for all the riders. Words of encouragement, excitement and tips for the weekend were well received by everyone and it got us all ready to ride. The uplift services were all ran by Jeep and they started to haul people up the mountain for the first lot of practise runs. The jeeps took the riders halfway up, then buggies carried the bikes a little further, and then we had to push the last quarter to the start point. One hell of a push as well.
Prior to the event, I had watched footage from last year’s event to give myself some kind of indication to track conditions and difficultly. I suspected it wouldn't be too hard-core as this event is open to all skill levels, so I was confident that I would be able to at least ride the whole track in one piece.
Yea, I was in for a surprised as soon as we reached the start point. Heather. Dense heather blanketed the start of the track, on a descent which was scary because I had never ridden through heather, you couldn’t see what rocks or dips were lurking underneath, and it was just long enough to tickle your spokes and rear mechs as you rode down. I took this slow, butt right over the back wheel and lightly feathered the brakes whilst keeping a hawk’s eye on the infinite lines I could take.
There was another short heather descent which led into a long grassy straight, and into an open grassy rocky descent. This section was great for overtaking opportunities and gathering some speed for hitting the slight incline into the forest section. Grass turns to a dirt track through the trees and up to the first split: Line A was more technical with a rock drop feature and a jump, whilst Line B took a flowy line around these.
After the forest section, the track opened into another fast grassy area and up into a loose rock off camber section before reaching the short dual slalom runs. The end of the Red Bull Foxhunt track saw Line A went over a jump, and Line B taking a smooth line around and both leading to the finish area.
Practise and Seeding Runs
I met up with Lucinda from the Velo Vie Ladies and we headed up to the practise runs together, chatting nervously together about what to expect. My first practise run was alright, took is slow and steady to get a feel for the track, the lines to take and try to assess everything that was coming at me. The grassy areas were very slippery and breaking was a no-go as I found by sliding my back wheel out and coming off at speed. No harm done though, so I went back up and went for practise round 2.
This didn’t go so well. Early in the track, coming down the long grassy straight and gathering speed, my front wheel clipped a concealed rock, blew and threw me over the bars. Landed on my face with an uppercut from the ground, not a good feeling. A couple of girls helped me up and made sure I was ok, which I was so grateful for as I was a little shaken up. I got back on the bike and rolled down a little more before noticing my front tyre was totally all over the shop. One of the girls who’d helped me up, Aoife Glass, also got a puncture in her rear wheel, so we walked 2km down to the arena. Aoife was great company and we spoke a lot about the women’s MTB industry and how we would like to see it evolve in upcoming years. It’s so encouraging speaking with other ladies who share the same passion and who are motivated to try and make changes to help women in riding.
The GT mechanics fixed my front wheel and I decided to get some food and drink to help stop the shaking. By this point my jaw was very tender, and when I clenched my teeth, it didn’t feel like they were in the right place. So I had some soup and tea and took it easy… until the seeded run later than afternoon.
The seeded run was done by rider numbers at 30 second intervals and these would help place you in the appropriate rows for the final race run the next day. With my head pounding and my face sore, I’m super pleased I made it down slowly in one piece without any falls (yay!), but I was also angry at myself for being brake heavy and speed cautious. It’s really hard for me to ignore my body when I fall off my bike. My head tells me to get back on and ride through it, don’t let the fear set in. Then on the other hand, my body shakes and arms feel weak as if it’s trying to shut down on me.
Saturday Evening: The Bacon Riot, part 2
After my seeded run, I headed to the showers to freshen up and wash the day away, trying to forget about my sore face and my wounded pride. I felt better, and headed into the arena for an interview with the lady herself, Rachel Atherton. We sat in the warm tipi, eating chocolate and chatting about the event. It took me back a little how she’s such a great athlete, really focused and passionate about the sport, and women’s participation… AND she’s super nice and laid back as well, and very easy to chat with. If I’m honest, I did have a bit of a fan-girl moment where I just wanted to absorb some of her awesomeness and I could feel the verbal diarrhoea bubbling away. I think I suppressed it enough that she didn’t notice, I hope. (Read the full interview here)
After my chat with Rachel, I headed over to the second tipi where I did some yoga to try and stretch out my aching muscles and sooth my overactive mind. The yoga session was a nice change of pace from the buzzing excitement of the weekend. The stretches were great and I did feel better afterwards, and hungry. So I went in search of food and chilled out in the big tent with Sarah and the girls. Dinner was boiled chicken on a bed of sweet potato mash. hrmm, ok so there is meat... but no bacon, no chops, steak or hog roast. I was very disappointed. Next year I will bring my own meat and BBQ set up. Spirits were high and everyone was chatting away about the final race and anticipations for the event. After some live music, tea and copious amounts of Haribo, I decided to call it a night as I wanted to rest up before the big day.
Sunday: Eeek, Race day!
The wind wasn’t too bad in the night, but it was very cold. I was warm and dry in my sleeping bag, but I couldn’t afford to leave any skin exposed so I wiggled right down and cocooned myself. Sunday morning I was feeling pretty rough from the fall, the riding, the interrupted sleep and the nerves for the final race. Emotions were definitely all over the shop, but I packed away all my kit, loaded the truck with everything but myself and the bike, and proceeded to the arena for porridge and tea. Rachel and the Red Bull staff led another briefing to all the riders and informed us of the structure for the day. We’d all get one practise run, then be convoyed up the mountain for our final races places.
My last practise run was alright, despite my fall the previous day. Still overly cautious on the brakes, but by this point all I wanted to do it make it down in once piece and not injure myself. I had a chat with Rona Strivens who’s a Junior racer in the BDS and we chatted about the possibility of more women’s events and her experiences with racing. For a 17 year old, Rona really has her head on straight and I wish her all the luck for the next race season.
The sun was shining, a few clouds hung in the sky and I was starting to get excited for the race. A mass start, a tricky terrain and a world champion… and me. The jeeps took us up the mountain for our final race, and whilst we waited around for everything to get in place and organised, Lucinda and I chilled out soaking up the sun and admiring the fab views of Scotland. After an hour, the organisers called us to our places according to our seeding runs. My overly cautious seeded run had me in the back row, which I was totally fine which because seeing the girls in the middle had me worried. A mass start is just that, a mass of women on bikes charging off together. I was glad to be in the back and avoid elbow wars.
My stomach was turning with excitement and nerves though! To be on top of a mountain with 151 female racers was brilliant, and I loved how everyone was so keen to take part whether it’s was for glory or fun, it was amazing. The guy on the megaphone counted down from 10 and the bugle sounded to signal the race start, and off we went.
The race is a bit of a blur for me, I remember hoping that I wouldn’t fall and hoping I would finish in one piece. As I raced down the track, I saw girls who had fallen, some who had mechanicals and others just disappearing into the horizon. I just kept my focus on myself and tried my best to not be so brake heavy. Coming through the finish area was a great feeling of relief and pride. I’d done it! I had raced in the Foxhunt and I was still in one piece, go me! I rolled over to Sarah and Lucinda and congratulated them on the race. Bikes were strewn all over the grass and everyone was hugging and cheering for their successful weekend of racing. There was a high feeling of relief in the air, as well as comradery between riders. It was a good place to be.
With the race over, winners announced, goodbyes were made and it was time for me to make the 7.5 hour journey back home to South Wales. I felt that I had achieved a lot for myself this weekend, I ventured out of my comfort zone, I met a lot of fantastic people and despite a nasty fall, I was still determined to complete the weekend. Everything about it was an experience that I will always remember.
I checked the results when I got home and I was pleased to see out of the 151 women entered into the Foxhunt, I had placed 105. I am very happy with this and it gives me a great benchmark for racing at next year’s Foxhunt. These are the top three winners, and a huge well done to them:
1 Rebecca BARAONA3:53.445
2 Cheri MILLS 4:07.763
3 Fiona BEATTIE 4:08.477
This year, 34 determined racers out-foxed the world champ, Rachel Atherton. Which is more than the previous year’s 17. Massive well done to every single rider and speedy recovery to those that were injured in the process.
The weekend was amazing. Now that I’m home, showered, unpacked and resting my screaming muscles in bed. I can reflect on the weekend and say that I honestly had the best time. The Red Bull Foxhunt isn’t something to be afraid of, even though it sounds scary: mass downhill race being chased down by the world champ. It was more like a huge social gathering, meeting like-minded friendly ladies who love to ride and have a good time… oh, and you race bikes.
This event is perfect for all levels of riders as well, and a great introduction in to a race environment. I’d never done anything like this before, but I feel I have a little more confidence now that I may even look to enter a few more events in the future.
Then there are the many (too many) thank you’s I have for all the wonderful people I met over the weekend who took care of me, made me feel welcome and had a good laugh with. So thank you ever so much ladies for making it a great event for me. Of course, thank you to Red Bull, Jeep and Atherton Racing for the fantastic event, and thank you Rachel Atherton for being a great inspiration to us ladies, and not knocking me off my bike when you went by! Until next year…