Last weekend saw another jaunt down to England, though fortunately it was further North than the first NPS at Nottingham. So on Friday we set off down to Dalby in Yorkshire with Mizuzu very kindly stopping in Glasgow to give me a lift down. We arrived at our camping barn at dinner time on Friday night, my first experience of a camping barn. It was very basic! Coin operated electricity, and shower!, mattresses to put on the floor and very cold rooms. But a damn sight better than a tent in the rain, so we couldn't complain too much.

We headed off down into Pickering to pick up some food for dinner, I love Pickering, it's such a cute wee town. Getting to see where the ProSprint Eliminator had been held at the Dalby World Cup I did in 2010 was amazing too. It had been such a special night so seeing the course and the town centre really brought back some amazing memories. After an absolutely amazing chippie - Eastgate Fisheries Pickering - the food was delicious and the service fantastic, we headed back to our barn to play some cards. Safe to say I didn't win a single game!

Saturday morning and the weather was still holding up with no rain at the barn. After a bacon roll and a brief attempt at exam revision it was time to close the study books and head along to the Dalby racecourse. Nearing the forest the sky got steadily darker and ominous looking. No rain yet though... ! Setting off on the preride lap Yuka and I hadn't even left the start arena when the heavens opened. This was proper rain. None of your namby pamby drizzle. Proper monsoon typhoon tropical strom style rain. And I thought England had hosepipe bans and a drought?! However, Yuka and I decided to continue around our practice lap, the sooner we got around it, the sooner we'd get a nice hot shower! The course quickly became one big river with inches of rain running down the track.

Arriving at Worry Gill, which I didn't ride last time I was at Dalby I was terrified! For those of you who don't know, Worry Gill is a rock drop, with a tight 90degree turn onto it and a sharp 90 degree turn directly at the bottom. Not to mention the 10foot or so vertical drop and sharp entry stone which kicks the back wheel off the ground on the way down. I'd say worrying about Worry Gill was a rational fear. Anyway, long story short, I woosed out! Yuka, being hardcore, rode it easy peasy, pfft ; )so feeling slightly jealous we carried down the long rocky riverbed style section to the steep single track climb to Medusas Drop.

Team rider Morven Brown's NPS Dalby blog

By the time we arrived at Medusas it was hailstoning, the track was effectively one giant puddle and my fingers were cold! So after faffing around for far too long I finally manned up and rode Medusas. Well, rode half! And then belly slid the bottom section... While wearing Yuka's waterproof (hehe - nightmare to wash!!). Easy spin of the legs back to the finish line and then home for a shower! All the while it rained. What was the course going to be like on race day... ?

Yuck, for some silly reason at the NPS the women's start time is half past nine in the morning. I'm barely even awake at that time! Forcing wheetabix down for energy and making up my bottles I wasn't looking forward to racing. I've not been training at all the past while. 30,000 words due in the last month have sort of put paid to most training plans. I know I have a decent level of base fitness but I was really worried I would be right at the back of the field struggling. And after Sherwood I was not willing to let that happen again! On the way along to the race Yuka and I decided that we'd cycle in the long forest track to the race venue so that we could get a good warm up. This was the best idea ever. I'm hopeless at warming up but the forty minute cycle really got the legs spinning and sorted out my mental attitude too.

Before I knew it, it was time to head to the start and get gridded in 20th position, riding with number board 100, which was kinda cool. Plenty of deep breaths on the start line and then BANG! went the gun and we were off! The elites had a "start loop" to do before we started our four race laps. By the time I'd got to the end of the start straight I was head to toe in mud and my eyes were full of dirt. The novelty of being aware of the dirt wore off pretty quickly - It was a seriously muddy race! Dipping into the first section of single track I was well within the bunch riding close to the other women making sure I didn't miss a pedal stroke and loose a place and even taking a place on the short climb back into the arena to start lap one proper.

This was proper racing. There were 28 entrants in the Elite women's race and this meant that there was so much competition. I remember back in the days when I was the only entrant in my Scottish races, now I had to battle with so many others! Keeping it fast but safe on the single track riding in the middle of a group of five we reached Worry Gill. Phew no-one else rode it either. No positions lost there then. The steep climb to Medusas Drop became a run in places, but I still held my position, with two women very close in front of me, as we created a small gap to the girls behind us. Swooping down the chicken run at Medusas and CRASH!! Oops.

There is not much more embarrassing than crashing in front of an audience. Except from crashing in front of an audience on a chicken run. Oops. Always always preride chicken runs too. I'd took a switch back turn too tight and lost my wheel in some loose stuff. Oops again! Jumping up quickly and back on the bike ready to tackle the very big, very steep climb up from Medusas. I love this climb! It's a proper beast of a climb, but not too hard when you find the right rhythm. And my 2x10 gearset gave me the perfect gear to keep the legs spinning while keeping the pace high. Then it was back down a fun techy section - silly youth boys lying down in the track here made it slightly more tricky! - back over Worry Gill in the other direction, a silly draggy climb and whee back into the arena. Only three more laps to go...

Lap two was more of the same, by now I knew I'd made a wee gap ahead of the riders behind me so it was time to look forward to the three women ahead of me who were raising the pace as they raced each other. If I could only get close enough to get onto their wheels. Sadly I didn't quite manage it but having them in sight up some of the big climbs helped keep sight of the target. Coming along the draggy section to the arena at the end of the second lap I caught up with a fellow Scot and a cracking wee rider Katy Winton, aw man Katy W, it was a tough tough day. As I crossed under the finish gate I heard I was up into 18th place, ooo : ) very exciting! Lap three was again quite a nice lap, in these long races it becomes more about keeping it smooth and even on the climbs, taking the straightest and easiest line in order to not expend too much energy. And, keeping it upright on the descents.

There's no point racing up a climb if your arms and legs won't keep you upright on the descent! By lap four the lactic acid was burning up my legs, my arms and shoulders were shaken to bits and I was covered in wet, cold mud! It was now a case of holding onto the position and keeping the pace as level as I could. And I'd started to see Katy beasting it along behind me. Eek! All the way up the climb to Medusas the little figure in blue and white was getting closer and closer, then, as Katy is seriously hardcore, she nipped down Medusa's Drop while I, not being seriously hardcore, had to take the longer option of the chicken run. Keeping Katy in sight up the long climb I considered trying to get back on her wheel and pushing it to the finish but with 3km remaining I didn't think I'd manage it! So all that was left to do now was to get to the finish and cross the line in 19th place : ) extremely happy with that!

Team rider Morven Brown's NPS Dalby blog

The bike held up perfectly in such tough conditions when a lot of other riders were suffering from chain suck and other mud associated bike illnesses. My little Fate was perfect. And, for all those who laughed at my tyres being slicks, they gripped amazingly! I honestly think they have like superglue in them or something! All in all, a very good weekend, and even without training my placings are moving in the right direction. Four weeks yesterday until University is done forever. Then the training can start for real!

Massive thank you to Mizuzu for driving all the way to Dalby, Yuka for the company and encouragement, Dales/Specialized for the lovely bike, Dales for allowing me access to the hose to wash the mud off the bike and to all the other women who make the races so enjoyable and competitive.