In at the deep end


From ‘watergirl’ to mountain bike champ in a single month, Elissa Whittington  tells us more

It was hot and humid with little wind as all the racers gathered at the start line. Everyone was in good spirits, helping each other put on numbers and catching up on latest bike gossip. I made a point of meeting all the girls and was very pleasantly surprised by their friendliness. My last experience of racing was rowing, boy they were super bitches! Goes to show what a great group MTB’rs are, certainly a positive force in the sporting community.

Last month at the Tai Lam race I was a water-girl at the HKMBA water stop, but this time I was going to race. Being experienced in the support, treatment and guidance to many athletes as a health professional, I decided it was time to ‘walk the walk’. So with a handful of MTB rides under the belt, I decided it was time to train for future events – do a couple of races recreationally for experience and then train for the next two years to see if I can catch the illusive Sean Ho (Sean means John in Irish which in turn is King or gift from God – so I know I have my work cut out for me!)

We rode down to the beach at the bottom of the hill to the start of the trail, it was appalling – no-one had cleared all the crap and rubbish from the typhoon full of flip-flops and polystyrene, I’m sure if I looked hard enough there would be the infamous medical waste – we should be sending photos to the government about cleaning up the environment. The eager grabbed ‘front-line, forcing the rest of us to battle through the rubbish to line up after them – funny it wasn’t the top guys pushing for front.

The start went straight up, I thought ‘let them go, over 4 hours I can pass them back’ Ha! But no rush, as we came to the first river crossing and I knew it was an Action Asia event as there was a queue. I think that was the last time I saw any large number of people. Realizing that through my lack of depth of training the heart was not going to tolerate the high heat and fast pace, something had to give – so slow pace it was. It wasn’t long before I passed my first race victim who had taken a fall off the side of the trail into the scrub, luckily it was a soft landing with no rocks, so she clambered back up, shortly after was another, looking mournfully at his bike, then another , the unfortunate sight of the ‘inverted bike’. This time it was Bob turning over the pedals hoping for divine intervention of ‘bike healing’.


Being new to racing, I was still thinking of ‘heal thyself’ being the possible rules of engagement I gave sympathy rather than help as I passed. As the race progressed I woke up to myself and decided I was better at my previous incarnation as race helper rather than racer. It became my ‘duty’ of passing out the electrolyte tablets to the crippled by the side of the path – I provided instant advice and healing and soon found my ‘patients’ passing me by 5 minutes later with large smiles of ‘cramps are gone’. Perhaps I should be less generous?

Three of us found solace in each others struggles, I heard talk of giving up after one lap, but we made a solemn oath to push each other to go for another lap. As the terrain started to take its toll and enthusiasm turned to despair I overheard a rider say. “I was mid-field last race, but near the back in this one.” It would seem that Chi Ma Wan is more difficult in terms of effort, technical skills required, even getting there is a feat in itself. It was certainly a group of dedicated and serious bikers today. We all progressed to the 2nd lap.

My goal was to achieve a minimum of 2 laps, no crashing and to have a good social day. I am pleased to say I achieved these goals and got some ‘new racer butterflies’ out the way.  I won my age/gender division – now don’t go asking about ‘against how many’, have an armful of goodies and a lovely gold cup to encourage me to train and return for the next event.

Many, many thanks to the fabulous marshals and volunteers who were always polite, helpful and smiley. I know what its like from your side and your work is really appreciated as a racer, I must admit it was easier to compete and enjoy being well looked after.

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