First Time Racer: The Before, During and After

Do you still remember the first time you raced? The nerves, the excitement, the anticipation – and even, the fear.

Have you yet to make the leap into the world of mountain bike racing?  Do you think it will be too hard?  Do you worry that you won’t be able to make the distance?

Flow takes you on a journey with first time racer Cassandra Du Boulay, as she takes on racing for the first time in the recent For the Birds women’s only event in Canberra.


A Month Before The Big Day

A month before the race we caught up with Cassandra to see what she was doing and how she was preparing for the big day.

First time racer and new MTB rider Cassandra De Boulay
We are a month out from your first ever race, how are you feeling?

I’m actually quite excited.  I think that it may be a little too soon to enter a race especially since I have only been to Sparrow Hill once. I’m also not at my fittest but I’m busting to give it a go.

How long have you been mountain biking?

My first time was in May this year (2012).  I had done an introductory women’s course followed by an intermediate course.  As of today I’ve been on the MTB tracks a total of 11 times

Who or what got you into it?

My husband’s friend Adam has all the credit for introducing me to mountain biking.  He was visiting from Perth and asked us if we knew of any places in Canberra to ride.  We only knew of one; Mt Stromlo.  The boys had planned to go out and convinced me at the last minute to borrow my mother-in-law’s bike (which had no suspension whatsoever) and head out.

They thought the beginner loop would be too short and easy so we went straight for the intermediate loop. After a mix of horror and exhilaration, not to mention a couple of spectacular crashes, I was busting to get a proper bike and learn.  Given that I felt like I’d been hit by a bus after my locked-arm-death-grip adventure I knew I had a lot to learn.

So you got the MTB bug.  Did you get any coaching or go straight into it?

Yeah, not long after (that first ride) I saw an email on a social mailing list about women’s MTB courses run by Cycle Education and I enrolled.

And you mentioned you wanted to get a new bike, did that happen?

I recently bought a second hand Giant Anthem and have found that having a good bike makes all the difference.

How much riding are you going to be able to do in the lead up to the For the Birds race?

I am planning to ride at the race location twice a week and in addition to that I will do some spin classes at the gym for fitness.


Race Day

The big day of the race for any first timer is always full of nervous energy and a mix of emotions.  Sometimes it has been a big planned lead up with a goal and other times it is a last minute decision to throw yourself into the under-prepared deep end.  No matter where you fall in those extremes it’s always an exciting day and experience.

We caught up with Cassandra again just before she was about to start her first race.

Cassandra out warning up for the race.
What is your goal for this race?

I’d really like to finish the race without hurting myself or my bike.  I am realistic enough to know that I can’t expect to place but I think it will give me really good race experience to take forward.  My inner competitive streak would like me to finish in the top half of the field!

What made you pick the 20km distance?

I chose the 20km on advice from the people that ran the intermediate course I did.  They thought that based on my riding I would get to the end of the 10 km and would be left wanting more.  Also, I have never been good at sprinting (on foot or on a bike) and I think the longer distances would be too much given my fitness!

Are you competitive by nature?

If you ask anyone I have ever known I think you would get a resounding, YES! I was quite competitive when I was younger but as I am getting older I am starting to enjoy things for the fun of it, but I think I’ll always have a little voice in the back of my mind that wants to win.


We wished Cassandra a huge, ‘good luck’ and waited impatiently for her to finish the race.  When you’ve been part of mountain biking as long as Flow has it’s always an exciting time to see people frothing on mountain bikes. We were just hoping that she would finish the race with a huge smile and love mountain biking as much as we do.


Post Race Analysis

It doesn’t matter how much you are “doing it for the fun”, it’s still good to see how you went against others.
How were you feeling during the race?

I was full of adrenalin and I think that helped me up the initial fire trail climb. Once I got on the single track I settled down a bit and focussed on keeping in touch with the girl in front and away from anyone that might be catching me. I knew I was stronger on the uphill and I felt I needed to push myself on the downhill.

Did the nerves settle down?

I think I was just really happy to get going, standing at the start made me nervous. I wasn’t sure if I should have gone out so hard so early but I turned the nerves into adrenaline and was pretty pumped for the whole time.

Do you remember what you thought as you were riding?

I was mostly trying to think positive and not slow down or slack off. I had practiced at Sparrow a few times in the weeks leading up to the race and so I tried to think about taking good lines, not over braking and all the tips I had learned at the courses I’d done.

How did you feel when you finished?

Other than exhausted I was really happy, I’d had a great time and couldn’t stop smiling.

When I saw that I had finished 4th I was shocked and ecstatic. Then to find out I was 2nd in my division was amazing. I had never hoped for such a good result. I knew that I had gone out hard up the fire trail and that no one had passed me but didn’t realise that I had taken 14 minutes of my best time for that track.

How did you find the distance?

It was a good distance for me; the 10km would have been over too soon. As for the 40km or 60km I don’t know how they do it. Maybe it is a good goal to work towards.

Did you enjoy the women only aspect to the race?

Since it was my first race I think it was a little less intimidating than if there were guys on the track too. It is not why I initially chose it for my first race but I’m glad it was.

Will you race again?

Absolutely! Now that my husband has a bike I’d love to race in a team with him.

Would you recommend it to other people thinking of giving it a go?

Definitely, I liked that it was a really supportive and friendly atmosphere. I chatted to other people that were new to MTB as well as seasoned pro’s that were really encouraging. The race was well run and was a really positive experience.

Cassandra has caught the MTB race bug and will be racing again. Flow froths on anyone who picks up a mountain bike, be it for race or ride.


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