A fortnight ago, I had an outrageously exciting adventure; I headed to Machynlleth, in North-West Wales to take part in the Red Bull Fox Hunt, the world’s only all-female downhill mountain biking event (N.B, there were no 4-legged foxes involved, only 2-legged ones on bikes!). Regularly cycling along the leafy roads of suburban North London and growing up biking about the idyllic Swedish countryside I mistakenly thought I probably had this covered and that it would be pretty easy; not for the last time, I somewhat misjudged it! The course was remote, cold, muddy, unbelievably slippery and the mountains were terrifyingly steep at speed; imagine trying to get traction whilst cycling through chocolate slurry… Why did I do it? EE invited me to go somewhere with absolutely no coverage, so that they could show how their 4G ‘Helikite’ can deliver superfast 4G to my smartphone in the most remote places. This was a super muddy experiment for me to prove the thesis. Click MORE to see how I got on during the downhill (clue; my shoes became ‘collateral damage’!)…
1) SETTING THE SCENE…
This was an event powered by EE’s superfast 4G network which allowed me to use my phone for calls, texts, and planning/checking my route. Whilst travelling to Mach (as the locals affectionately – and pronounceably – nickname it), there was a point at which signal simply stopped on the train. The more rural we got, the less likely it was that I’d be able to check emails, have a flutter on social media or even make calls. That absence of what you might take for granted, the ability to communicate on demand, was quite surprisingly paralyzing as if a sense has been temporarily muted. With that in mind, it was quite amazing to find myself standing on top of the mountains in rural Wales only to receive a good luck call before heading down the track!
Rachel Atherton, last year’s winner, and MTB pro designed the route. Unfortunately, she had a cracked rib and for that reason was unable to take part, but she was there cheering competitors along. This year’s winner was Millie Johnset who was the first down the hill with a dominant, fear-inducing and presumably reckless time of 00.03.50, outperforming 2nd place by a prodigious margin of 33 seconds!
2) WHY CYCLE?
Cycling is one of my favourite ways to travel around as it not only gets me there, but I can do some bonus cardio training in the process. It burns calories (c. 120 calories per mile), elevates the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, eases the risk of cardiovascular disease and it’s pretty soft on the environment too! Compared to running, which puts a lot of strain on the body (especially the knees), cycling is very low impact exercise and is kinder to your joints. It builds stamina and strength, with fewer injuries along the way. If you’re worried about losing precious muscle mass because of the CV, cycling actually develops muscle, especially in the lower body as power is generated by the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, which will fuel additional calorie burn even after the journey has ended. It will also stimulate the production of HGH (human growth hormone), and remember, muscle burns more calories at rest than fat, so this is a form of exercise that keeps on giving!
However, this event evidently wasn’t about road biking. MTB is a completely different ball game; in fact, it’s not actually a ball game. Enthusiasts who’ve invested thousands of pounds into their bikes, gathered from all over the UK, pitched tents overnight in a muddy, sodden field surrounded by cute local sheep so that they could get on their bikes early in the morning in the rain, to cycle up a mountain and then hurl themselves back down again! That’s dedication, passion and enthusiasm from a super involved community!
3) MY TAKE…
a) OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE… Whilst it was indeed cold, wet and rainy and the mud only got muddier, it was also super invigorating to be out there! For lack of a better example, it a little bit like the time when you’re standing beside a lake and you’re already cold and you’re debating whether to get colder and wetter by jumping in…. then you do it and it feels great! You just have to plough on and hope for the best!
b) Brings people together, a diverse crowd. This was my first experience within the community, and MTB is, I would say, a fairly niche discipline. Yes, it’s pretty accessible for everyone but for this event, you either live nearby or have gone out of your way to pursue this passion.This became apparent when looking around I saw energetic women of all ages and different fitness levels who all had different reasons for being there. One woman I spoke to said she wanted to lose weight but wanted a real outdoorsy challenge and another said she’d divorced her husband and wanted to just do something different.
c) It’s challenging, exhilarating and for anyone looking for a bit of adrenaline look no further! The closeness to nature combined with the speed and knife-edge approach to balance is a recipe for a natural high!
d) Intense cardiovascular training, whilst being low impact. It’s cardiovascular training with natural intervals. The terrain constantly changes, you may be going downhill, uphill, pitching left and right, whereby speed and resistance changes. This means you’ll have times of heavy resistance, so your legs burn and are seriously challenged. Interval training gets the heart rate up toasts more calories in less time. This is serious leg training targeting the gluteus as well, so you may experience soreness the next couple of days if this is something you’re not used too.
e) It’s affordable. You can rent bikes of varying technical credentials, and at different price levels but that’s a one-off investment. You don’t need a membership, you literally can cycle anywhere – endless freedom! I probably wouldn’t bring a Boris Bike to this sort of event though…
f) TOURISM! It means you see new parts of the world. Whether it be your city or the countryside, it gets you out in the open, fresh air and stimulation!
4) DID I GET SIGNAL?
Despite being off the grid, with no network coverage, in the rural outback of the remote Welsh countryside, EE’s ‘Airmast’ balloon showered an arcing dome of superfast 4G signal across the competition site, and beyond. With my smartphone tucked inside my jersey, I was in contact with whoever and whatever throughout. I was able to call, text and record-and-share my workout stats through the day. I took breaks during the hours of riding up, down and around the course, during which I could simply be in touch when needed – that’s a sense of freedom I very much appreciate, given how much the job relies on communication!
This post is a sponsored collaboration with EE. For more about why I take on such projects, please see my DISCLOSURE page. Thank you.