Bex Baraona finished in the top-five of the Enduro World Series and was crowned British National Enduro Champion during a stellar 2018 season.
We caught up with the mountain biking star during a topsy-turvy 2019 campaign that saw her pick up a first ever World Cup podium and a couple of broken ribs…
So Bex, for those who are new to the sport, can you explain what Enduro MTB is?
Sure thing! Enduro MTB is a relatively new discipline of extreme mountain biking, set out in a stage race format. We race over long distances and sometimes multiple days, but we're only timed on the stages.
Most races last between 6-8 hours a day (we would cover anything from 35-70km) and the timed stages consist of predominantly gravity-fed and extreme terrain.
In short, we go for a big ol' pedal in the mountains and are timed on the downhill sections - so high speeds and risk-taking are a must!
Sounds epic! How did you get involved in mountain biking then?
Growing up on a farm and being a bit of a country kid, I initially got into motorbikes with my Dad and brother. My love of two wheels turned into a love of bicycles when we were on a family holiday in Scotland and had a trip up the Fort William gondola - this was our first experience of mountain biking and from that day on I was hooked on the adrenaline rushes!
I pretty much went straight in at the deep end with competitive racing - after my first taster on our family holiday, my brother booked me onto a race three months later!
A few years of racing around the UK then led to me heading to the Enduro World Series.
Source: Bex Baraona Instagram©
You started this season in great form! How did it feel to finish 3rd at Rotorua in New Zealand and pick up the first World Cup podium of your career?
It didn’t feel real!
At the time I was slightly in denial but now it has sunk in, I’ve tasted the champagne and we celebrated. I’m super proud of myself and my team to have finally got onto the podium.
To be honest, it just felt nice to tick it off though - it’s always been my aim to podium and when I finally got it, four years after first joining the EWS, it was slightly underwhelming because I was thinking ‘what’s next?’.
I think it felt like that because my riding at the time just felt smooth and clean but nothing special, so I was slightly in denial that I had the pace for third place.
The sport obviously comes with its fair share of highs and lows, as you found out when you suffered a pretty big crash just a few races into the season. How frustrating was it to be ruled out in the middle of the season, particularly after enjoying such a good start to 2019?
Yeah, I started the season on a high for sure, came out of the long off-season and surprised myself with that podium.
After feeling consistent with the first three races and excited to head into the rest of the season, I was super-bummed to have a big crash and this kind of setback.
Mid-season is a difficult time to get injured because you try so hard to come back and save some of the season, but it’s such a struggle as you’re playing catch-up with competitors who’ve been getting fitter, faster and stronger while you’ve been away.
What did you learn during your enforced time away from racing?
I learnt how much I love to ride my bike!
It’s always nice to have some time to reflect, even with an injury, as some forced time away helps keep you focused and it really hits home how much you love the sport.
That’s a good perspective to have. Have you got a strong support team around you to help you through those difficult spells in sport? And how big an influence has MTB royalty, Tracy Moseley, been on your career?
Tracy is a legend, and everyone knows that. She's the best role model for anyone getting into MTB or racing.
Tracy has been the mother hen, the agony aunt and the one showing us the way...I'm not sure there is any UK pro racer that hasn't had help from her at some point!
Tracy has been a big help because our sport is pretty new – it’s in its sixth year - so everyone is still figuring out what works when making standards for the industry.
At first I trained myself, but then I quickly realised I had no idea what was going to work.
So I've had coaches for the last two years and having someone telling me what to do has helped to lift a huge weight off my shoulders.
I also have a psychologist, Tim Pitt at Mindflick, and a physio clinic that I work closely with. I'm super lucky because my coach, psychologist and physio are all based in Sheffield and they’ve worked with each other in UK sports programs. Between the three of them, they've helped me through mental struggles, injuries, training and home life. They’re a great team!
Can you give us an idea of what a ‘typical’ week of training might look like for you?
Every week is different!
Sometimes I wish it was a bit more rigid and regular but I suppose I would get bored. With elite sport, it’s vital to be reactive with training; if the body doesn't feel right or there are complications, then training will change.
Listening to the body is SO important!
In a typical week, you would probably see me visit the gym two-to-three times for conditioning, on the bike around five times and doing either sprint sessions, interval sessions, skills rides or endurance rides. And then I'll head to the Fit-4-Physio clinic once a week to help me deal with any niggles.
Source: Bex Baraona Instagram ©
And how do you approach your hydration for your races?
Since using PH and feeling the benefits, I can't afford to mess my hydration plan up because it makes such a difference to my body and how I feel.
I will start each day of exercise with a PH1500 sachet in 500ml water - this sets me up really well because because the days are long. Carrying all the water I need during a six-hour race isn’t an option, while our water aid stations can be so sparse or irregular.
PH has me a step ahead of the other athletes for sure.
I'll then use the PH1500 sachets in any 500ml bottle I fill during the competition.
Depending on feeling, and knowledge of how much I've drunk and sweated, I may have some PH in the evening to top up my sodium levels before the next day of competition.
Excellent! And what are your goals for the rest of the season and beyond?
I came back from my broken ribs a bit too early, so I’ve really struggled mentally to deal with performing at a lower level and getting results that are well below what I expect of myself.
My goal is to go out on a high by riding smoothly, consistently and try to get myself to the shape I was pre-injury.
I imagine it has been nice to be have another focus with your Gowaan Gals project during your injury layoff. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
There's life after racing and even alongside racing actually! Me and a friend set up a social enterprise as a bit of a double act that people seemed to enjoy following, mainly to see the silly stuff we get up to.
We started by posting on Instagram about our travels and racing but people quickly enjoyed following our posts about our fails, attempts, non-polished photos and videos.
We have since grown the brand to try to inspire more people to pick a bike up and give it a go. We love to see people trying something new and feeling comfortable to make mistakes but give it their best. We now have a merchandise range, a successful YouTube channel and we’ve organised the Gowaan Gals MTB Festival - if you say ‘go-on’ in a thick northern accent, you get GOWAAN!