The Weeks leading up to Pivot Twenty-four 12 – Will I be faster than a tortoise?

The last post was left with me, crashing out from Mountain Mayhem, feeling pretty gutted that I failed to complete a 24 hour solo race. Instead I left hot and bothered (mainly cos of the soaring heats) with a bike in need of repair, bruises on my legs, cut on my forehead (but we don’t mention head injuries, if it’s not that bad), a sore right wrist and a swollen and very sore left thumb. Driving home was not the most comfortable, but I made it after a sugar overload half way. When I got back I just crashed out and straight back to normality with additional physical hindrances!

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Bruised and really sore

I’m not one who rushed to the doctors straight away, I didn’t think anything was broken in my thumb, but after a week of the same amount of pain, I thought I best get it checked out. 5 hours sitting in a minor injuries hospital is not what I call fun on a day off, but I was better off than some of the people in there! It turned out just as I thought, tendon damage and it’s just time that heals. Sometimes I wish I had broken it, it may have healed quicker! It got strapped up with a thumb spica support, just so I had very limited range of movement for the next few days to see if that helped. All I know was that it was frustrating, one because I’m left handed and it was my left thumb, but also because you use your thumbs a lot, opposable thumbs and all that. It makes everything a lot harder from writing, to pulling you shorts up to washing up. All tough with one hand!

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Thumbs up for everything!!!

 

This left me quite down about the prospect of not being able to join in the fun at Pivot, but all I could do was hope it would heal. The heat wave of the year was on and it led me to simply do nothing, mope about and feel sorry for myself. I think I went for a run once, but half heartedly. I was just not in the game to do anything regarding bikes. It was as if I had given up on the whole idea of being a biker, not just because of being injured, but recently I have lost the love of it. Going to events because I had booked in advanced, not because I wanted to, which doesn’t make them the easiest to get stuck in whole-heartedly. Not being able to ride wasn’t bothering me too much at this point.

Another week or so passed and all I was doing was using my single speed steel road bike on the couple of km’s to work and back. It felt ok on the road so took it out for a longer flat road ride, but the longer I rode the more sore my thumb got. I really wanted to test the water off-road on a gentle mountain bike ride especially when a demo Cannnondale Jekyll was on offer. However, this was a bad idea, it was almost ok on the climb, but the descents were painful. I had to drop the seat post with my palm and hold on with my thumb above the bar to reduce the pain from the roughness. Not good, too much too soon. This just left me frustrated still, but at least a small voice was saying I needed to get back on bikes, but it was the turbo trainer for me.

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The 2018 Cannondale Jekyll, shame I couldn’t ride it properly 

It was when I had to miss the MTB Marathon down in Exmoor, which I do enjoy that I seemed to start talking myself round to getting my butt into action. Instead of the 65km off road, I headed off on my old road bike and did a steady 80km and sneaked into the Velothon Wales up Caerphilly mountain just to grab an ice cream, it was good to be out, but still uncomfortable in some positions.

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Lemon Curd Ice-cream, so good!

As well as that, I had just signed out of Zwift because it was summer and who wants to sweat buckets inside, when you can play outdoors…I signed back in, humph! It was all I could do as I could spin the legs without even holding on, so that was the best for me just now, at least I had the Tour de France and Wimbledon for company!

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Sweaty Betty!

It still wasn’t great because it doesn’t really imitate the terrain that a mountain bike would go over, but it was definitely better than nothing. I managed a couple of longer road rides too when it felt slightly better, but discovering my right wrist began to twinge in certain positions, not ideal, but it was bearable. There was also a mountain bike distance ride chucked in there for good measure, which was pretty, but pretty dull, not so much on the adventurous side!

It is now the final week before Pivot. I’ve tested the waters on the off-road again with a steady pedal around Cwmcarn trails. It was a mixture of feelings, at first just the happiness of being back on on the mountain bike with a little bit of my mojo back, but then there was the struggle with the dropper post lever, I used it sparingly, as it was sore and not essential most of the time. I shifted the levers and grips to more comfortable positions on the bars and that seemed to help. It was on the descents where it hurt the most, but as soon as the descent was over, a quick shake out and it seemed to ease off.

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I would say I’m 85% there in fitness and 90% healed, so I’m gonna give it a good crack with the help of a few Ibuprofen and various snacks and goodies. I had all the best intentions to do all the training back when I booked, but it may be a little too late. Hearing of guys training endlessly for the past 9months just for this race. All I have done is a 7 hour, a 12 hour, a few long road spins and a number of hours on Zwift, but it is wha it is. All I can do now is hope that it will be enough to see me through to actually complete a 24 hour solo race. This is my only aim, to say I rode as much as I physically could in the 24 hours and not quit, stop or crash (without causing further injury to myself), hopefully crossing the line after the longest 24 hours of my life!

If you are heading down there, I hope you have a fantastic race as well. It’s quite nice this time that my bro is entering the 12 hour race, so I will be in good company. All in all it will be a good weekend whatever happens and whatever the weather, fingers crossed the rain holds off. The next time I write will be after the event come what may and hopefully I shall pedal faster than a tortoise or turtle because I will actually be there!!!

All updates about the event are on their website, Facebook and Twitter

 

Bike Review: 2017 Specialized Epic FSR Comp Carbon

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One of Specialized promo shots!

New is always better?

It’s always a good day when it’s new bike day. This came to me later last summer in the form of the 2017 Specialized Epic FSR Comp Carbon Torch Edition. Before I continue, no it isn’t the version that changes colour in the heat! That was the SWorks version, yes it’s very cool and worked well on the Tarmac at the Olympic Games in Rio. Little miss positivity in me says I got the best of both worlds having both the yellow and the orange. It’s certainly eye catching and is my little ray of sunshine whatever the weather, but of course the paint job really doesn’t affect the performance of the bike, but it certainly got my attention! Yes shiny new bikes are great, but it’s worth taking a look at what you want to be using it predominantly for, what kit is on it, where they may have skimped, which could change the feel and performance of the whole bike.

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This bike is a whole lot of new to me and I jumped in without trying it, so I really was hoping the reviews of previous models and my appreciation of the research, technology and design that Specialized put into there bikes was going to meet my expectations. I was after a cross country race machine, but also something that would be comfortable to ride in 12 and 24 hour solo races, to be honest I think that’s a big ask of any bike and in fact my body! I was going to go for the Epic HT, but this one got released and I just couldn’t resist a little bit of suspension to soften the blow and too be honest I’m already pleased I did and I’ve not done the 24 hour races yet!

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So here’s the low-down

  • FRAME: Specialized FACT 9m carbon, World Cup XC 29 Geometry, M5 rear triangle, carbon PF30 BB, carbon headset cups, 142mm dropouts, internal cable routing, PM 160 rear brake, SWAT tool cradle
  • FORK: Custom RockShox Reba RL, rebound adjust, Solo Air spring, tapered alloy crown/steerer, 15x100mm Maxle Stealth thru-axle, 100mm of travel, 51mm offset (THESE HAVE ALREADY BEEN REPLACED!)
  • REAR SHOCK: Fox/SBC Epic remote Mini Brain with Autosag, brain fade adjust i-valve
  • STEM: Specialized, 3D-forged alloy 75mm, 4-bolt, 6-degree rise (Switched to a 45mm)
  • HANDLEBARS: Specialized Mini-rise, 6000 alloy, 8-backsweep, 6-upsweep, 10mm rise, 720mm width, 31.8mm clamp
  • BRAKES: Shimano M506, hydraulic disc, resin pad, 180/160mm rotor
  • DRIVETRAIN: SRAM NX/GX 11spd with 11-42 Cassette and 30T chainring
  • WHEELS: Specialized disc, alloy, sealed cartridge bearings,15x100mm thru-axle Front, 32h. 12×142 Rear
  • TYRES: Specialized Fast Trak, Control casing, 29×2.2″, 60TPI, clincher, Aramid folding bead, 2Bliss Ready
  • SADDLE: Specialized Body Geometry Phenom Comp, hollow Cr-Mo rails, 143mm (CHANGED)
  • SEATPOST: Specialized, alloy, single bolt, 30.9mm (TO BE CHANGED TO A DROPPER!)

GEOMETRY

To some of you this will be a list of numbers in a table. In fairness it still is a bit of a minefield as I’ve not had it explained in a way I’d remember, but I mainly look at the head-tube angle, where the steeper the angle the more agile the steering, the epic being to the steeper side making it quick and responsive. Stand over is becoming less important as the frame design is giving away to generally lower stand over. If you want to get a better understanding of some of these numbers check these articles out

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It’s got big wheels!

I have only tried out a couple of 29ers in quite different circumstances. Firstly was on the 2016 Enduro and stumpy 29er and simply found them underwhelming because they could just plough though everything (no technique required), plus I struggled to turn them into corners, but I think that is my issue not the bikes! The other one I tried out was the Canyon Exceed CF SLX 29, which was a fast, racey hardtail with the Rock shot RS1 forks, so the other extreme and after a couple of days on it, got used to the ride and loved pretty much everything about it, apart from having to give it back!

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MTB Marathon – 2 capable bikes here!

The 29er is now pretty well established as a common wheel size particularly for cross country, though lately they are trying out the big wheel and long travel bikes, which seems to be working as well (there are no limits!). There are questions that go with height of the rider in relation to what size wheeled bike would perform best for the rider, but this is just an ongoing debate that has no black and white answer, just guidance to get the perfect fit. This is however where it falls short, those wheels are pretty naff to be honest. They are what brings up the weight and loses in stiffness especially as the spokes are already required some more tension and I’ve not ridden it hard really.

I’ve seen a natural link between 29er wheels and faster rolling pace, so that’s got to be a good thing right? Well, the part that I have had to come to grips with, is actually getting it up to speed. When it’s there, yes it flies, but I am all too aware that I’m having to put more effort in to get it there. It’s amazing on the long climbs, it’s fantastic at skipping over roots and rocks, in a straight line it goes. It’s just those flipping corners, It’s a big wheel to guide around sometimes narrow and twisty trails that sometimes I tend to take a wider line than I would prefer. All in all though, the pro’s definitely outweigh the cons on this bike anyway!

It’s got a Brain

“Brain suspension technology was developed to deliver the utmost in efficiency on the trail. Whether it’s at the front or rear of a bike’s suspension, it’s able to differentiate between rider input and trail bumps, ensuring that your pedaling forces aren’t being wasted in compressing the suspension.” https://www.specialized.com/us/en/brain-technology

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Soft to Firm adjustment

It’s firm over smooth terrain to maximize efficiency and active over the rougher stuff. Simply put this means more speed and control, now that’s never a bad thing. I’ve played about with it as it has soft to firm settings. Now on the shorter XC rides I have been popping it onto firm, to gain the maximum speed as the terrain isn’t that rough. On the trail centre rides, mtb marathons and the latter stages of a long endurance ride I put it to the soft side for a bit more comfort where comfort as well efficiency is appreciated.

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The only draw back to it is in the middle setting closer to soft is the delay in reaction. You go into a bomb hole or some rougher terrain and it doesn’t feel as though it’s quite in sync with you. Fair enough it can’t see what’s coming up, so naturally there will be slower reactions, but it does create some interesting feedback and noise just after going over the rougher obstacle. I think I still need to get to grips with it to gain the maximum usage out of it, just like my own brain!

The Ride

There is so much on a bike these days that you can waffle on about, but the majority of the time all we care about it how it performs at the prescribed style of biking it’s designed for. In this case it was chucked straight into the fire as it’s first outing was a 12 hour at Torq in you Sleep, last year! Nothing like 12 hours in the saddle to really get to know it, right! I had managed to go for a quick hour spin up and down the local trails near me, just to get a handle on things and twerking it a bit, such as seat post height (not used to a static post), saddle position and getting to grips with the bigger wheels, really hoping I would like them!

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It was up to the task, more than me! It was comfortable, efficient and could have been fast if it wasn’t for me slowing it down. The first few laps was definitely an adjustment to the bigger wheels in the close and tight single track, struggling a little to turn them properly. This improved as I got to know the course and get to grips with the bike. By the end of the race, not only did we take the win (again not much competition here), but I was loving the bike apart from the grips, my hands were at the verge of cramping. It was smooth on the undulations, climbed with ease and on the flats it munched up the terrain. I did find it a bit more effort to get up to speed, but once it was there it didn’t want to stop. These sections were short lived unfortunately, and then I had to build the speed and maintain it through the trees. I was noticing that I was going slower because of the wheel size that I have done on previous bikes on this same course. Is this telling me I am better off on a 650b wheel or that I need to change my riding style to adapt to the bigger wheels. Overall I would say this is built for the short XC races as well as the marathon style rides and it’s down to a few tweeks and rider handling whether or not you can ride to what it is capable of.

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It can handle the rugged north (Kielder 101)

It would be better if…

SADDLE – There’s always thing we would like to change and upgrade on bikes just to make them the best possible. There were a few things for my comfort that needed changing, the saddle (a key contact point), with the amount of time I was spending in the saddle this was important, so I have gone with the Specialized Oura expert saddle, which for me is so comfortable even though it’s highlighted to be for the road.

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Specialized Oura Expert Saddle

FORKS – A massive upgrade and unexpected treat for myself courtesy of Mojo Suspension setting it off with Fox 32 step-cast forks. These not only finish of the bike beautifully in the bold orange, but they are a whole lot lighter, great adjustability, stable and capable. These were a massive step up from the Rockshox Reba RL’s that come as standard. If there were 2 things that could be upgraded it would be the forks and then the wheel set. The wheels are the massive let down, they are heavy, basic and even for myself being a lighter rider I notice that they are not very strong, but unless a new lightweight XC wheel set falls in my lap that’s what I will use!

STEM – The next thing was the stem, it came with a 75mm length and just found this to stretched out and I was on the lower limit of the medium, so initially reduced it to a 60mm and that was better, but now I have brought it in 15mm more with a 45mm stem that has made the position slightly more uprights and the handling thankfully not twitchy, but just a bit more manoeuvrable for me which is ideal.

GRIPS – Following the stem were the grips, I’ve not got on with basic Specialized ones at all, just feel horrible. These changed initially to some ODI Elite grips, with a bit of waffle for better grip. These are so comfortable and ‘grippy’ but I popped them onto my Orange P7, so I then got some Ergon Marathon grips that have a bit more palm support for the longer rides. I’m still in 2 minds about these as I get slight discomfort down the sides after a couple of hours, but I think it will be down to moving the position slightly.

PEDALS – I did over the winter months pop on some Crank Brother Candy 1 pedals. I was told that particularly in muddy conditions they were one of the easiest to clip in and out of and able to shed mud quickly. I can confirm that they are very easy to clip out of and get rid of the mud well, but to get into them, not so much. I spent more time faffing and struggling to clip into these on a couple of races that I wished I was on flat pedals! It was good to try them, but I’ll stick to my Shimano XT pedals, which just work for me. Speaking of mud, which we see a lot of here in the UK, this bike over the winter races has struggled with mud clearance around particularly the rear tyre. A couple of times I have had to stop to clear it up as the mud has just built up too much. Apart from that it’s handled the delightful conditions of particularly wet Wales (the sun does shine, honest!).

S.W.A.T

It stands for ‘Storage, Water, Air, Tools’ and all the little tricks work really well. It’s really neat that a bike can carry most of the repair stuff that it may need. It’s all tucked in little crevasses that you don’t see straight off and with minimal noise when pedalling. For one you can have to water bottle cages, that can comfortably hold 600ml bottle, not much more or it will hit the frame or shock. There is a multi tool just above the shock underneath the top tube, You could get one that screws onto the bottom of the SWAT bottle cages, but this is slightly rattly, but convenient.

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Next up is the Chain tool tapped into the headset, with the power link sitting neatly on top and all you need to get it out is the 4mm from the multi tool!

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Lastly there is the SWAT XC Storage, that works because of the extra bottle cage screw hole to raise the bottle cage, attach the box to the cage and away you go. It really is pretty much self sufficient.

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Dropper versus Static…

The latest purchase that could be seen as a topic off debate is a KS E30i 100mm dropper post. It’s one of only a few that have been made for the narrower seat post diameter of 27.2mm. The reason I have gone for this is because I already know that a dropper when descending allows me to let the bike move under me more freely and I can get my weight back therefore increasing my confidence on the bike and in turn hopefully impact positively on my speed too. I just know I have had several occasions where I feel having the seat post up (as high as I need it) means I have caught my shorts and bashed my legs trying to avoid it. The gain in a slight bit of weight will most definitely be over ridden by the comfort, confidence and speed on descents. The Battle on the Beach is going to be the last time for the static post as it looks pretty flat and fast, XC through and through!

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Oo cheeky…Why are MTB companies so tongue in cheek with there slogans?!?

Having now used the bike with the dropper on a couple of trail centre rides including Glentress trail centre and the Tweedlove Glentress 7. The dropper for me is a must. It gives me the ability to get further back on the bike on some of the steeper sections allowing me to go through with a bit more speed and control. It definitely outweighs any disadvantages. There would have been a couple of moments where with a static post I may have opted for the easier line, which meant longer, so in fact having the dropper was to a great advantage.

Verdict

It would be easy to say, this is the best bike I’ve ridden because it’s probably one of the only XC bikes I’ve had the pleasure to ride that has been realistic to what I could afford. As mentioned before I’ve ridden the top spec Canyon Exceed CF SLX and the Cannondale Scalpel Si both being £6k plus and ridiculously light, stupidly stiff and just rapid straight out of the box, but there’s no way that I could afford one, only sponsorship would make this happen. The Epic is great for where I’m at, I’m not the fastest out of the blocks, but I don’t give up and neither does this bike. It is not the most playful on the local trails, but once getting used to the 29er wheels it is just more capable than myself. I know this because I met someone else with one and he was flying on it. It’s a shame that certain speeds don’t come with the bike, not dependent on the rider! If I could I would go for the S Works version, but for what I use it for this is great.

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At the end of the day, it’s all about the fun you have on whatever steed you have!

 

 

 

 

Mountain Mayhem 2017 – A Solo Tale of 2 halves

Go Outdoors Mountain Mayhem 24hr 2017 – 

20th Anniversary at Gatcombe Park

24 HOUR SOLO

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The Pre-24 hour ramblings!

I may have said this before, but it appears that the older you get the quicker time passes by. It was Christmas 2016 that I booked onto Mountain Mayhems to make me commit to it and get the dates firmly in the diary. This was to be my first 24 hour solo MTB race, previously ‘only’ doing 12 hours and feeling finished after that. The thought of adding another 12 hour on top of it just sounds painful, let alone what it will be like when I have endured and hopefully enjoyed pedalling round a course for close to 24 hours as I can.

When I was at the 12/24 hours of Exposure and Pivot 24/12 it was watching these top athletes get more and more fatigued as they relentlessly pedalled through the night. It was when they finished and attempted to get off the bike or simply walk. They were broken men, physically and mentally spent, no surprise really, but the thing is they do lots of these events, there bodies may not like it, but they are used to it. This is where I feel super inexperienced and stepping foot into the unknown.

I consciously chose Mountain Mayhem to pop my 24 hour solo cherry for a few reasons. The main one being that everyone is doing 24 hours. Unlike other races where there is a 12 or 6 hour version, with this one everyone is in the same boat whether a team, pair or solo. This means you will get fewer whippets hustling past, though I’m under no illusion that there will still be many of them here, they may be going a little slower, maybe!

The lead up to this event has been less than desirable. After a pretty good winter of training and races I was putting in the miles and enjoying the new world of Zwift on the many cold, dark, rainy days. For reasons unknown to me I was slowly losing the drive to go biking and was doing very little in the way of training. I got through the Glentress 7 hour endurance race up in Scotland and blagged 2nd place, which was undeserved due to the lack I had done. That was 3 weeks prior to Mayhem and in that gap I have pootled to work on my steel single speed, done a couple of Zwift sessions, a handful of squats and push ups and that’s about it. My head is out of the game, so I’m hoping Mayhem will give me the shove I need to get back on the bike. It may have the opposite effect of making me not want to sit on a saddle for a very long time. I’m hoping it’s not the latter as I have Pivot 24/12 coming up at the end of July. Time will indeed tell!

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This was me for the next couple of days

This will be one new experience that is making me very nervous with a great deal of apprehension about the whole race. It is the longest time I will (attempt) to keep peddling for, it’s on a course that’s completely new to me, though I will get to know it VERY well and I don’t feel mentally or physically ready for it. Oh, and I am completely on my own, a solo, solo, so pitting for myself. To be honest for this one I’m happy to go alone, in a strange way it will be a good timeout even though I am surrounded by others I will be self sufficient and it will be all about my personal challenge. This could be quite a journey.

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Look how shiny that kettle is, and good advice from the mug!

I have it all planned, I have got hopefully all that I need and more. A few extra purchases largely to feed my tea habit. I have a Massive hot water dispenser that will be ready to pour tea that will hopefully stay hot/warm for the majority of the race. A new shiny kettle, stove and water carriers with the tap thing for easy bottle top ups. The last treat was a camping table, not sure how I have gone this long without one to be honest, it’s so much more civilised. This does mean I have no real excuses apart from mechanicals that I can’t fix with the many spares I have or injury. It will be down to the mental game probably from 3am onwards (I can’t believe I am evening saying that!).

Mountain Mayhem 24hr 2017 – the 20th Anniversary & Final Edition

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I had heard about Mayhem for years and just thought it was just mad to pedal for 24hours, now here I am. I couldn’t miss out on this event with it being a rather special one at that. It’s had a couple of locations, many sponsors, mixture of weather (some better than others), but largely hundreds of competitors and spectators coming year on year. There must be something about it for it to have achieved such great success, so we’ll see what all the fuss it about. There’s not much more I can tell you , there is a course that you try and go round as many times as possible within the 24 hour time limit. On top of that they are putting on kids races, evening entertainment and I’m sure much more in a stunning location, courtesy of Princess Ann opening it up just for this weekend!

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This year is set to be golden, weather wise any way. Previously there have been ‘puddles’ up to your shins. This year will be a contrast with sun cream being a necessary item, it’s going to be hot and not cooling down too much through the night either, which for me is good as I get pretty cold, pretty quickly, but it could also get to hot to handle.

All I can do now is, chill out. It is literally the calm before the storm, well race! I’ve got a nice space, track side just before the start/finish area. I have clocked where the closest loo’s are, the water sources, which are big tankers with cow like udder taps (highly amusing) and the escape route home if I want to throw my toys out the pram and bale (not planning on that one). I’ll check out the course in the evening and hopefully that will settle any nerves about what the course has got in store and highlight the major climbs, any tricky descents and places to have a swig of drink or something.

The Course – What’s in Store?

The map gives you hints of the main features and sponsored sections to show where the interest is or areas to be cautious of, but it can’t be too technical or hard as there are such a range of abilities here to get round it hopefully in one piece.

It’s seems a tad odd to do a practice lap of a course you’re going to do umpteen times, if all goes well, but it’s what we do and lets you stretch the legs and mentally prepare (if you do that) of what you will be exposed to for the race. Simply put this is going to be flipping tough. One lap was hard enough! It’s an 11km loop (according to my Garmin) with approximately 270 metres of climbing each lap. Now if this was a nice XC 4 lap style race then it would be tough, but achievable…24 hours mind is a whole different ball game. The climbs are going to feel like they are getting steeper and longer and trying to maintain the concentration on some of the single track sections will be tricky. I sense there will be a few silly hopefully not serious offs during this and possibly a bit of walking in the latter stages maybe. The practice loop took about an hour with a few stops for pictures and checking out the A or B lines along the way.

It begins in the event arena field and then heads quite quickly into the woodland on some single track sections. It’s a bit narrow in sections with some roots chucked in to keep you on your toes. It’s just a little undulating, but nothing to technical. There was the first choice with a little bomb hole  or skirt around the side, some may find it a little bit scary or not worth the risk, but I found A easier.

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A-line bomb whole, not so bad

Thankfully the majority is in the woodland keeping the hot sun off our backs. It carries on over some freshly cut tracks, some built up berms and a cheeky little short steep drop with a right hander, just to slow the pace down, before you fly round a couple of faster tracks with checker corners.

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Doesn’t look like much, but you don’t want to go in too fast or you’d miss the corner!

The next A or B choice could be interesting, the A being steeper and loose with a higher risk of washing out follow by a climb up the forest track. Not taking the B line it was only seeing people pop out the other side that made me wonder if it was more down, less up. It’s looking likely that the B line this time would be wiser.

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This was a drag, but it descended to the right, so that made you smile!

This then popped you out down the bottom of a field that drew your attention to the rather impressive stately home at the top of the hill, very nice! For the riders though it was where the climbing started to kick in, first a little slog up a grassy hill with a couple of steeper kicks just to make you work. You were rewarded with a nice wide and fast descent, so that climb is forgotten quickly.

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Round the lake, very pretty

This feeling is short lived when after a bit of a lake side pedal, very picturesque begins what seems like one continuous climb up back up to the event arena. There were a couple of short and steep descents, but they were quickly forgotten as the climbs on rocks, a few roots and the final grassy drag seem to take an age, the latter being exposed to the sun made it twice as hard. The lap ends with a blast around most of the campsite and then a little bumpy section before opening up to the start/finish. Few, quite action packed and apparently better than in previous years.

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The view just above the final climb, not bad eh!

 

This course already feels tougher, harder and sketchier than the other courses such as Torq in Your sleep and Pivot 24/12. This is not a bad thing, but it’s just going to make you work for it with no real let up! The challenge I face is when to hydrate as there isn’t much in the way of breaks in the course, a lot of single track and not much wide forest track until you’re in the arena. There is no denying it I’m in for a long 24 hours if I make it. If I was fit as a fiddle and on top form I may be looking at 20 or 21 laps maybe, but in my current state of play if I get anywhere in the higher teens that would be ok, but I really don’t have a clue how this will play out! If all else fails I won in the Kenda raffle, paid a quid and picked out the one for a set of Kenda tyres, so not all bad went 650b that fits a bike I don’t have, unless I make the Orange P7 an XC Machine and rock it at Pivot! I think I will be heading for that size on the new steed, whatever that may be!

 

Mountain Mayhem – A tale of 2 halves

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The Epic all good to go

There are some races that you enjoy, there are others that you endure. I would say for me this had a bit of both. Waking up to blazing hot sunshine on the Saturday morning was lovely, but stupidly hot (I’m not very good in the heat). I would say I’m not good with extremes, that’s why i’m British, happy with overcast and meh weather, not too hot, not too cold (easily pleased!!!). If I were dipping my feet in a paddling pool in the shade then I’d lap up the sun, but not so much when you are pedalling with quite some effort to get round an 11km  course for hours on end.

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There were an random collection of animals including this friendly fella!

After a pretty relaxed morning, it was time to get to the start line. The nerves had kicked in and I was feeling very much out of my depth and very alone in the crowd with not much positivity for the following 24 hours. The crowds were gathering for the silly run thing. It was about a mile loop with the idea to spread the field out a bit then you grab your bike and begin your race journey. The keen beans sprinted off, either out for glory or wanted 5 minutes of speed before they hit the bike bit! I went for a gently jog, not a fan of running in SPD shoes, but it didn’t last long. Grabbed my bike, turned the Garmin on and the real race began. I had no idea who or how many I was actually racing, but it’s the type of race you can only do as much as you can.

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The riders briefing

Lap it up

The first lap was pretty steady as you can imagine being over 800 riders (or something) to get on there way. It only slowed down over the technical sections where some were taking it cautiously, which holds everyone up, but not for long. The first laps is always a bit steady with many just getting there bearings of the course, but went without a hitch, everyone all smiley, happy and energetic (that will change).

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My humble corner, next to the machines of Pivot Boompods!

Lap 2, the headache kicked in from dehydration and it was pounding, particularly on the descents as I was shaken about and feeling like I was getting pummelled from the inside. I was getting grumpy and not wanting to be there at all, the heat was a killer, but as always just plodded on for another lap as I still had a bottle with me and pushed on through the pain. It was end of lap 3 that I stopped to take some paracetamol and switch bottles, hoping that might lift the headache. I was still not in ‘the zone’ and not sure I would find it as although the majority was in the shade, when you hit the sun it hit you big style, not pleasant even just to sit it.

It was on lap 5 that I caught up with a lovely guy riding for JMC who was also soloing and had done a few before, we were going the same pace and we just chatted a bit as we pedalled steadily along, I was gleaming from his experience and how to pace it. The whole JMC team were just great, so hats off to them. This was a gentle distraction from the headache and by the end of the lap I was feeling much clearer (love paracetamol, don’t have it that often so the effect is quick) and I was getting a bit more energised. It’s amazing what a conversation, the temperature cooling slightly and the headache clearing makes you feel good. It felt as though I could get through this with a few more bottles of drink.

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The laps were in and around the hour mark, some longer because I was taking longer for breaks because of the heat and faffing. My new table funnily enough from the title sponsor ‘Go Outdoors’ that I bought just the week before decided to collapse, thought it had something more than velcro to hold it up with. This left all my organised snacks in a heap on the ground, in a mess. Not what I needed, so chucked it all in the back of the van and left it all to swelter, which wasn’t great. This is where a pit crewe comes in handy, to sort out the bits you don’t need to have to worry about. This is turning into a very big learning curve on how to plan and ask for help (I hate asking and always want to go alone, note to self >>>REALLY STUPID, GOING ALONE SUCKS<<<)

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Just so pretty!

What treats were in store?

In my snackageness I decided to go a bit more healthy and natural, so made some, jam rolls, banana loaf, healthy flapjack (didn’t know that existed, but it does), bought some ‘Oompf’ energy balls and bars (really tasty good, homemade in Dorset) and ‘Scratch Labs’ energy drink mix (made with real fruit juice).

Alongside this, I made a vat of vegetable pasta, bought some oat cakes, malt loaf and of course some Haribo, I was going to have a tub of mini jelly men, but could not track them down, so star mix it was! I was going to try this one without the use of energy gels as I am learning that for me a banana works more wonders that a slurp of a gel filled with a whole load of stuff your body may not like. This all seemed to be working a treat, but I really wish I had a fridge or something because it was getting all too warm and melty in the back of my van in the tropical heat.

Just keep pedalling

It may be a long race, but you can break it down as you pedal round and all the time the clock was counting down. The laps were a good length, so you knew it was around an hour for each lap. Those who were machines were averaging 47 minutes constantly. I was not one of these, so I knew each lap another hour or so had been ticked off. There were time checks to be had in all sorts of ways. When 3 hours clocked over, there was only 21 hours to go. After 6 hours, you were a quarter of the way through. at 8:30 it was lights on, so that’s a great time to start a new section, then there was 12 hours, half way through and so on.

What I did miss at this event was sections of entertainment, there was nothing. At Torq in your sleep, you get a DJ pumping out the tunes in the dark, at Pivot you got scone, jam and cream, TEA, lollies and a huge heap of encouragement (hoping for that again this year). Don’t get me wrong, there were supporters and marshals, but for a lot of it you were just plodding round on your own. It just seemed to be lacking the spark that I got from other events, but hey everyone seemed to love it, so I will shut up. I think I just wanted more distractions!

I decided at the lights on marker that I would have a change of kit as it was all sweaty and it was a smidge cooler than it was. It felt like the start of another race, new frame of mind for the night laps, it was going well and I do love biking in the dark. It brings the track to life. I had enough lights to, already having my own Exposure lights Maxx-d and Diablo with extra battery, I also borrowed another set just in case, but the battery life on these bad boys are so good now the one set would see me through, but now I guess I will have to wait for Pivot to test that out…

It all went wrong in a second

It only takes one slip up to put a halt to everything. It was lap 11, everything was going well, loving sneaking through the trees in the dark and just cruising. Woah, crash, bang, whollop, I was down and in pain. I had a fast paced crash on one of the easy descents that I had done 10 times before. It was very quick, not sure what caused it, but knew it wasn’t good. A bash to the helmet and slamming onto my side, knee and hands left me in a heap on the track. I’m not sure who the chap was who stopped and helped me, but thank you very much, he made sure I was alright, moved my bike out of the way of on coming riders. Checking the bike over, the rear mech had been bent leaving the gears jumping all over the place. I managed to bend the mech slightly, but it wasn’t happy or fixed and nervous it would break. This unbeknownst to me was to be my last lap. It was simply to painful to hold the handlebars, it didn’t feel safe to ride the descents and on the climbs the bike wasn’t happy as it jumped around the gears, so It was time to retire. After a little weep by my van I literally chucked the bike by the van and threw the bed I wasn’t planning to sleep in back in and just laid there. My race was done and I only achieved 12 hours. That’s the way it goes. I feel a little annoyed I couldn’t complete it, but it’s only a race and in a few days time it will all be forgotten. It also makes this write up shorter!

If it was just the bike, in the remaining time I could have probably fixed the bike enough to get it working. The issue was my hands the left thumb swelling up badly and the right palm bruise making it agony to put any pressure on let alone try and shift the gear lever or dropper post (not really needed on this one), but all said and done, it’s not worth putting your body through anything that may do it more harm than good. You could say that the whole race does that, but us humans seeming to like pushing our bodies to the limit now and then!

After a couple of hours sleep, I just lay there watching guys and girls just keep riding through lap after lap. I was struggling in the heat even in the early hours, but when it got to about 9am, it was roasting and I would guess that those last few hours for all the riders were the hardest, not just because of the 21 hours that had gone before, but the heat was testing. After an event like this, you get the ‘should have, could have, if, buts and maybes’ and it’s easy to say in hindsight that I could have been a contender for the podium if not from that crash. I was already on 11 at around 12:30, so if I kept that pace then maybe I would have got another 8 or so laps, but I can say that easily now, it’s a whole other story if I were actually riding it. I will never know now, which is a little frustrating, but hey that’s the way it goes. My hat goes off to everybody who just kept going, everyone should be proud of what they did, it certainly ended mayhem on a high.

24hr still eludes me

I can’t say that just entering a 24 hour race means I’ve completed it. For me that was just a 12 hour and a long wait for the finish! I will now have to wait for Pivot 24/12 at the end of July to hopefully say I have entered and completed to the best of my ability a 24 hour race. The difference at that one will be that my brother is racing 12 hour and brings his lovely wife who not so secretly loves organising the pit crewe and keeping us sorted. There will also be other people I am looking forward to see there and just feel it will be more of a fun event for me than Mayhem was, just depends on what the weather is going to throw at us. For now I need to get healed up, fix the bike see if I can sort out a second bike as well maybe (could be the P7) if the worst happens and give myself a slap in the face and sort my head out. I’m not sure how much of this long distance biking malarkey is going to be in it, I think I need a change, a new challenge or just a break. Too much of something can take it’s toll on someone, not all as I know many racers will do this year on year and absolutely love it. I want what they have, but just for now I want to plan a few holidays and have a bit of play time, none of that training malarkey. If your hearts not in it, move on and try something else and I think that’s wise for me right now.

All the links and social media about Mountain Mayhem 2017

Results – I did 11 laps, looks like lap 2 didn’t get acknowledged, but not fussed enough to get it adjusted

Photo’s – Daisy Dog album 1, Daisy Dog Album 2, Daisy Dog Album 3, Daisy dog Album 4

Mountain Mayhem Website

Singletrack reviews

UPDATE

It’s been 2 weeks since Mountain Mayhem and unfortunately I am still not fully up and running. I got my thumb checked out after a 4 hour wait at the minor injuries clinic. The X-ray showed that I hadn’t broken my thumb, but must have badly damaged the tendons and they take longer to heal. Humph! I got really down by this and didn’t bother doing any cycling. Then the thought that I still wanted to go to Pivot with a fighting chance, forced me to get the turbo trainer out and start spinning the legs as no hands are needed!

I thought that it was healing nicely after a week being strapped up, so though I would test the waters with an off-road ride around Cwmbran – BAD IDEA. I was ok on the flat and alright on the climb though my right wrist was niggling in certain positions, but it was the descents that were the killer. I couldn’t use the dropper post with out instant pain and then the simplicity of holding on was becoming worse and worse with every bump and hit. Frustrated to say the least.

For now under wise instruction from fellow bikers I am restricting myself to the turbo and the road (have to fine the smoother roads) and see how it goes. I’m really hoping I can participate in Pivot, but time will tell.

Tweedlove Bike Festival 2017: Odlo Glentress 11 (Run) & 7 (Bike)

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Tweedlove Bike Festival

“TweedLove Bike Festival is a celebration of all things bike, and is 100% organised by bike riders. We think we’ve got the UK’s best concentration of mountain and road biking options right on our doorstep, so we have a lot of riders living here, keen to invite you to share our back yard”

It’s really rather awesome, so many events, not just for the elite, but for the whole family, for the roadies and the mountain bikers, the young and the old. It’s bringing the biking community from far and wide, creating opportunities to explore this stunning area on 2 wheels, well and a run was chucked in there too!

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View from my accommodation!

The festival runs throughout May and June, growing from strength to strength. All the events are listed here: Tweedlove Bike Festival. I may have only been up for a short snippet of this whole thing, but I can already say it has gone down a storm and set to continue. A great festival and celebration, run by passionate people is always going to be filled with fun and won’t disappoint. I hope that I can get a bit more involved next year, support the event and volunteer as much as possible. That would be a good excuse to spend an extended time up there in such a beautiful part of the country.

What did I get up to?

Travelling up for a weekend from South Wales isn’t the shortest of journeys, but it was totally worth it, heading up on the Thursday, gave me time to play. After 6 hours plus in the scorching heat (not used to that!) I was passing through some gorgeous scenery and remembering the beauty that I was entering where I used to live and work. It was straight to the trails to stretch the legs around Innerleithen 7Stanes, taking it nice and steady on my Orange P7 because of the heat as well as the looming 7 hour race on the other bike!

 

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P7 enjoying this as a back drop!

I had to make the most of the area, so went for a spin around the Glentress red trail on the Friday morning in the beautiful sun, again very steady, but still good fun. It was then time to chill out, grab some food. If you’re in Inners, head to ‘Cafe No.1′ on the high street, simply tasty good food, chilled out and very welcoming, then get a refreshing homemade ice cream from Caldwells, so good! After a mooch along by the river in Peebles, it was time to get psyched for the 11km trail run that evening.

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Picture Perfect…the water was refreshing

Odlo Glentress 11km Trail Run

Running, what?!? I don’t run, I’m a biker. They were cunning those organisers up in Tweedlove HQ. ‘I know, why don’t we do a deal on the run if you book it at the same time as the Glentress 7 hour bike race’. Little did I know that this caught my attention and I was doing the occasional run now and then back in the winter, so why not eh, I’d be up there anyway so a positive way to spend the evening!

It’s amazing how the months disappear and all the ‘training’ you may have had planned just simply slips away. Before you know it the weekend where you’re meant to be on your game rocks up and you really haven’t done anything significant to help get through this event. Ah well, what will happen, will happen! This was the first of it’s kind at the ‘bike festival’ and with up to 150 runners out, I would say they might do it again!. This was massively helped by it being a gloriously sunny day, though we aren’t used to it, so it got a bit much for some! We are never happy, whatever the weather. I was pretty content, no pressure on me, this was all just for fun or something like that!

The Odlo Glentress 11, is set conveniently on the same course that the bike race was on the following day, so if all else failed and I was absolute poop at least I was gaining the benefit of a track walk! As you can tell, I had no race time in mind, just to get round the course was enough for me! It’s the taking part that happens, right!

Running is simple, all you need is a good set of trainers, shorts and t-shirt and your away. I rocked some green biking shorts, blue top and my blue Salomon X-Scream trainers. In the end I was nicely colour co-ordinated, not planned at all! After sign on, there was all the time in the world to faff and forget key things.

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Check out that for colour co-ordination!

I was chilling in the event arena, thankfully they did the runners briefing, where the first thing they mentioned was to make sure we had the timing chip or you’ll just be out for a run, not actually in the event. I casually wandered out of the briefing, down  the the van to pick up said timing chip and discreetly blended back in for the final words of the briefing…I’m sure it was all very useful stuff, but I wouldn’t know. At least I was in the race!!!

It was go time, a steady pace, I wasn’t going to sprint off stupidly and bonk half way in, so it was steady as she goes, especially when it was up, up, up! The pack very quickly began to string out as the running machines set off at a blistering pace and the rest of us found our own pace and settle into it. All the climbs up the fire tracks were nice and steady. There was a few steeper kicks up the single track sections, which even at a steady pace were getting the heart rate high. It seemed to be on the technical descents where I gathered momentum and just went with it! I was managing to gradually catch people on the climbs, but hopping over the roots and finding the inside line on the descents and I was gaining on people pretty quickly. I was definitely on the edge of my control and I could have on several occasions fallen flat on my arse, but thankfully I remained upright! It must have been that 2 day orienteering course I went on way back when at uni, where it was all about ‘fairy feet’ when descending, totally paid off!

I even managed a sprint finish from somewhere, just pipping another lass to the finish and almost forgetting to blip the timing chip, thankfully there were people to shout you back! I was sweating buckets, yet feeling good. In a time of 1:03 I was pretty happy with that especially when I really wouldn’t class myself as a runner, more of a head clearer now and then! I was totally unaware of my position, but a check back at the results showed that actually I did alright and came 2nd in the U35 category, only a minute behind the leader, well I wasn’t expecting that…maybe I should try this trail running thing, or quit whilst I’m ahead!

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Not the most comprehensive print out, but it’s got my time!

That was it, a few glasses of water downed and chucked over my head, it was done. There wasn’t any podium for this one, it just kind of ended with the satisfaction of being part of it. Though I think this could be improved upon if it’s going to stay in the festival next year

Odlo Glentress Seven – Let’s kick up some dust

The day started the same as other events, a hearty bowl of porridge and brew in hand. Sitting around the breakfast table, unknowingly with the winners of the pairs from last year, Tom Wragg (who I now discovered owns Ruby the trail dog!) & Joe Norledge who were back to keep there crown, but super relaxed as they set about there morning routine, such nice chaps. Alongside there mates yet rival competitors, Jack Luke and Reuben Bakker-Dyos from Bike Radar joining them. They set off whilst I did a bit more faffing, think I was getting too relaxed! Got the kit on, went full XC stylé with full lycra, mainly because of the heat, I did don some sweet Sako7 socks to complement or clash with my shiny new Northwave shoes, it’s good to be bright, right?!?

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What a combination!!!

Headed up to Glentress in good time as I was entering I spotted a van I recognised behind me. To my surprise is was a group from Rock UK Whithaugh Park, up to race as 2 teams, it was really nice to see some familiar faces that I haven’t seen for a while, think they were up for a bit of fun! Collected the timing chip, popped down my box in the solo pitt, full of too much stuff that I probably wouldn’t need. Did the necessary checks to the bike (tyre pressure), got the all important Chamois cream on (don’t know how I never used to use this stuff!), number on the bike and I was ready for the off. Super relaxed and out to have some fun, love riding new events, going into the unknown a little (apart from my run the night before).

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Number 69…

Rider Briefing

We all do it, check the weather several times before an up and coming event. This one was interesting, it was a scorcher of a week in the lead up, the run certainly proved that one! It was no surprise that this was set to continue, but it never lasts. There was a looming thunderstorm set to hit in the afternoon. This was a major talking point, that if it hits the race may have to be cancelled, if it just rained, the course may be tweaked, but would carry on. We were all hoping it would miss us, but the weather does what the weather does and we were definitely going to know about it! The rest was all about making sure you tapped the timing chip each lap, be considerate of other riders and don’t forget to drink, as it was hot, hot, hot!

I was quite far back in the field at the start, but really wasn’t phased as I was in this for the fun rather than the racing as I really have not been putting the training in, totally unsure of where my fitness and endurance was at. I’ve had a bit of a loss of love for the 2 wheels (sorry for those who don’t understand how this happens!), so minimal time on the bikes doesn’t help with pre-booked events. but hey I could do as much or as little as I wanted to, there were no rules! Those who head to the front, I assume they are the super elite or just confused and get caught by the masses on the first climb. I prefer to pass people and settle into my rhythm rather than go off like a bat out of hell and blow up on the first lap!

What’s the course got to offer?

Going Up

It was certainly an action packed 11km loop, with a great balance of climbing, descending and forest track breathers. It really didn’t disappoint. The first lap was slightly shorter to get the hundreds of riders spread out. Nothing like a long fire track climb to let the hares sprint off and the turtles to just get the wheels rolling. I’m not sure that the turtles were ever going to catch the hares in this story, but hey, they wouldn’t give up, well this one wasn’t going to.

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Took this the day before on my loop of Glentress, easier than it looks, maybe!

After heading up ‘Rue de Souffrance’ a testing climb that seemed to get steeper each time. We made our way up onto the blue/red trail climb, which was a nice break, still going up, but a lot steadier as it snaked up towards the Buzzard nest car park. The climbing wasn’t over yet, it guided us beside the bike park area on a rocky track heading up over some roots as the gradient got steeper, a couple of big efforts to spit you out onto another fire road. At this point you were wondering if it was ever going to head down! Thankfully this fire road led us up to the highest point of the course, where they put on a little cake and water stand, which I know many riders including myself appreciated greatly especially on a hot day.

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The black option, short and technical, or you could swing round on a longer loop

Going Down

This was just before the ‘Tunnel of love‘ which was a naturally steep, loose, dark and dusty descent that was quite sketchy (interesting choice of name!). This was a hang on and get down kind of track, especially when it turned sharp left and dropped you down. No walking for me, but many others were being cautious down there which is understandable! This then rolled over rough rocks and roots just to beat you up a little each lap. It was more of a pedal section with a couple of dips to keep momentum. Eventually it popped out somewhere else in the maze of forest tracks just for a momement. A chance to get a swig of drink in before we diverted off right onto more natural tracks, the fun was increasing and gravity was playing more of a part now!

It was twisty, rooty with small trees on the edge of the track and little drops just to keep you on your toes. This was where many guys were absolutely flying, some a bit too quick and washing out in the dust, others getting stuck behind slower riders and no where to go, but hey everyone had a right to have time and space on that trail, some were a tad too pushy for my likings, but you always get that at races. The first section was a bit more up and down traversing slightly to get to the fun stuff. A swoop around a fire track and then dropping into another narrow yet rapid section. I mean off the brakes and go as fast as you can, it would have been cool to have a speed camera down there over 30mph was happening easily (nearly by me!).

A quick climb and a roll or sprint to the next section would take us back to the arena. There was a choice here…stupid or sensible, easy or hard, shorter versus longer. Well I didn’t give myself the option, having run down this the night before I knew I could ride it. I wouldn’t be the fastest, but I would make it. There was quite a big drop into a corner then flat out weaving through trees creating a slalom line through before getting a bit tighter, and sketchier. Many opportunities to hit your handlebars or wash out on the roots that were everywhere. This is where having the 29er just got me out of trouble, just rolling over the top whatever poor line choice I picked! A few tight corners at the end to slide it round then it was out into the open and onto a fun slalom track on the grass all the way down to the event arena.

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SLALOM!!!

That’s the short lap done and dusted

(literally really dusty!)

Each lap we had to stop and did our timing chip, one lane for the solos, another for the teams. This must have confused me greatly as I slowed down, unclipped one side and then began to roll into the correct lane, but I just washed out finding myself on the ground very quickly. The only crash I had in the whole race and it was at slow speed in front of all the teams and the event crewe. The guy on the mic did say I deserved a spot prize for being the first to crash there, I never saw this prize. All I had was gravel rash on my left leg that felt like I went into stinging nettles, ah well, no time to stop, just ride on.

The solo pits was just around the corner from the timing. It was small and pretty cosy, not really any space to stop, which was a good thing really. This meant that stops were short and sweet. My issue was I couldn’t put my bike anywhere as there was just no room, once a couple of bikes had already parked up the space was gone. I’m used to stopping at my own wee pit stop with space to chill, not feel everyone watching you and feeling like I should just keep going. I wasn’t stopping long and it was only every other lap for switching bottles (I was drinking a lot in the heat), getting a gel or a quick munch of something salty as I saw the salt on my jersey through the sweat (nice, eh!).

The First lap wasn’t counted in the overall timings as it cut out a couple of sections as I discovered when I headed back out. We we led back up the grassy field, which was a bit of a slog, snails pace was the speed I set! This then climbed a little steep bank to reach either a footpath or a bike trail where you could catch your breath and roll down for a moment to either the up and over (pretty steep) or round the side (not so steep, but a little longer). I just went with the flow which was round the side and seemed fine. Then passing under the Go Ape tree top platforms we gradually made our way up the tracks, down some freshly cut track (so glad it was dry). this led us across a couple of fire track roads and up the other side. This may have been the tougher section for me, it was short sharp climbs that you had to put the effort in to get up, you couldn’t go slow and steady or you would just stop! My heart rate spiked at these points , but I recognised where it was leading us to…’Magic Mushroom’ short red descent, which had a nice bit of flow to it. It doesn’t take much to put a smile on your face, this section did and was a nice break up before the climb kicked in again.

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Part of the magic mushroom descent

Just Keep Pedalling

That was it then, time to settle in. I was happy that I could ride all of the course bar any stupid mistakes or other riders causing chaos (thankfully didn’t happen to me, but to others I knew). It was all about keeping it steady for me as there was a lot of climbing, approx 320m per lap, which adds up by the end. I had in my mind that I would like to do 7 laps, which seemed reasonable with time to stop and allow for silly moments or what have you. I was in my own little world, just keeping it going, steady as she goes. that was it. I thankfully had no dramas, no crashes, just a mild stitch half way through, which I think was down to the random mix of energy products my body was getting fed. I was witness to a few crashes, but thankfully they all got up and carried on, those descents would have been a challenge to many, it was getting to me by the end, mainly because my hands were getting sore and so hanging on was getting more and more tiring.

The laps kept going, getting passed by the uber elite and stupidly quick guys, it was like they were on the first lap each time, it really is impressive. I was happy to just plod at my pace, picking up speed where it was easier and going steady when it got steep and not being stupid on the descents, maybe a little too cautious sometimes, but hey I stayed upright, so that’s a win!

Clapping from the Heavens

It was about 4pm and the atmosphere was literally changing, the clouds had rolled in, there was little spats of rain coming down, but they seemed to amount to nothing. 10 minutes passed and then it got even darker, the skies were looking threatening and then the rumbles began. That thunderstorm that we hoped might move on was right above us.  As I passed a guy, he said it was just heavenly encouragement applauding us. I think it was more of a warning and and get a wriggle on as it was going to get interesting very quickly!

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What a sky, the power of nature was about to hit big time!

EPIC FINISH!

My word did it change, I was at the tunnel of love just dropping in and it was so dark. I gave up on my glasses on the climb up, but it was tough to make out anything down there, just going the way I had done before. The rain was beginning to fall, the thunder was rumbling and the lightning was striking…it was close. This was a really exciting event to be involved in, but also pretty darn scary! We got out of that thick tree section into the now very heavy rain.

We were just about to enter the interesting descents when all the marshals got the radio call to ‘SHUT THE COURSE, SEND THEM DOWN THE SAFEST AND QUICKEST ROUTE POSSIBLE TO THE EVENT ARENA’. This meant we were instantly diverted down the fire roads in the rain. It was intense, water spraying everywhere, soaked to the bone and speeding down the roads hoping not to have a high speed crash at this point. I’ve not been caught in a thunderstorm and that was intensely exciting even though it was a nightmare for the organisers. They did an amazingly quick and effective job at making sure everyone got down safely. The final descent in those conditions would have been so sketchy and the fact the lightening was apparently striking the grass field of the final descent, shows how close it was. Here’s some of the photo’s from the event taken by Keith Phunkt who takes some stunning photos check out his gallery, worth a peruse!

What just happened?

It was a little bit of chaos as riders were getting diverted from all over the course, it was just making sure everyone got back. It was only 30 minutes and then the rain subsided, the storm had moved on and all that was left was a soaked through people, quite clean bikes and kit that was left in the sun, now looking sorry in the puddled event arena. The timings were now massively confused as everyones got cut off at various points, but they also had a power cut too, so that made for a tough work out for the timing crewe. It took some time, but eventually they worked out the results minus the last lap, which was the only fair way to play it out. It was a shame it took so long as the podiums were a little underwhelming and to be honest I just wanted to get clean, dry and sort stuff out. To me at this point the fact that I got 2nd place in my category really wasn’t on my mind, but more how epic, fun and exciting that course was.

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Yes there was more than 2 of us, but most had left by this point!

I had no idea of where I was positioned at any point in the race so that really wasn’t on my mind. It was a pleasant bonus that with hardly any time on the bike for training that I can blag a 2nd, don’t really feel worthy of it, but I guess the slow and steady approach like the turtle can make headway in the end! In total I rode 86km with approximately 2, 800m of climbing. That’s not too shabby at all and good mileage for the looming Mountain Mayhem in a couple of weeks time, but how much more I will do before then may not amount to much, so that’ll be a whole new experience that I may love or loathe, who knows!

All I can say is if you have an inkling that you may want to do this kind of event, DO IT. Get a rabble of mates and have a laugh as a team or be brave/stupid and do it solo. It’s a fantastic setting, great course, lovely bunch of people with the occasional numpty, but that’s life right! It’s really chilled with an emphasis on fun and challenging yourself, so book some deserved time off work and why not make it a nice holiday in the Scottish Borders, it is totally worth an explore!

Events: Tweedlove

Check out the area: 7Stanes & Peebles

Results: Glentress 11

Photo’s: Glentress 11

Results: Glentress 7

Photo’s: Glentress 7 (Phunkt)

Glentress 7 (Roots & Rain)

Singletrack was there and posting live videos via there Facebook page to get more of a vibe of the event, so they may still be up to see what’s going on. I’m sure when the festival is all done and dusted there will be a highlights reel of all the action that we were part of or missed out on!

 

 

Howies Dyfi Enduro 2017

What’s this all about then?

The name of this is confusing, the word ‘Enduro’ in modern day speak is for those races where you have timed downhill stages with transitions climbs and it’s the fastest down who wins. This is not that! The Dyfi Enduro began before that was even heard about. This is a classic mountain bike endurance event, a big old loop exploring some of Wales beautiful countryside in Dyfi forest, home to the Athertons, none the less! That’s all I knew as I’ve not been to any of there events before. I saw 55km and someone mention that I might like it, so I booked on a while back, not reading too much into it!

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Set in the heart of Machynlleth, seemed like a mini Hollywood with this sign! There was a real bustle about the town with loads of mountain bikers and more. Not realising that there was also a comedy festival going on aswell, bit random, but seemed to be going down well. Having just rocked up on the day I think I missed much of the shenanigans, not sure it was a quiet night! The vibe was very chilled, almost a bit hippy-esk in it’s style, with one main big top with ambient lighting to set the mood and that was about it. (it was really dark in there!). I’m glad I bumped into a few people I knew otherwise I was just guessing on what was going on. Tracked down where to sign on, number board and no expense spared string to tie it on with and that was its time for a brew. All very laid back, maybe a bit too much, but it seems to have worked for a number of years, so don’t fix what’s not broke and it’s’ clearly thriving with 1,000 plus riders!

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It’s nearly lunchtime

I’m used to a late start, but 11am is ridiculous, it’s almost lunchtime and my porridge for breakfast was probably all burnt off by now. I think it was so those on the booze the night before had a bit more recovery time! Anyway 11 it was and after mooching about, deliberating on clothing choices as it appeared to warm up slightly, apparently it was a shock that it was dry! At about 10:30 I decided to head to the start, discovering that many had already thought of this and so I was a fair way back in the queue already, but I wasn’t too fussed, it generally works itself out on the first climb.

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There was a mumble of words spoken from somewhere, but even when trying to listen I couldn’t work out what was being said, but hey I’d just go with the flow on this one, it would be fine! After a number of terrible and quite strange songs (that seemed to be a thing here) we were starting to go, no bang or hooter just a slow roll out of the gates. It took just under 2 minutes to get off the start, so not a fast start here. The crowds along the road were impressive, felt like a part of the Tour de Yorkshire or something, really cool how much of a profile this event has.

It’s NOT a race

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#329 – it’s NOT A RACE!!!

In everybody’s mind, if there is more than one person and it’s timed…it’s a race! This may be why those who want to get ahead went to the start, but quickly realised they are not that fast at climbing and just annoyed a number of people when they either slowed or put a foot down. It’s the same at a lot of these events, but nobody learns! Ah well, it gives some of the guys something to whinge about as they pass or get stuck behind someone. It was a good old climb to start with, a few roads then continue up onto the forest tracks, which would be the theme for all the climbs, but I didn’t know that then, so was unsure at how quick to push the pace. In the end I just found my rhythm and went with it. There was a few quick chats, smiles as I passed riders and a couple of bikers giving me advice on what was to come and I should be careful, but I ignored them and rode on, just because they got passed by a girl!!! (yes I can ride a bike and yes I have done this kind of thing before!).

I wasn’t expecting that!

I have to admit I went into this event, not having a clue what I was getting myself into. This was apparent when I went down the first descent and answered my question of why so many put body armour on…I had arm warmers! Let’s hope I stay upright. It was a whole lot of things I was not used to… mainly because I’ve been on the turbo trainer moving nowhere fast! The first descent was ok, it was like a red at a trail centre with a few drops, but just loose rock (that I did not like). I wasn’t in DH mode just yet so tensed up and just got down that one. I am not a fan of feeling like I’m in someones way either so having riders right behind be clattering the rocks didn’t fill me with confidence. I got through it and it was back to climbing (my happy place!). I didn’t stop to take pictures, but I’m sure there will be some video’s on you tube to check out, like this one, which gives you a taster of the descents (the interesting parts to watch!).

It was like this for the duration with long winding forest climbs where you saw riders higher up and lower down as you snaked up to the top. The descents seem to get increasingly technical, faster, looser, sketchier over slate. which kept you on your toes.  The noise from the slate as I not so gracefully picked a line (or something) was immense. It was relentless and I was just thinking of which rock is going to kick me off and leave me in a sorry state, but it never happened! The Epic with it’s newly installed dropper post (controversial, I know for an XC bike) but it just rolled over beautifully and took me with it. I wasn’t fast, but I didn’t fall, stop or chicken out as there was a couple of very steep sections that many stopped at and walked. I just went with the flow and made it through. I was thinking though that I may have had more fun on a bigger travel steed with chunkier tyres for those sections, but the amount of climbing I think anytime lost on the descents I made up on the climbs. I know I’m not amazing at descending (not bad but not the quickest), so best to play to my strengths.

After the feed station where I picked up a handful of jelly babies and topped up the water thinking I had another 20km to go we headed up a bit more, found a few deep puddles to splash through and then cruise down another rocky descent and further onto a forest road, to a sharp left hander onto a more natural section (I liked that bit!). Someone said it was 5km to the finish. I was baffled we had 15km to go, I thought somehow I’d jumped onto the shorter route, but where? I took all the right turns. I kept pedalling, but intrigued on what was going on. I felt good as I spun up the climb and then getting into the flow of the descents and getting to grips with getting over the slate, though I did seem to find myself in the narrow galleys a lot, but it was all good, I was doing my thing to get down and that was working for me. Very glad I had the brake pads replaced just before hand!

Over before I knew it

A spin round a lower forest track and a little ez-up holding chaps with beer were on the side. I stopped out of intrigue, got handed a beer, drank it and confirmed that I really don’t like beer, disgusting (I think they were a little disappointed!). They also said the timing mat was just up round the corner and that was it. Bemused I found this to be true and that was it. Nothing there just the mat and some guys wanting to ride back down to get more beer! There was no one to say where to go so I just hoped the arrows were still about. It was a bit of an anticlimax thinking I had another 15km with some more descents to tackle, but it was now a cruise along a mix of roads to get to the arena. I didn’t spot many arrows so was glad to catch up to some guys and cruise with them as they had done it before and seemed to know the way back.

Just like that it was done, I felt good, had more in the legs, but more than happy for it to finish when it did, finish on a high rather than push a bit more and break! In total it was 55km, but only 40km or less was actually off-road, but it’s not quantity, it’s quality and what we got was pretty cool and I’m sure was testing and challenging enough for most.

I appreciated getting a mug on the finish line and happy to just come back in one piece and before the rain showers started to draw in. Here are the RIDE TIMES and they have done from the gun (didn’t hear that) and then when you crossed the timing mat. All very official for not being a ‘race’! I got back in just over the 3 hour mark, 2nd lass back after Sophie who was 30 mins ahead of me (never saw her at all). Looking at her times (Strava stalker!) she’s just a bit of a biking beast, with quick uphill and downhill times, but it wasn’t a race! Here’s my Strava of the route as you can definitely do this ride in your own time and own pace.

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I’ve worked for this mug, good day on the bike!

Parting impressions

It was a fun day out, but for me if I were to do it again would be to take the long weekend, explore a bit more of the area with a bunch of mates. It’s far more about the whole experience than the ride itself. There’ll be some interesting shots in here courtesy of Rob Barker Photography mainly of the ride I imagine rather than the antics pre and post ride! It’s all very chilled and the beer was flowing probably for the whole weekend. It’s just not my cup of tea (that’s what I would prefer at the end, not a beer!) I will be in the minority with that one I know. It was all good and nice to explore a new area and try a new event that is clearly very popular with many coming back year on year. I think I picked the right year too as everyone has said it’s nice to ride it in the dry. I’m not sure I would have been so happy if it was wet, those tracks for me on XC skinny tyres was hard enough! If you want to find out more about this event and the others in there series, check them out here: DYFI EVENTS. There’ll be more highlights from it on the social media stuff too…

Share – Instagram: #dyfienduro | Twitter: #dyfienduro | Facebook: #dyfienduro

Follow – @dyfimtbevents @dyfievents @howies @howies /dyfimtbevents

HowiesThirtytwotreesSingletrackWild TrailBike CorrisSummit CyclesBeics Brenin

Aberdyfi Search and Rescue (I hope they weren’t needed too much, but glad they were there!)

 

 

Fun in the Sun ~ MTB Marathon R1 2017

It feels like the kick off to the season when the first round of the MTB Marathon comes around and what a corker it was! Year on year they seem to just get bigger and better, seeing more and more sponsors jumping on board and a heap more riders joining in the fun! Who doesn’t love a weekend away from your normal life, no work and lots of play including bicycle riding, what more do you need? The only unknown about these events is the weather, but this doesn’t stop the fun, just makes it more interesting. Thankfully this round the big burning ball in the sky was making up for months of ignoring little old Britain and making up for lost time and boy, it was not holding back to the surprise of many ill-prepared bikers (including myself!). Shouldn’t complain mind, it’s April and the sun was shinning, greater than my expectations!

IMG_2571Opportunities for all

It’s great when new ventures begin whether on a small scale or from a high profile like Hope. They are one of the sponsors who have recently launched a couple of new projects that are all about encouragement and fun for 2 different groups of riders. First off is the Hope Academy for kids and in there own words is to…”Enable children to enjoy riding a lightweight, quality bike that always fits them and to learn skills to further advance their riding along the way.” All to often kids are attempting to ride stupidly heavy bikes and going no-where fast and quickly going off biking. This scheme means the kids can have cool, lightweight bikes that actually fit them, shocker I know. At the weekend they were putting on a bit of a skills session with these bikes and with over 30 kids I would say it was greatly appreciated!

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The other project that has grown out of a passion from Rachael Walker who works for Hope and wanted to get more ladies riding the trails and meeting up, so Hopetech Women was born. The clues in the name, it’s mountain biking just for women “We aim to inspire women to try something new, push their boundaries, meet others who ride, and most importantly…have fun riding bikes“. Nothing more nothing less.

It was nicely tied in at the weekend, for those who may have had to stay back at camp with young kids or didn’t fancy the Sunday or do absolutely everything, could have a chance to check out the surroundings in a very chilled, fun and sociable environment with like minded ladies, they even put an uplift on to skip the 5 mile climb up, now that’s service (not that I took them up on it!).

Let’s just go for a ride – Hope stylé

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This is totally my cup of tea, just get on the bikes and head out for a bit of a mooch about. It combined the guys and gals from Hope and some of the local ladies who knew the area like the back of there hand plus a whole load of ladies from all over with varying levels of fitness and skills, but all keen as mustard to get out and ride.

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The whole Builth Wells area is pretty open once you get passed the long climb up, you can see for miles from the panoramic views on offer under a cloudless sky and an un-expectantly hot sun. The ride took in parts of the night ride, some classy sheeps tracks around a reservoir and then some fun and flowing descents. It was interesting to see the smiles and buzz increased amongst the ladies once we hit the descents! Miles of smiles, then a bit of laughter as a bog appeared and failed attempts to ride through it left some with more of a mud pack than they had planned, so glad I had borrowed one of there pimped up Scott Bikes for this one!

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Pre-booked this beauty…Scott Spark 710 pimped up with Hope Bling!

All in all it was a bit of fun in the sun, maybe too much and not enough sun cream. It was just nice to ride with other ladies. Seemingly the numbers are still going up, but many still find themselves on there own going biking, so opportunities like this are great to get to know new people and make more connections. Thanks to Rachael who not feeling well managed to organise it all, another success, keep it coming!

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A Big Night In

At the first round there is the now classic Exposure Lights Big Night Out, where there is a 30km or 40km ride at night. I have done this is previous years, it’s good fun, but I commonly struggle with the cold, take ages to get to sleep afterwards and don’t recover enough before the big marathon to enjoy it fully, so opted for chilling out, watch them head out and get well rested and ‘hydrated’ whilst listening to classic tunes. Many kids were still buzzing around with boundless energy on bikes and scooter (I wish I had there energy sometimes).

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All a bit of a blur for the night ride! – poor photographer…

There was a good load of riders heading out, I think over 200. It was a clear night, the moon was bright with the temperature not too chilly. It has been dropping significantly in previous days, but it seemed to be a few degrees warmer which was appreciated. I left there around 10:30pm and riders were still coming in. It made me appreciate that I could just curl up and sleep, whereas they had bikes and kit to faff with, but I’m sure they had fun out there all the same!

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Gorgeous sunset to end the first day

GOOD MORNING BUILTH WELLS or is that BULITH or BULTH or BILTH…

 

To wake up after a really good sleep in the back of my van is a good way to start the day. It’s usually that I can’t get to sleep or my toes or nose gets cold, but I was snug as a bug (sunburn acting as central heating!) and woke to the sun trying to sneak through the cracks in my make-shift curtain. Hearing that the previous morning it was about 3 degrees and foggy, this was a very pleasant sight. Got the morning brew on and pot of porridge, said hello to my temporary neighbour and his dog Max (Is that right, got the dogs name not the owner?!?) and leisurely got my stuff sorted. Holiday mode was fully set in and that’s the way stayed, I was there to have fun on my bike.

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When There are No Words

It times of such fun and joy, amongst this growing family of bikers the loss of one rider is a loss for all. For those who don’t know, Charlie van der Craig was 15 when he passed away in his sleep. He was a son and a brother, full of life and had such talent on two wheels. From what I saw of him at the MTB Marathons he was firstly ridiculously quick on a bike following in his fathers tread pattern. He had a big heart, a great smile, mucked about a bit and simply loved life.

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“Yesterday, our world fell apart. Our beautiful lovely little boy Charlie went to sleep but never woke up. I don’t know what else to write just now but he will be with his little angel niece.”  Nick Craig, 22 Jan 2017

He will be sorely missed by all who knew, all thoughts and prayers goes to the Craig family, may strength grow as each day passes, never will he be forgotten, long may he be celebrated and unite them ever tighter as a family.

It was a fitting tribute that the MTB Marathon began with a moment to remember Charlie, not with silence, but with a round of applause. It was said that if we feel tired, if we are struggling, just to remember Charlie and just keep on going. It was a powerful moment and lovely that so many were there to be a part of it. #rideforcharlie – much loved, never forgotten

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Just before the off, over 800 strong!

#RIDEFORCHARLIE

It was time to ride, sun blazing down and the mood high it was going to be a good day, whatever happened. Over 800 hundred riders hitting either 25km, 50km or 65km from the keen bean youngsters to the well experienced oldies and all those in-between! A nice road spin to warm up with someone clearly thinking we were in France shouting out “STAY ON THE RIGHT” to everyones amusement and shouting back “ON THE LEFT!”. That’s a good way to start as we streamed up the country roads to the rougher tracks snaking up and up on to the open hillsides. Once up on top, there was a whole lot of grassy expanse and rolling hillsides whichever way you looked, simply beautiful, but that doesn’t make it any easier!

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From the map I knew it was a bit back and forth all over the place and this was evident when you were heading one way and you saw over the other side another gaggle of riders heading back round on another stretch of the trail! You can check out my Strava record to see it’s wigglyness and over 1500m of climbing! I’m sure the temptation to skip across was on peoples mind, but you are only cheating yourself, who knows what you might miss out on. All in or not at all for me! If you were after views for miles and miles then this is for you and taking a few more hours and really taking it in would be nice, but by half way I was hanging, so it was more head down and will my weary legs round and round!

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Stick to the flatter grass bits!

It was my own stupid fault for getting into a slow state of play. Here’s my list of failures (or areas to improve upon!):

  • Dehydration kicking in from the previous day
  • The sunburn feeling a bit tender
  • Not drinking anything for the first 25km – really not good
  • Not stopping at feed station 1, well I had 2 full bottles so though I didn’t need to!
  • Only having a couple of gels between then and the 2nd Feed station = CRAMP!
  • The most significant one being – not enough long distance biking in the lead up to this!

 

Do Not Rely on Feed Stations – Just really appreciate them when you get there!

It was made very clear that you should be very self sufficient in the riders briefing that everyone read or watched and the feed stations are just an added extra. My goodness was I glad to see that 2nd feed station. I had to pause just 10km before hand to down the last of my drink and a gel, just to get me there. The descent was fast, but my legs weren’t happy and the initial on set of cramp in my quads was unsettling and painful. It was hard to concentrate to get down, brakes were heating up and my legs just wanted to stop. Then to be greeted with HOMEMADE BANANA LOAF was simply awesome and so tasty good. I didn’t really want to leave! I thought I would hang out a bit there and help them tidy up (aka scoff my face!), but thought better off it and after a drinks top up, leg stretch out and watching others grimace as they came to a stop with similar cramping feelings, It was time to pus on up the road.

It was definitely the power of the banana cake that carried me back to finish, half wishing I cut off the last bit as I would have stayed mud free, but I pushed on and did the whole hog and got led down a track/river/mud-fest line that left me coated in mud, a bit scratched up as I had an argument with a rut that I didn’t want to be in, so it kicked me off into a bramble bush, just to finish me of.

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It was a headwind down the road back to the event arena where the tunes were rocking and the mood was high with a sense of relief that it was done, but a sense of achievement that you completed it, mutual respect all round! I really didn’t mind what time I did it in, just to be a part of such a fantastic event was cracking and it was a lovely weekend away from normality, that’s a win from me!

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A nice touch to the finishers T-Shirts

That’s a Wrap

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The Epic was right at home on this one!

For those who want to find out more about these events that really are as fun and well organised as everyone says check it all out here MTB Marathon Series with links to all the sponsors, results, photo’s and social media links too!

Just for a quick look ahead here’s the following rounds:

28th May 2017, Wantage, Oxfordshire
9th July 2017, Minehead, Exmoor
2nd-3rd September 2017, Hope Valley, Peak District

If you are free, come along and see what it’s all about, have some fun, meet new people and ride bikes, what more do you need in a weekend?!? I’m set to dig in a bit deeper to get the most out of this year, have more useful items left in my van, such as suncream and enjoy biking more and more, boom!

 

 

 

Battle on the Beach 2017

HAPPY NEW YEAR and GET YOUR ENTRY IN!

I’m not sure how you brought the New Year in this year, but myself and 800 others were waiting for Big Ben to drop, not only to say hello to 2017, but to try and grab one of the places for this years Battle on the Beach. This is a sell out event, so if you were hoping to party all night and then book on a few hours later you’d be too late! In my head I was staying up to enter this, wait for it to hopefully go through (I GOT IN!) watch some fireworks, a little of the Hootenanny then it was bed, as you can tell I’m such a party animal!?!

In all honesty I didn’t really know what I’d got myself into! I entered on recommendation from some other riders who had done it before and just thought why not! All I knew was that a beach was involved and it could be really tough particularly if there is a headwind. Who knows what was going to happen, so it was just time to crack on with the new year. Hopefully it will consist of much beneficial pedalling and  look ahead as to what’s in store over the next couple of months!

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As you get older, the months seem to come and go a lot quicker

I’m not saying I’m old, think that would make many I know wonder what that makes them! I just think as you get older, seemingly the less time you have, or life gets crammed with more and more stuff that months and years just disappear. Here I am now writing about an event I booked onto on the 1st Jan and it’s already the end of March, how did we get here?!? All I can tell you is that I worked a lot, the winter has been wet and windy plus I’ve not done a drastic amount of, umm that thing I believe they call ‘training’. It’s been in the form of a few rides when the weather has been ok or inside on what many loathe, the dreaded turbo trainer with the handy Zwift ***WARNING: you are endanger of becoming a fair weather rider***. This may be true, but I just want to enjoy the rides I go on not just go out for the sake of it, I need to keep it fun and then I will get more out of it (that’s my thoughts anyway). However, there is always a flip side thought…if only I put more effort in, worked that bit harder, added a few more miles to my week and then maybe, just maybe I would see significance improvements and possibly greater times and dare I say podiums (or at least closer to the front runners!) than I am now. This is all well and said, but days just disappear and before you know it the next event it upon you!

What’s this Beach Race then?

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It was only by fleeting mentions of the race that I even heard of it, not really considering it because it looked a bit mad. However the seed of intrigue had been planted and I had the entry, just for the day mind (didn’t want to commit too much!) and so it was on. I didn’t really pay much attention to the finer details I just knew it was a 5km stretch on the beach, 5km on some tracks and 5km on single track, then repeat this 3 times, simple!

 “The UK’s most unique cycling event – open to all bikes”

You can read all about it, you can watch videos, but only until you enter and experience it you will not know the half of it. This race brings in some of the top riders from Cyclocross, MTB and Beach not only from the UK, but from abroad, not bad hey for South Wales! Many will make it a family weekend away, some a knees up with the lads and others will take it seriously using time to pre-race the course and get to work on creating the ultimate bike set up (if there is one). It’s more than just another XC race, it’s got it all with the randomness of the beach run/ride, rapid forest tracks and fast single track. This is uber quick for the fast lads and lasses, but to the other end this is a new experience, fun with friends, a chance to show off your qwerky steed and have a right laff. It’s seems to have got the balance pretty darn spot on. If you want to know more, check out the info here: Battle on the Beach.

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Great atmosphere

Sun, Sea, Sand and Racing

I don’t think we could have asked for better weather, this was the start of British Summer Time, yes the clocks went forward on race day, I did double alarm action just in case, it would be a shame to miss it because of a clock change! Thankfully the race was at noon so even with the hour gone I’d probably have been alright. Driving across, the sun was bright, but there was a fairly strong wind. The good thing was that this wind would be mostly a tail wind on the beach section, which would make a massive difference if it were to be true. Apparently in previous years it’s been a head wind, which makes this super tough and more on finding someone to tuck in behind rather than push on!

 

Rocking up to Pembrey Country Park, which is a fantastic place, it was a hive of activity. Hundreds already there, and many more flooding in. There was tunes rocking, sponsor tents bustling and a real sense of a cool, fun, relaxed event. I was already liking this and then a little balance bike race was about to happen, this was definitely a family affair! Everyone got a free pot of ‘Happy Bottom Bum Butter‘ courtesy of the Charlie Hobbs (The Bike Monger), that’s many happy bottoms he’s helped, ha ha! I had signed on, got my number board and timing chip, bike was sorted and it was time to don the new Leisure Lakes Bikes kit and freak myself out by being in full lycra and scare everyone else with my pasty white legs seeing the sun for the first time!

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Mass start frenzy, in sand

This was the part I was most apprehensive about. I have been in mass starts before, but on tarmac where you could actually pedal and stand your ground, didn’t really like that much. This was on soft sand and I didn’t know what was best. To try and ride it through or leg it to the hard packed stuff and attempt a Cyclocross bike jump thing-a-me-wotsit!

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I had about 30 minutes to deliberate this fact as I met some lovely guys who were well rehearsed in this beach malarky having done the previous 3 (with stars on the number boards to prove it!) They knew the score, get there early, stand your ground and tutt as riders try and jump the queue, squeeze into gaps and make everyone who were on time and patiently waiting just a little annoyed, but there’s always some who spoil the party, bit of a shame really.

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Running down to the actual start!

The Pre-run to the actual start, wasn’t expecting that one. We were funnelled down one of the walk ways to the beach, waiting for the ranked rider to get to the start, then they let the rabble join onto the back. It was a bit of a quick hustle to try and get a good position, not that I really had much clue of what was about to drop. The 10 minute shout out went out, the classic waving to drones and comical MC’ing by the lovely Matt Carr and Ian ‘Frew’ Frewing, “Now, in a minute!” I’m so glad the timing is not based on welsh sayings other wise who knows when it began!

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I wish I didn’t have so much time to think and deliberate, it led to a bad decision. I was looking around and most looked like they were going to ride in the soft sand, so I thought it couldn’t be that hard…I was wrong! This is where a little pre-ride actually would have been beneficial! I ride with SPD’s (clipped onto my pedals). When you fail to get going and with people literally right behind you it’s really hard to try and unclip and transition to a run. I may have caused a slight hold up as I hopped a bit, then managed to unclip and commence the dash to get to the darker sand where it gets harder and you can actually pedal. That first sprint was scary, if you fell you would probably get ridden over, unless you were at the back. The 800 strong riders charging towards the beach must look so impressive, but it was pretty chaotic until you were sorted and in the saddle! I was very happy that part was over too be honest, I much prefer having a bit more space around me! I can’t say I’ve ever ridden on a beach before and after that sprint I think the fat bikers were the only ones smiling!

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Let the Battle commence (courtesy of Pembrey Country Park)

Sand kissed Tyres

After the actual battle to get to the firm sand it was time to get into your own groove. For the top guys this was just on another level, absolutely flying, like a formula 1 car! There were people everywhere, trying to find there place in this race. The hype and explosion onto the beach meant that I think generally everyone went out full pelt beyond what they could sustain, but with the tail wind, and those around you going some too, it was hard to try and hold back. I knew that those closer to the front would have more chance of keeping the speed up when entering into the forest and single track. Hearing from others afterwards there was a standstill when it came to the first narrower section, so much so that by the time they were nearly through it the front pro riders were making there way through again for lap 2, HOW MAD IS THAT!

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The top 2 making light work of the soft sound!

It was a really great stretch on the beach, averaging about 30km, before I literally ran out of gears. I was running a 32 tooth chainring with 11-42 Cassette on the back. For all my other races and rides, it seemingly works well, but for this it was just too easy! I hadn’t realised how much detail people put into there bike set up from tyre choice & pressure, ratios and actually what bike! I have never seen such an array of bikes from tandems, fat bike galore (well it was the fat bike champs!), Cyclocross, hardtail, full bouncers and of course the single speeders, where gear ratio was probably keeping them up at night!

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Fast, Furious and Fun

I had literally no idea where I was in the field by the end of the first beach stretch as we crunched over all the shells the tide had uncovered. I was passing a few groups of riders, but also others were hooning past largely the cyclocross guys who had the generally higher gearing. To get off the beach we encountered of course more soft sand where I quickly realised I was quicker to run though it then snake about going generally the wrong way on the bike, fun, but not efficient! Thankfully it was a short section, a quick hop back on to enter onto the wide forest tracks that were undulating to say the least. it was fast, but with bunkers of sand to just keep you on your toes. This may have caught out some of the crossers as the terrain got a little trickier! I was very happy being on the Epic, it was solid and very at home in all of this, bar the soft sand!

It headed onto the first section of single track, which was so dry, fast and flowing. This was however slowed on the first lap due to a couple of inclines with riders getting off to run up, so you lost momentum too. I wasn’t too bad off only slowing on a couple of the inclines, but others got a couple pedal strokes in and then it was turned into a bit of a walking race for the most part, until it opened up and they could get a bit of a wiggle on.

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Cheeky sandy climbs, someone in front stops so you have to run too!

I kept finding myself behind someone on a cyclocross bike. I don’t mind them, but I could tell if they had the skills to pedal through the course or were going to constantly hop on and off and just slow me down. There wasn’t much chance of passing on the single track, but there are always some numpties who want to try and squeeze past when everyone has slowed for a short and sharp climb, but they think they are superior and feel getting a couple of places would make al the difference. In fact it was no benefit to themselves and annoyed those around them, they are in every walk of life aren’t they! Thankfully this didn’t happen too much to me, I must have been keeping up a good pace or just wobbling all over the place that they didn’t want to get too close!

After a couple more gravel tracks and a nice little descent and we were back to the event arena where I got an unexpected shout out from Ian who did a stirling job as ‘that chatty man on the mic’ keeping everyone upbeat, and clued in to what was going on, quite surprised he had a voice by the end of it! This just made me smile and spurred me on to keep going and push just that little bit harder. It was back round for take 2 of the beach. I gave it a go on the beach, but I went on without changing gear and after a bit of squirrelling I just slowed to a stop in the soft beach grooves. A quick run to the happy lands of solid sand and I was back on it.

Even time to hydrate!

This race was great for me because usually I completely fail at drinking and taking onboard anything to be honest. Here there was no excuse I had 6km of flat beach, no obstacles allowing me to swig from the bottle and even wrestle with a Torq gel for a while without littering. In honesty I really appreciated the beach as a slight bit of recovery and build up for the next forest section because it was just a steady and consistent pace. The wind however felt in one section to be changing slightly from a tale wind to a slight cross wind which when you tucked in next to someone was so much easier. I just kept jumping from little groups of riders to the next bunch, it was nice to always have someone to chase down and keep pushing you on. There was no time to rest up though on this if you wanted a good time.

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Loving this, fun in the sun!

After another failed exit off the beach, it was time to push the pace over the bumps, pick the right lines on the sandy sections. I spotted a split on one of the short climbs on the previous lap and took it this time, which was much quicker only to be slowed up on the next one because of a couple of crossers opting to run up. This is where I should muscle pass, but I really struggle to get past out of a state of urgency and just hang back until the track widens up. To be honest I feel this is more out of respect for the riders in front who are racing as well, but more out of confidence in my own ability…I’d probably end up in a bush or something if I attempted to overtake in the wrong place! Lap 2 done, still smiling and still feeling pretty happy, though I was level pegging with a youth rider who was killing it out there.

Lap 3 change up

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Several tandems were rocking this course!

Feeling strong, and loving the fast pace of this, another shout out over the P.A. and cheers from the crowds. It was time for the final take on of the beach. This time I was determined to ride through the soft stuff, no more sand in my shoes! I dropped a few gears to spin a little more when you got a little deeper into this lovely yet tricky sand. This worked, a few squiggles and a full body work out I made it puffing and panting onto the beach where I was happy to settle back into a rhythm. The wind felt like it had changed slightly, but I think at this point it was a bit of fatigue kicking in. Typically there were fewer riders to try and tag onto as well, so it was time to dig deep and crack on. I was still smiling and really loving this whole experience!

To avoid too much lapping of the slower riders still on course they chose to make a diversion for the last few km’s so that there wasn’t too much stopping or awkward passes for both the elites and the chasers It was quite a straight section that took in some nice forest paths. To my surprise there was actually a muddy puddle, literally the only one on the entire course, which was incredible to be honest.  This led us over a couple of corners, a fast blast on the road to lead us into the final technical single track that dropped us straight into the event arena. It was just here that I clocked a lass just 2 riders in front, but I was stuck behind someone so couldn’t pass. Once it opened onto the finish straight I gave it my last few beans to see if I could pass her, but alas I came up short by a bike length. I didn’t have a clue which category she was in anyway , but later discovered she was in mine and she came 5th and I grabbed 6th. That’s the way it goes right, that’s racing!

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Open Female Final Results – 6th Place – 212 overall

For all the results, check them out here: Battle on the beach Results 

For all the images taken by the talented Anthony Pease check them out here

I have spotted some videos out there on Youtube already and even S4C, the Welsh speaking channel had an entry in and filmed it too. It was well profiled and quite rightly so, check out these lines if you want to get a picture of the shenanigans.

Battle on the Beach Official Video 2017

Can you spot me failing at the start – 2:50 onwards!!!

Drone Footage by Action Media – (1:06 that’s my lush steed and legs!)

S4C was there for Heno (if you’re fluent in Wesh!)

Over before you know it

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Back at the arena watching riders finish

Being more used to 12 hour races, this was such a blast. It was literally so quick I was half wanting to do a bit more, but it stopped just as I was beginning to fade. I definitely gave it my all on a course that was as quick as you could make it with the gearing and power you had. I had beans to give and I definitely gave them all in this, to the very end. I can’t be disappointed with that result at all, pretty happy to be honest. I went in with no expectations, not a clue really what was going on at all, literally just kept pedalling non stop until the finish.

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The problem is that now I have the tried it, I feel like I want to give it another crack and probably want to go for the whole weekend, get stuck into the night race, which looks even faster and see if I can step up my game on the day. However saying all this did I see the best the conditions could be? Have I hit the high and doing it again may not match up? All I can do is see how this year goes and see where I am on New Years Eve!

I shall end by giving a massive thanks to Matt Page and his crewe at A Cycling for putting on another sell out, successful and well organised unique race that you just have to try to understand what it’s all about! Get it in your calendars, entries open midnight on New Years day and the date for the event it a little later due to Easter and the changing tides, so it will be 14th-15th April 2018 (don’t quote me on that, check the website for the most up to date information!). See you there?