Round 2: Rhayader, Mid Wales
Distance: 75km Ascent: 1800m
The Night Before The Big Ride
As I lie in my van with the gentle hum of classic event music (class cheese and a few quality rock tunes) I can finally stop for a moment to think! This time last year I was building up my fitness, as I had won the competition to ride all of the MTB Marathon series on the Scott Contessa Scale 700RC with support from TORQ for all the energy goodies. By round 2 last year I was up and running on the training plan designed specifically for me and the marathons by TORQ Fitness Consultancies (I can highly recommend going for a consultancy with them). I was riding 5 to 6 days a week and feeling pretty fit and healthy. This time round my training has (if you can call it training) has been a little less intense, umm well non-existent! Just checking my time from last year I got round in 4 hours 48 with just over 2,000m of climbing, so it will be interesting to see how I compare if the course is similar.
I’m counting on my base level of endurance to get me through! Pretty much after the Andalucia Bike Stage Race back in February I have taken my foot off the gas and chilled the beans. For a time after ABR, I lost my mojo for the 2 wheels, so needed to put the fun back into it, so not going out when I should, but when I wanted to. Don’t panic, it’s all ok now, the love was never gone, just dialled down a little, I even got the running shoes out for something different (definitely not as fun, but a good head clearer!). Any way basically what I am trying to say is that I am not as fit as I could be, but I don’t mind, I’m just here to have some fun!
So, as I head off for a few hours sleep after enjoying the entertainment of the band Blinding Light and a cheeky Cider (just one, I’m an athlete!!!) whilst others sank a few more to my amusement as they danced the night away! The crewe got in on the action later to, rocking the moves! I look forward to the ride ahead knowing that there is no expectation on me and hopefully it won’t rain too much, but the forecast has been changing every 5 minutes! Who knows what is in store, but I’m sure that my Cannondale Habit SE will get me round in style. I’m actually quite excited as I’ve not been on the mountain bike for a week, I turned to the dark side with a couple of roadie rides in the lycra. Tomorrow it’s about the baggies, oh yeah!
Morning Faff (AKA Preparation!)
Waking up to the light just peeking into my van, not wanting to acknowledge it was morning and the quiet conversations of my camping neighbours. I was very content to stay asleep a little longer, but when they put on the tunes and said ‘HELLO, REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN’ I knew I should probably surface and get the breakfast on the go. A quick rummage for shorts, hoody and wellies (what a look!) to get to the classy port-a-loos, always first port of call! I got the kettle on the go, instant porridge ready and I was very happy that the sun was showing it’s face just a little.
Checking the forecast there was a chance of light rain, but no wind, temperature around 14C and getting sunnier in the afternoon, would this be true? The faffing and questions continued as I wandered over to register and all I heard people chatting about was what to wear! Weather plays havoc with how many layers to take and what extras you may or may not need. My questions were. 1. Long sleeve base layer or vest base layer. 2. Pack or no pack. I think I got it right with a vest under my jersey and no pack, so just stuffed my jacket in the jersey pocket. With a good mug of tea very much enjoyed, porridge forced down (don’t buy instant Aldi porridge, not great) and kit now on, number board on the bike, tyre pressure checked, I was good to go after the pre-ride pee (got to be done!).
I was joined by an old friend who was going in at the deep end taking on her first MTB Marathon and going the distance, all or nothing, respect!
It’s Time To Ride
Having done a few of these now, I knew the score. Wait a little in the arena, event organisers take a few pics and run through the safety announcement, then the countdown begins! Those at the front probably sprinted of the line, but a little further back, they shout go and everyone moves 5 yards then stops! It’s a very amusing start and the art of track standing comes in handy. It began with a road climb to warm the legs up, naturally I did no pre-ride warm up! It’s a long climb with a couple of steeper kicks nearing the top. I may have gone out the gates a little too fast, but you get caught up with the speed of those around you. It was a warm up that left me feeling a little too tired, seeing my heart rate stay at 180 for the most part of the climb, I needed to chill out, it was indeed a marathon after all, I needed to pace myself.
A quick swig of TORQ Blackcurrant energy drink (my favourite flavour) at the top of the first climb was appreciated. It then kindly began to roll downhill for a brief recovery before a fast right turn onto the first of many forest track climbs in this maze of an area. My memory isn’t great at the best of times, so I was remembering sections from last year and knew what was coming up (sometimes not a good thing!). It climbed up the track that was a little slippy and muddy, tyres just about keeping traction. It opened up onto the higher forest tracks that guided us onto the first interesting section of single track. It’s all about picking the right rut and going with it, don’t fight it and don’t slam on the brakes! There were still a few riders together so this section was a little slower as there was little option to pass anyone without taking them out! Getting down this section happily I felt my confidence on the bike has grown and I knew what my capabilities are on this awesome steed of mine, but I shall not try and get too cocky, that’s when it goes wrong!
Last year I was struggling to see on the forest tracks because of the dust getting kicked up. There was no dust this year, which made some sections easier, but meant the natural descents and flats cut out were not dry! We went into a section that again I remembered and it was a big puddle last year…it had doubled in size! There was no skirting round the edge, so with my overshoes on (last minute decision), I just ploughed through hoping it wasn’t going to get too deep (Vicar of Dibley springs to mind!) It carried on like this for a time, some puddles being avoidable, but that’s no fun! I was following Carla Haines, (TORQ Performance sponsored rider) and as we came out of that section she was loving it, saying she likes sunny, dusty trails, but loves a proper muddy mountain bike ride, so much fun! We were on the same page, the mud was making it more interesting, though I’m not sure many others would have been saying that! Think one mentioned she was waiting for the next climb! After another fire road stretch it dropped again into another entertaining single track section, I was feeling a little too confident and going a little fast and the trail kicked me off and put me in my place…the ground, eating dirt, ha ha! Love the comedy falls that don’t hurt, but leave you laughing. Someone in front did exactly the same a little further down!
Is That Rain?
It seemed like an age for the first feed station to come around, but it finally did and that’s when the sun vanished and the wet stuff started to lightly fall from the sky. I had the deliberation to put a jacket on or not whilst I scoffed a few jelly babies (so good!). It wasn’t windy and the forecast said it was light showers (we all trust forecasts, right!). I left the jacket in my pocket feeling optimistic and carried on up the track. The light rain turned into a heavy downpour and instead of being sensible and putting my jacket on I just kept riding. The track descended at speed, but the amount of rain and spray was insane, myself and the others behind me were riding blind, it was ridiculous, yet fun! It was thankfully just a long heavy shower that didn’t last, but it soaked us and made the trails all the more interesting! A lot of the trail sections have blurred in my mind as they do. There was a couple more climbs that were steep and one I wanted to get up as I failed last year, but slipped out and stopped and just watched Carla on her Whyte 29C Team bike gracefully plough up. (still tempted by that bike!). After this there were a couple of single track sections that were so sweet, beginning off slippy, but then the pine needles kicked in and the grip came back and the trail just flowed. Love that action! When you get to the bottom of a section of trail and going, WOOHOO, lets do that again, is pretty cool.
At some point around the 40km it may have been decision time for many as the 50km route went left and rolled back int0 town or the 75km went right for the extra 25km before rejoining the final stretch. I didn’t give myself the option of bailing out, I knew what was ahead, but forgot how tough it was to be! The trail had an out of back section, on the way out it was a sweet descent, but that would turn into a climb later on the return (hate knowing I’d have to climb back up it!). A couple of roads to get to the other forest section was rather nice and ticked a few km’s off quickly. This led us to a nice rolling down hill section that abruptly diverted left to climb very steeply and sharply up what was now very slippy and half way up I just spun out, no grip in the slop. I hate walking sections, but there was no choice for me here. Even when I tried to clip back in my shoes were so clogged up they were not having any of it. I had to swish them in a puddle (many to choose from) to clear them out before I could crack on! This section was hard, sloppy climb with just enough grip if you stayed on a certain line and stayed in the saddle. It looped up little tracks and then down into massive baths of water half way up my legs (overshoes could not keep the water out now). I was happy to get out of that section and onto another fire track climb to dry out to the 2nd feed station.
The Final Stretch, Just Push On
The sun was coming out again and drying out the mud on my legs and face very nicely! Unlike the first feed station the second one came around really quickly. Carla was there and turned around to see who was coming and just laughed! We were both completely coated in mud, you couldn’t not laugh, such fun! A few more jelly babies and a bit of the TORQ Mango Chew that I was testing out (Really tasty, thanks Matt) and a clean out of my bottle to get rid of a layer of mud then it was time to get back. I was feeling a little fatigue kick in, but knew it wasn’t too far now just 2 long climbs to overcome, easy!
I was slowing as I trundled up, legs burning a little, I think all the extra work getting through the mud slop was taking its toll now. I was content enough to poodle for a bit and every hill goes down, so that’s all good! Passing some stunning views I wanted to stop and take it in, but if I did I would have seized up making it even harder than it was! A fast road descent was a nice break, but thought I was closer to the end than I was (Garmin had a mud case, so couldn’t see anything about distance on it!). A spin through a little village with a little cafe offering a cuppa and spares was open (such a lovely thought) before the dreaded climb that we had previously flown down an hour or so earlier, it was hard sapping the last of my energy. Getting to the top finally I knew I was on the home straight. Joining back up with the main route again there was just a small climb comparatively to the rest. A nice fast track down to the road and then the undulating road all the way down to the finish. I just had enough in the tank to push on the small ups on the road to keep the flow going, but I was glad to come back into civilisation knowing it was done!
It’s All Over
All I could do was smile, partly because it was done, but also because of the state I was in and everyone else too. It was just a bunch of mud monsters holding onto there newly decorated bikes. A fresh coat of mud to hide what bike you own! The sun was out in full now, which was ace to keep me warm. Crossing the line my smile got me a spot prize (Hope One night light) as well as the nice finishers T-Shirt after 4 hours 56 mins of riding. Only a few minutes slower than last year in the more testing conditions on a different bike with less training, so not so bad!
I wandered around not knowing what to do with myself. Do I stand in the rather long queue to clean my bike, lie on the ground in a heap or dump stuff in the van and have a cuppa. I went for the latter, rubbed off the now dried mud from my legs, arms and face, shoved some clothes on, popped the mud bike in the van and went to get a brew and some guilt free chips and watch other riders come in. I have to say it was a fantastic route, the MTB Marathon crewe are absolutely lovely and the fellow riders were really friendly. It just makes for a great day out or weekend away. Simply ace, whatever distance you do it’s a great event to be a part of and drag other people with you!
I am now gonna put a few more miles in and call it training before the next one at the new venue of Exmoor. That’s going to be cool, love riding in new places and this one sounds like it is not going to disappoint. If you want to find out more about the events head to there website MTB Marathon and get involved, you won’t be sorry. I’m working on my mate to come and join me in Exmoor, she will love it, it’s going to be ace!!!
The Day After The Ride Before
For now I will just recover, not after the marathon, but after my recovery 30km ride I did the day after, meant to be chilled and uneventful. I may have got carried away, tried heading down a new trail I had not ventured down before. I made it down the first section by the skin of my teeth, it was steep, but I stayed on. I then found another section, rode straight into it and it looked like it rolled over a small log, so that’s what I did. However it was NOT small or rollable! In a matter of sections I was on the ground with my bike on top of me after doing the classic front wheel dropping straight down and me going over the bars landing on my shoulder and then my head! OUCH. The bike was fine, but I am now a bit worse for wear, struggling to move my left arm much. It’s not broken (self diagnosis) but badly bruised or something torn. Ah well, if you’re not falling off, you’re not riding hard enough, right? I think it’s more like not knowing what you’re riding into, but hey you live, you learn. Still love life on 2 wheels, it keeps life interesting! Still went out for 70km on the road bike, so clearly not that bad. The Lemon Meringue ice cream helped the healing process too!
Until the next adventure, I will leave you with the slideshow of all the pics I took! Happy cycling!