MTB Marathon R3: Exmoor, The Understated South!

Time to Explore Exmoor

It was a short bimble from the Quantocks to the MTB Marathon event venue, Minehead Rugby Club. It was nice to drive along the coastline, don’t see too much of it even though I am just the other side of the channel, wouldn’t it be handy if there was a boat you could get to pop across on!

Capturing the beauty of the evening (courtesy of MTB Marathon)

No set up for me, just park the van and boom, I was sorted! I was however a little muddy from the ride in the Quantocks and was happy when I discovered there was a shower block, downside was they were piping hot and apparently I can’t handle the heat! Anyway, I was clean, didn’t bother with the bike as I knew it would just get muddier again tomorrow.


Only a little muddy!

Not just about going the distance

The MTB Marathon series is not just about the ride, but the whole experience, atmosphere, people and having a whole heap of fun. After sussing out where everything was, got my bag of goodies from registering with the number board, 1128 was the chosen number this time round. It was all about chilling out and enjoying the evening sun and the entertainment in the form of another pretty good young band doing the classic rock covers. By the end the small dance floor was packed, jumping, dancing and singing our hearts out (yeah I got roped in!). I think I eventually got to sleep just around midnight!

How not to prepare for a big ride…

  1. Don’t go for a ride with a fair bit of climbing in it the day before (36km with over 1000m of ascent)
  2. Don’t leave the bike in a muddy state with some interesting noises (sure it will be fine!)
  3. It may not be advisable to drink a bottle of Cider when slightly dehydrated
  4. Maybe give the legs a break instead of jumping and dancing around for the evening…it was fun though!
  5. Don’t Stay up late – midnight is my new bed time apparently!

Oh yeah, I’m here to go biking, best get sorted

I woke up, as per normal when in my van before my alarm, typical. I was in no rush to do anything, but rummaged around and started to get the classic instant porridge and brew on the go. I felt completely in holiday mode and waking up to quite a warm temperature was a nice change and it was set to be a cracking day!

Eventually I thought it was best I changed into some biking kit and check the bike out and wipe of a little of the mud! (A few may have laughed at my feeble attempt at cleaning it!). I may have left heading to the start a little late. I was left quite near the back of the pack and didn’t know what the lead out was like before the first climb, but I really wasn’t too bothered, I just wanted to enjoy this new place and trails. The announcements all done, and like normal they shout ‘go’ and fire the horn and we go nowhere as they try and squeeze 700 riders through a narrow gate opening, always a good giggle!


Causing havoc in the town

To get to the first climb it was a flat roll by the coast through Minehead, which was really lovely and very picturesque. I bet there were some drivers who regret deciding to leave there house or try and move when we all rocked up and sped past! Something different for them to see, doesn’t happen everyday, I suppose. I picked my way past a fair few of the field to get a better run at the single track climb ahead, they had pre-warned us that it was a guaranteed bottleneck as it was single file through bollards onto the narrow climb.

It was steady climbing up the side of the first hill with a gradient that wasn’t too steep where you could  keep a good pace as long as those in front kept pedalling too. It then burst you out of the tree line to set your gaze upon the awesome panoramic views of the Bristol Channel and South Wales clear as day the other side.

So pretty (courtesy of Rob Barker)

It was still climbing very slightly with a nice little steep section just to test those who picked the right line or got stuck behind the right or wrong person as to whether they  pedalled up it or had to admit defeat and walk! I got it right and made my way steadily up that cheeky section, heart rate rocketing, sun glasses steaming up, so riding it nearly blind, just added to the challenge! It was then time to cruise and recover as it just meandered around the hill side on a grassy, rocky track. I was quite content to be on a full bouncer for this one, those on hardtail were probably having a rougher time of it even on the flatter sections, nothing was smooth apart from the roads!

Fun in the sun on my Cannondale Habit SE, love it!

The first feed station came up very quickly at 13km, mainly key for those on the 25km loop, a few stopped, but as the track was going down and of course I hadn’t started my bottle yet I just kept going telling myself at that point that I really should start drinking, it was a warm day too, so getting my sweat on!

View from the second feed station that I actually took!

The pace sped up as the track widened onto a bridleway weaving it’s way around the hillside taking in as much of the lush views as possible, quite distracting. It swooped down rapidly on a grassy track, off the brakes until it felt it was getting a tad too quick, some absolutely hooning it. It headed into the lower wood and a few muddy patches just to make the bike a little twitchy round some of the turns to add a bit of excitement. It is with all trails that go down, they start heading back up before you know it! The climbs weren’t too steep around here, but fairly steady and long, just to drag it out.

Fast trails around the hills (courtesy of Rob Barker)

It all went downhill from here…

It was around the 20km mark, where it all went horribly wrong for me! It was another nice descent on a metre wide track, a few rocks to manoeuvre around, but nothing too technical really. However, I seem to have a habit (me not the bike!) of falling off on the easier tracks where a faster speed is taken. It all happened so fast, one minute all going well next minute I was slammed to the ground straight onto my butt, OOOWWW. Oh man it was painful! The guys behind me, who I had met earlier stopped for me, slowed other riders down and let me just lie there on my front whilst the pain and shock subsided a little! It was excruciating, I must have landed straight on my Coccyx and it felt bad! After a few minutes of pain I started to move, head not hit, that’s good, left arm grazed, but fine, legs ok, but wait what about my bike!!! Ah few, the Habit is a beast, solid as a rock, but my Garmin bracket didn’t fair so well, thankfully the Garmin itself was still working (note to self, don’t use the out front bracket again when mountain biking!). A massive thanks to Neil and Lucy who stopped for me and helped me out, I was a bit all over the place! They carried on as I was seemingly not broken, but just in pain, can’t do much more really. All because a stupid rock decided my wheel was in the wrong place and kicked me off! How rude!

I slowly got back onto the bike with a grimace on my face, more so when  I sat down, this was not going to be pleasant in the slightest. The track was still heading down, so just rolled it down slowly, which was ok. It then started to climb and as soon as I put any kind of pressure through the pedals it came with a shriek of pain. I hopped off and pushed up that section as I watched all the people I had passed, mosey on by. Ah well, I just now wanted to get round in one piece now! After stopping on a corner, attempting to stretch (didn’t do anything) I put it in the easiest gear and began to spin as lightly as I could, still very uncomfortable, but I was going somewhere just not very fast!

It took a while to get off that track walking a few more sections, but then it spat us out onto a road climb. Now usually I would be a bit disgruntled with having to pedal loads on the road, but in the state I was in this was perfect, smooth road surface, easy to spin up and just low impact, winner! I had to do a lot out of the saddle (not what I generally do), but it seemed to put less pressure on my derrière, so went with it! It was a long climb, seeing bikers up in the distance still climbing just showed it’s length, but hey they sun was shining, I wasn’t broken so all was good! The flies however were beginning to get on my nerves, they were my annoying biking buddies, grrr!

I had made it to feed station 2, I had no concept of distance, now with the Garmin shoved in my pocket, so it was a nice surprise another chunk was done! I had downed quite quickly  most of my bottle, so it was time to top up. This was also slower than normal as getting on and off the bike was struggle and walking was not much better! Bending down was the worst to get my bottle. I nearly thought about packing it in and stopping, but I was still able to pedal (seemingly better than walking) I thought I could just go slow and steady, nothing too stupid! This was before I knew what was coming up!

Some guy enjoying his moment at the top…topless!

It swung a right onto another undulating track to Dunkery Beacon (for the first time). Now that had a lovely view, but I just wanted to survive the preceding descent. Rocky descents are not my cup of tea and this had drainage channels every 5 metres with rocks protruding up either side, so it wasn’t about speed, but getting over these as best you can with no punctures. It makes me laugh how I can get down this with no problem, but a smoother easier track I have issues with, what is with that!

It was then decision time, do I cut it short and do the 50km or push on, bare with the pain and try and finish what I set out to do? Before I knew it, my number board had been sprayed, decision made, I was doing the full loop! I knew I was going to do it all anyway, the pain was there, but I could handle it, I wasn’t a quitter!

Down we went on a pretty long rocky track that just seem to keep going! It wasn’t hard, just rough and the rocks kept you on your toes, getting the right line choice was key. It was then the long way round back to where we just were essentially. The long off road descent was equalled with a long road climb, followed by a bumpy bridleway track where I caught back up to Lucy who stopped to help me out,  so I was doing ok! It then did s sharp right back on ourselves to climb just a little more on the road to have a super speedy road descent, no brakes needed until the right turn off. It guided us onto a single track section that I would class as undulating, fun yet frustrating as it would start descending, turn a corner and then kick up a short, slippy little climb. Even if I was in full form, I may not have got up them, but there was no chance with the wrong gear and no punch coming from my legs at all, so a few painful walks up these sections was not great, but I got up them! It continued round the side of the mountain ending with a sweet trail down to…hang on, we’ve been here before! Yep back up the road again, hmm at least we were starting a little higher than before! I suppose it was nice to know there was a feed station at the top and that meant it was 50km done and only 15km left, though I did not know that as I was riding along (I didn’t pay attention to the map of information we were all sent!). I took a little breather and shared war stories with one of the team, who had got some cracking bruises from a previous mountain bike adventure. Ha, if you’re not falling off, you’re not trying hard enough, hmm!

It was back cup to the top of Dunkery Beacon for another crack at that rough descent. After being passed by an ambulance on the way up to it (I think there was a few crashes out there), cautious was the way, but not too much as going too slowly can catch you out just as badly! Two times down clean and no punctures, unlike many of the other riders, I got off lightly! Also another casualty wrapped up in a blanket at the bottom. It is a rough course that may have been a bit too much for some riders. Another recovery road climb and we were heading back to the event arena. I mentioned to another rider ‘it’s got to be all downhill from here, right?’ Hoping for confirmation that it was plain sailing from here on in. His quiet and subdued ‘umm, well I’m not sure it is’ didn’t really spur me on, it is what it is and for now it was going down and a really long way, woo hoo. Seemingly out of the saddle and letting the bike take the hits I was feeling ok, so went with it. A few riders having to stop half way down the descent to give themselves a break, to be fair it was rocky and long and a lot were on hardtails, rough as! It eventually chilled out as we entered into Wootton Courtenay, another lovely little village, there are some pretty places down this way.

I assumed as we were now on road that like the previous rounds it would be a roll back to the finish, well I got that wrong after passing a sign on the left saying Minehead, 3 miles and we were going straight on, I knew there must be some more off road to come! It didn’t disappoint as we headed into what I shall call Aldersmead woods (closest name on the map) on to some nice forest track climbs that again were steady and long and just kept going with a few descents thinking that was it, then it would turn a corner and climb again. Eventually it did start to descend starting with a limbo under a low lying tree, I hope no one got caught by that one! A sharp right and then it was a sweet, fast and flowing trail on the side of the hill which was great and more up my street and a great way to end the ride with. A quick spin through Dunster and the end was in sight. It’s nice to see the smiley marshals guiding you back into the event arena, jobs a gooden!

Loving the pink!

For anyone who is interested here is the Strava route of the Marathon

All official images are from the very talented Rob Barker that you can check out here

Exmoor a worthy place to ride

I’d made it round in about 5 hours, compare that to the 3 hours it took the top guys to make light work of it all! A bit slower than I would have normally done it in, but still not bad, I wasn’t too tired, just quite broken. Loved getting the pink finishers T-Shirt (never thought I’d go for pink, but it’s rather nice!) though not great with the sunburn that I also got from the day! The hardest part was getting off the bike and walking to the van, oh my word that hurt! It’s when you stop and start to relax the body starts to breakdown a little more. It took a while to get stuff sorted afterwards. I shall not bore you with the details, but it took a while! I then just chilled out as I really wasn’t looking forward to the drive home, so chilled out in the sunshine after managing to clean my lovely Cannondale Habit and half clean myself in the scolding hot showers! These don’t look bad or the grazes on my butt, all the pain is internal just hope it chills out soon!

Fast forward a couple of days

I made it through a day of work, but still in pain. Ibuprofen is my friend, though still not taking the pain away. Bruises are starting to emerge, a stiff neck has joined in the party and my Coccyx is still stupidly painful, but I would say, time is a healer. I just hope it is sooner rather than later as I have Bontrager Twentyfour12 in a few weeks time!

I will be back!

Reflecting back, it was a fantastically well organised event as per the norm from the MTB Marathon team. The Event village was ace and the evening entertainment and boogy was spot on, good to let your hair down now and then! The course was good, though I think the 50km is the best of bunch, less road and more of the fun! Though I just seemed to get sucked into the challenge of doing the full marathon. It’s opened up a new area to me for mountain biking, that is not too far away, so I think I will be making plans to head back down there at some point in the near future.

For now I shall stare out the window at the lovely weather wishing I could be pedalling, instead lying uncomfortably on the sofa watching, Wimbledon, Tour de France and hopefully Wales get through another round in Euro 2016! I shall do some mind training instead, hmm I wonder what that entails!

Until Bonty, enjoy the sunshine!

P.S. for more information about the MTB Marathon head to there website here. The next round is in Wantage, Oxford, which is fast paced and good fun and is suitable for all abilities on 24th July. I won’t be there, so it won’t be as good, but I’m sure you will get by!





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