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!
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?
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
For all the results, check them out here: Battle on the beach Results
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.
Over before you know it
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.
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?