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!
Opportunities 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!
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
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.
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!
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!
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).
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!
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.
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.
“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
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!
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!
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.
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!
That’s a Wrap
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!