The British Mountain Bike Marathon Championship is, by definition, the event of the year if you want to measure yourself against the best in Britain over a marathon distance. I’m a big fan of the event having done it the last two years as I like the distance plus there’s something appealing about doing one big, unsighted lap over a variety of terrain. That said, the organisers and venue had changed for this year so it was a lapped event of sorts in that the course was two timed laps of a 40 km circuit plus 14 km of neutral run in / out i.e. a total of 94 km. Oh, and then there’s the climbing which would be 3,000 metres thank you very much.
Given that it attracts a number of pros and the quick of the quick, I’ve found it hard to place particularly well in the last couple of years when the event was run up in Selkirk. In fact, on both occasions I’ve just missed finishing in the top half of the field. Not that that detracted from the enjoyment it has to be said. This year things were going to be different and I had set my target on the lofty heights of placing ‘slightly better than average’ and was hoping to finish in the top half. My preparation had not been that great if truth be told. I hadn’t exactly been on it training wise since the Manx 100 but I was hoping that I still had enough of that fitness in the legs to make a respectable account of myself.
The forecast for the weekend in Llandovery where the race was to be run was that it would rain the night before but would dry up for the race itself. This turned out not to be entirely correct. Lined up on the start line, it wasn’t raining but it had been pretty much up until that point. Unfortunately, I was gridded right at the back of the field by virtue of the fact I’m not an elite rider, didn’t get seeded and had a high number on my number board. And so we started at a very sedate pace on the 7 km neutral run in on which we were all supposed to maintain position until we got to the timed, rolling start. So then the race starts proper but my issues with being at the back of the field were compounded by the course very quickly dropping onto some single track meaning that we were one long, strung out procession. My hopes for a top half placing were fading quickly.
The course was, not surprisingly given that amount of rain the night before, a complete mud fest. Once off the road we were into the Crychan Forest which consisted of lots of windy, narrow single track, rocky technical descents and, needless to say, the odd fire road or two. Did I mention the mud? Well there was quite a lot of that, much of which I brought home with me. The course did not include any tarmac (bar the neutral run in) but did include a few pushes as three of the climbs were pretty much unrideable for short sections at least. Of course, as you rode anything grim and horrible on the first lap, you knew you had the prospect of riding it again on the second lap. Aside from the pre-existing mud on the trail, the weather was determined to continue to contribute and much of the race was spent with it raining. This renders your riding glasses unusable and facing that lovely scenario of having your eyeballs scoured with mud as you desperately tried to blink it out on the descents. The saving grace was that at least it was fairly warm so there wasn’t any need even to put a waterproof on.
Generally speaking I was having a good race in that I felt reasonably strong although I had no idea where I was in the running order. I’d sort of been treating the whole thing as a long, fast bike ride rather than a race since my setbacks at the start. That said, I can’t help myself but target riders in front of me where I can see I’ve got the legs on them. On the second lap if anything I started to feel stronger…at least by comparison with riders around me. Perhaps a little overly cautious down the descents but on the climbs I was feeling pretty good. The benefit of it being two laps of the same course was that you know when you’re coming up on the finish line. I could hear and see that there were some riders not far behind so it required a last big push up the final climb to avoid the annoyance of being pipped on the line. That last climb was a particularly hard going, grassy affair but, once passed that, it was a quick sprint to the line.
I hadn’t bothered to check my placing at the finish so it wasn’t until the results were posted online later in the evening that I found I’d come 21st overall. Not much of an achievement to some perhaps but for me it meant I’d achieved my goal of being in the top half of the field. Result! Perhaps even more satisfyingly I was the 4th in the vets class. So all in all, not a bad days work at the office. The men’s senior race was, I heard, won in a closely fought contest by Ben Price, with Sharon Laws winning the women’s race (in both categories) and Mark Chamberlain taking the vets jersey.
A massive thanks to Matt Page, A Cycling and all who made this event possible. When he billed it as the toughest Marathon Champs event to date, he wasn’t kidding!