I’m starting to write this and I haven’t left the house yet. Only a packing mission and two twelve-hour night shifts stand in the way of freedom. I’m sat at home sorting the packing list and working out how sub-standard my prep can be. After the last month of bouncing around like some sort of pinball playing skivvy to Tommy the Wizard, the idea of escape has created somewhat of an ‘it’ll do attitude.’

So the plan is leave work, off to the Scott MTB Marathon in Builth, then two days of riding fun, then pick up wife from station, take her riding, then head down to Battle on the Beach for the following weekend. Yes that’s a whole WEEK of riding and sleeping in the VAN… EPIC..!! (that’s why I’m a little excited and have started the blog now.)

The morning before my first nightshift I awoke with a banging headache and burning chest, much reminiscent of a chest infection. As much tried to pretend it wasn’t there I couldn’t deny the fact that it was – gutted! It’s my usual tack to deny all knowledge of these things and plough on regardless, but for some reason I saw sense this time.

A number of frantic emails and phone-calls and a big thank you to some people at work and I was able to re-jig my leave and get my nightshifts covered so I could rest up. Back to bed for me to see if I could sleep it off. What a luxury!

As luck would have it the van was packed on the Saturday morning so it was a man, a van, a dog and a splitting headache off to Builth for round one of the Scott MTB Marathon.

I arrived on-site nice and early amidst the carnage of people getting vans stuck on the rather soft field, then did the British thing of getting the kettle straight on. NO DELAY NO DEVIATION. Whilst supping the first of many cuppas I was impressed at how the organisers were dealing with the ensuing carnage of stuck vans. As always a great showing from Ian, and the Cycle Tech Crew.

So it was off to catch up with the Husky mad Jon at E3 Coaching and to see if there were any entries left for the event. I had packed, but I hadn’t been organised enough to get an entry in….   Still feeling a bit ropey I was advised to err on the side of caution and begrudgingly sacked in the Exposure Night Ride in favour of doing the longer day on the Sunday. Taking advantage of the lull in proceedings I put a movie on in the van and promptly fell asleep.

Morning came and so did the sunshine and the passing of my headache. There was no way it was going to match the heat wave of last year but it was a stark contrast to the heavy rain of the last week leaving rivers bulging and fields flooded. It was starting to dry and warm enough for 3/4 bottoms! What more can you ask for?  Due to the tight fisted nature of my wallet and the impending mudfest I opted to ride the day on a single speed and skinny mud tyres to try and get the most out of it.

I joined Team JMC during the winter and there were plenty of team riders here flying the jersey and as always a friendly happy bunch of people. I got the time to chat to most of them and a catch up with Jacqui Simcock who was also riding the long day.

The event was the same mass start under escort out of the venue and the spin up the road (32/18 spin for me). My legs were going like the fingers of the lead guitarist from Spinal Tap. The first climb was mostly on a hard surface so it kept the pace high for the mid pack mediocrity such as myself. The gearing seemed about right for now so it was time to crack on. I settled into a good climbing rhythm and started to reel in the people that had swamped me up the road from the start. The route soon left the hard ground and found the open hillside that’s synonymous with this part of Wales.

My heart rate had spiked a little (read a lot.), up the first climb so I started on the gels as soon as I could along the flatter ground. With all of the rain, the mud had come out to play and although it was to get more than a bit slippy later the beauty of doing a big event is the knowledge that everyone is in it together. When you are out on a training ride on you own for 5 hours you get this idea that you have your own personal rain cloud but in an event it is different.

It was that fun mud, slippery as hell in places, sticky and a total comedy show of slow speed crashes, where the only thing hurt is pride. PERFECT!! The first feed station came up all too quickly as it meant we were 18km into the route already. Quick custard cream, (I have a belief that if you walk past a custard cream without eating it then something really bad will happen), and some water and straight off again to rejoin the route.

The descents were a total hoot, I was in that internal battle of find the outside line for a bit of grip or stay in the slop? Outside you have no idea where the stumps were and if you were going to get bounced off like a Moto GP rider, albeit at a much lower speed. In the slop you can’t steer or brake. I threw myself down them with reckless abandon, a massive grin and no back brake which was pulling all the way back to the bars with little or no effect. I like to call it notional braking and it comes standard on most winter hacks.

The field thinned over the next hour or so with some people taking the other distance options so there were a few less wheels to pull you along.
I remembered from last year the amount of off camber sheep track on parts of the course and it arrived, ooh dear. This was the dreaded bit, and how I was wrong.

Have you ever watched velodrome racing? Well this bore some similarities to it. Wheel to wheel riders in tight formation then………. The wild swing off line out of the slipstream, only this time it was with the camber down the hill having slipped off in the sub optimal grip of the mud into the ungraceful dismount of fighting with mud filled clip in pedals. The only question was who was next? And yes I took my turn. Laughing my head off before splatting on the ground. This is one of those rides where you really want to be one of the first through the course as it was getting trickier and trickier.

The rest of the route had the same sort of ups and downs. with lots of the ups on my now tiring legs. (I’m sure there must have been other single speeders there but I certainly didn’t see any). The last third of a sportive route always sees the riders in front looking over their shoulders and starting to get a bit of a race on which makes it fun for the finish.

So with all my gears still shifting perfectly I rolled into the finish in 3hrs 51. About a decade behind the fast boys but a little triumph for me. I beat the lurgy, I beat the mud and beat the hell out of my skinny little legs.

Moody gearing, sunny skies, another great event! Thanks guys and see you next weekend.