The Builth-Wells MTB Festival lured a mass of mountain bikers (500+!) to the ‘home of mtb marathon’ to partake in races spanning Saturday day time, night and Sunday. Although entering just one of these races would be enough for some, for others, including myself, it seemed like a good idea to get some early season miles under my belt and do a mini stage race by taking on the Exposure Lights Big Night out followed by the first round of the MTB-Marathon series. Some nutters even took on the triple, entering the Welsh XC race on Saturday as well (and placing more than respectably at each!).
With the Welsh XC race out of the way it was time for the Big Night Out. Exposure lights were then on hand, sorting out many a punter with super bright setups which were required for the wide open 30mph grassy descents that awaited them that evening. The guys hooked me up with a new Maxx D which was an upgrade from my old faithful model. I found that the advantage of the newer lights was the ability to set lots of different programme modes depending on how long you are going to be riding for (check them out at M Steel Cycles). The guys set me up with a mode that would be best for the evening activities. A 2hr High and 6hr mode was the perfect setup for the scheduled 2hour or so night time adventure in the hills and come to think of it probably perfect for the mid week night rides as well. The space age lights on the back also showed the battery level indicator in increments, simple but very handy. Me likey.
With most of those at the sharp end of the field booked in for the marathon the next day, some might have expected that the pace on the Saturday night might go off a bit steadier than the usual 100mph red line starts of shorter endurance races. That went straight out the window as the lead vehicles accelerated up what turned out to be an absolute monster of a first climb. Neil Crampton set the early pace with Nick Craig close behind (some might say he was there just to have someone to capture on his go pro!) with the seasoned endurance riders of Matt Page and Ant White amongst those forming a small group in pursuit. I was in the next bunch formed of myself and the Clee Cycles boys. Nick Craig inevitably cracked the field and was first back in.
I was enjoying being out in the big hills and glad that my last minute swap out of a seized bottom bracket bearing for a random one that I found in the tool box actually worked! The silence and surrounding darkness was amazing and clear skies make it a spectacular outing. The course was full of big moorland climbs followed by super fast grassy descents with time to be made up by the brave. Mostly following narrow and at times hard to find lines through sheep tracks. Although my lights meant I could see really far ahead, shadows are always a risk (real or imagined) and a hidden ditch could certainly make things interesting, thankfully one didn’t appear.
My race went pretty well after recovering from some fairly serious fatigue in the last month or so. Unfortunately the Clee boys pulled ahead on one of the last climbs and not having my bike computer on meant that the end came around before I had time to realise that a last ditch effort might have got me back on term (perhaps). Still pleased with a top 10 finish though.
Rolling back in to the event area, I quickly realised that getting food and a shower quickly then heading off to bed to rest up for the next day would be key to making a decent effort out of Sunday’s event. However the great atmosphere fuelled by the awesome band kept me chatting to fellow riders, sharing stories and generally having a good time so I got to bed later than someone heading out there to do it all again the next day should have.
Ah the wonders of compression tights, the next morning the legs didn’t feel too bad. Perhaps not realising the finish was nearer than I thought the previous night meant I didn’t have to put in the usual red line end of race effort so the legs weren’t pushed too hard, maybe a blessing in disguise.
Blue skies ahoy, it was booming sunshine all day, brilliant. Smiles all round for those entering the three different distance courses of mini, half and full (68km) marathons. Again a serious climb from the off strung out the field. I was keen to not get too carried away too early so tried to keep smooth and steady. The course was classic mountain biking, big open moorland, a little lumpy at times making it a real physical challenge. Climbs were rewarded with more of the fast open descents featured in the exposure big night out. They guys at USE1 had hooked me up with an Atom 710mm flatty bar http://www.use1.com/use-hardware/handlebars/mtb-handlebars/atom-flattie-wide It’s wider than what I’d previously used for xc but the stability on the downs was very welcome and also being super light at 169g perfect for the weight weenies amongst us.
The course included some sections of singletrack to mix things up and was mostly dry and fast. Some pretty epic/hairy fast and narrow off camber traverses kept you on your toes. The climbs were cramp inducing and towards the end required some walking.
Their sharpness was relentless in the spring sun. Parts of the course were repeats of the previous night but somehow things seemed a lot faster and fun in the dark, well certainly more terrifying. Just when you thought the last of the big climbs were done, round the corner was another beast ready to punish you
Lee Williams put in an impressive ride but the story of the weekend would be the endurance of the ‘old guard’, old in the sense of age but the top 10 was host to both Ant White and Matt Page who had both already done two races that weekend, fair play.
My race went pretty well. Many of those around me during the race hadn’t ridden the night before so it was satisfying to be keeping pace with those guys. The fatigue started to kick in hard at the 3 hour mark with the sheer length of the climbs and little rest possible on the downs due to the concentration and full throttle required to make up some time that I had lost to the quicker and fresher climbers out there. I was in a group that took a couple of temporary wrong turns through not looking far enough in to the distance so a few minutes were lost there, a little bit frustrating but the standing around was a welcome, if not short, rest. The food stations were always a pleasant sight and all the event staff were super friendly. Coming in to the last few km I could see another rider closing in making me inevitably want to hold my position but to my surprise I found I still had a little bit of kick in the legs which felt good. I finished inside the top 30 out of around 250 riders doing the full marathon. Need to start some interval training now to get some higher end speed going.
All in all a fantastic weekends riding. Massive thanks to all the support crew and especially use/exposure lights for hooking people up with lights and other shiny kit over the weekend.