Ruthin Rugby Club yet again played an excellent host to the final round of this year’s ever popular MTB-Marathon series.
Although not ‘races’ these events always attract a decent crowd of riders and usually a few of the endurance specialists wanting to tackle the Marathon double of the Exposure Lights Big Night out 40k followed by the full 75k marathon the next day!
We arrived a bit earlier on the Saturday and hiked up with the dog towards Jubilee Tower on Moel Famau, an absolute cracker for scenery that the full Marathon route skirts round but you never quite go up to the top (thank god). With camping available from the Friday night there are always loads of families making a full weekend of biking and checking out the local area.
After catching up with some old buddies and strapping on the Exposure Lights it was quickly time to line up for the Exposure Lights Big Night Out. The ‘Maxx D’ offered up 40k whilst the shorter ‘Equinox’ had a 25k route with over 100 riders across the two categories signed up. Having being sat on the pot quite a lot the week before I wasn’t particularly expecting much in the legs but surprisingly when the lead out car pulled away the excitement of doing a night race kicked in as did the legs and I was able to keep at the sharp end from the off. A traditional monster first climb eventually led up on to the moors and to some seriously scary double track grassy descents. Flying down at 30mph at night is always pretty fun but the risk of a hidden ditch or rock is always there. Fortunately my lights showed up all the hidden horrors and some sketchy drifting round corners whilst passing people shouting as loud as possible to warn them was a lot of fun. I survived a few hairy moments of doom and managed to take back a load of places I had just lost on the crest of the first climb to pop back out on to the road in second. I was quickly caught by a few guys including Scott Cornish and Phil Simcock who were clearly capable of cracking on with the pace as they drifted away from me. First Scott chasing down the leader then Phil who after a bit of a chat and catch up pointed out that we should try and catch those up front, the legs for which I did not have but Phil pulled ahead and tried to bridge the gap which in turn left me with a short gap to him.
I found myself riding along for the mid part of the ride and was happy that the legs were working reasonably well and I wasn’t feeling anywhere near as drained as I had (ha) during the week. Approaching the final descent I managed catch up and overtake a couple of guys. The route down to the main road follows a really fast gulley where I managed to pull out a fair gap. From last year I had a (what turned out to be incorrect) memory of it being a fairly flat/downhill mile or so to the finish. As it turned out I burnt my box of matches three times over as I had incorrectly remembered the distance to the finish. So full gas from the bottom of the descent led to eventual burn-out just before coming back in to town at which point two chaps caught up with me just as we got in to town. They went up the hill and down the other side at race pace which although was probably a bit off in terms of being an open road and the spirit of the event and that they were still at a speed I couldn’t have clung on to so I just took the chance to spin out the legs briefly in anticipation of the next day. Elite XC boy Daniel Blackwell was first back followed by a strong ride from Scott Cornish. I was mixed in with a bunch all less than two minutes behind Scott.
As always the event team provided a warm welcome with whoops all round and borrowed lights handed back in to the Exposure boys with smiles attached. I shoveled some food down before a hot shower and eventual bed time. Still buzzing front the event sleep came surprisingly slowly!
Rain splatters awoke the campsite the next day but this soon cleared for clear blue skies. A huge hoard of riders of over 600 lined up for the varying 25, 50 or full 75k marathon with a promise of 2700m of climbing for the full beasty! From the off it certainly felt like we were eternally heading skyward for most of the day, usually up some impossibly steep grassy climb. One in particular I only saw one person riding up and that was a very slight lady who showed the lads how it was done!
The route traced some of the night ride but with a bigger variety of trails including some fun wooded fast rocky singletrack along with the high speed moorland seat of your pants descents. There is some real technical climbing on those hills as well, rocky and steep and the odd bit of mud thrown in making line choice and looking ahead key. I loved the section between feed 1 and 2 with a mega rocky and narrow eroded path in the middle of the moors leaving you hanging on for dear life. This is where my day started going a bit wrong though as between the two fuel stations my Garmin was jettisoned with my rubber strap mount snapping somehow despite no crash or catching it on anything! By the time I noticed it really could have been anywhere so I put my faith in other riders that if it was in the middle of the path someone would pick it up but if not it would undoubtedly be lost forever in the heather, more on that later.
After stuffing some fig rolls and a couple of bananas from the well stocked feed station and a top-up of Torq I got my head down and cracked on despite being gutted about my Garmin. I found myself alone for a good chunk of time, cramp starting up some horribly sharp road and rideroad climbs. I then arrived at a left turn in a village where an arrow was neither pointed straight on nor a clear left, it was somewhere in the middle, decision time. I waited for a minute until a car appeared from the left turn, I asked if he had seen any arrows further back down that road to which he said no but he's seen some further up the hill, in the absence of any other riders to share the decision I went up the road climb for a few minutes until I passed a couple of turns that weren't marked denoting the wrong direction from the otherwise excellently signed route. Back to the junction and several minutes lost as well as putting an extra climb in my legs. Different people around me now meaning a stream had gone past. More cramp, ouch. I eventually rode back with another chap in to town, happy that I'd gotten through the day feeling reasonably strong but with some annoyances along the way!
After reporting my Garmin lost I had a report from the organisers of it being spotted with two lady walkers by another rider who had offered to take it back to the event centre for me. They declined saying they would hand it in, no good samaritan word as yet from the organisers or the police so perhaps watch out for rambling ladies robbing your stuff!
I rolled in a way bit down off the sharp end of the ride but happy enough that I had put down a good hard few hours riding. The rapid Nick Craig smashed the chasers to pieces in impressive fashion to finish in 3hrs 35 for the long route. I'll take a bit more from being the second rider home after Scott that had also done the 40k the night before which should stand me in good endurance fettle for the longer ones to come.
With the World 24hour Championships round the corner which is my main goal for the year it was good to get a solid weekend of miles under the belt. Thanks to the brilliant organisers, more of the same please next year! Next up is the Forest of Dean XC Enduro for the final hard effort before heading across the pond to battle it out riding in circles for a day.