I arrived at Margam on the Saturday morning excited to be racing at Margam park after a 2 week dry spell. I knew that the ground would be running hard and fast and I was in for a very tough 4 hours of racing.
My line up for the 4 hour solo female included girls from GB cycles, XC Racer/Scimitar and Saddle Skedaddle so I knew this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park (pardon the pun!)
The wind was so cold and going to the start line, I was wearing just about everything I could to stay warm. A friend told be ‘Be bold, start cold’ and knowing that I would be climbing within a matter of minutes, I decided to take her advise.
My tactic for the race was to get in a fast first lap and not pace myself too much, knowing that my endurance fitness would see me through the remainder of the race. Even though this was an endurance event, the start speed didn’t disappoint and every one shot off like there was no tomorrow.
Iwona Szmyd (Saddle Skedaddle) was to my left on the start grid and to my surprise I was in front of her coming down onto the path after the first grass section. However, this only lasted a minute or so! I stayed as close to her as the congestion would allow going toward the single track but she got there ahead of the congestion and I didn’t!
The first section of single track bottle necked into a shoot down a bank and straight up the other side which proved to be a bit much for some of the riders in front of me. There was nothing I could do except wait patiently for what seemed like ages.
Making my way up through the dry, dusty single track (normally a descent behind Go Ape) I tried to ride without panicking to make up the time and ride smart. No mistakes and heart rate under control, unfortunately the riders in front of me had other ideas and the congestion was really slowing me down. Iwona was out of sight by now so I started to ride my own race, hoping that I would remain consistent and strong.
I was over taken by on of the XC Racer / Scimiter girls during the first lap and we played cat and mouse for a while which was exhausting. I tried to get in front of her on the descents, she would try to get in front of me on the hills. I saw my chance heading into the drop on the first section of the amazing World Cup track that leads down to the stream. We were approaching the drop which was about a meter wide, plenty wide enough to allow a pass on the approach. She slowed and veered over to the left, I over took her on the right as we both took the drop, I didn’t see her again.
The course was amazing! Gareth Hayes had done a brilliant job with the route. He had made good use of the new World Cup tracks and kept us out of breath for the entirety of the 10km loop! Every climb was rewarded with a fun, technical descent which then went immediately into the next climb.
For those of you with a familiarity of Margam Park, we were taken up through the Go Ape descent, up the shoot and the steep grass bank to the top of Rhododendron Riot. This could be approached without the normal caution of entering a steep off camber mud shoot as it was dry. The bike would be trying to pick up speed and it was a bit of a point and pray descent. This dropped out onto the double track climb which goes up to the pulpit. About half way up this climb we were taken left into a new descent with fast loose gravely burms and 2 small drops. This went across a fire track into the fast descent to the river crossing. Most people were now in the wrong gear to climb up the bank on the other side of the river and must have given the marshall lots of laughs as people fell in the river! We went up the walker’s path to the grass climb on the right by the oak tree. At the top of the grass climb was had a natural descent back down to the river for the second river crossing. Gareth used the single track to the left to add a little to the climb after the river as this now only went up a few meters before turning in on the right to another new world cup section. This time a climb, with sharp, steep switchbacks. It broke up the climb that goes up to the top deer gate nicely and meant that once out onto the double track again there was only a short distance to the black run descent. This descent is the hardest in the park with roots, steep shoots, a drop, rocks, you name it, it’s got it! Unfortunately, riders who maybe should have taken the easier version came this way to save time were taken by surprise by the severity and caused a few hold ups on the first lap but apart from that, it was the descent I looked forward to each lap the most. The climb out wasn’t so much fun! We climbed out of the black run, across the double track into more single-track climbing with big loose rocks, and hard switchbacks to keep our minds busy and our hearts racing! Instead of continuing down the Black run back into the main park, Gareth took us up a steep bank on to the top track past the pulpits. We continued along the double track before turning right across the deer field, through a natural bit of single track to join the old NPS decent know as the Kidney Shaker. Just when you thought you were done with the climbing we went back up a grass climb to cut across the rooty, rocky single track in between the copses. Down a rocky shoot and quickly down through the deer field to the event arena.
An exhausting lap done in 45 minutes. I settled in to the 2nd lap knowing I was in 2nd place. If I could hold onto 2nd place I would be happy. Iwona was last seen on the last climb of the 1st lap and it is hard to try and catch someone when you cant see them anymore!
I had in my head that I would only have to do 4 laps in the 4 hour race as if you don’t complete your last lap within the 4 hours then it doesn’t count. With a 45 minute lap under my belt I was now wondering if I would have to do 5. Each lap that passed, I was checking my time. It was so close to having to do that extra lap. As I sent up the climb after Go Ape on my 4th lap hunger struck! I normally have a Power Bar gel every 45 minutes and don’t get hungry over a 5 hour time span so this took me by surprise as I didn’t have anything solid with me I could eat. Not only that but the course was either up or down so you only had seconds to get food into you. I clawed my way around the 4th lap, loosing energy all the time and feeling more and more hungry. I thought if I could drag it out for over 50 minutes, keeping the girl currently in 3rd behind me then I wouldn’t have to do a 5th lap.
I arrived back at the event arena with 43 minutes left! I didn’t have a 43 minute lap in me and I was pretty sure that the girl coming in 7 minutes behind me wouldn’t have a 36 minute lap in her. I took a small gamble and called it a day holding onto my 2nd place.
A massive pat on the back for Gareth Hayes who had put in so much work with the event to make it all flow seamlessly. This was a brilliant mountain bike course and even the sun stayed out.
Big thank you to Steve for standing in the pit for 3hrs 15 minutes to do my bottles and to all my friends who appeared at various parts of the course to show their support.
Well done to Iwona Smzyd for putting in a powerful 5 laps! I was proud to take the podium with two elite riders, Iwona and Natasha Berry, also from the Saddle Skedaddle team.