Tag Archives: red kite

Red Kite xc race round 7

Coed TrallwmMy plan of riding all of the Red Kite winter xc races stopped when I was laid low in late January and most of February. This was due to over training, under eating and relentless rain.I’d missed two races since round 4 in January.

To sum up the previous few months: for 95% of the time it was either raining or not sunny. For the rest of the time a plurality of water droplets fell from the sky. Most of this water landed on the ground and wetted the soil to create a muddy slop. Because it was winter it was also cold. A sort of boring, miserable, chilly, damp cold. Not the interesting, fun cold that leads to snow.

Saturday was different though: when I walked out of the house I immediately noticed that 1) no water was hitting my head 2) my head was warmed from a heat source that seemed to be in the sky. This put me in a positive state of mind. I was feeling upbeat following some morning yoga too, a new experience for me.

I had some newly reconditioned forks to fit to the Stump Jumper. I’d wrecked these via a lack of maintenance and LocoTuning had rebuilt them with new uppers for me. Whilst they were off the bike I’d fitted some new Rockshox Revelations. These had been great forks for the few days of riding before the lock out failed. They lost interest in functioning after that and they were being sent off to TFTuned under warranty.

One per day.
One per day.

There was no way that I could fit these shiny new forks with a clear conscience in the middle of the dump that was my garage. An early spring morning was an ideal day for a spring clean. After several hours, a trip to the recycling centre and with a charity shop box full the garage was approximately tidy. I proudly surveyed the scene: I could see the walls and the floor and it made me feel good. The time management part hadn’t gone so well though – it was 3pm and I needed to leave for Wales. I decided to take my trusty 2011 Camber comp and leave the forks for another day. The Camber had last been ridden in December and I remember having issues with the dual air forks and possibly the gears. Apart from that it was fine.

After my recent hunger pangs and weakness at races I loaded myself up with food – another massive veggie pizza, flat bread and falafells.

The great weather continued until Sunday but changed back to rain just before I woke up. I had time for some pre race yoga and a very leisurely breakfast. Heavy rain fell during the short drive to Coed Trallwm. It looked sort of wet and cold.

Coed Trallwm

At the event registration I found a cheery bunch of racers making the most of the situation. The car park had a new pond in it and the ground looked soggy. Neil from Red Kite events said to me “you want to do the four race don’t you Tom!?” and I couldn’t think of any excuses in time. Four of us were doing the long event, the rest were doing the regular two hour race.

At 10:30 we set off up the all too familiar first climb. As usual I watched the crowd creep away from me up the hill. The ground was wet and draggy. My energy levels felt a bit low and I adjusted my pace to suit the four hours ahead. I caught a few riders half way up the climb which was encouraging.

Red Kite xc race start
Cycle selfie Sunday

At the top the route took the tight option through the trees on a narrow and slippery path. This was holding up really well. The first mud ramp wasn’t in bad shape considering the recent weather. I turned the wrong way at the bottom though – I always turned left here! I didn’t realise that I’d gone wrong until I ran out of sign posts. That cost me a few minutes.

The lower section was a lot more slippery with wet roots just before the second ramp. The rest of the descent was familiar but wetter than normal. After passing the trail centre the route went through the trees and then climbed up the blue descent and down the climb. After crossing the road it used the same trick of up the descent and down the climb. It then crossed over itself by the trail centre to link back to the start.

CAC photography MTB events
Photo courtesy of CAC photography

The bike felt awful.The front was really bumpy and harsh and a handful on the slippery descents. The gears mainly worked but weren’t always keen to change. The dropper post was heavy to operate and slow to rise. I decided that after this race I was going to throw money at fixing the bike. It was just another thing that was annoying me.

I didn’t feel amazing either. I seemed to lose energy really quickly on steep climbs. The wet slate of the climbs was a real challenge on the steep bits. Over the whole race I managed to ride up all of them at one time or another but have to bin the bike and walk up a few from quite early.

I’d love to say that I just knuckled down and powered on because I’m tough. The truth is I had a really good rant about it all out loud.

  • “f**king bike, heap of crap.”
  • “Why the f**k am I doing this?”
  • “Four hours? I’m still ill, I should be sensible and stop”
  • “I’m not riding in the rain again this year. It’s crap. I’m bored of it”.
  • “I’m going to turn round now, roll back down the hill and abandon the race”

At the top of my second lap I let air out of the front tyre and the forks. That improved the handling a bit but the fork was a bit too soft now and bottomed out easily.

I was lapped by the fastest rider three quarters of the way round my second lap! I had to start making my excuses: four hour race…pacing myself….I’ve been ill…the bike’s crap.

Red Kite winter xc race at Cwm TrallwmOne thing that kept me going was was trying to ride the muddy, rooty singletrack cleanly. I whooped when I cleared parts of it. Getting up the steep rock ramps also cheered me up. Even the muddy track descent was entertaining when I concentrated on looking ahead and cornering properly.

I’d started my third lap before the two hour point. I knew I could easily fit two more in. On the fourth lap I was on the first climb and my energy was dropping off quickly. I stopped dead and rested. Maybe I should bin this off? No, I was doing the four hour race. I started pedalling again. At the top I sat down on a tree branch and ate a Mule bar and a Carman’s muesli bar. I couldn’t stop for long because the damp and cold got to me.

My lap times were increasing. My first had been about 47 minutes and now they were taking an hour. I considered stopping after four laps but reasoned that it was only another hour at most. Once I’d made it to the top I only had one more climb to do and then it would be over. As I passed the trail centre for the last time Neil from Red Kite events shouted over from the cafe. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but eventually guessed that he was offering me the chance to finish early. I couldn’t take that option – I had to finish the last lap.

Cyclist crashes into ditch in the mud
It wasn’t as bad as this.

Half an hour later it was all over and I had a well earned rest on the cafe with tea and sandwiches. I left a big pool of muddy water on the floor when I left. Thanks to Christine for the bonus sandwiches and not complaining about the mud.

I didn’t bother cleaning the bike; I just needed dry clothes and warmth quickly. The bike was knackered anyway.

Muddy MTB rider
Muddy was it?

Lessons learnt:

  • Fix the bike to lower the moaning excuses.
  • No more knackered forks. They ruin the riding experience.
  • Keep resting. I’m clearly still not totally well.
  • Keep riding. Most people would be quite happy with 45km and 1600m ish for a day out.

Despite all of the above I did, on average, enjoy the experience. The route stood up really well considering the weather. None of it was an unrideable bog. It was just tough and draggy and went on for a long time!

I ended up with 43km, and 1550m of ascent. That’s not too bad for 4.5 hours of riding. That’s not that far off The Frozen Devil which was 47km and 950m in 4 hours. I spent 30 minutes resting on the Frozen Devil and only 10 stopped on the xc race. Another way of looking it at is that I cycled up Snowdon 1.5 times over the course of the race.

Route: Garmin | Strava | gpx file.

Event photos will be uploaded to cac photography.

Muddy kit in the rain.

Red Kite xc race map

 Oct 2013 Nov 2013 Dec-13 Jan 2014 March 2014
Distance km 18.5 24.1 27.1 26.2 44.3
Time hh:mm:ss 01:43:18 01:57:13 02:07:46 02:23:04 04:32:04
Time hours 1.72 1.95 2.13 2.38 4.53
Elevation m 819 812 795 908 1558
Average speed km/h 10.7 12.3 12.7 11.8 10.1
mph 6.7 7.6 7.9 7.9 6.3
Energy KCal 991 1094 1170 1400 2400
laps  – 6 4 4 3 5
Dist/lap km 3.1 6.0 6.8 8.7 8.9
Time/lap minutes 17.22 29.30 31.94 47.69 54.41
Elev/lap m 137 203 199 303 312
Elev/h m/h 476 416 373 381 344
Elev/dist m/km 44 34 29 35 35
Energy/hour KCal/hour 576 560 549 587 530

Red Kite xc race lap analysisThe route was approximately the same distance and elevation gain as in January. I set out at a slower pace but my third laps were identical for both races. The rate of drop was very steady – about 3 minutes per lap. I was about 5% slower for the first three laps this time compared with January, but I had to cover 66% more distance.

The official results didn’t quite match the Garmin numbers. No idea what’s going on there. I was thoroughly trashed by the other three riders in my category – their lap times ranged from 33 to 47 minutes. My fastest lap was 47 minutes. I don’t think I can blame the bike for this; it was more about me.

I’m doing the Hereford Devil Sportive later in the year. I won’t be able to moan about mud on that. Potholes maybe. Red Kite events said “We will be building over the summer to bring some new tracks and also improving the existing ones.”

Read Stephen Aucock’s write up.

Lap time graph

A year earlier…

Red Kite Winter xc race round 4

Specialized Stump JumperThis was round four of the Red Kite winter xc race series. It was held at the Coed Trallwm trail centre and used the longest lap yet. 

After riding almost every day over Christmas I’d had a week at work but too many late nights. On Friday evening I went to bed at 5pm and couldn’t raise the energy to even think about packing my kit or checking the bike over for the easy Saturday ride let alone the race. After four and half hours of sleep I awoke feeling almost human. I did a 50km road ride on mountain bike then spent the night out in Bristol (no drinking though), went to bed at 2am and got up at 7am on the Sunday to drive to Wales. Basically I was knackered before I even started.

So I was amazed when Neil from Red Kite events posted on his Facebook page to say that I’d got my best result yet and smashed all my previous records:  “Congratulations Tom, you made it to the venue before the race started”. A record indeed.

In order to try and stave off fatigue I’d eaten enough porridge for three people before setting out on the drive. When I arrived (early by the way) I stuffed a few bonus 9bars into the system hoping I’d have a boost for the event.

Ground conditions were soggy after a lot of rain in the previous weeks. No water was falling from the sky though.

MTB xc race in WalesAs with all these races the group set off up the steep track climb and I watched the fast riders disappear into the distance. Just like the previous week I felt awful: weak, no energy, lots of hills ahead of me and no idea how I’d survive. The previous week my energy levels had picked up as soon as the first hill was over so I hoped the same this time. True, I felt better by the top and the first descent gave me a chance to recover a bit.

The new long lap crossed the road after the ford and lead to a very steep and slippery climb. I was encouraged to see a few riders walking and I managed to get up without any issues. On the second big climb I felt a lot better and finally managed to get ahead of the young rider and, I assume, his father by the top. The view from up here was great and I remembered why I keep riding my bike.

It was great to find that the descent on this side had also been resurfaced recently with a loose shale. I remember when this was all fields boggy mud back in the day (the 2008 Real Ale Wobble for example )

Coed Trallwm trail centre mid Wales

A damp section of grass and mud linked back to the road. I thought my riding was rubbish along here as I slid around, got caught in the ruts, dabbed my feet down and struggled to make good progress. On later laps I did a bit better over the wet roots and noticed that riders behind me were still behind me at the the end so maybe I wasn’t that bad.

On the third climb of the lap  the father and son passed me and I plotted on catching them later. However, my back was starting to really hurt and my energy levels were dropping. I knew I had back off. Time for a team talk: “I know you feel crap and your back hurts, you’re knackered and all that but just keep going and see what you can rescue”.

I managed to hold a few riders in sight for the following laps but they were gradually slipping away and then a few others passed me on the last lap. At the bottom of the climb on my third lap I saw the yellow helmet of Pete Lloyd at the bottom of the descent and that was 15-20 minutes ahead of me. So I must have been 5-6 minutes per lap behind.

Red descent at Coed Trallwm in Wales
Surfaced MTB trail
Real Ale Wobble 2008
Coed Trallwm back in the day (2008)

I needed some photographs for the blog and couldn’t face riding back up after the race had finished so I stopped at the top of the climb for a few minutes.

With relief I reached the end of the race after 2h25m of riding. A cheerful Neil from Red Kite events called out “One more lap to do Tom!”. There was a brief pause whilst I weighed up if I could face doing another even if I had to. Luckily he was joking.

I was relieved to finish. My thoughts were “that’ll have to do, it was the best I could manage today”. On Friday evening  I’d been preparing to write the whole weekend off and in the end I’d done everything on the plan.

Despite the back ache I still enjoyed the event. It was an interesting route with some fun challenges and opportunity for speed. As usual, it was clearly marked out with plenty of marshals.  I know that these events have raised my expectations in terms of fitness and I’ve seen the difference when out riding with other people that I know. It’s really good for mental toughness to motivate yourself to keep going under tough conditions.

Red Kite winter xc lap time analysisThe results arrived later in the evening and they were better than I expected. I was 5th out of 10 in the vets category and 12th out of 28 overall.

A day after the event I had sore back, tight legs and dehydration. I very rarely experience aches or pains after events (thanks to the wonders of yoga). So I think this was a tough once.

My learning points:

  • I need more rest.
  • I should recognise fatigue.
  • I need to eat more in the days before the event. Breakfast on the day is too late.
  • I enjoy moaning at myself but actually enjoy tough rides.

Timings on Garmin Connect and Strava. Route map gpx file (right click to save, view using bikehike).

Event photos will be appearing on CAC Photography at some point.

Red Kite winter xc round 4 map

Red Kite winter xc race stats so far.

 Oct 2013 Nov 2013 Dec-13 Jan 2014
Distance km 18.5 24.1 27.1 26.2
Time hh:mm:ss 01:43:18 01:57:13 02:07:46 02:23:04
Time hours 1.72 1.95 2.13 2.38
Elevation m 819 812 795 908
Average speed km/h 10.7 12.3 12.7 11.8
mph 6.7 7.6 7.9 7.9
Energy KCal 991 1094 1170 1400
laps  – 6 4 4 3
Dist/lap km 3.1 6.0 6.8 8.7
Time/lap minutes 17.22 29.30 31.94 47.69
Elev/lap m 137 203 199 303
Elev/h m/h 476 416 373 381
Elev/dist m/km 44 34 29 35
Energy/hour KCal/hour 576 560 549 587

The total distance covered was slightly down on round 3 but the elevation gain was the highest yet. The ride time was almost 2.5 hours and the average speed was well down on the previous two races. The total energy estimate was the highest yet.

Red Kite Winter xc race stats

Red Kite winter series xc race

Red Kite winter xc race round 3.This was round three of the Red Kite events winter series. See the write ups from Oct 2013  and Nov 2013.

The event was based at the familiar Coed Trallwm trail centre with another variant on the route. The wet weather warnings meant that the upper section of the trail centre was used in place of the tight singletrack that’s been a feature of many of the races. The cottage loop was included but with a short cut near the top.

I’d ridden 20km on Thursday and 30km on Friday and then had a day of rest on Saturday to go Christmas shopping. After a 1am bike maintenance session I managed a few hours sleep and set off from Stroud at 8am. I had a two hour drive ahead of me. A lot of rain had been forecast but I saw none of it in south Wales. After observing a stunning rainbow near Abergavenny the clouds opened and I wondered if the car was any good at floating. The rain stopped by the time I reached Crickhowel and it I was treated to a beautiful morning.  The journey took longer than expected and after stopping to move a disorientated pheasant out of the middle of the road I arrived with 10 minutes to spare. The race start was delayed by a few minutes to allow me to register.

Fallen tree in a forest.

Thirty seconds later we were off. As usual a group of riders shot straight off up the hill into the distance and I settled somewhere in the middle of the race procession. The damp and muddy track was very draggy to pedal through so I concentrated on finding my comfort point and erased any thoughts of pain or tiredness from my mind. The familiar top of the hill was now a false summit. A short descent on a slippery track lead to a power sapping ramp and then a climb  to the highest point of the trail.

Coed Trallwm mountain bike trails.

The upper section of the descent is actually pretty good as long as you’re aware that the last jump delivers you into the bottom of a ditch. The kicker jumps were a blast in the dry and when I was riding my Stump Jumper. In the wet and on my Camber I wasn’t enjoying them so much.

I passed a guy having mechanical issues and one rider moved over to let me past on the descent. Unlike many of the previous races I hardly saw any other riders after that. I occasionally caught sight of the rider in front but I wasn’t gaining ground on them. The mechanical guy caught me up, introduced himself and shook my hand. After following me down the cottage descent he powered off into the distance. I passed him a few minutes later as he grappled with a stuck chain. A few laps later he passed me again.

I wasn’t in the mood for beasting myself so I very carefully adjusted my pace so that I was working quite hard but I wasn’t grinding myself down. The best thing about this was that I actually felt really good!

I was very encouraged that I had balanced back ache. Often my left side will start hurting and limit how hard I can pedal. Today I had an ache on both sides and I was able to push on anyway without any worrying pain. This was very encouraging and hopefully means that I’m building strength.

My bike maintenance session had been well worth it – the gears worked perfectly. For about five minutes and then were back to over eager shifting in one direction and a lack of interest in the other. Considering I had a new chain, cassette and cable I wasn’t impressed. I think the wobbly jockey wheels are to blame.

Despite the extreme weather warnings no rain fell for the first hour and a half of the race. Then an icy sleet fell from the sky. I contemplated stopping to put my anorak on but decided to brave it out.

Results and prizes at Red Kite winter xc race.

The lap times were 29:50, 32:46, 33:37, 35:03 so there was a steady drop in pace as the race went on. Neil from Red Kite events told me that the fastest lap times were significantly down on normal – confirmation that the conditions were heavy going.

In my category I was 2nd out of 5 which was great. Map on Garmin Connect and also as gpx (view using bikehike.co.uk). Also on Strava!

The squiggle analysis below is very promising. If I knocked a few minutes off my average lap time of 32m:50s then I would be close to 5th place overall. I know that sounds like “if I was faster then I’d do better” but it means that better results are within grasp.

Results anaylsis of the Red Kite winter xc race round 3.

Stats for this and the previous races are shown below.

 Oct 2013 Nov 2013 Dec-13
Distance km 18.5 24.1 27.1
Time hh:mm:ss 01:43:18 01:57:13 02:07:46
Time hours 1.72 1.95 2.13
Elevation m 819 812 795
Average speed km/h 10.7 12.3 12.7
mph 6.7 7.6 7.9
Energy KCal 991 1094 1170
laps  – 6 4 4
Dist/lap km 3.1 6.0 6.8
Time/lap minutes 17.22 29.30 31.94
Elev/lap m 137 203 199
Elev/h m/h 476 416 373
Elev/dist m/km 44 34 29
Energy/hour KCal/hour 576 560 549

Red Kite winter xc race map round 3.

Race report: Red Kite winter xc race

Red Kite winter xc race at Cwm TrallwmThis was one of the monthly Red Kite winter xc races (see the write up from the October race). I’d spent Saturday on a 70km epic ride so liked the idea of a 90 minute race (plus one lap) and a scheduled lie down in the afternoon.

Conditions were dry and vaguely warm for Wales at 3 deg C. The route was the classic Cwm Trallwm loop as used at least once last year but now with better jumps and features on the main descent. See the video from October for an idea of what to expect. There was a ford crossing on the river instead of the bridge which was ideal for washing the bike mid lap.

I was feeling a bit jaded after my long ride the previous day but still up for the challenge. After a massive bowl of porridge I stuffed my face with Trek bars and then a Mule bar to supercharge the energy levels. My main issue was with feeling a bit dehydrated so I drank a load of water but still had dry lips.

Cross country mtb race.

I got off to a promising start with the pack but realised after about two minutes that I wasn’t going to sustain it so backed off and watched the first half of the field pull away and past me up the long, muddy track. I wasn’t too bothered really and I was actually feeling really good considering how knackered I should have been. I’ve been getting into the zone a lot recently – as I work the body  I can find a sweet spot where the energy is there and I feel a physical high. No pain and misery involved. I think it might have something to do with yoga and giving up alcohol.

Conditions were a bit wetter than last time and I wasn’t totally happy with my performance downhill. Either way, the laps were taking just under half an hour so it looked like I was going to be doing four of them.

I gradually pulled a few riders back in as the race went on which was good for my motivation. I caught a veteran on the main climb and it was a fair cop in my opinion. I didn’t see him again until the bottom of the descent where he stood up on the pedals and pulled a big distance on me up the next climb. I next caught sight of him near the top of the trail and he was zig zagging up the track. “He’s knackered, let’s have him!” I thought. But I couldn’t catch him.

cac photography mtb race
cac photography

Overall the race went really well for me. The results arrived via email and confirmed that I hadn’t won and I hadn’t come last either. I was 4th out of 7 in the expert category (youngish old gits). My lap times were just under 30 minutes whereas the top three were managing around 22 minutes. I’ve done a quick squiggle analysis which is shown below.

Red Kite race results

Stats for this and the previous race shown below.

Oct-13 Nov-13
Distance km 18.5 24.1
Time hh:mm:ss 01:43:18 01:57:13
Time hours 1.72 1.95
Elevation m 819 812
Average speed km/h 10.7 12.3
mph 6.7 7.6
Energy KCal 991 1094
laps  – 6 4
Dist/lap km 3.1 6.0
Time/lap minutes 17.22 29.30
Elev/lap m 137 203
Elev/h m/h 476 416
Elev/dist m/km 44 34

See another write up on this event from Chris Schroder.

Oct 2013

Red Kite winter xc race map Oct 2013

Nov 2013

Red Kite Winter xc race map Nov 2013

Race report: Red Kite Winter xc at Coed Trallwm

Red Kite winter xc startThis was the first event of the 2013 Red Kite winter xc series.  The series offers regular Sunday cross country races using a variety of locations and trails in mid Wales. Also planned for 2014 are epic length one day races and gravity enduros.

The event used the regular Coed Trallwm venue, a privately owned wood near Llanwrtyd Wells in mid Wales. It’s also featured in several of the Real Ale Wobble rides over the years.

Every round has used a slightly different route. This time it was back to basics with a short and sweet loop using the well known track climb to the top and a direct descent down the black run. A lot of work had gone into improving the descent though and it now offered a few decent sized rollable jumps as well as some ramps and diversions off the main trail. Various muddy parts had been surfaced – despite a weekend of heavy rain the trail was in good shape.

Red Kite race HQ.
Race HQ.

I’d done a 50km off road ride near Brechfa on the previous day with Mudtrek so I had to do some mental prepartion. I decided that I was going to ride it at a pace that felt alright and use that as a benchmark for my performance. This is a common excuse for not beasting myself. I call it “the benchmark excuse”. I’ve been using it for over a year to avoid back ache issues. They have almost gone since I started doing a lot of yoga and Pilates.

The format of the race was 90 minutes plus finishing any laps started before that time. Whilst I generally prefer long rides that grind people down I like these races because I know I’ll be round at the Hotel of mum and dad for a lie down by mid afternoon.

As I cranked up the first climb I didn’t feel too bad, all things considered. The climb did go on for the best part of 8 minutes but I knew that the descent would probably be worth it.

Garmin connect plot of Red Kite winter xc race at Coed TrallwmThe very top section was still mud (this is going to be fixed soon) but after the ramp there was a lot of new stone in place and several new features including a nicely rounded jump. This had me giggling every time. I was rather satisfied to catch a few riders on the descent.

I kept an eye on my Garmin and did some calculations. The first lap took 16 minutes so I expected to do 6 laps in total. There was about 140m of ascent per lap, so that would add up to around 840m. The laps were 3km long, aka 1.9miles.

I’ve found that doing mental arithmetic is a good way of passing the time during races. It feels useful and it keeps the focus off any thoughts of stopping. So I regularly set myself stupid calculation challenges. I’m not particularly good at mental arithmetic though so it does keep me occupied for a long time.

On the second climb I caught a few riders but was also passed by a few. From here on I had a bit of a game of cat and mouse as I overtook the same few riders on the descent and they crawled past me on the climb.

The race leader lapped me at the top of the 3rd lap. The next fastest rider caught me on the 4th lap and then one more on towards the end of the race. Fast xc racers aren’t normal people though so I wasn’t too bothered.  I gave my ego a good massage as I caught a variety of riders. I had no idea if I’d lapped them or just caught them. One was due to mechanical issues but a win is a win.

Red Kite winter xc race bike wash

The mental games continued through the race – I started out with the bench marking, then I went through the “you can slow down a bit if you want” routine, to which I always end up going “no, you can keep going if you want”. It’s like an internal domestic. At least I was enjoying it this time – I had a race last year where I ended up shouting at myself with frustration. There was another time when I went all yogic and was listening to the wind in the trees and then had to shout at myself to get back on with the race.

I passed the start with five minutes to spare so I easily got my sixth lap in. I still felt strong and back pain was minimal. Great news.

I saw the organiser, Neil, at the bottom of the descent took my attention off the riding to shout “great new features” on a very soft section of trail. The front wheel slid from underneath me and I was aware that the bike and myself were following different paths. It was quite a stylish dismount even if I say so myself. I ended up on all fours with the bike underneath me (quite a common position for me but I won’t talk about what I do at home on here).

Then it was all over. I did a bonus lap for the video after spending 40 minutes drying the camera out on the car heater (it was full of condensation).

The results came through at about 7pm. In my class (old git). I was 6th out of 9. My times were: 13:15, 16:56, 18:13, 18:08,17:56, 18:48. The first lap was shorter. After that, a gradual drop off in times and then stabilisation.

What encouraged me was that I was only a few minutes behind three other riders so on a fresh day I might have been able to pull a few places ahead. The two fastest riders did 12 to 14 minute laps which is significantly quicker.

I’ll do some proper Excel analysis another day and post it up.

Route and times on the Garmin Connect website.

Other write ups of this event: Stephen Aucock MTB | Peter Lloyd MTB | Chris SchroderRed Kite events website

Event report: Red Kite Elan Valley challenge

Elan valley visitor centreThe Red Kite Events Elan Valley Challenge offered several on and off road routes plus a running  event. I’d already been to the Devil’s MTB in April 2013.  I had intended to the do the monster 130km off-road route (85miles) and had spent a week resting and psyching myself up for it. I reckoned that 10 hours at 8mph would do it so if I started at 8am I would finish at 6pm. The plan was to pace myself and just keep moving. I had a sadistic fascination with finding out how painful it might be.

This was my third trip to the Elan valley  in five weeks (following from Mountain Yoga breaks and the “A Cycling weekend tour”) and the fourth if you include the Easter Trans-Cambrian ride. Neil from Red Kite Events had shown us around on the 2012 Jubilee bank holiday weekend too! So it’s fair to say that I’ve got to know the area pretty well.

The weather was looking promising on Saturday evening. It stayed light until 10pm due to it being very close to the longest day of the year. The weather forecast was for two showers which didn’t sound too bad.

At 6am on Sunday morning the ground was wet and clouds were overhead. Rain fell as I drove up from Llanwrtyd to Rhayader.  When I arrived at the Elan Valley visitor centre I found a proper Welsh rainy day situation.  Two showers – both six hours long. That was my expectation.

Two guys in the van next to my car saw my MBSwindon shirt and said “we’re from Swindon!”. They’d camped there overnight.

I ran from the car to the centre to register. Inside the organisers were considering their options. The overnight rain was causing concern in the Doethie Valley regarding rescue vehicles (the valley is a classic ride). It was annoying because the ground  had been rock hard over the previous days.  Finally a decision was made: the long route was not happening. Looking out of the window at the rain lashing the building I can’t say I was too sorry.

Llyn Eglant reservoir

I knew from past experience that once I was moving then the rain wouldn’t seem so wet. I took a quick look at the route map,  got onto the bike and started pedalling. I knew that the route headed up to the Claerwen reservoir so followed the road up there. At the end of the event I realised that I’d been too hasty, ridden past the first sign and  missed a section out. Oh well, I’d already done the missing bit on the Mountain Yoga Breaks weekend. That saved me a bit of effort but also some of the fun.

I’m not a particular fan of the long track along the side of the reservoir and with rain and a strong headwind I knew  I just had to grind away and keep moving. The bike seemed to be moving along well enough. The noise of the wind was quite annoying and it was a relief at various points to be sheltered by the rocks and have some quiet. At one of the river crossings I discovered that the water was warmer than my feet.

Two hours into the ride I started on the first big descent. This dropped down in Strata Florida, the most Westerly point of the ride. The rain had eased off a bit and it was a relief to be out of the headwind. I knew that I would soon be turning and faced the interest of some new trails. The monster climb up from Strata followed an interesting, rocky track and took me past some Land Rover enthusiasts who shouted encouragement.

When I stopped at the top of the hill to take a photo of the view  two riders caught up with me. The Red Kite blog post reports that 8 riders had passed this point by midday and I think I was number 3 out of that group.

Strata Florida road.

We had a great three way race down the bridleway through a series of deep puddles and fords. They took a dry walk round one massive puddle and I overtook them by running straight through it. It was knee deep but I was soaked below the middle anyway. The air temperature wasn’t too bad, all things considered. I’d almost call it warm.

Without a doubt, the ongoing series of river crossings and rocky obstacles was the best part of the ride. I think it had stopped raining, I was warm, route choice was interesting and we were having a good mini race. I was keeping an eye out for sharp rocks as I’d wrecked a new tyre on the previous trip in the area. One of the other guys ripped a hole in his tyre so we stopped to fix it. Another rider went past us at this point.

There was a food stop at the bottom of the Devil’s staircase. The staircase is a well known steep road climb. After a fast track descent the other side it was time for big slog up onto Drygarn.

I was suffering my regular lower back pain at this point and cursing being caught by yet another rider as we exited from the woods onto the open hillside. Still, I had four people in sight as I started out on the boggy, tumpy grass. I noticed that a rider ahead of me who was pushing had caught another who was cycling. I took the message on board and started walking myself. This was definitely the fastest method of moving on the terrain. The wheels would just sink too hard into the soft grass when riding.

Despite the conditions I was really enjoying this. I actually felt quite sprightly considering that we’d covered a fair amount of ground already. Things really weren’t as bad as you might expect, all things considered.

Drygarn Fawn mountain bike.I caught the “rider in black” at the beehive rocks on the top of the hill. It has been pointed out that the beehive looks like a big nipple on the breast shaped hill.  He passed me on the descent and then gained a load more time when I crashed. I’d taken a slight diversion round  a rock and my front wheel had located a perfect wheel shaped hole in the boggy peat. I had a slow motion moment before being thrown over the front of the bike and landing hard on my thigh on a rock. I lay on the ground for a few seconds to assess the pain. When I got up the back ache had completely gone and my slightly numb thigh actually felt quite nicely anaesthetised.

Drygarn Fawn bee hive cairnsAfter a good while riding on the boggy peat the mist cleared slightly and suddenly there was a view of the Elan valley. I’d often wondered about the route from the Drygarn into the valley so it was good to finally ride it.  I caught back up with the rider in front when he stopped for some food. Two faster riders appeared out of nowhere and then disappeared down the hill in front of me. Why are some riders so fast?

Red Kite Elan valley challenge mapSo, after my cheating start I’d been caught by four or five riders. I was feeling good though and had hardly eaten the big stash of energy bars I had on board. The fastest descent of the day (34mph) was on the farm track at the bottom of the hill just before rejoining the road that I’d started out on.

I knew what was coming next – a ride up the road and then the steep climb up onto the radio mast hill. I stopped to eat and waved goodbye to the rider in black who I’d chased all the way from the previous food stop. As I chomped on energy bars my final companion for the ride appeared. We had a bit of a chat as we rode the last climb.  The descent to the chapel is definitely better in the dry.

At the bottom the route split and I was quite pleased that the long option turned right and back down the road to the visitor centre. We both agreed that we’d probably had enough for the day.

Overall a great day out in wild Wales. I’m definitely up for doing the 130km option if it’s ever dry.

Red Kite Elan Valley challenge mapRoute map 71km (44miles). Also on Garmin Connect website.

The missing bit from the start is shown on this route (OS MapGPX) from the Mountain Yoga Breaks weekend. My Garmin computer box said 71km/44miles in 6 h 31m (5h 42m moving). That’s 11km/h and 12.6km/h respectively.  In terms of elevation:

  • Garmin GPS unit report: 1927m
  • Garmin website from gpx: 1332m
  • BikeHike website from gpx: 1749m
  • BikeHike hand drawn map: 1530m
  • Spreadsheet estimate based on major climbs: 1300m
  • Me: enough considering the conditions

See also the Red Kite report from a medic’s point of view and on the 29gears blog.