Usually when I ride in an event I try to finish somewhere near the front. I don’t always succeed, but I’m not often very close to the back of the pack. However, this Sunday I had the pleasure of riding the sweep on the second half of the Coed y Brenin Enduro, and that meant being dead last, picking up the signs and tape that marked the course as I went.
To say that it was a hard route this year would be putting it mildly. A week of almost constant rain prior to the event meant that some of the natural trail sections were pretty muddy, especially by the time I made it through behind the other 500 or so riders; Starting from Big Dug, I squished up the deer glade, squirmed down the miners’ track, refuelled at the flapjack-laden feed station, and then glooped through the twisty, wooded section at the end of the course – a total distance of 42km with an average speed of 4.7mph – flying! (not)
It must have been somewhat less muddy and much easier if you were riding near the front. Matt Page was the first rider across the line with a time of 3 hours and 21 minutes, and I’m guessing he did a lot less pushing than I did!
One of the nicest aspects of riding at the rear was that I got to spend some time chatting with other riders – something I suppose the racers at the front missed out on. These backmarkers weren’t competing for places, weren’t worried about their times, and yet they were just as deserving of respect as the racing snakes at the front. I rode for over 5 hours (and was knackered) – the riders just ahead of me (doing the full 60km) were still riding after 8 and a half. What amazed me was that they were still laughing and joking despite being physically destroyed.
Amongst the merry band at the tail end was 16-year old Charlie who, every time he was offered a short-cut, opted to carry on with the full route – top marks! Also having fun at the back was Anthony, riding happily along with his phone blaring out some god-awful tunes. He apologised for riding so slowly (forgiven) and also for the music (not forgiven). What impressed me most though was the fact that he was still finding the energy to jump off every lip he saw, even as we descended into the woods near the finish. There was another lad I’d caught up with at 40km who could barely move with cramp – I saw him later about 4km from the finish, still pedalling through the pain. Finally, there was Ian, who’d lost an hour or so when he (and his mate) chose to stop and help another rider who’d crashed and broken his ribs – the pair had lost all momentum and ruined their ride, but were still making the most of their day out in the saddle.
I caught the last rider on the course just before the final muddy climb as it was starting to go dark. He was completely shattered and said that the ride had been too much for him – too long, too hard, and too technical. I pointed out the shortest route to the finish line – a forest track descent which would avoid the sadistic final twists across mud-glazed rock. He thanked me and then turned uphill. I didn’t see him again, spending the final half-hour getting caught up Andrex puppy style in route-marking tape, so can only assume he made it across the line.
Following the ride I headed up to the tent for the after party – a fairly quiet affair as most people were far too knackered to stay up for long. A few partied hard though, and I saw some worse-for-wear faces the next morning (in the mirror!). All in all it was a great event, with a superbly tough and technical course to challenge even the hardiest of riders. It was also really inspiring to see such determination right across the field, and a real pleasure to have a laugh with the guys at the rear end. If it wasn’t for all that tape I’d have to collect again I might even aim to come last next year too.