The Schwalbe MTB Marathon season opener was returning to the perennial favourite Builth Wells. The Stanford brothers – Glenn and Tom – travelled from the relatively flat eastern side of England to represent Team City College Norwich (co-sponsored by Chain Reaction Cycles) and to support the College’s Extreme Sports Therapy Unit.
Seasoned Marathon riders will have fond memories of the Sports Therapy team as they’ve been providing pre- and post-ride massage at these events for the past two seasons. The Brothers were out to test their technical skills and their endurance legs over the 65k of naturally undulating terrain that this scenic area of mid-Wales has to offer the discerning MTBer, ahead of their demanding race season.
Team CCN riders and the unit.
The story of the weekend began to unfold as they left the M6 for the twisty A-roads just over the border. The sky darkened as they approached their destination; by the time they reached the event HQ – The Royal Welsh Showground – small droplets where falling from the leaden skies on the what-had-been-dusty- tracks and trials of the surrounding hills. As darkness fell so did the rain on the thrill-seekers undertaking the first of the weekend’s rides: the Exposure Lights Big Night Out (ELBNO) – a 44k challenge in the dark! The brothers opted instead for the dry retreat of the Trade arena inside the Showground, which was to be their lodgings for the night. The sanctuary of the Showground failed to provide the restful night’s slumber intended as during the night the wind howled rattling the doors and the rain beat incessantly down on the roof – still, it was better than being in a tent.
Conditions on the Sunday morning were much improved from those giving people nightmares during the dark hours. The brothers donned their team kit (plus something waterproof) as the excitement and anticipation for the big-off approached.
The Stanford brothers.
Staying under shelter prolonging the inevitable soaking, the boys joined the hoards of riders just as the quad bike started. The count-down was over and the pack of riders set off in pursuit of the quad. Once out of the Showground Glenn moved around the side of the pack to ride behind the quad bike with well-known figures on the National MTB scene. The quad pulls out of the way as the riders turn left up into the quarry and onto the first challenging climb of the day – on broken tarmac, which offered decent traction in the wet. Glenn checks over his shoulder to see where Tom is and then grinds up the climb in his 1 x 10 drive-train set-up, mixing it up with the lead group. Glenn, senior in years and climbing ability, waits at the top for Tom so they can ride the marathon in unison.
Over the top and the real technical challenge begins! An off-camber singletrack incline tests them to their limits as it winds around the hill. With the rain now beating down, the brothers overcome the mental battle of the big ride ahead and power on as the tracks deteriorate. Having refuelled at the first feed stop at 25k (which Tom thought must have been about 40k – or at least felt like it!) they resume their battle with the elements and the topography, only to encounter a ferocious wind on the exposed hill tops. Approaching the first split point nearly every rider in sight is succumbing to the elements and opting for the shorter, more sensible option of heading down the hill back towards Builth Wells. Sticking with the objective of a 65k ride, they battle on into the wind, which at times had Tom struggling to keep the bike up-right.
Video highlights from the MTB Marathon in Builth Wells
Coming round the side of the hill brings some welcome respite as the wind abates and the descending begins. Approaching a ‘Caution’ sign the wind is howling in their face as they carefully navigate the descent over loose gravel and wet slate. Both struggled with braking on the slippery, loose surface over the most technical section of the ride (Glenn later admitted that he actually walked the top section).
With the second feed station of the day at 55k the boys were rewarded with the sun poking through from behind the clouds. This, combined with only 10k to go raised their spirits and they set off at high speed. Once over the final incline they descended what appeared to be a slate river bed and then raced along green lanes and country roads back towards the finish and a soothing leg massage from the Extreme Sports Therapy gang, perfect for aiding post-race recovery.
With neither having a computer, and the timing tent having blown away earlier, ride times were unknown. Both happy with their efforts, Tom said “I felt relieved, exhausted and pleased we'd finally completed the marathon, knowing we had achieved 2300 meters of climbing and 65k of overall riding in some of the worst conditions I have ever ridden in. I still enjoyed every minute though”.
The Stanford boys at the finish line (picture taken by Jon Brooke of rightplacerighttime.co.uk)
Team CCN are co-sponsored by Torq, Streelife Cycles, and Chain Reaction Cycles, helping making it easier to achieve results.