Howies Coed y Brenin
Time has flown since I last posted a blog and it's now 5 days and counting before No Fuss' event, Niterider Relentless 24 this weekend at Fort William. I needed one final hard ride before the 24 hour solo and the Howies Coed y Brenin Enduro, organised by the chaps that bring us the excellent Howies Dyfi Enduro each year, offered me a chance to give my legs a proper working over before the big one.
I only get a chance to ride at Coed y Brenin a couple of times a year and always opt for the longer Beast trail, so I was looking forward to seeing what else the area had to offer in terms of riding off the beaten track. I wasn't disappointed. FC Wales and the enduro team put together a fantastic 52km course (with the option of a shorter 30km cut-off) that took in some of the best of the trail centre singletrack and some great off-piste trails, some of which looked unused (but should be, as they were great!).
Unlike the Dyfi Enduro where you get a nice gradual road section to take you gently onto the course that gives your legs a chance to warm up, the Coed y Brenin Enduro opted for the hard option : start on a fireroad climb, which got steeper, loose and technical towards the top before you could get your legs warmed up. Perfect for that lactate build up in your legs from the off. Nice.
I started off with the front group and within the first few kilometers on the climb we'd made a gap between us and the main bunch of riders. I had planned on a hard ride so decided it was time to test the legs so pushed that bit harder and broke away from the front group. I expected the rest to follow suit and reel me in but only one chap stuck to me and we soon found ourselves alone out in front. As we crested the top of the first climb we were treated to some excellent views towards Trawsfynydd, but we soon descended steeply on a singletrack lane and eventually into the first of many off-piste descents. Getting back into the forest I was freaked out by some witches and wizards stood still and silently on the hillside - good to see the Dyfi Enduro randomness trickling through to this event! This year at the Dyfi Enduro it was a sinister looking hill-billy playing a banjo out in the middle of nowhere, the previous year, a gorilla handing out bananas.
We continued on the natural stuff for some time and we were brought onto a steep grassy climb which, judging by the little fluorescent vest-wearing marshals dotted up the hillside, was going to be long, and steep. Off the bike, and time to push. I wasn't expecting "old skool" hike-a-bike and it's not something I'm used to, but it was great to have a bit of variety, so wasn't too put off. I'm no runner, but managed a decent, push, run, walk, skip, run up the hill and eventually made it to the point where I could get back on and pedal. I took a look down the hill and saw that I had a reasonable lead, apart from rider No. 491, who always seemed to be close behind and stuck to me like glue. He passed a few times and was the quicker descender but I kept reeling him in on the longer climbs.
The long hard climb was worth it as we were treated to some of Coed y Brenin's finest singletrack sections. Some 20 or so kilometers in I reached the cut-off for the shorter route, still ahead, but only just. Those in for the long course we had the pleasure to ride up a seemingly endless climb through Llanfachreth, a 6km climb which gained height quickly, nearly 350m according to my Garmin. No. 491 was behind me at the start but luckily for me the length and steepness of the climb seemed to have taken its toll and I had a decent gap by the time I reached the top. With just 15km to go I decided to push hard to the end, not stopping at the second feed station (which was actually the first as well, but the long route looped back). I was met by a huge crowd of riders who cheered me on at the feed station and they kindly parted to make a way through for me as I rode past. This only encouraged me to push on.
Back into the forest and the final climb and onto the last descent into the event arena was great knowing I would cross the line in first place, barring any major disasters! I finished in 2 hours 45 minutes which I'm very happy with considering the tough climbs and the number of technical descents. For those wanting the route, I have uploaded it onto my Garmin Connect page.
The timing of the event was perfectly placed this year where the number of races and events available start to trail off going into the winter season. I really hope it runs again and becomes a regular event in the calendar. Hopefully we can get the fine late summer weather we were treated to every year!
Thanks to Andy Braund of FC Wales (Twitter @MTBRanger) for the photos.