A few months back, Pearl Izumi kindly offered up a free race or event entry of choice courtesy to us on the Champion Team.  With enduro racing being my usual thing, I thought I’d take the opportunity to do something a little different so trawled through moredirt.com to see what took my fancy.  I did quite like the idea of a gravel bike event to give my trusty Genesis CdF a much needed break from the daily commute, but as they were all multi-day events and bloody miles away up in Scotland or the north of England, I had to look closer to home.

So up came an Exmoor round of the Scott MTB Marathon series.  Not being familiar with the series, I gave the blurb a read and it sounded similar to the setup for the Howies Dyfi Enduro that I’ve done several times previously – no racing, just a big XC loop with lots of climbing and descending and a chilled out camping weekend.  Being in the middle of summer as well, I thought if I can persuade some mates to do it, this could be a good weekend of riding so I put my name down for the full 65km route and Pearl Izumi signed me up.

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Doesn’t look too bad…!

Any plans of a weekend of camping and riding with mates disappeared though as hardly anyone was interested enough in the end to actually enter, and then with a house move 2 days before plus family commitments on the Saturday, I ended up getting up at 5am on the Sunday and driving 3 hours north to get there in time for registration!

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Up at the crack of dawn…time to roll

This was my second visit to Minehead of the year for an event following the Southern Enduro Champs  based just the other side of the town back in April, and the riding then was magnificent.  I’ve also been in the area for a couple of the old Mondraker Gravity Rally enduros so knew what to expect – cursing up big climbs and whooping down fast descents!  Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have a loan of a custom spec Felt Decree 4 carbon trail bike courtesy of Velo-Smith bike shop for the ride, so the climbs hopefully wouldn’t be quite as tiring.

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Smiles before the miles

I was aware of two people I knew doing the ride, Rob from the National Trust, whose land a lot of the ride was on, and the other being Pearl Izumi Champion Teammate Andy Smallman, but with several hundred riders taking part, I wasn’t sure if I’d see either of them at all.  As I pulled up in the campfield car park, who should pull up literally ride beside me seconds later?  Yup, Andy rocking his PI kit as well, so after a chat and registration we kitted up and headed to the start line for the rider briefing and huddle in on the mass start.  Despite not being a race, just like at the Dyfi Enduro, all the XC race snakes jostled to the front to get a clean start and smash out a ridiculous lap time but we were happy just to go around at our own pace and have a good ride in what turned out to be some glorious southwest summer sunshine.

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Big Exmoor climbs, but worth it for the views

Out of the start field and several hundred eager mountain bikers of all ages and abilities rolled through the streets of Minehead, with a few hundred locals and tourists looking on with a mixture of encouragement and confusion at the knobbly-tyred peleton cruising along, until we funnelled in to the first climb up a nice switchback trail to Selworthy Beacon.  After climbing up at a fairly rapid pace, we dropped down the other side of the Beacon through some nice flowy wooded descents and then into Porlock.

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Andy looking way too fresh!

Now Porlock is pretty much at sea level, and Exmoor is hilly…so there was only one thing to do and that was climb out of the village, meh.  The problem was, the route took us up one of the steepest roads in the country, the infamous Porlock Hill.  I was expecting long and steep climbs during the ride but I wasn’t expecting a 25% gradient 1.5 mile long slog completely on road!  The grind up seemed to take ages and needed fully getting over the front wheel to get up it in places but eventually we reached the top and the pain of that climb soon subside when I realised we were about to go down Hawkcombe Descent.  This fast singletrack trail into wooded doubletrack trail was included as one of the stages at the Mondraker Gravity Rally enduros and was a hell of a lot of fun.  I dropped in right behind a few XC boys who took it more carefully down the first half but I wanted to let rip!  Still, today wasn’t about the downs so much so I hung back until the wider trail further down and then got my enduro on with a few overtakes!

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A camera!…quick, try and look rad!

The weather was hot and humid and after another shortish climb and descent and road section past Horner and Luccombe, I was starting to feel it a bit.  Despite brimming my Camelbak bladder with 3 litres of drink and being able to refill at 2 feed stations around the route, I didn’t drink as much as I should’ve early on and a hint of a headache was coming on.  I was suddenly starting to feel low on energy despite squidging down several energy gels on the way round.  I knew there was a second split point somewhere and was really feeling like taking it.

A long climb up along the north side of Dunkery Beacon and eventually the second feed station was in sight – damn that was a sight for sore eyes!  After downing an assortment of jelly babies and bananas, I checked the route map there, only to see the second split point was waaaaay back.  Ah well, I was near the top of the Beacon now anyway so knew it was literally all downhill from here now.  A lengthy stop at the feed station to recharge and then the last short burst to the summit of the highest point in the southwest at 519m ASL and an amazing view out towards south Wales greeted us at the top of the Beacon.

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Then it was time to forget about tired legs and half a kilometre of vertical climbing and get the smiles out for 2 miles of downhill trail.  This bridleway was another descent used at a previous enduro and I remembered there being a couple of casualties that time so being tired and on a carbon bike that wasn’t mine (‘careful now’!), I chose to take it easyish, on the way down (..’with this sort of thing’!).  The rocky descent battered my forearms and hands as I had the fork on the demo bike set up way too hard and I was hanging on for dear life towards the bottom quarter…it was fun, but only just!

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Sometimes, a ‘nanna is just not enough

A final climb up to Knowle Hill and then a nice wooded singletrack descent down ‘Goosey’ path and back to the finish line in a time of 5hrs 41mins and a free t-shirt for the effort.

It was a good day out on the bike and the event showcased some great trails and views in the area.  It was a bit of a shame for me not to be able to arrive the day before and soak up more of the atmosphere as the organisers put on Saturday rides and events as well.  There was a great atmosphere out on the trails though and a real sense of achievement for all that crossed the finish line.  It’s not normally the type of event I would enter but now that the memories of tired legs and heat-induced headaches have subsided, I probably would do it again if it was on Exmoor as the riding is just that good!

Exmoor riding can definitely be summed up as a case of #endureandenjoy!

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Exmoor…you beauty

A big thanks to Pearl Izumi for the experience, to Velo-Smith for the bike loan and to Dash Drive Van Hire for the brand new Transit Connect to get me there and back!

24  Check out the full Marathon route on Strava

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