Well hello Mudstacle! It’s been a while since I’ve unleashed my keyboard on these hallowed pages. To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve been inspired enough by an event to dedicate a few hours to writing about it.
I’ve recently taken part in the #supbikerun event in South Wales. I was drawn towards it because I like doing different things and having life experiences. I know I’m preaching to the converted here – as a community we all have a similar urge; it’s united us since the very inception of Mudstacle. With that in mind, I may not have taken part in an obstacle race in a long while, but I don’t feel like the spirit of Mudstacle is, or ever has been, bound within OCR. It spans many, many adventures, of which #supbikerun is the perfect example.
#supbikerun is a triathlon that’s nothing like a triathlon - the vibe and experience is a million miles away. The only comparable quality is that there are three back-to-back disciplines:
- Stand up paddle boarding (SUP)
- Mountain biking (MTB)
- Trail running (OCR without the toys)
If they did start including obstacles in #supbikerun they could combine acronyms SUP, MTB and OCR and muddle them up to make “CURB-STOMP”. Who the frick doesn’t want to be a Curb-stomper?! They’re totally missing a trick.
Good chat Pete… I’ll move on.
I signed up to #supbikerun about six months ago and, although I’d only SUPed once on holiday, for about an hour, and rarely taken a mountain bike off tarmac, I figured I’d have enough time to perfect those skills. So confident was I, that I decided to sign my wife and myself up to the “Barbarian” double-distance race. I think there’s something embedded in my psyche that forces me to register for the longest distance options for any challenges, without me fully engaging my brain.
For the benefit of those reading this who don’t “know who I am” (lolz) – I’m a very lanky 6’6” (relevant later) and a good/dedicated runner but not anywhere near the best. My wife, on the other hand, is Clare Rees, AKA Miller. She’s a total bad-ass. She wins frickin’ everything. I’m immensely proud of her and I always will her on, even when we’re in the same race and she’s a dot on the horizon. BUT for once, just once, I really thought I’d have a shot at beating her.
Miller’s running game is clearly better than mine, but I actually managed to practice SUPing six times before this event and even got my MTB tyres muddy. Miller, on the other hand, had done next to nothing, apart from run. I figured I’d only need to make up 5 minutes on the SUP and bike to confidently see her off - I could practically taste the glory and, oh boy, was it sweet!
#supbikerun aim for their event to be a weekend away, rather than just being a race-only experience. They encourage on-site camping and, from what I saw, it looked like a really nice way of doing things. I decided to book up a lovely local AirBnB though, which made the weekend away in South Wales feel a little more like a holiday.
The main event takes place on Sunday morning but it’s worth coming on Saturday because the organisers offer a complimentary SUP class of your choice: either a beginners’ SUP class, a SUP masterclass or a SUP yoga class. From somebody who struggles to balance on a SUP whilst standing still, the prospect of SUP yoga blows my mind. So, having spent a month practicing, I chose the Masterclass and ticked the same option for Clare (what she lacks in experience, she makes up for in bad-assery).
The lesson was exceptional – I learned a lot about efficient paddling, steering and turning. I learned that I had good reach and a powerful stroke. However, I also learned how dreadfully unbalanced my lanky-assed body is – particularly in comparison to my bone-dry wife. I was in the drink at least every five minutes.
In addition to the lessons, there was also a fun “sprint race” knockout tournament, where you had to SUP 50m to a buoy and back. Always game for a laugh, I thought I’d give it a go and, surprise-surprise, my turn of speed was scuppered by my inability to stand on the board.
By the way, I should probably add that it’s not hard to balance on a SUP – everyone else seemed to be doing fine. My lack of ability shouldn’t put you off trying.
The slight worry that hung over my SUP stage of the event was nothing compared to Miller’s feelings towards mountain biking. When I signed her up to the event, I reassured her that it wouldn’t be technical at all. That was based entirely on a guess. A very bad guess.
We made the mistake (arguably) of recceing the MTB course on the Saturday and it wasn’t anything like I expected. Just one lap would be a very tough 15km, which included two very technical descents – narrow single-track over roots, rocks and drops. We were completely out of our depth. I could just-about make it down the descents, with a few crashes, a bit of walking, and a lot of sweating and cursing – Clare walked the whole way down both of them, promising that she wouldn’t be able to do it in race conditions, and resigning herself to the fact that she’d have to drop out. I tried to convince her that she’d be fine but half-heartedly. I wasn’t sure either of us was capable of pulling this one off!
Once back at the reservoir, we chatted to a couple of participants who took part in the event last year about our worries. They assured us that we weren’t alone in our fear of the MTB course – it would be fully acceptable for us to walk what we couldn’t manage, and many other people would be doing the same.
Clare decided to sleep on it before making her final decision about the event. So, that evening we settled down with a pizza and rom-com in our cosy little cottage, but an air of apprehension hung over us.
We didn’t discuss it at all over breakfast but I was excited to see Clare putting on her sports gear as we packed up to leave – Miller was coming to the surface, which was an intimidating sight to behold.
We both had come to the conclusion that I’d been a muppet when booking the “Barbarian” double-distance option, without really know what we were letting ourselves into, so decided to downgrade to the far more normal and popular “Warrior” option: a 3km SUP, 15km MTB and 5km run. That was, most definitely, enough of a challenge for us.
There’s no mass-start with #supbikerun. We had a one-hour starting window and could just grab a board and hit the water whenever suited us. Never ones to stand on ceremony, we were underway soon after 8am. Alongside Miller, I pushed off the pebbled bank of the reservoir and headed towards the far shore, a couple of kilometres in the distance. I felt tense. I had opted to wear running gear (simply a vest and short-shorts) for all three disciplines, and in the brisk Welsh breeze, I was feeling too chilly to fall in - I wanted to avoid that at all costs.
My tension didn’t help my balance, nor my rhythm, technique and, ultimately, speed. Miller edged away from me with every stroke. The further I made it into the middle of the reservoir the worse it got. The wind-formed waves got higher and more unsettling and my paranoia increased the more isolated I felt. As I approached the half-way turning point, Clare shouted something over to me, as she returned in the other direction. I couldn’t process what she said; I couldn’t even look at her. I tensely stared ahead, concentrating on not falling in. I know that tension was the worst possible thing for me but, try as I did, I just couldn’t shake it.
Thankfully I made it to the end without falling in. Miller had got ahead by a few minutes but surely I’d make that up on the mountain bike? Surely I even had time to pop into the boathouse for a pee, eat a Snickers bar and enjoy a fairly leisurely transition?
Did I mention that Miller was a World Champion Duathlete with concrete thighs? And, when on form, her cycling was stronger than her running? No? Well, that played on my mind when I set off up-hill.
My apprehension eased throughout the course – I found that my uphill game was strong, as I passed quite a few people and I also held my own well on the downhills. I enjoyed the huge variety of terrain we tackled. This truly was a challenge – and a stunning one at that.
BUT, as I approached the final sections of the course, there was still no sign of Miller. I should have known – as she crosses the start line of any event, she becomes a different person. Fear subsides, pain is compartmentalised and the only thing that goes through her head is how to get from A to B faster.
As I approached the second transition the skies opened for a dramatic finale. Thunder rumbled all around, as we were pounded by the fattest rain you could imagine. My transition was a massive contrast to my previous display – I dumped the bike and downed a gel as I sprinted out into the adjacent woodland!
The run course was undulating but never particularly hilly, as it weaved through the woodland trails on the banks of the reservoir. I looked out to see SUPers being evacuated from the water, as a result of the sudden electric storm, which added to the drama of the moment. Although I knew I couldn’t catch Miller at this stage, I went as hard as I could under the circumstances. We’re obviously not talking PB pace, as my legs felt like jelly from a very hilly mountain bike, but it was swift. It was nice to be back in my comfort zone – I could feel the tension lifting with every footstep.
Clare was there to cheer me on as I approached the finish line – looking happy and relaxed. Although I was a little disappointed not to give her a run for her money, I was relieved that she’d had a good time, she even enjoyed the mountain bike and had tackled far more than she expected (which was very clear, given that I didn’t catch her). For all her fears about “coming last” (an actual quote from the previous day) she had comfortably beaten me and had the fastest female time of the day. The moral of that story – never bet against a Miller.
All in all I’d had an amazing weekend. I may have focussed on my competitiveness here – but that was all just a bit of fun, that helped me focus on the job in hand and get the most out of myself. This is a timed event but the organisers stress that it’s not strictly “a race”.
I’ve written so many articles for this site, in which I’ve talked about being pushed outside of my comfort zone and, yet again, it was the case here. This really was a challenge for me – I spent the best part of two hours on edge – but what a rush!
I don’t think I’m going to turn into a dedicated mountain biker, nor a SUPer, but I know I’ll be back – I’m already registered for their Kent event this September, in which I’ve signed up directly for their single lap Warrior class – I’m going to save the Barbarian until I’m feeling a lot more confident!
You can find out more about #supbikerun on www.supbikerun.co.uk
Thanks very much to Sarah Savage for the photos, you can check out her work here: www.sarahsavagephotography.com