An account of my race experience.
Inspired and cajoled by my Sri Chinmoy AC club mate, Roger Chamberlain, I travelled to Lampeter, a most beautiful part of Wales for the Sarn Helen promotion, ‘Ras Y Mast’ or ‘Mast Race’ in late November 2005.
I tried to erase the memories of my first ‘Ras’, which is an off-road event that is open to runners and mountain cyclists equally. After my first attempt, I was unwell for at least a week through pushing myself too hard in the bad conditions...
After loosing my sump guard trying to drive into the muddy ‘car park’ it became clear why many of the competitors had opted to park out on the road! Before the race, it was interesting to notice the difference between runners and cyclists in the amount of clothing needed to keep warm. Even though there was snow on the ground, some runners wore only skimpy shorts and singlets, while I was just warm enough in lycra leggings and 3 upper layers.
With less than 5 minutes to the start, a slight pre-race stress-out came to nothing after I was able to re-adjust my brakes (they’d been knocked in transit) so my wheels would run smoothly – at least before they became clogged with mud and snow. In actual fact, the conditions under foot (or tyre) weren’t too bad, just a little slippery in places with sections of saturated tussock grass that were quite unrideable – so pushing was in order.
I found myself in the front line at the start, which was good, as I knew from past experience that cyclists have the initial advantage on this course. At the off I manoeuvred myself into the lead and rode away with everyone else in hot pursuit. I knew I’d started quickly, maybe too quickly, but was glad to be in front and out of trouble. Checking my heart rate monitor though, I realised that I was riding at 95% of my maximum and so I eased slightly to try and get it under control. As it was, whenever I checked my watch over the next 50 minutes, the reading would be the same…
Slowly, people came past me. The first being John Lloyd, who would finish as first cyclist. For a while we were together, but as the climbing started I was unable to match his pace and that set by the leading runners and so I tried to ride at a speed where I could still breathe rhythmically and not go to pieces with so much of the race remaining.
The climbing was hard. The course basically goes up a big hill to a mast (hence its name), and then back down again. In between, there are sections of slippery rocks, cold streams, squelchy mud, fences to get over, long grass hiding treacherous dips and, very briefly, stretches of smooth tarmac. The runners tackled the steep climbs by walking with hands pushing alternately on their knees for power and feet splayed for traction. With my bike, I held the handlebars and trudged upwards, leaning into the climb. For a while I tried carrying it cyclo-cross style on my shoulder to avoid the rolling resistance of the tyres on long grass. However, this proved uncomfortable and I resorted to pushing as before. Shortly after this experiment a saint appeared by my side dressed as one of the other runners and pushed the back of my bike while I pushed the front. I felt as though I was flying! Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep pace with him and had to let him go on his footed way, but his act of kindness stays with me still.
There were other memorable moments: speeding down the descents and only just making the corners in time, whizzing along the latter road section past many runners who had long since overtaken me, nimbly hopping the bike over some obstacles to the delight of Roger who happened to be behind me at the time and trying to suppress the feeling of nausea that came on rather strongly towards the end.
In the final reckoning, I was very happy with the race. Although my training over the previous weeks had consisted of cycling to work, seeing numerous physios and eating too many chocolate biscuits, I was able to sustain almost an hour of hard effort and share the experience with my friends, all of whom have their own stories to tell.