An Ordinary Bloke Vs. An Extraordinary Challenge: Scott Marathon, Wantage - Pedal Progression


10 June 2018

An Ordinary Bloke Vs. An Extraordinary Challenge: Scott Marathon, Wantage

I have really struggled to get as much racing prep in as I wanted. All races I put in my calendar were inevitably at the weekend. I work Saturday, so that’s out and also makes Sunday my only day to spend with my family, so this time is precious and not to be messed with. The majority of events I had planned have thus gone unattended.

However, the Scott marathon series were at the top of my list of priority, firstly because of the distance, and second because of the large field of riders. From pros, semi pros, national champs, 24 hour champions and fast amateurs to weekend warriors, families of riders and loads of people just out for their first taste of an M.T.B event. This meant I could get a good feel for where I was at and how I was progressing (or not) when compared to a very varied field. I also love the atmosphere around events like this where ‘average Joe’s’ get to mix it up alongside the pros. Anyone who knows me through my work will know that one of my no.1 passions is getting new people into the sport! The Scott marathon series optimises the idea of fun inclusive M.T.B ‘racing’ for all. Last weekend was round 2 of the series starting in Wantage. It was promised to be a fast dry course along the ridgeway, a prime opportunity to test myself and few ideas I have been working on to get faster.

I met Matt Jones on the Saturday morning for quick pre-race spin and chat about how I could approach it best to achieve the fastest time. This was super helpful, Matt imparted his wisdom on bike set up, what to carry and what to eat, where to position myself and was generally just super encouraging. Standard for Matt, he was planning to get the event done then head out for another few hours riding to get some more miles in and do a recon mission for some future challenges he has up his sleeve.

I have had a habit up till now of starting towards the back of the pack when I do events. I think this is partly a lack of experience and partly confidence. If I go forward I worry that I am building expectations for myself, I know that I would find it very demotivating to start forward and continually get passed. However, I decided to trust in my training, my knowledge about the speed I was likely to ride and as Matt had suggested, look at people around you, if they look like they have similar intentions to you, start with them. By riding with faster people it would push my pace and give me plenty of faster wheels to try and hang onto when the going got tough.

My next gain was to be by reducing stuff. This again is something I had been working on and wanted to put into practice. I am not used to going out without a bag. When I am leading others, it’s up to me to be prepared and carry everything I and others in my group might need. This includes first aid, massive tool kit with spares, way too much food and loads of clothes in case of emergency. To go out for 80K with 3 gels 3 bars a puncture kit and chain tool feels a bit reckless at first. It’s obviously not, particularly in an event scenario but I am used to being very self-sufficient. Having practice doing increasingly long training rides with minimal kit I have found it to be liberating and also dropping the weight and discomfort of a bag has really paid back in my increase in average speed. The other advantage of reducing faff is that everything you need is easier to get at, less stopping, less digging around for stuff, less time wasted.

This time I had also decided to put a bit time and thought into bike prep. I didn’t want to spend huge amounts of money tricking out my bike with latest carbon parts to try and save weight. My bike is awesome, I have loved it for training, it’s fun, fast and great to ride….however it’s not really an XC race machine! When you are surrounding yourself with riders on carbon hardtails you’ve got to do what you can to get the bike gains! With the trails due to be fast, not too technical, dry and dusty I decided to invest in some new tyres. Light but tough and low rolling resistance. I also gave it the most thorough clean and service it’s had since new.

What to wear..! This was a big day for me, first time out in full lycra on an M.T.B… ever. I feel pretty self conscious in lycra as I am sure a lot of you do, but it also feels very comfortable and easy and effcient to ride in. With the trails due to be dry and fast across long, potentially windy ridges I took the plunge. It was also forecast to be hot, humid with  the potential of some rain. I don’t do well in hot weather so I knew the less I wore the faster I would be able to ride. So lycra plus a very light weight shell in case of rain and I was set.  Minimal kit minimal fuss, minimal weight.

So How’d It Go?

I was pretty happy. Most changes I made seemed to benefit. Starting further up the field there was definitely a different vibe. Less chatting, more heavy breathing etc. But this encouraged me to push harder, get my head down and ride. Less stuff, less weight, less faff, meant less stopping and less time spent at feed stations. I only stopped twice, each time for less than a couple of minutes. My gels and bars were handy in my jersey pocket, so I ate whilst on the go, again saving time – I reckon this saved me a good 10-15 mins.

Did my bike prep make me faster? Yes and no. My bike felt smooth, efficient and fast, the tyres definitely felt like they rolled quicker and got pedal power to trail more effectively. However, I did get a puncture… so what I gained I lost in this sense. I potentially would have punctured through my old tyres too, so I would say that the tyre upgrade was (probably) a net benefit. Getting a puncture when you are in race mode is shitty and not something I have had to deal with yet. Chances are I will experience mechanical issues on the 24 hour so it’s good mental practice to deal with this during my training too. It’s so frustrating when you have worked hard for your time and to stay with a group to see them slip away! I am pretty quick at fixing punctures but it has got me thinking about tubeless options and carrying C02. Frantically pumping a tyre to 40 psi with a mini pump mid-ride uses a lot of energy!

Did my lycra make a difference… honestly? Who know’s! This was kind of about a mindset shift and something I wanted to try, going from casual to race. I think it probably was faster across the ridges and enabled me to benefit more from any drafting on the flat-out sections. I joked with Matt and Sam prior to the event that wearing lycra created some kind of perceived expectation in my mind that pushed me a little harder, ‘If I wear Lycra, everyone will assume I am fast, so I need to ride fast – right?!’ kinda like wearing red football boots in a match! Right or wrong, this is what was going through my head, stepping out for the first time feeling… well, basically naked – the one thing I wanted to do was get to finish so I could get some proper clothes on again!

My last event in Builth I finished in the bottom third. This time it was to top third and maybe had I not punctured top quarter of the field. To me this feels like a solid improvement. I’m sure all the above is standard practice for a seasoned XC racer, but to me it took personal experience to learn. All strategies I will continue to take to future events and hope these will continue to help me progress my results. If you’ve not tried a Scott Marathon, why not give it a go? They normally have three event distances with the shortest being suitable for kids and families who are fairly new to the sport. The next one is in Exmoor – details can be found here – See you there 😉.



Written by:

Ollie Cain