I’ve been riding and racing bikes for 13 years and in those years I have been very lucky to have travelled all over the World and take part in some incredible races and I would like to think I know what makes a good (or bad) event. For several years I have been thinking about organising an event, but I’ve always put it off. That was until November, when I decided that I would jump in with both feet and organise Battle on the Beach.
In 2010, with the help of Andy Gowan we did organise the Singlespeed UK Championships, but although we had 200 people attending, singlespeed “races” are relaxed and people are there more for the beer than the riding. We got a local pub involved to sort the beer out, so everyone was happy!
Battle on the Beach was set to be a very different affair. I approached the management team at Pembrey Country Park back in September, knowing that the venue could be perfect and after a meeting in November it was all starting to look very real. I didn’t know how many people would enter, so I suggested “I hope 100 or so, but at least 50”. It was new, un-tested and just an idea that I had burning in my mind, I didn’t really know if anyone else would see the appeal.
Beach racing is something I had read about and quite fancy, but although the beach at Pembrey is fantastic, it is what is behind the dunes that really excited me. I didn’t want it to be Dutch style event. Fast forward to January 1st and it went from an idea to having a good entry field and just 3 days later we were full with 300 riders signed up.
It’s only when you jump in with both feet and start to organise an event that you realise just how much work is involved and you soon have a new level of sympathy for other event organisers. Trying to organise something on council land almost backfired as the level of bureaucracy became a massive pain in the backside. Certain people who had dismissed the idea originally and turned their back were now all trying to put their name on it and “protocol” had to be followed all of a sudden. A certain amount of biting my tongue and patience was required, but thanks to the fantastic management team at the park everything worked out well in the end.
My training very quickly took a back seat. Multiple site meetings, race admin, press releases, dealing with sponsors, dealing with landowners, risk assessments… there is always something to do. The week of the event started fairly quiet, I was able to get on-site and get started by Wednesday and everything was looking rosey. Everything started to go pear shape on Thursday though, access to the forestry commision land and the far end of the course was proving tricky due to the height of the water table after all the rain during the winter. I knew about this, but I had been given slightly inaccurate information that an alternative access road was available, but it turns out it is not for 3rd party access as it crosses a live airport runway. I couldn’t get a quad bike through the floods or passed fallen trees to mark or clear the course and if I couldn’t get there, then first aid wouldn’t be able to either. I almost had to cancel the race.
A sleepless night followed as I pondered what to do and how to get things back on track. The staff at the park were absolutely amazing, again and cleared about 6 trees on a track that was passable in a 4wd vehicle and quad, although there was still a deep puddle to get through. This then made it possible for friend and event photographer Anthony Pease to give his time and bring his Land Rover with snorkel to access parts of the course that I couldn’t by quad and were too far to walk with tools & signs. On one section Anthony had to drive his discovery for almost 1km with water above the wheels where a fireroad normally is on his raised truck. It had to be seen to be believed! It made the difference though and we managed to access, mark, clear the course, including a massive amount of raking to repair damage from horses the previous day.
I didn’t sleep any easier on Friday night though, paranoid that someone was going to steal the quad bike and a bit of sleep paralysis (horrible experience!) that I only get when really stressed. Saturday was a far more relaxed day, a few sections of singletrack were created to remove the worst of the boggy bits that remained on course and then, as the sun was setting and the public were leaving the last sections were properly marked. With people on site and practicing on the course I started to get a few rider views about the course and it seemed like a thumbs up which was a bit relief.
Sunday morning was busy, I didn’t stop from 6am until the race started, but before I knew it I was on the bike, leading out over 250 riders onto the beach and then looking back at the endless stream of riders on the sand. It was the first time I smiled and from that point onwards I started to enjoy the experience even though I wasn’t taking part – apart from the blip where the bomb squad turned up and I was warned that the event might have to be cancelled with no notice!
I wanted to be at the finish line when the riders finished and was anxious to hear what everyone thought. The finish line conversation was something I know all too well, but from the point of the rider but this was something new. The reports, blogs, videos and pictures keep coming in after the event and I read everything I can, keen to hear views and opinions on the event and do whatever I can to improve on the event.
I owe a MASSIVE thanks to everyone who helped me along the way. From sponsors who believed in the concept to riders who entered and especially everyone who volunteered their time, as without them it wouldn’t have been possible. A special mention to Anthony Pease, for his pictures and help at the event and of course Nia, for putting up with me 365, 24/7.
This isn’t a one off from A Cycling events, I already have another 3 events on the calendar:
howies Tide to Tide – 4th October 2014. Taking cues from BOTB, but in a team format at Pembrey.
Kinesis Cross Mountain – 9th November 2014. A single lap off-road event open to all bikes around the Llandovery area.
howies Battle on the Beach 2015 – We are back next year! Provisional date March 22nd.