Brighton Big Dog – 12th August 2017 – Matt Phillips

Brighton Big Dog Race Report

On Saturday 12th August a few members of HMTBC headed down to the edge of Brighton to have a go at the Brighton Big Dog Endurance race. Matthew Darley and Joe Champness were racing in the Little Dog race (1.5 hour), myself and Mark Darley were in the male pairs (6 hour) and Paul Champness was part of a team of 3 (6 hour).

I had stayed in Brighton with my family on the Friday night so I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to drive down from Essex, but my plans for a good nights sleep were foiled by my 1 year old daughter who had a restless night and then decided to wake up at 5am. I had a nice leisurely breakfast and arrived at Stanmer Park around 10:30 to find everyone else was already there. Michael Travers kindly let me leave my stuff under the team Travers Gazebo and I prepared my kit while chatting to his team (Michael, Jake Darragh & Peter Stiff).

I went over to find Mark and we headed off to have a scout around part of the lap. We didn’t fancy spending the energy doing the whole 6 mile lap less than an hour before the start of the race so we had a look at the start and first part of the long climb before heading over to the very end of the lap where we could see an A and B line marked on the course map. We spoke briefly to a marshal and heard a few riders mention that there was very little between the 2 lines before pushing up and riding most of the A line. The route wasn’t that technical but it was steep and narrow in places. Since the A line was fairly easy we didn’t bother checking out the B line and headed back to the main arena to get ourselves sorted for the start.

Mark was up first for us so he grabbed his race bottles and made his last minute preparations before heading to the start line at about 11:45. There was already a fair number of people on the start line but Mark managed to start somewhere near to the middle of the pack. Jake had bagged a much better start position on the 3rd or 4th row, but the Travers team were looking for a competitive result. The event village was buzzing leading up to the start, helped by the fact that the organisers had a DJ there for the whole event and the music was loud and energetic.

At 12 the gun went off and the riders started the first laps of the race. I knew from people who had raced in previous years that a lap was around 40 minutes, so I wouldn’t have long to get myself ready. I headed back to the pits to grab my race bottles and a bit of food before returning to the arena to get ready for the hand over. The handover area was a little chaotic to say the least. There was only a small opening into the area where the riders would pull into after their laps to pass on the reflective arm bands, and lots of riders were blocking the entrance off rather than sitting back and only getting close when they saw their team mates enter the other side of the field.

The first rider came through at 12:27 and he was absolutely flying. Normally at the start of an event like this you would expect there to be a few teams all keeping touch with each other, and the gaps to only really start to increase as the hours go by, but it was a couple of minutes later before the 2nd rider came through. Just after 12:35 things started to get a little more frantic as a lot of riders were passing through the hand over point, and with all the people blocking the entrance there were a few frayed tempers as people were asked to get out of the way and allow people through. Mark appeared in the distance just before 12:40 and as luck would have it a few people had just moved in front of me so I was able to get through easily and prep myself for the hand over. I started to roll forwards as Mark entered the area and he was able to snap on the arm band as I was accelerating with my arm out stretched. It is always nice to pull off a smooth handover, especially when there are so many people watching!

The course at the Big Dog has a surprisingly large amount of climbing in it, and nearly all of it is packed into one long climb at the start of the lap. There is no warm up, you just hit the bottom and grind your way up for 15 minutes with the steepest bits at the top being fairly technical and hard to ride cleanly. There are then a few sections of fairly flat single track and bridleways where you can put the hammer down and make some time up. The roots still had a lot of moisture on them from the previous night’s dew, so there were quite a few sketchy moments where one or both wheels broke traction unexpectedly. The last part of the lap has a lovely descent that then splits into the A and B lines before dropping you back in the field with the main arena and the hand over point. We had another clean handover and Mark was off for his 2nd lap.

In the break I had a bit of time to look around the stalls in the event village and found a stall that was selling some amazing banoffee flap jack. The organisers were also selling Big Dog mugs will bottomless refills of tea, so that was another essential purchase.

After 30 mins or so of rest I was back in the handover point waiting for Mark and my 2nd lap. It was rather strange racing in an event with someone and not being able to chat with them to discuss the course or anything. All we managed to shout were a few words of encouragement while handing over the arm band and heading off into the distance. The 2nd lap started off quite painfully. My legs weren’t ready for the long climb after the previous lap and rest, and by the time they had woken up I was at the top and on the single track. It was clear that the course was drying and coupled with the fact I had dropped a couple of psi out of my tyres I had a lot more confidence and was enjoying throwing the bike around a little bit more. The handover went well again and I was feeling pretty strong.

That is when things started to go wrong. Just before heading to the hand over point for my 3rd lap I headed to the toilets to find a bit of a queue. It moved a lot slower than I expected and I had to rush over to the handover point to meet Mark. I was waiting there for what felt like ages before Mark’s wife, Kathleen, tapped me on the shoulder. She said Mark had been there earlier and after not being able to find me he had headed out on another lap. I felt terrible as the laps there are hard work, and without rest I knew it was going to be a hard lap for Mark. In hindsight the lap times had been dropping slightly due to the improved conditions, so where I was expecting Mark at 40 mins, he was a couple of minutes faster.

There wasn’t much point in heading back to the pits at this stage as I expected Mark to be back soon, and I reckoned I had enough water to last me through the lap. Time ticked by and I started to get concerned. I saw Matt Lane from the Superior Bikes team who I had been chatting to earlier and I asked him if he had seen Mark out on course at all. He had and reported that Mark had bad cramp but was making his way round. I felt even worse. I expected it to be a hard lap for Mark, but with cramp it would be awful, and it was a situation he wouldn’t have been in if I had made it to the handover point in time. Mark’s 4th lap was around 55 minutes, which showed how hard it had been for him. At the hand over I could only apologise and crack on with my lap. Explanations would have to wait until the race was over.

The 3rd lap was reasonably incident free except for a poor line choice on a steep rooty climb that I fluffed and managed to burp some air out of my rear tyre before falling. On approach to the hand over point at the end of the lap I couldn’t see Mark and knew I would have to go out and do another lap. I saw him at the other side of the track and headed over to see if he had any water to top up my empty bottle, before heading off onto my 4th and last lap. The climb was hard with the fatigue in my legs, but it was offset slightly by the fact that my legs were warmed up and not cold after a rest. Still it was a hard climb and I could feel twinges of cramp in my calf muscles that I managed to stave off by spinning and not putting down too much power.

I crossed the finishing line at around 5:45 absolutely ruined and spent, but happy that we had managed to finish the event. The organisers were handing out beer in plastic pint glasses on the finish line and I was happy to be one of the few that managed to grab the glass without breaking or dropping it as I rode past. I had a catch up with Mark and apologised again for messing up the hand over, but he seemed in very good spirits considering everything. Without my mistake we would have been fresher on our final laps and might have just managed to squeeze in a 9th lap, but it would have been tight (any laps completed outside of the 6 hours are not counted, even if you finish it at 6 hours and 1 second). Still we finished in 29th place out of around 50 teams so it wasn’t too bad.

Joe Champness had a great result in the Little Dog youth race with a 3rd place finish. Team Travers also had a decent result with 10thplace (out of 42) in the men’s team of 3, with Jake in particular putting in some blisteringly quick lap times.

It is a shame that my lasting memory of this race will probably be my timing error, as the event was well run and once the track was dry it was really good fun. I would definitely have another go at endurance racing and I am already eying up the Shouldham Warren Enduro in September to try and redeem myself. I would like to thank our team sponsors of Hardnutz and Mitas. The Mitas Scylla tyres worked perfectly all day (when i got my pressures right) and the Hardnuts helmet was there ready for when I make a mistake and fall off.

Matt Phillips - HMTBC Race Team