Like the TransRockies, only smaller….3 Day Black Mountains Race Report

I’ve just spent the weekend riding the Bearded Man “3D BM”…and I have to say it was by far the best event I’ve done in the UK, and I can’t think of a better way to prepare for the TransRockies!

Day 1 – We’re Winning!

As I arrived at the Bearded Man campsite near Talybont on Usk in glorious sunshine, I immediately started having flashbacks to the TransRockies…in the middle of the field were a hundred little blue tents – my home for the next 3 days (well, one of them, not all 100).

Home sweet home

I met up with Mark™ and got the car unpacked (all the time wondering how I can possibly pack enough for a 7 day race and still fit it on a plane when I have enough gear to fill a big estate car, just for a 3 day race!!). We had bite to eat in the ex-Drop Off Cafe, chilled out, met up with folk we know from other races, and slowly got ourselves ready for the Day 1 ride.  This was to be a short time trial – I don’t know about you, but in my brain, the phrase “time trail” translates to “race” which translates to “panic” which translates to “hyperventilate and ride like a child who has just had the stabilizers removed from their bike” – safe to say this was the day I was least looking forward to!  Slightly unsure of the format, we set on the “6km” ride to the start (erm…make that 12km)… we were so keen that we got to the start before the organisers!   Anyway, after a short wait while they got the timing chips sorted, Mark™ and I set off on the first of two 5.5km laps.  And what a great little route it was…a nice steady climb for 3km, followed by some dinky stuff through the woods and then a speedy track back to the start.

Mark finishes the woods section (Photo by(

We didn’t go mad, just kept a steady pace, and as a result, we found ourselves in the lead!!   “In the lead” in the same way that “I’ve competed in a windsurfing competition against Robby Naish and Anders Bringdal” (google them)…as a statement of fact, it’s entirely true – in the windsurfing competition, while I was technically competing against them in a speed trail, I didn’t actually present them with much competition!  In the 3D BM Mark™ and I were leading mainly ‘cos we set off first (OK, not mainly, entirely), and no-one overtook us until we were halfway round our second lap!  (When we finished, we spent ages figuring out how someone could finish their 2 laps ahead of us, having only overtaken us once….I blame the lack of oxygen getting to my brain).

On the 6 12km ride back to camp, we bumped into one of my blog readers…I won’t name him to save his embarrassment, but when we met him, he was about 6km from camp, but had somehow managed to miss all the signs and had already covered 25km!  So, I know who I won’t be relying on for navigation in the TransRockies!

Day 2 – Too Near the Front

Yes, we had to ride all the way to that little pass you can see at the top....

After showers, bike wash, re-fuelling and refreshing on Friday night (free beer…how cool is that?!), everyone was up bright and early for Day 2 (possibly because it gets light at 4am in Wales at this time of year, and tents aren’t light-proof!).  We were to be bussed to the start, about 30km away, where our bikes were waiting for us to ride back the 60-odd km back to camp.  This started with a 5km road ride along quiet country lane before turning off onto fire-road in the woods.  I’ll be honest…I can’t remember much about this first section, other than a very steep road climb on which my bike’s front gear refused to change down.  Top Tip:  Stopping to change gear is not efficient!  A great mix of fast singletrack and fireroad followed, and, to complete the TransRockies-esque experience even included a steep carry-your-bike hike-a-bike section.  I can confirm that a light bike is much better to carry than a heavy one!  When we arrived at the feed station (excellent choice of food available), I overhead one of the marshals telling the “sweeper rider” that only about 20 riders had gone through, and he was probably “too near the front”…being near someone who was “too near the front” was a first for us!  The rest of the day was a superb ride, mixing moorland, fireroad, fast flowing single track, another (harder) hike-a-bike, steep rocky descents and just all round grin-inducing riding.  The trails were mostly dry, with a few muddy puddles to make sure we were well coated by the end, but it was all riding really fast – most unlike Wales!!  We got to the finish in 4:35 – 27th overall and 3rd placed team…we were well chuffed with that!   We’d worked hard but not killing ourselves, and wanted to be able to do the same for the final day.

Um..that's a glass of recovery drink, honest...

It was a strange feeling to be back in camp in time for a late lunch and to be able to chill out and recover…that never happened in the Transrockies.  Another evening of good food, chatting, hydrating (not all beer, honest) then an early night, ready to be up and at ’em for Day 3.

Day 3 – Through the gap

Today was to be a circular route, starting from right in the camp.  Unfortunately, word quickly spread around the camp that a number of bikes had been stolen in the night…7 I think, plus some pc equipment…they’d obviously come prepared, and had cut through the fence, before hacking through sturdy bike locks.  Real shame some bastards have to go and spoil the event for a bunch of people..I hope the victims get their stuff sorted out.  I was relieved to have locked my bike in the car, and not just dumped it by the tent as we did every night in the TransRockies.

Some of the guys were sorted with borrowed bikes, and after another great breakfast (they’d even done porridge in response to popular demand!), we set off for another 65km of hard riding.  Today was to be a blast round Talybont Resevoir, before heading off to ride the renowned “Gap” route between Pen-y-Fan and Fan-y-Big (stop that sniggering).   We started with a long steady climb up in the woods to be rewarded with a lovely fast descent (well, fast apart from waiting for Mark to fix a puncture), then spent the next 20km or so around Talybont reservoir..this included a seemingly endless climb that didn’t really seem like a climb.  It wasn’t until you looked back and say where you’d been and how high above the water you were that you understood why you’d been going so slowly!  (Not helped by me feeling decidedly unwell…lesson for me…don’t forget the Zantac).  Anyway, after about 3 weeks of fireroad climbing we turned back on ourselves and rode for about 6km along fast singletrack to the feedstation – lots of lovely muddy bits, and a short diversion into the brambles for me (avoiding the ditch, somehow!).  Now the fun really started…first of all a  long climb with a nasty kick at the end, followed by moorland and woody fast flowing riding, then a bit of fireroad, and we were heading for the Gap.  I’ve ridden this before, many years ago when I wasn’t fit, so knew that it was a good ascent..and Mark and I flew up it, feeling strong and fast.  And once we got to the top, it really was downhill all the way!  I remember the drop down from the Gap being much harder…or maybe I was just much crapper…but today it was a fast and fun descent..loose rocks, drainage ditches. cyclists and walkers all added to the challenges, and I loved it…despite one serious “brown trouser” moment when my bike hit some loose stuff…!!  Apart from a completely bonkers 2 inch wide rock and bramble strewn bridleway at the bottom (I’ve still got the scars to prove it), it was pretty much a potter along lanes and bridleways 10km back to the finish.   We got home in 4:30 ish, tired, hot, thirsty, but in time for lunch and coffee!!  We finished about 27th overall, and 4th placed team…but most of all, we finished fit and strong, and feeling like we could carry on, and that’s a real confidence booster for the TransRockies!

All in all, this really was a great event – really well organised and marshalled (especially bearing in mind this was Year 1), great routes and riding, and good food…and did I mention the free beer??!  Huge thanks to the organisers and marshals!!  Oh, and congratulations to one of my loyal readers…3rd place in the Male 40+ category…great riding (but it means we’ll only see you at breakfast in the TransRockies!)

My lessons learned:

  1. Remember to take Zantac
  2. Buy a new sleeping mat..mine is now just a mat, with no air-holding qualities
  3. Follow the signs 😉

As I headed off to visit some friends near Abergavenny, Mark headed off to Newport to support his wife, Nic, in her first ever body-building competition – you think the training and prep we do for the Transrockies is hard…Nic’s routine and dedication to it is just stunning!  And you know what?  She won!  Not only her class, but best female competitor….absolutely amazing…really proud to know you Nic!!  Pics here!

And finally, thanks to Ed at for kindly letting me use the picture of Mark on the time trial

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8 Responses to Like the TransRockies, only smaller….3 Day Black Mountains Race Report

  1. fatbuddha says:

    I think I know that “completely bonkers 2 inch wide rock and bramble strewn bridleway at the bottom” – between hedges and very very rocky?? It was calf deep in water on the 2nd lap when I ran the Beacons Ultra – a right bugger to run down, let alone bike.

    sounds like a fun few days though – sets you up nicely for TR

  2. evo says:

    Nice one richard and mark – great riding guys. And a great report of what was a fantastic weekend.

    But you really really must be exaggerating about that poor rider getting lost before stage one. i’m sure he was just stretching his legs, taking in the scenery or so overjoyed by being in the brecon beacons that he was temporarily blinded to the race signage.

  3. Pingback: My bodybuilding debut part 3 (BNBF Welsh championships) « The fitness industry's copywriter

  4. thefitwriter says:

    Well done fellas! Glad you had a great weekend 😀

    Looking forward to hosting the Millichip Residential Training Camp soon. x

  5. Andy says:

    I googled “transrockies” and your blog comes up #8 on the list. I reckon this can only mean one of three things:
    1. Google magically identifies results that feature mates. Seems unlikely
    2. You’ve got gazillions of readers. Possible.
    3. All the other competitors are training so hard that they don’t have the energy to write a blog. Worrying ….

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