When Paul Errington of Focal Events invited us to attend the Sandblasted Beach Race, their latest event format, I was a little apprehensive. Not because of anything linked to Paul or Focal Events; I had already ridden and enjoyed (in a Type 2 Fun kind of way) their Dirty Reiver Gravel Event and briefly met Paul earlier in the year, so I knew the level of organisation, attention to detail and friendly atmosphere would be exemplary.
It was more to do with the fact that this event had the word “Race” in the title and a person less competitive than I you will struggle to find. Nevertheless, I liked the sound of the event and graciously accepted his invitation. It was at this time that I discovered my best mate, fat bike rider and sometime racer, Joe had also signed up to attend.
The event was to be staged at Druridge Bay Country Park, a recreational area centred on a lake with surrounding meadows and woods, within a stone’s throw of Druridge Bay; a seven mile stretch of sand on the Northumberland coastline. The event press release promised an equal split of beach and off road sections, over the 10km course – making it perfect fat bike territory.
As I was already in the area (check out the accompanying post by clicking here), the day before the race was a fairly relaxed affair. My family and I drove down the coast and met up with Joe and his wife Fliss who had meandered up the coast in their campervan that morning.
As I kissed my 4 and 6 year old daughters goodbye, my eldest said “I know you’ll win the race Daddy, you can show me your trophy tomorrow”. Oh, the pressure and inevitable disappointment!
After a quick chat with Paul, Joe and I agreed to help mark out the course and to check out the race area. We immediately managed to lose Paul (sorry mate) so we went to mess about riding down the sand dunes instead, which was heaps of fun.
As the light faded, we headed back to the campervan to drink beer and talk rubbish until we agreed, at 11:00 that we should go to bed as “we’ve got a race tomorrow”
As the dawn broke on race day, I looked out of my little window to see a gloriously crisp autumn day, with blue skies a plenty. I couldn’t see the wind though, as if I had, I might have considered staying in bed…… more on that later.
After a brew and some porridge (without egg, much to Joe’s disgust) we wandered over to sign in and have a look at who had turned up. Pleasingly, I spotted a good number of fat bikes, amongst the inevitable CX, Gravel and Plus Size bikes being readied for racing.
There was just time for a practice lap of the course before the starting gun, leaving me thinking “well, this is all very serious and professional”
From the start line, the course took us south along the beach, to a 180 degree turning point where we then re-traced our tracks in the opposite direction until a break in the sand lead us off the beach and into the country park, woodland and open fields, before returning us back to the beach via the coast road. With the exception of a set of wooden stairs to climb somewhere in the middle, the course appeared flat and fast. But what would I know?
After a rousing start line speech from Bryan Singleton, we were led along the beach road by Paul in a “neutral start” convoy. And by neutral, I mean, set off at speed. A rider at the side of me said “Bloody hell, this neutral start is faster than I plan on pedalling in the race!”
As we hit the beach, the race started proper, with a breakaway group instantly setting a blistering pace. I saw Joe tucked in among a group of CX bikes and I think that was the last I saw of him.
I must point out that I did try hard and took the race seriously, though I knew I wasn’t cut out for racing when my thoughts turned to stopping to take a photo of the stunning scenery or twiddling about with my GoPro. I guess you could class my level of exertion at somewhere higher than my normal pace but nowhere near a pace where I was likely to vomit.
I felt great as I tore along at a surprisingly effortless 21mph, blissfully unaware that I was being assisted by a joyful tailwind which was about to become a horrendous 30mph block headwind.
As I reached the 180 turning point, it was like riding into a brick wall.
I had no other riders to get in behind, leaving me to battle on alone. It was horrible. And then it got a whole lot worse when the sand softened. Up until this point, I had enjoyed beach riding but I hated every minute of this section.
As I approached the exit from the beach, it became apparent that this was a little section where I might jump up a few positions. The sand was already soft and had been churned up by a succession of riders, forcing many a skinny tyred rider to hop off and take it on foot.
4.8” of Jumbo Jim’s goodness allowed me to float right over the soft stuff and get a good run up the coastal path, smugly passing a few CX riders on the way. But the smugness soon wore off as the tarmac which followed allowed them to soon regain their lead as we headed into the woodland.
The woodland sections were predominantly hard packed single-track, and offered a welcome break from the wind. As the laps ticked by, I had begun to dread seeing the Sonder banners at the 180 turnaround as I just knew that this point signalled a world of wind induced pain.
The format of the race was 90 minute plus one lap, so as my Garmin ticked past 1hr 30mins, I knew the end was in sight, though I had actually lost count of my lap number. As I reached the checkpoint, Andy Williamson’s greeting of “Well done Damian, that’s you done” was gratefully received.
I was reunited with Joe shortly after getting my breath back, him finishing after completing an additional lap to my effort.
“How you feeling mate?” I asked
Joes reply of “I nearly brought my porridge back up” told me everything I needed to know.
There was just time for a photo, a quick brew and a change of shoes and we were back over to gather round the makeshift podium for the results and prizes.
The results were as follows:
1st Nicola Davies
2nd Caroline Cunningham
3rd Sophie Low
Men’s Open Podium
1st Oliver Draffan
2nd John Routledge
3rd Christopher Dickinson
Men’s Veteran Podium
1st Tony Glover
2nd Andy Conn
3rd Chris Bush
And last but by no means least
I was extremely proud of my mate; he put in an amazing effort and was duly recognised. I think his result of 9th overall certainly puts to bed the misconception that fatbikes are slow and cumbersome.
I would have liked to have claimed his win for Team Fatbiking Europe Magazine but he had already registered under his road cycling club. I must have a word with him about that.
On the plus side, I can report that this made me the fastest rider in my team of one, so every cloud and all that……..
As we drove the long road back to Yorkshire, I had time to reflect upon my foray into the race scene.
Whist I personally struggle to be competitive, this event was so much more than a race. And I’m certain that it has the potential to be even bigger and better next year, once the word gets out. The atmosphere, mix of disciplines, scenery, organisation and sponsor support was second to none.
I’ll definitely return and I urge you to come too. I’m assuming Joe will come along, to defend his title if nothing else.
If you like your decisions to be evidence based, I made a little video.
You can view it by clicking here
By the way, if you’re interested, I came 33rd.
No, not out of 34.
Out of 45, before you think about being smart (or 50 if you count those who didn’t start)
But does that even matter? I wouldn’t have cared less if I had come 45th.
I spent the day doing something I love with a great bunch of people in stunning scenery.
And for that reason, I couldn’t really lose.