Posted by: Ian | October 28, 2012

My last Exmoor Beast

This afternoon I participated in the event that describes itself as the definitive end of season sportive: the Exmoor Beast. This is my third Beast and well before the half way point I resolved that it would be my last. Three incidents on the ascent of Dunkery Beacon illustrate my frustrations. First, I was holding a nice pace as I approached the infamous cattle grid that enlivens the first steep ramp. The organisers had promised a mat over the ramp this year to avoid the queues of riders who usually dismount and walk over it, causing a bottleneck. This was a great idea, though as I approached it I saw that the mat only covered half of the cattle grid and that this half was fully occupied by a guy who had fallen over on it. I assumed he’d shuffle out of the way as he didn’t seem at all harmed but as I came near he just lay on his side chatting to someone. I was forced onto the unmatted grid, which proved too slippery in the wet and, with my wheels just spinning on it, I had to dismount myself before making it across. Grr!
Next, at the approach to the oft-photographed ford, a pile of riders rode past me as I slowed for an ambulance (!). Unusually, a lot of cyclists had decided to walk their bikes across the little footbridge. I heard one of the guys who went past me saying he didn’t need to do that as he had a Cross bike. I don’t think it was actually the same chap who fell over a short way in front of me but he may have been one of the bunch who fell over next; I stayed upright but had to come to an welcome stop. Re-Grr!
Finally, at the top of the Dunkery climb there are always a couple of photographers. As I came up to one of these, another guy just ahead did a dead stop to get off and walk immediately after he’d had his photo taken riding. There was a cyclist right behind him who had to stop abruptly – I can’t recall whether or not he fell. I skirted round him but was getting pretty fed up.
You can see that none of these minor inconveniences was any kind of Big Deal: I was just in a bad mood. I was aware that I wasn’t really trying and I could be riding a lot faster. It felt like a big contrast to my recent JOGLE where there were sustained periods in which I was either trying to make good time for some reason or simply cycling quickly out of exuberance. I was fed up with the course for its constant ups and downs and lack of any enjoyable flats. I was annoyed with the weather for being rainy and windy but without any proper force to at least make it dramatic. And, for the first time in my sportive career, I had the thought that no one gave a rat’s ass that I was doing the stupid ride, least of all me – I considered just looping round at the top of Dunkery and cycling back to the car.
Instead I followed the course round to the A39 and rode for what felt like an eternity into a headwind that resisted my progress to Countisbury Hill. This hill itself is freighted with negative karma and I had a foreboding that something bad would happen there. By now I had already resolved that this would be my last Beast.

But nothing bad did happen at Countisbury Hill. At the bottom I ignored the food station and pressed straight on up the ascent back to Exmoor. My mood improved as if a switch had been flicked. I followed two guys up the lower part of the hill who were setting a nice pace and further on had a chat with one of them: an ex-footballer who had converted to cycling because of knee injuries.Later, when I was again riding on my own, another guy began to stick to my wheel like a leech. Initially it annoyed me, especially as when I compelled him to pass and rode his wheel his pace dropped markedly. But after a while we had a chat and I found that he was very likeable: another ex-footballer who had turned to cycling because of knee injuries. He stayed with me all the way back and provided welcome company. With either shelter or tailwind most of the way in and a less miserable frame of mind, I kept up a much better pace in the second half.Looking at the ride afterwards, I noticed some interesting Garminology. When I uploaded the ride from my Garmin it showed only 3,100 feet of ascent, having completely flattened out the second half of the course. Here, for example, is how it appears on my Strava ride.

However, if I do the elevation corrections on Garmin Connect (cross-referencing maps for altitude info) I get the correct profile, which has about 6,500 feet of ascent.
That’s a bad miss by the G800 altimeter!When I rode the Beast last year I broke 5 hours but failed to get under the 4:45 mark needed for an “A” classification. This year I did it in 4:24, which feels a lot better. The weather was probably a bit kinder and my bike is a bit better but I’m ascribing some of the improvement to better fitness. Now I wish that they hadn’t switched to letters for the classifications but still called it Gold!
UPDATE: The results for the 100 km have been put on line today. When the obvious duplicates are removed there were 909 finishers whose times were distributed as follows:
I’m marked (with unintentional prominence) as the black dot. The average finish time was 5 hours 34 minutes.


  1. Good work for completing it. I did it last year but didn’t fancy it this year. Not exactly ‘fun’ in the conventional sense of the word!

    • Agreed. There may be a sense of the word fun for which The Beast qualifies but it’s not one I ever use.

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