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The other side of the tape

I have done many MTB races and events over the last few years and have always really appreciated the time and effort put in by the marshalls. With that in mind and with a delayed start to my own racing season this year,  I decided to volunteer at last weekend’s Battle on the Beach race in Pembrey.

A unique event in the UK, the race uses the virtually the whole length of Cefn Sidan beach before turning into the dunes and forest for a more traditional MTB cross country course back to the start/finish. Beach racing is popular in The Netherlands and Belgium where the wide, flat beaches are perfect for it and, predictably, the men’s race was won by Bram Imming of Team Imming, who had crossed the North Sea especially. The women’s race was won Sophie Halhead. Other categories were racing too, with approximately 800 riders lining up at the start.

A marshall’s job is not complicated, but it is important. Ensuring that the course is marked and signposted properly means riders can concentrate on racing not navigating, that can be a challenge when you are making a real effort regardless of where you are in the field. Liasing with members of the public about the event in general and what any access restrictions may be is obviously important from a safety point of view, but it’s also good to present a positive image of cycle sport and cycling in general. Also vital is acting as an emergency contact point in the event of injuries or medical emergencies. Perhaps overlooked is interacting with the riders themselves; when I am racing I always enjoy the encouragement and good natured banter that you get from the marshalls and I made sure I did a lot of shouting yesterday.

Thankfully I witnessed no serious injuries or emergencies. There were a couple of crashes on my section, but after a few words of encouragement and moment or two to collect themselves the racers were able to carry on. All the members of the public I spoke to were  overwhelmingly positive as well, generally expressing admiration for all the competitors. The riders themselves seemed to enjoy the event,  the majority going through our section with smiles on their faces. Some riders obviously found it real a challenge and whilst my words of encouragement may not have helped much at the time, they should be proud of their efforts.

Congratulations and thanks have to go to Matt and the team at  A Cycling for putting on a cracking event which I look forward to racing myself sometime and for looking after us marshalls so well.

If my blog has got you interested at all, I’d urge you to get involved as these events can’t happen without the volunteers. This is a high profile event, no doubt about it, but smaller races and events take place every weekend up and down the country. Not just bike events either; running events, motor sport, equestrian, swimming, to name but a few. Check with your local clubs, look at the relevant governing body’s website etc. Go on, make some poor organiser’s day!

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