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The Mad March Hare REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

The Mad March Hare is billed as a warm-up for the summer calendar of Sportives. Because of the unpredictable weather and shorter days, the organisers keep the distance manageable on fast and safe, open country roads which will take riders through quiet, beautiful North Worcestershire 'chocolate-box' villages and hamlets. The route is generally flat except for a couple of tasty climbs with a slightly heavier going route home, enough to test the fittest of riders' legs! This year the route was slightly different again...and the entry fee stayed as low as possible

Distances: 76 miles (approx)
Entry fee: £12.00 in advance and £15.00 EOL (sold out 5 months before the event)
Participants: 500
Start: Becketts Farm, Heath Farm, Alcester Road, Wythall B47 6AJ, with plenty of off-road parking (£2.00).
Feedstops: 1 - with food and drink provided as well as free SIS gels.  
Catering: Free hot/cold drinks before and after the ride, free bacon baps and vegetable soup after the ride too.
Timed: manual, but individual times for all.  
Signs: A clearly way-marked route with clear signage (black arrows on yellow background).
Roads: Safe quiet picturesque route on mostly back roads.
Route:,  Back-up route card supplied.  
Professional photography of the event
HQ with toilets
The Ride:Another 5:00am alarm, awakened in the pitch black to the sound of rain. Must be sportive time then.   Must be mad!

The Mad March Hare starts from Wythall, near Birmingham, which is a couple of hours drive up the M5 from home.  The forecast included a not inconsiderable wind that was due to change direction halfway through the ride (aka headwind all day) and the possibility of snow.  This was my first event riding and writing for Cyclosport, it was my first "proper" sportive of the season, I've done it three times before and it's become my annual season starter.  So even if weather related bailing was the kind of thing I do, which it isn't, I so wasn't going to bail today. The same cannot be said for around 250 of the 500 people signed up to do the event, who didn't turn up which, though understandable, is a shame.  

It rained all the way up the M5.  It was raining when we parked in the large field next to the shed building that was HQ.  It rained as I trudged across the long wet grass to sign in, which took no time at all.  Over more muddy grass to use the portable loos - two of which were set aside for females, which was much appreciated.  Back to the car to stand in the rain assembling bikes, attaching numbers, faffing around deciding on layers.  I put on as much as I thought I should and then some, but I should have erred on the side of caution and put on more!  

The view of the weather at the start.

Back to HQ to faff some more, and for another precautionary trip through the grass and mud to the toilet.  This had the unfortunate side effect of meaning that my feet were soaked through already - from the bottom up - not a good start.  

Cyclists hiding in the HQ and putting off heading out into the weather for as long as possible!

Time to get going as I was already wet and cold and not getting any warmer hanging around.  Numbers and the start time were noted down by the organisers and then we were on our way, at around 8:30am.  It really was cold out there!  It was clearly going to take me longer than the usual twenty minutes to warm up.  In fact the closest I came to warm was on the first hill of any note about 12km/8miles in.  I think I pulled my zip down a couple of inches, and it went back up again pretty darn quickly as soon as I reached the top!   The rain continued.  The cold wind blew.  There was more and more standing water to deal with.  Lots of concentrating and trying to avoid hidden potholes.  

Cyclists gathering at the start line.

The first big hill of the day came about 59km/37 miles in, after a fairly easy couple of hours on some lovely quiet roads.  Having been getting slowly more and more cold, I'd almost been looking forward to it, as I was hoping it would warm me up a bit.  It's a big long fairly steep constant climb up Saintbury Hill.  To emphasise how cold and wintery it was, we did this in the snow.  Yes, it snowed. 

In fact visibility became severely restricted near the top due to the amount of the falling white stuff.   I think that's a first for me - a sportive in the snow.   Quite a lot of people resorted, for whatever reason, to walking up the hill which, if I could have felt my feet, might have been attractive.  But I was feeling fairly stubborn and actually went up it pretty well, and definitely with less zig-zagging than last year.

The feed stop

Sadly due to the being wet already, and the snow, and the wind, it really didn't warm me up much.  After a bit more climbing I reached the small feed station in a layby on the right hand side, well stocked with bananas, flapjacks and free SIS gels.  I ate a bit, and swapped my soaking wet gloves for drier ones from my saddlebag.  It was neither the time nor place for hanging around though, so I was back on the road fairly soon.  

That's a snow cloud and the flying white bits are snow!

There was another similar climb, albeit a little shorter, about 7 miles later, which also went well.  The descents were less fun than they might have been due to the need to pay attention to the road, and to brake in the wet.  I was clearly getting colder and colder...I hadn't had feet for hours, and my hands were well on the way to joining them wherever they were, even in the drier gloves.   Braking when your hands aren't all there is...interesting.  About 90 mins from the end, after a rather dangerous crossing of the A46, I stopped to grab some more food, and I nearly fell over trying to stand up on feet that I didn't have anymore!  As I ate I realised I had actually started shivering, and headed off again pdq.  I don't think my body has ever been that cold on a bike, let alone tried shivering whilst riding one, and it's a very weird feeling.  It's trying to do all the things required to propel you along, and to shiver at the same time, which does very odd things to your stomach muscles!  

Looks nice out there doesn't it?

By necessity life got a little slower.  When you can only feel 10% of your hands, gear changes are not a spontaneous thing.  They are planned in advance and frequently attempted several times!  Braking is a cautious thing, just in case...  I was so cold that my brain stopped working properly for a while and I was tad worried that I was just going to stop functioning altogether!  Luckily this didn't happen.  Even though by now the rain had stopped, this was way beyond too little too late.  Maybe the temperature went up a degree or so, maybe knowing there wasn't that far to go did it, but whatever it was, I made it back in one soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone piece.  It turns out a lot of those who had turned up hadn't made it all the way round - DNFs.  There was even a rumour that I was the first woman home!  

Free hot drinks at HQ afterwards.

Along with free bacon rolls or, if you can't eat bacon rolls for some reason, homemade vegetable soup.

I had a quick chat with Paul Prince, who organises the event, whilst drinking my soup.  It being the fourth year of the Mad March Hare, it's come a long way, though I kinda miss the Easter Bunny costume he wore first time around!  The new venue is a great improvement and there are plans to expand the event in the future.  Due to the turnout this year they may keep the route the same for next year though, since it'll still be new to a lot of people!  The organisation had all gone really smoothly, and I can personally vouch for the homemade vegetable soup - very yummy!  

Paul Prince, organiser extraordinaire.

It's still extremely good value for money, run really well by friendly people, and you can't blame the organisers for the weather, now can you?!

The motorway home...

On the way home, as could have been predicted, the skies cleared...typical.

If you rode The Mad March Hare, you can rate it here (if your fingers are working yet!) 

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