Mountain bike marathon

Sunday was the annual CRC mountain bike marathon series Selkirk event. I have been working towards riding the 50km route at this event for six years!

I first rode this event in 2006 when I didn’t even own my own mountain bike and had to borrow one from my husband’s friend. I’d moved up from London where I’d been a cycle commuter about 15 months earlier, and ridden the Glentress blue route a handful of times but that was about the limit of my off-road experience.

That year I rode the shortest option – 25km – with a group of friends and found it really tough. The next year I rode the same route again and this time actually rode it rather than walking most of it! In 2008 I was going to move up to the 50km but the weather was awful with torrential rain all day so I rode the 25 again and this time found it a bit of a let-down as I’d really out-grown that distance. So we went to the Penrith leg of the series and I rode the 50k there (though it was undoubtedly easier than the Selkirk route). We skipped 2009, so in 2010 I was really up for the 50km. I went out for a short run the day before, fell over, fainted and thanks to some concerned passers-by ended up in an ambulance. Doctors suspected a broken hand so I had to spectate as my husband, brother in law and sister in law rode the driest trails they’d had for years!

We skipped 2011 again, so this year nothing was going to stop me from completing the 50km route. The weather leading up to the event had been wet, wet, wet so I was feeling a bit worried about the trail conditions but the forecast for the actual day of the ride was good. I ride this kind of terrain at around 6-8kph average so I worked out it might take between 5 1/2 hours and 7 1/2. I hoped for around 6 hours. When we arrived in the morning at the event village the ground was clearly water-logged, and the temperature was around 5degC. I set off dressed in 3/4 leg shorts and long sleeves… big mistake!! This is a hilly route with over 1500m of climbing and by the top of the first climb of the day I was seriously overheating.

Course profile

I rode up the first climb leapfrogging with a friend Dawn and her friend Tracy, and pushed to the top of the second climb with them. Just before the second summit, Dawn managed to sink her front wheel into a bog past the axle and flip over the handlebars into deep smelly bog! At that summit, Tracy decided to call it a day as she’d ridden the road bike event the day before. At that point we weren’t even halfway round which was a bit of a worry. I wasn’t tempted to go back with Tracy but as we’d been going for nearly  3 1/2 hours I thought I’d be lucky now to finish in 6 1/2 hours or more.

Towards the bottom of the next descent I lost touch with Dawn, she was ahead of me and I was a bit surprised she hadn’t waited but thought she’d maybe got bored as I was a lot slower than her. At the feed-station again I was surprised she wasn’t there and asked the marshal if she’d seen her but she wasn’t sure… there were a lot of biting flies so I just assumed she had moved on because of them.

The final climb of the day started gently with a long tarmac climb up a valley, then hit a steep grassy slope which I knew from a long way away I wouldn’t be able to ride up. I was actually looking forward to getting to it as I was pretty knackered and overheating and told myself I could push when I got to the farmyard. At the farmyard I also took off my long-sleeved top as I couldn’t bear it anymore and I just put my gilet back on top of my sports bra which felt much better. But even with the wardrobe adjustment that push up was awful, truly truly awful. I felt terrible and dizzy. I looked at my gps and it read 36km.  I knew that the “50” was actually about 45km and I guessed the final descent was around 5-6km so I thought I’d be ok if I could just get to the 40km point. But pushing up at the 36km point I saw I was only moving at 4kph! The thought of taking another HOUR to push the last 4km was truly miserable. Also, I’d sucked my camelbak dry of water and only had energy drink left in my bottle.

Thankfully, the pushing didn’t last, soon I was able to get on the bike again and ride. As we went along the top I was passed by a number of the elite racers who’d completed 85km and they were really encouraging. Once I could see the final climb on a rocky path I knew it would be ok. My gps was reading about 5 hrs 40mins so I wasn’t going to be as long as I thought. I stopped at a bench to finish my drink telling myself I could have five minutes but actually only needed about 2 minutes before I felt good to carry on. From there my mood turned entirely and I felt great. I ground out the last climb, saw I was actually going to finish in near to my 6 hour target, stopped for a very quick breather on top to get rid of the jelly legs then whooped my way down the big final descent.

I found out yesterday my finish time was 5 hours 59 minutes and 52 seconds!

And Dawn? – She wasn’t ahead after all, she took a wrong turn on the fast descent between climbs 2 and 3 and went through that feed-station behind me. The woman I spoke to told her I was ahead and she came in three minutes behind me.

Categories: mountain biking, outdoors, Scotland, Tweed Valley | Leave a comment

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