In previous years the Marathon Championships has been held on a multi-lap course, around 20-25km per lap because of the rules stopping racing on bridleways within England and Wales. For years I have been hoping that someone would take the championships to Scotland where the rules do not exist, so I was really excited to hear that the Selkirk round of the Marathon Series would host the marathon champs this year.
I may be an endurance racer, but given the event was stated to be 85km long and taking no longer than 4hrs to complete it would be at least a few hours too short for me to really do well, but I was still hoping to achieve a top 10 position. As I signed on during Saturday morning and went through the list of riders entered I started to realise just how hard that might be!
During the afternoon I met up with Ben from Wiggle, who had made the long journey up to provide technical and feed support for the event and also my team mate Lee Williams, making a rare appearance in a longer marathon style event. Sunday morning soon arrived and I was feeling fine and the sun had come out, making clothing choice much easier. I was lucky enough to have been ranked and was called up to the second row, right behind the legend Nick Craig, surely one of the favourites for the title.
We got underway with a few miles on the road, neutralised British style (ie. civilised!) but when we turned off the road into the grounds of a manor house and the lead car accelerated I awaited the burst of speed. It wasn’t immediate or frantic, instead the pace slowly increased along the very long 5km+ first climb. I stayed with the front group for a while, but inevitably my left leg soon started to become problematic. It was soul destroying to watch the front riders slowly edge away and other riders come by, especially when I looked down at my Garmin knowing that I had at least another 10-15 bpm “available” to use.
|Photo – Ben Jeffery|
I couldn’t exploit all my power at all and by the end of the first climb I was probably 2 minutes down on the front runners already. As I crested the top, I was in around 20th position with 4 or 5 other riders but soon got a gap, holding off the brakes down the first open descent, which was a little slippery in places. I made up time on several riders ahead, passing one near the bottom and closed right up on Tim Dunford, who I know is a good endurance racer. My leg pain had eased up during the descent and hoped that would be the last of the pain for the race. A short fireroad then turned left into a loamy singletrack section, unfortunately several riders appeared to miss this junction, going straight down the fire road, which was at least a minute quicker. A minute might not seem like much, but I’d missed what would have been a very good wheel to follow. Perhaps some of these riders more used to XC racing need to lift there head and look around a little more, rather than follow those ahead like sheep. There was no excuse, as the course was marked well. At the Dyfi several riders missed a turn which cost them time, they were quick enough to mention it but I bet you won’t hear anyone who missed the turn at Selkirk own up to it!
A short road section led straight into climb number 2, which was very long, slow and grassy. As it opened up I could see those who I had already passed further up the hill, which really frustrated me and I started to get into a negative mindset. It took me the whole of the second climb to regain all the time on those I’d already passed and Tim Dunford was now well ahead. Down the next descent I made up more time on a few riders, parts of it were steep and technical which I quite liked. As I approached the second feed station I grabbed a new bottle from Ben and heard that I was 8 minutes down on the front riders, but didn’t ask what position I was in.
|Photo – Ben Jeffery|
A fairly long road section followed, occasionally I’d glimpse a white jersey ahead but it only seemed to be getting further away. Another long climb followed, starting on fireroad and then onto a switch-backing singletrack climb that seemed to go on forever. I didn’t see anyone at all on the climb and was really glad to reach the top. The next descent was really sketchy due to the mud, I stayed on the bike but had a few iffy moments on the way down. I was a little disappointed not to catch anyone but onto the next road section I could see another rider ahead, so had made up some time. This road section went on for a few kilometres, along the way I passed Andrew Cockburn who was fixing something on the side of the road but he soon had it sorted and caught me up.
We turned left into the forest once again, around 50km in heading into Innerleithen forest which I knew would be a long climb. Andrew Cockburn moved in front and I pushed hard to stick with him. Doing this seemed to spur me on a little I dug deeper than on the previous climb. After a while we rounded a corner and I could see 3 riders ahead on a long straight fireroad stretch. I finally started to feel more like myself and pushed hard up the climb, catching all 3 fairly quickly. The climb just kept going on and on and it wasn’t long before another rider was in sight, this time Rob Friel who was a team mate at the Tour of the Himalayas last year and a very strong rider so I knew I was doing OK. We rode together for a little while, mostly on singletrack before I got a gap. Last time I rode the Selkirk event we went down the Innerleithen DH course, which was fun and I was looking forward to doing the same again – hoping to make up time, but we just kept climbing instead with almost no downhill singletrack. As we climbed out of the woods onto the moor I passed another rider, Oli Holmes who is another fast Elite racer. Some rocky singletrack led to a mucky doubletrack that led to the final feed station where I grabbed another bottle of Torq from Ben and he said I was in 7th (although I was 8th) with the next rider 2 minutes ahead. I was pretty shocked, as I thought I was further back.
|Photo – Ben Jeffery|
I was feeling pretty good and with 60km gone I was hoping to stay strong to the finish. A short, steep hill followed the feed station and I was amazed to see another rider at the top, Rab Wardell. It didn’t take too long to pass him as he was clearly struggling. The wind was noticeable on the top of the moor with headwind and a fair distance left it could be hard work! Another short sharp climb led to the very top at which point the marshals let me know it was downhill all the way to the finish! I looked at my Garmin, it was only showing 65km and I knew the final downhill was about 5km. A little disappointed I pushed on, knowing I had almost no chance of catching anyone else in front. There were a few deep, boggy holes on the way down and I messed up on one bit, dabbing and being rather slow. From there to the finish it was just a flat out sprint and I crossed the line to finish 7th in a time of 3 hours 39 minutes.
The final stats were 71km with just under 2000m climbing. Somewhat less than the claimed 85km and 2500m climbing (I defiantly went the right way, others had a similar distance). I had loads left in the tank by the finish, so I was rather disappointed by the distance but I was really pleased to finish 7th, achieving my target of a top 10. I soon found out that team mate Lee Williams won, beating Nick Craig by a slim margin which is a very well deserved National title, great effort!
Overall I am happy with my performance, although the start was frustrating and the distance was way short I felt really strong from the 50km mark onwards when lots of others were fading. I really need to get my leg issue fixed, if I can then things are looking pretty good for the rest of the season. Had it been “normal” during the Marathon Champs I’d have been closer to a top 5 finish.