It's not every day us mountain bikers get to take over a high street!
Doing the British Championships option at this event is a good way of seeing how you fit in against many of the top mountain bikers in the country. There are no separate categories like at the XC events I do (other than a Senior / Veteran split) so you are in there along with some of the country's top Elite riders.
I didn't specifically train for it this year. Although I used to focus on these longer endurance events, I've been focusing all of my training on shorter XC races this year. I've done a few longer riders, but I was coming into this after peaking for last week's SXC race at Dalbeattie and had just had a nice easy transition week of not training very much.
My goals were simply to beat my time from last year and maybe, just maybe, get into the top 50% of the men's British Championships results. Well, both goals achieved!
Last year I took 5 hours 3 mins and this year my official time was 4 hours 37 mins (although my Garmin says 4 hours 31 and that's including, not excluding, stops). So, that's about 30 mins (10%) knocked off my previous best time and I finished 33rd of 74 men (within the top 45%). As I'm sure you can imagine, I'm really happy with that!
I'm still riding on the Trek Fuel EX9 that Alpine Bikes have kindly loaned me while my Superfly is being fixed, and I really need to stop using the heavier bike as an excuse! If there was ever a race where a heavier bike would affect you, it would be this one, with over 2500m of climbing, and a fair bit of that towards the end. But I can't really use the weight of the bike as an excuse given I've improved so much on last year's time and without specifically training for it! The Fuel EX9 was a great bike for this course - it climbed well and just sailed down the descents, a mixture of fast rocky landrover tracks, rooty off-piste trails, man-made trail centre descents at Innerleithen and one bit that was like surfing your way down a rooty trough of thick mud! That was tricky but fun in its own special way! I've said it already and I'll say it again, if you're looking for a "do anything" bike, you really can't go wrong with the Trek Fuel EX range!
That's a fair old bit of climbing! But the descents more than made up for it!
Doing so well in this has made me wonder if I should go back to focusing on Endurance events instead of XC and I think that's what I'll do next season. Not just because they're what I'm best at, but doing a race like this reminds me why I mountain bike . . . the stunning scenery, big natural routes in the real mountains, feeling like you're covering lots of ground, and just a great day out on your bike. I do enjoy the XC racing and I'll keep trying to improve at it, but I think I'll go back to focusing on endurance events next year. I just wish there were more events like the Selkirk MTB Marathon!
The race kicked off on Selkirk high street and stays on tarmac for the first few kilometres before we start racing properly as we head up off road into the Bowhill Estate. The first climb is tough but I used it to my advantage to get past a few people and settle well into a group of 3 or 4 of us who were within a minute of each other for most of the first half of the race.
Still quite bunched together for the first singletrack descent
On the second climb, Kerry MacPhee caught and overtook me and she went onto win the female British Championships! Well done Kerry! Fantastic ride and must feel amazing to be wearing the British Champs stripes for the rest of the season!
Kerry pre-rode the course earlier in the week and her great advice helped me decide to go with Bontrager XR1 tyres (as did she). I would usually use the XR2 (or even XR3) for a route like that, but the XR1 was amazing. For what is a lightweight XC tyre, it withstood the rough rocky terrain no problem at all - no punctures and it even gripped well on some of the muddier bits.
Things spread out a bit after a while and it was nice to have a few moments to myself. It's great riding in a group but I also enjoy having the trails to myself, focusing on nothing but me, my bike and the trail under my tyres. I was just having so much fun!
I might not be smiling, but I promise I'm having so much fun!
I was really happy with my pacing too - something I'm working on for XC races but that I'm pretty good at on endurance events. It was helped even more by using my Garmin Edge 810. I knew what average speed I'd have to maintain to beat last year's time so it helped me know when I could push it or when I could ease off slightly and recover.
My fueling strategy worked really well too . . . High5 4:1 carb drink, with a bottle at each of the feed stations using the great bottle drop service put on by Durty Events. I need to thank my mother-in-law as she very kindly dropped my bottles for me early on the Saturday morning which got me an extra hour in bed! I made sure I fueled every 15 mins, whether that was just a quick sugar boost with a jelly baby, plus one gel per hour and half an energy bar per hour.
I really pushed it up the final big climb of the day ... After 50km you need to ride up the whole Innerleithen trail centre red route climb. This is the great thing about having ridden the course before - you can prepare yourself for this not just physically but mentally. I was pleased to overtake a couple of riders on this climb and then another rider on the final climb up to the three Brethren, showing again that my pacing had worked really well. The 10km leading back up to the three Brethren was tough, as it was getting colder and was all into a head wind. But the weather was much better than originally forecast - it stayed dry for the entire day and the trails were only muddy in a couple of places.
Nearing the top of the very last climb of the day
Then it was just the fast final 5km descent down to the finish line, where I was greeted by my wife and yet more really friendly helpers from Durty Events, without whom we couldn't do this event. The marshals and feed station helpers were all really helpful and I wish I could thank them all individually!
This has got me really looking forward to the Tour de Ben Nevis later this year, the only other endurance event I've managed to fit around my XC race schedule this season. I can't wait! And I've got a lot of thinking to do about next year and where my priorities lie . . . this really has got me thinking about what kind of race I enjoy the most as I just had such a good day out on my bike!
Thumbs up, signalling the end of a great day on the bike!
It's now a couple of weeks until my next XC race, Round 3 of the British Series in Wales on 16th/17th May, followed by Round 3 of the Scottish Series the following weekend in Laggan. I've got a week off work next week and I'm going to use some of my time off for a day or two of big natural mountain bike rides just like Selkirk - just not racing this time! I've also got a training consultation planned with Rab Wardell of Dirt School, so check back here later next week for a write-up on the training consultation services provided by Dirt School, as Rab helps me plan out my goals and training for the remainder of the season.