Over the years I have heard many people describe the Selkirk MTB Marathon as one of the best single loop races around. But unfortunately I had never gotten round to taking part due to it clashing with other events. However when Phil Simcock (Team JMC top racer) mentioned it over a couple of beers the week before I thought why not, particularly as the weather forecast looked ideal.
Luckily I don’t have a full race licence so I didn’t need to line up for the start at the very front (unlike Phil), in the British MTB Marathon Championship category, with all the greats from the world of mountain bike racing. I instead got to find a spot in the second wave to start – just behind the pace car that would lead us out for the first 3 miles or so.
The first few miles were supposed to be uneventful but the pace car was making things more interesting than they needed to be by varying its speed from under 10mph to over 20mph. Once the pace car pulled over up we went, and up we kept on going for some time. Pleasingly I was feeling strong and managed to make up a significant number of places before it levelled and a number of more skilled downhillers piled past me on the first descent. This trend continued for an hour or so but eventually I managed to pull away enough that I was pretty much riding alone and couldn’t be caught mincing down the tricky stuff.
After this the memory blurs a little but I recall a number of really epic climbs, a couple that I thought were never going to end. Some quite technical descents including one that threw me over the bars. Some mud thrown in for good luck – not sure how they managed this when the rest of the course was baked rock hard. And some great dry and dusty (hardly ever have to type those words) trails that were great fun to ride.
About halfway round my back and neck started giving me some serious aggro. The decision to ride a 29er hardtail was a reasonable one, particularly as it was very strong on the climbs, but the combination of the stiff back end, a backpack with a couple of litres of water in it, a bit too much pressure in the tyres and the rocky course was giving me a right good shaking. A couple of ibuprofen helped but a short travel full-suspension bike would have been a better option.
Towards the end I managed to catch a decent sized group of riders and we had a great time charging down the last sections to the finish line.
My final numbers were 47 miles and 7250 feet of climbs/descents in 5 hours and 7 mins. Really pleased with the pace as I normally don’t average 9+mph on this sort of event. Positions weren’t formally announced as the event is regarded as a sportive unless you set off in the racing snake category, but a bit of Excel work suggested that I was 23rd overall and 10th in the V40 category. 1 year older tho and I would have been 3rd in the V50 cat – something to aim for next year 🙂
Overall it was a decent event in great weather. My only gripe would be that I would like a little less road and fireroad sections and even more single-track.
Phil, despite his exertions in the Highland 400 a week or so before, put in a brilliant performance and came 31st in the British Championship!