Selkirk Marathon 75km 2016 Race Report – Richie Scott

It’s been a couple of empty months’ event wise after the disappointing Strathpuffer affair in January. With February, March and April being the lost boys in my barren cycling event calendar. The only cycling that I encountered was the cold, wet, windy kind that moulds a total contempt at the “wonderful cycling” that we have in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway. With missing out on the Dirty Reiver due to family commitments I was chomping at the crankset for a bit of bike on bike action, a number board and wanted to ignite the afterburners and blow up halfway around the now well trodden Selkirk Marathon course.

This event is old hat to me as it’s in the Tweed valley where I cut my MTBing teeth – way back in the days of social group rides arranged by a local biking forum. At which you raced everyone up and down the hills, posed for photos that you hoped would make the ride report and where the superfast riders were chastised for using them for secret training.

I have never got bored of the trails scaring the wild Tweed Valley moorland or ignored the view from the top of the 3 Brethren. This is where the trio of solid built cairns mark the meeting of the estate lands and the occasional sacrifice of a lost English walker. They remind me that this is the home of the clan Scott and my family tree. Anyway enough waffling about my Border Reiver connections (cattle hustlers) and on to the Selkirk MTB Marathon.

With the usual weather pattern of rain, snow and dropping temperatures representing a normal spring day in the central belt of Scotland, my hope that the trails would be slightly dry were fading fast. To my surprise the trails were fine. A week ago they were under a cool blanket of snow but on the day there was no more mud and grime than usual. The wind on the other hand. Hells teeth! It was that windy the crows were walking. But it is what it is. The weather is more of a mental battle rather than a physical one and there can only be one winner. You.

So as I faffed about at race HQ (the rugby club) I had a mental battle about what to wear as the weather was hard to judge. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of a Team JMC top. Like a white flash from the tail of a rabbit the top had disappeared up the road and to the start. This top was none other than Team JMC rider Richard Lilly. I introduced myself and before long (and coaxing from Richard) we were parked right at the front ready to race. A few minutes later and Phil Simcock had joined us. So it was a Team JMC trio. Two Ferraris (Richard & Phil) and a dumper truck (me). The starting line oozed with racing talent and, even though the UK Marathon Championships were not being held at Selkirk this time around, the calibre of rider was still very high. I could just imagine the battles being played out on the desolate Border hills. One day I will try and engage in these mini confrontations and fight my corner with these racing legends, but that is a long, long way off. For me it was about getting around in a time that I was happy with.

10.01 and we are off. Being near the front has its advantages for a slower rider like me. The pace was fast and hard and in no time we hit the first climb, the Duchess Drive. That’s when I waved goodbye to the cycling gods and watched them disappear into the low cloud and heather. It was just me against the course, clock and my body. So I attack the first climb and along comes my nemesis. I suffer from muscle seizures that tighten the muscle and won’t relax. I put the problem down to my IT band and now do a lot of stretching and extensive roller work, but today it decided to grab my left buttock and not let it go till the last 10km. Not to worry. It’s something that I am used to. Before I used to stop and stretch but this cost me time so now I walk and stretch so I am always moving.

The Selkirk MTB Marathon for me is a proper mountain bike race. The course has a varied selection of trail, manmade and natural. There are a few sketchy segments that have gotten worse over time and with abuse. The downhill sections can be slightly worrying if you get stuck in a rut and you are desperately trying to manoeuvre your way out of the trench of death. But they are fast, really fast. Once you are committed there is no looking back. There are a couple of sections that have had enduros down them so there are some new lines that are coaxing you to go faster and take risks. I plumped for a full suspension XC bike because of these. It is not as nippy as a hardtail climbing but it devoured the downhill sections and I am a big unit so the weight weenie addiction does not apply. If I am going to lose weight it won’t be from the bike!

Up and down, up and up and up and down. The climbing on this course is relentless. I recorded 2362 meters of climbing and it’s not just on fire roads. Double track, rocky single track, straight up the side of a hill track. All of this saps your energy as the going was hard with the wind and heavy ground. With my buttock problem the climbing was becoming very, very painful. That kind of sick in your stomach pain and on the second last big climb I struggled badly. Seeing the procession of riders that I had passed or I was ahead of form an orderly line and pass me by with ease and gay abandonment can mess with a fellow’s head. I was now walking and stretching on a flattish section of the climb. I had two options in front of me. One was to quit and take the road back to Selkirk. Stopping lots to stretch and loosen my muscle problem. The second was to ignore the pain, focus on what was ahead of me and try and reel in the riders that passed me. I opted for the pain. I knew there were some flat, fast sections ahead of me with some tasty downhill trails that can make a man forget about everything except God. I was also aware that I am wearing a Team JMC top. Quitting was not an option. I pressed on.

So to the last big climb up to the Minch Moor drove road. The pain that had been my Siamese twin started to ease and I started to fall into a rhythm that stopped me fighting myself and the course. The riders that were a distant memory started to drift into my sights. Moving targets that I would use to pull me along and if anything give me a half respectable final push that would put a smile on my face. My final 5km were flat out. Big ring bossing with only one short , sharp hill that spat you out on the top of the 3 Brethren ready for a crazy, mental descent back down to the finish. And that was that. Another Selkirk Marathon done and funny enough my fastest time ever for the 80k.

It was great to meet Richard and catch up with Phil. Both hugely talented biking athletes that I could learn a lot from (if they want to divulge their secrets). But I have to thank Team JMC’s own Jon Entwistle, enthDegree Cycling, for his coaching advice. This one is for you. Less than 6 hours was my plan and I just managed it. Thank you for believing in me. The fight goes on.