I have raced the National MTB Marathon Champs for the last few years and it seems to have become a standard thing I do each year now. I never get near the pointy end of the race but I love the event all the same.
This is the second year running that it’s been held on the Isle of Man and the whole ‘being on an island’ thing added significantly to the challenge this year. Even without the logistics of getting over there, the race itself is no push in the park. The Champs race is run over the 100 km course which is actually a tad over 100 km and has 3,250 metres of climbing. And that’s not the long course. Alongside the Champs they run a 100 mile race with 16,300 feet of climbing for those for whom 100 km is just too short.
With the summer we’ve been having the biggest concern for most racers would have been staying properly hydrated throughout the race. Obviously, the weather had to turn dramatically just in time for the race meaning that even getting onto the island proved to be difficult. The ferry on Saturday morning was cancelled and for most of the day it didn’t seem that I was going to get over there. Finally, I managed to get transferred onto the evening ferry. That got into Douglas at 10:30 pm where Nigel and Lisa (race organisers) met us in the car park so we could sort out the bag drops for the race. How cool was that, eh? By the time I’d got to my B&B and got all my kit sorted for the next day, it was 12:30 am before I got to bed and my alarm was set for 4:00 am so I could make the start line for 5:30 am to sign on. Oh and did I mention I was sick for most of journey on the ferry on the way over? Yeah, that was a fun experience all round. Not.
So with most if not all of my excuses and self-pity out of the way. I made it to the start line feeling surprisingly OK. It was raining of course. That was to be expected. The race starts at 6:30 am and we’re off down the controlled road section. I’m in the front group once the police motorbike peels off but once we’re off the road and climbing the front group start to pull out a gap and that’s them gone. Into the first descent and here’s where I find that the dropper post that I decided to get last year after doing this race and which has performed faultlessly until now, decides to start misbehaving. It’s staying down, it’s going up but just neither of those two things when I need it to. In the end I manage to come up with a work around that gets me through the race. As the field has spread out, I’m largely on my own and getting ready to settle in for what I expect will feel like a time trial to all intents and purposes.
It’s raining but I’m warm if not dry so that’s not bothering me. Then, two hours in while making my way up one of the many long climbs I find my right foot is now flailing around not connected as it should be to the bike. Looking down I find that my pedal is still attached to my shoe but not to my cranks. I fear the worst. Getting off the bike I find that the pedal has somehow worked itself loose. Something that shouldn’t happen but has. I don’t have the tool to get it back on and the crank threads look like they’re slightly damaged. It’s looking like DNF at this stage. After what feels like an age of faffing around, I manage to get the pedal back in by hand. Result! I’ve counted four riders who’ve passed me while all this has been going on so I set off to catch them. Now I might not be a challenger for a podium but a set back like this tends to play with your head. Your aims to set a better time than last year, get a better placing etc have now all gone out of the window and your start to ask yourself “why bother?” Fortunately, I manage to get past this and within 5 minutes I’ve caught two riders although it would take another two hours before I caught the other two who’d passed me.
After this the race becomes a bit of a blur. My ability to remember a race and each section blow by blow isn’t so great. I can remember it but not necessarily all in the right order. Basically, there were a lot of hills with long climbs and some super techy descents in places. Oh, and we had some weather. Yes we most definitely had some of that. You remember how I said I was wet through but still dry at the beginning of the race? Well that wasn’t the case for the entirety of the race. Some points of the course are pretty exposed and on those points we had some properly heavy rain and gale force winds. It got a bit grim at points. Frankly though, I thought that was great. The conditions are the same for everyone and I’ve done my fair share of races where it’s got a bit tough so I was fairly confident about my ability to deal with that. Others might have enjoyed it less.
So I’m guessing that I’m somewhere like two thirds of my way through the race, possibly a little more and I was through one of checkpoints and the marshal calls out that I was in 13th and the guy in 12th was only a short distance in front. Now this is interesting to me as I’ve not finished within the top 10 of the Champs race previously and this put me tantalisingly close to doing so. I press on and before long I’m up to 12th. From this point my memory becomes a little vague. I was caught by some riders, I caught and passed some riders, I’m not really sure where I am in the running now but I think I’m doing OK. It’s still raining. Quite hard.
I’m getting towards the end now and I can remember that there’s one big climb left. I’ve got nothing left. On previous years, I’ve felt pretty good on this climb but today I’m climbing at walking pace or slower. Keep moving, keep moving that’s all I’ve got to do. I’m at the top or not really the top because I now remember that there’s some more tricky, boggy, generally all round unpleasant climbing still to go but at least the end is in sight. There’s a 10 km board and then an 8km board, the 6 km. To me they all seem to have much more than 2km between them though.
I’m doing a lot of looking over my shoulder down the final decent. There’s nothing worse than having someone pip you on the line from lack of attention to who’s coming up behind for a fast finish. As it turns out, I’ve got a few minutes on the next placed rider so there’s no danger of that today. I cross the line on my own to a round of applause from the small but enthusiastic ‘crowd’ at the finish line. Someone hands me a cup of tea. It’s stopped raining. Job done. I look into where I’ve placed and someone hands me their phone so I can check on the timing website. 9th overall and 5th vet. Well that’s not so bad then. Technically then I have had my best overall result. I’m pretty happy with that. From a less than perfect lead up to the race, to a mechanical that I thought would be game over, I’ve come home with a respectable result. I’ll take that thank you very much.
A massive thanks has to go out to the race organisers and all the marshals for dealing with all the challenges that the weather threw at them. They were amazing and the most friendly, helpful bunch of people you could hope to meet. I highly recommend this race if this sort of thing floats your boat. It’s an achievement in itself just to finish the thing. Particularly the 100 mile race. Remember to tightened your pedals the night before the race though.