“Nice frame” said the girl on the SS Scandal as we churned up one of the many hills in the forest. It turned out it was Kate and she was talking about my bike but I was glad of the diversion all the same because it was clear, even at this early stage, that this Montane Kielder 100 race was going to be tough.
Mike and I had set off with about 230 others on the neutralised start, revelling in being up so early and setting off on a big adventure with lots of like-minded folk. Shortly after the 15 mile drink stop Mike’s gears packed up and while he cursed and tugged at them loads of people passed us. We soon caught and passed some of them then I found richpips and rode alongside for a chat. He’s got the other Scandal sample bike like mine (but smaller) but he was riding fixed and showing off his new trick of unclipping and putting his feet up on the forks for the downhills rather than spin at 140rpm!
Mike had ridden off while I was chatting but I caught him again on the next hill – it was clear he was starting to flag. The timing of this race probably meant that most people had just been on holiday which was hardly the best preparation. At 25 miles Mike had slowed, at 35 he told me to go off on my own and then he only managed another 7 before giving up – he certainly wasn’t alone.
I set off steadily, worried that I’d be tempted to go too fast and burn out. Gradually riders appeared and were passed then at the 49 mile feed I found some of the crowd we’d been with earlier, martinh, miketually and Kate. I was really hungry here and disappointed to find little food – just bananas and a few crackers – and I was regretting not bringing my own bag for the food drop. Still, the bananas seemed to work and I pressed on, chasing the cut off at 55 miles. I had plenty of time I thought and felt pretty good, especially when a couple of marshals congratulated me on a ‘brave effort’ when I rode up and short steep section before the new cross border trail. The new trail was really rough but eventually the sound of the piper at the border carried across the moorland through the mist. As I fumbled for my money I asked the marshal if this was the cut off but he said no, just around the corner. Glancing at my watch I realised it was 1.50, only 10 minutes to the cut-off! Charging over the ridge and down the other side I realised I was now close to Newcastleton and must have already passed the critical point. Panic over!
Refuelled and rested thanks to the wonderful ladies at the trailhead in Newcastleton I set off again with an eye on the time for the next cut off. I’d been and recce’d this bit only 10 days before so the trails were familiar but even so the drag back up along the river seemed to take forever – I just tried to keep the speedo above 7-8mph and always had a feeling there were people chasing me.
I was trying all the time to work out where the route would go. I figured it would end on the Lonesome Pine trail but realised there must still be a big loop after the next checkpoint – I was right, and it was blimmin’ hilly, of course! Eventually on the Lonesome Pine trail I caught up with martinh who was pushing up the steepest bits. He reckoned he hadn’t seen anyone for about an hour! We rode together for a bit then came to that same short steep bit that we’d already struggled up – having done it once I had to do it again, much to the surprise of the marshals, but I’d decided I was going to ride the whole thing now! Eventually at the top the adrenalin kicked in and I passed a few other riders on the blast down the hill in the gathering dusk before popping out of the forest to be told I’d finished!
What a cracking day! I really enjoyed it – much tougher than the C2C in a day which, frankly, was easy – varied trails, great support and good humoured marshals and competitors. The mountainbike equivalent of the Old County Tops fell race (although that’s still harder!).