This post has been provided by Robert Wardell, of Dirtschool.co.uk
Full results are available online.
The Selkirk Marathon is a recent classic of the British endurance mountain bike scene. A single 75km lap through the hills and valleys of the Scottish Borders with around 2,500m of climbing. The trails offer a mixture of old school moorland, Scottish trail centre and newly built enduro trails.
I was racing this as my second race of the year following fifth place in last year’s race. In 2014 this race was less than a month after my recovery from Rhabdomyolysis suffered at the Cape Epic so I had high hopes that even though my preparation hadn’t been perfect this year I might make it into the fight for the medals.
I’ve raced this event twice before and know how challenging it is. Realistically you can lose the race early on if you miss out over the first climb, as the fast descent doesn’t allow for passing. There is also a high chance of punctures. The second climb towards the Three Brethren is around 15–20 minutes of suffering. This long climb is exposed to the wind and features multiple short, steep sections of bumpy moorland grass.
Following the singletrack descent into Yair Forest there is some respite with a long flat fire trail. The front group which goes on to contest the medals is usually selected by this stage in the race and the pace drops slightly as riders negotiate the technical climbs and descents within the forest.
Once riders have dropped into the world famous Tweed Valley the course follows a section of tarmac road. The route then turns left, climbing steeply on endless singletrack switchbacks into the hills south of the river before descending back again. Soon you arrive at Innerleithen and climb the fireroad used for downhill race uplifts before descending once more to the foot of the valley. The fifth and final major climb of the race is to Minch Moore, the summit of the famous Seven Stanes trail centre. From here the riders join the Southern Upland Way to race back towards Selkirk. It’s by no means downhill all the way with some steep drags along the way, including a final push back to the Three Brethren.
On the start line I had a good idea of my strategy for the race. My aim was to stay with the front selection over the first two climbs and into Yair. Once in Yair I would make sure I wasn’t stuck behind riders in the downhill sections and aim to save energy. Once we hit the long downhill sections I hoped to take the race on and build an advantage on the descents as I knew my climbing wasn’t as strong as it has been. I haven’t raced as much as usual this year and I’m a couple of kilograms heavier than my ideal racing weight which I would notice on the climbs.
I had a small selection of supplies for the race:
1 x inner tube
2 x CO2 gas cylinders
1 x multitool with tyre levers, allen keys, torque key and a chain splitter
1 x 11 speed chain joining link
4 x energy gels
3 x energy bars
2 x water bottles — 1 x 750ml and 1 x 500ml
I had a race support team to hand up bottles at 2 of the 4 feed stations where I could take on electrolytes and gels if need be.
After the race started we all rolled out of Selkirk High Street and the crowds were behind us. We were soon climbing in a tightly formed group up an off road 4×4 track. We broke onto the mooreland and I was suffering as much as I’d expected. As we crested the climb after 17 minutes the bunch had gone from hundreds to less than 10 riders. The first selection had been made. I’d averaged 17.8 kph and 170 bpm heart rate (spiking to 186 bpm of my 192 bpm maximum) which is right on my lactate threshold. I led over the top and down the first descent while trying to recover, taking on fluids and half an energy bar.
The second climb is a make or break section of the race. The boggy sections mean that riders dismount and remount and there are short sections of running. I always find this section difficult and have to chase on the climb to the Three Brethren. This was another effort of over 17 minutes at a high intensity above lactate threshold. I lost around 45 seconds to the lead group at this stage. Thankfully I was able to close that gap on the 2 minute 30 second descent which has been used in the Scottish Enduro Series this year. My heart rate remained fairly high at 166bpm average.
I rejoined the group and adopted road tactics at this stage. I clearly wasn’t the strongest climber in the group and I was untested over this distance this year. In the group I had Ben Thomas who has specialised in Marathon MTB racing, Giles Drake who has proved himself as a strong climber and marathon racer at events like the Leadville 100, and defending champion Dan Fleeman who has finished well in Pro road events this year. There was also current British Cyclocross Champions Ian Field, former winner Lee Williams and Dan Evans, an unknown rider to me. It transpires that Dan is another strong climber and reigning British hill climb champion. It wasn’t up to me to force the pace on any of the pedalling sections. I had the right to follow wheels and it was up to the stronger riders to dictate the pace. I took on more fluids and fuel and tried to hold my position in the group. The last thing I wanted was to be held up by another rider on the descents. It was also clear that none of this group wanted to let me into a descent first. They knew I was familiar with the technical riding in Scotland and that I had closed a signifcant gap to rejoin them. I made my biggest tactical mistake of the race as we exited Yair. Dan Fleeman missed a turning into the last singletrack. I led into the trail.
My main focus was keeping a balanced body position so that I could neutralise the trail and weight and unweight the bike when necessary. This let me find grip when I needed it and also let me access high lines and straight lines to make the trail flow. As I exited I looked back and I was out of sight. It took a few minutes for the riders to catch me and I was swallowed by the group before we hit the second feed station where I took on fresh supplies. In hingsight this was a tactical mistake. My competitors knew that I was one of the stronger riders technically and at this relatively early stage of the race to show these cards wasn’t wise. They would more than likely try and neutralise my strength and exploit my relative weakness on the climbs.
As we hit the third major climb I knew the group wouldn’t make it easy. Maybe not specifically for me but they certainly didn’t want to give me an easy ride on the climbs. I tried to hold my position in the group but as we reached the singletrack I felt the power in my legs going. Not wanting to hold the other riders up in the singletrack I pulled to the side and was passed. I tried to latch on to the back of the group as the singletrack steepened but I had to ride at my own pace.
Not long after this my left pedal came off. I have no idea how or why this happened as I did a full ‘bolt check’ before the race. The last threads on the crank arm had been damaged. I resorted to screwing the pedal in from the opposite side, re-tapping the threads and letting me re-tighten the pedal on the correct side. An old school trail fix!
From this point on I was struggling in the race. I didn’t have any power and my heart rate was on a ‘rev limter’. I was trying to pace myself to the finish, still around an hour and half away, but I was struggling. I was enjoying the downhills but eventually at the summit of Minch Moor I resorted to just finishing the route and gave up on racing.
In hindsight the mistakes I made where not wearing enough clothing for the conditions which resulted in wasted energy and a body which wouldn’t function at it’s best. My body needed to work just to stay warm. I chose to race in just a jersey and shorts with an undervest. If I were to choose my clothing again arm warmers and windproof vest/gilet would have been ideal, and possibly a hat of some sort. It shows that a small mistake in something like clothing can make a big difference. My other mistake was that I showed my competitors my tactic to soon. The reality is that the race doesn’t really start until the climbs at Innerleithen and any efforts to dictate the race need to be backed up with the fitness — you need to be confident that you’re the strongest if you want to push the pace.
The positives that I can take from this are that given the lack of racing and adapting to balancing training with work I am still in relatively good condition. With some specific training and I should be competitive throughout the year. I’m also riding well technically which is always good for confidence and enjoying the trails.
My next challenge is to adapt to the demands of racing the Enduro World Series at Tweedlove at the end of May. The physical demands have some similarities to the marathon and some major differences. I also need to become familar with another new bike and riding more technical trails with bigger features at higher speeds! It’s going to be good!
Frame — Santa Cruz Highball — large frame and 27.5 wheels
Fork — RockShox Reba run at 100 psi
Wheels — Reynolds Black Label AM 27.5
Brakes — Shimano XT 160mm rotors
Groupset — Sram XO1 11 speed groupset with 36 tooth chainring and 10–42 cassette
Build — 75mm Thompson Stem, 27.5 400mm Thompson seat post, 760mm Santa Cruz handlebar, WTB Volt saddle, Crank Brothers Egg Beater pedals
Tires — Maxxis Ardent run at 26 psi