Anyone that knows me will tell you I love a scone. So when it came to my next mountain bike marathon challenge, a chance to visit my home country of Scotland and better still race in a town best know for ‘bannock’, better known as a form of fruit scone – well, you’ve got me right there.
I’ve known the Selkirk Mountain Bike Marathon from my years at Scott, where the team were always eager to support Nick Craig on race day, but given the time of year, often I was prevented by work duties. Last year I was recovering on safari after the incredible JoBerg2c race, so I couldn’t moan too much – but this year it was time to tackle the testy terrain and see what my little legs could do with close to 2000m of ascent.
Camped in my van for the night, I had a less than optimal sleep to set me up for the 75km day, but friends loaded us up with porridgy-goodness and off to the start we went. Lined up were familiar faces from across Scotland and Cumbria, most well known for their speedy legs and mountain bike prowess. As we took off at the start, I found myself riding close to the front, drafting the powering men on their carbon wheeled beauties.
Not to last long, the first climb did its job and paced out the field, with my little legs in it for the long haul and taking it steady but with intention. As often happens, the heat kicked in and I was having a mild stroke. My overload of layers was soon sorted at the first feed station, where kindly a volunteer saw the combustion in my face and promptly offered to take it to the finish. A long track road leads you into the Bowhill Estate and soon we were into forest, twisty trees and rough, roots that took their revenge on my tyres, trying not to skid out as I tired to keep power.
Lashings of mud, bike-sucking bog and brutal climbs were the theme of the next few kilometres, and soon we were at the Three Brethren, only for the first time… The rolling hillside giving you an incredible view from the top, but there wasn’t much time to stop and look up before it was descending back down through the trees. The route gets spicy too, i’d recommend a full suss if you can (sorry hardtail!). Narrow, muddy channels challenge your line choice and super steep descents were difficult for a little lady on 100 mm travel. In these moments, I love being so focused that I ride both faster and steeper thanks to a lack of time for rational thinking. Selkirk gives you almost everything you could want from an endurance course; singletrack, open moorland, spectacular views, glute grinding climbs, tasty descents, roots, mud, more mud and just a little bit more again. Innerleithen trail centre is truly a trail riders treat to finish off the last quarter of the route. I bounded down the red trail, tag teaming with those faster on the down and a little less enthusiastic on the climbs. Wise words were uttered from men that were reduced to wrecks from the previous year’s event – so I heeded warning and backed off even after the cake kicked it after the final food stop.
Minch Moor is almost the final feat for the day. Winding my way up through the forest, I topped out to open moorland and announced my pain and suffering to the kind marshall, who tried to soften the blow by telling me it was ‘only a few wee ups and downs to go…’. Ah how euphemistic!
After 400m ascent in 7km, you dip down slightly then face the final climbs towards Hare Law, Brown Knowe and skirt ever so kindly round the side of Broomy Law, ending the self-inflicted agony at The Three Brethren once again – but this time to the tune of 335m worth of woop-enducing trail and a last sweep of the road to bring you home. Within the last few kilometres, a poor rider has fallen fowl to a puncture and lost all of his kit somewhere on the course. Stopping, I offered up my inner tube and hope my trail angel deed would see me safely back to the finish. He was kind enough to find me on Facebook and offer to pay for the tube! I refused and hope karma will do it’s thing if ever i’m caught out.
I heard cheers from our friend Kieran as I entered the rugby ground, coming in 3rd woman behind my two good friends Helen and Sally, forever offering a wheel to chase and keeping me motivated on those dark moments.
A huge thanks to Paul McGreal and Durty Events and his time for a fantastic adventure over the best of the Borders, a must-so on any mountain bike calendar.
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