My Selkirk adventure began on the Friday, a long weekend with Louise followed by a long bike ride. We checked in to the Philipburn Hotel, secured my bike, unpacked and began my marathon preparation with a full on 3 course meal...is there any other way?
Saturday began with the traditional Scottish breakfast followed by an attempt to sign on. Unfortunately the organisers could not be bothered hanging around for the few cyclists turning up and had closed registration until 13.00. Annoyed we returned to the hotel and picked up the car then headed to the neighbouring village of Hawick for a brief walk. Lunch was courtesy of Baxter’s, an afternoon nap and then it was off to meet Grant and the Doig Family Cheerleaders.
My first observation upon arriving at a now buzzing rugby ground was the sheer number of serious looking competitors and expensive light weight full sussers. All of a sudden the 456 looked cumbersome and heavy. My heart sank a bit and I took solace in the food tent looking for some other weekend warriors......we were few and far between.
A Mangners and some chat later we returned to the hotel for a long night.
Up bright and early, clothes all packed and put in the car, porridge for breakfast, caffeine energy drinks and gels consumed, chamois buttered then it was back to the rugby ground to meet up with Grant.
45 mins of quiet panic later we were on the line listening to the riders briefing, at least what we could hear of it. I positioned myself near the back of the field and waited for the countdown, 10, 9, 8......2, 1, and we were off. All that panic seemed to be for nothing as we slowly got up to speed along the initial road section. I popped it in the big chain ring and started to pick people off quite happily pedalling along with my own thoughts.
We hit the first climb and I felt great. Dropped to the middle ring but was still picking people off until the first mechanical of the day. As we left the forest on the exposed hill the terrain changed and I changed gear to keep the momentum going. There was a choice few words as the chain jumped over the top of the cassette and my legs began to spin freely.
I quickly changed back town but the damage was done, momentum was lost and I stalled. Trying to get going again on this slope was just not happening due to the combination of a long fork, slack head angle, lay back saddle and high gear. I was left with no traction and the front wheel lifting in the air. I looked behind me and saw all the people I’d passed on the climb about to re-pass me as I made the decision to walk till the track flattened out a bit.
Back on the bike I could see the end of the initial climb and excitement took over. The organisers last words ringing in my ears “beware of the first decent, it’s rocky”. The decent began and before I knew it my speed was picking up. In fact it was overtaking my ability and the brakes were applied! Half way down I could smell the familiar odour of burning brakes and decided the best course of action was to drop the saddle and get on with it.
I arrived at the bottom in one piece and stopped to raise the saddle. As I undone the QR the plastic bush split and fell out leaving me with no option but to secure the Allen bolt as tight as it would go. There would be no more saddle dropping for me today!
Hit the first food stop just after 1hr 15mins and stopped long enough to fill the bottle and munch half an Elevense bar. I felt really good so off I headed for the second climb thinking that I’d hit the second stop around 13.00.
How wrong was I? The second climb was across a heather laden hill and I spent a great deal of time out the saddle pushing my way up the hill. Calves burning with all the pushing I hit the summits and with another smile on my face raced down the descents with all the speed I could handle.
This was the best single track of the day, natural, sweeping, in trees and across hills but at the back of my mind I knew the game was up. My legs were feeling good but I knew that I’d be out a lot longer than ever before if I chose to continue on the 75km path.
The feed station was in sight at 13.40. A banana, biscuit and caffeine laden gel saw me ready to head out for the final ascent of my day. As I left the station I noted there was no longer any choice for the 75km route and felt a bit better that the choice would have been taken out my hands anyway.
This stage of the marathon saw my low point. It was a gentle tarmac climb. Middle ring, 2nd from top of the cassette, nothing major at all yet somehow it felt like my own personal purgatory. The combination of tarmac and my rear tyre were not gelling at this point. I could feel every knob on that tyre as it hit the road surface. The vibrations through my feet and backside were driving me to distraction and I was starting to wish it was all over.
By the time I hit the Southern Upland Way I was ready to give up and go home but i continued pedalling until the hardcore gave out to grass I defy anyone to be able to ride the SUW! The best way to describe this path is to take a lawn mower and cut an 18inch walk way in the heather and fern on the side of a hill. Again it was time to push, push the bike up and push another gel down my neck.
The SUW finally joined up with the 100/75km line and was ridable again. It was great to see the fast guys in action and feel part of a race again. So much time had been spent in what felt like isolation but without the boredom factor. The big challenge now was listening out for fast approaching riders and getting out their way.
I remember asking a marshal how much further we had to climb and he said about 60m over a couple of km. I pushed on across the open hillside enjoying the dual track and then before I knew what was happening I saw the final piece of ascent and what a beauty it was. The Three Brethren rose steeply before me!
It rose up in a rocky path about 1.00 to 1.50m wide. It appeared black and looked as steep as a wall. I remember watching it edge ever closer and could feel emotion bursting inside me, this was it, the final climb. I knew I wasn’t getting to the top by pedal power but I was going to go out with a bang! As I hit the base of the slope it was granny gear time and I span my legs for all I was worth. I passed a few riders for the first time in ages and smiled to myself and then bang .... my legs went and it was time to push the final 40m to the summit.
I remember clocking the distance at 41.79km. The furthest I had ever ridden off road in one day. It was 15.21 and I was 6km from the rugby club. By 15.41 I had crossed the finish line, collected a t-shirt and was knocking back a bottle of For Goodness Shake!
That final 20 minutes passed in a blur. The route was dual track and rocky so I positioned myself on the edge of the heather. I noted 35km/hr flash up on the computer and held on a little tighter as I made my way down. It was around this point that I realised I still have a hell of a long way to go in the skills stakes as rider after rider passed me a break neck speed!
Half way down I saw the photographer positioned behind a water splash and increased my cadence in the hope of producing a good photo.......
I hit the bottom and smiled all the way back to the rugby club.
The marathon itself was a first for me and something I’m now keen to repeat. My time for the 47km was 4hrs and 40mins which gives me something to aim for next year, either a quicker time or a longer distance. I guess training and cake intake over the next 12 months will make that decision for me. Of course next time I compete I’ll be proudly wearing the only jersey I’ll ever wear again ;0)