And so we move on to the British Marathon Champs. This was something of a target for both me and Rachel, back in the heady days of 2007 as a lowly sport rider I came 11th at the marathon champs, a position I am unlikely to beat since XCM has become cooler, and races are unlikely to be run off on 8laps of a 12.5km course in monsoon rains for the foreseeable future.
This year was all change, with the introduction of the first "single loop" marathon championships in British cycling history, more by luck than judgement. The 'honour' of organising the champs has been something of a poisoned chalice for race organisers, entries are generally fairly low, the logistics required to put on a 25km lap (so that the riders don't get dizzy) are somewhat demanding, and unless it is paired with another race, it is highly likely that it will lose money. Couple that with slipshod help from the governing body, and you can see why organisers have hardly been champing at the bit to run the champs race, so much so in fact that the event failed to run in 2011.
Having last ridden the Selkirk course five years ago, i had vague recollections of what to expect, i remembered a course of extended climbs (for the UK) and exciting, tricky descents (it was wet the last time i did it) that required luck as well as skill to negotiate safely. What i did remember was that it certainly left a smile on my face! We booked into a holiday let in the centre of the small borders town of Innerleithen, meeting travelling companion Andrew Cockburn at the door to our home for the weekend. The flat we were staying in was lovely, and right in the heart of the town (more on that later), and only a mile's road ride from the fantastic trails at Traquair. We pottered out under heavy, leaden skies to check bikes and bodies worked, climbing up the first climb of the route, and then heading back down the Caddon Bank descent. As is only to be expected, as we crested the climb, the cry went up from Rachel "my gears aren't working". A bit of trailside mechanics later, and we headed back downwards through the fun sections of Caddon bank, with its mixture of drops and jumps, which unfortunately i was riding like a total spanner. Oh well.
We made dinner in the flat, a classic in the Pedder-Fenton household pre-race of risotto with lots of stuff, and then tried to get an early night in preparation for the following day's exploits. Unfortunately, the rather excitable residents of Innerleithen had other ideas, and at 11pm the floor-show began on the street below, with various shouts of "Leave him Lindsey, he's not f***ing worth it!" and "He's a f***ing drug dealer" which were amusing for a few minutes. However, as our impromptu Jeremy Kyle show dragged on past midnight, i started to lose my sense of humour, eventually (and grumpily) putting a pillow over my head to drown out the noise.
Sunday morning dawned a bit overcast and cold, not the weather i was promised for the weekend, but at least it wasn't raining. We headed over to the start, bumping into Scottish racers Doug Shearer (Inners MTB Racing/iCycles) and Dave Henderson (GT Bikes), who it was lovely to see, especially as a nice reminder of our great summer in Scotland last year. Andrew and I headed out for a quick warm up before spinning back to be gridded. The gridding seemed a little haphazard, with no quarter given to such pesky inconveniences as UCI marathon points (Jane Nuessli wasn't gridded at all, despite being world #1 at the time!), but with a 5mile neutralised road start, it didn't matter too much anyway. I had a nice chat with Will Hayter (MarathonMTB.com) on the start line, and then tried (and failed) to catch hold of his wheel once proceedings started.
At some point on the first climb, i realised that i had good legs, and decided that it would be foolish not to make the most of them, cranking up the pace a bit to catch Andrew Cockburn by the top of the climb. Unfortunately, i forgot the fundamental rule of our mutual riding history, Andrew's always been faster than me downhill, and probably always will be. He pulled out a sizeable gap on the first slippery descent, aided slightly by my over-ambitious tyre choice! At some point after this, Matt Page passed me, and kindly informed me that i'd missed a turn on the course - i'm not sure what i was supposed to do with that information, given that everyone else who'd been riding around me had also missed the same turn - turn back and retrace my steps perhaps. Having thought this through, and realised that there was little i could do about it now, i decided after a few minutes of deliberation to plough on!
At some point in the course, i was caught by the "oldies gruppetto" of Adrian Lawrence (BGlobal) Ant White (Cannondale) and Shaun Wells (Cooksons Cycles), although with Ant in the driving seat, it was far from a comfortable ride for me, and as soon as the big switchbacked climb started, i dropped off the group. I had an impromptu meeting with another Scottish stalwart, and dad to two of the most promising Scottish talents, Grant and Hannah Ferguson on a wee downhill section, where he very kindly sent me down the scary, but fast line!
The rest of the race is kind of a blur, i kept getting glimpses of the remains of the oldies in the distance, but was going through seven shades of hell, and was totally unable to push the pedals any harder. The finish line came none too soon, i crossed it 3h58m after i started for (i think) 17th Senior. So, i still haven't beaten my best result in the marathon champs. Just as i predicted! Rachel rolled in in 2nd place behind Jane Nuessli, being pushed hard by Verity Appleyard (XCracer.com).
There was plenty of complaint about the fact that the race was apparently a "mere" 71km, although noone actually knew this until after the race when garmins were angrily shown to other riders. From my point of view, it was always going to be a short race, run as a Merida in previous years it has been ridden in 3.5hrs by Nick Craig, who went faster again this year to finish in 3h22m, and a short race is undoubtedly better than no race, which is what we had in 2011. I firmly believe that an extra 14km wouldn't have changed the results at the front and that the strongest rider (Lee Williams) won, but in any case argument about what might have been is rather esoteric and academic.
The following day, Rachel, Andrew and I, along with Will and his mate Rob, hit the trails at Glentress in glorious sunshine to celebrate the start of my 4th decade on the planet, and promptly got sunburned. What a way to celebrate!