Despite the murderous conditions of 2011, and several post race promises to myself to never do this race again, I knew deep down that come 6:30 in the middle of September, I would be lined up with the masses at Kielder Castle, being tormented by midges and feeling sick from forcing down breakfast at 5am.
This race has a unique allure though. I like the idea of one BIG lap. It means that, regardless of the individual rider’s ability, it’s going to be tough. The quick riders have a long fast race in the Pain Parlour, whilst those out simply for the challenge of completing this formidable test will be out there for several more hours! No shirking, no winding the clock down; just get round or rue not finishing! I’ve got loads of respect for those who know that simply getting round before the cut-offs is a huge personal challenge and they go for it anyway – it’s a long time to be out there.
Race morning was a lot more pleasant than last year. Not too cold and most importantly, not raining. The course would be wet though as there had been some pretty heavy downpours in preceding weeks and days. However, with more favourable conditions, I intended to better my vets course record and of course retain my vets title in the process. 5th place overall was a good result last year and whilst recognising the quality field around me, I wanted to be there or thereabout this year. Silly, but at the least I wanted to retain a 4 year run of top ten finishes.
Off we went. I decided to adopt a similar strategy to last year; go off fast and hope a quick lead group formed to work with. This isn’t how it panned out; quite quickly the pace chopped and changed, a small group formed and then broke up. I was using a lot of energy trying to stay amongst a fragmented lead so I backed off a bit and rode alone or with one or two others. Up a long climb I could see that the front runners had sort of reformed but the effort to get back up there would have been too hard so I settled into a solo sustainable pace.
Adrian Lawrence and Roy Davies yo-yoed behind me for some time. I was very wary of Ady getting on my wheel as I had a feeling he was going to put in a good ride (and I was right!) so I pushed on when he tried to close the gap.
Roy pulled past me around the half way mark and I couldn’t respond. I felt pretty weak in the run in to Newcastleton; a mild cold had struck two days before the race, so any calorie deficit seemed to hit me hard. I had considered not starting Kielder but after missing races early on in the year I was determined to get this done. Miscalculations on the gel / food front saw me limp into Newcastleton and the Bonk wasn’t far away….
Refuelled, the calories kicked in but a flying Ben Trotter rode past me. I gave chase but in the twists and turns of the red route, I felt the sickening dunk of rim on root…. Bugger. Stop. No sign of puncture. Air can out. Blast it up. Keep going. All good for another few miles. Through the Valley of Doom that I loathe and returns to England…. I was convinced that Ant would appear, lapping up the slightly inclining gravel fireroad. This is his domain….
Hurrah! He didn’t! But soon after leaving the valley my tire was squirming again. Blast it up again. Feeling nervous now and pretty toasted…
But then suddenly, by random chance The Reflex appeared on my MP3. I hate to admit it but I love it! And I cringe sitting here picturing myself riding Kielder bound singing Duran Duran at the top of my voice. With the actions too. (It was downhill). My brief moment of kitsch euphoria was broken by my tire sliding around on the rim…. I had no choice but to stick a tube in. A rider went past me as I stood by the track but at least he wasn’t a vet. Total panic now. I was convinced Ant or Ady would appear over the brow of the hill and steam train past me….
To my great relief they didn’t. But I felt like a hare being chased. Lots of nervous glances back… Right, I was on the final dificult climbing sections and unusually for me at the end of a race I felt really strong. My vet record of 8:28 was now a long shot after faffing on with the tire but I pushed on.
Thankfully, the final sections were incident free. I pulled in at 8:32 (missing the cheque of £250 for a new vets record by four minutes… expensive puncture….). Minutes later Ady then Ant crossed the line…. Ady had apparently put in a very strong finish and passed Ant on the final climb. I had been lucky to get away with the tire problem….
So I won the vets and got 8th overall. Bit disappointed to not better my time from last year – I felt on target for around 8:20 but I’m sure hardly anyone got around incident free. I bet Tim Dunford’s heart sank when he punctured on the final climb….!
Yet again, the Kielder 100 proved itself to be a unique and popular race. It was exceptionally well ran yet again, and as ever the marshals were super cheery and friendly. I can say with even less confidence that I won’t be back next year ; )