Rain periodically waking you up in a tent as the drops hit the canvas can be quite soothing. If it happens at 5am you usually have a good few hours for the rain to pass before you have to rise. Not the case for myself and some other 800 riders on Saturday morning. The 5am rain wakeup call coincided with an annoying alarm tone signalling the day of the Kielder 100.
Being so early I wasn’t sure of the emotions I was feeling as I got ready for my first experience of the event. It was probably a mixture of nerves, excitement and wanting to be back in bed! I went into auto pilot forcing coffee and the next best thing to porridge; hobnobs down my neck and set about getting my race stuff together. Along with the usual spares I was carrying about 2.5 litres of energy drink, that would hopefully see me half way round and the compulsory whistle and foil blanket. Funnily enough it what the fact I needed these two items that got me excited in the lead up to the event. Needing such things could only mean one thing; a true epic adventure albeit a well organised one with many others.
Arriving on the start line (well, 2/3rds of the way back from it anyway) with already crunchy brakes and chain from any overly excitable splash in one of the many, consistently growing puddles I started to think about what to expect from the next 100 miles. As I stripped the excessive amount of clothing I had on and shoved it into my already bulging Camelbak I had notions of just getting around and enjoying the enormity of the event in what would be without a doubt, challenging conditions.
I believed this to be an achievable and probably the smartest goal giving the amount of training I had done in the 4 preceding weeks, about 5hours. I wasn’t worried though with a 24 solo in my legs just before this period so just sat there awaiting the start soaking up the rain as well as the usual banter; ‘great weather’ ‘why did we sign up to this?’ ‘I think I’m going to need a blood transfusion from all these midge bites!’.
And we’re off!
The long ribbon of riders made its way along the fireroads of the neutralised start and it was quite a sight to behold although in seeing this sight basically meant I was a long way back so along with a few other riders we made our way up the pack on the loose section of fireroad that everyone was trying to avoid. We made good progress and I was happy with the position I was in as we made our way onto the proper course.
There were a lot of people breathing incredibly hard around me and this instilled confidence, either they’re very fit with endurance to challenge the best or they were pushing too hard. I was hoping for the latter. I settled into a good pace and just embraced the constant spray of grit and water from the surrounding riders. Only 100 miles to go!
There was a lot of fireroad and forest tracks but I didn’t expect anything different and I like this sort of terrain so it didn’t bother me. The ooze forming on some of the downhill sections though were causing trouble for a few others mind. On a number of occasions the thought of ‘if you go down I’m coming down with you!’ crossed my mind but that wheel to wheel action is part of the fun isn’t it?
As the miles ticked on and me and my bike crunched its way around the ups and downs, of which there were many, across the moors in low lying cloud making even those in hi-vis jackets barely visable, having a chat every now and then I couldn’t help but smile. I was amazed at how much I was enjoying the grim conditions and being out there in the hills. I felt good too, which only spurred me on even more and, of course it was about this point, about 25miles in when I started to get a twinge in a tendon in the back of my left knee.
It was something I had picked up and noticed after my 24 solo but had thought, wrongly that it was all better now. I pushed on, trying different riding techniques to try alleviate the discomfort and climbing out the saddle seemed to held. I went through notions of thinking the twinge was going but I was kidding myself. Soon after the first checkpoint I was massively over compensating with my right leg, which was throwing my core off balance. I was also dropping my overall intensity, which was leading to me getting cold and even climbing out the saddle was starting to hurt. With still most the race to go only a fool would push on in such discomfort and although I can be foolish on occasion today was not going to be one of them. It was time to call it a day.
‘The next marshal I see I’ll asked for directions back to the arena for the ride of shame’. Of course because I wanted a marshal I didn’t get one for what seemed like an eternity. I eventually reached one and he seemed very jolly despite the still persisting rain, which was nice but I was dreading the possibility of him saying ‘well you’ve picked possibly the furthest point away from the arena to drop out at! It’ll probably take at least an hour to get back’. Luckily this wasn’t the case ‘next left mate and you’ll be back in minutes’. He wasn’t lying either, which was a relief and quite impressive considering I was certain I was well and truly in the middle of nowhere but nah, 5mins from a nice cup of tea. Awesome.
I am gutted I had to pull out through injury and also a bit annoyed at myself for not being certain that I had recovered properly from it but hey-ho, I rather regret doing something than regret not doing it. I’m still pretty happy with the day though and I enjoyed the 4 hours of puddle plunging I did experience anyway.
Top marks to those who raced let alone finished and to the organisers for putting on what appears to be a logistical nightmare of a race. I can’t wait for next years event in what I hope to be in similar grim conditions…