The day began by being rudely awaken sometime after 5am by the sounds of my eldest teaching her younger brother the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” song from Mary Poppins. After half an hour of this I gave up trying to rest and got up for a quick shower and breakfast – Porridge with Banana. I filled my hydration pack and finished loading gear into the Bongo.
We were first to arrive in sunny Selkirk. We got the gazebo setup for the post-race massages being offered by Helen then it was time to start thinking about riding a bike. I handed my camera to the kids and left them to it.
Having set the course last year and prior to that spending 3 days riding the area, scouting out possible checkpoint locations, I was familiar with the area. The pressure was on, if I didn’t get a podium on an event I had run less than 12 months ago how could I live that down?
The start venue was positioned towards the north of the map area so that a river formed a natural boundary to the south with very few crossing points nearby thus making the decision on which way to go a bit easier.
The map was handed to you as you dibbed to start, no pre-planning a loop or working out how best to link up checkpoints, proper ‘ready-steady-go-where?!’ start.
There were several options to the West, one checkpoint to the north which I decide to keep in reserve to the end if time allowed and a series of 4 checkpoints to the East. Decision 1#: I chose East so I could get settled into the map scale, buy some thinking time and start making route choices after I had made a little progress and tuned into the map scale.
Navigating by just the map, I quickly picked up the first 3 checkpoints (26, 28 & 29) placed exactly as marked on the map without needing to refer to the checkpoint descriptions. This increased my confidence and on reaching checkpoint 30 it was Decision #2: Drop down to a group of 3 checkpoints or follow the Border Abbeys Way to 18. Not spotting an efficient way of collecting 18 from any other direction I decided to go for it and then loop back down to the low point grouping in the valley, sacrificing checkpoint 19 worth 10 points.
Checkpoints 21, 27, 25, 24 were quickly snapped up with gravity mostly on my side. I met Sam at 27 and gave her my checkpoint descriptions as she had lost hers. So far every checkpoint had been exactly as indicated on the map so I could get away without it?
The obvious start of a route around Bowhill Estate began to form; A short section of tarmac to 17, onto 14 and back to 15 before entering the maze that is the Bowhill Forest. The only way was up for the foreseeable future so I took a minute to take my windproof off so I wouldn’t overheat on the climb.
Decision #3: Where to enter Bowhill? I decided to double back on myself to ensure I entered the forest from a track that led directly to checkpoint 12 though a more direct option would have been to take 13 first, then traverse to 12. Despite some machinery having chewed up the track a bit I picked up 12, traversed to 13 then climbed up checkpoint 11 in the quarry.
As I left the quarry I dithered at the first junction, drop down a couple of tracks to the North to collect 40 points from checkpoint 10 and committing to leaving 9 or leave both and come back after a loop over the top of Duchess’ Drive. After I changed my mind about 4 times Decision #4 was finally made “He Who Dares Wins” and I headed up the ridge to the top of the Bowhill Forest and started the climb up to the cairn.
Having collected 6, 3 and 2 on the climb I thought I had enough time to collect checkpoint 5 on the cairn, only 10 points. Cycling out to it was fine but that westerly wind was in full effect on my return causing my tired legs begin to cramp. With the thought of a post ride massage from Massage Therapy by Helen at the end I dropped it down and continued with one gear in reserve. As I reached the main track again the legs got a rest as I started the descent into Black Andrew Wood. This is where dragging an enduro bike around an XC course had a short lived but enjoyable benefit. Quickly collecting Checkpoint 1 for 40 points and making good progress to checkpoint 4 I seemed to be on plan to collect the remainder, time would tell if I had enough in my legs to collect both 10 and 22. I passed Dave Blair coming the opposite way, I had ridden some of the start of the route with so started trying to work out which way he had come. I had a word with myself and focussed on the remainder of the task at hand.
More bouncy bike fun was had on the singletrack in Black Andrew Wood, I set a 2015 King of the Mountain despite having to get off my bike to dib checkpoint 4 part way through a Strava segment!
7, 8 & 16 were picked up in quick succession then Decision #5, leave the 30 point checkpoint on the footbridge just below me and use my height to reach 9 & 10 before returning to it on my way back.
Checkpoint 9 was exactly where it was marked but by now the reality of dragging an Enduro bike around was showing, my climb to checkpoint 10 was slow. I met a couple of people heading the opposite way and then arrived at the junction. No sign of the checkpoint! Double and triple checked the map, searched on all obvious features and less obvious ones. Cursed myself for giving away my Checkpoint Descriptions earlier had one last look around and gave up on the prize of 40 points. I passed a male pair team one junction down who were searching for checkpoint 9, they had found 10 but were looking one junction up the hill from checkpoint 9. I decided I’d lost enough time, couldn’t afford to go up an extra junction to search for 10, so engaged descent mode.
Dropped down to the footpath by the river, along to the footbridge collecting 16 and then turned back towards the finish. Climbed back up a nice trail to collect checkpoint 20 and re-joined the tarmac. A quick blast along the road and a small diversion to pick up the generous 20 points at checkpoint 23 and I was back just over a minute late. 5 minutes earlier I would have been tempted to attempt the climb up to and 22 and back for 20 points but I think my legs thanked me for not having to, probably a good 6-7 minute climb on fresh legs closer to 10 on 3 hour old legs, and 2 minutes descent so it was out of the question now.
The cafe was busy with regulars and an influx of about 35 additional mountain bikers so service was slow but the food was tasty. The Salmon and Prawn Platter makes a nice way to refuel after a ride.
After a few laptop/SI Master Station issues were resolved (It turns out the SI kit doesn’t like a square wave inverter but needs a nice mains sine wave to work reliably – take note organisers) it was time for results and prizes. Instead of the usual Buffs and Energy gels Ewan had made the effort to hunt around his local charity shops for Books, CDs and DVDs with aptly names titles. Despite having failed to find checkpoint 10 I was still the overall event winner and I received Catch Me if You Can (Double DVD Bonus Edition). Category winners were “delighted” to receive the likes of Sugababes – Angels with Dirty Faces Album, Dina Carroll CD and a book titled “There’s More To Life Than This”.
After prizes, it was time to tidy up and collect in checkpoints. One of the ones I collected was 22 so my legs never did get away with dodging that climb.
A big thank you to all those who contributed to the event, I believe Ewan was there until 7pm collecting in the final checkpoints so the kit would be available to the next event organiser. That’s a long day. Even collecting in 2-3 checkpoints can help greatly so please do step forward at future events.
It turned out that it wasn’t just me who couldn’t find checkpoint 10. It had been put out one junction too high by one of Ewan’s helpers. I was later credited for the extra checkpoint and my final score was 468 out of a possible 500 (28 out of 30 checkpoints). A good way to start the season! Did I benefit from having set the course last year? I’d say ‘yes’ but not to the tune of 78 points clear of 2nd place.
Great day out on the bike, weather was nice but not too hot on the climbs, a great map and very accurate despite the one erroneous checkpoint placement. I completely understand why these things happen so it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the event – the organiser has very little time to set out the course from receiving the SI kit so has to call in helpers who do their best.
Looking forward to Whitelees Windfarm in April and then the SMBO returns to Selkirk in early May but will venture north, up and over the Southern Upland Way, so covering a different area from this weekend.