If you put me on the spot I'd tell you that my ambition is to be the best mountain bike marathon rider I can be. It's the discipline I enjoy the most and the courses tick all the boxes of why I enjoy riding and racing a bike. Marathon racing is the perfect combination of XC, gravel and road racing, with a whole lot of adventure thrown in the mix. Now that I've got the opportunity to train and compete as a full-time bike racer, I want to discover what I am capable of.
The British Championships was held in Keilder for the second year in a row. In 2021 I finished 6th in a stacked field made up of road and mountain bike riders, including Conor Swift who had just finished his second Tour De France and taken the West Highland Way FKT too. This year saw a similarly stacked field with some different names, including defending champion and all-round fast man Jacob Scott, 3 x former champion Ben Thomas, current British XCO Champion Cam Orr, current British Cyclocross Champion Thomas Mein and U23 World Cup Cyclocross winner Cammy Mason.
Since getting ill with what I suspect was covid at the EWS in Scotland, I've done my best to recover and focus on training for the marathon champs. I had a really consistent 6-8 weeks of training, with some marathon racing in the mix too. Coming into this race I was feeling really good.
I put a lot into the race so wanted to line up fresh and on form. I practised the 33km course the day before racing with Cammy Mason and Mark Scott. The course felt like two halves, with the first half being XC trail centre singletrack with the majority of the climbing, and the second being fast gravel roads and quite flat. I felt good on the course and had hopes of fighting it out for the medals.
Come race day I felt everything had come together well. I had a new Blur built up at Tweed Valley Bikes and I knew that my legs were good. As expected the race set off super fast and I made my efforts to ensure I was in the first group. After around 20 minutes we hit the main climb to the summit of Deadwater Fell and I felt like I had two options: the first was to hang on as long as possible and make it to the top of the climb with the front group of 6, before aiming to recover on the second half lap. The second was to ease off slightly and ride my own tempo in the hope that the leaders were riding at an unsustainable speed. I opted for the second option. After the first 30 minutes of what I expected to be a 4-and-a-half-hour race, I'd averaged 356 watts/5.3w/kg, 384 watts normalised. Needless to say, I was riding close to my best, but I wasn't able to follow the leaders.
On the second half of the first lap I got into a group of 3 with Tom Martin and Jacob Scott. I thought that this was a promising group to be in but unfortunately Tom wanted to press on harder and Jake didn't seem to be on a good day. As we neared the end of the final lap the lead group was in sight and I hoped that I'd made the right call on the early climb.
The next two laps were more of a solo TT, and it seemed that way for the majority of the field with the biggest group being 3 riders. I tried to settle into my pace and stick to my fuelling plan of 40g of carbs every 20 minutes, as well as aiming to drink around a litre of fluids every hour. I stuck to this pretty successfully, but still suffered as we entered the final lap of the race. On the final climb of Deadwater Fell I was managing cramps, but also caught and passed Tom Martin who had run out of water. I felt optimistic that I could be catching riders, and I had heard that Cammy Mason wasn't far in front. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to close him down in the end and I had to settle for 6th place for the second year running. You can check out my ride on Strava.
My feelings post-race were mixed. On the one hand, I hadn't come to the race to finish outside of the medals. However, given how well I'd been riding I know that if I deserved to be in the medals I would have been there. I didn't have any bad luck or make any mistakes, and it shows that the riders who finished ahead of me were simply better. What is positive is that looking at my data, I am making progress. I'm motivated and there are a lot of races that I want to compete in. I've been a 'pro' now for about 2 months, and I'm not going to give up without a fight. If all goes to plan this is only the beginning and I want to keep training and competing full-time for years to come. I will be lining up in 2023 to fight for the stripes of the national marathon champion.
So what's next? Well, I was meant to be lining up in the Swiss Epic this week with Mark Scott, but unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to withdraw our entry at the last minute. It looks like I'll be staying home in Glasgow for the next month and preparing for what I hope to be my second Marathon World Championships in Denmark, pending selection this month. I'll keep you posted.
'til next time,