This report has been published on Trail Scotland
As I approached Keswick on the A66 I could see that overnight snow had painted the slopes of Blencathra and Grassmoor white almost to the roadside, a sad lack of parking areas consigning this sight I have never before seen to memory.
A consideration of cycling from lodgings to the race HQ was investigated and ruled out, my cars engine revving heavily up the Whinlatter Pass from Brainthwaite making this decision easy.
I’ve never before ridden in Whinlatter, I asked some mates about it and they wern’t very forthcoming on the technical levels, or the climbing, but I asked some more people and got this piece of gen from perpetual 10 Under the Ben winner Radoggair:
“Basically its, climb for a really long time, descend for a long time, climb for an indecent amount of time, descend for a long time and repeat 3 more times. It really is a hard season opener.”
So it’s going to hurt then...
I watched the Elite race set off at a frightening pace and then shuffled forwards with "400" others to take the start.
I set off at a decent pace, passing many other riders on the climb, the words “indecent climb, don’t go too hard” resonated in my mind as my nose blocked up almost as quickly as my legs, 3Km with an average gradient of 6% later and I ran out of grip on a rock, blocks of lead now being asked to run up a steep slope of loose slate rock pushing a bike, I look back as I remount pleased to see I’m not the only one. A muddy descent shortly followed, bike surfing on a wave of mud, I wuss out of the steeper line here only to discover a mud drop off mid corner, nice...
A fast rocky fire road led onto a muddy fire road, two thin mud ruts in grass, slowly getting muddier, before returning to a mud surf and then a steep slatey climb, another rider pulls alongside “Oh Fuck Sake, oh you’re fucking joking”, I presume he saw the climb... Again my back wheel spins out on a rock, the riders behind also brought to a sudden halt, some more walking, at least this time it’s only my calves that feel like lead.
Eventually a sharp descent on the fire road was followed to a section of slatey single track snaking down the hill side, nothing too technical, the main problem for me being lack of rear end grip again... (why did I put the rear tyre at 40psi?), as I smiled for the camera on a corner a metallic burgundy full sus cuts the corner, next lap I check the corner for a line, there wasn’t one; further down the single track the rider of the same bike directly in front of me sounds frustrated at the “fat bastard ahead” as we bottleneck through a rooty section cut into the side of a banking, a 40cm wide trail, with a 3m plunge on one side and slippy roots to get over.
He obviously made up some time, somewhere ahead as I reached the floor of the race track there he is f’ing and blinding at his bike, I restrict myself to chuckling as I pass and as the track snaked back up again I see him below, 20 bikes back, but he never passed me...
I bypass the feed station on this lap, the 16000 Jelly Babies should last I think...
I slog on, up another hill, eventually I reach the last hill, another indecently steep section, more traction problems. Some banter with the marshall at the top, apparently “it’s easier 2nd time”, “What about the 3rd?”, another mud surf takes me to the end of the lap.
More advice from Radoggair: “for the quick guys on a dryish course, 2.15 mins of pain and torture. For most fast guys 2 3/4 hrs of pain of torture, for good paced guys, 3 1/4 hrs of pain and torture, for trail centre heroes on too much bike, 4 hrs of pain and torture.“
1hr 20mins of pain and torture, I’m looking at 4 hours if I keep this pace, I can’t.
I take it slightly easier this time, I know how long it is, as my back wheel spins out on a rock again, 2 riders stand resting, one in tears of pain, presumably cramp, my mind flashes back to 10 Under the Ben in 2012, riders dotted around the course hunched on their bars praying to the god of cramp, begging for forgiveness. Back to the mud surf, at least this time I know of the mud drop off... It’s bigger this time...
The field is looking sparser or just plain more spread out, the descents seem shorter, the climbs longer, I get a chance to relish the views of Bassenthwaite Lake and snowtoped Skiddaw, a photographer exclaims that I’m smilling, it’s a grimace!
The jelly baby table presents itself, I’ve been picking my way through some of the field in the lower forest winding up on dry single track trail, normally the bermy jumpy section of trail would be a welcome bit of fun in an event like this, but it’s rough as hell, so rough that there’s even a drop off right on line in one of the bigger faster berms, I reach the jelly baby table and this time I stop, 3 jelly babies and a cup of coke it’s not much but it’ll do I don’t feel like biscuits, I can get more on the last lap.
A short hail storm adds to the misery on one of the last climbs, I have a short laugh with another rider before he disappears into the distance.
Another 1hr and 24 mins of pain and torture completed, It’s 2hrs 45mins in and the winner had completed their 3 laps 10 minutes ago, I’m asked if I’m done, but no I’m not, there’s more to take before I’m done.
More climb, more views, I carry on, as I reach the bottom I can feel my back complaining about the climbing, note to self you need to do core exercises...
I catch another rider on a Rocky Mountain, I chat to him for a bit, he’s really an enduro rider, his thunderbolt a week old and set for the Trans-Provence a week long Enduro in (strangely enough) Provence that sells out in less than a second every year before I carry on.
My backs aching now, I get a short rest at the water and crisps table, all 16000 Jelly Babies are gone, eventually I reach that last climb, I don’t even bother to try and ride it. As I surf through the mud a faster rider passes me and beats me to the line, like I care.
1hr and 31 mins of pain and torture, no more pain and torture, a total time of 4hrs 16mins 52 sec, and according to my print out I’m not last! 166/167 finishers so far.
I ride my block of mud to the car and start trying to extricate a bike from it with some success using my pressurised plant watering bottle.
Others; less grippit feed a pound to the bike wash machine and wheel gleaming bikes back to their vans.
A Cumberland sausage baguette and cake sort me out and I head back to the timing screen, in the time it’s taken me to wash bike, self and eat there are now 200 finishers of the full enduro, the entry list showed 400 and I’m listed as 184th.
Snow falls as I wander back to the car and head to my lodgings for a shower and recovery.
A look at the published results shows a different situation, 165th out of 234 finishers of the 3 lap race, with 53 abandoning at the end of lap 2 (or somewhere in lap 3).
Quote... Radoggair... “I'll do it again but it really is tough going”
Quote... NoBeerInTheFridge... “Anyone who hits the M6 to go to the lakes, and rides a trail centre should be lined up in front of the firing squad and shot “
As I crossed that line it felt different to the end of other events, at the end of 10 Under the Ben and Strathpuffer it’s felt great, this time, I just felt knackered.
I think I agree with NoBeer...