by Daniel Clarke
7k Trail Run / 24k Mountain Bike / 6k Trail Run
After a some 3-hour recce of the race route, in what has now come to be a traditional pre-race day event, taking in over 30km of single track forest trails and fire-roads, and riding into the dark; Rick, Nick and I headed out on the 30 mins drive / 15 mile drive (from Kielder Castle to Bellingham) to our accommodation at the Demesne Bunkhouse to settle for the night. Picking up the mantle from Rob at Whinlatter where he only managed to fall off once, Rick managed to fell off three times, including once straight over the handle bars; bruising his thenar eminence / flexor pollicisbrevis (thanks Dr. Nick!), or to you and I, the ball of his thumb, popping his brake lever and his knee (well, not exactly, rather a bruise), but came through relatively unscathed and fit for race day.
With plenty of wood from the cow shed and the fire blazing, we tucked into Rick’s culinary pasta delight before heading to The Cheviot Hotel for a ceremonial Black Sheep. We discussed the recce and talked tactics. Nick ate his salted crisps in his war against terror of cramps and Rick licked his wounds. I gulped my ‘Sheep’.
Going into this race I did not know what to think. I came 5th in the Whinlatter, first race in the series, when I was hoping to come in the top 40 and so I set my goal to simply try and come in the top 10 again. I did not know half as much about the course at Kielder, because unlike Whinlatter, which I had ridden twice already and recced the day before the race itself; Kielder was new territory and with half the recce done in the dark, I was not sure what to expect. One thing we did know, however, is that it was going to be very fast, much faster rolling and far less technical than Whinlatter. We came across two forest rangers as we neared the end of the recce who told us that his neighbour was racing and he can do the route in 55 mins. With this in mind, I said to myself that I would be happy with anything under 1h05. The ranger pointed us to the only technical part of the route – a sharp left off the forest road and straight down between the trees, off piste, through soft, squidgy mud. This is where Rick did his third face-plant, which was very out of character. Probably because he only had one brake and no feel in both his hand, and his knee. I skidded all the way down and committed the lines to memory for race day- no way was I getting off to walk this section because I knew that the guys coming in first, second and third wouldn’t be walking down it…
After Nick’s magic work with the porridge and bagels, we packed our stuff and set out on the 30 mins drive back to Kielder Castle, the race HQ. Half way there, with Rick’s funky tunes pumping, the sleet arrived. We knew we were in for some fun and games.
We registered and racked our bikes. Before the race even started we knew it was going to be a mud bath…
The race (Rank: 2nd). Time: 2h02.14. Winning time: 2h00.21secs. Field: 96. DNFs: 5.)
I nestled in, just behind the front runners on the start line for warmth and a position. I did not know who was racing. I thought loads would have come down from Scotland and I had heard rumours that athletes from Team Buff might have turned up; so I did not want to be the numpty starting off at the front, getting in peoples’ way.
I settled in to a comfortable 4min/km pace and noticed I was already sitting in 7th. With the confidence of Conwy (where I’d averaged 3:51min/km pace) and a good time under my belt, I knew I could go faster. “Hold it”, I thought, “and save it for Run2”…
It was relatively flat and unspectacular compared to Whinlatter (203m height gain / 390m max elevation). I picked off a couple of runners up the steady climb and overtook the one more athlete I’d set my sights on before accepting my lot for the first leg of the race.
I overtook him just before the start of the descent of the open fellside at about 4km. The 2k or so was all downhill, back to the start for T1. I opened up, feeling at home, running down the fellside. However, I was not wearing my Inov8 330s. I was slipping all over the place in my 310s so I tried for the rockier sections where the horizontal bars on the soles of my shoes would give me some grip.
Then I lost my bloody shoe. Doh! In pursuit of faster transition times, I had put tri laces in my shoes for Whinlatter. It worked for me there, but then again, there wasn’t any bogs, 30cm or so, to contend with. The laces were simply too loose for this fell running jazz. With my weight carrying me forward and the speed of the descent, I had to stop and turn round, to climb about 3 or 4m back to where my show had come off. Thankfully, I had no trouble finding it, but just as I was slipping it back on to my foot and ankle now covered in mud, trying to keep my balance, the last guy I had taken came hurtling past me. Despite my efforts, I could not catch him to regain my place before transition. I came into transition, covering the 6.86km’s (distance on Garmin) in 4th place, in a time of 32:23minutes.
My transition was textbook. In and out in 42 seconds.
Heading straight uphill out of transition I donned my MTB gloves I had Velcro fastened to my handlebars. Before the race had even began, a well-built, muscle man, wearing yellow Mavic race shoes, came cruising past me. I thought he was going so fast, there would be plenty of opportunity to catch him later in the race. I was mistaken. While I took a couple of riders later on, and at times, riders seemed to be catching me, he remained in sight throughout the rest of the race, unrelenting and looking strong.
At the top of the tarmac starts the fast, sweeping single-track. Exhilarating and dangerous if you come off the trail; venture three centimetres off the track and you are in the soft mud, flirting with ruin. I flirted on one bend within the first few minutes of the ride, which was my warning to let the Mavic-man go.
The single-track spat us out on to very rideable road / fire-track. I got into gear for the most aerodynamic ride on a MTB I have ever had. The wind was blowing hard and cold in my face, I tucked my arms into my chest, wrists on the bars, and pictured myself riding into the wind on my Planet X in the Liverpool Tri, heading for the Echo building. It was at this point where I took several riders who must have been in the relay race, profiting from the quick T1 times, as they did not have to change into MTB shoes.
When we got to a crazy turn off, directly up through the trees on what must have been a 25-30% gradient, since none of us could make it up in the dark during the recce, I knew it was time to get off and run. Half way up I could see two or three riders, chasing down Mavic-man. Some seemed to be walking so I got my plod. It was tiring on the arms, pushing the bike and near the top I could start to feel the burn. I eased off so I could save some for the ride when we get back on the forest road.
When I found my rhythm again, I managed to overtake a Carlisle Tri rider on his full susser. The added weight, I thought, is something he could have done without. Mavic-man was back in sight. I clocked where he was as he went out of sight, around a corner, and I noted where I was relative to him. When I got to where he went out of sight I turned around to see where Carlisle on the full susser was. Out of sight. I knew from this point on that it would be harder for Carlisle to catch me than it would be for me to catch Mavic-man, providing I could find some speed and Carlisle goes at the same speed, and Mavic man maintains his speed or slows down. While I tried to push harder, Mavic was stronger than I. I could not gain on him.
The steep off-piste section was electrifying. Getting thrown about by the roots, skidding all the way down and getting the front wheel sucked up by the mud made staying on the bike a challenge. I took one corner slightly too fast after easing off the brake and had to foot-down, but apart from that, the recce the day before, once again proved to be invaluable.
After one more loop and fast forest roads we headed downhill once again for the final descent and short climb to the castle for T2. With 227m height gain (363m max elevation) and over two climbs (one at 8km and another at 17km), I came in off the bike in 3rd place, covering the 20.6km’s in 1 hour 3 minutes.
Coming into T2 I counted two runners heading out. I could not believe it. What was I doing in third place? I noticed the chap I managed to overtake just a couple of hundred meters before the finish at Whinlatter to claim 6th place overall, heading out in second place. This filled me with confidence as I thought I might eventually be able to catch him (this wasn’t to happen though. It was only at the end of the race that I learnt he went on to take first place in the run, posting an impressive victory with Mavic-man in a relay effort. Chapeau to these guys who just missed the 2hour mark!)
The tips of my fingers were numb though. So T2 was not as textbook as T1. I’d loosened my shoes before I got off the bike, and slipped them off, one at a time, no problem. Getting my Inov8310s back on, however, was a problem. I had no feeling whatsoever. Taking my helmet off wasn’t easy either. I could not find the clasp, never mind squeeze it open. It seemed to take for ages to remove it. And as I saw riders coming in it took everything to keep my calm. The fear hit me that I was going to lose several places because I couldn’t get my helmet off. How embarrassing that would be?! Finally, after whipping off my long-sleeve jersey, Buff, gloves and my transparent glasses, I made it onto Run 2 after clocking a frustrating 1 minute 21 seconds in transition.
With the fear I had wind in my sails. I looked down at my Garmin to record a happy 3:40min/km pace. Sweet! I was cruising along the old railway line, heading to the reservoir at Otterspool promenade-pace. That pace dropped a bit through the pools of muddy, cold water, but I managed to keep the tempo over these first few flat kilometres. A quick look behind confirmed that my effort had paid off. Nobody.
Then came an energy sapping, short, sharp climb of about 15metres up to a road, followed by another climb into the forest. I lost my footing just before the road and find myself on my arse yet again. Falls, I think, are a sign of stupidity or pushing yourself. This was the latter. My thighs were burning and my pace dropped right back. I sucked it up and climbed, knowing that the pressure was on those behind to catch me, just as much as I was putting it on myself to catch the two in front. The forest track was traded for sweeping path through the woods. Roots made for careful footing and then I found my speed again. A sharp turn with a short climb over a bridge and I was greeted by the happiest, most smiley photographer in the world: “Well done Mersey Tri!!!”
It’s not over until the proverbial fat-lady sings, I thought to myself. The fat-lady haunting me, I mumble “how far”? Half a mile she replied. Right, three minutes work left, here we go….. With a big open field, a short hill and the castle in sight, I gave it everything. I did not catch the second runner but I gave it my best shot, getting faster as I neared the finish line. I crossed the line in 24:33 minutes and stopped dead. With my hands on my knees, I panted like I have never panted before. I ran alone for all of the 5.8km (Garmin distance) run. With only 80m height gain (260 max elevation), it was considerably easier than Run 1. The section next to Bakethin Reservoir was my favourite part of Run 1; andthe short sections off pistetogether with the open fellside (where I lost my shoe) in Run 1 were even better.
Having surpassed all expectations I had of myself, I am looking forward to see what I can do at Grizedale in March 2012. Somebody told me that Team GB MTB squad turned up to one of the duathlons they did at Grizedale some years back, so who knows what kind of athlete I will be up against next time… All I do know is that I am loving off-road duathlon right now!
They say you perform best when you are happiest. Or, so I do. Whinlatter was my birthday weekend, and Kielder was another weekend with two very adventurous, brave, skilled / knowledgeable athletes, and good friends, Rick and Nick. It just so happened that I did not have to do any driving and Rick did all the cooking. I will take all credit for finding an excellent place to stay (though sorry for the cold shower Rick – hurry up in the shower next time Nick!), that said, Kielder makes for happy memories, it is by far my best result I have ever posted (in terms of ranking); I am indebted to the camaraderie, encouragement and friendship I find in team Mersey Tri off-road.
Oh! And next time, I hope transition is muddier than this…
Rick did a great job of getting us there and back safely, driving through the snow on the way home. Just as we were leaving Kielder, the snow came down quite heavily and covered the hills in a white blanket. I had to take this photo so Rick could show is wife because he knew she wouldn’t believe him. I knew exactly what he was talking about because when we got back to Liverpool, yes it was wet and windy, but nothing like it was up there!
KIELDER DUATHLON RESULTS
|1||Pluckrose Michael||MV40||Carlisle Tri Club||2.00.21|
|2||Clarke Daniel||M||Mersey Tri||2.02.14|
|3||Ryan Mark||M||Carlisle Tri Club||2.04.28|
|4||Bousfield John||M||Arragons Tri.||2.05.48|
|8||Milligan David||M||Carlisle Tri Club||2.15.30|