The Back of Beyond
Let’s set the scene…
You travel away from civilisation into the slightly forgotten world of the Scottish/English Border, where the pace of life slows, roads get narrower and wind there way round to what seems like nowhere with only rolling hills and the occasional farm house settlement, wandering sheep and panicked rabbits! Eventually you reach this little place called Kielder, with a castle, pub, campsite, village shop and finally a petrol station (it’s a long way from another place to fill up!). There is now no signal of any kind, which is sometimes nice to escape all that technology, however the campsite and castle do now have WIFI, which went down well for some, I’m sure. So, it feels very much like you’re out in the sticks, but you have all the creature comforts around you to have a very enjoyable break away from your busy life, not forgetting the amount of biking there is in each direction!
What’s this race about?
The Kielder 101 has taken the baton on from the Kielder 100 (assuming why it is called 101!). It used to be a 100 mile very tough route, only the fittest survived (not me!), so to compare them the 101 is relatively ‘easy’ being a 101km route, but turned out to be 96km (better shorter than longer) unlike the 60km route that ended up being 68km or something! It is one big route from Kielder, heading over to the border no passport required (yet!) and then onto Newcastleton to hit part of the 7Stanes and then back up and over. Sounds a piece of cake right, if you think so, then give it a go!
It’s all in the preparation aka FAFFING!
I’ve been on my travels since the fun and success of Torq in Your Sleep. A couple of nights at home with a recovery road ride in the gorgeous southern sunshine. Then headed up to Manchester via Cannock Chase for a quick pedal around ‘Follow the Monkey’ as I’m still fine tuning and getting used to the Specialized Epic. It was then on for a night in Manchester, to collect my brothers bits and bobs who I roped in to do the race with me (didn’t take much encouragement to be honest!). It was then onto Yorkshire to catch up with some friends before carrying onto Newcastleton.
It was a bit strange to be back up in the Borders as I used to work at Rock UK Whithaugh Park, which is a great outdoor adventure centre. Although there has been a lot of developments it felt like stepping back in time!
I knew that there was some exciting new additions at the centre regarding the mountain biking so on the morning before the race, I went out to check it out, remembering not to go too fast and use too much energy! Even the route up had changed since the installation of a new bridge across the river that led you up to the centre. Scooting round the edge of the centre there was another new section of dual trail track that gently flows round the hillside to avoid a nasty steep and loose climb to get to the all new and very cool skills course.
This has a nice climb, easy or technical to the top then you have the choice of 4 trails each great in there own right. A duals slalom to race your mate, a flow blue, a technically rocky red and another red rock drop trail, something for everyone. Once you’ve had a play you then head out on a new single track trail through the larch, nice and steady up and out to the blue or red 7Stanes trail. Then on the way back in you are treated to another lovely flowing section of blue trail taking you back to the centre. A great addition and hope there is more to come.
It was then time to head over to Kielder to book into the campsite, single handily put up a tent in the wind (that was interesting) but before the rain set in, signed on and collected my number (080) before travelling back to Carlisle to pick up my brother then make the hour journey back over after grabbing a quick bite to eat. It was then time to get my bro signed on, make sure we had all the compulsory kit bits we needed and get the drop bags sorted, never done a bag drop before, so kind of made it up and shoved some sweets, gels and a bit or Torq energy powder in. A quick brew and then time to get some kip, though nervous anticipation and an annoying daddy longlegs left me with broken sleep, waking up every few hours thinking it was time to get up!
It’s a bit early!
The races I’m used to start at very civilised times around 10 or 12, so having to be at the start for 7:45aam was a bit of a shock to the system. It means that breakfast is not enjoyed, but endured as I don’t feel like downing porridge at 6:30am, but needs must. A deliberation of whether to wear a bag or not was easily sorted by the amount of compulsory kit we had to take as well as the rain that was starting to settle in, doh! A short pedal over to the start to catch the briefing, then with the race soon to go and the rain looking like it was staying, I deliberated with whether to ride in a coat or not. After a few comments from that funny bloke at Cyclewise (Rich) I left it off hoping I wouldn’t regret it, which turned out to be the right move. In terms of what time I believed I could get round the course was anything under 7 hours, I could only gauge on the MTB Marathons and Wantage 100km, but that had half the amount of climbing and I did that in 5 hours 30 and that wasn’t a race as such, so I would assume I would take a fair bit longer, but not knowing the route fully or the condition of the course it was a bit of the unknown.
The race is on
There was a steady lead out for a good few kilometres, before we got led off onto the maze of forest tracks winding our way to a section of the blue trail. There was over 150 riders out there, so the pace up the trail was fairly steady and quite cautious on the first descent as we just hoped the person in front doesn’t stop! This was a good time to warm up and settle in for the long haul. The route gets a bit blurry from then, but I know after a bit more of a blast on a couple of fire roads it was the 25km mark and feed station. Due to the fairly cool temperature I had only had a quick swig of drink since the start, so decided not to stop, just dibbed and carried on.
It was time to head onto one of the red trails at Kielder which is pretty rough and rocky on the way up and down, but the Epic happily ploughed through. It’s all quite narrow on the tracks and I struggled to get any kind of flow. I am a little less gung-ho on the Specialized Epic compared to my Cannondale Habit, but that’s just me taking a while to get used to the new steed, it really comes into it’s own particularly on the climbs and the flats, just tracking the ground with ease. The trail takes you through the woodland and spits you out onto more rocky, energy sapping single track through the barren and exposed land. It felt relentless just pushing through the rough rocks and then I remembered it carried on going, but upwards. A rocky switchback climb that led you onto a long and sketchy section of boardwalk.
When it’s dry, I’m sure it’s easy, but in the wet with no grip tape down it’s all about being sensible not stupid. I only had a near miss when one wheel just caught one of the gaps, but thankfully I got it out before I wiped out. I was happy to get off the boardwalks as memories of my sister in law having a bad crash, being KO’d for a few moments and having to be rescued out. Thankfully nothing like that happened to me, but more rough rocky trails were still to come. I was riding with 2 guys who were pedalling at a similar pace, so kept with them for a while before I decided to overtake when the track opened up at the split for the shorter or push on for the long route.
We just passed the border and it was then mostly down hill onto pretty fast forest tracks until you hit Newcastleton bar a little bog to get through. This was quite a nice break from the pedalling and got you ready for the trails to come. It was just a very familiar section of the blue that I used to take groups through when I was instructing. A short climb followed by a short but sweet descent before the slog up Priest Hill, which I know way too well. It wasn’t as boggy at the top as I thought, but a little slippy before entering Rock UK Centre. It was all good as the feed station was at the top of the hill by the zip wire and new skills course, 48km done, half way home!
Let’s hit those trails
It was onto familiar trails, apart from one cheeky climb I forgot that took the wind out of my sail. It was put in for 12/24 hours of Exposure and it was steep and sharp then, it was still steep and sharp now with the addition of more slippy mud to make you work a little harder. Once that was out of the way it was time to head to the first section of the red trail, which is a mix of short climbs and descents on single track. I was however a little concerned that we were doing the full red trail as we climbed up the forest track, continued to follow the red into the short descent over the bridge and up sharply the other side. The red then continues to climb upwards as we thankfully continued along the forest track to rejoin the cross border trail (this is a way mark trail which is I think about 35 miles). Having only ridden this once, I couldn’t remember what it was like, but I was pleasantly surprised that after the steady climb on the scottish side and a little more on a single track over the border it was onto some fast forest roads to make our way back into the Kielder forest and trials. The trail looped pleasantly and quickly to a section of red close to the lakes onto the neutral section of trail (not too sure what that meant) but I continued on and before we knew it we were back at feed station 3 (same place as Feed Station 1) and knew the end was now in sight!
Not far now
It’s always a head game for me and knowing that the end is drawing closer works wonders for my morale and even gives me a strange boost of energy or that may have been the few sweets and flapjack I grabbed at the feed station, but we were on our way. I didn’t know what else was to come apart from seeing a road crossing sign as we entered Kielder. To get there however they put in a few off piste sections to keep you on your toes over grass, off camber roots and mud, oh and a river crossing with short hike a bike section up the other side, such fun! I was squirrelling around a bit on the grass, but I had company of a Rob on his very pretty Salsa fat bike who was in his element over this stuff!
After a couple more climbs and puddle filled descents, one deeper than anticipated we reached the road to be told to take the first left and continue to climb up. Just what you want to hear after 80km! My legs were feeling the burn a little, but not before long it turned onto another red trail (told you there was a bunch of trails) and this was really fun. I may have enjoyed the trail with a bit more energy, but it wasn’t so bad. It had a climb called ‘the 3 dogs’, not sure why the name, but it climbed, turned, climbed, turned, climbed etc until it finally got to the top. I was working out that we ha just over 10km to hit the 101km initially stated. I was to be pleasantly surprised when hitting the last section of descent, one of the marshals shouted out, only 4km to go! Well that spurred us on and it was pretty much all heading down now, SWEEET!
The end is in sight
I was expecting us to drop onto the road we went out on, instead I think special permission was to head down a footpath trail. It had a couple of set of steps, which definitely woke me up, there could have been an OTB (over the bars) moment there very easily, but nailed it, no problem! A last little blast on a forest track, spotting the campsite on the right, so knew the end was around the corner. It came sooner than expected though, with guys standing in our track shouting ‘well done, you’ve done it, it’s finished!’ I was totally bemused and said, ‘but where are we?’. It seemed quite a random finish, but I think it was so no one was racing to the castle across the roads, safety first see!
This is the worst bit of mountain biking, the clean up, no pictures as I couldn’t get to my phone without mud getting everywhere! I pedalled over to the Castle to hand in my dibber and wander around like every one else, wet, muddy, getting cold and a little bit lost of what to do next! I got handed a ticket for some free warm food, so like a sheep I followed others to get some grub. Next it was time to get clean, priorities first is to get the bike clean whilst I’m still dirty. Then the peeling of muddy layers off me to step into a hot shower then dumping it all and forgetting that it’s there at all!
All things dumped in a smelly pile, I was told the podium was gonna happen pretty soon. I should learn that ‘pretty soon’ meant it would happen at some point in the next hour. I hadn’t really planned for getting on the podium, so had my classy wellies on (camping glam!). It was only until they called out my name did I know that I got 2nd on the podium, wood woop!
It was done, just like that! I did it in a time of 6 hours 13, I was pretty happy, not really putting a target time to the ride it in (maybe I should have). This put me in 44th out of the 150 plus riders in the field and turned out to be 1st in the open female! However, as there was only one Elite rider (Helen Jackson) we were grouped together, so came away with the 2nd place in Elite women (makes me sound like a pro or something!). Just checking out the times Helen in first did it in 5 hours 53 and well I was only down my 20 minutes! I didn’t appreciate I was that close to her and if I was at the front on the start line, if I had faffed less at the feed stations and pedalled faster on the fire roads, maybe just maybe I could have challenged her, but hey I am super chuffed with my performance. It’s always easy in hindsight, maybe too many if’s, but definitely possible! Here’s my Strava of the event if you fancy having a nose! Kielder 101 Strava
After the podium it’s the other rubbish part of getting the tent down, have a brew, getting eaten alive by the ever increasing amount of midges, ahh, still itching now! Oh and a posse of ducks rocked up for some food, they were very friendly and were funny as they snuffled very loudly in the puddles with there beaks for scraps, so cute!
It was then only a few minutes for the raffle, got to be there to even have a chance, it was worth it to as I won the £80 gift voucher for Cyclewise, who supported the event along with Genesis, Vittoria, Chia Charge and Rock UK. It was also amusing that Rob who won the fat bike category won the fat bike in the raffle, love it!
You know you want to!
If you are considering doing this one I would say, do it. Take a few days and enjoy what the border lands have to offer. It’s a tough, but great race in a fab area whether your you ride with someone or on your tod, you’ll meet great people and have a top day! The only tip I’d give you is stock up on midge repellant, nets or Avon skin so soft, to stop those delightful little critters from pestering you too much. To be fair they weren’t too bad this time, not the swarms I have previously experienced! Apart from that this is a well organised, very friendly and fun event to try, so look out for the date for next year, it should be sunny as we had the rain this year, that’s how it works right?
Onto the next adventure…another MTB Marathon, only a 40km night ride on Saturday and a 75km ride on the Sunday up in Ruthin. I just can’t resist going back, they are such fun!
Keep Biking everyone, drink tea and have a cheeky slice of cake!