The Montane Kielder 100 has an odd place on my calender. Although I don’t do a huge amount of ‘season planning’ as it were, the Kielder 100 does fall towards the end of my Northern season. In 2009, I only heard about it from Ben Spurrier (aka the ‘Cross Boss – to me anyway), who had considered entering. Anyone who knows Ben will hopefully have picked themselves up off the ground from shock or laughter to carry on reading. A talented cyclist, Ben is a ‘Cross and Crit specialist. And he still maintains it took two years for him to regain his speed after doing a 24hr Solo event. But I looked the event up. I’d done one 100 miler before, and liked it. I was about to head to Europe for a stage race and some marathons – so why not? I entered, book accommodation and transport and flew to Europe. After that harsh 6 weeks, 2009 was a good race where I could do a little bit more than just hold on for grim death. 2010 came around with clear weather, and a big field. The pace was fast and it hurt. I wasn’t sure if I would come again. Kielder is a long way from everywhere, and it’s tough to do a 100miler when you’re thinking about going home. Especially off the back of two other ultra-marathons.
But I hooked up the same race schedule for 2011 anyway. Grand Raid, NP Bike Marathon, then the Kielder. It’s a solid fortnight. After the mental and physical carnage of the NP Bike Marathon, my enthusiasm was waning. Cake and couch had been high on my agenda all week, which doesn’t do a marathon racer too many favours.
Would I still go? It was touch and go. It really seemed like I lacked the mental will to nail myself for well over 8 hours. But things change, so I rapidly made plans to make sure I was there. We all have some things we’re a bit obsessive-compulsive about. For me, it’s being late, and knowing where I’m sleeping. I was really grateful for an assortment of friends helping out with transport, tents, sleeping bags, mats, crockery, dinner… but finding people in Kielder is hard. There’s no phone reception, and when anti-midge face nets go on, recognition is very difficult. Gratefully I bumped into Andy Fellows, and used a spare bed in the large caravan he had for the night. Rain is loud in caravans.
Come 5am and Andy and I were playing the ‘what to wear’ game. Jacket or gilet? Booties? Goretex shorts? We each settled on a combination that we thought would suit 8-9 hours in rain and wind, and headed to the start.
I thought the course would pretty much be the same, so I was surprised by the slightly modified start route. Instead of going hard and fast up a climb once the flag dropped, we started a couple of miles in, on false flat. So I’m not sure if it was this, or stronger riders that kept more people together for longer. My head was swinging between staying in, and doing what I could to help a couple of mates in the front group.
Constant grit, mud and water take their toll on bikes. Somehow I started with a slightly contaminated front brake from the trip up. The bike service crew weren’t about to let me use a quick blast of brake cleaner – new pads were a better sale item. I figured they would burn off early on. Bad choice. My front brake never really did much, so over using the back chewed those pads out pretty quick.
Our group of 10 or so kept on pushing hard. And to be honest, drilling it with a few of the other guys and being covered in grit was a perverse kind of fun. There was no sitting up in the group, but no attacks. After a soft heather and bracken climb, we came to a short grassy downhill. I followed Andy Fellows into it, and went to cover the brakes. Nothing. They’ll dry off and grip. Or not. I was about to ride into Andy so I elected to bin it in the soft grass. Everyone rode past. I got back on, and aiming to check my speed before the ditch at the bottom, still no brakes. In the grass again. This was sub-optimal.
Realistically, by now I had figured 40 miles would be a good point to race to. Liam O’Dea had bet me $5 I would DNF, but I figured that was an acceptable loss. Having minimal braking ability at about 1.5hrs in wasn’t expected. I had spare pads, but chaning them and chasing on? That was unlikely to happen. I kept tapping along, and rode briefly with Mark Spratt and Ant White. The head and heart were gone, and I rode back to Kielder Castle.
So began the cleaning, and grit was everywhere. It’s a very abrasive paste in wet conditions, and it would wreak havoc with the entire field. After a good shower came the waiting. There were plenty of DNF’s. A lot of us had a chat, talked about what we had hoped for, what scuppered our chances. As the day wore on, racers were coming back in big waves. Some had hit cut offs, others had mechanical issues. Some had just had enough.
Seeing Ben Thomas roll over the line as a deserving winner, I was really stoked. Ben is young, fast, and a good bloke. He was super strong (obviously) for the part of the race I was present for. And by the sounds of it, that didn’t change. All the finishers had the requisite distant stares. It was an epic day, and anyone who took the start deserves credit. Attempting 10o miles in testing conditions is a huge effort.
Next year? Probably not. Not because of the event, but because of the choice of events on offer around the world. I said that last year, but maybe 2012 will be the year for some planning?