Mark is a keen endurance athlete, competing in sailing, running and biking events. In April 2017 he rode from London to Paris in 24 hours and has completed the RatRace Scotland Coast 2 Coast twice. This year’s plans include a day ultra-marathon part of the SaltMarsh75 event, lots and lots of sailing. In his blog post below he details his race around The Dirty Reiver an endurance gravel bike event in the Northumbrian hills.
As well as being a mid-fleet dinghy racer I run and particularly cycle to keep fit. Late last year my friend Jonathan suggested I do the “Dirty Reiver” with him in the Keilder Forest in Northumberland (and bits of Cumbria and Scotland). This was a newish event based on a “Gravel-grinder” format popular in the US and ridden mostly on rough gravel rather than surfaced roads. There were two lengths available (130 or 200kms) both with silly amounts of climbing in the Cheviot Hills.
We opted for the 130km length and started training, often frustrated by both of our jobs and also the shocking weather of winter 2017/18. Online forums were consulted which were all about tyre choices and the necessity of using tubeless tyres and we adjusted our machines to suit. A stupidly muddy 100km practice event near home in Suffolk confirmed that these type of events were both fun (in retrospect) and that we should be able to get around the course OK before it got dark.
Last weekend dawned after a long drive up to the borders very, very cold but clear with a superb forecast for the day, freezing I listened to the pre event brief and gave the bike a final once over.
At last we were off, all 900 of us, and immediately I felt my rear tyre going down (and after all that tyre worry too!). I pumped it up and we went off again and it went down again - quickly. Identifying that the valve core was leaking I borrowed a pair of pliers from another rider who was dealing with a puncture and after effecting a fix we realised that Jonathan and i were now properly last with less than a kilometre completed.
With the bike fixed we were off properly and after about 20 minutes we were catching the back of the field, we realised we had lost around 30 minutes to the valve problem. By now the mist had gone and the sun was up, with incredible contrast bright light in the sun and dark deep shadows as we dived into forest blocks, ‘interesting’ as we were now flying along trying to make up time. Gravel roads are fast where they are flat, (rarely), but the corners were sketchy with the surface of small loose rock.
We got to the first rest stop at 60kms and just over 2½ hours in, this enabled us to top up bottles and try to ram in some calories and set off up yet another big hill towards the river crossing, a rather chilly, nearly knee deep, peaty burn that divides Northumberland from Cumbria and was followed by yet another hill that at the summit had superb views to the distant Lake District, Solway Firth and Southern Scotland. We flew down from here (and then yet more hills) to cross a bridge into Scotland and wind our way through the Land of the Thistle (and home of ActiveRoot) then up an inevitable hill back into England where nearby Captain America and a Chicken (seriously) guarded the division between the 130 and 200km routes. Opting to go with the chicken option and being abused by Captain America for our lack of superpowers we finally rolled all the way down back to the Keilder Reservoir and wound our way along the shore to the finish and beer and snacks.
I used 5½ litres of Active Root during the event and it still is something I like after consuming that amount. I didn't suffer any nausea (and I used too feel quite ill on long events) and was able to eat freely and confidently throughout.
The Dirty Reiver is a cracking event- we want to do the 200km option next year and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes the idea of spending a day in a fantastic wilderness, on a bike- a well run event.
Find my Strava track is here https://www.strava.com/activities/152273563