Sport can produce the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The lows of losing a competition, getting an injury or experiencing some other bad luck can crush your dreams in one small moment. We live for the highs, they can be few and far between but they are worth the wait, in an instant you forget the hardship you’ve been through to get there.
In 2013 I went off course at National Marathon Championships whilst in the lead. In 2014 I was so fired up I overcooked it blowing up spectacularly. In 2015 the stars finally aligned and I won the National title and the opportunity to wear the red white and blue champion’s stripes for the year. This past weekend it was time to defend that title.
The Championship was taking place at a new location after several years in Selkirk, Scotland. Llandovery in Wales had successfully won the chance to host the event. The 96km event would take place over 2 laps around some very rough and demanding trails. There was 3000 meters of ascent over the distance, there was very little flat, you were either climbing 5 minute long ascents or descending rocky slippery tracks.
I was so motivated and focused in 2015 to win the National title and after a year wearing the stripes there was no way in my mind that I was losing the jersey. Riding in the jersey has given me so much confidence whether it’s in training or at a race. Everyone recognises you as the champion of Great Britain, it’s a fantastic feeling. My training this year has been great but in the last block of training before this weekend my focus was incredible. I used that focus to my benefit in training, then took it into my race warm up, onto the start line and out onto the race circuit as we left Llandovery behind.
There were some strong competitors on the start line. Tom Bell had the most marathon experience and did worry me. Phil Pearce is a very talented cross country world cup rider and would love the descents but would he last the distance? Paul Oldham had been riding some marathon events this year, he would love the mud and knows what it takes to win a National title having done so numerous times before. Giles Drake previous bronze medallist for Marathon Champs was also there. Plus many others all lined up to take my jersey.
Early on in the race I sat mid pack watching, listening, accessing the situation and saving energy. This course was tough and I expected attrition to shred riders from the pack. I doubted the race would be won by people attacking away. I almost lost it early on, crashing over the bars on one of the first descents. I had to chase back on wasting energy. After that I tried to lead on the descents so I could see the lines ahead rather that following someone’s wheel. A large lead group had established a gap but by the first feed at 37km we were down to 5 or 6 people. Paul and Phil got a gap toward the end of the first lap after making a break on one of the descents, this was a danger, it took some work but I bridged across.
I sat back on the wheels of Paul and Phil. Phil had expended some energy trying to stay away and was now paying for it, head bobbing, shoulder swaying. He was soon off the back suffering the dreaded bonk. Giles made a strong comeback to reach Paul and me but then seemed to be making mistakes on the descents, letting gaps open and having to chase back again. Into the last feed zone the 3 of us together, 7km’s to go. I felt good, nutrition strategy bang on thanks to my support team.
I felt it was too hard a circuit to make a break, you’d just go over the limit and crash on one of the very slippery muddy descents. Summer still hasn’t arrived in Wales, the trails were like rivers. I had to wait for the others to make a mistake or I’d make a move on the last climb. Into the last descent, Paul led, then me, then Giles. I couldn’t make a mistake, just follow the wheel, don’t mess this up. Giles is off the back, only a few meters behind though as we enter the last grass climb. Two thirds of the way up the climb I try to pounce making my move to the left of Paul but off the racing line the grass is too thick to overtake. Giles is a few meters further behind, he won’t make it back. I slot behind Paul again.
Onto the muddy track through the deep puddles and onto the farm road to the finish arch. We slow down, Paul tries to get me to lead it out. That confidence is still with me, there’s no way I’m losing this, I’ve worked so hard for this. SPRINT!
I punch the air. The emotions pour out. I’ve won. The National Champion in 2015 and now 2016. I cannot wait to see my support crew Adam and John, we are National Champions once again. Thank you to these guys, the sponsors and everyone else who support me through the hard time and the good times.