I often say that ‘I don’t get older, I get better’.
I say this because I believe that as I age I learn how to live a better life. When I was younger I was clueless. I still sort of am, I guess, but I’m better than I was. And when it comes to riding a bike, which is my greatest passion and a significant part of who I am, I think I am actually the best I’ve ever been.
Last Tuesday was my 36th birthday and for the first time I questioned this mantra. It hit me in a moment and I thought to myself ‘f@$k, I’m getting old’. I’m aware that this is a typical feeling, and that it comes to people of all ages. Sometimes more than once. However, it was the first time that I became aware of my physical fitness, and that I won’t have it forever.
To give some background, I’m a mountain biker. I got into the sport in the year 2000, not long after my older brother David began to establish himself as one of the best young mountain bikers in Scotland. I followed him, and in the years to come I began to establish myself in the sport too. I decided that this is what I wanted to do. Through pursuing mountain biking as a career, I’ve been an amateur racer, an aspiring pro, a World Cup racer, a coach, a commentator, and I even spent a brief stint as a photographer and journalist. Last year I made a film.
For the last 7 years I’ve established myself primarily as a fitness coach and mountain bike instructor. Understandably, as a coach your personal fitness goals and ambition take a backseat. Instead you prioritise the needs of the riders who have placed their trust in you. They trust you to help them to be their best. However, with the enforced downtime of 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I found myself blessed with time. With this opportunity I chose to play on my bike more often. I joined my girlfriend Katie on her training rides and when she trained in the gym. I’d plan solo epics both on and off-road. It wasn’t long until I began to improve. I felt more healthy and happy, and I was going fast.
My dad recently said that I’ve had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra
Yet some would argue that I’ve never stopped racing. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. You can call this fate, or you can call it a happy coincidence, but this is actually the third time that I’ve decided to see what I’m capable of. My motivation is that I love cycling, and I feel like I can still be a better bike rider than I’ve ever been. As I embark on my 36th lap of the sun I’m still getting better as I get older. My goal is to maintain the consistency of 2020 and to continue to allocate some time to play on my bike. I want to have fun and challenge myself.
Last week wasn’t just my 36th birthday. It was also my first race on a new bike, and my first time wearing CHPT3 clothing. Tweedlove’s Glentress 7 is one of the best MTB endurance events to conquer in the UK. A prestigious 7-hour long mountain bike race held on the legendary Glentress mountain bike trails, in the Tweed Valley in Scotland. The race format is a mass start made up of solo riders, pairs and trios, all aiming to complete as many laps of the course in 7 hours or less. When I knew my new bike would arrive in time, I made the call to race solo. It would be the perfect shakedown for the new Santa Cruz Blur, and I could also put my Most Days Grand Tour bib shorts through a rugged field test.
"As I embark on my 36th lap of the sun I’m still getting better as I get older."
I won’t lie that when I saw Gary MacDonald on the start line I was shaken. Gary is a great rider and a fierce competitor, but I wasn’t expecting to see him at the race. He recently bested my West Highland Way record, which I had taken from him last summer. My mindset had to shift from doing a fun shakedown of my new bike and kit, to preparing to race for 7 hours!
The race itself was actually a lot of fun. For the first few hours Gary and I shared the work with 3-time Solo winner Greig Brown, as well as the talented young pairing Elena McGorum and Ben McMullen. We rode the technical, hilly course together until 4 hours had passed. It was at this point that Gary and I were alone together in the lead.
The covid safe format meant that riders were to be self sufficient. We were allocated a space in the pits and a box to store our nutrition, hydration and spares. Approaching 5 hours of racing I found myself in front with a 10 second gap. Gary had briefly stopped for supplies. I took the opportunity to lift the pace to see how he would respond. I pulled a 3-minute lead by the end of the lap before settling back to my pace. I was really happy that the gap continued to grow and by the end of the race I won by over 10 minutes. The cherry on the cake was that I managed to secure the overall event win too. New product field tests don’t get much better than that.
Looking forward, I have some projects in the pipeline which I’ll be able to share in the near future. I want to test myself against the best riders in Britain. I plan to line up in the HSBC UK British Cross Country National Championships in July, as well as the HSBC UK National Mountain Bike Marathon Championships in August.