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The Dirty Reiver 2017 (Andrew)

The Dirty Reiver 130 (80 miles) is a gravel race along the access roads that service the vast areas of forest covering the border of Scotland and England.

A gravel race is basically an off-road race and, as such, you don’t want to use a road bike.

The clue’s in the name: Road bike for…. roads. Off-road bike for… going off the road.

It should have been obvious but, oh no, not me, I knew better. Or worse, as it turned out…

The Dirty Reiver started last year and it’s based at Keilder Castle in Northumberland, an an area of the country that I, and it turned out, the mobile network, have never been.

Keilder is home to Europe’s largest man-made lake, though why there’s a lake in the middle of Northumberland is not something that’s mentioned in any of the leaflets I checked at the castle. It’s certainly not there because it’s easy to get to because Keilder is in the middle of a large moor crossed by single track roads then large forests crossed by slow winding b-roads.

It’s beautiful but it’s the kind of beauty that demands patience – and an ability to ignore the tractor blocking the way in front of you.

We drove down on Friday and registered on Friday night, though you can register before the race too. We stayed in the town of Bellingham, which was on 30 minutes from the start, though an early start of 5:40 was needed as the race started at 7am.

Normally, bike races start early to avoid traffic – so I wasn’t sure why a race with no traffic needed to start so early. But, I also thought I could use a road bike, and I wasn’t any better at predicting timings.

“Maybe six hours?” I said to Iain.

Nowhere close.

Race day had ideal weather. Sunny-ish. Not too warm. A very light breeze and, as it had been dry all week, the trail was dusty rather than muddy.

It was cold to start but nothing that an emergency use of the Glasgow Tri Club buff couldn’t fix, after I realised that I’d forgotten to bring gloves.


Did I tell you how well prepared I was for this race…?

The race started in waves of around 20-25 bikes with a sharp drop from the castle then straight into the forest. The first couple of miles were… okayish. A steady climb. A dirt track then…


The first descent.


Another stone.


And another.


And another.

And I’d only gone one metre.

100 metres of a descent later and I feel like Godzilla has kicked me in the baws then grabbed my arms, shaken me about, and punched me in the back.

And only another 78 miles to go.

It was horrendous. Every bump, stone, rock and pepple went straight through my bike and into me. I had to pull on my brakes through any descent just to keep some control.

I was going slower downhill than I was going uphill.


And I knew then that my six hour estimate was completely wrong.

The first hour followed a pattern of grinding up a hill, with slate and pebbles sliding away beneath my wheels, to trying to go down hills as slowly as possible so as not to go over my handlebars or become an involuntary eunuch.

I hated every minute of it.

And, to make things worse, Iain was on a mountain bike and making the whole thing look easy as, every hill, he was picked up by Godzilla and given a soothing massage through the magic of suspension and fat tyres.

Not that I didn’t have the right tyres. The organisers had recommended 33 inch tyres as a minimum and that’s what I had. But I needed more than the minimum, I needed big knobbly tyres and shock absorbers. Instead I got BATTERED.

The route itself was spectacular with the scenery changing every 10 miles as you go through forest, moors, farmland, dirt track, walking trails and, thankfully, blessedly, a five mile stretch of smooth, smooth tarmac.

There’s even a river crossing.


But it was tough and my lack of a ‘granny gear’ meant every hill was a challenge and my lack of springs in my bum meant I’ll never sit down again.

After eight hours we finally got back to Keilder castle. I had to:

  • Stop once to reattach my back wheel after all the shaking shaked it loose from the frame!
  • Stop twice to stop my nose bleeding after all the shaking  shaked it loose from my brain!
  • And stop umpteen times to just stop shaking!

I’m glad I took part. I now know what it’s like to race a gravel race and to race off-road but I don’t think I’ll be signing up for another anytime soon. Not without a mountain bike – and not without a doctor’s note that I can still father children.

Oh, my poor baws!

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Tough Guy (Iain)

I’m a tough guy!

It’s true. I can prove it.

A) I’ve been in a fist fight. It was against Andrew, and we were aged five, but it still counts.

B) I’ve crashed my car and survived…It was at low speed and entirely my own fault and some people might say it wasn’t a crash, it was a poorly executed three point turn, but it still counts.

C) A man once said “Iain, you are a Tough Guy”.

First staged in 1987, the Tough Guy Challenge is held on a  farm near Wolverhampton. It has been widely described as “the toughest race in the world”, with up to one-third of the starters failing to finish in a typical year.

I did the event in 2006. Four of us came down from Scotland for it. The night before the race we stayed in a barn on the farm. The barn smelled of horses and horse shit. The hay was very comfy to sleep on but it was tricky to find a patch that a horse hadn’t used…

The race starts with a 10K run over farmland. At various points we were made to run up and down small hills. The aim is to spread the field of participants out so that there’s plenty of space once the obstacles start.

The first obstacle was bits of string hanging from a frame. Next to the frame a sign said: “Electrified!” I took one look at the string, one look at the sign and immediately ignored the warning and walked into the string. I woke up 2 seconds later. My head hurt and I wondered why I was lying in a field staring at string. The electric shock had been strong! It felt like I’d been punched by Mike Tyson. I crawled under the string.

The next obstacle was a muddy body of water. I started to go round it. A man shouted “No! In it!” I’d rather not. It looked cold and was full of mud and who know what else. I jumped in. It was disgusting. I went in as myself and emerged as Swamp Man. Why am I doing this stupid race?

After that was a net. At last, something straightforward. Oh no. I notice the flames above the net. Great. If I don’t drown then I get burnt alive. I started crawling under the net. I was now faced with a much more horrific site. The man in front of me was crawling along wearing nothing other than a g string! His big sweat mud encased arse swaying in front of my face. I hope he doesn’t stop suddenly.

The race continued in this vein for nearly three hours. I wish I could say I enjoyed it but I struggled to see the point in it. I finished first amongst my friends and when I did so I heard a man say “Iain, you are a tough guy!”

But I wasn’t the toughest guy. My mate collapsed half way round. He was brought round in the ambulance. They asked him how he felt. He replied “I feel like continuing” He got up and finished the race. That’s tough!

Today I saw an advert on on Facebook – this year’s event is going to be the last one ever.

Will I do it again? No – I’m a tough guy, not a stupid guy!