Tuesday, December 14, 2010

National Series 2011 Round 2 - Glenorchy TAS

Hobart is the coldest, windiest place I have raced to date and it escapes me how anyone could live here, let alone train here. Its December for Pete’s sake and we got snowed on at the top of Mount Wellington! After taking in a few of the sights, it was down to the serious racing.
Although it had been raining the course is mostly hardpack – no need for mud tyres. Running a Schwalbe Rocket Ron on the front and a Racing Ralph on the back, my Merida O.nine was set up for speed. The descents were tight, rough and fast so it was up to the rider to have the confidence to just let the bike run. Climbing was split into two sections – the first being a long, dead fireroad drag and the second a twisty singletrack ascent with loads of switchbacks.
I wanted a faster start this race as we let the leaders go at You Yangs and the gaps opened up too much. At the top of the first climb I was in about 4th spot and we were all still together. Jenny King and Rowena Fry were doing battle upfront while Bec Henderson, Kath O’Shea and I kept swapping positions as we attacked each other.
On the third lap I lost O’Shea’s wheel in a rough section of trail where it was difficult to get out the saddle and respond with a sprint. Henderson then also came over the top and motored past O’Shea as well. The last two laps were spent chasing O’Shea just 20 seconds in front and holding off Anna Beck who was having the ride of her life.
Finishing 5th I was still happy with my ride. Sure my position was worse than last round be to top 5 finished just over two minutes adrift of Fry which is a great sign for women’s XC racing. It was definitely a battle all the way with the positions not decided until right on the finish line – awesome stuff!
Special mention goes to my Rockshox XX forks. These babies are 12 months old and I feel they are maturing like a fine wine. I’ve been getting more confidence in adjusting my bike settings and have been enjoying finding that sweet spot. If I told you what it was I’d have to kill you but it was just unbelievable how they were soaking up the hits out there.
Sponsors…where would I be without you? Merida, Flight Centre, SRAM, For The Riders, Shotz, Schwalbe, Adidas, Jet Black, Lazer…group hug guys! Merry Christmas!

National Series 2011 Round 1 - You Yangs VIC

After having a bit of time away from racing I was pretty excited to be jetting off to one of my favourite tracks at the You Yangs, just outside Geelong. All the locals swear that it never rains there, but every time I turn up it buckets down and this year was no exception. Cutting laps of the track on Thursday and Friday was less like work and more like just having fun on the bike. I put a 2.25 Nobby Nic on the front because…well I thought it would be super-fun on the descents, and I was right! There was not a lot of climbing but it was very technical so you had to ride at 95 percent so you had a bit extra in reserve to get up onto a rock ledge or through a garden of boulders.
The Saturday of the race it was all blue skies and 20 degrees – fantastic conditions. With a long open starting loop it was fast from the gun but at least there was time to sort ourselves out before we hit the singletrack. Two girls went out fast and were not seen again. It was an advantage to start fast as it was difficult to pass on the singletrack. National champ Rowena Fry was sitting in front of our group and I was pacing off her. By the second lap though I was feeling pretty strong and pulled in front of her, only to have my spare kit detach itself from my bike and almost get tangled in my spokes. Regrouping I settled in again behind Row and overtook her in the feedzone. On the first technical climb though I zigged instead of zagged and lost traction to end up behind Row again. Finally I passed and made it stick, riding strong on the fourth and final lap. Enjoying the fast and technical descent I finished third and very satisfied.
A week later and I’m back in Victoria for the Jeep 24 hour teams race. On the way down to Lorne from Melbourne it was too much of a temptation and Boothy and I pulled in for a muddy but super two hours at the You Yangs. Kicking back at the motel contemplating another weekend of smashing it up on the trails we both acknowledged how lucky we are to be able to do this. Living the dream!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fight your way back...24 hours at a time

So why did I decide to line up at the 24 hour solo? I got asked that a lot during the hectic weekend that was the combined Scott24 and Solo 24 hour World Champs. Racing (I use that term loosely) a 24 hour event had been in the back of my mind for a while – one of those ‘must do before I die’ boxes to tick. There is also some conjecture in Cross country circles as to how tough the event really was. So you ride around in circles for a whole day really slowly, versus pinning it up every climb until your lungs explode for a couple of hours. In the beginning, I just wanted to know what it felt like.

On a racing expedition to Perth for the Dwellingup 100 I spent a little more time than is healthy with current World Solo Champion Jason English. His relaxed manner and apparently lack of mental deficit convinced me that normal people DO race these things. The off-hand suggestions that I should give it a crack worked their way into my subconscious like those nasal-delivery-technology ads, and I wondered what it would be like to ‘last longer’.

The tipping point would come from a man not many of you may have heard of though. His name is Cris Harris. Cris lives on the Sunshine Coast with his partner, Rachel, and daughter, Meg. He’s never stood on a World Champs podium or pulled on a green and gold jersey – but he is a star. I read his story on the Black Dog Institute website, detailing his fight with depression and campaign to raise money and awareness by completing the 24 hour solo. It struck a chord with me as I, like Cris, battle daily with the ‘black dog’ of depressive illness. Cris’ website, called ‘Fight your way back’ was such an accurate description of living with depression. (http://www.fightyourwayback.wordpress.com/ )

“Rachel and I were discussing a name for the project and when we came up with ‘Fight Your Way’ back, we just knew it was the right one”, Cris told me.

It encompasses my, and obviously Cris’, attitude that recovery from depression is not a passive process. In the age of anti-depressant drugs, those who don’t fully understand the illness and its treatment may think that taking a pill, sitting back and letting it work its magic is all that’s required. The reality is quite different with medication only working for some, and in a very subtle way which just takes the edge off what could otherwise be a steep descent. The initial stages of treatment may also see a worsening of the condition as people battle the side-effects such as anxiety, dizziness, sleeplessness, involuntary yawning fits, while not feeling relieved of their mood disorder at all.

Exercise has been identified as one of the most effective treatments for depression (a fact sheet can be found at www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/ExerciseandDepression.pdf) and is definitely one of the drivers behind my resumption of training after deviating down a different path. In high school I was a training junkie and represented the region in Cross Country running and soccer. After moving away from home for university the underlying, undiagnosed depression I had suffered for 3 years worsened. I ceased exercise, took up smoking, excessive drinking and lost the person I had been. It was only when I fell pregnant and had my daughter that I was motivated to regain my health and take control of my illness instead of it controlling me.

Ironically, when a bout of severe depression hits it can make people lose interest in exercise, which is one of the effects identified by Cris during his campaign. He writes on the FYWB website:

“When my depression started two and a half years ago I was moderately fit. The depression took away my motivation and enjoyment from exercising and so that ground to a halt. About 18 months later when I was at my worst, it was a struggle for me to even walk up one flight of stairs. That brought me to tears, as I had been extremely fit at other times in my life, and was the turning point for me.”

Clearly not a man to do things by halves Cris embarked on the arduous exercise of training and planning for the Solo 24 Hour World Championships. The journey has been full or ups and downs he confessed to me in Canberra, but when I stopped by the pits on Sunday morning Cris was still going, with a huge grin on his dial. Sure, he was so delirious he didn’t recognise me at the time, but I’m betting he wasn’t the only one that day.

My race ended early, with me vetting myself out after voiding my rib warranty for the second time this year. Despite that I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute of it and it won’t be the last one I line up for. I can’t say I’ve settled the debate on whether XC or 24 hour is the toughest, but I can now compare the two from a position of experience as one who readily courts pain in all its forms.

So the next time you pass someone on the trail, pause for a moment and wonder about their motivation for getting out there. We throw around lines such as “Riding is life” but for some it might be less of a metaphor. If a riding buddy starts skipping the weekly session or seems a bit less enthusiastic than usual take the initiative to ask “are you ok?” (see http://www.ruokday.com.au/ ). It’s also a huge rap for the MTB scene as a supportive community which entices people to be active, no matter what their background or goals.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dwellingup 100, Western Australia

One of the perks of this ‘job’ is the opportunity to see parts of the country you might otherwise have gone your whole life without visiting. I was lucky enough to receive an invite via Shotz to race the Dwellingup 100 MTB marathon, about an hour outside Perth. WA was the only state in Australia I hadn’t ticked off my list and I had been looking for an excuse so off on another adventure I went!

Arriving in Perth it reminded me of a newer, shinier, less crowded Brisbane. The river was bigger and bluer and I was aware of that alleged Brisbane-ite inferiority complex that Victorians refer to. As a guest of Trievents I was chauffeured to some very comfortable accommodation in the city where I quickly put together my steed and went exploring.

You can tell a lot about a city by its bike paths…and Perth really loves cycling! The cycle paths are wide, well marked and go on forever, all the way out to Fremantle, which is where I headed to see a West Coast sunset. Cottesloe is definitely somewhere to head for a lazy Sunday ride and have coffee overlooking the ocean. Unfortunately it was Wednesday evening so I headed back to the apartment before it got dark. My riding partner, Jason English, and his wife Jen were arriving at midnight so we could head south the following morning.

It wasn’t completely a holiday and Jason and I were put to work, if you can call it that. We visited five primary schools in 2 days to show off our equipment, answer questions about cycling and do a few drills and races with the kids. Dave from Trievents was keen to promote the kids 14km race and the principals were aiming to get more kids riding to school instead of being driven. It’s amazing what a difference an interested teaching faculty makes with one school having about 15 mountainbikes bought especially for students to use! Can’t imagine what that took to get past the P&C.

Tony Tucknott is the man with the plan when it comes to Dwellingup and has been instrumental in getting the race up and running. He drove us out to the Turner’s Hill section of the track, which would be an 11km timed section during the race with $100 for the fastest male and female. This loop is some of the best singletrack you will ride – fast, flowy with some doubles, gap jumps and log rides thrown in for fun. Once you got used to the pea-gravel surface in WA and the 2-wheel drift you could just hook in and enjoy. It was so good we did it twice the rode back to the chalet to continue the carbo load.

Friday morning we hit a couple of loops of the 14km of singletrack that was to be used for the kids race. With nothing too technical they were sure to have a blast, as we did, getting in some dirt time before riding to the next school presentation. The weather was stunning, if a little cool, with not a cloud in the sky. Race day promised to be perfect conditions as opposed to the deluge the racers faced last year.

Race day and we rolled down from our accommodation, 2 minutes from the start line and joined the 800 other participants. In only the second year of the event it was a fantastic roll up and promises to grow quickly each year. With less climbing and bitumen that the epic and more single track I figured the race times would be about the same. I’d only been back training for a week after a break so I was theoretically fresh which was confirmed by my heartrate going through the roof for the first half of the race.

Last years winner Stephanie Russell went out fast and I didn’t catch her until about 20k. We then rode together, pushing each other all the way to Turner’s Hill. I knew I would have to get into the singletrack first as with her local knowledge Steph definitely had the advantage. Once in there I hit cross country pace and tried to get as big a gap as possible to hopefully get the fastest lap time, but worried that I might blow up and not make the race finish.

The course was challenging but fun with some longer steep loose climbs but plenty of winding singletrack to encourage forgiveness. Some of the surfaces are like nothing I have ever seen though, with a smooth clay section where guys were just binning it after putting a fraction too much weight on the front wheel. No one told me about the ‘deep’ pea gravel which caused a few anxious moments descending, then required me to muster my sand-riding skills to get out of.

The weather warmed up toward the second half of the race but I found the combination of Shotz gels and electrolyte tabs, again, the perfect combination. I have finally decided that I am too much of a gumby to eat a bar or any solid food while I am racing and having found a gel flavour I like, I don’t stress about my nutrition like I used to. While Jason was riding a Dual-suspension I was on the Merida o.nine hardtail and don’t think the course is rough enough to make you beg for some more travel. A DS would make the Turners hill section a lot more fun though with some A-lines that were too harsh on the hardtail.

Pushed by Steph all the way I took the win, only five minutes ahead. A former Highland Fling winner, Steph is a quality racer and there is a wealth of cycling talent over here, which suffers the tyranny of distance from some of the major competitions on the east coast. Hopefully with races like the Dwellingup 100 more people will make the journey west to see if they can match it with the locals. WA certainly has a lot to offer on and off the race track and I, for one, will be back!

As always, thanks to all my sponsors: Merida, Flight Centre, For The Riders, Schwalbe, Adidas, Nightrider, Lazer, Jetblack, SRAM and especially Shotz for this opportunity.

Monday, August 30, 2010

An Epic Weekend

Well there was no rest for the wicked and after a week back at home getting my bearings I packed the car and headed up to Hidden Vale on Saturday morning for the pre-Flight Centre Epic festivities. The event, which began with the classic 100k-ish race became so popular it is now spread over 2 days with a 20km, 50km and kids events on Saturday and the half- and full-epic on Sunday.

I was a bit hesitant about racing on the Saturday, knowing I would need all my powder dry to bring it home in the 100k, but I was also looking forward to riding the Hidden Vale single track. I’d forgotten how sharp and rocky it is out there but it is incredible how much work has been put into the trails and I had a super time. Its much more fun riding it without having punched out 100ks before-hand. Taking the win I refueled for the next day and hung around with the team until we headed to our accommodation in Toowoomba.

In stark contrast to the 38 degree conditions of the 2009 Epic, I was struggling to ‘warm up’ on the crisp 3 degree morning of the 2010 edition. Initially following team mate AJs routine of riding up and down a hill, the cold windy descent was killing me. The rest of my warm up was spent standing as still as possible in the sun, waiting for the sensation to return to my fingers.

The race start was quite fast as groups formed on the road sections and everyone settled in. My main competitor, Naomi Hansen, rode beside me until the Ma Ma Creek singletrack and I did not see her again until the end of the race. Mercifully we had dry conditions this year which made the course extremely fast, and coupled with the cooler weather the race record was definitely under threat.

Arriving at half-way quite quickly I received another bidon and camel-back from feeder Aaron and continued on feeling fairly comfortable. I was looking around for groups to ride with on the long, windy road sections but unfortunately I spent most of the race alone. The legs were a bit flat after the previous months racing but I kept a bit in reserve for a personal objective – to ride the steep Laidley Gap section of the course. In my first mountain-bike race (2006 half epic) I saw that hill and thought “that’s impossible to ride…I will never do it”. There’s a good deal of personal satisfaction in being able to conquer it now and it always looks impressive!

Having the race lead it’s sometimes difficult to stay motivated, knowing how hard to ride without having someone to chase. Doing some calculations at the third checkpoint I thought if I could go under 5 hours for the race that would be a good benchmark so I pushed on for the final quarter of the race. Riding the single-track at the end was far less smooth that the previous days effort but I made it across the line in 4 hours 55 mins, taking out the race.

Now came the best part – sitting on the lawn at Spicers Hidden Vale, eating burgers, watching the sun set and listening to other participants trade stories of their days adventure. Its such a great atmosphere and really brings home to me why I love mountain-biking so much.
Thanks to Chungy from Advance Traders for the rockstar treatment, and as usual to all our sponsors for the support: Merida, Flight Centre, Shotz, Schwalbe, Lazer, Adidas, SRAM, Nightrider, Jet Black.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Europe 2010

How to condense a month of travel into one blog post? Europe was ‘big’. While the concept sounds exotic the reality of dragging a bike around Europe from race course to race course is not without its challenges and can be quite fatiguing.

World Cup – Champery, Switzerland

Flying into Geneva it was great to be greeted by a familiar face in my friend Vaughan. He and his wife had recently moved to Gryon in Switzerland, a beautiful little ski village in the Alps. It certainly allowed me to ease into my travel, being chauffeured around, meals cooked and generally being well-taken-care-of. With the race venue at Champery only 30 minutes drive away it was also very convenient – a point to remember when the World XC championships are hosted there next year.

They are really spoiled for choice with riding – mountains in Gryon, patches of challenging single track, or roll down the hill for a flat ride around lake Geneva and into France. The Champery course was one of the most technical I have every ridden…and that was before it rained for two days! It was interesting seeing the top riders choosing the run some of the lines as it was safer and sometimes much faster in the wet.

Unfortunately the morning of the race I woke up with another terrible virus, unable to be more than a minute away from the bathroom. Through some careful maneuvering I managed to get to the course and decided to start the race out of principle. I assure my host that I would do one lap and if I felt well enough would do a second and then pull out. As usual I had to go one better and managed a third before I almost passed out on the track a couple of times and was lapped by the leaders. The next 24 hours were spent under a doona, shivering, sweating and with a pounding headache and the effects of the virus were still being felt a few days later when I landed in Italy.

World Cup – Val di sol, Italy

Val di sol is a stunning little town outside Trento in North West Italy. It is somewhere I could live very easily with narrow country roads, lush forests and that small village feel where no one seems in a rush. Sharing accommodation with four other riders from Australia, it was nice to be able to converse in English as there was very little spoken around us. We had one day of rain but the track was nice and dry by race day and we had some beautiful warm weather otherwise. Not as technical as the Swiss track, the course was still difficult due to the steep, repetitive climbing – definitely a granny-ring affair!

I had learned some lessons at Champery with regard to starting a race with 120 other riders and managed to get a good position after the start lap. Going as hard as I could on the climbs my aim was to be able to finish the race without getting lapped or pulled out, which is not as easy as it sounds. It was a relief to hear the bell on the final lap after the disappointment of the previous race and I finished 79th. An odd highlight was having a tussle with Chengyuan Ren, a former Chinese national champ, Olympic representative and world cup winner. I was in good company!

World marathon champs – St Wendel, Germany

Another two 8-hour travel days later I arrived in Ottweiler, Germany. The race venue was in Saint Wendell, a town in the rolling countryside about 10 km away. Due to a severe lack of organization with regard to the National team our accommodation and technical assistance were only organized a week before and a big thanks to Vaughan for volunteering for the role of Australian team manager. Our accommodation was great, especially organized on such short notice and the lengths he, and assistant Jill, went to in order to ensure we had everything we needed and got our bottles and race feeds at the right times – it was extraordinary!

The days before the race were excruciating, having nothing to do except rest, stretch and eat. Trust me, its not as much fun as it sounds and makes for a very long day. There is only so much summer bi-athlon and grass-ski jumping you can watch on Eurosport. It was a relief to finally line up in the starting pen in the Australian colours and get the marathon underway. The course was a little…boring. There was a lot of riding through corn fields, grassy climbs and not as much single track as we would have in an Aussie marathon. The pace was hot though and we took off as if we were racing for 2 hours instead of 5. It was a pace I was sure I couldn’t sustain for the race so I dropped off the back and rode with a smaller group of about seven girls. In retrospect it would have been better to stay with the lead group as they were no more than 30 to 60 seconds ahead of us for most of the first half of the race. Lesson learned for next time!

It was more of a course for power riders and while I would pull away from the other girls on the hills, groups would soon catch me on the flats where the course was very open and windy. The second half of the race had much more climbing and I dropped the group I was riding with and managed to pick a handful of places as other riders suffered from the early pace. Finishing in 25th spot I achieved my goal of a top 30. Time-wise I was reasonably happy, being 11% behind the winner, just outside my goal of 10%. My team mate Adrian Jackson had a super ride finishing on 25 minutes (9%) behind the leader, a fact not reflected in his placing but still an awesome effort.

Suffering a bit of culture-fatigue and missing my daughter after being away for a month I boarded the plane for home, never more grateful to be confined to a tin can for 25 hours. While everything did not go perfectly (it never does!) I learned so much in terms of race-craft, organization and resources available when travelling, it was an invaluable experience and I am keen to do it all again next year.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Kids, racing and hospitals…all in a week!

Preparing for the Mt Perry 6 hour I thought it would be nice to have a relaxing Friday night, pottering around with bike stuff, quiet dinner with the family. So of course at 11pm my daughter projectile vomits all over her room after coming down with a stomach virus. After the clean-up and a couple of glasses of wine I finally get to sleep, ready for 5 hours of driving in the direction of Bundaburg the following day.
Arriving at the course on Sunday morning was the toughest part of the weekend – 0 degrees! Brrrr…! The 6 hour was long, as 6 hour races tend to be, but the course was a lot of fun. Perhaps not as beginner-friendly as the Dell XC course with some wicked steep switchbacks and rock gardens in the back half. Naomi Hansen pushed me all the way and forced me out on a final lap that I really did not want to do, just to cement the win. I had just recently switched to a gluten-free diet and discovered that eating gluten-free bread requires more saliva than I can muster during a race. The nutritional lessons keep coming.
The following week started quietly as I recovered from the race but by Wednesday I was still feeling quite ordinary. On Thursday I woke with the familiar feeling of nausea when one’s child has shared their germs. By Thursday evening the seemingly innocuous virus had resulted in searing abdominal pain, an ambulance transport to hospital, an emergency endoscopy and a pleasant amount of morphine. Friday was spent with 4 tubes coming out of various orifices, either pumping fluid in or draining fluid out. On Saturday the diagnosis was Acute Viral Hepatitis – basically my daughters virus had attacked my useless immune system and shut down my liver, stomach and kidneys. Kids!
Finally released on Sunday after 9 litres of saline, 3 days of no food and quite a couple of kilos lighter I had strict instructions to take it easy and no training until my liver reading had returned to normal (from 2000 back to 40), so only recovery rides to the coffee shop and 30 mins of altitude training (www.ats-altitude.com) in the gym each day for a week. My boss ordered me back to work – oh the joys of self employment – so I’m not sure how much resting actually got done.
My coach has eased my back in to training and in the end the week off from training feels like a good thing, although I might take it in less dramatic fashion next time. I still struggle with the work-life-training balance and when I get it wrong my body reminds me in the strongest terms. It’s amazing how much less tired and more pleasant I am as a parent when I ease back on the other two factors for a bit. If Helica thinks this whole pancakes-for-breakfast deal is going to last though she will be sadly disappointed!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Red Centre Enduro - Alice Springs

Having placed second in this event last year, and enjoying a fantastic weeks riding in the process, I was hoping to go one better in 2010. We were warned at the Sunday night briefing that the trails had been very eroded due to heavy rains in Alice Springs this year. This turned out to be the understatement of the week!

Day 1 – 40km
I planned to go as hard as I could to get the lead and have the other competitors chasing for the rest of the week. It was nearly bought unstuck in the first 10k when I punctured on one of the many jagged rocks. Luckily I was running a tubeless system and the hole sealed quickly with only a few more psi with a pump required to get me on my way again. The fence-line track was some of the roughest terrain I have ever ridden but I think I had an advantage coming from a running background as there was plenty of off-the-bike action and pushing up hills. Winning the stage I got a few minutes up on Jenni King from the Torq team.

Hill climb
As the record holder for this event the pressure was on to win this one and perhaps better my previous mark of 58 seconds. As the morning stage had been considerable harder than last year the legs didn’t have it and I could only manage a minute flat, which was enough to take the stage win.

Day 2 – 49km
As with the day before I was conservative with my start hoping to overtake the other competitors after my legs had warmed up about an hour in. I had not seen Jenni King as I worked my way to the front and assumed she was still up the road. Feeling the effects of the previous day I rode as hard as my legs would let me, not wanting to lose too much time. In the process I managed to crash in several of the loose corners, cracking my rear derailleur hanger. I coaxed the bike to the end, trying not to use my easier gears in case I put the rear mech into my spokes. Pleasantly surprised, I came across the line in first place with Jenni a couple of minutes behind me. A quick trip to the guys at Ultimate Ride and my o.nine was ready to fight another day.

Day 3 – 95km
After complaining this stage was too short last year (70km) I was wishing I had kept my thought to myself. My memory is hazy but all I can recall is 5 hours of various forms of sand. Shallow sand, deep sand, very deep sand, wet sand, grassy sand. Riding with Gracie Elvin and Rebecca Rusch we worked together to try to get a lap on the other girls. We were very grateful for the company as this stage was in a word, miserable. Turning off the sand we were faced with a straight fireroad that disappeared over the horizon…into a block headwind. Did I mention the corrugations which felt like a jack hammer going to work on your spine? It was quite funny watching everyone following other peoples lines or veering to the other side of the track when they spied a slightly smoother piece of road or firmer looking sand.
Gracie attacked in the last couple of k’s and Rebecca and I rode together to the finish, keeping her in sight. Crossing the line third all I could think of was food and a good lie down. Not fun, but certainly a test of character, with some competitors tossing their bikes into the bush out of frustration.

Day 4
23km Individual Time Trial
This was my favourite stage last year with riders going off in 30 second intervals and the chance to ride some great single track unimpeded. Either due to the eroded tracks or fatigue I found it hard to ride as smooth as I would have liked and lost a few seconds stalling in corners and steep climbs. I did enough to win the stage by 40 secs but just missed the course record from the previous year.
23km Night race
Held on the same course as the mornings TT, this was a mass start race with a mess of headlights heading off after sunset. I don’t ride much under lights and the first 10 minutes was pretty nervous just trying not to get caught up in any crashes. Trying to discern where the soft sandy patches are is especially difficult at night, no matter how good your lights are. I had a lead over second place of 18 minutes so I just wanted to ride cautiously and get to the end in one piece.
Although I was tired I managed to overtake Elvin in the first 15 minutes and held the lead with only 4km to go. Then the fateful sound of air rushing from my tire had me off the track trying to put a tube in with a headlight and frozen hands. On my way after a few minutes I only got 1km down the road when another puncture struck, again in my rear wheel. I had made the wrong choice in running super-light non-UST tires as a tubeless set up. The terrain was just so sharp and rocky and at night it was difficult to ride the clean lines required. In the true spirit of the race some of the competitors passing me stopped to assist and had my on my way, limping gingerly to the finish line. I had lost 10 minutes to Elvin but was still in the lead. A sleepless night followed and a scamper for a new tire for the final stage.

Day 5 – 45km
Probably the best singletrack of the week the final stage felt like one of survival. I held a lead of 12 minutes over Elvin and we rode together until about half way. Gracie got a break but remained in sight so I was not too concerned. If I could have won the stage I would have, but I had put everything I had into the previous 4 days and honestly raced every stage. The legs just didn’t have it. Rolling over the finish line was just such a relief and was the first time I could really relax and appreciate when we had just completed. I am so happy to have won such a demanding race and ridden with such amazing people.

A big thanks to those who make it all possible: Merida, Flight centre, SRAM, Nightrider lights, Shotz, Adidas, Lazer, Schwalbe and For The Riders.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Australian Marathon Championships - 2nd

Well it's been an inauspicious start to the year, but after a good training block over Easter I signed up to the Nemesis marathon race in Avoca, Victoria. It boasts 3500 vertical metres of climbing over 90km making it the toughest marathon in Oz.

My injuries were almost fully healed but the bad luck continued when I woke up Friday with a sore swollen throat and my body wracked with aches and pains. On Saturday morning I felt so bad I considered not going...then took some pain killers, and got on the plane. For the entire weekend I alternated panadol with nurofen every 3 hours to keep the flu symptoms at bay.

Avoca is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. An hour outside Ballarat there is no mobile phone reception and the nearest Woolworths is 25 minutes drive away. However it has great bakeries, coffee and very friendly people. We had to borrow a couple of saucepans for pre-race pasta for 9, and the lady a few doors down was very helpful. Who gives cookware to random strangers knocking on their door? Avocans, that's who!

The morning of the race was pleasantly brisk with clear blue skies. We drove to the start at the Avoca Hill winery and kitted up. Still feeling lousy I dropped two panadol at the start line and carried 2 more to have at halfway. The weapon of choice was my Merida 0.nine hardtail - nice and light for all that climbing. The gun went off and we were on a gravel fireroad on our way to the first climb. After 15 minutes the road went up and continued like this for 25 minutes. The field broke up and I crested the top in third place.

At 90 minutes my heart rate plateued and wouldn't go above 165 bpm for the rest of the 6 hour race. This is not a good sign and indicates your body is fatigued or ill. I was concerned about doing serious damage but I was in 3rd so decided to keep going. It felt like I was creeping so I assumed 4th place would overtake me at any time. Besides, the single track descents were so much fun it would be a shame to miss them. Its some of the steepest and loosest trail I have ever ridden. The protocol was to rest your chest on your seat, get on the back brake and slalom down. The Schwalbe Racing Ralphs were perfect for the job. Going up was less fun and by 3 hours I was walking a lot of the steeper sections.

This was one of the rare occasions I managed to get my feeding right in a marathon. Shotz electrolyte in the camel back, gels in the pocket and tasty banana cake from one of Avoca's fabulous bakeries. With the legs stuck in second gear I moved into 2nd place at 4 hours. My spirits were lifted as I realised I wasn't the only one struggling. At the fourth checkpoint we had only 22 km to go, which didn't sound right. Then I realised how much climbing we had to go!

This was mountainbiking at its rugged best. The type of race where you feel more like an adventurer exploring new ground. I rode with a guy who was almost knocked off his bike by a herd of deer! He then started wondering if he had actually seen them and thought about pulling out at the next check point if he was hallucinating. Luckily another rider confirmed the sighting so he continued on.

Crossing the line was, as usual, a relief. I was surprised and quite chuffed at my silver medal considering I almost didn't start the race. Sure, my lymph glands are now the size of golf balls, but well worth it I think. This was the first marathon on the Merida o.nine and also the first one where my spine doesn't feel like it's been shattered into a million pieces. Nice one.

Thanks to all my sponsors: Merida, Flight centre, all the guys at For The Riders for the amazing bike preparation, Schwalbe, Lazer, Adidas, Shotz, Rockshox and SRAM.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's up the mountain I go...again

It’s now 5 weeks post-accident and things are getting back to normal. I got out on the dirt on Saturday for the first time, albeit only on the fireroads. It’s pretty difficult riding past a trail-head when you know single track heaven is RIGHT THERE! My body will thank me later though I hope. I’ve timed my transition from the windtrainer to the road almost to perfection with only brief showers instead of torrential downpours now.

The psychological wounds are being unpicked with my first ride past ‘the corner’ where it all went wrong. I rode up to it, slowly, willing myself to get past it without collapsing in a heap and rocking back and forwards in the garden. Just as I approached it a group of about 30 cyclists came around the corner from the opposite direction, spread out across the path inviting another accident. KEEP LEFT PEOPLE! It’s bad enough the motorists try and pick us off without us preying on our own kind.

The official recovery was made this morning when I headed out for some Mt Cootha reps. Did someone make it steeper while I’ve been laid up? It was good to be on the familiar stretch of road that is the staple of any Brisbane cyclist. They were doing roadworks so I got stopped by a lollipop-man on the way up. I protested that I was “in the middle of an effort” to a guy that clearly had no idea what I was on about. Yep, I’m back.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Road to recovery

It’s been almost 4 weeks since ‘that morning’ and things are going as well as could be expected. My ribs still hurt...a lot. My shoulder stability doesn’t fill me with confidence but I’m working around it. I’ve done more time on the windtrainer in my garage that I care to mention and am getting out for a couple of rides on the road, albeit on my mountain bike. It feels a bit more stable until I stop moving (and feeling) like an old woman.

Being on the bike is not too bad but the first week back at work is a challenge. I’ve lost a lot of ‘massage fitness’ and the persistent injuries have me coming up with some different treating techniques. It never hurts to have a few more moves in the bag.

I am looking forward to getting back to racing but it’s going to be more of a psychological barrier than anything. If I go back racing too scared to take a tumble, it’s guaranteed I will end up in the dirt! So I’m just going to build up the confidence day by day until it all clicks.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


After sticking around in Adelaide to see some of the Tour Down Under I arrived home with new motivation to train. With a new program and enthusiasm I set out on a sunny Saturday morning to do the Upper Brookfield ride, one of my favourites in Brisbane. It heads out along the western freeway, down Moggill Road and on to country lanes and past pony clubs. In the heat of summer it is often a few degrees cooler on this ride due to the shade of the mountains and the thick vegetation of the surrounds.

Unfortunately I never got to that part of the ride due to an incident at the beginning of the bike path where I was hit by another cyclist coming in the opposite direction. Taking the full force of the collision with my right shoulder and chest I actually managed to hold the bike up (not even a scratch on the frame!) but then the feeling of being winded and in extreme pain forced me to make an emergency landing into a soft garden bed, where I stayed until the ambulance arrived.

The feeling of being winded never went away during the 15 minute wait for the ambos due to a partially collapsed lung, and on several occasions I almost passed out. Quite a bit of morphine later and I was in the Royal Brisbane Hospital being treated where they also counted four broken ribs and a separated A-C joint. I had a pneumo-thorax (pocket of air compressing my lung) but they decided not to stick a tube in my chest but wait to see if it was reabsorbed by my body over time with weekly chest x-rays.

I can honestly say it’s the most pain I have ever been in. I was given a self medication button with fentynol which I refused to use after the first few times. Not because I was tough, but because every time I used it I threw up 5 minutes later which is not much fun with broken ribs. It did provide some entertainment to my friends who brought thai takeaway for dinner though. I have very little memory of what I said but remember nodding off into my stirfry at some point.

So 2 weeks on and I am still very sore. The pneumothorax is gone and I have my shoulder retaped every few days (thanks Kaz at Southbank Physio!). My ribs still hurt because that’s what ribs do but I am logging some good time on the windtrainer. The bad news is that riding in my garage is cracking me mentally! Sure I was smug when it was pouring outside and I was dry but now we are enjoying the last week of summer and the skies are clear. Another week or so and hopefully I can get out on the road bike. Psychologically it will be difficult but a friend, recently injured after being hit by a car, advised the sooner I faced it the better and I am inclined to agree.

In trying to find some positives in the situation I look at how well I dealt with an emergency situation. Although I cannot train normally or work I have focussed on what activities I can do and aimed to improve a bit everyday, even if it’s just to hang the washing out on the line. I have also used to the abundant spare time to catch up on some admin so my business is even better when I get back to it. I don’t think I will ever be ‘a lady of leisure’ but I am appreciating some time to just sit around, relax and heal.

Yes I am already planning my next race so stay tuned :)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A welcome surprise

I'd been having so much fun hanging out at the track with the Merida crew that I was talked in to racing the short track on Sunday. I don't normally race them as I lack the raw speed and am normally busy checking out of a hotel room and running for a plane at the time the race is held.

The legs felt fairly sore from the previous days efforts and the head was fairly sore from the previous nights activities. I rode out to the course which involved a bit of climbing in the hills which seemed to help me on both counts. Just prior to our race the clouds came over, rain fell and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees. It sure makes a difference having a team tent with a roof over your head and somewhere to keep warm.

As we lined up the weather cleared and the gun went off. I got a slow start but managed to cross a gap to the main group when there was a crash right in front of me. Kath O'shea and Bec Henderson had locked bars and both were in the dirt. The race was stopped for 5 minutes as Kath was badly hurt and medical staff were called. We were restarted in the positions held at the time of the crash and Row Fry, Heather Logie, Bec, Jenni King and I formed a lead group. Row and Heather had a good lead until Heather crashed and the 3 of us passed her. I sat behind King to draft as I was unsure of my ability to maintain the pace. Bec had got the gap on us and with 3 laps to go I jumped away from King and tried to catch Bec. Unfortunately I left it a lap or 2 too late but was happy to get on the podium for 3rd place.

It was a nice surprise to end the weekend. A big thanks to the Merida Flight Centre team, SRAM, For the Riders, Mega bike (for mending my buckled road wheels courtesy of last weeks crit) and Trak Cycles for sorting me out with some new Crank Brothers Candy pedals in a hurry!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

2010 Australian MTB Champs

After flying from the heat in Melbourne to the heat in Adelaide the sanctuary of the hotel room airconditioning was a godsend. With very little to do except shop and watch television (2 things I rarely get to do at home) it seemed to take forever for the MTB champs to roll around despite it only being 6 days.

With a stunning roll through the Adelaide hills on Tuesday and some course practice on Wednesday all the riding preparation was completed. The last couple of days I spent following the AIS recommended ‘low residual’ diet – basically getting rid of all the fibre in your diet so white bread, rice, pasta; no fruit or veg although I did sneak some lettuce in! Despite my form not being that good the process of preparing for a race does not change. It’s good practice and a chance to fine-tune things like timing of meals, race food, hydration and warm-up routine.

Conditions were perfect for racing with a clear day and around 24 degrees. The course was not overly technical and did not have a lot of climbing but it was deceptively tough. Riding the flowy trails at speed meant being on the edge of washing out in the loose conditions or clipping a tree. My feeding was spot on and my bike didn’t miss a beat mechanically so there is not much to write about the actual race. I had fun and finished 5th which is my second best nationals result to date.

While we are nearing the end of our domestic season the international season kicks of in April when the northern hemisphere has thawed out. Personally I am looking forward to a good 6 months of training to aim for something in the second half of the year. For now it’s time to chill out in Adelaide with my daughter and catch a glimpse of some truly exceptional riders go around in the Tour Down Under.

Monday, January 11, 2010

'twas over quickly

The road race turned out to be quite a short event for me which is very disappointing. At 39 degrees conditions were tough and I tend to struggle in the heat despite being born and raised in Cairns. No need to warm up in those conditions just get on the bike and roll around for 15 minutes. The first lap was a bit nervous as I am not used to climbing and descending with so many other riders. I was a bit psychologically scarred from being brought down in the crit it was pretty off-putting going down a hill at 80kph with someone locking their brakes up beside me or swerving into my front wheel.

On the second lap I tried to get to the front toward the end of the climb so I could go at my own pace and then ride consistently across the top so I was toward to pointy end for the descent. The feed zone was placed on the first climb and most girls were grabbing bottles every lap then having to accelerate up the climb to catch up to the main bunch. On the third lap I took my bottle but was unable to maintain contact with the main bunch. With no hope of getting back on I was faced with the choice of 8 more lonely, hot, pointless laps or to conserve whatever fitness I had for the MTB nationals the following week by pulling out.

I made what I thought was the smart choice although a distasteful one, leaving Ballarat with 2 DNFs. The next week will no doubt be spent in the room of mirrors, having a good look at myself and in consultation with my coach to see what went wrong. Too much training? Not enough? Just a bad day in the heat?

The most important thing I learned is that it is very unwise to race without goals. My former running coach always had us set A,B and C goals for our races. I had failed to do that so when my A goal (to stay with the bunch for a chance at a good finish) was gone I lost my reason to race. A B-goal may have been to complete a set number of laps or ride with a team-mate to the end. Sometimes we know what we should do, we just need to be reminded to do it!

Friday, January 8, 2010

National Criterium Champs – Ballarat VIC

I’ve discovered the problem with crits and I...I am not nearly fast enough! To be fair it was for a national jersey so everyone had brought their best form.

After an early start with a 6am flight from Brissy to Melbourne it was into the rental car and off on the Hume highway. Then a U-turn as I was supposed to be on a different highway and it’s already taken me 15 minutes just to get away from the airport. Luckily in races they have arrows...

Arriving in Ballarat I noticed something different; something missing. Oh yeah – water wasn’t pouring from the sky as it had been for the past many weeks in Brisbane. After my eyes adjusted to the long forgotten sunlight I settled into the cabins with the ASC (Australian Sport Commission) and put my bike together. Sharing with ASC members Sally Robbins and Laura Luxford we did the menial tasks of shopping and preparing for the Criterium that night.

I can now see why daylight savings is so popular down south. Our race started at 6.15pm and the streets were full of spectators having finished work. The circuit was run in the main drag of Ballarat and the support was fantastic. A straight forward course with a gradient and 2 tight corners it certainly took its toll with only 23 riders out of the 40 starters finishing. There was a crash at around the halfway mark that I was involved in but apart from a small graze on my elbow and some new scratches to the bike paintwork there was no real harm done. After a lap out about 10 of us jumped back in which is strangely difficult once the legs have spent a couple of minutes cooling down.

The sprints out of the corner were killing me and I fell off the back of the rapidly diminishing bunch with about 8 laps to go. To be honest I was pretty happy to stay on for that long in such illustrious company. Laying in bed it was hard to wind down after racing that late in the day and my heart was still thumping in my ears. Despite this I fell asleep fairly tired after a long day.

Rolling around this morning the legs felt, well, like they’d raced a crit 14 hours before! The three of us rode easily out to the road race course for a lap and then back for some feet up time. I am looking forward to tomorrow although the 36 degree forecast is sure to be challenging.