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.