Friday, December 23, 2011

Pre Xmas scare

Its reminiscent of my running career when I was always pondering “is it a stress fracture…isn’t it…”. The type of injury that hurts, but not enough to stop what you’re doing. My running friends go through this a lot with the calf-niggle, the Achilles-niggle and the pain-in-my-butt-that-I-can’t-quite-describe. The injuries where training is possible but slightly less fun and done with a pall of doubt across your mind when you wonder if you’re actually doing more damage. They are also the ones where you would give your right arm for a definitive MRI result and diagnosis, but rarely get.

After a run-of-the-mill crash on the MTB a couple of weeks ago my hand felt a bit bruised but shaking it off as just that, I kept training and working. I went out on the usual Thursday morning ride with the crew this week and noticed my hand was getting sorer instead of better. It was even starting to hurt during my work doing massage which it had not before. Self diagnosing as a possible small fracture of the 5th metacarpal near the wrist I set about trying to organize the impossible – a doctor’s appointment for an X-ray referral 2 days before Christmas. Most of the MDs I know are already vacationing on islands or shacked up in their ski lodges waiting for the next fall of powder. And the doctors that aren’t – do I really want them assessing my riding injury? Ok, for all the hard working doctors sans-ski lodges, that was a joke, but the bottom line is I’m probably not going to find out before ‘ride week’ in Mount Beauty and I probably don’t really want to know anyway as it sounds very difficult to ride in a cast.

Being Christmas time – the time for excess – I imagine there are a lot of good intentions being thrown away as training is bumped for another Christmas party, shopping or eating. The less-committed let it become another excuse the lose weight or improve their fitness whereas most people I know are looking forward to making use of work holidays doing long rides and runs on quiet roads, quite possibly with a nagging pain here and there because they just can’t let an opportunity like this pass by. I can relate to that.

When dealing with people I can cope with those who lack knowledge but will always struggle with those who lack will.

(Footnote: The fantastic staff at Cavendish Road clinic made room for me and just rang through the result – all clear, phew. Just a ‘day in the life of’.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

10 Weeks

The week before Christmas tends to encourage reflection of the year just gone. What a ride! Wins at the QLD series, State champs, Dwellingup and Saipan being highlights. I’d rate my 3rd at Langkawi International MTB Challenge as my ‘ride of the year’ (actually probably ride of my career) and certainly the most fun I’ve had for a bit. Once I’ve finished pursuing my goals in XCO I’m definitely getting into more stage racing – its got travel, riding and socializing all wrapped up in one neat package.

So the big goal for this coming year, unsurprisingly, is Olympic selection. If you are really interested the selection policy is here Trying to work out a viable way to jump through all the requisite hoops is a struggle at best. I’m trying to remember the last time I wasn’t drowning under a mound of debt – oh that’s right, BEFORE I discovered cycling. The help I’ve had over the last 5 years I am incredibly grateful for, and am very lucky to have had. Reducing the costs of competing has been the only way I’ve managed to stay in the sport and all I hoped for ( I certainly never expected to make a living out of it). While its scary as hell I’m ready for one last throw-down – one last year of living and racing beyond my means so I can look back and know that I gave myself every chance to do something extraordinary. No, I won’t retire from the sport, but doing races for fun and experience will feature more than chasing points or fulfilling selection criteria.

Coach Donna of PCS and I have been working on a slightly different approach to training, fine tuning after a few months of seeing what works for me and what doesn’t. I’m definitely doing less overall time on the bike than with previous coaches but at times have never been so smashed. What it lacks in volume the program sure makes up for in intensity. There are so many schools of thought when it comes to training and I look forward to delving in deeper now that I am coaching a bit myself. My tendency to do too much is apparent and something I need to get a grip on. Having to report on each session, how hard I felt it was, did I enjoy it, what did I think about while I was in the pain cave – these all make training conscious and purpose driven which I think is important.

The excitement of a countdown is also a new thing and also a way to stop the time sneaking away from me. This time in 10 weeks I will be in Adelaide racing the National Champs – 10 weeks to do everything I can to be standing on the top step of the podium. Strangely that is only the start of craziness which then rolls on to Rotorua, South Africa and Belgium. But that is all still a bit daunting for me to think about this weekend! I’ll be blogging more frequently about training which I hope some of you will find interesting and helpful. Its time for me to start planning another adventure – ride week in Mount Beauty. It will be my first time and am looking forward to some crazy climbs and new trails. Say ‘hi’ if you’re down there.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hell of the Mariana's - Saipan

What did we do before Facebook? Seriously. I made a passing comment about needing inspiration which was spotted by fellow MTBer Les Heap and through a six-degrees-of-separation type phenomenon I had accepted an invite to race in Saipan despite not really knowing where it was. A friend told me that even Google didn’t know where it is because when he searched for it there was just a flag in the middle of the ocean just off Taiwan. I told him to zoom in…closer…closer…closer…there you go.

The journey went Cairns-Guam-Saipan and we were escorted to the Pacific Islands Club resort where our host Kieren Daly had previously been Manager for 10 years. The Hell of the Mariana’s 100km road race was started by Kieren and is now in its fifth year – the first year he has been hands-off since moving to the Gold Coast with his family. I am mystified how he managed to tear himself away from the resort as I was definitely ready to set up there permanently. The water park includes a body surfing wave machine which is great fun until you stack it and the current almost rips your bikini from your body – when the attendant told me board shorts were a good idea, I really should have listened. Water slides for the kids, the grown-up ones too, and the resort is absolute beach-front for snorkeling and kayaking. Humidity, temps in the low 30s – I’m getting used to this.

I wouldn’t normally bother with a course reconnaissance for a road race but Kieren highly recommended it due to some interesting ‘features’ of the race – namely the steep climbs and road surface. With pinches kicking up to 15% and a shell-composite road surface which comes with a ‘slippery when wet’ warning, it was starting to feel a lot more like mountain-biking. We did a practice run of the last couple of climbs including Suicide Cliff where the Japanese soldiers and civilians jumped to their deaths when cornered by US forces during WWII. The race is a tour of the island which conveniently starts and finishes at PIC resort which meant the 6.15am start was going to be a 50m roll from our accommodation. This turned out to be just in time for sunrise as its technically winter in Saipan despite the balmy conditions.

Rolling out, the day was going to belong to those who hydrated well, stayed upright on the slick roads and had a bit of luck in not getting flats as there is no official ‘spares’ vehicle. I was regretting bringing tubular wheels as there was no plan B but it was a case of ride what you brought. With 150 riders total the field broke up quickly on the first climb with the lead men’s group pulling away. I cobbled together a few stray guys to form a grupetto to help each other on the flats between the hills. Being conservative on the descents I could only gasp at how fast some of the local guys were taking the corners. I never came close to crashing but there was a bit of excitement on a cyclo-cross-like section where road works became dirt littered with shallow pot holes – cue: stray dog with a penchant for cycling shoes!

With the tough first 50km behind me I started to feel a bit more confident. The field was strung out in ones and twos so there was little chance of being caught by another female in a larger group. I had been working with Pete, a rider from Guam, in the middle section of the race as it helped to have at least one person to swap off with in the gusty conditions. As the last 25km was a dead flat drag back to the resort I was hoping to maintain the situation but unfortunately he was hit by the dreaded cramps just before the turnaround. He apologized profusely for his recalcitrant legs and dropped off to continue his suffering alone.

We were virtually promised a tailwind on the way home by Kieren and I was cursing him all the way as I time-trialled solo into a cross wind for the final haul. I kept looking back, praying for someone to catch me but with 15km to go I decided to just get on with it. Crossing the line for my first international win I even remembered to zip up my jersey – what a pro – although I resisted the temptation for the two arm salute lest I crash and knock myself out two metres from the finish line. Every rider falls straight into the healing hands of the team of Thai massage therapists who sort out the kinks from the last few hours. I nearly fell asleep and regretfully got up at the conclusion of treatment, only to have both my hamstrings cramp, much to the amusement of others still receiving their rub.

Finishing the day with official presentations at the buffet on the beach it was time to kick back and enjoy the rest of the weekend. Watching the sunset over the Pacific with a glass of red wine in the company of locals and visiting riders from as far away as Russia, it capped off what came close to the perfect day. Yep, I’m getting used to this.

Many thanks to Kieren Daly, the organizers of the Hell of the Mariana’s and PIC resort for your amazing hospitality. As always a shout out to my sponsors: For The Riders, Santa cruz, Shotz, Sram, Schwalbe, Adidas Eyewear and PCS Coaching.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

All Mountain Cup - Perth

A bit of a funk set in after leaving Langkawi. On such a high after a big performance and a top event there were a few post-race blues. I lined up for Noosa crit simply because it is a big event and one of the few times we get to race in front of a crowd (no, a proper crowd, like more than 50 people). After getting worked over by the teams I finished in the bunch while Olympic road champ Nicole Cook won the sprint in the break.

I hopped back into regular training but soon started to feel a bit hollowed out. I rode Karingal 4 hour with team mate Kylie Maduna and we won convincingly, beating most of the guys too. Locked in a battle for pride with 4 cross world cup champ Jared Graves and Kylie’s boyfriend Shaun, I ended up working a lot harder than I wanted to. I’d like to say I learned some skills following Jared on the single-track but in truth he disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Travelling to Perth for the new All Mountain Cup I was still feeling a bit flat. Bad news for me since Jenni King brought her A game (as usual) and gave me a flogging all weekend. Its now common knowledge of how disgruntled I am with the new series format but I did enjoy the XCO track – appropriately brutal! Ironically my only crash was in practice on the least technical section when I clipped a rock with my pedal and punched a hole in my forearm, lost skin from my hip to my shoulder blade and mangled my seat. A just punishment for riding with my head in the clouds. It was hard to find anyone who wasn’t sporting Fixomul by Sunday afternoon including Olympian Sid Taberley. I was happy to come away with a second place for the weekend and an oath to brush up on my cornering skills before the next race.

Despite my scathing review of the event the basics were there with interesting trails and an enthusiastic club. The XCE track would have made a fantastic short track race with table tops, doubles and rock drops. Likewise with the Super D – awesome track, we just didn’t get to ride it enough times and spent too much time in our kit, standing in the sun waiting to be told what the hell was going on! I think the point of having the extra events is not to elevate them to the same ranking as the XCO but to encourage people who don’t want to race the XCO to participate in the support events. Trying to grow the series by forcing the current pool of riders to enter ALL events is the wrong solution. The way forward is to bring in new blood and tap into the thing that makes events like the marathons and the 24 hour events such sell out successes.

Thanks to Perth MTB club, cycling legends Jo and Tim Bennett for putting me up, and sponsors ForTheRiders, Sram, Shotz, Adidas, NSDynamics, Schwalbe and PCS Coaching.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Langkawi International MTB Challenge

I’ve been wanting to visit Malaysia for about 12 years so the LIMBC was a great excuse. Five days of racing on a tropical island, hotel accommodation, all transport and meals included – I could see nothing bad in this proposal. Race-wise I didn’t have too many expectations – a top 5 finish on a stage or two in a field which included world number 8 Natalie Schnietter and Australian XCO champ Kath O’Shea.

My first time on Singapore Airlines proved to be a seamless experience – frequent flier here I come. Arriving Sunday night there were shuttle buses there to greet the riders and escort them to the Bayview Hotel in Kuah Town. The whole week continued like this with regular transport to venues for riders and supporters, plenty of post-race refreshments and three delicious meals per day at the hotel. Some people were a bit tired of rice and curry at the end of the week, but this tends to be my staple diet so it was ‘situation normal’.

Maybe I missed the communiqué on health but I didn’t get any pre-trip jabs, I ate the food and drank the water from the tap and stayed healthy, although quite a few riders were hit with stomach problems in the first couple of days. The main challenge was hydration due to the temps in the low 30s and 1000% humidity. Losing litres of sweat during each stage it was difficult to keep forcing the fluids in. I cramped badly in the first stage and doubled up on the Shotz electrolyte tabs for the rest of the week and didn’t have a problem.

Stage 1 & 2 were also stand-alone UCI XCM and XCO events respectively. The initial stage was a tour of the island, cutting through the jungle on mainly double track with some technical sections, short stretches of tarmac and some memorable muddy hiking. Almost every afternoon was punctuated by a storm which necessitated bike cleaning daily. The trails held up well though and Racing Ralphs were fine without resorting to anything more aggressive.

The XCO track was my favourite stage and also best result with a second placing. An initial climb littered with slippery rockes and roots broke the field up early. Midway through the course it was all downhill on some tight single track through a rubber tree plantation. The farmers agreed to remove the liquid rubber collection buckets to avoid the riders being coated in a sticky mess. The clay descents proved intimidating for some as the course dropped down the terraced hillside. My Santa Cruz Blur was perfect for stages 1 to 3 which more than made up for being slightly outgunned by the 29 inch hardtails in the remaining stages. I was surprised at the quality of the single trail which left you smiling despite the sauna-like conditions.

Stage 3 had initially been slated as a 6 hour, but due to adverse trail conditions (the terms muddy and sewerage were used) it was cut to another XCO race, but more like a long duration short-track with minimal climbing and stretches of flat grass. I was prepared to hate this course but it was so much fun as well as fast and furious. Again the quality trails saved what could have otherwise been a boring stage.

Sitting in third place I had two days left to survive with a head cold coming on. The legs were feeling pretty empty and I just tried not to bleed too much time on the 14km hill climb up Gunyung Raya. Falling off the back of the bunch several times on the way to the foot of the climb I wasn’t confident of reaching the top! Focussing on finding my own rhythm for the 50 minute climb and fighting the urge to climb in one of the support vehicles I only lost a couple of minutes to the 4th placed Italian Benzoni. The descent was uber-fun though and I got to chat to Chris Froome of Sky and Adam Blythe of Omega-Pharma who were making guest appearances for the final two stages. Looking a little uncomfortable on the event-issue MTBs with questionable geometry and positive rise stems, they still seemed to be enjoying the break from skinny tyre Euro adventures.

The final crit of 30 mins plus 3 laps was held in possibly the warmest conditions of the week. Half-tarmac, half dead, corrugated grassy slog the lead bunch stayed together until the last two laps when a few riders, myself included, dropped wheels as the pace turned up. Finishing 30 secs adrift, 3rd place on GC was assured and it was time for some R&R.

Exploring the island on scooters is a must with the open roads and courteous drivers making it quite safe. Even getting caught in the short intense storms is quite pleasant when temps rarely drop below 30C. The beach near the Sheraton resort on the north-west of the island was a highlight with the quintessential brochure setting of white sand, crystal clear water and mini-islands within swimming distance. Other options are jet ski hire, para-sailing, cocktails on the beach, massage…the list is extensive.

In only their second year the organizers, Human Voyage, have pulled together a super event and a truly international field in a spectacular setting. Definitely a great way to combine racing with a value for money holiday. Keen to return to this one next year!

A big thanks to Donna from PCS Coaching for all her work in getting me prepared for racing and also the boys at FTR for getting my equipment in tip-top shape.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dwellingup 100 - Perth

Last year I was flown to Perth to do this race in a joint effort with Shotz nutrition and Trievents.  Apparently they didn't hate my work so the opportunity came up again this year and I quickly accepted.  The course is great but deceptively tough and the people like, Tony Tucknott from Perth MTB Club, are just incredibly passionate about their riding.
Its not just a junket though and I, Andy Blair, Gracie Elvin and Jason English visited 6 primary and secondary schools, doing Q&A with the students, a roll around with them if they had bike and even a mini race utilizing a set of stairs and a beach volleyball sandpit just to give them a proper taste of mountainbiking.  Some kids were more receptive than others but if it encourages just one of them to get into the sport and maybe go on to represent Australia I think that would be pretty cool.
Our plans for a roll before race day were thwarted by a freezing torrential downpour so I didn't have the chance to have a first ride on my new Santa Cruz Blur XC.  Luckily the guys at For The Riders are complete wizzes at building and setting up bikes.  During the race everything just worked and my position felt like I was riding an 'old faithful' for the upteenth time.  Even my new shop-issue knicks were non-chaffing.  But do as I say, not as I do - no new gear on race day kiddies!
Darryl from Shotz thought it would be a great idea to have Gracie at the race to "give me some competition".  We are pretty evenly matched most of the time in XCO and I was looking over my shoulder the whole race expecting her to stomp past me on the flats as she's an excellent TT rider.  By her own admission she ended up having a creeper but I'm glad another one of our top riders has experienced the race so they can recommend it to others.
I hit the first 40km hard as that was where most of the climbing was.  After the feed zone there is a long stretch of bitumen that you do not want to get caught on alone so I was lucky to be riding in the Mens Masters group for most of the remaining 60km (or not, as they were setting a hot pace, attacking each other frequently).  Although the climbs are not long it is just continuous rollers for the whole course which gets very taxing.  Dealing with the unfamiliar surfaces of pea-gravel and the infamous green clay that is like riding on ice, all adds to the challenge.  I keep banging on about the singletrack here but it really is THAT good.
Finishing up with a convincing win I was happy to chalk the first one up for the new sponsors of FTR and Santa Cruz - hopefully the first of many for the next season.  In marathons I think what you feel in your last hour of racing reflects what you did in the first hour.  I hydrated well with the Shotz tabs and regularly took in the gels to avoid the 3-hour-blues when you run out of sugar and start to wonder why you put yourself through these things.  Remember:  its not your head, its your stomach talking!
See you at the next one.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Its a brand new year!

This weekend is like NYE for mountain bikers.  The culmination of the current season in the World Champs in Champery and the start of a new season with a clean slate and some resolutions to 'do it better' in the next 12 months.
Whether by chance or design its also a time to sort out new bikes, gear and sponsorship and I have some exciting news in that department.  For The Riders have supported me for 3 years although I've never actually be sponsored by a bike company they've stocked.  In short, they are awesome guys and their work on the tools is without equal.  So, speaking to proprietor Tim, I said I wanted to become an FTR full-blood.  He replied with the words Santa Cruz Carbon Blur XC and we were on!  SRAM XX, Louis Garneau, NS Dynamics, Shotz nutrition and Schwalbe tyres are also on board with a couple more to announce soon.  Many thanks to all for making another year on the trails possible.  Also, to my family and friends for your continuing support - its greatly appreciated.
PS.  Pics or the new rig are coming soon.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lessons learned...

Five weeks is not enough time to get in world cup form (who would have guessed?).
Euros are really fast uphill (i kinda knew this one already).
National champs are 6 months away and I have some work to do.
Ultimately, mission achieved. Raced 2 world cups, got 6 UCI points (estimated cost $750 per point!) and got some valuable experience. It's also made me determined to get some of our young Aussie girls over here racing. I spoke to Gunn Rita today and she has such great memories of a year spent living in Sydney as a 19 year old, she is looking forward to coming back soon. I said Australia would love to have her so let's see if we can get this happening.
A big thank-you for all the supportive messages from home. I have a couple more nights sleeping on Jared Grave's couch then home baby! Can't wait to see my girl and catch up with great friends. Ciao.

Sent from my HTC

Lessons learned...

Five weeks is not enough time to get in world cup form (who would have guessed?).
Euros are really fast uphill (i kinda knew this one already).
National champs are 6 months away and I have some work to do.
Ultimately, mission achieved. Raced 2 world cups, got 6 UCI points (estimated cost $750 per point!) and got some valuable experience. It's also made me determined to get some of our young Aussie girls over here racing. I spoke to Gunn Rita today and she has such great memories of a year spent living in Sydney as a 19 year old, she is looking forward to coming back soon. I said Australia would love to have her so let's see if we can get this happening.
A big thank-you for all the supportive messages from home. I have a couple more nights sleeping on Jared Grave's couch then home baby! Can't wait to see my girl and catch up with great friends. Ciao.

Sent from my HTC

Monday, August 15, 2011

One down...Nove mesto na Morave

Implementation of the UCI's new race rules has definitely changed the game. Shorter laps makes a fast start even more important to avoid getting pulled out by commissaires before the final lap. The steeper course favours the pure climbers and technical ability counts for nothing if you're stuck behind a muppet on the singletrack descent.
Only racing the last 2 world cups makes a good start difficult. Less UCI points means you start at the back and a year of racing enduros has done nothing for my speed over a 1km start loop. I managed to pick up 9 places early on and just when my endurance was kicking in it was over. The marshal steps in at the end of the 3rd lap, directs me off the course and my race is done.
Positives: I rode all the lines I'd planned to, cleared the obstacles and had a safe race.
Negatives: I need to get some raw speed back and that is not going to happen in a week.
All that aside I am pretty happy as I've only been on the PCS program for 8 weeks and I'm racing world cup - sweet! Wait until I've got 6 months worth in the legs!

Sent from my HTC

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but this cycling game can be pretty boring at times. Someone asked me what I do when I'm not racing - do I just go out partying? That made me laugh.The first half of this week has been interesting but once race village opens its all business. You want to spend as much time as possible getting familiar with the track, but not too much time or you'll get tired.
If you're not on the track or getting your gear fixed, you're putting your feet up in your small room, with a small tv and its sole channel in a language you don't understand. I brought 3 books and I'm already through 2 of them. Free WiFi is awesome but there's only so much Facebook you can do on the HTC before your eyes hurt.
So you lay in bed and read, or listen to your ipod and you try not to eat. Or think about eating. You've seen the climbs out there and you need to be a lean racing machine so stop looking at that block of dark chocolate. God. So bored.
I spoke with Ralph Naf or the Multivan team today. They're staying in the hotel right beside the track. I wonder if he has this problem. Probably not. With an international team at your disposal you definitely have at least one channel of your chosen language and a lap top for movies. I wish I had a laptop. Good looking man, Ralph Naf. Great skin. So bored.

Sent from my HTC

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rain, rain, bugger off!

It's colder here than in Brissy and a damn sight wetter. Euro summers are so changeable. Give me consistently hot and wet in Qld any day.
I'm over the jet lag, now just the virus to go. Fitting in some touristy stuff I've seen the Cistercian monastery and the 5-point-star shaped Church of St John. The latter is conveniently placed on Zelena Bora (Green Mountain) making it perfect for my hill sprints this morning - thanks Lonely Planet guide! My Czech is getting better and I can now ask for coffee, wine, the menu, the bill and can almost pronounce the name of the town I'm staying in, Skrdlovice.

Sent from my HTC

The story so far...

Performance is a combination of preparation, persistence and a bit of good luck. The latter seemed to have deserted me as I woke with a headcold the day I was to fly to Germany. It found me again when I got the whole middle row of seats to myself on the Brisbane to Singapore leg of the flight. Sleeping horizontally was bliss especially as the flight departed at 2.30am. I imagine this is what business class is like, but apparently the wine is better there.
I had the usual pre-trip meltdown, wracked with motherly guilt and anxiety. Some amazingly well-timed messages of support reminded me that I'm off to 'do my thing' so I had every reason to be confident & relaxed, though easier said than done.
Since starting up with Donna Dall at PCS coaching I've felt stronger and fitter than ever, although with only local recent racing its hard to gauge if that perception is translating into reality. Only one way to find out - world cup on Sunday!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Back on the rollercoaster

Ever since I started mountain-biking people asked me how far I wanted to take it, to which I replied “as far as I can”. This means as far as my physical ability will take me, but also with regard to my family, professional and financial commitments will allow. I’ve never been in a position to just eat, sleep and breathe cycling because I’m a parent and have responsibilities, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being a ‘pro’ and completely consumed by your sport also struck me as pretty one-dimensional too and I’m not sure I would function well like that.

We all love our chosen sport and that sometimes blinds us to the fact that not everyone else finds it that enthralling. While 60,000 people will fill a stadium to watch 26 men with no necks chase a ball around for 80 minutes, mountain-biking has a more modest following. I think that more people are likely to PARTICIPATE in our sport though than simply sit on their butts and watch. Regardless of this sponsorship is still very hard to come by. I’ve been really lucky and had assistance since day one with bikes, equipment and servicing, which are the big expenses. Once you start competing nationally add in flights, accommodation and loss of income, the dollars rack up pretty fast. Before Merida Flight Centre came on board, I was about to quit competitive riding on the recommendation of my bank manager!

If you have aspirations to compete internationally, that is just a world of pain. I came to the conclusion long ago that the way through the financial hardship was never going to come from the AIS or companies with a commercial interest (women’s mountain-biking, you must be kidding), but from someone who just loved cycling or sport and wanted to see others do well. My entry into cycling was facilitated by my old running group PCRG who all chipped in and bought me a MTB to rehab my running injuries when my last bike was stolen. This same group of people then all dug deep again to fund my first trip to the 2008 MTB Marathon World Champs in Italy, even though I’d abandoned their sport a couple of years before. The Riders Club paid my airfare to my first National XCO series round in Adelaide in 2007 which kicked off the next 4 years of competing all over the country. This is small club of great people who first welcomed me into mountain-biking, back in the days when club President John Pinnell would outride me with one-arm (NB: He still gives me a run for my money).

This year has been mixed for me in mountain-biking results. My form at Nationals was not what I’d planned and then I headed to South Africa for the Cape Epic where Naomi and I had some great results despite me being seriously underprepared. The event was a great test of mental toughness though and a couple of months later I was fit and strong, taking out the 24 hour. I don’t have a burning desire to be a 24 hour racer, it was more a case of being fit, needing to find an event (with prize money) and wanting to make a mends for my DNF at my first 24 solo. It was also a chance to hang out with some ‘grass roots’ mountain bikers. I’ve never been that comfortable around ‘elite’ riders and to be honest I wouldn’t know Julian Absalon if I tripped over him. It took me an hour to work out I was talking to Gunn Rita Dahle and she’s one of my heroes!

Entry into the Australian team this year was very doubtful as recent World Cup experience is a prerequisite for selection. Enter, my client and friend (he would not want to be named), who refused to give up and has put up a substantial amount of funding to help with travel costs and is exploring other avenues to get help with expenses. We’re not all the way there yet but there comes a time when you have to say “fuck it, let’s do it” (Sorry, Richard Branson, I think I stole that). Plane tickets are booked and I’m getting accommodation sorted on short notice so hopefully I don’t end up sleeping the in the hire car. Selection for World Champs has passed but there is a small event in London next year that I will still be in the running for.

Sometimes it’s easy to get disheartened and give up on goals, especially when the people around you, although you love them to death, don’t really understand why you flog yourself for no financial reward. It only takes one person to believe that the goal is worthwhile and that you can achieve it, to get you back on track. So a huge thanks to my mate and I can’t wait to head off on another adventure.

(Note: The final 2 rounds of the world cup are in Nove Mestro Na Morave, CZ on 13 August and Val Di Sole, IT on 20 August)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Merida 24 hour - Hiddenvale

Every time someone asks how I train for a 24 hour, I just laugh – I’d never want to train for one of these! Again, I entered on a whim as I finally felt fit after the Cape Epic, the track sounded fun, and I looked forward to the social atmosphere. I love catching up with riders and seeing familiar faces I’d missed when racing away from home. Meeting new riders is also great, especially the local girls who have been hitting it up (and snapping at my heels!). Unfortunately Rachel Edwards, the race favourite, withdrew early after battling a virus all week. A big thanks to her partner though who was a great help during my night laps when my pit crew had too many beers and went to bed!

The distance of the race was not my biggest concern, it was the concept of staying awake all night. I get very sooky when I’m sleep deprived and have actually curled up in the backseats of a Tina Turner concert when my eyelids just wouldn’t stay open. A coffee addict, I restricted myself to one in the morning and saved the double espressos for the dark hours. With two ipods I had a soundtrack of some lounge trance for the early evening which was magical. Railing the singletrack with a 700 lumens Niterider, possums, a sugar glider and some Armin Van Buuren – it doesn’t get any better.

At midnight it was time for some banging house tunes, pizza and chocolate – anything to keep me happy and awake. The chocolate turned out to be a mistake, although a delicious one. 3am to 6am was the hardest time to keep going. It was 4 degrees, my arms were smashed and I was regretting wearing bib knicks. Trying to undress to go to the bathroom with jacket, arm warmers, light and ipod cables going everywhere and being slightly delirious – it must have been hilarious to watch.

Sunrise brought a temporary new lease on life and I cranked out a quickish lap fueled on fresh Arabica. By 8am I was 8 laps up on the next female and 3 laps up on the open man. After an earlier crash my derailleur cage was bent so I thankfully took the opportunity to retire despite the lovely race mechanic threatening to fix it.

Seeming to escape too much damage I noticed I was a bit ‘puffy’ in my hands and feet and developed a bit of a headache. It wasn’t until the next day I realized I had a mild case of hyponatraemia. I’d run out of Shotz electrolyte tablets and injested 8-10 litres of plain water during the race, stuffing up my sodium levels so my body cells started retaining water, including my brain cells, causing the stabbing pain in my skull. On a steady diet of vegemite and restricting my water intake, it resolved itself in a few days. This can be fatal so I learned, the hard way, not to half-arse my nutrition.

I can say that I actually ENJOYED the race, which is a bit concerning! Thanks to the Merida Flight Centre, For The Riders for the flawless bike prep, Niterider lights and Shotz nutrition. You all keep my wheels rolling!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A very belated recap of the Cape Epic!

Foreword: For the record Naomi Hansen and I finished fourth after sitting in third until the last day. It was sub-optimal going into this race with zero form but this is the drawback to having to commit to a race 6 months before. Trying to stay in a positive frame of mind while working with what little fitness I had required a lot of soul searching.

The South African Adventure

Tough. That’s the best word to describe the Absa Cape Epic. There are many blogs and websites recounting the race itself, but I want to share the rest of the experience.

Used to ‘inventive packing’ to beat the airline baggage Nazis, it took some careful maneuvering (and my team-mates Q club membership) to get bike and gear on board for the long flight to South Africa. Brisbane to Cape Town via Perth and Johannesburg and finally we were in Cape Epic central. Unpacking at the Dolphin Inn, our beachfront B&B, there was a small hiccup when my bike got lost between there and Perth. Luckily we were within walking distance of the V&A waterfront. The redevelopment of this landmark is stunning, with quality restaurants and unbelievable food for a fraction of Aussie prices. At sunset we strolled down to the wharves to watch the seals lounging on the docks.

Adidas sure know how to throw a party and registration at the V&A was quite a spectacle. From a slack-liner (think tightrope walking with the lycra) to the world champion trails rider, it was a change of pace from the usual course run-down. Unlike other race venues where residents are generally unaware of the event, everyone we met kept asking “Are you doing the Epic? That’s crazy!”.

Issued with a hospital-like wristband I would, for the next 8 days, be known as rider 199-2. A feedpass on a lanyard (essential for entry to the meal tent) and a number plate with transponder attached were placed in a large black duffel bag into which you had to fit all your worldly possessions. I packed it once, but couldn’t zip it up. On the second attempt closure was achieved but unfortunately I couldn’t lift it. Another round of luggage rationalization and we were locked and loaded for the prologue.

Once ‘in camp’ things became logistically easier. If you’ve ever dreamed of having nothing to do except eat, sleep and ride then you will enjoy the everything-included nature of the Cape Epic. The baggies are a team of fun-loving incredibly fit, bare-footed (and bare-chested, ladies!) young men who look after the hefty bags, packing them on the trucks for transport to the next stage. If you smile nicely they may even carry yours to your tent after you’ve had a long day in the saddle.

The camp is a sight to behold with row after row of red dome tents to be occupied by the riders. My team-mate is a CE veteran so we picked a couple farthest from the ‘chill zone’ (read: bar) and closest to the bag drop for the next move. Accommodation is very basic with a BYO sleeping bag policy, but there is a plastic covered mattress to offer a degree of comfort. An inflatable pillow is highly recommended. The first night is the most difficult to sleep but can be made easier by eyeshades, earplugs, ipod – anything that blocks out the floodlights, the movement of trucks at midnight and the inevitable snoring and farting of your camp neighbours. After a couple of stages though, you sleep through anything, even a leaking tent as I learned from experience.

Revelry is at 5am. About this you have no choice as the CE soundtrack is switched on over the loudspeakers. A catchy version of “Over the rainbow” will now be forever associated with hideously early mornings and an aching body. Rugging up against the brisk morning we grab torches and trudge to the large enclosed marquee where meals are served. The usual fare is available – porridge, cereal, eggs, bacon and toast. Instant coffee is included but the Woolworths coffee cart fires up early for those looking for something more refined. As the week progresses this is where you observe the toll of the race. Initially there is a buzz with people socializing and speculating about the coming stage. In the latter stages it is a place of vacant stares, hunched shoulders and minds only capable of concepts such as “food goes in”.

Starts are staggered at 7, 7.15 and 7.30am, depending on your GC placing. With 1200 riders this helps a bit with congestion, as does the practice of sending the field up a massive berg at the first opportunity. Cape Epic is a pairs race and team-mates are required to stay within two minutes of each other at all times. Timing mats are placed on course to catch out those who stray too far from their partner. The 707 kilometres are far longer than they sound due to the 14,000 metres of vertical ascent across some of the wildest terrain in South Africa. Course marking is excellent which is fortunate when the brain is not functioning at the end of the day. Each long stage has at least three feed stations with lollies, fruit and home-made muffins. Hydration options include water, electrolyte and coca-cola, which proved to be a soul saver for many.

Fast forward 6 or 7 hours of loose fireroad, dizzying climbs, achingly beautiful views and some unexpectedly flowy singletrack, riders cross the stage finish to the applause of spectators. CE volunteers relieve us of our bikes and take them away for washing and securing in the bike park. A Woolworths lunch bag is thrust in my hands as I wander dazed and confused through the finish tent. Although I assumed I would have many hours to while away, there is precious little time to yourself. After I ate, showered, washed my clothes, had a massage and prepared my gear for the next day, it was time for dinner and presentations.

Collapsing in bed at around 7.30pm it made me wonder about our natural body rhythms. With no lights, my mouth became an extra limb, holding the torch to accomplish simple tasks like tidying and dressing, made more difficult in a small dark tent. This gets old after a while and being mindful of conserving the battery life, it was easier to go ‘lights out’ and drift off. I had a feeling of being broken down to my most basic being – and I mean that in a mostly positive way. Living in a techno-rich, brand-concious, million miles an hour society, here I was…in a tent, under the stars, no make up, no hair dryer, no electricity. A happy day was having dry socks!

The simple things. There was also a very tribal feel with the sojourn to the water truck with all the bottles I could carry and to the communal laundry tubs where I went armed with a bar of sunlight soap and an iron will to get my socks white again, or at least less-brown. Both occasions required co-operation, consideration and the performance of menial tasks which invited conversation with strangers. I’ve lived beside my neighbours for two years with little contact other than a cordial “hello” as we pass on the driveway. But here as the sun set over the western cape, I was engaged in jovial repartee with my fellow campers. Perhaps as a society we lost something when we were no longer required to go down to the river and beat our clothes against a rock?

If all this sounds a bit primitive there are certainly options for comparative luxury. Mobile homes are available as part of the race pack options, with locals ready to drive between stages. This is a better option for those wanting to be competitive in the race. Its also possible to stay at accommodation in nearby towns but a car would be required to reach them in most cases. The food onsite is basic and plentiful but those with particular dietary requirements or allergies would need to make their own arrangements. Every race organizer should experience the machine that is the CE logistics team. Everything just works and is realistically catered for the number of competitors. Waits at peak times for toilets and showers are not unreasonable. Race management seems responsive to rider feedback, installing anti-bacterial gel in toilets, race packs and meal tent after a string of stomach bugs in 2010.

Unfortunately work commitments required us to fly home the day after the race-end to the local’s cry of “but you haven’t seen the best bits!”. With 3 stages finishing in verdant wineries and ample time sampling the local reds, I assured them I would be back. It’s lucky the memory of my pain-wracked body was a short one, although perhaps the wine had something to do with that.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

National XCO 2011 - Adelaide

Well I can’t say I’m happy about my performance at Nationals this year (6th place). In the post-race analysis there’s no one thing I can pinpoint to say “oh that’s what went wrong”, although I am now host to a most unwelcome virus so I can’t discount that as an underlying cause. The prerace week was fine although trying to squeeze 3 days of work in to one Monday was sub-optimal. I arrived in Adelaide a day earlier than usual to avoid the rush of assembling bikes and doing practice laps on the same day. Ok, so I came early for the awesome weather and riding…so shoot me.

Unfortunately, its becoming apparent which areas of my life which don’t support an elite training regime – a physical job, single parenthood. But the biggest difference has been brought to my attention by my new flatmate. At 18 years of age he is a clergyman of cycling – up at 4.30am, riding until lunch, eating, working, sleeping. I calculated he is getting at least a solid 9 hours sleep every night. I’d say I’m averaging about 6…maybe. How do I find an extra three hours in my day? What do I sacrifice? These are all good questions and after two glasses of a surprisingly good merlot, I still have no answers.

Success in anything, I believe, is about balance. Yes an elite cyclists’ life is heavily tilted towards training, but often it’s the other joys in life which give you the drive to keep going when the odds are stacked against you. I once read a journal outlining the psychological differences between male and female athletes. The bottom line was that men derive their sense of self-worth from their athletic performances. In contrast, women needed to feel good about themselves FIRST, then the good performances flowed.

It’s difficult to ride at max-intensity during a race if your head is cataloging all the ways you fell down in your role as a parent, a business owner and a friend. To devote so many resources to an activity you feel a need to justify it to the people who depend on you. To be able to point to a goal and say “that’s where I’m headed” is a way to make sense of the sometimes blinding obsession that is training. When these goals fail to be attained it calls for a reassessment – why am I doing this? Is this worth it? Is this making me a better person?

One of the things which keeps me going is the mornings I drop my daughter to school. I’m always in cycling kit, either post-ergo or pre-ride. They probably assume I don’t own any ‘real’ clothes. Her friends are very quick to ask where I’ve been racing and where I will be riding next. Before I can answer my daughter is already listing my schedule and accolades. She knows her mum is a bit ‘different’ (frequently tired and moody, certainly!), but for her different is a normal way of life and it will hopefully make her world a bit bigger in terms of possibilities.

I also have to mention the messages I receive in response to my blog or facebook. Knowing that what I do or write can have a positive impact on someone is the best thing I could hope for. Thank you for the emails and comments and thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mt Buller - national series round 3

Sweltering away in a proper Brisbane summer (finally) I felt very odd packing an all-weather jacket and arm warmers for the third round of the national series at Mt Buller. After consulting the trusty BOM website though it seemed I had to be prepared for 30 degrees and fine, 15 degrees and raining then 6 degrees and clearing. Gotta love Victoria.

Getting in some practice on the course I found it interesting, with some flowy single-track, tough open climbing and plenty of places for passing. The final descent was a treat, although after heavy rain on Friday it was expected to deteriorate on race-day. As the temperatures dropped a Northern girl like me really appreciated the new custom Merida jacket from Champion Systems. Complete with rain and windstopping-goodness it really saved my weekend. It has definitely earned a place in my European Adventure packing list.

I ran a Schwalbe Rocket Ron on the front and a Racing Ralph on the rear because…well honestly, that’s what was on my bike and I was too busy to change it. Also, my motto is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It turned out to be the perfect combo with a slightly more aggressive tread on the front to hook into the ample amounts of mud. I’m still running 3x9 Sram X0 drivetrain and am hanging on to my granny ring like a security blanket. It got a workout today but I’m looking forward to getting on the XX system on my Merida 96 at home.

As start time rolled around I reluctantly relinquished my jacket, but raced in arm warmers to keep the shivers at bay. After the usual insanity of the first lap I settled into 9th position, trying to get a rhythm going while appreciating the atrocious weather as great prep for European racing. The boggy, soaked course reminded me of Champery although at 15 degrees it was still a fair bit warmer than that slice of Switzerland.

By the second lap I realized I was on a bit of a creeper. Not unexpected as I’d just done a big block of base with zero intensity, but still disappointing as my heart rate hovered well below threshold. While everyone else was wishing our 5 laps would be shortened due to poor conditions, I secretly hoped we’d go longer so my endurance could kick it. I soaked up the technical experience as we don’t get to ride mud in Queensland due to the damage it causes to the public trails. Getting a bit ‘unusual’ in a few slippery sections would have been fine if it hadn’t been the spots where the national coach was standing…every lap!

There were some challenges to manage throughout the race as I was frequently blinded by grit flicking up into my eyes. My technique was to keep blinking really fast to try and wash it away. It would have been useless rubbing my eyes as my filthy gloves would have just worsened the situation. I had also unwisely invested in some cheap grips which I spent most of the time hauling them back as they attempted to slip off the end of my bars. The fixing properties of hairspray are neutralized with rain it seems – who would have thought?

On the final lap I was warm even though it was pelting down and managed to pick up a couple of spots to move into 7th. I was having a great tussle with my team mate Terri Rhodes, who was on a super ride and showing off the bike skills she’s learned on the world cup circuit in 2010. It came down to the last descent where she got the better of me and left me to sprint it out with Peta Mullens (Honda Dream Team) to cement my 7th place.

Riding back to the apartment in Buller village I jumped into the hottest shower, still resplendent in my now not-so-green kit and tried to wash away the evidence of a hard slog. The priority now is to recover so I can start the sharpening up before National Championships in Adelaide in 3 weeks. So I’m kicking back in bed, compression tights on, munching on a gift from Shotz proprietor Darryl ‘the genie’ Griffiths…I wished for gluten-free Protein Recovery bars, and they magically appeared on my doorstep. Awesome.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dampened enthusiasm

Its been a while between blogs as I haven’t been racing and training doesn’t seem to warrant writing about…unless anyone is interested? I used the quiet time over Christmas and New year to do some bulk k’s that will hopefully carry me over the next few months. I usually enjoy this type of training – working on the bike tan, eating your body weight in jelly snakes and lots of thinking time. Its also a great chance to do some bunch rides with friends when I don’t have specific efforts to do. Unfortunately it rained non-stop in Brisbane for 2 months which sucked the fun right out of it.

Now I’m a north Queensland (Cairns) girl and am accustomed to a tropical summer, with the frequent warm downpours which keep it so green up there, but I can say I have never experienced rain like this. Just constant, unrelenting, pelting rain. The only comfort I could take was that it was warm and on my MTB rides I practically had the trails to myself.

After two months it was really getting me down. I read Ivan Basso’s blog where he mentioned that his measure of motivation was his willingness to get on the bike in poor weather. Well I’m not sure even he could maintain his enthusiasm in these conditions, and I know that mine was waning. Friends would turn up at the café in work clothes, having abandoned the hope of getting a dry ride in until Autumn, while I would turn up day after day alternately soaking wet or covered in mud. I got asked “what the hell are you doing training in this rubbish?” to which I replied “it not raining where my competitors live, so I still have to ride”. I did not miss one ride due to the weather, but I’d stop enjoying it weeks ago.

My last long wet ride was the Tuesday it all went pear-shaped up here. The turn-off for my hill efforts was underwater and I almost got stranded on the wrong side of a flooded bridge. Over the following week, well, I’m sure you all saw the TV coverage. Ironically, as the river kept rising we were having some of the nicest summer weather yet. I felt terribly guilty continuing to train while people were losing their houses, but I figured there is flood and famine somewhere in the world everyday and we just get on with it – so on with it I got. After losing one of my clinics and having most of my clients trapped in their own suburbs I also had a bit of spare time too.

So with a bunch of k’s in my legs and not feeling especially fast I’m looking forward to some short, sharp efforts to bring me up for National XC champs. I’ve also finally committed to the Cape Epic in South Africa at the end of March so I’ll be calling on the muscle memory of these base k’s to get me back to Cape Town in one piece.