Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hell of the Marianas - Saipan

It’s a pretty good deal being flown to a tropical island for a week and staying in a lovely beachfront resort with buffet privileges.  It’s an even better deal doing this three years in a row.  Somewhere in there I am required to do a 100km race with 1400m of climbing but as a percentage of total time spent working on my tan, it’s a pittance.  Not for one moment am I going to pretend this is hard work, but I’d like to give a different perspective to a story which could just be another piece about what a surreal life I sometimes lead.

I get these opportunities because for most of the time I have minimal social life and am frequently tired.  The times I don’t feel tired are because I’m tapering for a race and it’s not really the opportunity to go nightclubbing or, god forbid, engage in other non-bike activities.  I am very aware that should I start to ride like crap, these opportunities will no longer present themselves.  Races like the Hell of the Marianas are started by people who a) love bikes, b) want to get their community involved in riding bikes, and c) think of it as an investment, if not in building a profitable event, then having positive flow on effects for the tourism and commercial sectors of their area.  My worth as an invited ‘pro’ is dependent on getting people from Australia to, firstly, find Saipan on a map, then go there for the race or a holiday. There are some issues with getting Aussies to this race as outlined below:

1. Limited flights – unless you want to go via Seoul or Tokyo, the only way to get to Saipan is via Cairns and Guam.  With only 2 flights per week out of Cairns (which leave at 1am) your choices are to arrive the day before the race or 5 days before.
2. United Airlines suck – this airline has the monopoly on flights and insists on charging $200 each way for the inconvenience of carrying a bike.  Even Guam residents have to pay this exorbitant fee for a 45 minute flight to the neighbouring island.  Baggage rules are based on a dimension concept which would mean you would practically have to saw your bike in half to fit within the allowed limits.  This is the only airline in all my travels who operate on such a stupid basis.

But on the upside there are views like these when you ride…

Other reasons to go:

1. 3 feet law – yes that’s right, this small island is already leaps ahead of Australia when it comes to protecting cyclist with a mandated minimum passing distance.
2. Weather – it’s technically winter when the race is held but apparently the only difference between winter and summer is the rainfall, with winter being the (relatively) dry season. 
3. Quiet and casual – want to go out to dinner in a singlet and thongs?  No worries.  It irks me in Brisbane how it can be stiflingly hot but you’re still expected to dress up and sweat.  Saipan is a small island and even smaller population and a lot of jungle.  It’s easy to get away from the crowds.
4. It’s not filled with Australians – okay, so I’ve never been to Bali but what’s the point of going overseas to hang out with other Aussies?  All the locals speak English as well as native Chamorro, but if you want to make conversation in the Pacific Islands Club you should brush up on your Russian and Korean.
5. Non bike activities – there is a lot of opportunity for snorkelling, diving and hiking as well as incredible WWII sites for history buffs.

At the conclusion of last year’s race it did not seem there would be another edition.  However with the support of the Tourism board, sponsors and some really motivated individuals the 2013 ran and ran flawlessly.  I think the main reason for that is a woman named Kanae Quinn.  If you want to host an event where everything just happens like it’s supposed to, Kanae is your woman.  As soon as you started to formulate a question in your head like “how do we get to the start line?” there would be an email, or a race pack which explained everything in detail so all you had to do was follow the instructions, sit back and relax.  It really was kind of spooky after a while!  The course marking was spot-on and the traffic controllers actually controlled traffic, which was a nice change.

As for the race it was hot, hilly and tough as usual.  I took out first female, and also third overall so the boys need to lift their game.  The flat 25k section was tackled at the start of the race which made it much more social, riding in a bunch rather than a lonely time trial into a persistent headwind at the end which it had been the last two years.  There were fewer ‘pros’ this year, but more participants, which is what this is ultimately about: encouraging the locals to enjoy their environment on bikes and live healthier lives.

As defending champ I get to go back next year, and I’m hoping to take a few Aussies with me so send me a message if you are interested.

Thanks to Hell of the Marianas, Mariana’s Visitors Authority, Pacific Islands Club (love staying here), Kanae Quinn, Giant Bikes, Shotz, For the Riders, Ride Mechanic, Schwalbe, Sram, PCS Coaching.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Kowalski Classic 90km MTB - Canberra

It would have been nice to recover from the Flight Centre Epic last weekend but it was quickly back to reality.  Client’s legs needed massaging and their programs need writing.  I had been so pumped for the last couple of weeks of racing I think I’d emptied the enthusiasm tank.  The prospect of backing up for consecutive marathons was also a trip into the unknown.  My legs still felt really bad and I was quite exhausted by the time I boarded the flight to Canberra.

The Kowalski Classic was a late decision but I had heard about the quality and quantity of the single track which enticed me away from summery Queensland conditions.  I didn’t expect to be shivering in 1 degree temperatures on the start line in the middle of a field outside Queanbeyan though.  Staying in the car for as long as possible I attempted a warm up along the fireroad but this became an exercise in irony.  Eventually I found a sunny spot near the start line and just stood as still as possible and I ended up doing the entire event in arm-warmers feeling very comfortable with my choice.

The race headed straight up a climb after the start and five girls took off ahead of me.  I quickly realised my legs were still toasted from the previous weekend, compounded by lack of warmth and I had no choice but to let the others go and hope I saw them later.  With the course consisting of about 90% singeltrack though, it was hard to tell if they were 30 seconds in front or 5 minutes.  Plodding along at my own pace and taking time to drink and have a Shotz gel on the rare occasion we were on a fireroad the first couple of hours passed swapping positions on the trail with some male riders.  Concerns about being impeded on the narrow trails were allayed as the ‘wave’ starts meant I was riding with people of similar speed and ability.  Following one rider who was taking some smooth lines reminded me to stop fighting the singletrack before I completely exhausted my upper body.

At around 2 hours I had passed most of the other female riders and Jo Bennett and I were riding together when we hit the 50k feedzone back at the start-finish.  It was so great to see a legend out on the trails again after knocking out twins and I remembered how she thrashed me at my first Red Centre Enduro.  I could not get rid of her on the singletrack and I knew my upper heartrate zones would be no-go areas for this race so all I could hope is that my endurance would last slightly longer than hers.  Working the hills in some of the technical muddy sections I got a small gap, kept the gas on and hoped it would hold.  Again, it was hard to tell how big that gap was and every time I hit a fireroad I was looking over my shoulder.

With about 30 minutes to go I was slightly hallucinating.  The course-marking signs were moving in my vision and I kept seeing things out of the corner of my eye which just weren’t there.  Except that exceptionally large blackish wallaby – I’m pretty sure that was real.  While the singletrail was fun for the first half, that constant swinging back-and-forth was making me a little nauseous now and open road was a nice reprieve.  As usual it was great to climb off my bike under the finish arch and take the win, with Jo less than two minutes behind me for a Liv/giant one-two.

Photo credit:

In only its second year I am surprised at how well the event was run – easy registration, parking, started on time and the course-marking was spot on.  The trails are everything people said they were, but I seriously underestimated how taxing riding that much singletrack would be.  My arms and back are sorer than my legs!  As Jason English said on the podium: Canberra has some amazing trails and I’d live here – if it wasn’t so cold.

I’m looking forward to taking some time away from mountain-bike racing for the rest of the year and gear up for a summer of criteriums and the Hell of the Mariana’s road race in December.  Now I just need someone to massage MY legs.

Thanks to Self Propelled Enterprises for a great event and to my sponsors:  Giant Bikes, Ride Mechanic, For the Riders, SRAM, Progressive Coaching Systems, Louis Garneau, Shotz, NS Dynamics and Schwalbe.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Flight Centre Epic 2013

The Flight Centre Epic has grown a lot since my first in 2006.  With over 2000 competitors over the weekend of racing and an elite field stacked with riders from south of the border, its appeal has obviously grown.  A big factor has been the support of people like Graham Turner of Flight Centre, and the determination and hard work of Fleur and Hayden Brooks of the Hidden Vale Adventure Park at Spicers.  Certainly dispensing with the point-to-point format has made it more logistically possible for many riders. It is also perhaps an escape from the winter of southern states while we have enjoyed 30 degree days.  I use the term ‘enjoyed’ loosely as temperatures which are perfect for bikinis are not really conducive to comfortable bike racing.

My good friend Dean Saffron and his crew are making a short documentary on the race and I was prompted to recount some of my Epic experiences and also to remember how many times I had won.  Four apparently, and I definitely remember three of them.  Memorable moments such as racing in the black soil during ‘the wet year’ with so much mud on my tyres they were jammed on the bike frame.  In 2007 I arrived in the last feed zone and my friend Snake had a picnic blanket laid out with all manner of treats.  The last 20ks of that race were turbo-fuelled by chocolate and Coke and I put 5 minutes into 2nd place.  Last year was probably the most fit I have been and after pulling away on the main climb I rode strong to the end and won over National XC champion Jenni King.

2013 had some memorable moments of its own including the four leading women getting pace-lining tips and swapping turns on the road with Robbie McEwen.  I know a lot of the men riders were aiming to finish in front of Robbie, but I think Robbie was more worried about getting ‘chicked’!  I pulled away from him on the climbs, but this guy can really descend the technical stuff and he would be back on my wheel shortly afterwards.  Eventually pulling away from him, he recounted later the common experience of the Cramp-a-thon that comes with racing in the heat.

I made the mistake last year of using bottles during the second part of the course, which is predominantly singletrail.  This affords little opportunity to take ones hand of the bars so I grabbed a camel back at the 50km mark.  It was a lot easier just shoving the tube in my mouth quickly and getting back to steering than messing around with bottles and it staved off dehydration.  Until the 3.5 hour mark I felt fantastic but then the usual fatigue set in, my feet were swelling in my shoes causing immense pain and I fantasised about crossing the finish line and ripping them off.  Trying not to think about how long I had to go, I just focussed on the 30 minutes to my next Shotz gel, which had been heated to about 35 degrees in my back pocket for my culinary pleasure.

Not knowing how far behind my next rival was I aimed to really empty the tank over the last 20ks, but unfortunately this is when my hamstrings decided to start cramping leading to some awkward riding positions and stretching routines.  It must have looked like I was doing yoga on my bike – ‘salute to the sun’ with a bit of ‘lotus position’ thrown in.  I swear every year I see that red Flight Centre finish arch I shed a tear of relief.  For all those who think the elite riders are doing it easy, please be assured this is not the case.  It hurts.  Every. Time.

One of the most difficult parts is trying to compose myself and say something coherent at the finish line interview.  Dean and his crew then did another interview with me back at the main house.  I look forward to watching a replay as I’m not entirely sure what we spoke about.  I remarked to a few people that when I’m riding I imagine that as soon as I finish that all the pain will stop.  But it doesn’t.  It tends to intensify as the distraction of riding is now gone.  Racing – the gift that keeps giving.  I did managed another recollection on the podium next to 2nd placed rider Tori Thomas. My first MTB experience doing the Pursuit in 2006 was the year Tori came back from spinal injuries sustained after being hit by a car.  She won the Australian Marathon Champs, as the Epic was that year, and I remember being quite inspired by the story and hoping to race at that level in the future.  It was a nice piece of symmetry having her on the dais in 2013.

For 7 years I’ve envied the guests at Spicers the luxury of relaxing after the event without having to bundle everything back in the car and commute home.  I finally became one of those people and it was absolute bliss to celebrate the day with some friends and fall in to a luxurious four-post bed and a subsequent coma.  One of the best nights’ sleep on record, followed up with a raid on the buffet breakfast.

Thanks to all the volunteers out on course.  I had dinner with some of you and am constantly blown away but the number of people who give up their time purely for the love of the sport.  Thanks as always to my sponsors:  Giant Bikes, For The Riders, PCS Coaching, Ride Mechanic, Shotz Nutrition, SRAM, NS Dynamics, Schwalbe, Louis Garneau.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Trans Rockies 2013 - Canada

“They look happy, don’t they?”  My Trans-Rockies race partner, Cath Zeglinski was referring to a photo on my sister’s Facebook page.  It showed a group of people on a large inflatable tube, adrift on Calgary’s Bow River, laughing and enjoying the sunshine.  After a recent house party with my sister I can also speculate that numerous vodka jello shots preceded this floating expedition and much merriment would have been had.  Cath and I wondered what was wrong with us – why didn’t activities like these ‘do it’ for us?  It seemed so much easier than flogging ourselves over large mountains for a week on our mountain bikes, and yet, there we were, four days in with the gloss fading on the adventure.  We still had three days of leg-grinding, ass-hammering riding to come.

Our Rv campsite in Fernie

Although spectacular in their own right, I don’t believe the Canadian Rocky Mountains rival the Swiss Alps for breath-stealing ability.  Perhaps it’s due to the lack of scale, charming Euro villages and exotic native tongue?  What the Rockies do have is the best singletrack I’ve ever raced.  The first three days based in the British Columbian town of Fernie were a highlight and with stages climbing up to 1700 metres in the relatively short distance of 35 kilometres there was scarce flat ground to be found.  This was offset by the endless descending to the point of forearm cramp and incinerated brake pads. 

Bombing down the infamous Porky Blue trail I had several life-reviewing moments due to the loose surface and steep, narrow ride-line with the severe consequences of rocketing off a cliff if I lost concentration.  At the bottom the trail ended abruptly, entailing some grappling across a landslip, bike on one arm, the other arm clinging to shrubs as an anchor.  Sorry – I didn’t see rappelling gear on the equipment list!  There was no mention of ‘flow’ at the post-stage gathering, just high fives that we had all lived.  A lot of riders expressed negative emotions about this type of riding, but for me, this was real mountain-biking where I was put to the choice of slowing down, walking or choosing to ride it out.  It elicited that slightly nauseous feeling and the thought that this was not really what a responsible person should be doing when they have a dependent child and a business to be able-bodied for.  I call this ‘fun’.

Those used to groomed mountain-bike specific trails were more enthralled by the third stage at the Fernie Alpine Resort.  When we thought we had finished climbing we rounded the corner to see yet another climb leading to some audible “you’ve got to be f***ing kidding??” from riders behind me.  This was quickly forgotten once I hit the cracking descent from above the chairlift all the way down TNT and Rumpelstiltskin downhill trails.  I can only portray the buzz of these trails by saying I lay in my bed at 10pm that evening still grinning.  The berms; the wood jumps; the rock drops – and the sheer speed that my lactic hands were unable to mitigate.

When I signed up for the TR a year before, the pairs entry was the only seven day option.  The solo entry was a later addition but I thought a week of solo racing would be too mentally challenging so I chose to partner with a stage race veteran.  Cath and I met at Cape Epic in 2010 when I was being dragged around South Africa by a stronger team mate and hating life.  This time it was my turn to take the wind, try to find a shared pace and cajole a team mate to the end of each stage.  On the final day I used the incentive of a watermelon martini to keep my partner’s thoughts positive however it backfired when we became so fixed on cocktails we missed a turn-off and had to backtrack.  Focus!  It was humbling to ride with a tough (read: stubborn) woman who turned up for more punishment each day and never downed tools until the race was run and won.  It got me thinking again about what exactly motivates us to endure this in the name of adventure.

Several wildlife boxes were ticked: deer, elk, moose and one ridiculously cute chipmunk.  I had a yearning to see a bear or a cougar (preferably from a distance) but they remained elusive.  Another ‘first’ was nine days in an RV with two relative strangers.  I’m at my most stressed and pedantic during racing so being confined in a small space with others was another challenge of the event.  Our soigneur, Pete, endured the machinations of two, erm, assertive women with very particular requests down to the amount of marbling each cut of steak should possess.  That he did not turn to drinking heavily is quite surprising to me.  By day five I expected us to wake and find all Pete’s gear gone and a ‘Dear Janes’ letter on his pillow.

After 12 years this was the last edition of the Trans Rockies with the event transforming into the Singletrack 6 for 2014.  Details are sketchy at the moment but the trails alone are enough for me to sign up again.  In a happy coincidence my sister has chosen to be married in Canada the week after the race – I love it when things just work!

Winning women's team - Cath and I!

Essential items for the Trans Rockies winning team –

Giant XTC Advanced - light on the way up, smooth on the way down

Ride Mechanic Bike Milk – rewards you for not cleaning your bike too well. Coat, wipe to clean, coat again and leave it alone!

Ride Mechanic Moonshine – Chamois cream still in development and I have been a very satisfied guinea pig

Shotz Nutrition – Banana-berry & Mango-passion gels with Wild Bean for a caffeine emergency.  Choc Caramel recovery bars are soooo damn tasty with gluten free goodness.

Schwalbe Tyres – Nobby Nic for traction at the front, Racing Ralph for speed at the back.  Punctures during TR7 = nil

For The Riders – Best bike shop ever!  Bike was prepped to race and not a single mechanical

SRAM – Brakes and drivetrain took a hammering and came out on top

NS Dynamics – fully serviced fork pre-race: my hands and arms thank you!

Monza Imports – Louis Garneau helmet and shoes received approval from the Canadians

PCS Coaching – Thanks Donna for making sure I didn’t do too much and turned up fresh!

Ryders Eyewear Canada – I can’t find these glasses in Australia yet, but the Ryders Via model with photochromatic lenses were incredible.  Shady on the exposed ridgelines but clear in the forest.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Random strangers and resilience

When I started chatting to a random stranger at the top of Mount Glorious I never imagined I’d end up baring my soul on film.  That might be a little dramatic but after watching the clip below you may understand my reservations about making it public.  As I write this I am trying to discern my motives – what do I want to achieve from this and what will be the possible consequences?  True to form my decision to go ahead with public release is less about careful consideration and more about the ‘fuck it’ attitude that has got me down many sketchy trails in my years of mountain biking.  It is also about paying respect to the amazing work of photographer Dean Saffron ( who saw a dishevelled cyclist stumble into a summit cafĂ© and thought “there’s a story there”.

I have previously written about depression and organisations such as Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute who do such good work in creating awareness and breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness.  While this is a worthy goal I want to focus on the activities which actively assist people with poor mental health to improve their condition.  Sadly, many affected are either unaware of options or are unable to access treatments, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, for financial reasons.  One of the best tools is the Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative where people in need receive a psychologists referral from their GP and sessions are then subsidised.  Even with this initiative though, those requiring the most ongoing treatment often can’t afford it, creating the perception that good mental health is only for the wealthy.  People in this situation may choose to ‘self-medicate’ going on to develop alcohol and substance abuse issues.

One of the things I love about mountain-biking is the life analogies it provides.  I ride a trail now, instinctively flowing along, barely conscious of the synchronistic movements it requires.  Rewind to 2006 though and every ride was a mental effort with constant internal dialogue: weight back, lean into the corner, get that foot down, rear brake.  It was not really riding, it was just trying not to crash.  That’s what it was like learning not to be depressed.  Cognitive behavioural therapy (otherwise known as seeing a shrink) was not about paying some guy so I could appoint blame to the people or the events which had brought me to this unhappy place.  It was about providing the tools to get from where I was (in my head and life) to where I wanted to be.  A life-skills session which began with jerky, clumsy drills and, with frequent practice over time, became a way of living; an almost effortless habit.

The Pathways to Resilience Trust (  is an organisation focussed on working with children aged 4 to 17 and giving them the mental tools to become robust adults.  The school-based programs they bring to students, I believe, change lives and can circumvent the journey I undertook.  Their “How you can help” page details the benefits donations can make to the program. 

I hope you enjoy the clip -

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tailwind 4 Hour

I hate it when MTB races are cancelled due to rain.  It’s the cycling equivalent to the mate who is up for a big night out then pulls out at the last minute.  Disappointing.  So kudos to Tailwind for running the 4 hour despite the lashing of mud and water on the course.  Yes, I know there are trail care issues, but sometimes it’s good for people to harden up and learn to ride to the conditions.  If Belgians only rode when it was sunny do you think they would have become a global cycling powerhouse??

Riding in the wet exposes a lazy bike handler.  If you only get over logs by bumping into them you will quickly find yourself having a sit down on the trail.  Too stiff in the arms or heavy on the front wheel – bam!  As I told a PCS client, it takes finesse to ride in the wet.  Pick the front wheel up over the slippery log, stay loose and expect to slide.  Speak sloooowly to the bike as it takes a bit longer for it respond.

One big lesson I learned on the day: do not, under ANY circumstances, wash your muddy glasses off with electrolyte while they are still on your face.  It stings your eyes.  A lot.  After my May in Europe dealing with rain EVERY DAY I’ve learned to appreciate a more aggressive tyre up front.  The Nobby Nic inspired complete confidence even in slick off-camber corners.  Al Grant provided endless entertainment doing his best ‘dog on lino’ impression riding a single-speed with slicks.  Al – did you not stick your head out the window on Saturday afternoon??  Maybe he just likes a challenge.

I think this provided some good simulation of race conditions I can expect in Canada in a few weeks as well as an epic core-stability session.  The hard nuts of the Brisbane MTB scene revealed themselves so I thank them for turning up and making a day of it.  Always nice to get a win in less-than-ideal conditions.

Thanks to my sponsors: Giant, For The Riders, Ride Mechanic, Shotz, SRAM, Schwalbe and PCS Coaching.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Identity Crisis

It felt weird actually being ON the bike instead of in the feedzone.  After 3 weeks assisting the Australian Junior XC team in Europe I was much more at home passing bottles and jackets.  They must have rubbed off on me though as I was more motivated and organized than I've been at a local race for a while.  I know I tell my clients to treat every race the same - club go-around or national champs - but sometimes it's hard to get as excited for Toowoomba as I'd get for Val di Sole.

After the cold and rain of Euro 'summer' the Brisbane winters are blissful - 22 degrees on Sunday for the Yakima series race at Karingal.  It's the type of weather that really makes you WANT to ride your bike.  I also love this track as it's fast and fun.  After Friday's Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious road ride I was grateful for a less mountainous track and it was fantastic to get the win and churn out some freakishly consistent lap times. 

It was so relaxing being in the local racing scene after the bustle of World Cups.  Catching up with my coaching clients, putting faces to names and checking out new bike bling on a perfect, cloudless Queensland day.  It really doesn't get much better.  Then I remembered I will be in Canada racing through the Rocky Mountains for the Trans-Rockies at the end of July.  Some times I just have to pinch myself!

I often get accused of 'living the dream' when travelling overseas, especially to Europe which we see so much of during broadcasts of the Giro and Tour de France.  Travelling to race on a budget is certainly not a 5 star experience at times though and I had my fair share of cold showers, colder rides, funky smelling linen, communal showers and I washed my clothes in a bathroom sink for 3 weeks.  Despite that, working with Australia's young riders was an unbelievable experience which I hope to repeat in the future.

Thanks to all my sponsors: Giant, For The Riders, Ride Mechanic, PCS Coaching, Sram, Shotz, Schwalbe & NS Dynamics.


Monday, April 22, 2013

2013 National Marathon Championships – Atherton QLD

Warning:  the following report contains self-indulgent whinging.  Excess consumption may be harmful

Sitting in my doctors office on Friday a had a decision to make.  After 3 weeks of being floored by a virus I also had a kidney infection and would need antibiotics.  A legacy of being in knicks for 14 hours during the OHV24 – such a glamour sport!  It was hard to imagine racing the toughest XCM National Champs when I couldn’t even wee properly. Should I even bother getting on the plane? The doctor gave me the all-clear to compete but I don’t think she really understood what I had signed up for – and in the end, neither did I.

Facebook revealed many riders had been in Atherton for days, scoping out the course.  With 3300m of ascent in 100kms I thought ignorance was bliss.  If I’d cut one lap I doubt I would have fronted on Sunday for three of them.  This is not a race I would wish on my worst enemy.  The climbing was relentless and steep.  There was no way to ride easy unless you were walking.  Even walking hurt.  The only flat ground was the kilometre of fire-road from the start line to the first singletrack.  Everything else was back-achingly up or bone-shuddering down.  Several long descents induced lactic forearms and hand cramp from braking whilst holding on for life. 

Despite my lousy lead up I was sitting comfortably in third just behind defending champ Peta Mullens and Jenny Fay at the end of the first lap.  My legs felt surprisingly fresh and I was making a strategy for the rest of the race when I heard the fateful sound of Stan’s liquid escaping from my rear tyre.  I spent a while determining if it would seal but eventually accepted that I would need to put a tube in.  It took several goes to get the bike going again after I watched Jenni King and Liv/giant team matesTerri Rhodes and Sarah Riley pass me.  I stopped again soon after for another CO2 cannister to avoid pinch flatting on the steep rock shutes of the last singletrack of the lap.  The 7 minutes I spent trackside were enough for my legs to shut down and I had lost all motivation as I knew any chance of a placing was gone.

So with my bottom lip firmly out I ventured out on the second lap, deciding I would enjoy the pretty amazing single track one more time then retire from the race.  Heading up the ridiculous fireroad climb I made a deal that I would not walk.  I did however stop at a few points, have a drink, admire the view and dry my princess eyes.  Imagine my surprise when the defending champion Peta Mullens came rolling back down the hill passed me.  We stopped and chatted for a few minutes and Peta explained that after feeling awesome on the first lap she was now quite ill and dropping out of the race.  I convinced her that I was just tapping around and it might be fun to finish the lap but after a minute of riding together she started vomiting trackside and called it a day.

It was at that moment I was encouraged to continue.  Not because I’d just moved up a spot, but because I realised I wasn’t the only one having some bad luck and feeling disappointed with my performance. People were dealing with the race brutality in their own ways – walking up climbs beside friends or dismounting, steadying themselves with their bikes by resting their heads on the top tube and quietly sobbing.   It really was a lot longer around the rest of the lap than I remembered though and descending felt like a knife being stabbed into the palm of my hands so I told the race commissaire I was out as I crossed the start/finish line.  This was when enduro stalwarts Pete Winfield, Ant Shippard and Meg Carrigan gave me the HTFU speech and after 5 minutes of self-debating, eating, drinking and hurling abuse at them I began my final lap.

Walking most of the climbs I was heartened to see other riders persevering in a battle for survival and for a reward no greater than the personal satisfaction of conquering the course.  DNFs always feel dirty and although I was cursing them at the time I am very grateful for those who pushed me back out there.  It was an exercise in mental toughness as the lap-based courses hold out the tempting option of retiring to the relative comfort of the pits.  My eating and drinking strategy went out the window the previous lap and I contented myself to groveling to the finish where, as a final insult, my right pedal seized 150 metres from the finish line forcing me to cross the line pedaling with one leg. 

Somehow I still ended up on the podium in 5th place but merely staying the distance was a victory when I almost didn’t make the start line.  Everyone went to some dark places during this race and I am in absolute awe of all the finishers.  This will be a race memory to call on when I am next in the hurt box.  Now let us never speak of it again.

Thanks to my sponsors:  Giant Bikes, PCS Coaching, Ride Mechanic, For The Riders, NS Dynamics, Shotz, Schwalbe & Sram.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hiddenvale 24 Hour

On Easter Sunday I kicked back with a cooling cider in my hand and thought “ I wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world”.  Yes, I could barely hold said cider after the pummeling my hands received in 150ks of the Hiddenvale trails.  Not to mention the tenderness in the saddle-area which meant I was ‘kicking back’ in a most awkward manner.  Dust was seeping out of my tear ducts and my apparent lack of kidney activity was slightly concerning.  But here I was surrounded by kindred spirits who had not just voluntarily submitted to the punishment of a 24 hour race, but invited their families along to camp over the long weekend and watch their beloved’s physical and mental decline.

After winning the 24 Solo at Hiddenvale a few years ago I accepted the invitation (read: dare) from Luke Lucas to partner him in a mixed pair.  Half the time, half the pain was the rationale which proved incorrect in the end.  I’d say there is a threshold around 7 riding hours when you are experiencing all the discomfort that is humanly possible and any further riding maintains the status quo rather than exacerbating it.  At least a solo effort keeps you occupied, whereas the alternate lap strategy we adopted left me with a whole hour to anticipate the agony…I mean look forward to the sweet trails.  The allure of a scalding, cleansing shower is there, which, once taken, discourages the replacement of chamois on swollen cheeks and sweaty helmet on tired head.

Doing the team-thing is a hell of a lot more social though and I was adopted by two 4-person teams, the MAMILS and Sleepless In The Saddle who had a very professional setup and a ‘never say die’ spirit which saw them send a rider back out on course with only 18 seconds left in regulation time.  Swapping stories, trash talking and fantasizing about post race food and beverage consumption – this is what 24 hour teams racing is about.  The rest of the time was spent hanging out at Luke’s Kona team tent near the start line, waiting for the timing-chip toss.  Our race plan was ‘fluid’ with our night laps going from 4-lap stints, to two, to three and finally to “I’ll see you sometime after 6am and good coffee”.  Grabbing a few hours kip in the back of my Honda Jazz I fashioned a bed out of a sleeping bag, yoga mat and some rolled up clothes for a pillow.  Possibly not a use the vehicle engineers considered when installing fold-flat seats.

We had accumulated a good lead meaning extra laps were unnecessary but it didn’t feel like a proper 24 hour without some laps in the morning.  I was surprised at how good the legs felt climbing up the Escalator trail and thought I might have more in me.  Unfortunately my hands, already feeling the hurt from a big week doling out massages, packed it in after 9 laps leaving Luke to smash out our final lap and claim victory. 

Rock Bottom trail
Jungle Bean double shot soy lattes
Fried egg sandwich breakfast and the food tent lady with the gluten-free bread
Luke Lucas’ genuine excitement at standing on the top step in his fluorescent yellow podium shoes

Unforgiving XC grips
Running out of chamois cream at 7pm
The sighting of not one, but two snakes on track during the night laps

Just a fantastic event and am disappointed I didn’t bring my daughter as there were plenty of kids making use of the jumping castle, doing the kids race and just generally getting around the wide open spaces on their dirt bikes.  More of it!
Thanks to sponsors:  Giant Bikes, For The Riders, Ride Mechanic, Shotz, NS Dynamics, SRAM, Schwalbe & PCS Coaching.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

National XCO Champs 2013 - Canberra

Reflection on the ‘race that was’ is always a mix of ‘could have; would have; should have’.  Fifth at National XCO Titles was not what I had hoped.  When I say something like that I am aware that for many people it is more than what they dream of so that always makes me cautious in expressing disappointment.  The racing, for me, has always been the reward for all the hurt and fatigue in training.  When I think of all the times I smashed out a massive ride in the morning and then spent the rest of the day massaging other people at work while my legs screamed at me to lie down – well, I’d hoped for a better result.

When I crunched the numbers though, it was still a solid ride.  In the measure of ‘time behind the winner’ it was similar to my bronze medal ride last year, but other riders have stepped up a gear and brought their best form to Nationals.  Like I tell my clients – you can’t control it when others are riding well, you only control what your legs can put out on the day.   Some more high intensity work for me wouldn’t have gone astray.  I lacked smoothness on the rhythm sections of the track but with the wild weather in QLD over the summer, time on the MTB had been scarce.  Could. Would. Should.

The course itself was a lot of fun and contained most of the 2009 World Championship sections.  Some more open climbing and passing opportunities would have been welcome but given that I didn’t make it up the pinch climb of ‘Cardiac Arrest’ one single time during the race, I can’t complain about the lack of vertical ascent.  Having to remount with fuzzy vision, gasping for breath and fumbling with my cleats at the top, split seconds before the infamous ‘Waterfall’ rock descent made for an interesting challenge, resulting in one roll down completely unclipped (mental note – heels down! Heels down!).

With no respite the technical climb then started with numerous rocky obstacles required a front wheel lift or huck, right when I was on my limit and really had no huck left in me.  It was here I was disappointed to lose time through stuffing up several sections I had ridden smooth during practice.  Cruising through it in training and hitting it at race speed are two different things.  I tell my clients this all the time and yet had neglected to follow my own advice (not for the first time) and do some race pace efforts.  Taking the B-line on Hammerhead seemed like the soft option, but given that I’m not racing World Cups anymore I don’t feel the pressure to risk life and limb in every race.  I was heartened to see that the top 2 elite women weren’t taking the A-line either, proving that if you’re fast enough on the ‘up’ you can be a bit more conservative on the ‘down’.  Finishing each lap with berm after berm in ‘The Luge’ brought a smile every time, and some serious arm pump.  Who thought riding downhill could be so physical?

People come to the National Titles to challenge themselves so I applaud the course designers for providing that challenge.  Organisers try to balance that with the objective of making the competition accessible for the masses, which often results in ‘dumbing down’ the technical level.  That might be acceptable in participation events, but the National Champs should be HARD, and it should force riders not up to that level to go away for 12 months, work on their deficiencies and arrive at the next Championships more prepared.  

I chose not to do the National (Read: Victorian/NSW) series and it may have cost me a little in race prep, but what it didn’t cost me was $4000 and time away from my family.  There may have been some noises made about 2013 being my last National XC titles.  It might be the case, but it depends on where the next champs are held and if that venue interests me.  What I am planning is to get off the roundabout of ‘having’ to do particular races to satisfy selection criteria.  I want to be a regular consumer of MTB sport and support the races that have appeal in terms of great trails, organisation and race format (hint: the eliminator will NOT feature in my program).

Thanks to all the Progressive Coaching Systems athletes who competed at Nationals.  Being involved in your journey was a highlight and added a new dimension to my race weekend.  Also to my sponsors:

For The Riders
Giant Bikes
Ride Mechanic