Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Flinders Ranges Outback Epic - 205k MTB

Me: I’m doing a 205k mountain bike race through the Flinders Ranges

(insert name here): Oh! How many days will you be racing?

Me: Umm, just one…one really long day.

That’s how most of my conversations went in the lead up to the Event Strategies Flinders MTB Epic in the remote reaches of South Australia.  Grant it, it’s the longest one-day MTB race I’ve ever attempted but in my head is was going to be akin to a long Saturday training ride. Travelling with three other riders from SE Queensland added to the social-ride feel.  As the race drew closer I began to get nervous though. Firstly, I started the week with dead-legs from a big training and racing block the previous week. It’s just a social race – no need to taper, right? Secondly, I actually started to read the rider information pack. It’s been a while since I did a race with a mandatory first aid kit and there seemed to be an emphasis on the remoteness and requirement to be self-sufficient, which I should have thought more about when ticking the ‘unsupported’ category box.  Perhaps I had entered into this too lightly.

The big lap

Race director, Malcolm Robertson, stated during the comprehensive pre-race briefing that this is not a race that will likely attract 1000-plus racers.  This would be a niche event for riders looking for a true challenge.  I think the event has the capacity to grow far beyond the 80 riders who attended this year though.  As well as the 205k, there is a 100k and 64k which contains some of the best parts of the race.  The starts of the latter two, are timed to coincide with the passing of the leading group of 205k riders so there are often people to ride with despite the vast distances.  I rode straight into gun-time at the half-way mark and it certainly lifted the spirits.  There was a certain air of distinction having a 205k plate and being acknowledged by the fresh starters as a hard-ass.


After extolling the virtues of Canadian single-track and Swiss mountains for the last few months this was something completely different.  It finally dawned on me why international visitors come to the Australian outback.  Living amongst all those peaks must get suffocating at times and I guess they yearn for what we have – wide open spaces.  Flinders Ranges is every quintessential vision of the Aussie interior, right down to the numerous Emus roaming the roadside.  Just the sheer vastness of it all was spectacular.  Nine hours of riding on forest roads would have been an exercise in boredom, whereas here there was always a view to, what looked like, the edge of the earth.  Being out there for most of the day also showed off the distinctive ranges in various light.  And the colours are so vibrant, almost electric, with the red dirt, yellow grass, fluorescent green shrubs and cloudless blue sky.  It’s confusing how such a harsh dry land can also be so beautiful.  I felt like I was seeing my own country for the first time after years of travelling other lands. 
The Razorback
Peter MacDonald takes a much better photo than me.
See more at

 While the 205k is definitely a challenge, it is achievable by anyone willing to prepare their nutrition and equipment and steel their resolve to finish.  Lights are required at a certain point as riders have until 10.30pm to make the finish line.  The elder statesman of our group, 69 years young, finished inside the time cut whilst managing to apparently bathe and sun himself at each water station and take plenty of photos. I was keener to get in and get it done and travelled with a camel back, bottle and all the food required.  Deciding I’d rather have something solid in my stomach I tried some new non-gel race foods – I will not be eating chocolate brownies again for a LONG time.

The route is certainly not a technical one, however it is ‘as nature left it’ so there are obstacles such as sand, rocks and deep water ruts that have to be navigated.  I would say the wind is perhaps the biggest technical factor as the first 50ks were subject to a howling gale that threaten the blow riders off their bikes. A crosswind had competitors riding their bikes tilted to one side just to stay upright.  The highlight for scenery came at 185km cresting the Razorback and looking down the Bunyeroo Vallley. Well worth waiting for although the descent was over far too quickly.

Although the race is literally in the middle of nowhere, resort accommodation is available at the Wilpena Pound Resort.  There is also a camping option, but I’m too old and soft for that.  The pre-race meal at Rawnsley Station down the road was one of the best restaurant meals I have ever had (I did not know Kangaroo could be that tender!) so there is no reason to rough it while in the area.
With my coaching client and awesome chick Amanda Reddy who
won her age group - 205k unsupported

 Thanks to Event Strategies for a great race.  We just need to get you to tell more people about it!  Also to my sponsors: Liv Giant (Lust dual suspension was a good choice for 9 hours), For The Riders / NS Dynamics (flawless mechanical service), Shotz nutrition (zero cramping), Ride Mechanic (lube tested for 205k = happy drivetrain), Maxxis Tyres (puncture-free) and Oakley (no squinty eyes, can delay botox for a bit).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Flight Centre Epic 2014

It’s interesting observing how some people respond to tough conditions.  During a 5 hour event the lower racing intensity allows people to voice the thoughts which come into their head.  Apparently a lot of these thoughts are single words starting with ‘F’ when it’s the Flight Centre Epic course after a dumping of rain.  The highly fertile soils of the Lockyer Valley spell death to drive trains once mixed to the consistency of super glue.  There’s only so much which can become attached to a tyre before the wheel refuses to move through the frame.  So yes, the conditions were tough.  While walking up one of the many hills a guy behind me threw in the towel saying he would rather forfeit his entry fee than invest in replacement parts for his bike.  I wondered aloud if he was really familiar with the concept of mountain biking.  You see, there’s usually dirt involved.  Sometimes, that dirt is wet…
Aforementioned 'wet dirt'. Photo credit: James Downing

One of the most psychologically damaging things people can do during a race is imagine that everyone else is having an easier time.  I was asked afterwards by a competitor how I got through the muddy sections, as if I’d secretly been provided with experimental Teflon-coated running gear.  Umm, no, I stopped at the top of every hill and scooped mud out with my hands, like everyone else.  I just didn’t waste time or emotional energy bitching about it, because I knew everyone was in the same situation.   

There were others who were having quite poor luck.  I rode with one of my PCS clients, Alex Sheppard, who was on an absolute blinder.  I’ve never been so happy to see someone ride away from me, but was equally devastated to pass him later fixing the first of two flat tyres.  He ended up off the podium by a tyre width.  Jason English had a massive lead on the field and was looking good for overall victory and a hefty pay-day until his rear derailleur came off.  He enquired about my knowledge on single-speeding a chain but without Youtube I was helpless.  Tour de France legend Robbie McEwen was nailing the descents but every pedal stroke sounded like a scream for help from his seizing chain.  Eventually he poured a can of Coke over it just to make the screaming stop. (*note: Apparently Coke is a poor substitute for chain lube). 

After being hit by a careless driver 10 days before and sporting some serious bruising in the tail-bone area I wasn’t sure I could make it through the race.  I had to clench teeth just to take the pain of sitting in the car for an hour to get there.  Along with the mud, getting attacked my magpies on-course, tired legs, a fire at one point, my normally aching back and now this deep sickening pain that started an hour into the race, the inevitable thought crosses my mind: “what the f##k am I doing?? Oh yes…winning…I’m winning…must keep going.  Why the f##k do people who aren’t winning do this??”

Then I try to think of things which are worse than what I’m currently going through.  That really wet Epic around 2008ish where we rode through the black soil.  Now THAT was mud - like ‘no point in riding, suck your derailleur into your spokes’ mud.  Breaking my wrist and not being able to ride at all – way worse than half a day turning the pedals on the MTB.  I passed Brendon ‘Trekky’ Johnston having a bad day with wheels failing to turn.  The first time I met that guy he was diagnosed with cancer just before World Champs in Canberra.  He postponed his treatment so he could ride the XCO and fulfil a dream.  So I had a bit of a sore ass – that’s way better than cancer.  So I metaphorically dried my princess eyes and kept going.

It might not have looked like it but that was one of the toughest battles I’ve had to win my 6th(??) Flight Centre Epic.  Turning up with no idea what my body was going to do, with a lot of people expecting me to win I just kept repeating one thing: no matter how much it hurts, don’t give up.  While I know I should be moving into a ‘forgiveness’ phase, all I can think is that the damage to my body just made an incredibly tough event even harder.  So to the lady who hit me (and didn’t stop), I’m still stuck at “Screw you”.  Even though the usual elite female field was absent, there is no way to just cruise through the Epic.  It’s a mega day out on the bike however you approach it, and I have no way of knowing how far back my competitors are, or if I’m going to need some time up my sleeve to fix a mechanical.  My race plan is, and always has been, to get to the finish line as fast as I can. 
Now to do go through it all again this Sunday at the Kowalski Classic!


Thanks to Fleur and Hayden Brooks for organising another super event.  And as always the people who make it all possible: Liv (Giant) Bikes, For the Riders, Ride Mechanic, Shotz, Oakley, NS Dynamics, KWT-Maxxis.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Singletrack 6 - Kananaskis, Canada

The term ‘best ever’ is used too liberally at times.  When I talk about the 2014 Transrockies ‘Singletrack 6’ stage race, I will be using it often – but I will be dead serious.  I almost didn’t write a race report, as there is no way to really do the week of racing mountain bikes in the Canadian Rocky Mountains justice.  If Transrockies Events can dish up this standard of parcours each year then the Singletrack 6 will supersede the BC Bike Race as Canada’s premiere mountain bike event.


The setting – think of every postcard picture of Canada you have every marvelled at.  White cliffs of Nipika, lush greens of British Columbia forest, the surreal pastel blue of the rivers.  Some days it was difficult to keep my eyes on the trail, I was so desperate to take in the landscape.  Classic BC singletrack lined with loam, strewn with conifer nettles and snaking tree roots.  I culled many photos I took at the beginning on the trip as their splendour was surpassed with each passing day.  The culmination was the day AFTER the race riding the trails of Frisby Ridge.  Feeling like we were at the rooftop of the world, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and wild-flowers, before an incredible 50 minute descent on some of the best trails of the week.
Top of Frisby Ridge - still snow on the ground at the height of summer.
Belgians on left wishing they'd brought beer.

The team – it was solo racing for me this year but south-east Queensland MTB stalwart Pete Winfield agreed to share transport and shelter with me.  It’s fair to say we now know each other a lot better as pretences were stripped away as the days of racing wore on.  Moments of fist-pumping followed by those of extreme emotional fragility are par for the course.  We endured and prospered, united.  Even those two small ‘incidents’ we had in the hire car have been put behind us.


The organisation – revising the point-to-point structure of the previous Transrockies event has improved it immensely.  No one wants to be relying on a support team to meet them at a distant finish line these days.  You can do it a few times, but I guess it wears thin quickly.  Booking motels in each town was a breeze and, although we had a car, it can easily be done without one as the race provides for transfers when the show moves to the next town, in addition to a later start time to avoid hideously early mornings.  Did I mention the food?  Fresh, tasty and it satisfied even someone with my strange requirements (gluten-free, low lactose).  Sharing the evening meal was a way to catch up on the day’s events, check if you had made it into the daily photo and video collage and get details on the next day’s stage.


The company – 19 nations of racers were represented.  Pete and I were adopted by some Belgians which lead to more beer than I’ve consumed in the previous 10 years.  There was also a smattering of ex-pat Australians, and everyone’s brother or mate worked in a bike shop at a town we would be passing through, so we would never be short of riding guides.  The competition was tough, but given there was no prize money on the line, it was also good natured.  Battling it out with 4th placed Cath Williamson we laughed at what we’d put ourselves through on a stage for a pair of socks.


The weather – cloudless blues skies greeted is every day and the temperature rose steadily into the low 30s.  Similar to Cairns but sans the humidity.  Given that the locals constantly remarked on it, I’d say this is atypical for the region and we just got incredibly lucky.  Despite jaunting around in a bikini post-stage the furthest into the water I got was upper thigh.  Glacier-fed rivers and lakes are still frigid on the warmest of days.
Gratuitous non-race pic of Moraine Lake.  I'm sure you don't need to ask why.

I learned that the Canadian term “that’s all the climbing done” has absolutely no shred of truth to it.  Also, when assessing stage profiles, a Canadian kilometre converts to approximately 1.5 Australian kilometres and nutrition needs to be planned accordingly.  Hunger-flatting during an epic descent certainly added to the excitement when no addition was required.  This year’s race really showcased the Rocky Mountains in their full grandeur and I’d consider them equal to any I have seen of the European cols.  As a red-blooded mountain biker it would be difficult to consider living anywhere else in the world due to the quality of trails here and the way the small communities like Golden and Revelstoke have embraced the sport.  It’s impossible to describe how good the single-track is here, it just has to be experienced.  On every day though Pete and I found each other at the finish line, just shaking our heads, hugging and repeating the phrase “Oh my god. How good was that?  HOW GOOD WAS THAT??”


The only reservation I have about returning to this race is the risk of disappointment that the following events could never match up to this years.  Could it possibly get any better than this?  I guess I could risk it…

On the podium!  Third after 6 hard days of racing (Kate McAardle 1st, Mickal Dyck 2nd)

Sponsors – a special mention to Giant Bikes for the Lust Dual Suspension.  In a race with this much climbing it’s always a tough call whether to cop the weight penalty but I enjoyed every minute on this bike.  It smashed through the most rough and technical terrain and has brought back a confidence to my riding which has been missing since my injury.  My ass thanks you.  For The Riders for another expert gear preparation – mechanicals = nil.  Shotz Nutrition for their electrolyte tabs and gels which fuelled me over the 6 days – you guys really need to get into the Canadian market!  Ride Mechanic and SRAM – flawless drivetrain performance in dusty conditions.  Oakley – the Radars were perfect for the darkest trail and the most exposed ridgeline.  KWT Maxxis - Ardent Race on the front, Ikon on the back.  Sweet as!
The most difficult thing I do - capturing the scenery while attempting to make the shameless product display seem casual

Friday, July 25, 2014

AUS Under 19 MTB camp - Cairns 2014

Volunteering to coach at the Australian Under 19 MTB camp meant I would be back on the Cairns World Cup course where I’d broken myself.  For the first two days I froze on all the technical sections, still feeling the pain and stiffness in my recently healed wrist.  Did I really need to be riding this stuff only 10 days before I headed to a race in Canada?  When I am riding well, all I can see in my head me, floating effortlessly down rock gardens.  But now, all I could visualise was crashing and ruining a holiday.
Getting good press from the local media

Helping the U19 girls by pointing out the lines, instructing on body position and telling them to ‘let go and do it!’ must have worked its way into my own subconscious though.  I also felt like a giant fraud coaching someone to do something I couldn’t or wouldn’t do.  By the end of the week in Cairns most of my confidence had returned and I was feeling like a mountain biker again.  No, I didn’t hit the A-line at Jacob’s Ladder but I think that was a prudent move!  The best part of the experience was watching the riders progress on the challenging track.  The athletes really inspired me by overcoming their fears and going out of their comfort zones to ride features like ‘croc slide’ and ‘barramundi’.  I feel they helped me more than I helped them.

 Aus U19 riders nailing Jacob's Ladder

Staying on the beach at Holloways was not hard work but there was little time to enjoy it as the days were filled with training, psychology, sports nutrition, anti-doping education and a tour of the sports science facilities at James Cook University.  The main complaint from the athletes was that the camp was too short which was a great sign.  Although it might have something to do with the 28 degree winter in Cairns.  I was quite sad to leave my old home town again but my next adventure was due to start and I had work to do.

Holloways Beach - yes, we'll be back!

The prize for winning the pairs category in last year’s Trans Rockies was a free entry for this year’s edition – rebranded the Single Track 6.  Coupled with my sister’s wedding the following week in BC it was an easy decision to make.  It will be the first race for my new Giant Lust 27.5 after taking it out of the box for in Cairns.  Last year I remembered thinking how much more fun the trails would be in Canada if I had a dually so I’m really looking forward to those arm-achingly long Rocky Mountains descents.  After 6 days in the saddle I will appreciate the rear travel.  The smaller wheels (than 2013) should suit the single track heavy nature of the 2014 race.  My aim is to give the Canadian girls some competition while keeping all my skin so I don’t spoil the wedding photos with bandages. Wish me luck!
New Giant Lust - ready to take on Canada!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

What's a sartorius and why does it hurt so much??

I’m sitting on the lounge post-ride rubbing a cream which apparently contains arnica, ginger and chilli perilously close to my groin.  My first MTB ride in over 8 weeks, on a still fragile wrist was a battle of wills.  My left hand is supposed to have 38kg of grip strength.  I currently have only 18kg which makes opening a zip lock bag challenging.  Hanging on to the handlebar while descending takes all fingers which means covering the rear brake is very optional.  Despite this I made it gingerly down some singletrack (of course there was a torrential downpour last night making things greasy) and even managed something approaching flow.  Then I got hooped by two 12 year old boys on flat pedals coming down Rocket Frog.  Some work to be done then.


So back to my groin and I’ve discovered that I don’t give my Sartorius muscle a single thought until I have a tear in it.  No, not from running, although that didn’t help.  Simply picking up my foot on Thursday afternoon to look at something on the sole of my shoe then ‘snap’!  Consulting my sports medicine bible I note the recommendation to ice and avoid aggravating activities.  From experience aggravating activities include walking, standing, sitting, lying down, rolling over and generally moving.  Who makes up these stupid rules?? Riding is not TOO bad if I ignore the difficulty in mounting and pushing off when I can’t pick my foot up off the ground.

 An anatomy lesson: this is your satorius - respect it

Bumping into a friend near the end of my ride we were both shaking our heads as to why we bother some days.  Between the wrist, the torn muscle, the tail-end of a cold, wet trails why the hell was I trying to get my training session done?  Surely I should have just given in and had a sleep in? Well one positive thing is that I got to see some views like this….

 South Boundary Rd. Have seen this view many times - still breathtaking

Travelling to places like Europe and Canada I forget how stunning my own backyard can be.  This was impressed on me last weekend when I tackled the Rapha Gents 160k ride with some mates.  We circled Mount Warning through some of the prettiest countryside I’ve ever seen, only 1.5 hours drive from house.
 Riding with friends - I don't do this enough 
The other thing I’ve come to realise is that my body is meant to MOVE.  It’s what it was designed for and what my entire being is happiest doing.  Sometimes moving, whether that’s riding, running, paddling or climbing involves pushing through obstacles and finding a way to get my fix.  Instead of not riding at all, I chose to do what riding I could.  If technical riding hurt my wrist and hip then I’d climb the mountain on the fire trails.  When I couldn’t get on the bike at all, I learned to love to run again.  Most of the people who know me understand this.


Bec Frendo drove the support vehicle for our Rapha ride, providing sustenance in the form of croissants, baguettes, pancetta, assorted cheeses, cake and even a roast chicken.  For 12 hours she transported, fed and tracked our crew and even managed a training run of her own between feed-zones.  I mentioned to her that this was a generous gift of time until she confided in me that she owed hubby Mark some reciprocal support duties.  Nineteen hours-worth in fact, while she ran the Northface 100k.  Yep, just casually dropped in that she completed one of the hardest 100km trail runs in the world.  Another mate did 36 or so climbs of Mt Cootha (known as ‘everesting’ – look it up).  He wasn’t raising money for cancer or anything, he just had a day free and thought “this is the hardest thing I can think of doing”. These are my people.  We love this shit.


Get out there.  Laugh. Cry. Stop for coffee. And remember to enjoy the views!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Mums - save yourselves first!

I've been both disappointed & inspired by some women in the media this week. Fresh out of a Sports Medicine Australia conference it was reaffirming to know that the focus is squarely on increasing public participation in exercise. The current motto is "Sport AS medicine" and the evidence shows that doctors should be telling patients to get active before they start doling out expensive pharmaceuticals. There's been too much shying away from telling overweight & unfit people to cold hard truth. Low fitness is THE HIGHEST risk factor for early death.

A Facebook spam post for Milo sucked me in with a clip of kids thanking their mums for basically being taxi drivers for endless rounds of organised sport. While the children looked ok the mums looked anything except 'fit'. It got me wondering if the mothers actually made time for their own physical activity in between sitting in traffic for multiple hours per week whilst driving their kids. Let me make this point - there is no award for the parent who clocks up the most k's ferrying their kids around! You are not the 'mother of the year' but you may not get to see your grandkids because you're failing to look after your own health. It is not 'natural' for your 8 year old to run faster than you - it's because you're unfit!

On the other hand there are role models like my former team mate Ruth Corset. Previous Australian Road Race and NRS champion she is balancing elite sport with raising two girls & managing her own business. Yes, it sounds like another 'superwoman' story that some women love to hate. But the point is that Ruth is a fantastic EXAMPLE to her kids that sport is not something you do when you're at school and then give up when life happens. Exercise IS life and actually saves your life! Ruth talks about nearing the end of her cycling career and is not planning to sit on the couch but will start triathlons to stay active.

It's not necessary to be World Champ, but it's not unreasonable to make time for your own physical activity, even if it means other family members need to adjust their schedules. Why not join in if your child does athletics (that's how I got roped into the master's team), instead of sitting on the sidelines. My friend used to run laps of the park while her son played cricket.

I've focused on mum's here because, well, I'm a mum! But dads this goes equally for you. Don't just be the guy handing out a sausage in a slice of Wonderwhite after the race ( Actually don't EVEN be that guy. I can't believe they still do this, but that's a rant for another day).

Get up and get active!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pedalling furiously, going nowhere...

I’ve spent the last week or so relearning some hard lessons.  So used to push through discomfort I’m not great at recognising the difference between that and pain caused by injuring an already injured body part.  Luckily Laura and Dolph at QSMC straightened me out (both physically and psychologically) and I’ve now progressed to sweat-pool inducing windtrainer sessions in my lounge room.

Fun times at the physio!

Like any red-blooded mountain biker of sound mind I LOATHE the stationary bike session.  It is amazing what I can do when there is no alternative though.  Being rather fortunate to have broken myself the year SBS decides to screen every stage of the Giro I’ve at least been distracted by the rolling hills of Italy, skinny men breaking collarbones and the mysterious urge to buy a Skoda.  I also threw in ’24 Solo’ the epic battle for the World Championship between Gordo and Eatough.  That never gets old but I am scratching for another MTB DVD so suggestions are welcome.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I’m not going to pretend that being injured is a good thing, but it has revealed a few things personally.  The fact that I can spend 4 hours pedalling circles in my lounge room and another hour every day getting intimate with tennis balls and ITB rollers means I have a bit of mental toughness and also that I’m clearly still in love with the sport.  Or I’m a sick masochist.

Just want to ride.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Road to recovery

One and a half weeks post-crash and I still have 4.5 weeks left in a wrist cast with a broken scaphoid.  Things have gone as well as they possibly could though.  The break was a ‘good’ one in a part of the bone which is 99% likely to heal without complications.  I’ve had excellent treatment from the precautionary ED doctors at Cairns Base Hospital, to my physio, Laura, getting me a pronto referral for an MRI.  My sports doctor got me a same-day appointment to have a specially moulded splint put on so I could continue training.  I’m really lucky to have a great professional team.

 My carbon-look cast - cool!

People have been saying I should get straight on the windtrainer to maintain my cycling fitness, but I have resisted for a couple of reasons.  One, I was due to have a couple of weeks off the bike after World Cup and being injured should not change this plan.  Two, I don’t want to pretend it’s ‘business as usual’.  I have suffered a significant injury and am not going to just train like I’ve only skinned my knee.  I also have a large hematoma on my hip which I hope will get small enough to button up my jeans someday.  My lower back is now the main concern with me groaning like a 70 year old every time I have to bend forward.

Looks like an alien.  Actually is a hematoma.  

My immediate concern was that I wouldn’t be able to work in my sports massage business but after a couple of practice clients it seems I can work around it.  This is one of the benefits of being known more for knuckles and elbows than soft, soothing hand strokes.  Yes, it hurts my body to work but it is helping me mentally to be around my clients who are so amazing and motivating.  I treat a guy who has fallen in love with marathon running in his 60s and last week massaged a woman with 4 kids who has decided she will swim the English Channel as her 40th birthday present.  I mean, wow!  It makes me realise that having 6 weeks off is not the end of the world and there is plenty of time to get back to training for something insane.

The problem with pushing through pain at work and being optimistic is that it’s bloody exhausting.  This has resulted in a few ‘losing it’ moments and a short fuse with family and friends – sorry!  As someone who is fiercely independent it’s frustrating to struggle with simple things like tying up my hair and getting dressed.  So peeved I couldn’t get my cast through a single jacket I owned I may have shed a few tears (straw that broke the camel’s back) then vented by take scissors to the sleeve of one of my favourite coats.  On the upside it now fits over my cast.

Thanks to everyone for your messages of support.  I hope to see you on the trails soon!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Cairns World Cup (almost)

The thing most people say on first visiting a World Cup track is “Wow – it doesn’t look that big on TV”. Until you’re actually looking down the rock chute or drop off, you don’t have an accurate idea of just how gnarly it is and how skilled the riders are who make it look easy.  What I love about racing on World Cup courses is being pushed out of my comfort zone.  That little bit of sick I get at the back of my mouth before trying to ride something I’m not sure I will survive – I get off on that.  Which is a little weird.  But that’s what separates people who like to ride on the dirt, from actual mountain bikers.  The fact that I’m typing this one-handed (slowly) demonstrates that there is sometimes a price to pay for the rush of challenge and self-discovery.

I enjoy the progression I get as a rider from the first day I see a course (“How the hell am I going to get around this nightmare?”) through a few days of practice leading up to the race (“Yeah! I can’t believe I just rode that!”).  Discovering the track with other riders a sense of camaraderie builds as we swap line choices and help each other conquer technical sections.  After two days of practice in the pouring rain I was semi-comfortable and knew I could get around the course riding the B-lines (less technical lines but longer), but I don’t come to World Cups to ride the B-lines.  Doing course recon with Holly and Dave Harris I'd worked my way up to riding the ‘Croc Slide’, an intimidating rock face constituting the A-line, shaving a couple of seconds off a lap.  Entering that dangerous zone where my confidence was slightly exceeding my ability I decided to tackle the rock drop-in on the infamous Jacob’s Ladder section.

It’s hard to say exactly what I did wrong but the net result was me flying through the air and landing on some very unforgiving rocks.  My left hip and hand took the full impact, saving my face and my bike, which I think was a good choice.  Blinding pain overtook me in the way that I didn't cry, but could only sit very still as the blood drained away from my face and my vision started to get dark.  Dave held my feet up as I went into shock and the paramedics made their way up to me.  Laughter then ensued as I recognised one of them as a school friend from 20 years ago – the quirks of racing where I grew up.  More laughter was had once I was sucking on the ‘green whistle’ of pain relief and realised that while my hip was very swollen, it wasn't broken and I'd be walking out.

Back at the event centre First Aid staff were more concerned about my hand which I had assumed was just a little bruised.  Five hours in hospital later I was having the following conversation:

Doctor:  We can’t see a fracture but scaphoid fractures don’t show up on x-ray for a week so we need to put a cast on your arm until then.

Me: Well let’s say we don’t put a cast on (still thinking I would be racing) – what would happen?

Doctor: Your bone could die.

Me: So how important is this bone anyway?  Do I really need it?

Doctor:  If you intend to do anything with your hand in future, you will need your scaphoid. (Thinking: idiot!)

So I let her put a plaster cast on to humour her, thinking I’d take it off the next day when I felt better.  After a night feeling like someone was hammering a nails into my wrist I suspected the lady who went to medical school possibly knew better than I did.

I’d had a lot of fun riding the course, extended my skills, proved I wasn’t a pussy by riding the A-line so initially I was only a little disappointed.  Watching the racing on Redbull TV though that gutted feeling set in though.  I would have loved to be out there and think I’d have done a decent job.  Some people have said I must think all my training was for nothing.  But the truth is I would have done the training anyway – I’ve always loved the training but have learned to love the racing.  Missing out on the opportunity to race in my former home-town was a blow, but I guess that gives me the perfect excuse to extend my World Cup racing until the next round here.  I missed one race and there will be other races.  Time to look towards in July!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

National XCM Titles - Mt Joyce

My training diary is very useful when analysing what went so wrong.  I’ve been battling the virus I had before XCO Nationals for 5 weeks.  Waking up every day with a headache which gets worse over the course of the day to a point when it hurts to look at my laptop screen or have the lights on in the house.  I’ve felt okay one day and trained then been completely wiped out the next day and wracked by muscle and joint pain.

Now you might think that feeling like that would be a no-brainer to stop training and racing.  That’s what the doctor thought when I fronted for a blood test last Monday but he clearly underestimated the stupidity he was dealing with, which is concerning as he usually works with professional footballers.  When the test results did not come back before the weekend I saw this is as fate telling me it was okay to race, or at least that I could plead ignorance of a confirmed medical reason to preclude me from racing.  It would be a tough course, my prep had been rubbish, but I’ve faced bigger challenges before and it’s turned out okay.

It wasn’t a good sign when my legs were sore and cramping before the race even started.  The pain in my chest I put down to scoffing my breakfast too quickly.  Head pounding as usual but at 8am it was already a baking hot day.  Surprisingly the first lap felt relatively comfortable.  Sitting behind other riders on the singletrack climb meant being forced into the group selected pace.  The second fireroad climb was brutal, loose and kept kicking up until it was faster for me to walk than ride.  I was gapped by the front three riders on the climb but caught up quickly on the technical descent and led out for the second lap.  I knew my legs were lacking power but if I could get into the singletrack first I could create time gaps on the descents to hopefully hold of the stronger climbers. 

By this time my head was pounding despite drinking to plan and was making my handling sketchy.  Calf cramps were well advanced but I was trying to adjust my pedalling to deal with them.  Although the day was clearly hot I kept feeling waves of chills but it was when the chest pain set in that I became a little concerned.  I’ve lectured my coaching clients on the dangers of damage to the heart when racing with a virus ( and I began to worry about what I might have done to myself.  I have history in this area and once trained feeling ‘off’ and ended up in hospital 12 hours later with liver and kidney shut down.  Apparently I am not the best judge of my body’s limits. 

Dropping back on the second climb again but confident I could catch back up on the descent I was brought to a halt by escalating chest pain, stabbing pain in my head affecting my vision and the desire to eject my last gel from my stomach.  In the middle of the forest, alone, not knowing if I was about to collapse I decided the race was over and it would be best to find the quickest way back.  Soft pedalling along the trail and stopping to lean against trees I met up with another rider who was also pulling out.  She stayed with me until I felt able to keep creeping along the trail and we continued a relatively enjoyable trail ride realising this racing thing might really be ruining a nice day.

Meeting up with the ambulance in the main clearing I was told in no uncertain terms to get in the van where they hooked me up to a bunch of leads and took some heart readings.  Nothing too unusual other than, unsurprisingly, I have a thick, muscular heart.  The tightness and pain kept coming in waves and was more likely all of my intercostal muscles cramping and constricting my chest.  A wave of nausea hit but I realised I was just car sick from being in the back of a four-wheel-driving van.

I can’t say I’m too disappointed as Mt Joyce was a race I entered at the last minute without too much expectation.  The concern lies in wondering where to go from here.  Having finally made my decision to do Cairns I am hardly in World Cup condition and have no idea how long it will take to kick this virus.  One thing is that I refuse to do is keep flogging a crumbling immune system leaving me unable to ride, and taking away from quality time with my family and friends.  Health has to come first – always.

Thanks and apologies to my sponsors that I couldn’t get the job done this time: Giant, Ride Mechanic, Shotz, For the Riders, Sram, KWT Maxxis.

Photo credit: Paul Fletcher

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Should I go?  Or rather, do I want to go?  I’ve been asking myself that question for a couple of long unmotivated weeks now.  For months I’ve had my plan all worked out: local racing, National XC champs and then Cairns World Cup.  The reason for doing Cairns was that it would most likely be my last opportunity to do a World Cup, and having it in the city I was born and grew up in would be a nice way to go out.

I remember my first overseas World Cups where there would be a bunch of us just hoping to not get lapped out. (NB. If you are 80% slower than the lead riders first lap you are pulled out before the start of your next lap).  My last two races in Houffalize and Pietermaritzburg I managed to avoid the 80% rule but I quick check of my training diary reveals I was doing about twice as many hours on the bike than I do now.  In fact at my fittest I would average 20 hours per week leaving not much time or energy for anything else.  That doesn’t include bike maintenance, gym work, stretching and increased requirement for naps.

Right now I have a nice balance where I’m working full-time, feel like I’m being a reasonable parent to a daughter who now has a demanding schedule of her own and even get out for the occasional social event.  So if I’m not going to throw all that out, where does that leave me for Cairns?  I’d like to say my family would get the opportunity to watch me race but it’s unlikely they will come if it involves walking very far or up an incline.  I’ve established that they really don’t ‘get it’ so who am I racing for?  Travel for XC racing doesn’t involve a lot of sight-seeing.  You just see about 4km of trail repeatedly for 4 days, memorising every rock, tree root and corner, noting the gear required for certain climbs and places to drink.  Compare that to a marathon where I can turn up the day before, race then enjoy the area for a few days before returning to the real world. 

While wearing my PCS Coaching hat I dole out a lot of advice to my clients that I’m not sure I’d heed as an athlete.  It’s created quite a self-awareness that I tap into more often as I question why I put myself through certain things.  Most of my clients are not out to win prize money or stand on a podium.  They just want to be better than they are.  One of my favourite mantras is “he who stops being better, stops being good” (OMG did I really just quote Oliver Cromwell?). I’m very aware that a lot of them would love to ‘suck’ as much as I do on a bad day.  It makes me think that I should finish what I started (as I told a rider last week), appreciate what my body can still do with the time I can devote to it and, basically, HTFU.

See you in Cairns.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Australian XC Titles - Bright

Missing the podium by 5 seconds leads to many moments of reflection as to where I could have found them over the course of a one hour and 47 minute race.  I liken it to my running days where comrades would miss the hallowed sub-three hour marathon by mere moments.  The realisation sinking in that they would have to put themselves through another ordeal attempting to achieve their goal.  Admittedly I swore that was my last XC National race several times during the endless climbs of Bright but I’ve said that in every XC, marathon and stage race where I’ve pushed myself to the absolute limit.  That’s what you say to yourself to justify the searing pain in your legs and lungs.  That’s the deal you make with your body to push a few more watts out: “Just this last time, I promise, and I’ll never ask you to do it again.  Okay?”  I lie to my body often.

Photo credit: Pete Winfield

Last race or not, it was a cracker.  Yes the medals went to the top three but the real tussle was for fourth spot apparently, between Rowena Fry, Tori Thomas and me, with not even a plastic medal as recompense.  It was great fun though, actually racing, attacking, dying and then attacking again.  Sometimes riders end up quite alone in a MTB time-trial situation so it was amazing to have a carrot to chase and someone snapping at my heels the whole race.  The ability to flat-stick it on the short fire road climbs while disregarding the consequences once at the top, was what would win the day.  Not the most open of courses the Bright parcours demanded tactical nous and maximum wattage in short bursts.

View from top of the Downhill course

While I missed the podium by seconds the real race for three Commonwealth Games spots was happening a few minutes up the road so I won’t lose much sleep over it.  I think it demonstrates the effect of professionalism of the sport where the top men and women are now able to make a living racing their bikes.  They’re not buying yachts for sure, but they are able to devote their lives to training and recovering which is a great sign for the sport in Australia.  Surely an Aussie World or Olympic Champion is not too far away.

It definitely will not be my last time in Bright.  What a pretty town with quality restaurants and coffee all within walking distance of accommodation.  The mountain or road biking in the area has been a popular choice with professional riders for some time and I think it’s time I booked a training camp.  Who’s keen??

A random clip of Trials...because it's cool

Thanks so much to Giant Bikes for the 27.5 Obsess.  It was super agile around the many twisty corners.  Ride Mechanic had my ride running clean and quiet as usual.  Legs were fuelled and hydrated by Shotz Nutrition. A few nervous moments at the down-hill tarmac start but the 30 tooth XX1 was perfect for the course - cheers Sram Aus. Maxxis Ardent Race and Ikons gripped like champions - cheers KWT.  And of course For The Riders, the most awesome shop ever and super-mechanic Shaun Hughes (okay I share him with Jarrod Graves, but that's kinda cool) who was on hand to do some fine-tuning.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Long time no blog

 To be honest I’ve been a bit bored riding about my own adventures when so many of my PCS Coaching clients are having their own.  Adventure by proxy?  It’s much cheaper and easier on my legs.

I’ve often been told if I could focus on just one thing I’d be dangerous.  Well that’s in no danger of happening now I’ve taken on the role of MTBA Vice President in addition to my usual mum/massage therapist/coach/writer jobs.  It’s been challenging and interesting so far and enabled me to see some behind-the-scenes action.  Being part of improving the management of MTB will be something to look back on with pride though I think.

After racing the first National Series round in Adelaide I knew what I needed to do.  Get faster – definitely get faster.  Balancing training, working and family life with jet-setting to Victoria every second week for the remaining rounds was unlikely to happen so I’ve staying in Brisbane while the National series was run and won. 

Luckily, south-east Queensland has a booming club scene and there has been dirt criteriums and XCO racing every weekend for the last six.  It has been amazing turning up to see 200 local riders at an interclub.  Who says XCO is dead??  The secret has been to make the racing fun, cheap ($10 for MTBA members) and easy with early starts and self-seeding (grades A to D).  Racing against the guys in A and B grade has been fun and I’ve had some epic tussles with Masters hitter, Kevin Jones.  It’s still disappointing to not have more women backing themselves and racing A grade.

The exciting part of the last few months has been the continuing support of Liv/giant who have offered me the chance to be an ambassador for another year.  I’m staying away from road racing this year as a semi-protest against Cycling Australia’s shabby treatment of MTBA events but also due to one too many broken collarbone photos on Facebook.  Who knew there were so many sheep stations to race for at $10 crits?  It’s also an excuse to play with two amazing bikes this year: the Giant Obsess hard-tail and the Lust dual suspension.  The Obsess has already acquitted itself admirably in its first XC race and I look forward to pinning the Lust in Canada for the Singletrack 6 (the rebranded Trans-Rockies).  I might even have a crack at this Gravity Enduro deal everyone keeps banging on about.

A new sponsor for 2014 is KWT Maxxis and the new rigs have already been shod in Ikon and Ardent Race goodness.  Showing their grip and durability at the Adare XC where there were many flats, I’m confident of a great season ahead with Maxxis.  I’m grateful for another year of support from Owen at Ride Mechanic who keeps me in the most amazing chamois cream (I will spare you all the details but it literally saves my ass), bike lube and cleaning products.  Here’s a secret, or not – I’m a slacker when it comes to cleaning my bike.  You guys who spend hours polishing your derailleurs – what the hell?  Who has time for that?  RM Bike Juice, Zalish, Avaqua and Bike Milk is a 10 minute job to get from muddy mess to sparkling machine.  This could be THE product for busy mums who ride!

I’ve been using Shotz nutrition products for 5 years now and am chuffed to be working with them again this year.  I recommend their products to all my coaching clients and am super excited to get new flavours.  Just one message to the product managers – don’t ever change the Protein bars.  EVER.

So here I am in Bright after some epic travelling.  A few laps of the course and it’s not what people would call ‘technical’ but with some tight sections in the pine forest and corners which kick around just a bit more than you expect them to it will challenge the riders at speed.  It’s just a really nice ride if you aren’t racing and it might be fun to stay in the area and explore some more trails.  I will withhold judgement of the entire town until tomorrow morning’s coffee foray.  How is my form? After a short stomach bug last week I’ve recovered well and it might actually work in my favour being forced to take an extra couple of days off the bike.  I will just sit back now and let the taper weave its magic.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

National Series 2014 - Round 1; Adelaide

Recently being appointed MTBA Vice President I had my first experience of seeing a National Series race from a different perspective.  It’s no secret that the series was in doubt after Cycling Australia pulled out of delivering on their agreement with MTBA at the last minute.  It was only with the hard work of the Adelaide Club, Inside Line, volunteers and MTBA personnel that last Sunday’s race happened at all.  On top of that we had a bushfire warning thrown in for good measure due to the 45 degree days of a heatwave.

Knowing the challenges which were being overcome behind the scenes, as I rider I thought the race was one of the more organised and well run.  I’m not after bells-and-whistles at these races.  You want to impress me?  Make the event run on time, where it was supposed to run and make sure there is a coffee van.  All boxes ticked in Adelaide.

Although the Eagle Park course isn’t known as particularly technical in that there are no massive drops or rock gardens, it can still come back and bite you due to the loose surface and rocky off-camber corners and quite a few elite riders sported bandages after the race.  Sections like Sunset Boulevard with its jumps and fast berms made the descents something I looked forward to on every one of our 6 laps.  My heart rate almost maxed out getting through a deceptively easy looking crushed granite section at the end of the course. Then I was soft pedalling through the feed zone to recover before the steep gravel pinch at the start of the next lap.

Finishing just out of the medals in 4th place I was reasonably happy after a while away from the National XC scene.  I’m hoping to get these old(er) legs moving a little faster in time for the National Championships in Bright in March.

It’s always hard leaving Adelaide with its amazing riding, restaurants, local ciders (try the Lobo Cloudy – awesome!) and especially just before the Tour Down Under kicked off.  Perhaps someone will have a tour guide position available for me when I retire?

Massive thanks to my sponsors for 2014: Giant Bikes, Ride Mechanic, For The Riders and Shotz Nutrition.