Sunday, November 20, 2016


“Top 10 would be nice” I said. Everyone laughed. Yes it was very na├»ve given it was my first full length expedition (XPD) race. Gary and I had only raced together once at Geoquest 48 hour in June. We had known our other two team mates – Tim and John – for three whole days before we were to toe the start line at the World XPD champs. Four hundred athletes descended on the quaint coastal town of Ulladulla including the best adventure racers in the world. Clearly the inventory staff at the supermarkets had not been notified and race staples such as creamed rice and Ziploc bags were quickly sold out.

Looking fresh before being pummelled into the ground by the race

With equipment checks and food shopping the lead up days went quickly. Although it had no bearing on the race, the prologue was entertaining and meant to induct the internationals into Aussie culture. Our designated combined team didn’t fare well after a ‘plugger’ blowout during the beach esky-dash and the South African’s inability to swallow a Vegemite sandwich. (NB. Vegemite apparently invokes the gag reflex in the Proteas which could be useful knowledge).

On the few previous ARs I’d done, maps were distributed the day before meaning hours spent that night working out the best route. This time we were told in advance the order, distance and elevation of each leg but would only have a few hours to work on the maps before boarding the bus to Jervis Bay in the morning for the race start.

We probably should have tried out the provided plastic skis before the race to work out the most efficient paddler distribution. Each team got a shit boat with a rudder and a more shit yellow boat with no rudder. Starting with two people in each it was a sub-optimal combination which team leader, Gary, pointed out:

“You’ve got the heavy guy in the front ya dickheads!”

Clear, open communication like this was one of the strengths of our team. In the middle of the bay we shuttled positions with three in the yellow tub and Gary, a strong paddler, doing it alone in the ski. We actually started gaining on the world champions in this formation and we were 6th out of the water. So surprised to be anywhere close to the front we did what any self-respecting team would do and blew our doors off over the next few legs.

Gary, smashing it solo. Don't you love those glasses? Sorry ladies, he's taken.

Everyone had a bad leg at some point and our position in the race fluctuated to reflect this. We tore the first MTB leg apart but I suffered on the next night’s ride with a knife-like pain in my back. My feet were blistered from the previous hike and I was getting towed up the hills while walking my bike which was new territory for me. It felt like we did half of the 2000m of vertical ascent on foot on the impossibly steep fireroads.

In adventure racing it takes a while to come to terms with the motives of the course designers. They are intent on making some things so ridiculously hard that you crack. To rub salt in the wound you have paid them to intentionally screw you over so there’s no point complaining either. I can’t fully describe one hike-a-bike section except to say that, at one point, I was using my $9000 bike to jam between trees and act as a safety rail to prevent me sliding over a cliff in the dark. I questioned course designer, Craig Bycroft, about this later:

Me: “So have you actually been through that section?”
Craig: “Yes”
Me: “With a bike?”
Craig: “Oh god no!”

One of our best legs was the long hike starting with a brutal climb up the Budawang Range. Trekking through the ferns and rainforest this was the part of Shoalhaven I’d come to see. The coolness didn’t last long though as we crested onto the plateau and the full force of the midday sun hit. We filled water bladders from streams and soaked our caps to cool us down.  Surrounded by towering sandstone bluffs and being torn at by underbrush, I remarked to one of the Euros that this was traditional Aussie scrub. They seemed impressed by this and started taking photos while I kept adding to the painful welts on my thighs by trudging on.

Our lead navigator, Gary, had been in a metaphorical hole but was now, two Cokes later, revitalised and led us efficiently through one of the trickier parts of the course. Many teams lost time here due to ambiguous maps and overgrown tracks.  A raised boardwalk section was so covered in vegetation you weren’t quite sure where the boards were and risked snapping an ankle if you stepped off the side.

We were close to several teams and would overtake one at a slow jog only to be overtaken later during a walking break. It was like the world’s slowest game of leap-frog. Teams enjoyed new conversation partners after so long with the same four people. One benefit of having strangers as team mates – all our stories were new.  It’s the weirdest way to get to know someone. We progressed very quickly from “Hi, good to meet you” to burping, farting and discussing in detail the type of bodily function we would be carrying out in the bushes.

Enjoying the Shoalhaven weather. I remember being warm for exactly one leg out of 14.

Arriving at the Nerriga transition area (TA), we built our bikes up and headed out at dusk. Our sleep strategy at this point had been to skip the first night entirely and grab two hours in a tent on the second night.  Heading into night three we all suffered from the sleep-monsters. The long blinks, the hallucinations. At one point I was mesmerised by an impossibly large wombat just staring back at me. But then everyone else saw it too – nope, that one was real. We were doing zig-zags across the road and the boring 70km on tarmac did nothing to keep the fatigued mind awake. We decided on a 20 minute power nap and just lay down beside the road and slept.  It’s amazing what 20 minutes and a couple of No Doze can do and we punched out the rest of the ride to arrive at the Bungonia Caves.

Caving was the ‘mystery discipline’ and conjured up visions of tame family-oriented walks through spacious caverns with requisite stalactites and the occasional bat.  Even the briefing we got at the TA indicated this was a bit of fun and we should wiz through finding check points and still have time for a nap in our mandatory 5 hours we had to spend there.

The first cave we went to revealed this was a vastly inaccurate portrayal. Having a fear of heights I was overjoyed that caving had replaced abseiling as a leg. However when faced with the tiny subterranean crack I was required to squeeze through I realised I may be equally claustrophobic. It was unbelievable that people not only go in there, but that they do this for fun. Teams lost hours trying to find the caves which were just small holes in the ground. But then some of their team mates were too big to fit through to gaps so they had to find an additional cave to make up their mandatory five check points. Luckily we had John, whose super-power is apparently sensing the location of caves, navigating through their many rooms to quickly locate the CP all the while singing obscure 80’s hits in a Scottish lilt. Grabbing 20 minutes sleep afterwards we saw teams which had been hours ahead of us only just heading out on the next leg.

Boulder-hopping for an indeterminably long time (I stopped wearing a watch so had no idea how long we took to do things), we finally inflated the pack-rafts and headed down the Shoalhaven river. We had only negotiated a few rapids when Tim started vomiting over the side after complaining of feeling unwell. Being in the other boat I could observe from a safe distance the most amount of fluid I’ve ever seen come out of someone. My fear that it might spell the end of our race was unfounded as Tim pushed on like the hard-nut he is.

I imagine pack-rafting is quite fun when there is substantial water but we spent the time trying to shuffle over rocks, going down rapids backwards and walking when the water got too shallow. Our raft got a sizeable hole in it and after 8 hours of sitting in water we arrived at the TA after sunset and all the heat promptly left my body. Shivering uncontrollably and having no dry clothes I headed to the warmth of the disabled toilet and disrobed to get out of my wet gear. I then realised I would have to get back into my wet gear and warm up before we started the 10 hour kayak leg. After much discussion and Tim still not feeling 100%, three of us ended up huddled under space blankets and slept on the toilet floor for 5 hours. It’s strange how completely OK with this I was. XPD really does change your priorities.

Waking at 4am we were on the water shooting rapids once the sun rose. If the whole 56kms were like this it would have been fun but we soon hit the dreaded flat water. Just kilometres of monotonous paddling with sleep deprivation playing tricks with our minds. Animals and other creatures morphed out of the cliff faces and we chewed up time pointing them out to each other. This leg will be remembered for the singing, shouting and shit talk of half the team to try to stay awake. I kept eating No Doze like Tic Tacs, tried paddling while ‘resting my eyes’ and almost fell out of the boat a couple of times. My hallucinations weren’t as impressive as some, but it was entertaining watching my brain try to make sense out of what was happening. It was like a last line of defence against forced wakefulness: “Ok, you won’t let me sleep? Here’s…a unicorn! Ha!” Not much of a shock and awe campaign I must say.

Glad I didn't have to do every paddle leg like this. River crossing during a hike. Only 3 seats so the smallest goes on the back.

So glad to reach Nowra and never have to touch the boats again, we stomped the MTB with John drilling it at the front and the rest of us holding a wheel. It seemed like the easiest 100km I’d ever done even though there was 1800m climbing in it. The only hiccup here was the five minutes I spent crying like a 4 year old after my feet swelled in my shoes and I felt like a Chinese-foot-binding victim. My entire team laughed at me writhing on the ground and said “Welcome to XPD racing”. Just part of the experience apparently.

Eighteen kilometres doesn’t sound like a long trek but after four and a bit days of racing we hit the beach at night to be greeted with sideways rain. Leaning into the wind it felt like every force of nature was trying to prevent us from reaching the finish line. I can understand the vision of the organisers to have teams finishing with a run on the beach and a couple of river mouth crossings in the warm sunshine. But at midnight in a gale the effect was lost on us. After trying to find a shallow crossing to keep mostly dry I gave up, stripped off and breast-stroked across with my backpack in the dark.  I never miss a chance to get the kit off in AR it seems.

Everyone's favourite thing - sand running. Can you tell how much fun we're having?

Crossing the line after 4 days and 14 hours was a strange mix of emotions. Yes I was tired, sore and very over being wet and cold. But it was also sad the adventure had finished. We sat on the couches for the traditional pizza and bubbly and chatted to Craig Bycroft about the course. I’m always so impressed by the Geocentric crew and their eagerness to talk to racers and get feedback on the event.
There were so many highs and lows that are now fragments in a fatigued-addled brain. They were so vivid when we were still in the ‘race bubble’ reliving our experience. Even a day after arriving home though, the details are starting to fade. The thing I’ll remember is the fun we had as a team. I was incredibly lucky to race with three very experienced guys and I’m so grateful they helped me through with a minimum of piss-taking.

Gary – I’ll work on faffing less in TAs and always carry a spare thermal

Tim – I won’t hassle you for carrying too much food and then scab it all off you when I’ve run out

John – Sorry again for putting a hole in your dry bag. But you did hit me in the head with the paddle a few too many times

To get 11th at the World Championships in my first XPD race is incredible. To do it as a newly formed team is even more impressive. I’m pretty excited to see what we can accomplish if we can ‘get the band back together’. It’s just outside my Top 10 wish so of course I’m a little dissatisfied. But I’m always dissatisfied, that’s why I keep lining up for the next one.

Total distances:

115km trek
322km MTB
185km paddle
5km caving

Thanks to:

Team mates – Gary Sutherland, Tim Sikma and John Laughlin. Just no words. Thanks

Craig and Louise from Geocentric – awesome course and event. Well done guys

Trevor Mullens from Tiger Adventure – You outdid yourself with team mate matching this time

Infinit Nutrition – looked forward to the MUD on my Weetbix on every trek

Ride Mechanic – Owen went beyond the call of duty with a 10pm drop off to get me more Moonshine and Bike Mix for the race

Liv Bikes – Everyone who picked up my Lust said “oh my god, it’s so light”. Perfect bike for the job

NS Dynamics – suspension service and tuning

CEP Compression socks - for racing and recovery. Minimal fat feet

The Trail Co. - The Salomon S-Lab Wings is my favourite shoe

Saturday, October 1, 2016

2016 XPD - Altay, China

As I opened my eyes I mentally catalogued the parts of my body that hurt and attempted to rank them in order of severity. Rolling out of bed well after the hotel breakfast had started, I groaned as my lower back flexed and my quads woke up. Then I put my badly swollen and blistered feet on the floor. Yep, that’s it – the feet win. As all my shoes were still in our race boxes I donned the hotel-provided slippers and padded around recalling the previous three days in the far northern wilderness of China.

I questioned the wisdom of racing my first XPD (expedition length) race on foreign soil. Having never been to China this was both the attraction but also a step into the unknown. There were doubts about the organisation of the race as it was the first time it had been held. Reports of frequent illness by travellers unused to the water and food also concerned me. But the chance to race in some of the most remote regions in Asia was irresistible and the slick promo video got me over the line.

Our team consisted of two of Australia’s most experience adventure racers, Leo Theoharis and Dave Schloss and young gun Thierry Ellena who had recently relocate back to his French homeland.  I was the ‘green’ racer – goes OK on a mountain bike but unproven in a continuous multiday event and super nervous about making it to the end. The 160km of MTB I was confident of, the 35km paddle I would suffer but rely on the fact that the boats were doubles and I would have a strong partner. One hundred kilometres on foot, however, was twice as far as I’d ever done and included some peaks over 2400m. Would I even be able to pedal a bike after that?

The message I’d received about travel in China was to not expect anything to run as planned but to trust that everything would work out in the end. After a lengthy flight to Urumqi, we arrived at 1am to find the left luggage department closed and us unable to leave our large bike boxes until our flight to Altay the next afternoon. Not only did our shuttle bus from our accommodation not arrive, our hotel gave our reservation away and every hotel nearby was booked out despite the best efforts of a random lady who rang around for us for over an hour. Some racers in the same boat had taken to rolling out sleeping bags and bedding down in the airport nature strips. Winging it we found a couple of taxi drivers with broken English who promised us a good quality hotel with a spare room. It ended up being the best accommodation Dave had seen in China however the lack of Maxi Taxis required some inventive logistics. Yes that’s a $9000 bike strapped into the back seat with a tie down. I did admire the ‘get shit done’ attitude of the Chinese already though.

Looks legit

We spent the next day exploring some local markets and getting hooked on some of the local breads. The north of China is heavily influenced by Islamic culture and cuisine so it wasn’t an endless parade of rice and noodles. Later, a short flight to Altay followed by a 4 hour bus ride crammed in with other racers and, after avoiding a head on with an errant camel, we arrived exhausted to the Kanas Lake Guest house. It wasn’t until the morning that we realised it was a sort of castle in a town of two halves – one of upmarket holiday accommodation for the burgeoning Chinese middle class, and the other a city of traditional ‘yurt’ tents housing the poorer citizens who herded sheep, cattle and camels to greener pastures. While the valley was beautiful it also had an edge of hardness about it, emphasised by the dusting of snow which arrived that day giving a hint of the extreme conditions outside of the mild seasons.

There's nothing like fresh snow to get you excited for an alpine race...not. Yurt city in the background.
Our Chinese Castle at Kanas
I think they spike these with crack cocaine - so addictive straight out of the oven

The day before the race proper, a prologue event was organised for the local media. Many of the rider’s bikes still hadn’t arrived by truck from Urumqi but luckily it was only a run – kayak – run event. Most teams took it easy but it was a good opportunity to test the race-provided kayaks out and gauge how cold the lake would be. The absolutely stunning setting of Kanas Lake also whet the appetite for what was to come in the XPD race. Leaves were turning autumn hues while the lake was the milky blue colour that comes from being fed by glaciers. Canadian water has the same colour and we could very well have been there surrounded by white capped peaks.

Talk from the experienced racers centred around how ‘short’ this event was for an XPD. The winning team was expected to complete the course in around two days with the course remaining opened for around 3 days, although this seemed to be constantly changing. The challenge of a relatively short course is the pressure to go without sleep for the entire race to be competitive. The initial 5 hour mandatory rest stop had been replaced with a 2 hour break in which time we had to complete a ‘cultural activity’.

Pretty much this for days. Put it on your itinerary.

From the gun the pace felt like we were racing for 3 hours not days, as teams ran up the first climb. We avoided the longer, more popular, gentle climb on the road and headed straight up the guts of the 30% + grade grass and rock climb. I was on the tow line soon afterwards struggling with cold seizing calves and a lack of extreme mountain running. It turned out to be a poor route choice and we were 16th at the first check point (CP). Following a ridgeline we then descended to the next points and settled into the race.

It’s the first trek that really sticks in my mind. Perhaps because I was still fresh and noticing the scenery instead of staring at the feet in front of me in survival mode as per later legs. It was breath-taking surroundings and I could scarcely believe I was actually racing in such a place.  It felt like one of the last wild places on earth.  This near-deserted valley which had remained a secret to most of the world would not remain one once racers told of their adventures there.  Our navigator made some great route choices and we moved up to 13th quickly before meeting professional team Adventure Medical Kits along a river trail. They had made a mistake and ended up at the wrong lake costing them around 45 minutes in a race where there was little margin for error. They weren’t with us for long and moved away at a supernatural pace.

Decisions made on the run determine the outcome of these events. Do you take the short but steep route? Or the longer easier one? Stay up high out of the thick vegetation and risk missing a vital turn on the trail? Teams risked dehydration by taking minimal water to save weight in the hope they would be able to find some on the course and use purification tablets to make it drinkable.  Water was not a problem with numerous streams and marshes crossing the landscape.

Once the initial flurry of speed was gone we kept trotting along remembering the drink and eat and pop ibuprofen as appropriate. If that doesn’t sound too healthy imagine living on mainly chocolate bars, electrolyte, gels and biscuits for a few days. Racers need to find the most calorie dense foods to pack to keep them going. Taste fatigue is inevitable and the tolerance for sweet things wanes quickly in preference to salty snacks and Vegemite sandwiches.

All the CP’s were manned which is highly unusual in this type of race. Louise Bycroft, organiser of the Australian version of the event, revealed the volunteers in China were often very wealthy citizens who were quite taken with the idea of being part of the first XPD in the country. There was no shortage of manpower and despite the pre-race hiccups, once started, the organisation was flawless.

We had predicted the first trek to take 12 hours but managed to be back at the transition zone in 8 so perhaps this was to be a quick race? Getting changed into kayaking gear while giving interviews to media was an effort in multitasking but I managed to get all the right clothes on and we were excited to be on the splendid lake in the last couple of hours of daylight. I nearly died of heatstroke in the first half hour as I dressed for the rapid drop in temperature that accompanies the setting sun. Better than that trying to get dressed in a boat in the middle of a cold lake. Unfortunately Thierry was a little underdressed and hunger flat and suffered hypothermia for the first half of the leg, to the point of almost passing out and falling out of the boat. Leo struggled to paddle the kayak by himself to the first checkpoint where we got out at a beach, got Thierry dry and warm and then tied the kayaks together so Dave and I could help pull the second craft along while our team mate got going again. It felt like we were the last team off the water in the darkness but we learned many teams had shortcut the course due to the cold and were now unranked although still racing in front of us.

The transition after a cold paddle is always miserable with cold hands refusing to work to put on clothes and do up zips. I was so desperate to get my socks on I neglected to put more chamois cream on my feet which came back to bite me later when I developed massive blisters on the soles.  The hard climb up to the next checkpoint was a welcome relief and enabled everyone to warm up quickly. This didn’t last long as we crossed snow and frost and the temperature fell to minus three during the night. The only advantage was that the marshes froze meaning we could walk across them rather than wade through them, keeping our feet a little drier. True to form there was a lone guy at CP 11 at the very top of the climb dressed in a sleeping-bag suit to keep warm. He was so happy to see each racer even though he was alone in subzero temperatures for the majority of the night.

Despite wearing gloves I lost feeling in a few of my fingers and they started to throb so badly I thought I’d have to have them amputated due to frost bite. I tried sticking them down my pants alternately to revive them with my own body heat. It was remarkably effective but I was thankful it was dark and I was among friends. We trudged on under the billions of starts while navigating our way through the misty darkness.

There’s a certain excitement that accompanies sunrise on a multiday adventure as it banishes the sleep monsters and enables you to enjoy the some scenery with your suffering. Unfortunately it coincided with the bursting of my first blister and I limped along before a team mate went beyond the call of duty and applied blister patches to my now less-than fresh feet. The trek had taken longer than expected and I was simultaneously hunger-flat and nauseous and struggled into a local town for our mandatory rest stop.  From the numerous wolf-skins displayed we may not have been as alone as we thought the previous night. Although the more skins we saw, the less likely I considered there be any wolves left in the area.

A local cook demonstrate the art of noodle-making which we all had to repeat before cooking our creations. We’d been very careful about eating the local food until that point but when some mystery meat and sauce were added we threw caution to the wind, happy for something that didn’t taste like race food. Huddled into sleeping bags we ended up sleeping through our alarm and lost 30 minutes before rushing to the next transition for the mountain bike leg.

I was overjoyed to be off my feet but my legs were destroyed from the trekking and I was useless for the first couple of hours on the bike. Thierry had regained his strength and was tearing it up and thoughtfully threw out a line to tow me along. Hitting the cattle tramped singletrail we were chewing up the miles and passed a couple of teams who had issues and were retiring from the race. The 600 + metres of vertical hike a bike was named my least favourite section of the race. Stiff carbon soled shoes were a poor choice and I was literally counting 20 steps forward, resting and repeating.  The reward was a smashing singletrack descent with steep technical rock features. It almost felt like a mountain bike race for a while.

Single yurts were dotted in desolate spots with families sometimes tending their flocks of animals. We wondered about their existence: What do they do out here? How do they live? Are they happy with so little? There was a lot of time for reflection about the things we value in our own ‘real lives’ back home.

Night came again and we were rocketing down an endless descent strewn with loose rocks ready to ping your front wheel off in the wrong direction. While not known as the technical rider of the group, Dave was setting a frightening pace, leaving little room for error and I was scaring myself keeping up. I’d been focusing so hard on staying upright I hadn’t noticed the damp air had become cold rain which brought the mood down and had the potential to be life-threatening if improperly attired. Toward the end of the ride I started suffering from the lack of sleep and doing ‘long blinks’ while hammering descents was not optimal. We arrived at the next transition where we had a 20 minute nap in a warm yurt before heading out for the abseil. In hindsight this was a wasted activity and merely resulted in us getting very wet and cold all for a 2 minute drop down a rock face that we couldn’t see because it was around midnight.

Back at the TA and dressing in the last of my dry clothes we were cheered that, by the map, we only had a 50 kilometre mountain bike to go. It was expected to take 5 hours so it was obviously not straightforward, but we were looking forward to being at the hotel in time for breakfast. It did not pan out that way.

After 4 hours of searching in the rain soaked night we not only did not know where CP 27 was – we also didn’t know where we were. There were tracks all over the place made by cattle so it was difficult to ascertain which ones were marked on the map. There was much discussion over things we ‘should’ be seeing that were on the map but what was in front of use just didn’t add up. After trying several different routes we ended up in thick mud that clogged our bike frames and cost us another hour of cleaning to get our bikes working again.

We were cold, wet and demoralised. In our minds racing was not about skipping CPs and taking time penalties, and in other races this is not allowed and results in disqualification. We considered our race was over and headed out onto what we hoped was the highway which would lead us directly to the finish line in Altay. Thierry even gave an interview to a passing media crew about how we were pulling out of the race.

Everyone looked so despondent and Dave and Leo had been in this situation thrice before, having never made it to finish line in a China race due to illness and other bad luck. A team meeting was called and we made a plan – we’d turn around, restock with food at a small town and try again to find the CP. While in town we asked for directions through a series of charades as no one spoke any English. The locals were especially friendly and we were dragged into a house in our filthy gear and served tea and fried breads.  Neighbours were summoned and photos were taken with the strange visitors. I was exhausted but smiled at the touching meeting of cultures and warmth of the people who had so little.

Back out on the trail and another four hours passed, although it only seemed like one, as if I was caught in some sort of time warp. We tried several different approach tracks and even bumped into another team who were having similar issues but the CP continued to elude us. I risked rabies by getting too close to dog-guarded yurts during the search. By this time I was well and truly a broken individual. I’d stopped being able to eat much, feeling like anything I put in my stomach would be ejected.

My desire to get to the finish line by the quickest route possible was expressed in the strongest terms to my team mates. Yes I cracked the shits. On paper the shortest route was still to follow the race course past the last two check points. We should have known that ‘on paper’ means absolutely nothing in XPD and the last few hours of grovelling through the Canyon almost brought me to tears. There is apparently a limit to how many times one can carry ones bike in and out of a ravine at various points while being thwarted by impasses before one wants to slash ones wrist with an empty gel packet.

After the final CP is was fast, flowing double track through another picturesque canyon and we reached the final TA where was left our bikes and hiked the final 2 kilometres into town in our cleats. Rob Preston of 2nd placed AMK met us before the finish lines with beers – what a stand-up guy!  This will explain our finishers photo – no we didn’t carry those with us in our packs the whole way. After 57 hours of racing and 1.20 hours of sleep we crossed the finish line in 14th spot, just in time for dinner at the swanky race hotel.

The next couple of days was spent mainly eating and swapping stories with other teams as they finished. Analysis of what was done and could have been done better is normal. Personally I took away positives and negatives from the race. I learned a lot about looking after myself and my team mates physically and logistically. This was my first attempt at a race of this kind and I couldn’t conceive of the challenges that I’d face until I was out there. Mentally, I cracked a couple of times and while this disappoints me it also makes me impatient to try again to prove I can do better.

I’m not taking on AR because I think I’m suited to it. Quite the opposite. I’m taking it on because I believe it can teach me to become a better ‘me’. If I’m going to survive in this sport I will need to become more resilient, resourceful and skilled at working as part of a team. The next challenge is the XPD World Championships in Shoalhaven which is almost twice as long as the China event. I’m more inspired to prepare for that now and the short run/hobble I did yesterday is the start of the next training block. Yes, I’m crazy, but at least now I’m in good company.

Race kit used:

Liv Lust 0 - maintained by For The Riders and NS Dynamics

Ride Mechanic - Down Under chamois cream (for feet too!) and Bike Mix chain lube

Infinit - XPD carb and electrolyte mix kept in a single bottle for nutrition with a camelbak bladder of plain water in addition. MUD coffee and protein mix with my cereal for hiking on the go and preventing muscle breakdown.

Salomon S-Lab Wings - complete confidence in these shoes and a great fit. From The Trail Co.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Singletrack 6 - Kootenays, Canada 2016

I've done a lot of racing and finished on the podium more times than I ever thought I would. But the majority of people don't unload wads of cash and travel half way across the world to stand on a podium. They want an 'experience'. Singletrack 6 is definitely that and I'll try to explain why it's a good one.

1. The best trails - Yes you could ride any of the trail for free in Canada, but it would take a lot of messing around with map and apps and after grinding your way up 1000+ metres, you want to be sure you're seeing the best trails on the way down. ST6 host communities want to show off what they have to encourage repeat visits. It's like the ultimate pissing contest...with trails. And you get the benefit. All the good, none of the boring bits.

2. Canada do MTB better - They just have it sorted. Handcut, narrow, trails, making the most of their location in the Rocky Mountains. Keep in mind that it snows for half the year and Canadian trail fairies achieve a mind-blowing amount of work in a short season. A perfect mix of flow with steep, natural technical features. We need more of this in Australia. You will come back a better rider after this event. And I've still never been to Whistler. There are better places to ride in Canada and ST6 can show you where.

3. Postcard pretty towns - So some of the host towns are dominated by the Trans Canada Railway. But most are these small welcoming communities like Fernie and Kimberley that will have you checking the real estate windows. ST6 stages are not the 7 hour slogs of other races that seem designed to just extract maximum suffering with pointless riding on forestry roads. You will have the whole afternoon to amble along the streets trying to work out how to move your life here.

4. Race organisation - Imagine a race that's actually designed for the enjoyment of the racer. No 4am alarms on transfer days as they push the stage starts back to give everyone a sleep in.  Wave starts on days that funnel straight into singletrack to avoid congestion. Louis Garneau participant jerseys you'll actually wear and in the size that fits you. Some event organisers forget that we paid to come and the race isn't supposed to be some sort of punishment they inflict.

If you follow me on Facebook you'll know I came from behind on the last day to take 3rd place in the strongest women's field I've encountered in three years here. A combination of experience with age, the diesel engine outlasting some of the early sprinters and possibly the most audacious over-taking move on a tight downhill switchback I've ever pulled off. In between stages I threw everything at recovery - getting carbs and protein in at the right times, ice baths and these miracle pants. But if I'd finished nowhere near the podium, it would still have been one of the best weeks of riding in my life.

Thanks to the organisers. See you next time!

Here's the gear that helped me through the race:

Liv Lust Advanced 0 - 100mm travel. This bike is perfect for climbing and descending - serviced by For The Riders and NS Dynamics

Bike Milk by Ride Mechanic - awesome dry lube so cleaning up messy drivetrains during the race

Downunder by Ride Mechanic - know...down under. Chamois cream essential for multiple days of hard riding

Infinit Nutrition Custom Blend - the absolute first time using this (don't try that at home) and zero hunger flats and finishing strong every day

Tineli bib knicks - unbelievably comfortable for racing and training

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


After 8ish years I recently reached ‘peak gel’ at the OHV 3 + 3 event. I literally couldn’t put another gel in my mouth. I have no idea what brought it on – the heat, the general phasing of sweet foods out of my diet, who knows? Although I had used Shotz gels successfully through many events a lot of my clients were using Infinit. I’ve always been reluctant to go down the carb-solution road as it has been proved to be devastating the oral health of athletes, and I’m still currently cavity-free. It also didn’t seem to present the same opportunities to adjust energy and rehydration needs to suit the conditions (eg. The ability to take on sufficient energy when fluid requirements were low). Energy requirements during races of equal duration and intensity don’t vary much while fluid requirements can change wildly depending on temperature and humidity.

I defied all the advice I give to my clients and used the Singletrack 6 stage race in Canada to test out the new strategy. After competing and placing 3rd in this race 2 years ago I noticed that my fluid intake was a fraction of what I would have in Australia. Two and a half hour stages were completed on less than a 600mL bidon, which would have left me quite desiccated if attempting that in Australia. We were racing early in the morning where temperatures were struggling in the low ‘teens and it lacked the humidity of Queensland which meant that sweating was more efficient in cooling the body. I wasn’t thirsty indicating that this was an appropriate amount of liquid for my needs.

Considering this I placed all of my Infinit in a single water bottle and filled it with about 400mL of water. If I planned to race for 3 hours I put a little over 3 hours of Infinit in the bottle calculated on 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour, which is sufficient for endurance racing while not causing stomach upset. I then put plain water in a camelback which I would rely on for hydration and use to rinse my mouth after carb intake to save my tooth enamel.

I found several advantages in this system:

1.       There was no awkward reaching into my pocket for a gel or flask, something that would have been quite difficult on the singletrack-heavy course. A couple of sips of my Infinit bottle and that was my energy needs sorted for the next 30 to 60 minutes. Also there are no gel packets to fall out of my pocket and litter the pristine course.

2.       My fluid was easy to reach when required and I could drink on the downhills by shoving my camelback tube in my mouth. The plain water washed away any lingering sweetness so I wasn’t ‘sugar-fatigued’ at the end of each stage

Jason from Infinit did a custom blend so dialled the flavour right back and doubled up on the electrolytes as I’m a salty-sweater. Having the electrolyte separated from the fluid worried me, but ingesting too much sodium should have made me want to drink more, not less. As it was I found very little need for the additional water and lugged a camelback around for no point on many of the stages. But it was always there if I needed it so worth taking. Of course it would be ideal for bike manufacturers to start fitting small frames with a second bottle cage but I don’t see that happening soon.

Not having the thick gel consistency to deal with meant I was never reluctant for my next scheduled carb hit. It was just like drinking normally and not overpoweringly sweet. I also found that I was able to ingest MORE than the normal 60g per hour without any stomach upset which meant I felt stronger towards the end of the stages, particularly the longer stages. I think this definitely gave me the edge when I took the podium on the last and longest stage of the event.

I am quite impressed with the system so far and look forward to trialling it in the hotter conditions in Queensland for a more traditional marathon-style event. This is when I most struggle with nutrition in the back half of the race. Jason has also provided a mix specifically for ultra-endurance XPD events that I will be using in the upcoming XPD China race in Altay. I might test it out a bit more before then though as it would be a painful lesson to learn in a 72 hour event.

Getting your nutrition right is an essential part of a successful race. There are several ways (gels, liquids, solids) to get to the same place so it’s worth experimenting to see which works for you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


I’m sitting here with my feet elevated trying to reduce the swelling which is apparently ‘normal’ after a 29 hour adventure race. If I had to pick an area that took the worst beating it would be the feet. Though, considering the brutal terrain they covered, I’m surprised they don’t feel worse.  I love that each Geoquest is different and the 2016 course was a change-up from last year. Located in Port Macquarie, there was actual single-track, paddle legs where navigation would be critical, and a night abseil. Thankfully I couldn’t see any leg that would require naked swimming (see 2015 report). At briefing we were also warned the second foot rogaine would be ‘epic’, taking between 6 and 8 hours.

Our team name, Tiger New Caledonia, reflected the work of Trevor from Tiger Adventure matching adventure race legend Gary Sutherland and I, with Laurent and Martial from the French-speaking islands. Along with our Hungarian-heritage support crew, Attila, we were like the United Nations of racing. We only met two days before the gun went off but we were going to give it a crack and make it work.  I knew we were at pro-level when Gary brought his laminating machine to waterproof the maps. Everything had a process that has clearly been tried and tested. There was a ‘WTF?’ exclamation when he saw my rookie beanie which may have been a little bulky and 50 grams overweight. I didn’t know there were beanies for weight-weenies!

A little dance was performed (by me) when the traditional ocean paddle start was cancelled due to big swell. Relocating to the quiet river mouth, the first leg was a game of strategy allowing teams to split up and get checkpoints (CPs) using any combination of running and paddling. Our strategy turned out to be rubbish and we lost a bit of time when Gary and I got tangled in rope from an oyster farm and the New Cali guys got a hole in their boat after a close call with some rocks.

On to the run leg and due to things getting lost in translation we discovered a CP hadn’t been punched on our card when we passed. It was a case of everyone thinking that someone had done it so no one did it. The most important skill in AR is clear communication with team mates, closely followed by the ability to put mistakes behind you and focus on a solution. After a 30 minute round trip we were back on track, across the rocky coastline and on to the mountain bikes. This Geoquest was one for the climbers so the buff Police Tactical Squad member on our team was not enjoying this scenario.

The last 3 races I've had to rock run and I'm still no better at it. Always stunning though

Gear was showing the signs of strain as the event went on – skis filled with 10 kilos of water; the MTB helmet clasp failure which induced a blind-folded descent; lost screws from vital equipment. They were all fixed with two things – stubbornness and gaffa tape. Stuff broke and we fixed it as best we could. On the night paddle all 12 of our glow sticks failed to glow so we begged around other support crews for spares. Thanks to Team 21 for the multi-coloured glow bands which meant we were prepared for any raves we should encounter on the way.  It was incredible the camaraderie with other racers and their crews. We arrived at one transition well before our support guy and were showered with offers of hot soup, chips and assistance from everyone there. To the lady who fed me the bacon and cheese scroll – you are a legend!

Each team had different strengths and I’d say ours was navigation. Between Gary and Laurent we found crazy rogaine CPs in indescribably dense scrub littered with fallen trees from recent storms. It was impossible to walk around all of them but treading on top risked falling through the branches. Making a path through thick vegetation is not my gift apparently and I constantly lagged behind. Having short legs and protecting the recent stitches in my knee I was being far too dainty. After hours of frustration I went full-blown ninja on the branches and vines while punctuating the forest with F-bombs. I’m not sure it was effective but it made me feel better. 6 hours of bush-bashing later, we emerged and agreed to never speak of the Punchbowl Rogaine again.

I'm with you Matt Bacon. Burn baby burn.

The sun had come up by this time and we had a straightforward MTB to our last TA before a 2-3 hour paddle to the finish. Making our way down the river was lovely and serene but not what you really want when you’re sleep deprived. Every few strokes my paddling partner’s stroke rating dropped as he had micro-sleeps so I had to yell and splash him with water to keep us moving. It was when he started hallucinating and dodging boats that weren’t there that I showed concern. I did this by laughing so hysterically I almost fell off the ski.

It was a big relief to cross the finish line at 29 and a half hours. To finish 6th after last year’s DNF was unbelievable. The post-race analysis started immediately and there were definitely time-savings to be made but seeing the winning team 5 hours ahead of us, the mind boggles at the consistent speeds they must have been moving at.

I had such a great time and learned an incredible amount that I’m looking forward to putting into practice at my next adventure race.  It’s refreshing to start at the bottom and have so much to improve on and I don’t seem to lack any motivation for those 4.30am starts. I haven’t been able to say that for a while.

Finished at last. You probably can't tell but I have a touch of hypothermia at this stage.

Thanks to:
Team mates: Gary Sutherland, Laurent Devaud and Martial Devillers – seriously tough guys. Our support crew of one who did an amazing job with almost no instruction or experience – couldn’t have done it without you Attila Kiss.
Tiger Adventure: for throwing us all together.
Bikes and suspension: For the Riders and NS Dynamics for the immaculate pre-race service
Ride Mechanic: The new Bike Mix longer lasting lube was perfect and went the distance
Shotz nutrition: Gels to keep the carbs going in
Tineli Australia: Best fitting kit around

Gary waiting for his shower after I used up all the hot water

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Darkside 18 hour Adventure Race (25k run / 9k paddle / 54k MTB / 20k run / 20k MTB / 2k run)

After two DNFs in my first adventure race forays, there was one goal at the Darkside 18 hour – finish or die. The team events are the most difficult as they rely on all four people getting to the start-line in good shape with the same mindset. By a stroke of luck I had randomly met a guy called Trevor Mullens (yes MTB fans, uncle Trev of the famous Peta) while riding in Daisy forest. His enterprise, Tiger Adventure, is basically Tinder for AR team mates. He’ll match you with people of similar ability to do these crazy events. Why do they make you do it in teams? From what I've ascertained it’s an insurance requirement banking on at least a quarter of the participants to still have the mental faculties to call for help if things go pear-shaped.  So I’m teamed up with Liam St Pierre of Rogue Adventure, David ‘Sloshy’ Schloss and Ray Deetlefs. All guys with serious pedigrees in AR – no pressure then…

On Friday evening pizza was consumed, maps were issued at HQ and the guys set about marking the route we would take to each checkpoint. I watched intently and nodded every now and again as if I had any freaking clue about map-reading. There were several ‘mystery stages’ where we wouldn’t receive the maps and flag locations until we got to certain points on the course. This included the actual start line location and the first four checkpoints.

After a nap in the back of the Jazz, we were on a bus at 11.30pm to be dropped off in the middle of nowhere for a midnight start. I was feeling pretty extreme – “whoa, look at me, up past my bedtime” until I listened to the guy in front of me. He casually mentioned his next trip would be in the first group to traverse a Patagonian iceshelf while towing a 60kg sled and dodging crevasses. Tough crowd.

The start of these races is a bit frustrating. You want to tell your team mate with the tag that you’ve found a flag without alerting all the other teams to its location. After 2.5 hours of running the crowd had thinned and we sat in second spot. I should mention my longest run until this point had been the 12km at X Adventure from which I was still crippled by groin pain. Jogging was OK but anything that required me to lift my legs caused daggers in my adductors. Logs and high grass became my nemesis.

At 9km the paddle leg was token, but it was peaceful with only the doof-doof music from local amphetamine toting miscreants to keep us company. The gentle glow of the occasional burning vehicle had been one of the many highlights thus far, but now we were shelled by bait fish joyfully jumping our boats like dolphins. A few glances off the hands and face until Sloshy ended up with a whiting swimming in the foot-well of his ski. Ahh, the great outdoors.

Finally on the mountain bike, it was great to be chewing up the miles and collecting checkpoints in rapid succession. It was hard to tell from the map whether our selected roads would be fast fire-road or slow overgrown bush track. After making some good route choices we were in the lead despite stopping for a broken chain. Once the sun came up, I expected that dirty ‘after-night-club’ feeling but I felt great, with a bit of help from Red Bull. As someone who turns into a screaming banshee on less than 8 hours of sleep, apparently running around the forest in polyester negates this effect.

Mid-race lube from Ride Mechanic. Yes I shared with my team mates! #lubeenvy

At the next mystery checkpoint we dumped the bikes and were back on foot. As dad of a newborn Liam had been short of sleep and time to train and opted for a brisk walk. As he is also a 6 foot 5 inch giant I still had to jog to keep up with him so this worked out well. It was really impressive seeing master navigators at work. The guys would come to a point, glance at the compass, disappear into impenetrable scrub and return with the checkpoint ticked. Meanwhile, I get lost in shopping centre carparks.

It was brutal terrain and the hours passed slowly. The other team had put 45 minutes on us by the end of that stage and we contented ourselves with holding second place. Surprisingly, we came across them again later as they’d made a couple of big navigation errors. It was very funny experiencing the mind-games at the pointy end of the race. At this particularly hard-to-find flag the rival team had regathered. They claimed to still not have found the marker and said they were going back up the road to ‘check their maps’. Liam started yelling out to the rest of our team as we also needed to ‘check our maps’. In truth everyone was completely bullshitting as both teams had spotted the marker hanging from a tree. It’s all part of the game though and everyone’s friends at the end.

Riding back to HQ with our rivals we got the map for the final two markers. After over 13 hours it would be a 2km sprint around the lake – first one back takes the prize. Everyone gritted their teeth and dug deep but in the end we missed it by about 20 seconds. I honestly didn’t care I just knew the pain was over (until the next day when it ramped up several more levels).

Almost-winners are also grinners. Just looking forward to the free steak and egg burgers.

What blows me away is all the ‘normal’ people doing such an incredibly tough event. The fact that you find enough other insane people to form teams just defies logic. Thanks to In2Adventure for a true challenge, to my team mates for pushing on to the end and my usual sponsors: For The Riders and NS Dynamics – my Liv Lust was A1 as usual, even in the crazy red mud; Ride Mechanic – the travel bottle of lube came in very handy for a mid-race team application; Shotz – gels and tabs kept me going during the dark hours.

I'm pretty motivated for redemption at Geoquest in June after last year's less than stellar effort. Check it out at

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

X Adventure (1500m swim / 12k run / 20k MTB) - Dunsborough, West Australia

If 2016 is going to have a theme, I’d say it would be the year I do things I’m really shit at.  I’ve spent 10 years mountain biking almost exclusively and think I’m reasonably good at it. My previous running history gives me the confidence that, should I put in the time, I could get around a running race in a reasonable manner. Dabbling in some off-road triathlon and adventure events however, has revealed that I am absolutely rubbish at anything involving water. This surprises me as a great deal of my childhood was spent in the water, as you do when raised in balmy Far North Queensland in the days when air-conditioning was a luxury enjoyed by a privileged few. But my speciality was underwater swimming and competitions to see who could dive the deepest and hold their breath the longest. The last formal swimming lesson I had was getting my Dolphin certificate in primary school.

So a variety of events conspired to lead me to enter X Adventure – a swim/run/ride arrangement held in the wine-producing region south of Perth. This was also the concluding location of the Cape to Cape MTB stage race I’d done previously and I was blown away at the time by how exceptionally clear and inviting the water was, although my fear of sharks restricted me to a hip-deep recovery dip at the time. As X Adventure was a Rapid Ascent event I knew it would be heavy on the ‘adventure’ part from my experiences at their other events in Forrest and Alice Springs. 

But the thing that would pose the biggest challenge was the swim. Not being competitive, but just making it to the end of 1500 metres. I joined the local triathlon squad, Red Dog, but apparently this isn’t enough – it really helps if you actually GO to the sessions. Attendance was ad-hoc at best followed by three weeks of panic training where I almost blew my shoulders out with paddles. It’s the first time I’ve engaged a professional to teach me a new skill and it’s definitely the only reason I’m writing this blog today. Every session required maximum concentration to work out where all my limbs where going while I tried in vain not to get lapped by the other people in the ‘slow lane’. At my last session before leaving for WA the exchange between my coach, Trent Patten, and I went:

“Well I guess I’m as ready as I’m going to get. If I don’t drown in WA you’ll have a repeat customer”

“Hmm. I don’t think you’ll drown.”

Great pep talk but probably as optimistic as my form deserved.

After a night of consistent rain, the setting was not exactly what was promised in the event brochure. The big relief was that the winds had moved to off-shore so the sea was pancake-flat. In transition I nervously arranged my running gear and noticed almost everyone putting on wetsuits. Exactly how cold was this water?? And why didn’t I think of that? Envying the butt-floating qualities of neoprene I waded into the water with my seal-like competitors as the gun went off.

I would say the 250m to the first buoy was one of the worst experiences of my life. Four hundred people thrashing around, swimming over me, salt water in my mouth, can’t breathe!  I stopped, seriously thought about pulling out but then looked around. I was now with a group of similar ability. They were swimming for a bit, breast-stroking when they needed to catch a breath and, most importantly, not giving up. I can do this. Even if I have to breaststroke the entire bloody way! After the first buoy I managed to settle into a rhythm (doing freestyle, even) with a group and began to enjoy the swim. It was so clear and the sandy bottom was reassuringly close at all times. I spotted some fish, but thankfully none of the large, bitey variety that WA is renowned for.

Suddenly I was back at the boat ramp with high stoke levels after completing my first ever ocean swim. Okay, so maybe 32 minutes isn’t exactly ‘suddenly’, but that’s not important. Setting off on the run leg I was quickly onto the 4 kilometres of rock-hopping. I didn’t see any scenery as I focussed on not snapping an ankle on the wet sandy stones. Rock running is a discipline of its own. I passed some people, got passed by others, had a few close calls, including one with a fisherman’s hook and line. Finally getting to even ground on walking trails, the 6 ks to the bike transition saw me pick up quite a few places.

You can just see the specks of competitors navigating the rocks sections. Not a bad place for a run!

At the Dunsborough Country Club I got back into my comfort zone aboard my trusty Liv Lust MTB. The legs were pummelled from the run but the MTB course was almost entirely single-track with little climbing which would be Advantage: Me.  I had no idea how many were in front of me so I just pushed as hard as I could and passed a few other competitors by taking the many A-lines while others went the long way around. The rain had made the sand incredibly grippy and I thought “you just can’t fall off on these conditions” yet around me many people were contradicting that opinion. It was nice to finally feel competent at something! The trail network around Marrinup and the Dunsborough Golf Course is surprising in quantity and quality. WA is establishing itself as a go-to destination for mountain biking. This was backed up by our recovery ride at the Middle Earth trail network outside Cowaramup with it's 24km of singletrack with a Lord of the Rings flavour.

In the end it was close but I couldn’t claw back the time I’d bled in the swim and run. Coming in second still exceeded all my expectations and the previous three hours had been a journey of challenge and personal growth (code for ‘struggle and outright terror’). It was a great course and quite the soft entry for a novice swimmer. There is a huge difference between laps in a pool and a mass-start ocean swim. It’s like training for a MTB race entirely on a wind-trainer.   I’d like to spend more time on my swim but now it’s on to paddling for some big adventure races (See previous blog for recap on paddling ability).

Next up: Darkside 18 hour Adventure Race

Thanks to For The Riders, Ride Mechanic, Shotz Nutrition, NS Dynamics, Tineli clothing and Liv Cycling.

Monday, January 11, 2016

ADVENTURETHON - ALBANY (16k paddle, 22k MTB, 15k run)

I’ll start by telling you what Adventurethon is NOT. It’s not one of those namby-pamby ‘lite’, ego-enhancing outdoor events, where you can do zero preparation and still feel like a hero at the end because you’ve ‘done’ adventure racing. Adventurethon (especially the Ultra version) is a serious challenge that will find your weakness and grind you down. When I first scoped out the MTB course with legend racer Jarad Kohler I thought “whoa, this is a pretty techy course to be sending jo-average down”. It made me happier as this would be the one leg when I actually got to pass other competitors and felt completely in my element, but I was predicting a long day of walking for some of the other less confident riders. 

MTB course has some pretty cool features

 Organiser Joel Savage, is not a complete sadist though, which is why he invited Jarad and I to run skills sessions for the Adventurethon-ers in the days leading up to the event. Busy with my MTB sessions I did manage to fit in my second ever solo ski paddle under the expert tuition of Jarad. It went reasonable well until I fell off, climbed back on, immediately fell of the other side, rinse and repeat, while getting uncomfortably close to the rocks. It was about this time that I started getting quite worried about completing the Ultra event the next day which involved heading out of the protected bay and into the open ocean.

Walking is the default option for many things. If you’re running and get tired, you walk. If you’re mountain biking and it’s too technical, you walk. There is no ‘walking’ option for paddling in the ocean, unless you class coastguard rescue as the default. The race paddle start was very relaxed and we headed out to round the SS Cheynes II shipwreck. Only falling off twice (I was not the only one) it was the getting back in that I was having trouble with and I figured I only had a few of those in me before I couldn’t hoist myself back on again. After rounding the wreck it became delightfully calm-ish and I started to enjoy the ski for the first time.

First turning buoy on the paddle leg (credit Lex Porebski)

Following the crowd I pulled onto a beach for a 2k run around the headland. During the run we passed another beach where competitors were coming in, with large waves and sideways / upside-down boats. Feeling lucky to not be them I quickly worked out that I was supposed to be them and I’d landed on the beach for the Enduro (shorter) course! What to do? I jumped back on my ski and headed out into the channel to complete the longer course, spent 20 mins being tossed around by the open ocean swell, assessed my chances of survival at less than 50% and headed back to transition.

Still having fun on the first run leg (Credit Lex Porebski)

Feeling a little despondent to be out of the race so soon, there was still no question of pulling out and I figured I’d just do the Enduro + the bit of extra kayak time.

One of aspects of adventure racing I had to learn is the logistics of what equipment I needed to take on what legs. Violating all transition-zone etiquette, I had gels, shoes, towels and compulsory first aid equipment strewn everywhere. Having rubbed the skin off my feet in a previous off-road triathlon, I was very meticulous in wiping down before putting socks on for the bike and run leg.

Using a combinations of walking tracks, the Albany downhill course and taking in various monuments to Albany’s military and whaling past, the mountain bike course would satisfy any red-blooded rider. The athlete who podiumed at this race would have to be the complete package and not just a road rider who dabbled on fire breaks. As a MTB specialist I looked forward to smashing this leg, but my quads were absolutely shot from tensing up for two hours on the ski.

The bike leg was over far too quickly and I found myself back in transition staring at a rat’s nest of gear, know that I had to take some things off, and put some things on, but not really making the connections. I didn’t leave for the run leg wearing my bike helmet and my life jacket so I must have sorted myself out eventually.

When I race MTB, my Garmin and heart monitor are my tools. They allow me to monitor what my body is doing and pace my effort. Not possessing a multisport version I was racing unencumbered by either heart beats or time. I had no way of knowing if it was time to take a gel or how far I had to go or who I was racing. It was quite liberating at first but I was almost ready to make a sundial at the end just to figure out how long I’d been out suffering.

Having 3 weeks notice that I would be competing, I’d only managed a handful of training runs with the longest at 8k. Completing a 13k mountain run including 3ks of rock-hopping Albany’s rugged coastline would be about putting one foot in front of the other.  The bouldering section was when I felt like a true adventure racer. Negotiating towering rocks smattered with ocean spray, clambering on all fours like the numerous local skinks, focusing on shreds of blue tape while avoiding plunging to a painful end.  I’ve always enjoyed to simplicity of the outdoors with just a pair of running shoes.  This is where I had some of those bonding conversations with fellow fatigued and cramping competitors.

Not looking down and Shotz bottle between the teeth. All limbs needed to hang on. Guy behind me was have a cramp-fest. Not sure how he made it up! (Credit Lex Porebski)

Cresting the summit and looking across the town, it was literally ‘all downhill from here’. But, unlike cycling, running downhill doesn’t seem that much easier than running uphill and my thoughts turned to next week when walking down stairs would become a form of torture.

Crossing the line was a bit of an anticlimax. Yes, I had my medal, but I’d set out to do the Ultra course and didn’t quite make it. Was it ambitious with my complete lack of preparation? Absolutely. I used to shake my head at people who entered MTB events obviously undertrained. For me, the challenge is in the training while the event is the execution of those hours of commitment. Racing is the reward. So I guess it’s time to earn it and teach this highly specialized pedaling machine to adapt. I’m sure it will be quite frustrating at first (as riding used to be), but it’s also a bit exciting.  Now I just need to make room in my garage for a couple of new toys….

Massive thanks to Joel Savage and Adventurethon for having me over for the event. We got great feedback on the skills sessions and hopefully it made the race more enjoyable and achievable for some. Albany is a stunning location and Adventurethon is the perfect excuse to come over and check it out. Jarad Kholer – what a great instructor and top bloke. I have a lot of tips to work on over the next 12 months. Check out Peak Adventure’s sessions if you need to upskill for any of the multisport legs. Liv Cycling, For The Riders, Shotz nutrition and Ride Mechanic – without these sponsors I wouldn't be able to have these adventures.

Jarad Kohler being at 'one with nature' at Bluff Knoll 'recovery' hike