Monday, December 17, 2018

The decline of home cooking and link to obesity

So much of what's in this clip went through my head this week as I was preparing dinner for one. Life with a shift worker means a lot of dinners alone, something I'm very familiar with having lived solo (except for my daughter when she was home) for over a decade. On some nights yes, I had toast or maybe a bowl of peas for dinner after a chronic case of CBF. But 99% of the time, I cooked a meal that I would have served had another adult been dining with me. So this week, I used my alone-time to try out a new salad recipe. Trying a new dish always increases the shopping and preparation time with unfamiliar ingredients. But once it's in the repertoire, the efficiency increases. There are times when I wonder why I put so much effort into food preparation and what a waste of time it is. Then I catch myself. Something like eating, which is absolutely vital to good health and survival, is now regarded as an annoyance. While I think the video is a bit simplistic in terms of suggesting home cooking would always be superior to eating out and that obesity isn't caused by at-home foods, it does highlight the disconnect between our fundamental life necessities - healthy food, exercise, relaxation - and our perceived necessities - a big house, expensive car, latest iPhone. When we sacrifice the fundamentals for the illusion of 'must haves', we lose. Sometimes we lose our lives.

My ex husband was a chef and there is a mistaken view that we had gourmet meals constantly. For one, when cooking all day it's the last thing you want to do at home. But the best thing he taught me was that cooking doesn't have to be complicated. Get a few good ingredients and some simple flavours. I rarely make a recipe that relies of specific vegetables because if capsicums are $12 a kilo, there's no way I'm buying them. I have no issue with 2-3 dishes on high rotation and using flavourings like pestos, dressings and simple sauces means I can serve almost the same vegetables and protein every night and it tastes like a totally different meal. The images of a couple dancing around the kitchen while cooking are probably far removed from the reality of one parent (usually mum) cooking after a full day at work while the other parent is either still out working or ferrying the kids from an activity. But is it the video that's wrong, or the reality? Having a healthier relationship with meals and seeing the preparation and consumption of them as a time for connection is something I really believe in. No screens, everyone sitting at the table and everyone getting a chance to talk about their day. Studies have found a link between eating at home as a family, without the TV on, and increased fibre and vegetable intake and reduced BMI in children. That's something worth taking time for.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Gender Debate

I’ve held off entering the gender-optional debate until now. But I live in the first Australian state to consider legislation allowing people to decline being assigned a gender on their birth certificate so it got me thinking. What are the ramifications of this? Why is it important? How is that related to women in mountain biking?

My first reaction – what a crock. We’re either male or female at birth and, barring rare genetic disorders, it’s pretty clear which team we’re on. There are obvious physical differences between men and women in both the genitals as well as the tendency for men, on average, to be taller and stronger than women. These boys who ‘identify as female’? Well unless you have a vagina and get crampy once a month, you don’t meet the criteria. Then I started thinking a little deeper. What do they actually mean ‘identify as female’? From mere observation, it seems to mean adopting certain habits that society has defined as female. Things like wearing lighter coloured clothing, make up, long hair and perhaps a skirt. Maybe speaking a little softer or playing with ‘feminine’ toys like Barbie. And ‘identifying as male’ appears to involve wearing shorts and t-shirts, cutting your hair short and eschewing make-up. If that’s the criteria then I’ve ‘identified as male’ for a large portion of my life. I was the quintessential tom-boy growing up and have had crew-cuts at various stages of my life. I rarely wore make up because ain’t nobody got time for that when there were bikes to ride and trees to climb. Plus, growing up in Queensland humidity without air-conditioning, there was nothing pleasant about applying foundation as fast as it slid off your face. In other words, my decision on what to wear or not wear was based on personal preference and lifestyle factors. Not my gender. I'm rather relieved to have grown up in an age I wasn't being rushed in for gender reassignment surgery.

So why does wearing make-up and skirts make someone ‘female’? It doesn’t. It makes them a person (male or female) who prefers to wear certain clothes or cosmetics and SHOULDN’T have anything to do with gender. I was listening to this podcast yesterday which claims that less than a hundred years ago, boys and girls were dressed the same and calling attention to their gender was seen as unconscionable until puberty when it actually mattered. Having pink and blue clothes was a huge marketing ploy to sell more clothes when they couldn’t be handed down between siblings. It would be great to go back to that and do away with boy and girl-specific toys and games. Until the age of 10 there is no physical difference in size or strength between the sexes so why segregate them or treat them differently?

Unless I’m going to the doctor and they’re trying to decide whether to give me pap smear or check my prostate, I shouldn’t, on a daily basis, be asked if I’m male of female because it should make NO DIFFERENCE. As a form of protest, I actually ticked ‘not specified’ on the gender box at the Virgin check-in this morning (which is weird because I don’t recall ever being asked for my gender before? Do female corpses dismember differently in a crash?).  This whole concept of being assigned a gender should end with the physical basics that are only really important in very limited spheres. Even in jobs requiring strength, the litmus test should be if you can carry the heavy thing, you get the job. I believe the fire service and similar are the only ones to still have rigorous physical entrance requirements. But I, as a 160cm female, would apparently pass so, clearly, they are not restricted to the top echelons of body builders.

Why does this matter? Because if we can be conned into believing that there is gender specific clothing, we can be conned into believing there are sports, jobs and behaviours that are also unsuitable due to gender. This is where the real inequality lies.  And I don’t just mean for women. Whether it’s lack of female CEOs or politicians or the number of men who take their lives each year because talking about feelings and stuff isn’t ‘masculine’, gender stereotyping (or just gender) doesn’t serve anyone.

This all might seem a curious point of view for someone who makes their living from women’s only mountain bike skills coaching. But my industry only exists because our society keeps perpetuating the myth that gender puts people at a disadvantage for certain skills. In terms of being able to manoeuvre a mountain bike around a trail there is no reason that men should be better at this than women. And yet the women who come to my sessions are really bad at this compared to most men. What they ultimately lack is not the ability, it is the belief in their ability. This is not some innate female quality, but the product of 40 years of being treated differently. Of being more protected, of having more risk ‘managed’ out of their lives. Of being sent subtle, or not so subtle, messages that mountain bike riding is dangerous and women shouldn’t do dangerous things. It’s buying your daughter a pink bike with a basket and streamers that is basically useless for actual riding and getting your son a BMX. My brother and I got Malvern Stars one Christmas. I was far more ‘sporty’ than he was but I still got the pink step-through style while he got the one with the high top tube. To be honest there may have been no difference in performance between them, but you never see someone on a step-through racing. The message was clear and still is.

My partner and I took his boys to the park to kick a football around last week. I don’t like to blow my own trumpet but I was nailing the kicks, left and right footed – straight to the hands. It occurred to me there are few women my age who could do that. The only reason I CAN do that is because of year 11 PE. One semester the girls were told they were doing netball and the boys would be doing AFL. Being a feminist far beyond my time, and not really understanding the attraction of netball, I protest loudly and to my teacher’s credit, I was permitted to play AFL. But why weren’t all the girls playing AFL? Or the boys doing a semester of netball? The differences in speed and strength could have been evened out with mixed teams. My other love was soccer but the only girl I knew who played had to play for a men’s team as there weren’t any women’s teams. I finally got to play in senior year as things were moving with the times. The fact we now have women’s AFL and World Cup just blows me away and I don’t think young women today realise what a huge change that has been. (Note, I believe that sports based on physical strength and speed should still be segregated due to the physical differences outlined in the start of this article. And that includes ‘transgender’ women who, despite the same testosterone levels now, possess greater response to testosterone and will never be biologically matched to women. But that’s another blog post!)

I don’t want to focus too much on elite sport. When I was deep in that world it was hugely important. Now I wonder, if all the professional sport disappeared, would that have any impact on the everyday person aside from less time spent in front of the TV and less overpriced branded gear bought. It actually might encourage more community level participation as there is little correlation between elite sport and recreational participation rates.

But there I was yesterday, the only woman in Elite, racing the state mountain bike championships which is a far cry from world cup ‘elite’ level sport. Racing isn’t for everyone and that could be a personal preference. But when women are outnumbered by the men 20 to 1, I cannot believe that can be accounted for by differences in personal preference. Statistically, there is no reason why women should want to compete less than men, unless they are receiving messages from society that competition is bad or not ‘feminine’. Mountain biking is a very male dominated sport, period, and I don’t think anyone – from clubs, MTBA, race promoters – is really aware why. Competence breeds confidence. And everyone, from parents down, is telling girls that mountain biking is not the sport for them. Particularly the technical side of mountain biking which includes steep descending and obstacles. The women I teach have no confidence because they have no competence. They were not encouraged to ride, do wheelies, or take risks as kids so they are now playing catch up. There has been huge progress in mountain bike skills in juniors over the past decade, but the gulf between the average girl and the average boy remains because the messages remain.

I got to ride with some close mates from Brisbane at Maydena recently including my mate Matt, who basically got me into mountain biking. As we were shredding down black trails at similar speeds, he said “I forgot you don’t ride like a chick”. And he’s right. I don’t ride like the average female. I am much more confident in my ability and am still looking to get better as skills don’t have much to do with age. I can’t tell you why, other than speculate that a childhood growing up without a car meant I had a foundation of confidence on a bike. This made it easier for me to transition to riding off road. I rode with people who were better than me and I wasn’t afraid to fail. I didn’t see falling off as embarrassing but a realistic reflection of how long I had been riding and the work I’d put in to learning the skills. I have no competence with swimming so the idea of being with a couple of hundred other thrashing bodies in the open water doesn’t appeal to me at all. My friend Gill is a very competent swimmer so she often competes, although she wouldn’t line up for a mountain bike race.  We both compete, but our competence lies in different areas.

Having competence in different areas which influences our preferences and attendance at events is all fine, unless our preferences are being dictated to us by gender attitudes in society. I can cut my hair and wear pants but I’ll still be recognised as female due to bone structure and other physical tells. And your subconscious bias will come into play which is why we need things like quotas for female participation in business and politics. Are the differences in gender participation at mountain bike events concerning for anyone other than race promoters who want more profit from race fees? Doubtful. I’m more alarmed at the drop in participation in sport generally when people transition from childhood to adulthood than I am about the participation difference between girls and boys in physical activity (around 10% depending on where you read). But sport tends to be a reflection of society so the alarm is that, as enlightened as we believe we have become, gender stereotypes are alive and well and perhaps doing away with gender as a concept is a worthy goal.  I do not accept that men and women have different preferences and abilities in physical or mental skills so any significant deviation from a 50% participation rate in any field deserves closer analysis of social conditioning. Women are not naturally crap at mountain biking and leading companies any more than men are naturally crap at talking about emotions and nursing. They both conform to expectations and conditioning. It will take many generations to address the inequality so the sooner we start the better.

Check out these podcasts too:
Rethinking evil - on the real reasons for violent crimes by men. Calling bullshit on the testosterone argument
Be the Change - A couple's fight to raise their child free of gender

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

7 day Ultimate MTB Tour with Tasmanian Mountain Bike Adventures

When Phil from Tasmanian Mountain Bike Adventures approached me about coaching a tour, of course I was interested. There’s nothing bad about working on the bike, especially in Tasmania, despite the fickle weather. When he launched the 7 day Ultimate tour, I wondered what sort of people he would get signing up for it. Who would need a coach for a week of mountain biking? Absolute beginners hoping to ride the greens at Derby? Or those hoping to get out of their comfort zone? I brushed up on my Detonate riding, just in case it was the latter.

By the November kick-off we had a group of 6 – five friends from Perth and another from California who they’d met on previous road cycling adventures in Europe. These were fit guys accustomed to spending several hours a day on bikes appreciating the landscapes. It was great they all knew each other too as the banter flowed between them without too much input from the guides. It reminded me a lot of my old Thursday morning MTB group although somewhat more censored (at first). The brief was to experience varied terrain and show off quintessential Tasmania. Phil definitely delivered on both counts.

Day 1 - Hobart

Welcome to Tasmania. Brisk temperatures and strong winds. In the van to Fern Tree we did an easy warm up on the Pipeline track to ensure all the bikes were working well. This ended up stretching out as we discovered a bent rotor (thanks baggage handlers) and then Phil got a sizeable stick which killed his derailleur. Better to have it in Hobart than on the West Coast though. Reloading at the Fern Tree Tavern, we headed up to the Springs and gave the group their first taste of the North South Track. I’ve avoided this since the damage and forgot how good that top section is. All ferns and moss. After some coaxing the group had a crack at some of the log rides while I held my breath. Descending to Main fire-trail we hit up some of the choice South Hobart trails while the group got accustomed to the steepness not found in Perth.

A burger pit-stop at South Hobart and it was in the van to Meehan Range. I’m not sure going straight up the XC climb was the best thing after lunch but it is the most direct route to Clifftop for sensational views over the city. I took the more energetic crew around the Flagstaff Mountain trail and back down Corkscrew which was proclaimed ‘better than sex’. I wondered where Derby would rate as that’s a pretty high bar. By this time Phil’s group had managed the third mechanical of the day ensuring our breakfast would be taken at Avanti café the next morning to sort out bikes before heading to the wilderness.

Day 2 – Montezuma Falls

Although it doesn’t look it on the maps, the West Coast is quite a drive from Hobart. After breakfast and bike repairs, the group kicked back in the bus while being transported to the still-wild part of Tasmania. One rider had missed the memo about not wearing lycra in the mining towns so an early purchase of baggy shorts was made. The moonscape around Queenstown from mining and deforestation has started to regenerate, much to the chagrin of the locals who claim it’s their town’s greatest attraction. It possibly is although the chicken panini at the café was given the thumbs up by the crew.

The last time I rode the Montezuma 4WD track, I ended up face down in a mud puddle after a clip-out failure. My retelling of the story enabled one of the boys to re-enact it perfectly as he took a dip in ‘Jodie’s Day Spa’. We were all looking like mud-bath victims at the end of 14km where the spectacular falls came into view. Gingerly working across the 200mm wide cable bridge, we could admire them from up close before the 5km ride to the far end of the trail where our driver, Roger, was waiting. Being able to do point-to-point adventures is a huge bonus of being in the hands of TasMTBA.

Montezuma Falls - Tassie's best waterfall

Although we were camping at Zeehan, the large canvas tents were a far cry from my usual ‘almost two person’ light hiking tents. And the comfort afforded by the thick inflatable mattresses and -20C rated sleeping bags has potentially ruined me for roughing it. But the real revelation was the silk liner which enabled warm, friction-free movement throughout the night. It really is more like glamping especially with the catering and port by the fire.

Day 3 – Climies Track

So there’s a reason the West Coast is so green – it rains a lot. Woken by a torrential downpour at 5am, it had eased off to showers as we hit the start of Climies Track. This 4WD track follows the coast between Trial and Granville Harbours and is popular with off-road motoring enthusiasts. A fellow camper at Zeehan had done it the night before in his truck while towing a trailer. This took about 4 hours while I was surprised it could be done at all. By MTB it’s more of a 1.5 – 2 hour adventure sandwiched between the wild coast and Mount Heemskirk and smaller peaks. The area looks very Scottish by both terrain and climate. Although not single-track, it is quite technical with rocky climbs and descents and deep water crossings. There were several ‘no dab’ climb challenges thrown out with beer prizes. At the halfway points stands a memorial to three people killed after being caught in fast flowing water there in 2006. The waterfall they were swept over is stunning on its descent to the nearby ocean.

Not all mud is as solid as it seems. At the Granville Harbour end of Climies Track.

There had been a flat tyre at the back of the bunch but having two guides meant the rest of the group could keep moving, if only to keep warm. This track was used as a stage in the now-defunct Wildside mountain bike race. It’s old-school mountain biking at its best. Bundling into the van we were still surprisingly warm and half the group opted for a quick lunch then a beach ride at Macquarie Harbour. It was like fate intervening as, just as we started the ride, the sky cleared to a perfect bluebird afternoon with the tide at its lowest ebb giving us hard packed sand. Phil had cleverly even managed a tail wind for us so we motored down the beach barely pedaling.

We really lucked it with the weather for our beach ride at Macquarie Harbour.

We got a dinner tip on our reconnaissance trip and the local pub did not disappoint. Getting into some of these regional areas reminds you what value-for-money dining was like.

Day 4 – the van, mostly

The commute from Zeehan to Derby made for an epic travel day. We seemed to have lucked a good window to pack up the tents until it started hailing on us before we got them in the trailer. Passing close to Cradle Mountain there was snow falling which was lovely watched from the inside of the warm van. A day off coffee, sausage roll and sandwich stops we arrived in Derby just in time for it to hail on us again. A quick run up to Black Stump and a slippery, hesitant descent of Flickity Sticks got everyone accustomed to the single track before climbing back up and doing Return to Sender to whet the appetite for the next couple of days.

Staying in a cavernous house in Branxholm, another great meal at the local pub. I can’t remember ever having steak that cheap or good.

Day 5 – Blue Tier et al.

Waking to perfect blue skies this was the best we could hope for as we headed to Weldborough and the top of Blue Tier. This descent is an absolute must-do by anyone who calls themselves a mountain biker. Arriving at the bottom just in time to grab coffee from the Welborough pub, the van took us to the top of Atlas missing out all the boring fire-road climbing. There’s still plenty of climbing on the Atlas trail itself though. The guys requested I lead out so they could follow my lines and know which rises were followed by drops. I cottoned on to their game shortly after we began when I ran over the tail of a very large and healthy Tiger Snake. No one wanted to lead out after that.

The lushness of Derby.

The 2 Doors Down café is the perfect spot for lunch in a hurry as they pre-prepared burritos were toasted and hoovered down before the afternoon session. Half the group opted for a gentle roll down from Black Stump and straight into the pub. The other half were on a mission to fit in as many runs as possible before we could no longer safely grip our bikes. Scoring the second fastest run of the day (according to Strava) down Return was no mean feat with all the EWS riders turning up for practice. Some ripping runs down Flickity Sticks and Howler the boys then gave me a run off to do the trails of my choice. I didn’t really have the energy for Black Stump, Shearpin and 23 Stitches but I rode them anyway. Absolutely love that route.

At the Tuscan Fox that night I ran into Flow MTB’s Chris Southwood who was covering the EWS round that weekend. When I first met Chris I was repeatedly falling down a rock garden at the Oceania titles in Rotorua. Now, taking other riders to fall down rock gardens, it made me realise the full circle my riding career had made.

Day 6 – Running on fumes & Chain of Lagoons

Could we squeeze any more riding out of the legs? Yes! Pottering around the Dambusters and Krushkas loop was a nice change of pace from the breakneck riding of yesterday. Both trails climb gently and flow on the descents. Offering stunning views across the lake, it was a great way to roll the legs over for a last run of Blue Tier. As rain started falling at the top, the descent was markedly more slippery than the day before. We wrangled showers from the Weldborough Hotel and Phil managed to pick up a hitch-hiker while we washed bikes. Ben was an IT guy from Canberra was perhaps over-geared and underprepared for the solo ride from Launceston to Hobart he had embarked upon. He was happy to score a lift over the big climbs to St Helens in return for a carton of ales leaving us to ponder the contents of his very heavy frame bags. It was a toss up between cans of baked beans or severed heads. We hope he had favourable winds for the rest of his journey.

It’s rare to see as many stars as we did from our camp site just north of Bicheno. In the stable weather of the East coast we enjoyed perfect conditions for tall stories by the camp fire as well as the usual discussions on religion and politics. Falling into comas in the tents we had an early morning start to make the 10.30am ferry to Maria Island.

Glamping Tas MTB Adventures style.

Day 7 – Maria Island and Australiana

My last trip to Maria Island was with my partner in howling cross winds, paddling from near Rheban. Apparently there is a perfectly good ferry that goes across from Triabunna. It was warm, nay, hot as we headed off for our first jersey-only ride of the week. The climb up Bishop and Clerk wasn’t exactly what our legs needed and it was bliss to walk the remaining third through the boulder fields. Less so for those who had ignored Phil’s warning to bring proper walking shoes. The view from the top was breath-taking and we enjoyed it eating our pre-packed lunch at the top. For those who haven’t been, there are absolutely no services on the island and the Coffee shop is nothing more than a historical display so don’t get your hopes up (Yes, I fell for Phil’s promises he’d placed my order).

View from the top of Bishop and Clerk. Definitely worth the hike.

Spotting wombats is like those old 3D images – once you see one, you see them everywhere. We didn’t see our first one until well after our descent and exploration of the Fossil Cliffs. One of the guys lay on the ground to get a better shot. The wombat waddled over to say ‘hello’ then promptly gave him a love-bit on the forearm. Most were friendly enough for a quick pat though and we even managed to spot a baby in the pouch. They were chopped liver once the echidna made its appearance though. These guys are pretty rare and I’ve only seen a couple in the wild. This one had found a nice nest of ants though and wasn’t leaving, opting to huddle into a ball and hope we all got bored and left. Maria Island is a magical place if you love wildlife. It’s amazing what a lack of domestic animals and people can do for the native animals.

Wombats a plenty. Felt a bit weird with a group of us looking up its butt though.

It was all over too soon. Some guest DJing in the car on the way home with several of us napping at times. It was an amazing week on the bike, essentially doing a big lap of Tassie. We covered some must-dos while exploring some of the lesser visited parts of the state. If you want to focus on riding and enjoying some bike time with your mates, getting on a Tasmanian MTB Adventures tour is the way to go. Let Phil and co. do the driving and take you directly to the best MTB spots and the places with good coffee.

Monday, September 10, 2018


Airplanes are an interesting microcosm of human existence. I love air travel. I love being cocooned by airports offering every convenience at 180% of it’s standard market value. This is a place I catch up on work as I literally have nothing else to do. Many of my blogs are written in airports as being trapped in a metal can without the distraction of Wi-Fi encourages reflection. I sincerely hope Wi-Fi never approaches a reasonable price during flight.

Today I am seated beside an elderly couple. The woman struggles for several minutes to reach the seat belt around herself before the buckle makes the familiar click. I pull the arm rest down to prevent her partner from spilling out into my seat. This will be a long, uncomfortable two and a half hours where my spine is curved towards the aisle to allow me enough room to type.

“They must be getting shorter” she remarks. 

Yes, I’m sure that’s it. The ability of people to deceive themselves never ceases to amaze me. I am not in the habit of fat-shaming. But I do call a spade a shovel and it is clear this couple is obese. In our society they’re more common than someone of my build is, so perhaps they’re looking at me with the same bewilderment that I am observing them. I confess I was primed before boarding by reading several articles on the lack of physical activity by Australians, various theories on diets which could be more effective in controlling weight and an article encouraging women to put themselves first and some general recommendations on healthy lifestyles. I read them with growing cynicism. None of this is new. None of this is different to any of the messages which have been repeated ad nauseum over the past decade or more. The first article confirmed what is very clear: none of the messages are having any effect on physical activity or obesity.  As a public health policy, education has failed miserably.

One of the more interesting articles was a study on mice who were given either free access to food 24 hours a day, or access restricted to a 10-hour window during the night, which is when mice naturally feed. They did some cool things with gene alterations in one group but that’s not the interesting part. As a diet strategy, intermittent fasting isn’t new. And I have been trialling the 10-hour window myself during some training down time. I have noticed (warning: n=1 experiment) that forced to delay breakfast until 10am and denied any snacking after 8pm has resulted in eating one to two less snacks per day. This would equate to around 600 calories a day which is the recommended reduction required to lose half a kilogram per week.  So I assumed that the protocol achieved weight loss or maintenance by simply reducing the amount of food people eat. The study did show slightly lower calorie intake by the time-restricted mice but not enough to account for the differences in weight gain. In summary, the time restricted mice stayed lean and metabolically healthy while the mice with 24 food access became obese and developed metabolic risk factors similar to cardiovascular disease in humans.

The study concludes there may be something magical about eating all your daily calories in a 10-hour window versus spread out during the day. I am skeptical as I come from the ‘calorie is a calorie’ school. Also, there may be some failure to account for increased physical activity during the eating period in the 10-hour mice which resulted in more energy expenditure. Either way, it does seem that, however it works, cutting down the window of food consumption during the day may be a good strategy. Given their tendency to subvert good ideas though, I do anticipate people gorging on fast food during the 10-hour window and then being surprised at the failure to lose weight.

During a month’s stay in regional France, I did make an observation related to this idea. The restriction of food outlet opening times to meal times. I recall trying to get a meal at 11.15am and being almost faint with hunger only to be told that the restaurant opens at 12pm and not a moment before. I could have coffee though and the French do such poor work with milk it would undoubtably be black. The restaurant then closed at 2pm and would not trade again until 6.30pm. There was only one fast food restaurant located on the outskirts of town. I wondered if it was the lack of availability of food that corresponded to the lower rates of obesity in these areas? Would McDonalds be so bad if it was only opened for a couple of hours at breakfast, lunch and dinner? Did this change in trading times for convenience foods predate the sharp rise in obesity?

There is a lot of evidence for the metabolic value of fasting. As an athlete we are often conditioned to think of hunger as a bad thing. That the slight pangs of hunger indicated our hard-fought muscle gains were being catabolised by starvation. The 10-hour strategy is most certainly useless for athletes. For those training at 5.30am they would need to have dinner at 3.30pm to follow the program. And it has been repeatedly shown by studies that poor fuelling before sessions results in low quality training and sometimes failure to complete the set workout. However, on days off or recovery days, it is conceivable we might have a black coffee, do an hour of easy riding and make morning tea our first meal of the day. Emphasising our calorie consumption around exercise and then sticking to standard meals for the remainder of the day could be effective for those in the “but I’m doing all this exercise, why aren’t I losing weight” category. And repeat after me – there is no meal after dinner.

Another article on the failure of Australians to get the recommended amount of physical activity each week. How is this even possible? We have the best climate for getting outdoors and access to some of most stunning areas to recreate. One article blames the computerisation of the workplace for a lack of incidental exercise during the day. Another study shows that those with the most physical occupations have the poorest health. Confused yet? In general, physical jobs are the domain of lower skilled, less educated and lower paid workers. And there IS a correlation between income and poor health and obesity. So, if obesity is an income problem, isn’t it logical to use monetary measures to address it? I have considered that food should be sold on a cents per calorie scale. Although for someone with a high calorie consumption due to high level training, that does negatively impact me. Should 100 calories of broccoli cost the same as 100 calories of sugar? I know which would lead someone to feeling more full and also provide additional nutrients while that amount of sugar would hardly be noticed. 

The sugar tax is the closest thing which tackles the obesity issue on this angle. And it fails to account for the alternatives which aren’t taxed (fruit juices) but are not that much healthier. It also does nothing to address the myriad of other foods, like potato chips, which are linked to increases in body weight. But I do believe that if you want to ‘nudge’ the population to making better choices, you have to price the undesirable choices out of the market. See how effective cigarette taxes have been in conjunction with sales and consumption restriction. Surely food could be treated the same. It is not a mystery which foods are linked to obesity (processed) and which foods are not. No one ever got fat on broccoli. Increase the taxes on processed foods until the obesity levels drop. Restrict trading hours for food outlets. No one needs an ice-cream sundae at 2am. It is the responsibility of government to intervene in this problem as clearly society is unable to help itself. The obesogenic environment is a real thing – 24-hour access to cheap, processed and nutrient-free food is costing society billions of dollars and lives.

Why do I even care about people being obese? Let them kill themselves. It’s free choice. Firstly, I do care. I care about those who genuinely want to improve their health and aren’t succeeding, either through lack of resources or failure to follow advice which can be complicated, conflicting or impractical. I have all the time in the world for people who have the will, but not the way. I do not wish to watch one more television show which shows how easy it is to lose weight with your own personal dietitian and trainer. This is not a realistic option. Secondly, it enrages me to see the burden on the public health system which is so unnecessary and prevents those with serious problems, not brought about by their lifestyle, from receiving treatment in appropriate time frames. Obese people don’t kill themselves. They suck up medical resources to manage their multitude of conditions and extend their life far beyond what it would be without these interventions. I don’t advocate for a system which refuses treatment to those who are deemed to have brought it on themselves. The complexities of apportioning percentages of blame to factors is far beyond administrators and not close to being moral.  Which leaves us with the current system where people are being refused timely treatment for a range of illnesses due to lack of capacity of hospitals.

So back to our couple on the plane. I look at what they're ordering. They have the same unusually healthy plane snack that I do of some lavosh crackers, capsicum dip and celery sticks. They don't even finish the dip. Tea - no sugar. Going well so far. Then the man pulls out a ziploc bag of lollies and they proceed to munch away during the flight. And suddenly it all becomes crystal clear. Face - meet palm.

Thursday, August 30, 2018


I woke up with that feeling that tells you that you did something quite stupidly strenuous the previous day. The date days my partner and I have don't usually involve relaxing lunches and Netflix. Well not unless we've crippled ourselves the day before and earned the privilege. This time it was 6 hours of snow shoeing. Brisk trekking because we have a habit of leaving things late in the day and not taking head torches 'just in case'. On previous occasions it's been knocking off a mountain route labelled 3-4 days in an afternoon. Or cycling an off-road trail that was never meant to be ridden and probably hasn't been walked in over a decade. At the beginning at all of these adventures, I'm well aware of how things will go. The first couple of hours will be about relishing the challenge. Insert rubbish conditions here: gale-force winds, snow, side-ways rain, extreme heat, fallen trees, missing bridges. These are mere annoyances and add to the ruggedness and feeling of taking on the wilderness. Some time around 3 hours things hurt, the challenge is now something fun that has gone on too long. An hour or two after than one of us will turn to the other, make a comment about 'type 2 fun' which will receive a grunt. Eventually there will be a problem - something unexpected which requires discussion about the approach. A track on the map which no longer exists, an icy river to be crossed, a flat tyre to be patched when one has left ones spare tube at the last rest break. This is where the 'fun' lives. Now I'm not recommending people go out into the wild totally unprepared. That would be life-endangering and foolish. What I'm saying is that there is a threshold between what I definitely know I can do and what I'm not really sure I can, and it's going to this threshold that makes me feel alive. It's perhaps a coincidence that this threshold often involves endurance events and hours of physical pain.

As this article points out, I may not be that uncommon. People are drawn to ultra-endurance events like Ironman, trail running and cross-continent cycling. That this coincides with mid-life, may be a response to the realisation of mortality, or a reflection that life is more amenable to putting in the hours these activities require once children are older and careers and relationships are more stable but perhaps less fulfilling. Given that more than half of the population are overweight or obese and even more fail to get the recommended 5 hours of physical activity every week I don't think that ultra-endurance events are really as popular as the article makes out. On reading it, many of the people referred to are in white collar occupations and possibly at the upper end of the median income scale. So it's not as if the Race Across America is going to be the next big fitness craze.

Despite this, I have several clients signed up for Croc Trophy, Cape Epic and 24 hour solo events. These involve suffering on a grand scale almost irrespective of how fast you intend to do them. Let's assume they will complete them as fast as they are capable. This will hurt. There will be times they want to quit. Why would they want to do that? Knowing the why is really important in successfully completing challenges. Challenges are things you aren't sure you can do. Doing stuff you know you can isn't a challenge. By that definition, doing a 10km continuous run can be a challenge if it's something you haven't done before. The reason that not everyone does 24 hour races is often because they just don't want to. They sound awful. I struggle with people telling me how inspirational we all are for doing these things which are quite pointless in the scheme of things. But if my 30 hour adventure race makes you consider that a 10km run isn't totally outside the realms of possibility, I'd call that a positive externality.

For people who can't imagine anything longer than a 45 minute boot camp session, it's difficult to explain what we get from 'going long'. The article above mentions submitting to the pain and that is definitely an aspect of it. There is a magical moment when you stop struggling against the feelings in your body and just surrender. You're stuck in the bush, miles from help so stopping is not an option. Giving myself no escape clauses is also an effective MO, which is why I disdain lapped races. You cease trying to calculate your pace and what time you'll get to the end. You forget there is an end. There is only what you are doing right now. You are totally present. That's surprisingly difficult to achieve in the normal world.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


While Derby has been the town on everyone's lips for a few years, there's a nearby town which is often overlooked. Weldborough sits at the bottom of the famous Blue Tier trail but is used mainly as a stop off by mountain bikers before the next shuttle up to the Atlas trail and back to Derby.

In true form we left about an hour after we'd planned and then stopped at various towns on the way for provisions, coffee and again for provisions when I'd forgotten what I was supposed to get the first time. Arriving in the afternoon we set off with lights knowing the short winter day would be serving up sunset early. After warming up on Little Chook we started the hour long climb up the Old Blue Tier trail. This was the original descent but it makes a fantastic climbing trail with some technical rock sections. Picking a line to avoid putting a foot down is a fine way to pass the climb and the gradient is friendly enough to keep the effort under control. We reached the summit just in time to snap a scarlet setting sun and headed to the new Blue Tier descent.

This was worth the climb. As was the descent. It was all good. Do it.

According to Garmin it was 5 degrees but I'd pulled my arm warmers down to my wrists and was sweating up a storm in my jersey and undershirt. I guess I must be acclimatised now. I hadn't charged my lights since our last bike packing adventure so thought about turning them up bright and belting down as quickly as possible hoping they lasted. But I opted for running them low and hoping not to run into anything. It was such a still night and it was nice to flow down the trail, having the front wheel sent pinging in all directions by an unseen wet tree root or slippery rock. The advantage to not seeing was that I was very loose and ready to respond so avoided any crashes.   The closest we came to injury was when a possum fell out of a tree onto us, panicked, ran up another tree and promptly fell out again the scurried into the bushes. I guess he failed possum school and we almost strained something laughing.

We were lucky enough to be accommodated at A Place to Stay, which is one of the few house in the area, just a few hundred metres past the Weldborough pub. Now it's not that I don't absolutely adore camping in a Tasmanian winter, but occasionally it's nice to have luxuries like hot running water, a coffee machine, heat pump, full kitchen and a doona so light and fluffy it was like being covered by a toasty, warm cloud. Reclining in front of the fire, with a red wine and a double episode of Shetland on Netflix, we were lucky to even make it to bed before the coma set in.

A fire and a nanna-blanket are better than Stillnox

Waking to a frosty morning we went exploring another lesser known trail. So lesser know that its name might be the OC or RC trail depending on which map you consult. We rode out from the cabin and headed up Emu Road as per the previous night. However we turned left at Frome road until we spotted pink tape and a rough mountain bike trail on our left. The RC track is what we'd call 'old school' mountain biking. Not groomed, covered in derailleur ripping detritus with a few fallen trees and requiring some thoughtful line choice. In other words - awesome. It had clearly been used as part of the Mountain Bike Australia National MTB Marathon Champs as there was still plenty of course tape marking the way. This was both disappointing and helpful when the trail became unclear. We missed the map turn but came across an abandoned race arrow which directed us back onto Frome Road after a short hike a bike. The climb out is on well graded road and isn't especially steep. There's a surprising amount of climbing on Emu Road I don't remember experiencing as a descent on the way in. We decided on a daylight lap of Big Chook but I think I rode it better when I couldn't see the rocks and trees.

A ute, some MTBs and a cabin by the trails. What more is there in life?

 Ducking back to the cabin for some lunch and more brews we considered the idea of doing the Atlas - Dambusters loop but I didn't think I'd have enough light battery for another night finish. Next time. Instead we drove into Derby for a quick loop of Axehead, Long Shadows, Black Stump (love this track), Howler and Berms and Ferns. The downside to having the place to ourselves on a weekday is that absolutely nothing is open in Weldborough or Derby. I keep trying to give my money to businesses in this area and yet I keep failing due to their odd business hours. We were too hungry to wait for official dinner time at the Imperial so ended up raiding the Branxholm IGA. I sat in the lovely cabin that night puzzling over the fact that I wasn't camping and yet was still eating tinned soup for dinner.
Another sunset. Proof we stayed up past 5pm.
After a few hours riding each day it was pleasant to not be absolutely buckled after one of our 'weekends' away. We do have a 48 hour race this weekend though so rest assured we haven't gone completely soft. It was great to stay somewhere a bit off the well beaten path and explore some trails we'd normally bypass. I've been quite spoiled by A Place To Stay but will be sleeping in dirt in an adventure race soon just to maintain the balance. If you absolutely must stay in Derby APTS has another cabin there. Check out the Weldborough booking here. All the trails can be found on Trailforks and the cabin also has some trail maps to help you plan your adventures.

These partners make my adventures possible:

Ride Mechanic
Infinit Nutrition
Absolute Black
NS Dynamics
Flight Centre Sports & Events
Wild Earth Australia
CEP Australia

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


I started writing a detailed race report then got bored with it. Not that the event was boring. It was actually really neat and I highly recommend it to those beginning adventure racing. Why? Normal ARs usually follow a linear course and all checkpoints are mandatory and have to be visited in their numerical order. So the winners might do them all in 17 hours while the slower teams are out there for 24 hours of more. In a rogaine though, you can get as many or as few checkpoints as you like and get them in any order. It’s up to you to work out the most efficient route. The catch is that, usually, you can’t get them all and they’re all worth different points (the more difficult ones to find are worth more) so you’re forced to strategise. Time becomes a commodity to be spent wisely. If you don’t make it back to HQ before the 24 hours is up you start having points docked at an alarming rate. The team with the most points in 24 hours is the winner but everyone finishes at about the same time which is somewhat more social.

Lake Samsonvale at 'too early' o'clock.

While not the most scenic of races, Rogue did take us to many of my old training grounds around Brisbane. Waves of nostalgia hit on the road to Mount Nebo and South Boundary fire road as these are where my cycling career was started and climbing legs honed. The inclusion of the Bunyaville single track and the skills park at Enoggera Dam (which I helped design) were a master stroke and I’m still not sure how race organiser, Liam St Pierre, managed to extract the permits for that. I remember organising a mountain bike camp for teenagers in Brisbane Forest Park a few years ago and having to promise to sacrifice my first-born if anyone dropped a gel wrapper. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to make these events happen.

Russ with his race-face on

Some of the highlights:

During the night, while collecting a check point on said single track, we came across two guys on foot. After some brief chat they nervously asked “Umm, did you see a couple of bikes on your way here? We’ve, ah, forgotten where we put them…” It was easy to do as you dumped your rig on the ground and hiked into the scrub to find CPs. It’s a good idea to remember which way you came in.

While you spend a good deal of time taking care of each other, there’s always time to have a chuckle at a team mate’s misery. John had stomach issues on the last run leg, hadn’t eaten for a couple of hours and ended up on tow on the monotonous road back to HQ. In the morning stillness a howl of pain rang out and I thought he’d broken his leg. The tow rope had snapped and recoiled into abdomen like a gun shot. This was not a highlight for John, obviously.

The last few hours of a race are spent thinking about what food I’d like to inhale and where I might get it. Crossing the line to free pizza was bliss although a coffee van would have certified it as ‘best race ever’.


The first short run leg was fast(ish) and I spent the rest of the race wanting to amputate my left leg. My ongoing hamstring injury didn’t like the increase in pace, tightened up and resulted in a searing pain in my arse for the next 12 hours. Oddly, the 9-hour bike leg seemed to sort it out. Or it preferred the shorter strides as everyone shuffled through the later run. Having to roll out of the kayak and crawl to CPs with a paralysed limb wasn’t too graceful.

I knew our navigators were tired when we paddled to the wrong island on the final kayak. It probably cost us second place but I guess we don’t race for second. As tempting as it is, don’t follow other teams as they’re often lost too.

That feeling of looking in my last food bag and realising there was absolutely nothing in there I wanted to force into my digestive system. My latest discovery is that jam goes poorly on wraps when stored for any significant amount of time. Savoury is king.

I like to include at least one glimpse into the mind of an adventure racer or a helpful tip. There is a perception out there that those at the front of the pack don’t hurt as much or have unlimited time to train and prepare. I turned up to this race stressed and sleep deprived from 2 weeks straight of work and 1am bed-times needing to submit two uni assignments before I left Hobart. I’d struggled fitting in training and introduced the 59-minute workout to my repertoire in an effort to do at least something. Feeling out of my depth fitness-wise and limping around with a dysfunctional hamstring there was a good hour of self-pity and a few tears. After that came acceptance – this is what I started with and I just needed to work with it. The most damaging emotion in sport is self-pity and the thought that you’re the only one who has struggles. Let’s face it – most of us running around out there have some serious issues.

It has made me realise I need to put my body first and start attending to some of the niggles before they become more serious. Some physiotherapy and strengthening work will be taking priority over endurance training. And it’s not like I only JUST realised that I’m overcommitted in life (I don’t over-train, I over-live according to my sports doc) it’s that I haven’t come to the point where I’m willing to give up any of the things I have on my plate. My job is amazing, I love the study although it has added to the stress, and I haven’t many years left to really compete at the top level in mountain biking and adventure racing. I’m just waiting until we colonise Mars where the days are 25 hours long. That would be perfect.

(Oh yeah, results. We were leading by 30 minutes after the monster bike leg but had a lot of trouble with CP 48 on the trek and the foray to the wrong island on the kayak bumped us down to 3rd place.)

Fellow Tiger Adventure members and Hobart hitter Emma Weitnauer. Both in the hurt box.

Thanks to:

Ride Mechanic
Flight Centre Sports & Events
Infinit Australia
Wild Earth
NS Dynamics
CEP Australia
Absolute Black

Sunday, March 11, 2018


I sit in the room of a spartan back packers lodge in Te Anau, waiting for the glacial internet to load. I haven’t missed this. Technology. I have endured days of deprivation in the wilderness but at no point did I wish for Facebook or email. The mood of team Hardtale is a mix of despondence and relief. We crossed the finish line of Godzone Chapter 7 late last night, relatively uninjured apart from a few scrapes and blisters. Amid stories of dislocated elbows, badly infected feet and delirium we were fortunate. It tasted bitter due to the fact that we finished unranked on a shortened course.
Unranked is a weird place. It means you get to continue in the event although you no longer satisfy the definition of a ranked team. You have lost a team member or failed to find a check point (CP) on course. For other offences you are given a time penalty or disqualified depending on the infringement. But let’s start at the beginning.

The crew: Me, Matt Bacon, Steven Todkill, Aurelian Pennman

Team Hardtale has a long history in adventure racing however I only met the guys – Matt, Steve and Aurelian – a few days before the event. Their regular female racer was unavailable so they required a replacement on short notice. We had struggled into Queenstown trying to thwart airline baggage allowances with the voluminous amounts of mandatory gear required for this race.

So much gear!

With the usual preliminaries done, maps marked out, it was no time at all before race day. Running down the main street of the quiet lakeside town of Te Anau, teams started inflating pack rafts in a park, throwing kit into dry bags and preparing for the paddle across the lake to the river Wairau River. I finally found comfort in a pack raft using a Sea to Summit Hydraulic bag stuff with gear. The water was moving pleasantly fast which was a welcome change from the usual shallow water boat-drag of Australian pack raft sections.

The boat-drag came next as we had to portage two rafts and 80 kilos of gear up a cliff. It was a mad scramble of teams but there were also many instances of teams helping each other, particularly those of the same nation. Everyone wants to beat the Kiwis on their home ground. Carrying rafts is awkward at best and then you have life jackets, paddles and dry bags that cut into your hands when you carry them for any distance. It was interesting looking at the different styles people adopted – over the shoulder or on the head. I clipped a dry bag to my life jacket to save my arms and only managed to crush my windpipe.

Clambering through the forest in this part of New Zealand is like walking on a giant, bouncy sponge. Most of what you think is solid turns on not to be. It’s kind on the feet until you punch through a decomposed layer up to your knee. We couldn’t trust anything we grabbed hold of not to be rotten and just fall away in our hands. This was inconvenient on the next trek when we scaled a mossy cliff after taking a questionable route up a river. I was going through the explanation to travel insurance in my head. How I fell from a vertical face with crumbling moss and the reason I was there is that a man with a map had told me I needed to go that way. I’m undecided if this sport makes you push your limits or merely suspend good judgement.

Once above the tree line it all felt worth the struggle. A setting sun while trekking across the mountain ridge was like a scene straight from Lord of the Rings, which was filmed mostly in this area. What appears to be snow on the peaks is actually white lichen, but this doesn’t lessen the spectacular effect. It had been a solid effort getting to the saddle but in the darkness we saw lights of teams some 500 metres above us who had taken the advice to follow the ridges to the extreme.

My nemesis in any adventure race is heights.  So imagine my delight when we had to abseil 150 metres. Reaching the top in the dark I was relieved that, yet again, I wouldn’t be able to see how far away the ground was. Just get over the edge, keep your feet on the rock and lower slowly. Oh Christ – where did the rock go? Oh, there’s no more rock, just 140 metres of dangling in the air. Kill me now. I was shaking, shallow breathing and heavy on the braking device which was just prolonging the experience. My team mates dropped like stones and I could see everything as it was thoughtfully lit up by floodlights.

Planning what food to take on a two day trek is difficult. I didn’t want to take anything too heavy as I I’d be carrying it over mountains. A good mix of sweet and savoury is my goal but this time I ended up with too many muesli bars I had no appetite for. Walking afforded the opportunity to eat with both hands and the thing I never got sick of was weetbix, powdered milk, Infinit Raw protein powder and a splash of trail mix.  I feel I could do a whole race on that combination.

Shortly after the abseil, our lead navigator, Steve, started vomiting. He’d be working hard getting us off the mountain, forgotten to eat, then tried to catch up putting more food in than his stomach could process. We had a 30 minute power nap under a dry log then continued slowly to let him recover.  I towed him for a while but it was difficult in the terrain and I nearly got pulled backward several times while climbing up rooty slopes.

After a fun raft down some small rapids to the next TA we mounted the bikes for a relatively short ride. It was then I was introduced to the delights of Gorse – an pest shrub with sharp, spiny foliage. Having to punch a trail through this was like diving into a knife drawer. But we were in the early stages, still highly motivated so what was a few festering wounds?

Racing is such a selfish thing to do. All of our team had families waiting at home so we tried to minimise the time away. Many of these races say they go for 6 days but we’re often finished in half that and then forced to wait around idly for our departures. We had booked to fly out on Day 10 of the race meaning we would need to be finished by Day 8 to have any hope of getting our gear, cleaning and packing to make our flights home. Self-imposed cut-offs had been set which meant if we hadn’t reached certain points we could need to short-course ourselves to get back to Te Anau. At the start of the next pack raft we were on schedule so things were looking good.

Trekking with the extra weight of the packrafts, PFDs, paddles and wetsuits was an unfamiliar burden. Heavy pack training would have been more appropriate than run training. We hadn’t slept for two nights and were zig-zagging across the road so we grabbed an hour laying in a roadside ditch. A film crew spotted us, jumped out and started filming inches from our faces which didn’t help with the shut-eye.

Paddling across Lake Hauroko was the calm before the storm of the Wairaurahiri River. Rafting in Australia is like being pin-balled between rocks and having to walk your boat through shallow water. I didn’t see any rocks here. Just water. A LOT of water, moving very fast. Being in a raft with Matt, a veteran racer of 16 years experience, I felt fairly comfortable. That was until he confessed halfway down that he’d never been in water this big before. Wait – what? It was relentless with very few flat sections between the furious rapids. I could actually see the gradient of the river like it was down hill mountain biking. After 2 hours of hard paddling to stay upright my back locked up, but was forced to keep going so we didn’t die. We saw several teams fall and need to be rescued by their team mates.

Oddly, this was our favourite section (once it was over) and we finished exhausted but exhilarated and full of adrenalin. Arriving in Waitutu Lodge we changed to dry clothes and got into the trek. I’d opted for thermal tights with waterproof pants over the top as it had started to rain. After ten minutes of walking I realised the thermals were rubbing in a place that I would definitely need on the 160 km bike ride. Taking my mandatory knife I cut the crotch out of my pants and ‘free-balled’ in comfort.

Photo credit: Godzone Adventure. You can even tell we're going down hill. 

By this time I suspected Fiordland was another name for swamp as we plodded to CP 17 through thick mud, moving at one kilometre per hour. It was dark, raining and the rush of the rapids was long gone. Given the rate of travel with no hope that the remaining 30 kilometres was any better some calculations were mad. We estimated the next four checkpoints would take another day at least. Three of us didn’t have enough food but we could ration and go without. The flights were the main concern.
The boys were tired and I was soaked so laying in the mud for 5 hours to sleep was a recipe for hypothermia. Instead of pushing on to the hut six kilometres to the West, the team decided to turn back to the lodge to sleep. For $35 a bed and a hot shower were the best money I spent all trip. But having the male volunteer tell me to take my overpants off before entering the lodge brought the recollections of my revealing under pants. I hope my race bib covered all the important bits.

Feeling somewhat refreshed the next morning the 40 kilometre trek along the South Coast track was laborious with heavy packs. It was a boring viaduct with no view of the actual coast but at least it was easy walking. It seemed an age since my feet were dry but they were still in good shape. I lathered them in Ride Mechanic Moonshine at every opportunity. A hot tip from an event medic – put hand sanitiser on them when airing them to dry them out and kill any bugs. Teams regularly developed severe blisters and trench foot in this race, sometimes requiring evacuation. The first 5 hours of this hike I kept thinking there was no way I could take the discomfort of my pack straps biting into my shoulder for a minute longer. The second 5 hours I spent wondering why my pack didn’t hurt any more. Did my pain receptors just finally admit defeat or had I done permanent nerve damage?

A bridge over troubled waters: on the way back after admitting defeat on the South Coast track.

Transition Area 3 was an oasis in the desert. There was a coffee van sent by the gods with free beverages for racers. The Godzone team also supplied dehydrated meals of which I sampled quite a few. Despite expecting to be on our bikes and away, we were told we were now unranked due to missing the last four checkpoints. According to the rules, which we clearly hadn’t read, unranked teams would be sent on the short course. The guys were devastated and protested but to no avail. We now had 24 hours to kill at the TA as a penalty and to let the faster teams on the full course pass us. After a 10 hour sleep we woke to a stunning day so I rode into to nearest town with a Kiwi team for lunch at the pub. After a 40 km round trip we were off on bikes a few hours later on the short course loop.

I may have proposed marriage to this woman.

Our navigation and pace was good on the tricky bike leg. We came across many teams asleep in the forest but we pushed on and got through with only a short nap in a sheep paddock. Woken by falling rain the next 80 kms of road were miserable. However the excitement of the women in TA 7 was some recompense as we were the first team there with the leaders still on the long course trek. There was better news – we was no ‘dark zone’ for the paddle tonight so we’d be permitted to paddle on the lake at night instead of camping within sight of the finish line.

The 20 kilometre trek entered the Kepler track from Manapouri but then we climbed through the bush on narrow track lined with stoat traps up to the top of the Hartz Mountains. We trekked through ferns, under and over fallen trees and occasionally fell through rotting logs. For ten hours all I saw were moss and ferns. Enough already. Just give me a view to make this all worthwhile. I imagine being the navigator is a bit more engaging. You’re always thinking and working out distances and directions. For someone who barely looks at a map, ten hours of following footsteps is an exercise in monotony which has no definitive end. When you’re told you have five kilometres to go this is meaningless unless you know if you’re covering 5 kilometres each hour or crawling along at one. Once we’re off track I lose all direction and sense of distance. I know it’s a logical science so I’m determined to learn more if only to keep the boredom at bay. So if you see me wearing a compass at the next race, try not to laugh.

Paddling to the finish was a little embarrassing. The winning team had been through only an hour before so there was a crowd there cheering. We were second over the line but essentially a DNF. I wish they’d let us paddle to the side and sneak out the back. In retrospect, I’d have liked to try for the further checkpoints and if we had run out of time later on, simply have ridden back to Te Anau from the next TA. At least we would have tried to complete the course. Godzone is not your regular AR. Plan to be out there for the full 10 days and be pleasantly surprised if you make it home in less. Pay attention to the mandatory kit as you will use all of it. Make sure your tent sleeps four comfortably as you will definitely be in it. This is not a race for beginners. You must be well-skilled in navigation and white-water and generally being a hard arse.

Nathan Fav'ea's team finish on a glorious day in Te Anau. Definition of a hard arse.

My favourite bits of kit:
Sea to Summit paddling gloves & Back country Thai Chicken Curry @ Wild Earth Australia
Black Diamond Icon Headlamp
Salomon Sense 5 (Soft ground) shoes

Thanks to the Hardtale team for looking after me and to my supporters:

Ride Mechanic
Flight Centre Sports & Events
Infinit Nutrition
Wild Earth Australia
NS Dynamics
CEP Socks

Sunday, February 25, 2018


The parking ticket was the last straw. You know - that one thing, quite a small annoyance in isolation, that just tips you over the edge. A failure to decipher Hobart's unique parking system. That 20 minutes I'd agonised over the relative prices of insulated paddling kit had been in vain. I'd rather have bought the Sharkskins and avoided the fine. Thoughts of 'why does this happen to me' surfaced, as if I'd been the subject of particularly improbable misfortune.

On the contrary. Having great fortune bestowed upon me necessitated the shopping excursion. An opportunity to compete in a widely acclaimed and hideously expensive race at a greatly reduced cost. (Godzone, filling in for an injured team member in case you don't follow me on Facebook.) That I had turned this into a negative emotional state only encouraged further feelings of self-loathing. What the fuck was I doing? Seriously? Forty years old, barely educated, financially insecure and going to play explorers in the forest was the best use of my time? I recall a former team member stating in the midst of an adventure race that this is "just a silly game, really".

Behind every blog-worthy adventure and envy-inducing Instagram photo is the struggle between who I am and who I 'should' be. It would be easy, and lazy, to ascribe this to things like societal expectation. Certainly when my daughter was young there was the mother-guilt of being away competing for months, and being so tired I was barely there when I was home. But now, with a teenager who resides in another state, it was time to let go of this one.

The Should-be me is the alternate person I was could have been. Back in high school, when possibilities were easy to imagine and near infinite. The paths diverging in the woods yet to be encountered. When I was 17 and barely educated and financially insecure. What did the intervening 23 years mean? Why don't I seem to have progressed? What was I hoping to find out about myself in the middle of a 50 hour trek in the Kiwi Fiordlands that I hadn't already discovered in the previous 12 years of physically punishing competition? Did I take the less traveled path but ended up in the most common situation anyway?

The Should-be me would stay home and consolidate my ten month existence in Hobart. She would be an available remedial therapist to her clients who didn't want to see someone else but simply couldn't come on a non-pension week. She would be a reliable employee to the business owners who had given her a chance to resurrect a massage career out of sudden financial necessity. Didn't I owe it to my partner, my daughter...didn't I owe it to someone to stay home and be normal?

I'm afraid. Not of 50 hour treks over large mountains or being upside down in ferocious rapids. My fear is of my life meaning nothing and going through physical and mental trials while learning nothing useful.  And possibly of living on cat food when I'm 70 because I spent my life learning and doing things of no value to society in general. Doing Godzone doesn't scare me. It's coming home and finding that I'm still the same that terrifies.

I would like to push myself to the absolute limit to finally say "enough. I have nothing left" and to draw a line under this physical foolishness. Godzone has a chance of doing this. But people I know ride the Iditarod year after year. What if that point never comes?

So back to the parking ticket and Hobart and throwing bits of mandatory kit in a bag while staying the right side of baggage allowance, doing three weeks of work in one so my coaching clients don't just stare at their bikes aimlessly not knowing what to do while I'm M.I.A. The indecision and guilt were gnawing at me. As I said, exasperated to my partner "I never thought it would be so hard to work out what's going to make me happy!"

Then two significant people in my life made the same statement: Happiness is a choice. Choose to do crazy races in awesome places and be happy. Choose to build a career and pursue life stability and be happy. Stop waiting for some event or place or person to make you happy. Life is a series of experiences which you can learn from but which don't need to affect your state of happiness unless you choose to let them.

Of course that doesn't mean that all choices are equal. There are choices that will predictably make us unhappy. But deciding between a bucket-list adventure and two weeks otherwise spent building a rewarding career is hardly a burden. Most of the choices I give myself an ulcer over are arbitrary. I should use the coin toss method more often. The other litmus test is this: If I was told I had a month to live, what would I have regretted not doing? Sounds extreme but then tomorrow is never guaranteed.

In case you were wondering, there is no point to this. Just some thoughts I wanted to share in case they're thoughts EVERYONE has. And to say thanks James and Trev. It's your fault I'm here!

Monday, January 29, 2018


I never thought I'd be writing a race report about the time we won it on the final paddle. My love/hate relationship with water sports means I'd love to be good at them, but hate actually getting in the water. And I've been spending a lot of time in the water while paddling. Thankfully the craft provided in adventure racing are near uncapsizable and take no skill to stay in so I can focus on thrashing about with my inefficient stroke and the growing blisters on my hands.

X Marathon 48 hour race was based in the charming seaside village of Marlo for 2018. It doesn't pass my threshold as a town lacking a major supermarket or, at least, an IGA. But it had the convenience of the holiday park being a one minute walk to the pub which was doubling as race HQ. After driving 5 hours from Melbourne airport the last thing I want to do is try to source dinner but the organisers Sergey and Maria are veteran racers themselves so have the foresight to include pre-race dinner as part of the entry. Being able to focus on marking the maps rather than cooking is just one of the many small things which make this event competitor friendly.

The 4.30am wake up was less friendly on race day and we piled into buses for the 3 hour drive to MacKillop's Bridge on the Snowy River. It was already heating up when the gun went off at 9am and was forecast to hit high 30s later on. Not exactly what you want for an ultra endurance race. Our team, Wild Earth - Tiger Adventure saw Gary Sutherland, John Laughlin and I team up for the 3rd time with Sunshine Coast hard-man Russell Stringer completing the team.

Starting with a split leg, Russ and John ran to CP1 on a nearby hill top while Gary and I pack rafted down river to the pick up point. And waited. And waited. After a few coo-ees in the bush the boys appeared after taking a longer route than planned and we'd been passed by a few teams. We were then passed by a lot more teams when our raft deflated and we spent time looking for the puncture. Hot tip: make sure the air valve cap on your raft is always done up extra tight. Reinflated, we started making up spots and enjoyed the more exciting rapids on course, with Gary and I taking just one swim in the process.

What do you call a man coming through the bush? Russell - sucking in the big ones at the top of the first mountain climb

Pack rafting is possibly the least comfortable thing I've ever done. I'm too short to sit in the raft without my elbows hitting the sides. While kneeling gives superior power transfer, it leaves my knee caps prone to being shattered by submerged rocks and 6 hours in that position, leaves my body screaming for mercy. Raft designers - can you please get across this and build decent seats into your products? Using our 'waterproof' dry bag as a seat only revealed it to be neither air nor water tight.

Out of the rafts we quickly packed them and hiked straight up a mountain. 400 metres ascent over 800 metres horizontal in 36 degrees and my calves weren't the only things burning. It was late afternoon and we'd only complete the first leg and now had our bikes to build. The first MTB had 2400 metres of climbing in it which made my Hobart-standard 30 tooth chain ring a good choice. I hadn't drunk enough during the rafting and felt quite nauseous with a pounding headache as the sun set. Some paracetamol and ibuprofen sorted that out so I was in a better state than a lot of racers who were vomiting with heat stroke and unable to continue. Getting back on top of my fluids and a steady diet of warm, stale Vegemite and cheese sandwiches kept the sodium levels nicely balanced.

Passing a couple of teams during the hike we were now in 3rd with the race favourites in front of us. The uphill riding was tough but the downhills were unbelievably dicey. Extraordinarily steep and loose I knew some less experienced riders may lose some skin or worse. It was great to have a team of guys competent on a tricky descent and my heart was in my mouth several times keeping up. There's often no single-trail in races but that doesn't mean it's not technical. We take bikes places they have no business being. More on that later.

At the next transition we headed straight out on the rogaine. After suffering on the first run and bike leg, the boys sent Gary and I out to get the most distant CPs. We trotted around spotting the two other teams out on course. It was close racing but we focused on making less mistakes, keeping moving and let the race unfold. The former didn't go well as we added a degree of difficultly by forgetting the CP descriptions for this leg. Luckily most of the flags were in the places you'd expect them to be. Coming together with Explore East Gippsland during the next pack raft was a real lesson. It was one of those frustrating rivers where the water was alternately deep then too shallow to paddle meaning a lot of in and out of the raft. The experience of racers, like Rob and Kathryn Preston, showed as their paddle to run transition was smooth and efficient while ours was awkward by comparison. After an hour Gary and I had our routine sorted - I jumped out and grabbed the gear bag while he shouldered the raft. Except that one time I failed to hear him ask for a food break and we both kept walking, leaving the raft behind us. Communication is key. 

The electronic wrist bands are a welcome addition meaning all team members have to go to all check points. No more dodgy punch cards!

Caving was a fun addition to the race but non-tourist caves meant a lot of sliding through small spaces would be required. This section was untimed in that it was estimated to take 20-30 minutes but we could not leave on the next leg until our mandatory 60 minute stop was up. This enabled us to relax a little and really enjoy the caves which, after the initial tight squeeze, opened up into fascinating caverns. Having to navigate both horizontally and vertically is a special skill which we discovered John possessed at our XPD race. The hardest part was finding the entrance but after that we got through quickly and had time to pack our rafts and assemble our bikes to leave right on the the end of our hour 'rest'. 

We had remarked on the lack of hiking in this race. Well there turned out to be plenty of hiking, it was just in bike shoes. We passed Explore Gippsland just after the start of the second mountain bike leg, collected some CPs and then hit the river crossing. One pack raft was provided by the race to transport 4 bikes and people across the river. This meant the bikes got a dry ride while the people swam across with any 'not to be wet' items thrown in the boat. This did not include my race food but the ziploc bags keep things dry 90% of the time. I was discovering that wet bread is a lot easier to eat than dry bread when one is low on saliva anyway.  A short time later we started the 4km hike-a-bike section. This may have been a steep, rough walking trail 20 years ago but now it was overgrown and littered with fallen trees and rock sections. The trail would have been difficult with just a backpack, but trying to carry a bike up there was an exercise in frustration and sheer willpower with branches catching handlebars and cleats slipping on rock. We caught up to Thunderbolt after a short time and it was nice to chat and take our minds off the badness. One advantage to doing it at night is we didn't have the extra challenge of the sun beating down on us while we pushed. Four kilometers took us two hours so to say it was slow going was an understatement.

Making sure the precious bikes and maps stay dry while we prepare to swim. Priorities.

We banked on emptying the legs on the bike as we wouldn't need them on the final paddle. Pulling into transition slightly ahead of Thunderbolt I had a wave of dread. I needed to go to the bathroom. And no, not to wee. There was no way I could sit in a boat for 3 hours and hold in what urgently needed to get out. Damn all those sandwiches. I begged off to the toilet block to also fill my Camelbak and then suffered the ultimate female dilemma - no toilet paper. In a scene which took me back to my old nightclubbing days, the woman in the stall next to me had her husband run to the men's and help us both out with supplies. The sisterhood is alive and well in the country town of Orbost. 

Unloaded, we hit the water about 200 metres behind Thunderbolt. You know how the story ends, but here's how it unfolded. Gary basically called me soft and implied I'd given up because we are not known as a paddling team. This is because I'm fully aware that at least one half of the team (the Tasmanian half) does almost zero training for this discipline except for the odd trainer session in the garage. That was enough for us to start closing the gap, while the boys tried to hang on in our wash. Yes, being slightly pissed off is a fine motivator. Once we'd caught up, sitting in the other team's slipstream make paddling about 50% easier, like drafting does in a bike racing. The first team to reach the checkpoint has the advantage as they create a gap while the second team punches their wrist bands into the CP sensor. Working hard to close the gap after the first water CP, we knew we couldn't keep hitting the CPs as the second team. The effort would blow us apart.

The next CP involved leaving the boats, trekking across a field, on an aquaduct where we spotted the CP flag - across a disgusting, brown canal in which something may have died recently. But almost-winning makes you do crazy things so we all jumped in, swam across, back, then headed back to the boats. The final run across the field was the only chance to get a gap and we took it. I have no idea where my leg speed came from and I knew I'd pay dearly for it later but we hit the water first and turned ourselves inside out for the next 6 kilometers to the final CP on a beach at the entrance to the bay. It, of course, required a sand run, which is usually how these races end. No wonder I have such painful memories of running on the beach. We punch the CP and ran back to the boats, passing Thunderbolt still making their way to the marker. Congratulations were given as they realised we would most likely hold our lead on the short paddle to the finish line. We actually extended it as I cracked the whip, adamant that the other team wouldn't give up until we'd finished. It's not often I hear Gary tell me to slow down and take it easy on the last part of a race.

 After a couple of now-famous near misses last year, it was more relief than elation crossing the line in first place. It was special doing it with a great team of guys. We bicker like siblings at times, but it's because we can and still look after each other and get the job done. The course was 220 kilometers of fun and challenge, although the heat ramped up the latter. It's not often you look forward to getting wet in ARs and collecting checkpoints across waterfall pools we were almost tempted to stay in a little longer. I heard a lot of reports of people suffering from the heat. But if anyone was going to suffer it was the Tasmanians. That we not only survived but managed to win, shows that functioning in extreme temperatures is possible by having strategies in place to look after yourself. I love this sport because the conditions - both hot and cold - are treated as just another 'feature'. There's no 'hot weather rule' in AR. You just deal with it. To those who vomited their way through - I salute you. 

Must have abs of steel to get a spot on this team.

Hugs all round!
Huge thank you to my team mates - you guys are amazing! Thanks for your never say die attitude and your freakish sense of direction. Thanks to Sergey and Maria of Adventure Junkies for another awesome event. We can't wait to come back for 2019. Thanks also to my supporters who make my racing possible:

Ride Mechanic
FC Sports and Events
Infinit Nutrition Australia
NS Dynamics
CEP Australia
Wild Earth Australia