Monday, November 9, 2009

When the Fling flung me!

It's 4am when my alarm goes off and the sounds of dance music from a nightclub fill my room. After making the decision that a good nights sleep in my own bed with an early start rather than camping it out in Bundanoon with 800 fellow competitors, it was time to get up almost two hours before the sun.

In it's 5th year, the Highland Fling is a point to point race through the Wingello and Penrose State Forests, starting and finishing in the town of Bundanoon. After having done countless 8, 12, 24 hour races, riding around in circles, this would be my first ever P2P and I was quite nervous particularly having entered the Elite category.

With the likes of Craig Gordon, James Williamson, Jason English (all Solo 24hr World Champions), Hamish Elliot, Matt Flemming and other lining up with me on the start line all without Camelbaks, just running bottles instead, I was seriously beginning to question my sanity.

The race started like a sprint finish to a Tour de France stage with attacks going off left, right and centre as people fought for position. With my heart rate nearing 180bpm, I sat off the back for the first few k's before being dropped on the first major climb.

In the other P2Ps the Elite category goes off first, sometimes with a 10 minute head start and this was a major contributing factor to my reason for entering in the category. It was only after receiving and email from the race organisers three weeks out did I realise this was not the case in the Highland Fling with the Elite category actually starting half an hour after everyone else! So without doubt it was within the first 10km that we began to pass the tail enders of the open categories and with it moments of frustration when running with the bike was quicker than riding.

About 20km in a couple of guys who missed the start, but were only doing the 50km category, passed me so I hoped on the back of them almost right until the first transition at the 35km mark in Wingello. In the keenness to stay on their wheels I didn't eat or drink as much as I should have and with the first stage taking me around an hour and forty minutes to complete, having only drunk 500mL and eaten 2 gels I was in for some hurt later on.

This would be the case as at halfway hill I began to suffer, with twinges in my calfs indicating that cramps were not far off. While I had no problems on this particular climb, it was the slow and steady uphill shortly afterwards where I pretty much hit the wall and had to get off and walk once section. This was demoralising to say the least and I drank the majority of my drink bottle before getting some of my mojo back on the long and open roads leading back into Wingello for the second transition.

I thought I had been pretty good with my usage of the 5 minutes to cover the 1km neutral zone used in case a train comes through, however upon inspection of the results this morning I noticed that I went well over and penalised over 3 minutes. By this stage I was certain that I would be the last Elite male to finish, however was rushing to get under the six hour mark.

With the majority of the last 25km on fairly open trails I was beginning to feel the heat again and was going through the litre that I had refilled my Camelbak with quite quickly. The last creek crossing did wonders for my body temperature, however on pretty much the last climb of the day I heard the loud hissing sound of Stans Tyre Sealant trying to plug a hole in my tyre. The fact that I heard it over my music which by this late stage was playing in both ears meant that this could be bad. After stopping I noticed that it seemed to have plugged whatever the hole was and a quick pump meant that I was back on my bike with 10 minutes to cover the last 5km.

Sprinting (well as much as I could by this stage) down the back roads of Bundanoon the km counts were ticking down nicely and I came through with a couple of minutes to spare. I am quite disappointed with this, and even though I haven't been doing much solid training of late, think that I should have gone under 5:30 - especially when you consider that the winner did it in 4:16!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Scott 24 Hour

The Scott 24 Hour is advertised as the biggest 24 hour mountain bike race in the southern hemisphere. With a limit of 2500 riders, the 2009 event had sold out and the KOM Funky Buddhas of Tim Kerle, Luke Beuchat, Theo Grobler & myself headed down to Stromlo Forest Park in Canberra for a weekend of solid racing.

The weather gods had been somewhat kind to us, with a decent amount of rain falling in the week leading up to the event before a few days of sunny skies and wind to harden the course up without it being a dust bowl. This meant for a fast track, with the normal “loose over hard packed” surface which Canberra is known for that my Maxxis Larsen TT & Ignitor tyres ate up with no problems.

The run start was chaotic as normal and after my awesome start of the prior year (where I was top 10 into the single track), I was again nominated by the team to take part in something that must look similar to the running of the bulls, just everyone wearing riding shoes and lycra! We had borrowed the KOM flags for the weekend which came in handy as not only did I use it to identify where my bike was, but the 6 odd people on either side of my bike did the same!

Over the course of the night, our position moved up and down a couple of places with lap times heavily dependant on the amount of traffic the rider got caught up with out on the track. For some reason the course length had been shorted from prior years meaning that the average distance between each rider was reduced from 45 odd meters to just over 25! With a huge mix of skill and fitness between riders this meant that some laps felt like interval sessions more than anything else.

We were completing against some teams who had hired marquees right in front of transition (one even had a raised wooden floor!), and at the end of the race the KOM Funky Buddhas were recorded as being in 6th place with 25 of the 18km laps completed, however in the following days when the official results were published had been pushed down to 8th due to a couple of teams having problems with the electronic timing.

A huge thanks must go to KOM Cyclery for the continuing support.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Looking forward

So it's almost been a couple of months since the Solo 24 Hour World Champs in Canada, and after having a little bit of time off the bike (it was actually an entire 4 weeks were I did not put my leg over any bike except those with a motor), I am now looking forward to the next 12 or so months.

The announcement of the 2010 Solo 24 Hour World Champsionships is dragging on and on, with the Aussie riders anxiously awaiting to find out whether we'll be racing in Canberra or the Gold Coast. My bet is that it'll be at next year's Scott in Canberra, and have put that in my race calendar as so:

10/11th Oct - Scott 24 Hour @ Stromlo Forest Park, ACT
Sun 01st Nov - Central Coast Club 6 Hour @ Ourimbah
Sun 08th Nov - Highland Fling @ Wingello State Forest
Sun 22nd Nov - Wannaride 8.25 Hour @ Ourimbah
28/29th Nov - Kona 24 Hour @ Forrest, Vic
Sat 05th Dec - Vestil Virgin Classic 10 Hour @ Awaba - even racing on my birthday!
11 to 17 Jan - Adelaide Training Camp with NSCC
23/24th Jan - National Series Round 2 @ Shepparton, Victoria
06/07th Feb - Sydney 24 Hour @ Wisemans Ferry; OR
Sun 07th Feb - WWS Round 1 @ Lithgow (If it's still around)
13/14th Feb - National Series Round 3 @ Thredbo, NSW
Sun 07th Mar - WWS Round 2 @ TBA (If it's still around)
13/14th Mar - National Series Round 4 @ Stromlo Forest Park, ACT
Sun 21st Mar - Port 12 Hour @ Port Macquarie
03/04th Apr - 2010 Australian Solo 24 Hour Champs @ TBA
Sat 01st May - Vestil Virgin Classic 10 Hour @ Awaba
Sun 02th May - Dirt Works 100km @ Wisemans Ferry
Sat 07th Aug - Sydney 12 Hour @ Yarramundi
Sat 21st Aug - Vestil Virgin Classic 10 Hour @ Awaba
09/10th Oct - Solo 24 Hour World Champsionships @ Stromlo Forest Park, ACT

Some of the dates are guestimates, based off prior years, and obviously (or hopefully) there will be a swag of races announced for May, June and July to provide adequate prep for the 2010 Worlds.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Working Week Series Round 5/6

Over the weekend I headed down to Canberra for the last round of the 2009 Working Week Series. There had been a plan to hold 6 races as part of the series, however for one reason or another, this was only the 5th and last race of the year.

Only having been on the bike a couple of times in the week prior, and nothing for a month before that, I went into the race with no big expectations, with a hope to maybe getting a place in the overall series.

The night before, the KOM Kunky Buddhas had gone out for a carbo-loading dinner of pizza & pasta in Queanbeyan. Somehow one of us hit it of with our waitress who said she'd come out to watch the race in the morning. It's times like these that you wish you weren't racing solo as while she turned up with a friend, I couldn't stop and chat, so after doing 6 cruisy laps, decided to pop down to see her at her other job (and get some wine for Father's Day in the process).

TK and Disco did well in Pairs Men again, and comfortably won in the overall series. Having missed a race while in Canada for the Worlds, I placed 3rd in the series only 16 points behind 2nd - something that I may have been able to make up if I had decided to ride for the entire 8 hours. Hopefully the series will rebound for next year as it's the perfect setup to test fitness and products prior to a 24 hour.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Solo 24 Hour World Championships

The 2009 Solo 24 Hour World Championships were held on the weekend of 25/26th July in Canmore, Canada which is in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Everywhere you looked there were mountain peaks, some with snow on them even though it was in the middle of summer, and all riders knew that they were in for a hilly race. To make things even more interesting, the North Americans could do with a lesson or two on track setting as not only did the course change in the week before the race due to complaints (disappointingly taking out a very technical section, which was very 'Aussie'), but all the hills went straight up rather than zigzagging along.

The race started with a 500-800m run, which is a sight to behold seeing 120-odd of the worlds best mountain bikers running on rocky, uneven ground in carbon shoes. I made sure I took it easy in the run, as in the past I've finish the run with a max heart rate and haven't been able to get it back down to where I want it for an entire lap. The weather forecast of 30 degrees was a welcome relief after the many weeks of getting up before the sun in Sydney's winter, however many who had thermometers recorded 36 degrees in the shade which meant that the climbs were going to be warm, especially as many were in the open.

The course in my mind was around 60% fire-road and 40% single track and just under 18km, and as previously mentioned had lots and lots of steep climbing, often up trails with tree roots sticking out of everywhere. Needless to say it was a course of world standard.

After settling into the first half of the first lap, I started to pass riders as we entered the single-track and more technical sections. Between the feed zone and end of the lap, I caught the young US rider in the U25 men category and rode with him for the next several hours. Shortly after the NZ rider caught and passed us both after suffering a puncture on the first lap. This was fine as I normally come good in the early hours of the morning and am happy for riders to shoot ahead before the sun goes down.

A cool change came through late in the day and the temperatures halved in a very short amount of time and there were very dark clouds in sight as one looked eastward down the valley. It was at the end of this lap, after speaking to the American about the storms from the previous year that I decided to put a rain jacket on, even though there were only scattered drops. This decision turned out to be a mistake as I took it off 5 minutes into the lap when I was sweating so much the jacket was sticking to my arms.

Unlike in Australia where lights have to be taken out on course between 5:30 and 6:00pm, in Canmore we didn't need to have them on our bikes/helmets until 9:30 and I didn't turn mine on until after 10:00. This, I thought, was a slight disadvantage to me as I consider myself a competent rider at night, and this was proved when I made up 12 minutes in the space of 2 laps, bringing us to the half way point in the race.

It was at this point I started to feel the effects of the afternoon’s heat and the quick pace we were going out at. After the race I was told that the entire U25 men field was in front of the 25-29 men field, which isn't normally the case. My memory of events also begins to fade here as I'm normally sleeping and not trying to fight off micro-sleeps with large amounts of caffeine.

However what I do remember is re-defining what it feels like to be in the hurt box. All soloists were walking up sections of the course as the race went into the early morning and I made the mistake of lying down in my pit-zone for a quick massage (even though my back was still feeling relatively ok) at the end of a lap and never recovered.

The rules stipulate that a rider must finish their last lap between the 23 and 25 hour mark to record an official placing, and at this point my 3rd placing had been cemented. It's always funny how your last lap can be significantly faster that those previous as the euphoria of finishing fills your body. I ended up approaching the finishing straight slightly before the 23 hour mark, and as I wasn't keen on doing another lap, I waiting with several other Australian riders before crossing the finish line together. After running through the timing tent all night, this time I was glad to walk through with a medal over my neck.

There were definitely many lessons learnt, and it was unfortunate that they were learnt in such a big race, however with the announcement that the race will be held in Australia in 2010, having another crack will be a little easier. A huge thanks has to go out to the sponsors of the King of the Mountain Cyclery Mountain Bike Team.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Working Week Series Round 3

Round three of the Working Week Series (6 x 8 hour MTB races) was held at Appin on the 21st June. After a week of showers and the threat of more, numbers were down on normal with approximately 200 people racing in a team of 2, 3 or 4 mixing it with the crazy soloists. I was competing in my last race before heading to Canada for the World Solo 24 Hour Champsionships next month.

The Appin course is by far the most technical in the series, being commonly known as the 'Endo' track due to the number of people that go over the handlebars on one of the dozen or so drop offs spread throughout the course. If this wasn't enough, there are 3 creek crossings along the 10km lap, each getting as deep as your wheel hubs which meant that even if the rain stayed away, riders were going to be kept wet.

After a good start loop, I entered the singletrack just outside the top ten making up a few places at the first creek crossing before settling into a group of soloists all vying for 4th position. After three laps, the wet and sandy course had my rear brakes already worn out meaning a bike change was required, and at the 4 hour mark, I was sitting in 5th less than a minute from 4th.

This is where I turned it on after thinking of it as 8am in a 24 hour race instead of only half way through an 8 hour, smashing out some consistent laps and moving up to 3rd in the space of an hour. This is where I stayed for the remaining 3 hours, getting in for my 14th and last lap after coming through transition with less than 45 seconds to go!

Without doubt, the excellent KOM serviced bikes meant that I could keep pumping out lap after lap not having to worry about missing a gear shift. Bring on the world champs...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Vestil Virgin Classic 10 Hour

The Vestil Virgin Classic (VVC) was a new event on my racing calendar for 2009 and a reincarnation of previous styles of races organised by the guys at Held at the brand spanking new Awaba course, I was looking forward to giving this 10 hour race a crack, my first mountain bike race since the Solo 24 Hour Nationals five weeks earlier.

A Le Mans style start was hectic as usual but I was able to get myself towards the front getting my bike in the first handful of riders. This was all well and good until I over cooked it in the first corner which was an off-camber right hander. This moved me a few spots back and lost sight of the leading soloists, but I was happy to not push myself in the first couple of hours.

Being a new course, it took me a couple of laps to get into the groove of things, however with the first few laps around 15 minutes for the 5km loop, this didn’t take long to accomplish. There were some very flowy sections mixed in with a couple of climbs and one wicket wall ride with many trying to claim the highest tyre marks.

With the rules stating that “every rider is considered a soloist”, meaning that apart from the first lap, teams can ride together out on course instead of the normal relay format, the course got quite chocked early on, with the faster guys often lapping riders every second lap. Being a chilled out event (we didn’t even have number plates – having to yell out our number of the way past instead), this wasn’t too much of a problem and it was good to have team riders wanting to chat instead of push you out of the way.

Come nightfall, it was a perfect way to practice for the Worlds with an efficient change of bike and helmets thanks to my support crew of mum and brother. This is where I began to make up a little time on the riders in front after a toilet stop earlier in the afternoon. The only problem was that by this point, still doing laps in under 20 minutes, I was getting very bored of the track, even at night and not wanting to put music on (as we’re not allowed to at the Worlds), it was a struggle to keep going out due to boredom rather than the normal sore back.

I had been told by my support crew that I was in third behind Jason English and Shane Taylor, however with the relaxed timing setup I had been put in fourth after they had missed one of my laps. I had finally got back to the power outputs from pre-Nationals and was happy with my current form so didn’t bother making a fuss.

As always huge thanks has to go out to King of the Mountain Cyclery for their ongoing support.