What does it take to compete in a 24 hour mountain bike race in Australia?

The title of this piece will probably not do the race the justice it deserves. Throughout this blog entry I will try and answer the question which I challenged myself with.

To those of you who have read my previous blog entries you will have noted that this was indeed not the first 24 hour mountain bike race I had entered it was actually my third. It was however the first time I competed in a National event away from my present home town of Brisbane on an unknown track.

Initially I chose endurance cycling as I perceive my skill level to be a scale below the elite riders and I enjoy competing at an amateur level or as an age grouper. I do however have the ability to ride for a long period of time at a slower rate than the shorter races as I seem to have the mental ability to push myself beyond normal limits. At the previous 24 hour race at Old Hidden Vale near Ipswich I came second despite sleeping for 3 and a half hours, breaking a bike and doing some slower lap times. This event in Sydney changed my entire thinking pattern.

The race in Sydney at the Botanical Gardens in Mt Annan attracted some of the top elite solo endurance riders in Australia and came as a bit of a rude shock. Straight from the word go the race was on full pelt there would be few slower lap times here, no resting and definitely no coasting. The lap times some of the girls were churning out was incredible they were basically sprinting for 24 hours. I have never encountered a race on this scale before.

The day before the race started my ever faithful, loyal, supportive and loving husband and myself finally arrived at the destination it had only taken since the Wednesday evening to get there. We went out on a slow, gentle practice lap together so I could look at any difficult obstacles and get the lay of the land. There was only one tricky rock pile I didn’t ride on the practice lap but rode over every lap of the course on race day. I believe at this point I said to my husband that the course was very interesting, lots of obstacles but was very rideable. I was very obviously wrong and regretted saying that.

I now need to back track slightly and mention some of how I managed to get this point in the beginning. I also need to thank all those who helped me achieve what I though was the impossible for me to finish the race. I have had heaps of support along the way. Taylor Cycles (Jay) supported me from the beginning months ago inviting me into their race team, setting me up with an amazing bike which fits me exactly, building me awesome carbon wheels and basically going way beyond just being a bike shop. Craig (from Taylor cycles race team) set me up with a training schedule with the focus being on this race and not getting frustrated with me when I did unplanned races. Roadie Rob for the skills sessions. Amazing friends (including the guys who took me night riding and waited patiently for me) and work colleagues who put up with me. My amazing husband for doing a complete 180 turn from refusing to accompany me to any of the races to being behind me 100% and enthusiastically becoming my one man pit crew (here I should also mention a guy called Brendon who helped me out during the race I had only met him the day before the race he was down with a mate from Brisbane who is joining the same race team).

Back to the race then. It started well enough and I pushed out about 3 fantastic laps and got myself in a great position before the heat started. The heat started getting to me fairly early on and I concentrated on drinking lots of fluid (Infinite and water) choosing smooth lines and kept up a constant pace but I had to back off a little to survive. The fatigue and pain kicked in about the three and a half hour mark which I expected and battled through with the encouragement of Tom. I came to the 4th hour and felt brilliant the endorphins had kicked in.

I continued until dark had a couple of minutes for batteries etc but had to fiddle around a bit out on track to get the lights lined up perfectly. The night laps were a little slower and I had a couple of offs on the dry, sandy course including 5 minutes when the throbbing in my knee was so bad i couldn’t put weight on it. This fall knocked my confidence a bit and slowed the pace down.

Due to the nature of the course being tight, twisty single track with about half a km of fire road talking to anybody was impossible and the monotony kicked in, in previous events talking to other competitors was the part which I enjoyed the most. The course was about 10km long mostly of tight climbing switch backs, pinch climbs, table tops, logs, rock piles, berms, off camber and round some very close trees it took 100% concentration for the whole 24 hours. I got knocked off the course by some of the faster team riders due to lack of passing places and the sides were loose and sandy at one point I nearly got knocked down an embankment. Sadly there was a bit of course cutting by some competitors including the long pit lane and the girl who cut a corner to get in front of me. But I guess maybe they hadn’t realised the correct way to go.

Around 1 am I came back from a lap and felt awful and when I got off the bike I couldn’t even stand without support. Stupidly I pushed on and back onto the course about every 10 minutes i had to get off the bike and just stand I had no energy whatsoever. I know people talk about being tired but this was something else I literally couldn’t move no matter how hard I tried. Everybody who passed asked if I was OK to which I sobbed yes I’l be fine i need to get back to my tent. The leaders even slowed up and ensured there was nothing they could do for me. An hour and 20 min later I got back to the tent a wreck. I have never experienced pain like that before I could hardly breathe it felt like I had fallen out of a 10 storey window and broken every bone in my body.

I lay on the bed fully clothed, sweat, sand, dust, mud and all. Tom talked to me for about 5 minutes ensuring I was OK got me back into a positive place I could have so easily quit at this point. I fell into the deepest sleep I have ever experienced and woke up and hour and a half later. I then got back onto the bike about 4 am and pushed out quick laps until the end. I took the lap times back down from an hour and 20 minutes to around 48 minutes per lap. I caught and passed 7th place but was too late to catch any of the others. I was lapping by the end virtually quicker than any other girl out there (apart from the 2 female leaders). All I can say was this wasn’t normal fatigue and I don’t understand how I did that turn around with so little sleep and how the pain subsided so dramatically.

In the end I came overall 7th solo 24hr female, 26th overall out of the entire solo field, posted the 3rd quickest female solo 24 hr lap, rode 270+ km climbed nearly 6000 meters and rode for a total of 23 hours.

Will I do it again? Yes of course but what are the things I will change?

Budget in an hour for sleep, have a second identical bike, clean and lube my chain more often, have a second
helmet and other minor aspects to change too.

Thank you for taking the time to read the entry!

Bay View Blast 2014

This was the inaugural event run on the trails of Bay View to the East of Brisbane organised by South Brisbane Mountain bike club (aka the rats). The event was extremely well organised and very friendly. There were a couple of versions of the event to choose from ranging from 26km to 78km long. Obviously I chose the 78km version which would see me going round the 13km course 6 times. I have ridden at Bay View previously but had forgotten how hard it can be and had grossly underestimated the difficulty of the course. I had gone on a 70km social mountain bike ride the day before and had ridden through loads of sand which tired me out more than I was willing to admit.

The race started ok behind a car which took us out to the fire road trail the race pace was fairly quick from the start possibly a bit quick for me. On the first bit of single track people were falling off all over the place and I had to dodge them. This was mainly due to the very dry, slippery, sandy conditions and the corners not holding up well to railing them. I quickly decided to be a bit cautious as I had been riding in New Zealand which was the opposite of this.

The first lap went well, the second one not so good and the third one even worse. Tom was trying to be helpful in finding out where I was coming in the field and told me there were 4 girls and I was coming last. This compounded with girls seemingly lapping me wasn’t helping and my brain switched off and my confidence fell to a new time low. By the end of the third lap I asked Tom if i could quit to which he said of course (it transpired later he was bored of standing in a field!) to which i replied no way I’m not stopping i never quit anything unless I’m dying – and even then i would ride until I fell off dead.

I was aware that the event had a cut off for finishing the last lap of 1pm I was back at 1.10pm knowing I was behind and fully expecting the organisers to say sorry no more laps – to which i would have been relived. They held the course open for me and I decided to repay their generosity with finishing the race. By the end of lap 5 and into the the start of lap 6 i had finally found my rhythm and was riding better with a more positive outlook. By the end of lap 6 i wanted to keep going but realised it had finished – this bodes well for my next race the 24 hr in Sydney all I have to do is get through the first 4 hours and I will be fine.

I ended up 2nd in the open category with first beating me by about 15 minutes but i am sure if the race was an 8+ hour one I would have caught her. Although there were only 3 in my category (which i didn’t know) it was still a hard race!

By the way the quick girls who i had seen on the start line were either racing shorter distances or racing in teams of 2 which would account for them lapping me as they were also paired with quick guys! Next race I am ignoring everybody and everything around me and concentrating on riding smoothly averaging 13kmph.

Whaka 2014 100 km

Hmm where do I start – maybe with the appalling race preparation leading up the 100km race. In the week before the 100km mountain bike race, around the trails in Rotorua, a group of friends and myself had way way too much fun playing on the trails. In the space of a week we had clocked up 350+ km with an awful lot of climbing and more single track than you could possibly imagine. This resulted in our group starting the race on weary legs with one of the madder guys riding every day including the race on a single speed bike (apparently he can’t afford more than 1 gear poor thing).

The day started freezing cold at -1 degree there was actually frost on the ground though luckily it wasn’t snowing! We rode from the accommodation to the start about 10 minutes away. By the time we got to the start my hands were playing up and were very painful one the girls leant me her lovely warm gloves to warm my hands up and I did eventually give them back! The race started well with a Maori group doing their traditional tribal dance I couldn’t see it but I could hear it! The atmosphere was amazing and you could feel the excitement build. I was aware that the open female field was very strong with some of the local elite riders also coming out to race. I didn’t really think i stood much of a chance but decided I was going to really enjoy the race!

The race for the first 3/4 was well marked but then the signs fell off and I relied on a couple of other competitors telling me where to go – when I got back I compared my Garmin with the race map to ensure I hadn’t missed anything and I hadn’t. My Garmin though was set to factory default in measuring distance which means it was measuring points at 10 second intervals with tight twisty single track it missed half of it. This meant race distance was very hard to judge correctly so my pacing may have been a little too good.

The first part went well I was admiring the view, trying to keep the bike going the right way and eating and drinking at the same time – lucky i can multitask. I had one small fall over a silly little log the front end went over the back end hit it and slipped all the way down and spat me off the side. I landed in a nice comfortable pile of mud. The main issue was getting the chain back onto the bike it had jammed down into the front derailleur this took a good 5 minutes to sort out. Another girl passed me asked if I was ok to which I replied no to which she ignored me and kept on riding she may not have heard me!

I rode the rest of the course well even getting up to 67km per hour at one point – I was having too much and was probably not racing hard enough though with a foreign race it was hard to know how hard to push it! I only walked up a couple of very steep pinches towards the end but rode the rest of it and every down hill part as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed the race and it was only afterwards when I asked the officials where I came I discovered i was 4th in my category just over 3 minutes behind 3rd and 12 minutes behind 2nd. The girl that won was an olympian and beat 2nd by over an hour! I came 6th overall out of 25 women. I was happy with this effort but gutted at the same time as I had come so close. I will definitely be back to try again!

Interestingly in 2016 Rotorua is holding the world 24 hour solo championships for which I will hopefully return!

New Zealand 2014

I thought it was probably time to sit down and talk about my adventures which i had in New Zealand. It has taken awhile to catch up with things at work and home. Things are calming down a little with all the mountain biking at the moment as I am entering the tapering stage for the 24 hour race at the end of the month.

With a bit of trepidation I embarked on a 10 day holiday to Rotorua with my husband in tow joining a group of 6 other very keen mountain bikers. There were 2 or 3 people who i had not met before. I was worried that Tom wouldn’t enjoy himself, that I wouldn’t be able to get enough riding time in and that we wouldn’t get on with the others.

As it was the atmosphere was relaxed everybody (including Tom) had a fantastic time and my bike only got a minor injury – result of our packing bikes into the trailer and then accidentally driving down a dirt road to nowhere but nothing a few strategically placed stickers couldn’t hide!

The day we arrived into Auckland was a very wet but we managed to pick up the van and trailer and collect the others from the airport as they arrived after us. A bit of a mix up with buying the wrong time for the flight and not buying any baggage – lesson well and truly learnt! The following day was drying up and we went to Woodhill to have a bit of fun on the trails. Tom had some minor mechanicals with his bike which resulted in him going to see the mechanic who was onsite then declared him useless and fixed the problem himself. A good friend in the group decided she would ride with Tom at a leisurely pace and let the rest of us go and kill ourselves by belting round the trails then regretting it for the rest of the week when we were knackered! The trails were awesome very flowy and not a bit of sand in sight – a sigh of relief!

We then drove to Rotorua on the way I remarked to Tom that I hadn’t seen any sheep to which he replied there are fields full of them – the only ones I spotted were the fake ones – I had sheep blindness! We arrived safely and checked out the accommodation. This was a tiny 8 bedded cabin with 2 separate rooms with bunks in the corridor. The space did not end up being an issue it was the rock hard and very lumpy beds. This resulted in a flare up of the Fibro symptoms and I would wake up after sleeping very poorly and not be able to get out of bed due to pain – every morning I would get up and go to the toilet block and stand under a hot shower for 30 minutes to relieve the muscle tension before riding all day which eased the pain. The day before the race I took Tom and we went and sat in a thermal pool for as long as we could stand the heat in a last ditch effort to make my body work again – it was very successful!

On a couple of the days I convinced 2 of the guys to come riding at 6.30am in the morning. This worked well as I could wear myself out for a couple of hours, come back and get Tom ride for a couple more hours, have lunch then the fast guys would come back for me and we would go off again. This resulted in me riding 450km in the space of a week. The lower trails in Rotorua were fantastic smooth, flowing, some roots, very well built and we had a great time on this. The upper trails took quite a bit of effort to get to and no shuttles were running. The first time down hot x buns one of the guys who was a similar speed to me was following. I bulked at a steep section at the top and sent him down in front of me so I could see how it was ridden. He promptly disappeared. I got back on the bike and decided i was going to ride down the middle and not stop no matter what. I made it down the trail in this manner but scared myself a bit in the process. I took every A line going – going down drops and tree roots. By the time I got to the bottom I was ecstatic and jumping around really excited as I had made it down in one piece.

On the Thursday we took a drive out to Lake Taupo and rode the W2K trail (well the Y to K part of it anyway). The views were amazing and the walking/cycling track was basically one long section of single track. It was one of the best trails i have ridden for a long time as it kept going and going. You did have to be careful of some of the corners though if you had too much speed it would have been very easy to fall straight over the edge – luckily nobody did! The funniest part was when a friend decided to ride to music for the first time when the song was running she would ride really quickly and smoothly and i was caught out a couple of times trying to keep up with her. When the music stopped she slowed right back down again. The music started again and the pace picked back up. May be I should try riding to music as well!

All in all I want to go back to New Zealand and explore some more on the mountain bike – I jokingly asked Tom if he wanted to emigrate again!

The next blog entry will talk about the amazing Whaka 100km race which was the culmination of the trip.

Towoomba Range 8 mountain bike race

Well where do I start this race was an adventure in itself!

The race was held at Toowoomba an hour and a half West of Brisbane in Jubilee park which is infamous for rugged, steep trails and a down hill course. The tracks are open to the public year round. The event was run by the local mountain bike club Toowoomba mountain bike club. The event was in its inaugural year and was a brave move for the club. 8 hour or longer races are in short supply and most do not seem to want to/have the time to put on a whole day event. The volunteers were there from 6am until the last rider (me) was through at 5pm.

The event was a lap event around a brutal and rugged single track course in baking and very dry conditions. The course was 12.6km in length with 520 meters climbing per lap. I managed to ride 7 laps in the time allocated. I was the only female competing in the long course event over 8 hours. I won (obviously) and beat most of the guys coming 3rd overall out of the solo riders (10 brave guys).

Prior to the event when i was looking at the race course i remarked to my husband that surely the course couldn’t be that hard and we would not be going down the down hill track – i was wrong on so many points!

The lap straight away climbed a big hill then it was onto the single track switch backs – some I rode some I had to put a foot down. A big pile of rocks had me walking in the first 2km and i wasn’t the only one!

It was out of the single track to a left turn and up a deceptively steep hill, couple more corners later the fire road turned into bit more climbing single track again most it was rideable just a foot down round one switch back.

Then along a couple of km of undulating fire road to the top of the range. Then a right turn over a log round more single track a big pile of rocks to safely negotiate – on the first lap I stopped to attempt to help a guy to fix his chain – i was glad for a rest. Then through some very nasty rock gardens – a walking exercise for me.I shouted to one of the marshals that I struggle with rocks she shouted back we should go riding together and she could teach me ride down if i taught her to ride up.

Then some rideable single track round a bend to the left then it went down, down and more down. Steep, slippery down switchbacks some/millions of rocks – enough to scare the hell out of me (on every single lap).

Safely negotiate this and then it became a bit more rideable again – i walked down some massive pile of rocks, found a couple of rideable B lines. Rode most of the logs some I got off and climbed over.

The end couple of km’s was lovely and a chance to refuel and breathe again.

At the end of each lap my husband was there to shout encouragement and refuel me with food and fluids. On the second to last lap he shouted that i had to 2 more to this i retorted “but i’m tired”. I went past the rest of the pits and I shouted to a guy i know to kill my husband – he replied do another 2 laps then he would – so no help there.

In the end I had 9 solid hours of skill practice and was able to fully test my fitness level.I feel ready to take on the National 24 hour race in Sydney next month now!

Any excuse to spend as long as possible on the bike – it’s a source of escapism some people choose drug/alcohol/gambling I choose ultra endurance mountain bike racing!

Something different to keep me occupied on a Sunday

Today I decided to do something a little different.

Well the day didn’t exactly go to plan as I started riding with a few guys on single speeds but well they were way too fast for me and were in a hurry so I opted to abandon the ride.

I then found myself at my very first cyclocross race as it was ladies day it was free to enter! The course was about 2.5km long mainly with lots of flat, bendy riding through about 2 meters wide of tape, then through a small mud bog and a little bit of single track. Oh and for good measure 2 planks which meant you had to get off your bike and jump over as I’m short they were nearly up to my knees.

On the practice lap people were trying to ride through the bog and promptly getting stuck and falling in. As I was riding my only bike – by the way a full suspension mountain bike with gears is over kill for a cyclocross race but it was either that or my road bike. Through the race I got off the bike and ran/jumped/fell over it not gracefully but it seemed to work. The planks were another story I can not pedal, unclip, and jump off the bike whilst it’s moving. Neither can i jump back on the bike when it’s moving these skills i will have to learn.

I got a good start and then sped up a bit throughout the 34 minute race it was surprisingly tiring trying to sprint for all that time. I’m sure though I was riding round covered in mud with a massive smile on my face!

I managed to pick up 2nd in the female open which I was more than happy with as I believe there were 12 girls in my race. The young lady who beat me has age and skill on her side and had been picked for the Australian junior XC team and is off to Norway shortly.

My bike has now been relieved off all the mud and is happier. I am sure I will do more cyclocross races in the future and am considering selling my road bike and buying a cyclocross bike which i can commute on as well.

The bike could tell amazing stories as the routes which it has travelled and the races I have put it through anything from cyclocross, multi stage races, beaches and salt water, flooded creeks, 24 hour mountain bike races, short xc races and marathons and everything in between!

A bad day on the bike is better than a good day at the office (or something like that)

Sunday 3.8.14 1st Place 30 - 39 Logan's run

Sunday 3.8.14 1st Place 30 – 39 Logan’s run

Last Sunday I had committed to racing a mountain bike at Mount Joyce which is a mountain bike trail park to the West of Brisbane, Queensland. It was a 67km race over varied terrain.

I was out to prove a point to myself after the fiasco last year. Last year I had accidentally missed an entire trail out of the race and not realised until I had got home. By the time I got home I had managed to come 3rd in the race but compared my Garmin to the track and noticed a bit missing. I contacted the organiser and apologised and gave the winnings back. This year I was determined to get it right!

The race started reasonably well and I was initially with the leading pack – until somebody fell off in front of me in the sand which put me off my stride and I managed to loose the group. I then had to ride alone which was hard with the wind and the deep sand in places.

The first massive hill came up which I along with the rest of the field was forced to walk up as there was no traction. Already I was wishing for my granny gear back – I currently run one cog on the front and 10 on the back which is normally fantastic! I wouldn’t have got the hill no matter what gearing I had. I thought to myself and guys are doing this on a single speed? (one guy I have ridden with before tore off ahead and I watched the dust settle in his wake).

I was feeling out of sorts and I think the damn Fibromyalgia was flaring up again leaving me in some considerable pain. My bib shorts were also doing things they shouldn’t be doing. I kind of wanted to stop riding already!

I got to the first bit of single track and things went from mediocre to completely pear shaped! There were a couple of bits on the track I wasn’t sure about and one group of rocks I have never ridden before. Before we even got to those rocks a guy in front of me had got off the bike and was walking over them. My brain immediately went oh crap rocks lets not ride them! I couldn’t find any flow, walked down a hill I’v previously ridden every other time and half the field passed me. I managed to find a break in the traffic and got back on and continued. I was seriously stressed by this point and had had enough. I got stuck behind a bit of slow traffic on some of the other single track. By the next trail I was feeling a little better about things but knew I was miles and miles behind the other girls.

By the end of the single track I had a choice – continue slowly on or pedal like hell and get the race over with. I must have cursed Logan’s run at least 3 – 4 times. I decided for the latter. I was flying down the hills (slowing down slightly in all the sand) and hitting the hills with strength and stamina. I was beginning to feel good again.

I was alone for much of it apart from an older guy I was leap frogging and eventually dropped on a hill but not before I had happily and loudly declared my love of hills – I think he thought I was joking (I wasn’t). I then saw a group in front of me including another girl. I caught the group up somehow (thank you hills) and told her how long it had taken for me to catch her and then dropped her on the next hill.

I carried on and saw another girl I have competed against quite a bit. I caught her, passed her on the next hill, she then drafted me down the road. I forgot to turn right off the road and there was a car in the way so I nearly got run over as well. She was in front again so I worked really hard and passed her up the final pinch climb to finish in front by 7 seconds.

I ended up winning my category and coming 4th overall in the females. 3rd was 2.5min in front of me, 2nd 7.5 min in front and the winner about 15 min in front. With a couple more hills and a couple of hours longer and I’m sure I could have caught them!

Looking forward to the 8 hour in 2 weeks time – now that’s my type of race and where I hopefully can excel.