Making the 2hr drive to Forrest during the warm Saturday afternoon, we really didn’t know what to expect as we rounded the last corner before hitting the town boundary, 170km from our front door. The town was abuzz with MTB fever. Signage was up for the race, people were riding around and every second car had a bike or two on it. We ducked into the football ground to take care of registration before pushing on to get our gear set up. There was a great atmosphere around the camping ground…we found a nice spot to call home for the night, whipped up the OzTent RV5 and headed to the pub to check out Round 2 of the 2014 UCI World Cup series over a couple of mandatory ales. VEry quick guys/girls on their MTBs….VEry cool to watch.
Once again I managed to work myself up into a frothy lather of fear. After busting my nuts at the 50km Schwalbe Stirling Circuit on Day 1 of the Buller MTB Festival, all I could think about were the gaps in my conditioning and how badly they were going to be amplified under the microscope of an event that was double the distance. I had been busy with as much mileage as I could muster, but this was all on bitumen and only about 120-150km per week….with so much other stuff going on I did not hit the trails once. On top of this, anyone I spoke to was very quick to point out how tough the 100km Giant Odyssey MTB Marathon really was….and looking at the course profile, it was easy to understand why.
When I saw these two 8-10km climbs, I immediately imagined they would be over similar ground to Mt Buller….switchback after switchback after switchback. Welcome to Pain City….population: you.
Such was my mental state that I was awarded with another…and now almost predictable…pre-race nightmare. This time I found myself madly running around the Wonky Stables camping ground desperately trying to find the zip-bag that contained all of my riding gear, freaking out while the sun slowly came up, knowing the race was about to start. Now while these subconscious sit-coms might spike my adrenaline and serve to bring you amusement, the only joy in the experience is waking up and realising I still have a couple hours of sleep left.
The plan was to exit the tent in stealth mode (poorly executed) at about 0530, get changed in the lavish surroundings of our family truckster before nervously riding the trusty steed in total darkness to reach the start line, located some 1,500m away.
After arriving without incident, I fluffed about in my usual manner:
- Arrange gear
- Pre-race movement
- Re-arrange gear
- Pre-race movement
- Check gear
It’s actually a relief when it’s time to get stuck into it all. The announcement sounded for all riders to proceed to the start line on Yaugher Road and “self-seed”, positioning themselves in defined sections according to speed/ability. I dropped myself into the back half of the “Middle Ring” category, wishing to avoid having “TRACK!” barked at me like some twisted metronome as experienced at Buller. I even resisted the attempted leverage of “WTF are you doing back here??!!” applied by mate, MTB hardman and fellow wordsmith, Jason Archer Esq.
I strongly encourage you to browse and follow his blog, A Little Too Skinny. This part-man-part-animal (aka ‘manimal’) can apply wit and amusement to race reviews almost as well as he can smash himself through the toughest MTB races around….regularly found at the pointy end of the field, if not standing on the podium.
I won’t go through the race blow-by-blow, but like the Buller Festival review, will list a few high/lowlights:
Self-inflicted. A lack of mobility work leading into this event plus an existing lower back condition awarded me with an unwanted passenger throughout the event. A very persistent 7/10 ache around the left side of my lumbar spine regularly forced me to stop pedalling, stand off the seat and stretch out…seeking any possible relief from the pain. It’s just something I need to work on because the anti-inflammatories and pain killers did sweet F-A. Totally frustrating….it was slowing me down while my legs still felt good. Stuff to work on.
Mechanical. They’ve served me well….my $80 MTB cycling shoes that I purchased in 2004 in the peak of my ‘Spin Instructor’ days. In the middle of a short climb with about 16km of the race remaining, I unclipped my left shoe to put my foot down as I struggled with a bit of tight technical stuff. Quickly moving clear of the hazard I was off again and trying to clip back in with the intention of passing the small group in front of me. Keeping my eyes up, my foot searched for the elusive SPD ‘click’….absent. “F*^k sake!” I looked down to work out what the problem was and was not amused…the entire sole of my shoe was still clipped in…dangling and torn completely away from the shoe. KIA. Life extinct.
I wrenched the lifeless sole off the SPD and finished the race with my right foot clipped in and my left feeling like I was wearing Grandad’s slippers. Funny? Yeah. Frustrating? F*^k yeah.
NOTE: Frustration instantly silenced via the acquisition of new kicks…Bontrager RL MTB shoes. Noice.
Completing the first big climb and feeling pretty good about it. No switchback madness….just some fairly rough and slippery fire trail where I actually managed to pull back a few riders.
Completing the first 50km in 3:29. This was just over an hour faster than my time for the 50km at Mt Buller and had me totally pumped at the thought of a sub-7hr time for my first ever 100km ride. I hit the 64km checkpoint in 4:49 and knew this was going to be close.
ONLY 2 OFFS! Yes, that’s right folks…100km covered, 2,350m climbed and only two occasions where I felt compelled to violently throw myself to the ground. Both were demonstrations of my finely tuned ability to lose the front end….one of which was on a small wooden bridge where as I approached I thought to myself, “This is going to be a bit slippery…careful as she goes, son.” Two nanoseconds later I was breaking the fall with my arse.
Finishing strong. OK, I missed the 7hr window but I felt good. My nutrition was bang on….no cramps, no flat spots, and I know I could go faster if I had to do it again… next year.
The whole event was a highlight. Again, expertly managed by Rapid Ascent….competitor communication, on-line support, registration, volunteers, course design and festival atmosphere. Every box ticked. It was a pleasure to be a part of it all…yeah, you were smacked with some good climbs but these more often utilised the fire-trail network and removed any feeling of congestion while you were later rewarded with some of the best single track around. Awesome downhill and undulating trails throughout the course. I totally loved it and will definitely be back again next year.
There is talk about pushing this event to a later date for 2015, around November/December. If that has to be done, so be it I guess…evolve and adapt. From a purely selfish perspective I hope not as there are so many other races around during that couple of months. It will be really tricky to pick and choose while trying to keep the Veteran-class body in working order. See what happens, I guess.
Don’t be scared of this race (like I was for a while there)….it’s a truckload of fun and definitely do-able. See you all there in 2015!