About me

I've been riding and racing my mountain bikes since 2009 at the same time as studying a medical degree, I tried a training plan once and realised I hate intervals with a passion so instead I just ride and race and enjoy...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The 56th Grafton to Inverell cycle Classic - considered one of the toughest races on the Australian road race calendar.

Following my return to cycling in early December, I decided I needed a training goal. Not one to go small, I looked into the Grafton to Inverell cycle classic, scheduled for May 7th.

This is a race with a long history, in recent years women haven't been allowed to compete in the full event and have had a separate and much shorter race. However this all changed last year and women were allowed to enter the full 228km even which starts as sea level in Grafton before climbing up the dividing range (Gibraltar range) to a height of almost 1200m and continue over the New England tablelands to Inverell.

G2I race elevation profile
I knew I would be able to ride the distance, if I could get back to similar fitness as for 3Peaks Falls Creek. However racing this distance is different, and the course has a cut off time which means that you need to complete the race in 8.5 hours or you're forced to retire.

So I entered, and kept it pretty quiet initially. My training was mostly solo, others who were training for the event were racing A or B grade and while we were riding similar distances the average pace on their rides was too intimidating.

Nothing beats a perfect day up the Buff
I booked myself a training camp at Easter down in Bright, and thoroughly enjoyed 3 perfect days of riding in wonderful weather, building up to a massive day on the 3rd day with 190km up Hotham and Buffalo.

Tim came back from Seattle in early April and I dragged around a few training rides as well, mostly around the Brisbane area and back of the Gold Coast.

Tim enjoying the hills I found for him :-)
My last big training ride fell on a weekend I was working Saturday and on-call on Sunday. Supposed to be within 30 minutes of the hospital I decided to do a couple of loops from Brisbane and knocked out 221km down to Mt Tambourine then back and up the Goat Track up Mt Nebo. I did almost kill my training partner that ride, which gave me confidence I was riding well.

 Somehow race day came around all too fast, I was super nervous mainly because I felt that I hadn't trained enough in bunch rides. I knew I could ride the distance at my pace, I hadn't practiced the same distance being pushing to ride faster by a strong bunch. But, no more training time - it was race time.

Almost 90 entrants lined up for C-grade, 10 women all started. It was a perfect morning with fog lifting in time for our start and blue skies, sunshine and only very light winds as we rolled out of Grafton.

Staying well-positioned in a large bunch
The moment neutral ended a few boys went a bit silly, but after sitting at 45km/hr for a little will things calmed down – well somewhat. I found the bunch pace tough, too tough for my liking knowing what was to come. This was exactly what I had been scared about, but there was no way I wanted to ride to the base of Gibraltar range alone so I hurt, and stayed in the group.

A neutral pee-stop was welcome; the She-wee is now a not-so-secret weapon as I lined up with the boys on the side of the road while the other girls disappeared into the bushes.

I think the early pace hurt most of the girls
The last 10km to Gibraltar was definitely hurt locker for me, I think we averaged 35km/hr for that 70km and I was really looking forward to the climb as I was planning to ride my own pace.I was pretty happy with my riding though, I was generally well positioned within the bunch, only drifting towards the back once we neared the base of the climb.

As soon as we hit the climb I was a fair way back, but no panicking as I set my tempo and rode within my limits. Slowly but surely people came back to me and we formed a bunch, I did a lot of the pace setting up the climb which took us an hour in total.
tapping out the pace with my grupetto up Gibraltar

Some old hands in our bunch (including one bloke who doing it for the 23rd time!!!) called the shots – important to stay together, ride a pace that everyone can manage because we need each other with another 140km or so to go.

Unfortunately not many people in our bunch were pulling turns, one other girl in the group tried unsuccessfully to organize people but perhaps some blokes were just hurting too much.

Having only practiced musette feed the day before in a Grafton side-street, I was pleased to seamlessly get my bag from feeder who had made the trip from Newcastle just for the race. The home made bars that were road tested at training camp were all I ate, I had two gels in total and an emergency Clif bar in my pocket for the whole race but preferred the home made ones.
Rolling through a feed zone

Unfortunately the first 70km had done some damage to my legs and those inner thigh cramps that I have only ever had in the Highland Fling (116km mtb) made a brief showing when I tried to put in a it more power up a climb. I was super aware of this for the rest of the race, and held back a little on climbs rather than put myself into spasms.

The second feed was a smooth as the first, but multiple riders in my group missed or dropped bags in one or other feed, so there was some bar exchanging and bottle sharing happening until they could pick up some supplies.

The Grupetto at the finish
We started to catch some stragglers from bunches in front and thankfully some of these guys were happy to work as I was hurting. Not that I stopped pulling turns though, we just had too many sitting on for the ride.

Just 5km from the finish there is a hill, nothing steep but I knew my limits and cramp niggles would play a part and I had to let the bunch go. In doing so I gave up 4th place and settled for 5th, but to finish in 7.5 hours and 5th female overall was beyond my expectations.

I do still exist - blog resurrection

Well, there has been deafening silence on here for a while .... time for that to change.

So much to catch up since the last post about the Highland Fling, first of all 3 Peak Falls Creek.

In February 2015 I finally got to do this event, having been entered the previous year but then sidelined due to surgeries on my arm. It was a fantastic event  and I smashed my sub-10 hour goal with a 9.5 hour time.

The post-event low that followed however wasn't pretty, two weeks after 3 Peaks was the Mont24, where we once again took out mixed 4s - and that was pretty much the last time I rode for a few months.

Balcony Road
With a trip to the European climbs on the cards I needed to get fit, so I entered my first 3-day stage race as motivation and slowly dragged myself back to some level of fitness for Battle on the Border at the end of May 2015. I was still a fair way of peak fitness but it was s fun introduction to female road racing and I finished mid-pack in B grade women.

July and August saw us head to Europe - I can't possibly describe it all here, but it was the most amazing riding experience. The Italian and French Alps following by the Dolomites .... heaven on a bike.

A few highlights included conquering all three routes up Mont Ventoux in a single day, but it's so hard to single out highlights in a holiday which included riding fantastically beautiful climbs in a region which respects cyclists and has spectacular scenery food and coffee.

Then again - the post trip low and getting fat and unfit because it was so uninspiring to ride back in Australia after that. Especially when you come back onto evening shift, and bogans throw beer cans (full) at you on the way home... just because. Oh and the fact that paediatric patients generously share all their viruses with you.

So other another post event/holiday low and one which probably extended well beyond cycling. Looking back I would have say I was struggling with a period of depression, and there wasn't much of life I was enjoying.

The lack of exercise and upwards trending weight definitely was compounding the issue, I tend to be all or nothing - if I am training well, I eat well, feel well and am happy. When one thing goes downwards, so do they all - lack of exercise is combined with overeating, and eating the wrong foods. I have never been seriously overweight but I can easily gain 10% of my body weight in a short period of time, let's just say despite it being a European riding holiday I put on a whole kilo a week thanks to the croissants, pizza, pasta and gelato. 

Then an interstate move came onto the horizon, and energy was diverted into organising a November move to Brisbane. More time off the bike, fairly high stress levels and add to that the fact that Tim's new role in Brisbane involved an initial 9-month secondment to Seattle, USA.

So I arrived in Brisbane fat and unfit, but the move was the catalyst which got me back on the bike. It wasn't pretty, it's demoralising coming back from a long period off the bike. Luckily the start aligned and we found the University of QLD cycle club. Although the first group ride of just 60km practically killed my unfit legs.

Not long after joining I got offered a place on Women's team being put together, and that motivation combined with new and beautiful rides around the Brisbane area finally saw me start to get back to something resembling fitness.
Morning session up Mt Nebo are beautiful

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Highland Fling - with a double shot of hills and extra sand

I’ve raced the Highland Fling for the past four years, and every year I feel my training and lead up is sub-optimal. Sometimes it’s just that I’ve been unmotivated and out of training over winter, but last year it was coming back from the initial injuries of the car incident and this year… well this year saw me placed in the Emergency Department for prime spring mountain bike season. This means 24/7 shift rostering so by the time I requested race weekends off I pretty much had to deal with the rest of the roster.

So this year my lead into the Fling involved 2 weeks of night shift, hats off to people who shift work all the time and still get optimal training in but for me it seems a little a tough. I did keep ride, I did still commute to night shift by bike (40-60km depending on route) at least every second shift but I felt that my training lacked intensity and motivation was hard to come by.

So with my body still in a random time zone we set off for Bundanoon for what is the toughest marathon event of the NSW calendar. The weather was forecast to be sunny and mid-20s and even as the bagpiper heralded sunrise the temperature was mild.

Race briefing alerted us that a few new section of single track had been included, but did not mention the major course changes which were to mentally test me for the next six and half hours.  We set off and, as usual, I had a crap start. Maybe I should try this warm-up business but I never seem to be organised or motivated enough to work it out.

Wendy Stevenson had given me the low down on the female field, before she lined up as one of only two women in the 100mile event! Apparently Briony Mattocks from the open category was the one to watch. Well, she sailed passed me a few minutes in and wished me a good ride.

After 15 minutes of being passed by beer bellies stuffed into lycra, my legs started to warm up and I found something of a rhythm – just in time for the first creek crossing which came right up to my knicks and filled my shoes with sand and water.

I slowly started passing a few people and soon passed Briony again before passing Wendy and Larri with Wendy letting me know there were no other females ahead of me on the road.
Before the going got tough!

It was around this point that I started feeling the course was unfamiliar, we seemed climbing more and grovelling up some steep pinches which I surely would have remembered. I asked the guys around me and the consensus seemed to be that the course had changed a lot. This was confirmed as we entered some newly cut single track, which was sandy and rough – that was a theme for the day. A new creek crossing appeared and the feed station didn’t appear where I normally would expect it, based on time and distance.

Reaching feed station one for the first time, I had a good 10 minutes and several kilometres extra on the clock compared to the previous year. I figured that must be to account for lost distance later in the course, and I grabbed my camelback and a new bottle and headed out on stage 2.

Hurting mentally
By this stage there were a few guys that I kept playing leap frog with and we worked a little on the fireroad before a short section of singletrack and some hills saw the group fall apart. At this point the time and numbers started playing games with head, more sections of singletrack saw my average speed fall and I soon realised that my estimated finish time of around 5.5 hours was not going to happen.

This started to really play on my mind, not helped by the fact the elite girls came flying past (having started 15 minutes behind us) after under 2 hours ride time on my Garmin. I figured I was having a pretty bad day on the bike and just tried to tick those kilometres off.

The trouble was that the kilometres seemed to tick over painfully slowly. The half way feed station just never seemed to appear, and the dreaded half way hill still hadn’t appeared at the 55km point. I had this insane thought that maybe halfway hill had been taken out in the course revision.

At one point we hit a new piece of single track, steep and bermed down a fern covered hill side – that put a smile on dial for a few seconds but soon the demons returned and I started thinking about Tim up ahead with legs super strong from just doing the Croc Trophy. I imagined him finishing strongly and waiting for me at my expected finish time, wondering what mechanical had waylaid me.

Finally the mid-point feed station appeared, and a sign letting us know we were half way. That was demoralising, so much slower than previous years and I was struggling and I still had the hardest stuff to go.

Then halfway hill, this year around the 60km point in the race and we continued straight at the top to lose all the height again and climb another bastard hill after that. At this point it was getting hot in the sun too, tired people covered in dust just grovelling up this hill in pain.

Finally I hit the road which leads back to Wingello, my elapsed time was horrific. I was seriously considering pulling the pin at Wingello as I teamed up with a bloke I’d been seeing all race to ride the road section in the wind. Unfortunately he didn’t have the legs to pull a turn into the wind, and once we turned the corner into the more sheltered section I didn’t have the legs to sit on his wheel but somehow we made it to outskirts of Wingello.

At that point, Briony Mattocks came steaming past in a train of about 7 riders. Talk about nail in the coffin.

Add caption
That feed station stop was somewhat disorganised, and I wasted almost 2 minutes of race time as I phaffed around. In the end I rolled out over the timing back with a fresh bottle, leaving my empty camelback behind. I did seriously consider the sealed road back to Bundanoon – especially knowing what was to come – but somehow I rolled out onto the final stage. Briony was out of sight up the road and I was riding alone.

Again the course was completely different, new sections of sandy track through the local golf course replaced some of the sections familiar from the previous 3 years as we left Wingello before we had sections of familiar track reappeared.

The last 20km of the course is tough, every year I get cramps in this section even though I never cramp in any other event. Sure enough I steep fire trail hill brought on the familiar feeling in my left adducters, twitch, twitch and then spasm! This was earlier than in previous years and my mood sank even lower as I walked up the hill.

Hurting in the single track
Finally I entered the familiar singletrack of Boundary Rider, at this point still hoping that the cramp-inducing section of Rollercoaster had been omitted in the course changes. No such luck! With over 100km already on the Garmin I walked the steeper pinches in an attempt to avoid the cramps.

A few more cramp episodes necessitated walking before I entered the last section of singletrack, passing the odd half-flinger every now and again. In addition to my cramps my left wrist was now getting really sore, a legacy of 3 surgeries following the car incident, I just wished that singletrack would end.

After making it up Brokeback Mountain without cramping I just kept the bike moving through the singletrack, and finally it seemed to be coming to an end… and … I glimpsed Briony ahead just exiting onto the firetrail.

Coming out onto the firetrail behind her I wondered if she was going to try and sit on my wheel if I passed, I knew if I had to put in any real effort I would be incapacitated by cramps. As I caught her she looked over and congratulated me, I sign that she had nothing left as I tried to look fresh riding past.

The next jersey up the road was the Croc Trophy kit, I tried to work out who I could have caught from the Croc Team and soon the answer was clear. Martin Wisata was paying the price for pulling some turn on an elite bunch early in the race and I soon passed him knowing I was finally on the home straight.

Hitting the sealed road I put in max effort allowed by my weary legs, still wary of Briony behind – especially if she got in another train of riders. Then finally it was left through the paddock and down the bumpy hill before the sounds of the event centre could be heard and the 500m to go sign was the most welcome thing ever.

There was Tim, already finished like had imagined, but instead of looking as fresh as a daisy he was covered in dirt and broken. “Tougher than a Croc stage” he groaned “I cramped and I never even cramped once at the Croc”.

Broken at the finish - hair and make up by #dustytrailsartist
So after hours of mental torture believing I was riding like crap I finally started to believe that it wasn’t actually me. I had an extra 10km on my Garmin compared to previous years and it seemed everyone around me had added at least half an hour to their times.

Mentally I think it’s the toughest marathon I’ve ever done, I can’t say I really enjoyed the day even though I’m retrospectively happy with my results (6th female, 1st in category, 1st non-elite female). So much of how tough the day was psychological, yes it was a very tough race physically – but for me the toughest game was in my head. I’m definitely glad now I didn’t pull the pin at Wingello, but that decision was harder than any hill on course.

Before I sign off, a special mention to Wendy who was the ONLY female finisher of what would have been the toughest 100mile Fling ever run. You’re tougher than me Wendy, another loop of stage 2 would have seen me in tears – congratulations on your superhuman effort. 

Female Veteran Podium

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Mont24- Reboot Version 2

So the Mont24 was supposed in be in March, it got rained out fairly spectacularly which was crap for most people but great for me because it meant that I didn’t miss out. By the time the rescheduled date came around in October I was healed and back on the bike, so we had a mixed team of 6 still despite more member changes than underwear changes since the initial entry.

An amazing sunset over the Mont24 camp

Then Tim entered the Croc Trophy so he was out but PowerRanger Luke stepped in so back to a 6. Having raced 24 hour races in a three, and even attempted a pair once, racing in a 6 feels relaxed. Roughly 4 hours of riding over the weekend, sure they are hot laps but that’s less riding than I do on a given Sunday.

So I rode to work Thursday, then over the course of 20 minutes our team of 6 became 5, and then became 4… I caught the train home!
Dusty conditions out on track

At rego we did a category switch, no longer racing in mixed 6s we were going to be in the more competitive field of mixed 4s. Unfortunately our prime candidate for first lap (Turbo Stu) was one of the last minute withdrawal so the boys were debating who got the gig. Big Keith looks the scariest due to his tats and muscles so we figured he’d get more space in the mayhem – he was sh*tting himself.

Anyway, a far cry from the first scheduled date it was hot and dry with temperatures nudging 30 at race start. Fine layers of dust covered everything and everyone even before we got racing, then finally the race started to the cacophony of a thousand cow bells.

After the first few laps we were in 4th place, but everyone knows 24 races are won or lost overnight so we kept cycling through the team and didn’t really check results. Things ran smoothly, no missed transitions, no major stacks or mechanicals.

We started doubles about 10pm and had the novel experience of not even needing arm warmers for the unusually mild night temperatures. The boys struggled a little overnight but I think that was mental than physical as the times stayed really consistent despite their stories of woe. Having been on and off night shift I didn’t really mind the sleep disturbance and my night double ended smoothly in the early morning predawn light that is magical at the Mont.

By now we were convincingly in 3rd but 2nd was also in reach, a podium in mixed 4s is a pretty good result! I was still feeling strong, something I was happy about considering the year I’ve had. Eddie found fresh legs when the sun came up and we kept the same rider order going like clockwork.

Luke was our last lap rider, and it was nail biting stuff – in the end we missed 2nd place by one minute and 20 seconds! But that’s 24 racing for you :-) no regrets as we raced our best and made no mistakes.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kowalski Classic - a good tonic for lost mojo

The Kowalski classic is my comeback race, last year it was my first race back after getting hit by the car. This year it was my first race back after 7 months off the bike and two surgeries… for this reason I’ve done the 50km option both years rather than the full 100km.

We headed down with a posse of Newy Cycos in the Cycobus and bike trailer. This made for a stress free trip down, no driving required (a good thing after a week of night shift). Lunch at the Greengrocer Café in Goulburn was enjoyed and highly recommended before we checked into our tourist cabin next the Bruce Ridge Trails.
The Newy Cycos at Bruce Ridge

Saturday afternoon spinning around Bruce Ridge would have been more enjoyable if I’d had any legs, unfortunately coming off night shift seems to render my legs useless for a day and I could only hope that they would come good for the next morning. I tried to help them out by eating so much I was uncomfortable sleeping on my stomach – probably not the best idea.

Despite forecasts of sub-zero morning, Canberra pulled out a mild one for race morning. We were ready to go on time and reached race start in time for those who have pre-race routines to tick off. I keep thinking I should try this warm-up business, but I never get around to it.

As a result when the gun sounded for our wave start, Tim and Gresho were off like frogs in a sock and I was near the back of the wave. The first hill let me know why other people warm up, but at the same time it got the blood pumping.

The course was completely different to the previous year thanks to logging in East Kowan and fantastic trail building efforts. This year the first 50km was almost all in Sparrow Hill so off we trotted under the highway for some flowy trails.

The thing about the Kowalski is that it’s nearly all singletrack which is awesome and tough! It suits me, I’m comparatively strong in single track. But I was still surprised to see Tim and Gresh up ahead at one point on the trail before realised it was a section that snaked back on itself and that I still didn’t know how far ahead they were.

Then I reached the same point less than a minute later and realised I was riding pretty well to be not far off those boys. I found my flow in that single track, I felt smooth… I was finally enjoying riding again after the year from hell.

Riding with a single bottle I didn’t bother with the feedstation and used firetrail to pass slower riders before getting back into yet more singletrack. The next rider I came up behind was Tim, well this was awkward, time to call track on your partner.

I knew that I didn’t stand a chance of staying ahead of Tim if we got on firetrail but due to the plethora of single track I stayed ahead of him for a good 10km – a first in a race. Then we headed back towards Kowan and the trails headed upwards on firetrail, sure enough the Tim “the metrognome” Nelson powered past me and I didn’t see him again.

The last 10km hurt, the lack of base mileage in my legs was starting to show but I pushed it home down the altered Kowalski Beer Garden descent and finished in just over 2.5 hours. What I didn’t realise it I was less than a minute behind Gresh and less than 2 minutes behind Tim’s split for the 50km (he did the 100km).

I also won my category and was 2nd overall female by less than 3 minutes. Yet again the Kowalski was a fantastic race which puts the love back into mountain biking and restores my mojo after time off the bike.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It's been a quiet on here! Injuries, Tears and Chocolate.

So, some of you might be wondering why this blog has been so quiet. Well there’s a story behind that and it’s not a fun one:

Following my run-in with a car last year I had the plate removed from my arm in January 2014. This was after a fantastic two weeks of road riding in the Victorian high country. I was feeling on top of the world having ridden the 235km route of 3Peaks over Mt Hotham and up the back of Falls Creek on the 7th of January with Tim. We had signed up for the official 3Peaks event and booked accommodation.

Feeling strong on Mt Hotham in January

So anyway I had the plate removed, I simple surgery in preparation for more imaging of my bung wrist and more surgery on the wrist later on from a hand specialist. A week after having the plate removed my arm got sore, really sore.

I started work as a doctor, my arm was too sore to drive. I got lifts to work, I couldn’t use my arm. I rang my surgeon, twice… it got brushed off.

I got on the trainer in the garage, I couldn’t hold the handlebars. I cried in frustration, then went to Emergency. Xrays showed the fracture line had simple opened back up, not healed. I had a broken arm, again.
My last ride before the brown stuff hit the fan

The hand surgeon saw me on short notice, more surgery 3 days later, by now it’s February. Big surgery, bone cut and a big f*ck off stainless steel plate in my arm.

When can I ride? At least 3 months was the answer – I cried again. I ate chocolate, I ate ice-cream, I sat on the couch. I probably cried again, lots. I was horrific to live with, Tim put up with me. He could ride, I couldn’t.

I sold my 3Peaks entry, I went back to work in a splint. I got given permission to run. I went for run, carrying an extra 3-4kgs of chocolate/icecream/couch time. I couldn’t run 5km without walking. I cried again.

Then things slowly got better, I stopped eating crap and continued running. I ran a half marathon just before Easter and was doing long runs of 16-20kms once a week. Lots of physio on my arm, hand therapy.
Half Marathon Finish

Then finally in May 2014 – allowed back on the bike! Arm has healed! Mid-May, I rode to work. I cried! It used to be easy, I used to average 30km/hr … I’m fit from running but I can’t ride. I stop running but struggle with riding, I put weight back on.

More tears of frustration. I keep going, 30km rides are a struggle. How far have I fallen, from top form to this? Early June I enter a mountain bike event – I ride solo for 4 hours. It hurts, I get beaten by people I used to beat but I’m back.

Next day – back and neck spasm. Chiro says it’s like whiplash, body not ready for 4hrs of mountain biking. Another 3 weeks off the bike, no exercise, more chocolate, neck sore for over a month.

July, middle of winter… finally start riding again. Still hurts, still slow, still frustrating. Get grumpy at Tim who is fit, have a few tantrums but keep riding.

Wollombi Female Podium
August, it’s getting easier – Tim makes me do my first 100+km on the road since early January. I complain, but I do it. Local mountain bike race – Wollombi Wild race and I win it, mojo coming back. 

September – Starts with a mountain bike race Kowalski Classic, 50km for me this year and I’m feeling good (see my separate race report). Finally back into solid training with 1000+ kms logged this month, but just in time to start in Emergency for work and start shift work!

So there you have it, it’s been one hell-of-a-year coming back from injury for a second time. I realistically had a full 6-7 months off the bike and am still not quite in the form of early January but I’m getting there and I’m enjoying riding again.

I would like to thank Tim for putting up with his psycho partner during that time, and my hand surgeon Dr Myers who went out of his way to ensure I was looked after when the first surgeon perhaps didn’t do so well.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Flinging the Fling....

The Fling is a race that I never feel prepared for, the first year I entered in 2011 we had just bought a house and training had fallen by the wayside. It was horrendously painful and I discovered what “cramps” really means when those stricken riders on the side of the trail utter it. Oh yeah, cramps that year from about the 75km mark and I just limped home.
2012 was better, but I’d got the dark and gloomies over winter and had fallen off the training wagon. With just a couple of months I pulled out a substantially better time but still felt I wasn’t at my best.
2013 was going to be the year, I was going to train through winter and hit the Fling at my best. Unfortunately before I could hit the fling an idiot driver hit me and July was all about hospitals and healing. Despite being back on the roadie relatively quickly I really had done very little mountain biking and for some reason, the Fling seems to require mountain bike miles in the legs for me. With just the Half Kowalski and the Scott as my only decent mountain bike rides since the accident things weren’t looking good.
Setting up camp in sunshine got our hopes up
Oh and then there’s this medical degree, the one with the final exam of the whole degree scheduled just three days after the Fling. That one little hurdle standing between me and the title “Dr”, suddenly the whole Fling training plan was well and truly off the rails and I swapped out of elite back down to age group racing.
The lead into the Fling involved a lot of the usual weather watching on BOM, the forecast went from horrendous to horrible to bad to sketchy and finally it looked like the rain would hold off until the day of the race itself.
Indeed we packed in Newcastle in 36-degree heat, making it hard to think about cold weather riding and even set up camp in sunshine. We hoped the Bureau of Meteorology had got things completely wrong but they knew a little more than we’d been hoping and race day dawned grey and cold with a fine misty highland drizzle to accompany the traditional bagpipe wake-up call.
Race morning was definitely fleece pants and down vest weather
Waiting on the start line was cold, I got the shivers listening to race briefing but was briefly distracted by the guy next to me discovering that the rain on his tyres simply meant he could see heaps of lovely air leaks bubbling away. Then finally we were off and the usual shemozzle of self-seeding started to sort itself out.
My legs felt dead, completely dead like riding with concrete muscles – I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bad in a race. I kept hoping I would warm up and come good, but even half an hour in I was still feeling crap. I passed Charlie McCabe early on and wished her well in the 100mile event as the only female entrant, I didn’t envy her as the weather continue to be grey and wet.
After the first river crossing or two I definitely couldn’t feel my feet, and my mood wasn’t improving at all. I had mentally admitted defeat in the race when I changed categories and I was even considering pulling out at the first transition through Wingello. The GUs that had freely flowed into my flask in the Newcastle heat were now refusing to leave the flask at my request and I had drunk next to nothing for the first hour of the race.
At Wingello I swapped to a camelbak and single GU packets, ate some food and pushed on. The legs weren’t improving, but the 29er wheels rolled well on the firetrail and I hooked onto a train. Then we hit singletrack and it was obvious the blokes up the front were roadies – finding out your bars don’t fit between trees at speed was the first sign, and walking the rocks was the next.
A few of us made it past these roadies and in the next section of single track I found myself chatting to Lana Moy’s other half Greg who would keep me company for the next hour or so. Sometime after the next feed station he dropped off and myself and a South African bloke seemed to be keeping similar pace. We got chatting and told similar stories – dead feeling legs, no motivation, suffering.
Having company made things a whole lot better, we fell into a rhythm – I’d let him go first on firetrail descents and I’d soon catch him on ascents when he would then stick on my wheel.
We ticked off the obstables, The Wall, Halfway Hill and a whole lot of hills in-between that I swear multiply every year. The elite men came through around half way hill, Mark Tupalski was just launching an attack and looking strong. Soon we onto the smooth road into Wingello for the second time, my South African mate mentioned pulling the pin and I secretly groaned at the thought of loosing my riding companion.
Luckily he changed his mind and after refuelling we set off again for the last and most brutal stage of the race. The bumpy descent through the paddock to the first single track was not fun as that kind of stuff still hurts my bung arm and wrist but soon I had other things to worry about as my left inner thigh cramped in exactly the same bit of single track as 2011! Refusing to stop I spun that leg easy while putting power through my right and it seemed to ease, but I was dreading that section of "rollercoaster" in reverse with all the little pinch climbs.
Concentrating on smooth pedalling we slogged on as the mist was turning more and more to rain, the temperature averaged about 11 degrees for the whole race and we did spare a thought for the previous year when the sun was baking hot through some of those later sections of firetrail.
Veteran Female Podium
I starting pulling gaps on my South African mate, whose name I still hadn’t learnt and whose number had fallen off and was stuffed down his jersey for safekeeping. I entered the single track ahead of him but knew I’d be walking those pinch climbs after Boundary Rider. Each time I walked those climbs he’d catch me and so we ended up together again grovelling up the hill to a choir sheltering under a marquee. We entered the last section of single track to the perfect harmony of these local voices, by this stage both legs were cramping on sharp or sustained climbs but it was still just my inner thighs so I could mostly ride through it.
Veteran Female Full Fling
By this time we were overtaking half-flingers very regularly, the track was showing signs of the extra traffic and constant drizzle and was pretty slippery over roots and rocks in places. The half-flingers were quick to give track and soon we hit the last dreaded hill, endless grassy switch backs up a paddock.
Spinning smoothly I managed to keep the cramps at bay knew that I was pretty much home, again I lost my South African friend through the last section of singletrack and also let the first Elite female, Peta Mullins come through.
The final 5 or so kilometres are firetrail and road, and they ticked painfully by until I was finally heading down through the last farm towards the finish. Finally the finishing arch appeared and – wet, cold and filthy – I could tick off yet another Fling with inadequate preparation.
Celebrating the end of a long year and long degree
I was on the lookout for my South African buddy but the cold got the better of me and I headed back to camp for some warm clothes before a feed and hanging round for the podium presentation. Despite what felt like a shocking day on the bike, and being 10 minutes slower than the previous year, I had won my age category and had a time that would put me at 4th overall female.
In the usual way of happy endings, my South African riding companion managed to find me on facebook – thanks Gary for making the day bearable. I’m not sure I would have persevered without the company!
I also passed my exam three days later and have now finally finished five long years of undergraduate medicine and will start work as a doctor next year. The learning is far from over, some would say it’s just beginning, but the idea of a full time wage is pretty exciting and Tim’s already calculating how many bikes I owe him ;-)