Port to Port mountain race 2014
A few weeks ago I decided to enter a 4-day stage race through Newcastle NSW and the Hunter Valley. It would be covering approximately 200km over 4 days so not overly taxing stages and I believed it would be well within my fitness and skill level. I would also be staying with friends so would have a comfortable bed and home cooked meals to refuel me for the next day.
Previously, last May I completed a 7 stage 5 day mountain bike race in Alice Springs and whilst I had fun and learned a lot I also was not far off the last place - I was very slow compared to rest of the field. This year I decided to go somewhere different and cheaper.
The following is a break down of each day's racing (if you are interested that is)
Day 1 - Dawned bright and early and carefully I drove my friend's car to the starting point at Port Stephens. The crowd of mountain bikers was slowly growing by the second and you could feel the excitement in the air. They called all the elite females up so they could start before the rest of us in the amateur field. I wasn't sure what to expect from the stage. The first stage was relatively short and very quick being 38 km and I completed in 2 hr 1 min. There were sand, sand and more sand at least 4 different varieties of it including massive vertical wall of sand which you had to walk/run your bike up! Only came off once in deep sand but it was a soft landing. Everybody was super friendly and at least a couple of guys out on courses helped me by letting me draft them! Unfortunately, the female elites were in my category but I still managed to finish 4th behind 3 top elite riders (ok they may have well have been in a different race as finished about 30 min behind 3rd) but ahead of one of the other elite girls.
Day 2 - I believe day 2 may go down in legend as the event progresses through the future. I was awake during the night listening to the torrential rain and knew I was going to be in trouble. I will never forget the stage as made day 1 look like a walk in the park. Mud, mud, mud and more mud and hills aplenty. You were either climbing, slipping down the mud luge or descending down impossibly steep hills! Part of the course went through private property and the organizers had not realised the guy had freshly graded the road with freshly laid clay. The clay stuck permanently to anything it came into contact with so at one stage I couldn't push the bike, couldn't lift the bike and couldn't clear the mud. I became desperate and managed to push the bike up a 2 ft drop and off the road a bit to my detriment as I had managed to use up all my energy reserves and found the stage hard to complete. The single track we were promised turned in to a quagmire which I spent much of the time running/walking the bike. Still, although I lost time I still finished 5th in the open females and lost 15 min to my nearest competitor in 4th place. I finished in 3 hr 45 and collapsed when I crossed the line. I was so exhausted I decided to wait in line to clean the bike instead of getting changed - a big mistake once the shaking started I couldn't stop it and felt really ill though you can't tell anybody as they are all in the same boat. Still, a massive bowl of hot soup and a hot chocolate helped.
Day 3 - The organisers had wisely decided to shorten this stage due to the exhaustion of all competitors from the day before. I didn't have to drive on this day as friends kindly dropped me off at the start and picked me up at the end. The weather had decided to play nice again and the rain has disappeared. I wasn't feeling too bad despite my endeavors of the day before. I completed the 49km in 2 hr 40 which although put me into 5th overall I actually came 4th for day 3 and took just over 5 minutes out of 4th place which I was extremely proud of. The mixture of road, sandy trails and a bit of singletrack made for an enjoyable though hard day out on the bike. I was having fun keeping ahead of the elite rider in 4th and drafting guys whilst chatting to them. I had some great comments including a guy commenting on my lovely ass as I left him for dead riding up a hill. Not bad for an amateur non-sponsored rider to come in the top 5 in my category.
Day 4 -Today's stage nearly ended me. The race started well and I was having fun whilst telling my brain to shut up! The plan was for me to make some time ahead of the girl in overall 4th before we got to the 1km of sand. I realised at an early stage this was not going to be possible as my legs were aching and tired. Instead, I spend some of the early race riding with her and saving energy. This was working well until we reached the sand. We hit the beach at high tide which meant either plodding through deep sand or ride at the water's edge. I chose the water's edge and got drowned at least 3 times (the bike cost $200 to rebuild). By then the Fibromyalgia was flaring up and I could hardly walk as I was in agony and was contemplating pulling out at that stage. Thankfully after the sand things got easier - bike paths and roads. A very kind guy stated he had ridden some of day one with me and for me to draft behind his back wheel. We caught up with 4th place and then the pace was pushed - we lost her off the back but she caught up with me on the single track, passed me and managed to get a lead on me. On the last road hill, I finally caught her and the look on her face was priceless she then took off down the last 2 km and finished about 12 seconds ahead of me.
Overall I finished 5th in the open female category ad 7th female overall behind elite riders. I had a great time and enjoyed the variety of the trails.