What does it take to complete 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 hometown 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 backtrack 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 thought 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 singletrack 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 switchbacks, 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'll 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 story 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?
A budget for 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!