A few weeks ago I drove to Rydal (near Lithgow) to race in the Jetblack 24hr mountain bike event. I was competing as part of the ‘Burgherlicious’ team for Helensburgh Off Road Cycle Club (HORCC). To say I was nervous would be a complete understatement.
Originally I was to be part of the 6+6hr team which involved taking turns to ride laps from 12pm-6pm on Saturday, and again between 6am-12pm on Sunday. I was assured the course was suitable for beginners with an ‘A’ and ‘B’ line and felt the 9km course would be do-able, especially with an overnight sleep to recover. However after some last minute rider cancellations I was upgraded to the 24hr team with 5 other riders, and my nerves grew to slight panic as I realised what I had just agreed to.
So I arrived at Rydal and was greeted by the speedy Millie who showed me where to park and gave me the rundown on the course and race rules etc. This helped to settle my nerves a little, okay, not really. I wished I had been able to arrive earlier so I could have had a practise lap but with work commitments that wasn’t to be and I arrived after the race had already started.
I got my bike, gear and food supplies out of the car so I would be ready when they needed me for my first lap. We had 6 people in the team and I had been put as the last rider because they knew I was arriving after the starting gun. I had packed food supplies similar to that of my endurance running events and this proved to be adequate. I had several variations of heads lamps, gloves and clothing as there was a chance of rain and I was unsure what the weather would be like, or even what it would be like riding during the night on the trail. God I was nervous about that, riding on a trail at night – eeekkk!!
I met the rest of my team and other team riders from HORCC who were all very positive and helped to comfort my nerves. I wanted to make sure my team knew I was a total beginner who had only been riding a mountain bike for 7 weeks, that way there expectations were low. I secretly hoped that I wasn’t the slowest in our team but I knew I probably would be.
We picked up race bib and attached it to my bike. I had a little bit of time to get some food down before my first lap, so I got comfortable in one of the team camping chairs. They had a great setup with tables and gear, plus a big whiteboard so we could record all of the lap times and makes time estimates for the incoming riders. I was in good hands.
Finally the time came for me to ride my first lap and the nerves were in their highest gear. I started pedalling with a little apprehension and almost missed the first left turn as I made a rookie error and didn’t look far enough ahead along the trail. My heart rate soared and I reminded myself to take it easy and not brake any bones. The mantra of ‘Stay Upright’ would be repeated many times throughout the next 24 hours.
It was dusty and there were so many bends! Left, then right, then left, then right again, then down with a bend, then up with a bend, and many of the trees sat snugly next to the trail daring you to weave through them. The trees were so close on some of the corners that you could not lean into the corner at all or you would wipe yourself out. I found it difficult to get around those bends at any speed and often realised I was in the gear when it was way too late. There were also several speedy riders who came up behind me quickly on the first lap and I stopped to let them go past each time. Wow, they made me look like I was standing still. I hoped my team weren’t too sad that I was taking so long.
Thankfully the ‘B’ lines were clearly marked and I avoided having to do any jumps or tricks. There was a section with a few big tree roots but they ere easy to get over and I enjoyed them. There was a sign for ‘Hazard Gully’ in the second half of the course and it made me laugh, there were definitely some hazards out there. I had to put my foot down a few times from over steering, or sliding on the loose sandy course, but I managed to stay upright the whole way. I wasted so much energy on that first lap, but I loved it and tried to memorise as much of it as I could while I was out there.
38 minutes. That’s how long my first lap took. The fastest rider in our group had done it in 27 minutes, so I had a long way to go. I sat down to have a snack and I chatted to the team about my first lap. They were so supportive and a really fun bunch to hang with.
My second lap came around pretty quickly and I managed to knock off about 1 minute from my original lap time. I was happy with that and hoped that the minutes would keep knocking off each lap as I got more confidence, but I was sure the night laps would probably be slower, especially as I had never ridden on a trail before at night. Shit.
Its was at this point I thought I should probably inform my team that I had never ridden on the trails at night before. They took it well and Phil helped me to setup a light on top of my helmet so I would be able to see more than just the view from the light attached to my handlebars. Our team had decided to undertake double laps during the night so that we could all try to get a few hours sleep. I had some pizza and decided to setup my tent while there was still some sunlight.
My double lap started at abut 10pm and I set off feeling very hesitant. My hart rate soared again as I nervously took the twists and bends with apprehension. I felt slow but I was too scared to go any faster and I reminded myself to stay calm and ride smart. I began to relax a little and enjoy the course more as I went along. It was nice having less riders on the course now as I didn’t have to slow down all the time to let them past. The 6+6hr riders had long finished and were probably tucked up in their beds asleep.
About halfway through the first lap I noticed that my lower back was starting to hurt and the muscles were feeling very tight. I stood up on my pedals a bit more and this seemed to relieve some of the pain. By the end of the first lap my back was much worse and I contemplated stopping, but I really didn’t want to let the team down and I knew there would not be anyone else ready to ride yet because it was too early. I decided to suck it up and keep going. It was only pain. I just hoped it wasn’t anything too serious. I’d hurt my back once when I was wake boarding about 10+ years ago and that pain was very intense. I hoped it wasn’t the same.
I went past the tent and managed to say “Hey champions” to let them know I had survived the first lap. 43 minutes. Slower.
Before I had left for the first night lap we were talking about songs that get stuck in your head and I’d decided I would think of a good song during the lap so I could sing it to them when I went past, but I was concentrating so hard on the trail that I had forgotten to come up with a song.
I took some big breaths and tried to ignore the pain in my back again. I focused on the trail and felt much more confident the second time around. I used my body to lean a little more and hug the course a little better, and I stood a lot more because it eased the pain in my back. I kept telling myself to focus on something else besides the pain, but at one point I got pins and needles down my right leg and I was really worried I wasn’t going to make the lap. I was tougher than this. Come on Hailey!
I finished the second lap and felt very stiff when I got off the bike. I immediately took some Nurofen, had a shower, ate and then lay down in the tent to try and get some sleep. Sleep was not going to happen. There was a lot of noise and people walking around, and music. I think I nodded off for maybe half an hour, but I woke feeling refreshed and better than I had expected.
I chatted to the team and was told we were currently in 1st place in the mixed category. Apparently we had been leap frogging with the Newcastle Team and after my lap we had been second, then the rest of my team would do so well that we would go back into 1st place. Our young rider Jarrod had the fastest lap at 27 minutes, and speedster Mille had also done a 28 minute lap. The rest of my team were also around the 28 minute mark, so I was definitely the weakest link. Damn.
I was grateful when they said we were going back to 1 lap each and I actually offered to miss my lap and used the excuse of my back. I didn’t want to be the reason we lost our 1st place position but the team insisted I go out and have another lap and that they would just have to work harder to make up the gap. If they had not insisted I honestly would not have minded missing the lap, but in the end I’m glad I got to do another lap in the daylight.
At about 8am I sent off for my 6th and final lap. It was a new day and the second round of Nurofen had kicked in so my back was feeling a little better. I tried to savour every twist and turn, every uphill and downhill. I was starting to remember more and more of the course and I felt a little more at ease than on my previous laps. The riders coming past me where so positive and friendly, I tried to stick with a few and even managed to overtake three people (probably 24hr solo riders, they are incredible). When I got to the last section with the big berms I could see someone closing in slowly behind me. I thought I should try to ward him off and dug a little deeper to keep a bit of distance between us. My heart rate start6ed to soar again and I wished I’d worn my HR strap to record the workouts but thought it might have chaffed and gotten in the way. The last uphill pinch came and I gave it my all. Over the rocky section towards the barn and then over the thing mats towards the final bend.
I tagged Alex and he was off on his speedy lap. We were still in 1st place. Yes!!
Our team ended up winning the mixed category and came 2nd overall, what a great achievement for my first team event. Very exciting.
Massive thanks for. the Helensburgh Off Road Cycle Club (HORCC) for looking after me and making me feel so welcome, you guys have taught me a lot and I know we will have some great races together in future.
I’m currently training to take part in the 200km Port to Port race in May, my first ever 4 day MTB stage race and I”m raising funds for the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse who helped care for my young cousin who died recently from cancer. He was only 22 years of age. You can donate to this wonderful charity on my fundraising page here.