I probably should have done some research about this event before I signed up as I was in for a few (nasty) surprises. A few of my friends from the Helensburgh Off Road Cycle Club (HORCC) had posted about the event on facebook and I thought it would be a good training ride in preparation for the big Port to Port ride I’ll be taking on in May.
I chose the 66km (2 lap) event because my longest day at Port to Port would be 60km, however I probably should have taken into consideration that the longest mountain bike ride I have (ever) done was less than 20km. But I never do anything by halves and I couldn’t drive all the way to Canberra just to do 1 lap (30km). So….. why not.
We stayed with some good friends the night before and had fun catching up over pasta and wine (carb loading). I got to bed a little later than usual but was happy to be spending time in great company.
The alarm went off and my nerves kicked in straight away. What was I thinking?! I can’t ride 66km on hardly any training. Shit, this is going to hurt. I had only done a couple of rides over the past few weeks but not enough to have me prepared for this. Holy crap.
I had some porridge for breakfast and realised that it was very cold and wet outside. It had rained quite a lot overnight and this was a bit of a worry as stupidly I had not packed for cold and wet. Idiot. I borrowed some arm sleeves/warmers from my friend and packed a windproof jacket, it would have to do.
For my hydration and nutrition I had decided to use a Nathan Hydration vest so I could use Tailwind nutrition, mainly because I don’t like to take my hands off the handle bars and the bladder meant I could ride and take on everything needed (water, carbs, electrolytes) at the same time. I also packed some GU Stroopwafel as I’d used these for nutrition on some of my recent runs/hikes and it was really tasty. I also had some gels as backup if all else failed.
We headed outside and stored the bike on the roof rack of the car and headed off to Stromlo Forest Park. I checked in and met with Mille and Celia who were from HORCC and also doing the race. We setup an area with our extra food/gear and got ourselves ready for the start. Millie was a gun and would start up the front with the fast riders, while Celia and I both wanted to be back of the pack as we were both newbies. The race director did his briefing and then Celia, Millie and I made our way over to the start line. Millie seeded herself up the front and so she should have, she’s super speedy and had a high chance of winning. Celia and I made our way up the back and fought for the last spot with a couple of other novice riders.
We had a few laughs with the other riders up the back as everybody wanted to be last, and eventually we were off.
I chatted with Celia as we rode along the first section which was a dirt road that wound its way up a slight incline until we hit a single track. I realised during this first section that my friend Brett was just ahead of us and I caught up and chatted to him for a bit too. I rode behind Brett for a while and tried to keep up with him, but as soon as the trail got technical I slowed down as I wasn’t confident and really did not want to fall off my bike. Celia and I rode together for most of the first loop and this gave me someone to follow which I liked because I could follow her line and relax a little.
However I took a tumble near a rocky secton and slid a few times going up and around the steep bends, I really did not feel confident and was more than just a bit nervous. This trail was much more technical than most of the ones I had ridden on and I decided to get off the bike and walk a few spots because it was too rocky and I did not want to break any body parts.
I felt really slow and lethargic. I was being overcautious and it meant that I spent a lot of time riding by myself. My competitive spirit wanted to kick in and go barrelling down some of the trail but after spending 18 months recovering from my past injury I really didn’t want to push my luck.
There was a lovely man giving some directions near the last part of the loop and he was very supportive. He sent me down the easier section and eventually I got into my own rhythm and finished the first lap without too much difficulty.
I scoffed down some GU Stroopwafels and water and strecthed my back out some more because it was stiffening up again, this seemed to help and I hoped it wouldn’t get any worse during the next and final loop.
The next photo was taken on my second lap when I was just not feeling it. My back pain had gotten worse and after about 3km into the trail I almost turned around to go back and not finish the race. But I’m stubborn. So I kept pushing myself and I tried to smile for the camera (see below) but I couldn’t even fake that.
I stopped about 100 times to stretch and give my back a break but thids wasted so much time and I just wanted to be finished. Why wasn’t I enjoying this? I love trails and being out on the bike exploring new places. Maybe it was the cold and wet conditions. Maybe I just needed to toughen up and stop being a pansy.
I thought about my young cousin Dylan who had just lost his battle with cancer about a month ago. I thought about what he had gone through and about how we should never give up. I put aside my negative thoughts and focused on the endless positives I have in my life, I really had nothing to be down about.
My smile returned and I gained some courage to go a little bit faster in the second half of the final loop. I could hear my coach Dave’s words in my head as I went over some large rocky sections, his technical expertise had helped me improve so much over the past few weeks and I really was lucky to have the HORCC crew.
Finally I rounded the last bend where Roger was perched to get a happy snap of me speeding past towards the finish (below).
I crossed the line and thanked myself for not quitting, for getting it done.
Celia (below) met me at the fnish line and she had come 3rd in her division, how awesome. She even got some beer with her name on it, even though she doesn’t drink. I did offer to drink it for her but she was going to give it to her son I think.
We saw Millie (below) again too and she had won the Elite category, what a champion!!
I had a quick chat with my friend Brett at the finish line and he had done well finishing quite a distance ahead of me. By this time it was really starting to get cold so we didn’t hang around too much, just long enough to scoff a burrito and a coffee to warm me up.
This was a tough course and the cold, wet conditions made it a little more challenging too. I’m going to put this one down as ‘character-building’ as I really felt like crap for most of the ride, but I think that’s my own fault for being a little under-trained. I’ll make sure in future that I’m better prepared both physcially and mentally.
Bring on Port to Port in just over a month, read more about my upcoming race and how you can support my charity here.