When 24 hours of riding just isn't long enough
Ultra events, when you're deep into them, are just miserable, and the people who succeed are those who can cope with that misery - Greg Whyte OBE (former Olympic Pentathlete & Sports Scientist)
The inaugural Red Bull Timelaps 25 hour race took place in the shadow of Windsor Castle, on the weekend of the UK being plunged into another long winter. Six hundred riders, comprising 150 teams, were readied to do battle in Windsor Great Park, as part of the World's longest one day bike race.
Originally posted online by Jamie Baskerville as a joke, the 25 hour race proved too enticing for Robb Cobb and myself and we soon entered a mixed team with Cassie Baldi making up the fourth member of our Bigfoot outfit. Scheduled to coincide with the clocks going back, the expectation was for cold, grim weather conditions but on the morning of the race the weather was mild, no rain was scheduled and the night temperature was predicted to be 10 degrees. Surely 25 hours in these conditions would be an absolute joy!
Our illustrious team leader took to the start line but, due to our late entry, Jamie found himself at the back of the grid with virtually the whole field ahead of him. Jamie took to the task of picking his way through the field like a seasoned veteran and by the second lap he was part of the lead group. Then disaster struck for one rider, who overcooked a descent, found he had nowhere to go and subsequently plunged into a group of slower riders, leaving one being rushed to hospital with multiple broken bones. The race was halted and after a long stoppage, Jay was, once again, placed at the back of the starting grid. Nevertheless, he was soon back in the lead group after scrambling a second time through the mass of riders ahead and posting a time of 9.30 on his 4th lap, an average speed of over 42 km/h.
Strategy was going to be a key component in this race and we had decided on completing four 6.6 km laps before pitting and sending out the next rider. Robb took the armband and put in his fastest lap of 10.42. By the time I took the team armband, the field had broken up and it was much harder to find an appropriate group to work with. I solo time-trialled for much of the undulating course, but still I appreciated the well-surfaced and traffic free roads. Cassie took her four lap shift, our position around 29th overall and 7th in the mixed. By the time Robb finished his second stint, the park had been plunged into darkness.
Team spirits in our transition area were still high. We were confident that we would gradually move up the field as other teams tired, making the most of the endurance qualities we all possess. Indeed, I have done nine solo 24 hour and several 24 hour team events in the past, albeit on a mountain bike. As for Jamie - well he's just strong and only fatigue from the high mileage he'd been doing in the last couple of weeks could possibly slow him down. We approached the 2am point and the start of the Tag Heuer Power Hour. We were gradually moving up in the overall classification and only four minutes separated 4th through 8th in the mixed.
We timed our changeover to Jamie (who would undertake the whole Power hour alone) to maximise his time on the special 4.4 km loop. Jamie stayed with a select front group and put in an incredible 8 laps, which would count double for the team. Unfortunately, most of our mixed rivals had managed to do the same and we were still 7th. The clocks had now gone back providing the race with that extra hour.
The most important aspect of racing 24 hours is pacing and nutrition. Pacing is handled mentally by breaking the race down into manageable time chunks and setting realistic short-term goals, such as completing each lap in a set time, while nutrition is keeping hydrated and topped up with carbohydrates and electrolytes. We would crave chocolate one minute then savoury biscuits the next. Stomachs started to react adversely - Cassie was feeling sick and Rob wanted to vomit - not surprisingly, when we found out he had drunk six cans of Red Bull and was hydrating with carbonated water! Both needed to take a brief break to lie down and sleep off their ailments. Both came back strongly. This was undoubtedly aided by the emergence of daylight. During my 6th stint, just after six o'clock, the sun appeared briefly, but was rudely pushed aside as heavy clouds brought the first precipitation of this event. Fortunately, this proved a brief interlude, the sun reappeared and the road began to dry out.
It was now quarter to ten, 22 hours 45 minutes into the event, and I went out for what I believed would be my last four laps. I managed to jump onto the back of a fast-moving group of riders and I felt like I was truly burying myself for the team. I was lapping considerably faster than previously, so much so that my fourth lap was only five seconds slower than my fastest lap from the day before. As I approached the finish line, both adductors began to cramp badly but I knew this was to be my final lap and consequently, I ignored the pain to finish strongly, and triumphantly passed the armband to Jamie. My joy at finishing so fast was immediately ripped from beneath me when Robb and Cassie announced that I would need to go out again in forty minutes time. In no uncertain terms, I told them they had to be kidding. But on reflection, I was holding down decent lap times and it was necessary to get three laps in before the cut off time of 25 hours. It was going to take another almighty effort.
Ten minutes later, I was back on the rollers, going through my customary warm-up, mentally preparing myself for another 'one-last effort'. I was telling myself that all the time spent in the cold, the rain, the wind and on the Wattbike or rollers is for these moments to prove that it is all worth it. Jamie came in and I was thrust back onto the circuit straight into the path of one of our mixed team rivals - this would be a battle to hold on to 6th place. My rival was a muscular female Time Trialist and there were three laps to race, if we were to both make the time cut. She would power away from me on the flats and I had to focus to stay on her wheel. The short climbs would give me an edge but she would work hard to close the gap at the top of each climb. The cramping had not re-emerged and we were mutually benefitting from each others slip-stream. The climb before the last lap began, provided another opportunity for me to break her resilience. I crested the hill and anticipated her re-joining me as the road flattened out again - she never did - I started the last lap alone - It was now a race against the clock. Could I make the cut off time so the current lap would count. I crossed the line with seconds to spare but I was broken. A look up to the scoreboard confirmed our 6th position and 21st overall, a result we were all more than satisfied with. We had dug deep within ourselves, all fighting our own personal battles and all emerging with satisfaction. The longest one day bike race in the world had been successfully vanquished.
Team Bigfoot: Overall: 21/134 ; Category: 6/42
Jamie Baskerville: Number of Laps: 24 (plus 8 Power Laps) ; Fastest Lap: 9.30 ; Average: 11.32
Phil Welch: Number of Laps: 31 ; Fastest Lap: 11.15 ; Average: 12.19
Robb Cobb: Number of Laps: 28 ; Fastest Lap: 10.42 ; Average: 12.31
Cassie Baldi: Number of Laps: 21 ; Fastest Lap: 11.52 ; Average: 12.40
Top Gun - The Bike Race
On October 25, 2014 the Kowalski Brothers organised a 24 hour team race for thousands of mountain bikers to participate in multiple categories of teams of four and six. The Organizers proposed the podium positions could only be attained by the top one percent of its participants. The purpose was to encourage the lost art of dirt combat and to ensure the handful of men and women who podiumed were the best mountain bike riders in Australia. They succeeded. Today, the mountain bike community calls it The Mont 24 hour. One rider calls it: Top Gun
The team of combatants I was joining was known as 'Benny and the Jets'. Apparently Elton John's 1974 hit single is Marilyn Manson's favourite song and inspired 'Guns and Rose's' lead singer Axl Rose to become a singer. I was inducted into the squadron as the 'Hornet'. As a supersonic twin engine machine capable of Mach 1.8 and an all-weather multi-role fighter I felt the name was reasonably appropriate. Of course Benny was our squadron leader, but John 'Iceman' Miller was a bike pilot of considerable reputation and experience and has fought successfully in top-level triathlon, while Ian 'Goose' Bridgland was the best wingman in the business and a terrific bike pilot in his own right.
Ian Bridgland took flight for our third lap, aptly named 'Afterburner' because Ian is most noted for ingesting several caffeine gels during solo 24's, enabling him to inject additional fuel into his engine and allowing him to blast past his bemused opposition. Unfortunately, Ian was suffering damage to his left wing, and the rocky and uneven terrain was taking a toll early on. He managed to limp in to transition with a respectable 57:41 but the early signs were not good. Painkillers were taken as frantic work was carried out on his damaged shoulder in preparation for his next lap. Only time would tell whether or not he could nurse his battered fuselage through another 21 hours.
Our next three laps were solid, and as I flew into transition to finish lap 11, we had regained third by the narrowest of margins: just 16 seconds. By the end of my next lap, we had slipped 53 seconds behind. It was 1.15 am and the night was beginning to bite. Our illustrious leader Ben, looked jaded and his times were slipping over the hour. Meanwhile, our opposition were staying strong, their superior numbers helping them to rotate less frequently. We knew they would be getting more sleep. We had time for very little. The gap opened to six minutes. Ben was hurting and he seemed worried about the increased kilometres he was having to do. This had definitely not been the plan. The team needed to remain strong.
A Bridge too far
At the beginning of an athletes season both long and short term goals are set reflecting the expectations for the year ahead. Despite the fact that this was only my fourth year racing mountain bikes, I had targetted winning my age category (40-44) at WEMBO's 24 hour solo as a realistic goal. Previous results, including second in WEMBO's inaugural 24 hour event in Italy in 2012, and two silver medals in the Australian Nationals and first place in two other 24 hour events seemed to suggest this lofty goal was viable. However, the problem with setting goals like this, is the unpredictability of the other competitors. Throughout 2013, Jason McAvoy trained exclusively towards the same goal and Benjy Morris had emerged as, arguably, the favourite for the top honour. As a result, my dream of becoming World Champion in my age category had fractured somewhat and come the start of the race, I knew that a place on the podium would have been an incredible achievement. As anybody who has raced solo in a 24 hour event knows, so many variables are at play physically, mentally and mechanically; it is, indeed, a long race and so it proved much to my detriment.
Despite impeccable preparation there is no accounting for last minute setbacks. I arrived early on Friday, and after greeting several rivals, fellow competitors and support crews I absorbed the pre-race meeting and, in particular, the warnings concerning the presence of a large population of venomous snakes. It appeared that any late-night toilet stops would need to be made close to the track, thereby avoiding any close encounters with black or brown serpents in the longer grass. A quick practice lap with Pete Selkrig confirmed the apparent tameness of the course. Unlike previous 24 hour events at Mt. Stromlo,there was no fearsome fireroad climb to worry about nor any technical climbs or descents. On the surface, this appeared a perfect course to really attack. I retired to my hotel in high spirits, keen to sink my teeth into the opposition the next day.
However, the following day brought my first set-back. My team support from Project 63 were running extremely late and, even worse, they had absolutely no room for me in their marquee. This was a stress I really didn't need and I had to scramble and rely on the goodwill of others to fill the void. Russ Baker offered up the battery charging tent as a last resort, Graham Sonter and Catherine Wood offered to share their tent set up and then Malcolm Bradley proposed an area alongside Wendy Stevenson. My stress and panic subsided. There are truly some wonderful people involved in mountain biking and it invariably feels like one immensely supportive family. Indeed, only days earlier, Gary Harwood and Martine Robine had supplied a rear wheel when my own wheel's free hub had faltered while several others were ready to help instantly and had made similar offers.
Garry (Korndog) provided priceless and outstanding support throughout the race, but his initial contribution was to quickly erect my newly supplied marquee from Wendy Stevenson, and then to set up my transition area and to finalise any last minute adjustments to my two 29er bikes. Later, he was to team up with my lovely wife Greer and tirelessly run bottles and sustenance throughout the race, a service none of us riders can really do without.
The initial laps of the race were fast and I found myself jostling with the Pushy's duo, which included rival Damian Gillard. On the third lap, while negotiating the fast descent of 'Breakout', I lost traction on a dusty corner and skidded sidewards across the track. Fortunately, I avoided an array of rocks merely collecting an eyeful of dust which hampered my vision for the remainder of that circuit.
As the laps were ticked off and the night drew closer I had moved up the field and was sitting comfortably in third. I was informed I was ten minutes behind Jason McAvoy and Benjy Morris and over twenty minutes ahead of fourth. The two leaders were jostling for supremacy and the gap between us was growing. I was content to be lying in third and perhaps either McAvoy or Morris would push too hard and may even blow up. I was still moving steadily up the field leaving a quiver of quality riders in my wake, including long-time rival Mike Israel. Even with tiredness setting in, I was feeling confident and happy with my progress. As I rounded Slant 6, the encroaching darkness brought forth a girl in a bikini, frantically waving her cookies at gasping riders; she reappeared later in the lap before darkness completely engulfed the mountain.
Unlike the professionalism I had demonstrated in the daylight hours the night brought errors and the first signs of failing. Up to that time, my transitions had been flawless but I continued to come in too fast and leave too early. I changed a battery, ordered an extra shirt for warmth and forgot my water bottle (which also contains my nutrition) and left without my energy gels. On completion of the lap, I should have taken the time to drink a complete bottle but, once again I rushed out and began to pay the price. On descents, my Giant Anthem was creaking strangely, causing me unwelcome doses of worry (later I was to find a 4 cm crack had developed in the seat tube)! My last few lap times of the night were considerably slower and by the time the sun had risen I was out of the podium places and had dropped to 5th. While the hot air balloons covered the Canberra morning sky my own dream bubble had apparently burst. I was now struggling to get past some of the slower riders. I stopped in transition where my wife was standing, feeling despondent. Fatefully, I stepped off the bike for the first time in nineteen hours. I was thinking about the nine day stage race in northern Queensland in just six days time- The Crocodile Trophy. If my goal to finish in the top three was all but gone here perhaps I should start my recovery now. Continuing would eat into my energy reserves and would probably prove futile anyway. In the swilling of my mind, I made the decision to withdraw and sat down on a deckchair that seemed to beckon me towards it. My race was over!
Whether or not this proves to be the correct decision only time will tell. Other high profile riders had withdrawn early from the race too. If I perform well in the Crocodile Trophy, my decision will be vindicated. I have never withdrawn from any activity in my life so the last few days have been difficult. But I must learn from the mistakes I made and if I am able to embrace these lessons, I will return a much better and stronger rider and this is what I intend to do.
Congratulations to everyone who podiumed and to all those riders who pushed themselves further and harder than ever before. In particular, to Jason McAvoy for becoming World Champion in my age group, after holding off the dogged and determined Benjy Morris. Moreover, Jason finished fifth and Benjy eigth overall. Jason never stopped smiling at the presentation and was positively glowing. To Jason Archer and Jamie Vogler for their commendable third and fouth places, to Jason English for winning the whole event for a fourth time, to Andrew Lloyd for pushing him so hard and Andrew Hall for third in the elite. Finally, to Garry James for his incredible victory in the 50-54, holding off my mate Pete Selkrig, and to Mike Israel who (after doing it to me 2 weeks earlier) caught the unfortunate Ian Bridgland on the final lap to win Gold in the 45-49 age category.
Only the Chosen Few are Able to Seize the Day
I've heard it several times recently, that the last few weeks have been an absolute dream for a sports lover. Not only do we have sports biggest and greatest annual event The Tour De France, but the British and Irish Lions are currently engaged in some wonderfully competitive games with Australia and The Ashes cricket contest is just around the corner. For the spectators, these events are a thrill, but for the combatants, the athletes, they can potentially become the pinnacle of their career. The importance of these events bring out the best qualities of the athletes participating. The passion is palpable, the commitment mind-blowing.
The World 24 hour Mountain Bike Event to be held at Mt. Stromlo in Canberra this year may not be as grand as the illustrious events already mentioned but for many involved, it offers the highest level of competition imaginable. For elite competitors like multiple World Champion Jason English, Matt Page of the UK, Ed McDonald, Sam and Scott Chancellor and Andrew Hall it will be amongst their most significant events of the year. For those contesting age category podium positions it may be the most important. Personally, WEMBO's 24 hour event represents the culmination of a years training and sacrifice.
I have completed seven solo 24 hour events, won two and podiumed five times in age group and finished in the top 15 overall five times. However, as my experience has grown, my expectations have changed dramatically, thereby altering my preparation and training for subsequent events.
In 2010, barely 4 months after my first ever mountain bike race, I took part in the Australian National Solo 24 hour. I came 5th in age and 25th overall. I was riding a heavy all-mountain bike, had enough lights to last a mere 5 hours of darkness and I was clueless about nutrition and race strategy.
In October 2010, I rode the World 24 hour solo at Mt. Stromlo, Canberra and came 12th in age and 74th overall. I rode a cross-country bike and was better prepared but I was basically just happy to be a part of such a big occasion.
In 2013, I made it my goal to win the World 24 hour solo in October. My race schedule, my training, my bikes and equipment and my overall preparation is geared purely for this purpose.
Benji Morris, Jason McAvoy, Damian Gillard, Dave Langley and Andrew Wells are just a few of the riders I will need to overcome to achieve my race goal. More are sure to emerge as the event draws closer.
The Necessary Attributes
In life, no one can accurately predict the future. Destiny holds her cards close to her chest and twists and turns lurk in the shadows shrouded in mystery. It is therefore important to make the most of what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity provided by a World Championship held in Australia. One event can define you as a person - not for anyone else but for yourself.
The pressure to perform brings out the best in some while others flounder. I believe, this is because there are two kinds of people. Some would say winners and losers but I would more accurately call them survivors and victims. The latter will blame others for their current situation and will direct their attention to past events. The former will accept their predicament and build a survival plan which will eventually lead to success. The riders I lock horns with on the track every week are survivors who have the requisite attributes - regularly racing against 'winners' like Garry James, Peter Selkrig, Jason McAvoy and Mike Israel brings out the best in all of us.
1. Passion: To succeed in such a tough discipline as 24 hour racing you need to love what you do. I love to ride my bike and enjoy the variety of opportunities available to a bike rider - racing mountain bikes, training on the road solo or with mates, indoor sessions on rollers or Virtual Reality trainers, time-trials or intervals, hills or flat roads.
2. Sacrifice: Over 20 hours a week training on a bike while working full-time results in a re-ordering of priorities and, as a result, certain pleasures are sacrificed. Social engagements are replaced by long rides in the rain, beers with the boys replaced by protein shakes, pizza and chocolate replaced by chocolate and pizza. Even the most ardent of trainers needs to indulge in some pleasures!
3. Commitment: Short and long term goals need to be set and training dedicated to achieving those goals. This will mean going the extra yard and pushing that extra few percent despite the suffering and pain. At times, it is prudent to remind yourself that discomfort is merely temporary.
4. Preparation: Since returning from England in February I have increased my training to an average of 500 km and over 20 hours a week which should hold me in good stead come October's test of endurance. I have invested in two new, carbon fibre cross-country 29er race bikes (a Turner Czar and a Giant Anthem Advanced 0), consulted a nutritionist and naturpath to hone my nutrition and recovery, have a
regular massage at least once a week, and bought brighter and better Exposure night
lights to help me through the critical hours ridden in the dark.
5. Composure: Setting the standards high leads to additional pressure. The separating factor between success and failure is often the ability to deal with this pressure. For the most successful, pressure brings out the best they have to offer. Composure comes from confidence and confidence is built on solid preparation.
Only time will tell, but I hope that I have harnassed the necessary skills which will will detemine my success this year. In the lyrics to the 2002 hit record 'Lose Yourself' Eminem rapped:
Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted…one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime
Eminem may have been referring to the personal journey of a rapper but his words are pertinent to all those athletes, no matter their level, undertaking a once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve a dream of success that would live with them for the rest of their life.
Child-birth, life and Bellchambers
With darkness came separation. Mike and I traded positions several times in the gloom as lap times slowed and legs became weary. At 2.15am I was climbing to the top of the long, steep fireroad when the mighty Brett Bellchambers came past - out of the saddle - and monstering his stead up the hill that all the other single-speeders I had seen were walking. I offered comments of disbelief and then he was gone. Indeed it was Easter Sunday, the day Christ had come back from the dead. Perhaps the bearded fellow who had glided effortlessly past was not a mortal man but something from a distant world. I rubbed the sweat and dirt from my eyes but they provided no clarity for what I had just witnessed.
I was informed by my wonderfully, hard-working Project 63 pit crew that I had 2nd by forty minutes and just to keep rolling out the laps. It was now 6 am, and dawn was still over an hour away. I had once again climbed to the top of the mountain and was about to negotiate Skyline, the luge and the intimidating giant berms of Stromlo's downhill course. My helmet light had already flicked to medium setting to save battery life. Then my handlebar warning light flickered red and the beam of light ahead of me vanished. Transition and a replacement battery were 4 km of descending at speeds of over 40 km/h away. At any time my fast fading helmet light could disappear and plunge me into complete darkness. I hovered tentatively over the brakes as I made my descent. This time I managed to survive the scare and I entered transition in a mixed state of adrenalin and relief.
This was my ninth 24 hour race and the 8th I have done in the solo format. I often look back at my previous races with pride and fond memories. Like child - birth, we forget the pain and the slow, slow, ever so slow hours that drag past during the course of the race. The initial daylight hours are easy as we race for position and enjoy the nuances of the track. Nightfall supplies a new challenge but after a couple of hours the novelty wears off and it's hard not to think of the dawn and the beauty of a rising sun and warmer temperatures. But when the joy of sunrise has supplied its uplifting moment there is still at least 5 hours of gruesome punishment ahead. Days and months later we remember the glory, the medals, the prizes, the result but focus little, if at all, on the pain used to deliver those memories.
Calculating I had 3 laps to do before I could step off the bike for the first time in 24 hours I was suddenly awoken from my slumber. Not believing my 2nd position was a done-deal I had turned a switchback and looked directly at a fast-closing and grimacing rider with number 45, my age category. It seemed inconceivable to lose second place in the last two hours and I started to hammer out a far quicker rhythm. Consequently, my last three laps were 5-7 minutes faster than the previous two dawn laps. Indeed, this final change of pace proved to be necessary as Damian Gillard had hunted me down during the first hours of daylight and, at one point, he had basically reeled me in. I crossed the line, and on having 2nd confirmed, I pumped my fist in jubilation. My final surge had been inspired by rider 45 but he was not, as I had initially feared, the major threat - but, without a doubt, this case of mistaken identity had helped secure my final position...and the silver medal.
Photos courtesy of Mike Israel, Bernhard Chan (Project 63) and Jason McAvoy.
I glanced up at the airport clock as it flicked to 13.55 on Sunday the 13th May 2012. Armed with my Turner Flux and the scantest of essentials, I was awaiting the final boarding call for the 24 hour flight to Milan where I would rendezvous with my wife and drive south to Finale Ligure, on the Italian Riviera. My intention was to become the World Champion for the 40-44 age group in the inaugural WEMBO World Solo 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championship. Nobody could have possibly envisaged such an audacious objective two and a half years earlier.
In November 2009, a friend had asked me to ride in a team of two at the Fat Tyre Festival at Ourimbah and I readily accepted the invitation. Although I had never even considered racing before, I had just started to commute the ten kilometres to work and even managed to squeeze in a few hours of social mountain biking on weekends. How hard could approximately four hours of racing be?
The night before the race I received a call. My team mate was out - his daughter was sick and he needed to be at the hospital. I was now thrust into a team of one. Okay, this would be a lot tougher but I had built up a reputation as an endurance athlete from my younger years playing semi-professional rugby league. And I had the mental toughness and tenacity to just persevere when situations became more difficult. Still no problem. I was actually looking forward to the increased challenge.
On the day of the race the sun had decided to fire up early and as I heaved out the bulky Diamondback Mission 3 all-mountain bike the mercury had already nudged to sweltering levels. I had no idea of how to set up so I planned on coming off track to the boot of my car for water and food supplies. I insanely left a peanut butter sandwich beside the track on a low tree stump and headed for the start line.
Ourimbah is still one of my favourite mountain bike trails but today it was unleashing unrestrained devastation on a great many riders. Ambulances were appearing far too frequently as riders succumbed to the sizzling temperatures. It was announced that the race would be cut short for safety reasons. On the last lap my chain snapped but with help I was able to limp back to transition. Unbelievably, I finished 3rd in the Masters category and would podium in my first ever race. The seeds to the next few years’ obsession had been sown!
Shortly after, I joined the Western Sydney Mountain Bike Club and my next three races were part of the club’s Stan’s No-Tubes 4 hour enduro series; my lights cut out in the Twilight race and my chain broke again in the third. I entered the club’s ‘B’ grade race in March and set off too fast, was swamped by the majority of the riders and was soon to have a spectacular crash launching myself into a double somersault over the the handlebars. This rather inauspicious start to my racing career did little to dampen my spirits.
Scouring the internet for upcoming races I came across the CORC 24 hour National Solo event. Now at this time it was prudent to sign up for races in the first few hours because the popular races had a tendency to sell out extremely quickly. I typed in my details and without thinking I submitted my payment. When I told Greer, my wife, she was slightly taken aback not quite believing what I had let myself in for.
That night I had a restless sleep. What had I done? Was it too late to get my money back? Firstly, I had only raced five times the longest being of six hours duration. I would have to ride eighteen hours more. Secondly, I was poorly equipped with a single bike that was more suitable for social riding, lights that lasted a mere hour last time out and, probably the most pertinent point, there were only two weeks’ before the actual race. As I struggled to sleep I resolved to dramatically increase my training to 24 hours in the first week and then taper the week before the race. I slept a few nervous, uneasy hours.
Incredibly, I found the time to train as I had planned and so I went to Majura Pines in Canberra fairly confident I could survive the ordeal. Greer insisted I sleep for a few hours during the night and with this I lined my bike up at the start. In honour of James Williamson there would be a parade lap, a fitting tribute to the recently passed solo World Champion.
During this slower first lap and about three kilometres in, my chain snapped once again. With so much practice I was now extremely adept at fixing this issue and I was able to rejoin at the back of the race. At the end of the lap I came into transition, found my tent deep within the camping paddock and replaced the ridiculously short chain with a new one. The next few hours involved overtaking the slower riders. I gradually clawed my way back into contention in the Masters category moving from 25th and last to 9th as the sun fell beyond the horizon.
Now I was racing alongside Dave Eccles the eventual winner of the Super Masters and also a first timer in 24 hour solo’s albeit with far greater experience and wisdom in racing strategy. We had met the day before as we set up our camp and we immediately struck a friendship that is still strong today. We swapped positions on the track but we would invariably roll in together and this was helping both of us to maintain a steady tempo during the lonely night hours.
Then disaster struck. I had brought several vista halogen light batteries but their charge level had dropped with age and soon the final battery’s rapidly fading light flickered into oblivion. It was only 2.30 am and I panicked believing my race was almost certainly over. I had been feeling quite strong so this was a mighty body blow. However, Jason Dreggs was alongside me in transition and he came to my rescue lending me a spare light and battery and his pit crew swiftly went to work to fit my newly acquired night guide. I rolled away into the forest with enough illumination to ensure I made the dawn.
With the rising sun, I was invigorated in a way only a 24 hour soloist would understand. Six hours to go and we were almost there. At ten past eleven I was eighth. I figured I could punch out two more laps and I felt a sudden surge of energy. On the drive down to Canberra, Greer had predicted I would finish 5th and I remember laughing at such a ludicrous and ill-informed suggestion and at the misplaced faith she had in my ability.
I started to stand at every opportunity in order to squeeze the last of the strength from my race-wearied legs. I was passing several people on track but I had no idea which category they were in. My last two laps were as fast as my initial day times and as I crossed the line to start my penultimate lap I glanced at the large Castech timing board and I was 5th. I was elated and I held up five fingers shouting in stunned disbelief to Greer, my own personal soothsayer. Brett Bellchambers calls the last lap of a 24 hour race the ‘Glory Lap’ and this was certainly how it felt as I bid farewell to every hill climb, pine tree and mushroom that adorned that course.
I had qualified for the World’s in Canberra and as I crossed the line I was asked by the event compere if I would race at Mt. Stromlo. I remember saying ‘I’ll have to now’ and this was affectionately repeated for the other competitors and support crews to chuckle about.
I now had a ‘race goal’ and I trained and raced to this end, my passion for riding undeterred. I continued to make mistakes in races which included going to the wrong start line in Capital Punishment (which I didn’t realise until the 45k to go sign appeared 50k too early). As many might remember this turned out to be, as Beyonce would say, a ‘beautiful nightmare’ because the race took place in torrential rain, mud and freezing temperatures and as a result I was able to complete this particular race with only minimal damage to body and bike.
In April 2010, I bought my first genuine cross country bike for the Worlds, a Scott Spark 20, and managed to place 12th in Masters and 74th overall. In February 2011, I won for the first time at Rocky Trail’s 6+6 at a blistering hot Del Rio Resort at Wiseman’s Ferry. Further success in races followed and the highlight of 2011 was winning the Chocolate Foot Singletrack Mind Series.
So it was in Finale Ligure, Italy that I would attempt to win the Solo 40-44 category. Riders from all over Europe, North and South America, New Zealand and twelve from Australia would all participate in a truly international event. The course was spectacular with the riders greeted with sweeping views over the Ligurian Sea from steep cliff vantage points. After a hectic Le Mans running start, I settled into my race rhythm and was soon up to 3rd. During the night I had gained a place but not without some drama. During one night lap I started to micro-nap which became quite frightening on the second loop which involved some dizzying descents along the precipitous cliff side. Fortunately, the Aussies in transition heard my cries for instant caffeine and after a red bull and a no-doze I completed the next lap not only revitilised but at break-neck speed.
As I crossed the line for the last time I had placed second in the world for my age and 14th overall. I had come such a long way in a relatively short period of time. Reflecting back, I had started racing solo only because of a little girl’s sickness, and participating in 24 hour events due primarily to my fear of missing out on registration. But this tough and unforgiving race had somehow started to consume me with a undeniable passion.
I am currently ranked by Cycle Nation as the number one masters rider and fifth overall. My goal in 2013 is to become Solo World Champion at Mt. Stromlo in October but I will have to overcome some exceptional competitors in the 40-44 age category who are bound to push me to the very limits of my abilities. Without question, the sport of endurance mountain biking has never been stronger, particularly in Australia, and I intend to savour this amazing period in my life for a long, long time to come.
I am a Level 3 Cycle Coach with British Cycling & the Association of British Cyclists.
7 hour Enduro Series
12 hour Enduros
6+6 hour Enduros