Week 6 of my training regime was almost the week I went back to recovery mode. The plan was simple; I go away for a week at the snow and last year’s snowboarding lessons and practice runs would instantly comeback to me. But in reality I was barely able to get upright on the board 12 months after my first attempt.
After a couple of lessons and some really good weather at Perisher I was finally enjoying my time on the board. Some aches and pains started creeping up on me and by midweek I had an inflamed elbow, sore hip flexors and was starting to feel that familiar pain in my shoulder and left pec.
By Friday I was well and truly feeling some acute pain in my shoulder from my body meeting snow at high speed. This was confirmed on Saturday morning when I was unable to raise my left arm past horizontal; but I was quick to the chemist for painkillers and anti-inflammatories. When the girly and I got back home we unpacked, put a load of washing on and went to our first Wedding dance lesson.
I woke up early Sunday morning with the intention of attending my usual Sunday Morning Social & Breakfast with The Berm; but alas my shoulder was still tender so I set to housework instead. I did however get a quick ride in during the afternoon to stretch out my legs and test my sore shoulder.
A brief 25.8km on the bike, a wash and quick service for Kate was all the cycling action I got in this week.
As I crossed the finished line next to my riding buddy Argonut, it felt like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was a shell of the person who started the gruelling ride a little over 7 hours before. I was exhausted, physically, emotionally and mentally. Like many of the 119 riders that began that morning, I too had under-estimated the Namadgi National Park course.
In mid September I ran into an old friend at work and took some time out for a quick catch up over a coffee. I mentioned in a few weeks I was riding the Kowalski Classic and he told me about a charity called Soldier On that was teamed up with an upcoming mountain bike race… The seed had been planted in my head.
I had left the full-time Army earlier in the year and had begun actively supporting and advocating the rights of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in conjunction with my late Grandfather’s RSL and Legacy. In front of me were two things I had a vested interest in; mountain biking and veteran’s affairs.
I looked up Soldier On and the Beast-Worx Battle Of The Beasts and signed up not only to ride in the event but to raise money for Soldier On. It’s a sad fact that the Australian Government and Australian Defence Force does not do nearly enough for wounded returned servicemen, servicewomen and their families. The ADF has an appalling record for dealing with mental health issues and it’s often left to outside support agencies to seek and provide the help that they so desperately need. And this is exactly what Soldier On aims and succeeds at doing.
So I set out with two things in mind, raise a heap of money for Soldier On and train for this Beast of a ride on Saturday 24 November 2012.
I drove out to Caloola Farm at Namadgi National Park early in morning. I registered for the race, affixed the race plate to my trusty steed and prepared for the race. The event centre was well set up and the riders were getting excited. A comprehensive race brief was delivered and we rolled down to the start line. The inaugural Beast, Jeremy Ross, rolled off the ‘black carpet’ and the race was on. Five minutes later the chasing pack followed and a few minutes after, the remainder of the solo riders started. Argonut and I stayed together pacing ourselves early, after a few kilometres and a few creek crossings the pack started to spread out and groups of evenly matched riders started forming across the track. Everyone on the track was in a good mood; everyone was friendly and even though the morning was rapidly heating up the atmosphere of the event was very fun.
And then came the start of the climbs. I won’t lie; I seriously did not think this course would be as hard as it was. Yes it was almost completely comprised of fire trail, but some of them were so steep and deeply rutted I would have avoided them in a 4X4. We were only approximately 16km in with very wet feet when the sporadic hills were actually faster to walk and push the bike than it was to ride them. “Energy conservation” I kept telling myself as I would un-clip my shoes from my pedals get off the bike and begin the shuffle up another hill.
Argonut and I kept a good rhythm and pace but the climbs, the creek crossings and the increasing heat were beginning to take their toll on most riders. A hill that would normally be tackled with bit of extra effort and some heavy breathing was replaced by a single file of riders walking. My cramps began around the 25km mark, my calves as always, and they were quickly followed by cramps in my quads and triceps. I was hurting but with just under 50km to go I knew I had to push on.
We saw riders starting to fall back and slow right down, we pushed on as best we could but more and more hills stopped being ridden and started being walked. Solo riders and teams were helping each other, although we were all hurting the aim was the same; to finish this race.
At the 33km checkpoint we stopped for some food and refill the water. My other half was there and passed on some words of encouragement. Other volunteers muttered words about the course being “all downhill” from here. Now let’s get one thing straight; it was not downhill, yes there were some downhill sections but after spending the last couple of hours steadily climbing almost 900m I was in no mood to climb anymore.
We pushed on and some things were said about life, mountain bikes and the race. There was a little bit of swearing as we weaved through the next half of the course, relishing the tiny downhill sections and hating the ever present short but steep climbs. I kept telling myself I had been through worse than this, and yes it was very true, but I was younger, a hell of lot more fitter and too be honest in that moment I would rather have been back patrolling in Afghanistan in 40degrees than riding that track. I was starting to make “woo” sounds whenever something annoyed me… There’s another hill “woo”, kangaroos “woo”, I just fell over “woo”. Maybe it was the heat, but to be honest, I was starting to realise like most other riders, we did in fact underestimate the challenge of this race.
But we pushed on and it strangely became easier, I was tired, hurting, but I felt strangely okay. I wasn’t going to let this course beat me. We passed the checkpoint of 58km and met the asphalt. As soon as I saw the hill my legs cramped in response. I rode a little bit of it, but like everyone else around, I too succumbed to the ‘easier’ option of walking my bike. It didn’t seem to end, but eventually it did and there was another checkpoint. Argonut was waiting for me, chatting to the volunteers; if he was hurting he was really good at hiding it. We pushed on and were met with a very tricky and fast downhill section of loose rocks and potential death. And then it appeared. I’m not sure if the Beast-Worx guys named that particular hill, but I sure came up with a few that aren’t fit for publication. For a family friendly named I’ve settled on is “Death Legs”.
I didn’t even attempt to ride any of it. It was heartbreaking, it was demoralising and it was right in front of me taunting me to get to the top. I started walking, and then I would stop and catch my breath and walk some more. I cramped in every muscle in my legs and lower back. Surely this hill would end soon; but step after step I couldn’t see the end. Argonut was in front pushing on, saying words of encouragement to me, they were helping, but my stints of walking became shorter and my stints of rest became longer. Finally we got to the top and we rested for a few minutes, I felt nauseous and was exhausted but I knew we still had 10km to go, and thinking back to the course profile I knew it was in fact almost all downhill from here.
We began the last section of the track to the finish line. Argonut pushed forward in front of me, the steep downhills burned the arms and I’m sure the brakes were glowing red. There were a few short climbs but most of it I was able to roll up with my momentum from the downhills; 29ers just keep rolling I said to myself in my head.
I cramped up around 3km from the end and stopped to stretch. Then we pushed on to the finish. We came down a screaming downhill, across a little creek and could see the farmhouse. Argonut called me up so we could cross the finish line together and suddenly I felt no pain, the legs were fresh and we sprinted to the finish. And after a little over 7 hours the inaugural Battle Of The Beasts was over for me.
I was exhausted and found a nice spot in the shade and lay down. I was spent, I was happy, but there was not a lot left in the tank, so trying my hardest not to throw up seemed like a good idea. Other riders finished and I went and had a cheeky spew and instantly felt a lot better. Around 16:30 the presentations began. Jeremy Ross won the race in an incredible 3 hours and 12 minutes. Awards were given, but most of the recipients had long departed for various and some incredibly more important reasons. I was called out to the front and given a gift voucher for raising $5’637 for Soldier On. Goodbyes were said and we were on our way home for pizza and a goodnights rest. It was a very well run event, made possible by volunteers and the incredible Beast-Worx team.
This morning I woke up feeling a little sore, but surprisingly able to walk with ease, unlike after the Kowalski Classic when I was unable to negotiate stairs for almost a week. I have cleaned the bike, washed the clothes and sorted the photos.
And that ladies and gentlemen was the 2012 Battle Of The Beasts for this rider.
For the first time in a long time I was looking forward to tackling another week on the bike. After taking a few hits mentally during the past couple of weeks it felt really good to want to spend more time in the saddle. Thanks to the previous week’s 250.3km of fairly high intensity riding I started the new week quite tender and fatigued.
While I had grand plans of long commutes on the roadie, Canberra decided it was going to be a very wet week with lots of fog. It is a fact that skinny tyres and wet/icy asphalt don’t mix so I prepped Zooey the Anthem with some lights, higher pressure tyres and dragged out my waterproof jacket.
I wanted to ride at least 50km each day while commuting; a goal I achieved on both Monday and Tuesday while riding in some light rain each time. Even at this early stage of the week I was feeling a lot of muscle fatigue but was still making gains while getting very wet and muddy.
Wednesday was dry enough that I was able to ride the roadie, but the aforementioned muscle fatigue was now in the fully fledged DOMS stage and any aspirations of a massive road ride were halted before the wheels began to even turn. But I still reached my 50km/day goal with a short commute into work and a longer commute home. I even managed to wash both Zooey and Sara taking advantage of the break in rain and brief sunshine.
Thursday was another mild Canberra day so I decided to take Kate the XTC into work. After riding Zooey and the ultra stiff (in a good way) Sara, riding Kate felt amazing. By swapping out a few components I’ve managed to keep my carbon hardtail under 10kg. With the front forks locked out and a good tucked position I quite often overtake most road bikes on the commuting climbs; something I relish doing. There’s nothing worse than tackling a long and difficult climb and having someone pass you looking cool, calm and collected. I aim to be that person; especially on a 29er while my prey is on a road bike sporting aerobars.
…But anyway, I took Kate to work on a particularly foggy morning the longish way and managed to push out 31.1km prior to work. On the way home my quadriceps were incredibly sore; but I wanted some off road time. A quick spin around the more fun tracks at Bruce Ridge went down a treat and I then headed off home covered in mud.
Thursday was also the day an article about my fundraising for Soldier On was printed in the Australian Army News.
Friday was a complete wash out for commuting and to be honest I don’t think my aching legs had much more than a slow roll left in them. My bikes stayed at home and instead of riding I signed up for the JetBlack WSMTB 12 Hour at Dargle Farm on 10 August 2013. This will my first 12 hour and I’m looking forward to pushing myself over an extended period of time to test my body and mind before October’s Battle Of The Beasts.
This will also be my last race before my Wedding in September; so in some roundabout way the race will be my Buck’s Ride and I’m looking forward to spending the weekend riding with some of my good friends from The Berm.
At the end if this week I managed to push out 215.3km in four days riding.
During my time in the Australian Army I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009 after returning from 9 1/2 months in Afghanistan I knew something wasn’t right. I was aggressive to most people, wary of crowds, couldn’t sleep, had sleeping issues and started drinking heavily. Like most Soldiers, I didn’t want to talk about my issues in case I was seen as being weak and God knows there were others that were worse off than me. So I kept quiet and not surprisingly, things got worse. I didn’t want to spend time with other people and I started thinking this world would be better off without me.
After several days of no sleep, heavy drinking and almost wrapping my car around a pole on purpose, I approached and asked the Senior Soldier at my unit for assistance. Instead of the words of encouragement and avenues of support I expected from a person of that rank, I was met with “harden the f*** up and get over it”. In that one moment I felt defeated, I was dismissed by the one person who is solely responsible for the welfare of the Soldiers subordinate to them. If this person wouldn’t help me and I could no longer help myself then what was next?
Luckily for me I posted into a new unit and found the support I so desperately needed from my new workmates. After a while I finally found the courage to tell my family I needed help. Road blocks were set up by another Senior Soldier and my desperation grew greater until I hit rock bottom; I attempted to end my own life. It was only when my life was at its darkest did professional help eventually appear; it was provided by a civilian agency and organised by a very kind Navy doctor.
With only the bare-minimum of support coming from within the ADF I relied heavily on my family and friends for the ongoing support I needed. After having all support services cut off after I left the Army and the near-impossibility to secure an appointment to see a DVA accredited councillor; I started talking about my issues with others and realised that many other Soldiers had been experiencing the same obstacles; especially those that had separated from the ADF.
This is the reason I am so passionate about the provision of mental health care for returned veterans. The system is not yet good enough and so we rely on each other to be open and honest for ongoing support.
Soldier On helps by providing something other support services do not. They provide hope, confidence and a hand up – not a hand out.