After the aborted Mont 24 Hour from April this year, it was good to finally head out to Kowen Forest knowing the race was going to happen this time.
That being said, I’m not a huge fan of team racing. Sure it is fun and you get to race against other teams as well as try to out-ride your team mates; but there’s just something about it that irks me. I’m a solo person and enjoy riding by and for myself. Yes I race, and yes I ride with groups often, but racing with a team is just not my cup of tea.
However, for the Mont 24 Hour 2014, I put aside my prejudices and put a team together that would ride and fund-raise for Soldier On. Our MK 1 team had a rider change when our ethnic rider Gian was swapped out for Man Mountain and fan of hair removal products, Colin. So after many months of waiting, our team of vagabond riders assembled at Kowen Forest for some mountain biking and flag waving for Soldier On.
Like all good plans, this one had a few hiccups. Firstly, logistics meant John and I had to set up on the Friday while Chris and Colin travelled from Melbourne. Secondly, Chris was struck by a severe bout of diarrhoea that would cause problems for him throughout the weekend.
So the time came when our first rider had to line up with the other several hundred riders for the rolling start. As it was John’s first race/event he got the honour to start the race for out team.
In a rush of bikes, people and dust, John took off into Kowen Forest and started the race for our team. I had typed up a lap/timing spreadsheet and the next rider up was supposed to be Chris. With his dodgy stomach I geared up and head up to transition to wait for John to return. It was hot, stupidly hot and after John tagged me, I pedaled off for my first lap of the race.
After me was big Col, followed by Chris who was on a one way trip to struggle town. I mentioned before that it was hot. Well it was really hot and then it rained and it got hotter. This was during Chris’ lap in which he had to stop a few times for a cheeky spew track-side. After he tagged John out for his second lap it was very obvious Chris was not going to be riding again until at least tomorrow morning.
My second lap started after 18:00 which was the mandatory time for lights to be fitted on the bikes. I rolled out with my bar light and battery attached but they weren’t needed. I made it back in time to watch the sunset over Kowen Forest; which meant Col got the first night lap of the team in.
I like riding at night, but my two day laps took a lot out of me. I came into this race with maybe three or four short rides under my belt since the Scott 24 Hour 3 weeks earlier, and I was quick to fatigue. My first lap saw my heart rate average 190bpm, which is not awesome even when I usually have a high heart rate as it is (80 resting/185 max).
We were all hurting, and with Chris out for the night we made the decision to take a break after Col’s night lap and start fresh in the morning.
When morning broke I was woken up by John’s incessant coughing which signalled he’d be back on the track very soon. By the time I got dressed and exited my tent, John was heading down to the transition to start us up again.
A little over an hour later I got back on track for my forth (and final) lap, and it was hot once again. My mind wanted to ride fast, but my legs said “no” and my gooch said “get out of the bloody saddle!”.
After a fun ride in which we all started to feel the aches and pains of not enough training, we cut the race short by a lap and started the arduous task of packing up and heading home
Even with a few spanners thrown into the works, it was an enjoyable weekend on and off the bike.
A huge thank you to Soldier On for providing the entry for the team, Col, Chris and John for riding and everyone that donated to the team’s fundraiser.
What more can I say? My debut 24 hour solo ended with me laying in a defeated, exhausted, dehydrated and distraught mess. To say I am disappointed with the result is an understatement.
As I don’t have much riding to report on for this Race Wrap Up, I’m going to quote some numbers before I get into the nuts and bolts of the time I spent on the bike.
Kilometres ridden in the two months before the Scott: 1167.8km
Metres climbed in the two months before the Scott: 23’851m Time spent on the bike in the two months before the Scott: 56 hours 31 min Average body weight while riding during the Trois Etapes: 72.5kg Body weight 5 days prior to the Scott: 78.2kg
Body weight the morning of the Scott: 76.4kg
Body weight after retiring from the Scott: 71.2kg
Body weight 2 days after the Scott: 72.3kg
The Prep My preparation in the weeks leading up to this event was ideal. I was in the best shape of my cycling life, I was mentally prepared and my race plan was ready to go.
And then all my prep went down the drain. Three days before the race I started feeling sick. A feeling that rapidly evolved into a serious bout of diarrhoea and vomiting. I effectively stopped eating solids and concentrated on trying to stay hydrated.
On the Friday before the race I headed out to Mt Stromlo with my Father, and set up my marquee and tent for the weekend. I was lucky in that the twenty-four hours before the race start I was able to eat a proper meal without fear of having to find a toilet immediately.
On the morning of the race I woke up with my stomach churning, I felt hot and dizzy. After I tried to eat something for breakfast I found myself alternating between sitting on and kneeling in front of the toilet. Not a great start to my debut 24 hour solo racing career.
The Race The hours and minutes preceding a race are quite strange. I can range from jittery to anxious and calm before I even cross the start line. On this day I was somewhat anxious. I knew I was in a bad way physically before I even started pedalling, but I had invested too much time preparing not to start the race.
In the hour before the start I had vomited twice more and hadn’t eaten anything in the four hours since breakfast; which didn’t stay down. I’ll be honest, I didn’t stay around for much of the rider’s brief; by the time it reached the ten minute mark and the sponsors were well and truly lubricated with an excess of accolades, I headed back to my marquee to get changed and ready to ride.
This skipping of the rider’s brief meant I missed the announcement that the solo riders were starting first. After working this out I had about four minutes to get to the start line and begin what would become an excruciating experience in the saddle.
I started the race feeling relatively good to begin with. I kept my cadence high and my heart rate down for the first lap. I was being passed constantly, which for a 24 hour rider is apparently the norm. I was running a 32T chain ring and 11-34 cassette on the rear. I’ve never had any issues with this combo on steep climbs to date and was confident it would serve me well over this race.
The first lap was a brisk 43 minutes, a little bit faster than I intended by I still felt relatively all right considering the day’s leading up. I rode through transition and headed out onto my second lap. By the time I reached Bobby Pin Climb some 3km into the lap I was sweating profusely and feeling the urge to vomit. I kept grinding along and by the time I reached the start of Tall Trees I had pulled over and purged my stomach contents all over the ground next to me. This sudden and violent vomit fest enabled me to continue riding and reach transition for my third lap.
As I rolled into transition I stopped for a few minutes to swap out some bottles and check in with my support crew. I put on my long sleeve shirt and knee warmers and headed out again for what was to become another lap with another spew stop.
Laps four and five were similar with water being the only thing I was able to stomach without instantly retching and vomiting. As I descended down Breakout towards Old Duffy’s Descent, I knew my race was going to end very soon. Not five minutes later as I headed into the Crit Track I felt my stomach begin to cramp and I started to shiver uncontrollably.
I pulled into transition and got off my bike. I found a comfortable spot in my tent and laid down for the next 45 minutes and contemplated what was going to happen next. I had in my head that I could rest for a few hours and do a night lap or two, rest until morning and finish off with a few more laps before the 12pm cut off time.
My overly ambitious plan was also deeply flawed. There was to be no more riding. I was medically retired from the race just after the sun went down. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I was disappointed and I felt ashamed.
I had trained hard and had planned for this race. I had carried the reputation of Soldier On and it’s supporters on my back and had failed.
This won’t be the last time I attempt a 24 hour solo and it won’t be the last time I ride for Soldier On; but for now it’s time for me to get back on the bike and enjoy riding again for what it is for me. Recovery.
A huge thank you to everyone that sponsored me by donating to Soldier On.
An even bigger thank you to my Wife and Parents, friends, family and the Soldier On crew.
After a few days of being quite sick with a stomach bug and something resembling a head cold, things are starting to look up for me. I haven’t explosively purged my stomach contents in a little over 24 hours.
At this point there is no turning back for me. Too much time, money and effort has been invested into this race and a DNS is a lot worse than a DNF at this stage. So tomorrow at midday I’ll line up and start what will be a gruelling 24 hours on my bike that will threaten to break me physically and mentally.
I don’t expect to stand on the podium and I don’t expect to ride for the entire 24 hours. I’m not racing against the rest of the field, I’m not racing against the clock – I’m racing against myself and I’m racing for those that served this Nation and lost their battle with PTSD and depression to suicide.
The time has come for me to start my race day preparation for this weekend’s Scott 24 Hour. There isn’t anything more I can do for fitness wise for this ride so it’s safe to say my tapering has begun; no more high intensity rides up Mt Stromlo resulting in mid decent spews.
I’m in probably the best shape I’ve been physically in a number of years with most little niggling pre-existing injuries behaving themselves. I’ve managed to put on close to 5kg since returning from the Trois Etapes in France and can confidently say my roadie arms are strong enough to keep my face from smashing against my stem.
The next few days are going to be a battle to keep focused on the upcoming ride while not letting my highly intrusive work derail my mental preparation. I’ll spend the next couple of days ensuring my lights are ready and charged, my nutrition plan is sorted and of course my bike, Kate, is in tip-top form. I plan to set up my race HQ/camping area Friday afternoon with a not-so-early arrival at Mt Stromlo for the race on Saturday.
I have had a lot of support flow in from friends, family and far away supporters recently. I’m very grateful for everyone that has taken the time to send well-wishes and donate to Soldier On via my fundraising page.
My preparation for the Scott 24 Hour has been going reasonably well.
I’ve been riding the mountain bike a fair bit, started my race plan, organised my equipment for the race and most importantly; feel ready to ride.
There have been a few minor set backs but nothing that will keep me off the bike. (A second bike for back up would have been awesome but… a) I can’t afford one, b) I can’t justify buying one, c) I guess this isn’t the time to be Treking…)
I haven’t been as aggressive with my fundraising as I have the past two years either. The kitty sits at $1000 out of my goal to raise $3000. With so much resting on finishing the ride I won’t risk the added pressure of embarking on an intense campaign to raise funds for Soldier On.
However if you would like to donate, please go here:
Over the weekend of 27-28 September 2014, I will be racing in the Scott Australian 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championships. While I have raced in dozens of other mountain bike events this will be the first time I have ridden for 24 hours solo! That’s right! This year my big fundraising challenge is to race on my mountain bike for 24 hours straight!
Why would I ride my bike for 24 hours?
Because I can! One of the most critical aspects to my ongoing recovery with PTSD and depression is cycling. Being physically fit helps me to stay mentally fit and riding with a purpose is especially beneficial.
For me the last 4 years has been an ongoing struggle to stay positive and set attainable goals. It has been very easy to set the bar somewhat low for a lot of my goals in order for me to achieve them. This year I wanted to do something that would set the bar incredibly higher and challenge me physically, mentally, and emotionally.
This race will be the most challenging thing I have done since hanging up my Australian Army uniform.
Why do I ride for Soldier On? 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.
Like all good things, this Blog series must also come to an end. For those of you diligent enough to read through the preceding five posts, I give to you, the final part in this series.
It’s difficult to sum up an experience like the Trois Etapes into a short form Blog series. There are many factors that come into play when choosing what to include, what photos to use and how to balance the narrative so that it doesn’t sway too far into what I like to call “too-much-Chad” territory. There were certain events, photos and details that I had to exclude. Not due to any lewd behaviour, but because some members of the team are still serving in ADF and most importantly, it is not my place to tell their stories no matter how inspirational and confronting they may be.
As previously mentioned in Part 1, this was a long journey for me; and now that it’s over I find things have definitely changed for me. I’ve always been brutally honest on this Blog and that is something I set out to do from the start. I chose the name “Blogged Down By Life” for a reason. Many days I wake up and feel like I am bogged down by what my life has become.
I live with what is clearly defined and diagnosed as a mental illness; I live with a form of PTSD and I live with a sometimes debilitating depressive disorder. But despite this I do not suffer from anything. I have made choices in recent years that have defined the person I now am; some were good choices, some were not. It is difficult to find a balance between the two when your outlook of life is immediately tainted with a pessimistic view and defeatist attitude. The highs I experience in life are exhilarating and the lows, well, sometimes the black dog gets the best of me.
During the lead up to the Trois Etapes I experienced many highs and lows; and more often than not I let frustration get the better of me. Dealing with a charity like Soldier On is a unique experience. A small number of dedicated staff, a heavy workload and an increasing number of requests for support, mean that details were often late in being disseminated to the team. Things that often frustrated me were frustrating the staff even more as they were the ones spending hours of their own time trying to fix potentially catastrophic issues. Differing opinions, stubborn people on both sides of the fence and a constant stream of minor issues arising, threatened to derail this massive undertaking before we even left Australia.
Do I wish some-things had occurred differently? The simple answer to that is yes. It was an unfortunate fact that due to so many competing events and the juggling of several prominent people’s schedules that the event launch our trip deserved did not happen. The majority of the promotion for this event was on Soldier On’s Facebook page and my team-mates saturating social media with the details.
I am a more prominent advocate and supporter of Solider On and this is often a slippery path to navigate. Through my early interaction and fundraising I essentially planted the seed that would grow to become Soldier On Cycling; a community of like-minded people and veterans that were using cycling a means to recovery and also to raise awareness for the charity itself. This is something I am extremely proud of and elated to see what the idea has now grown into; different chapters in several different cities and of course the Soldier On cycling kit. But what this meant for me, on a personal level, was that I had quite suddenly became a face and a voice for Soldier On; not something I was prepared for.
This quite suddenly came to a head earlier this year when an older Blog post about my interaction with the RSL went somewhat viral across ADF and veteran aligned social media groups. I received an enormous amount of responses to that post and subsequently many others I had made. The majority were people agreeing and supporting my stance; however the negative comments ranged from differing opinions to abuse to outright death threats. This was my first taste of what my outspoken views on veterans issues would attract.
As the year progressed and Soldier On Cycling promoted and conducted the Remembrance Ride I chose to heavily promote the event on this Blog, my personal social media accounts and in the local and national media; something I do not regret doing. While the Remembrance Ride achieved a great many things, most notably through a heavy saturation in the media; I had been left wondering if Soldier On’s participation in the Trois Etapes achieved the same level of achievement. Over the last few days interacting with various people through social media, both friends and strangers, the overwhelming opinion is that we either didn’t achieve what we set out to do or we simply went on a holiday to France.
Do I agree with this?No. I do believe there were some missed opportunities leading up to the event that were out of our’s and Soldier On’s control which left more than a few people asking what was going on. One point that I do take issue with though; is that the seven of us went to France on a holiday.
Each rider was chosen to participate for various reasons. Either because of their tireless efforts in raising the profile of Soldier On, or by being affected by their service in the ADF; mentally or physically. Like myself, many of the team has a devoted a great deal of their own time and funds to promote Soldier On and the issues younger veterans face on a daily basis.
Did I see the trip to France as a reward for this?No. I honestly saw it as an opportunity to promote Soldier On and Soldier On Cycling to a potential new global audience; and this is something we, as a team managed to do. But, this is something that was not relayed back to our’s and Soldier On’s supporters and critics back in Australia. There is no finger of blame to point for this, it was something that just did not occur.
The most important achievement by the seven of us travelling to France and racing in a cycling Pro-Am was the personal growth that occurred in each of us. I shared personal accounts of survival, loss, hope and desperation with a group of men that I will never forget. I saw men breakdown physically, mentally and emotionally after successfully riding up a mountain. Why? Because this was about breaking down barriers and rebuilding our lives with hope and self-confidence. At some point during the event we all conquered something that was holding us back in our lives. For several of us this was the most physically and mentally demanding thing we had done since taking off the uniform.
My story was not dissimilar from many of the others and since I have returned I have received emails and messages asking me why fundraising money was spent on sending us to France. It should also be remembered that I am not an employee or ambassador for Soldier On. I don’t know the breakdown of the budget for Soldier On; but I do know that the vast majority of the Trois Etapes trip was funded by private sponsorship from Defence industry partners. It should also be noted that both our photographer Matt and driver Bruce paid their own way for the entire trip! Also, each of us that participated spent a large sum of money leading up to and during the event to fund various travelling expenses.
This post was supposed to be a wrap-of our final week in France. Where we as a team made up of young Australian Veterans, toured the Belgium Battlefields of World War One, paid our respects at the graves of long dead Australian servicemen and visited the Menin Gate and saw the tens of thousands of forever young Australian men’s names etched in stone. Instead I wrote a post defending Soldier On, my team-mates and myself. I try to not let the negativity get the best of me, but when I am forced into a corner by dozens of abusive emails and messages I will defend myself and the others.
Thank you to my Wife, daughter, family and friends. Without your support I wouldn’t be here today, let alone have made over the French Pyrenees.
Thank you to my team-mates: Andy, Justin, Shane, Matt, Dan and Adam. Hopefully you all know how much your support and encouragement meant to me.
Thank you to Scott, Bruce, Matt, Jodie, Kate and Jenine – none of this would have happened without your help and tireless efforts in supporting us.
Thank you to Soldier On for their incredible work and support: Pearl, Clare, Dion, Carlie, John, Danielle, Meredith, Anna and especially Tony – (for being a friend, a mentor and being you).
Ride bikes? Follow the Tour de France? Chances are you’ve heard of the Col du Tourmalet.
It is hors catégorie – beyond categorisation; an exceptional climb.
I was quite happy not knowing what HC meant on Strava prior to the final stage of the Trois Etapes. Hearing from my team mates about how tough the 17.2km/1268m climb was; did not instil me with a lot of confidence.
As expected, Day 3 did not begin at the foot of the formidable mountain, it started outside of the hotel in the car park on a somewhat chilly morning. Fatigue had well and truly set in my legs and overall, I felt tired. I fought constant surges of nervous energy and heard Scott Sunderland’s words in my head “nervous energy is wasted energy, you’ll need it on the bike“. So I concentrated on the task ahead.
I broke the final stage into four sections:
1. The Warm-Up – Lourdes to Pouzac – 25.7km/334m
2. The Prep – Pouzac to St-Marie-de-Campan – 14.3km/323m
3. The Climb – St-Marie-de-Campan – Col du Tourmalet – 17.2km/1’268m
4. The Finale – 48.3km/-1’734m
The Warm-Up was surprisingly tough for most of us. The humidity and short, sharp pinch climbs got the body nice and warm and sweaty. The difficulty was short-lived however as we descended into Pouzac. A quick stop for food and water followed before we headed off with a couple of the other teams.
The Prep section was exactly how it sounds. We rode with some of the other teams and postured ourselves for the upcoming climb. This was the time to eat and drink and get the mind ready for the mountain looming ahead of us.
The start of The Climb out of St-Marie-de-Campan was incredibly daunting for me. I made the decision to ride by myself the night before and tried to block out everything else around me. For the first time since January I was sans beard and hoping it wasn’t going to end like the last time I rode without my beard (hint: I crashed, was injured, got stitches and had months of limited feeling in my left arm).
For me, riding Col du Tourmalet was always going to be cathartic experience. I was going to carry some demons on my back up the mountain; and by finishing I was hoping to leave some of them on the top. After the initial disappointment of not riding it days before on my birthday; I was quite content in the knowledge that I would face the mountain for the first time on race day.
The Climb itself was tough and I found myself constantly out of the saddle, taking back a few gears to charge up the mountain; albeit for a fleeting moment.
The majority of the team finished the stage well ahead of me. At La Mongie, 5km from the summit, I was briefly held up by a herd of sheep crossing the road. A quick dismount, the bike on it’s back wheel and some select swearing at the woolly beasts ensured I was able to weave my way through the throng and get back to the business of finishing off the ride.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of the climb itself. I focused on not grinding away; instead I focused on maintaining a constant rhythm and getting to the next distance marker. My cadence dropped the closer to the summit I got. I was standing more often, taking gears off the mountain and not giving them back; I was slowly building to a crescendo. This was my chance to push myself past my threshold, through the boundaries and drop some of the demons I had carried up the mountain so far.
After I crossed the finish line, I felt a wave of emotions. I lost my breath and had to take a few minutes to compose myself; but I knew the team hadn’t finished just yet. Adam was powering up the mountain after pacing himself early on; making the best of the individual timing on this stage.
We each took a few moments to talk amongst ourselves and revel in the realisation that after all of the training, all of the riding and numerous setbacks we had, as a team, climbed and conquered Col du Tourmalet.
We didn’t stay on the mountain long. Soon we started the descent down the other side of the mountain. It was time for the Finale. Something that I truly enjoyed. There were many “whoop! whoops!” as I sped (for me) down the winding roads towards Lourdes; all the while thinking to myself “I actually finished!” and smiling.