The inaugural Kowalski Classic, held in September 2012, was my first ever mountain bike race. Barely a month before, I had bought a Giant Anthem X 29er and the furthest I had ridden on a mountain bike was 36km of half fire-road/half singletrack.
I remember my poor pre-race prep, not enough of some things and too much of other things. I remember riding the Kowalski Brothers’ Kowen Forest trails for the first time and being in awe, I also remember the incredibly painful cramping; followed by the days of DOMS after the race.
This was my first taste of mountain bike racing, and I liked it. Fast forward three years and it was time to once again line up for another 50km Kowalski Classic.
Like my first ever race, my prep was lacking in a lot of areas. Not enough kilometres in the legs and months of illness wasn’t going to help me get through the race. A quasi-course-recce the week before helped and didn’t help. My time off the bike had dented my confidence on the bike and the more technical aspects of the course were a concern for me on race day.
But I had to get on with it and with riding buddy Andy, it was soon time to get those legs spinning and those wheels turning.
The start was fairly relaxed with both of us finding our pace and warming up slowly. A few climbs in and some flowing singletrack later, we were weaving our way to the front of our wave. The banter between the riders was friendly and even some of the pseudo-hitters racing up from the back waves were polite prior to their inevitable blowing up.
The journey to the 36km feed zone took in some of my favourite Kowen Forest tracks and the always painful Elevator switchback climb.
The last 14km of the course would take us through the contentious Romper Room and Stairway To Heaven; two of the more technical tracks on the course. As expected there was a fair bit of walking and rider dodging on Stairway, but certainly not as bad as I expected.
After a little bit of a drop in my blood sugar level, a small pause was needed at the top of Stairway to have a little snack before heading towards the finish line.
The last few kilometres was fast, flowing and fun; a great way to end a great day on the bike!
Round 4 of the Rocky Trail Shimano MTB GP was my return to riding and racing.
I had a plan, and that plan was to ride my bike and finish the damn race. I was under no illusions that I was going to be competitive nor was I going to be setting any new Strava PR’s out at Mt Stromlo (for the record I set two). This was my return to mountain biking after what has been a pretty tough three months for me physically and mentally.
I’ll address the big issue first, my rapid decline into poor health over the past three months. I was hit by a bout of influenza, a chest infection, enlarged kidney, kidney stones, feeling constantly fatigued and generally dealing with a huge case of the #CBF’s! Forget about riding, just getting out of bed and going to work was an effort that more often than not ended with me calling in sick and spending the day in bed or laying on the couch playing my XBOX. There were even entire days where I would sleep, experience raging fevers, chills and have no energy to even sit up in bed.
Finally after much prodding, prompting and nagging I saw a Doctor, had an abnormally large amount of blood taken, pee’d into a heap of containers and BAM!; Seemingly out of nowhere, I’d gone from a very fit, (usually) healthy 33 year old to a diabetic, high cholesterol having, unfit, unhealthy 33 year old.
Oh and those days where I would sleep and it was sort of like my body was shutting down, yeah well, they were hypoglycemic episodes; the sort of thing that can kill people.
<Language Warning!> Well shit! That’s fucked! <Language Warning!>
My next step was to grip this up… I wasn’t Type 1, so no insulin injections which is good, but I was going to have to look at my diet, so a dietician was consulted. As with the various Doctors I’d spoken with, it came as a fairly big surprise to her that I was in fact healthy, fit and a vegetarian. So time to look at exactly what I was eating and unsurprisingly it was time to cut out a heap of the unhealthier things I was eating such as cakes, slices, soft drinks and other high sugar foods.
What would this mean for me for day to day living? Put simply, I have to eat healthier, eat more, eat more often and monitor my blood sugar levels
What does this mean for me for riding and racing my bike? Put simply, I have to eat healthier, eat a hell of a lot more, a hell of a lot more often and bloody well make sure my blood sugar levels don’t drop.
But this raised more questions than it answered. As most cyclists know, energy gels and bars are the go to for nutrition when riding. Now I can’t just go and smash a heap of high sugar/high glucose syrup into my body when I feel like it now; but I can still use them. In fact they are very important if my blood sugar level drops too much. The key is moderation and eating proper food while riding/racing. Everyone’s favourite fruit banana is out of the question thanks to an allergy to the yellow bastards so I stuck with my old friends’; Vegemite sandwiches and liquid food drink.
So with a somewhat redefined nutrition plan in mind I started riding what was my first race since deciding to get on with life now I finally knew what was making me sick and holding me back.
So back to my plan, which was to ride and finish the 4 hour race. Fitness was going to be an issue, a lingering injury was going to be an issue and the ever present Black Dog biting at my heels was going to be an issue. One lap at a time I said to myself; 4 hours give or take on the bike should get me 5 laps, but I’d be happy with 4 as I didn’t know how my body would handle the riding and how much time I’d be spending in transition during laps.
The start of the first lap was the always grinding fireroad of pain leading up the start of Bobby Pin Climb. It was during this grinding, heavy breathing prologue that I realised I should have warmed up before the start of the race. With my heart-rate monitor feeling like a boa constrictor across my chest I could see my heart rate rapidly climbing on my GPS… 181, 182, 183BPM… 2 more BPM’s and my GPS would start beeping at me. But suprisingly it dropped, it steadied and I was climbing Bobby Pin quite easily, albeit, slower than usual. Only another a few more kilometres of climbing before the descent back into transition. Wash, rinse, repeat!
Lap 1 turned into Lap 2 and my thoughts changed from “I wish I warmed up” to “I wish I wasn’t wearing a long sleeve jersey!” My body was feeling good, my bike was feeling good and the tracks were immaculate. I was in a rhythm and more importantly I was enjoying myself. Surely my Flow would be around the next corner or on the next descent. Of all places I found it on Rollercoaster; a track that in its previous lifetime was a rocky, rutted, churned up track of death and despair. But Rollercoaster MKII was a fast flowing, tight cornered track that kept the line between fast, fun and faaark! a very fine line indeed. It was on one of the tight corners that I keep my fingers off the brakes and let my bike do what it was designed to do. I let it decide how to best take the corner with a little extra speed behind it. Sweet!!!
After a change into the short sleeve jersey; Laps 3 and 4 followed without fuss. More of the same with some cramping starting to set it thanks to my recent time off the bike.
Lap 5 culminated with an extended break to say hello to my Wife, Mother and Daughter who had arrived to see the end of the race. And of course the little incident of Jamie I falling off his bike and onto mine during his rapid fire transition. A quick straighten of the bars and it was time to head off again.
The final climb took a little longer than the previous laps as more cramping set in but with no more time left on the clock it was just a matter of finishing my final lap. As I crested the final section of Echidna Gap I stopped and enjoyed a brief moment looking out to the surrounding Brindabella Mountains. With a great view and a big day almost over it was time to say my goodbye to a mate who had recently lost his battle with PTSD.
After a quick descent including a little race to the finish line against Adam ‘Rocket’ Rolls my race was over.
For the 2015 edition of the Capital Punishment mountain bike marathon race, I thought long and hard about entering. The 2013 event was my first 100km race and was incredibly enjoyable for me. The 2014 event was a bittersweet event, the seeding system was, for lack of a better term – a shitfight – which saw me start at the back of the race in Wave 6; and concluded with me finishing at the tail end of Wave 2. I had resolved to not entering the race up until my Wife suggested I race the 50km instead of the 100km event.
Fast forward to the day before the race and I was committed to rolling out and just riding comfortably for 50km.
I had intended to ride out to the National Arboretum for the start of the race. The cold morning combined with the requirement to have lights meant I drove out and would use the long grinding climb up Dairy Farmers Hill as my warm up.
In the middle of Wave 3, the start saw the usual rush until the realisation that the first 10 minutes was, in fact a very steep climb, set in. I watched as Argo powered off into the distance in front of me, as I settled into a steady rhythm that got me up the hill.
The first section of the race was out of the Arboretum towards Mt Stromlo. Heaps of grinding fireroad that kept the heart rate up and the legs spinning. I glanced down at my GPS intermittently, watching the kilometres tick over, trying to work out how long I was going to be on the bike for. I did the numbers, thought about the singletrack ahead and worked out I should be able to finish in a little under 2 and a half hours.
The Mt Stromlo section took in a lot of fireroad that included what felt like a hell of a lot of climbing interlaced with sketchy descents and even sketchier corners. A few times I felt the rear wheel washout which lead to some impromptu dirt drifting.
By the time I re-entered the singletrack I knew I had around 30 minutes of riding time left; which would put me across the line in around 2 hours and 20 minutes. So I pushed on and increased my pace.
During the last section of the race I started to catch the tail end of Wave 1 and looked at my GPS. I was going to finish the 50km race in under 2 hours and 20 minutes. So with a cramping left calf I spent what was left in the tank. I finished in 2 hours and 16 minutes, 20th in my category and 56th overall for the 50km race. Not a bad result for a middle of the pack hack with roadie noodle arms!