I was confident leading up to this race; my first event since Wildside in January 2016. I felt my fitness after months of solid time of the bike was good enough to get me through 100km of riding and I had planned my nutrition/hydration for 7 or so hours in the saddle. I had one aim and that was to finish the race… For the TLDR version of this Wrap Up: I finished.
What I didn’t count on, was some big issues with my feet and knees during the last 10km.
I was wearing relatively new shoes, which by this stage had been worn for around 200km of riding with no problems. My knees, in particular, my right knee, did not respond well to the sustained and steep climbs of the final 25km. But it was that last 10km that made me question whether or not it was the right decision to start racing again.
My 13 month sabbatical from racing and cycling events was brought on after my relocation from Canberra to Melbourne. Gone was the ease of simply riding 2km from my house to the northern section of Canberra’s Centenary Trail. In Melbourne, in order to ride my mountain bike I have to undertake a 60 minute round trip with my bike on the car just to get some dirt under my tyres. A new job with an average one-way commute of 90 minutes, a chronic respiratory illness and the arrival of my son Sebastian; all combined to reduce my motivation to ride my bike.
There were a few times I tried to reignite my desire to ride during 2016, but it wasn’t until the later part of the year I finally got my legs turning over regularly and with intent. The Otway Odyssey became my goal. I had no intention of racing for anything other than crossing the finish line.
The race itself was relatively straightforward with an ample amount of climbing thrown in to challenge even the fittest of riders. It was on one of these climbs late in the race that I felt my right knee start to buckle under the strain. The final 10km was mix of acute pain and fatigue that forced me to take it easy on the simplest of single track and fire road.
Like my return to racing, my return to Race Wrap Ups was always going to be a strange yet familiar experience to re-live again.
2015 was the year that I learnt no matter how much time, effort and care you put into training, racing and social cycling; injuries, illness and life will always derail the best laid plans.
My goal for 2015 was to enjoy cycling. I lost a little bit of my love for the bike towards the end of 2014. My failure to finish the Scott 24 Hour Solo in October was a huge hit to my confidence and the toll it took on my body would follow me late into 2015.
One major crash during the year
During a relaxed ride on the XTC during wet weather I lost traction and hit the ground hard. A hairline fracture in my collarbone followed and a few weeks off the bike was required.
Number of notable injuries in 2015
Injuries: Collarbone, torn glute
Number of new bikes in 2015
Number of events I raced in during 2015
The amount of vertical kilometres I climbed in 2015
In kilometres, my longest single ride of 2015
How many times I rode my bike(s) in 2015
The amount of hours I spent riding in 2015
In kilometres, the total distance I rode in 2015
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!
2014 was the year that I learnt that no matter how much time and effort you put into training and racing; life always has other plans.
The year started off with a single goal in mind. I was going to race in the Easter National Mountain Bike 24 Hour Solo Championships. I trained hard for this event and all looked good until the event was cancelled. I kept up my training, albeit, with less intensity; and continued to ride more each week than in 2013.
2014 was the year I travelled to France with Soldier On to race in the Trois Etapes Pro-Am and was the year my beautiful daughter Celeste was born.
My riding year was littered with a number of injuries, incredible highs, depressing lows and amazing opportunities.
.:1:. One major crash during the year During my first race of the year, the AMB 100, I crashed out thanks to a little shit who decided that cutting the course and getting in the way of other riders was a good idea.
.:3:. Number of notable injuries in 2014 Injuries: Snake bite, stitches to my left elbow and strained glute!
.:6:. The number of major events that I raced in during 2014 Every race was a challenge but I’ll never forget the 2014 Trois Etapes in France with Team Solider On!
.:98:. The amount of vertical kilometres I climbed in 2014
.:132:. In kilometres, my longest single ride of 2014
.:287:. How many times I rode my bike(s) in 2014
.:349:. The amount of hours I spent riding in 2014 .:8,395:. In kilometres, the total distance I rode in 2014
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.
I made the decision to not race to my Garmin GPS at around the 25km mark. Prior to the 2014 Capital Punishment I had been carefully monitoring my heart rate, average speed and split times during training rides and races. Every time I got on a bicycle and started riding I would keep my eyes glued to that little LCD display that was telling me all the information I thought I needed to know while riding. Sure, there is some data that is useful while riding, but the majority of what a GPS/cycling computer can offer is done in post ride analysis.
My preparation for this year’s 100km event was somewhat ideal; some long road rides leading up; but probably not enough mountain bike endurance riding in my legs at the same time. Between December and February I had been training quite intensively for the Easter 24 Hour Solos. Alas, the race was cancelled for a variety of reasons and my motivation to train came to an abrupt halt. My 400km weeks dropped to 200-250km weeks; while not exactly a tiny amount of riding, it was a struggle to get the bike out of the garage some days.
Couple this with one of my more impressive (read painful) crashes at the AMB 100 and I had effectively misplaced my Flow. I needed something to look forward to and that came in the form of a 100km marathon race taking in the best of Canberra’s single-track and a few killer climbs. Plus this was my first race in the new Soldier On cycling kit so I was excited about that. Last year’s Capital Punishment was my first 100km mountain bike race and I loved it. I rode my own race and only felt fatigued in the last 10km when I had to stop for some explosive vomiting action before the final descent to the finish line.
This year I set a few goals:
1) Finish the race – In the past 4 months I had finished only three out of seven races due to crashes or mechanical issues 2) Race my own race – It sounds strange, but to race and ignore all the other riders is a sure fire way to understand what your body and bike are capable of on the track 3) Beat last year’s time – What is the point of racing the same event again if you don’t want to improve?
So in the days leading up to the race I formulated my nutrition/hydration plan, prepped Kate the XTC and finally registered for the race the day before. Alas my excitement was replaced by a sense of WTF?! This year’s Capital Punishment was a little different to last years and indeed almost all other marathon races. Usually you choose which starting wave you want to begin in, turn up and start riding. The Cap organisers implemented a new seeding system that would allow you to nominate which starting wave you wanted to be in; but also required proof of a similar distance and time.
Not an unreasonable request by any means and to be honest a real step forward in trying to combat over seeding. Last year I started in Wave 5 out of 9. I finished in just over six hours and caught the tail end of Wave 3. Not bad for my first ever 100km race, but during that race I had also stopped to help an injured rider for approximately 30 minutes. In most timed races there is a “Good Samaritan Clause” in which time spent helping an injured rider is taken off your overall time. No worries I thought, I sent an email off to the organisers and received a reply that this would be sorted in the coming weeks.
Fast forward to 2014’s online registration and I self seeded in Wave 4 based on last year’s time and some of the enduros I had done in between. Eventually I was seeded in Wave 6, with 300+ other riders… WTF?! Indeed!
So I lined up in the first few rows of the grid within the stupidly large wave and rolled across the start line. After a few kilometres of fast fire road the Speedy Gonzales’s of the group were huffing and puffing and dropping back; and then we entered the Kowen Forest single-track. As always the Kowalski Brothers trails were in immaculate condition and daring every rider to push their limits. Kowen quickly transitioned into Sparrow Hill and I was riding my favourite trails in reverse; an amazing experience.
.:Start of the 2014 Capital Punishment 100km:.
I had been riding for just under an hour by the time we went under the Kings Highway and back into Kowen Forest. By this stage my wave had well and truly spread out and it was obvious that the majority of us in the front group had been under seeded as we were already passing Wave 5 riders. As I rounded a corner just before Quadrophenia I misjudged my entry into a short bridge and watched as my XTC tumbled past me as I hit the dirt with my shoulder then my knee and finally my shoulder again. From crash to back on track I doubt I spent more than 30 seconds off the bike, but it was enough to wake me up and raise the heart rate.
So with a sore shoulder, grazed forearm, grazed knee and a bruised ego; I set about reeling in the 5 or so riders that passed me after I crashed. It was at this point I could clearly hear my heavy breathing and heart rate blasting in my ears. My GPS was beeping at me as my heart rate had exceeded my ‘maximum’ of 180bpm and it was not dropping anytime soon. As I approached the 25km marker sign I looked down at my sweat covered and dust encrusted GPS and pressed the ‘PAGE’ button. Now all I could see was my elevation statistics, calories burned and the time. I looked ahead and attacked the group that passed me just as a fire road climb appeared.
The next 20km’s was a blur of single-track, pine trees, fire road and climbs. It was on the climbs that I found I was passing riders with different coloured race plates to mine; riders that had started one or two waves in front of me, some of who had started 20 minutes before me. Clearly the seeding system was working fantastically! My annoyance was soon replaced with surprise as I saw the 40km feed station appear after a hill and I realised I was well and truly ahead of my planned time at this point. With the Sutton Forest section coming up with a few pinch climbs thrown in I knew I would be best served slowing to a comfortable pace and enjoying the race for the next several kilometres until I reached open fire road again.
And this is exactly what I did until I reached the Majura Military Training Area. In hindsight I know I took it a little too easy on the Sutton Forest stretch but the fact I was able to walk without pain after the race tells me I made the right decision. I pushed out a little on the fire roads and soon found myself crossing Majura Road and running a gauntlet of heavy construction vehicles to get over Mt Majura and into the untimed section for a refuel and slight rest.
By this stage last year I had walked two of the steeper pinch climbs in the Training Area and Mt Majura, this year I got out the saddle and pedalled my way up. As I crossed the timing mat into the untimed section I was feeling pretty good but in dire need of a bottle change. I rode briskly through the suburbs into Dickson and stopped at the second feed station. Bermers Di, Ben and Maree were there with words of encouragement and after 15 minutes I turned around to see Bermer Alyssa pulling into the station behind me; wow, she was not mucking about! I headed off to the start of the Black Mountain section and stopped to take advantage of some of what remained of the 55 minutes of un-timed section to have a bite to eat, nature stop and psych myself up for the next 30km that would be comprised of a lot more climbing. Luckily I like climbing, I may not be the fastest climber but I have endurance and on long climbs I find I pass a lot of others that try to lead out early.
Black Mountain was fun; tough climbs up and loose sketchy descents down. There was plenty of braking and skidding but by the time I was weaving through the cork plantation leading into the Arboretum I was still smiling. Immediately after the cork trees disappeared the climb that almost made me swear last year came into view. A long, loose and sometimes pinchy fire road that lead to a few shorter climbs. I decided to attack this climb; I don’t know why, but something in my legs told me to do it. I picked a gear and got out of the saddle and climbed. Last year I walked most of this hill and this year I wanted to own it; albeit in my own slow and steady way.
The Arboretum was comprised of hot and dusty sections that lead into the Cotter Road tarmac section that took us into Mt Stromlo. Last year this small stretch was difficult for me, I was running on near empty and it was a huge struggle to get my dual suspension Anthem, Zooey, to maintain any momentum. The slow grinding climb this year was made slightly worse with a drive train that sounded like half of my bike was grinding against the bitumen. As I entered Mt Stromlo’s first section of single track signalling I was nearing the last 12km of the race, my bottom bracket decided to start making life extremely difficult for me by partially seizing up.
.:The National Arboretum:.
The free flowing tracks of Holden’s Creek and Fenceline were quick despite the horrible grinding noise coming from my bike; but it made the next 7km ascending the mountain terrible. I had a choice of three gears in which my cranks would actually spin and allow me to continue moving forward. I was out of the saddle most of the climb and by the time I reached the start of the Western Wedgetail and the welcome descent down the mountain my quads were burning. I started the run home to the finish with a little tail whip (not my style but I figured why not) and hoped I wasn’t about to slow down any riders behind me.
Skyline lead into Luge then Old Duffy’s Decent and finally the final stretch onto the crit track. I had been passed by one rider on Luge and decided I wasn’t going to let this Wave 4’er beat me (despite the fact he started the race a good 15min before me) and pedalled as fast as my body would let me. I bunny hopped the finish line and pulled up with a mean cramp in my left hamstring from the final sprint. I was met by my wife and the few Bermers that had started and finished before me. I was spent, but I was extremely happy; even more so when I found out I had finished under 5 hours.
A huge thank you to my wife, the volunteers, fellow Bermers and the other riders for an amazing event.