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
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.
The JetBlack 12 Hour at James Estate Winery was the first road trip/short holiday that included our new addition, Celeste, tagging along.
I signed up for this race a number of months ago and before I knew I was heading to France with Team Soldier On to race in the Trois Etapes in August.
I’ve enjoyed the past few Rocky Trail events and this was guaranteed to be one of their best. Martin and Juliane are amazing people that put on mountain bike events that are second to none. So to say I was looking forward to riding around the James Estate Winery was an understatement.
But before I was able to ride the grinding fire-roads and flowing singletrack I had to move the family 550km north of Canberra; not an easy feat with a 5 week old. Many pit stops followed with some roadside feeds; but finally we arrived at our cottage B&B near Denman.
We spent Friday morning admiring the Hunter Valley before heading to James Estate Winery to register for the next days race.
As we weren’t camping at the winery with the other Bermers; the offer to have dinner with the Hills down the road was too good to refuse.
The next day I prepared my bike, bottles and food and drove out to the event centre with family in tow.
The race started as planned, Chad in the front of the middle pack and a slow but steady start to warm up; and warm up I did. Despite the single digit temperatures I was soon shedding my arm warmers and wishing I wasn’t wearing my knee warmers.
The initial fire-road was a grinding battle against sand, rolling resistance and a gradual incline into the singletrack. The singletrack was a mix of sweeping tracks and flowing corners with so many drop-offs I lost count. My normal aversion to A-Lines in races was soon overcome by the fact I missed the B-Lines each time and still managed to keep my bike rubber side down.
As I rounded my second lap of the 11.5km course I was suitably warmed up and feeling quite good.
I headed out on my fifth lap knowing full well that it would be my last, my hip was starting to hurt and my lower back was well and truly seized up. Every-time I left the saddle the pain grew more intense. So I put my final effort into the final climb and descent into transition before calling it quits for another year.
At the end of the day I wasn’t disappointed with my effort, I knew full well I wasn’t going to give 100% due to what was at stake in the coming weeks with the Trois Etapes. Instead I went on a holiday with my family and went for a little ride in between.
A huge congratulations to Bermers Alyssa (3rd place in Women’s Elites) and the Pedal 4 Pierce team (1st place in Mixed 4’s)
It was incredibly disappointing to hear that the race had been cancelled mere hours before our Melbourne racer, Chris, was due to arrive in Canberra. Numerous supporters donated money to SOLDIER ON through our fundraising page and we all thank you for your kind support.
Unfortunately we never got the chance to put our tyres on the Kowen Forest trails. For me this was going to be a very special race. I was going to race under the SOLDIER ON banner with three great mates who I’ve shared a lot with over the years. To be honest not being able to share a weekend of bikes, sleep deprivation and junk food with these guys is heartbreaking!
To Chris, John and Gian: I’m sorry we didn’t get to ride as a team; but hopefully we’ll get another chance next year.
To SOLDIER ON: Thank you for the opportunity to represent SOLDIER ON once again – Anna thank you for your never-ending (hopefully) patience with me!
To the race organisers: Thank you for your efforts and chin up guys!