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
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.
I’ll cut straight to the chase. This year’s JetBlack 12 Hour race was a DNF.
I could list a heap of excuses as to why I didn’t finish but I’ll use just two:
1) In the 4 weeks leading up to the race I had ridden a total of 56km
2) In the 4 weeks leading up to the race I had a bout of bronchitis, laryngitis, mystery deathbed illness and had formed a habit of urinating blood quite often.
So anyway, I travelled six and a half hours through rain and hail to arrive at the beautiful James Estate Winery in Baerami NSW. After a quick setup of my camping spot I settled in for a cold night and a hot meal with the Spin Cycle Clothing MTB Team and the Pedal 4 Pierce crew.
The rain cleared and we were in for a warm and sunny start for the race. I donned the Soldier On Cycling kit for the final time in a race and made sure my bike was ready to roll.
After some deliberation over starting the race in a long sleeve or a short sleeve jersey I started the race with the guns on display. I headed off onto the grinding fire-road before entering the pristine James Estate singletrack. The field spread itself out with the whippets at the front and the slow grinders at the back. I found myself somewhere in the upper middle of the pack and set an easy pace for myself.
My easy pace idea was flawed from the start as I found my heart-rate sitting between 170-180bpm for my first two laps. I pitted for a few minutes to have a quick feed and swap out my bidon before heading out again. I was already feeling fatigued and I had been riding for a little over one hour. My plan of taking it easy with plenty of stops, looked like it would need a few extended stops thrown in for good measure. I headed out again a nice easy pace once again and watched as my heart-rate edged ever closer to my 185bpm maximum.
On my third lap leg cramps started to creep up on me. It was very obvious that my lack of training and conditioning was going to rear its ugly head sooner rather than later.
I was about three-quarters into my third lap when I came off my bike immediately after a fairly innocuous drop off thanks to my front wheel going one way and the rest of my bike wanting to have a nap on the dirt. Despite what I thought after brushing myself off, my fall didn’t help my ongoing cramping issues.
I pitted after my forth lap and headed out for a cramp/pain filled fifth lap. Every little pinch climb and every time I stood out of the saddle caused my quads to seize up. Getting to the end of this lap was difficult so I decided I would definitely have an extended rest/most likely retire from the race just shy of 4 hours on the bike.
After hanging up my helmet, having a feed and getting changed; I spent the remainder of the 12 hour race taking photos of the event and helping Mrs Rocket Rolls pit crew for Rocket Rolls.
While my race didn’t go well it was great to see some great results from my friends in the Spin Cycle Clothing MTB Team and the Pedal 4 Pierce Crew!
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
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)
There comes a time in every cyclist’s life where a crash will abruptly end ones race. The AMB 100 was the race that ended with me separated from Kate, beloved Giant XTC, laying in a heap on the jagged rocks of Mt Stromlo’s Slick Rock trail.
To fully explain what this race meant to me I have to write about some events via a short linear narrative.
In the weeks leading up to this race I was undecided which distance I wanted to ride. On offer were 33km, 66km, 100km and 100miles (160km). I knew I wasn’t going to settle at 33km as that distance and most of the race track was my favourite training loop of Mt Stromlo, put simply; why pay to race a loop I already ride quite comfortably? There was simply no challenge in riding it, combine this with 200+ other riders and I would be slower than when I ride solo at a controlled pace.
Ultimately I chose to race in the 66km category. My decision was based on my training program for the upcoming National MTB Easter 24 Hour Solo. It just wasn’t conducive for my end goal to smash a 100km or 160km ride out in the early stages of a program that was designed to build my endurance for a ride that would see me clock up anywhere between 350-400km in a 24 hour period. Combine this with the difficulty of Mt Stromlo’s trails and the usual February heatwave that hits Canberra; racing the longer distances would require a 3-4 day recovery period that would impede my training.
Luckily for me a few issues arose prior to this race including a bite from a Red Belly Black Snake and a persistent knee injury flare-up that cemented my choice of racing 66km was the best option. So in the days leading up to the race I monitored the weather with keen interest. Temperatures were expected in the high 30’s and a severe fire danger was expected to be announced on the Saturday. (Un)luckily for us riders, Mt Stromlo, doesn’t close when the fire danger reaches severe, it has to tick over to extreme; which is what riding in these projected temperatures was going to be – EXTREME!
I have a lot of faith in the race organisers Martin and Juliane Wistana from Rocky Trail Entertainment. While they are running a business, they have shown before that competitor safety and wellbeing is the most important concern for them on race days. So on Saturday evening an email was sent out telling us the next days race was going ahead as planned; albeit with an earlier start time and slightly shorter distance.
I prepared my bike and packed my car the night before as usual, went to bed early and headed out to Mt Stromlo before the sun had risen. I made it out there just as the first 100 mile riders were transitioning for their second lap of the course. Ed McDonald was the first rider to come down the mountain in the early morning light and regaled his story of cleaning up a kangaroo before heading off to ride up the mountain again. Bermers Jamie Ingram and Adam ‘Rocket’ Rolls soon followed and quickly ditched their lights, loaded up on food and fresh bidons and promptly left to tackle their second laps.
Soon after I registered for my race and changed into my riding kit. I was fairly confident before this race as I intended to just go out and enjoy the first lap and once the field spread out attack my first lap split time on the second. For me there was no other rider I was racing against; my only competitor was first lap Chad who I wanted to beat by at least 10 minutes.
.:Ready to roll:.
We lined up for the mass start at 08:00 and headed down the tarmac and onto Fenceline for the first bit of singletrack. As expected the 200+ strong field bottlenecked almost instantly and a snails pace followed for the next 2-3km. A lesson learned for the organisers before next years race maybe? I hope so because riders promptly started having very low speed wash-outs and cleaning each other up. I witnessed two such crashes in front of me caused by an impatient younger rider who felt he needed to pass the conga line at the worst possible moment.
As I crested the top of the mountain and headed towards the start of Western Wedgetail I glanced down at my Garmin GPS and saw that my racing time was almost 12 minutes slower than my usual training loop on the same tracks; that is how congested the rider traffic had become. I sped down Wedgetail narrowly missing another rider running up the wrong directing looking for a pair of glasses and onto the Pork Barrel. In the first few metres of one of Mt Stomlo’s more technical trails I was dodging unbalanced riders who were unprepared for the rock gardens and drop offs that they were about to tackle.
Pork Barrel felt good under my tyres, I wasn’t fighting my bike and more often than not, I was taking the more technical A-line to pass the slower riders. For the first time in the race I was starting to feel my Flow. As I turned into Slick Rock a few riders had lost their nerve at the drop offs and sharp rocks that followed and were quickly pulling off to the side of the track to let a few of us pass unobstructed.
As I dropped of the back of my saddle and positioned myself for a rather large rock ledge to ride off I caught movement out of the corner of my right eye. The junior rider who had been so overconfident on the climbs had appeared from off the regular trail and was attempting to cut me off in what was to become and incredibly dangerous moment of stupidity.
He baulked at the drop and washed out onto the flat rocks below. Not wanting to crash into a barely 13 year old kid, I locked up my brakes and attempted to avoid him by hopping my bike to the right and off the track into the bushes. This did not work as I was still behind my saddle and hit a tree at full speed with my hip at the same time my front end lurched over the drop off and sent my bike tumbling forward. The sudden change of direction sent me over my bars and onto the rocks in front of the kid.
My elbow met the rocks with my entire body weight behind it. I rolled a small distance before the track levelled out and I was able to scramble onto my feet and recover my bike from the middle of the track. I crawled over to a piece of real estate that wasn’t an A, B or impromptu C-line and tried to work out if the immense pain shooting up my arm was due to a fracture in one of the bones. The kid got to his feet and continued riding while I gave his Father some advice on course etiquette and made him aware of his legal obligations as the guardian of a junior rider regarding any costs involved in repairing my body and/or bike.
It was at this point with a gaping hole in my elbow, a painful yet somehow numb arm that my race was over. I limped across to race director Martin and Bermer Andy S and made my way to the medic station a few hundred metres away. A quick review, patch up and arm sling later I was driven back to the event centre and called my wife on her birthday to come and take me to the hospital.
Before she arrived I packed my car with the help of Ben ‘Hollywood’ Hudson, handed over my car keys and soon departed for the Calvary Hospital Emergency Department; the second time in a month. It took a little over two hours to get seen by the medical staff and a fracture was quickly ruled out. With the aid of some local anaesthetic my elbow hole was scrubbed free of debris stitched up and I was sent home. A bruised bone, six stitches, a numb arm and a left hand unable to grasp properly is what I am left with 24 hours later. A reminder that even when my riding feels spot on someone else’s inattention/stupidity can quickly turn a good day into a very bad day.
.:Waiting to get sewn up:.
To the little fella that caused me to crash I sincerely hope you have learnt a lesson, if not I hope that the only injuries you inflict in the future are to yourself you selfish little turd!
Thank you to the Rocky Trail team, especially Juliane and Martin for a great event and for helping me post-crash. Di and Ben for helping me out and driving my car home. Jason, Bel, Sarah and Kirsty for supporting me after the race and my Wife Carly – I’m sorry for ruining your birthday by riding, crashing and spending a few hours back in the ED!