Kowalski Classic 2015 Race Wrap Up

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.

Kowalski Classic AI 004
.:Making something simple look so hard:. (Photo: Aurora Images)

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.

Kowalski Classic 021
.:Quads of fire:.

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.

KC15 002
.:Me & Gerard Butler… err Andy:. (Photo: Jodie)

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.

.:Sweet Rocktape/gloves combo!:. (Photo: Aurora Images)

The journey to the 36km feed zone took in some of my favourite Kowen Forest tracks and the always painful Elevator switchback climb.

.:Mouth breathing since 2012:. (Photo: Aurora Images)

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.

.:Totes in the air:. (Photo: Aurora Images)

The last few kilometres was fast, flowing and fun; a great way to end a great day on the bike!

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Capital Punishment 2014 Wrap Up

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 raceIn the past 4 months I had finished only three out of seven races due to crashes or mechanical issues
2)  Race my own raceIt 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 timeWhat 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.

CP14 006.:Start of the 2014 Capital Punishment 100km:.

Capital Punishment 2014, 50km and 100km MTB.:Kowen Forest:.

Capital Punishment 2014, 50km and 100km MTB.:Sparrow Hill:.

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.

Capital Punishment 2014, 50km and 100km MTB.:Kowen Forest:.

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.

Capital Punishment 2014, 50km and 100km MTB.: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.

Capital Punishment 2014, 50km and 100km MTB Capital Punishment 2014, 50km and 100km MTB Capital Punishment 2014, 50km and 100km MTB Capital Punishment 2014, 50km and 100km MTB.:Mt Stromlo:.

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.

CP14 008 CP14 011.:Finished!:.

A huge thank you to my wife, the volunteers, fellow Bermers and the other riders for an amazing event.

Training Week In Review – Week 11

A good training regime is broken down into many parts.  It’s not just the riding and strengthening of muscles that gets you fit; there’s nutrition, hydration, rest, and mental preparedness.

I try to find a balance with all of these things and pay particular attention to my nutrition; I am usually pretty disciplined with my meals and race preparation.  Anyone that has sat down and ate with me will know I eat a lot.  The average person consumes around 8’000kj daily; including approximately 300g of carbohydrates.  When I’m riding a lot I can consume more than double that amount; and if I’m including gym work at least 3 days a week I can sometimes triple the daily averages.  This is a good and bad thing.  I’m getting the fuel my body needs; but I’m also speeding up my already fast metabolism.  Because of this it’s very difficult for me to gain weight so I sit anywhere between 74-77kg.

Lately I’ve been eating a lot and not riding as much hoping this would help me put on some weight.  Having overcome a fairly serious muscle tear in my chest; I’ve started light weights again with the aim of building more upper body strength.  So far it’s working as my left shoulder/chest/neck feels really good after ditching the chest brace I’ve been wearing for the past 4 months.

This last week was a testing week more than anything else.  As I’m about to spend almost a month off the bike and out of training I didn’t want to smash myself into the ground.  Instead I spent the few days I had on the bike testing out a new nutrition/hydration mix and enjoying the brilliant Canberra weather.

At the JetBlack WSMTB 12hr, fellow Bermer Adam told me about his beverage mix of choice; Perpetuem.  We have similar sporting backgrounds in endurance running and cycling and have very similar body and fitness types.  I often get cramps when I ride long distances and increasing electrolytes doesn’t really help me.  After doing some research I discovered that while my hydration was pretty spot on, my nutrition was way out.  Ordinarily over an endurance race you rely on caffeinated energy gels and sugar snacks to keep you going.  Some people eat bananas, but considering I’m somewhat allergic to potassium; explosive diarrhoea and vomiting while riding makes bananas are a no-go.

I trialled Perpetuem over two different rides earlier this week.  All of the CORC XC races are short-course races where I’ll ride at maximum intensity anywhere between 10-20km.  This quickly saps my energy levels and I get very few opportunities to drink.  So on Monday I went for a short spin of Bruce Ridge where I rode short stints at maximum effort and tried the new bidon full of Perpetuem.  The drink itself is a milky, fuller mixture and is quite filling.  It’s more like a meal replacement drink without the dairy feel to it, however there was no after taste and I felt hydrated.  It passed the test for short-course.

On Tuesday I went for a longer endurance ride of Mt Stromlo.  52km of medium to high intensity riding on a beautiful sunny Canberra day.  It was a perfect opportunity to test out my hydration/nutrition for endurance rides.  While I was struggling a bit in my last few kilometres I was pretty happy with the plan I came up with and will certainly put it into effect during my next enduro; the Scott 25 Hour at Mt Stromlo.

BIKES 097.:A perfect Canberra day at Mt Stromlo:.

Wednesday was a difficult day to get back on the bike after the previous day’s ride.  My legs were tender and my lower back was a little tight.  But I headed out for an easy loop of Kowen Forest/Sparrow Hill.  Once I was weaving around the pine trees I started to push out.  All was going well until I hit Rolling Thunder and decided a good old fashioned Strava run was in order.  The track was surprisingly loose and I took a corner a little too fast.  Cue some heavy rear braking and then some sideways action and I was looking at tree coming towards me at speed.  All I could think of was “save the carbon bike” so I did my best Neo impersonation and put my hand out in defiance.  I hit the tree with my hand and ended up on the ground; body and bike intact.  It was at this point that I decided to end both my day and week on the bike.  With only a few days until my Wedding and a heart-racing close call already I thought it best not to tempt fate with any more time in the saddle.

Ride By
.:Don’t blink:.

 

Training Week In Review – Week 9

Last week I rode a disappointing 86.9km after being sick all week and chalking up a DNF at the JetBlack WSMTB 12hr at Dargle Farm.

As I have written earlier, I lacked the motivation and will to get back on the bike for a big week of riding after a week of being sick and under-performing at a race I felt confident going into.  Week 9 was a week where life and procrastination got in the way of my riding.

My first ride of the week was at Bruce Ridge on Wednesday afternoon.  A short 11.1km to test out my new tubeless setup on Kate the XTC.  The new tyres felt good and looked good on my Crank Brothers wheels.

On Friday I braved a cold and foggy Mt Stromlo morning for a ride with MTB newbie John.  12.8km later I was back in my heated car on the way to work.  In the afternoon I headed back to Bruce Ridge for a short 13.1km ride for what felt like a very ordinary and non-fun ride.  I wanted to ride on Saturday but didn’t want to push it too much.

On Sunday I headed out to Bruce Ridge for my regular Sunday Morning and Social and Breakfast ride.  A sneaky pre-ride loop followed by the group ride and I had added 15.7km to the week’s total.  This coupled with a very enjoyable 24.6km at Mt Stromlo after breakfast and I had reached 77.4km for the week.

After a week of not having the motivation to ride, I ended the week on a high and the desire to spend more time in the saddle before I have a few weeks break for my Honeymoon.

Life Is Flow And Cycling Is Life

Earlier in the week I published a post focusing on my lack of motivation to ride and inability to  find my Flow.  After some words of advice from a few Bermers I decided to head out a little earlier for my regular Sunday Morning Social and Breakfast ride at Bruce Ridge.  With a half an hour before the others were due to arrive I headed out for a quick dawn lap of the winding singletrack.

Up until this ride I had ridden a total of 37km for the week; a far cry from the 253.6km I had I ridden the week leading up to Sunday a fortnight before.  My escape from the world, my outlet; the thing I use to control my anxiety and depression was no longer working for me.  Missing your Flow is like losing your mojo, your zen, your happy place.  I don’t ride for the hell of it; I ride because I enjoy it and I find it challenging.  Mountain biking is a sport you can constantly improve at; you will never reach your peak in any form of cycling as long as you adapt and change.

I had reached a plateau at the start of the year with my training and racing.  I needed new challenges.  Enter longer endurance races such as the 100km Capital Punishment and Mont 24 Hour; and short course cross country racing in the CORC XC Series.  I pushed myself further and got fitter and more confident because of it.  I ended up injuring myself during one of the CORC XC races and was suddenly off the bike for several weeks.  However I didn’t let this stop me; from the moment I was healthy enough to ride again I started a recovery training regime that got me back riding confidently again and improved my fitness.

Sensing that I was beginning to reach my fitness and riding plateau once again I took the huge step of reinventing my riding style.  As I was about to embark on a fitness training regime for preparation for this years Battle Of The Beasts I knew if I didn’t change something big I would lose fitness and motivation.  Something as simple as buying a new mountain bike was enough to help me break through the mental and physical barriers I was starting to build into my riding.

After riding over 1’700km on my trusty Giant Anthem X 29er Zooey I bought a new Giant XTC Composite 29er that I named Kate.  The simple act of paying a lot of money for a carbon hardtail was enough to motivate me to increase my riding time and as result better my race and training results.

Which brings me to my missing Flow.  After bonking massively due to illness at the JetBlack WSMTB 12hr and recording a DNF I couldn’t find the motivation to get back on the bike.  Partly due to still feeling sick, but mostly feeling like a failure; I struggled to find that balance between riding and enjoyment.

When you are off you can come off.  It’s as simple as that.  You don’t corner as cleanly, you don’t commit to obstacles with confidence and most importantly you don’t enjoy the time you spend in the saddle.

So this morning I headed off for a quick solo lap of Bruce Ridge and felt something I hadn’t felt during this week; I was enjoying riding.  I hadn’t yet clicked into that Zen mentality but I was close.  My lines were better, my cornering cleaner and I was enjoying tackling the obstacles on the singletrack.

As a group we did a short 10km loop of Bruce Ridge and I relished the opportunity to stay with the faster riders and push out a little bit more than I usually would for a Sunday morning social ride.  I even did something I very rarely do; I did a few jumps.  I’m a fan of sensible riding after, well lets be honest.. eating shit at Mt Stromlo showing off and not sticking a jump and tearing my pectoral muscle.  I had finally let go of trying to find my riding mojo.  As the very wise Argo said during the week you don’t find the flow…the flow finds you“.

The Flow hadn’t yet found me; but it was stalking me from behind on the singletrack ready to pounce onto my bike.

After our regular after ride breakfast at Edgar’s Inn, I headed out for Mt Stromlo for a quick ride.  When I was getting ready in the carpark I had a quick chat with one of my favourite Bermers, Kris.  For a downhill convert she seemed very happy to be going for a cross country ride and considering the sunny day, the smiling riders coming down the mountain and the fact Mt Stromlo is one of the best mountain biking Mecca’s in the world; I too was happy even before I got in the saddle.

I headed off for a warm up loop before tackling the climbs up the mountain.  At the beginning of my warm up I ran into good friend John and went for a relaxed spin with him as he cooled down after already conquering the switchbacks, climbs and rewarding downhill.  Soon I headed out for my main ride and quickly found I was going fast without really trying.

The switchbacks up the mountain felt easy, free flowing and I was passing some riders as I powered up the climbs.  By the time I reached the end of Echidna Gap and was about to embark down Western Wedgetail I knew my Flow had finally caught up with me.  I took off down Wedgetail, entered Skyline, Luge and finished at the bottom of Old Duffy’s Decent.  The downhill ride felt so good I even took the A-line on Duffy’s and launched my XTC off the rocky drop to finish the first part of my ride.

Still feeling good I headed off to the western side of Mt Stromlo for some more riding.  Each track felt good and I felt more confident with each pedal stroke.  By the time I reached the carpark I had ridden 24.6km and although I was fairly exhausted I wanted more!  Alas I packed the bike into my car and headed home.  After a quick refurb of my gear and bike for the start of the week I sat down and reflected on my week of riding.

What started off as a week of feeling unmotivated and disillusioned after a bad result in my first 12hr race; ended up with my Flow finding me.  All I had to do was stop trying to find it and relax.  Just as life has it’s ups and downs, so does cycling.

Life is Flow and cycling is life.

Where Is My Flow?

Firstly, let me get something out-of-the-way.  I like the Pixies… a lot.  I’ve seen the band live once and Black Francis as a solo act twice.  There is nothing quite like watching a fat, sweaty, old, white man screaming out the lyrics to Debaser in Spanish!  Surfer Rosa and Doolittle are unbelievable albums and are my go to albums when I feel like zoning out and just ignoring the outside world.

So anyway, after last week’s disappointing result at the JetBlack 12 Hour at Dargle Farm I have only ridden three times this week.  Wednesday was my first day back on the bike and was a short test ride of my new tubeless tyre set-up at Bruce Ridge.  I didn’t do anything special and didn’t push too hard.  When healthy and motivated I regularly ride between 250-350km a week including at least 100km on the dirt.  But after my DNF at Dargle Farm I’ve been feeling flat and unmotivated.

A lot of people are telling me a DNF is better than a DNS and at least I gave it a go.  I’m not the sort of person that generally gives up; although I am prone to being half-assed.  So after “giving up” last weekend I am now stuck in a rut of “half-ass”.  I didn’t go into the event over-confident; I was still sick but had been riding strong – maybe I set my expectations too high.

This morning I drove out to Mt Stromlo for some dawn riding with good friend and MTB newbie John.  We did the entire of Loop 2 in just over an hour which isn’t a bad effort for someone who can count the amount of times they have ridden on singletrack on one hand.  Although it was freezing cold, foggy and wet I enjoyed the ride and John definitely did judging by his big smile coming down Luge.

John On Luge.:John coming down Luge:.

Even though I powered up the switchback climbs and rolled down Luge and scored a new PR on Strava; I never felt that moment where I ‘clicked’ with my bike and the trails.  I was close but there was no ‘Flow’.

Kate At Stromlo.:Just a little foggy on top of Mt Stromlo:.

After lunch I headed off to Bruce Ridge for some afternoon riding.  Once again I wasn’t feeling very motivated but I geared up and got ready to ride.  I don’t usually ride with my headphones on; but knowing there wasn’t going to be too many people out riding I selected my Pixies playlist and headed off onto the trails.

While Black Francis was screaming at me and Kim Deal rocked out Gigantic I started feeling I was close to ‘clicking’ this ride.  I did some reversals of the normal trails and rode some of the more difficult segments.  But alas I wasn’t quite getting there.  I chose some ordinary lines that caused my back wheel to slip out on several occasions, over cornered some of the switchbacks and managed to head-butt a low branch on Pub Run.

Slowly I rode back to my car when Where Is My Mind? started playing.  I really like this song and can play along to it on both bass guitar and drums.  So when Black Francis sang about his encounter with a particularly bitey fish while snorkelling in the Caribbean I equated the bridge and chorus with my inability to ‘click’ while riding…
“With your feet on the air and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it, yeah
Your head will collapse
If there’s nothing in it
And you’ll ask yourself
Where Is My Mind Flow?

JetBlack WSMTB 12 Hour Wrap Up

As I rounded transition for my eighth lap of the Dargle Farm course I knew my first venture into 12 hour mountain bike racing was soon to be over.

Initially my lead up for the JetBlack WSMTB 12 Hour went according to plan.  The week preceding saw me ride more than 350km including some long stints on the mountain bike and some solid racing during Round 4 of the CORC XC series at Mt Stromlo.  I felt fit and confident leading into the week before my first 12 hour race.

I started feeling the signs of an oncoming head cold on Monday morning when I woke up and got ready for work.  I started taking cold and flu tablets and increasing my fluid intake to try and limit the duration of what starting to build in my sinuses.  I decided if I was going to beat this thing I would need to stay off the bike and out of the Canberra cold.  By Wednesday I was feeling the effects of a full blown head cold complete with sore throat, headaches and blocked sinuses.  I still hoped I would be able to get some, albeit short, time in the saddle.

On Thursday I picked up a Soldier On banner to set up at the event centre, I then packed my race bag, camping gear and prepared Kate the XTC for the drive up to Dargle Farm the next day.  Health-wise things got a little bit worse for me.  A case of gastro set in and I was riding the porcelain bus for the next several hours.  My ideal lead up had well and truly sailed off into the distance.

Friday morning I packed the car and headed up the Hume Highway / M7 / M5/ back-roads / random car ferry and arrived at Dargle Farm to set up my camp site.  Fellow Bermers; Ben, Adam and Nigel were already there and almost set up.  My minimalist approach saw my site up and running in a few minutes.  Without much coaxing I was lycra’d up and soon Ben, Adam and myself were off for a recce lap of the 9.9km course.

I didn’t know what to expect from this course; I had been told it had some technical singletrack, open fire-roads and a tricky climb near the end complete with a rocky pinch to overcome before the rewarding downhill back into transition.  The first part of the course was a short stretch of fire-road leading into some impressive singletrack.

The thing that immediately struck me was the construction of the trails.  More often than not; trail-fairies will manipulate the landscape to suit a more fluid track.  Dargle Farm was the opposite; the trails had been built to accommodate the natural features and embrace the various obstacles.  After overcoming a few tricky corners and drops complete with some tree hugging from Adam; we were off onto the next part of the course.  Some short fire-road linking into some fast and free flowing singletrack.

About seven kilometres into my introductory lap of Dargle Farm I rode over a small branch and tore open my rear tyre.  I had been contemplating changing my Crank Brothers wheel-set to tubeless during the week but opted out due to the valves not sealing properly last time.  As I pulled a three inch long stick out of my tyre and tube I knew even a tubeless set up wouldn’t have kept me pedalling.

I wasn’t too keen on flipping the XTC and changing my tube in the thick mud so I limped back to the staging area and did my repairs and finalised my prep for the next day’s race.

Dargle Farm 2013 002.:The Berm Banner on display:.

Dargle Farm 2013 001.:The first bonfire of the weekend:.

I woke up with a fairly stuffy head from the cold night before and tucked into a breaky roll and coffee before getting changed and ready for the rolling start at 9am.

Dargle Farm 2013 004.:The Berm / Pedal4Pierce / Soldier On Race Headquarters:.

Dargle Farm 2013 010.:Just a few thousand dollars worth of carbon and aluminium:.

Dargle Farm 2013 005.:Dargle Farm getting busy:.

Dargle Farm 2013 008.:Race HQ:.

Dargle Farm 2013 012.:Ready to tackle the Dargle Farm course:.

The race began slowly with a rolling start with a couple of hundred riders heading down the fire-road and into the singletrack.  As was expected it was slow going and plenty of walking the bike until the field spread out and passes were able to be made.  I started with a steady pace averaging 16.9km an hour over my first lap.  Already I was starting the feel the heat and was sweating profusely.  I was very happy to have shed the knee warmers and opted not to wear my usual long sleeve shirt under my jersey prior to the race start.

I was sticking to my hydration plan of one bottle per hour so after finding my flow for the second lap I rounded transition and pushed onto my third.  I had found a pocket of similar paced solo riders and followed them through the singletrack and pushed past them on the fire-roads.  I had to slow down a little to avoid blowing up too early and was soon being over taken by the team riders.

At the end of my third lap I was averaging 16km an hour when I pulled into race HQ for a bottle change and quick feed.  Already the temperature had risen to 22’C and I was feeling the vast difference between here and the relatively freezing temperatures of back home in Canberra.  I started off on Lap 4 and saw a bunch of slower riders heading into the singletrack.  Not wanting to get bogged down and lose momentum I pushed past them and powered through the first singletrack section and down the rocky drops into the first section of extended fire-road.  Coming out of the cool trees into the full sunlight was a shock.  I could feel the sun starting to burn my skin and see the sweat dripping across my glasses and onto my bike.

JetBlack12hr 009.:Digging Deep and trying to avoid hitting other riders:.

Halfway through Lap 4 I felt the familiar rumblings in my stomach.  My digestive system wanted to purge itself of the morning’s breakfast and coffee… and now!  I rolled through transition and onto Lap 5 and then made a detour towards the toilet block.  I’ll spare you the details but I wasn’t feeling the best.  I pushed onto Lap 5 and found I was starting to get a headache.  I had been sticking to my nutrition/hydration plan and felt reasonably comfortable in that regard.

Lap 6 was more of the same.  I had slipped into a routine of casually riding the first section of singletrack, pushing out on the fire-roads, dealing with the technical singletrack and then attacking into the climb.  I was enjoying myself and relishing the times I was in the trees and out of the sun.  Although the climb was tough and easier to walk most times, I pushed up as best I could and looked forward to the downhill section leading into transition.

JetBlack12hr 023.:Dargle Farm – Down the Hill:.

I took an extended 20 minute break before I pushed onto Lap 7.  Even though I was feeling quite sick already, I made the effort to have a bite to eat and swap out my bottles.  I pedalled off onto the seventh lap and instantly felt my energy levels drop and dizziness start to set in.  Lap 7 was the beginning of the end for my 12 Hour venture.  I found the final climb incredibly difficult this time around and walked the pinch with a lot of other riders.

I decided to push on with my eighth lap even though I knew I would soon be stopping.  My legs were feeling good but the rest of me had started to give up.  I had a blistering headache and was starting to feel nauseous.  Halfway through the lap I began to vomit and any attempt to take on fluids was met with immediate evacuation from my body.  I was experiencing a form of ground rush and dizziness was starting to affect my balance.

JetBlack12hr 015.:Rider 29 – The new Mayor of Struggletown!:.

As I rolled past the timing area at the end of my eighth lap I headed straight back to our Race HQ.  My race was now over and I found a nice shady spot to lay down and try to cool down and stop the world from spinning.

While my first 12 Hour had been a failure in many regards I put this aside and started focusing on helping out the Pedal4Pierce team and solo rider Rocket Rolls.  Preparing the bikes for night riding was on the agenda and so was sorting out new bottles and food.  Adam was keen for pizza and I made sure it was waiting for him in between laps.  The P4P team were smashing out the laps and amazingly Ben was riding his fastest laps in the dark even after riding throughout the day.  While the boys were tearing up the course, P4P co-founder Nigel was busy in the DJ tent busting out some phat beats.

Dargle Farm 2013 017.:DJ Nigel:.

As the night drew to a close, both Adam and Ben smashed out their final laps minutes before cut off time.  At the end of the night the course was closed and the presentations completed, there were smiling faces everywhere; and even a unicorn.

Dargle Farm 2013 022.:Unicorn:.

On the Sunday morning I packed up and headed for home feeling tired, sick and dejected.  After all my gear was cleaned and packed away I contemplated if I would ever attempt another 12 Hour race again.

It wasn’t until a few days later when some words of wisdom were imparted on me from fellow Bermer Kris:
“It’s good to have a failure race.  You need to know how it feels to DNF, to bonk, for little things to not work so when the time comes when it has to work you know how to fix it and deal with it.”

Tubeless….Finally

For the past few weeks I’ve been contemplating changing my incredibly good looking Crank Brothers 29er wheels to tubeless tyres.  When I first bought them I made an attempt to put a set of Schwalbes (Nobby Nic front & Racing Ralph rear) on the wheels using the supplied CB tubeless valves.

I was busy Youtube’ing and trying to discover that ‘easy’ way to seat the bead on the rim and get the rubber to seal.  I’ve heard horror stories from some people and tales of ease from others.   Basically setting up a tubeless tyre depends on the person, the tools, the rubber and the moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth.  My first attempt resulted in bleeding knuckles, two snapped tyre levers and a pair of tyres that were completely flat in less than four hours.  I decided my sexy wheels needed to be shown off so I gave up and went the way of the tube.

Fast forward to last night and I finally took the plunge and converted my rims to full tubeless using a combo of new tyres and new Stans valves.  The plan was simple: old tyres and tubes off, clean rims, new tyres on, add sealant, inflate and celebrate!

I did the front first; a Maxxis Ikon for extra grip.  The tyre took a bit of work to get on the rim.  With the tyre finally on and two scoops of sealant in; after about 10 minutes on the air compressor the bead finally sealed and the tyre inflated; success!

Front Tubeless

The rear tyre was a Schwalbe Racing Ralph, my favourite rear tyre.  This tyre was a dream.  In 3 minutes I had the tyre on the rim, sealant added, bead seated and tyre inflated; great success!!

Rear Tubeless

After the tyres passed the overnight test I packed the XTC in to the car with the intention of giving them a test run around Bruce Ridge.  They worked a treat on the clean hardpack, gravel covered hardpack, rocky climbs, rocky downhills, loose switchbacks and even the muddy Pub Run.  I really like the idea of now being able to run lower pressures for extra grip in order to corner faster.

After less than an hour on the new set-up I’m now looking at converting my stock rims to tubeless.

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