Thursday, 5 December 2013

Loving thine sister, big wheel style

Actor Samuel Johnson is a charismatic man on a mission; to raise as much money as possible for breast cancer research, in support of his sister who was diagnosed with the terminal variety 2 years ago.  The way in which he is doing it is somewhat unique – to break the world record for the longest journey travelled on a unicycle.  He has about 12000 km under the belt at present, and another ~4000 to go.  He started in Melbourne in Feb of this year, crossing into South Australia, then north to Darwin via the endless corrugations of the Oodanadatta track (which the mudge and I drove last year and dreaded the thought of cycling), before traversing west to Broome, then down to Perth.  Then from Brisbane south to Sydney, where he dropped in this morning for tea at the Garvan (aka work), and to whom proceeds (already 1.1 mil) will be donated.  Tassie and the Nullabor await!  Quite a feat!  I once had a unicycle but could barely traverse the back yard without being spat.  Already Samuel must have a bevy of amazing stories to tell.  I’m hoping a book will follow.

The bike.  29 inches is so 2 wheels.  A single 36 inch wheel does the trick, whereby almost 3m is covered by a single revolution.   Running 60 psi on the tarmac and a bit less on the rough stuff.  He is already onto the 15th inner tube, second tyre, second set of flat peddles, and about the 5th hub, which is now custom built and over-engineered to prevent the flanges from cracking (he cracked a few on the Ood, as well as the frame itself)  He rotates between 3 different saddles to prevent things getting too uncomfortable.  A disc rotor brake keeps things sane on the downs. 

Don’t know if he was just donning his actors face but he seems to be really enjoying it – I’m guessing both the extended periods of solitude interrupted by crazy moments, such as the reception he got this morning, mixed in with the satisfaction of prevailing for the greater purpose.  It was truly inspiring to see him roll up to the entrance, skillfully ease through the front door and weave through the crowded lower level to the presentation area amidst raucous applause.  It’s already one hell of a journey and I wish him safe travels and good luck for the remainder.

Check out “”, if you want to know more or throw a few clams in his direction.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Taking a walk on the Mo side - choc foot 7 hr, Orange.

I almost wasn't going to do this race given that I've been feeling generally trashed after a long year of kilometers, but I'm glad I did.  Besides, this was the 5th and last installment of the Choccy Foot 7 hr series, in which, hard to believe, I was currently running third on points in the Old Farts Solo division, a few shy of Welch, and a bucket load behind the ever-youthful James.  Hence, a step on the overall series podium was a possibility, helped no end by McAvoy again sitting this one out.  However, James and that fast-starting whipper-snapper Brodie were present, who would most likely engage in fisticuffs for the top spots, leaving me and Welch to arm wrestle for the more minor placings.  I didn't harbour too lofty ambitions tho, given that Phil sensibly sat out the Fling to try and regain some snap after the gruelling Wembo-Croc-Welby trifecta.

Although packing the car in the rain was a biatch, it was a most enjoyable drive west of the Blueies with clear skies and the cricket blaring on the radio, which divulged encouraging signs that perhaps we would get one over Olde Blighty for a change.  The constant fidgeting of mandibles that a Mo encourages brought back childhood memories of watching cricket in an age where nearly everyone donned a tash - caught Marsh bowled Lillee, Tangles, the Chappels, AB, Boon, and a more modern favourite in Swerving Mervin.  Maybe this is part of what the current crop have been lacking, and is the secret to Mitchell Johnson's recent success.  The broadcast was repeatedly interrupted by ever more dire warnings of extreme weather on the way; dangerous winds, large hail, local flooding, and tornadoes, no less (a new one for mine ears), hitting the western slopes and plains before sweeping towards the coast as far south as Sydney.  I made the mental note of not pitching my tent under any dodgy looking trees, and hoped that Orange would be just far enough south to miss the fireworks.  

There would be fireworks aplenty in the absence of the weather given that my late afternoon reccy of the lumpy Kinross State Forest course revealed a number of A lines that I simply wouldn’t be able to negotiate with confidence (one I couldn't even clear).  In any case, just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.  Time gains would be mostly marginal at best.  I resigned myself to running four B lines on a standard lap - a good decision come race day reflected by numerous slow offs by unwary riders.  Just as I returned to the car Phil and Greer appeared and we hooked up for dinner in town, where I did my best to convince Phil that I posed no threat whatsoever, hammered home with a couple of beers.  Although he won't believe me, I really thought I'd just be going through the motions.

And so I did in the early laps, struggling to get to grips with an incredibly dusty (the promised rain not quite showing), lumpy, an at times quite challenging track.  The talc in the air was so heavy that following wheels on descents I had to back off for fear of missing the line altogether.  Like the technical Welby course, it was one that constantly demanded attention to detail, but was more generous in rewarding you with some serious flow.  Boy do these country lads know how to tailor a berm.  After a poor start it wasn't until about the 2 hour mark, 4 laps in, where I finally got chunks of good open track which coincided with my mojo starting to kick in, aided by a very civilised 20 degree temperature and light breeze.  Even though I had no one providing splits I was feeling considerably stronger on the numerous climbing sections where I left the saddle behind and started to mash bigger gears.  Now I was racing, splitting bang on 30 min rotations.  I caught glimpses of Phil at about the 4 hr mark, but it wasn't until 4 hrs 40 that I finally clawed in front of him and did my best to put the boot in.  Problem was that the catch was accompanied by twinges of cramp under the surface.  Not good, but having gone past I couldn't betray weakness.  I had to bluff carefully.

Over the ensuing laps I banished Phil from sight and concentrated of just keeping my shit together.  With the clock at 6:40 I really thought I had it, and ventured out on my last lap.  I got chatting with a fellow one of the Salmon’s had shared laps with at Awaba, and he gave me a nice pull into the headwind on the roller coaster fire road out back. We chatted some more on the last section of climbing.  With about 3.5 km to go I glanced over my shoulder and got a very rude shock spying Phil only about 20-30 sec behind.  Lazarus was back and finishing strongly - my last lap Awaba nightmare was close to happening all over again.  I clicked up a few gears and slammed for home.  Cramp or no it was time to take it to 11 and ooze the svennesst lines I could squeeze without treeing it.  I knew that if I could just make it to the entrance of the last kilometer of sngletrack I'd probably hold him. The last K is an awesome technical twisty bermed and shuddering downhill run through heavy forest which spits you out literally at the finishing line.  Little pedalling, just piloting, and hard to make time on unless you have the shredder gene, which neither Phil nor I are particularly blessed with.

I held it.  The final gap was about 50 seconds at the conclusion of 7 hrs 10 mins of racing (that’s 430 minutes). Third in Masters and 6th solo outright.  I felt bad for Phil, missing the podium by a whisker, but that's the way the Masters series has gone all year, with so many wafer thin triumphs or losses.  Had I been forced to spin another lap I'm sure I would have imploded.  I didn't know if Phil was on a bad day, or I was on a great day.  Actually my consistent splits, once I got going, suggest I was on a cracker. Phil, by his own admission rode a pretty solid well-paced race, just running out of track at the death.  After being bettered by him in the last 2 rounds it feels like quite an achievement to wrestle one back.  It was fitting that Phil and I shared the minor podium placings behind Mr James for the series.

That's the mtb season done for me.  Time to put the feet up and take in some more of the cricket, and enjoy removal of the Mo come the start of December.  Best bird (very remiss of me) was a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo who piped up early on the Sunday morning above my tent. Also loads of Bassian Thrush calling in the forest during the race, and I got great views of a low soaring Little Eagle (with its distinct under-wing Mo) on the Saturday approach.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Cloud Surfing the Fling

After the previous week’s grovel in the heat and dust of Welby I was hoping that at least a little condition would be gained to help negotiate the following week’s gruelling Highland Fling, probably the premiere marathon race in the country and a race I've never put in a good show at.

This time the weather gods were on my side.  The forecast was for a maximum of 13 with rain likely.  The outcome; spot on.  For most of the race the temperature struggled to attain double figures, the sun never broke through, and the “essence of England” that dampened many spirits in the start corral was to be a constant for much of the day.  Seriously perfect!

As usual a piper in full kilt regalia got the campers out of tents early and queuing for the portaloos. Whilst kitting up the drizzle moved in.  I opted simply for an undershirt and long fingered gloves.  Two bottles on the frame and two liters on the back completed the picture for a no-stop strategy (ala Kowalski).  Reflecting on past efforts I realised that the ease of the first sector typically lured me into a road race mindset with predictable outcomes after the 3 hr mark.  This time I held myself back and just plodded the paddocks, enjoying the cooler temperatures and arrived at the first non-timed section (= railway crossing) a good deal more refreshed than in the past.  Onwards!

I arrived at "The Wall" way earlier than expected, a loose 30% ramp of 100 meters that I'd never gone close to clearing previously.  I nearly ticked it this time.... until just near the top a walking rider forced a change of line, resulting in loss of traction, stalling and clipping out.  The only problem was that my right foot failed to disengage and it was to this side that I comically pitched in the reverse direction… an undignified downhill crash going backwards!  Once on my back a more graceful manipulation with legs allowed the bike to be deposited on the down-slope side (channelling Michael Rogers in prologue crash mode).  Saddle out of line but no real damage, and it was back to the process of chugging the delightful dust-free trails.  Once again, the (unrelated) "Great Wall", was the most mesmerising sector; tranquil meandering through a stunning forest carpeted by bright leaves resembling something out of a fairy tale.  There were also some great birds to be twitched on call – of note Cicadabird and Gang Gang (which I haven’t heard in a while), and the delightful “falling leaf” of White-throated Gerygones.

The forest was eventually escaped and I was soon pushing into a headwind on the exposed plateau farm roads leading to the second untimed sector.  Unfortunately, the rider I caught just before this sector was already toasted and just held the wheel.   The first trickles of the elite field came through towards the end of this sector and I jumped on a group of three for the last kilometer.

The last sector is where I'd invariably come to grief in past editions so I was curious to see how I'd hold up on a cooler outing.  I got a nice sympathetic draft on the fire roads from one of the Elites who’d hung up ambitions due to a puncture (thanks Kyle – he still jagged 9th outright BTW).  I groveled through the Roller Coaster sector, and even cleaned Broke Back Mountain without the legs locking up.  With two kilometers to go I caught Mr Moore, whom was battling cramp courtesy of the more in vogue strategy of going out hard and suffering late, and we rolled to the finish together.  Trent and I finished only a handful of seconds apart, as has been the habit at the Kowalski and some of the 7 hr events this year.  

The race is still 112 km but now includes another few Kms of single track – not exactly welcome coming at the end.  Coupled with a heavy track this explains the Elite winner’s time (4:18) being almost 10 min slower than the previous year.  For someone of my ability this probably translates to a course handicap of around 15-20 minutes over last year’s edition. Hence I was pretty happy to record my best time in about 5 outings, coming home in 5:22, 16th in category (of 230) and 79th outright (of 570).  Anita was all smiles at the finish, happily eschewing a day of drizzle for a slow but dry Bundanoon breakfast.

In no time we had me and bike washed and the tent packed.  Burgers never tasted better under a tarp near the finish whilst shooting the breeze with my old schoolmate Eric who had a terrific race finishing 12 min ahead of me and jagging 6th in Masters.  I've had such painful outings at the Fling in the past I thought this might be my last, but I honestly enjoyed it this year so maybe it won't be the last time I show.  I've just got to do a rain dance leading in, as cool and damp seem to be conditions that suit this chugger best.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Re-finding my Chocolate Feet – Welby 7hr

It’s fair to say I’ve been in a bit of a funk since the WEMBO disaster.  Whilst the egg in my thigh gradually deflated, the back pain took quite a bit longer to dissipate.  The Welby 7 hr, number 4 in the 5 race series, was originally slated to be run the weekend after WEMBO, but the threat of bushfires put an end to that and it was pushed back another 2 weeks.  This was fortunate for me as there was no way I would heal sufficiently for the original date.

Aside; the Chocolate Foot organisers have had an extremely Australian year in the Dorothy McKeller sense, with two events postponed due to “flooding rains”, and one where “droughts” were substituted with bushfires.  Yet I’ve found the 7 hr series to be super friendly on interesting courses, so I was still keen to give the re-scheduled Welby race (Mittagong) a crack if I were able.  The re-scheduling even allowed for the cracked frame to be repaired.  Stan (Bicycle Addiction) did a super job, and I picked it up on the Saturday and threw the thing back together that afternoon for the following day’s race. 

Beyond hoping the back would hold up, I wasn’t expecting too much in terms of results, as I’ve basically had 4 weeks with very little riding (including the WEMBO taper) and no serious efforts, not to mention packing on a few kilos whilst drowning sorrows.  The competition on the other hand would be flying, many with a post WEMBO boost.  Some would still be fatigued.  Phil, for instance, looked the fittest and leanest I’ve even seen him, but he must have been tired having completed the 9 day Croc Trophy stage race only the weekend before.

I’d heard the course was on the rocky and technical side.  I deliberately started towards the tail of the field, keen to take things easy on the first “sighting” lap.  Rocky and technical was right.  Lots of loose ground, both powdery and rocky descents, and as many pinch climbs as the previous three races combined.  A very technical and difficult 11 km circuit of which only about 3 km were easy and flowing.  But I actually quite liked it, with lots of immediate challenges to prevent the course ever getting boring, although after about the 3.5 hr mark it was starting to take its toll.  A hot and dry wind was blowing through the forest, which also didn’t help.  Nor did being passed by solo race leader Andy Lloyd (2nd at WEMBO) so early in the piece.  He was flying!

Half way round my 8th lap I decided that I’d really had enough, a product of the heat, a whiff of cramp, and the pleasing knowledge that the pain I was now feeling was typical of mtb efforts and nothing at all to do with my recent back issues.  Late in the lap I caught Wendy Stevenson and informed her of my intention to call it quits.  She was having none of it and talked me into rolling another.  It was nice to have someone to chat to as the 9th lap progressed.  Wendy got a bit delayed with some of the late-lap pinches and I plodded on at my own pace.  Garry James, who was leading the Solo Masters division then came past, also a little surprised to have caught me. 

I managed to talk myself into a 10th outing (double figures).  Shortly after I got caught for the second time by Ed McDonald.  “I’m seeing you way too early”, was his take on my situation.  On a good day Ed won’t catch me a second time.  At the terminal pinch-climb section I finally had to pull over and have a good rest by the side of the track whilst cramp did its thing.  I completed the lap with another 20 min up my sleeve if I wanted to start an 11th, but the shaded ground was just too damn comfortable, so there I lay, sucking down a few more drinks and suffering more sporadic cramps as I watched people roll through the pits.  I was done.

Garry won Solo Masters with Mr Brodie in second and Phil grabbing third (all with 12 laps to Lloyds astounding 14!).  Phil remarked it was one of the toughest days on the bike he could remember.  Somehow I hung onto 5th but could have jagged 4th had I ventured out one more time.  Funnily enough three of us in the Solo Masters field were stuck on 10 laps with time to roll again but none of us had the will – hardly the nail-biting conclusion to the previous edition.  Despite being totally wrecked it was still a very satisfying outing and I’ve no regrets showing up under done.  Now for next weekend’s Highland Fling where hopefully some benefit will be gained from this tough re-entry at Welby.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Plain Wandering – Twitchathon 2013

The Plain Wanderers (which over the years have comprised combinations of Hynson, Langley, Holmes, Williams, Stewart, and Mudge) have pretty much stuck to a route kicking off at Lake Goran before tending eastwards and dusking at the Quipolly Dams near Quirindi.  This year we opted for something a bit different, in large part courtesy of the generosity of the Hunter Brewers who divulged their standard route and associated beta.  Following a new route would carry disadvantages – unfamiliarity with the nuances of new areas and general issues of navigation and timing, and dusking at least an hour further inland – but advantages in the form of a route honed by a very experienced team (consistently one of the top 2 in the state) and hence the possibility of a big score IF we had the combined talent to tick it.

The other big change was that we were only a party of three (Rob, Andy and moi).  Disadvantage; one less set of eyes and ears.  Advantages were several.  Firstly, the “majority” required to formalize a tick was simply two, rather than three in the case of a team of four.  As a quartet, getting three sets of eyes on the same target, or even simply having the discipline to constrain three birders to the same spot to facilitate such a possibility can be like herding cats.  Secondly, this meant a less cramped car.  Car space might seem trivial but by about 10 am on the Saturday morning the car will be brimming with nearly all the food and water supplies required to sustain occupants through to 4 pm on the Sunday – on top of changes of clothes, tents, sleeping gear and a couple of spotting scopes.  What starts as a myriad of ordered bags and bottles progressively transforms to a car-load of crumbs and trash come the end.

On Saturday morning we awoke from digs at the Golden Fleece Hotel in Scone and rolled out at 7 am, enjoying the cool morning as we headed north-west across the Liverpool Plains to check out Gunnedah and new spots further to the north.  In many ways the pre-twitch is the most enjoyable part of the trip and feels like being on holiday.  However as the day progresses the tension incrementally ratchets up as the last few spots are checked and driving times are estimated before arriving at the starting spot, where the expected targets still have to be found.

Our start location was absolute gold with an abundance of Painted and Singing Honeyeaters flitting overhead (a rarity this far east), and some other dry country specialists in our sights.  In the last few minutes we tracked a troupe of Speckled Warblers whilst simultaneously keeping a bead on a nearby Little Friarbird.  Eventually 4 pm arrived and with a handful of choice ticks in the bag we trundled back to the car and headed to Kelvin State Forest, then onto Keepit dam, where a bunch of stuff we were hoping to get had regrettably moved on.  As dusk fell we hit the Gunnedah pooh ponds where a bevy of top-notch ducks were scoped, including Bluebill and my first proper look at Freckled Duck. 

A pub meal allowed the count to be estimated at 92 before we hit the highway for the long trek south-east to Singleton where a LHT would be made onto the winding dirt to the standard Allyn River rainforest night spot deep in Barrington Tops.  We spotlighted the entirety of this last sector hoping, like last year, to bag a swag of owls and frogmouths, however came up blank.  We bedded down in a tarp sandwich and as we drifted off finally heard a Boobook chime in, as well as a Channel-Billed Cuckoo and Noisy Pita, of all things – not bad for 1:45 am!

Five am came round real fast.  We walked the gully road; getting about 20 rainforest species on call, and were heading south again by 7 am.  Next stop Green Wattle Road for the eastern dry woodland specialists such as Fuscous and White-Naped HE, then the “Maitland Economic Zone”, where a few more honeyeaters (Yellow Tufted and White Cheeked) were added before heading to the Newcastle baths for the seawatch.  At this stage a tally of 200 was definitely on the cards, however the seawatch struggled to deliver, and although we did well at Stockton, we struggled to get much more over the last few hours at Ash Isl, Hexam Swamp, or even at the Wetlands Center itself (the finish location), which was on the verge of being totally dry. 

In the end we only managed 191, with too many “biggest dips” to mention.  OK; Musk Lorikeet, New Holland HE, Little Wattlebird, and Darter, to name a few. This turned out to be the 6th best score, one bird ahead of a few teams on 190 and another on 189.  Best team, incidentally was the Brewers who started at Lake Cargelligo this year, and who, after three successive seconds, finally bested the Monarchs with a whopping 252 birds, a new record by 2 birds! 

Even though we tanked at the death it was still on the whole a great weekend away, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s event, and the prospect of maybe another new route to explore.

 We spotted this guy on the pre-twitch at Breeza Dam; Double Banded Plover, and a new one for me.  These guys breed in NZ, and winter in Oz.  This one is in breeding plumage but seems to have missed the boat home.  Typically, when we came back to try and spot-light him during the race he was no longer present
 Red kneed dotterel fly-by.
 A mix of White Browed and Masked Woodswallows take flight.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

A very forgettable 24

Somehow, though, I think this one will stay with me for a while, but for all the other reasons.  Despite last week's hiccup, being a somewhat seasoned 24 rider (4 under the belt and no DNFs), i thought I'd be able to bluff my way through.  I'd largely regained a full range of movement in my right leg, coincident with colourful hues of yellow replacing the deep purple that was draining south.  The impact point remained an egg-shaped protrusion, but wasn't painful.  The back was starting to come good, enabling even vaguely normal bending and getting in/out of the car.  Riding to work had proved easier day by day.  With Friday off everything was going to be apples come race day.

It didn't take long to realise how delusional I'd been.  I guess I really wanted to do this bloody race after all.  Early in the first lap I started getting twinges of acute back pain accompanying the odd pedal stroke.  By the top of the mountain it was every stroke.  I rolled into the pits and requested a double-does of painkillers for the next stop.  Hopefully things would settle and I'd find my workman's groove.  The second lap was worse.  Half way up the climb on my 3rd lap, the motion of picking the front wheel over the entrance to a little rock step was enough to re-tear whatever ribbons of erector spinae had been giving me grief and I knew instantly that my race over.  At this point just finishing the lap proved an extremely painful affair.  I never thought I'd be so grateful for the downhill components simply due to not having to pedal, even if shifting weight was now an issue.  The mental anguish of having to stop didn't hit until I rolled into pits after only 3 hrs and announced I was done, although I think my crew had figured this out after my less than glowing demeanour and request for drugs on the first stop.

It is a team effort despite the "solo" moniker, and it felt terrible not to fulfill my side of the bargain and put on a good show.  In every other respect we really were the best prepared we'd ever been for such a campaign.  Part of the shame was dragging Anita, Ben and Sara all the way to Canberra for the fiasco.  At least the outcome was definitive early on so that Sara and Ben could make the return trip to Sydney in good time, but not before sharing some gourmet nibbles and beer for a few hours as we talked life matters as riders filed by; a chilled out state those on track are not normally privy to.  I should say their bedside manner was also pretty A grade in consoling the obvious disappointment.  Thanks guys.

Anita and I weren't going to attempt leaving just yet, given my state and that the pit area wouldn't be open to 4-wheeled traffic till the following afternoon.  But we enjoyed going for a bit of a bird on the adjacent runners track (excellent white-fronted chats and goldfinches) before settling into more spectating as shadows lengthened.  Riders faces were now writ with creases indicating that the novelty of fast early laps had long worn off and the enormity of a long night was looming.  We opted for a comfy hotel bed away from the buzz of the race, but kept an eye on proceedings online.

The race itself was fantastic to follow on numerous levels - the result of 270 odd starters from 16 countries, the second biggest 24solo in history.  For a change the course itself was the kindest singletrack offering that Stromlo could offer.  This was a prescription for speed, but as a result many riders simply blew themselves to smithereens.  In the elite men the first 8 hrs were dominated by Ed McDonald, who after weeks in the sick bed got back to racing the only way he knows how, building a lead of some 8 minutes at one point before this gradually faded to an ever diminishing chasing pack of elite riders.  Shortly after being caught he pulled up stumps knowing that despite pushing English so close at Nationals this just wasn't going to be his day.

The chasing pack contained most of the other favourites; English, Wallace (Canada, and again my pick for the upset), Page (UK), Hall, Lloyd , Chancellor, Herfoss and Poidevin (Canada).  Although this group was gradually splintering, the gaps were still small.  Come midnight, though, things had changed considerably.  English was comfortably holding a 20 minute margin, with Wallace starting to firm as the main challenger, although Lloyd and Hall were in hot pursuit and Chancellor was still looking good in fifth.  Page and Herfoss, however, had joined McDonald in their respective pits of despair and were no longer circulating.  Come the morning, Chancellor had also hit the showers and Wallace had slipped to 4th, derailed by an off which dislocated his shoulder.  Popping it back in took a bit a doing.  With survival now the primary focus he couldn't prevent Lloyd and Hall blasting by and mopping up the minor placings.  In the women's race, at one point the 5 top contenders were all rolling around within a few minutes of each other, but it was Jess Douglas who ultimately prevailed to defend her title with early leader Kwan fading to third and Hurst (NZ) securing second.

In male masters , the 40-45 category (the midlife crisis category) was again boasting the largest field in the race, with 40 starters.  Morris and McAvoy were the top billings and didn't disappoint, only minutes apart for the first half.  My main sparring partner Phil Welch did a great job of holding them at 10 minutes for the first third of the race, and looked to have 3rd in the bag at half way.  Hence I was shocked to wake on Sunday morning and see that Phil was no longer circulating, and hoped that he was OK.  Chatting with him later he said he was another guilty of roasting himself.  Once he lost his 3rd spot he crumbled mentally as much as physically.  He figured it was better to stop and start recovering for the Croc Trophy (starting the following weekend), than to coffin himself unnecessarily.

To give an indication of the quality of the 40-44 field, McAvoy, who hung on for the win despite relentless pressure from Morris, finished 5th outright on 24 laps.  Such a mindblowingly good result must have surpassed even his wildest expectations.  Morris came home in 8th outright (also on 24 laps), with Archer filling the last podium step on 23 laps and 12th outright.  Vogele and Gillard rounded out the top 5 with 22 laps, and places 18 and 22 respectively.  So, the overall top 10; English (27 laps), Lloyd then Hall (26 laps), Wallace, McAvoy, Bellchambers (single-speed!), Rae and Morris all on 24 laps, then Poidevin and Pattie on 23 laps.  English, btw was clearly once again on another level, cool as ever picking up his 4th consecutive world title in his 25th 24solo outing.  

Whilst I was somewhat relieved not to be putting myself through daggers on the Saturday afternoon, and enjoyed the spectacle with beer in hand, watching the battle-weary riders ticking off their final laps on the Sunday morning was an entirely different affair.  I realised I wanted to share in their triumph, camaraderie, relief and satisfaction.  I watched with considerable regret, knowing that with 17000 km for the calendar year i was in some of the best form of my life but unable to wield it, especially on a course that suited my capabilities so well -big tempo climb, no super fast descents, and few bits of thuggery, not to mention divine conditions.  And it was the Worlds!  The stars had aligned but somehow I'd slept through the alarm.  It was a bit crushing.

I was not the only one to suffer disappointment.  Ben, for instance, found himself in an even leakier boat yet still kindly offered to handle me.  Moore, another 7 hr combatant also succumbed early to mutinous back issues.  Phil, along with many of the elite guns, some who'd travelled round the world to be there, had to hoist a flag at some point.  24hr racing is like that.  If you have a weakness or miscalculation it will inevitably become exposed.  Most sobering of all, and putting things in perspective, a rider participating in a competition between the armed forces died on the mountain on the Friday we arrived, giving us all pause to consider that there are more important a things to life than bicycles.

Although I obviously wanted to finish this race on a high, I'm reasonably certain that the romance of the 24solo is now too thin for me to want to attempt another.  As Mr Fellows (third in 2010 worlds behind English and Wallace and since 'retired') mentioned to me last week at the Scott, "those things just hurt too much".  That said, I haven't regretted the journey just getting to the startline.  In particular, the 7 hr format is one I've really enjoyed, and I should thank Phil for encouraging me to give them a crack in the first place.  Once I get my ailments sorted I'll hopefully find myself doing a few more of these yet.

Andrew sent this to me - something he spotted in a recent edition of the the New Yorker.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Best laid plans of mice and men...

.....and Salmon and brown wombats,

Well,the Scott24 has been run, and barely survived by the Soggies, in what was a bit of a weekendus horribilus.  Actually that's a bit harsh, although it's fair to say things didn't go exactly to plan.  “The Plan”, being, a nice social outing with the lure of beer taking hold somewhere in the eve such that running all the way through was only optional.

It all started off well enough.  Excellent camp right near transition with Ben's camper forming the hub of sogginess.  The course, the standard Red lap Blue lap combination, also looked to be a step kinder this year, with the usual brutality of the blue lap toned down a few notches.  The beer was chilled and we would just see how far we got.  With early laps accruing word from both Salmons was that the course was sketchy courtesy of its dryness.  This was indeed to the case, with Mikey having a minor off with a front wheel washout on the Luge.

On our second rotation Ben and Mikey swapped order so that each could run the alternate loop.  Ben almost got home to transition when a couple of hundred meters from the end of the red lap a gravelly step down at speed saw his front wheel wash, resulting in him hitting the deck hard and sliding s few meters before he became tangled in some partition fencing and dragging that a few meters as well.  

It was clear when he appeared at transition nursing his arm and shoulder that the medics tent would be the next port of call.  Unfortunately he'd gouged quite a hole in his left elbow, and it was quickly confirmed that Woden hospital, X-rays and some stitches was the best option.  Ham acted as ambo whilst Mikey was by this stage dodging black snakes half way round the blue lap.  So Ben had to wait out the usual emergency queue whilst Ham returned to head out on course once I'd returned from running a double.

Remarkably, at this stage we hadn't actually missed any transitions but were missing our friend – a far more depressing scenario.  Somber talk back at camp revolved around hoping that Ben hadn't done his collarbone, and would perhaps be back at camp soon to at least partake in a quiet ale. "Soon" turned out to be quite a while, and it wasn't until about 8 pm that Ben finally hobbled back to camp, complete with three stitches and a patch quilt of bandaging, but most importantly no broken bones.

Although he didn’t let it show, for Ben this must have been a bit crushing as he’d been training hard to run solo at WEMBO the following weekend (world solo 24 champs), as had I, but this now seemed unlikely.  Incidentally he wasn't the only one to be undone by this terminal section of the Red loop track.  Consequently the barrier positions were shifted to prevent further repeats.

By this stage, and given the circumstances, I'd decided to call it quits for the day, especially as I already had 50 km under the belt and the race was meant to cap a week of tapering.  Night laps, well I'd get a bunch of them next week anyway, and the temperature was now pretty chilly.  Ham and Mikey still partook, but eventually we settled round the glow of the camper to discuss life matters whilst consuming pizza, chips, and a little beer.  Then it was off to bed.

It was a cold one, and I drifted off to sleep to the intermittent hum of knobby tires on Tarmac, as riders either returned from the blue lap, or headed out on the red lap, just meters from where my tent was pitched.  Having had a shower I slept pretty well, got up and headed out for an early morning double.  The track still retained some tackiness from the evening due, and I rumbled into transition to record my longest ever Red lap of some 9 hrs!  After completing a blue lap I hit the transition area for the morning staples of coffee and bacon and egg rolls.  

My next lap was a Blue and this is where I joined Ben in the damaged goods department, although my pilot error happened way out the back of the course where I was enjoying the thrill of clearing some doubles on the Double Dissolution sector.  I' m still not sure exactly what happened but air off one of these was met not with a smooth landing but with but a touchdown which had me lose control, surfing some loose stuff before the finality of going over the bars.

I immediately scrambled to get myself and bike off track as riders started flying past.  Was I OK?, they all wanted to know.  Pretty much doing anything elicited jolts of pain due to a bump on the left knee, a corked groin, and an extremely sore lower left back.  Terrific! There was nothing required in the stitch department, but to some extent there might as well have been as I could barely move.

The hard tail couldn't move either, having performed a magic trick of its own.  The handlebars had flipped round past the point of rotation such that the RH shifter/break mechanism (and bars) was now on the wrong side of the top tube.  Steric hindrance, as we say in macro-molecular parlance, should clearly have prevented such rotation.  I had to loosen the shifters and rotate them round the bars to swing the front end back to its normal orientation.  To top it off the rear wheel was now well out of true, but not so much that I couldn't get home.  After collecting myself for another 5 min or so I started the awkward process of limping home.

Well, that was my race over and I joined Ben under the shade of the tarp to compare war stories.  It was over to Ham and Mikey to swing laps for the remainder, but they were up for it.  Ham was riding well, lapping consistently, as was Mikey who was discovering the joys of lower tyre pressures. Meanwhile I was licking my wounds, figuratively, and marvelling at the bar-end shaped punch mark in my groin, which explained the magic trick performed by the handlebars.  On flipping round the bar-end collected my groin with force enough to flex the bars the 1 cm required to hurdle the steric impediment represented by the top tube.  This tube itself now sported a minor scrape and fracture as evidence, although the integrity of the tube itself looks to be OK (touch carbon).  More sound, at least than I am feeling today (The Monday after), which was meant of be a day of a light spin and packing, but which now looks like it will be largely spent prostrate, although a trip to Concord Hospital beckons to make sure there is nothing cracked in the vertebrae department.

On reflection, the weekend was a well intentioned plan that just didn't stay on script.  Funnily enough, despite it all it was still an enjoyable adventure with the boys, although obviously we would have preferred to emerge with full ranges of motion and free of cat gut.  I suppose I'll just have to take things one day at a time and decide mid week whether I think I'll be able to run on the weekend.  Obviously a major bummer if I can't, as this has been the overarching goal of the year. But whichever way it pans out, I suppose that's life!

Postscript – Tuesday.  No cracked vertebrae (much relief), and was actually able to ride in (very slowly) today.  Funnily enough doing anything on the bike is easier than trying to do anything off it.  So in all probability I’ll be a starter on the weekend, although I’ll have to temper expectations accordingly.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

AWABA state of mind – Chocky Foot 7hr 2013

Since first riding the track at Awaba a few months back I had this course in mind as one which might suit my capabilities – lots and lots of climbing with few mega technicalities, although it did occur to me that compared to Taree or Nowra it was on the rough side and was certain to dish out a hammering on the hard tail.

I travelled to the event in the early morning with the Salmon collective – Ben would also be running solo and Mikey would be teaming up with a work mate in the pairs category.  Although Ben and Mike are both pretty competent bike handlers I filled them in on what I knew of the course, including the insanely steep descent to the bowels of a gully known as “the chute”.

The form.  The Masters field was, again, going to be a hard one to crack.  Mr Adams (round 1 winner) was signed up, along with Messer’s McAvoy (who I pipped for the first time last week at the Kowalski – although he was treating it as a leisurely training ride), Welch (10 min behind me last week and in a bit of a fatigue slump), Israel (3 min ahead of me last week) and James (6 min ahead of me last week).  Fortunately for all of us Adams was a DNS.

My self-seeding nightmare continued although I managed to slot into the first single track sector with a lungful of dust maybe 20 spots behind Welch, but by the half way point of what is a longish 12 km loop he was well out of sight.  I ended up riding the first few laps with Mr Clutterham, who used to live in the same townhouse complex I call home.  Matt was riding well after having a bit of a horror show at the Dargle12hr solo a month back.  We swapped lead a few times and chatted intermittently when suddenly Welch appeared on the horizon at about the 2 hour mark.  Slowly but surely we gained contact then sat in a conga line for some time, with Phil at the head of affairs.

Eventually I decided it was time to pass but made a hash of it, almost knocking both myself and Phil off our bikes.  I apologized profusely then got back to the business of holding a rhythm.  Soon after Mr Israel was also gobbled up.  On the main climb of the course a gap seemed to open and on the next lap I got a bit of a shock, sighting glimpses of Mr James up ahead, betrayed by his canary yellow shoes and socks.  Soon enough I was cruising past as he conceding that a lack of taper had left him cooked and it would not be his day.  The only man up the road at this point would have been McAvoy himself.

I eased off a little bit as the pace had been pretty intense and it was reasonably warm with little breeze getting through the trees.  I had abandoned my sweat-flecked glasses after the first lap – a sign I should have taken more notice of.  Now my vision was at times blurry as I struggled to get the contacts pointing in the right direction, perhaps courtesy of the combination of dust and encroaching dehydration.  Feeding was quite tricky, with most of the liquid having to be downed in large gulps on only a few short sections of fire-road connecting the large sectors of singletrack.  But I was enjoying being on my lonesome and swooping through the half-pipes of eucalypt and rainforest sectors.

Adrenaline moment of the day was rounding a corner and startling a huge goanna (as long as I am tall) that had lumbered onto the track.  Fortunately for both of us it bolted as soon as it saw me, but along the very same single track.  Although these things can move I was bearing down on it – a slapstick Jurassic Park moment albeit in a parallel universe with man chasing lizard.  It had sense to finally punch off the track 10 meters later just as the front wheel was close to clipping its thrashing tail.

I couldn’t afford to ease off for long, as occasional glimpses of Phil behind reminded me.  At best I really only had a few minutes up my sleeve.  Occasionally Ben or Mike would make my pits more efficient by passing a bottle and giving a time check.  The most encouraging one I got all race was “3 minutes behind and 3 minutes ahead”.  Welcome news although I think the 3 behind (McAvoy) was a little flattering and the 3 ahead was tempered by knowledge it was a lap old.

In any case I was chuffed to be running so close to McAvoy, and felt confident that I had 2nd in the bag.  I shouldn’t have.  With 5 hours down and 2 hours (or 3 laps) remaining the first very unwelcome twinges of cramp made themselves known.  It’s funny how quickly dynamics can change.  Only the lap prior I felt strong and in control.  Now just cleaning the steeper pinches without inducing lock-up became a battle.  So I nursed myself, guzzling liquid when I could, but caught sight of Welch once again with about a lap and a quarter to go.  Come my last transition and the start of my 11th and final lap I only had 30 seconds, and with about 10 km to go I eased aside to let Phil blast through.  I thought this was a bit of overkill as it should have been obvious my engine was roasted.  I suppose he was just making sure, as I have done to him on previous occasions, but I discovered only minutes later that perhaps fear of a resurgent Israel might have also been motivation. 

I congratulated Mike as he too surged past and let him know that Phil was only a minute up the track if he wanted him.  At least I didn’t have to worry about the podium now.  Turns out Mike did want him, catching Phil at the death and putting a mere 10 sec into him come the line.  What a ding-dong battle!  McAvoy finished on top, 10 minutes clear of the minor placing’s fisticuffs.  I eventually got myself to the end, but not before “Clutters” (5th in open category) also blasted by in the last km to also do me by about 30 seconds.  Well-done Matt!  Despite having a shocker, Mr James was only 5 minutes further adrift in 5th, also on 11 laps.   Only the outright solo winner (Mr Lloyd) managed 12 laps for the day. 

Well, that was an education and a timely reminder that when it’s warm I’ve got to manage my fluid intake and intensity a little better.  Hats of to Jason for being a cut above, and to Mike and Phil (and Matt) for pacing themselves so sensibly and saving enough to run hot at the end when it mattered.  I think all would agree it turned out to be a terrific race.  And to Phil, especially, for breaking the drought that had been messing with his mind.  

Ben and Mikey also seemed to have had a grand day out, with a few minor offs, but nothing involving broken bikes, bodies or bark off.  Thanks guys for the joys of the car trip and for pit-side bottles and beta.  Next week Stromlo should be fun in a less serious and more relaxed kind of way.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Too much bacon is barely enough – Kow Classic 2013

The metaphor of bacon equating to singletrack was used to promote this years Kowalski Classic.  I initially thought they were taking this too far.  For one, and in words describing the demise of Curly, “He had bacon for every meal…you just can’t do that”.  Secondly, in last years inaugural event I found it hard to really get going.  When that happens, in a forest that largely looks the same, an awful lot of groundhog porcine strips must to be consumed to get to the end. 

But with promise of a new improved course, and good form (despite a pair of hangovers in the lead up) I was looking forward to giving it a go on the hardtail.  Many of the top riders had this idea too, although English and Tupalski, who duked out the finale in an incredible time of 3:53, both commented, and I agree with them to an extent, that it really was a course for the dually.  Oh well, about time I made a possible faux pas in bringing the wrong bike, but what would they know!  Many new sectors had indeed been freshly cut and were yet to bed in properly, making driving at speed near impossible seated.  Hence I ended up riding good chunks standing and pushing a larger gear, but I actually think this suits my capabilities.  I’m sure I went quicker than the complacency-lending dually would have permitted.  Basically, I just love the 29er hardtail platform.

Another reason I was ready for a middle of the pack performance was that apart from the fact that I’ve still a lot to learn about the art of squiggles, the field for the full length course was over 300, at least three times the size of the solo fields I’ve been competing against in the 7 hr races – which I’ve also learnt is a better length for me.  With an expected race time for the 90 km in the order of 5 hrs (5:07 last year), this thing was going to be (perhaps mercifully) too damn short.

I thought the organisers did an excellent job with the pre-seeding, providing more numerous and smaller waves than for other events.  Additionally, the long fire-road climb at the start made for a good thinning out before the single track was engaged.  I was surprised to be able to cruise past Mr Welch on the middle sector of the opening climb and plant myself firmly on Mr McAvoy’s wheel (2nd in Masters and top 10 outright at last years event, and arguably the enduro benchmark for the Masters category).  Funnily enough, despite racing frequently against Jason this was the first time I’ve actually been able to watch his wheel, in this case attached to a top-shelf Cannondale 29er dually.  I was surprised by the ease with which I could sit on up the climb, and by how lean he looked.  He always looks lean when viewed on the podium, but he looked particularly thin.  By the pace I figured he might be treating this as more of a training race for the upcoming 24 than a balls-out affair, simply by virtue of my being able to sit on.

I followed him into the singletrack sectors that followed and had to work to stay in touch.  Not surprisingly he was the better technician.  I wondered how long I’d be able to hang on, and how the gap would blow when I truly conceded.  As the km’s started to accrue I’d lose him in the squiggles, then claw back sightings on the climbs.  Having lost touch for a while the first nasty fire road climb appeared, with JM still on it.  I stayed focused and by half way up the ridge switchbacks of “The Escalator” I was but 20 meters behind, with a couple of riders preventing contact.  We exchanged veiled glances.  I lost him on the freshly cut sectors that followed, but sighted him again at the first feed.  At this point just keeping in touch was a victory in itself.  I finally ground up to his back wheel on another steep fire road at the 40 km mark and thought, what the heck, might as well play to my strengths.  He complemented my as I came past, which was nice.

I tried not to look back but squirmed my best through many technical swooping bits, only really opening the throttle on the intermittent climbing segments.  I knew I had a gap going into the 50 km transition, but how much?  My no-stop strategy simply required me to drain a bottle and swap it on the frame.  Riding without a camelback McAvoy would have to at least find his stash and swap bottles, which would buy me another 10-20 sec. 

By this stage I was mostly riding by myself, pulling in riders slowly but consistently, one by one.  There was no sight of JM as I crossed under the highway to enter the Sparrow Hill sector, but figured he couldn’t be far back and fully expected to be gobbled up at some point.  No point waiting, I kept grinding away, pleased whenever the track pitched upwards or bogged up, knowing that on these sectors I was probably pulling time, or at the very least not bleeding it. 

With 20 to go I caught a rider who turned out to be Mr Moore (another 7 hr combatant), which explains his not inconsiderable surge to try and be rid of me through extended sectors of squiggles.  Once again, the climbs were my collaborators and I managed to regain contact just as the course crossed back under the highway for the last (mostly climbing) 10 km sector.  Eventually the elastic broke and I managed to finish alone in 4:38, 5th in Masters and 33rd outright.  Moore was 30 sec back in 6th, and JM another minute adrift in 8th.  Another 3 minutes quicker would have had me on the Masters podium.  Once again, tight and absorbing racing on what I thought was a terrific course – far more interesting and varied than last year.  Top cuts of bacon indeed.  As well as doing better than anticipated the other positive was that I didn’t finish a broken man (like last year) but could have burnt hard for at least another hour if required.

I suggested to Jason that he must have been finishing off another 1000 km week.  He smiled and divulged that he’d ticked 200 the previous day (to my trundle of 35).  This explains a lot…but I still rate it as one of my most complete performances.  Welch finished 10 minutes adrift, no doubt still fatigued by yet another 750 the week prior at the direction of “Madman Selkrig”.  If these guys keep trying to out-fatigue each other I might yet be a factor at WEMBO in three weeks time.

One rarely comes to these events alone.  The meal the night before was shared with Sara and Giles (who stayed at more salubrious Queanbeyan digs), as well as Andy, Ham, Ben and Anita, whom bunkered down collectively at the establishment known as the Parkway Motel.  I suppose Ben and myself were unperturbed, having stayed there previously (it was a mtb bike race after all), but the others gave the distinct impression something a little fancier might be appreciated next time. 

Anita, Sara and Giles tackled the 50 km course which was quite a bit more challenging than the standard Mont offering, with an assortment of gristle, rind, crackling, chips of bone and charred offerings for the less initiated to choke on.  Thankfully all came through in one piece and in good spirits.  As for the full 90 km Monty, Ham again rolled around on zero training getting full value for money, but at least he didn’t need to complain about squealing brakes this time.  I still can’t believe his front tyre, which started the day with about 30 bleed points, survived the distance.  Please change it for the Scott! 

Andrew probably did the ride of the day with a marathon effort on a track that for him must have been a real eye opener; not just because of the frequent technical rocky features, but because by the time he got to them most of the bogs had deteriorated to their worst – the combination of 75 mm of rain midweek and the churning of 500 sets of wheels.  “Well…I learnt a lot” was his immediate summation.  He did look relieved it was over.

Ben had another bitter-sweet Kowalski.  Last year he ended up doing about 6 km extra due to poor course marking, which sent quite a few riders down garden paths.  This year he ended up 11 km short due to a mess up at the feed servicing both the 63 and 74 km points, where the track looped out before returning to the same point.  We think he inadvertently jumped the wheel of another rider who was effectively 11 km further up the road and in the process of making a correction so as not to mistakenly do this loop again.  A shame as judging by his 50 km split he was riding strongly. Maybe next year the course markings will align!  In any case, looking fwd to riding the Scott with Ben, Ham and Mikey in 2 weeks time.