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.