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.