Last year the Kowalski was one of my most solid and enjoyable squiggle performances (flow and enjoyment often go hand in hand) on what I considered a perfect 90 km loop, so I was keen to front up again and reassess. Realistically though, I wasn’t anticipating quite as good an outcome. My last race was 7 weeks ago after which fitness got flushed away in a wet month. Additionally, the organisers puffed the distance out to 100 clicks, which was going to add another 30 min to the equation. I was curious to know whether such an extension (like the rug) would “tie the room together”. As for each edition thus far, the course was quite different from the one prior, with most of the climbing difficulty this year coming in the second 50.
The first 50 was mostly played out in the magical trails of Sparrow Hill, and for me turned out to be quite a disappointment performance-wise. Starting in the second non-elite wave I struggled to find my mojo and hold wheels, in part because the half and full-distance riders, even though seeded, were started together. I could comfortably hold my own on the climbs but I just didn’t have the ooze in the twists (hundreds of these) and consequently succumbed to the constant hounding from riders burning hotter over the shorted distance. This was at its worst about 20 km in when another group of red-blooded 50 km guns from the following wave started aggressively demanding track – apparently the no-d*ckhead policy of the Choc Foot 7 hr series didn’t apply here.
I eventually found good chunks of free track upon which to focus but undid it all by missing a corner and losing a minute in the about face. In an instant I was now trailing riders I’d fought hard to claw ahead of, not to speak of losing a rhythm that would have to be regained. Towards the end of the lap the diesel started to kick in and I started pulling in riders one by one, then being passed by some of them again on loose descents. “I’m guessing you’re a roadie”, quipped one. It was that obvious.
I passed through the 50 split at 2:38 (70th outright (of 280) and 20th in Masters), which turned out to be about 10 minutes adrift of riders such as Israel and Moore, whom are in a similar league, at least in the engine room department. That's the sort of handicap a poor skill set can dish out when applied to a course built for technicians.
Hence began the second 50, exclusively in Kowen, which turned out to be a far more enjoyable experience, albeit in a painful kind of way. That is to say it I started the loop pretty rooted, but that's true for most in this game. Faced with mega amounts of climbing and numerous rough fresh-cut connectors, I felt the pendulum slightly swing back to my favour as, one by one, more riders succumbed to my brand of chugging. Favourite bits were the almost airbrushed-smooth groove and gloom of the enchanted forest, and the fabulous escalator climb and accompanying rooftop jungle sector. Loads of squawks from yellow-tailed blacks and choughs as periodic diversions. I finished a strong second half to come home in 5:18, only 4 min adrift of Israel and 3 from Moore – almost identical gaps to last year’s edition, placing me 11th in Masters and 40th outright in a hotter field.
I finished with over a liter of un-guzzled fluid courtesy of my non-stop strategy, which was another self-inflicted handicap, which might have to be rectified next time. If I’m only going through 4 bottles in such an outing I might as well swap two at the 50 and not carry anything on my back as I’ve done in the past, although the camelback does make drinking easier. Not my best performance, but as good as I could muster on the day, with obvious places for improvement, and for the record (because I know I’ll forget), nearly everyone thought a dually was the smarter option.
The soggies were also admirably represented by Anita and Sara in the half, and GK in the full. Both the girls seemed to enjoy the outing; in Anita’s case despite a handful of minor offs which produced an assortment of interesting scratches and bruises and, in Sara’s case, an incident-free run off the back of a hamstring tear which almost had her not take to the start. Anita was most relieved I’d talked her out of ticking the 100 box, whilst GK, who had a grand day out on little preparation, perhaps wished he hadn’t. 100 km on the dirt is a long way no matter how you cut it.
We’ll be back at Kowen in just over a month for the short-track convenience of the rescheduled Mont 24. Should be a cracker!