With not much road racing going on in the early part of the year, I decided to turn my attention to my original introduction to biking – mountain biking! A few races were on throughout January and February that would provide different challenges, and I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with the dirt.
First up was the Duo Classic – a great little event run by Bec Henderson at Kowen Forest in Canberra.
The aim is to race together with a mate, and cross the line together with the time taken from the last person. So don’t leave your mates behind, and don’t let yourself get left behind!
I teamed up with a mate, and off we went! It was a good reintroduction to mountain biking and the event had a great atmosphere. I met plenty of people on the single track who had been put to the sword by their teammate – shame on them – including one guy whose brother had put down such a pace as to deliberately make him crack! I think there must have been a bet or two there.
My mate and I had a great time, despite some mechanical issues and came home all smiles and laughs. I even managed to win the lucky draw prize, which I am kindly donating to my partner who is keen to have a go at playing in the dirt!
After the Duo Classic I had a few weeks before the next event, the AMB100 run by Rocky Trail Entertainment at Stromlo Forest Park. I’d signed up for the “100 mile” length of the race, so the time gap allowed me to put in some more hours mountain biking over at Stromlo so I didn’t completely embarrass myself!
Now the AMB100 tries to take in almost every trail on Stromlo there is, and sometimes the laps are a bit longer than others, but this time the laps were about 28km. I was set to do 5 laps for approximately 140km give or take, so not quite a true “100 miles” but James Downing likes to say that all units of measurement in regard to Stromlo are magnified… temperature, distance, fun… so close enough.
If 140km of almost 100% single track for what I predicted to be 8-10 hours wasn’t enough, we were starting at 5am so that we didn’t drag things out too long for the amazing volunteers in the forecast 35 degree heat. So that meant a 3.30am wake up for me.
I’d done a few days of long practice on the course in the few weeks leading up to the race, and so was confident that if I just plodded along, ate enough, drank enough, and kept the heart rate low enough, I’d eventually get there. So that was my main goal for this one – to finish. However ugly it might be time wise.
THE AMB 100 MARATHON
The day came and while it was a bit rude to wake up at 3.30am with only about 4.5hrs sleep – I reminded myself that this was my version of fun…
some people ski, some people dance… I hurt myself on a bike.
A quick drive over to Stromlo to set up my things and to warm up. Things weren’t boding well when I went to set off for a quick leg wake up and I clip stacked in the pitch dark.
But without much ado, they sent about 20 of us off in the dark with our lights at 5am, and almost immediately, I was in 5th position – heart rate sky high.
I spent the entire lap with lights crashing into everything. I’d forgotten to practice riding with lights. In the dark.
So I was somewhat relieved to get the lap done and rip the lights off the helmet and the bike and start the 2nd lap as the sun was up. This was a great lap and I moved up to 4th after the guy ahead of me seemed a bit roughed up by his hard tail.
When I moved onto the 3rd lap just after 8am, I quickly came upon riders who’d just started their race in the 1, 2 and 3 lap races – and so came the next challenge of keeping things under control.
Which I failed. I was keen to move through these fields but allowed my pacing to get too high as I came upon riders on tough uphill sections where they struggled. So naturally, I took to burning around them as quickly as possible to get it done with. This sent my heart rate sky high.
After a lap of pushing really hard and the heat getting towards 30, I’d put in a faster lap, but also really felt it. I set off on the 4th lap as the heat got to above 30 and got all the way around the back of Stromlo to the steep fireroad section called Casuarina Climb before I experienced a first – leg cramps! I’d always laughed at people who co mplained about leg cramps… never had them! Well both by hamstrings and my quads went at the same time. Cosmic karma man.
I struggled through knowing that I soon had the sweet descents of Skyline and Luge to come but by the time I got down them, I’d found I’d subconsciously spent about 10mins thinking about pulling the pin. My back, hands and knee had been aching for the last 2 laps as I’d gone deeper than I’d promised. And so the collective weight of that plus the new leg cramps – combined with the fact that at the bottom of Luge, about 2/3rds of the way through the lap, it is the closest point to the start/finish – I decided to call it a day.
I rolled back to the start/finish and packed up my stuff, and took a breather. A tough one! I’d done some good laps so although I didn’t achieve my goal, there wasn’t much I could do. There’s always the temptation after a few hours or days to think that it wouldn’t have been so hard to continue – but at that moment, I couldn’t see how I could pedal another stroke without causing damage!
THE WILLO: JAMES WILLIAMSON ENDURO CHALLENGE
So onto the next race! The Willo Enduro – despite its name, is still another cross country race! I’d done this one 4 or so years ago, so was keen to see how the trails at Wingello State Forest had changed since then. I was up for the more moderate distance of 75km and was keen to give this one a good hard slogging to make up for the AMB100.
I made the trek with a few mates in the morning (6am start seemed so much more civilised this time) and arrived at the event centre with the whole forest shrouded in a bit of mist – good news! No 30 degree stinker this time!
We quickly sorted ourselves out and got to the start line and we were off! They let us off in waves, with open/elite males in 75km going first, so we had some real demons to keep up with but they were quickly off, leaving most of us in their dust.
Everyone promptly sorted themselves out order wise and got into a rhythm – except for me. My single track skills on trails I was unfamiliar with were severely lacking! My steady power from road riding and time trialling meant I would murder the hills and fire trail, only to put myself ahead of riders who would murder me on the single track… So I spent about 2 laps swapping places with about 5 guys… it got pretty funny in the end and we all had a good laugh (at me!).
In the end though, I won these battles as there were a few good sections of fire road and climbs where I just put the head down to try and make up all that time I lost mucking around on the singletrack. I came home with a result I feel somewhat pleased with, knowing I can improve a lot more.
So there ends my mountain bike racing block. A lot of it hurt, but almost all of it was fun. I’m looking forward to getting to this events again next year, but for now, I turn my attention to my first real crack at some top level road races with my new teammates. Hopefully I don’t clip stack.