I had demons to slay. I wanted a far, far better time that last year. I wanted to finish, and I wanted to finish in a physical state that didn't closely resemble a corpse.
Cars loaded and convoy rolled out Friday morning. 5 something hours to get to Apollo Bay, via Forrest to take care of registration duties. Critical error committed by blindly following the GPS, which caused all manner of confusion, the maps layer not having the new Geelong Bypass loaded in yet, plus a few of the more obscure laneways it sent us down not conforming. You think a GIS student would know better. I take comfort in the fact that I wasn't driving at the time, plus I did try and sneak an atlas into the car in the morning, which was then removed from the car in a third party re-organise and cleanout.
Accomodation superb as always - www.colonialcottages.com.au if you're looking for a break. Highly recommended.
And onto the race. Bikes prepped the night before, just wake up, gear up, eat up and roll out, right? Wrong. Back tyre dropped overnight - tubeless not beading properly. Give it a shake, a pump up and a kiss, hope for the best. Tape an extra spare tube to the seat post, just in case.
By this time, the nerves had begun to settle, and had been replaced by acceptance of what was about to occur. Rallied the troops and rolled into town. Mad German's tyre started to perform an odd kerthunking noise. Hmm, not a brilliant sign, we might have a look at this. The 3rd Mavic UST tyre I've seen that has blistered straight through the tread. Not good at the best of times, really really not good when you are 3 minutes away from the start of a 100km race. He managed to round up a new tyre, and we tracked down a floor pump & got it sealed. Phew. 3 seconds later, we're rolling.
The format was changed a little this year, with the timed climb "KOM" section bang off the start line, up to the top of the first climb - which is at about 400 metres & 8km into the course. It's a real buster of a climb, do-able by most, but if you want to do it quickly, well it's going to hurt you. A fitting climb for a KOM stage, but by changing the timed section to there, it neglects to consider start line congestion. Unless you're on the front row, you're not going to have a fair shot.
The first dirt section appeared shortly after, losing all of our hard-fought elevation very, very quickly. This section was an utter boggy mess last year, completely unrideable, and to be able to get traction this year was a joy. Not that you can do it quickly, it's still very steep, and some sections are better pushed than ridden - a worry when you can scramble, while dragging a bike, quicker than you can pedal! After a brief respite of downhill ("Suicide Watch" - they come up with some charming names), it was back to more familiar territory of plodding and dragging upwards.
By this point I was already over 2 hours ahead of last years time - mud, glorious mud, be gone! I was actually enjoying myself, which is almost unheard of at a Marathon race.
After a few km of bitumen transiting (moving ever vertically upwards), we crossed over the main road and started the climb up Mt Sabine. Highest point of the race was ticked off shortly thereafter, and a brief stop to pump up the slowly leaking rear tyre, it was time for some downhill firetrail madness. White Knuckle Slider - scene of last year's devastating triple over-the-bars incident - was just as steep and rutted as last year, but without the slick of clay over the top, I just headed to the right, got the weight back over the rear wheel, and let go. Clear run the whole way down, it looked like plenty of people were still coming to grief. One chap was sitting on the side, wrapped in a space blanket (I later heard his collarbone was in 4 pieces), and a few people were nursing taco-d front wheels, courtesy of a few unexpected ruts.
Surprise - more climbing. Up to the 42km mark, and time for the timed descent, Red Carpet. Close to 8km of downhill singletrail, groomed and bermed to perfection. 22 minutes last year, and very, very keen to shave some time off this time around. Mad German snapping hot on my heels, I wasn't going to hang around. We both leapt off, and made the most of the gravity and the beautifully groomed trail. 16 minutes later - 6 minutes off last years time! - we're at the bottom, and heading up once again.
A quick stop at 50km to refill bladders and bottle - bad idea. Something very, very wrong with the water provided, it tasted horrible and stank! I didn't have an option, the next water was not until heading through the oval at 67km, so all I could do was limit what I was drinking, and hope for a complete water change once we got to Forrest for the first time.
It was here that the singletrack really started in earnest. The next 50km would dish up something like 42km of singletrack, and most of it was just sublime. Alot of hard, hard work has gone into the Forrest trails, and it shows. For the next 3 hours, there was not really any time that I didn't have a smile on my face, and while the tracks were technically challenging, there was not a stupid amount of climbing in them. I was really in my element, and as I had been paying close attention to my food and drink intake, I hadn't bonked, and legs were still ready for more. Although I was at the tail of the field, I was just warming up, and was finally able to start picking up some places.
It wasn't all smooth sailing though. I made it back to the oval and got a water change done (phew), topped up on food, and kept pedalling. Heading out on the second loop was just diabolical. a 2km climb up through soft sand was just too much to deal with, and resulted in a bit of pushing. Luckily the push got me to pretty much the high point of the loop, and we started working downhill through the bush. It was really interesting seeing the different veg types as we worked down. In one run, we went from sand and grass trees, to open scrub, to subtropical ferns and mosses. And the tracks just kept getting better and better.
Tough to call a favourite moment of the day, but heading downhill for a km, through endless berms and banks, pedalling through each berm, getting faster and faster, but so much grip, it felt like we were riding on rails! It's moments like that when I realise how much I love this sport - not when you're slogging up hill in granny, or holding on for grim death bouncing your way down a stupidly techo trail at warp speeds, but when everything just clicks into place and you are one with the bike. Doesn't take much to make me happy, and I would pedal for hours to get that feeling.
Of course the fairytale did have to come to an end. Rolled back into the oval at 87km, pumped, 13km to go, and raring to finish this puppy off. GF met me with a hard-earned can of coke and a couple more gels, and sent me off with the words 'apparently this stage is the worst of the lot'. Thanks, hon! Not motivating, but the gospel truth. 8km of uphill firetrail exposed hot sunny climbing. Yeeech. With fresh legs, it would have been a breeze. After being smacked stupid on the bike for 7 1/2 hours at that point, not so easy. I clambered and grovelled my way up, and up, and up. Finally got to what looked like a gate and a crest, only to see more up. "Britney's Meltdown" I believe it was called. You didn't need to be a self absorbed princess to melt down on this either. I'm sure a few people were ready to spit the dummy here!
After finally cresting, and heading off into the bush once again, down we headed. This was National Park, so no groomed singletrack in here - just old ruts that have become a defacto trail of some loose description. If you were going to do yourself an injury - either to your person or your steed - this would be it. Luckily I avoided both, and got stuck in trying to gain some lost time from the climb. I knew in the back of my head 'The Sledgehammer' was coming up - no idea what it was, but it sounded baaaad.
And it was, but certainly not what it was built up to be. By that point I had pushed up so many hills, one more was not going to make a difference, especially if it meant a predominantly downhill run to the bottom. Scarp down my last gel of the day and go for it!
So, so close to home, I could almost taste the beer and sausage that I was about to eat. With a nice (or nasty, whichever way you look at it) run of boggy, sandy, uphill singletrack before the bitumen run home, the expletives that had been rattling around in my head for the day started to get verbalised at an alarming rate and volume. Why, why must you do these things to yourself, I asked?
But this was a minor hump in the road to completion. Singletrack cleared, it was time to hunker down and finish off.
Job done. And boy, didn't the beer taste good that afternoon!
Key stats for the ride were:
Av Speed: 11 km/h
Energy used: 8329 kCal (nearly 35000 kJ)
Burn rate: 65 kJ per minute
Gels eaten: 12 (at 450kJ each)
Cans of Coke: 1
Water drunk: close to 8 litres
The balance of the weekend disappeared in a haze of beer, fish & chips, sitting in the sun, talking rubbish, trading war stories from the ride, and falling asleep early (like that was any surprise!).
And before you know it, it's over. You're in the car on the way home, hoping like hell the GPS shows us the right was this time, trying to pick the best spring roll out of the bain marie at a random service station, and wondering whether to have McDonalds or KFC for lunch at the Wallan Service Centre on the way home.
Like all weekends away, too short, too soon. I'm not sure how I feel about marathon racing at the moment, although it was great to finish and get the monkey off my back, I wonder is it worth the torment? I enjoyed the course, no doubt, but I'm wondering if that was an anomoly.
Time will tell whether I saddle up for another. Time will tell.
Obligatory happy snaps:
Three club riders, one sponsored, and one try-hard shop geek
87km and wondering why I am here
Rolling over the line
Post-race glow (alcohol assisted)
Apollo Bay from above - and a distance