So, after 800 km in the car, 2 nights in the tent, 114 km and 7 hours 32 minutes on the bike, 72000 seperate heart beats whilst on the bike, and 28660 kilojoules burnt, I'm home. Phew.
I was a little apprehensive about the weekend and my ability to race. I'd been carrying a niggling stomach flu for the bulk of last week, which had me hyper-vigilant about dehydrating and electrolyte loss. The last thing I felt like doing was eating, and had spent most of the week eating dry toast and drinking lemonade. Things were on the improve by Friday, but the situation was far from resolved.
It's amazing how much gear you can shoehorn into the humble Forester. 2 people and full camping kit, 2 bikes, 2 pop up marquees, work stand, tools, tri stand - you name it, it was either in the car or strapped to the roof.
Once hitting Canberra and taking care of a few administrative duties (including the banking of the truant insurance cheque), we hit Mt Stromlo and got camp established. My teammate Pete had snuck out the night before and staked out a premium position for us - so we didn't have to battle with the other 2499 riders to somewhere to sleep. The rest of the team started to roll in and we got settled in for the night.
I had some people to catch up with in Canberra for the evening, so I managed to sneak out for a proper meal (thanks Hellenic Club). The meal was excellent, but unfortunately said stomach wasn't quite prepared for the onslaught of a Porterhouse steak and chips.
After a fairly unsettled night in the tent, race day dawned clear, cold and bright. Team assembled, game plan sorted, first rider picked via short straw, time to settle in and cheer. The course was fairly challenging - not overly technical, but still some challenging sections. It certainly rewarded good technical riding. Some cruel bits as well - an uphill rocky switchback section that was wet and slippery, some axle deep mud that got worse as the race continued, and a cruel, nasty 2km climb that sent you out right at the end of the lap, just when you thought you were home. Just mean really.http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=logo
I made a point of having a water bottle in my hand pretty much all the time I was off the bike, and was also using some of the Enervit GT Sport tablets, which I've found to be pretty good in the past for warding off cramps. I was hoping that this would keep my electrolytes in check, and all in all I was feeling pretty good. I was out as Rider #3 and was quietly psyching myself up. We'd had a gentle practice lap in the morning, just to get the lie of the land, but how was it going to be at race pace?
In a word, tough. It was on from the second I grabbed the team baton and bolted out of transition. The Polar tells the tale - first lap maxHR 184, aveHR 171. The course started with a 9km climb, middle ring the whole way up, but for me a very fine line between climbing comfortably and going lactic. I suspect I was on the wrong side of this the first time up. Once you get the climb out of the way, it was straight down Wedgetail and Pork Barrel - two quite technical descents that could be nailed fairly quickly, but you got a battering in return.
Then a bit of up, and some more down - tabletops, doubles, berms, and screamingly fast. From there it was about 8 or 9km of undulating singletrack, some rough, some smooth, some fast, some agonisingly slow, until we hit the aforementioned final climb. Rest assured by that point I was completely toasted and the last thing I wanted to do was climb! I was certainly very glad to get the first lap out of the way.
Our game plan was single laps until about 8pm, when we would switch to doubles, in order to let everyone get some rest. For me, this meant getting back from a lap at about 7pm, then not needing to go out again until about 2am. A good opportunity to get some food into me, and a couple of hours of sleep. Now - I like my sleep. A lot. I generally don't deal well with waking up at odd hours after short periods of interrupted sleep. And unfortunately mountain bike camp grounds are noisy, sleep interrupting places. So I was not playing my A-game when I crawled out of my tent at 1am. It was cold and damp, I didn't feel like eating, drinking or riding my bike, so apologies to any of my teammates or support crew if I wasn't my normal gregarious self.
The double lap, once I got rolling, was a lot of fun. The organisers had taken a different approach this year, and had arranged a day lap / night lap system. Instead of the technical Pork Barrel descent, we were directed down Skyline, then down the top of the World Cup downhill course, before shooting off to the north and traversing for a couple of kilometres before rejoining the main course. Skyline is a hoot - period. Smooth, groomed, flowing, it just straight out rocks. And the iPod seemed to know it too - it pulled out a couple of ripper tracks every time I was shooting down there.
My double lap got me back to camp abit before 5am. It was all I could do to kick off my shoes and helmet and crawl into the tent. I woke up at 7am to someone's loud conversation about purchasing multiple bacon and egg rolls. That got me up in a hurry!
Team wise, we'd travelled pretty well overnight. Kept riding and rolling turns, no mechanicals or heart muscles pulled. At one point the event MC's ran a little crowd poll, to see how many teams were intending on riding through the night. About 95% in the affirmative. By all accounts, when the same straw poll was run the next morning, actual was about 30%. Happy to be in that 30% - and the results were starting to show it. None of us are exceptional riders by any means, but by Christ we are stubborn. And this was resulting in a better than mid-pack finish.
Back to the day laps and the dust, and time to bring it home. Some quick forward calculations showed us being within about 2 minutes of being able to sneak out for a final lap. As long as I kept to my average time, and Pete (next rider) kept to his, we'd be back in transition at 11:58am, just in time for a final glory lap. We weren't going to let that opportunity slip through our fingers - I leant straight into it from the go, ending up with a lap just 2 minutes off my fastest for the weekend, and Pete got stuck in pretty hard as well, getting with 14 seconds of cracking the 1 hour mark. The glory lap pilot was duly dispatched - personally I think just a very elaborate scam to avoid pack up duties!
So another 24 hour race in the bag. They're great fun, I do really enjoy them. Pretty taxing, Tuesday evening as I type this and I'm still tired. I might be able to sit on a bike later this week - as soon as I clean it.
At some point I'd like to up the challenge level a bit, whether that means riding as a pair, or heaven forbid, even as a solo, I don't know. Something to ponder for the future.
These events are great for all comers. You can ride alone, or you can ride in a team of 10. Ride 1 lap or ride 20. Ride fast or ride slow.
It's like Woodstock for mountain bikers. Bring on the next one!