How to race a marathon: a weekend guide by a seasoned XCM rider (actually don't take this advice
This is a humorous (OR IS IT?) attempt to recap the Flight Centre Cycle Epic for 2019. It's a tough race and this recap features swearing. Its not data heavy at all, as there was no data involved. Enjoy this light entertainment.
Wake up late, mild hangover. Husband wants to go for a ride, disappears sometime before 7.
Having picked up Karen from the airport the day prior, we are pretty keen to get our pre-race ride in. We spend the morning doing important pre-race things like painting our nails and being a lazy parent avoiding activities that can’t be done on the couch (me).
Husband is still away (it’s 10:00 at this stage) and I start to get the quivers, get dressed get the bike ready and repeatedly stalk his wherabouts on the phone app.
He arrives home and we are out, heading for an 75min spin including some short climbs and a very large brunch. Milkshake is not optional for marathon success. Even better: have two. For peak performance fill your hydration pack with milkshake for intra-race nutrition. (Actually don't do that).
Get home and question your sanity riding for 100km tomorrow.
Fill bottles, grab gels (how many? a fucktonne...actually about 10) and haphazardly concoct a feed zone plan like this:
(OK WHEN WE GET TO THE FEEDZONE one person will stuff my face with lollies I will swap the pack and take a bottle of electrolyte...at the same time i will drink an entire bottle of coke and dump at feedzone also make sure I have extra gels in my pocket ok?)
Go to bed to try and to get more than your usual 4 hours sleep.
Fail miserably, peel yourself from the sheets, once again question sanity/life choices. Do three wees.
Leave the house late.
Get servo coffee, do another wee.
Arrive, wander around looking for rego, needing to pee.
Find rego, contemplate peeing in garden bed to avoid portaloo. Husband shames me out of it.
Get dressed and on bike.
Do a solid warm up (2km).
Get in start grid. The life choices are seeming pretty dubious at this stage.
Heck: I need to wee.
Gun goes off….oh wait it’s neutral? Is this neutral? It feels neutral? This is good.
Make it past the skills park and down the other side, ok cool, still neutral….great…
Approaching the first main climb and the elite boys are off. Karen and I slowly plug our way up the beast, with another wave coming up behind us. We would have been passed by 30 people by the top. Some which we knew we would see very soon, some maybe a bit later.
The first one bit the dust on the first descent.
“Track!” he yelled as we got out of the way of the pedally false flat, only to have him flip over down the verge a minute later. We passed him crawling out of the bush, never to see him again.
THE CONGA LINE
A conga line forms up Intervention, we let them through down the next descent only to be held up in a long conga line littered with fit roadies. It’s all good, a gentle start was in order anyway if we are going to survive.
The conga line continues to Riders Creed where everyone is very confused about the A-line. It’s my turn to yell ‘track’ as I charge up, but the fellow in front has dismounted but doesn’t yield and I end up running up in the conga line.
A conga line is better than lonely and solo, I suppose?
HELLO: WE WOULD LIKE TO OVERTAKE
Through Gorgeous and there is yet another a very fit roady that was meeting his match with the corners. I’ve never seen so much dirt kicked up and so much rear brake grabbed around many sequential corners. Oh well, he had another 70km to figure it out.
Unfortunately I let him continue up the next climb pretty fast, but then rammed straight back into him down Skyfall. Karen and I are like the Thelma and Louise of XCM, and actually do an overtake into a corner. Phew!
(Just 'ol Thelma and Louise)
We had a great run for much of the rest of the course, until we saw a Cupcake rolling in the dirt (Cupcake with chocolate sprinkles?). We were glad to see the Cake survived.
More descending, and more overtaking of those in the early conga line that rode with great strength but dubious line choices.
One guy flat out refused to let me through, instead accelerated to the limit of his capacity and started to take some seriously sketchy lines. I did a dodgy undertake in a berm.
I simply cannot fathom having someone riding so far up your butt, you can hear their brakes and freewheel, nearly rubbing your tyre…yet not consider pulling over. But that sometimes is the way with these races, when you find yourselves mixed with the faster end of the non-elite boys. Sheep stations are precious things.
IT’S ALL SAND
Karen cracked the shits and moved to the front, putting in a spritely few kms where we distanced ourselves from all that riff-raff. Onto ‘Almost There’, and diving into Epic trail and conditions were SO loose. I’ve never ridden the Epic where half the “Epic trail” is sand. Foot out, flat out into the top berms, loose as powder holding it up into what has become the lower sand Epic trail.
My brain was trying to comprehend a 100km of trails and we were at 45. trying to figure out if I was hurting enough or too much. I was having recognisable thoughts at that stage so I feel like the pace was conservative. I had no HRM (as I left it at home!) or power and was going on feel. Always a bit of a risk because in the end, marathon success isn't about feeling good.
We charge along the stockyards, the Cake is back on in his majestic form, only lightly dusted with sprinkles. “Have my wheel” he says zooming past as I am like “Oh I am just riding right now” but I grab the wheel anyway.
We meet another conga line up Escalator and I pass a few of them by going straight ahead where there was a corner. It wasn’t bunted that way, and the corner was pretty arbitrary as we were heading away from it “Go left, GO LEFT” a woman with a phone taking pics screeched.
I was halfway there so I kept riding to the feedzone, thinking ‘Karen is about a minute back so that’s a good timeframe for me to be fed, then Aiden to feed her’. I wasn’t thinking of going solo at this stage.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN ANOTHER 50KM?
I skol a coke and throw the bottle and head towards 007. Alan Grant tells me i’m going well. I grunt.
Karen is just there so likely she will be back on in a minute…
Down Gully and onto the fireroad and I am with Shimau-mau’s Morgs. He absolutely drives it along the fireroad, passing Grant who had ridden off along 007. I look for Karen and she’s not behind, Oh shit this may be it. Heck. Oh no not 45km.
Morgs is a legend, he was riding well and we would descend pretty similarly so that was a great help. He even enquired to see if I was ok when I dropped my bottle and stopped to collect it. What a ledge. After the fireroad effort I was getting some goosebumps and chills so had to dial it back in a bit. But essentially from that point it was 'on' and I was enacting a 2hr threshold-ish effort for the remainder of the race. The big hurt that's always so love/hate.
Dandy’s is always a hoot, but into Plateaued we were looking for some respite.
Eventually we snaked through the best trail of the race, Remnant, and down the fireroad.
Morgs was a trusty ally; ‘take my wheel’ I said out on the fireroad, but when I look back he’s gone, I pass Riley engaging in some citrus therapy at the feed zone, along with a gaggle of other broken humans.
I pass SS’er Schlick taking a wee on the trail (that’s a good hydration regime if you’re peeing 75km into a marathon), and he ends up riding with me, another fellow who came from the feed zone with us.
GRASS HILL OF DEATH
“Do you want to pass” I ask him, as he hugs my wheel for 10km as we are weaving up the grassy hill “Nah” he replies. Schlick is relegated to walking on the SS up the old Grinder fireroad, at one time in my riding line. It was nice to have an excuse to dismount for a few metres, at this stage it was about 32 degrees and hot.
“Last climb” I tell the one gear guy. “Just down Ripple Effect, Fairy Wrenly and Plane Sailing home”. I scoot past another couple of riders down Ripple Effect, then up Fairy and…hang on…how rude.
We turned right towards Rock Bottom.
Here’s where Karen–anyone who doesn’t know the trails–has an advantage, as I know exactly where it’s going, and the end of a long and arduous climb is bunted off three metres ahead. If I had lesser morals I would have hoiked that bunting and headed straight to Plane Sailing, but it’s just bike racing and suffering is part of that so I head off down the least enjoyable Rock Bottom I have ever raced.
The arms don’t work very well 95km in.
The climb was long. Starting off well, I knew I had enough left in the tank but literally 300m from the end my cadence dropped from 90/100 to about 50 and I started heaving. Big noisy breathing noises emanated from me. The guy behind me dropped off, probably so he didn’t have to hear me grunting.
I know this is my body trying to shut down the pushing, but we were so close. The last 30km had been a pretty spicy-paced effort.
Plane sailing, how can a ‘descent’ be so pedally?
(Plane Sailing isn't really a descent, let's be honest)
And yet, so close, close enough to just throw it down as best I could.
On the firewood and to the final singletrack, passing another 50km rider into the finish, and it was all over. I was dizzy and felt pretty unwell. Safe to say that despite no HRM or power I timed that effort well, with a 2hr effort to finish the race.
One of the hardest races on the Australian calendar done for another year, but very rewarding. If you haven't signed up for it, get to it for the 2020 version. You won’t regret it. Well, you won’t regret it ONCE you’ve finished, anyway. It's a race I never even imagine I podium at, but now i have had two wins (one in an absolutely stacked field) and two thirds.
But for the love of god, if you have fast elite women coming up behind you like a freight train, check your ego and please yield!