“Ugh” I said, chewing in the near-darkness of the early morning. Karen had the right idea, she was on the crumpet program; easy to get down, minimal chewing. I stoically continued chewing muesli, thinking ‘well I am going to have to be pretty determined to finish this thing off today, may as well get some practice in with the muesli’. It’s a mixture of nerves and excitement, little shreds of doubt creep in only to have to be swatted away repeatedly. And so it was for the morning of the 2018 Cross Country Marathon National Champs in Townsville.
So it’s been a long while since I have written intensively about a race. Race reports have kind-of left me feeling a bit flat since I stopped continually placing importance on bike racing in my life.
I recently competed in Lasseters Easter in the Alice, combining the first round of the Australian XCM National Series, and surprised myself to have some great form and took the marathon stage and overall stage race win, but most importantly I hung out with amazing people, enjoyed the trails and had a good time. Which is the number one priority nowadays.
I felt pretty confident to have a good race in Townsville, after all the endurance was coming on and the power was there, and it seemed to have a similar profile to Alice. Then the course changed locations, and though I was outwardly excited to try a different course, knowing that this course featured 4x30min climbs planted those little seeds of doubt; after all I had actively refused to purposefully manipulate my weight, instead working on power and consistent sub-threshold efforts, and I knew I wasn’t at the most optimal climbing weight.
But you ‘run what you brung’, and so while the seeds of doubt were there, I refused to water them. And for someone who is 60-61kg in a field of much smaller riders, I can generally hold my own. I just shut that thought down every time thethought of not being good enough, or light enough, to race well crept in.
Cycling and endurance sports are so weight based it can do your head in, but I can take confidence from the fact that I have done well at races at a variety of weights and while where I am at isn’t the most optimal for uphill, I can still ride uphill; plus it fits with life and creates no neuroses’. Though weight-based demons were banished a long time ago from my world, when the seeds of doubt like to creep in, body image is the first chink in the armor they attack.
So we were at the start, all I wanted was a clean race and to ride as smoothly and well as possible, and stick to the plan. But marathon racing is a fickle mistress and plans are made to be adjusted and adapted, the win is when you can just roll with it.
I knew that Holly would be one to beat, and when I saw Tory’s name on the start line, I knew she would probably be hustling for a win on this particular course, too.
We lined up and I had one of my super soigneur’s, Shazzi, waiting in line to get me a coffee. Unfortunately, the coffee van turned up very late and had a very relaxed attitude to pulling espresso’s, and I went without prior to the race.
This was a new experience, and certainly lacked a little spark in the first couple of laps, but you need to ‘run what you brung’ and play the cards you’re dealt, so I focussed on trying to ride smooth and finding places to drink on the rocky course. I led out for the first part of the climb, and after a small descent Holly rode past and put some power down; I followed her with a small gap over the rest of the field. About 20min into the climb I needed to find my own rhythm, as I thought it a bit fruitless to blow up on lap one, and I watched her get some distance. After the first descent, she was right there again! This kind of happened the next two laps where she would be just ahead, with Tory Thomas just behind.
I had a cracker of a cartwheel on lap one, resulting in some claret and, now, much bruising, and Tory got a bit closer behind and I lost visual of Holly in front for a while.
Lap two was pretty uneventful. The legs didn’t yet hurt, just a little discomfort. No crashes or anything to write home about, but lap three is where it all started to unravel in the elite women’s field.
I stopped to take a pack in order to drain 1.5L in one lap to avoid the great heat-related illness adventures that I am renowned for, and also swapped a fresh water bottle out on my bike. With the power of hindsight I have left the bottle, as I was 2.5kg up with both, and with the pause to get this hydration sorted, I found Tory snapping at my heels. She was having a good lap, and we rode together from near the top of the main climb. I was really feeling the weight of a pack and a bottle.
Descending down the loose, rocky old-school Blue Ringed Octopus trail, all of a sudden we stumbled across Holly who was a minute or so up, flailing with a flat. I muttered something encouraging (or did I? I can’t remember!) then, with Tory glued to my wheel we headed up the nastiest firewood pinch of the race, searching for extra gears, I manage to somehow jam my chain between my cassette and spokes, and am wrenching it out for a bit, before having to run up the hill due to the inability to remount on a 30% hill.
Tory was out of sight.
The gold was in sight, then gone again! But thinking about the outcome isn’t a good idea during a race, while keeping in the moment is pretty integral. I descended to the feed with Tory still out of sight.
Dumping the pack and downing a gel, I headed into the final lap, starting to feel good on the climb when unencumbered by the pack. Weightless! Tory was on the first descent as I climbed up, maybe 90sec up. I just kept plugging away and Dean, local rider and occasional ride buddy, passed me and told me I had ‘daylight…second’s yours!”. “I’ll just keep chugging away,” I said, or something similar.
Halfway up the climb, Tory was in view, only two switchbacks up, then one…I was closing the gap but didn’t want to get too ahead of myself early in the last lap, after all, it’s a course that can claim so many with flats and mechanicals.
The start of the second main descent I dropped it down low into the dirt (again) in a lapse of concentration, and–dusted up like a crumbed cutlet–hopped back on. I was pretty determined to maintain focus, and then to refocus asap when lying on the ground. I wasn’t sure how far Holly was…or how far ahead Tory may again be after I had hit the deck.
All of a sudden, towards the end of the final descent I see streaking red and black of Tory’s Trek team colours just ahead, I had somehow managed to close the gap.
The last few minutes of the race were fast and furious. Trying to think, evaluate options and ride towards a win is tricky 4 hours into a race.
I shot through the feed zone onto a few hundred metres on the road; Tory was just ahead, maybe 100m further up. I shut the gap down in record speed, it seemed Tory was toiling hard, perhaps the effort of her super fast third lap catching up on her.
The last kilometre of the race featured the road turning off onto a mighty short, sharp road berg, into a sketchy loose descent and this started just after I got on her wheel. I stayed on the wheel for a few seconds to pause, then as we turned the corner to the berg I launched out of the saddle putting out a 90sec-2min effort with everything I had. Nearing the top I looked back to see Tory nowhere near me, and so started the final anxiety-fraught minute into the finish straight. I rode the final bit fastishy-cautious, after all, a crash here and it would all be over again, I turned into the finish straight and without looking back rode through.
To a National Championships win! By 40secs, in the last kilometre! Wow!
I didn’t know what to expect to feel, you tend to have to push the feelings aside during racing in order to get the job done. I wasn’t bargaining on a win for 95% of the race, I had almost accepted second but continually pushed regardless. I was overcome with happiness, surprise, and sadness (that my family wasn’t in Townsville with me) all at once.
Post race coke, magic.
I certainly didn’t have the ‘clean’ race I wanted, but in the end, I rolled the dice and played to my strengths, rode sensibly and was rewarded for it. I do feel for Holly who was on a blinder, she has so many good things coming for her, and Tory for the disappointment she would have felt being passed in the twilight moments of a national championship race.
So the book deals and sponsorship opportunities are rolling in, now I am going pro!
I just dropped Elva off at school and I am back to work tomorrow.
Huge thanks to my fam, for putting up with all my shit, and accepting me when I am in the foetal position after riding 4hrs in the driving rain, and then Aido has to fix my bike which is inevitably always f#$%ed due to riding in aforementioned weather. Thanks to Cyclinic for the bike-pimping, and especially to Matt from Cannondale for exceptional feed zone duties (pretty sure one time I made Matt stuff jelly dinosaurs directly into my mouth…sorry about that) and for my sweet bike, and for Shazzi for desperately trying to get me a coffee, and the fab moral support.
With Karen, Shaz, Les and Declan staying together we had a real Townsville ‘family’ happening, and such a good time chilling with some great people. Karen had a nightmare race with 4000 flats, and Declan ride strongly in one of his first races at this level.
Stoked is an understatement!
So in the end, the muesli really sealed the deal mentally. I just had to chew through it to get to the end.
• 5 gels
• 3 electrolyte bottles
• 1×1.4L water pack
• 4 laps
• 68km, 4hr07min
• 2 crashes
• 1 mechanical (minor)
• 12 thoughts of ‘why am I doing this’
• 1000 thoughts to ‘look up’ and ‘focus’
• No heatstroke