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BC Salad Wrap!

Well I am back in Australia, home from a journey of epic proportions through the amazing BC, Canada. My trip was a two-week whirlwind and I made many amazing memories: all good boxes to tick on a journey to the other side of the world!

But how did my non-training training plan go when put to the test in a seven day stage race?

Well in the end I managed to ride relatively consistently, placing 72nd overall in a field of 625 riders, and 7th female overall, it was a strong year for women at BCBR! We raced 33,000 feet (you do the maths) of elevation, over 300km, and to say that the racing was tough would be an understatement! However by the end of the week (aside from a small cry during and after the Squamish stage…) I was getting stronger and having some XCO feels on the shorter stages that reminded me of early in the year, which is very promising.

So now I will write a list of things that worked well for the race:

Training:

Caring less is sometimes more. Keeping it lo-fi and relaxed helped me to mitigate the stress that I would usually try and place myself under during a race. It eased expectations I had for myself which was very useful coming off my injury and time off earlier this year. Having never raced for seven days I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it would be a rollercoaster. Doing the miles and backing up multiple days was really useful, knowing that some days you would probably feel pretty average but could keep trucking regardless.

Back it up. Back to back training was key. Getting the miles in mean I knew I could finish the 20hrs of racing, even though at times it felt as though I never would! Ideally, if this was a priority race, I would pull together a full plan for the race, have a longer lead up and incorporate much more intensity, but in my current state it was about perfect! Having a stronger top end would definitely have helped, especially on the first day where the 12km climb to start nearly killed me (well lack of top end as well as ongoing jetlag) and I missed the first wave by blowing up slightly.

I was sub three hours on the stage (the cutoff was three hours!) and literally the first person to get the second wave sticker. As a result, all other stages I was at the front of my wave which has some benefits (less dust) but also some disadvantages (you are the wheel people are sitting on, you have no wheels to sit on! no help for the rollouts, getting stuck behind fast roadies at the back of wave one when you catch them, or not having lines to follow on the days that started with bigger gaps between waves).

Skills, yo. Singletrack skills. The trails in BC are like nothing in Australia, but having a solid foundation of skills on the bike and general comfort on your mountain bike is key. While the skills developed throughout the week to the point where you were looking at something then riding down going ‘well I am giving this a crack I guess we will see if we can ride it out’, riding trails that consisted of kilometres of features strung together, that  in Australia would be seen as a single major trail feature in an XCO race.

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Don’t sweat the brownies. Eating all the brownies was pretty important in finding my mojo again after my crash and injury…but that didn’t stop me cursing carrying some extra kg’s up every climb in the race. It’s a commitment to maintain race weight year round and one I wasn’t happy to do mid-winter, but it definitely added some extra toughness on the more hilly days.

Stuff:

Coffee. The coffee in Canada is, thankfully, not as bad as in the US. In fact, the Rocky Mountain guys had a Giotto Rocket in their office. Good choice, guys! I didn’t take a hand held coffee machine and instead relied upon campsite offerings and the occasional espresso when we found a town.

This all worked well enough, except for stage three, a long one featuring many fireroad hills and grovelling in bulk proportions, in which I had no caffeine until the final checkpoint.

I smashed two red bulls and ate some caffeinated Clif Blocks and then passed about 10-15 people up the two final technical climbs and railed the descents. I pretty much saw colours in that last hour. But I digress, if you need the caffeine as I obviously do, perhaps be a little more organised than I was an at least line your pockets with caffeinated gels or something. The less snivelling the better!

 

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Sick North Vancouver trails.

Dropper post. The dropper post isn’t a must-have but is certainly a ‘nice to have’ option. Railing super steep descents and cresting over things where you can’t see the bottom, it was like a bit of added insurance and worth the half kg penalty (which didn’t stop me cursing it every time the trail went uphill).

 

Suspension set-up. My bike was running a Fox 32 Stepcast up front paired with Fox 90mm rear shock on my Rocky Mountain Element. While this bike was almost perfect, I would definitely have greeted a little more suspension most stages. The choice is hard, with 33,000 feet of climbing in just 7 stages, you want to be as light as you can! Perhaps the new Element platform with 120/100 would be the perfect option?

 

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Yes you’re camping at BCBR, but it’s in a pretty phenomenal part of the world. In hindsight I don’t even mid that I didn’t sleep 50% of the nights.

 

Gearing. Underestimate your ability and go low. Then go one lower. I dropped to a 30x42T set up for the race from a 32x42T as my ‘home’ gearing, but by day five I was looking for something lower, as less fit/cleverer with gearing-guys would pass me spinning up a climb while I was grinding away at 40rpm doing unintentional strengthies.

Support. I was lucky enough to have Rocky Mountain Team support throughout the week, meaning my bike was looked after and good to go for every stage. What’s even better is they handed me Coke when I came across the finish line pretty buckled most days. I am infinitely grateful for their hospitality. While you probably can’t get a sweet team set up (I was very lucky, after all!) you can purchase a bike care package from the Bike Obsession mechanics, who pack an entire shop into a travelling van and look after bikes through the night like vampires. With 300km of hard singletrack, it’s probably not a bad idea.

What didn’t work?

Recovery skills. Still something I struggle with, though I foam rolled each day, stretched and acted like a sloth. It wasn’t until day six where I was completely broken and so fatigued I had a cry and was walking around like a very sore zombie, when I headed for a massage, which helped a little. Moral of the story? Look after yourself before you get so fatigued you’re having a little weep in the bushes. BCBR have free daily yoga, so that could be an option if it’s your thing.

Sleeping. Or not. I am a dodgy sleeper at the best of times so add the intensity of bike racing, another time zone and camping in a tent and I was cursing not sorting out a good pharmaceutical option for getting to sleep, because after all sleep=recovery

Caffeine: as mentioned above. Don’t run out if you’re coffee-dependent.

Huge thanks to Rocky Mountain Bikes, Adventure Brands Australia and Cyclinic Suspension For getting me/allowing me to head on what was an epic adventure!

The Final Countdown

That’s a wrap! Training: done. Aside from a short ride tomorrow, I’ve now completed my BCBR “non-training” training plan.

Surprisingly enough, I haven’t felt the need to use a Garmin or HRM at all. I expected myself to get a few weeks in and be ready to go, to compare my 5min power efforts to mid-national season, but I know i’ll struggle to hit my 410w/5min max from the start of the year, even at a higher weight now, and in the end the numbers don’t make you any happier. They are tools of progress and for motivation, but there is the light and dark side of that and I have enjoyed free-ranging it for a while, especially at this time of the year where the goal is ‘ride bike lots’.

Instead of looking to numbers, I have been able to gauge my increased fitness by my ability to suffer and dominate in local crit races (a great improvement from dying 20min into the first crit back after a couple of months off…I just quietly ghosted home after that!) and assessing my increased tolerance for multiple long days in the saddle. That being said, I haven’t done anything over four-ish hours, though I have backed up to four x 3-4hr rides in a row.

I’ve never been one for backing up, and so to be able to hit out a solid 10-12 hours in three days has been an achievement in itself!

Want to know what the BC Bike Race is like? Check this out, it’s well worth your time (entries for 2018 are opening soon guys…).

The recovery I talked about last post? Yeah…i’m still not so great at it. Nothing says recovery like walking the kid and dog for 5km then cleaning and packing the house in preparation to sell it, staying up late doing coaching and invoices and trying to hit deadlines. That in itself justifies the wine, which is unfortunate as it impedes recovery. However, that’s the story of real life and I know once I hit that plane I will be super relaxed. Maybe.

So what have I been up to this week leading into BCBR?

Monday: Off (after a weekend of Gravity Racing Saturday and a Social 1hr45 trail ride with an athlete and mate Sunday)

Tuesday: 3hr15 including 1 hr of mixed threshold and VO2 efforts, in intervals: last big hard session pre-BC (very, very hard session due to the intensity mixed into the longer session!)

Wednesday: 1hr recovery

Thursday: 2hr15 including 4 short singletrack efforts, with an athlete. Due to ongoing fatigue I cut the efforts short (for me, he had to keep going!); after all, it’s no time to dig a hole right now!

Friday: Day off including core stability and conditioning: no heavy squats and deads at the gym now.

Saturday: 90min short hit out with newly rebuilt bike, check everything is ok, then complete several VO2 efforts before packing up bike and everything else.

Sunday: Sleep in (until at least 6am!) and leave for BC! ALSO ARRIVE IN BC—what a time-warp!

So yeah; I’m coming good. I am not peak-fit but I know I can get through if I:

a) eat enough food during the race,

b) don’t try and race XC pace, and;

c) ride happy.

Packing and other preparation

Executive management skills don’t come naturally for me, so here is a picture of how my packing is going:

packing
Wow, at least I got the important stuff…like Fisiocream.

Also, I am not innately a happy camper so I have invested in a fancy camping pillow, ear buds, eye mask and no doubt a small flask of something to get me to sleep. JK about the last one…or am I?

 

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Me, every morning.

 

So now I just have to trust the process, relish the singletrack, enjoy my time away and just be me: a happy shredder exploring some of the best trails in the world!And now I leave you with one of the finest adieu’s out there…

The importance of recovery

The BCBR is fast approaching. It’s raining cats and dogs here, and I have just come off night shift and a couple of days taking it really easy after a solid 20-hr week, featuring some intensity; first in a while. Finally it feels like backing up is going well, and a few solid 3-4hr days with a substantial amount of climbing have been achieved without bulk-grovelling. Without having the top end speediness I would like (but don’t really want to work too hard on right now!) I am feeling pretty confident in my ability to complete BCBR! Cool!

Last week featured some solid backing up:

Sunday: 2hr15 Trail ride. 3x25min Time-Trials at Subthreshold, 5min rec between. 43km and 700m.

Monday: 3hr30 endurance ride. Felt slow. Multiple long seated climbs. 60km 1600m.

Tuesday: 1hr coffee shop roll (the best!). 25km. 30min slow dog run (ie: running slowly, plus the dog isn’t very clever).

Wednesday: 4hr30 road hills. Social 2hrs followed by 2x30min tempo/SST. 115km 2200m.

Thursday: 3hr30 singletrack and hills. Beginning with a few 10-15min climbs at tempo, followed by local singletrack loops. Backing up and singletrack riding when fatigued! 60km 1700m.

Friday: 2hr. Social Bunchie. 50km 650m.

Saturday: 2hr30. Local Criterium and home. 80-90km, dead flat but good intensity and feeling strong at end of a solid week means it’s all going in the right direction! First time I have felt the crit was relatively ‘easy’ speaks volumes in terms of gaining strength and fitness.

Sunday: 2hr30. Ride to MTB race and race (race time 1hr10: mud-fest!). Felt tired but able to push (even though legs slow) and good skills in the wet despite fatigue!

So…many good things about this week! Multiple core-stability sessions (~2hrs) but no heavy gym through the week.

A crucial part of any stage race is recovery, something that doesn’t come naturally to me in the rumble and hubbub of everyday life. In order to get through my 20hr week, I had to prioritise recovery after sessions, and now am taking stock of how i’m feeling after finishing that week with a very wet, very wild 45km day on the MTB which included a 20km race. The signs and symptoms of a sinus infection are here: I am super congested, snotting out gross stuff and have a headache, but two days off the bike (admittedly, working) and listening to the body has helped a lot and hopefully i’ll get out of it with minimal harm!

This week my plan is emphasising recovery before the next shabammmmm and bringing some more top end into the mix:

Monday/Tuesday: off/work

Wednesday: Rollers (raining) 1hr, easy. Do some bendy stuff.

Thurs: Endurance ride Noosa 3hrs. Gym potentially: 1hr.

Friday: Ride Noosa 2-3hrs.

Saturday: Singletrack ride and efforts ~2hrs

Sunday: Commute to work (1hr) + Gym (1hr)

As you can see the volume is pretty tiny compared to what I have been doing, and that’s fine because I am fitting a bit more work in around training this week. I am also working at Noosa (hence the rides will not likely be a high quality)

41 days until #bcbr2017! How are you feeling?

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Some recovery techniques I used throughout last week’s hard week, and through this easier week include:

• Eating well and hydrating well throughout the session. As I have upped the elevation and intensity of my sessions I have added extra carbohydrate into the mix and it has helped a lot. The best way to start backing up for the next day is to not finish your ride completely fucked…

• Getting stuck into a quick, easy recovery meal or drink straight after. If at home this may be a late lunch or second breakfast, which features enough carbohydrates and protein to replenish muscle glycogen and aid muscle repair for the next day. If I am on the run a quick protein AND carbohydrate shake is easy enough, and they usually taste delicious. When looking to purchase a recovery drink, remember to look for one that has adequate carbohydrate AS WELL AS protein. Sometimes they are sold as ‘muscle gainers’, which can be offputting for the aspiring whippet, but you need both protein and carbs to recover!

More tips can be found at the Sports Dieticians Australia Page.

• Stretching/yoga/foam rolling/trigger point. Definitely one where I, and many others, fall over in the recovery spectrum. It’s hard to want to get bendy at the end of a ride, or end of the day when it’s chilly outside and the couch and wine is beckoning! But keeping your aches and pains and tight spots in check is crucial. Many overuse injuries can be avoided by merely spending few minutes working on problem areas. For me it’s glutes and hamstrings, as well as continue to strengthen my shoulder post injury, but pay attention to what’s sore after a hard ride and your body will tell you what needs work/maintenance!

• Keep off the booze. Backing up hard sessions, your body is working hard to recover, and inflammation is a part of the recovery cycle that is impacted greatly by alcohol. I am not saying don’t drink, ever, but perhaps hit up some H2O or electrolyte instead of the red between hard sessions.

• Adjuncts: recovery tights, massage, cold-water immersion; these are all things that you can use between hard sessions to manage fatigue and increase the chances of you having a great day the next day. There is limited data on these things, due to the subjective nature of ‘recovery’ and difficulty in objectively assessing their efficacy. But it can’t hurt, right? At worst a placebo effect is better than none at all!

• Chillin’ like a villain. Yep, there’s never a better time for some Netflix and chill (real, not implied meaning) than between hard sessions. As your fitness increases, your need for chill time will decrease as you become stronger and your body is capable of dealing with a greater load, but that being said a solid nap does wonders for recovery: stimulating some extra, natural GH can never go astray!

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Wet, muddy, disgusting. I had a great time slipping and sliding and working on the wet skills we tend to ignore here in Australia. The race gave me some confidence for wet conditions (but maybe not wet bridges…) in BC. While I am not in destroy mode on the bike yet, I managed to have a good time which is really the main goal!

The next step

I have been slogging away between work and other commitments on the bike in preparation for the BCBR 2017. Right now I am couch-bound and not excited about anything beyond my next coffee/wine (after two days of racing plus working a night shift last night: yes I am sometimes stupid), but I know when the fog of fatigue lifts, I will be excited and ready for anything. Perhaps.

The road back to some form is difficult after a lot of time off. I went from form of my life to bulk couch time, and now back into it. A few weeks in, I am starting to feel like my legs are less like empty vessels, and have more pedal-hard potential; but it’s come and go, which is to be expected.

Additional challenges include being back on shift work, though I feel it’s a bit of a blessing in disguise as I can now at times ride in school hours and it omits all the 0400 riding I was doing. But night shift is a soul destroying experience, every time. So once again fatigue management is a big issue for me, as it is for many other athletes; not just shift workers.

As I employ more back-to-back long and/or hard sessions, it is becoming more important to recover well, which for me means emphasising good nutrition, rest and stretching rather than my usual lazy approach of wine and Netflix. I am sure many of you can sympathise with this experience. In addition to this, a couple of days at the gym really spikes my fatigue and hunger, as I am beginning to lift heavy weights again (plus, you have to mitigate the tried, sore legs, extra kgs and lack of speed that lifting heavy brings…).

So if you were looking at the previous training you will remember it was pretty general, and fun-orientated:

Monday: Day off or active recovery

Tuesday: Short trail ride, slightly higher intensity (work day) (<2hrs)

Wednesday: Long trail ride, focus on hills and technical trails (3-4hrs)

Thursday: Medium fireroad hill ride or road ride up the mountain (3hrs)

Friday: Off/active recovery OR short technical trail blat (1hr-1hr30)

Saturday: Long ride, mixture of fire-road, trails and mountaineering (3hr45 ride, 45min mountaineering…)

Sunday: Technical trails blat (2hr) and bushwalk (1hr)

From here, I have upped and changed a few bits, working my mesocycles into my work life (so I will start with a Saturday):

Saturday: Tough subthreshold trail ride: bulk singletrack. 1hr50.

Sunday: Technical trail riding, tempo pace but arduous trails. 3hr30/1000m elevation

Monday: Hills, subthreshold. (2x25min plus some shorter hills, finishing with singletrack) 3hrs/1500m elevation. Run dog: 25min.

Tuesday: Road miles: 2x Cooth-tha and Nebo return. 3hr30/2000m elevation.

Wednesday: off (13hr work day)

Thurs: off (75min heavy gym session: ow, 13hr work day)

Friday: 1hr recovery ride + yoga

Saturday: Ride to/from Crit: 2hr30. Nearly die from fatigue but somehow get up for a sprint!

Sunday: 100km marathon teams race with Aido, limited caffeine due to working this evening. 2x25km laps: YUK. total ride time about 2hr45 (3hrs including limited rolling: followed by 12hr night shift)

Monday: Walk the dog!

So in the 8/day cycle I have shown I have done a total of 18hrs riding + gym (not including stretching and core stability at home); a fair amount for me, who tends to prefer short and sharp. My own top end is suffering, especially with the added fatigue, but it’s all about the endgame: getting through the BCBR, which is why I am putting up with the fatigue of gym and backing up multiple hard sessions. Also, I keep trying to remind myself that it really doesn’t matter to be doing bulk strength right now, it doesn’t matter that I am fatigued and slow, it’s all a part of the process.

Bike wise, prioritised time on the MTB to replicate BCBR demands means I am feeling pretty good technically again, which is great. The legs are far from race ready but I am starting to feel like going the distance isn’t going to be an issue. Working on dominantly my aerobic system also means that the top end is a little latent, but considering the elevation and distance of BC, plus my more natural aptitude for top end (ok…it doesn’t feel like it right now!) I am avoiding working that until just prior to the race.

Backing up is hard to do, so that’s why I am trying to have a few instances of back-to-back racing and training. It ain’t pretty, but it’s necessary as much mentally as physiologically, to ensure the body and mind knows what it’s in for. You can see I have been prioritising elevation in my rides, and multiple 1500-2000m elevation rides of 3-4hrs with some intensity are going to be integral in preparing for the rugged terrain of Canada.

So what’s next?

•Race simulation block. While I am not going to go and do 7 days of hard singletrack with bulk elevation, I am pushing the backing up days out to four, with some added subthreshold and threshold intensity.

•Prioritise recovery. This one is hard because of life getting in the way. I wish I had a washing and cooking and working fairy to do those parts of my life sometimes! But perhaps this means, for me, reducing wine intake on backing up-days, prioritising ride and post-ride nutrition (which will probably help me feel less blobby in the wake of brownie-gate, too!), stretching, and getting good sleep.

•Pick your races. I am feeling particularly uninspired by most XC racing at the moment. It’s the demands, the scene, the politics, the lack of adventure, it’s all a bit dead to me. I wake up and I am like ‘why am I going??” most of the time life is so crammed that I would prefer to spend the day catching up, rather than schlepping out for a day of flagellation. I am not feeling the joy in it, but I think it may come back in the periods where I back that fatigue right off. A few races coming up will include some gravity style races, road crits, and some other races to complement BC…yeah probably some XCO too. I am not going to go out of my way to race every weekend, I have been there, done that, caught the burnout!

Back in the game

It’s been a couple of weeks since I recommenced bicycle tournament practice, but expressly without the goal of the tournament…at least initially.

Not cracking the whip on myself hard has been a weird experience, however taking a more relaxed approach to riding and training is going pretty well right now. Without wanting to build to a peak in the same manner used for XCO National series, some more relaxed miles with emphasis on volume and backing up is exactly what I need for the BCBR 2017.

I am training to compete solidly, but mainly to enjoy the adventure. I realise that this is exactly why 95% of the athletes I coach undertake coaching; to be able to successfully complete an event, not be totally broken, and love the process. If I stop loving it, I stop doing it. I have had enough of crushing skulls for this year. Adding the adventure and escape is going to be crucial if I am going to not break myself in the process!

So how do you do this? Essentially by dialling it back: training sans power, heart rate and Strava for a while. While the technology can be reduced, you can still crank some workload. Yes, it’s harder to quantify (did we do 60 or 70km off road? How much elevation?), but in the early stages of back on the bike, bum on bike time counts for a lot.

So here’s a list of how the preparation has gone for the first couple of weeks back. With 8 weeks to go, it will increase from here but this is what the beginning entails.

  1. Get on the bike. The hard yards start with a single pedal stroke. Yes, after some accrued time off riding up to my favourite Mt G, usually a quick 2hr20 jaunt with bulk hills, turned into 2hrs45 of “why oh why oh why?”. The next week it was 2hr35, and the legs started to feel like they had something other than sausage meat in them. It starts simply by riding.
  2. Have a plan. Plans come in many forms, from meticulously planned, watt-conforming programs to looser arrangements. The important part is that you have one. By training specifically, you seek to recreate the demands of your event progressively, using periods of overload and rest to generate adaptation. It’s not a hard thing to do. For BCBR it’s a series of days that will likely take me 3-4hrs, through technical singletrack. So building up to successive hard days on hard singletrack is key.

3. Find your deficits. Thankfully for me, I have an Aido that lets me know exactly what my weaknesses are, though I am pretty insightful as to what they are myself. Knowing the nature of the BCBR trails to be rough and rooty and potentially wet: the combination of the last two I recently realised I find terrifying, it’s time to seek out tough trails in my local neighbourhood that gets as close as possible to this. We don’t have any. However, Nerang and Parklands in the wet, at a pinch, could be adequate for tech rooty trail training.

4. Implement plan. Once you have gotten back on the bike, crafted a bit of a plan and addressed the requirements of the event and your deficits, it’s time to implement the plan. Scribbling down a plan and rustling up mates to ride with you is well and good but it’s time to get the chamois time in!

THE PLAN

An example week for some early, largely unstructured training leading into BCBR for me has included:

Monday: Day off or active recovery

Tuesday: Short trail ride, slightly higher intensity (work day) (<2hrs)

Wednesday: Long trail ride, focus on hills and technical trails (3-4hrs)

Thursday: Medium fireroad hill ride or road ride up the mountain (3hrs)

Friday: Off/active recovery OR short technical trail blat (1hr-1hr30)

Saturday: Long ride, mixture of fire-road, trails and mountaineering (3hr45 ride, 45min mountaineering…)

Sunday: Technical trails blat (2hr) and bushwalk (1hr)

As you can see, the specifics aren’t very specific at this stage. No strengthies, VO2’s, threshold efforts or SST. Some athletes require more direction with their zones and durations during this time; that’s 100% ok, that’s my job!

My own volume has increased from zero hours to a solid amount (strongly mirrored by chocolate consumption: skinfold mods are not on the table right now) and the emphasis is on bike-time and increasing confidence and skill where possible. Having increased from zero hours to 15 hrs/week over the past few weeks, one has to be mindful of keeping recovery days and weeks in check, no matter how good you feel at the end of the block; it’s only ever a hard session away from coming undone and getting sick!

Anyway, stay tuned for the next update in a couple of weeks, as I build a little more structure into the plan….but probably still stay away from worrying about the power metre at this stage, and as you can see the road bike is largely absent. Hopefully by reading this you can gain some insight into how to break down an event into it’s constituent parts and replicate in training to get the most out of your time.

But the number one rule is, never forget the adventure!

 

Things I need (to eat, do and have) for the BC Bike Race 2017

It’s been a hiatus. After a couple of months of moving in slow motion, reaching for the red wine at 1700, and consuming more brownies than i’m proud to admit (actually, fuck it, i’ll admit it: I ate a metric fucktonne of brownies! It was delicious and the only regret I have now is any time I get on my bike and it’s a positive gradient), I have finally committed to a goal to get me out of my animal-themed pyjama onesie that is featuring so heavily this pre-winter, and back on the bike (occasionally).

It’s the BC Bike Race. Held for the past 11 years, the BC Bike Race (or BCBR) is a seven-day stage race that travels from Vancouver to Whistler, sampling some of the world’s finest trails in the process.

I got a call up and an invite from Rocky Mountain Australia through an offer from big-wigs at the HQ in BC, and there was some initial deliberation with being away from the family for a couple of weeks, and if I wanted to ride my bike at all (ever again…) I figured it was the swift kick up the butt required to get me out of my life funk and back on the bike. I didn’t know if I was ready to go and flog myself again, the wounds were pretty raw after the Oceanias and Nationals fiasco, but what did I have to lose? Some skin and at worst a few teeth with the inevitable scorpions that are set to occur in the wild BC trails. Carpe Diem and all that; words to live and die by.

One of my good mates and all around excellent buddies/Cyclinic Teamie Jo Rowell, rode the 2015 edition of the race, after I coached her for it in the months prior. Her race report can be found here. It’s pretty sobering, mainly because Jo is one of the toughest women I know and she said it was tough, so I know i’m in for a week of super hard riding!

I’ll likely write up some training info in the next couple of months leading up to the race, right now i’m a week and a half into back on the bike and it’s pretty f$%^ing awful in the way having nearly two months off and hopping back on the bike can be, but already I am seeing a little (tiny bit of) progress so I guess that’s some cold comfort about it all.

But without further ado, I thought I would make a list, pre and post BCBR, about what I reckon I need for the event, followed by what I actually needed.

  1. A sick bike. I have the sickest XC bike out there, I reckon, a Rocky Mountain Element. Still running the 2016 model (which features 100mm travel front and 95mm rear) as it definitely suits the requirements of Australian XC and XCM racing more than the slightly burlier 2017 model which features 120mm front/100mm rear. For this race I will plead with Aido to somehow negotiate a dropper onto the bike. We’ll see what level of success I have with that.
  1. A portable coffee contraption. Ideas welcome. Jo reckoned that I could rely on the coffee van but that’s rule #1 of racing: NEVER RELY ON THE COFFEE VAN! So advice re: portable coffee contraptions is welcome. Don’t talk to me about Aeropress.

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    The minipresso piques my interest, but it’s a bit phallic…
  2. An inflatable thermarest-type “extra support for the sleeping” type thing (I am not a camper fyi). I think like extra comfort or something?

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    Actual picture of me camping.
  3. Fat treads. Aka: rubber. Fatter rubber, maybe rock some 2.3″ Maxxis (because they’re reliable and awesome, and I won’t ride anything else) something-or-other in the hope it assists with the keeping of me upright.
  4. A metric fucktonne of food. Like race food. As underwhelming as it is (and trust me, bulk gels are super underwhelming…) I reckon in a 7 days stage race where the average day will probably be 3-3.5hrs out, I will ingest a buttload of goopy sugar in a packet.
  5. A camera for happy snaps. Or just a phone. I am not good with that, I considered a GoPro but I just don’t reckon I would use it enough…
  6. Best quality chamois and an excess of chamois cream. Obviously.
  7. Ear plugs. Lest there be snoring in the campsite.

Anyway, stay tuned for training updates (can she ride more than two long days in a row? ONLY TIME WILL TELL!) and bike mods.

Finding Joy

A happy racer is a fast racer. It’s a good saying, and I think it’s pretty apt. Racing in fear or anger can yield results, but racing happy? That’s the place you want to be for sustainable racing experiences.

Finding joy in riding after nationals was like looking for a needle in a haystack; there was a lot of shit to get through before I could even have a glimmer of light. Speaking to multiple people about this, though, it all makes sense. Having goals dashed in the finishing strait is enough to leave a sour taste in most people’s mouths, and adding insult to injury was the injury itself, limiting my bike time, and any bike time I attempted generally resulted in crashing to to gross shoulder instability.

I have crashed more in the past three months than in the past three years. It’s humbling, and resulted in quite the crisis of confidence I am slowly crawling my way out of.

Heading to NZ for a work trip soon after was an interesting experience. I was treated to some of the best trails in NZ, and potentially the world, but was flagging in enthusiasm due to the burn-out, shoulder injury, no sleep, a test bike that was difficult to manoeuvre; and the flu. A better rider would have fared better but I was pretty broken at the end of the day, despite having a lot of fun at times.

It definitely didn’t help with the crisis of confidence having numerous crashes on slick roots (like I am from Australia; what are they??) but in the end the whole experience made me stoic in the determination to go on some wild adventures and experience more slippery root infested trails to test myself on, and develop that skill we don’t have the ability to do here in Australia.

Working at Crankworx Rotorua was a welcome distraction to the face full of gunk and flu I was trying to shake; it would have been a very sad trip if I didn’t have a purpose other than riding, and Crankworx fitted the bill perfectly. You can only imagine the next-level skill and bravery these athletes have, doing backflips 15 metres in the air, totally phenomenal. Rather than having misgivings about my own lack of backflips, it really provokes a sense of awe and respect for the athletes, and a sense that nothing is impossible (though I may draw the line at backflips…).

Riding through the Redwoods on my single trail ride in Rotorua (yep I was that crook), I was taken for a spin by ex-Aussie and Enduro/Downhill pinner Ronja Hill-Wright. I was totally in awe of her ability to compete in the Whip-Off champs at Rotorua—even the step down onto the jump was massive—and it was so cool to see women really step up to the next level in a gravity-based sport. I had borrowed a demo bike for the ride which was distinctly in the non-fancy club, but being a bit lighter and a better size for me than my review bike, felt like a $10,000 Santa Cruz Bronson (secret tip: it wasn’t).

I felt a new sense of possibility, though at that stage I didn’t really know form it would take.

Back in Australia, I yearn for a trail bike and time just riding and hucking off things. Here in Brisbane, we have a paltry amount of things to huck off without travelling, which makes that a bit difficult.

I know I am at my best in the process. I enjoy the learning, the becoming. Part of NZ was seeing that there are other ways to complete the process, other ways to craft goals.

The racing has always been secondary to the becoming, which makes it difficult when suddenly you’re at the end-game and you have put all the focus on the becoming, but to what end?

I suppose rekindling my spirit of adventure has been pretty integral to the process of ‘what’s next?’, and I think it’s probably integral for most people’s prolonged participation in any sport, but especially one that is as brutal as cross-country. There is not a lot of love to be found in busting out 40mins of VO2 max efforts a couple of times a week, week in, week out. Despite it meaning I could ‘become’ to the point where I was putting out some great numbers, (which gets you out of bed and sustains you through the heaving effort of it all), without the adventure it is difficult to keep the love going when hopes are dashed at the finish line.

So where to now? It’s a slow process of rekindling. Developing that confidence back is paramount, trying to get shredly again after months of riding like a kook (thankfully my Rocky Mountain Element feels like home, it’s amazing. I love it).

I plan to do some things that scare me. Ride new trails. Seek adventure. Find things to huck off. Wear less lycra for a while. Drink the wine and eat the brownies (ok I have been doing that for a while now…). Be a better parent. Be more present for my coached athletes. Recognise that balance is a myth when training 18hrs a week and be ok with that.

But primarily, the goal is about finding joy; it’s the joy of freedom on two wheels and a zest for the outdoors and adventure that brought me to mountain biking. The joy of feeling the fear and doing it anyway (not avoiding something because you’re feeling knotted up about a race). The joy of the challenge and overcoming, and the joy of adventure.

Roller skating and rollercoasters

The best thing about National Champs was seeing my athletes go and slay it. The other best thing was having my 5 year old’s birthday on the same day, allowing me to appreciate something in the midst of being unable to race and keep the sport of XCO racing in perspective. Also I got to rollerskate, which was cool for me, and terrifying for Elv and her best mate who just did the splits for two hours.

The days after Toowoomba were really hard. I was in a flux, incapacitated at work due to the injury, yet still planning on racing Nationals. I would be like ‘fuck yeah i’m racing at all costs’ then head out on the bike and be unable to get out of the saddle due to the injury, then come home in a state of despair. This happened a couple of times; the ultimate motivation to crush skulls, followed with the reality being unable to ride my bike and using codeine (yuk) to sleep at night, on my back (the worst) then waking myself up when I move from the pain. It was quite the rollercoaster.

Thursday the course practice was moved, I was still unable to load bear with my right arm, and I made the decision not to race. It was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make, but once it was done there was a calm. What I suppose it’s like when you’re struggling in the water when you can’t swim, drowning, and all of a sudden you learn to float.

With my endgame wanting to be worlds ’17, I had to come to terms with the fact that despite riding with the top women in Australia in XCO, and on one day being the top woman in XCO, without completing Oceanias or Nationals I have little chance of ending up in Cairns in September.

It’s a learning process, the coach-athlete process is one that has me always learning, and the athlete and coach relationship I have with myself is no different.

I am a ‘no regrets’ kind of person and that’s served me well here. Having a break now is excellent both physically and mentally after a long and tough national season, with many ups and downs. Plus noone should have to do pre-0400 starts forever.

Some excellent takeaways I have made that will assist both myself and others I coach from my own season include:

•Don’t doubt the importance of having someone to bounce ideas off. As my own coach I feel this is sometimes a little more difficult. Yes I trust the process and it has been by and large pretty successful, but having a sounding board definitely would have helped with an objective eye cast over my decisions.

•Pre 0400 starts have a limited lifespan, and it shortens along with daylight hours.

•If you’re feeling consistently flogged, you’re probably flogged. Having one day of sunshine and rainbows in training amidst weeks of grey drudgery does not a fresh rider make.

•Your stupidest crashes will probably cause you the most damage, and be the most frustrating.

•Hard work begets results. Too much hard work can push over the other side of the optimal curve, regardless of how cluey you are.

•Don’t doubt the power of having a community and support in the training and racing journey. Likewise, don’t doubt the power it wields when taken away or diminished.

•Never doubt the power of a woman scorned. Hell hath no fury like a cyclist with a point to prove.

•When you love what you do, it’s not hard work at all. When you stop loving what you once did, have a good look at what’s going on around you.

•You can feel shit and have a good race.

•You can feel awesome and have a terrible race.

•There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to worrying about race weight, as it turns out when you’re skinfolds are already in athlete-land, just eat well and make peace with having a lot of muscle mass. When you climb faster than tiny people then it doesn’t matter if you’re 57 or 61kg, it’s about the endgame. And it seems that, every time, i’ll feel better and be more powerful even scaled to weight, at around 60kg rather than 57.

•When you head for a break after a long season, 11hr sleep at night is definitely a thing…

 

 

 

Bike Purgatory

To say Oceanias didn’t go to plan would be a bit of an understatement. While I am still sore and sorry about it, you can’t change the events that transpire; it is what it is. I suppose the disappointment was all the more palpable as I really enjoy, and tend to ride well, on the rocky technical Toowoomba course. The hard gritty climbing usually suits me, the descents are a bit wild. All in all it’s a course I usually like to race and do well on. So I suppose I came into the race with expectations to smash it out of the water and have a good race, and leave nationals, this Sunday, as a bit of an afterthought.

 Having really been experiencing the grind of bike racing and training the past month or so, I took a bit of a confidence hit after a road crash 9 days prior to the event. Having never hit the bitumen, the thud of the hard ground at 42km/hr far outweighs any mountain bike crash where the lading is usually dirt, scrub and foliage. Plus you don’t usually crash at that high a speed offroad.  

Landing on my shoulder, with a secondary blow to the head, I was lucky to walk away with musculoskeletal damage, a buttload of bark off and a headache.  Fortunately, no broken bones however my shoulder range of movement was greatly restricted, I was unable to hold the bars on the mountain bike for about a week after; thankfully just in time for a solid day on the course for Oceanias, thanks to cramming buttload of physio and NSAIDS into the week leading into the event.

The gun went and the start was fast, with Samara, Holly and Bec leading up the climb, I was dangling. We pretty quickly had a break on the rest of the field, but I was working for it. It wasn’t a ‘no chain’ day by any means. I had one of those about two weeks ago where I was ready to crush everyone’s soul in racing and that was a bit foreboding; you don’t have too many of them!

ABTbarStart
Solid start, into singletrack in fourth. Pic: Hixit.

By the end of the first lap I was in third, uncomfortable but to be expected when you’re consistently on the limit. I had passed Bec struggling with her bike, and Holly was just ahead, she had ducked into the singletrack as I was coming into the start finish. The next climb was good, I was putting down some good power, feeling strong.

Turning into the first powdery descent; poof! I was on the ground, on my shoulder; my front wheel had washed out. A very silly crash. The adrenaline was charging in race mode so I grabbed the bike, jumped on and kept on riding, kept on pushing. In the next rocky section I began to notice the shoulder again, namely because stabilising my bike was not happening and—poof!— I ended up in the bushes. I kept on going,  feeling a bit beaten up by this stage. Bec came past having fixed her mechanical. I kept going, however stabilising those bars was such an issue that even climbing I couldn’t hold my line straight. I continued for the remainder of the lap, wildly pinging about the rock-gardens with little finesse and extra wildness thanks to lack of shoulder stability, I pulled into the feedzone to pull the pin.

FeedzoneTBarAB
No feed here: was on a mission. Pic: Hixit.

Having spent so much physical and mental time and energy getting myself and shoulder to a place where I could race, post road crash, it was a huge let down to be unable to continue.

I was: exhausted, deflated, downtrodden and anxious about it all. In fact I had been so anxious the nine days prior, with the ‘can I? can’t I?’ of the shoulder really weighing down on me, it was like a big fat nihilist exhaust valve had been opened. Unlike my bike mechanical at round one, I was much less sad because I had been dealing the injury in the lead up to the event. I just felt defeated.

I watched the rest of the race, then stayed for the elite and junior mens races. There were a lot of broken faces on that course!

The rest of the day was just one of being wound up so tightly, as I found myself once again in bike purgatory, the ‘can I? can’t I?’ this time for National Champs, this weekend.

There’s definitely a part of me that’s sick of the extra fight required to come good from an acute injury just prior to a race, but the main part of me is worried about having done all the work and sacrificed so much the past six months, being as fit as I have ever been and in with a good chance, and then being unable to race. I suppose I have until Thursday to go do a hot lap or two of the course, see if it’s a feasible wish, and commit to it.

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