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:
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.
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.
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!
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?
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!