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January 2017

Drowning, not waving

I remember when I started racing, it was more often than not traumatic, but I kept coming back for more anyway. Managing pre-race anxiety, and even identifying how I was feeling and going in everyday life and not taking that on to the race course was pretty hard in the early days.

Sometimes I think there are stages in your life that you can leave behind, and it’s surprising when they suddenly catch up with you and you’re doing or thinking in the way you would ten years ago.

Such was the lead up to the third and fourth rounds of the 2017 MTBA XCO National Series.

To say I was underwhelmed about the whole affair a few days out…even the day prior, would be an understatement. Just keeping it together is solidly what I was out to achieve. Anything else was a bonus.

It’s all just the menial trials and tribulations of life I was experiencing. A barrage of hormones (not androgens guys, that probably would have been a better option!); multiple deadlines, working on building my business, the challenges of unpleasant social situations that occasionally arise, being nearly-assaulted two days out from the race at work by someone who thought it would be a great idea to spit mouthfuls of blood around the ambulance (aka: thank-you police and what the fuck am I doing with my life?), a sinus infection in the lead-up week, the self-imposed pressure of racing, little miss Elv starting big school that week (and her solemnly telling her grandmother at the end of the week that she had no friends. I was already a wreck by then so I cried a bit about that).

Many of these things were indeed ok; deadlines, building the business, my tiny pickle being not so tiny. But the added weight of it all was really taking it’s toll, evidenced by said sinus issues, otherwordly fatigue, and a relentless eye twitch.

I was about at breaking point a few days out. The day prior I rode the course, was not overly impressed with anything, still managed to get around just not really with head or heart in it, I decided to take the B line around the major feature of round three, but I was happy enough with that choice.

I oscillated between psychologically berating myself for not just doing it, and trying to be kind enough to myself to be able to haul my arse out to a race the next day. A pre-race lap is probably not the best time to wrap yourself up as a sensitive little snowflake; however a good case of ‘just fucking do it’ probably would have hindered more than helped.

Race day there had been a slight shift. Far from being quite as morose and run down as I had been the day prior, I kind of thought ‘fuck it, may as well give it a nudge anyway’. I wondered if I could put what felt like life falling apart around me (yes I am being dramatic but it was pretty awful feeling at the time; I was well and truly aware everything going on was a first world problem, but it doesn’t diminish its effect) into a little box and pop it on the shelf for an hour or two. After all, you can’t change how you feel but you can change how you react to it.

Warm up, music, coffee, we were off. Cat and mouse moreso than the first round. The legs didn’t seem to hurt quite as much as I expected, and despite running into lots of things from riding at a super high intensity and having the IQ of a cactus, I rode pretty well. I would gain time on Bec up the climb and she would put seconds into me on the rock garden. There were a set of very tricky vertical step-ups I elected to run each lap rather than take the long and slow B line, even though there was only one step I struggled with, in the heat of the moment the coordination required to get back on the bike between stairs seemed like a worse idea than hoofing it. Racing brain isn’t very clever.

Each lap for 6 laps the elastic band didn’t really break, and I finished 20sec down on Bec in second. The drive was there but the hunger wasn’t in force as it was in Orange, attenuated by the rest of life.

However, there was enough fire in me to have a decent enough race. Enough love for self-flagellation that is cross-country mountain biking to keep the whip cracking each lap.

At the end of the race I didn’t feel too spent, there was no having a lie down against a tree like Orange, it was all very…controlled.

A reasonable recovery, a big feed and it was time to do it all again.

Lack of sleep had extinguished the fire somewhat as I had restless dreams of shit going wrong in bike races. I tossed and turned and turned and woke up ready to race at…0400.

Warm up was a bit of a creaky old affair as I felt about 60 spinning the legs. Eliza looked very motivated warming up, though she’s always smiling, but she looked like today would be her day and wasn’t it ever!

Prior to the race I was looking forward to the course a bit more; craggy rocks and being comfortable on the technical A lines made me happy, but it didn’t account for the distinct lack of climbing. I mean look at me; i’m not exactly a featherweight, but a good strong, gritty climb is what I seem to go well at, and there was none of that on the second day.

The first almost 4 laps it was Bec, Holly and Myself split from the remainder of the field. Holly got in front and was whipping the singletrack with the finesse of a local, but we weren’t pushing it on the climbs and flats. It wasn’t how I am used to racing, I kept thinking, ‘do I pick it up here? Do I gas it? We are almost mid race, think I should go, should I stay??’ I was in two minds but the motivation wasn’t as strong to gamble; the legs felt pretty flat and without a proper climb I didn’t really have a good opportunity to gas it. I alerted the guys that Eliza was bridging across and she came by like a steam train, catching us, then putting the hurt on for an attack in the pineys. Bec went with her, I tried to get around Holly but she picked the pace up a bit through the snaking singletrack, and we rode mostly together for the remainder of the laps.

There was a mental battle raging where I was like “pick it up, Holly is just there, you know the parts of the course where you can so some damage” and “fourth ain’t so bad”. I felt like I just couldn’t get going but I feel that was probably more a result of the course itself than my effort; even if the mojo didn’t have me pushing it to the next level I was still working hard. In the final lap Holly was just up the road, I was like ‘fuck yeah I can pick up that 10sec’ as she was in the berms as I entered them.

Then I had the most underwhelming crash ever; not even on a berm. It was between berms. On grass. I just somehow lost my front wheel and lay down. I think I laughed; if you can’t laugh you would cry, right?  I was ok with it, the whole race to me felt like a comedy of errors (all mine of course). With a solidly corked bum, I got back on and rode as hard as I could to the finish only a few minutes away, but I ended 30sec down on Holly (aka: the local hero). Bec and Eliza had a mighty battle, Bec reigning supreme in the end by a tiny smidegon.

Anyway, cest la vie, second and fourth AINT so bad in a National Series XCO race with a big, solid field, and I have to keep telling myself that. Plus I looked fantastic in my new sparkly Shaz-edition skinsuit. My how the goalposts shift, and so quickly!

Now it’s time to just sort all the other stuff out so I can get back to being happy and motivated on the bike: because when stuff is going well off the bike it’s much easier for it to be going well on it.

Photo creds to Russ Baker, who is at all races behind the lense.

Other photo creds must go to Mike Blewitt and Sharon Heap.

The tale of two bike races

Round 1 and 2 of the 2017 MTBA XCO National Series are well worth a mention, not even for the fact that they were both epically interesting races, but for the lessons they dished out in abundance. I sure hadn’t expected the long 11 hour slog down into regional NSW for two back to back cross-country races be so filled with highs and lows.

Sussing the course out on Friday, the remainder of the day was spent reading a book, as I had no preschooler demanding my attention (thanks Grandma!). I was worringly relaxed.

Race day came and it was more of the same, perhaps the calm before the storm as I began to feel some of the expected butterflies once the appropriate amount of coffee had been ingested (ie: bulk). Hitting some little doubles up on a bit of singletrack next to the fireroad people were warming up (and down; blasphemy!), I was pretty motivated.

Realistically with the stacked field of ladies I would have been happy with top five. After dancing on the start line, the gun went and a quickly settled in to about 5th. Eliza Kwan and Megan Williams went off like a frog in a sock, but Rebecca Henderson and myself came around them in the midst of the main climb, and with gusto had a break.

Lap one Bec had about 10sec on me, with Kath McInerney chasing not too far behind. The gap forward and backward lengthened, when heading into the fourth of five laps I was about a minute down on Bec with Kath a further 90sec or so behind.

The legs weren’t chainless, I was feeling the burn; and with an average heart rate of 184 I was tasting the burn too, but managing a pretty consistent lap times (just pulling progressively more awful faces). The hardtail was amazing, I felt pinned and shredding, lapping a few age groupers on the fireroad before dropping into the final descent to the start finish where I would be heading to my final lap.

I had a sneaky look behind on the climb; daylight.

“Just put it in and one more lap, push; remember you love this”.

Flicking through the berms and into a rut something wasn’t quite right, my legs weren’t chainless but all of a sudden—with no preceding factors—my 1×11 drivetrain was. I hop off, 30sec passes and the masters riders pass me while I try and untangle the puzzle of my drivetrain; fix or run? Fix or run?

Pedal it on, flicks off—chain is tangled. Chain is tangled? WTF? Look at derailleur; cage is broken. Kaput. Cooked out. It’s been a minute or so of trailside fuckery and Kath comes down followed by Eliza. I utter a growling “fuuuuuuuuuccccccck” and ponder throwing my bike in the bush. I don’t. I try and coast down the hill but can’t even freewheel.

Bike is broked.

I push my bike down the hill, filled with incredulous despair. It was raw and it hurt a lot. No tears until Aido came and found me and I allowed myself two minutes of being mildly weepy, then I pulled up my socks, put my big girl panties on and wound it back to being slightly glum with vague stares into the ether for the next hour.

It wasn’t a pretty race but I believe it was, to this day, one of the best I have had. The course suited me, the competition was fierce. I was riding my little guts out. So it made sense that the wound was deep there for a moment.

Dealing with adversity is always something I have in the back of my mind when I race bikes nowadays. If it’s having a crash, dropping a bottle, missing nutrition or a mechanical; the way we deal with adversity can make or break us as athletes.

“It’s just a fucking bike race”, I thought, though other less helpful thoughts also passed my mind “what if this is as good as it gets”, and “no one remembers second”. I had briefly forgotten that no one remembers any mountain bike results because it’s just fucking bike racing and while I love it, it really doesn’t contribute to the world.

Hanging out all day watching Aido race Mas1 and subsequently ponder another comeback to Elite racing, followed by watching Sibly figure out that XC racing is an exercise in abject suffering and push the limits of how hard he can go, I had crap recovery. Headed out on the backup pushy late that arvo then headed to the pool for a dip and to wash the day away.

Bulk food with the CBR crew and bed; tomorrow was another day but I wasn’t feeling super confident about it.

A dodgy sleeper in the best of circumstances, the night after a race is never forthcoming with the Z’s.

The next morning I was sad and sore, but coffee gave me a high five and a pat on the bum to get out there in my tiger onesie and practice what I preach.

Warming up was more arduous than the day prior, it was apparent the legs weren’t feeling overly snappy but everyone is in the same boat; I did a lap less than most the day prior!

On the start line the heart rate eventually climbed to where it was supposed to be and we were off again, with the same usual suspects ramping the pace up on the front. Along the first part of grassy double track, the pace wasn’t that hot, so I sort of thought ‘fuck this, do or die’ and managed to put a good 20-sec gap into the rest of the field by the top of the first climb.

I didn’t really have a plan. I knew I was in an uncomfortable place, but I was the day prior and was quite consistent so I embraced the ‘risk it for the biscuit’ approach and tried to get a visual gap. By the second lap I had stopped running into things from the intensity and it just hurt. Remembered to eat and had some reprieve. I knew everyone would be totally boxed after the day prior so just channeled Dory and ‘just keep swimming’ and puffed on.

The course was longer so we were to race four rather than five laps, and it just seemed to go on and on. It was a hillier course, with one long climb broken up into smaller tip-of-the-saddle numbers that you simply wouldn’t ride for fun, because it’s simply not fun. The first descent was less inspiring. All in all I believe the course the day prior suited my far more; slightly more tech, punchier. The Canberra crew would be lapping up this loose and dusty pine forest!

Despite undereating during the race and being totally busted, I headed into the final lap over two minutes up on Bec. Really I had no idea what was going on I was just in puff-and-pedal mode mainly. I hadn’t seen Bec at all, but I tried to keep the pressure on, after all (as I learnt the hard way the day prior) it ain’t over ’till it’s over. The last three laps slowed, I don’t reckon an extra gel would have helped that much I was at the point where the legs had run out of zap and I had to keep telling them to pedal on flat bits in the middle of the descent. Pedal damn you! PEDAL!

Dropping into the final descent I hadn’t seen Bec, I allowed myself a smile, though it probably looked more like a grimace, HANG ON AB KEEP PEDALLING YOU NEVER KNOW.

I kept pedalling. The head tilt was extreme by that stage, the Garmin covered in dribble. Dropping into the finish area there were clusters of people yelling for me; I was actually super lucky people yelled all around the course every lap…but I was too boxed to acknowledge them.

Coming around the final corner the spectators explode again as Bec just pops out of the bush.

SURPRISE!

She had put in the fastest lap of the day, over 2mins faster than her previous lap, and was all of a sudden after a long solo race, hot on my heels. As I get into the final chute I don’t risk looking back, just trying my best at sprinting with cramp-twitchy legs, and then it’s done. No time for salutes. She comes in about 10sec behind in the end. I had won an Elite National XCO round.

As a self-proclaimed “Epic Hubbard” I am not sure what happened!

Photo creds to Russ Baker.

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