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June 2018

Gifts from two wheels

Everyone who races bikes, and even rides bikes, does sport, is a musician, or otherwise is highly invested in a hobby, has a motivation that drives them to continue the habit. I have talked about motivation and what it means on a number of occasions, and whether that motivation is positive or negative.

Closely related to the driving force behind our daily patterns is the rewards we get from habitually doing something that–at least in the case of sports and training–isn’t always instantly gratifying.

I have been thinking about everything that the world of cycling has given me in the tumultuous ten-year history I have been riding, and it’s far more varied than one may think.

There are some obvious external gifts we are rewarded with; increased fitness, new friendship groups via social groups on the bike, a literal vehicle to travel to work, in some cases employment through the industry, great glutes (lol), an extra 8kg or so of muscle mass…

The real gifts, however, are those that aren’t visible to the eye. Sorting through a seemingly endless bag of number plates from bike races long ago through to more recently, I was able to recall many races where events had happened that had challenged and changed me. I was literally able to put together a timeline based on cycling events that ranged from who I was 10 years ago to where I am now. From an awkward self-deprecating, ever striving, anxious novice; to the awkward, slightly more confident, always striving, experienced cyclist with a slightly healthier anxiety level, that I am now.

The path is never linear and always has some added challenges, see below. (Ie: two degrees, a child, 18months of chronic illness, some form of mental breakdown, blah blah blah).

Image result for path to success meme

But what defines success? When I started riding years ago I didn’t even have an end goal, certainly racing ‘well’ at a national level would be a dream but not something I could ever envisage happening. But you continue riding and racing because of the physical, tangible things it gives you as well as the mental clarity, goal setting and achieving and ability to see progress.

And in parallel to your own progress, the goal posts of the sport continually shift. The standards are always changing; riders become stronger, courses get harder, athletes must either adapt and accept the increased speed and technicality required or be happy to stay where they are.

The greatest things that the bike has given me isn’t the opportunity to represent Australia at a world level on a couple of occasions, nor is it the privilege to wear the stripes. Though both of these are pretty great (and I would argue the shocker I had in Cairns last year definitely prompted a reset of values).

The greatest gift I have been bequeathed, not without a great deal of effort on my part, is the ability to know that I am actually an okay person with or without results. When you have been chasing, then have some form of success and you’re just the same old person it really drives home the existential questions…especially if the expectation is for you to change, or be different because of it. When you can turn it around and race and ride for love and not validation, it comes from a different place and a different headspace that is much sustainable for the long-term. You don’t fear competition, you can accept whatever happens on the day, and you know it has absofuckinglutely no effect on your worth as a human being.

So what has bike racing really given me?

-Perspective on what’s important (hint: not bike racing, though it is great),

-A relationship, husband and child (certainly didn’t bank on that when I picked up the GT Avalanche 1.0: rim-brake spec)

-Falling into a fiery pit of despair and coming out harder, better, faster, stronger….like a phoenix (or Daft Punk song, yo),

-An adequate sense of self-worth,

-A tenable ability to conjure watts and power and pain from the bottom of my soul, even when not fit, because you know what a pit of despair is like and you know how far you can push yourself. Sure the numbers may not always be pretty and you may not always be super fast uphill, but you can always delve deep into that pain cave,

-Self-enlightenment in how, and why I ride, and the ability to honestly appraise my own (and others…) motivation and drive to ride,

– The ability to accept and forgive and be kind to myself; no trading in self-flagellation. Nope the sun doesn’t shine outta my arse, but nor does it shine out of anyone elses,

-While it once gave me a sense of identity, coming full circle has meant that you can find yourself outside sport, and be happy with that.

So I am absolutely stoked to be riding and racing my bike. I mean…not today; today I have a rancid post-fever cough with chunks in it and I feel a bit how-are-you-going. But generally, i’m stoked. When you ask the question “what’s possible?”,  line up and have a go, and even if you fail you’re going to be ok; it’s truly liberating.

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This contains a selection of plates from my first few races to now (first few; Scott team of 4, Highland Fling Half), first Marathon (Boonah Marathon), The Full Highland Fling I did 6 months post-partum…singlespeed, The first national series races where I cracked top-5, the first Cycle Epic I placed third in full marathon, 8 weeks gestation (oops), first OS trip racing ProXCT, first Marathon Worlds, first national series race win, first XCO worlds and First National Champ plate. What a whirlwind ride!
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The long hard grind

I have never had a good race at Bayview. A few years ago, at the first event, I entered the 100km in the midst of quite a significant life funk. I figured if I could get through it it would surely pull me out of the life funk. It was a bad idea. I didn’t get through it and the funk stayed in situ.

Last year I did the teams event with Aido. I had just gotten back on the bike after my shoulder injury and wasn’t very fit, I wasn’t feeling great about myself as I had gained back some weight after being lean and fit for the national XCO season, and just….Bayview. Ugh.

For those of you who haven’t done the event, it’s 94km of sandy twisty trail, with 95% of this being singletrack. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE singletrack, but the sheer amount and profile of the event makes it a lot harder than it seems. While the whole event only has 1800m of climbing; not much at all for a marathon of that length, it is made up of hundreds of small 1min long climbs. There are no long descents for recovery. It’s a pedaller’s wet dream and an anaerobe’s nightmare.

This year I wasn’t going to enter the event. I swore to myself I would only enter events that I liked or were new or exciting. Bayview was none of those things to me, however, the organiser–Lonnie–changed up the race course; there was some new singletrack, and a bit more recovery and passing and drinking time with some sustained fireroad sections. All in all it was a great improvement.

Plus, how many events do you get to wear the green and gold in a year? AND only an hour away?

Off the back of a pretty harrowing 2-degree Grafton experience, I had taken a couple of weeks off the bike. It was fantastic and I was surprised at how damn busy I was even when you take out 12–16hours a week of training. Of course, I did some things, like embarking upon a strength program that consists primarily of picking up very heavy things and walking strangely for days afterwards.

The week before the event I get back on the bike and EVERYTHING is hard. Which is to be expected. I enter the race but know it’s going to be a struggle, as much mentally as physically on that course.

The rains had come a couple of days prior and a large deluge overnight meant that race day was set to be moist. The small elite women’s field headed off with elite men, up the first fireroad (which was pretty rude TBH) Holly and I had snuck in amidst the elite men and I believe were already away from the rest of the elite women.

We found ourselves with a group of two elite men, and that’s kind of how it was for the start loop (10km). One dropped off through the first main loop and so there were three of us, and we were hauling along at a solid tempo. We certainly weren’t racing out of our skins, but the constant pedalling and repetitive small inclines do take their toll.

Towards the end of the first main loop (the 52km mark) one of the elite men we were riding with, friend Andrew Crawley, began to pay the price for having his first mountain bike ride in three months, and took a break through the feed, and so it was Holly and I.

We started the second main lap. We had a chat up the first climb, and I was obviously more puffed then young Holly. I had missed a water feed on course in the first lap, and was feeling a little parched, and so I was expecting her to come around and put the jandal down. It’s what I would have done if I was in her position…stalk like a tiger then bam. Take the prey when you sense its weakness.

So when she attacked up the wall after a couple of little attempts before, I had nothing to answer with. I had a red hot go but hit the rev limiter pretty quickly, and then spent the next 30mins freewheeling and running into things. It certainly wasn’t my idea to go and blow, but in the case that someone is attacking do you give it a nudge and see, or do you just sit up and ride tempo because that was your plan?

In the end, it’s a race and you do what you can to win it. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t, but you gotta roll the dice.

Holly’s dice were pretty solid as she rode off into the distance. It was going to be a long sad 30km solo. Brad Babel passed me as a broken former shell of myself after the attack. He told Aido I was blown to smithereens and wouldn’t be making it in home for sunset.

Post-rev-limit induced mushroom cloud I knew I couldn’t catch her, but after a feed, some food and a guzzled bottle of hydration I was going to give it all I could, after all; it ain’t over until it’s over and MTB is all about the variables.

The rest of the race was difficult to get motivated riding by myself. I wished I had someone to ride with, but alas I don’t remember passing anyone and I don’t think anyone passed me. I willed my legs to keep turning, I cursed the pedalling, and generally coaxed my body through the pedally, sloppy mess of Bayview.

I was about to celebrate not crashing in the tight muddy singletrack, when one of the last grass trees of the event jumped in front of me and I scorpioned into the scrub. Ugh. I heard someone coming behind as I jumped back on my bike, it was Dave P. The saddle was sideways. I jump off and try to whack it back, but in the end I get my tool out and move it.

Gee whiz what a difference 90sec of recovery does to the legs! 90sec of not pedalling was like heaven on a course like that. The last 12km was fast. I passed Dave Penhaligon again and zoomed off home.

Not pedalling is bliss!

And so I came in second behind the super speedy Harris, who I wasn’t going to catch regardless, because she is waaaay to good at the pedalling right now.

But most importantly, I had a reasonably positive race. And I got back before sunset. Sure I could have done without the blow on the chase, but there were people in far worse condition getting home, and I still took a solid 8th or so in the Elite men field. It goes to show that no matter how slow you feel you’re going, you’re probably not going that slow.

Onwards and upwards, I was pretty happy with the result all things considered and am excited to launch into some training. I have a few upcoming events that I am really excited about, and am heading to Dwellingup for the final round of the XCM National Series as I find myself leading the Elite Women category!

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