“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we thought we’d conquered long ago”- Nietzsche
This is a quote I found a while ago, but really resonated with me, someone who routinely has bouts of insomnia and then wonders why things are SO HARD. Well, really they aren’t, it just feels that way when you’re tired. And now I have the wisdom of having been tired for a LONG time (parenting, shift work, general insomnia definitely not linked to excessive coffee consumption), I mostly know what to expect.
However once in a while, it really takes you by surprise. The fatigue arcs up, you have no capacity to manage it within the parameters of your normal, everyday working life, and all of a sudden you are inundated with unhelpful thoughts you had ironed out a millennia ago.
Having raced the Reef to Reef last week, I always knew that backing up for the final round of the XCM National Series in Dwellingup—a 104km race with 2000m elevation—would be a bit of a task. Being one for a bit of a challenge, add in taking the red-eye arriving the day prior to the race, and returning the night of the race seemed less bad on paper than in reality. Yikes.
Anyway, no woe is me: we are all fucking tired, and my main competitor at the race being my stage race Bae, Brizzle-cat, meant that we were in the same fucking post Reef to Reef boat, floating down a shitstream of fatigue.
Can I just say that WA is delightful. More and more I am able to really appreciate and relish my time away riding bikes, as I have managed to care less about the outcome and be confident in my ability to get it done. It’s really refreshing to be able to travel to weird places, with a bunch of likeminded idiots, and experience a whole different part of Australia’s ecosystem so intimately.
WA had an amazing mixture of dirt and flora that is so unique to the region. The red dirt, pea gravel splitting apart iconic Australian gums, littered with grass trees; a real marriage of bush and beach. I feel more Australian for the fact that I now have visited all states and territories.
Anyway, race day rolled around and it was freezing. There was ice on the feed zone tables, which did not bode well for someone who spent the whole of the part of Grafton she raced almost crying with the cold. Ok well, so it was gonna be cold; you can’t control the weather. The warm-up consisted of riding in circles on the main road which was in direct sunlight…and drinking coffee. Marathon racing is about the first 20km being a warm-up right?
The start rollout was quite gentlemanly, until about 10km in, up a large dirt road, the bunch splintered. The average speed for the first hour of the race would have been well over 25km, as we toiled up firewood hills and down skatey pea-gravelly descents.
I had a gap on the rest of the girls but was just grinding away, literally (not theoretically haha!) ‘just riding tempo’ as it appeared all I could get the legs to do in the cold weather. About halfway through the first (42km) lap Briony and Sarah Tucknott rode up to me as I was atrociously toiling in all aspects of the world, and I was relieved to have a bit of a crew to ride with that I knew would set a reliable pace.
Well Bri-dawg was hauling, very quick, through the remainder of the first loop. “This is moderately uncomfortable” I was thinking. It seemed that she knew where to go with her previous races in the region which was incredibly handy as I am very adept at wrong turns and weird lines. Her, Sarah and I rode through the feed to the second, 26km loop together and I decided I should probably actually do some work rather than being slack and morose, and was on the front for a good portion of the next loop. This 26km loop featured totally different soil type, dark black hero loam scattered with rocks, and was mainly fire-road but featured some longer climbs.
Aside from nearly dying down a firewood (true story can be confirmed by B-Dizzle) this loop was just pretty moderate, I found myself inadvertently riding away from Balony and Sarah up Big Bertha, however Brawny managed to get back on which was sweet because it wasn’t really planned that we split up and I hadn’t attacked and I kind of just wanted the company to shut the very loud little devil on my shoulder up because the head talk was about as grim as my legs were (still haven’t gotten out of tempo at this point..but yes I realise my heart rate was a bit subdued due to aforementioned ongoing fatigue), with me not really wanting to continue riding my bike. Wanting to never race again. Definitely not going to Italy. Yep, it was loud and grim. But it can be silenced with focus and positivity. Repeatedly.
Anyway, there were two other quite protracted climbs following the Bertha, and I was just riding my own pace and once again found myself alone, then rode up to Junior Owen Elvy, who as competing in the 68km event.
I was like “FFS WTF, I feel shit and now I have to try and keep a gap!”. Pretty funny thinking back, but as I crested Kenny’s Killer climb and passed a bunch of dudes walking up it (!) I gained a little bit of confidence, after all, as the very wise Jo Rowell once told me “you always come good”*.
The next feed zone stop was snappy as I smashed a little coke, swapped a bottle and headed out onto the road. Maybe it was the coke, the fact that the mercury cracked 12 degrees, having eaten 4 caffeinated gels, or the knowledge that the final 36km won’t take more than 2hrs (and indeed a bit less), but I was all of a sudden ready to go. I ride up to a guy ahead of me “let’s ride together”. “Sure!” he said. His name was Neil and he had been at Reef to Reef the week prior.
So we rode together for around 10km, but I started to feel good. Like REALLY good, and began to smash all the single track and climbs out of the saddle.
Alright….well this is unexpected. It must be at least 15 degrees then, I’ve probably just thawed out…let’s see what we can do here. I set a new goal to TT the remainder of the course and see what I could do. Whooping and hollering through the single track, I somehow found my skills had returned and I wasn’t, in fact, a hubbard. I was taking steezy lines again and punching all the climbs wherever I could. SO I AM NOT BROKEN HALLELUJAH!
I managed to pass many broken bodies in the final stages of the race, I would say at least ten in the final 30km, of which many Blondie also managed to pass. It was chalk and cheese how I felt for the first 3hrs compared to that final 2hrs, and really quite unexpected when compared to the early race thoughts of “I have never been this tired in a race in my life” and “if a catastrophic mechanical happened now I would be totes chill I would hitchhike back to town and go to the pub and it would be warm, no biggie”. There was a constant running dialogue between that angel and devil on the shoulder all throughout the early stages of the race.
I kept on teasing myself/fooling myself that the final fireroad was just around the corner (it wasn’t. For like 10km..but you can believe anything when you’re on the rivet, high on excessive caffeine and focussed on pushing).
Then, all of a sudden…it was. A moto met me “are you the leading female?” he said “I fucking hope so!” I said as I assumed the TT position for the last 6 or so km on dirt. There were still people to be caught and so I kept driving it right to the end, and when I crossed the road and headed into the finish I was cross-eyed, empty. Maybe a single tear was shed. I am not sure.
I still couldn’t quite understand or believe how the day had unfolded, but I guess that’s the benefit of developing resilience, tenacity and a positive mental attitude. It doesn’t come innately to many of us, and it’s not foolproof; it’s a skill that needs to be worked on and refined, and I definitely had to unpack the suitcase full of skills I have be squirrelling away for a few years throughout this race. I certainly didn’t expect to have to do that, but in the end I am proud of just getting through it, and coming good at the end was a huge surprise and a huge bonus. That feeling of railing and punching through the trails for the last 90min-2hrs nearly made up for the start. Nearly. But it’s that knife-edge of pain and suffering; and joy and accomplishment.
Bone-broth is riding as strong as I have ever seen her ride (though to be fair I didn’t see her form at the Cape Epic before her crash, but it was reportedly VERY strong) and is in for really good things for the Pioneer, and honestly, should she have won I would have been very happy for her. And she will. Soon.
So in the end, I was very happy to take the 2018 XCM Series in Elite women, 3 out of 4 races ending with gold and the other with silver. As a mum with a job and many other conflicting priorities in my life I am happy to say that I am proud of it, even though the fields at times were pretty thin, I still raced as best I could. I know Australian mountain biking is a small pond, but you have to be kind to yourself and accept results graciously, I did the work and reaped the results, there’s not much innate marathon ability in my bones!
And so it’s true, mores in Dwellingup than any other race this season, that when you’re tired you are attacked by ideas conquered long ago, but with a bit of work, good reflection and wisdom of age and experience, you can unpack that suitcase and manage this assault of ideas much better than we could have previously.
*It may be days after the race, but it will happen.