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September 2018

Viva L’Italia

Well Italy is pretty great. It’s so different from Australia yet up here in the North, the people are warm and welcoming, probably more so than at home. I have indulged in many many $1Euro espresso (um, is it bad to say that I think my Australian espresso is better!?) had the best gelati I have ever eaten, and the best pizza I have eaten, too.

My very limited Italian is becoming slightly less limited, to the point where I can recognise all the pizza menu ingredients. Very handy when you’re hungry. But that’s about it. For the first few days any time someone talked to me I would defect to the European language I have a little knowledge of: German, with the occasional French phrase thrown in.

Very funny how the brain mixes them all together.

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A bunch of posers in a beautiful place.

My initial experiences of the trails over here have been great, but very challenging. Well, you don’t go halfway across the world for nothing, and I can affirm that the trails are Epic. I have built a hardtail for the race, which features 3600m vertical in 98km, but regret the decision each time the trail turns downhill. Most of it is ok, really, but there are a few long fireroad and singletrack descents which are just out of control: steep like nothing we have in Australia; one line, littered with large chunky rocks. Oh and at least a -30% incline. Just madness. You come off the line (as you sometimes invariably do toting around a 9kg 100m travel hardtail) and you are off in the bush, off a cliff, or madly tripoding trying to find your way back on the right line. Or running. I didn’t count on running down any fireroads during the race so fingers crossed I have a smooth run come race day!

The climbs are absolutely epic, but I definitely factored the epic-ness of this into my training. Obviously a long way off the Gunn-Rita’s of the world, but I am feeling strong for the AB in my world.  The first climb is an absolute groveller; it’s 4k long and averages about a million percent. For those of you who know where I live, imagine 4k’s of my road and you will get the picture. Oh and it’s dirt. Apparently it’s one of the nastiest (I have ridden all but two, and can attest from what I have ridden, that it is the meanest so far!) so I suppose good to get it over with early!

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These guys are absolutely amazing. They have helped with EVERYTHING. Plus they are very handy translators. Thank you!

A kind-of luge-descent on a rail meanders past you with people joyously enjoying their lack of energy expenditure, as you’re trying not to die, 5km into the race, bike fucking at 25%. It’s the stuff sore backs are made of.

No rest for the wicked, as you pelt down the fireroad trying not to burn out your brakes, or ping pong into the scree and die. But I am ready for it for sure!

With the potential for incoming rain the next few days, it could get really interesting with the sketchy, wet trails in the closing km’s of the race. The singletrack is steep, wet, rooty and unforgiving. It’s a hang on and slide it out kind of experience. But once again, I signed up for an epic adventure (perhaps not as epic as this is going to be, though!) so I am ready to fight.

And try not to die on the fireroad.

Hooray for not dying!

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Airport stopovers

The past few years I have seen more airports than I care to remember. Many memories are indeed quite foggy in the blurry stopover haze that hits you very similarly to 3am on a night shift.

This time, the lead into my event (and resulting airport time) has been quite a low-stress affair. I have had great results over a longer period of time, and have somehow managed to be mostly quite consistent. The increase in fitness has been measurable, and measured, which gives a lot of confidence heading into a big event. The workshop has been flat-out and I have been doing the lion’s share of parenting and housework in the lead-up, having had time off work. This has been fine, and juggling training works well, but it’s amazing how flat out you can be when you’re not even at work!

I talk about confidence a lot. How some of us trick ourselves or psych ourselves out, how confidence really is a key determinant in performance. But for all the confidence I have developed over the past few years, nothing can make up for the fact that XCM World Champs in the Dolomites is at altitude, mainly fireroad and exceptionally climby. All but the last one aren’t my forte and in large doses perhaps that isn’t, either. I ain’t no Neff, that’s for sure, but I am strong domestically and as strong for the distance as I have ever been.

The caveat is, though; it doesn’t matter. I have nothing to prove and just have a plan to go an execute, anything else is a bonus, should altitude render me 67th then so be it; if I can make a plan and execute it well then that’s great. But who knows. It really is the great unknown. There are joys and freedoms in understanding who you are: a mum, paramedic, writer coach AND athlete, not a professional athlete. Looking at all I do, I think that makes it even more special to me, being able to go drink espresso in Italy wearing green and gold, knowing I have done the work to the best of my ability, even as an amateur.

But that’s kind of what I love about bike racing and travel, just going and doing it regardless of what your head–and sometimes what your body–wants to do. Sometimes their trajectories are markedly different from the mission you had planned. Of course, in terms of the actual racing, to say you do it for the challenge is a total cop-out. What part of the race challenges you, what do you love? It provokes more questions than answers. There is such scope for uncertainty in bike racing, but if you can be certain of yourself that’s one less thing to worry about.

For me, the delight and joy in racing now comes from the ability to go and travel to new and amazing destinations and truly experience a place viscerally, while pedaling through new, uncharted terrain. It’s the same grounding connection to the outside that you get feeling the crunch of leaves under your wheels on a local loop, but with the magic and mystique of a new frontier, laying your eyes upon parts of the world previously unseen, trying new things; food, trails, climbs.

Truly, my last XCM Worlds campaign was a huge adventure; though I had traveled before, I had never traveled solo, across the world, to a non-English speaking country for a bike race. Good thing my friend Bathmat was there in an act of solidarity when it came to cultural exchanges when buying baguettes and trying to find the correct word for soymilk.

But the whole experience was quite transformative, looking back. Such an adventure and put a whole bunch of foundation bricks in the wall for subsequent years both on and off the bike.

So while the past few days have been spent in an anxious flurry; arranging school care, drop-offs, meals for the family when I am away, appropriate program updates for 10+ athletes to get through the next couple of weeks, dealing with a sick tummy-aching 6 year old, working on my tax return, thinking about (yet not yet completing, FUCK!) invoices, trying to sweet talk a new phone into working, paying bills, entering timesheets and packing, as soon as you’re on the plan it’s sayonara real life! Well, sort of.

(Except when I remembered what I had forgotten (electrolyte and Ventolin…eep!).

Sometimes, I think, we can be lured into seeking happiness in potential. I wrote a long post about what is the conventional life, and if it leads to happiness two years ago en route to or from France for the last XCM Worlds. I don’t think there really is any one, true answer. But I know that there have been a few things that have increased my own personal happiness quotient, and you know what? Seeking the big H through flogging yourself as an unhappy clam in a bike race wasn’t really the way to do it.

You have good races when you ride happy. You ride happy when you are happy. But how to get to happy? Especially if you’re not happy? That’s the tricky stuff. I see many, many unhappy bike racers around. Is it that personality types are attracted to the data and suffering of XCO and XCM racing? Or are they traits developed as part of development in the sport? Who knows, chicken and egg stuff.

Well things like anxiety and depression tend look look behind us (depression, looking for supporting evidence that we are shit from past experiences) and into the future (oh my god WHAT IF?: anxiety) so maybe future proofing this is by learning to live in the now, stop putting expectations on yourself and just exist.

I think those that can see the beauty and goodness in the everyday have much greater potential for the big H than those always looking forward, feverish with expectation, driven to make right the past. But maybe I am just too many (bad) coffees deep, floating like a jellyfish on an airport stopover in Dubai?

Probably.

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