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On privilege

It’s now August. Past the middle of the year. Yes, time flies. Every year passes quicker, and the last seems further away the more I age, and with life being crammed in from every angle it’s easy to see how it happens.

It’s now been several months from the ‘very bad time’ earlier this year, where a shoulder injury compounded other various events and left me pretty broken in all meanings of the word. Fast forward past a long break from the bike, a whole lot of help from people who mean a lot to me, a buttload of shoulder rehab, doing bulk base miles, a trip to Canada, and we are in August.

So XCO World Championships is in the second week of September, and somehow I managed a call up on the Elite Women’s start line. With the selection criteria being so stringent and largely unattainable except for maybe only one female, Cycling Australia chose instead—on home soil—to select a large team. I cannot complain; this has been a goal for me, though I cannot understand how they came to select me either. Yes, I had some stellar performances earlier this year but pretty much failed on all the selections fronts (ie: I was broken for both Oceania’s and National’s and didn’t travel for world cups).

Alas, I did get a call up and I am happy about it, though inevitably nervous; after all, my good early year form gave way to a lot of time off, a lot of rebuilding and racing Canada on base miles only (ie: not being particularly fast in any sense of the word) and though I have since began to ramp up intensity since my return, it’s hard to believe I can reach or exceed the level I was at early this year, if purely looking at numbers

The one main thing I can think about regarding the whole thing is privilege. The whole experience of a world championship is due to privilege. And I don’t mean ‘it’s a privilege to represent my country’ though that still rates moderately despite my largely non-nationalistic ethos.

I mean what it takes to get to that sort of level—especially those who are in contention for stripes—is a lot of privilege.

We like to talk about all the hard work it takes to be a cyclist. How hard it is. It’s true. Physically. To be good at cross country, or any other cycling discipline, you have to train yourself to encounter and embrace discomfort and pain. Every day, almost…whether it be torture via foam roller or VO2 max efforts. That reality is undeniable.

But what makes the ability to get to a world championship event aside from commitment and some legs? Well, firstly, you have to have some cash.

If you are young enough; mum and dad have to have some cash. In Australia, sponsorship is scant for our ‘popular-but-still-really-a-fringe-sport’ sport. Sure you can get a bike on a long-term invoice and some kit from a shop or distributor. But the thousands of dollars you need to travel Australia, and after that, the world? That’s on you.

Mountain biking isn’t a team sport. It’s you against the course for 90min of teeth-gritting, and so unlike road cycling, the team-sponsorship opportunities aren’t that great. Travel is self-funded for all but the best (and in some circumstances, all including the best), which makes selection policies for large events that stipulate overseas travel is a must, quite problematic.

Perhaps the benefit of this is that you have to be intrinsically motivated to continue in the sport; after all, no one is going to pay your way, you have to do it for the love, for the challenge, not for reward.

If you are old enough to be paying your own bills it doesn’t get easier; as training and work and the rest of life have to be crammed in. Athletes before have taken the plunge, remortgaged their houses, taken redundancies, in order to secure their overseas World Cup campaigns, in the name of worlds/Comm Games etc selection. Which is all fine and well; after all as mentioned, finding money in the sport is like spotting the Tasmanian Tiger and so if you want to have a campaign, it requires sacrifice.

The point is, there are few people out there that can afford the sacrifice. I am talking about the higher levels of sport, but when was the last time a socio-economically disadvantaged person found themselves on a podium of a state or national series event?

Sure, we live in Australia which is by and large very affluent, but cycling is a luxury pretty much for the 1%. You may not believe you’re the 1% but if you have a job in Austalia and money in your wallet you’re pretty much it when compared to the rest of the world.

The prohibitive costs of equipment are quite a wall to entry to the world of competitive cycling. When you add in the need to have time for training (often best accommodated by white collar work, or upper-echelon jobs that allow flexibility) that further excludes many potential athletes.

When you look specifically at elite women, knowing that they often have a later and longer lifespan within elite sport, the demands of children and cost of childcare are also thrown into the mix.

It’s no wonder cycling is seen as the new golf, and why parents (often late to cycling themselves because of the aforementioned reasons; no judgment just a fact) see their child’s cycling career as a legitimate career path.

Why am I writing this? Because I am dead-set ordinary. Yet I am privileged; privileged enough to be a person that owns a house, has a supportive husband, a kid at school (and with outside hours school care help when required) and a job that while is staunchly in the blue collar brigade, pays the bills and I don’t have to turn up too often. Privileged enough to have a bike (or two or three) and a car and all the other material items that so many people confuse with happiness (BTW: it’s a ruse, I have experienced enough of life to know the lure of shiny things don’t make you happy).

I am privileged enough to be afforded enough time on my bike in between everything else that I can race at a relatively high level, I live in a place where I don’t fear for my life, and food is on the table every day. I am privileged enough that things like ‘skinfolds’ have at times entered my vocabulary, and in a country where obesity is rife, reducing them is the last bastion of the privileged. After all, if you can’t pay for food or don’t have a job, counting macronutrients is the last thing on your mind.

So with this in mind, and—sadly—knowing that the best potential mountain biker in the world is probably on the couch, downing KFC and drinking VB, I am acknowledging my privilege, heading to Cairns to throw myself down some rocks in a white, green and gold unitard.

PS: Don’t get me wrong, sports federations have to have some way of selecting riders which usually involves overseas campaigns, and there is no one to help the fact that the money in the sport is scant, I am merely highlighting the privilege one has to have to undertake such a feat. I don’t have the answers, I just do the sport because I love it.

“What in the Fresh Hell is this?” and other reactions to the Woodford Island Gravity Enduro National Series race.

A few weekends ago saw the Gravity Enduro National Series make a comeback for its fifth round at the mysterious Woodford Island.

I had just gotten a bigger travel bike (my rocky Mountain Altitude: so good!) and was looking to adventure, so Aido and I decided to go to ride some fresh trails, and take friend and coached athlete Annelie down to taste Gravity racing for the first time, too.

Having coached several Gravity athletes, I know what the physiological demands of racing are like. I had raced a couple of ‘proper’ (ie: not lady enduro’s) gravity races around five years ago, before an entire category of bikes had been created for the discipline, and rode a 26″ 120mm bike (which was terrifying), so I had a taste of what gravity courses could be like in Australia, too.

The season where I did some gravity marked quite a shift in how I ride, and what I could ride, and my riding back on XCO turf.

So a few years later when winter is snapping at my heels and endurance and intensity work (or…you know…training) isn’t very appealing, I thought ‘what the heck, let’s get a bike and do some jumps’. So I got a bike, rode it twice and headed down to the Island.

We were fortunate to get some tracks in prior to the race, Annelie only rode a couple the morning of the event and rode the hairy trails of Woodford Island pretty blind. Being under the pump time wise, Aido and I just rode through most of them the day prior, missed out a few bits, and certainly didn’t stop and session everything. I have learned there is definitely value in doing this sessioning when riding with the right people, and I will endeavour to do this if I chase any more enduro racing.

The trails had just been cut in. If you conjure up a vision of an Island with trees on it, you’ll probably get a good idea of what the riding consisted of; it was super, super steep sand, littered with sniper rocks and bigger rock gardens, and blown out corners you just hope will catch you (but it’s kind of 50/50). Zero Pina Coladas, unfortunately.Most of the girls racing elite were all like ‘WTF is this!?!’,

Most of the girls racing elite were all like ‘WTF is this!?!’, however the hilarity in throwing yourself down the sketchiest steepest rock chutes and drops meant that we all had a pretty good time.

Stage 1: The machine built stage I am guessing, started with a long pedally traverse followed by shale-y off camber rocky dusty corners, a couple of drops and a rock ledge into the finish. I didn’t pedal too much as an act of self-preservation, staunchly believing my experience at the race was just that; and experience, and I wouldn’t try and get caught up in squirrel-brain race mode.

Stage 2: Significantly steeper, quite off-camber, with perhaps the sketchiest, steepest switchbacks I have ridden (very steep and about a metre and a half wide; sliding in is the only way and they were just lol-worthy in their sandy constitution). Good run, a less pedally stage, I just kept it smooth which worked well.

Stage 3: Stage three featured a bit of a traverse with a few little hucks at the top. I was secretly excited for this stage because I thought it suited me but ended up being the worst, as I lay it over between rock gardens on the flat and twisted my bars sideways. Cue getting back on, moving bars back, pedalling, then sliding down a drop into a hairpin (also made of sand), losing it again then not being able to get back on and just like “wtf’ hollering down a chute, very inefficiently. 10/10 for hilarious misadventure.

Stage 4: Sand corners and steep chutes marked the start of the stage, followed by a gnarly rock garden. I hadn’t practiced this and as such did some kind of awkward ungraceful dismount and snivelled down most of it, then rode the remainder of the steep sand chutes and drop to the end. Lost a lot of time here but wasn’t worried in my non-race, race mentality.

Stage 5: Another challenging one, slow speed rutted sand corners and a bunch of small jumps over logs opened up to a technical sand rock garden which I hadn’t ridden up until race day. The biggest rush came from nailing it during the race run, a small victory amongst so many stuff-ups, when the rest of the field except Ang struggled on it.

Stage 6: Stage six was pedally at the top, off camber and loose like the rest of the stages. It featured a long and sketchy rock garden, which was a bit straighter than the one in stage 5. With some confidence gained throughout the day I nailed this stage and felt pretty good!

The liason stages consisted of a lot of pushing up vert goat tracks (or not really tracks at all…), thus the race was much more of a multi-stage downhill than others I have participated in!

In a way, just riding and not worrying about it, and being a bit vague on the stage details without sessioning stuff was a good way to minimise expectation, and though I beat myself up a little for being a kook (mainly stage four) I exceeded my expectations with a two stage seconds and one third; unfortunately this consistency didn’t continue for the other three stages and I blew out just off the podium with my various misadventures. It was the kind of race in which everyone seemed to have a slide out or a silly off, it’s just the nature of such a fresh, loose trail.

Annelie did very well, throwing herself down the stages; most unseen, and keeping spirits lol-ing despite an almost 1:1 crash:stage ratio.

If I was to take it a bit more seriously I would ensure we had enough time to practice all the tricky bits rather than just getting through the stages, and I would probably work on the top end and some race runs in training, as I was reluctant to pedal too hard because of the squirrel brain that occurs when you push the limits without precedent.

All in all; would do again, I enjoyed riding the fresh trails and entering a race that was so different to what I usually do, and just riding to complete and have fun. 10/10 for the race coffee van, too! I am not sure I want to devote my life, time and devotion to the sport, but I enjoy the challenge and am up for a few more days of runs.

I could see how it could become a sport you train for and dedicate yourself to, but I am pretty happy just lining up for fun gravity racing at the moment; I enjoy the challenge and am up for a few more days of runs.

BC Salad Wrap!

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:

Training:

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.

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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.

Stuff:

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!

 

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Sick North Vancouver trails.

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?

 

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Yes you’re camping at BCBR, but it’s in a pretty phenomenal part of the world. In hindsight I don’t even mid that I didn’t sleep 50% of the nights.

 

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!

The Final Countdown

That’s a wrap! Training: done. Aside from a short ride tomorrow, I’ve now completed my BCBR “non-training” training plan.

Surprisingly enough, I haven’t felt the need to use a Garmin or HRM at all. I expected myself to get a few weeks in and be ready to go, to compare my 5min power efforts to mid-national season, but I know i’ll struggle to hit my 410w/5min max from the start of the year, even at a higher weight now, and in the end the numbers don’t make you any happier. They are tools of progress and for motivation, but there is the light and dark side of that and I have enjoyed free-ranging it for a while, especially at this time of the year where the goal is ‘ride bike lots’.

Instead of looking to numbers, I have been able to gauge my increased fitness by my ability to suffer and dominate in local crit races (a great improvement from dying 20min into the first crit back after a couple of months off…I just quietly ghosted home after that!) and assessing my increased tolerance for multiple long days in the saddle. That being said, I haven’t done anything over four-ish hours, though I have backed up to four x 3-4hr rides in a row.

I’ve never been one for backing up, and so to be able to hit out a solid 10-12 hours in three days has been an achievement in itself!

Want to know what the BC Bike Race is like? Check this out, it’s well worth your time (entries for 2018 are opening soon guys…).

The recovery I talked about last post? Yeah…i’m still not so great at it. Nothing says recovery like walking the kid and dog for 5km then cleaning and packing the house in preparation to sell it, staying up late doing coaching and invoices and trying to hit deadlines. That in itself justifies the wine, which is unfortunate as it impedes recovery. However, that’s the story of real life and I know once I hit that plane I will be super relaxed. Maybe.

So what have I been up to this week leading into BCBR?

Monday: Off (after a weekend of Gravity Racing Saturday and a Social 1hr45 trail ride with an athlete and mate Sunday)

Tuesday: 3hr15 including 1 hr of mixed threshold and VO2 efforts, in intervals: last big hard session pre-BC (very, very hard session due to the intensity mixed into the longer session!)

Wednesday: 1hr recovery

Thursday: 2hr15 including 4 short singletrack efforts, with an athlete. Due to ongoing fatigue I cut the efforts short (for me, he had to keep going!); after all, it’s no time to dig a hole right now!

Friday: Day off including core stability and conditioning: no heavy squats and deads at the gym now.

Saturday: 90min short hit out with newly rebuilt bike, check everything is ok, then complete several VO2 efforts before packing up bike and everything else.

Sunday: Sleep in (until at least 6am!) and leave for BC! ALSO ARRIVE IN BC—what a time-warp!

So yeah; I’m coming good. I am not peak-fit but I know I can get through if I:

a) eat enough food during the race,

b) don’t try and race XC pace, and;

c) ride happy.

Packing and other preparation

Executive management skills don’t come naturally for me, so here is a picture of how my packing is going:

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Wow, at least I got the important stuff…like Fisiocream.

Also, I am not innately a happy camper so I have invested in a fancy camping pillow, ear buds, eye mask and no doubt a small flask of something to get me to sleep. JK about the last one…or am I?

 

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Me, every morning.

 

So now I just have to trust the process, relish the singletrack, enjoy my time away and just be me: a happy shredder exploring some of the best trails in the world!And now I leave you with one of the finest adieu’s out there…

The importance of recovery

The BCBR is fast approaching. It’s raining cats and dogs here, and I have just come off night shift and a couple of days taking it really easy after a solid 20-hr week, featuring some intensity; first in a while. Finally it feels like backing up is going well, and a few solid 3-4hr days with a substantial amount of climbing have been achieved without bulk-grovelling. Without having the top end speediness I would like (but don’t really want to work too hard on right now!) I am feeling pretty confident in my ability to complete BCBR! Cool!

Last week featured some solid backing up:

Sunday: 2hr15 Trail ride. 3x25min Time-Trials at Subthreshold, 5min rec between. 43km and 700m.

Monday: 3hr30 endurance ride. Felt slow. Multiple long seated climbs. 60km 1600m.

Tuesday: 1hr coffee shop roll (the best!). 25km. 30min slow dog run (ie: running slowly, plus the dog isn’t very clever).

Wednesday: 4hr30 road hills. Social 2hrs followed by 2x30min tempo/SST. 115km 2200m.

Thursday: 3hr30 singletrack and hills. Beginning with a few 10-15min climbs at tempo, followed by local singletrack loops. Backing up and singletrack riding when fatigued! 60km 1700m.

Friday: 2hr. Social Bunchie. 50km 650m.

Saturday: 2hr30. Local Criterium and home. 80-90km, dead flat but good intensity and feeling strong at end of a solid week means it’s all going in the right direction! First time I have felt the crit was relatively ‘easy’ speaks volumes in terms of gaining strength and fitness.

Sunday: 2hr30. Ride to MTB race and race (race time 1hr10: mud-fest!). Felt tired but able to push (even though legs slow) and good skills in the wet despite fatigue!

So…many good things about this week! Multiple core-stability sessions (~2hrs) but no heavy gym through the week.

A crucial part of any stage race is recovery, something that doesn’t come naturally to me in the rumble and hubbub of everyday life. In order to get through my 20hr week, I had to prioritise recovery after sessions, and now am taking stock of how i’m feeling after finishing that week with a very wet, very wild 45km day on the MTB which included a 20km race. The signs and symptoms of a sinus infection are here: I am super congested, snotting out gross stuff and have a headache, but two days off the bike (admittedly, working) and listening to the body has helped a lot and hopefully i’ll get out of it with minimal harm!

This week my plan is emphasising recovery before the next shabammmmm and bringing some more top end into the mix:

Monday/Tuesday: off/work

Wednesday: Rollers (raining) 1hr, easy. Do some bendy stuff.

Thurs: Endurance ride Noosa 3hrs. Gym potentially: 1hr.

Friday: Ride Noosa 2-3hrs.

Saturday: Singletrack ride and efforts ~2hrs

Sunday: Commute to work (1hr) + Gym (1hr)

As you can see the volume is pretty tiny compared to what I have been doing, and that’s fine because I am fitting a bit more work in around training this week. I am also working at Noosa (hence the rides will not likely be a high quality)

41 days until #bcbr2017! How are you feeling?

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Some recovery techniques I used throughout last week’s hard week, and through this easier week include:

• Eating well and hydrating well throughout the session. As I have upped the elevation and intensity of my sessions I have added extra carbohydrate into the mix and it has helped a lot. The best way to start backing up for the next day is to not finish your ride completely fucked…

• Getting stuck into a quick, easy recovery meal or drink straight after. If at home this may be a late lunch or second breakfast, which features enough carbohydrates and protein to replenish muscle glycogen and aid muscle repair for the next day. If I am on the run a quick protein AND carbohydrate shake is easy enough, and they usually taste delicious. When looking to purchase a recovery drink, remember to look for one that has adequate carbohydrate AS WELL AS protein. Sometimes they are sold as ‘muscle gainers’, which can be offputting for the aspiring whippet, but you need both protein and carbs to recover!

More tips can be found at the Sports Dieticians Australia Page.

• Stretching/yoga/foam rolling/trigger point. Definitely one where I, and many others, fall over in the recovery spectrum. It’s hard to want to get bendy at the end of a ride, or end of the day when it’s chilly outside and the couch and wine is beckoning! But keeping your aches and pains and tight spots in check is crucial. Many overuse injuries can be avoided by merely spending few minutes working on problem areas. For me it’s glutes and hamstrings, as well as continue to strengthen my shoulder post injury, but pay attention to what’s sore after a hard ride and your body will tell you what needs work/maintenance!

• Keep off the booze. Backing up hard sessions, your body is working hard to recover, and inflammation is a part of the recovery cycle that is impacted greatly by alcohol. I am not saying don’t drink, ever, but perhaps hit up some H2O or electrolyte instead of the red between hard sessions.

• Adjuncts: recovery tights, massage, cold-water immersion; these are all things that you can use between hard sessions to manage fatigue and increase the chances of you having a great day the next day. There is limited data on these things, due to the subjective nature of ‘recovery’ and difficulty in objectively assessing their efficacy. But it can’t hurt, right? At worst a placebo effect is better than none at all!

• Chillin’ like a villain. Yep, there’s never a better time for some Netflix and chill (real, not implied meaning) than between hard sessions. As your fitness increases, your need for chill time will decrease as you become stronger and your body is capable of dealing with a greater load, but that being said a solid nap does wonders for recovery: stimulating some extra, natural GH can never go astray!

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Wet, muddy, disgusting. I had a great time slipping and sliding and working on the wet skills we tend to ignore here in Australia. The race gave me some confidence for wet conditions (but maybe not wet bridges…) in BC. While I am not in destroy mode on the bike yet, I managed to have a good time which is really the main goal!

The next step

I have been slogging away between work and other commitments on the bike in preparation for the BCBR 2017. Right now I am couch-bound and not excited about anything beyond my next coffee/wine (after two days of racing plus working a night shift last night: yes I am sometimes stupid), but I know when the fog of fatigue lifts, I will be excited and ready for anything. Perhaps.

The road back to some form is difficult after a lot of time off. I went from form of my life to bulk couch time, and now back into it. A few weeks in, I am starting to feel like my legs are less like empty vessels, and have more pedal-hard potential; but it’s come and go, which is to be expected.

Additional challenges include being back on shift work, though I feel it’s a bit of a blessing in disguise as I can now at times ride in school hours and it omits all the 0400 riding I was doing. But night shift is a soul destroying experience, every time. So once again fatigue management is a big issue for me, as it is for many other athletes; not just shift workers.

As I employ more back-to-back long and/or hard sessions, it is becoming more important to recover well, which for me means emphasising good nutrition, rest and stretching rather than my usual lazy approach of wine and Netflix. I am sure many of you can sympathise with this experience. In addition to this, a couple of days at the gym really spikes my fatigue and hunger, as I am beginning to lift heavy weights again (plus, you have to mitigate the tried, sore legs, extra kgs and lack of speed that lifting heavy brings…).

So if you were looking at the previous training you will remember it was pretty general, and fun-orientated:

Monday: Day off or active recovery

Tuesday: Short trail ride, slightly higher intensity (work day) (<2hrs)

Wednesday: Long trail ride, focus on hills and technical trails (3-4hrs)

Thursday: Medium fireroad hill ride or road ride up the mountain (3hrs)

Friday: Off/active recovery OR short technical trail blat (1hr-1hr30)

Saturday: Long ride, mixture of fire-road, trails and mountaineering (3hr45 ride, 45min mountaineering…)

Sunday: Technical trails blat (2hr) and bushwalk (1hr)

From here, I have upped and changed a few bits, working my mesocycles into my work life (so I will start with a Saturday):

Saturday: Tough subthreshold trail ride: bulk singletrack. 1hr50.

Sunday: Technical trail riding, tempo pace but arduous trails. 3hr30/1000m elevation

Monday: Hills, subthreshold. (2x25min plus some shorter hills, finishing with singletrack) 3hrs/1500m elevation. Run dog: 25min.

Tuesday: Road miles: 2x Cooth-tha and Nebo return. 3hr30/2000m elevation.

Wednesday: off (13hr work day)

Thurs: off (75min heavy gym session: ow, 13hr work day)

Friday: 1hr recovery ride + yoga

Saturday: Ride to/from Crit: 2hr30. Nearly die from fatigue but somehow get up for a sprint!

Sunday: 100km marathon teams race with Aido, limited caffeine due to working this evening. 2x25km laps: YUK. total ride time about 2hr45 (3hrs including limited rolling: followed by 12hr night shift)

Monday: Walk the dog!

So in the 8/day cycle I have shown I have done a total of 18hrs riding + gym (not including stretching and core stability at home); a fair amount for me, who tends to prefer short and sharp. My own top end is suffering, especially with the added fatigue, but it’s all about the endgame: getting through the BCBR, which is why I am putting up with the fatigue of gym and backing up multiple hard sessions. Also, I keep trying to remind myself that it really doesn’t matter to be doing bulk strength right now, it doesn’t matter that I am fatigued and slow, it’s all a part of the process.

Bike wise, prioritised time on the MTB to replicate BCBR demands means I am feeling pretty good technically again, which is great. The legs are far from race ready but I am starting to feel like going the distance isn’t going to be an issue. Working on dominantly my aerobic system also means that the top end is a little latent, but considering the elevation and distance of BC, plus my more natural aptitude for top end (ok…it doesn’t feel like it right now!) I am avoiding working that until just prior to the race.

Backing up is hard to do, so that’s why I am trying to have a few instances of back-to-back racing and training. It ain’t pretty, but it’s necessary as much mentally as physiologically, to ensure the body and mind knows what it’s in for. You can see I have been prioritising elevation in my rides, and multiple 1500-2000m elevation rides of 3-4hrs with some intensity are going to be integral in preparing for the rugged terrain of Canada.

So what’s next?

•Race simulation block. While I am not going to go and do 7 days of hard singletrack with bulk elevation, I am pushing the backing up days out to four, with some added subthreshold and threshold intensity.

•Prioritise recovery. This one is hard because of life getting in the way. I wish I had a washing and cooking and working fairy to do those parts of my life sometimes! But perhaps this means, for me, reducing wine intake on backing up-days, prioritising ride and post-ride nutrition (which will probably help me feel less blobby in the wake of brownie-gate, too!), stretching, and getting good sleep.

•Pick your races. I am feeling particularly uninspired by most XC racing at the moment. It’s the demands, the scene, the politics, the lack of adventure, it’s all a bit dead to me. I wake up and I am like ‘why am I going??” most of the time life is so crammed that I would prefer to spend the day catching up, rather than schlepping out for a day of flagellation. I am not feeling the joy in it, but I think it may come back in the periods where I back that fatigue right off. A few races coming up will include some gravity style races, road crits, and some other races to complement BC…yeah probably some XCO too. I am not going to go out of my way to race every weekend, I have been there, done that, caught the burnout!

Back in the game

It’s been a couple of weeks since I recommenced bicycle tournament practice, but expressly without the goal of the tournament…at least initially.

Not cracking the whip on myself hard has been a weird experience, however taking a more relaxed approach to riding and training is going pretty well right now. Without wanting to build to a peak in the same manner used for XCO National series, some more relaxed miles with emphasis on volume and backing up is exactly what I need for the BCBR 2017.

I am training to compete solidly, but mainly to enjoy the adventure. I realise that this is exactly why 95% of the athletes I coach undertake coaching; to be able to successfully complete an event, not be totally broken, and love the process. If I stop loving it, I stop doing it. I have had enough of crushing skulls for this year. Adding the adventure and escape is going to be crucial if I am going to not break myself in the process!

So how do you do this? Essentially by dialling it back: training sans power, heart rate and Strava for a while. While the technology can be reduced, you can still crank some workload. Yes, it’s harder to quantify (did we do 60 or 70km off road? How much elevation?), but in the early stages of back on the bike, bum on bike time counts for a lot.

So here’s a list of how the preparation has gone for the first couple of weeks back. With 8 weeks to go, it will increase from here but this is what the beginning entails.

  1. Get on the bike. The hard yards start with a single pedal stroke. Yes, after some accrued time off riding up to my favourite Mt G, usually a quick 2hr20 jaunt with bulk hills, turned into 2hrs45 of “why oh why oh why?”. The next week it was 2hr35, and the legs started to feel like they had something other than sausage meat in them. It starts simply by riding.
  2. Have a plan. Plans come in many forms, from meticulously planned, watt-conforming programs to looser arrangements. The important part is that you have one. By training specifically, you seek to recreate the demands of your event progressively, using periods of overload and rest to generate adaptation. It’s not a hard thing to do. For BCBR it’s a series of days that will likely take me 3-4hrs, through technical singletrack. So building up to successive hard days on hard singletrack is key.

3. Find your deficits. Thankfully for me, I have an Aido that lets me know exactly what my weaknesses are, though I am pretty insightful as to what they are myself. Knowing the nature of the BCBR trails to be rough and rooty and potentially wet: the combination of the last two I recently realised I find terrifying, it’s time to seek out tough trails in my local neighbourhood that gets as close as possible to this. We don’t have any. However, Nerang and Parklands in the wet, at a pinch, could be adequate for tech rooty trail training.

4. Implement plan. Once you have gotten back on the bike, crafted a bit of a plan and addressed the requirements of the event and your deficits, it’s time to implement the plan. Scribbling down a plan and rustling up mates to ride with you is well and good but it’s time to get the chamois time in!

THE PLAN

An example week for some early, largely unstructured training leading into BCBR for me has included:

Monday: Day off or active recovery

Tuesday: Short trail ride, slightly higher intensity (work day) (<2hrs)

Wednesday: Long trail ride, focus on hills and technical trails (3-4hrs)

Thursday: Medium fireroad hill ride or road ride up the mountain (3hrs)

Friday: Off/active recovery OR short technical trail blat (1hr-1hr30)

Saturday: Long ride, mixture of fire-road, trails and mountaineering (3hr45 ride, 45min mountaineering…)

Sunday: Technical trails blat (2hr) and bushwalk (1hr)

As you can see, the specifics aren’t very specific at this stage. No strengthies, VO2’s, threshold efforts or SST. Some athletes require more direction with their zones and durations during this time; that’s 100% ok, that’s my job!

My own volume has increased from zero hours to a solid amount (strongly mirrored by chocolate consumption: skinfold mods are not on the table right now) and the emphasis is on bike-time and increasing confidence and skill where possible. Having increased from zero hours to 15 hrs/week over the past few weeks, one has to be mindful of keeping recovery days and weeks in check, no matter how good you feel at the end of the block; it’s only ever a hard session away from coming undone and getting sick!

Anyway, stay tuned for the next update in a couple of weeks, as I build a little more structure into the plan….but probably still stay away from worrying about the power metre at this stage, and as you can see the road bike is largely absent. Hopefully by reading this you can gain some insight into how to break down an event into it’s constituent parts and replicate in training to get the most out of your time.

But the number one rule is, never forget the adventure!

 

Things I need (to eat, do and have) for the BC Bike Race 2017

It’s been a hiatus. After a couple of months of moving in slow motion, reaching for the red wine at 1700, and consuming more brownies than i’m proud to admit (actually, fuck it, i’ll admit it: I ate a metric fucktonne of brownies! It was delicious and the only regret I have now is any time I get on my bike and it’s a positive gradient), I have finally committed to a goal to get me out of my animal-themed pyjama onesie that is featuring so heavily this pre-winter, and back on the bike (occasionally).

It’s the BC Bike Race. Held for the past 11 years, the BC Bike Race (or BCBR) is a seven-day stage race that travels from Vancouver to Whistler, sampling some of the world’s finest trails in the process.

I got a call up and an invite from Rocky Mountain Australia through an offer from big-wigs at the HQ in BC, and there was some initial deliberation with being away from the family for a couple of weeks, and if I wanted to ride my bike at all (ever again…) I figured it was the swift kick up the butt required to get me out of my life funk and back on the bike. I didn’t know if I was ready to go and flog myself again, the wounds were pretty raw after the Oceanias and Nationals fiasco, but what did I have to lose? Some skin and at worst a few teeth with the inevitable scorpions that are set to occur in the wild BC trails. Carpe Diem and all that; words to live and die by.

One of my good mates and all around excellent buddies/Cyclinic Teamie Jo Rowell, rode the 2015 edition of the race, after I coached her for it in the months prior. Her race report can be found here. It’s pretty sobering, mainly because Jo is one of the toughest women I know and she said it was tough, so I know i’m in for a week of super hard riding!

I’ll likely write up some training info in the next couple of months leading up to the race, right now i’m a week and a half into back on the bike and it’s pretty f$%^ing awful in the way having nearly two months off and hopping back on the bike can be, but already I am seeing a little (tiny bit of) progress so I guess that’s some cold comfort about it all.

But without further ado, I thought I would make a list, pre and post BCBR, about what I reckon I need for the event, followed by what I actually needed.

  1. A sick bike. I have the sickest XC bike out there, I reckon, a Rocky Mountain Element. Still running the 2016 model (which features 100mm travel front and 95mm rear) as it definitely suits the requirements of Australian XC and XCM racing more than the slightly burlier 2017 model which features 120mm front/100mm rear. For this race I will plead with Aido to somehow negotiate a dropper onto the bike. We’ll see what level of success I have with that.
  1. A portable coffee contraption. Ideas welcome. Jo reckoned that I could rely on the coffee van but that’s rule #1 of racing: NEVER RELY ON THE COFFEE VAN! So advice re: portable coffee contraptions is welcome. Don’t talk to me about Aeropress.

    Minipresso-portable-espresso-maker.png
    The minipresso piques my interest, but it’s a bit phallic…
  2. An inflatable thermarest-type “extra support for the sleeping” type thing (I am not a camper fyi). I think like extra comfort or something?

    camping
    Actual picture of me camping.
  3. Fat treads. Aka: rubber. Fatter rubber, maybe rock some 2.3″ Maxxis (because they’re reliable and awesome, and I won’t ride anything else) something-or-other in the hope it assists with the keeping of me upright.
  4. A metric fucktonne of food. Like race food. As underwhelming as it is (and trust me, bulk gels are super underwhelming…) I reckon in a 7 days stage race where the average day will probably be 3-3.5hrs out, I will ingest a buttload of goopy sugar in a packet.
  5. A camera for happy snaps. Or just a phone. I am not good with that, I considered a GoPro but I just don’t reckon I would use it enough…
  6. Best quality chamois and an excess of chamois cream. Obviously.
  7. Ear plugs. Lest there be snoring in the campsite.

Anyway, stay tuned for training updates (can she ride more than two long days in a row? ONLY TIME WILL TELL!) and bike mods.

Finding Joy

A happy racer is a fast racer. It’s a good saying, and I think it’s pretty apt. Racing in fear or anger can yield results, but racing happy? That’s the place you want to be for sustainable racing experiences.

Finding joy in riding after nationals was like looking for a needle in a haystack; there was a lot of shit to get through before I could even have a glimmer of light. Speaking to multiple people about this, though, it all makes sense. Having goals dashed in the finishing strait is enough to leave a sour taste in most people’s mouths, and adding insult to injury was the injury itself, limiting my bike time, and any bike time I attempted generally resulted in crashing to to gross shoulder instability.

I have crashed more in the past three months than in the past three years. It’s humbling, and resulted in quite the crisis of confidence I am slowly crawling my way out of.

Heading to NZ for a work trip soon after was an interesting experience. I was treated to some of the best trails in NZ, and potentially the world, but was flagging in enthusiasm due to the burn-out, shoulder injury, no sleep, a test bike that was difficult to manoeuvre; and the flu. A better rider would have fared better but I was pretty broken at the end of the day, despite having a lot of fun at times.

It definitely didn’t help with the crisis of confidence having numerous crashes on slick roots (like I am from Australia; what are they??) but in the end the whole experience made me stoic in the determination to go on some wild adventures and experience more slippery root infested trails to test myself on, and develop that skill we don’t have the ability to do here in Australia.

Working at Crankworx Rotorua was a welcome distraction to the face full of gunk and flu I was trying to shake; it would have been a very sad trip if I didn’t have a purpose other than riding, and Crankworx fitted the bill perfectly. You can only imagine the next-level skill and bravery these athletes have, doing backflips 15 metres in the air, totally phenomenal. Rather than having misgivings about my own lack of backflips, it really provokes a sense of awe and respect for the athletes, and a sense that nothing is impossible (though I may draw the line at backflips…).

Riding through the Redwoods on my single trail ride in Rotorua (yep I was that crook), I was taken for a spin by ex-Aussie and Enduro/Downhill pinner Ronja Hill-Wright. I was totally in awe of her ability to compete in the Whip-Off champs at Rotorua—even the step down onto the jump was massive—and it was so cool to see women really step up to the next level in a gravity-based sport. I had borrowed a demo bike for the ride which was distinctly in the non-fancy club, but being a bit lighter and a better size for me than my review bike, felt like a $10,000 Santa Cruz Bronson (secret tip: it wasn’t).

I felt a new sense of possibility, though at that stage I didn’t really know form it would take.

Back in Australia, I yearn for a trail bike and time just riding and hucking off things. Here in Brisbane, we have a paltry amount of things to huck off without travelling, which makes that a bit difficult.

I know I am at my best in the process. I enjoy the learning, the becoming. Part of NZ was seeing that there are other ways to complete the process, other ways to craft goals.

The racing has always been secondary to the becoming, which makes it difficult when suddenly you’re at the end-game and you have put all the focus on the becoming, but to what end?

I suppose rekindling my spirit of adventure has been pretty integral to the process of ‘what’s next?’, and I think it’s probably integral for most people’s prolonged participation in any sport, but especially one that is as brutal as cross-country. There is not a lot of love to be found in busting out 40mins of VO2 max efforts a couple of times a week, week in, week out. Despite it meaning I could ‘become’ to the point where I was putting out some great numbers, (which gets you out of bed and sustains you through the heaving effort of it all), without the adventure it is difficult to keep the love going when hopes are dashed at the finish line.

So where to now? It’s a slow process of rekindling. Developing that confidence back is paramount, trying to get shredly again after months of riding like a kook (thankfully my Rocky Mountain Element feels like home, it’s amazing. I love it).

I plan to do some things that scare me. Ride new trails. Seek adventure. Find things to huck off. Wear less lycra for a while. Drink the wine and eat the brownies (ok I have been doing that for a while now…). Be a better parent. Be more present for my coached athletes. Recognise that balance is a myth when training 18hrs a week and be ok with that.

But primarily, the goal is about finding joy; it’s the joy of freedom on two wheels and a zest for the outdoors and adventure that brought me to mountain biking. The joy of feeling the fear and doing it anyway (not avoiding something because you’re feeling knotted up about a race). The joy of the challenge and overcoming, and the joy of adventure.

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