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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!

 

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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.

Roller skating and rollercoasters

The best thing about National Champs was seeing my athletes go and slay it. The other best thing was having my 5 year old’s birthday on the same day, allowing me to appreciate something in the midst of being unable to race and keep the sport of XCO racing in perspective. Also I got to rollerskate, which was cool for me, and terrifying for Elv and her best mate who just did the splits for two hours.

The days after Toowoomba were really hard. I was in a flux, incapacitated at work due to the injury, yet still planning on racing Nationals. I would be like ‘fuck yeah i’m racing at all costs’ then head out on the bike and be unable to get out of the saddle due to the injury, then come home in a state of despair. This happened a couple of times; the ultimate motivation to crush skulls, followed with the reality being unable to ride my bike and using codeine (yuk) to sleep at night, on my back (the worst) then waking myself up when I move from the pain. It was quite the rollercoaster.

Thursday the course practice was moved, I was still unable to load bear with my right arm, and I made the decision not to race. It was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make, but once it was done there was a calm. What I suppose it’s like when you’re struggling in the water when you can’t swim, drowning, and all of a sudden you learn to float.

With my endgame wanting to be worlds ’17, I had to come to terms with the fact that despite riding with the top women in Australia in XCO, and on one day being the top woman in XCO, without completing Oceanias or Nationals I have little chance of ending up in Cairns in September.

It’s a learning process, the coach-athlete process is one that has me always learning, and the athlete and coach relationship I have with myself is no different.

I am a ‘no regrets’ kind of person and that’s served me well here. Having a break now is excellent both physically and mentally after a long and tough national season, with many ups and downs. Plus noone should have to do pre-0400 starts forever.

Some excellent takeaways I have made that will assist both myself and others I coach from my own season include:

•Don’t doubt the importance of having someone to bounce ideas off. As my own coach I feel this is sometimes a little more difficult. Yes I trust the process and it has been by and large pretty successful, but having a sounding board definitely would have helped with an objective eye cast over my decisions.

•Pre 0400 starts have a limited lifespan, and it shortens along with daylight hours.

•If you’re feeling consistently flogged, you’re probably flogged. Having one day of sunshine and rainbows in training amidst weeks of grey drudgery does not a fresh rider make.

•Your stupidest crashes will probably cause you the most damage, and be the most frustrating.

•Hard work begets results. Too much hard work can push over the other side of the optimal curve, regardless of how cluey you are.

•Don’t doubt the power of having a community and support in the training and racing journey. Likewise, don’t doubt the power it wields when taken away or diminished.

•Never doubt the power of a woman scorned. Hell hath no fury like a cyclist with a point to prove.

•When you love what you do, it’s not hard work at all. When you stop loving what you once did, have a good look at what’s going on around you.

•You can feel shit and have a good race.

•You can feel awesome and have a terrible race.

•There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to worrying about race weight, as it turns out when you’re skinfolds are already in athlete-land, just eat well and make peace with having a lot of muscle mass. When you climb faster than tiny people then it doesn’t matter if you’re 57 or 61kg, it’s about the endgame. And it seems that, every time, i’ll feel better and be more powerful even scaled to weight, at around 60kg rather than 57.

•When you head for a break after a long season, 11hr sleep at night is definitely a thing…

 

 

 

Bike Purgatory

To say Oceanias didn’t go to plan would be a bit of an understatement. While I am still sore and sorry about it, you can’t change the events that transpire; it is what it is. I suppose the disappointment was all the more palpable as I really enjoy, and tend to ride well, on the rocky technical Toowoomba course. The hard gritty climbing usually suits me, the descents are a bit wild. All in all it’s a course I usually like to race and do well on. So I suppose I came into the race with expectations to smash it out of the water and have a good race, and leave nationals, this Sunday, as a bit of an afterthought.

 Having really been experiencing the grind of bike racing and training the past month or so, I took a bit of a confidence hit after a road crash 9 days prior to the event. Having never hit the bitumen, the thud of the hard ground at 42km/hr far outweighs any mountain bike crash where the lading is usually dirt, scrub and foliage. Plus you don’t usually crash at that high a speed offroad.  

Landing on my shoulder, with a secondary blow to the head, I was lucky to walk away with musculoskeletal damage, a buttload of bark off and a headache.  Fortunately, no broken bones however my shoulder range of movement was greatly restricted, I was unable to hold the bars on the mountain bike for about a week after; thankfully just in time for a solid day on the course for Oceanias, thanks to cramming buttload of physio and NSAIDS into the week leading into the event.

The gun went and the start was fast, with Samara, Holly and Bec leading up the climb, I was dangling. We pretty quickly had a break on the rest of the field, but I was working for it. It wasn’t a ‘no chain’ day by any means. I had one of those about two weeks ago where I was ready to crush everyone’s soul in racing and that was a bit foreboding; you don’t have too many of them!

ABTbarStart
Solid start, into singletrack in fourth. Pic: Hixit.

By the end of the first lap I was in third, uncomfortable but to be expected when you’re consistently on the limit. I had passed Bec struggling with her bike, and Holly was just ahead, she had ducked into the singletrack as I was coming into the start finish. The next climb was good, I was putting down some good power, feeling strong.

Turning into the first powdery descent; poof! I was on the ground, on my shoulder; my front wheel had washed out. A very silly crash. The adrenaline was charging in race mode so I grabbed the bike, jumped on and kept on riding, kept on pushing. In the next rocky section I began to notice the shoulder again, namely because stabilising my bike was not happening and—poof!— I ended up in the bushes. I kept on going,  feeling a bit beaten up by this stage. Bec came past having fixed her mechanical. I kept going, however stabilising those bars was such an issue that even climbing I couldn’t hold my line straight. I continued for the remainder of the lap, wildly pinging about the rock-gardens with little finesse and extra wildness thanks to lack of shoulder stability, I pulled into the feedzone to pull the pin.

FeedzoneTBarAB
No feed here: was on a mission. Pic: Hixit.

Having spent so much physical and mental time and energy getting myself and shoulder to a place where I could race, post road crash, it was a huge let down to be unable to continue.

I was: exhausted, deflated, downtrodden and anxious about it all. In fact I had been so anxious the nine days prior, with the ‘can I? can’t I?’ of the shoulder really weighing down on me, it was like a big fat nihilist exhaust valve had been opened. Unlike my bike mechanical at round one, I was much less sad because I had been dealing the injury in the lead up to the event. I just felt defeated.

I watched the rest of the race, then stayed for the elite and junior mens races. There were a lot of broken faces on that course!

The rest of the day was just one of being wound up so tightly, as I found myself once again in bike purgatory, the ‘can I? can’t I?’ this time for National Champs, this weekend.

There’s definitely a part of me that’s sick of the extra fight required to come good from an acute injury just prior to a race, but the main part of me is worried about having done all the work and sacrificed so much the past six months, being as fit as I have ever been and in with a good chance, and then being unable to race. I suppose I have until Thursday to go do a hot lap or two of the course, see if it’s a feasible wish, and commit to it.

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.

Strength and vulnerability

I have spoken a fair bit about attitude and race psychology (without any official letters behind my name in this regard; I don’t claim to be a sports psychologist just a coach with a keen interest in humans so take everything I write with a grain or two of salt), about how toughness and resilience is a key factor in race success.

Speaking to a few friends and associates who are familiar with my writing (both on this blog and freelance work for print and online media), a common comment about it is that it’s brave and honest. It’s funny but I really hadn’t considered it to be either. Sure, at times I feel completely at the mercy of the gods when I send an editor a piece that is more narrative; even something that isn’t particularly personal can have me feeling quite naked and uncomfortable. After all they’re judging my work, my inner workings; they’re judging what has spilled from my head into a word document and that may subsequently be in a national publication. It would be terrible to not be ‘good enough’, wouldn’t it?

But writing for the blog? Not so much. Writing about stuff that could potentially help others through my own learning as a coach and athlete doesn’t—to me—feel particularly vulnerable. Coaching and bikes are all very safe topics of conversation for me, even if it involves what’s in your head.

In fact, the older I get, the more life experience I have, the more comfortable I am being honest with others.

It’s true; the truth will set you free. Whether it be about cycling, work, relationships, your past or even the pitfalls of your own character. I have a policy called the truthful answer policy, which is as it sounds; if someone honestly wants to ask me something regardless of how hard the question is, I will answer it truthfully.

Individual results/responses (on the immediate level) are varied, but in the long term I think people appreciate honesty even if they don’t always get the desired answer.

A TED talk popped up on my news feed, The Power of Vulnerability which can be found here and it couldn’t articulate the soupy quagmire of thoughts circling around in my brain about this better.

Feeling worthy enough to be open about your vulnerbility allows a greater capacity for human connection. It’s certainly a consistency I have found in my life. Furthermore, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and being okay with it allows you to accept yourself and situations much better.

I guess a real-life physical example is putting a DEXA scan, skittled with jiggly yellow bits (meaning fat) up on social media. It’s not a flattering picture. When you lie down on the flat, hard bench to get DEXA’d, your butt wants to lie down too. Invariably people tend to look blobby and weird. But what did I have to lose? I am not ‘fat’ in real life, au contraire at the time of the scan I was fit and healthy, relatively lean at 18% body fat, but still I looked a bit like a blob on the scan. That’s real life. Embracing the metaphorical DEXA scans of our life is pretty freeing; whether it be a skill on the bike you’re bit ashamed about not knowing or a prickly history. The first step to improvement is acknowledgement.

I suppose after my post on challenging yourself I had some misgivings. I was worried it may send the message that for peak performance, hardness and toughness is required at all costs, despite the other parts of our psychology having an input into performance. I worried that it would send the message to people that I had never struggled with anything I wrote in the post and that athletes should ‘just get on with it’.

Instead what I think I needed to emphasise is that having some of the reactions and thoughts (even if the athlete is not aware why they’re acting in a certain way as the triggers to behaviours my be found behind ancient cobwebs, buried away deep in the Id) is actually perfectly normal, and growth from this can happen….if you allow yourself to be vulnerable about it. I think that toughness is developed from self-compassion, which is a bit of a thing to get the head around. Especially for blokes. Socially it’s all a bit taboo to be anything but ‘she’ll be right’.

If you have worth and can assess that you’re ‘okay’ then you can accept whatever comes. Acknowledging how you’re feeling, and what has triggered it can be hugely beneficial and can allow you to figure out how to change it, or at least think about things in a more constructive manner.

AB

Spend your clams wisely

Banging on about moderation is something I tend to do, but if I am brutally honest about it I am not particularly good at it. Life is a million miles an hour, even though I am working less at my main job, all the other stuff that goes along means that every inch of my life is full, and this is never more apparent when I talk to other people about life, especially when we are trying to arrange a catch up. It becomes pretty apparent quite quickly that I am the problem child with a race or event scheduled every weekend, because that’s the way I spend my clams in order to keep my own equilibrium (it teeters on the edge on occasion).

I am beginning to understand the appeal of the old ‘less is more’ adage, however I have always been this way and I don’t know how I would do life if I was not cramming events, work and training into every corner or crevice of time I have.

Thus, while family and bike time is primary, I have figured out how my time is best spent in order to maximise the training time I have.

Have a plan. Having a plan allows athletes to go out and achieve something purposeful every time they ride. Training goals can be as simple as completing a session, yet can do myriads for performance. Having a well-crafted plan reduces the likelihood of going out and doing rides that aren’t going to benefit your fitness and skills. Merely having the structure of a program with consistent measured periods of overreaching and recovery will result in fitness increases. Riding for fitness doesn’t have to be difficult if you apply the key principles of coaching, and doesn’t require $10000 bikes and fancy new $500 shoes (but hey, if you can afford them and that’s your thing go bananas!).

A plan for me, who crafts voodoo-like macro and microcycles for my athletes yet doesn’t have time to pore through my own stats with needle-like finesse, can be as simple as ‘the last two days were heavy training days I will feel like shit, probs should do some strength that doesn’t require too much top end, maybe slightly more than last week, the recover tomorrow’. Wa la. Voodoo.

Evaluate the optional extras. I understand the varied benefits of optional extras. Strength work on the bike can be complemented with gym sessions. A bit of stretching and yoga never went astray. Power metres and heart rate monitors can be invaluable tools when used correctly. Shedding excess fat mass will result in climbing up hills better. But what’s the best way to spend your clams? If you are an athlete, like many I coach and know, who max’s out at 10hrs/week on the bike, I would argue replacing bike sessions with gym time may not be the best way to spend those clams. If you are a shredded whippet then investing time in reducing minimal fat mass becomes a game of diminishing returns, when you could be looking at boosting watts instead. It comes back to specificity; what are you trying to achieve and how are you going to get there? How is your time best spent in a manner that is congruent with getting to the final goal?

Keep it in perspective. Yes many of us have bikes and racing pulsing through our veins, along with coffee. It becomes a part of our identities.

Yet…it’s just a bike race. Winning a bike race doesn’t make you a better person, or contribute to society. I love bikes, riding, and racing, but at the same time being able to see it for what it is; essentially a hedonistic fickle hobby (harsh but true) in which we attempt to improve ourselves as a personal challenge, can allow athletes to reduce the innate pressure on themselves to perform and help develop a bit of resilience. No one is solving world hunger with a bike race, it’s just a thing we do because we love it, and that’s ok. But sometimes the moderation can go out the window when we’re chasing the good feels.

That’s not to say I don’t care, I do (otherwise I wouldn’t be hauling my arse out of bed before 0500 in the mornings, and tasting vomit and blood during efforts), just that in the grand scheme of life your kids probably aren’t going to remember the time you came second in the C-grade criterium.

Spending clams wisely may mean doing a 2hr30 ride on the weekend instead of 3hrs, so you can go to the pool with the kids or catch up with friends. We only have a finite amount of clams and the way in which we spend them is pretty important. Use the clams wisely.

 

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