21 March 2014
Cries and Punishment
Most times, all the thanks go at the end of a report but who really reads to the end? So, just to make sure everyone sees, the thanks are going at the top!
Naturally, many thanks go to AROC for organizing another fantastic event. As you’ll read, I made much use of the three well-stocked feed stations on the course. In addition, all the single track was beautifully groomed - even the less-used trails in West Kowen, making for an excellent ride.
Secondly, though just as much, I’d like to show my gratitude and appreciation to the multitude of volunteers on the course. All of the marshals were very happy and encouraging throughout the whole race. The vollies that I spoke to at the feed stations were all very nice, interested in how we were going, and enthusiastic about our journey, which seems to lift the spirits and make the ride that much easier.
And thanks go once more to Groucho, for coming out to the start and meeting me at the end, as well as taking a few snaps along the way. It’s much easier to finish a race when you know you’re ride home is already sorted!
I’ve been on Death Row a long time. In fact, I have survived five Capital Punishments now. I survived the attempted drowning of the first, the Majura Pines train wreck of the second, the all-too nice day of the third, and the lengthy punishment of taking on 100kms in the fourth. Yet, even with this experience, I find myself lining up once more. But, when a race includes the line “Make sure you stay on the path through the Defence land. There is unexploded ordinance - that means bombs - in the area, but the path is safe.” in the rider briefing, who could possibly say no?
With Groucho’s assistance, this year I managed to avoid disqualification by starting with the correct group. This was greatly eased by the fact that at around 300 riders, it was the largest start group of the day. I just hoped they weren’t going to ride into Hell’s Gates wearing loin cloths and capes (I don’t have the abs for it).
The first few kilometres of the race consisted of riders sorting themselves out on firetrail; with slow and fast lanes rapidly forming; I elected to warm up in the slow lane (here’s a distinction between the elites and plebs: elites will warm up prior to the start of the race; whereby a pleb sees that as valuable coffee time, and warm up in the first legs of a race). And, by elect, I mean, of course, that I was boxed in - there was nary a gap to squeeze into the fast lane; until the course climbed.
Then it was into some Kowen single track where it became apparent that this self-seeding actually becomes a self-fulfilling prediction, as riders stopped to wait for entry, then moved into standard conga-line formation throughout the single track, stopping for the occasional rock or root ahead. Having no grand illusions of achieving podium results, I took this time to relax and enjoy the single track - after all, without the conga line I’d probably be relying on his own messed-up pace setting, which would undoubtedly have be blow up before the first feed station!
And it was in such a relaxed mindset I found myself flowing through Big Wednesday - one of the last Kowen tracks before heading to Sparrow - a world away before being shot out and onto the slight (and I mean slight) pinch at the end of the trail. I caught myself entirely in the wrong gear for the job; and tried to muscle my way up, only to grind to a halt, and have to step off the pedals. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the slope into account, and found my feet much lower than they should have been, resulting in my subsequent discovery that, while a chamois could be considered padding, it certainly couldn’t be called protection.
After a moment or two of quiet reflection, I rejoined the pack to ride a large section of Sparrow - some of it in reverse, which made for an interesting ride. It was through here that the pack somehow managed to thin out somewhat, becoming less of a conga line and more clusters of riders, which was very handy in the flowy trails! This effect was enhanced by some steeper fire trail climbs which saw me drop down to granny gear, which wasn’t really a good sign this early in the race. Going to granny gear is akin to going to the toilet at the pub on a Friday night. Once you’ve broken the seal and gone once, your bladder shrinks to about 10% of it’s original size, so you wind up heading back for relief every hour or so...
Then it was back to Kowen and heading towards the wild-west (Kowen) where I found myself riding alone! This is becoming relatively normal for me during mountain bike events; previously I had always just thought I’d taken a wrong turn, but with greater frequency I have become accustomed, and even look forward to it (though not this early in an event!) I hoped this meant I was bridging the gap to the next start group (in reality, I was probably just falling off the end of another pack!) Ultimately, however, it meant I could watch the trails, rather than another rider’s rear, which made the entire ride much more enjoyable.
This enjoyment was short-lived as I realised that my watered-down ride fuel was not really providing the energy I was used to. I’ve been riding using Infinit Nutrition for a while now - a sports drink mix combining valuable electrolytes and calories; much easier than gels to consume, and less work on the gut than real food. For some strange reason when mixing the drink the night before I made it at just under half strength, breaking the cardinal rule of any race: Don’t try anything new on race day. The weakened mix just wasn’t cutting it and I began to falter just 30kms into the 100km race. Kind of like a car running on dirty petrol - sometimes I’d fire, but most of the time I was just spluttering along.
Fortunately the first feed station was just 10km or so away, and AROC kept their stations well stocked. By 9:30 I was tucking into a second breakfast, choosing to act like a Pro and eat a portion of a banana! (Washed down with many lollies, naturally). The resulting sugar rush left me too hyper to hang around any longer.
From the feed station, the course winds back down West Kowen through some fun, though somewhat spooky, single track; fortunately I found a small group of riders (and we all know drop bears don’t attack groups!) This track spat us out next to Sutton Road (which in my addled state, confused with the Monaro for a few moments). Then it was more single track, and fire trail, and crossing the road in safety thanks to some dedicated marshals and into the land of the UXO.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Department of Defence (and the wider public service) - they do love their TLAs - and UXO is one of them, and they are very, very different from UFOs. In fact, if you come across a UXO, chances are you (or parts of you) could become a UFO. The Capital Punishment would have to be one of the only races in Australia where the rider briefing, and part of the course, contain warnings about straying from the path resulting in exploding. Now that is an adventure!
Apart from this threat, however, the Defence land section was by and large quite enjoyable. Some nice speed gains could be found on the quite firm undulating fireroads, with some steeper climbs thrown in just to keep the riders honest. One of these climbs opened to a clearing providing a nice view of Canberra - finally in sight once more! The view of my hometown so cheered me that I had to stop and take a happy snap. (Not to be confused with stopping to pick my lungs up off the ground).
Fireroads gave way to bumpy grass roads, which thankfully didn’t last too long, then the course moved onto Majura, where very little remains of any single track, and we took firetrail and that final rocky climb up to the Hackett saddle before entering the untimed section, and the next feed station.
AROC incorporated the untimed section into the event to ensure riders don’t race through town. There are a number of road crossings, and pedestrians to take into account, so they want to ensure nobody really rushes - naturally, I was in no rush. Taking on a little more food, and grabbing a gel, I chatted with other riders as to what was the worst yet to come - the Aboretum begin pretty high on my dread list.
I left on the back of a pack of riders, who then came across another gang of riders, though these ones were roadies! The sad fact about this meeting being that of the two groups, the mountain bikers were showing much more lycra. But this clash of costumes lasted only as long as the lights were red, and all set off once more. I discretely dropped back from the lycra “mountain bikers” in front, casually riding to the base of Black Mountain, where the untimed section ends.
It should be noted that R2, the my faithful computing companion, had run out of batteries about 2.5 hours into the race. That poor watch has been through a lot, but time and the ultimate depletion of battery capacity seemed to be catching up with him. So I had absolutely no idea of how long I’d spent in the untimed section, nor indeed what time of day it was. Fortunately a couple of walkers heading down the hill informed me it was 12:30. With Black Mountain, the Arboretum and Stromlo still to go, my goal of completing the race in six hours,(by 1:30) seemed out of reach.
I’d like to say I jumped on the bike, and span my way up Black Mountain; I’d like to say I was excited, full of beans and raring to go. But the reality was I was running on empty, and it was a struggle just to get back on the bike. My tired legs barely turned over the pedals as I climbed the long, gradual climb at the back of Black Mountain. This was followed by a sharp turn and a run downhill, losing all that altitude gain, and another sharp turn (just to shake off all that downhill speed) for another climb back up the mountain. From there, it was up and down on steep, undulating, rocky fire roads. Still, I managed to get through it all without any incident.
Then it was through the cork plantation, and into the Arboretum. Now, the Arboretum can be a very pleasant ride; there are some relatively nice fire roads which undulate through the growing greenery, which is slightly raised providing, at times, some nice views. Even when it dips, you can be surrounded by trees and think you’re pedalling along a nice country lane rather than riding close to the centre of our nation’s capital. You could probably even consider it romantic, perhaps picnic-worthy.
But that’s not the way AROC see things, certainly not for the Capital Punishment - with Punishment being the operative word! On the north side of the Arboretum is a fire trail climb; a long, straight, sandy and sometimes rocky fire trail climb. It’s not incredibly steep, but it is long, and constant, feeling even longer with 85km-or so in the legs. This is the probably the most soul-destroying hill of the whole course. It’s not the steepest, and not the worst, but the average rider reaches it around the hottest part of the day, and has to try to push up when they’re already exhausted - only to be rewarded at the top with views of Stromlo - another mountain to climb!
Then the course winds through the back, or west side of the Arboretum, with more steep undulations-though not quite as rough and ready as the trails around Black Mountain, they certainly seem harder just for the exposure, and recovering from the initial climb. To make matters worse, the wind started picking up... meaning I had to pedal downhill too!
But it wasn’t too long until I was out of the dust and onto smoother bike path, ready to make up time - after pausing for a moment (to the concern of a volunteer) to take a picture of the streamers on the bridge rail; just to show that it was in fact windy, and I wasn’t imagining things. It did cross my mind that some snipers use ribbons to plot wind strength when planning a shot... But even such thoughts could not put more energy into my legs, and I struggled on to Stromlo.
I was very thankful for the final feed station was located at the base of Stromlo. Once more I took on one of the Endura gels on offer, and headed up the hill for the standard (and very familiar) XC loop. By the time I reached the top my battery level matched that of R2, and had absolutely nothing left. It would be fair to say that my descent that day was probably my fastest run down Stromlo ever. Not that I was excited about finishing the race, nor that I’d picked up any new skills. No, the honest truth was that I just no longer had the energy to use my brakes, so I put the SuperFly on autopilot, and held on.
Looking at the stats of the race you may well think that perhaps the I’ve dropped from the standard top of the bottom third placing, down to top of the bottom sixth - but that’s because the official results don’t take into account DNFs which, if included, bring me back up to my rightful place... We should also note another way in which I distinguished myself in this race: I didn’t come off the bike. Not once. I don’t think I even have a scratch!
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Or check out the official pictures at Aurora Images.