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Cyborg chalks up another DNF!

13 November 2014

13 November 2014

Cyborg chalks up another DNF!

By and large, I enter events just to see if I can do them. I have never actually trained for an event - well, not specifically. I have gone out running and riding, and I have undertaken mountain bike skills courses, all to improve my running and riding. But I have never come up with a training program, or trained with a specific event in mind.

I have also been training at Dynamic Motivation for a number of years now (which I highly recommend, by the way). Mic and his crew run a variety of classes, particularly around functional fitness. But I’ve just been doing this to improve my general fitness - and it’s been working: I’ve been running and riding faster, longer and with more confidence.

Dynamic Motivation run a fitness assessment at the start of the year, during which they asked me what my goals were for the year. I had a long, hard think about it. Well, not really. I decided it was time to push myself a bit harder. I could have come up with a goal related to races I’d already done and knew, like the Husky or Capital Punishment. But challenging myself like this is something new, so I wanted to do something new as well. Speaking to friends, and surfing the net, I came up with the Highland Fling.

Touted as one of the hardest mountain bike marathon races in Australia, the Fling would make a great challenge - and therefore a great goal. Following the Junior Principle, I had three goals for the event, in order of priority:

  1. Get to the start.
  2. Finish.
  3. Finish in under eight hours.

I set about training for this goal. Yes, actually training. I worked harder at Dynamic Motivation. I did hill intervals. I started taking on longer, more structured rides on the weekend, as well as coming up with longer, hillier courses for my work commute. The Kowalski Classic in September spurred me on to push a bit harder prior to the Fling for a bit more endurance, and my Sunday rides became even longer and harder, yet I was recovering well. I’d even started training myself to eat bananas.

By mid-October I was feeling quietly confident about the Fling, and my mind turned to tapering: I’d put in one more hard week, then stop. Thus motivated, I took a slightly harder course home from work on the mountain bike. And it felt good. I arrived home still feeling fresh, save for a slight pain in my stomach whilst putting the bike away. A pain that grew as I started to cook dinner. A pain that became excruciating as I had a little lay down. A pain that required me to go to hospital.

That pain turned out to be appendicitis. So, three days later I left the hospital 4.5g lighter - which, when you think about it - is probably close to how much weight I’d save if I bought an XTR derailleur. I had two weeks to recover before the Fling. I was feeling confident though, after all, my surgeon told me that he had his appendix out on a Friday, and was playing footy at school the following Monday... So, much to Max’s disappointment, I did nothing for a week.

Just like my training, I came up with a bit of a recovery plan. I would start by doing an easy ride to work, to see how I go. That went well for two days. On Wednesday, I thought I’d try the mountain bike. Just to be sure, I rode my hard tail over the bumpy, rocky firetrails to work. I survived that too, without a hint of pain (though, I did feel a bit empty). After passing these mini-tests, I concluded I’d be right for the Fling. So, on Saturday, I packed the adventure truck and headed out.

The Team at Wild Horizons host a few events around Wingello and Bundanoon, and it seems they have the support of the whole community. There were plenty of signs pointing me to registration, and everyone around the place seemed happy and friendly. Registration itself was, as usual, a snap, even if a little different. You see, Wild Horizons are an environmentally-conscious group. So there are no cable ties to mount your plate, rather you’re given three pieces of string. And there are no event show bags - sure, you get some stuff at registration, such as your plate, string ties, vouchers for Squirt and the like - but they do not provide you with a bag to put them in. Not that it’s anything to worry about - I fit everything into a pocket. But it is something to bear in mind.

Then it was back to the motel to try to get some sleep. I really should have known something was up. I don’t normally sleep before a race. Especially an away race. But I fell asleep almost straight away, and didn’t stir until rudely awoken by my alarm. I was then more comfortably awoken by a warm shower and hot coffee before driving back to the start in Bundanoon - eating a banana for breakfast on the way; see - I am becoming a biker. I arrived with enough time to tie my plate to the bike, gear up, and head across to the start.

The start was interesting. We full-flingers were heading out just behind the 100-milers, with the elite full-flingers starting a quarter of an hour after us, and there were a few elites: I saw several faces familiar from blogs and mountain bike magazines hanging around. I guess that’s one of the benefits of that timing - punters like me actually got to see some of the elites (as opposed to riding in their dust

The punter’s pack was sizeable as well. As usual, I was interested in checking out people’s kit; to see if I could pick up and new ideas for carrying the gear. I have this working theory that rider’s packs tend to grow with the amount of stuff that’s gone wrong for them. So, I have a saddle bag full of gear (which tends to be bike specific, like a spare derailleur hanger) and a pack with more gear (which tends to just be general stuff, like a pump and multi-tool). If anything else goes wrong on a ride, I’ll be taking a trailer. The Fling also had a list of compulsory gear for riders to carry including 2 litres of water, food, tool kit, water resistant jacket, a small first aid kit and a whistle - yet, I saw quite a few riders around going out wearing their jersey, a bottle in a cage and a tube strapped to their seat pole. I smelled roadies in the mix. Or maybe triathletes...

My plan was simple: take it easy and enjoy the ride; consider this a reccy before coming back again next year to give the Fling a real shot. After all, this race was in a very scenic part of the country, passing through farms and state forest. It’d be a nice ride. And I stuck to that plan for a while. I walked when the horn sounded, pushing my bike towards the start (with just about everyone else), only throwing my leg over about a metre before the arch. Then I just jumped onto the back of a group for the initial road leg, cruising along, letting myself warm up.

Then came the hills. Not huge hills, but constant, relentless undulations. My heart began to race, my breathing became rapid and heavy. Then I realised my mistake: while I had tried riding, and I had tried riding a mountain bike on rough terrain, I hadn’t tried riding hard. Within five kilometres I started feeling pain in my side. Normally, I would just write it off as a stitch and ignore it. But not this time. Now I was wondering - despite knowing that the internal stitches must have already dissolved - whether I’d busted a stitch, or if I was pushing my internal organs through one of the holes that had been cut through my abdomen. But there was nothing for it now. I tried to slow myself down a bit and just push on.

About the 10km mark, my mind wandered back to the actual event, and the fact that the elite field started after us, yet I hadn’t seen any of them. I was concerned on reading the starting timetable that I would have to worry about being overtaken by a pack of elites as the race wore on. But, as it turned out, the large majority of the Ground Effect stage was fire trail and double track, so there was very little to worry about. It was shortly after this thought popped into my head that I had the opportunity to give way to quite a few of the elite riders as they passed me up a particularly nasty climb - probably faster than I ride on the flat! Then they were gone, and I was still climbing up the hill...

I would like to give you details of the rest of the course, but the next 10km was a blur of fire trail and grass, and a couple of creek crossings as I began to catalogue all the things that were starting to hurt. In addition to not riding and pushing myself, I hadn’t ridden in bike shorts since the surgery - I’d always worn bib-knicks. Bearing in mind that my abdomen had been freshly shaved just two weeks prior, and that I still had a few little wounds going on down there, tight lycra shorts rubbing against my skin just didn’t feel very comfortable at all. The internal debate was decided - I was going to drop out at Wingello.

When I saw some marshals with a ute around the 20km mark, I asked them where they were off to in the hope I could get a ride back to the start. They told me they were driving around the course, so weren’t much good to me. At least they seemed to accept the excuse that having my appendix out and didn’t call me soft, then I was on my way again.

But the remainder wasn’t hard - it was only about 7km or so, though seemingly mainly on grass. What is it with riding on grass? It’s like every blade tries to wrap around your tyres and stop you in your tracks, so that it can slowly envelope you and drag you down into the earth... Or maybe I was just scarred by Day of the Triffids at a very young age...

Transition came quickly; and I alerted the officials that I was dropping out about the same time as another rider. Interestingly enough, there was only one number difference in our number plates. His story was certainly a disappointing one - he’d done all 10 Flings, but at the start of this one someone pushing past him had knocked him down on the road. With a few scrapes and bruises, he went to the first aid tent, which wasn’t populated at that time, so elected to just give it a shot. He rode all of the first stage injured, and barely able to use his left arm. And he still came in only seconds after me.

We both headed off to where the sag wagon was meant to turn up and did what all good mountain bikers do: perved on each other’s gear, and talked about our favourite toys, then our favourite tracks. Until a carbon Canondale rider turned up with a very flash bike (sans-rear derailleur) - when we really started talking about bikes and bits until the bus turned up and took us back to Bundanoon.

Once I’d repacked the truck, changed, and sat for a few moments in the rapidly cooling air-conditioned cabin I realised that the pain in my side was gone. It probably had just been a stitch. Just like my steadily-growing bag, the list of possible dramas for each niggle I feel is starting to grow in my mind. All the same, in this case, dropping out was definitely the right thing to do.

If you search the internet for information on the Fling, everyone will tell you it’s hard. It’s one of the hardest marathon mountain bike events in Australia. Despite only having done the first section, I’m already inclined to agree. And, oddly enough, everyone who’s done it also calls it a must do event. Again, I’m inclined to agree. The event has a festival atmosphere, with fun and frivolity in Bundanoon the day before in the form of the Dash, and the Rolloff World Championships, not to mention just hanging around a town that’s been invaded by bikers. The race itself has it’s tongue firmly planted in it’s cheek. Sure, it’s hard, but it’s in a beautiful part of the country, and the Wild Horizons team have a wicked sense of humour, which they scatter liberally around the track.

Many thanks go out to the volunteers, marshals and everyone organising the race. As well, of course, as the crew at WildHorizons who put the whole thing together. I’ll definitely be back next year, if only to finish!