18 November 2015
Cyborg gets Flung
It was Groucho who put the thought of doing the Fling into my head back in 2013. “Do the Fling,” he said, “It’ll tear your legs off.” Unfortunately, due to my woefully inadequate attention span I only listened to the first bit, and entered. And failed. Such failure could not stand: I needed a rematch. And this time, there would be no excuses - no recent surgeries or injuries and, with my recent efforts at the Scott 24hr, I was in shape (though, possibly a bit tired). In theory.
Now, it’s fair to say that the Fling was not my focus for 2015, it had faded behind the Scott. All the same, I wanted to do it, and I wanted to do it well. So I put some thought into it: as usual: I had a plan, so that on the day I wouldn’t have to think, just pedal.
About a week out from the event I decided to put SPDs back on the bike. I’d switched to flats maybe three years ago and for some silly reason decided that this would be just the right event to switch back to clips for - after all, I’d always ridden my road bike clipped in, so it’s not like I hadn’t been using them, and surely they’d be of some benefit on a long ride like with lots of formed roads and climbing.
Normally, on a long ride like this, I’d take a larger bag and bladder. Sure the Pros go out with a bottle, but I’m a bit paranoid. Yet, I managed to pare myself back a bit, and just took a 2L bladder, with a few tools, and put a concentrated drink mix in a bottle on my bike. That way, I could top up the bladder at the four drink stations on the course.
I ride on a custom blend of Infinit Nutrition which, in theory, contains everything I need to keep going on the bike. But eight hours is a very long time without solid food. So, in another Pro move, I put some solid food of snakes and cut up protein bars into the pockets of my jersey. All I needed was a banana (and maybe some legs), and people may think me a contender!
So, I was all set! And the first challenge of the day, upon arriving at the event hub, was to avoid stepping in cow manure while putting everything together. And given the amount around (and the soggy atmosphere) that was proving to be quite difficult! At any rate, I succeeded in that, only to wind up riding straight through a big pat on my way to the start.
The start was the usual self-seeded affair, with the exception that the 100 milers were all at the front, with the only female 100miler put in front of them. All of the elite riders were to start 15 minutes after the pack, which should make it interesting for them (and for all of us who would then have a chance to see the best of the best as they blast by us). Naturally, I put myself towards the rear of the pack, and didn’t try to further my position from the start.
The first leg of the race - the Ground Effect Stage - is primarily a combination of forest roads. The start is all hard top, followed by forestry trials which lead to the first bike wash, maybe 5km in. This is a creek crossing to get your shoes nice and wet early on in the ride. From there on, it’s fairly undulating forestry trail, just to spread the field out a bit.
I was cruising along nice and comfortably, when I started to ponder where the elites were - to amuse myself, I began to calculate about when the elite field would pass me. Assuming they ride twice as fast as me, and started 15 minutes behind me, it would take them half an hour to make up that 15 minutes, in which time I will have been riding for another 15 minutes, which would take them 7.5 to catch up to me and - unfortunately my crude calculations were suddenly interrupted by the elite riders coming through.
Even more unfortunate was the fact that I had permitted myself to become slightly distracted in doing these calculations, so when I veered left to let the elites through, I hit a sand patch. Now, sand isn’t normally very bad, but I’d slowed a little as well, and well, things just weren’t going my way. But the real embarrassment came when, as my bike began to fall to the side, I couldn’t put my foot out… I was still clipped in and did the classic noob error of falling on my side. In front of the elites...
But it was only soft sand, so no real damage was done apart from my ego, and my knee which managed to find a rock amongst the sand. I got back on the bike and rode again. And I was riding fairly happily, if a little out of sorts after such a stupid mistake - more undulating forestry road, then a little bit of single track. Then a big mud patch.
A big, long, quite smelly patch of dark mud, which had the consistency of soft-serve ice-cream (but not the smell - did I mention this was cow country?) And it was just that moment that the female elite riders were coming through. And, in what was starting to become a trend - I veered left to let them pass, slowed in the mud, then didn’t unclip, and fell into the mud. Even worse was that this time I fell to my right - which was in the path of the riders. Luckily, they were all much more skilled than I, and managed to avoid me ruining their ride. On the bright side, I now had a nice coat of mud to cover any bits where I forgot to add sunscreen...
Shortly thereafter came transition at Wingello, where I topped up my water, and stood around to gather myself for a few moments. The next section of the course, the Shimano stage, covers 50km and contains the vast majority of the single track for the event, as well as the infamous Wall. Fortunately, I was still feeling quite fresh.
Forest trail gave way to single track, fast, fun, flowy single track, and as I got close to 40km, I started really relax and just flow. Which is never really a good thing for me to do on a bike, riding single track, because it wasn’t too long before I found myself on the ground, looking at my bike. I got back on and kept going and within half an hour (did I mention my short attention span?) I was enjoying the single track once more, riding comfortably, feeling happy and relaxed. Then I went over the bars. That one was kind of bad. The shine was starting to wear off my ride.
Then I hit the wall. Not the metaphorical wall, the actual Wall. A steep, gruelling, muddy hill. It was about this time I took the advice of a thousand fitness gurus all across the world. I decided to do some cross-training. It’s very important, you know, to cross-train. Sports-specific training is all well and good, but you do wind up with some major imbalances in your body, so cross-training is essential. Therefore the decision to walk up the Wall was a very reasonable one.
As an added bonus, I walked with a bloke who, as it turned out, has been supporting Jason English in some of his recent races. He had some interesting stories to tell about that, and a wealth of experience for the course, though, I noted with growing concern he mentioned Halfway Hill a few times. I’d never heard of that one. Then he mentioned Brokeback Mountain. It was a bit like kids sitting in a tent at night telling each other horror stories... We rode together for a while, and were quite relieved when Halfway Hill only wound up being about half as bad as he remembered. Unfortunately he flatted on the other side, and I left him behind.
From there it was pretty straightforward, if a bit tiring, riding along forestry roads and fire roads back to Wingello. The plainer sailing, however, was offset by slightly harsher weather, with headwinds kicking in, and a misty rain starting. It was starting to feel like I was commuting to work again! Finally, I was back at Wingello and, for some reason, I didn’t quite find my way into transition - I went over all the timing mats okay, I just didn’t see an easy way to stop at transition, so didn’t top up my water. But, with only the “short” Gu stage to go, I thought I’d be right.
Now, I had studied the course a bit, really. And I’d read the notes a few times. Perhaps it was the optimist in me, or my brain shutting down, but for some reason I thought this stage was more or less just a reverse of the first stage. I was wrong. Very wrong.
It started out all well and good, some fire trail, then some single-trail in very scenic country. Then riding through a cow paddock. Do you know the problem with cow paddocks? If they’ve been left for a while, they grow grass (the stuff cows eat). Somewhere nice, moist and fertile like the highlands, with soft ground for grass to grow in, the cloven-hoofed cows leave quite an impression on the ground. So, riding through a cow paddock is a bit like strapping yourself on a mechanical bull and turning it on high. All those contact points which now have 80km on them were being quite well tested!
But that didn’t last long, and then it was more single track. A surprising amount of single track really, which led to Brokeback Mountain. I have to say, it wasn’t actually that bad - it’s a hill climbed by switchbacks - it’s just that with 90-odd kilometres under your belt already, well, it feels way steeper than it is! It was at the top of this climb that Ed McDonald passed me - at that stage, he’d probably done 150km - being in the 100 mile version of the fling - looking, as usual, fresh as ever and as though he’d enjoy another lap...
Then my real trouble started. Not that coming off four times during the race, and riding up every mountain around Wingello wasn’t a problem. There was more single track. Quite technical single track. Rocky technical single track - so that should I fall off, it wouldn’t be into soft mud, or relatively forgiving ferns, but hard rocks. And, given my glasses were coated in mist, it was looking very likely I’d be in for a spot of bother. So, a wiser head prevailed, and I spent quite a bit of time walking during that stage...
Just as I thought it was getting easier, that I was back onto fairly sealed roads and life would be cruisy, I stumbled upon Your Call. This track has an option - shorter and steeper, or longer and easer. At this stage of the game, I elected shorter! Naturally, shortly into the track it got technical (steps) and I just didn’t have it in me to push over it, and wound up walking up. Still, that was probably faster than grinding up the slow path.
But then it was over. No, really. More or less. Just some more road, then some more grassy paddocks. What is it about grassy paddocks? Riding over them is hell! It’s like every blade of grass manages to whip around your wheel and hold it down. It was as I was struggling through this section I was overtaken by another 100miler, who called back some encouragement as he passed me. Bastard...
Did I mention that Wild Horizons like to inject some character into their rides? Well, about 400m from the finish there was a beer tent. And he had all sorts of wares. I know, because I stopped to find out. It was awfully tempting. There was a chair, with an awning over the top to give me a respite from the misty rain. And cold beer. Nice, cold beer. Did I mention that my bladder had run dry a few kilometres back?
You’ll be pleased to know, dear reader, I did not stop for a beer. Tempting as it was, it would also have been incredibly dangerous because, would that I had sat down for a beer, I feared that my legs would not lift me again, so I’d have to consume several more to get the requisite carbs to keep going. So, I continued on to the finish line.
I went straight through the arch and to the local school stand - where I could use the voucher still attached to my number plate for a feed (did I mention that Wild Horizons are very community-oriented. I’m sure it’s because the locals have a fair idea of what Wild Horizons put us through, so want to provide a better impression of their towns before we go). So, I didn’t go straight to the car to dry off and warm up, I didn’t go straight to the coffee van. I went straight to the tuck shop and had what may well be the best hamburger I’ve ever eaten! Then I went straight back to my car, and straight home!
I’d like to thank all the excellent volunteers, and other riders on the course, as well as the event organisers. The Fling has a reputation as being a hard race, but well worth it. And now I can attest to that. It is probably the most challenging mountain bike event I’ve done, yet the atmosphere and course make it a lot of fun. Go on, have a crack, do the Fling. It’ll tear your legs off.