Monday, March 29, 2010

Stage Three, Dinner Plain to Bright. 72 km, 1219m alt gain, 2479m alt loss.
This was the stage we needed. After two gruelling days in the saddle we finally had a stage that was more down than up and had the promise of a short day on the bike for both Spencer and I. To his credit Spencer was up and ready to ride despite the disappointment of the previous day and even looking forward to a fun descent down to the Upper West Kiewa Valley. From Dinner Plain we climbed up to Hotham to begin the days first descent down the shaly side of Machinery Spur. This was rough and unforgiving with more than a few riders taking spills throughout the day due to loss of traction or hidden ruts. I was flying though. Spencer and I were whizzing past teams we hadn’t seen for the previous two days of climbing now and that really put the smiles back on our faces. The smiles only got wider as we made our way down into the valley and started the first of 6 river crossings on the Ovens River. Some riders were complaining about the wet feet but we just giggled like school girls as we plunged through the crystal clear water and past some of the most beautiful scenery so far. We even sat in the feed station and had a chat with a few riders as they came through and left again only to catch most of them on the climb out of the valley along Dungies Track. While the going was steep on this climb the surface was hard pack and smooth. We really attacked the climb and got a solid rhythm going all the way to the top. Very satisfying.
Once over the top of the spur we had a fast and flowing descent down to Bright with some sweet single track along the river into town. On the short dirt road and bitumen sections we teamed up with a Kiwi mixed pair and shared the load of the draft. As a mixed pair they were very strong but the previous day had really knocked them around. We slowed a little and then Karen fell right back. I checked if they were OK and once given the wave Spencer and I dropped into the big ring and powered along roady style to the finish line. We have now ridden with the kiwis quite a lot and they are a top pair. We have had long chats and even a beer or two together at the end of the stages. Another example of mountain bikers just getting along.
Finally now I could recover. I rested and ate and ate and rested with the knowledge that the next stage was the Queen of the race and the stage where the most DNF’s had occurred from 2009. It promised to be massive.
Stage Four, Bright to Bright. The Mount Buffalo circumnavigation. 117km, 3206m alt gain, 3191m alt loss.
I dreaded this stage from the day I decided to attempt the Terra. I’ve never done 117km on a mountain bike before, I’ve never climbed over 3000m in a day before and I certainly have never done it after 3 days of racing and possibly 2 of the hardest days I have ever spent on a bike. Daunted? You betcha.
We left Bright and basically the climbing started immediately. No warm up run in with some easy k’s, just bang in your face climbing at 17 percent. A little rest and then bang, here we go again. We climbed for around 17 of the first 20 kilometres of the day and that only set the standard for what was to come. There was a 19 kilometre stretch that was relatively flat on the profile but the truth was it was a gravelly heat trap that just seemed to go on forever with no real let up and nothing to keep you interested while you pedalled along. We stopped and ate some more with the view that the big climb was approaching and the fuel would be vital to get up it.
So what classes as a big climb in the Terra Australis? Well that would be a 12 kilometre climb that takes you up 1200m to around the 1300m mark above sea level on gravelly rutted tracks with little or no protection from the sun. Spencer was smashing it. He left me for dead several times but waited each time until I got my rhythm going and started to nail the pace. Somewhere along the way he just stopped. I pulled up to him and asked what was going on and he could only say to me that he was in a dark place mentally and needed a rest. I left him to his thoughts and continued on. Sometimes there are no words to fix a problem. We had been riding for about 6 hours and the fact we still had so much work to do to get home had just snuck up and overwhelmed him. I waited at the summit for him. We took on water and stretched the legs a little to loosen up after holding the attack formation for the last 12 k’s. He came around and I led off on the descent down to the valley floor and the second feed stop for the day. Again the volunteers put on a good show and picked us up mentally as well as physically with jokes and plenty of vegemite sandwiches. Another glowing report for the support crew.
Along a flat stretch to the pine plantation outside of town for the last of the climbs for the day. These were shorter but way pinchier especially with shattered legs and backs and fragile mental states. The day had also turned quite hot and the pines offered no respite from the sun with the reflection off the decomposed granite surface adding to the heat. Once we reached the top the relief was like a curtain being thrown open to reveal the sunshine. We started talking and joking again and flew into the descent down to the town of Bright. We crossed the finish line inside the 10 hour cut off for the stage and was met by handshakes from the race director as he shakes the hand of every rider who finishes this stage. 9 hours and 31 minutes in the saddle. We were both shattered but very happy to have made it over the stage. I won’t say I conquered it as that implies a victory but I do think I survived it and kept my dignity. That’s enough for this year.
The immages from this report were kindly supplied by Terra Australis, Russel Baker and Kaz and John. Cheers folks!
protection from the sun. spencer 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Terra Stage 1 and 2. How to suffer.

Well finally I can take the time to get to a place to upload my blog for the Terra Australis 2010. The amount of emotional and physical feelings I have experienced in the past 5 days makes it hard to ensure that I can express them and carry you along for the ride.
I must premise it all by saying that the riding has been spectacular. The photos don’t do it justice as the scenery is breath taking and the sheer volume of amazing places you ride through is mind numbing. From the high plateau of Falls Creek and Dinner Plain to the lush forest around Bright and the slowly regenerating eucalypt forest of Beechworth you just keep being amazed. I have crossed the Ovens River 6 times, climbed to the top of Goldies Spur and seen the western side of Mount Buffalo, scaled shaly climbs that went on for kilometres and then plunged into lush forests with massive gums surrounding bracken ferns.
If this all sounds idyllic there is a definite sting in the tail of every vista I’ve seen, every beautiful creek I have crossed and most definitely every lush valley I have plunged into. I have suffered. I have sweated, sworn, struggled and bled for every kilometre and stage finish so far. This race is a beast and even if I get to the end I won’t say I have tamed it, only survived it.
Stage 1. Falls Creek to Mount Beauty. 92km, 2550m alt gain, 3726m alt loss.
I showed up at the start line with apprehension and fear. No other way of putting it. There was a 50km wind blowing across the top of the mountain which dropped the temperatures down to about 6 degrees and would later take a heavy toll on us on the plains as a head wind. Down to it. We set off and quickly gained our place at the tail of the field with the first climb of the day being a relatively gentle gravel road up to the edge of the lake and then turning off toward the plains. I was feeling OK by then even though Spencer had flatted and we had lost time already and were now well back in the pack with no real hope of picking up places. No matter, the aim is to finish. That’s when it got hard.
We hit the climb to Mount McKay and the terrain turned to hell. Imagine plate sized flat rocks that slid from under you when you pedalled coupled with bottom bracket deep ruts and you get the idea of what I mean. Now multiply that by about 15 kilometres. Yep, 15 kilometres of climbing at about 12% on that. The Terra was showing me who is boss and it’s only day 1. When I thought I had got a rhythm going on the climb I came to a curve in the trail then it hit me. A head wind at 50 kilometres per hour that took the temperature down to about 5 degrees was smashing me in the face while it’s buddies the rocks and ruts took turns at taking chunks out of my leg strength. Unreal.
I finally got to the top and was really looking forward to the descent down Timms Spur to the Big River Valley. If only it wasn’t the roughest, most technical, longest descent I have ever done. There are head sized boulders and sticks the size of small countries across the trail and all that is laid over a bed of slippery pea gravel and hard pack. Mega. My arms were so sore I had to sit down at the end of each descent and shake them out. I had no feeling in my fingers from grabbing the brakes and bars so hard and while I should have been able to rest my legs on the downs I found that I was constantly on the hammer otherwise it was flaming wreck time for yours truly. There was a comment made at the end of the stage by one of the elite guys that said he has never been so happy to start climbing again. It was simply that full on. The feed station at the end of this was a god send. Spencer and I sat in silence looking each other with fear in our eyes.
 At this stage I still had around 1000m of climbing to do to the finish. If only it had been easy fire road or gravel but no, it was not to be. More of the fist sized, square edged rocks met us for the entire climb. The only comment I have on this section is I was numb. I climbed slowly and in silence. My heart was broken and my legs were trashed with no end in sight. I really am lucky to have got through this section as it could very easily have been the end of me. I finally saw the turn into the Mount Beauty single track and Big Hill. Another flat while in the single track further sealed the day as a complete disaster. I did not enjoy the single track or even take in the amazing views across the Kiewa Valley. I was smashed physically and mentally and it was only day one.
Day 2, Falls Creek to Dinner Plain. 102km, 2112m alt gain, 2052m alt loss.
I started the stage with a feeling of confidence and a plan to steadily gain the altitude needed and rest on the long descents into the valleys. The climb from the start was steady and on reasonable terrain so we just ticked along and ate up the first 15 km with ease. Then the rot set in. We missed a marker on a turn and headed up a steep and rock littered climb until we reached another intersection where there was no trail marker. I was pretty annoyed as we tried to get mobile coverage to find to where we were and how far off track we had gone. Finally after a 10k diversion with a lot of climbing we were back on the trail and moving towards the next check point. The whole adventure took a massive toll on both Spencers and my state of mind and there was a real negative vibe about the climb back out towards the Bogong Highway. More bad news. As we were now so far behind the pack, a sweep vehicle had been through and removed a further trail marker and now we had 4 options as to which way to go. Finally after a lot of swearing and cursing Spencer announced that he was heading down the bitumen no matter what and that someone could just come and get us from the next town. Fair enough too I thought.
We lucked out though and there was a checkpoint a few k along the road. I headed into it at 45 degrees, head down and attitude turned up to nuclear. I was pissed in a big way. We still don’t know what happened to the marker and I have since apologised to the guys that bore the brunt of my frustration but hey, it still sucked.
The climb that followed was brutal. 22 percent and covered in what can only be described as rider destroying, jagged edged demons. We both walked it most of the way and from all reports so did everyone else. 1.5k later we crested a spur and looked down at the same trail we had climbed only this time descending. My arms and shoulders were aching from the day before and this only nailed the coffin closed a little more. I think I lost a tooth on that descent. It was just that rough. You could not rest, you could not drink, you could not blink. The consequences of failing to ride the descent would be race ending as the speed gained due to lack of traction and the type of surface would have both ripped me apart and shattered bones.
The next part of the ride is a blur to me as fatigue was setting in and my brain was struggling to make informed decisions. Spencer was in a bad way too with his hip and knee in pain constantly and the toll of the off trail excursion messing with his head. There was another climb on pea gravel, we caught the back markers and the sweep vehicles, and we grovelled for every kilometre we made. Spencer cracked. As we came over a rise he could see the climbs continuing off into the distance and the knowledge of the 30 kilometre climb up to Dinner Plain was just too much. I had watched him struggle up every hill that day when normally he would lead me out and then he would drop off the back when I tried to rest him on the long straights. There were still 10 k’s to cover before the next aid station and it was just too much. We talked about it and I asked if he was OK for me to continue and try and make Dinner Plain. He agreed, slapped me on the back and gave me a push off. 40 k from home, 3.30pm in the afternoon and 10k until the next aid station. Alone.
I stomped the big ring into the aid station and covered the 10k in a little under 30 minutes. Up hills and down dales I smashed it. The aid station saw me coming and jumped to it. I will write more about them later but they are awesome. My Camelbak was taken and filled, electrolyte filled in the bottle and food was shoved at me from every direction. The Bicycle Superstore guy grabbed the bike, had it cleaned and lubed and in a good gear to set off in minutes flat and I was away again. Supportive words, a few jokes and a lot of best wishes pass the way of every rider on this race but Christ I felt special.
2.5 kilometres of bitumen climbing and the real climb began. Up. 27.5 kilometres. Dirt and stones. Cold. That was all that I could think of and I very nearly cracked. I did what I thought was my last option to get myself over this hurdle and called my wife. Her words, “You’ve done harder days at work than this doing things you hate and you survived. You love riding your bike. Get on with it. You can do it.” So I did. I chewed the bars, I swore at myself and I cried a few tears until finally nearly 3 hours later I approached the top. I saw a house and then another and then a gravel path. I could see a person on a bike at the end of the path and it turned out to be Meg. She and Spencer and Pete had all come down to see me over the line. What followed was a blur. Over the line and off to the accommodation for a shower. I only really clocked what was going on when i got to the pub and ordered my steak and tasted the first sip of beer. I finished the stage. How I still don’t know but I can tell you it has carried me through all the other stages so far. No matter how hard they are.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Giant awakes.....

I received my new Giant XTC 1 29er today. I have decided to ride it stock standard apart from changing the tires to 2.1 Maxxis Crossmark as the 1.9 Kenda Karma's I feel would be a bit light on for the rocky loose stuff we will encounter in Victoria. Apart from that, the bike feels great! 
I won't bore you with all the specs but suffice to say a mix of Shimano SLX and XT make up the running gear with Avid Juicy 3 brakes and a selection of Giant branded bits to top it off. It weighs in at around 11.8kg with pedals so it is no light weight but it is still respectable. 
I've set the bars and seat height and basically the bike feels pretty close to the Fisher. I have heard good things about the tapered steerer tube and the 15mm through axle (non bike nerds will have glazed over well and truly by now!) and when I get the thing on the dirt we'll see for real. All in all, we're both ready to race.
Massive thanks to Giant, I can't thank them enough. Massive thanks to Jarron and Mark at Cyc'd for Bikes for the race strip and other suppoort along the way and of course to Spencer for building it up and making it run smooth. 
Check out the photos and stay tuned for the ride reports to come.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lessons Learnt - Part Two.

My training is officially over. I am now in the taper week which at this stage seems kind of a joke seeing as how the past week has been spent trying to shake an ear infection and not punching out K's as it should have been. I thought now would be a good time to drop some of the hard fought wisdom I have accumulated along the way. Hopefully you  can read this and get something out of it and maybe take on a challenge yourself or even just get a laugh out of my experiences.
Lesson One: Get a training plan and stick to it.
There is so much information out there regarding the best ways to train and ways to maximise your time and efforts that there is NO excuse for not having a plan. I haven't spoken about my training plan much as I find it pretty boring to write about so I can't imagine you as a reader would get heaps out of it either. The trick is to plan your training  around your life rather than your life around your training. It will ease the stress of balancing family commitments, work commitments and social life and allow you to ENJOY your training.
Lesson Two: Sort your logistics early.
This the one area I have felt totally happy with in my preparation for the Terra. The fact is that if you get this right  you alleviate a whole level of fuss further down the road. Even though my plans have changed several times along the way I have had a clear idea of where I needed to be along the way.  I did the research on weather, facilities and transport options early and as options became available I could adjust to them and make the most of them. This same advice goes for any race or event. If you plan well and early when things go pear shaped, and they will go pear shaped at some stage, you can adjust and cope with it with a minimum of fuss. Nothing in life ever goes perfectly to plan so why not have a couple of aces up your sleeve for when the chips are down.
Lesson Three: Set realistic goals.
I have always believed I can finish the Terra. While this may seem like a lofty goal that was kind of the whole point. You need to set yourself some challenges in order to feel that it is no walk in the park, and that it is worth doing. Just don't set the bar so high that you can't see it any more! Apply this theory to your training as well. Call it built in redundancy if you like. You WILL miss some sessions, you WILL have bad days, there WILL be speedbumps along the way. Life is like that! Challenge yourself but just don't set yourself up for failure from the outset.
My best example of this? I wanted to lose a few kilos and seriously cut back on the amount of alcohol I was drinking. This was all focused towards my health both physically and mentally. I want to get off my medication. I have succeeded in 2 of the 3 goals in losing weight, cutting back the alcohol consumption and the third goal is on course for after the race. Whats this got to do with racing? Everything. What is competing if not the setting of goals with the aim of reaching them to make us feel proud of ourselves and our efforts. Whether its to win or to just have fun, set that goal, go for it and feel proud of your efforts in doing so.
I think I have preached at you enough today. It is Sunday after all. I have just one parting thought. Courage is  knowing that you will be testing your limits and that you may fail and being willing to do both in making an attempt for your goal.
Just try......

Monday, March 8, 2010

Medical update.

Well at least I know why I have had a little trouble with my energy levels and heart rate jumping. The pain in my left ear turned out to be an infection! The doctor said it looked like someone has been stuffing cherry tomatoes down my eustacian canal. Oh well, into the antibioatics and hopefully it will clear up quickly and let me get back to training. I only have one week left before my week of taper and basically no riding.
Spencer and I will hopefully get a couple of good rides in over the weekend. The final tune up so to speak. There may be a new bike to add into the mix as well and give me that new bike buzz. Stay tuned for the final training logs and reports before the race.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A day in pictures.

Spencer arrives for the ride. Finally.
We did a repeat of last weeks ride today. The weather has not been kind of late and so we stayed off the single track and headed out on the management roads instead. 

Robbo got a basting last week for not bringing out his new bike. This week he brought it out and got it dirty

Scrub Creek causeway. It was looking awesome. I haven't seen this much water in the creek for ages. You could hear water flowing down the gullies on most of the ride today. 

And now we go up. This is the start of the climb up Scrub Road from the bottom. The ground was soaked with spots of clay that grabbed the wheel and made going hard for quite a while.

Centre Road. It is a pinchy little climb with no breaks once you cross this causeway. There were trees across  the creek and the water was flowing here stronger than anywhere else we had been. I struggled all day but the climb out of here was a real heart breaker for me. Good mental training though as a cup of concrete was consumed at the bottom and the teeth were gritted and many swear words passed the lips to goad and harangue myself to the top.

Bellbird Grove. A little rest before the final assault out to the road and the fast bitumen descent to Ironbark Gully. The bike is a Giant XTC 1 29er the same as the one Giant have very kindly provided to us for the race. I can't wait to get my grubby little fingers on one to put some K's in on it. It was also the official unveiling of the Velo Club Moulin strip today and I hope I did it proud. Onya Mark! 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dirty Sunday

After a number of aborted attempts to get out on the dirt with Spencer we finally managed to do it on Sunday. The ride promised to be a good effort with the climb up Camp Mountain followed by Mount Nebo via Scrub Road and South Boundary Road. To mix up the return we thought we would take on Centre Road and Bellbird Grove. The day was perfect with a bit of cloud to cool things down and only a little mud around in a few places despite the constant rain of the week before.
Spencer and I were joined by Robbo for our little trek and after some very brief intros we were off. There wasn't a whole lot of conversation as we made our way to the base of South McLean Road for the bitumen climb up to the start of the dirt and the long way up Camp Mount. We were all kind of happy to just punt along and warm up before the climbing started in earnest. If I thought it was quiet on the way out there it was positively deathly silent as all three of us hit the 18% grade climb that meets you as soon as you turn onto South McLean. My heart rate did its usual slow start and my body was complaining bitterly. I am growing to dislike the first 10k's of most rides as I get older. It just seems to take an age to warm up and get a groove going where my heart rate, respiration rate and effort gel together and make the riding feel "strong" rather than "surviving". Of course the fact that the Camp Mountain climb is within the first 10k of the route meant I felt it even more.
Once at the top though everything seems a little easier. I had warmed up and used the little push along the tar to Scrub Road as a relaxing spin to loosen the legs back up. By the time I was at Scrub Road I was ready for a rip down to the causeway and the steep climb out. That descent is a favourite of mine. It isn't technical or twisty but man is it fast. I love the vegetation and the smell of the rainforest. All three of us were still very close at the end of the descent and remained that way as we climbed out to the intersection of South Boundary Road. At the shelter it was time for a quick drink and really no more. Robbo was keen and so was Spencer to keep pushing on to the top for a quick coffee. I felt really strong up this bit of the ride. Everything had clicked into place and my legs were spinning over effortlessly. The grade reduces and becomes more consistant from the shelter and it suited how I felt. Spencer and I chatted about the race to come and how we might approach the different days, what changes he might make to the Giant and what food and preparation we needed to finalise before we left. Robbo slipped back a little but was never out of eye contact. There was a very easy and understanding vibe and it felt like it was cool for us to just pick our pace and ride at it. We always regrouped at intersections but I think there was only 1 or 2 times we stopped to wait for anyone. It was a well matched group.
Eventually the cafe was in front of us!  A great cup of coffee and a little dry out from the drizzle and sweat had us all ready to rock. If only we hadn't had mechanicals a plenty. A flat tyre for Spencer and constant drivetrain issues for me saw the time fall by. I had visitors coming at 12:30 for lunch and it was looking shaky for a while. Finally that was all sorted and I decided that I would try for the rookie mistake prize for 2010. I had no food along the way and only 2 gels with the cup of coffee. You could hear the crack from space as my heart broke and the bonk nailed me. As I headed up Bellbird Grove I was smashed. I had to stop and eat a muesli bar as Robbo and Spencer flew away from me. I opened another bar and ate it as I finished the climb out to meet the guys waiting for me at the turnoff to South McLean. I know it was bad because as I finished the first bar and it hit my stomach I instantly felt better. By the time I reached South McLean Road I felt like I actually might make it home without calling for a medi lift! Woah. Dumb.
 I got back home. I cooked a huge feed on the BBQ and ate lots! After a few beers and a couple of steaks I felt much better. I was already planning with Spencer for the weekend to come and what massive ride we can fit in. Now I am really excited about racing in the Terra. My training is working and while I know I could have done more I think I can survive it. If I am smart with my recovery and race plan then it could even be fun. Who knows.