Before I start I apologise for my bad grammar and I hope I have made it interesting enough to keep you entertained.
This was my second go at a solo 24 hour event and I was a little less motivated and focused on what I wanted to achieve this time. Last year, with it being my first, I really just wanted to get through it and complete, I was quite happy with my effort last year and I did managed to complete, i rode for approximately 90% of the 24 hours, placed 4th in my age group and came 17th overall. Taking all of my previous years facts in to consideration I had made a plan back in July 2012 to give it a go again and try to make the top 10.
Looking at the previous years statistics I needed to complete 4 more laps of the majura track, which was approximately an additional 40 more Ks in the 24 hours. My plan to achieve this was focused around a few things.
The first, was to train more, get fitter and stronger, quite an obvious one but quite hard to juggle more training than I was doing around work and normal every day life. I did start riding to work a couple of days a week which was a 90k round trip, and I entered a race pretty much every other weekend. Along with some social rides with friends and road training rides I did lift my training slightly. However a belt of flu did keep me off the bike for nearly three weeks two months prior to the race so my training could have gone a lot better.
My second point I wanted to focus on was fewer stops. Some people seize up or find it hard to get going again after a break but I've always been ok and I have found if I rest I respond quite well to it. However this doesn't help in a race as every minute spent resting or refuelling is a minute your opponents are pulling away from you. I had focused on trying to improve the time I could go between rests at the endurance races I had been entering, my goal at these races was not only to go as well as I could but to also ride for as long as possible without stopping. Tracey (my wife and main support person) would come to the races with me and run along side me with drinks and food, so this really helped. After a couple of 8 hour events I was getting quite use to riding at a good pace for eight hours without getting off the bike.
The third thing we ( Tracey and I) agreed on was I needed a dually endurance/marathon bike. The previous year I had completed the race on my Giant 29er xtc hard tail and my trusty 7 year old Trek Fuel Ex. Both nice bikes that are great at their intended use but not really the right thing for endurance racing. After some test rides a lot of reading and research I was fortunate to buy a Carbon Pivot 429. It was a newly released bike and I was very lucky to get one of the first bikes brought into Australia. I won't go into depth on how good the bike is or isn't but for this type of race it was definitely a lot better than the bikes I had used the previous year.
The forth and final improvement was to loose 3 - 4 kgs in body weight. This didn't really happen due to a three week spell where I was ill leading up to the race, but I had lost body fat, gained mussel bulk so my overall weight was about the same as last year but I was carrying less body fat.
So coming into the race I had achieved some of what I was trying to focus on improving for this years race, but I was also a little down beat due to not getting to my target weight and losing the 3 weeks training at a critical time. This had bit of an effect on what i was trying to achieve during the race and I didn't really have a goal, I didn't feel confident I had done enough to improve to top ten which was a bit demoralising for me.
Now the weekend end it's self. we arrived at Stromlo forest just after lunch time on the Friday and after setting up the Gazebo (thank you Matty Pellow) Pat and myself headed out for a lap of the track. Pat my, other helper had been looking on the event website and pretty much knew where the track went. I was expecting to go up the usual switchback climb to the top of Stromlo, come down the usual skyline, luge, home run tracks and then do a few of the tracks at the base of the mountain, but this wasn't the case. Pat gave me the run down of where the track went but all I really heard was "go up the world's fire road climb around the back of the mountain". I had never ridden the climb before, but I had heard many a horror story from people that had. During the 2011 24 hour solo world championships, the fire road was part of the course and it was the talking point of the race as most had thought it was to brutal for this type of race. So we went on the lap all was ok, until Andy Blair came past us, on what must had been a bit of a training riding and Pat thought it would be a good idea if we tried to keep up with him. After about 20 meters I had to call Pat back, as I knew I was going to not do myself any favours riding at that pace. We continued up the climb, it became very loose and rocky and there were some pretty tricky little technical pinches thrown in. We hit a junction and the sign said left the Heart Breaker and right to Little Seymor, thankfully we went right! I say thankfully, it was a descent but it was loose, rocky and very technical and all I could think was how are people going to ride this for 24 hours. We then hit Willows and Party Line, which were welcome relief, but it wasn't long before we were on fire road climbing, and I knew "the worlds fire road climb" was coming. Now the track wasn't marked but Pat new where it was so we continued around and took the fire road to the top of the mountain. It was hard, it was steep, loose and went on for a long time. I was riding at a fairly relaxed pace but I was in my smallest gear and I was having to push hard, I knew this was going to be the worst part of the track for me as long fire road climbs were not my thing. We got to the top and then descended down the recently improved Sky Line and Luge tracks, we didn't quite get to the end of Luge and we then started fire road climbing again across to the lower part of the down hill course. Down through the recently tamed down hill cause and we were back into the event centre and the start finish area. The track was a lot harder than I was expecting and I knew the race was going to be tougher than last years event. Having said that, I now had a goal. I just wanted to finish!
Race day, back at Stromlo for about 10am and it didn't take long before we were all congregated around for the race briefing and then the start. It is a bit funny lined up at the start of one of these races, you have such a mixed crowd in such a small field. There was only about 70 of us but there was people like Jason English, Ed MacDonald and Bret Bellchambers, just to name a few that excel at the sport right through to the average rider that were all lined up together. It is good though as you've got the usual banter from the average punters but because the elites are so close, they can't help but get involved. So 12pm comes and off we go, pace is pretty good and after about a K I find myself a few off the front in the second group riders, I can see the leading group of about 10 - 15 a bit further up the road and I think to myself they are welcome to that pace. We hit the first climb and it is the usual stop start to a race, where people are stalling on tight corners or technical climbs, but when we get on to a section you would expect to go quicker it is still slow. It's a funny feeling, you know you're racing but it feels like you're on a social ride with your gran! There is a few people on the side of the track all over the mountain cheering and clapping and I think to myself, this must the most boring sport to watch due to the relaxed pace, even on the descents I'm hanging on to the brakes, as not to plough into the back of the person in front of me. Following our lap the day before and then studying a map we have realised we took the wrong "worlds fire road climb". Pat and a couple of other guys were convinced the actual climb we were doing wasn't the "worlds climb" but no one really knew what to expect. Well 8 Ks in and there it was, lowest gear and a big push up a loose, rocky fire road that saw an average gradient of 13% that went on for about 1 K. This was not my favourite part of the track and I knew that this climb was going to hurt.
The rest of the afternoon went pretty well, lap times were consistent, I was managing to eat and drink well, the weather was good, i seemed to be passing people on the track and not getting past myself and I was still managing to get up the fire road climb. Tracey and Pat were doing a great job with food and drinks, and keeping me motivated. I was still enjoying Sky Line and the Luge, and I was taking some braver lines on the down hill track. I have to say that this part of the race has been the most enjoyable for me both times, which is probably not a surprise, but it has been pretty uneventful and you don't really remember much of this part of the race.
The lap before my first night lap and I swapped bikes and took the hard tail for a lap while Tracey and Pat prepared the dually for the night. I was expecting the hard tail to feel a bit more lively in the climbs, but this wasn't the case and it wasn't long before I was thinking about wanting to get back on the other bike. I jumped back on the dually with the lights fitted and an nice clean drive train and I was back enjoying my laps again.
7pm came and went and darkness fell. Now this is where things start to change a bit. In last years event I had so many highs and lows in my mental state. I had never experienced anything like it one minute you feel like your body is about to give up, your slogging it out on all parts of the track and you're going to have to pull out and then the next minute your up out of the saddle at every climb, you're descending fast and you feel on top of the world. My first experience of this was around 8pm so 8 hours in, I was on a high, I was whistling, enjoying the climbing, descending and I was thinking about how much I was enjoying every part of the race. Then I felt bit of a pain in my stomach. Now, you do think of some strange things while you do these events, but I was now starting to think I was going to blow up like a racing car engine does, I've been into formula 1 racing for a bit now and you quite often see a car gain some extra performance just before the engine blows up, and I had a theory this was happening to me. I was starting to feel sick, my legs were starting to hurt and my moral had dove dramatically. I managed to stuff in a banana about half way round the lap and I felt for the next 2 Ks "if I can just keep it down it might help". Then just in time the banana kick in and as I approached the dreaded fire road climb for my 10th time. After getting my head down and powering through the climb I reached the top and felt pretty good. I came in to the start finish area restocked with food and drinks, and continued on. I was going ok through the night and I was exchanging places with one of the more recognisable participants from the sport, ok he like gears as much as he likes razor, but even so I was still pretty happy that I was able to ride a few laps with one of the best Single Speed riders in the country. My plan was to always have bit of a 10-20 minute stop around midnight to have a few slices of pizza, a cup of coffee and a stretch, so I was happy that I managed to push this out to about 2am, 14 hours of the race complete and my first real stop. I can't recall exactly how many laps I had completed but it would have been 15-16 around 180-190 Ks.
After bit of a feed it was back on the bike again, the first section on the asphalt around to the first section of single track felt terrible, I was damp and cold and the wind was unusually strong making it extra hard work to get going. I was expecting to start feeling better once warmed upped, but it didn't happen, I felt tired, the bike felt slow and I was starting to suffer with terrible arm pump. I was feeling it but I knew I could push on and the plan was to keep going for 3 laps then have a stretch and a coffee if I wasn't feeling better. After 3 gruelling laps I came into the start finish area and asked for a coffee, everything was hurting and I knew I was going to struggling to keep going. Pat cleaned my drive train and asked what pressures I was running in my tyres, after bit of a chat and messing around with the track pump it looked liked I had dropped a lot of air out of my front tyre and my rear tyre was also a little low. Pat got them back to the correct pressure, I finished my coffee and got back into grinding the laps out. As soon as I hit the dirt again it was obvious the low tyre pressures had really effected my rolling resistance and speed on the bike. The bike was back to its usual lively self, jumping up the little pinch climbs, accelerating out of each turn and effortlessly speeding along the flat sections. Everything was going well with legs and mind but now the arm pump was the main concern. I seemed to hit every rock, rut, root and bump on the track, and when it came to descending I was going so slow that on one of the larger berms on the down hill track I nearly slid off! I had a couple of laps like this where the pain was so bad I nearly got off and walked down rough sections.
Then the sun came up to save me, it's amazing what the sun can do for your moral, you start to warm up, you know you only have a few hours left and the cold dark night is behind you. But what really saved me was I was able to see where I was going again. The detail of the track was a lot clearer, you can see all the rocks and ruts and the smother lines are visible, it wasn't long before I was enjoying things again. So as the time ticks by in the morning you start to think about how many laps you have left to complete, the morning was taking its time to pass but it would have been around 9:30 when I was pushing up the dreaded fire road climb and a 6 x 6 rider came past and panted words of encouragement "keep it up mate only 2 more laps to go". My brain started to tick over and I thought, ,no I want to get 3 in, I know my ambitions of a top 10 finish have gone and that will have to wait for another time, but I was in 13th place and I wanted to stay there, so I knew I would have to push on I reckon that I would get 3 more laps in. With that in my mind I started to think a bit more about where I could go faster and a lot less of the time was spent about thinking about survival. I was pushing on climbs where I knew a rest was coming up, I was trying to carry more speed through corners and I was only walking half of the fire road climb.
Then at about 10:30 on my 24th lap disaster struck, just as I approached the fire road climb through one of the rocky single track sections I could hear a "hiss hiss hiss" from the front wheel as it rotated. Puncture. Got through the section to the base of the fire road climb hoping the tubless tyre sealant would block up the hole before I lost too much pressure, but it wasn't to be. I pulled over found the hole with the sealant oozing out and I frantically shock the tyre trying to get the sealant to seal the hole. After what felt like 5 minutes of shacking the hissing stopped. By this time I had lost too much pressure to ride on the tyre so I knew I would need to get the pump out, I thought I would wait until I got to the top of the climb because then I wouldn't be tackling the climb after the excursion of pumping my tyre up. Once I got to the top I got my pump out and started to try and inflate my tyre disaster number 2 my pump had stopped working. I stood on the side of the track thinking I'm going to have to push down the mountain the remainder of the lap. Jason English came past and asked if I was ok, what was I going to say, "do you mind stopping and loaning me your pump, while Ed MacDonald catches you and takes your lead away" I don't think so. So I pushed to the top of Sky Line where I met a family of 4 on a social ride. The farther asked where the Pork Barrel track started so I gave him direction and asked if I could borrow his pump. His wife had there only pump and none of us could figure out how to change it from shrader type valve to presta type valve. After the mother of the family wrestled with the pump we got it on and I inflated my tyre. I have to say thank you for the loan of the pump and sorry for how bad I must have smelt. I got back to the start finish area and swapped wheels on the bike, realigned my brake calliper and went out on to what was now my final lap.
I felt ok and it was nice to think it was my last lap but I was a bit disappointed I had the puncture dramas and I wasn't going to be able to complete the race to my full potential. As I came across the down hill track finish I could see a few riders stopped waiting to finish off so I stopped and asked if it had gone 12pm, they said it had, so goodness knows why they were hanging around waiting to cross the finish line!
So my second 24 hour event was complete, I was feeling a bit deflated after the last couple of hours but I was relieved it was over. It had been a great race and I felt like I had greatly improved on my previous performance. Bring on the world Championships in October.
I would like to say thanks to Tracey, Emma and Pat for there great support through the race, Matt and Kristy for letting us stay at their house Friday and Sunday, all my friends for the great riding adventures that make this sport so appealing to me, and finally Tracey again for letting me spend endless hours out on the bike training and the support financially on purchasing the bikes, components and the race entry fees.
Thanks for reading, Chris