As I sit here in the Qantas club on my way out of Canberra, my entire body aches, especially my hands, quads and shoulders. I'm expelling dirt from my lungs at an alarming rate and my skin and lips are dry and cracked. My arse is chaffed so that I’m only comfortable when I sit on a weird angle. I've eaten so many calories over the last few days that even though I’m hungry, I don't really feel like eating. My taste buds are burned away from the sugar in the energy supplements and the cold, dry and dusty air at the racecourse. This was my fourth Mont/Scott 24 hr mtb race, and they always leave their mark on me.
The weekend started at four thirty AM on Friday with the usual panic as the taxi arrived late, then two flights and a long wait at Canberra airport while Langers arrived from Melbourne. Out to the racecourse, set up the tent and go grocery shopping. All the while I am eating as much as I can, knowing each meal will contribute to slightly less pain and exhaustion once the race begins. $82 worth of groceries consisted of bananas, chocolate milk, creamed rice, snakes, shapes, coke, pikelets, peanut butter, honey and Gatorade; carbohydrate central (and I can't forget the nappy rash cream, keeps my arse in one piece after so many hours in the saddle).
Race day started off smoothly, no race recon for us, as we knew we would cover the course enough times in the next 24 hrs that it wasn't worth the energy. Bike prep, more eating and then the race briefing. Before we knew it solo riders were told to line up for the start, no Le Mans start for us, and we were off...
The course consisted of two sections, a red and a blue, with transition in the middle. Blue was flatter and about 17 km long; while red consisted of a long climb and super fast downhill back to the start. What a fantastic course. The advantage over the previous courses lay in the length and variety of each double lap. One and a half to two hours per lap meant that you weren’t getting too bored repeating the same lap every hour. Additionally, while the climb was long, it wasn't difficult and was great on the single speed; with the usual geared folk dropping to a way too low gear, making it easy to overtake.
Looking back on it, most of the race is a blur. The bike ran flawlessly, I didn't cramp or bonk, the weather was great and I was actually having fun. My eating plan seemed to be working perfectly and every thing was running as smoothly as anyone could ask for. I rode steadily into the night, stopping at midnight for a few hours off.
My attitude to the race was one of experimentation. This was my first semi serious solo race, I was planning on going out relatively hard and waiting to see what would fail first so that in the future I could start racing more competitively. So imagine my surprise when a few hours later, with no support crew, no plan and no preparation I woke to find myself in third place!
This left me in an interesting position. First and second positions were too far out of reach, but the rider in forth lingered within a couple of laps. My plan went from one of experimentation to one of trying to keep forth place off my back. For the remainder of the race I ate and circulated in a constant effort to ensure my buffer would remain.
The last few hours of a twenty-four hour race are the most interesting. As a solo rider the compliments never cease to flow from passing riders. As a solo single speed rider, even the geared solos pay compliments (there is also the occasional smirk or snigger as you get a chance to overtake a team rider). Conversation flows more easily and everyone becomes more relaxed, it's what 24 hr racing at this scale is about.
I finished the race knowing I hadn't put 100% in, but I had never planned to. First and second place were a long way off, but achieving third place made me realise what I can possibly achieve if I focus for a while.
My first ever oversize novelty cheque was a nice surprise, and being introduced to the podium as the hardest category at the race is always an ego booster.
(And a special thanks goes to Robbo for riding two different pedals after he gave me his left pedal to complete my last lap).