It's taken me a while to get round to blogging about my riding of late. I've been rather busy, as will be elaborated shortly. October opened with much preparation for the 100km Kanangra Classic, of which I've blogged before.
This was to be my first endurance race this century, and my first actual crack at properly racing the MTB Marathon distance of 100km - my previous endurance racing being the multi-day Polaris Challenge MTB orienteering series, a format which is not so much about covering a set distance quickly as balancing navigation, tenacity, fitness and time management.
So the early part of October was spent in prep, with some long-ish weekend rides and lotsof fast commutes with extra distance through the week.
Off To Kanangra
Race weekend arrived and I headed off early on the Saturday, in plenty of time to check in to my cabin in Oberon, scope out the state of the trails a little, and maybe ride the Kanangra Burn prologue event. Everything went according to plan and I arrived in Oberon in time for some coffee, and to check-in to my cabin, give the bike a quick tune and head to Kanangra Boyd ready to check-in.
In fact, I arrived in time to have a quick blast around part of the course and see how quick I could expect to be going. My previous recce of the trail had been relatively slow, but that had been mid-winter. This time, the track was dry, hard-packed and fast, and I managed to knock off around 28km of trail while waiting for the event hub to open. I was relatively pleased with this, since I'd also recently signed up for the Cannondale Oktoberfest challenge on Strava, and the more riding I got done, the closer I'd be to getting the challenge knocked over.
So I checked in and decided yes, I would ride the prologue thanks, and a couple of hours later I was lined up with maybe 40 or 50 other riders for the casual pre-race rumble around the south end of the course.
Technically, it's a social ride with no racing obligation, but a few people were lining up with serious faces on, not least of which was me. I already knew from the morning run that the trails were fast, so as we rolled away from the start and began the initial climb up Kanangra Walls Road, I figured I'd stretch my legs and see how quickly I could knock off the climb to the first aid station, for the sake of my Strava segment record.
As it turns out, a while before the station hove into view, I'd pretty much lost sight of the rest of the field. "In for a penny, in for a pound", I thought, and proceeded to smash the rest of the lap, mostly for my own amusement. I spent about two thirds of the lap in heart-rate zone 4 and got back to the event hub well ahead of the field about 52 minutes after starting out, at an average speed of nearly 26km/h. It's not a serious race, but it was nice to put down a fast time and see that the smoother sections of the track could go at a nicely respectable speed. As the rest of the field trickled in, some had clearly picked up their pace towards the end, and some had trundled - but all had, it seems, had fun out there on a perfect riding day in Kanangra.
I was, of course, realistic about the performance. I hadn't expected many of the fast guys to be present for the prologue, and of those that did line up, I didn't expect many to be smashing the ride - so while I was home first, it was no indicator of my potential performance for Sunday. But it did give me a nice benchmark for how fast the southern part of the circuit could go, and it let me revise my goals. When sigining up, I'd figured maybe six hours. As I got fitter, I revised that downwards to five and a half. After the Saturday, I set myself a stretch goal of breaking five hours and finishing in maybe the top 20 of my age group.
And so I retired, after a cider and a stack of rice and tuna, with the 2012 Paris Roubaix on for background noise, and prepared for the early start on Sunday.
I was out of the cabin before sun-up and heading off the the event hub again, yawning but ready for anything. Leg warmers and waterproof booties on, energy bar slammed down for breakfast, bottle and camelbak filled and fully prepped for a few hours in the saddle.
The field was much bigger than I expected, and I was blearily waiting for an espresso when the call came to the start line. This, unfortunately, meant I was lining up quite near the back of the field when the race officially started. Never mind, though. I like steep climbs and the first section of fireroad was familar by now. Steadily, I advanced through the field, taking care to stay in heart-rate zone 3 or lower, so as not to seriously deplete my reserves for the long haul.
By the time I was at the turning to Budthingaroo, I felt like I'd passed a hundred riders or more, and truth be told I probably had. My pace was pretty good, my legs were feeling strong, but there were more people to pass.
Budthingaroo is probably the major climbing of the lap. While Kanangra Walls Road is heavily uphill, it's at least smooth, but Budthingaroo, and Mumbedah which follows, are rough and winding, so make for much harder climbing. Still, keeping the pace up wasn't too bad.
My nutrition plan started to kick in here. My revised plan was to follow my Garmin's calorie estimates to gauge when to eat. 600 calories in, it was time to take in 300 calories or so in the form of a gel. Every 300 or so following, another gel would go down, track surface permitting. I planned to stick to this the whole race, and take in a gel roughly every 300 calories on the Garmin. This, it turns out, was a damn good plan. At no point did I end up feeling severely depleted, though I did discover that trying to be environmentally sound with used gel wrappers means you quickly end up gluing your pockets closed.
As I reached Mount Emperor Trail, I struck up a conversation with another rider. The most common question all day was "50 or 100?" as the two race options started together. My companion was on the 100km, like me. the second most common question was "What age group?". My new mate was in the 40-49s, and when I replied "30-39", he replied "Good, we can work together". And so we did, for a while riding pace for each other, keeping the cadence up and issuing encouragement.
At the break stop on Boyd River trail, though, I stopped for a drink, took some time to rid myself of my leg warmers, had a quick stretch and let my companion carry on to a stash of bottles he and his friends had left on Kanangra Walls Road. I wanted to get back to my own race plan as we climbed back to the road. And climb back to the road I did. I dispatched several more riders on the climb, including my former companion, while heading up the woody trail. The pace was looking not too bad, but I had a suspicion that my Garmin was slightly confused in the opening forested section, so kept on it, still taking care to stay out of the threshold zone and keep fed and watered.
The Boyd River Trail section ends at Kanangra Walls Road feeding station, and you follow the road for about 50m or so, before coming back on the Kowmung trail, which is fast, smooth and slightly downhill. I didn't expect to pass many people here since it's easy to get up a good strong top speed and maintain it, but I did expect the later stages, where there are lots of loose curves and waterbars, to perhaps give me some opportunity to capitalise on the nervousness of other riders. As it happens, I was close enough to the sharp end of the race that nerves were few and far between, and I actually had to ride hard to keep on the pace with the occasional rider I saw through the bends.
I'd nearly come a cropper here on a recce ride, hitting a waterbar mid-corner and ending up off-track, but the previous day's prologue shenanigans had allowed me to find a line which went oddly wide, squashed the jump, and used the edge of the track as a berm to bank the corner. I heard a slightly shocked exclamation from behind through there, but didn't look round in case I myself ended up off-track.
Soon, I was back at the feeding station where I'd stopped previously, and heading right instead of left, to the Morong Creek crossing. I'd hit this very fast in the prologue, and wasn't quite sure how I'd managed to get through in one piece, so my first lap of the 100km was slightly more sedate, and I got through OK. I'd walked this crossing on my recce, which was a daft idea. Smashing it on the bike was far more exhilarating, less cold and quicker. All that remained of the first lap was a steep climb, a couple of small crossings and back to Kanangra Walls Road.
As I reached the start line, I was feeling pretty positive. The timer, as I trundled through the grass and tussocks of the start/finish area, showed 2:20.
Lap two began, and it was far more lonely. 50km riders were now a stark rarity, as they were either finished or much further round the lap, and the uphill was a little lonely. I passed a small knot of 100km riders heading back to the feed station, where I stopped and refilled my dwindling camelbak, allowing the group to re-pass me again. Getting started again, I was slightly worried about my pace, as the riders who'd passed me didn't seem to be in sight, but after a km or so I was able to haul them back in.
This lap was troublesome. Having fewer people around meant I had no natural pace target and had to keep re-evaluating my pace consciously. It's easy to zone out and lose track of your cadence, and to end up trundling where you should be smashing, and vice versa. It takes concentration, and the first half of this second lap was a hard test of focus, broken only by a couple of riders with unfortunate punctures, who responded to "You OK mate?" with "yeah no worries" or a curt wave. I caught a few riders in Bike Minded jerseys near the junction with the Boyd River Trail, who seemed a little lost for pace, and was largely alone through Boyd River up to Kanangra Walls Road again. I kept slogging, and kept to my feed plan, although the gels were starting to make my stomach feel like a paper hanger's pastepot.
As I passed through the feed and check station, a marshall asked for my race number to check me through, and I scoped my time. Slightly slower, but feeling good. Coming back to the Morong Creek crossing, I crossed right next to another rider, after warning him about the dodginess of the entry, and we rode together a little while. He marvelled that I'd done 50-odd km the day before and self-effacingly said that I was probably about to leave him for dead, as he thought he'd gone a bit too hard in the first lap. I gave him a bit of encouragement and paced him for a km or so approaching the climbs, but soon enough we hit a fast run down to the creek before the steep bits, and I did indeed leave him behind. From here to the end, I had little human contact - a 4WD unexpectedly on the trail startled me a little, and soon I was back on Kanangra Walls Road, less than 5km from home and looking like I'd be coming in nicely under five hours.
Indeed, as I ran up towards the tussocks, I could se the clock counting out towards 4:50, so I got out of the saddle and sprinted to get there under the time, and the race, for me, was over.
There were some minor timing issues, but from the screen at race control, it appeared I came sixth in age group, on my first endurance race back, in a time good enough to have beaten all of last year's veterans, or 8th overall against 2011 times. At the time of writing, overall times for 2012 aren't available, but the winner was definitely faster than last year's, meaning my time wasrespectable, not stellar, but definitely exceeded all my own targets. First lap had gone at roughly 2:20. Second at 2:30, which was consistent and indicates to me that I had some reserve in the tank and could perhaps have gone harder in both laps without breaking myself - one for next year, I think.
And that was Kanangra done.
The next three weeks
And that was the first two days of the Cannondale Oktoberfest Challenge - a 50km day and a 100km race, to start things off in style. The aim was to ride 60 hours in three weeks, just under three hours a day, so I was slightly ahead of the game. I spent the first week on a bit of a blitz, goign for fast commutes, exploring Strava segments and hunting down KOM possibilities. To be honest, I ended the first week in a bit of a destroyed state, having sprinted everywhere, even playing tit-for-tat on a fast segment with a particularly quick road rider of my acquaintance. The next week was a bit of a slog, punctuated by an incident on Lilyfield Road where a bogan with a laser pointer left a lasting imprint on my retina. By the end of week two I was tired and a little behind the curve, so I headed out to Yellomundee to do some singletrack riding in preparation for the Briars Highland Fling. Part way through my second lap, My brake pads started to make a worrying scraping sound, as though they'd worn down to the springs. Distracted, I came into a narrow section too quickly, ran wide and caught my handlebars in a tree. I was off, and slammed down hard onto a tree root, cutting short the day and cracking a rib quite painfully. I limped back to the car and took stock of the situation.
Well, I was two-thirds into the challenge. I wasn't going to stop now.I spent the rest of the week riding in a mild haze of pain, still putting down the occasional fast time on Strava and even at one point literally riding myslf sick, until I sealed the challenge with a day to spare, sixty hours of riding in three weeks, a level of effort that literally sends one midly insane, one worn-out rear tyre, well over 1000km done and dusted two days before the 110km Highland Fling. A rest day, then my second marathon of the season, or so I thought.
As it turns out, the Fling wasn't to be. At about 5:30am on Sunday, as I was driving towards the race start at Bundanoon, I blew a tyre on the at Yerrinbool. On cracking out the spare, I was dispirited to find it entirely unusable, called the NRMA and was eventually set back on my way at 7:10am, ten minutes too late for race check-in and only 20 minutes ahead of the starting gun. I'd known the tyre was dodgy, but since I was spending so much time riding for the challenge, hadn't made time to get it checked. My own damn fault and I guess it serves me right.
I limped home, took some more pain killers and had a beer. No Fling for me in 2012.
And that was October and November's MTB riding. I'm currently on hiatus, due to broken ribs and strained back muscles from trying to alleviate the pain of moving around, but there'll be more. Oh yes, there'll be more. Just wait and see.
UPDATE: the official Kanangra results are available and it turns out I actually came 4th in the 30-39s, 14th overall, and my time was good enough for 5th in the Elite class. My first lap of 2:21:32 was 35th fastest overall, which is 8th fastest in the 100km 30-39s - suggesting my second lap was quicker than average and I had better consistency than other riders - for whatever reason.