12 laps in 24 hours.Finally I am writing an account of riding solo in the Mont Australian 24 Hour Mountain Bike Race.
A brief wrap up is, I had a fantastic time. The 19 KM course was more enjoyable than last year as there was more single track, however it was also rougher than last year with more huge bumps and bad lines. In the end I completed 12 laps, 225KM in the 24 hours, around 16 hours of actual time spent riding the bike if my bike computer is to be believed. This had me finishing 24th in the open mens solo category out of 60 people who started and 50 finishers. There were over 2200 riders, 525 teams (people who could be on the track at one time). 8400 laps were completed (a distance of 4 times around the planet).
All the results can be found here. (including graphs, fastest laps, etc)
I went into the event with the plan to have fun and to learn what it is like to compete in a 24 hour race solo. I was hoping before the race to knock off 15 or 16 laps of the 19 KM course. I achieved the first two goals, and probably did reasonably well on the third, it still had me finishing in the top half of the field of 50 in open mens solo.
Back in June when Gary said to me "If you enter solo, I will too" and I agreed with him, I knew I would not have time to train for the race at all seriously this year. Due to other commitments (mostly linux.conf.au, work, Bilbys and CORC combined) meaning I am unable to head out for 7 hour rides every weekend and do lots of night riding on week nights. Already this year I have been doing about 3 rides less per week than last year. However as Dave and Julie would be away at the world mtbo championships, and Aaron expressed interest in competing in a 6 person team rather than a 4 person team this year. Aaron had the World Xterra Championships in Hawaii again this year and thought 6 person at the Mont would be a bit friendlier to his preparation. I was not interested in joining a 6 person team as I think 4 person provides a much better riding/resting ratio. So with my previous team unavailable, I thought for a while about creating or joining another 4 person team, than Gary made the offer above, how could I refuse.
As I had not really prepared for the race I did not stress or worry about it in the lead up, simply attempting to be as laid back as possible. Friday morning I drove out around 11am to set up my tent and leave some gear there. I met up with Ray (riding solo, he had been on my team 2 years ago), Glenn Apps, Juzzy, and various others. Once set up I helped out the rest of the 24 hour committee with random stuff for a while and eventually decided I needed to head home at around 5pm to cook food for the race and rest up a bit. Food wise I originally had planned to cook a pasta dish and a risotto and have them both available at the race for some variety. In the end, I went grocery shopping for food Friday evening and only got the makings for spaghetti bolognese (and muffins, donuts, bread, rice cream, bananas, shapes, milk, sustagen, powerade, potato's, vegemite, pepsi, crisps and chocolate)
Food wise I planned before the race to eat a Clif bar, a muesli bar and some vegemite sandwich per lap and drink one bidon (750ml) of sports drink per lap. Every 3 or 4 laps (4 or 5 hours) I would stop for a few minutes longer, have an insulin injection (I am an insulin dependant diabetic for those of you who don't know) and a bit more food, such as some of the pasta dish and a baked potato. The baked potato has the added advantage I could carry them while riding on a lap, as of course do the clif bars and muesli bars. The diet did not quite work out as I planed, which I will go into in a bit.
I woke up at 8am on Saturday morning, my support person Prue was due to arrive at my place at 8:30am. I packed the food box, esky my clothes backpack and dual suspension bike into the car (I left my hard tail out there on Friday, and only intended to ride on it if something went horribly wrong with the duallie). Prue drove over via a bakery so was a few minutes late, however the bakery treats were welcome so it didn't matter.
We arrived at the race venue and carted the remaining items over to the solo camping area. The timeline for the morning stipulated that we would have to be pretty much ready by 10:45am as after that there were all sorts of presentations, briefings and the walk to the Le Mans run start area. The run this year was probably a bit long, 800 metres is far to much running for most cyclists, I had been intending to walk it (heck I was going to be out riding for 24 hours what did the run matter) however when Richard (Bontjer) said he was running I decided to follow suit. My bottle of sports drink was on my bike so while all this was going on I was sipping from my camel back and I ate a muesli bar before the run started.
Unlike last year I ran pretty slowly so was mid field by the time I got to my bike, once I hopped on my bike I immediately started backing off the pace, Richard seemed intent to go faster so I did not chase and climbed up the first hill easily. An indication of the Le Mans start being inadequate for 525 starters came soon after at the first single track entrance, we waited for about 3 minutes for the queue of riders to clear here. Other than this wait though there were no significant hold ups for the rest of the lap.
The bumper to bumper riding did not really spread out much until Mr Squiggle about half way around the first lap, though not until near the end of the second lap was I able to really start having fun on the downhill bits. On my first transition I grabbed another bottle of sports drink, a potato, muesli bar and vegemite sandwich. I had managed to eat one muesli bar on my first lap. During the gentle climb approaching the fire tower on my second lap I realised vegemite sandwiches simply were not going to work, they fall apart too easily, and I don't really like vegemite sandwiches (though I love vegemite on toast). During the second lap I also had my first problem with digesting food, I found I was not easily able to swallow food and subsequently keep it down.
The digestive problems were something I now realise I need to train my body to handle. For the 4 or 5 months leading up to the race I should go out on 7 or 8 hour rides regularly and eat often during those rides so my digestive system gets used to working while exercising and does not shut down to the extent it did during the race. On my second and third laps I had to stop briefly to expel some food, I was still drinking enough though (one bottle of sports drink per lap and about 500 ml of water from the camel back). Anyway after my third lap (4 hours) I stopped for a bit longer to have an injection and some pasta. I rode my third, fourth and fifth (I think) laps with Richard Bontjer as he had decided to ride a bit slower by then.
Due to my digestion problems I began stopping for 10-30 minutes between most laps to eat a bit more and soak up the atmosphere (or ignore the pain and tiredness, whichever you choose) around 10pm Richard was really beginning to struggle with the battering being handed out by the rough course (he had after all done no mountain bike riding for the previous 14 months, and little exercise compared to his usual regime in that time). Richard climbed into the tent for a while and I headed out for more laps.
At around midnight Matt Barr accompanied me for a lap of the course, and this bought us to yet another surreal experience of riding solo. Matt dropped me riding up all the hills, then I would pass and drop him on all the down hill sections. This has never happened before with Matt and I (usually it would be kind of reversed as I climb reasonably fast). One theory is that, as a solo you don't want to waste any momentum or use energy on the brakes, so you simply don't brake unless you absolutely have to. I should admit I was still enjoying all the downhill bits on the course a lot, and still jumping off every launch I could find and riding over any obstacle on the track as I rode around the course. You do after all have to find something to entertain yourself when riding around the same course for 24 hours.
When I got back to transition from a lap at around 2am I sat down for a bit, Richard had headed out for what would be his final lap. I thought about riding another lap immediately, after sitting in the chair shivering for a while I had to either go for a lap or climb into the sleeping bag as it had gotten cold (though fortunately no where near the -5 temperatures overnight at the race last year). Anyway as I was not incredibly eager for a lap at that point, though I really wanted to do a dawn lap (where you head out in the dark and the light hits to the extent you can turn your lights off while doing the lap). So I climbed into my sleeping bag around 3am and told Prue to wake me up with a hot coffee at 4am so I could get ready and head out for a dawn lap.
When Prue woke me I really was not eager to get out of the sleeping bag, what eventually pushed me into getting up and on the bike was I noticed the sky had gotten just a bit lighter, if I did not hurry I would miss out on the experience of riding as dawn happened. As expected the dawn lap was good, roosting down single track without relying on just the light from my helmet and handlebars was a lot of fun, after the rest my legs even felt a bit fresher again. I finished the dawn lap and decided to head out again after a bit of food and insulin (muffins and donuts for breakfast).
Around 7:30am Prue would be driving Mikey (who had been supporting Richard) out to the gate, from where my mother had arranged a lift to the airport for him to get down to some family event in Victoria, and Prue would pick my mother up at the gate (her car would not handle the drive in and out well) so she could help Prue out for the last few hours of the event. This was all likely to happen while I was out on a lap, starting another lap at around 6:30am I expected to finish just before Prue and Mum returned. After the food and insulin I still felt pretty good so headed out for a rather enjoyable lap again.
Throughout the event I had been setting myself small goals to achieve as something to keep me going. Initially I set myself the goal of 8 laps as I had never ridden more than 7 laps in a 24 hour race before. My next goal was 10 laps as that is a nice round number. The lap starting around 6:30am would be lap number 10, so on achieving this goal my next effort was to pass 200 KM (11 laps). I got back from lap 10, sat down for a bit, changed knicks again, ate some food, said Hi to mum when she and Prue returned then decided to go get lap 11 done.
On this lap Josh Street passed me near the top of the long gradual fire road climb around 5 KM to go. Josh was leading solo mens at this point by about 40 minutes after over taking Dave Osmond around 3am. Davo held on to second, but even with the 40 minute lead Josh definitely was not resting on his laurels (as Richard Bontjer has pointed out in the past, anything could happen so you really can not stop, you need to keep pushing your body as much as you can when racing solo). Josh rode up behind me climbing at the sort of speed I would be riding at 10am Sunday in a team of 4 (with 3 hour breaks between laps and recovery etc) as he came up behind me he cheered me on and congratulated me on getting this far. Very friendly of him, I congratulated him on his performance so far (knowing he had not won yet).
I finished lap 11 a few minutes after 10am, at this point I had the choice of heading out for another lap before 10:30am and ensuring I would have 13 laps completed in the event, or sitting around until after 10:30 to get only 12 laps. I did not look at the results so far or anything, thought about how I felt and decided I didn't really have any more goals apart from finishing the event. I sat around until 10:40 and headed out for my last lap.
I did not have any insulin between 6:30am and finishing the race, I realised I should have had some before this final lap as I was not processing sugars properly and due to this unable to hydrate well, I found my sports drink hard to drink and was lacking power, all symptoms of sugar not getting in to my muscles. Anyway I got through the lap, riding down the final section of fire road toward the finish at around 35-40KMh passing everyone I could simply because I was finished.
The event now over, Prue and Mum had already packed up most of the stuff and Mum drove Prue home just after I finished. I sat around under shelter and chatted to other people while we waited for the presentations to finish. On the whole the event was a lot of fun. The course was rough, but personally I still loved it and simply treated it as another challenge (adversity training is an idea Andrew Rowe has pushed into our collective conscious, this was a form of that I guess). I suppose now (2.5 weeks after the event) I may simply be forgetting how bad the course was at times. Anyway I would ride solo again, and from this learning experience I even have a fair few ideas about what I need to do in preparation (the months leading up to the event) and during the event to allow me to perform a lot better.
Something I forgot to mention earlier, I had a broken front axle for the whole event. When I put my front wheel on getting the bike out of the car on Saturday morning the brakes were rubbing. I suspected the disc calliper had been moved or something in the car, it all looked right, and seemed to line up so I left it be thinking the brakes would self adjust in the first KM or so. By night time the discs would stick and hold slowing me down after every use of the front brake. Lifting the front of the bike off the ground and slamming it down while riding seemed to unstick the brakes most of the time. When I got sick of this at around midnight I took the bike over to the mechanics, they noticed a slight kink in the disc but said they could not do anything so did not look closer. Because I thought the problem was with the calliper alignment I did not think of trying the front wheel from my other bike. Anyway I rode the entire race with my front brakes slightly on, and often on pretty tight until I slammed the front wheel down to make the wheel move better. On Monday after the race when I took the bike in to Mals, Bill pulled the wheel out and went to tighten the front cones a bit and discovered the broken axle. It had obviously been broken before the race, however I had not had the braking problem as I had not taken the wheel out of the forks for a week or two before the race.
The other strange mechanical issue I had was the loss of one screw on the cleat of my right shoe, allowing the cleat to twist easily and not release from the pedal properly. It is amazing I was still attached to the bike with this happening, and I also did not realise the cause of the problem I was having with getting in and out of the pedals until Monday when I almost did a Horizontal Track stand trying to get off the bike at home. I had a few cleat screws sitting around in the shed so put one in no problem.
Thanks to Prue for unwavering support for the entire event. Rob Parnell and my mother (Sue Hanley) for rocking up and helping Prue out on Saturday and Sunday. Michael Carden, who though he was supporting Richard helped Prue and I out a lot. Thanks to all the people who cheered me on and said Hi Steve out on the track. Also thanks to Dave, Russ, Paul, Raynie, Brendan, Katrina and Terry (the other people on the 24 hour organising committee) I am sorry I did not do more for the event and to help you all out during the race, thanks for all the months of work you all put in.