The Australian Ultimate Championships (Nationals) were held last weekend in Ballarat, Victoria. Thanks to our performance at Eastern Regionals the Wombats were in attendance. In true Jase-fashion I spent the week before in trepidation with the following concerns buzzing around in my brain:
- Despite being a member of a masters team, this would be my first National Championships. I had previously played regionals tournaments and Div 2 Nationals for Tassie but had never been part of a team that was strong enough to qualify for Nationals. I knew this would be the best competition I had taken part in.
- My hamstring issue is still lingering. I had spent the last six weeks focused on rehab and recovery, as opposed to building and improving my fitness. Nationals is a four-day tournament and I wasn’t sure my fitness was up to scratch in terms of the length of the tournament or the level of competition.
- The game-schedule had flagged our team as playing in the showcase game on Friday night. We would we have a live crowd watching the game and also cameras on site to record and stream the game live for people at home.
If I’m honest, the pressure of the showcase game was the issue my brain decided to latch onto and worry about the most. I felt significant pressure knowing that we were going to the focus of so many people whilst playing! I recognised that this was going to be great experience for Worlds, but I was still stressing about it regularly.
After 8 games across the tournament The Wombats came out in 13th place. As a team this isn’t the result we wanted and we were disappointed. Initially we had a tough pool in which we finished third out of four. Some tough games in the crossovers and a close game against Sublime that didn’t go our way saw us dropping out of contention for placings more in line with our expectations. You can see the full results here.
So we have some work to do. There’s some thoughts and analysis going into where we need to improve and I’m sure we’ll see some results and actions at our upcoming Training Camp.
After a few days of reflection my personal thoughts around the tournament are as follows:
As a D-line receiver it can be tough to get on the field
We’ve got a fairly large D-line, which is necessary. However if you’re not getting breaks and winning points the D-line’s opportunity to get on the field can be minimal. As soon as we score all the D-line players are pumped to get on the field so there’s a bit of competition to get on the line. There’s a fine line between asserting yourself and being a good team mate.
In addition, if your D-line isn’t getting on the field regularly then it is likely that, when the opportunity comes, it is a crucial point in the game. The composition of the line can be quite selective in order to maintain momentum.
I had some mental low-points in the tournament
Most notably, in our game against Sublime, I made a couple of mistakes early on which contributed to scores for Sublime. Initially there was a deep cut that I should have covered and then a few points later I stuffed up the force during a transition which resulted in some easy flow and a score.
In isolation these aren’t huge issues but I want to perform better. I started feeling negative about my ability to assist the team and relegated myself to the sideline for the rest of the game. When it is already difficult to get onto the field (see previous point) its quite easy to let others take your spot if you’re not feeling positive.
In hindsight I recognise that a large part of the issue was the closeness of the match. I had a similar experience at SMO in a tight game. I’ll need to reflect on this further to decide how to handle it.
Despite these issues, I played well.
I believe I made a positive impact for the team in pretty much all the points I played. I was largely successful in fulfilling my role on defense (my player rarely got the disc). When we got a turn I was able to generate options or create space for others to do the same.
More specifically, I feel like I further settled into my role as a defensive receiver. I started to operate in line with the team’s expectations and achieved the desired results. I also eliminated some of the behaviors I’ve had feedback on throughout the campaign. I didn’t take risky options with the disc and can only remember one throwaway.
This is quite a satisfying result, particularly when the areas I needed to improve on were largely mental improvements which I’ve had little game-time opportunity to work through.
I also feel like I’ve made a notable improvement to my throwing over the last 6 weeks. Thanks to my throwing buddies Rob and Leo for facilitating multiple times per week in the dark!
I want more!
Whilst I am feeling more settled in my role I want more out of myself. I want to start excelling in the role and being a more dominant player. This is underpinned by a desire to get more field time if possible.
To that end I’m resolved to start working harder on my fitness. I got through the weekend without any issues from my hamstring. It’s a lingering niggle that is noticeable all the time, but it doesn’t seem to be preventing me from anything and isn’t getting any worse. As such I am keen to start building more fitness and speed rather than focusing on rehab. There’s going to be a lot of running in my future as we progress through the final phase of the campaign. I can’t wait to get back out there.
And in summary…
A weekend of mixed feelings. Positivity about my performance outweighed by some disappointment in the team’s result overall. We played some good ultimate, excellent at times. However we need to keep working and improving, both myself and the team, if we’re going to feel satisfied at Worlds.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to watch us in action there’s a couple of games online:
This past weekend The Wombats had their first training camp. I approached the weekend with a mix of apprehension and excitement.
As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been working on recovering from a hamstring issue. Progression has been steady, but slow. Prior to the training camp I had worked my way up to doing a bit of light straight-line running. No serious efforts, hard turns or jumping. Definitely no game time. Not ideal preparation for a weekend of ultimate.
Without knowing what was planned for the training camp my physio gave me the all-clear to participate as much as I thought I should based on how my hamstring felt along the way. Injury concerns aside I was excited to spend a weekend with the team, focusing on our improvement as a unit without the pressure of competition that comes along with playing tournaments.
After the usual flurry of flights, whatsapp messages, hire cars, google maps and Melbourne traffic we ended up at Carlos’ place on Friday night. We were treated to a very respectable BBQ consisting of delicious hamburgers, amazing chilly dogs and some tasty beverages. Thanks to Carlos for a great relaxing night to kick-off the weekend!
We started off with a mental training session which I found very interesting as an extension of some mental exercises I’ve done in the past. From there we moved into some dump/reset plays with associated practise.
After this we split into two teams. One team continued to do more drills whilst my team took to the field for a short game against Heads of State. I had felt reasonably good through the warm-up so decided to play a few points to see how my hamstring held up.
I had a great game! Mostly it was just good fun to be playing ultimate again after a long break. However my injury didn’t bother me very much and I was able to be competitive throughout the game. I was pleased to pull down a couple of hucks from deep cuts. I also worked well cutting under, threw a couple of assists and managed to limit my throaways to only one.
The rest of the day was spent on further plays, primarily our horizontal offence. We split into our offence and defence lines (I am on the D line) and played a few scenarios against each other. I was pleased to be able to play throughout the day. I took more subs than I would normally but was able to continuously work hard and contribute on the field. After being unsure whether I would be able to participate at all this was a big relief.
The only low point was a “rush of blood” moment where I attempted a difficult throw to a bad option. It was a terrible on-field decision and right in line with the feedback I have been trying to address throughout the campaign. I received an appropriate reality check from the coach who made it quite clear that my chances to iron this issue out are nearly gone.
The formalities were followed up with some beers in the sun at the fields, a shower and then a trip to Will’s for another amazing BBQ – steak sandwiches for all.
Thanks to the daylight savings shift we were able to get a nice long night’s sleep and also have time for a leisurely breakfast at Fifteen Pounds. I consumed some amazing porridge (candied walnuts!) and a couple of coffees. Great place for brekky!
Throughout the day we continued to work on various plays. Sunday saw us focusing on defence (pommy and clam) along with some end-zone play structures. We went through quite a lot of simulated points and finished up with a game between the O and the D line.
A training camp for a masters team is a challenging thing. There’s a lot of experience on the team and everyone has perspective on what has worked well (or not) on their various teams in the past. We also don’t have a lot of time to really drill our plays. As a result it was necessary to keep things simple and focus on principles rather than go into the finer details of every play. The flip-side is that, due to the experience across the team, the principles take hold quite quickly and start to form good plays. I commend the leadership team on their approach and efforts.
Personally I am very happy with the weekend. I was able to play through both days and came away with my injury feeling improved, rather than worse. I’m definitely not 100% but I know I am now ready to start ramping things up and can get back on track working towards worlds. I can’t wait to start working full gas on my fitness again.
In terms of my game, again I am happy after the weekend. I had three throaways across the weekend, one of which was pretty horrendous. That was a low-point and I’m not ignoring it, but it was somewhat outweighed by the consistency at which I was able to get into space, get the disc and continue the play. I’ve still got improvements to make but I feel like I am progressing, and with my injury concerns somewhat allayed I can keep working sooner than I expected.
Last weekend The Wombats attended Eastern Regionals in Canberra. After the tournament I was asked to write a wrap-up for the team’s Facebook page. As I was intending to write a blog post about the tournament anyhow I was happy to oblige.
However, I hope to add a bit of a personal element to the posts on my blog so in addition to the Facebook post here’s some more thoughts from me.
First up, here’s the post from Facebook:
This past weekend The Wombats rolled into Canberra to take part in Eastern Regionals. Being simple minded creatures we had one goal – qualify for Nationals.Saturday commenced with a leisurely breakfast, a logistical nightmare and some missing Wombats who later turned up wielding coffee (for themselves, not the team). After an informal presentation of our training uniforms we got underway with a warm-up under the watchful eye of our coaching team, Emerson Athletics.Our first game was the perfect start to the tournament with a comfortable win over Fyshwick University. This put us in a good head space to meet our primary obstacle to the quarter finals, I-Beam. We’d had a competitive match with I-Beam at SMO and were keen to improve. The team’s potential started to come through and we took another win, 15-8. The pool play closed out with another comfortable win over Gunslingers.After lunch (yes, three games before lunch) we lined up against Fyshwick United. A win in this this game and we were into Nationals. We knew we had a tough opponent between us and our goal. As expected, Fyshwick put up quite a fight. Clinical offense and some intense defense resulted in their taking of half at 8-5. During the game Canberra decided to get angry with a thunderstorm rumbling away on the horizon, clearly heading for the fields. As the wind and rain increased, the Wombat’s performance did likewise. Flashes of lightning prompted players to be called off the field. The Wombats scurried to a nearby burrow having achieved another break and leading 9-8.The Wombat’s burrow (change room) became a hive of activity as players tried to keep warm and active. Carlos provided some tunes which prompted some odd dancing by Greeny whilst all manner of foam rollers, lacrosse balls and tiger-tails were brought forth for stretchy recovery times. Once the weather had passed we emerged to go through a 20 minute warm up for 5 minutes of remaining game time. We got a break, the siren went, it was game to 11. Fyshwick scored, scored again and we were on universe. A huck from Mike Baker to Carlos with good backup from Alec Deslandes resulted in a win for the Wombats. Goal achieved!Saturday night was spent at the house of the Emerson Bros. We experienced a feast of meat and carrots. A view of their well-equipped training room/dungeon helped us feel a little guilty about how much food and liquid carbs were being consumed. Thanks for the BBQ boys!With our Nationals spot secured we relaxed into Sunday for some high-level intense games. First up we met Clench Butt for the second time this season and pushed them a little harder than our game at SMO. We ended up going down 15-13. Our second game was against Colony Pillage. This resulted in a win for us at 13-11 however by this stage we had some fairly tired Wombats and we lost our last game against Colony Plunder 15-9.Overall a great weekend for the Wombats. Qualifying for Nats was a satisfying result and the progression of the team as they build towards Worlds was encouraging. As we rushed off to get on the road, or get on a plane, we received the news that we had also won spirit which was the icing on a delicious cake.
As for myself, I spent the weekend on the sidelines. After SMO I had a bit of hamstring pain which I attributed to some collateral damage playing in a tournament. These things happen. However, it didn’t settle down so I eventually went to the physio to get assessed. It turns out I had irritated the joints in the lower part of my spine and was experiencing referred pain down the back of my leg. Whilst this is occurring the leg muscles are more susceptible to tearing whilst under load. As a result, no running for me.
Initially there was a chance that I would have time to recover before Regionals. My physio and I both worked hard to give me the best chance of playing but unfortunately the improvements weren’t enough to get me the all clear on the Friday when I was due to fly.
I spent my weekend helping the team with my voice (yelling from the sidelines) and also taking stats of the team’s performance using UltiAnalytics. Taking stats is quite challenging and requires considerable focus. However across 7 games we were able to collect a lot of data which will be used in future to develop the team.
So I have mixed feelings about the weekend. I was able to spend some quality time with my team, witnessing the continued development. The more time we spend together the more I appreciate the team dynamic, the leadership team and the experience as a whole.
On the other hand I am very disappointed to not have the opportunity to contribute to the team on the field. Our opportunities to play together, and develop as a team, are somewhat limited. Missing out on a tournament is not insignificant.
I also am extremely keen to continue improving myself. I still don’t feel that I’ve shown the team my full potential as a player. I know there are areas where I need to improve and I was looking forward to having an opportunity to demonstrate that I was moving in the right direction.
With that in mind, its time to do some stretching and strengthening…
Recently I wrote about my experience in becoming a Wombat, a member of the Australian Open Masters ultimate team for 2016. In early February the team came together for our first tournament, the 2016 Sydney Melbourne Open(SMO) in Sydney.
There was a lot riding on this tournament. I was excited to be playing alongside the group of guys that I met at the selection events, as a unit with shared goals. However I was also anxious about the unknowns associated with this tournament and my own performance.
In particular, I was aware that this tournament experience would be unlike any of my previous outings. Playing on a representative team carries some expectations along with some notable differences to the level of ultimate I was familiar with. In no particular order:
- There’s an expectation to perform. We’ve been through a selection process and chosen for our capabilities and it is up to each of us to honour that selection.
- Further to that, in the not too distant future we will be representing our country as a team. There’s an expectation (from previous Worlds campaigns) that we will be competitive.
- The team is large, compared to my previous teams, with around 22 players attending SMO. I didn’t know the specifics of how the lines would be managed or how competitive it would be to get on the field.
- For on-field work we have a leadership team that consists of a captain, two vice-captains and a coach. I wasn’t sure what their expectations were for this tournament, or how they would go about setting goals for the team and managing individual players.
- As per most tournaments I go to, I was worried about my ability to be competitive. I’ll admit that I suffer from performance anxiety and I find the days leading to any sporting event a challenge.
As it turns out, most of those concerns were readily allayed. The offence and defence lines were communicated a few days before the tournament along with a promise of further information about the team goals to come. I was on the offence line with 8 other players so getting field time was not an issue. Before the first game we came together as a team and the leadership team let us know that the main goal of the tournament was to find our feet as a team. Whilst we were expected to work hard, the focus was inwards on building our connections and on-field capabilities as offensive and defensive units. The results would be whatever they turned out to be (not too bad in the end!).
As for my personal abilities, I was able to make a positive impact fairly early in the first couple of games so stopped worrying too much about that before long. The support and encouragement from my teammates really helped here and I started to realise what a great bunch of guys we had pulled together. With those anxieties laid to rest I was able to settle into the tournament. I focused on embedding myself into the team, and also on my own contributions to ensure I was being as effective as possible throughout the games (both on and off the field).
From a team perspective, I feel that the weekend was a huge success. We played some exceptional ultimate, which was thrilling to be a part of. We played some tight games and were able to knuckle down and come out on top. We also played some easier games which allowed us to relax a bit and introduce a bit of flair. During all of this we all rallied around each other, developed some key connections and really started to gel. The end result was winning 6 of our 7 games. We lost our quarter final against the eventual tournament winners, Clench Butt (11-13) so we came fifth overall. We also won Spirit.
I had a bit of a roller-coaster ride in my personal performance on the field. I am pretty hard on myself so it is difficult to be sure, but I definitely had some low-points throughout the tournament. As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve not really played at this level before and I think it shows a little bit.
Imagine a scenario where you’re on an established ultimate team and you are playing with a new recruit. They are athletic, know where to run and are good at catching. They get a lot of disc but as soon as they have a hold of it they get a little stuck. They don’t know how to throw yet so may try to force some strange backhand around a forehand mark. More often than not half of your team will flood the area whenever they get the disc in an attempt to provide an easy dump. Does that sound familiar?
In some ways I feel a little bit like that new player. Throughout the selection camps, and now at SMO, I’ve thrown some throws I shouldn’t have. I’ve generated turnovers from taking silly options. I know I can throw, but I seem to be rushing and trying to generate options rather than waiting for options to eventuate. On a quality team it doesn’t take long for this sort of performance to be noticed. Whilst the team is very supportive it was pretty clear, both in conversations and via the state of play on the field, that I need to consider my role (receiver) along with the fact that there are more capable people on the field who should have the disc in their hands.
For clarity, I don’t mind that this is the case. It is important for me to fulfil my role and provide the opportunity for others to do the same. However I am finding the mental shift quite a challenge given I am generally one of the more capable players in the environments I am familiar with. I also know that I can throw better than I have demonstrated so I am determined to demonstrate that.
From a catching perspective, I performed well to begin with however it became apparent that I could be a bit more aggressive on the disc when completing my cuts. The level of the defence is higher than my experience so I need to make sure I am working to run through the disc every time. I started to put this into practise on the second day of the tournament and suffered a few annoying drops as I made the adjustment. An observant teammate pointed out that its important not to let the disc drop below your eye-line when running right through it so there’s some work for me to do there.
A particularly difficult point of the tournament for me was our quarter final. As per the score-line above, it was a close game and the pressure of the situation got to me. It was a weird situation as I didn’t really realise how invested I was until I made a couple of errors (much like those described above) and generated some crucial turnovers. After the points were over I received some encouragement from my teammates whilst walking to the sideline, but once I made it back to my bottles I struggled to keep things together. In hindsight I think it was a mix of emotions that primarily consisted of letting my teammates down and also being really disappointed in myself for making mistakes in exactly the fashion I had been trying to avoid.
I don’t want to end this post on a low point, and I think it is important (for me) to maintain perspective so I will mention that across the weekend as a whole I think I contributed strongly to the team. On the first morning I scored a respectable amount of goals. I was also able to generate movement and in-cuts when the play seemed to be stagnating at times. Despite being on the O-line I did play defence multiple times and feel that I was accountable in that role, along with generating a couple of turnovers myself through blocks or defensive pressure. All that said, I want to be more than all of that!
Overall I’m really happy. The team is fantastic and it is great to be a part of something of this magnitude. There’s certainly areas for me to improve but I am more than keen to do so. I’m really looking forward to Regionals in a couple of weeks’ time. Both in terms of another opportunity to spend the weekend playing ultimate with a great team and also as an opportunity to step up my own game.
Last weekend I attended the 2016 Sydney Melbourne Open(SMO) in Sydney. It was my first outing as a Wombat, a member of the Australian Open Masters ultimate team. We’re on a campaign trail that will culminate in attendance the World Ultimate and Guts Championships in London in June.
I had a great time at SMO with the team. It was an overwhelming experience at times and I intend to write about it soon. However it seems I should start at the beginning and so this post is about my experience in becoming a Wombat.
The first point to make is that I went into the selection process with absolutely no expectation that I would make the team. Being a masters team, I knew that there would be wealth of experience across the contenders. I also knew that my own experience was extremely limited in comparison. I have never played past a regionals level on an open team and have only been involved in largely uncompetitive Tasmanian mixed teams.
However I was currently involved in possibly the most dedicated mixed campaign in Tasmanian history so I knew I had some form and fitness. I also knew that I am still reasonably fast for a masters-level player.
Combine those things with some encouragement and belief from close friends and I got to a point where I registered my interest in attending the first selection camp, which would be in Sydney in late November. My friend Steve passed on some sage words from his mum:
Your regret the things you don’t do, not the things you do do
I figured I could go along and see how I fared. At a minimum it would be a great learning experience with no commitment to continue if I felt way out of my depth, or didn’t enjoy the experience.
Once the mixed season finished (culminating with a hugely successful and enjoyable campaign for my Tasmanian team kunanyi!) I resolved to keep up my training regime to ensure I was going into the first selection camp as fit as I could be. I had no idea what to expect. I’d never experienced anything like a selection camp. I was incredibly nervous in the week leading up to the camp. On the day I was flying out I remember having to take a moment out from work to go and sit in the car and talk to my partner, Maz, for a good 20 minutes about all the things my overactive anxious brain was mulling over. My stomach was in knots as we headed to the airport later in the day.
The selection camp turned out to be a real eye-opener. We were subject to fitness and throwing benchmarks and a whole variety of different game scenarios (3-on-3, man defence only, zone defence only, split into clubs with two teams playing best-of-3 games, full games). It was intense and I was fully exhausted by the end of it. The level of play was beyond anything I had experienced before. I think its fair to use the analogy of a medium sized-fish in a very small pond jumping into an ocean of big fish.
Despite that, there were two major revelations that occurred to me as I was flying home:
- Even at this level, I was competitive. I had the capability to contribute positively to the team.
- I really really wanted a spot on the team. The “treat this as a learning experience” idea was blown away. I was hungry to push myself, prove myself and do the best I could do to get onto the team if possible.
I left the camp feeling incredibly happy. I was grinning throughout the flight home. The fact that I could be a contender, with some notable strengths, was a bit of a shock. Albeit, a very nice one!
That said, the selectors had provided some very clear feedback about my performance. I was in a position whereby I was capable of being fast, getting into space and catching the disc however from that point I was a liability. There were two main elements to this:
- My throwing wasn’t up to scratch. It needed to level up, several levels, to be on par with the skill level exhibited across the rest of the team.
- My mindset was causing me to generate too many turns by taking bad or rushed options. I needed to remember that I wasn’t playing in Tasmania any more. I wasn’t one of the strongest players on the field and it wasn’t my responsibility to take ownership of the point and generate plays.
I resolved to work hard on both these elements prior to the second selection camp. This proved to be quite challenging.
I had been fortunate to have some dedicated training buddies throughout the year however they had all vacated for Christmas holidays. I was faced with improving my throwing alone. Upon some advice I converted an old bike work-stand into a throwing target by making a rectangular frame out of some PVC. I had two weeks leave over Christmas and took my target and 10 discs to an oval every day (except maybe Christmas). I stood 10 metres from the target and threw 100 backhands and 100 forehands at the target and counted the successful throws.
The results were not encouraging. Throwing through a static target was surprisingly challenging. The hardest part was the fluctuating results that I achieved day by day, and trying to remain mentally focused without getting frustrated when I knew I was producing a bad set. I would often return home feeling dejected and negative, even though I knew I was putting in hard-yards that would hopefully yield results. Thanks to Maz for trying to cheer me up after these sessions, and sometimes throwing with me so I didn’t have to face the dreaded target.
Despite the negativity I can confidently say that my throws improved remarkably from this target practise. It wasn’t until my training buddies returned that I was able to have a point of comparison (other than myself) and gain some context as to how I was performing.
Working on my mindset was even more challenging. The ultimate scene in Hobart is extremely quiet over Christmas and I knew that I needed game time to work on my execution and decision making. My only option for game time was a trip to Melbourne Hat in December so I registered for that tournament on my way home from the selection camp. A hat tournament is not necessarily an ideal environment to work on your game in a focused way, but I got some valuable game time out of it.
The second selection camp went well. I experienced my usual pre-ultimate nerves and anxiety but once things got started I settled into it. I felt significantly more pressure this camp. I knew that I wanted to succeed and go as far as I could through the selection process. I also knew that there were specific improvements that the selectors were looking for and I had put a lot of time and energy into trying to ensure those improvements had been made.
The selection camp followed a similar format to the first one. Again I was satisfied with my ability to be competitive and contribute positively to the teams I was on throughout the camp. The teams were different this time around so I got to play with some different people and it was encouraging to play alongside more amazing players who were also genuinely nice teammates! I became even more convinced that I wanted to be a Wombat.
From a performance perspective, I demonstrated some improvements in the areas I needed to. I wasn’t perfect, or even close to a level where I wanted to be. However I settled into my receiver role more solidly and was definitely less of a liability when I had the disc in my hands.
At the end of the camp it was explained that the team would be announced during the week that followed. However, as some of the contenders were also going for the Australian Mixed team it would be necessary to include some reserves on the Wombats team list in case those players were successful in their mixed team selections.
A few days later I received a call to let me know that I was to be one of the reserve players. At the time I took this news quite negatively. I didn’t feel like the team announcement that followed the next day really included me (or the other two reserves). By this stage I also had a good idea of what the Wombats campaign would look like in the lead up to London. The next six months of my life were hinging on this announcement. I told myself that I would be quite happy picking something else to dedicate six months to if I didn’t get on the team but in reality I knew that wasn’t true.
The mixed team announcement was made not too much later. By this stage I was getting quite anxious to know my fate. I tried to just get on with things but my mind kept turning to what-ifs and when-will-I know type questions. The pending news was at the forefront of my mind, even though I was taking a break from ultimate for a couple of weeks after having trained consistently from May through to January.
I was sitting on my couch watching TV when I received the email to say I’d been selected for the team. All the signs were there, but I hadn’t realised how pent up I was waiting for the announcement until the emotions spilled over a little when I read the email. It was great news!
Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to share the news very broadly until the final team list was officially announced by AFDA. For some reason this took a couple of weeks. I was in this odd place of knowing something awesome, and having people asking me about this awesome thing, but not being able to share the awesomeness. Once the AFDA announcement came through I was all too happy to share the news with people. The reactions (on Facebook in particular) where surprising and overwhelming!
So that’s the story of how I became a Wombat. It was one of the most challenging processes I have experienced. It was physically demanding but the mental element proved to be the real challenge. Putting my hat in the ring as a contender, dedicating myself to improving, the waiting game and performing whilst being analysed and compared to others were all difficult things to go through. Of course, it was also rewarding. I know a lot more about myself as an ultimate player now and can see clear paths for improvement. I’m also part of a great group of individuals who are extremely supportive, amazing ultimate players and all round excellent teammates. I am super excited for the rest of the campaign!
Stay tuned for a post about SMO in the near future.
At some point this week I expect to be out on a ride clocking over my 5000th kilometre for the year. Whilst this isn’t a significant number of kilometres for many cyclists it will mark the completion of a goal I set myself in December last year. It has certainly been a journey to get to this point and I wanted to write a little bit about it.
I set the 2014 5000km goal at the end of 2013. At the time I’d just passed 4500km ridden in that year. I had enjoyed the riding I’d done but decided that I could push myself to be a little better and do a little more. However there were some factors that went into the “stretch” target:
- In 2013 I spent quite a lot of time training for two four-day races. The Hellfire Cup in November and Wildside in January 2014. I didn’t have any race goals or aspirations post Wildisde and knew I wouldn’t train as hard, or sacrifice as much time, without a competition goal to work towards.
- I didn’t want my goal to dictate my rides. I love riding off-road, either on my cyclcross or mountain bike, and never wanted to be dissuaded from this terrain by thoughts of not maximising my kilometres per ride.
- There was a vague possibility that I might go on holiday for a significant period in 2014.
With all that in mind I set my sights on 10% more riding than I had done in 2013.
How to achieve a goal
Anything you read about large goals will tell you that you need to break your goal down into manageable tasks in order to make any progress. With 52 weeks in the year I decided to aim for 100km of riding a week. This allowed 2 week’s leeway to deal with sickness, stupid weather or other reasons why I may not be able to get on the bike.
With that decision made I plugged 100km into Strava’s Weekly Goal tool and resolved to leave it there for the rest of the year.
All went well for the first third of the year and I reached the end of April with 2306km already ridden. Having nearly reached half my goal in a third of the year I was feeling pretty confident and pleased with myself.
From that point things became a lot harder. To begin with my work circumstances changed and I suddenly found myself working at a ridiculous rate to try and get into my new role and keep on top of things. In addition my job entails semi-regular interstate travel which meant time away from my bikes.
At this point I did some fairly serious re-assessment. The pressure of work and the requirement to ride 100km a week was becoming too weighty. I was also starting to lament the lack of running and upper-body work in my fitness regime. I decided to put my cycling goal aside. I had to focus on getting some balance back into my life and however much riding I could fit in would simply have to do for the year.
Two weeks later I became too sick to move. I’m sure many of you have experienced gastro and know how much it can knock you around. It hit me pretty hard and I was laid up for a fortnight unable to shuffle up and down the stairs, let alone get out for a ride. Upon return I managed a week and a half of riding before being overcome with a cold which knocked me out for another 1.5 weeks.
By now I had reached the end of June. Our vague holiday plans were solidifying and I knew we were going to be gone for around a month sometime in October. Things weren’t looking that great.
On a positive note, it was half way through the year and I was sitting on 2700kms. I knew that the summer months would bring back long evenings and the chance to catch up on kilometres, more than 100km per week for sure. Work had settled down somewhat so I resolved to push hard up until our holiday and get myself ahead. I wanted to be at least a month ahead before we departed so I didn’t come home with a deficit.
The result was a big effort from July through to September. Arguably the worst time to be riding in Tasmania, I managed to exceed my 100km/week on all of the weeks except for one. In total I put on 1734.3km with 647.2km of those coming in September, my biggest month of the year.
So I left for my 4 week holiday with 4566.1km done. Just under 500km remaining and 6 weeks upon return to get them done. As it turned out, I managed to get some riding in whilst I was away and have ramped back up to my 100km/week target since I returned. With all of December to go, I’ve got 40km left to do.
So how does all of this make me feel? Undeniably there is a bit of pride and accomplishment associated with this whole process. It is difficult to ignore the millions of other cyclists who passed 5000kms back in the middle of the year (or earlier). They make think about how much I haven’t done. However, this was a personal challenge which wasn’t about anyone else. I have managed to push through and get it done. I’ve never really set resolutions, or long term goals before and I am pleased to have gone through the process.
In addition it has been great to have a reason to get out and about. I’ve experienced some amazing parts of Tasmania (and the world!) by bike this year. Many amazing sites, views, sunrises and sunsets. This is something I won’t be giving up, even without a goal next year.
That said, I don’t think I will be setting a target like this again for next year. Whilst I feel I have achieved something, it isn’t really something that means a lot in the world and I’ve had to make sacrifices in order to get there.
For example, I spent a lot of time alone this year, riding my bike. Of course I rode with other people a lot (which was great) but there have also been many solo kilometres traveled. I like riding alone, a lot. However I also like hanging out with friends, building relationships and spending time on things that might have a bit more meaning than ticking off kilometres. I still want to ride a lot in future, I still want to ride alone a lot in future. However I don’t want to prioritise riding over opportunities to spend time with family and friends in the name of a personal kilometre goal.
In addition I have also forgone some other pleasures in pursuit of my goal. I haven’t run as much this year as I would like, or been able to focus on my ultimate game. I’d really like to get into some more trail running in future and am looking forward to it! I’m also looking forward to spending more time getting our house in order and finishing off some things that have been put off for a while.
Importantly, I had some great help and support whilst working on this goal. I’ve spent many ks alongside my riding buddies on the road (Glenn and Anthony) and off the road (Elvin). I’ve also had the support of my partner Maz who lets me disappear for hours on the weekend, doesn’t mind too much if I am not necessarily around for lunch dates during the week and kindly stays at work late so I have time to sneak in a ride before dinner.
I should also thank Strava for helping me with achieving this goal. The whole product is amazing and is really supportive and enabling for people trying to work on fitness goals. I’ve lived by the weekly targets, poured over the training calendar & training log and been spurred along by the monthly challenges throughout the whole year. Thanks Strava.
Two weekends ago I took part in my second mountain bike stage race. My first stage race, the Hellfire Cup, provided me with some good experience and I wrote a post about some of the lessons that I learned. As mentioned in that article, the weather for Hellfire was absolutely terrible. Many of the stages were cancelled, re-routed or shortened. As a result, Wildside was really my first “true” experience of a full event, with 200km of riding over four days.
Wildside is a four day mountain bike stage race, held every 2 years on the West Coast of Tasmania. The event starts at Cradle Mountain and, through a large variety of terrain, makes it’s way down to the beach, eventually ending in the town of Strahan. To get a feel for the event check out this great write-up from Flow: Racing – The Pure Tasmania Wildside. SBS’s Cycling Central also covered the race and has daily highlight videos.
The format of the race consists of multiple race stages each day, with cruise stages in between. The race stages are all challenging in their own way, and the riding was tough. There was never really an easy trail and it took a lot of concentration to navigate the huge variety of tracks. The race organisation was amazing, food was ample and overall it was a pretty seamless experience (providing you had a good support crew, more on this later).
Given the challenge of the event, it is no surprise that I have a few more lessons learned so here we go:
Lesson One – EAT
Whilst racing multiple days in a row, eat twice as much as you normally would at any given meal. Then eat some more. That’s probably a slight exaggeration but I did underestimate how much I needed to eat to keep myself racing hard for several days in a row. Breakfast and Dinner weren’t really a problem but it only took until the second day, after lunch, for me to notice my energy deficit.
Day 2 commenced with a 4.2 km cruise stage, followed by a 13.6k competition stage. That doesn’t sound like much but we had aready completed 33.6km of cruising and 40.2km of racing the day before. By the time we finished the first day 2 comp stage we had done about 90km all up.
The stage finished on a nice sunny oval with a track around the outside, it made me feel like I was finishing Paris-Roubaix! We had a nice long 3 hour break for lunch, bike washing and any maintenance. Most importantly, if we could get through all that, we had a chance to rest. We decided to eat lunch straight away and then chill out. My riding buddy’s (Elvin) version of chilling out was to spend over an hour trying to get a new tubeless tyre to seal, then having the mechanics do it with a compressor in 2 seconds.
So we helped ourselves to the bountiful food and ate until we were stuffed. Three hours later, bikes sparkling, we cruised for about 1k then headed off a 26.2k comp stage. I started off quite well, using the 5k road climb to move up through my start group. I continued to pick off riders as we encountered the second climb but as I came towards the top I started to slow down and become sluggish. I lost all my flow and started finding the whole track a huge bother to navigate. It was a pot-holed, muddy 4WD track, but I could tell I was struggling as lines became obstacles.
After a little while one or two of the riders I had passed on the climb came past me. I know my strength is in the climbs but I wasn’t expecting to lose places on the descent necessarily. I did some self-assessment and realised that I had a hunger pang! In fact, I was starving! I was pretty surprised as I felt like I had been eating heaps in the lead up to the stage but I hadn’t catered for how much energy I was expending to sustain a race pace.
Due to the stage being reasonably long, with a longer cruise stage afterwards, I was carrying a Camelbak rather than a bidon. We knew we weren’t going to see our support vehicle until after the cruise stage so we’d both packed heaps of water and quite a bit of food. The problem was that my energy bars were zipped up in my backpack! I made a call, stopped, rummaged around in my bag and hurriedly stuffed and entire power bar into my mouth.
Unfortunately the stoppage was all that was needed for about 12 riders to catch me on the descent and pass me. It took another couple of kilometres before I started feeling good again. The track suddenly felt more flowy again and I picked up plenty of speed. I did manage to overtake one or two of the same people again, but ally my hard work on the ascent had been lost by having to stop.
So, lesson learned, eat more than you think you could possibly need.
Lesson Two – Carry Gels in your Jersey
This lesson is related to Lesson One. In particular, if you’re going to carry food with you whilst racing you should carry it where you can reach it without stopping. It should also be stuff you can consume on the go. My stoppage to rummage around in my backpack could have been avoided if I had kept some food in my jersey pockets instead of putting it all in my backpack.
I had never used gels before, and was hesitant to try them for the first time in a race. During the second Comp Stage on day it worked out that Elvin, and I completed the stage riding together. With about 7k to go I saw him rip open a gel and realised that I was actually hungry again (despite just coming from the lunch stop). We’d discussed my previous days issues and Elvin kindly handed his gel over to me to try his Vanilla Bean gel when I told him it was happening again. I drank it down. It was disgusting, but it worked a treat. Pro tip – don’t put the ENTIRE contents of the gel in your mouth at once. Two slurps work better for me!
After that I was convinced of the usage of gels due to their easy access and easy consumption. It probably seems stupidly obvious to many but I’d never really needed them before. I took a mint-chocolate on the last comp stage and it was much more enjoyable!
Lesson Three – Carry Two Tubes
Unbelievably, I got through the entire race without a mechanical issue. However I learned a valuable lesson from Elvin’s experience when he lost an hour’s time by having four flats on one stage whilst also suffering from a broken pump! Admittedly the Wildside terrain was pretty rough with lots of sharp rocks and uneven terrain. You may not consider it for other races, but the benefits of carrying two tubes far outweigh the disadvantages.
While you’re at it, make sure you also carry at least one tyre boot (empty gels or plastic money notes suffice but a tyre boot will stay in place more readily when you’re inflating your tube).
For me, I always carried one tube in my saddle-bag but started carrying a second in my jersey. They’re not that heavy and you (or someone else) might really appreciate that extra one at some point.
Lesson Four – Work with others when you can
There were a couple of times during the race when I was in a bunch of riders but, I let them go. Generally speaking this wasn’t a problem in most of the stages but the last stage involved a couple of opportunities where drafting was crucially important. The run down the beach was not so bad, with a tail wind pushing me along at around 38km/h. It was awesome fun! I started in a very fast group and stuck with them for a while but eventually dropped off the back. Due to the tailwind I didn’t really mind as I was able to comfortably maintain a high speed. I was eventually caught by another bunch and life did come a bit easier for me there.
The crucial error was losing touch with that bunch through the sandy pine forest. I was having some issues with the deep sand and eventually slipped out of the back. As soon as we exited the forest it was a long dirt road straight into the wind to get back to the finish line. I was slooooow, sitting at about 17-18km/h. Another bunch caught me and my speed immediately jumped back up to around 24km/h. I regret not sticking with the original bunch through the forest. I knew the exposed road with a headwind was coming up but didn’t quite appreciate how much I needed their help.
So that’s about it for lessons learned from this race. However, I did want to follow up on Lesson Three from my previous post. At the time of writing I wasn’t really sure how I was going to resolve the issue of mud-covered sunglasses. I did some research and ended up buying a Mucky Nutz Bender Fender.
It was cheap and amazingly effective. Some of the tracks we rode were ridiculously muddy (see image above!) and I didn’t have problems with my glasses through the entire race. I’d highly recommend one. It is so unobtrusive that I am going to leave it on my bike permanently.
So, Wildside was an amazing experience. West Coast Tasmania was stunning, the riding was hard, the riding was rewarding and overall we had a great time. People have asked if I would do it again, at the moment I am unsure. It is only held every 2 years and I have no idea what I will be doing in 2016! If I had to do it again next week, or next month, I would probably say no. Maybe in 2 years I will be keen again! I probably will. I ended up coming 56th overall, and 23rd in my category (Mens Veterans). I wouldn’t mind cracking the top 50.
However, I will say that one key element is having a good support person to look after you. Elvin’s wife, Jess, was generous enough to take care of us throughout the race. It is a tough gig with a lot of driving and annoying logistics to cater for. Jess did an amazing job and I’ve never been more surprised and thankful for a cold can of coke as I was at the end of day 3. Thanks Jess!