Posts filed under ‘Mountain Biking’

The road to 5000….

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.

Why 5000km?

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.

Racing Wildside on Tassie's West Coast

Racing Wildside on Tassie’s West Coast

Racing Wildside on Tassie's West Coast

Racing Wildside on Tassie’s West Coast

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.

The progression

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.

Racing the Mount Wellington Time Trial

Racing the Mount Wellington Time Trial

Cycling Sunday Century Ride

Cycling Sunday Century Ride with Ant and Glenn

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.

Riding to the Springs is always rewarding.

Riding to the Springs is always rewarding.

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.

Riding in the snow was great fun!

Riding in the snow was great fun!

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.

Riding in San Francisco

Riding in San Francisco

Hitting trails as soon as I got back home from the US.

Hitting trails as soon as I got back home from the US.

The emotions

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.

Sunrise Commute

Sunrise Commute

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.

Some thanks..

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.

Exploring trails with Elvin is always fun.

Exploring trails with Elvin is always fun.

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.

December 1, 2014 at 6:03 pm 3 comments

Wildside!

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.

The Event

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).

Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain – the race started not far from here.

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.

A typical Wildside cruise stage view

A typical Wildside cruise stage view

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.

My bike after my hunger-flat stage... muddy!

My bike after my hunger-flat stage… muddy!

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!

The cruise stage into Trial Harbour was particularly amazing.

The cruise stage into Trial Harbour was particularly amazing.

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.

Bender Fender

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.

Wrap Up

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!

Strahan provided an amazing sunset on the last day of the race.

Strahan provided an amazing sunset on the last day of the race.

February 6, 2014 at 9:11 pm 3 comments

Three Lessons Learned from my first mountain bike stage race…

Last weekend I competed in the inaugural Hellfire Cup, a four day, multi-stage mountain bike race held in Southern Tasmania. I am fairly new to the racing scene, with only one 6-hour (pairs) as my previous experience. Hellfire was also a pairs race, and we did quite well coming in at 27th overall out of 123 teams. However, along the way I made some mistakes which cost us crucial minutes. This post is a reminder to myself about the lessons I learned from Hellfire to ensure that I don’t make the same mistakes again in future races. Others may find this useful as well.

Lesson One – Rest Properly

I spent a lot of time training in the lead up to the event. I got up early to ride in crap weather, entered Strava challenges to keep me focused, clocked up a heap of ks and essentially spent as much time on the bike as I could. Despite all that, a lingering question of “Am I ready?” remained in my head.

To answer that question I decided to give myself a test. I wanted to prove to myself, mentally, that I was in the right shape to be as competitive as I could be. Most cyclists have certain rides or climbs that they use as their benchmark. I’ve read about Pros who test themselves on certain Cols in Europe prior to a big race to see if they’re ready. I decided to do the same by having a solid crack at the full 10k climb of the North-South track, a popular mountain bike track on the side of Mt Wellington in Hobart. The total ascent is 539m, resulting in an average grade of 5.3%. Click here to see the Strava segment.

This is a climb that I’ve done many times before, but mostly with other people which means frequent pauses for a variety of reasons. I had only ridden the full thing at effort once before, and had set a good time of 50:35. The good news is that I put in a solid effort and beat my record by setting a time of 49:20 for the entire climb.

The bad news is that I overexerted myself too closely to the race. One of the things that I have noticed about regular training is that, after a while, you don’t necessarily see massive improvements in speed but your ability to recover between days improves significantly. I thought this would be enough to pull me through and be ready to go for the race, four days later.

As it turns out, I am pretty sure I was wrong. I worked really hard for that PB and I could feel that effort in my legs during the race. I was still reasonably fast overall but it was hard. Harder than it should have been. In the climbs my legs didn’t feel snappy at all and I was straining hard to maintain a speed I was happy with. Given it was a pairs race I could judge myself off my partner and I was certainly having a harder time keeping up with him than usual. I realise racing is supposed to be hard, but I also know myself well enough to recognise when I am struggling.

Overall my legs weren’t ready for the race. In order to try and appease my mental doubts I had gone too hard with insufficient time left to recover.

Lesson Two – Fix all mechanical issues, even trivial ones, prior to racing

My bike runs a 2X10 drivetrain. I spend 90% of my time on the small chain ring and only really use the big chain ring for riding on the road or long fire-road descents. Occasionally I use it on rougher terrain or downhill single-track to ensure I keep enough tension in the chain to stop it bouncing around.

For a long time now my front derailleur has been out of line. The limiter is set too high and most of the time when I change from the small chainring to the large one the chain drops off the outside and over the cranks. When this occurs it is easy enough to flip back to the small chainring and pedal half a stroke and the chain will pop back on. I can then attempt the shift to the large chainring again with a bit more care and attention.

The above scenario is fine for all the riding I normally do. It causes me to have to pause, look down and think for a bit but on most training rides that isn’t an issue. All of these things definitely are an issue when you’re racing.

On the second day of the race we were climbing firetrails straight off the start line. It was a relay stage and there were some riders in my sights up the road. I ground my way up the climb getting closer, and overtaking a couple of riders at the crest. As I started to descend the other side I had opponents right behind me and a real incentive to make the most of the descent at speed. I changed up to my big chainring and pedalled hard. The chain popped off the outside and immediately got messed up in my cranks, stuck.

I had to pull over to sort it out. The guys I had passed went by with a friendly “You alright mate?”, closely followed by a couple more racers! I quickly shoved the chain back onto the chain ring and kept going, working overly hard to get back up to speed and fuming at the places I had lost.

I started making ground and then we hit another climb. I changed back to my small chainring and tried to change up my cassette as the climb ramped up, only to find that my rear derailleur wouldn’t move despite the chain being engaged at about the middle of the cassette! In my rush to put the chain back on I had somehow put the chain in the middle of the cassette even though the derailleur was in a position that should have had it near the top. I had to stop again, more people passed me, and I once again burnt a whole lot of energy getting back up to speed.

I think I eventually ended up catching most of the people who overtook me but the damage was done. Instead of passing them all early on and forging ahead onto more adventures I spent the first half of the stage playing catchup and setting a disappointing lap time overall.

Furthermore I found out today that the original chain wrenching and replacement actually resulted in my chain being twisted for the following 2 days of the event! I knew there was something going wrong with my drivetrain but put it down to the ridiculously muddy conditions wreaking havoc with everything.

So, my laziness in getting a known problem fixed caused me to lose significant time on one stage of the race, whilst also causing problems on subsequent stages.

Lesson 3 – Don’t stuff around

This lesson is a bit harder to define, but is related to Lesson 2 in the realisation that having to stop during a race is actually really detrimental. In Lesson 2 it was a mechanical issue, in Lesson 3 it was a stupid mistake I made by dropping my glasses.

To explain, the entire event was ridiculously muddy and wet. The conditions were atrocious, causing some stages to be cancelled and others to be rerouted. The rides that we did complete were absolute mudfests which often felt like we were riding in rivers and streams rather than down trails. Here’s a pic of my bike post stage 2:

Dirty Epic

As a result, gear choice was tough, particularly glasses. If you wore your glasses they’d be great until the first descent, at which point they’d end up covered in mud and severely decreased visibility. A quick clean with your gloves was sufficient for 2 or 3 times, until your gloves became so wet and muddy that it was useless.

The alternative was to not bother wearing glasses which resulted in each descent being a stinging painful compromise of trying to shut your eyes to keep the mud out whilst also trying to see where you’re going at 50km/h. At times I felt safer with one hand on the bars, using my other one to shield my eyes whilst peering through my fingers.

Generally my approach was to start with my glasses on and remove them after they ceased to be useful. On the third stage of the race, riding with my partner, this point happened to be after we passed a group of about 6 other riders. I took my glasses off whilst slogging up a hill and tried to get them into my rear jersey pocket. I fumbled and dropped them. I had to stop, walk back a couple of metres, get off my bike completely and reach down to pick them up. By this point my partner was off in the distance (despite slowing down for me) and we’d been overtaken by quite a few teams. I’m fairly sure we didn’t catch everyone who passed us that day.

I’m still not entirely sure what I could have done better, aside from recognising that we cannot afford to stop. I should have identified earlier that the mud was being an issue and tried to alleviate somehow. Many people fashioned mini mudguards from inner tubs attached to their forks, but I didn’t do this until after day 3. I think this would have helped a lot if I had done it earlier. I also need to identify a safe easy way to stow my glasses. For some reason they don’t sit in my helmet without sliding out, even when shoved in upside down.

So there’s my three lessons-learned. I’ve got another stage-race coming up in January so I will come back to this post then. Leave a note in the comments if you have any of your own lessons 🙂

November 28, 2013 at 5:50 pm 6 comments


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