Having attended the kids races the previous day, I already had my race kit, so that a leisurely arrival was on the cards. No getting up at stupid o'clock just to get to the start line today!
Speaking of the kids races, both kids had a ball with Lucy even picking up a 3rd place in her race. She was very chuffed to say the least! Willy did really well in the under 8 boys, but with a field of 36 starters it was always going to be hard. The best thing to come out of the race was to learn that they could do it by themselves. Even though I was supposed to be riding around with them, due to the traffic I couldn't actually catch them during the race! Well not without using little kids for traction ;) It turned out to be a great learning experience for them both.
Anyway. Arriving late...er....leisurely, I lobbed up to the start line just as the Elite men were starting and boy, did they haul arse off the line. I simply can't go that quick even when I don't have 87km staring me in the face! I watched as the other categories of the 87k started out but I couldn't see anyone I knew in the sea of helmets.
Keeping with my low key approach, I accidentally snapped a picture of my GPS. I obviously wasn't overly nervous as that is about my normal resting heart rate. A bit of a change to previous years when I have been keen to do well and my heart is buzzing on the line.
Shortly after this I bumped into Steve and had a chat for a while. We eventually lined up for our age group start and filtered across the line. With a transponder start it didn't matter if you got a good start or not. Your time started from when you actually crossed the line, taking out all of the argey-bargey that can take place at these massive races. Good move.
The start came around and I dawdled across the timing mats to the warbling sound of the transponder registering. Then it was a gentle climb up past the registration room and into out across the property. I took it pretty easy, taking photos and chatting to Steve.
In fact, pretty much everyone was taking it easy. Life at the back of the pack sure is cruisy!
About 5 km of double track led us to the first real climb, the aptly named Grinder trail. Steve mentioned not to hang around on his account and as I was being passed by a young lad and his dad, I decided to hang onto them. It was interesting to note that as we passed riders they were all puffing hard. By being conservative at the start I hadn't even raised a sweat yet. Hmmm..interesting.
Up and over the hill we were quickly into the Epic track and having a blast. That was until we came upon the conga line that was stuck behind a very slow rider. This always happens in these big events and it pays just to keep your cool and pass when you can.
We were soon past, then the trail pointed down for a few km of fast doubletrack that was fun. Dropping out onto the sealed road we began the haul to the little town of Mulgowie. Unfortunately there is a nasty big climb in between and by the time I had crested this one I definitely had a sweat up.
Once over this hill it is a quick ride and road riding tactics come into play. I smashed myself along here last year with a strong headwind and no one to hide behind. This year I used my head and leapfrogged from rider to rider, maximising the slipstream. Eventually a train of riders sped past, being led by a guy wearing a roady jersey, so I tacked on the back and we were suddenly ploughing along at about 40km/h with minimal expenditure from my legs. Gold!
Turning off the seal again and it was time to point the bike uphill for a while.
During this climb I caught up to Nick, who I rode NZ last year with. He was tackling his 10th Epic and has the pro jersey to prove it now. We chatted for a bit then I decided that I had better put some effort in as this was only a 50km race and the GPS was already showing 25km.
Somewhere along this climb I had to face reality and take to shanks pony. The grade was just too steep to make riding a worthwhile proposition and it is often better to use some different muscles for a minute or three.
This happened with more regularity as we rode/walked the knarly section that I hated last year. The downhills were particularly viscious. While following one guy down an ugly steep hill he got it all wrong, fishtailing violently until he lost it and was spat over the trailside with a thud. It was all I could do to miss his bike and I could only shout "are you OK?", but by this time I was well down the hill. Even if there was a pot of gold in the middle of the trail we could not have stopped, such was the grade, so I hope he was OK!
At the 36km mark I was partaking in a spot of walking again when my legs decided to go all spastic on me. They spasmed and jumped around and I was rooted to the spot in pain. After some judicious rubbing and some more photo taking to hide my predicament I found that they were ok if they remained bent, but spasmed like crazy if I tried to straighten them, as is required to walk. OK, so no more walking then. Gulp!
Almost immediately we were into some new singletrack that took the focus off my legs and put it on the fun, flowiness of the trail. Well done Haydz!! Linking onto this was the Epic track again and I found that if I just sat and spun the pedals, with no out of the saddle efforts I could still hammer along. I managed to not be passed by another rider for the entire race through here. In fact, I managed to get by about 100 riders through the Epic singletrack and across the paddock toward the finish. It is funny how single track will take your mind off the many aches and pains that develop as each rider pushes themselves deeper into the cave and I was pleasantly surprised not to have any recurrence of the cramps.
I got stuck behind someone on the Escalator climb, but quickly dispatched him as the trail opened out and actually passed about eight more riders on the "sprint" to the line.
Awesome!! Legend in my own lunchtime!! Even though I was caked in dust, hot and sweaty I felt pretty good. Sure, I was physically drained, but it wasn't that totally "shagged" feeling you get when you do the full Epic. I actually enjoyed the race rather than just survived it!
A massive thanks to Flight Centre for sponsoring the race these ten years. Hats off to Hayden for the awesome trails and the whole crew for a slick, super well run event. You have done well guys.
Now to start my recovery....
Edit: The results are up and it looks like I came in 18th out of 184 in my category! Got to be pretty happy with that.