Well, another Flight Centre Epic has been done and (very) dusted. Yes, about 2000 "nutters", to quote Robbie McEwen, rode around in the dust and heat out at Spicer's Old Hidden Vale this past weekend.
While there was a stellar line up of elite riders fighting for the win, for most it was a battle with just themselves. I must admit I have not been feeling much love for MTBing lately with too many competing interests like work and family getting in the way of any meaningful training. As a result I wasn't motivated enough to even bring a camera, so I apologise in advance if this post is a bit "wordy".
Having said that, I have done what I can, where I can. This has involved some running while on work overnights and longer rides when I found some time. I am not sure whether the running is a help or a liability though as it seems to pound my knees pretty hard. Better than nothing though when I don't have access to a bike....right?
Our weekend started on Saturday afternoon with the kids races. I had one entered in the 4km Mini Epic and one in the 11km Minor Epic. I figured that the youngest would be fine by himself doing the 4km race and I had probably better shadow "Miss 11" in the Minor as the track is pretty technical, even for some adults. Not helping her cause was the fact she had felt unwell all morning and suffered the indignity of hanging out of the back seat of the car, throwing up in the gutter in Rosewood at 11am!
But she was DETERMINED to race and race well. She even lined up in the blazing sun about 30 minutes before the race start just to get a good starting position! A big deal when you are a fair skinned ranga (red head for my US readers).
From the start she was going hard and I headed to the mid way point for the race as there was no way of getting through the traffic to catch these fast moving kids!
As the racers climbed out of "Gully" track she was the first female I saw. Unfortunately, her stomach was giving her a hard time and I tried to give some sage advice like "slow down, sip some water" and generally cheer her up. She had been going a bit too hard in the heat and seemed to recover a bit with this advice. But, did I mention she was DETERMINED? I have tried to ingrain in the kids that it is about having fun and enjoying the challenge but Lucy wanted to WIN, big time!!
She re-passed two girls on the big climb out of "Western Creek" and we had the eventual 2nd place finisher in sight for the remainder of the race (yes, we saw your dad running alongside you holding up his Camelbak for you to drink from) but were unable to up the pace enough to catch up.
Anyway, Lucy finished in 3rd place and considering how the day had started out, she was pretty happy with the outcome. Needless to say, I am proud of her efforts.
Mr 8, in the Mini Epic, managed to come in 7th position. He was a bit disappointed with his result but there were 40 kids in his race, so 7th is still very respectable.
As I was flying solo this weekend Sunday morning was blur of getting the kids up, dressed, fed and covered in sunscreen before getting myself ready to roll. This was both helped and hindered by the fact that we were camping at Hidden Vale.
Having done about five or six Epics now I wasn't worried about lining up for 30 or more minutes before the start. A few of us joined the "grid" just as the Elites were starting their race which meant we only need stand there for a few minutes before it was time to be off and to be honest, at my pace it doesn't make any difference!
The next major climb I stuck to the same strategy and granny geared it to the top before whooping down the steep rutted descent toward the little township of Mulgowie.
This section is open country road and the secret is to hop onto a pace line of riders to hide from the wind. If you find yourself all alone here you are going to hurt bad, which doesn't put you in a strong place for the 300m climb up McGarrigal Rd and back into the Hidden Vale property.
I will admit I wasn't strong enough to take a turn on the front but figure it is all swings and roundabouts. So, I hid behind a string of faster riders.
Grovelling up that climb I chatted with Neil, one of the Daisy Hill regulars. He had a massive blister on his rear tyre and wasn't at all confident he would finish before it blew. He decided to press on up the climb, leaving me to keep thinking positively....on my own.
The next section of double track is always the same each year. It is hot, bumpy and gets very steep as it follows the ridge line of the range of hills. Nasty stuff. My easy pacing strategy was to swallow my pride and walk the really steep sections, thus saving my legs from some hurty spasms later in the day.
File photo from 2012 but the hurt is the same.
Finally we were into the sweet single track that Haydz had cut for last years race to remove some seriously ugly downhill sections. As soon as we were though, a female called track left (where there was no hill !) and pushed past. I had just walked past her up the previous hill and was thinking "where do you think you are going?" as there was another conga line of slow, walking riders (oxymoron?). After a few minutes and a few "rider up!" calls we were through the traffic and descending at speed.
We began talking as we rode, me following as the pace was perfect for my race. I discovered that she was up from Canberra and was racing the course "blind". Here was another swing and roundabout where I could help out a bit with some course information as she was running low on water. The plus for me was twofold. Having an awesome female call "track" and "2 riders" had guys pulling over and letting us through pretty well immediately! The second benefit was having someone to chat with, which made the time fly and before I knew it we were back at Hidden Vale resort.
I didn't catch her name, being old and deaf, but reading James Downing's blog it turns out it was his partner, Kylie Webb. Yes, the Kylie who won the 50km elite female race. Thanks for the fun 15km Kylie !
Rolling through said resort my bottle hand-up team were nowhere to be seen. Not surprising really as their average age was 9.5 years and there was a free swimming pool at hand! So I trundled across to our camp and grabbed a can of Coke from the esky, topped up my water laced with more Nuun tablets and munched some salty macadamia nuts. I had planned to lube my chain but in spite of the choking dust it was still performing flawlessly! Ride Mechanic Bike Milk really is the schiz, keeping it well lubricated and shifting smoothly.
Into the final 37km of the race, one might think that they were well past half way. Not so, with the "back 9" of this race being all single track or rocky fire road. Both are demanding of attention and energy. There really is nowhere to hide.
Maybe that is why I grovelled some parts of the course like "Yowie". The various parts of my body were competing for attention in the pain stakes so I adapted Naughty Boy's LaLa lyrics to suit my situation.
I'm covering my ears like a kid
'Cause your pain means nothing, I go la la la
I'm turning up the volume when you speak
'Cause if my heart can't stop it, I find a way to block it, I go
La la, la la la la la na na na na na
It wasn't until I started chatting with a guy about our rubbish North Wave shoes and how uncomfortable they are while climbing "Grinder" for the second time that I felt like I was definitely going to finish this thing. For the proceeding 45 minutes I really just wanted to throw my bike into the scrub and sit down. Not a feeling I have had before in a race.......
At this last check point they were loading some poor bugger and his bike into a ute. He was cooked. I on the other hand was cooking down "Epic" trail for the third time today. Woo Hoo!
I had only had a twinge of cramp in my left thigh so far. It was time to empty the tank, backmarker-Fred-style! And an empty track went with my empty CamelBak and empty head, so it was almost as fun as following Kylie through on the previous lap!
I managed to roll across the line in *ahem*, 6 hours and 11 minutes.
Not stellar, but only about 15 minutes behind my best ever time, with no training. I was pleased that my first 50km time was sub 3 hour while keeping an easy, low heart rate pace. My nutrition intake remains way lower than it used to be with one banana, one gel, one protein bar, a handfull of salted macadamia nuts and about 5.5 litres of fluids consumed for the whole ride...er race.
Stats are as follows.
My motivation before the race was at an all time low. Now, a day later with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I am quite pleased with how much I achieved based on how little I put into preparation. Apart from catching up with friends, the real highlight of the weekend for me was watching the kids have the best time being outdoors riding, swimming and having fun.
A massive thank you to Hayden and Fleur Brooks and their massive team of volunteers for putting together another flawless even. We will be back again next year.....in spite of the heat and dust.....!
Cheers and thanks for reading.