Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2012 Australian Marathon Championships - or, how not to prepare for a big race

This is one event where pretty much anything that could go wrong in the lead up to the weekend, actually went wrong. By the time I got to the Sunday of the race, I was finally muy tranquillo, but was so fried from the week's events that the race was my mental recovery, and that is not a good way to actually race! Also, by the time the weekend actually came around, the decision on whether to actually race or not was already made. The event was in my home town of Canberra on trails I know reasonably well. I might as well race it!
So what wasn't ideal?....
Monday:
I was just finishing off the day in the #dayjob and my brain decides to short circuit in an epileptic seizure. To make matters worse, I somehow sprung to attention, in my unconscious state and ricocheted off the desks and landed on my head on a nice concrete floor. Suboptimal....
The next thing I realise is that I am battling my brain thinking I am having a dream that I am in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital. I have a lump on the side of my head the size of a cricket ball, there is blood all over me, I have mad carpet burns on my temple and a split lip. All my style points are gone. Apparently I was also trying to fight the ambo officers to not take me, because I had an important race on. Priorities in place! One good thing was that I was only in the hospital for about 5 hours and was able to sleep in my own bed that night.

Tuesday:
I am a bit brain dead, so stayed at home. No riding today. Not ideal, but what can you do. Oh yeah, my dad went in for open heart surgery today also. Just something else to think about.
Wednesday:
Still not quite right, went and did my training though. It's a bit of a stretch to pedal the bike and requires a bit of thinking. Not ideal, but just happy to be out and about. Not feeling overly fluid on the bike.
Thursday and Friday:
At work we were doing a major database upgrade. Dev and Test environments had proven to go well and update as expected. When we rolled out production, did this go well? No, of course not. Session locks, blocked sessions, and unhappy clients was how those days went. FFS!!
Saturday:
Standard marathon opener on the road bike done, 40km done in just over an hour. Legs feeling ok, but in addition to feeling the pains in my body, I can see in my shadow that I am carrying my right hand shoulder a little funny (holding it really high). On Monday I had landed on it after using my head as a stopper.
Sunday:
Finally, race day, where I could stop thinking and just execute. I got to Stromlo fairly early to drop off some bottles for the neutral feed. I did a standard warm up for a marathon. Nothing strenuous, just enough to get everything open and 'awake'. I had decided to go for the 26er for today's race, banking on the flickability and extreme lightness that my 8kg Cannondale Flash would provide me on the 28% gradients and the 1000 switchbacks per lap. The first 40 minutes were done relatively mellow along the fireroads that nobody ever rides on. We then hit the left hander that took us to the downhill firetrail traverse. Everyone was busting it as fast as they could go down here. Yep, you guessed it. The singletrack was coming up. My plan due to the fuzzy logic in my brain, was to 'pace' this race. So, that meant that I was going to ride slowly, but surely, and basically ensure that I would finish. Pretty boring really, but given the week I had in the lead up, the central nervous system was already fried and I was not getting amped mentally for the pain. The other thing not going in my favour was the 28% gradients. Whilst I can climb them competently, I am not the fastest up these sorts of gradients due to my, ahem, extra muscle that I use for the flat trails!
So, anyway, I settled in to riding slowly, but surely, and made sure I got my feeding right, and just executed the standard things to make the finish line finally turn up. Sometimes, the race is awesome and you drill it. Other times you just feel drilled. Today I felt relatively drilled and finally felt a bit more fluid at around the 3 hour mark. Unfortunately, in any mountain bike race, there is nowhere to hide. For those that actually did this race, you will probably agree that this rates up there as one of the hardest courses ever raced on. That is the best thing about this race. After all, it is the national championships. It should be hard, and therefore the best rider should win.

I got around the first lap, where you actually climb Mount Stromlo 3 times, with Mark (Tupac) Tupalski, Ed McDonald, and Graeme Arnott in sight. 'In sight' means that you have them within a minute or so. And that minute is so freaking long and at times unattainable, and yet at other times you think you can bridge it in a single effort. I had no idea where I was in the actual race itself. Ed rode off on the 2nd lap and I never saw him again, I got past Mark about 5km into the 2nd lap, and Graeme made me work hard to finally overtake him at Bloodrock. I asked him if he was dead yet, and cursed the course setter (Andy Blair) for setting such a tough course. Secretly though, inside I was relishing the opportunity to test my pure mountain bike ability as well as the fitness levels on such a tough course. These things aren't meant to be easy!!
After finally rounding the end of Willow Link I saw Shaun Lewis heading up the fireroad of pain. We acknowledged each other, and I wondered how far behind him I was at this point. It was the first time that I had seen anyone in front of me for a while despite the course snaking back on itself quite a few times. I thought it was slightly ironic as last year at the same event up at Mt Joyce, I had looked across at one point and seen Shaun heading in the opposite direction at the same point in the race (ie with about 10km to go)


About 20 minutes later, I crossed the finish line, pretty wrecked. Andy Blair had taken the win from Trenton Day and Peter Hatton and I had rolled in for a pretty decent 12th place with about 4 hours and 21 minutes of racing/riding under my belt (with all things considered). To be honest, when I did the rider analysis prior to the race, I was thinking a top 25 would have been pretty decent.
Sometimes, it is hard to 'just go through the motions' but each race can be used as a learning experience, or a block of training to set you up for another race. Overall, my lungs felt good, but my legs felt pretty ordinary. And my mind was not connected to my legs. That's how it goes sometimes you know? I will always ensure that I do my best to never DNF a race. To date, I have only DNFed one race since 1989, when my handlebars broke. The ego may take a bit of a pounding when you don't ride awesome, or how you would like to perform. But, that is how it goes sometimes.....Sometimes you have to just take it how it goes and ensure that the lessons learnt are applied to the future.
Next up. Husky 100 Marathon. Round 4 of the Real Insurance XCM series.