Friday, December 14, 2007

Cotic Bontrager Race Team - 'down Aussie under' KP in (post) Flying Form...

The first event of my mountain bike race season has been and gone ever so quickly. In fact the past 5 days since touching down in Sydney Airport have been quite surreal. At one point I was starting to think I had been possessed by vampires. I was my living self once the sun disappeared, but upon day light I suddenly became zombified. Sunny days were not appreciated in the slightest. However as I recount the beginnings of my Aussie Adventure (part 2), I remind myself that the past 6 weeks in the UK have been long arduous sessions from as early as 4am on the turbo, or out braving the freezing cold until 4pm sun down....and now here I am basking in the Aussie sun shine and enjoying a post training recovery drink with a twist of lemon, whilst listening to the squawks of Gallahs and Kockatoos in the back yard...oh woops that’s Ian, he’s calling me. He can wait. Life among the gum trees is "fair dinkum", as my Dad would say.
Writing a race report can be quite a difficult thought process, especially when one has not enjoyed the experience or had high expectations that are not nearly met. In this case my first race of the season was simply not expected to happen for me. I felt no pressure for a result and just wanted to ride and dust the cobwebs off. Looking back at the event brings back warm, fuzzy feelings of suffering and tummy turmoil that not only reminded me of the mistakes I made, but also about how addictive mountain bike racing really is. I thoroughly enjoyed my first race of the season, but I don’t actually know it really hurt. It’s always the same though, no matter where I cross the line, no matter how much suffering I endure. Every time I cross that darn finish line, I can’t wait to get back out on the race bike and go through the whole painful process once more. It’s even better when you have had such a terrible race and know that your next one can’t get much worse....well so you hope.
When I told my coach Matt Hart that I fancied a race or two in December he gave me one of those looks like, ‘you what?’ . I then realised that the race I wanted to enter was less than 48 hrs after we arrived in Australia as the dates had been changed. I told Matt a week ago. Matt laughed. Matt laughed a lot, but he understood why I still wanted to race. Matt said one of two things would happen: (1) you will truly suffer or (2) 24hrs on a plane might bring about a taper and some form will shine through....but as Ian and Matt were still giggling to themselves as my ear lobes were being pricked (I was enduring a fitness test at the time you see), I could tell they knew exactly what I was letting myself in for.
24 hrs on a plane with no sleep, back ache and little comfort room as Ian and another passenger kept trying to sleep on each shoulder, was the first part of my preparation for race one. Did I mention the roller coaster turbulent ride that reduced me to tears, screaming babies and the passenger in front vomiting for the entire 7 hrs of the first leg from Birmingham to Dubai. Such a pleasant flight. When the air hostess smiled sweetly and said ‘We hope you enjoyed your flight’, I simply growled.
Ian and I walked through Customs at Sydney Airport, feeling an enormous amount of relief that we had finally arrived. With heavy legs and ankles that were four times their usual size, with Ian referring to them as Elephant legs, new fears of thrombosis started circulating my mind. As Ian searched for our bike bags I sat on my back, legs extended in the air, hoping my ankles would return to ankle shape soon.
Stage 2 of race preparation began with an hour’s drive to my parent’s place, before borrowing their car and heading to Thredbo, 7hrs away. A road trip for the Potters is not a road trip without at least three wrong turns, who said you need directions and a road map? All I can say thank god for TORQ gels with guarana, that kept Ian on the left hand side of the road for most of the journey at least, except when he swerved to miss a kangaroo.
Ian and I arrived in Thredbo, shadows of our former selves, as we hadn’t slept or eaten properly for 48hrs. Once we had checked into our accommodation, it was time to build my beloved Soda. However, I soon said enough is enough when Ian suddenly walked into a foot rest and collapsed on the ground. He just lay there. I was so fatigued that if Ian had really needed resuscitating then he would have been in trouble. I simply turned around when I heard Ian’s pained giggle and collapsed into bed myself.
The next day I had my first play on the Soda since the last race back in September. I knew the course well from last season, but there were a couple of new sections to check out. As I pedalled gently towards the start area I noticed my heart rate was about 50 beats too high, and I could feel the change in altitude affecting my breathing. Then the yawns started and I kept drifting off into space, until I found myself flying over the handle bars. My foot had unclipped, but without realising it I kept on pedalling and down I landed head over heels in the grass. Luckily this fall woke me up and I completed the rest of the loop unscathed. Ian sent me back to bed, but my brain was in overdrive as I couldn’t wait to start the race the following morning.
Saturday morning was race day, and instead of waking up at a decent hour I was alert and ready to roll at 4am. Jet lag is most frustrating as I felt really tired, but I couldn’t sleep. I just lay there trying to convince my brain that it really is still sleep time.
I started warming up at 8:30am and tried to find some life in my legs, but they weren’t having it. The brain wasn’t feeling too alert either and every short sprint took too long to recover from. The race started at 9:30am and the temperature was warming up nicely. I was gridded 24 out of around 27 elite ladies. It was going to be a difficult start as there was only a short straight before the first piece of single track.
The gun sounded and the girls took off, all but me. I went backwards and found myself one of the last riders heading into the single track. Then a pile up of ten girls in front followed, and an even greater distance between the back riders and the leading group ensured. I chased hard, and started to make up a few places, but found myself stuck behind riders again as the next single track climb was quite technical, and there were virtually no passing points. Every pedal stroke was an effort, a massive effort, and to make matters worse my breakfast was trying to say hello, and stitch meant I had to slow down so I could actually breathe. I have a long list of inner and outer pains that were felt from every corner of my body. To tell you the truth I think my body was just going into complete shock as it has been a few months since my last hard session on the bike. My legs didn’t want to be pushed, but my brain was screaming at them to get a move on. I was about 19th half way round the first lap and I could only just make out a few girls in the distance who were storming further ahead. I wasn’t panicking, but I was feeling sick and wanted the tummy pain to disappear. I couldn’t drink anything on that first lap, but I wasn’t going to quit, we hadn’t come half way around the world to only ride one lap.
By the half way point I had started to make up places, but I was feeling slower and slower. The pain in my stomach had subsided, but everything about the bike and I felt slothful. I know too well what my race bike usually feels like, and it just wasn’t there on the day. Even on the tarmac climb I could hear the tyres sticking to the ground and I could feel my legs flopping about like jelly. However I was enjoying riding the technical single track, and there was a super piece of trail along the river that had a few little rocky drop offs and fast corners. I almost scared myself a couple of times as the rear tyre lost traction on the loose ground, but being as tired as I was my reactions didn’t do anything, which meant I didn’t stiffen up, and the bike and I stayed upright and together in one piece.
As I crossed the line, happy and relieved that I made it through all four laps, Ian informed me that I finished in 7th place. I was pleasantly surprised that I had made up more places than expected. Ian was pleased for me too, even though he said I was riding like an I stamped on his foot. Then he checked the bike over. I felt quite satisfied with my effort today. Until I heard a hissing noise beside me. I thought it was a snake. A second later I was wishing it had been a snake. Instead of that adoring look from Ian that always greets me at the end of any race, I saw Ian shaking his head in disbelief. He asked me if I felt slow today? I thought he was teasing, until he showed me a rip in my rear tyre. I hadn’t noticed. I had less than 15psi in the tyre......aghhhhhhhhhh.
Sorry I had to have a moment. I was so tired that I wasn’t really thinking about how the bike was feeling at the time. Well I won’t know now whether I could have made up some more time or not, but I had the most amazing work out. That was my first seriously hard effort in two months and from that one effort the legs have started to feel a little bit stronger again. I’m feeling very excited about my 2008 race season, and can’t wait for the next race, when that will be I don’t know, but will keep you well informed.
A huge well done to all my Aussie competitors. Would you believe we women outnumbered all the male categories on the weekend, which is pretty special if I do say so myself. Well done to Dellys Starr for taking the top spot.
As in 2007, I once again have the fantastic support of the Cotic Bontrager Race Team, which includes a wonderful group of co-sponsors as well who have made it possible for me to race again in 2008. A very special thankyou to TORQ Australia (Gen and Dean) for your race support out here in Oz, and also to a wonderful bunch of Aussies who have made Ian and I feel most welcome at our first race here in Australia. Special thanks to both families for your airport taxi service, plus my beloved Ian who goes above and beyond his role as husband, mechanic, skills coach, pit b’tch, taxi driver and motivational speaker… Ian would say "Pain is an emotion and emotion is to be enjoyed"

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