Returning to racing
Recovering from injury has taken longer than I’d hoped (you can read more about what happened in my last blog), but I finally got rid of my walking stick about five weeks ago and got the all-clear to start some strength work on my weak left arm and shoulder, so it’s time to push things along.
My ‘comeback’ goal is going to be the Flight Centre Epic (XCM National Series round 6) in early September. I’ve had a few struggles getting back up to speed on the mountain bike: my skills have suffered a lot with loss of upper body strength and pain in my shoulder – but especially from a big drop in confidence. That said, I’ve been getting better every week and when I saw the Giant 3plus3 race approaching on the calendar I thought it might be a good place to start the build back to racing.
The Hidden Vale Giant 3plus3
The 3plus3 is held on some of the same trails as the Flight Centre Epic at Hidden Vale Adventure Park, about an hour’s drive west of Brisbane (an hour and a quarter if you stop for a coffee and a doughnut, which I always do). The 3plus3 format involves two races, each three hours of laps, over a weekend, with the option to camp overnight at the event centre or head home if you live close enough. Hidden Vale Adventure Park boasts about 100 kilometres of mountain bike trail, so the event runs two completely separate courses of about 9 kilometres each (about 30 minutes for me). In an interesting idea, riders can enter as either ‘competers’ or ‘completers’. On the first day, the competitive riders did one course, while more relaxed participants did the other, swapping for the second day. I think this was a great idea and helped minimise the passing/being passed stress for everyone on trails of about 95% singletrack.
Some tech choices
Rough trails ask you to make some choices about bike setup. Having ridden at Hidden Vale a few times in the last couple of weeks I’d put a lot of thought into how I set up my Norco Revolver FS. Nothing beats a 29er duallie on the rough and rutted trails out there, but there’s always more you can do to make a ride more comfortable and (in the long haul) faster. I’d decided to run a set of training wheels for the 3+3 for the sole reason that the rims measure 30mm and I’ve found that, out on these really rough and rutted surfaces, nothing beats having more rubber on the ground (even with a 600g weight penalty). At the same time, we’ve been doing some tyre testing here at MarathonMTB.com, and I’ve been really impressed with Maxxis’s new Forekaster (2.20″) tyre on loose and loose over hardpack terrain, so I ran one on my front wheel with an Ardent Race (2.20) on the back. It’s not the fastest rolling tyre combination, sure, but I was more concerned about comfort and confidence this weekend, and judging by the condition most people’s hands and bodies were in at the end of the race (and the fact that I stayed upright both days), I think the choices paid off. As an aside I also rode the lowest possible pressure in both my Fox suspension fork and rear shock.
I’d also been doing some thinking about gearing and chose to run 1×11 with a 32-tooth chainring with an 11–42 cassette using my new XTR Di2 setup. Hidden Vale is pretty hilly but the gradients are usually quite gentle, so this was really easy to stay on top of the whole weekend. And at Hidden Vale the Di2 really came into its own. Di2 is great for general trail riding, but when you’re racing, it’s rough, and you’re tired, it is just amazing. I did nearly seven hours on the roughest trails around without a single miss-shift, dropped chain, or so much as a sore thumb. I now ‘get’ what a huge advantage electronic shifting can be and can’t wait to use it in events like the Crocodile Trophy and the Epic in a couple of months.
The racing at Hidden Vale
I was a bit nervous lining up, but the atmosphere at the event was super relaxed. I think apart from twenty or so of the fastest ‘competers’ everyone else was just there to have fun, and once it was go-time everything settled into place. I’d agreed with my coach to stick to a pretty conservative heart rate channel for the three hours (I always go out too hard then limp home), so after about 20 minutes I tried to settle down and not worry about getting passed so that my heart rate would drop below (whoops!) 185bpm. I had a huge battle slowing down because I was really enjoying the trails and there were a tonne of young women who were riding brilliantly (and who I wanted to keep up with!). I ended up dropping back, though, and was glad I did because I managed to speed up my lap times at the end of the day and win the overall women’s category.
Mike and I headed home with big smiles and came back the next morning, ready to do it all again, just a bit sorer. Sunday’s trails looked easier on paper, but were actually harder: Rougher, more up and down, and with less rhythm. Like the day before, I struggled a lot on the bumpier descents and more technical sections, but was happy to ride an even pace all day and finish in the lead again. Again I was also so impressed to see the number of young women with incredible speed and skills out tearing up the course, and happy for Mike, who came third!
It was great to kick back after the event and catch up with some other racers – it’s what I love most about our sport. It was especially nice to chat with Owen, the man (and the brains) behind Ride Mechanic, who supply us with incredible workshop products and chamois cream. It’s great to have sponsors who want to get involved in the local racing scene and turn up to so many events to cheer us on. (Let alone the fact that I haven’t had a single saddle sore since I started using Ride Mechanic chamois cream about two years ago.) (Except once when I ran out.) (True story.)
A few takeaways from the weekend:
- If you can’t lift the front wheel, you can get away with quite a lot by just running into stuff!
- There’s a limit to the number of dried bananas you should eat in a day and it’s around five.
- Nothing beats winter in South-East Queensland. We had perfect, sunny, 22 degrees both days.
- No matter how hard I try I will always have to do one more lap. Both days I went through transition 5 minutes before cutoff.
So what’s next? Well ‘Cross is coming to Brisbane, so I’m going to experiment with some barrier-hopping this coming weekend, then there’s just going to be rehab, rehab, rehab. I might have some race goals, but my biggest aim is to get my left arm back to full range of movement and strength in the next couple of months. Beyond that there’s the Epic back at Hidden Vale, then that monster of a race: The Crocodile Trophy in September.
I want to thank my husband Mike and coach Shaun Doyle for helping me get back to racing. It’s a good feeling!