This morning we raced an individual mountain bike time trial over 22 kilometres, through sandy, washed-out four-wheel-drive track and singletrack. The course was a little less curvy and a little flatter than I’d hoped, but I managed to put myself through enough pain to win by a few seconds, which made me very, very happy. Jo Bennett came in second, and Jess Douglas in third.
The men’s race turned up some familiar faces, won by Ryan Standish, with Ben Mather in second, and James Downing in third. Tonight we’re racing again on the same track, but this time it will be dark, and we’ll have a mass (read: chaotic) start… Time trials are probably the least interesting kinds of races to write about. It goes like this: you put your head down and suffer as much as you can. I have a rule that every time I feel the need to look over my shoulder, I attack myself. So that’s pretty much what I did today. I had a little crash when I rode into a ditch, I sweated, I suffered, I drooled on my top tube – that’s about it.
So I thought I’d take this little opportunity to write about the other part of the race, the little individual time trial that goes on behind the scenes in the Elite racers’ hotel rooms. We’d love to get out there day tripping – seeing the desert, visiting landmarks – but really we’re stuck in our rooms a lot of the time, busy with the important task of ‘recovery’.
Recovery doesn’t necessarily mean lying down, either. It means stuffing yourself with food that, by day three, makes you feel really ill. It’s immersing yourself in freezing water. Then there’s the bike and race prep…
Let me talk you through my race to recover before we’re at it again this evening.
Today, after the TT, I got off the bike, found some water to drink, and in spite of post-race nausea stuffed some recovery bar into my mouth. I span my legs out on the ride home, rushed to my room, drank about a litre of milo, then went to the pool. There I turned myself over in front of a spa jet in the coldest pool for 30 minutes like a lamb on a spit. I got out, filled two shopping bags with ice from the ice machine on my way back to my room. I paused to tweet (important business!), ran a cold bath, poured the ice in, then alternated between icy bath and hot shower three times. This should wash some of the lactic acid out of my legs (in theory). Then I had a proper shower, squeezed into compression gear, and checked over and cleaned my bike. I installed my lights, and while I sit here now I’m trying to spread my toast while I type and affix a light mount to my helmet, then I’ll stretch and torture myself on the foam roller (a bit like a massage only less pleasant), wash my kit, my bottles, and refill them for tomorrow and tonight. I’ll change the lenses in my glasses, chase up a lead for my lights that I forgot to pack, set an alarm, and then, maybe, maybe, I’ll manage to go to sleep.
Sleep is the hard thing. It’s the best thing you can do for recovery, but it’s the one you can’t control. You can make yourself stretch, you can eat foul recovery concoctions, you can spin your legs for hours, but you can not make your mind switch off if it wants to keep running. Many athletes struggle with it, and many have had to choose between tiredness or a sleeping tablet hangover. I opt for tiredness, if that’s the choice, but I will try to relax, let the caffeinated gels drain out of my system, and if I’m lucky, have a nap.
Then it’s more food, more bike prep, presentations, a warm up, 1,000,000 trips to the bathroom, and another race. Then the business of recovery begins again, and the more difficult business of getting to sleep.
With all that to do, I’d better sign off. Will report on the night race and tomorrow’s long, 82 kilometre stage tomorrow afternoon.