A few weeks ago, when I was wondering out loud why the hell I torture myself with so much mountain bike racing, a friend looked me straight in the face and said
‘I think you just thrive on the drama.’
She’s undeniably right, and it got me thinking that what really gets a lot of us going about mountain biking is the fabulous stories it writes for us. Every race, for all of us, is a story of good over evil, of triumph over adversity, a journey, a battle, a quest. Humans are attracted to narrative, and there’s no more powerful kind of story than the quest. Think Frodo and the ring, Luke Skywalker and the Death Star, Imogen and the Croc Trophy.
Write yourself into a quest and you get to go through all the fantastical phases the plot demands: preparation, gathering weapons, tools, and provisions (some of them magical – like High5 caffeinated gels), meeting friends and helpers along the way, encountering obstacles, mirages, enduring defeat, attack, adversity. And finally overcoming at last what you learn to be the deadliest enemy of all…
More of that later. I’m in the preparation phase. Gathering weapons, tools, and provisions and learning a thing or two before I set out on my journey along with my trusty sidekick, Robin to my Batman, Chewbacca to my Hans Solo, Mike Blewitt. Racing starts at Smithfield on Saturday.
The Croc, celebrating its 20th anniversary, used to be a criminally-insane sufferfest that took riders so far west of Cairns that they were closer to the Gulf of Carpentaria than the east coast. Over the years, race organiser Gerhardt Schönbacher has taken pity, and the 190km stages are gone and we don’t go much further west than Irvinebank. The race is a few hundred kilometres shorter, and there are about a million fewer corrugations (leaving only seven or eight million). We’ll ride through 740 kilometres over nine days, but we’ll visit Skybury coffee plantation, Atherton Mountain Bike Park, Smithfield trails, and a working cattle station, Wetherby, on the way. It’s been a long year of racing for me, but I couldn’t stay away.
Ah race nutrition. My favourite. Between the two of us we’ve got 48 Mule Bars that we shipped to Cairns, plus an enormous tub full of about 40 gels, and three tubes of hydration tabs. This, combined with Croc’s race support refills (everyone has to stop and refill, so not much point bringing loads of electrolyte mix), and the 10 gels we’ll be given in our race pack, and 9 recovery drink sachets should just about get us through 740km. Today I’ll buy 7 or so tetrapak protein drinks (and pack them so they don’t explode in transit) and several cans of tuna. I don’t really eat any other meat, so this will help cover my protein needs.
I ordered some white ‘arm warmers’ to protect my English rose skin from the harsh Queensland sun – but the size was just too big, so I guess I’ll have to slather on even more suncream. I’ve packed a vast range of compression gear, including Compressport quad and calf guards to help recovery, and may even wear the calf guards in the race if I’m suffering enough to help prevent muscle damage from the corrugations and rough riding – this will be a bigger problem than lactic acid.
Apart from that I’ve got my usual three sets of kit. In a stage race I generally challenge myself to use only one, hand-washing it after each stage. This means two stay reasonably nice while the other discolours and the chamois tears out. I’ve got two pairs of gloves (the white ones stayed at home), armwarmers and vest (probably won’t be needed in the tropics, but it gets cool on the tablelands), sleep aids (eye mask, industrial-strength ear plugs, Kindle), and three or four different anti-chafing creams, for when the going gets tough.
I’m pretty happy with how my Bianchi Methanol FS turned out. Mike worked on it all week, and Fox Suspension Australia (via our sponsors Sola Sport) have been wonderful when I had a last-minute problem. The bike is very but not as incredibly light as the Bianchi Methanol SL hardtail I’m used to. At about 10.4kg, but it’s a good compromise between comfy and fast. And the Valor wheels help a lot. With everything. I won’t say much more because there’s a full profile of my bike here on MarathonMTB.com.
It wouldn’t be a quest without having some kind of antagonists! There are just three or so women in the Elite category this year, and I’ve done a bit of Googling! One, Cristina Begy, is a real-life former World CX Champion, which is intimidating. Another competitor is Austrian, which simply means she climbs like a demon and has lungs like a horse from living at 3,000 metres. I’m looking forward to racing women I’ve never competed with before and seeing how we end up.
With just three Elite women racers, there’s a chance I could earn enough UCI points to line up next to Bec Henderson at 2015’s first World Cup round, but don’t worry Bec. I’ve got enough knowledge of OH&S hazards (including spills, falls, and electrocution) to know better than to attempt something I’m not capable of!
After questing overseas in the middle of the year I well and truly burnt myself out and had to take a break and consider skipping the Croc. A month of rest and recovery left me with very little time to prepare for this race, and I’ve barely managed one proper Base training cycle because of all the extra recovery time I’ve built into my program. Having replaced cycling with icecream for a month, not only is my FTP down, but my weight is up. While I’m plenty fresh, I’m not fit, so I’ll be racing the Croc on mind-to-body goodwill and compromise, plus a bit of determination.
While it hasn’t been a great lead up to this event, I’m looking forward to the adventure, the discovery, which makes a nice change from the apathy I felt for many races I approached while too tired. It’s not often you get the chance to explore the rainforest one day, the outback another, and the coast the next, but that’s just what the Croc offers.
I have all the usual anxieties and doubts, but I remind myself that a race as long and difficult as the Croc isn’t necessarily quested on fitness anyway, but luck, and something more: tenacity, which I’d define as the power of the imagination.
Tenacity is born of belief in the possibility, even the probability of success. It’s the ability to take a step back and analyse your self and your race just like you would a novel – and push your character forward to some its resolution. It’s to keep writing your story when you most want to give up. It’s purely fictitious, but it’s a whole lot better than a bunch of facts that slow you down.
End Chapter 1