The Camelbak Highland Fling is the final race of the 2014 Maverick Series and my final mountain bike race for a while… I am not one to say never again but it will be a little while. I first raced the Highlang Fling in 2012 in the 100 mile category and although the distance was tough I had fond memories of the course as a comfortable mix of fire trail and singletrack. This memory is a marked contrast to the 112km Camelbak Highland Fling course I rode yesterday.
The Fling started 10 years ago and each year has grown in strength and attendance thanks to the hard working team at Wild Horizons. The race is set in the beautiful Southern Highlands of NSW (Bundanoon: Australia’s first bottled water free town) and course varies annually with unique adjustments to the fire trail and singletrack components. The whisper around the finish arena suggested this years Fling was the ‘toughest’ so far as many weary bodies recorded an extra 30+ minutes on course compared to previous years. I know myself, I was very tired and very emotional to see the finish line after more than six hours of racing, a feeling that was, no doubt, accentuated by a few mechanical hiccups along the way.
The women’s elite race appears to have been one of attrition with Peta Mullens, fighting to stay in the race at times, tenaciously victorious in the end. Unfortunately Jenny Fay and her furry sheep mascot suffered irreparable mechanicals in the closing kilometres of stage 3 that saw her sans saddle. Rebecca Locke battled through cramps, mental and physical, to finish second with Lucy Bechtel in third and apparently ‘looking very composed’ across the line.
This year the elite Fling riders started 10-15 minutes after the main field and riding through the age group competitors over 112km, at not-so-speedy a pace, I saw the emotional and physical turmoil that many of the riders were experiencing. I have ridden a lot of hard marathon events and each time I have been prepared. I rode the Highland Fling as my last race and my preparation was less than perfect (practically non existent) so I suffered for more than six hours… I now know how a large portion of the race field feel during a marathon race. My final race taught me a very valuable lesson about the benefit of training, I suspect I had just taken training for granted until now, part of my routine and never really thought about the difference it made to my race. Crazy?.. when training is part of your life you just do it and you race as best you can, without that training routine the race can be a very unpleasant experience.
I believe marathon racing should be tough but I also believe it should cater to the majority of the competitors on the start line, not just the elite riders. There were a lot of sections of the race yesterday that were really unpleasant and I consider them ‘unnecessary’. A marathon race does not have to be in excess of 100km, especially when the extra trail appears to be looping fire trail with no real purpose, and if you are planning on including some cool technical rocky sections maybe not in the closing 10km as I saw a lot of despondent riders walking for fear of falling as this detracts from the beauty of this event. The Southern Highlands are very attractive and there are some really nice trail combinations out there that end with a feeling of exhaustion and achievement without a bitter aftertaste.
Full results for all Camelbak Highland Fling categories can be found on Race Tec.