I’ve been working in media for a while now, and I’ve learned that there’s a time for every kind of writing. There’s a time to explore ideas. There’s a time to discuss events. Then there’s a time to go deep inside and treat yourself in a bit of self-indulgent introspection. That time has come!
That’s because in a few days I’ll be boarding a plane for Zurich, and in a week I’ll be lining up for the Perskindol Swiss Epic (September 14 to 19), a race so tough and so meticulously organised (it’s Swiss!) that it earned the highest UCI status – Hors Categorie (HC) – in just one year.
HC status means a lot of things: It means more UCI points for the pointy end of the field (the kind riders need to qualify for the 2016 Olympics), it means exacting standards of course design, safety, and feed zones. For my race partner (and Fiancé, Mike Blewitt) and me, it means the chance to experience the best of the best – food, organisation, race stages, views, and competition – that the world has to offer. In the next couple of posts I’ll be sharing how I’ve prepared body, bike, and mind for the event.
This will be the third year in a row I’ve raced a stage race in Europe with Mike. The first we did together was Transalp, in 2013 when we were NOT a couple, then Sudety in Poland in 2014 just after we got engaged (good thing we got engaged first). Our wedding’s coming up at the end of this year, and it’s our hope that it will go ahead in spite of the stresses of stage racing as a couple. I was incredibly fit for Transalp, and tired and unfit for Sudety. At Transalp we managed a surprise third in mixed pairs, which was basically the pinnacle of my existence. I’ve had a tough two years since then strugging with fitness and fitting cycling in around everything else life threw at me, but I’m finally feeling great again.
In the last few months, especially since moving from Sydney to Brisbane, where the cycling culture (friends!), the mountains (lots!), and the weather (hot!) suit me better, I’ve managed to improve a lot. I’m now as fit as I was when I went to Transalp over two years ago, if not fitter.
It’s been a lot of early mornings, a lot of riding in fog, rain, dark, and cold, but more often than not, I have to admit, I’ve been riding in the perfect ‘winter’ weather that Brisbane regularly dishes up – sunny days in the low 20s. I’ve trained primarily on the hills that start at my doorstep and stretch on and on west of Brisbane, often climbing between 6000 and 8000 vertical metres each week, focusing on long threshold efforts that replicate the loads of marathon racing in the mountains. I often did reasonably long hours and backed up a few days in a row to replicate stage racing, but I threw in a few CX and XCO races, too, just to keep the top end going.
I’ve had great coaching in the past, but this time I’m going it alone. I’m a MTBA Level 1 Trainee Coach now so it seemed right that I should be the one to get myself into shape, and I’m really pleased with the result. The bonus of coaching yourself is limitless flexibility – weather look shocking on Thursday? No worries, just shift things around. Taking a bit longer to recover? Take another day off and tweak the rest of the week… it’s been great to be able to work around the forecast, group rides, and bike maintenance really seamlessly, without the anxiety of reporting to a coach that you’ve gone off program.
With a high training load, nutrition and recovery have been more important than ever, and I’ve felt huge benefits from using Pure Edge nutrition, who are kind sponsors of the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com team. Every single day I come home from training and have a Vanilla Whey Protein Isolate recovery drink whizzed up with a bit of water and mostly milk. I often commit the horrendous crime of adding things like Milo or caramel sauce to this because the result of this obscene melange tastes like the most amazing thickshake you’ve ever had and boosts the high GI carb content – even if my special additions aren’t up to the quality of the protein powder!
I’m not a cook by any means but I’ve also been experimenting with ‘Supermarket Food Balls’. The obsession with raw, or vegan, or ‘superfoods’ sometimes irks me when it’s wrapped up in senseless marketing aimed at driving up prices based on the assumption that most of us are happy to trade cash for a sense of dietary virtue. Hmph! Cacao, for example, is about 10 times more expensive than cocoa and while there are different processes in making them and cocoa is lower in antioxidants, the overall difference is quite small.
My amazing ‘Supermarket Food Balls’ don’t even need a recipe! I get home and while I’m still in my kit I mix dates, roast almonds or hazelnuts with Pure Edge Chocolate Whey Protein Isolate, desiccated coconut, some oats, cocoa, a bit of coconut oil, and water in the blender (add dry ingredients first, esp. the nuts), buzz. Buzz again. Roll in coconut and voila! The most amazing snacks for on and off the bike and only five minutes have passed! The enormous Coles supermarket near our place has a huge ‘pick and mix’ where I’ve also discovered dehydrated bananas. I recommend! They are incredibly effective on-the-bike food and taste great. Odd, as I normally hate banana-flavoured anything, as well as bananas themselves.
Training as hard as I have been, there’s always the risk of going too far. A couple of times I’ve flirted with overtraining and injury. Once, a few days after my hardest week on the bike of 25 hours or so and a million mountains I caught a bit of a cold and had to spend a few days lying on the couch whingeing. Then, last week, on the last day of the last block of serious training and the final test of my fitness, I climbed nearly 4,000m on Mt Kaputar west of Narrabri at race-pace with a bunch of boys in freezing temperatures with no warm-up (duh). Of course I ended up straining my left hamstring badly enough to thoroughly scare myself. Luckily it was at the beginning of my taper and I managed it well, although I smelt strongly of Tiger Balm for several days and there’s still a niggle that will affect my race at State MTB XCO Champs tomorrow.
Being in full training I’m aware my immune system is going to be weakened. I’ve become a hand sanitiser obsessive and if anyone nearby so much as clears their throat I tend to duck and run for cover. So far so good but I’ll be extra careful on the flight to Zurich with all those international-grade bugs wafting around!
Getting fit is a funny feeling. Everyone knows that famous quote from Greg LeMond that ‘it doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster’? I think I differ a bit… I think there is a recognisable psychological change when your body starts doing what you want it to do. As a bike racer, your limit is always there, and you’re always pushing against it. When you get fit though, there’s a strength in you that can nudge that limit and find its elasticity – can find a flexibility there. I’ve pushed against my limit a few times and it’s yielded a little, lately, so I know I’m where I’d like to be.
Next I’ll be posting about what I’ve done to my bike to prep it for racing in the Swiss Alps.