The Convict 100 is probably the most distinctive mountain bike race in Australia. Despite having no singletrack, it manages to be technically challenging. Despite having no built features like gap jumps or north shore the trails are as badass as they come, being hand carved by thieves, bolters and lifers. It’s got zero pretension, not a single manicured berm, and no easy bits either. It’s one of Australia’s most enduring single-day events, and it’s coming up on 15 October, 2022.
Time to get ready
The Convict has a few distinct challenges: First, there’s the distance. Then, there’s the unique technicality of 200-year-old convict roads carved by hand into sandstone ridgelines. Plus there’s some notorious hills, a long road section near the end, and of course the tricky kayak bridge.
We asked some of the experts from the MarathonMTB.com Team, veterans of countless Convict 100s, for their top tips and advice for any rider looking to complete the event, whether the full 100, the 68-kilometre distance, of the 44-kilometre event.
Justin Morris, head coach at Mind Matters Athlete Coaching and ex-pro roadie was raised in the northern suburbs of Sydney and has completed at least six editions of the Convict 100. His advice focuses on those committing to the full distance.
Convict 100 tactics
For Justin, completing the full 100 kilometres is about considering the course in advance and coming up with a race plan that helps you manage the mental challenges while taking advantage of the course’s distinctive character. For example, the middle section of the Convict is defined by a long ridgeline of rock slabs, natural sandstone steps, sand and gravel traps, and, if it’s been raining, wide, boggy puddles as well as notoriously scratchy bushes for those who deviate from the middle of the trail. With so much to think about, it’s no wonder this part of the course is so often decisive – i.e., you can either lose or gain a lot of time here: up to you.
“Really committing to some of those more technical rocky sections can go a long way in putting gaps on your competition,” says Justin. “These sections are a matter of picking a line, committing fully to that line then just hammering the horse power (for the ups) or leaning back (for the downs).” So don’t look too hard where you’re going, in other words – just point your bike and go for it.
Justin’s also quick to point out that the Convict 100’s long climbs can be turned to riders’ advantage if they approach them with the right mental attitude:
“The climbs are long and difficult,” he says, “when you are on them, you’ll likely be able to think of a million other places you would rather be. Remember however, this pain is temporary. Find a rhythm, think of a groovy song to keep in your head and hold that pace. You’ll need some more power once you crest the climbs so do not empty the tank on the climb itself.”
Groovy song. Remember that.
Finally, the long road to the finish is a drag race, plain and simple. On sealed tar, and featuring some smooth undulations, it’s a place where tactics really come to the fore – if you know how to suck wheel – here’s the time to do it – and if you’ve never done it before – this might be the perfect place to try.
“The final ten kilometres are flat and smooth… make the most of it,” says Justin. “Empty the tank here! Many will have thrown in the towel by this point, keep the hammer down, you’ll surprise yourself with the time you can reel back and you’ll earn yourself an extra beer/schnitzel/anything you want at the finish line pub!”
Finish feeling good
While Justin has some performance-oriented tips, Imogen Smith, former women’s course record holder and completer of five or so Convict 100s, focuses on what first-timers and those riding in any distance need to get to the finish line feeling good.
“While the 44-kilometre distance might look easy on paper, especially if you’re comparing it to the 100-kilometre race, 44 kays is still a solid bike ride – don’t underestimate it!” says Imogen. “It’s totally achievable for pretty much everyone but plan ahead to make the experience as pleasant as possible.”
“No matter what category you’re competing in, take a really good look at the profile (profiles available on the Convict 100 website). You’ll see, for example, that the 44-kilometre race has one biiiig climb and an equally big descent, while the 68-kilometre event has two big climbs and descents. Moderate your efforts around those, and when you tick them off, give yourself a cheer, just like tennis players do when they win a set.”
“Next, think about where the feed stations are, and work out a nutrition plan around those,” says Imogen. “I don’t care how fast you’re going, or how much you ate for breakfast, or whatever diet you’re on, you still need to consume 60 or more grams of carb an hour, no arguments! And you should absolutely be drinking around a bidon of sports drink an hour, too. More if it’s hot.”
Smith insists on the importance of fuelling correctly, even if you’re planning a casual, social day out. “Your nutrition is the difference between finishing with a smile in a great time or finishing a ghost of a human being with a tear-stained face and bloody knees who has quit mountain biking and taken up golf,” Imogen says. “Actively eating and drinking throughout every hour, stopping and filling up at every aid station – these will give you a massive, massive boost in the last hour and I promise you will enjoy yourself waaaay more. Try me.”
There you have it. No arguments guys.
Mike Blewitt is Australia’s marathon man. Manager and founder of MarathonMTB.com and another kid from the northern suburbs of Sydney, he’s the kind of guy who would ride from Sydney, do a lap of the Convict 100 course, then ride home just for some weekend fun. He doesn’t remember how many times he’s ridden the race, let alone the route.
As a veteran of literally hundreds of MTB marathon races, Mike knows all too well how quickly things can go wrong, and, best of all, how to prevent that from happening in the first place. When it comes to pedalling itself, Mike is big on pacing. “Think carefully about how you are going to pace yourself for the distance to make it through,” says Mike. “Look at the route beforehand and pick times to be part of the race around you – to stick with a few other riders who you’re a similar speed to, and to burn some of your matches to stay with riders – maybe so you can follow wheels on the old convict roads, or work with people in the finishing kilometres.”
Mike is also a big fan of the old race start adage: if it feels like you’re going hard, it’s definitely too hard, if it feels about right, it’s probably still too hard, and if it feels too easy, it’s probably about right. “Going out too hard is a really, really common error – but one I still make,” laughs Mike. “Even experienced racers and pros do it all. The. Time. As soon as you can after the start, try to reel yourself in and settle into a rhythm you know you can sustain – if you have a heart rate monitor or power meter, these will be really helpful with pacing, so use them!”
Convict 100 tyres and tech
Mike also emphasises the importance of simple tech setup which, if left neglected could completely mess with your ride.
“Whatever bike you take to the Convict, make sure it’s a bike you’re comfortable on and it’s in good working condition. If it has a lockout for the road sections, great, make sure you use it,” says Mike.
Bike setup is always a big topic, with such varied terrain on offer from the sandstone escarpments to muddy, clay fire roads, to bitumen sections.
“Traction is your friend on the techy sections, so don’t go running higher tyre pressures than you would for any off-road riding,” says Mike. “And make sure you’ve checked your suspension and that the set-up is good for you. If everything’s been sitting in the shed for a long while, consider a bike service in the weeks before the event.”
Looking deeper, Mike explains that tyres will be a matter of personal choice, as well as what’s available. Mike’s preference is to strike a balance between fast rolling and traction: “I’ll run something fast rolling with a good edge knob, like a Maxxis Rekon Race 2.35 or 2.4 or something more aggressive like a Maxxis Rekon on the front maybe, depending on conditions. You will want grip as there’ll be loose dirt and sand, but balance this with fast rolling for the smooth sections – tyre choice is always a compromise,” he says.
Don’t miss our Maxxis tyre comparison.
Finally, the good old tyre puncture is a sure way to mess with your race, but Mike says many tyre issues are avoidable by making sure your sealant is fresh – not just topped up. “Make sure you have fresh sealant – don’t top up – treat sealant like your milk at home – it goes off too, so topping it up isn’t going to be helpful. I use a syringe to get out the old stuff and get the new stuff in.” Mike also has some tips for fixing those punctures if you’re unlucky enough to get one: “I recommend running tubeless and taking a plug kit – of course, it’s worth taking a spare tube, but if you can plug a puncture you’ll be rolling again much faster, just make sure you practise if you’ve never done it before!”
And FYI, the MarathonMTB.com team racers all carry a pump, one CO2, a spare tube, as well as plugs – you have to be ready for anything!
There’s one tip the whole team agree on: focus on the fun. The Hawkesbury region has suffered so much in recent months, so the team will be returning with full focus on enjoying the privilege of riding historic trails in a spectacular setting, visiting the third oldest pub in Australia and celebrating the places our bikes take us.
Oh, and the kayak bridge? Just look straight in front of you.
Entry for the Convict 100 is open now – don’t miss out on the fun on October 15.