Category Archives: Training

Tour Down Under 2016 – Top 5 Climbs

Adelaide during the Tour Down Under is nothing short of awesome. The city comes to life with a new-found colour and vibrancy as people from all across the country make the journey to South Australia for the cycling, weather, food, wine and general festival atmosphere. Like so many seem to do, I chose to travel south with an assortment of guys and girls from my road riding club (Northern Sydney) – many of which now attend TDU religiously every year.

What's not to love?
What’s not to love?

Heading down with NSCC meant organised rides were coordinated each day, by people who knew where they were going (as opposed to me, who had no idea) and with a wealth of options for extra hills, extra kilometres and extra punishment. When we were not riding our bikes, we were watching the race live, eating, drinking or taking photos of each other in compromising positions (sometimes all four at once).

Nothing quite beats riding with your mates without the need to be anywhere...
Nothing quite beats riding with your mates without the need to be anywhere…

I was also fortunate enough to spend some quality time watching and supporting the women’s tour –  from the side of the road, from the pits on the criterium stage and from the Boss Racing Team car, where I stepped into the role of a guest soigneur. I covered stage two, which was four laps of an undulating 25km course, on a day where temperatures soared to over 40 degrees. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time on bottle duty, handing out fluids to any riders who needed them (and generally being thrown around the back seat of the car while trying to do so).  Listening in to race radio, where team directors, support vehicles and tour commissaires all interact with each other was also incredibly insightful.

Verita Stewart and Carley Mckay fighting the tough conditions on Stage 2
Verita Stewart and Carley Mckay fighting the tough conditions on Stage 2

Back to my own riding, where I covered over 750km and 10,000 vertical meters of climbing for the week. For my first serious week back training, this was a more than adequate way to not only get back into the swing of things, but to build up my base fitness (and attempt to shed all the Christmas puddings I had consumed in December).

I also got my #prostalking on a little bit, following Giant-Alpecin riders Simon Geschke and Georg Preidler on their recovery ride
I also got my #prostalking on a little bit, following Giant-Alpecin riders Simon Geschke and Georg Preidler on their recovery ride

Adelaide is famous for it’s hill climbing. We traversed up most of the major climbs in the area, including the very mainstream Norton Summit, Belair, Montacute, Mt Lofty and Greenhill. While I enjoyed every minute of these, the most memorable for me were the hidden gems – the climbs that were both the most challenging and the less frequently visited. The only exception to this is Corkscrew, which given it now lives in the folklore of the Tour, is very popular with the punters.

My top five favourite climbs were as follows:

Torrens Hill Road
1.2km at 9%
Torrens Hill Rd is a climb that starts just as the Gorge Road climb ends (if you are coming up Gorge Rd from Adelaide, it’s off to the left). Nobody else wanted to join me on this one, probably because the commencement of the climb is incredibly steep (close to 20%) and wraps around a corner, leaving you unsure if it actually flattens out. The good news is that it does, but not by much. At least it wasn’t very long!

Coach House Drive
2.7km at 10.7%
Billed as one of the hardest climbs in Adelaide, this one is an alternative to Norton Summit. Coach House climbs the same vertical height but in approximately half the distance, with spikes of 20%+, making it seriously challenging. The final ramp and corner at the end was a heart breaker. Plenty of riders were walking or “posting mail”, zig-zagging across the road.

Little Italy (Burdetts Road)
1.7km at 7.0%
This one really lives up to it’s name, as climbing up this narrow country lane way with horses, orchards and tractors on both sides does make you feel like you could be in Italy. It’s a reasonably tough climb, as the first section is rather flat, meaning the second half is pretty steep. The road surface wasn’t great (which actually adds to the rustic appeal), but absolutely one to add to the list.

Corkscrew 
2.5km at 8.9%
Part of the Tour Down Under route and made famous by some epic attacks (Cadel Evans anyone?). The start is nice and gentle, but then you reach the “corkscrews” – a few sets of nasty switchbacks that really, really hurt.  Leave a bit in the tank, the last 800m is comparatively flat. Standing on the side of the road watching the pros absolutely suffer up Corkscrew was a real highlight of the Tour!

corkscrew
Michael Woods from Cannondale Pro Team going up Corkscrew. Everybody hurts!

Blockers Road (Unsealed)
4.0km at 5.5%
Only three of us attempted this one, partially due to how challenging it is, but also because it’s dirt! It doesn’t look so bad at only 5.5%, but over the 4km, at least half of it is relatively flat (or even downhill). The final third has some seriously challenging ramps of up to 25%, which are made that little bit harder given the gravel beneath you makes it close to impossible to get out of the saddle without slipping the rear wheel. In the blinding heat of the day, this was probably the hardest climb I did in Adelaide.

The last part of Blockers Rd, where it meets up with Deviation Rd (sealed)
The last part of Blockers Rd, where it meets up with Deviation Rd (sealed)

Regardless of your level of ability or how closely you follow the professional tour, if you are a cyclist, you should make sure you visit the Tour Down Under at least once in your life.  There is something for everyone in terms of riding (i.e. a number of women’s specific rides were organised, on top of the Bupa Ride, the Cure Cancer Tour, various Rapha and shop rides, etc) and watching live cycling was so much better than I ever anticipated. I could have reached out and touched Richie Porte – in fact, I very almost did!

I didn't take the mountain bike down - but that didn't stop me having some fun in the dirt!
I didn’t take the mountain bike down – but that didn’t stop me having some fun in the dirt!

National Women’s Road Development Team Camp – Days 5 and 6

Day 5 – Wednesday

Day 5 was thankfully not a repeat of Day 3 and Day 4 (I might have cracked if it was). Although I didn’t have any resting metabolic testing scheduled for the morning, I was still required to be up before the sun in order to help prepare food and 150 bottles for the mystery activities in plan for a windy and chilly Day 5.

Preparations done slightly ahead of schedule meant we could actually sit down, enjoy breakfast as a team (an unusual phenomenon) and speculate as to what the coaches had planned for today.  A long ride to an unknown destination had the lion’s share of the votes. Soon after breakfast we headed over to the Biomechanics dome, kitted up and ready for whatever was going to be thrown at us.

Our initial instructions were to ride as a group over to Mt Stromlo via Coppins Crossing.  The sun was now out, but the wind was fierce – crosswinds that apparently rivalled those in Dubai. The small peloton of women was being tossed around like autumn leaves in a cyclone. Once at Mt Stromlo we were to complete a Prologue (like an Individual Time Trial). The course was technical in nature with some tight corners, made even more difficult by the windy conditions. At times, you actually felt like you were going backwards.

There was to be no riding in the dirt at Stromlo today.
There was to be no riding in the dirt at Stromlo today.

After completing the Prologue, the riders all headed back to one of the support vehicles and started consuming some of the pre-prepared rations. I was 95% through a large Peanut Butter and Jam sandwich when it was announced we would be completing a second lap of the Prologue, but with tighter corners. Those who spent the time doing course reconnaissance and practising their lines were the ones who ultimately reigned supreme.  I managed to hold on to my lunch – but only just.

Next up, we were informed it was crit racing time! The course was the 1.8km Stromlo criterium course, with points awarded on sprint laps (laps 2, 4, 10, 12 and 14) of a race totalling 14 laps.  I started nutting out a plan in my mind – surely the sprinters would looking to hang on until the sprints. The weaker girls (which included me) would look to stretch the elastic and maybe even try to attack early and get away for a lap or two.

My plan was cut to pieces coming around the first corner when a violent shot of pain shot up through my thigh. Falling off the group almost immediately, I struggled to get back on for another 7 or so laps, eventually pulling over to find a medic. Later diagnosed as a small tear in my VMO muscle, the physiotherapist at the AIS stuck a few needles in and strapped me up, ready for the afternoon session, whatever that may be.

Part of "Gravel Hell" - which was made up of Fairlight Rd and Mountain Creek Rd out near Uriatta Crossing
Part of “Gravel Hell” – which was made up of Fairlight Rd and Mountain Creek Rd out near Uriatta Crossing

Jumping in the cars, the squad commenced the mystery journey to the next location. Meeting at the intersection of two country roads, we drove along a long sealed road for about 9km. After passing Uriatta Crossing, the vehicles struggled up a relatively steep climb, before hitting dirt road. We followed this pot-hole filled gravel track for another 9km until reaching the starting point again. Just in case it wasn’t clear, that was the loop we were going to have to ride three times. As a race. With a 12 minute cut off. On our road bikes.

The sealed part of the road was stunning - not that anyone had time to admire the view.
The sealed part of the road was stunning – not that anyone had time to admire the view.

The group set off together, staying well-organised until the first climb, where a number of riders took off. Struggling up the climb with my previous injury, I found myself with four girls in a chase group. It wasn’t long after hitting the gravel for the first time, I heard the familiar sound of air escaping my rear tire.

Puncture number one – but as quickly as I got off the bike to commence the fix, a car pulled up and replaced my wheel (a service I could get used too)! Off I went, on my own, but soon to find another two riders who had run into the same fate. We formed a group and finished the first lap about 3 minutes off the leaders.

Trying to make up time on the sealed road and the climb (which was still hurting like hell), we hit the dirt to commence round two.  Loosing one rider, two of us put in a solid effort to try and bridge back and/or stay within the cut-off time. This worked well for a long while, until air escaping my front tyre caused me to pull over for the second time. While I was comfortable riding on the rough surface, I did not have the right tyres fitted. However, like magic, a vehicle brimming with spare wheels arrived to get me going again.

Coming through for the final lap, I had suffered the fate of having to work either alone or with one other and was now 7 minutes down. It was going to be a stretch to finish within the cut-off. Again passing riders who had punctured, I was on the final section of lap number three. Keeping with the theme, my front tyre went again, but seemingly only partially as I was able to shoot a CO2 cannister in and get myself home.

Just to keep things interesting –  as the sun was setting in the background – it was revealed one of the service vehicles also had experienced a flat tyre. You could probably guess that it was the group of female bike riders tasked with fixing it!  Finally solved, we drove back to the AIS for dinner, debrief and bed. The only instructions – have yourself fully packed and all your gear labelled and ready to go for the morning. Sounds ominous.

Class of 2015
Class of 2015

 

Day 6 – Thursday
There were some anxious faces around breakfast on Day 6, as all signs pointed to today being the day of the big cut – a process where the AIS would identify the final 8 riders to progress through to the end of the camp and send everyone else home.

After moving our bikes and bags into a central location, we gathered together and were led into a big meeting room in the basketball complex. One by one, names were called out and girls asked to leave the room. After eight names were called, it became obvious that those left, which included me, would be going home.

board
The final 8 selections (top line) and those who would miss out (bottom line), for this year at least

Immensely disappointing, but at the same time, reflecting on it, not entirely surprising. Those who were picked for the final round absolutely deserved it – showing strength, power and tenacity throughout the duration of the camp, in addition to being incredibly talented athletes.  We were reminded by the coaches that even just getting accepted into the camp was a huge achievement – just because we are not part of the elite few to race overseas now, doesn’t mean we won’t be in the future.

Reflections
These six days were some of the toughest I have ever experienced from a training point of view (it can easily be compared to National Flog Week). Add in the mental and emotional challenges, including having to operate in a constant state of chaos, and you have a really uniquely punishing experience. That said, this is an amazing experience that if embraced, makes you stronger and more self aware.  I am very thankful for the opportunity, proud of my achievements and after the camp, even more motivated to get better, faster and stronger than ever before.

National Women’s Road Development Team Camp – Days 3 and 4

As you might have already read in the first article, my first two days at the AIS were jam-packed with V02 Testing, Judo, full body scans, urine pots, blood vials, monitoring devices, hill repeats, track riding, bike skills, improv acting and a few hours of interrogation.  Here is a look at the next two days – days 3 and 4.

Day 3 – Monday
Being woken prior to dawn (again) for a continuation of the resting metabolic testing meant that I didn’t nearly get enough sleep. In fact, the early starts and late finishes appeared to be very deliberate – designed to keep us in a constant state of severe fatigue. Which was seemingly working.

Get whatever rest or sleep you can. Where ever you can.
Get whatever rest or sleep you can. Where ever you can.

We usually don’t get given a schedule ahead of time – if we do, it is to ensure we know where to be early in the morning. If we do get an “extended” schedule, it doesn’t always make sense. I am also pretty sure one of the schedules provided deliberately conflicted itself, just to keep us guessing.

Day 3 was focused on further testing in the lab – both to measure our athletic ability in a controlled environment and to collect data for a number of research projects. After meeting some expert nutritionists for breakfast we spent the morning on the Lode bikes, each session culminating in a 4 minute interval, holding close to V02 Max for 2 minutes (controlled by the bike), followed by a maximum effort for the remaining 2 minutes. We did the same session twice before lunch. Blood lactate was measured at the same time – reflecting now, it is quite unusual to have a research assistant take blood from your ear while you are absolutely hammering it out on a bike.

After lunch was thrown down, we were back at the lab for the afternoon session – measuring the impacts compression garments have on recovery. It involved spending a fair bit of time with your leg in a bucket of water (to measure volume) and the interval session from hell:

Warmup: 2mins 100w, 2min 150w, 2min 225w. 2min 100w.
10sec sprint at 80%, 50 sec off,
10sec sprint at 90%, 50 sec off,
30sec all out sprint, 2:30min time trial.

Session: (Sprints are at 100% and you must maintain consistency)
5sec sprint / 5sec off x 12, 2min at 100w,
10sec sprint/10sec off x 6, 2min at 100w,
15sec sprint, 15sec off x 4, 2min at 100w.
5sec sprint / 10sec off x 12, 2min at 100w,
10sec sprint/20sec off x 6, 2min at 100w,
15sec sprint, 30sec off x 4, 2min at 100w.
30sec all out sprint, 2:30min time trial.

Cooldown: 10min at 100w

After crawling off the bikes, we spent the next 90mins with a bike mechanic, which I personally found extremely valuable. A lovely man in a Shimano cap demonstrated most effective way to clean your bike at the end of a race (or stage), provided some expert tips on maintenance and assisted with the identification of critical bike measurements and how to get them. The biggest challenge of this particular session was simply being outside in gale force winds and trying to keep the work-stands upright.

My handwriting skills also copped a workout across the camp.
My handwriting skills also copped a workout across the camp.

Day 3 was also the introduction of the written tactical exams. We all received three scenario based questions at lunch time, which covered aspects such as race planning, logistics, race tactics, analysis and more (as well as some more random questions thrown in, just to test your thinking). As someone who spends a lot of time on a mountain bike, I found these really challenging, but at the same time, an extensive learning experience. Any spare moments found during the day were spent on the tactical questions (they were due at debrief later that night). Not surprisingly, most of the girls were eating dinner with one hand and scrawling down answers with the other.

Another intense debrief session and I found myself in bed after 11pm (I made a personal pledge to ensure my food and sleep diaries were updated each night so that I wouldn’t fall behind). My alarm was set for 5:30am the next day so I could be ready for further resting metabolic rate studies.

Day 4 – Tuesday
I woke up exhausted and aching after an intense Day 3. Again, with minimal sleep and no time for proper recovery (even though the most advanced sports recovery centre in Australia sat next to the residence halls) we trudged over to the lab to commence our prescribed breakfast and find out what was in store for the day.

Mentally and emotionally we were all being challenged. We work in a constant state of chaos, with time pressures which sometimes meant we had to sneak food out of the dining hall in order to get back in time for the next session (It’s not often you find yourself with raisin toast down your jersey).

Measuring the volume of your leg - even with all the advancements in science, the most effective way is still with a bucket of water.
Measuring the volume of your leg – even with all the advancements in science, the most effective way is still with a bucket of water.

Today’s challenge was that we were going to repeat yesterday’s challenges. 

The two sessions which culminated in a 4 minute V02 Max effort, a repeat of the interval session from hell and more tactical questions to answer. The hardest thing was knowing what to expect – when you climb on a bike you know how much it is going to hurt. You know how long it is going to last. You know that your legs are weak but that you also need to strive to equal or exceed what you achieved yesterday. You know that when the sessions are over, there is no time for a shower and a stretch, as you have more written tactical questions to answer.

Like previous days, we completed Day 4 with an intense debrief session. Girls who showed signs of starting to fall asleep were called out and asked even more direct questions.  Another late night, although that is starting to become expected.

Stay tuned for the final article which will cover Days 5 and 6.

National Women’s Road Development Team Camp – Days 1 and 2

The Australian Institute of Sport is a pretty incredible place to be, no matter what sport you play. Our nation’s greatest athletes have all trained here at some point, under the guidance of the best coaches, mentors, doctors, scientists and sports administrators in the business. As one of 18 young women to get the call up to attend the High5 Australian Road Development Team selection camp, it’s fair to say I was already feeling both honoured and privileged before the camp had even begun.

olympic

The camp itself would go on to utilise military-style training methodologies in order to identify the six riders who have what it takes to compete professionally abroad as part of an Australian Team. I was expecting it to be physically tough, but what I actually experienced was so much more than that – mentally challenging, emotionally draining with minimal recovery, sleep deprivation and at times, near starvation.  It turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life!

Day 1 – Saturday
After checking in at the AIS, we made our way to the Biomechanics dome to grab some kit, a range of monitoring devices and to prepare for the first test – the Step Test.  After a brief warm up, the bike is set up to start at 125 watts and increase 25 watts every 2 minutes. The rider pedals until they can no longer sustain a cadence of at least 70rpm. This final wattage, at the point of failure, is your Maximal Aerobic Power (which is used throughout the rest of the camp). Although it starts quite comfortably, the Step Test ends with a  great deal of pain and suffering as you fight to keep your legs moving.

The Step Test – each rider had a “helper” who would provide encouragement (good) and call a halt to the test when you fell below 70rpm (bad)

After the Step Test, we were sent to the Gymnastics Hall where we met an ex-soldier and an Olympic representative in Judo. The purpose – to learn how to fall off your bike effectively, minimising potential injury. The group spent two hours front falling, front rolling, side rolling and generally flying through the air tucked up into miniature balls. It was a really valuable session in terms of it’s intended application – how to fall without breaking bones. I also have developed a new level of respect for gymnasts (I was one of a few girls who became “sea-sick” and couldn’t hold on to their stomachs).

Judo was held in the AIS Gymnastics arena. The colourful flags were at times a welcome distraction from wanting to throw up my guts.

Although not overly enthusiastic on the idea of dinner after the Judo session, the early start and a long drive to get down to Canberra meant I was very enthusiastic when it came to getting into bed. Before that however we were treated to a fun session with an “improv” actor, who helped get us in the mindset of thinking on our feet.

Day 2 – Sunday
I was woken up well before sunrise to have a mouthpiece inserted and a clip placed on my nose (in addition to the sleep monitor on my right wrist and the activity monitor on my left arm). After filling two bags with air straight from my lungs, I was then sent to the lab to have blood and urine taken, before being scanned from head to toe. A cursory breakfast at the Food Hall and we set off to Black Mountain.

The girls prior to riding over to Black Mountain.
The girls prior to riding over to Black Mountain.

Black Mountain is the principle climb for the AIS. Gerrans, Evans, Porte, Meares, Gilmore and more have all been here before us. The task today was communicated (usually we don’t find out what we are actually doing until we come to doing it) –  we were going to complete an Individual Time Trial up the climb, spin the legs out for a few kilometres and then race up as a group.

Black Mountain is certainly a tenacious climb, with a number of steep pinches that try desperately to prevent you from reaching the summit. My heart was beating out of my chest and my legs on fire for the duration, especially considering one of the steepest bits is right at the start.

blackers

Black Mountain conquered, we headed back to the AIS for lunch and for the afternoon’s sessions – a 4.4km Time Trial on the track and a skills session on a synthetic football pitch. Both in the plodding rain, blustery wind and freezing cold. I was a bit nervous having never raced on the track before, but quickly realised it’s just about keeping your head down, limiting your body movement and following the white line. While trying to breathe, which is potentially the most difficult part.

bus
The bus ride back from the track at Queanbeyan Park – selfie photo credit goes to Kimbers

The skills session was a great deal of fun – learning how to ride shoulder to shoulder, nudge and be nudged, touch wheels without crashing, jump curbs and my new favourite skill, pick up bottles from the ground while riding. A little bit of a party trick, but also highly practical, the water bottle retrieval is a skill I will certainly continue to practice.

Exhausted and insatiably hungry, we had a quick shower, demolished a plate or two of food and headed to the first debrief session. Honest, factual and realistic, we are probed by our coaches (one of who is a physiologist) on our behaviour and decision making throughout the day. Referred to only by your numbers (I now answer to “number 26”), it is not uncommon to be asked why exactly you made a certain decision in a race, who you find annoying, who didn’t work as part of the team and more. Nothing is off limits.

You can read about Days 3 and 4 here.

National Flog Week 2014

I don’t quite know why, but I have signed up to a 24hr race at the end of November. I think it’s partly a sick curiosity to see how far I can push myself, as well as being a sizeable mental and physical challenge. That and I was kind of talked into it…

Three weeks out from the race, my training buddy and fellow 24hr competitor Meredith put together a cunning plan for a large training block. Based on observing one of the world’s best (Jason English), we decided to set a goal of 1,000km in 7 days. With as much MTB as we could. Read on to find out what it was like…

 

Day 1 – The Highland Fling – 112km / 2489vm (MTB)

fling

Out of the blocks fast and hard – there was no easing our way in to this week. As you may have read in my Race Report: Highland Fling, the “Fling” for me was brutal. It was 6.5 hours of fast paced action – tough climbing, TT efforts, a painful crash, heat and some nutritional problems that lead to me limping across the line.

I gave everything to this race, but finished the day only 1/10th of the way towards the 1,000km target. What a great way to start the week!

 

Day 2 – Rest Day

pool

Thank the Lord and Baby Jesus we scheduled this when we did. A rest day would mean bigger and longer days later on in the week, but after landing awkwardly on my shoulder the day before and having to rely on pain killers to merely exist, I was absolutely cheering at the thought of a day off.

With some weeping grazes to match my busted shoulder, I threw (OK, more like tentatively eased) myself into the rock pool at Collaroy Beach.  It was so cold I was surprised I didn’t see penguins and polar bears floating past on little blocks of ice (the only creatures in sight were the old ladies who swim all year around). Regardless, 25 minutes in this Arctic bath did the trick for the wounds and the aches.

 

Day 3 – Mt Annan Laps x 12 – 104km / 2662vm (MTB)

mtannan

Although not 100%, I am back and raring to go. Heading out to Mt Annan early with Meredith, the plan was to complete 12 laps at a moderate pace to not only add another 100km to our running total, but familiarize ourselves with the track (therefore becoming “Campbelltown Girls”, a close relative to “Canberra Girls”).

Six laps down, the ever inspiring and knowledgeable James “Chops” Lamb appeared to give us a few tips and pointers on the track, share his experience with 24 hour racing and generally help out with some technical coaching. I found it to be highly valuable to have someone ride behind you and observe – it turns out I do a few things I didn’t realise (like hold my wrists awkwardly and then wonder why they hurt) and don’t do a few things I should (like bend my knees and elbows when navigating technical terrain). 

After a quick bite for lunch at the Botanical Gardens Cafe (great raisin toast and muffins) we worked on putting theory into practice for the final six laps. No incidents to report (except for a magpie attack – a direct result of speaking too soon) and a new sense of confidence with the track. For me it was also learning how to ride slowly and pace myself around the course. Add in a bit of excitement about the new section being built and overall I would say it was a successful day.

 

Day 4 – Turramurra to Ourimbah Return – 234km / 3929vm (MTB)

goat

This ride is a bit of an epic. The first attempt (completed a few weeks ago) was to ride from our respective homes up to Ourimbah, via Wiseman’s Ferry and the Convict Track, do a lap of the MTB course and jump on the train at Wyong. The second attempt saw us go a bit further down the Central Coast and end up catching the train back from Woy Woy (after getting lost while trespassing on a property with an owner who supposedly owned a shotgun).

Today we set out to achieve the full loop – starting and finishing at home. It was going to be upwards of 230km.

I had a little “over the bars” incident along the Convict Track – navigating my front wheel into a hole (which happened to be exactly the size of my front wheel), while rolling down a rocky descent. Some quick Ninja manoeuvres saw me protect my aching shoulder by throwing myself down on my knees. In doing so, the sandstone worked like sandpaper, taking of existing scabs  (plus a little bit more) off my knees and making a right mess. There was no major damage done, but more than a few swear words were muttered.

The Convict Trail wasn’t without further incident. Imagine riding through a massive spider web (there is a mix of sticky web, chunky dead things and possibly a spider on your face) and while trying to deal with that, looking down to see a 2m long Red Belly in your path. All while you are travelling at ~25km/h down a narrow sandy corridor of track. High pitched girly screams were possibly heard across the valley, followed by me dismounting a safe distance away from the vile slithery serpent to catch my breath and calm the hell down!

That wasn’t the last of the snakes – Meredith almost hit a Diamond Python, who decided lying across the track was the best way to soak up the patchy sun. As I was right on her wheel, there were two girly screams heard across the valley this time.

snake

After a fun filled lap of Ourimbah MTB Park (no snakes, just lots of glorious bell-birds singing their pleasant tunes), we headed into Wyong and shortly commenced the climb up Dog Trap Rd back to Calga. I managed a few PR’s on the Calga TT circuit, which was either a sad reflection on my road bike form OR a great reflection on my MTB formAfter the best garlic bread I have ever had from Road Warriors (may have been influenced by how hungry I was), we finished the climb back into Hornsby. Never ever will I complain about doing those climbs on a road bike. Never ever.

 

Day 5 – Mt Annan Laps x 6 – 46km / 1088vm (MTB)

I woke up this morning feeling sore. My legs were sore, my shoulder was sore. My head was sore. With all these big rides, late finishes and early starts, it’s starting to feel like I was also completing a torturous exercise in sleep deprivation (does this mean the Chinese water torture is yet to come?).

These 6 laps HURT.  After 4 laps and Nurofen Plus proving to have minimal effect on the pains in my shoulder and the numbness in my back, I switched from dirt to road and completed my final laps on the little circuit around the Gardens. The slow and painful hill climb was offset by the large sprinkler near a BBQ area, which I happily rode through like a kid in summer.

At least today, as much as it hurt, I would get home early and actually have a chance to get myself ready for what we were about to undertake on Day 6. Oh and hopefully get some better sleep.

 

Day 6 – Turramurra to Mudgee – 266km / 4040vm (Road)

ammo

I have made it to Day 6. All the MTB riding – almost 500km –  is now complete. The next step is to finish the week off with a road ride to Mudgee and back. On a 40 degree day. Who’s idea was this again?

Out of the blocks, up Galston Gorge and along to Pitt Town, I felt very average. It wasn’t until just before the start of the climb up Bells Line of Road to Bilpin did I start to get into the groove a little bit. Already starting to heat up, the climb up was challenging, yet rather enjoyable. And hey, I had fresh apple pie and apple cider to look forward to at the top!

cider

Apple products consumed (and fruit cake stashed in my back pocket), we continued to ride along Bells Line of Road (with undulations almost as bad as those between Thredbo and Khancoban) and down into Lithgow. Noting that as we sweltered along in the heat, exposed on the long and windy road, billboards constantly reminded us that Frozen Cokes were only $1 at Macca’s for a limited time. As you can imagine, heading into Lithgow, there was one thing on my mind.

Sorry Love, the Frozen Coke Machine is broken“.  Um. WHAT?! Stewing in a casserole of distaste, I reluctantly bought some sweet potato chips instead, grabbed some ice water, reapplied sunscreen and jumped on the Castlereagh Highway, destination Mudgee.

Lithgow to Mudgee is about 120km. Every chance we had (not a whole lot), we stopped to refill bottles, consume ice blocks and try to explain to confused locals why we were riding from Sydney to Mudgee on push bikes. The day had hit it’s pinnacle temperature with the Garmin showing 40 degrees, which eventually drove us to jump in a dam (much to the amusement of cows and some guy who thought he had found free bikes on the side of the road) about 35km out.

dam

Dragging myself into Mudgee, I was starting to get cramps in my feet and was unable to sit on my saddle (we won’t go into the detail of the troubles I was having in that area). What a relief to roll into the pub, get off the bike and have a shower. I think we also developed a bit of a fan club after one patron asked where we rode from. Upon hearing it was Sydney, he announced it to the entire bar.

 

Day 7 – Mudgee to Turramurra – 276km / 3647vm (Road)

school

I’ll be honest, lying in bed at the night before, I really didn’t think I would have much left for the final day. Home was 276km away and it had been a huge week. Morning came and I tentatively saddled up – after all, if I could get to Lithgow, there was a bail out option in the form of a train.

Upon reaching Lithgow (a slow and arduous 120km of undulating terrain), once again, the thought of a challenging climb was enough to encourage me to push onward (which one could argue proves my brain doesn’t function correctly). Although my body was shot to pieces, mentally I was excited about climbing up Mt Victoria for the first time.  Every kilometre we covered was another kilometre closer to the end.  Plus once we were over Mt Victoria, it was practically all downhill…. right?

Mt Victoria was awesome – challenging, scenic and with good tar – although there is a small steep section where it is only one lane each way (not ideal for a cyclist going <10km/h). Absolutely a climb I would want to do again though – especially with a stop off at historical Blackheath for a hearty lunch afterwards.

hydromagestic

After feeling like we could never eat another thing again (may have had something to do with the fact we consumed half the sandwich bar), it was time to have some real fun in the shape of the seemingly endless descent down the Great Western Highway. Averaging ~50km/h from Blackhealth to Winmalee was just as fun as it sounds! The fun only continued as I discovered the switchback descent on Hawkesbury Rd had recently been resurfaced with hotmix. Woohoo!

Cycling into Richmond,  we were so close I could smell it. At this stage, as tired, sore and weak as I was, I knew I was going to finish. Jumping on the front, I hit time trial mode and scooted along past the RAAF base into Windsor (strangely I achieved some PR’s along there too).  Back through Pitt Town, up the climb at Cattai and onwards to Galston Gorge.

hotmix

Slowly spinning up Galston Gorge gave me some time to reflect on the ride, the past two days and the week. I had experienced pain, suffering, sleep deprivation, hotfoot and dehydration. I had spilled blood and lost litres of sweat. I had eaten so much – but so much of it was from a packet I felt like I had onset scurvy. My mind and body has probably never been challenged like this, but I am going to make it. Another box ticked.

Over the top, Meredith (who decided a late attack on the climb was appropriate) and I parted ways at Hornsby, job done. I rolled the final 5km home, enjoyed a cool shower and hit the sheets for what turned out to be 14 hours of catch up sleep.

Riding the Centenary Trail – 150km

As a bike rider, our Nation’s Capital has become a favourite (and recently, very regular) destination of mine. Kowen Forest, Sparrow Hill and the amazing Mt Stromlo are but a few of the great trail networks in the region. Over the recent long weekend I have discovered yet another trail that has simply blown me away, for completely different reasons to the others.

The Canberra Centenary Trail is a 140km self guided mountain biking (and walking) trail that covers all corners of the state, taking you past and through a whole number of iconic urban and bush locations. It is really well signed in the bushland areas – while it can get a little confusing in urban areas, maps and GPX files are readily available.

Follow the signs - these guys are scattered right across the trail, which was really helpful.
Follow the signs – these guys are scattered right across the trail.

It is recommended the average punter rides the Centenary Trail over a period of three days, which obviously presented up the challenge to do it in one. Throw in a hot lap of Mt Stromlo (going to Canberra and not riding Stromlo would be like going to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and not chasing with an Oompa Loompa), meant that the total commitment for the day was going to be around 150km.

The Centenary Trail is well marked and maps/gpx files are readily available
The Centenary Trail is well marked and maps/gpx files are readily available

Leaving our hotel in the CBD at about half-past six, our small party of four headed straight for the War Memorial. After a quick hello to Simpson and his Donkey, we jumped on to the start of the track, which starts just behind the War Memorial grounds. Like mentioned before, the trail very deliberately takes you past (and often through) iconic locations – the War Memorial being the first. Lest We Forget.

These guys were everywhere - stopping to stare at us as we rode past. Image copyright ajhaysom.
These guys were everywhere – stopping to stare at us as we rode past. Side note – I want a joey!  Image copyright ajhaysom.

Not even ten minutes out of the city and the landscape became scattered with grey kangaroos.  I was suffering from major cuteness overload at the sight of little joey heads sticking out of mum’s pouch. It already felt we were fully immersed in bushland, even with the CBD a stone’s throw behind us. I guess that is why Canberra calls itself “the bush capital” huh?

ainslie

Mainly on fireroad and singletrack, we climbed up and then flew down both Mt Ainslie and Mt Majura.  Navigating through some grassy fields, we reached what looked to be prison grounds, surrounded with a decent sized electric fence and razor wire. Turns out this was not a place of incarceration – rather a protected area for fauna and flora. It felt like an open plain zoo and that we were going to be attacked by lions at any moment – luckily we survived the ordeal.

After jumping on a cycle path for a short distance, we hit the dirt again on route to the Northern Border Campsite.  This section of the trail has some awesome single-track ascents and descents which snake through a whole lot of private property (and gates, which were to become a theme throughout the day). The Northern Border is exactly that – we rode along a fence line which separated the ACT from NSW. After climbing a rather steep hill, we stopped to both admire the first stunning view of the day and have a bite to eat.

Twisty and flowing trails make up the section around the Northern Border going into Hall
Twisty and flowing trails make up the section around the Northern Border going into Hall

It wasn’t too long after the Northern Campsite that we came across some local Mountain Bikers riding in the opposite direction (one had some shin guards I was eyeing off). According to them, there was a bit more climbing to come, but the single-track descent along the ridge into the suburb of Hall was more than worth it – just watch out for walkers. Turns out this advice was 100% correct on both accounts (I was having a bit too much fun and almost took out a group of Chinese tourists).

ridgetrack
Some of the track running along the side of the ridge

From Hall, we jumped on another bike path, made a point to overtake a roadie on a Cervelo (one of my favourite things to do on a Mountain Bike) and set out in search of food on the waterfront at Belconnen. While the service wasn’t exactly fast (I am such a demanding Sydney-sider sometimes), the raisin toast drilled in golden syrup and dusted with icing sugar was a little bit amazing.

The next location on our journey was Black Mountain – the home of Telstra Tower. As an employee of Telstra, I assume I can therefore claim that I visited a work site, this was therefore a work trip and I could therefore claim all expenses (not sure my boss would agree). I am aware there is a whole heap of single-track at Black Mountain, but we stuck to the GPS course which took us up, around and over.

I'm working boss, I swear I am!
I’m working boss, I swear I am!

From Black Mountain, it was time to commence the patronage to the home of Mountain Biking – the glorious Mt Stromlo. This was via a few little climbs and descents, including one up to the National Arboretum. The Arboretum includes some wonderful architecture nestled on top of a hill, a whole lot of tree plantings (exciting for some people I guess?) and some pretty cool public art. I later learnt it was built after the area was decimated by the bushfires in 2001 and 2003.

The acron playground - why did this not exist when I was a child?
The acron playground – why did this not exist when I was a child? Image thanks to TCL.

Up to this point, we had traversed fire roads, pine forests, single track, red dirt, white dirt, brown dirt, shale, grassy areas, wooded areas, bike paths, urban areas – you name it. We had spotted a range of birds, lizards, kangaroos, wallabies and a handful of humans. None of the riding to date had been overly technical, but there is just so much variety. Not to mention some amazing views.

One of the many stunning views. The pictures don't do it justice.
One of the many stunning views. The pictures don’t do it justice.

As I mentioned before, it’s slightly wrong to go to Canberra and not go to Stromlo. The Centenary Trail runs across the bottom of the mountain bike park, but it was decided we would take a detour up the mountain and then fly down the famous Skyline and Luge tracks. I did this a total of 12 times as part of a 7 hour race not long ago, but it certainly doesn’t seem to get old!

Probably a bit too technical to be included on the Official Centenary route - but a must do anyway.
Probably a bit too technical to be included on the Official Centenary route – but a must do for anyone with intermediate MTB skills.

The next section of the Trail takes you from Stromlo to Tuggeranong, via the Murrumbidgee River.  Three of the four of us were completely out of water by the time we got to the “Beach” (there is actually a beach in Canberra, on the banks of the river). We took a little bit of a risk, filling up our packs with tank water. I am still alive and writing this, so it appears the risk was worth it. For everyone else, make sure you fill up at Stromlo!

Section 6 to Tuggeranong comes with a warning that it is the most technical section of the entire Centenary Trail. I wouldn’t say it was super hard, but it does involves a lot of pinchy single-track, some fast descents and some bridge crossings, making it super fun! It took a lot longer than expected (and was interrupted on a number of occasions by gates you needed to climb over), but riding along the ridge looking down over the Murrumbidgee was one of the highlights of the day.

Looking down over the Murrumbidgee River
Looking down over the Murrumbidgee River

After another food stop at Tuggeranong, our party of four set off for the final section of the course. Through some urban areas, a pine forest or two and across a small mountain, we eventually rolled over the peak of a hill to be confronted by Parliament House in the distance (after 145 odd kilometers, mostly off-road, I have never been so happy to see that building). Keeping an eye out for our Prime Minister, it was time to get up to some shenanigans on the lawn, up and down the steps and through a water feature. While some guards looked on, I can confirm no tasering was required.

grass

All in all, this was one of the most enjoyable days I have had out on the mountain bike. The terrain was so varied – the course has bits of everything. You get to see some amazing sights, both urban and bush orientated. I’m not a person who normally enjoys visiting famous landmarks, but the way the course takes you to a stack of iconic buildings and locations was pretty cool.

It’s a big day out – we covered 150km in a total time of about 11 hours (including stops). I was absolutely shattered by the end, but it was worth it. Not bad Canberra, not bad.

The Wylde West: Mid Week Adventures

Once again I found myself stirring in the middle of the night, with the sound of heavy rain falling outside the primary reason for my interrupted sleep.  As has been the trend the last few weeks, this rain was putting my mountain biking plans at severe risk – the trails had only just started to dry out, another downpour would most certainly see all the local parks close again.

As luck would have it, the rain hadn’t been as bad across other parts of Sydney and my riding buddy (and mad skills coach) for the day Chook had been hatching another plan. We would head west instead and check out the newly opened Wylde MTB Park, located just off the M7 Motorway at Cecil Hills.

The token bike leaning up against something photo.
The token bike leaning up against something photo.

Wylde offers riders a 12km purpose built MTB loop, designed to International standards, as well as a pump track and jump run.  In addition to some great single track, the facility has a specific parking area, seating, shelters, water bubblers and a bike wash down area.

Freshly built, there were still traces of trail fairies around the place.
Freshly built, there were still traces of trail fairies around the place.

I will note that you need to ride over to the Shooting Centre if you want the luxury of a toilet. In doing so, I was met by ten or so Colonel Sanders lookalikes, I assume bearing arms. Their eyes followed me closely as I went in and out,  probably wondering where the hell this small, Lycra clad, mud covered blonde had appeared from. Certainly an interesting experience.

The track itself has been subjected to a lot of planning and hard work. Almost every corner has been built up – many are nicely banked and a handful have some unbelievable sweeping berms. Right throughout the course are dirt risers, which create a great sense of flow and allow for some fun in the air. There is a bit of climbing (nothing too steep… unfortunately) and some really fun descents. The final 1km or so is wicked.

Chook loving the jump track
Chook loving the jump track

What wasn’t so great was a little run in I had with nature, just past the metal “roly poly” section. Flying down a short hill in order to shoot myself up the other side, a scream was let out as I veered off the side to avoid hitting the Red Belly Black Snake casually slithering across the track. Stopping a few meters further forward, I crept back to check I hadn’t hit it – it’s beady little eyes peering back at me from under a log had me convinced it was probably just as scared as I was (although international viewers take note – this snake CAN kill you).

Just to be clear - I did not get close enough to take a photo - I've borrowed this from the internet for your education!
Just to be clear – I did not get close enough to take a photo – I’ve borrowed this from the internet for your education!

All in all, with the exception of the snake (a fact of life for mountain bikers, bush walkers and well, most Australians), I had a great time. Once some of the track hardens up, this course is going to become really popular. It would make a great race track – I’m sure Western Sydney MTB Club already has that scoped.

Illegal alien. Certainly not a clay pigeon.
Illegal alien. Certainly not a clay pigeon.