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Race Report: Convict 100

After a modest break over winter, round four of the MTBA National XCM series had finally dropped anchor (after a postponement brought on by weather), with hundreds flocking to the small and historic town of St Albans, located somewhere north of Sydney and west of the Central Coast.

Flanked by the Macdonald River, you need to cross the mighty Hawkesbury River by car ferry to get yourself to Race HQ. Timing it perfectly, I drove on to the deck just before the boom gate was lowered – and with a number of other cars transporting mountain bikes, descended into the thick fog encasing the river.

The fog had barely lifted by the time the elite call-up had begun. A small group of about 20 elite riders sat shivering on the start line, waiting until the last possible moment to shed various warmers. Even then, Andy Blair looked like he was being electrocuted the way he was shaking next to me. After a count down, we were set off – the pace a little less than I was expecting – which meant I found myself on the front for the first ~2km (not my race plan).  Warming up the legs again (and wondering if my actual warm-up was even worth it given I had fully cooled down on the start line) there were a few little surges in pace from the likes of Blair, England and Downing before an attack for position prior to the river crossing.

Convict 100 2015

A number of guys opted to preserve their drive chain efficiency and ran through the shin-deep water with bikes in the air. I chose to preserve feeling in my feet and rode through instead, coming a bit unstuck in the soft sand on the other side – but at least I was dry. By this stage the front of the bunch was off down the road and I was left with the tail end for the Jack’s Track climb.

The steepest climb of the day, Jack’s Track has a number of pinches between 20-30% on a climb of about 300 vertical meters. Loosing rear wheel traction on one of the steeper sections, I had to dismount and run, before jumping back on and riding up the rest. Unfortunately I had gone a little too deep on the climb and suffered for the next 20km, failing to latch on to the small bunches that came roaring through the endlessly undulating fire road section.

Luckily for me, just as I had started to recover, I did manage to adhere to a small group for the road section leading in to the first feed zone. With my mate Gareth doing the lion’s share of the work, we were at the Canoe Bridge (widened this year to be more of a canoe super highway) in no time. Somewhere between here and the Shepherds Gully climb I noticed an issue with my rear brake (my attempts to feather it were not really working), but with the second climb of the day just ahead and a few riders to pursue, I set that issue aside.

The “Convict Stairway”, which links Shepherds Gully to 10 Mile Hollow, is a technical rocky section which can be a lot of fun – especially if you have ridden it before. I passed a few riders who were obviously less familiar with it than I was – taking misguided lines and ending up clambering up the sandstone rocks, bike on shoulder. Even with some of the “asteroid belt” sections being worse than I remember, only two “dab”moments for me along the ~8km section is a personal record.

Convict 100 2015

By now the issue of not having any rear brake is starting to be of more concern, as I passed the second feed zone and flew down towards Clare’s Bridge. Jumping off in attempt to remedy the situation, I stood confused as the two pistons from the hydraulic unit stared blankly back at me. The pin that holds the brake pads was gone. As was the brake pads themselves. I don’t think I can fix this.

Attention quickly turned from my brakes to dodging the low hanging branches, spiky bushes, fallen trees and sizeable mud puddles – all of which lined the next ~10km section. I came out of it with scratches on my arms, hands and face and after a few poor choices, a fair bit of mud and water over my feet and legs. That said, strength wise, I am feeling good.

Convict 100 2015

It was slightly frustrating being able to stick with riders (even make ground on some of the climbs) only to be dropped on the more gnarly descents, which I now had to take rather cautiously. After the final “sawtooth” section across the ridge-line (endless up’s and down’s), came the worst descent to not have rear braking power – Wright’s Creek.

Wright’s Creek averages -11% for 1.3km, with some steep sections and dangerous water bars, which could make for some nasty crashes. Trying unsuccessfully to ease my way down on my front brake only (even with my butt close to touching my rear tyre), I found myself picking up way too much speed. I made the call to ride off the side into the bushes, in preference to what could have ended up being a free helicopter ride.  Dusting myself off, I hopped down the remaining steep sections and hit the road for the final 10km.

Tucked up into a little aerodynamic ball, I passed a whole lot of 44km and 68km riders, a few of which tried unsuccessfully to jump on to my wheel. With about 3km remaining (at which time I was really starting to flag), I found myself consumed by a group of four other 100km riders. With everyone doing a small turn on the front, we all finished together in 4 hours and 50 minutes.

I was the 2nd woman across the line, with Sarah Riley (just back from the World XCM Championships) about 7 minutes ahead of me. Andy Blair and Shaun Lewis rode to the top of the podium in the men’s elite category, followed by Craig Cooke in 3rd and James Downing in 4th (as opposed to his usual 6th in this event). 

Convict 100 2015

Max Adventure do a great job of hosting this iconic race, with the whole town brought alive on race day. Although this was my first outing, I really enjoyed the “reverse” course. It’s unique in it’s own way (with no single-track) but the un-groomed and un-kept nature of the trails, which are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, make it challenging, entertaining and enjoyable. If you have time to admire the view, that’s pretty unbelievable too.

Next on the cards – a trip to the bike shop for some new brake pads!

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)


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


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)


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)


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.


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)


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!


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.


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)


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.


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.


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.