Monday, October 14, 2013

World 24hr Solo Champs - Wembo

3rd overall / elite

440km, 10,300 vert m, 1052 TSS - 24hr : 31 mins

Another 24hr solo race done and dusted ... here is how it played out ...

There is no doubt that 24hr solo racing is tough. It's not something you specifically look forward to. You know you are going to have to work your arse off to get there, and that the race itself is going to put you through a meat grinder. But still there is a strange attraction to competing in a solo - a morbid fascination of wondering just how far you can push your body and mind.

For me, the training for Wembo started for earnest back in May. All other races along the way become sideshow events. You still compete, but often after a full training week. Feeling constantly baked is all part of a 24hr build.

Over the weeks from May to October, I would be slowly ramping my training - dropping off the intensity, and building the volume up to 30 hours / week. Usually, most of my training is done on the roadie. You can get in big miles, and you don't pound the body. But for solo training, you have to get the hours in on the mountain bike.

Winter training with Scotty
Long days in the Brindies

My base training moved well through the cold months of May and June. The progressive overload of training was on track. In the graph below you can see the TSS increasing each week. Perfect.

Oh - for those who don't train with power. TSS is training stress score. Think of it as an objective measure of the impact of the ride. A one hour TT race is 100 TSS. On the roadie, 60 TSS / hour is tempo, 50 TSS is easy. On the MTB, 50 TSS / hour is solid training and 60+ TSS / hour is singletrack racing.

Anyway, my build in mid June took an unexpected turn. Whilst out riding the Googong Dam loop with Blair and Chalker, I stupidly drank some water from a flowing stream. By the end of that week, I was in the midst of full blown giardia.   You can see the drop in the TSS graph for two weeks.

TSS build to Wembo
Being stubborn, I pushed on with my build, eager to get back to the bigger miles. But, this would be a big mistake, resulting in another three (3) weeks of sickness. Quite simply, trying to do full blown training when your body is shooting out all the nutrition you are putting in, and none of it is absorbed quickly runs you down.

Finally, at the start of August and three (3) lots of antibiotics and countless blood tests later, I was able to get back into it ... well, for two (2) weeks at least until I caught the cold going around at work!!

That was a pretty sobering week, and I was pretty close to pulling the pin on Wembo - having had such a terrible six (6) weeks.

Thankfully, I was able to get in an exceptional four (4) week block - the Canberra weather was warming up, and apart from a few windy days, it was perfect training weather and I got stuck right into it.

As part of my final prep for the race, Cannondale-Sugoi team mate James Downing and I decided to race in the Scott 24hr 6x7 category. It would be a great opportunity to race an almost identical course to Wembo, but at a much faster speed :)

A key element of Solo racing is being able to ride smooth and efficiently. Going fast whilst using as little energy as possible. Racing the 6x7 hot laps against guys like Kyle Ward, Craig Gordon and Andy Fellows does actually help with knowing the course. You see the course with new eyes and new lines present themselves.

Scott 24hr - 6x7
Following the Scott, it was all about packing and prepping bikes for Wembo. I am always amazed just how much stuff you need to race a 24hr Solo.  Between bikes, spares, nutrition, food and comforts for your support crew, clothing for any and every weather condition - it is close to two (2) car loads full of stuff.

A big thanks to Cannondale Sports Unlimited for sending me down another Scalpel 29er. It's really important in a solo to run identical bikes - so you can swap between them during the race with no change to your body position or bike setup. Team mate James Downing stripped it, and re-built it from the frame up - decking it out to match my existing Scalpel 29er, with SRAM XX1, Avid World Cup brakes and all Enve wheels and components.

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2nd Scalpel 29er - thanks Cannondale Sports Unlimited

Race day - and the nerves are kicking in. You sit there in your marquee, noise is all around you with riders and support crew doing last minute unpacking and setup. But you find yourself just starring at the wall. So much is going through your head, and ultimately you are preparing your mind for what is to come.

The start gun goes off, and within 50 meters some of the internationals are jostling for positions. Matt Page wants to be on the front. I jokingly call out for Ed McDonald to attack :)

Race start - yeah, I'm already giving Page a sledge

We get a few km of fireroad before the singletrack starts. Ed and I have raced Stromlo a few times now, and happen to know it pretty well ... with everyone else trying to grab a good position, Ed, Ash and myself slipped through on the inside to get into the singletrack climb first. #sneaky

Now, Ed too has had a rough six (6) weeks of fatigue and flu. There was no way he was going to be able to finish this race, so when on the first lap he attacked shortly into the climb I was going to let him go.  That said, it was the first lap, so I did hit the gas a bit and also broke away from the main bunch.

It's important to get everyone out of their comfort zone early in the race.

A few laps in, and the main contenders were on my heels - English, Cory, Page, Lloyd and Herfoss were all close behind. Ed would get 10 minutes up the road before English could take it no longer and went off to find him.

A quick word about these main contenders;

* Jason English - not much to be said here ... well all know how good he is at these races :)
* Cory Wallace - Kona Factory rider, Canadian Solo 24hr champ - has spent most of 2013 racing in North America, Europe and Asia
* Matt Page - Pivot Factory rider, UK 24hr champ - has spent most of 2013 racing the toughest stage races through Europe and Asia
* Andy Lloyd - always improving enduro rider, making his mark on the local 8hr race scene. In my mind, a wildcard entry
* Troy Herfoss - comfortable in a two-wheel drift, could be riding World Cup short course when not perusing his professional moto GP riding career - he woke up one morning thinking he would give this 24hr racing a shot. Like Lloyd, another wildcard who could do really well here.
* Ash Hyatt - always a solid rider and always one to watch out on. I learnt that the hard way when Ash put an hour into me in the last six (6) hours at the National 24hr Solo in 2011!

Ed McDonald - he even busted out a brand new kit for this race!

As we all raced the first five (5) hours until lights on, it was hot. Stromlo still does not have much protection from the sun, and guys like Matt Page were feeling the heat.

I opted to take the F29er (hardtail) out for this first part of the race. Although it does place a little more fatigue on the body, the extra weight savings for the climb and nimbleness on the D make it a great choice. Psychologically, I love riding this bike - year to date, I have only raced twice on my Scalpel! The F29er is just fricken awesome.

Cannondale F29 - #awesome

Lights on the bike was 5:30pm, but another good tip for 24hr riding is to wait until the last trickle of day-light before turning your lights on. So, it was not until after 7:40pm that the Exposure lights were fired up.

A quick word on lights ... James and I are lucky enough to be sponsored by USE Exposure Lights, and they are exceptional lights. I ran a Reflex on the bars with a 3-cell piggy back. 2200 lumens, and this combo would last well over five (5) hours. On my helmet I ran a Diablo, again with a 3-cell piggy back in my jersey pocket. Only 108 grams on the head, and 1100 lumens for over four (4) hours.

The Reflex also has some smart technology - such as digital display which tells you how many minutes you have left, and a sensor which automatically adjusts the light output - saving burn time when you are climbing.

Diablo - 1100 lumens
Reflex bar mounted
Reflex - 2200 lumens

Reflex digital display

In a 24hr Solo, the night is always a welcome relief. The opening lap intensity is over, nerves are settling and you can just concentrate on maintaining a steady pace. The cooler temperatures are refreshing, and riding under lights keeps you focused.

Early in the night, I got word that Ed and Troy were out.  It was also clear that Page was suffering, and it was not too much longer until he too conceded to the brutality of Stromlo.

Midnight is a key milestone in a 24. You can't win a 24 in the first 12 hours, but you sure can loose it. Pacing and energy consumption are the highest priority leading up to midnight.

Into the night ...
My best tips for this part of the race is to ride as smooth as possible, and use as little energy as you can. Soft pedal - it should feel like you are hardly using your quads. Don't punch it out of corners, and when you over-take keep it smooth - don't accelerate hard back up to pace. Slowly get back to speed.   Where possible, don't take 'A' lines where you need to power up a section.

Avoid rocks and tree roots - ride around them, even if it is an extra second. Every bump adds up on your body. Find the smoothest lines.

At midnight, you should have a good feeling for how the rest of the race will unfold for you.

For me, I had some slow laps around 10pm, and then 2am until day break. Around 1am I was pretty close to pulling the pin. My wrists were hammered. I had a little too much PSI in one of my lefty's, and I could barely hold the bars. My slow laps were simply because I could not descend with any speed.

Support crew - Robyn and Aaron

It was my top support crew who got me to continue riding. A bit of Nerofen, a sh*t-tin of caffeine, some suspension tweaking and a big slap on the arse got me back out there.

After midnight, the next big milestone is day break. The sun brings warmth, and importantly just six (6) hours to go!!

Through the night, Jase built and sustained his lead, Lloyd continued to ride exceptionally well and consistent, jostling with Cory for 2nd place. A unexpected surprise was that Scotty Chancellor had moved up behind me to be in 5th place!

It's no surprise to see Scotty doing well at a solo, but given that he only decided to race the day before and had not done any training for the event, it was pretty impressive!

Scotty actually got within 12 minutes of me in the morning before he burnt his last match and had to pull the pin.

With four (4) hours left to race, I was told that my gap to Cory was dropping! What once was a 25 minute deficit was now only seven (7) minutes! Time to see what I had left in the tank, and to burn off any remaining energy. The thought of picking off Cory, and getting on the top 3 podium was a huge incentive so I stomped it!

On that first lap, I put 11 minutes into him! I've been there before, completely broken with just a few hours to go - when you can hardly turn the pedals over. When someone attacks, you have no response - there is nothing you can do but watch them go up the road.

Not to underestimate Cory, I kept the pace on - putting out four (4) of the fastest morning laps.

Heading out on my last lap, I got word that Cory was done and had finished early. Ahhh - time to do the slowest lap of the race.  Luckily, I had supporters and friends all around the track - Steve Hanley kept me company, and JD and Kylie popped up all over the place to offer final words of encouragement.

JD approving my sock height

A quick word on my nutrition strategy ... quite simple really, 48 x Clif gels, 5 x Clif shot-bloks and 24 bottles of Clif electrolyte drink.

Clif-Bar are not a sponsor - I choose them specifically because I believe they are the best gel and electrolyte drink out there. The gels are really simple - something like 5 ingredients and organic. Being so simple, they sit easily in the stomach.

I use the Shot-Bloks with the extra sodium content - this helps keep any cramps away in the hot weather.

Through the early morning I use the caffeine Clif gels. These come in various caffeine mg sizes - from 25 - 100 mg / gel. This makes it really easy to regulate your caffeine intake. I find it better to take 2 x 25mg caffeine gels / hour then a single 100mg caffeine gel. The body seems to cope better with a smooth caffeine intake, rather then spikes.

Finally, a few thanks ...

  • Robyn and Tommo - thanks for being a great pit crew - looking after me and the bikes
  • James - thanks for prepping the 2nd Scalpel
  • Cannondale Sports Unlimited - F29er (best bike in the world), and Scalpel 29ers were brilliant + the Sugoi RS clothing and gloves were super comfy
  • SRAM Australia - XX1 34T and Avid brakes - reliable and light.
  • Exposure Lights - bright, reliable, light and a pleasure to use
  • Adidas Eyewear - Evil Eyes all the way
  • The Cyclery - making sure JD and I always have the bits we need
  • Frameskin - keeping the Stromlo rocks off my frames!
  • Enduro bearings - top quality ceramic bearings in all my hubs and bottom brackets
  • Mark Fenner - FTP training - There are not too many people who understand 24hr racing - let alone those who can coach riders for these events - Fenz did a top job of my training schedule to prepare me for this race
  •  All the Wembo, CORC and DURT crew - Russ, Sarah, Jack and co - 2 x 24hr races in 2 weekends - well done!!
  • The drunk dudes at the top of the mountain at 1am - you said pull a wheelie if you are happy - but I was not happy :)
  • The other dudes at the bottom of the mountain with the cow-bells and horns
  • The bikini chick on course - Herfoss was excited and will bring his own moto pit-babes to the next race for sure
Well done also to Jason McAvoy and The Beard Bellchambers - 5th & 6th overall - go the Canberra solo riders!

What's next? Husky 100km in a few weeks (yeah, that will hurt) and then the 100miler Fling in a month (yeah, it will still hurt by then too).  

A few photos from the Scott last week ...