So, first things first. I arrived in Canberra on the Tuesday and rode out to the course at Stromlo. I did the first 5km of the course to test out the strapping on my thumb and get my legs moving after the trip. First thing I noticed was that the first 5km was just one massive single-track switch-backy hill. Loved it!!!
The next day, I hitched a ride out to the track to ride the full course. It was fun, technical enough to keep us well awake overnight, and there was no flat to speak of... We were either climbing or descending. The course consisted of one 300m climb, which was actually quite a nice gradient and switchbacked it's way up Stromlo mountain. I quite liked this climb. Then up over the top of Mount Stromlo (past the observatory) we followed a rather technical rocky descent down the other side. The infamous "Pork Barrel" track was to become the talk of the town. A fall on this trail would most likely lead to a nasty injury on the rocks. We'd have to be on the ball constantly descending this trail. There was one section near the start of this trail that had a roll-over on a rock followed by a technical little roll-out. Admittedly, it had me a little worried, the thought of trying to ride that in the dark when I was tired. After this, we had a good solid slog back up to the top of Mount Stromlo again on mainly fire trail and gravel road. It was steeper than the first climb up the other side and I welcomed it because I knew I was a strong climber. Back down the other side, we would be treated each lap to a rollercoaster of berms and humps which would deliver us back onto the crit track at the bottom and feed us into world solo pit lane. I liked the course. It was rough and required a lot of concentration. A course that only the fit and focused would survive for 24 hours.
That afternoon, coach Sadie and my partner, Suse, arrived from Auckland. The following morning, we went for a cruise of the course again and Sadie helped me work some lines on the course. We worked the rollover on Pork Barrel, but by then, a B-line had been marked and we timed the B-line to be only 5 seconds longer than the technical roll-over that had me a tad worried, so i decided to opt for the B-line during the race in the interests of self preservation. At the end of the lap, I asked the Coach what she thought of the trail to which she replied "I love it! It's fun! Don't know if I'd want to ride it for 24 hours though!" Thursday afternoon my parents arrived (they've never seen me race before!), and Friday, after a long, hot line-up for registration and race briefing, we retired early to put together the gear for the following day's race. Pit manager Dee and partner in crime, Brendan, arrived late Friday night.
Saturday morning, I stayed in bed eating porridge whilst the rest of the crew buzzed around doing trips to and from the venue to set up the tent etc. I planned to be at the event centre about 10am, with solo call-up at 11.15am and start at 11.45am. I didn't want to arrive too early and waste my energy on getting caught up in the buzz. When I arrived, Stromlo reserve was packed to the rafters. The event was HUGE. Not only were they running a teams event at the same time, but there were 419 solo entries, the biggest field ever, doubling last year's field of 200 riders. With this came the biggest female field ever and the strongest. There were 31 elite females competing and every one of them strong and fit. With the absence of 3-time world champ, Rebecca Rusch, the field was wide-open and I knew the pace off the start would be fast. I needed to be very mindful of riding my own race and not getting caught up with what was happening on the start line.
At 11.30am, they started calling up the elite riders to the start line. We stood around nervously for our le mans (running) start. At 11.45am, the gun went off and we all dashed the 300m towards our bikes. For me, it was more of a shuffle, and I went from starting at the front of the field to slowly moving to the back of the field as everyone overtook me. I kept looking behind me thinking "please don't let me be the last one on my bike". The good thing was that being so far behind the other elite women on the run meant I wasn't tempted to try and hold their wheel from the start. I knew the course would pick off riders throughout the day. I just needed to be consistent and patient.
I knocked my first lap off in under an hour and 10mins, which was a pretty speedy lap but felt comfortable. I kept the rest of my laps consistent around 1:15 up until darkness and although I was sitting midfield, I knew I felt good going into the night and that the course would probably take a few casualties overnight. Moving into the night, my laps stayed around the one and half hour mark. It wasn't as cold as I had expected it may be, as long as I kept moving. In hindsight, some of my pitstops were a bit of a time killer for each lap, and this is something that we will work on for next race, but my crew, consisting of Coach Sadie, my partner Suse and my good mates Dee and Bren were totally on the ball and kept me moving. I truly hope that we can work together again for next year. I felt surprisingly fresh coming into the wee hours of the morning, around 3 and 4am. I managed to stay on the bike with no major mishaps and I was eating and drinking well. I would have to say I owe this largely to my two biggest fans (mum and dad) who sat at the top of Mount Stromlo for the full 24 hours in the cold and wind overnight just to cheer me on each lap as I came around (cool huh??!). I think to kill the time, they were cheering on everyone else who came past and they widely become known as "the nutters who have been sitting on top of the hill all night". Being called a "nutter" by someone who has chosen to ride their bike around is circles for 24 hours straight is quite a statement!!!
As we neared the end of the dark hours, I was really starting to feel the pinch. I was in a lot of pain from my saddle and my feet and as the sun came up, it didn't get any better. My feet were numb from the roughness of the course and my bum was sore because, well, I'd been sitting on it for the last 20 odd hours. My last four hours should have been 4 strong laps to finish off a good race. Instead, it became a painful grovel. I was wincing in pain and choking back the tears for every pedal stroke... You always forget the last painful hours until they are upon you again. I forced out 2 more laps which brought me up to the 24 hour mark, but I'd spent so much energy trying to ignore the pain that I hadn't eaten or drunk much in the last 4 hours. I collapsed onto the edge of the track after my final lap, unable to push through and do that one extra that might have been.
Looking back, I had a pretty good race. It was the first 24 hour I have done where I truly felt at the end that I had left everything I had out on the track. I lapped consistently and ate and drank well for my first 20 hours. My last four hours left a little to be desired but hey, it's all part of the game. If it was easy, everyone would do it. I rode 16laps and 320km, which is the longest distance I had done in any 24 hour event. It was a good ride against a very large and strong field of competitors which unfortunately meant that I only finished in 12th place (out of 31 elites, probably not too bad).
There's a lot of rest and recovery to be had for now. I hope to be back on the bike in the next couple of weeks so I can ride a couple of the end of year events here in NZ. Massive thanks to the crew (Sadie, Suse, Dee and Brendan), including the "nutters at the top of the hill" (mum and dad), sponsors Ayup Lights, Bike 75, Adidas Eyewear, Icebreaker, Giant Bikes and Spoke Magazine. Thanks to Christel at Nikki Hart Nutrition for making sure I ate the right stuff, and also to Dr Lucy Holtzhausen and the team at Hands Out West and also to Jakub at Avantiplus Waitakere who all made sure that the injury I was so worried about ended up being the least of my problems for the event! I couldn't have done it without you all and I hope my performance made you all proud to be a part of the team.