Why is my life so hard? Well… it’s actually not.

I’ve set myself some big goals this year, the biggest of which is completing and being competitive in the Crocodile Trophy mountain bike race in September.  More on exactly what that is in a later post.  I need to be positive and focussed throughout the year and I’ve put quite a bit of thought into how I’ll do that. This little bit of writing is a start.

I confess to being a big Freakenomics podcast fan.  I’ve listened to every single episode but this is the first time I’ve gone back and re-listened to an episode twice within a week of it’s release.  On each listen I’ve picked up something new which I can apply in my life.

Here’s a link, it’s called ‘Why is my life so hard?’  It really is worth a listen.  Apart from my desire to share it with you, I also need to give appropriate credit to Freakenomics because this has formed the basis of my little piece… not that these issues have not been on my mind for quite some time.

Here’s the basic premise – Headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry; where barriers and hindrances command attention because they have to be overcome, benefits and resources are often simply enjoyed and largely ignored.

A simple and relevant analogy is riding with or against the wind. Whilst riding against the wind I am constantly aware of it and wishing it was not such a barrier to me.  When the wind is at my back I feel the relief for about 30 seconds then power on and enjoy the benefits without another thought.

I notice the barriers and blissfully ignore the benefits.

When I raced in the Emergency Services Games mountain bike race a few weeks ago, I made a wrong turn on the first lap which caused me to complete a needless climb and half a kilometre of trail which was not part of the course.  When I’d finally realised and re-set myself, I was behind a heap of riders I’d earlier used much energy to pass.  I then began to let that get the better of me.  I was cursing and cussing, blaming the guy in front of me who had led me up the wrong track.  I was lamenting my lap time, seeing myself losing position and ultimately losing my overall place in the race.  What I wasn’t doing was thinking about the fast, light, high performance mountain bike I was on which could assist to drag back my time and position.  I wasn’t thinking about the training and work I had put in to getting fit enough to achieve a winning position; training and work that was designed to overcome such challenges.  And I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I was still riding at the relative pointy end of the race and just had to remain positive and consistent in order to come back to a position where the mistake I had made would make very little difference in the end.

It took me an hour or so to re-focus my thinking into a positive frame of mind – that was an hour wasted. An hour of complaining to myself and encouraging a negative frame of mind when I could have been thinking things that would have made it a lot easier for me.  Silly.

Headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry; there are so many applications of this in our lives and so many ways where we should turn it into a positive rather than a negative – many more important than it’s application to cycling but hey… that’s where I’m at right now.  The kids, their homework, doing the dishes, pulling the weeds out; so many ways in which focussing on the benefits and not the barriers can make life so much better for us!

For now – for me – it’s cycling and the Croc.  It will be getting through every barrier… sorry, gaining from every benefit leading up to that which will help me achieve my goals.

And staying on the bike of course.

(My ongoing milestones and results throughout this year will be maintained and published on this page in order that I can keep track of what I’m achieving).

Flat out confidence

I was reminded yesterday that a couple of flat races can be a little deceptive in their effect on your confidence.  A return to the northern hills with a bunch of really fit blokes soon brings a big-fella back to reality, especially when you throw a couple of very solid and stubborn trees into the mix.

This course out to Sugarloaf has no problem putting it all back into perspective for you… or me more particularly.

The Mont 24 hour race has been a game-changer for me the past two years. Last year, it was the time where – having raced really well – the bubble burst for me and thereafter I went into cycling shut-down mode for nearly a year. This year, it was the opposite… I went to The Mont a little under-prepared and after feeling good and going well, am now keen as mustard to start really hitting it hard again.

But The Mont, with only 250 metres of climbing in a 17 kilometre lap; and the Crazy 6 at the You Yangs, with a puny 100 metres of climbing and an average speed of 26 kph in a 12 kilometre lap, are big confidence builders for a fat bloke.  Especially when you’re racing in a team with one of the fastest women around; thanks Wendy Snowball for a great result.

And then.. there were hills.


There aren’t too many in this photo, but the terrain of Warrandyte and Christmas Hills is rather more bumpy than the Kowan State Forrest and the You Yangs.  Those vertical metres really hurt last Saturday (nearly as much as the trees) and the level of competition… sorry… company, made it all the more painful.  Despite the climbing – and my very natural resistance to it – I think everyone there would join me in the opinion that it was a fantastic return to the beautiful big Saturday mountain bike rides of previous years.  It was a truly spectacular and enjoyable ride on a gorgeous day.  So lucky we are!

 After ‘guaranteeing’ to Duncan that we’d be back to the cars by midday, I was very disappointed to hold everyone up having had a significant argument with a tree – actually, two trees – at the bottom of The Back Nine (is that trail name correct Mars?… I think so.).

Thanks so much everyone for your assistance and patience.  It’s always a hassle when a rider crashes or his/her bike breaks… but without fail, experienced mountain bikers generally understand that it could have been any one of them and therefore provide plenty of jovial but sympathetic support. Whilst still sitting in the place I had landed, and whilst ambo-Dave was diligently filling my veins with the good stuff, my eleven mates managed to find plenty of advice on crash avoidance, surgical know-how and clavicle recovery.  Love ’em to bits.

Let’s see if I can remember who was there; Mars, Jim, Alex, James, Christian and another member of the Columbian Cartel… Ian, Aaron, Duncan, Sam, Lethal, Hayden… two others I reckon (one Yarra Ranges and one Warrandyte). Thanks so much for your help guys; what a magnificent ride.

And Dunc… I reckon you still got back by 12; it just wasn’t quite as much fun as it would have been. Next time.

Thanks for coming and thanks for your help.


  

The dusk lap, the dawn lap – and a dark, dark, dark lap in between

There’s something very special about 24 hour mountain bike racing whether you’re competing as a team or as a solo.  Riding a lap in the tiny hours of the morning is so much something that seems so crazy, crazy, crazy.  It’s hard to argue that it’s not.

I started my third lap at 20 past midnight and was woken for my fourth at 5 a.m… and crawling out of a nice snuggly warm tent in the middle of a Canberra April night is really, really, REALLY hard.  Under what other circumstances would you ever consider going for a ride at those times of day?!  Madness.

It’s amazing what team-work, along with the pressure to please your mates, can motivate.   

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The Edward Teach Guild – MTB Racing Team (this link may provide some explanation) is an entity of which I’m grateful to be a member… we all love to be members of a group.  The Guild is the team which has never lost this race… til now.  And yes, I was proud to be a part of that as well.

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Consistency and reliability are the keys to this kind of endurance racing. Consistent lap times, reliable machinery equiped with good shit that works really really well, and an element of luck…that’s what wins.

The Rabbit‘ (Brett Kellett) took our first lap – as is his want and skill – and smashed out the prologue and onto the course well-and-truly in the top 20 positions in a race of 320 teams.  Nice.

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Then snap goes the chain… and down the drain goes 15 minutes.  Well… um… that wasn’t the start we were after. Beej (Brian John) and I head out on our laps to start the chase then, ptssssss…. goes Cam’s tyre at the top of the drop when he tries to bunny-hop a hubbard (i.e. any rider slower than yourself).  Down the drain goes another 10 minutes.  That’s racing.

Thereafter, we chased and chased and chased.  It’s testament to The Captain’s (Bruce Dickey) leadership that no-one is given quarter to accept defeat… nor to ride at anything but their best.

The excitement of the dusk lap (entering the dark of the night), the loneliness – if it wasn’t for hubbards – of a dark, dark, dark lap; and the tranquility of the dawn lap were mine to wonder at.  And as hard as it is to bring yourself to do certain things, the reward of the achievement is amazing and extremely memorable.

Our mishaps had put us in 200th position overall and 17th in category at the completion of lap one.  By the end of the race, we had clawed back to 9th overall (320 teams) and 2nd in category (22 teams).  And yes… there were times where we said, “If only….” – but we can’t be saying that.

That’s racing.  😉

Just a dash of political incorectness

It’s always great to review, debrief, analyse and thank those responsible for a great event… and it was a great event.  But the gushy praise for trail-builders at the end of the race was a little over the top in my view.  I’m sure the 100 kilometres of trails built in the area and the work put in by the crew is awesome… but we rode 16.5km of trail and have seen virtually the same 16.5 for at least the past few years (with a few new little tid-bits here and there).  These were by no means the best trails I have ridden and are in dire need of significant maintenance and durability work.  Some of the descents could do with some serious berm-work and solidifying – rather than end up with the dusty results we saw.  The team, the event, the atmosphere, the trip… these are the reasons I go; if I want to ride trails as good as this, I can do that in the middle of Melbourne on Yarra Trails; and I can travel very little distance to ride trails way WAY better than the Kowan State Forrest.  So great work guys… but don’t get too cocky and comfortable; it’s a competitive environment and there are good races everywhere with much much MUCH better trails.  I think the boys of Kowan would do themselves a massive favour by consulting with the trail builders of the Alpine Cycling Club… Just saying.  (PS:  Don’t get pissed off with such feed back… go with it and give us some interesting stuff next year.)

And Hubbards… my God!  Are we really trying to build a mountain bike culture where we don’t race anymore?!  Are these events turning into a ‘ride‘ rather than a race where it’s okay to put your arse in the way of your fellow riders who… yes… may well actually be racing for sheep-stations – or similar?  And then when you get passed by a faster rider, you threaten to ‘report their number‘ due to aggressiveness – which is just racing.  My God!… time for me to shut-up.

I guess that’s all part of racing too.

 

The Edward Teach Guild MTB Racing Team – success of 2015

I wrote this article for Enduro Magazine after The Mont 24 Hour Teams Mountain Bike Race last March.  It’s taken a while to publish but the best Australian MTB Mag is on the shelves now, so go and get yourself a copy.  The 2016 Mont race is only a few weeks away now (April 2-3) and my desire to win this year is, at present, way WAY above my current physical ability.  There’s plenty to motivate me though… so it’s head down chewing on the handlebars from now to April – wish me and the Guild plenty of luck.

2015 Race Report –

The years go by but the desire to win does not diminish.  Hence the need to draw on any means of intimidation possible; a reminder to the young lads we race against that we are fast – very fast for a team with an average age of 50.5 years old – and likely to cause young fellas significant harm should they attempt to challenge us.

11070533_10153284406328619_7071244677150451576_nThe name of this racing team is just one part of a calculated strategy to crush the opposition like the infamous pirate crushed his. Edward Teach, like most successful criminals, had more than one name; for what self-respecting, law-breaking fiend, would earn respect amongst his peers if he did not have an aka following his original title?

Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard), the owner of one of the mightiest pirate ships ever to set sail, has become the posthumous mentor of the Edward Teach Guild Mountain Bike Racing Team, the members of which draw strength and wisdom from the far reaches of the deep ocean, the location of the great man’s untimely death.

We came together as a team for this year’s Mont 24 Hour Teams Mountain Bike Race in the Kowan Forrest of Canberra on the last weekend in March. 274 teams met to race at high speed through the bush and through the night.

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The Captain

These dastardly characters were the 2015 members of the Mont Guild:

  • Bruce Dickey (aka The Captain) 64yo:  Always greeting you with a smile, but brutal if you fail.  He’s also responsible for dragging the average age up.
  • Cam Wells (aka The Silver Fox) 51yo:  Riding angry laps and living (and recording) every moment of the experience… just in case we’re all in retirement villages next year.
  • Brett Kellett (aka The Rabbit) 46yo:  Don’t be fooled by the six inch suspension, baggy shorts and heavy shoes.  Is the pope catholic?  Is a rabbit quick?  You get the picture.
  • Anthony Caffrey (aka The Fugitive) 49yo:  ‘Ride like you stole it’ – he does.
  • Richard Read (aka Diesel) 48yo:  Get out of the way if he’s coming around the corner like a Kenworth and you hear “Traaaaack”… you young whipper snappers.
  • Evan Jeffrey (aka Brains) 45yo: – because he had a portion of his brains removed quite recently, which perhaps explains his desire to travel through the bush at night on a mountain bike at such explosive speed. I mean… would a fully-brained person do such a thing?
Pre-race, one of these WILL be ours.

Pre-race, one of these WILL be ours.

Each of us share one or two of Blackbeard’s traits; all the easier for us to channel his soul on our flat-out laps.  I’ll get onto those similarities in a tick but there is one thing we do not have in common with Edward, he occasionally lost – we don’t. His ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was named thus because revenge was required, but in the ten year history of The Guild, revenge has not once been necessary because The Guild has not and does not lose.

As the rookie member of the 2015 team, that record placed a rather large amount of weight on my shoulders.  I was humbled to be invited to take a place in such a prestigious team; to receive an invite from an Australian mountain biking legend (not overstated); the Gary Fischer of Australia (maybe a little overstated); the creator of Dickey’s Loop; the motivator of the Urban Loop. Who wouldn’t want to race with him? But bloody hell… I’d better get fit. They say Blackbeard learned from other pirates; clearly this was my perfect opportunity.

The Rabbit in the dust - first lap.

The Rabbit in the dust – first lap.

Blackbeard looked like a devil in battle… as did The Rabbit as he dashed off on the start lap on the stroke of midday on Saturday.  The Rabbit is known for a quick start; small enough to weave in and out and over and under the mayhem of an endurance race start with 273 other riders. And he looks as fierce as a pirate, disguised in baggy shorts, heavy shoes and riding a super-bouncy bike with thick long forks, he emerges through the dust with a growl on his face ready to attack the single track from the front. And so he did.

Brett returned from his first lap clear of the majority and leaving the race ready for us, or more particularly Brains, to hit it out with the fastest 20% and maintain a solid position.

By the end of lap four, we were sitting in seventh overall and first place in our category of 40+ teams. We were happy with that but the next team of old fellas was less than two minutes behind us (the fact that most of the teams behind us were an average of 20 years younger only served to boost our already huge pirate egos).  The battle raged on.

All six of us managed to squeeze well under the hour for our first laps.  This was a good boost of confidence and became an excellent benchmark for the remainder of the race.  By mid-night we had taken the lead out to 13 minutes and by early morning we had let it come back to 7.

Hang on… What?  7 minutes.

11116274_10153311703628619_201682657837363591_oWell… The Rabbit had a side-wall rip on one lap stretching his time out by ten minutes and  whereas Blackbeard didn’t leave behind any buried treasure, Brains decided to drop a kilo or two when, whilst sitting on the transition line waiting for Brett in the middle of the night, the desire to sit elsewhere to poop – that is, to relieve himself, not to break over the ship at the stern as you may have been thinking –  overcame his desire to be ready to tap-and-go in time, thus dragging our lead back a little more (shhhhh…. Don’t tell The Captain).

Blackbeard has some famous friends and so does The Captain.  Had we let that second team overcome us, I would not have enjoyed being on the end of The Captain’s contract with those famous friends if I was The Rabbit or Brains.

11096562_10153311703923619_5297203259384456071_oBut not to worry; by 8 a.m. we were eleven minutes in front and by 11 a.m. it was 40 minutes.  Breathe easy my friends.

The years go by but the desire to win does not diminish.  That desire is what motivated the six of us to ride so consistently throughout our 25 laps.  Our ability as half a dozen crusty old blokes averaging 50.5 years old, to thread our bicycles through the well-worn single track at great speed assured our success – plus it was extreme fun.

Despite the couple of hiccups, we rode extremely similar times and we rode them every lap for 24 hours.  Those experienced at taking part in these crazy but fun events, know that this is the key to success.  Allowing the middle of the night to trap you in to relaxing the pace is guaranteed to cause your failure – and that was out of the question.

Just ask The Captain.

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A disastrous race but a beautiful ride

I try not to get too grumpy when races don’t go well for me; a bit of bad luck in a mountain bike race is very much a first world problem.

It appears I succeeded today when on our way home, I apologised to Lucy for being a bit grumpy since I’d crossed the finish line; she looked at me as if I was an alien, replying, “I didn’t realise you were grumpy dad.” Ahh.. success. Maybe it was that vanilla slice I bought her at the Woodend Bakery?

But I was… grumpy that is. I must have just hidden it well.

I had high expectations of myself today. I felt I was in as good a form as I was in 2013 when I finished this race in 4 hours 46 minutes; sixth overall and second in category behind Ollie Klein (by 17 seconds!)… with not one element of energy left within me.

I spied some of my opposition on the start line. BJ (my good mate Brian John) – I managed to stay in front of him in 2013 but not today I thought, he’s flying at the moment.  Jason Archer? Well, I really only ever wonder where I will come in after him, and I’m sure guys like Ollie and Tim Jamieson are here again. There’s Paul Randell right next to me. He’s bloody fast and he knows his home trails like the back of his hand; he helped lay out the course this week for God’s sake – good luck with that one!

I’ll give it my best shot anyway.

And off we go with a whistle and a cheer. I hadn’t even crossed the timing mat when my chain started slipping along the front chain-ring. Ironically, in order to ensure I had no issues, I had replaced chain and cassette yesterday. But the test ride in the most harsh (not) conditions of my suburban street had not revealed the problem which would result in my failure to be anywhere near my competition for the entire day.

Both front chain-rings were completely knackered. So the chain ran smoothly and strongly around the brand-new rear cassette… but as soon as any considerable power was applied between chain and chain-rings, it let go.

So that was it… fair dinkum… race over. And all I was doing was trying to climb the little hill out of Cammeray Waters (start line). Paul Randell was just behind me at this stage ensuring I was aware, “Geez Rich… that doesn’t sound good.”

What a stupid bloody ridiculous rudimentary rookie error. I did think, and Jack might say, “You’re living up to your name dad.” Meaning, “You Dick!”

I agree.

Soon after this, in the slipperiness of the pines single track, I applied power without thinking in order to raise the front wheel over a slippery root. Slip – Bang – Crunch… off came the chain and off came Rich/Dick.  Straight onto my right side again to ensure that I ripped the scabs off my existing injuries for the fourth time this week. Have you ever noticed how free and easy blood flows when you rip scabs off multiple times?!  Hoh, it flows!

I accepted the futility of my position at this stage and sat up to relax and ride as best I could; applying only as much power as it took to carry my substantial mass across the dirt. I must say, some of that gorgeous Wombat single track is magnificent at a relaxed cruise… and I managed to have a nice chat to some friends; Belly in the 25 kilometre event and Sash and Dave Russell from Bright smacking out a hundred.  Just think… apart from my isssssues, I would not have had such opportunities. Adam Kelsel, I would have chatted to you too mate but didn’t realise it was you until I’d passed. Thanks for the cheers!

I was prepared to grab Lucy at the 50 kay mark and head to home but she was having such a good time with my friends from Warrandyte that I felt I should grab my other bike and smash out another nice 50 anyway… with some good chain rings. Once I got sorted and going again I had a gorgeous ride for the rest of the route; relaxed and under no pressure, enjoying the trails of an absolutely wonderful place to ride.

Darren Davis, Paul Randell and all who contribute to those Wombat trails.  Thankyou.

I had a despicable race but a wonderful ride.

(5 hours 50 minutes this year; 50 kay horrible, 50 kay solid)

Bragging about the B24

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I’ll tell you up front that the B24 mountain bike race is the idea of a couple of my really good mates. They thought of the concept, established the race and now work their arses off to run it. Last weekend was the second iteration. It’s also in my beautiful Bright; so yes… there is a certain amount of bias in my thinking. But I’ve felt compelled to write something quite independently because I think it’s such an amazing concept for a race.  It’s just not normal and I reckon more people need to know about it.

The marketing line the guys are using, quite appropriately, is this:

“The B24 has been borne out of a vision that brings mountain biking, the town and the tracks together to create the ideal location for a 24hr race.”

It’s very easy to gloss over that line but when you think about it, the concept is quite fantastic if you compare the B24 with any other 24 hour mountain bike race in Australia, past or present.

They all run out of paddocks; big ones, granted; and paddocks with a lots of good stuff in them and usually in very nice places – but paddocks nonetheless. None of them are right in the vicinity of a perfectly equipped town such as Bright; walking (or rolling) distance to everything you need and right next door to really good accommodation.

home1For the second year in a row I’ve stayed at Jo and Gordo’s in one of their Pioneer Garden Cottages.  It’s really good value accommodation in a gorgeous location only a hundred metres from race transition.  So, rather than crawling dirty back into your tent in a cold paddock between laps, you can go back to your unit, have a shower and lie down on a real bed whilst you wait to go out and punish yourself again (if that’s infact the format of racing you have chosen).  And if you choose to race the Esprit de Corps format – and you choose to sleep through the night – you’re very close to the track when you choose to get out and smash out another couple of laps.  Brilliant… it really is brilliant.

And speaking of Esprit de Corps, I had never really thought about it properly until I found myself unexpectedly competing in the category last weekend; for 3.6 kilometres anyway. You get to ride just as much as you would in a traditional 24 hour team but you do the riding when and with whom you want.  It’s explained here on the website but I reckon there are a number of advantages I hadn’t really thought of:

  • You don’t have to start on the gun – you can wait for a while, then start free and clear of other riders to either enjoy your lap as a team or ride free and fast, without your speed being determined by the pack.
  • You can do a social team lap, then smash out a couple of fast ones to test your own pace, throw in a night lap, have a good sleep.
  • Alternatively, you can start out on a nice casual team lap, ride 3.6 kilometres, offer your team-mates a few tips from your deep and wide experience, then ditch it off a log, break a rib or two and spend the day with Feisal.
  • You can ALL do the dawn lap rather than fight about it (because it is such an amazing experience).
  • You can allow the awesome environment of Bright and the amazing atmosphere of mountain bike racing to last for two whole days, soak it up when you’re off the bike and still have an absolute ball on what I reckon are amongst the best trails in Australia (without the stress of accurate timing of mates’ laps, quick transitions and quicker-than-you’d like breaks).

That last point is seriously good. So often I go to mountain bike races and, because I’m competing seriously, I miss out on enjoying the atmosphere and social advantages of mountain bike racing.  The B24 lets you do that as well as race and compete seriously; and the set-up and sponsors are so good that there’s heaps to do, bikes to demo and beer to drink.

So if you’re serious about your mountain bike racing, the B24 is for you.  If you’re semi-serious and want to have a good time as well as show everyone how bloody fast you can go without crashing, the B24 is for you.  If you’re brand-new to mountain biking and like having a good time in one of the most beautiful towns on earth, the B24 is for you.  To be part of this event is a privilege and despite my bias to my mates and my town, Bright, I write this impartially because I so absolutely think that more people need to know about it and be part of it.  If you’re not, you’re really missing out on something good.

(Some photos follow but don’t leave without watching the really well produced video below… it really tells the story of a fun race and a fun weekend.)

 

Thule B24 2014 from Hand Cut Productions on Vimeo.