The first event of the Australian Champs was the middle distance. From what I could see from old maps it was going to be steep and the notes seemed to indicate it was going to be quite rocky. It was even quite a ride up to the start (they even supplied us with little maps so we didn't get lost!) which was a good warmup (especially good because it was pretty cold).
I mostly navigated okay but was a bit hesitant especially to start with when I saw one of the top Australians going down some very strange route (apparently she later blamed her bad time on mechanical issues...hmmmm). The terrain was extremely physical and you really didn't want to take the wrong track and go flying down a hill you weren't supposed to 'cause coming back up would be a killer.
Thanks Pete for snapping me in action as I leave the start
There was one bit where you could either go back out to the track along the single track you'd just come up or continue along it and although I figured it was probably slower to continue I thought it might be more fun so I went that way! I just kept imagining I was riding at Woodhill and thought of the rocks as the usual tree roots and it seemed to work quite well.
I made a couple of mistakes near the end when I was pretty knackered. Somehow I ended up at #13 before #12 which I think happened to a few people. Then on the way to #14 I didn't see the track I was looking for and started off down the wrong one. Luckily I worked it out fairly quickly before I'd gone too far wrong! I was pretty happy with my race overall though.
After the weekend of racing over near Mt Gambia for the South Australian Champs we started making our way over to Maryborough and our base for a week of training.
On the Monday most of the team went for a trek up in The Grampians but because I was supposed to be looking after my foot I joined Di (or "camp mother") to cycling the rail trail going from Skipton to Ballarat. Okay, most normal people would ride it going the other way for obvious reasons once you get on it (umm, going the way we did it was mostly uphill the whole way) but why opt for the easy option?! Okay, it didn't fit with our travel plans to do it the other direction and, well, Di didn't tell me it was going to be mostly uphill. Rob and her sold it to me as a chance to spin my legs and relax. Umm, not unless you count relaxing as riding about 65km and most of that uphill (it's not a steep gradient but the ground is pretty sandy so there is quite a bit of resistance)!
Anyway, it was pretty awesome but very tiring. Di took heaps of photos but I haven't got them off her yet. I'll post some when I get them because the scenery was beautiful.
About 10km before the end of the trail (we kept riding into Ballarat to meet our driver afterwards) a magpie came out of nowhere and nearly knocked me off my bike which was quite hilerious especially after we saw it flap off rather drunkenly. Afterwards we discovered you could see where it had wedged its beak in my helmet.
Tuesday was our first official day of training and I was exhausted! Thankfully the map was relatively flat (note the word relatively). We spent most of the day out riding the forest doing various different exercises focusing on smooth transitions through track junctions (i.e. not stopping to check the map every time).
The bush was quite dry and tracks were covered in twigs and leaves. Oh, and rocks. The terrain is definitely more rocky than anywhere I've biked in New Zealand and rocks are hard as I would find out the following weekend!
Wednesday's map was a lot steeper which generally suits me. In the morning we rode out round training loops in pairs and I was with Marquita who is, like, incredible (she has several World Champs under her belt). It was really cool to ride with her and I was feeling a lot more confident in my riding by the end.
Thursday was the final day of training before heading over to Daylesford for the weekend. We were back over on terrain similar to Tuesday and started off with a relocation exercise. We were in groups and rode out into the forest not looking at our maps. When the leader of the group stopped we then had to work out where we were. Argh!! I'd never (hopefully) lose that much contact with the map so it was really tough but good fun.
On the second exercise (long legs and route choice) I was riding along minding my own business (well, reading my map on what looked like a relatively smooth piece of single track) when all of a sudden I looked up and saw my front wheel hit a rather large log. It wasn't a bad crash but rocks sure do cause a bit of blood loss. Thankfully I was not the guy who got a stick in his front wheel which threw him off and fractured his sternum and ribs. Not good.
We then had a go at a sprint course which was a bit of a laugh especially at one point where there were a few of us riding round in circles getting ourselves horribly confused! Never let someone else put you off your original plan!
Track closed? No problem, just ride it anyway. Apparently it said no riding either but never mind!
Looking over the cliff where Steve fell down
Oh my god, worst race of my life!! It was a freezing cold morning and after hearing wild stories of how tough the terrain was on this map last time I was not exactly feeling prepared. It started out okay, although I felt really slow and there were a few weird sections where it felt like tracks were either missing or just plain different from the map especially on the way to #2. Then I bumped into Marquita whilst looking for #3 and we came to the conclusion it wasn't in the right place when I spotted it through the bush. Frustrating.
Then it got bad. I was having a lot of trouble breathing and the sand was just ridiculous. I was struggling up the hills and felt really dizzy at one point and somehow managed to completely loose contact with the map. Not good!
Because I am stubborn, I got all the way out to #9 which is on the very far corner of the map, about as far from the finish as you could get, before deciding I couldn't continue. Of course, I still had to ride back which was a mission. Yeah, I could have finished but I really couldn't face the sand and fairly epic hills that looked like dominating the last section of the course and my breathing was starting to really hurt so it was my first ever DNF. I thought I'd feel bad about it or something but I kind of felt relieved that I'd been able to stop.
After a training ride with our team in the morning which did a little to calm my nerves, it was time for the longest mountain bike orienteering course I'd ever done (rogaines not included here), and in another country no less! I think the distance (which is based on the shortest possible route I think but I'm not sure, unlike foot orienteering where it's based on the straight line) was 29 kilometres which seemed a long way for the first race!
Having no idea what to expect terrain-wise (everyone tried to give me helpful descriptions but there is nothing like actually being out there to understand) I was pretty anxious. I'm can navigate on the bike so that wasn't the problem. And I'm fit so that also didn't bother me. But it's my technical skills that are sorely lacking as well as confidence so signing on to this trip and getting to the start line was a big deal for me especially after my fall a couple of weeks before.
The course, for me anyway, was really easy navigation-wise (not that I didn't make a couple of really stupid mistakes especially coming out of #10 where I went in completely the wrong direction!). Also, being allowed to ride across the yellow (open terrain) was a bit weird to get your head around. Riding wise it wasn't too bad either and I was really happy with how I'd done. A good start to the trip.