Head over Heels….I mean Handlebars

A few things had happened since the Disqualification at Wonderland – I had quite a few words with myself, pushed down the disappointment.

This happened for a reason – there must be a bigger picture.

The answer? To ramp up my training in preparation for Spartan in November. Twice a day you say? Well ok then.

A curve ball.

A desire to compete sooner, to be part of something bigger – the infamous Surf Coast Century.

I joined a team of three others to cover the 100km. It included Ash Bartholomew – the legend, his son Josh who I’d raced against before (super fast), and Hannah, who had recently discovered a love for ultras, and was smashing them out.

My part of the race was on the beach…21km of beach running. Truly amazing, if not tricky with incoming tides, and ‘rock pools’ that turned out to be chest deep….sorry legs….and phone in my pocket.

Back into training, revived.

Then another curve ball.

Injury.

3 hours into trail biking around the You Yangs Bert decided she didn’t like the look of a tree on a sharp bend, and decided to hit it with her handlebar.

Bert lost, and buckled sideways, throwing me to the ground without me even realising what was going on. My ankle took the brunt of the force (my body weight) and my ligaments made the all too familiar sound of not being happy, of tearing, and maybe snapping.

Ice. All the ice, all the elevation.

Little rest – one day to be exact, then I was back, in the gym, on the rower, upper body.

The third curveball (they come in threes right?)

Three weeks after the injury, a spare ticket to the Melbourne Marathon 10km was offered to me. On the Tuesday, and the race was on the Sunday.

I said no. Then yes. Then saw a physio who, in my mind, said I’d be fine. But in reality shook her head and looked at me like I was her worst patient ever. Then she dry needled my calf. Revenge.

I raced. Pure bliss, no PB to chase, just enjoyment.

And swelling. Oops. But still I trained. The rest of my body felt the best it had in ages. So I still trained.

Ok, so  the race – a partner race consisting of a 3.5km run, 20km bike, 4km run, 3km kayak. Those who were ahead after the 20km bike would be given an additional loop. Yikes.

We learned a week before the race that it was actually an orienteering event too – not only were you racing, you were finding the course you had to race. I was already confused.

The night before? I resisted the urge to go to a house party, instead hosting for a dinner party. With wine of course.

4.30am. My alarm went off and I mobilised my body, and meditated, and stretched.

I ate my pre made breakfast of egg muffins, smashed avo and roasted pumpkin (thank you prepared me).

And drank coffee. All the coffee.

I left the house at 5.30am, with Bert clinging to the back of Betsy (my car, of course), ready to race.

The drive down – 3 Coles Express’, no coco coffee water, just two more coffees.

I only had two gels with me – but figured with the navigation involved, we probably wouldn’t have to do the second loop of the bike. I would be safe.

I arrived to drop Bert off at the transition area, and met up with Will, my cool calm and collected team mate. We laughed at how early it was, and how neither of us could really navigate. This was going to be fun / dangerous / terrifying.

We got to the start line, chose our kayak, she looked glorious, so I named her Gloria.

Not out loud.

We got the maps – with our directions on, squares on the map marked the check point, a triangle marked where we started. Thank god.

We plotted a route with a highlighter that looked feasible and relatively streamline.

Ten seconds.

No music.

We were off, we ran, together, all the teams together along the beach.

My legs asked me why we did two hours of squats on the Friday. I told them to shut up and run.

First checkpoint – relatively easy as literally every team ran towards it.

Then we split off, the lead pack, heading off the beach and onto the cliffs.

I managed to find the second check point, announcing it to the whole group – hoping they might return the favour later on.

One more checkpoint then we hit the transition point and tried to fix our map to the rather unique clipboard that you can mount on your handlebars.

Anyway.

We were off, hills at first.

It was hard, doing my now and next to make sure I knew where my bike was going, but also to look out for checkpoints, and other competitors.

We were two checkpoints in and decided to try and different route to get to the third, to see if we would be quicker. Up a hill, through clay rocked cliffs and onto lumpy flats.

That’s when I happened.

Will was ahead of me, scooping out where to go next (and just generally faster).

Some sticky crevices came up, small at first, then larger.

I hit the last one, the largest one, at speed.

My front wheel looked at me apologetically. She was not moving – she was stuck in the crevice.

Momentum happened.

I could feel my back wheel lift with some force.

This was it….I was going over the handlebars.

I needed to decide how to either make this graceful, or travel the path with least pain.

I did neither – because there was actually no time to think.

I could see the ground getting closer as Bert bucked me forward. Instinct. I curled into a ball, letting go of the handlebars and trying to distance myself from Bert (sorry Bert), throwing myself forward off her.

I landed in a heap, taking the brunt of the force on….oh everywhere.

Like a gymnastics display of lots of spinning, Bert flew into the air then came down on top of me, clearly just wanting a hug. And we skidded along the clay together.

Spokes, pedals, arms, legs.

“Bloody hell, are you ok?”

I wasn’t sure.

“That was spectacular”

I was sure.

I politely pushed Bert off me, and the guy behind me went to help.

“I’m fine.” Slightly more high pitched than planned.

I mentally scanned my body, physically scanned my body.

Bruised ego. Bruised confidence. Superficial scratches. I was fine.

I picked Bert up, jumped on and raced off to find Will. The gears making a few crunching sounds before clicking back into place.

I was fine.

Will was waiting at a cross roads, trying to figure out the best way.

We continued.

Up hills, down hills, single track, fire trails, beautifulness. Riding, walking, scrambling, carrying. People on bikes flying everywhere in a mad hurry to find the checkpoints first.

We somehow managed to find all the checkpoints and excitedly headed back to the transition area to prepare for the run. I would be grateful to get off Bert and run. We’d been on the bikes for an hour.

“You guys are within 15 minutes of the leaders….so you get to do the extra loop”

We looked at each other.

“It’s probably only a little bit longer that the one you just did”

Longer.

I took my second gel, uh oh.

We plotted our route – not realising until later that we could actually go to the checkpoints in any order, not numerical. But that would have been far too easy.

We started again out, the skies darker and our legs starting to stiffen (probably just mine actually, damn squats)

Now and next, checkpoint. On repeat. We missed one, had to go back. Couldn’t find another, literally thought it had been stolen.

We chose to laugh, to enjoy the experience. Be grateful. Again we rode, climbed, carried, scrambled, with less haste, more calm and conversation.

50 minutes later, we arrived back at the transition area.

I hung Bert up, still a little angry with her.

Come on then legs.

We ran, single track to the first check point, then back onto the cliffs, stunning. Second check point of three.

The third was along the beach – an out and back on soft sand and slippery thoughts. My thoughts went back to Surf Coast Century. Definitely grateful. But bloody hell my legs were feeling heavy on the sand. No more gels, just water. No calories or sugar.

We got to the check point at the bottom of some beautiful cliffs, and it occurred to me how nice it would be to sit and have a picnic on the beach.

You’re in a race Jess.

We ran back, back to the start to pick up Gloria and kayak.

We’d been out for 3.5 hours – I was nervous, not only because I had no gels but because I hadn’t really kayaked before. Sure I row at the gym, and I’ve canoed a little bit, but there was technique to this that involved hips and core rather than arms.

Who thought kayaking was core?? Not me.

I saw Gloria, she looked as glorious as ever.

We put on our required PFD (life jacket things) and took off our shoes then placed (threw) Gloria into the water. I jumped in the front and took the map. Eeek.

Three checkpoints. 3km.

We started to paddle, in time, fast and furious. Ready to finish. Hips and core, twist with the paddle. It required a degree of concentration. That I was lacking at that point.

We went under a bridge to find the first checkpoint, more furious paddling, there were others around us, racing.

The second check point was under a bridge as low as our kayak to the water, we ducked, almost got dragged out. Got the checkpoint.

One more.

Hips and core. I was concentrating so much, because at that point I realised I was not only lacking in energy. I was hungry.

Hangry.

Silly Jess.

Will called out – just wanted to check we hadn’t passed the final checkpoint. Because it would really suck to have to turn Gloria around and go back.

We had. Damn.

We turned, raced back to the bank where the checkpoint was – had to get out of the kayak and jump onto the bank. One at a time, careful not to jump in.

I wondered whether there was anything on the bank that was edible. Mud?

We jumped back in (not literally, that would be unwise).

Home straight.

Fast and furious, both laughing a little manically.

Four hours.

Hungry.

I could see the finish line, paddled faster, twisted more (I’m not sure if that helped or just looked weird),

I jumped out when it was shallow enough and pulled Gloria to the bank.

We lifted her, jumped up onto the bank and ran, soaked and exhausted, the 50 metres to the finish line.

4 hours and 13 minutes.

Two gels.

Silly Jess.

But grateful. Adventure, challenge, fun. A lesson.

We high fived and posed for a photo, then posed for a video we thought was another photo. Probably slightly delusional.

Food – there was a BBQ.

Warm clothes and food.

Suddenly I was in heaven. By the sea, in the sunshine. Having just competed in my first adventure race, my first over the handlebars experience, first navigation. My first race with no fuel.

So many learnings.

6th place.

Happy.

Sorry legs.

And arms.

Would I do it again?

100%. Maybe not the navigation – but maybe I just need to get better at it.

But golly what fun.

And next?

Spartan of course.

 

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