24hrs at Stromlo, the most fun you can have in 24hrs!

jessandlizIts been 2 weeks since I raced at the Australian 24hr SOLO Mountain bike championships at Mt Stromlo.
For most of us that race these events, its not just the body that needs time to recover, its our mental wellbeing, and that means the capacity to put the race into words, apologies for the suspense.

Last year in 2014 Norm and I turned up to the Scott 24hr as I was not going over to Scotland to defend my World Champion title.  

Life had been hectic and training had not been world class.

This race is where I really cut my teeth on the 24hr scene, so it only seemed fitting to take a weekend off and revisit this and see what passion I might still have for it.


It seems it lit a flame in my soul and Norm and I promised we would be back in 2015 and then came the good news that it would be the national championships as well! 
I had only 2 Aussie Champ titles, 2009 & 2010, even though I had 3 World titles.
Now the goal posts were changing and it was time to even up the numbers and go for 3, albeit a few years apart.
I entered on the very first day the entries opened and went and clocked up 6 weeks of riding overseas as a tour guide to create my base.

Upon my return I recruited my coach and mentor, Greg Meyland who understood my freelance way to train but guided me along the way for a 16 week build.
I lost a few extra kilos, gained a few extra watts in performance and rebuilt the winning mindset.


It wasn't until the week before that I found out that start lists were up for viewing and I did hope that Liz Smith was going to show, for we had done a few races together but really this would be the closest matched we might possibly be at this point. 

It scared me and excited me at the same time.

After our practise laps on Thursday and Friday, I decided I wanted to do as many laps I possible on my hardtail, the course was fun and in the early part of the race a hard tail would be perfect.

On the start line, as happens to most of us, I knew I had form but wondered what form Liz had and had about 5 varying plans of attack.  The first plan was to lead from the start, why not? Someone has to lead and I will soon find out if this is working or not.
As we raced off around the bottom of the criterium track to enter the long fire road climb I was up there with about 5 or 6 of the men and it was comfortable, granted they were cruising but then so was I. 

Within an instant I knew I could win. 

All I had to do was stay calm, stay focused, remain committed to my investment, no crashes, no mechanicals and all would be fine.

The first few laps were hot and photos show the crust of white salt on my shoulders. 
There comes a time in a hot race where my body settles into a survival pace, fast enough but the legs feel empty and the stomach feels queasy. 
I know this feeling, it won’t last and am grateful that evening will fall and bring me back the energy I need to win.


Within the first two laps Liz caught me, now I know I had backed off the pace, but what I know to be true is the hard work she would have put in to catch me, passing other riders and digging in that little bit more to reel me in. 

I cached that knowledge for later.

I have no idea how many times we lapped around together but very few words were exchanged.  
Instead, I listened to her gear selections, the sound of her freewheel, braking etc…just to make a plan in my mind on how I would win if we lapped together for the rest of the race. 
I took note of every passing spot, every part of the track where she was on my wheel or where she would lose it.
Thinking this stuff whilst racing is a challenge but after 1 lap I had about 4 or so scenarios that I was willing to play out.

Meanwhile I am waiting for the lead elite men to pass as we are nearing on 6 hrs which on a short 40-45 min lap happens a few times.
On schedule I do see Jason, but he had a race all of his own, with Andrew and Tobias changing lead a few times with him.

It is sometime around dusk though my memory is hazy, about 6hrs into the race that I made the move that will result in my win.

Norm and I had made notes of particular spots from the very beginning of the descent at Wedgetail on how to really milk it for all its worth, including engaging a focused mindset from the very top to the very bottom when back at transition.  
For me, the climb was the recovery part of the lap and the descent would be where I would make up time, use no more energy with more active mind control.

So at this point I tested it out, and each little flat bit I pedalled, 1, 2. Each little roller I would hit the top and pedal on the down side, 1, 2.  All the way down Wedgetail, Skyline, Luge and into Slant 6.  I made it up to the round about hill descending into Breakout with no visual of Liz and so my mind rehearsal came into play, ‘focus, engage, rail that corner, tip that bike in, get off that brake, pedal.’

That lap I put in a 2 minute gap. The night was just about to begin.

I only know of a handful of 24hr racers that say they don’t enjoy the night riding as their favourite part of the race. 
For me it is my happy place, the time of the race that flies by. 
At darkness, I often think to myself, ok, another 10 hours to go of this and I honestly feel like its a long time. 
But in reality only a few laps later, or so it seems, day break is only moments away.


By 10pm, I was only 5 minutes up on Liz.  Slowly and methodically I just did what I could, stayed accountable and did quick transitions, purposeful climbing, deliberate descending and before I knew it I was out on another lap suffering up what I felt was the worst part of the whole course, Fenceline track.

At midnight I was 16 minutes up and at this point I had forgotten about the race for 1st, and became so engrossed in the journey of riding each lap in darkness.  Its funny you know, in what seems like 5 minutes since the last lap, the same left hand corner with the rock on the outside right with a slow tight exit comes up on Cockatoo switchbacks and I always aimed my front wheel to hit that little rock on the entry to line me up nicely for the exit. 

I have never really spoken to other riders about this, but each time I race I do my practice lap and decide then and there whilst fresh, exactly how I will race it and it becomes a process and that way you don’t actually expend extra emotional energy, you just DO.

At 2am that morning, I was now 22 minutes up, next lap 27 minutes, next lap 32 minutes and by 6am Norm was giving me the green light to see how long it would take to catch Liz and lap her.  

Just after 7am it happened. 

I started attempting to work out what I needed to do to finish off this race. 
The brain wants to hard to be able to work out the equations but it always comes up short. 
At this point I recall telling Norm in transition, please work out when I can stop!
The next lap around I had no more lights, ahhhh, thats a weight off the bike and body and now you get to see all the new brake ruts and weird lines that showed up overnight.


This time of day is when actual pain starts to set in.
Perhaps its the knowledge that it is nearly over and the mind signals this to the body to start recovering? 
Maybe it is in the light of day that the last 20 hours of hard work actually sinks in.

Personally I just want to fast forward this part but it is the most important part of the race, of anything in life, finishing off what you started!

Two years ago with 3 hours to go, Norm told me that I only had a 10 minute buffer and that Kim Hurst was mowing me down and that if I wanted to win that world championship I would need to do a sub 1hr lap of the course. 
And so I did, for 3 laps thereafter, and secured the win. 
50km and 3 laps of maximum effort with 3 hours to go.

This time, I knew I had lapped Liz, but still its not over until it really is over and so I was mentally prepared to race until after midday to secure a win even though I did not actually want to.

Now the climb hurt, the descents hurt and my hands and feet were in agony.

The once fun 13km loop had become a battle zone.  Each pinch on the climb was burning my legs, each brake rut on the descents rattled my entire body especially my arms and feet.

On the last couple of runs down Luge and Breakout I had a mantra, “pretend the pain is not real, pretend you are fresh on lap one and the pain will disappear,” and whilst it really didn't vanish, it gave me something positive to focus on instead of crying!

Norm sent me out after completing lap 29 and said that it might be my last lap. 
I did not hold onto this as gospel, but wished it would be true.  I knew I had to finish after 11am for my lap to count, but what if Liz went out again, I just wouldn't want to chance it, I still didn't believe my maths or Norms.


This lap was slowish, enjoying a few vistas without the intensity, gritting the Luge and Breakout with all my might, seeing the 1km to go sign, I had no idea if one more lap awaited me, and then I came up over the rise on the bridge and drop onto the bitumen to find Liz there waiting for 11am to come.  That elation knowing that I didn't have to do another lap was indescribable.

Norm came up and we chatted briefly before it hit 11am and then I rolled over the finish line and we won!

  • Thank you to Liz Smith for the first class competition, you were superb as was David.
  • Thank you to my dad for entertaining the masses up the top of the climb with your music and chit chat late into the night.  It was pure happiness for me seeing you there to say hi to and I know that others appreciated your presence.
  • Thank you to the volunteers of CORC for making the event a must do race each and every year.
  • Thank you to Giant Bicycles Australia for my awesome Liv bikes, my Obsess hardtail and my 2 dual suspension Lusts, Shimano Australia for kitting my bikes out with the very best XTR gear, shoes and even XTR di2 on the main bike, Bike Box for my ever reliable Schwalbe Racing ralph tyres, Jetblack for my Light and Motion lights and sexy purple hand grips and Adidas eyewear for my glasses.
  • Thank you to my coach and mentor Greg Meyland, Halkswood Training systems, ‘we’ made it! And to Bengt Carlson my masseuse who sorted out my sore body 3 days in a row before the race.
  • But the biggest Thank you is reserved for Norm as 24hr racing is a team effort and you take your job so very seriously and look after me exactly how I need to be looked after!

So what’s next?

There is no way I can consider another 24hr just yet!  These days I really prefer to do one a year and please do not ask me to do a team in one, that is even harder!  


I am heading over to NZ to do The Pioneer stage race with Megan Dimozantos, a 320km road ride in January as well and the 10th Giant Odyssey 100km MTB marathon in February.

In the meantime, its about getting some speed back in these tired legs, some mojo back in this soul and have some fun doing it.