Monday, 5 October 2015

Riding the rails - a new off road experience

This October long weekend, I was meant to be riding in the Grand Tour of Hope, a 600km + ride around the scenic rim of South East Queensland.  However due to a number of setbacks, I was unable to fulfill my training to get "match fit" and had to withdraw from the event a month out from the ride.

So to commiserate, Brendon and I decided that a camping weekend was in order.  Now as is normally the case, said camping weekend was organised around an event!  I can't remember the last time (other than Easter) we went camping just to relax.  Everything seems to rotate around triathlons, bike rides - always something organised.

This weekend's event was G'onya Adventures' R&R Railtrail Experience, a duathlon set on the beautiful Brisbane Valley Rail Trail between Blackbutt and Linville.  It's a great place for an event, with transition set up in the Blackbutt showgrounds, which is also the town's camping area, so very limited travel early in the morning for those of us choosing to stay overnight.

Brendon entered the event as an individual, but with my running training since the Enduro in March amounting to about two hit outs, I figured I wasn't anywhere near ready for a full event, so I asked Hayden (my fourteen year old son) to do the event with me as a team, where he would run the 5km and I would ride the 18km course.  To my surprise and delight, he said yes.

Now I had tried to convince him that he needed to train for the event, but let's face it, to a fourteen year old boy, who thinks he's ten foot tall and bullet-proof, my arguments fell on deaf ears.  To avoid the inevitable fight that would ensue, I let it go and decided that the run was his issue and not mine - I just had to manage the bike!

So on Saturday morning the Boyds packed the camper trailer, put the new puppy in the car (we left our older Rottie cross, Hercules at home - he's riddled with arthritis and the two hour ride would have been extremely painful for him in the car) and began the trek to Blackbutt.

A non-eventful drive out, we found the campgrounds, set up camp and made our way into town (a walk of about 300 metres).  For those of you who have visited Blackbutt, you'll know that the best place to eat is the Blackbutt Bakehouse - best pies for miles!  We sated our hunger (some with a pie and a yummy slice, and some with just a couple of pies) and made our way back to camp for the afternoon. 

Brendon had a short nap during the hotter part of the day, and then we mounted our trusty mountain bikes and headed out on course to check out the next day's ride.  The course is ridden over the rail trail, so not really an MTB event, but certainly not suited to the roadie.  The trail is a combination of surfaces, including gravel, sand and grass, with three steeper descents in and out of areas that would once have had a bridge for the train to cross.  These three spots are really the only place that truly require a mountain bike.  The guy who finished second in the 30k run/30k ride event actually competed on a cyclocross bike.

The organisers had also planned a surprise for the turnaround point on the ride, and we stumbled upon it when we rode the trail.  Fettler's Rest is a rest area on the trail that has some interesting history from the area set off the trail.

The bottom picture explains it all - these "dogs" which are part of the connection rig for carriages have been abandoned by the side of the trail and if you look at them the right way, they appear to be people dragging themselves out of the ground.  Ironically, I was talking to the first two place-getters for the duathlon after the race and neither of them had noticed the "Beware of Zombies" sign or seen the dogs - they were too intent on racing.  So once again I've shown that being competitive isn't all it's cracked up to be, and if you don't look, you'll miss so much (well that's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

And so back to camp, a dinner of chilli and an early night.  The temps during the day were quite warm (mid-late twenties) but dropped to single figures overnight.  Good camping weather where you can snuggle down in your doona and enjoy the outdoors. Oh, and the stars.  I'd forgotten how absolutely wonderful it is to star gaze when light pollution doesn't drown out the light, the Milky Way in all its glory, the familiar constellations woven across the night sky.

A not so refreshing night's sleep (that dodgy shoulder was proving that riding a mountain bike is a lot tougher on the top half of the body than my roadie) and we got ourselves ready to race.

While the event is sanctioned by TQ (there was even a TO on course - Lyndall who was my Event Coordinator at Cairns Ironman), it is marketed as a family friendly, informal day on the trails.  The start line was unique in that the 30/30 racers started on the right of the start line and the duathlon and 8km runners started on the left - facing each other!  The 30/30 racers got a good start on the riders to avoid too much traffic on the trails.

The second unique part of the day was transition - all the regular rules applied - helmet on and done up before you entered, but no racks - just plenty of posts to lean your bike against!  A great chat with Tom, whose wife Meredith (I hope I'm getting this right) is the organiser of the event.  Can you believe it is a small team of 3-4 who pull this whole thing together?

The third unique part of the day was the event was started by a blast from a steam train whistle.  It's the little things like that that really made the day so special.

We started off just after 7.15am, and I made my way back to camp for a short check on the puppy before heading to transition and waiting for my boy to tag me in.  Was really pleased to see Brendon come in second on the run and head out on the trail and finally it was my chance to get on the bike and have a crack at the course.

About 7 of the 9kim on the way out was downhill, so cruising speed was pretty good on the way out.  The ride back was of course a mirror image of the ride out, so a little tougher through the constant uphill.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a tough climb gradient-wise.  It was just that it was a constant uphill.  Ignoring the legs and mentally working through the pain barrier was a great way to make the kms just slip away.

Now as I've already said, while this in not traditional mountain biking, it does take a lot of concentration to maintain a good line, navigate some of the gravel or sand areas that soften the trail, throwing the back tyre off and watching for the roll overs that have been built into the trail to reduce water erosion during the wet season.  Hitting one of those too fast can result in some air - something that a beginner mountain biker really isn't ready for and can result in an "off".  The ups and downs to get in and out of the gullies were exhilarating, and are fast becoming some of my favourite obstacles on the trails.  I'm beginning to think I like this form of riding just that little bit more than road riding.  I can't really describe the feeling, but I just know I really love the rush.  On a roadie it is so easy to get lost in a conversation and not really see what's happening on the road.  On the mountain bike, even something as simple as taking a hand off the bars to reach for your water bottle can have harsh consequences.  It sure is a dirty business though.  I'm used to road grime on the roadie, but wow, that dirt from trail riding is a cracker!

Anyway, back to the race.  Navigated the return journey without incident, ran into transition, tagged out Hayden, had a quick conversation with a few of the other racers and found my way to the finish line to watch my boy finish our team event.  Once again, the organisers were amazing, cheering us over the line, congratulating Hayden for having a go, and giving us all of the details for next year.  Sadly, they are looking at moving the event to the first weekend in May, which means Brendon's Ironman Australia will take precedence and we will miss out.  Totally understand why they are moving it though - they are trying to avoid the magpie swooping season, as those vicious little buggers have been a problem the last two years swooping runners on the trail.

The Boyd family cleaned up at presentations, with Brendon and the team winning spot prizes, as well as finishing third overall male (Brendon) and third in teams (Mother and Son).  Looking at the race results today, poor Brendon didn't even get any higher in his age category - the two guys who beat him were both also in his age group!

Hayden has realised how valuable preparation is prior to a race as he has pulled up sore not just immediately after the race, but after a good night's sleep he is a little stiff and sorry for himself.  Lesson learned, and he is now talking about doing a bit more regular running to keep his fitness levels up.

So another fun event, another unique challenge and another thing to look forward to in future. Being such a relaxed event, this is a great option for beginners and those new to the mtb experience.  I'd love to go back some day with a larger group and enjoy the fun of camping with a large group of athletes from our club.

The G'onya Adventures team also organises the Lamington Eco Challenge in August 2016 - so we will put in some training to get to that event next year to show our support for a great group of people and the events that they put together for the love of the sport.  In the meantime, I'm busy googling offroad adventure events to find our next (closer) event.

Oh and Indie, our puppy?  She survived the weekend.  She will make a great camping companion if we can just train her not to bark at horses and other dogs!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

CQ15 Day 9 - All good things must come to an end.

The week has flown by.  I've had a blast, but will admit that by this time of the ride, I am more than ready to get home.  By about day 5 I dream of my comfy bed and not having to pack up camp each day to move on.  I can't wait for a home cooked meal - even if I have to cook it myself!

Today was a relatively short ride of only 48km, but with a bit of climbing to be done.  As it was the last day, it was an earlier pack up and the route opened at 6.30.  I was raring to go by 6.20 so was on the ride a little earlier than normal.  

All was going well until a sweeping downhill, when the familiar sound of a spoke popping out forced me to pull over only 8km out of Goombungee.  After a quick repair we were on our way again, with the better part of our climbing in the first 30km.  Funny moment was the Marshall pointing us in the direction of travel at the 21k mark (6k out from the first rest stop).  The rest stop is just over the hill he said.  Perplexed because I was tracking the distance to the break, after about 2k I realised the "hill" he was referring to was a 5k climb that sped down at the end to the rest stop!

The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful, other than the double strike from a magpie as I passed the airport - little bugger got me twice on the helmet before I could get out of the strike zone.  Then, 8k from the finish chute, I threw a second spoke.  So I limped home for the final 8k at 15kph because anything faster resulted in the buckle in the back wheel wobbling and sending me all over the road.

Glad to cross the line in one piece, I was photographed showing 5 on one hand - the number of CQs I have now completed.

Now I'm here at home crunching some numbers from the ride:
Time in the saddle: 27:49:43
Distance travelled:  567.96k
Elevation gained:   3083m
Average speed: 20.75kph
Calories burned: 20600

This was also my first week long ride with my new saddle.  While a number of people were intrigued by the minimalist design, they didn't quite believe me when I said how comfortable it was and were very sceptical.  Fast forward to the end of the ride and it is still the most comfortable seat.  I had no saddle discomfort over the ride and rarely got out of the saddle to change position.  Others were complaining about sore sit bones, tail bones and butts in general.  Me, not so much.  

Some other interesting numbers:
Total riders - 560 (323 male/237 female)
Oldest rider - 85 years old
Youngest rider - 15 months old

Feeding the riders, vollies and support crew each day:
50 loaves of bread
136 litres of milk
30 litres of custard and cream
80kgs meat (lunch and dinner)
16 full time catering staff inc 5 chefs
5 vehicles to transport food and equipment

It really is a fantastic week.  How often do you find yourself sharing the road with almost 600 like-minded riders who love cycling as much as you do? I love that this is an opportunity to meet new people, hear their stories, smile and be smiled at all because we share this common interest.

I'm already looking forward to next year's ride - Woodford to Hervey Bay via Maleny, Montville, Kenilworth, Gympie, Rainbow Beach and Maryborough.  It's sure to be a tough ask, as that is a very hilly course.  Plenty of time for training though, and I may just have some company along the way (husband and son).

Next event though is another rail trail adventure on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

CQ15 Day 8 - when Mother Nature plays with your head

It's the next to last day.  Where has the time gone? Have we really been doing this for 8 days?  Do I really have to blow that air mattress up only once more?

So many questions, so many answers! It was a great day for me on the bike today as I'd spent so much time mentally preparing for what I knew could prove a tough day in the saddle.

Dalby put on a beautiful night for us, with temps just perfect for a comfy night's sleep.  This was good news for my bad shoulder as I was able to finally sleep in a position that didn't irritate it and require 15 minutes of stretching to get any range of movement out of it.  It was also perfect for the strained muscles in my chest and left thigh that I have been nursing for the last 5 days after a fall at the campsite in Warwick.

So feeling somewhat ready, I wolfed down my cheesymite scroll purchased from the bakery the day before, performed the world's fastest pack up and was on the road at 7.00am as the ride opened for the day.  Once again I was hoping to get a jump on the headwinds, but no, just around the corner they lay in wait.

And so the battle began.  An 84k day, with headwinds for all bar about 1.5k of it.  Delightful! Challenging! Never-ending! Relentless!  But the beauty today is that the ride began to take an uphill slant, so there were other things to think about over the duration of the ride.

Like the first rest stop, held at a local church for the Bowenville P&C.  Talk about an amazing spread.  Couldn't help myself and bought some banana cake with the most divine cream cheese icing.  It was so good that I went back and bought a second piece to have at camp later in the afternoon.

Between rest stop 1 and lunch, I wrestled my inner demons and tried to remain positive about the rest of the ride.  There was a sweeping uphill to conquer to get into lunch and it was fantastic to be able to focus on turning the pedals over without putting too much thought into the headwind that continued to hit us full on around every twist and turn.

The final 23k were tough, but manageable as I quietLy selected riders in front of me to hunt down and pass.  By the time I'd gotten into camp, I was about the 8th rider to arrive, so was happy to find my gear and set up.

Now I've got to tell you that sometimes that part is harder than the day of riding.  Picture a large section of a football field covered with the luggage of over 500 riders.  Two pieces per rider.  And you have to find your gear in that mass of bags.  I swear I spend more time walking up and down the rows than I do walking to the toilet!

But finally the tent is up, the mattress inflated (30 breaths per night to inflate - that's a lot of hot air!) the sleeping bag unrolled.  What to do, but to make my way to the pub for a few quiet ciders and to catch up with some riders who I've made friends with on the ride.  One in particular - Jane, has me in fits of laughter as she tells me stories of her running days and time on the bike.

I rolled back to camp for a shower and a freshen up before heading back to the pub for a couple more drinks and to spin a few tales.  Was absolutely blown away when I told the story of our friend Craig and his swim in his 4wd, and one of the guys told me that he had worked with Craig.  It was such a nice way to remember our friend who passed away 5 years ago this week and brought a smile to everyone's faces as we told our stories.

So here I am after a roast and some veges, listening to the CQ final night party in full swing in the cafe.
I'm not a fan of tonight's music, so am spending some down time in my tent, reenergising and recovering ready for the final day of riding.  While I am tired and ready for home, I will also miss the amazing people I've met on the road this year.  Because I am riding solo I have made more of an effort to talk to people and have been lucky to meet some great folk.  I've drummed up heaps of business for Chicks Who Ride Bikes and am already looking forward to organising a chicks contingent for next year's ride.

I'll sign off for now, ready for my final day's report tomorrow.  Toowoomba here we come.

Friday, 11 September 2015

CQ15 Day 7 - Would you rather ride hills or flats?

Day 7 on the road and we are travelling from Millmerran to Dalby.  90ish km of relatively flat (less than 120m ascent all day) riding on pretty much one single road -Dalby-Cecil Plains Rd.

A gorgeous, crisp morning again, but no frost in sight.  Ham and cheese croissants for breakfast to fortify us for the day ahead.

Picked up my bike from the Epic Cycles mechanics as it needed a wheel to be re-trued. I had noticed a slight rattle in the rear wheel earlier in the ride and ignored it until I could ignore it no longer.  

So out of Millmerran and we head to our first rest stop - Ned's Corner home of the biggest camp oven you might find this side of the Downs!  Lots of cute signs and stories written around the property in honour of the humble camp oven and to top it off, Ned even cooked up a damper big enough to feed 500 of us.  You might think he made a number of dampers, but no, just the one huge damper in the shape of Queensland, cooked perfectly through, all on a camp oven.  Billy tea was also on the menu along with a variety of slices, scones, pikelets, biscuits and cakes.  Country cooking really is the best.

Now on the way, at about the 5k mark I was watching out for that damn magpie when Geoff and Vince passed me at a great rate of knots.  I thought "What the hell?" and jumped onto the back of the pace line, along with Jane, a fellow solo cyclist, and enjoyed just over 15k of being dragged at 30kph to the rest stop.  I even took the lead into the head winds for a spell to pay my dues.

About those headwinds.  They just seem unrelenting.  We are going out earlier in the hope that they kick in late, but it's like their alarm is set 10 minutes earlier and they are there to meet us on the first bend!  Not to worry, I just drop into an easier gear, adjust my cadence and get on with riding.  So much so that when I pulled into the afternoon rest stop I had a lovely fellow catch up to me in the food line and compliment me on my cadence and his inability to catch me over the previous 10k.  He even asked (jokingly of course) if I would let him know when I was leaving so he could keep chasing me down!  Was more than a little flattered by that one.

Of course there are also those moments where you catch yourself not following your best knowledge.  Today after the rest stop I had a four person pace line pass me and then drop their speed by about 4kph, forcing me to adjust mine.  Instead of going back around, I dropped onto their back wheel for the better part of 3k and proceeded to do 21kph.  Took me a bit to realise what I'd done before putting the foot back down and zipping around them to sit on a more challenging 27kph out front into the wind by myself.

Riding flats can be fun, but they are just as mentally challenging as riding into the wind.  You really need to concentrate, ensuring you don't ease off to an amble, maintain a good line on the road and stay aware of what is going on around you.  And flats give your body no rest.  While a hill will make you work up it, a downhill gives the legs some small reprieve and recovery time.  With flat rides, there really is nowhere to hide.  The legs just keep working and there is no let up until the lunch break or rest stop.

So I ask, what do you prefer? I like a combination, some good climbs, interspersed with flats for speed work.  Almost like a bit of interval training.

But enough of the technical - we rode into Dalby, set up camp and jumped on the shuttle into the town centre.  Did a spot of shopping (presents for the vollies) and as I walk into the bakery I spot Brendon's cousin's wife, Nicole. Well actually she spotted me first, but it was such a surprise to see a familiar face!  She promptly took me around to see Bren's Uncle Greg and dropped me back at the Showgrounds.  Talk about a small world we live in!

I did a spot of meditation this afternoon to get back into my own head (the wind had taken up residence for a bit) and thoroughly enjoyed our lamb curry and rice for dinner.

Can't believe it is day 7 already and there are only two days to go. Oh, two uphill days.  Thought I'd just put that out there so you can expect a bit of whinging in tomorrow night's instalment.

Oh and the absolute best thing that happened today? Spoke to my kids who I miss, and my son tells me he wants to do CQ next year.  We will see how that pans out, but it would make me so happy to have him along for the ride.

So enough for tonight - see you in Goombungee tomorrow.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

CQ15 Day 6 - sometimes Karma comes quickly!

Farewell Leyburn, today we were off to Millmerran.  

We awoke to a slightly less frosty morning, but none-the-less still coolly brisk start to the day.  It didn't help that camp had been set up so that the marquis shaded the tents, so it took a bit for the sun to peek over the top and warm us up.

Savoury scrambled eggs for breakfast, washed down with a spot of OJ, pack up tent and we were on our way.  At the previous night's ride briefing we had been advised of a route change, designed to limit our time on the Gore Highway, and improve the safety of the riders.  So instead of a 50k day, it would be a 60k day today.

A thoroughly enjoyable ride today, if a little boring.  We barely cracked 100m of ascent today, which meant for a flat ride.  This might sound ideal, but those hills are what mixes it up for us and keeps us alert.  It is too easy to be complacent on rides like today and that's when accidents happen.  

Happily for me it was a relatively easy day, riding solo and passing as many as I passed today.  The morning tea break had some superb fare, with 4 pieces of slice for $3 - an absolute bargain by any standard! Today's recipients were once again the scouts, but being a school day there wasn't a child in sight, so it was up to the mums and dads to make the sales.

Took the detour onto the longer route and for just the tiniest moment there was hope of a tailwind.  That hope was dashed pretty quickly as it seemed that the wind whipped around and changed direction every time we did.  It was either in our face, at a our side or a combination of the two!  But to offset the wind, there were some great false flat sections - where we had the added bonus of gravity to assist our average speeds.

Ok, I know I mentioned karma in the title, so here it is.  Remember my story about throwing another rider under the bus so to speak? You know, the magpie story from earlier this week? Well Karma came a-knocking today and evened up the score.  

About 9k out from the lunch break, I noticed a bird soaring straight at me at a great rate of knots.  Not from behind.  From directly in front.  Like right at me.  Like he was playing chicken.  He got so close I could see the shiny black of his beak and the brown of his beady little eyes.  I had nowhere to go, so I just gulped and figured I may be about to die from a brain injury caused by a magpie beak puncturing my frontal lobe.

At the last second that little bastard made an upward arc and I breathed a sigh of relief and thought I was clear.  Not so.  He then proceeded to perform a manoeuvre reminiscent of Maverick in Top Gun, inverting in a downward loop and proceeded to swoop me for the next 100m.  

I hit a gear that Cadell Evans would be proud of and motored out of there at 40+ kph, heart hammering, eyes darting over my shoulder and ears peeled for both the thwock, thwock, thwock sound familiar to only those who have fallen victim to these vicious little vermin, and any cars that I may inadvertently swerve in front of in my mad rush to get out of the swooping zone.

To make matters worse, I was then absolutely shattered from my short sharp escape and faced a headwind the rest of the way into town.  Oh and Ben may have heard about my previous swoop victim and told the story at the nightly briefing while we enjoyed our lasagne and mud cake!

So what did I learn?  Don't sell out other riders.  Take your medicine.  Don't tell Ben stories you don't want repeated.  Hope I remember that when we double back over that road in the morning, and that the magpie is so exhausted from chasing 500+ riders yesterday, that he is on a rest day.  

What do you think my chances are?

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

CQ15 Day 5 - a day to confound the senses - or perhaps confound you senseless!

Where has the time gone? How can it already be day 5? It seems like only yesterday we were pedalling out of Toowoomba, and here we are with only 4 more days of riding to go.

Woke to a sea of white tents this morning as the frost had settled in overnight, making for a very cold start to the morning.  I didn't bring any winter riding gear, but was pleased that once the sun was up over the trees, the light wind jacket I packed was enough to keep the nip at bay.

Our trip from Warwich started with a spot of misadventure, as someone had changed a couple of the signs which sent early cyclists off in the wrong direction.  I don't think anyone got lost, but I do know of a couple of people who didn't plan to do the long option, but pretty much did the same distance after being sent the wrong way.

I was happy to lock onto the back of a pack for a little over 5km this morning.  I'd forgotten how nice it is to be dragged along by a pack with little effort of my own.  However once we hit the hills I was a goner, and once again trekked along on my own.  I don't mind riding solo as I never feel that I have to worry about holding people back or dropping a buddy, so I guess the lone wolf style suits me.

I left pretty close to 7 today I think, which meant I was at the first rest stop by 8 and then travelled through to the lunch break where I enjoyed the falafel and hummus wrap at 9.30am.  Hmmm no wonder the days seem long when lunch is at 9.30!  

The scenery started pretty much the same today with some gentle hills and lots of grazing land and crop farms, but gradually it began to change to more wooded, with trees shadowing the road, ridges beside the road and red dust creeping into the landscape a bit more prominently.

The headwinds from yesterday made an appearance from the 20km mark and continued unabated right through to the 80k finish site today, but with a bandana pulled over my ears, it didn't play as much of a mental game with me today as I concentrated on my cadence and pedal technique.  Don't get me wrong, there were times when it would have done my head in, but I would just start to sing a song to distract myself from the negative thoughts.  It was quite effective, apart from the fact that I had the same song stuck in my head for the better part of the 60k.  Oh well whatever works I guess!

Now the only other problem with the headwind is that with the extra wooded areas, the kangaroo and wallaby population also increased.  I didn't see any live ones today, but I certainly smelled the ones on the roadside long before I spotted them.  Those headwind carried the scent of decomposition so well that sometimes it would be 50m before the actual roo that you'd start to smell it.  You learn to breath very shallowly from the moment that that first pungent waft is carried toward you or risk a huge inhale that you will taste long after you've passed the crow-pecked carcass!

Although there were no short sharp climbs today, we still ascended over 500m today, with some sections of uphill that just kept going up and up and around and up some more.  It was a great opportunity to use the training I've been doing on the Trainer Road program to detox the legs and ignore the burn to continue uphill without stopping to rest.  Feeling stronger every day.

The BQ team have also added in some new options for post-ride this year, including a daily stretch class to ease the muscles and teach people stretching techniques they can use.  Val, our instructor is an absolute champion who motivates everyone with a quick wit and cheeky attitude.  We are getting 20-30 people per session and it is one of the highlights of my afternoon.

The other highlight is of course my massages.  I started with Anna, who was great, went to Laureen once when Anna wasn't available and today I went to Lester on Laureen's advice because of my dicky shoulder.  Talk about a miracle worker - I have more movement after that thirty minute session than I have had for a long time and he explains it all as we go so I understand what he is doing and how it will  help.  

We are in Leyburn tonight, and after a delicious meal of chicken, mushroom and leek penne pasta, I am listening to the Caxton St Jazz Band and loving the sound.  Camp life is great and I've met some wonderful people over the last few days.  They all have such interesting stories to tell if you just sit back and listen.

Looking forward to heading to Millmerran in the morning and may even go the long ride option if I feel up to it in the morning.  Until then I will hunker down and try to keep warm as the temperature has dropped significantly again tonight.  Gorgeous clear skies though so a bit of star gazing before turning in for the night.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

CQ15 Day 4 - A Day of Rest?

It's always difficult when faced with a rest day on tour.  Do you rest? Kick back around camp, maybe catch the shuttle into town for a lazy coffee at a cafe or a sneaky beer and counter lunch at the local pub? Or do you take advantage of one of the tours negotiated by Bicycle Qld with local operators to see just a bit more of the area you are riding through?

This year, I prebooked a tour to the Falls - a coach ride to Killarney to explore Queen Mary Falls and to enjoy lunch at a local hotel, followed by a little bit of history about the area.  For only $30 I figured it was the bargain of the ones on offer.

Rest days traditionally run a little later than a typical day, which means I could sleep in as breakfast wasn't available until 7.00am.  But no, that annoying little internal clock of mine had me up and wide awake at 5.45am just like every work day.  There was nothing for it than to get up, have a steaming hot shower (a luxury on rest days is that we can shower in the morning).

Cleaned the tent, threw out some junk, made a list of things to get today, in any shop I could find on our trip, had some breakfast (French toast with banana) and dutifully trekked to the side gate to get onto our very comfortable coach, ready for a day of exploring.

As we drove to Killarney, along a very familiar road travelled by bike in CQ11, there was plenty to see.  Birdlime is abundant out here and I not only spotted the familiar - pink galahs, white cockatoos and white galahs, but also, soaring majestically above the trees a lone pelican, no doubt heading for the Killarney Lakes, which, due to the drought are now more puddles than lakes.

We travelled through farming country, with crops that included canola, sorghum, chick peas and lucerne.  Sheep farms also dot the scenery, interspersed with cattle farms.  Off in the distance, the mountains are shrouded in fog, waiting for the sun to burn off the night's chill and retire clear blue skies to their rightful place.

No stopping in Killarney on the way in, we proceeded direct to the first of the scenic lookouts, Dagg Falls, then onto Queen Mary Falls, where we did the walking circuit down to the bottom of the falls and the climb back over the top.  After last night's rain, the falls were flowing strongly and were a thing of beauty to behold.  A bit more bird spotting as we walked, as well as a lucky glimpse of a very friendly water dragon near the bottom of the falls.

As we finished the walk, the people in front of us pointed out a bower bird's nest, identifiable by the abundance of blue in its nest - pegs, straws, bits of cloth - anything blue and this little fella collected it. They didn't think the birds would be back during the day, and no sooner had they said that, than the male, a very dapper satin bowerbird made his appearance and just sat preening himself in the trees above.  No chance of seeing the female we were told, you were lucky to see the male.  Two minutes later, here comes the female too!  Add to that a collection of king parrots and some other unidentified parrots and the bird lovers in the group were well satisfied.

Back in the coach and a precarious journey further up the mountain for Carrs lookout, where you can look back across the Scenic Rim, Gold Coast Hinterland and right back to Mt Warning. I know I've said it before, but totally breath-taking views.  Worth the day trip out this way and some great little cafes as well - just don't come on a Tuesday cos that seems to be the day they are all closed!

Lunch was spent in Killarney, where the pub was inundated with cyclists.  Two great things about the pub - a counter meal that featured fresh vegetables, because all we've had at camp seems to be salad, and I just don't do salad, and the second - real toilet paper.  The kind that is soft and comfy to use.  Yep, sometimes it is the small things in life that we appreciate in life the most!

The trip home featured a scenic drive through Tamawole (have to check that one), a once thriving coal town now reduced to a few residences and not a pub in site, Yangan, a former agricultural and timber hub that still has a pub but is now just a shadow of its former self, and then onto Scots College where an original church from the centre of Warwick was relocated brick by brick to make way for the new shopping development.  The sandstone was all sourced locally from one of the quarries that we saw from the bus.

And so back to camp, a bit of a rest, some tucker (Hokkien noodles with lamb, followed by bread and butter pudding) and now tucked up in my sleeping bag in anticipation of 4 degrees overnight.  Lovely cuddling weather if you're travelling with a good mate, but a bit cooler for those of us cycling solo!

We are off to Leyburn tomorrow, and with no more rest days, every day is pack up day.  But I have a 30 minute massage booked tomorrow, so it ain't all bad.

See you in about 80km.

Monday, 7 September 2015

CQ Day 3 - it's a long way to Warwick when you don't take the direct route

For those of you who don't know how far it is from Allora to Warwick, by car it is 25km.  However when you're on a bike, sometimes it is safer to take a less direct route.  Today's bike ride took us to Warwick via a 98km detour around the Darling Downs.  

This morning I passed on the sausages with onion and tomato for breakfast and settled for the old staples of Vegemite on bread and honey on bread.  Sometimes rich breakfast fare is not the best option on a long ride day with limited toilet facilities!

So off we set at 7.30am for what would be a long day on the road.  Lots of little rises today, but also some great flat sections to get the average back to a respectable number!  Brendon and I love camping in this region and I was pleased to see that we would be riding the Goomburra Rd up to the New England Highway.  It's a beautiful area and we had a fabulous morning tea hosted by the Goomburra Hall committee.  PS - best jam drops ever at the stall!

Now if we had turned right at the highway, we would have made short work of our ride into Warwick. But you must remember this is a bicycle tour, and the less time spent on the road with trucks and cars travelling at 100km/hr, the better.  So we turned left and after only a short ride, turned right into the back roads.  Again, we have been treated today to absolutely picturesque scenery and the best that South East Queensland has to offer.  

The temps were kind to us today too, with tops in the low twenties, and even the overnight temp was about 8 degrees, which felt positively toasty compared to Toowoomba.  It was only the threat of 70% rain that kept the jacket in my pocket in case the sky opened.  But happy to report that while rain threatened, it didn't deliver on the threat, but the cloud cover kept us a little cooler during the ride.

Lunch stop completed by 10.30am (yes you read that right, we were at the lunch stop by 10.30am) and the chicken Caesar wraps were a hit.  Sufficiently refuelled it was on the road again for the next gruelling 40ish kms to complete the day.

Why gruelling? More hills? Yes there were hills, but the beauty of a hill is you get to the top and it's done.  No, today it was something much worse.  Head winds.  Unrelenting, unstoppable, unbelievable, in your face head winds.  

It was like a sad repeat of the same day's riding weather last year.  Stef and I took turns leading the ride that time so the other could rest before taking the front.  But Stef isn't here this year (boo), so it was just me.  The first twenty k were tough, the second 20 didn't feel quite so awful, as I had an "Ironman's Afternoon Tea" of a banana and a Coke to up the energy levels and get me through.  That and I found a cyclist in the distance to pace myself to. So with the thoughts in my head that this was just a short ride to Birkdale and back, I chased down that cyclist and we cruised into the town of Warwick together.  

Managed to snag an early massage cos I was in by 1pm and after a dinner of cottage pie, with cheesecake for dessert, I am sitting in my tent as the rain pounds down above me. I guess this will be when I find out if it's waterproof or not!  But must risk getting wet just once more tonight as there is a Beatles tribute band playing for the rest night party and I want to see all of the costumes that people have put together.  Oh, and perhaps a mug of hot chocolate to top off the night.

So with a rest day tomorrow, I've booked in a tour of the waterfalls of the area, with lunch at the Killarney pub.  While the catering is great, I'm looking forward to a self-selected meal tomorrow!

Until then, it's see you, from me in Warwick.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

CQ15 Day 2 - Stories from the road

If there was ever a perfect day for cycling, today was the day.

Pack up days are always hard as you rush to get wet tents packed away, and all those bits and pieces that you just had to pack stored away in two bags.  And the grass - so much grass that sticks to everything and threatens to infiltrate every nook and cranny within your bags.

But this year I've decided to chill a bit and not be in such a big hurry to be on the road.  After all, we have all day to complete our ride, and rushing just means you miss appreciating the small things.

So after a brekkie of scrambled eggs, we finished our leisurely pack up and were on the road by 7.30am.  Today's destination - Allora, with a rest stop at Cambooya and lunch at Clifton.  

Today's ride was through some truly spectacular country.  Still some lovely little hills to challenge those of us with not enough training under our belts, but on the whole a great day pedalling through some of the best farming country in this corner of the world on some quaint country roads.

Highlights from today included the very business savvy Boy Scouts who sold me two tickets for the chance to win a fully kitted up camper trailer.  They were great little blokes who approached all of the riders and asked if they'd like to support the local scout troop.  Their eyes lit up every time someone agreed - and there were a lot of us!

The lunch stop at Clifton was held in the grounds of the local historical museum.  The committee organised a discounted entry for us and I took an hour to explore the museum, but could easily have spent twice as long reading all of the stories.  If you are ever in the area, I can highly recommend taking the time.  I took plenty of pics to share later when I'm at my pc.

The hay bails built and painted to look like minions was another great find today - just randomly found in a local front yard.  Took a happy snap of it too, but the sun wasn't in the right place so it's a little dull!

The marshals, volunteers and support crew are fabulous once again.  The marshal of the day went to our ukulele playing friend who breaks into a tune for riders passing him.  He was just out of the rest stop today and he always brings a smile to my face for the joy that his music brings.  

I missed our communications leader today.  Each day he wears a funny hat on course. Day 1 was a leprechaun's hat, but sadly I didn't see a day 2 appearance. Will keep my eyes peeled for him on day 3.

Another highlight was the stretch class that we had this afternoon in the CQ cafe.  Run by a lovely rider/vollie - Val, it was a great way to ease tired muscles after a day of riding and to prepare them for the next day's hit out.  Of course I had to follow that with a massage as well, with a new-to-CQ masseuse, Anna, who was absolutely fabulous and has my tick of approval for future bookings.

Dinner was satay chicken kebabs on cous-cous, with apple pie and custard for dessert.  It's no wonder I don't lose weight while I'm on this ride - they feed us far too well!

And finally, I have a confession to make.  I threw another cyclist under a bus today - not literally of course, but I must clear my conscience.  Riding out of the rest stop, I noticed a rider about 300m down the road from me being swooped by a very angry magpie.  So I crept right up on the rider who was about 50 metres in front and just as we got into the swoop zone I rode quickly ahead, leaving him to be swooped by the maggie.  Not my proudest moment - ok, maybe I was a little bit proud!

So hear I am once again nestled in my warm tent preparing for sleep and catching up on my writing.  A longer day tomorrow - 98k to Warwick.  Now if you're checking your maps, you'll see that Warwick is only 30ish km from Allora.  But to keep us safe and off the highways, we will be riding a big loop around the Goomburra region and perhaps sneaking in the back door.  

So until tomorrow, have a great Monday at work, cos I'll be enjoying a day on the road.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

CQ15 - the adventure begins

Cycle Qld 2015 finds itself in the beautiful garden city of Toowoomba, home to the Carnival of Flowers, an annual celebration of all things flora.  

Those familiar with Toowoomba would be able to attest to the climate here in early September too.  To say that it's a little chilly is something of an understatement.  But I digress, let me begin at the beginning.

I was very fortunate that my folks agreed to drive me up to Toowoomba for the start of the event, and even more fortunate that they will be driving around the area for a week ready to pick me up on the last day.  This is the second time they've offered this to me - the first time being in 2012 when they drove Hayden and I to Gayndah and picked us up in Noosa.  

Camp opened at 2pm, so after hanging around "helping" mum and dad set up the caravan, grabbing some lunch and doing a spot of shopping, we headed over to the USQ campus ready to pitch the tent and settle into CQ life.  

Now when I say pitch, I mean undo the strap and let my tent just pop open, put eight pegs in to stop it floating away, and camp is pitched!  I am lucky to have my friend Jenny on the adventure with me this year and she had saved me a prime piece of real estate to set up.  

Registration complete, and now I'm starting to get excited about the ride.  I'd been a bit down of late, what with a bout of bronchitis that had kept me off the bike, and a shoulder injury that does not seem to be abating. So the fact that I'm just starting to get excited is no surpise.

After a quick walk to my folks' van park, dinner at the golf club and a lift back to camp, I found myself nestled into my new home for the next nine days.

Now for the cold.  As the sun dropped, the temperature went from a comfortable early 20s to a brisk 7 degrees.  Thanks goodness for long pants, jumpers and beanies! The wind really picked up too, making for a welcome respite inside my little tent.  Compared to my "Taj Mahal" model from last year, this one is extremely modest.  After only one night I'm thinking that I will be bringing the big one back next year!  Logistically, it is much easier to put on Lycra when you can stand up!

So there I was, snuggled in my tent in my new polar rated sleeping bag.  It was like sleeping in the Bahamas.  I could hear the music from the band in the canteen as I put my light off ready to sleep.

I love that we have live music each night and this year the decade of the late 70s and early 80s has featured both nights so far, which is a pleasant change from the usual rock and roll hits.  This is my music!  As I write this I'm listening to my fave karaoke song drifting across the campground (Dragon's April Sun in Cuba).  

It always takes me a few nights to get used to a new mattress and pillow, so while I slept well, it was in fits and starts.  But finally the sun snuck up over the horizon, and after a leisurely breakfast, we headed over to the starting line ready for the first day of riding.

I was very excited to find that there is a water fairy who fills up my water bottles for me overnight (thank you Jenny), and before we left today we were given the coolest jellybean packages for the day.

Day 1 was an "easy" 45km loop around Toowoomba.  You would think that being on top of the mountain that there wouldn't be many hills.  If you thought this, you would be wrong!  There were a couple of good climbs today, of a couple of different varieties - longish, slow ascents, harder shorter up hills and one bitch of a hill that had me off the bike twice resting before climbing back on and continuing on my way.  I was determined not to walk up any hills today, so was happy to wait until I'd caught my breath (not loving this bronchitis).

But for every uphill there was a breath-taking downhill and some of the most scenic views across this part of the world.  Prince Henry Drive offered views back across the range which made the climbs totally worth the effort.

Picnic Point for lunch was a gorgeous place for a break and then it was back to camp. The traditional shower and refresh before an 8k walk to the shops for a few more supplies and then settling in for an afternoon of chatting, reading and watching the AFL app for news of my boys (Brisbane Lions).  Then a good stretch to ensure I was ready for tomorrow, a spot of dinner (spag bol), ride briefing for tomorrow and now time to write, read and sleep ready to do it all again tomorrow

Allora here we come..  

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

CQ15 - so what's new?

With only four sleeps until my fifth Cycle Qld, I wasn't sure whether I'd be writing a blog this year. After all, it is my fifth and I really think I've probably said all I could say about how much I love this event this year.  

But as I took my dog for a walk tonight I began to think of different angles that I could take to make this year's blog fresh and not the same tired story.

So here goes my pre-ride attempt.  Today, I'm going to look at what's new for CQ.

2015 sees a more relaxed view of CQ.  I had already saved the entry fee, and registered on the day entry opened. My rider number testifies how early - I am rider 19 - the lowest number I've had.

I am so much more relaxed that I still haven't finished packing. Normally my bags are packed and sitting on the floor in August ready to ship out in the first week of September.  This year, I am still packing, and really thinking about what I am taking along for the ride.  After all, I have to lug my bags around the campsite, so the lighter they are, the better.

I have a new tent this year too.  When Hayden and I did CQ together the second time, we had a huge 4 man tent that was roomy and quite a luxury.  I took that same tent with me last year which felt positively decadent as a single rider.  But I have got to say it was nice to have my bike sleeping next to me at night!  

However with a luggage limit of 22kg, spending 8kg on a tent is just not good sense.  My Flybuys points bought me a 3 man pop up tent that I can have set up in 30 seconds and pull down in 2 minutes (and hopefully remember how to fold it down so it fits in the bag!). It will be interesting to see if the same tent makes it to CQ16 - watch this space!

New interior furnishings for the tent are also in order. Gone are the days of a self-inflating mattress.  This year I invested far too much money on a hiker's mattress.  I spent hours on the net researching, reading reviews, cross referencing and finally settled on a Neo-Air Therm-a-rest.  I've slept on it already and apart from my normal mattress, it is the most comfortable thing I've ever slept on.  Couple that with the fact that I've already remembered to pack my pillow (which I forgot to pack for CQ2012) and I'm looking forward to a good night's rest on Friday night. Oh and did I mention my brand new thermal sleeping bag? The temperature overnight in Toowoomba was 3 degrees.  That bad boy is going to be absolutely amazing when the frosts roll in lower on the Downs.

Each year that I've done CQ I've had company on the ride.  My biking buddy Stef Black rode in 2011 and 2014, and my boy, Hayden shared the tandem bike with me in 2012 and 2013.  This year Stef had other commitments and Hayden couldn't be convinced to take the time off school. So I registered knowing that I was going to have to make friends along the way.  Not my strongest suit, but we will see how it goes.  I do have one saving grace - the fabulous Jenny Moore has registered to ride now too, so I will have a camping neighbour and someone who makes lots of friends as she goes - so let's hope that I will be writing about lots of new friends over the week.

But probably the most important "new" thing about CQ15 is the same thing that is new every year.  Every year is a chance to discover new pieces of our beautiful state.  This year's ride is around the Darling Downs, starting with a Toowoomba loop on Day 1, and then onto Allora, Warwick, Leyburn, Millmerran, Dalby, Goombungee and back into Toowoomba on Day 9.

As I'm writing I'm beginning to get really excited. It's been a busy year since the last ride.  I've been working on a project that has seen me travelling across the state, I've completed a half marathon, a half ironman and am now working on another statewide project.  I'm ready for a much needed recreation time out.  I'm ready to get on my bike and get "lost" in the fun of just riding a bike again.  

So stay tuned - there are going to be some adventures ahead.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Stadium Stomp - Rocking the Gabba in a whole new way

People who know me know how much I love my (Aussie Rules) football.  Which means I have more than a passing acquaintance with the home of my footy team, the GABBA Stadium.  I've been a member for years and have sat in the same seat for every home game in that time.

So when a friend mentioned that she was keen to do the Stadium Stomp at the GABBA, I thought, why not, let's give it a crack. 

What is the Stadium Stomp I hear you ask? It's a 5000+ stair climb of the upper (twice) and lower decks of the stadium, followed by a lap of honour on the hallowed turf which is home to the Brisbane Lions during football season and the Brisbane Heat and Queensland Bulls during cricket season.

Three months out from the event we put a call out to our triathlon club pals to see who might be keen to train for the Stomp.  A small group of determined women descended on Crown St at Wynnum and started training on a fifty step climb up and down a set of uneven, dodgy poorly-lit concrete stairs.  

Each week saw an increase in reps, different strength exercises between sets and the occasional run to break up the quad burning activities.  We progressed from there to the stairs at our local train station - a major upgrade from Crown St.

Stair climbing is like no other training I had down before.  It works out not just the butt, but just about every muscle in your legs and if you can convince yourself not to use the hand rails, the upper body gets a workout too as that extra propulsion gained from pumping the arms is a major plus.

As a group we were lucky to have our mate Susan in the mix, as she trawled through heaps of stuff online to find tips (two stairs at a time is better than singular steps) and hints for training.  Other friends warned us that stair running would ruin us for normal running, with common complaints such as shin splints and calf tightness thrown in the mix, but with Susan leading us through comprehensive warm ups and warm downs each session, we were able to maintain our fitness and avoid injury (at least when stair climbing - boxing and rock climbing were both different stories!)

Throw in a couple of Metafit sessions (high intensity interval training) a week and we were cooking with gas.

Our group dwindled down to a final five for the Stomp - registered and raring to go.  Josie Hart, Julie Bonato, Susan Davy, Suzie Boies and myself found ourselves Gabba-bound on 21st June, as prepared as we could hope to be to tackle the stairs.

5.45am and with a quick stop at Maccas for an early morning caffeine hit, we rocked up to the Gabba, took the obligatory photos in front of the marketing signs, checked our bags and proceeded to the marshalling area for warm up.  While the rest of the group followed along with the onsite coach, our group did its regular warm up session and before we knew it, it was 7.00am and we were listening to the final briefing before starting on the stairs.  

With an emcee calling over the stadium system, and music pumping around the stadium, the many sets of up/down began.  I do have to admit that it wasn't anywhere near as painful as I had imagined and we set a good pace and maintained good momentum all the way round.  After the first lap of the top deck I was looking forward to finishing the second lap and moving downstairs as they were a different height and spacing, meaning the tiring muscles got some rest.

The vollies were great on the day, calling out lots of encouragement, cheering everyone on and of course asking the obligatory 'Are you having fun?' Funnily enough we were.  Being a bit slower, I was the last of our group to come down onto the field and complete the lap of the ground.  But there is a bit of a bonus to coming in last - everyone else is there to cheer you home.  After all, they couldn't go anywhere, I had the car keys!

It was a great morning out and a chance to try something new.  Next year we are thinking of doing it again, but this time perhaps at a new venue -  the home of AFL, the MCG. Something tells me that that is going to hurt!

Ironman – a supporter’s perspective

Ironman – it’s the pinnacle of triathlon (well to most it’s the pinnacle – to a crazy few, UltraMan is the pinnacle).  For those who have completed one, it’s the culmination of months of long, hard hours of training, commitment and sacrifice.

Ironman training is all consuming.  Weekdays, morning and night, weekends of both days taken up with long rides and long runs.  Ironman is not a commitment to be taken lightly.  An athlete could get away with skiving off from training as hard for a half distance, but on the long, long course, there is nowhere to hide.  Ironman partners joke that they are the triathlon widow/ers.  They are only partly joking.

When your partner signs up for Ironman, they sign up for an event that will impact on the whole family.  Weekends away are planned around whether there’s a body of water to continue swimming training, roads suitable for long rides and suitable distances to run.  They may involve solo drives to camp grounds while said partner rides the 190km to the campground.  They may involve solo camping trips because training this weekend revolves around a long group ride and swim.  Weekdays will mean you may become nothing more than ships passing in the night as they get up early to go to swim training, work all day and then go for a run in the evening just as you’re getting home.  (PS I hate that alarm.  Athletes may complain that they hate the alarm.  Believe me, they don’t hate it anywhere near as much as the Ironwife who is woken up morning after morning by that damn sound).

As an Ironwife you will learn more about nutrition during endurance events than you will ever want or need to know.  You will hear about every idiot who shares the road (or does not as the case may be).   You will learn all about correct stroke technique when swimming, the best wheels for a bike, how pronation can affect foot strike and exactly how much you get back for physio appointments.

But once the hard yards are done, and it’s the morning of the big event, all of that is forgotten.  The focus is on getting your athlete through the day ahead.  Being there as they begin what may well be the hardest day of their life.

The days leading up involve the usual carb loading, bike racking, gear planning as any other triathlon.  Yeah, right.  It vaguely resembles that preparation, but is magnified by 100.  Packing and repacking, checking and rechecking.  Because let’s face it, it’s a long way to swim/ride/run if you forget your goggles, bike shoes, socks!  There’s the need to pack for every possible scenario.  Changes of clothes to cover wet weather, cold snaps, hot spells, emergency gear (for some that might mean Tim Tams, Red Bull, lollies, salt tablets) – the checklist is just that little bit longer for an Ironman event.

Event day begins pre-dawn.  That damn alarm goes off once again and your athlete begins their day with a light breakfast, a final check of race day gear, countless toilet stops and the walk to the swim start.

The atmosphere is electric.  Tension fills the air as each and every competitor begins the inward focus required to get through a gruelling day at the office.  What starts as a babbling brook of noise and emotions dulls down to the quiet, still waters of a lake at sunrise, as the wave starts commence.

The hardest part about being a spectator is the moment your athlete enters the water.  For the next 7-16 hours, dependant on your athlete, you will work through the full range of emotions as you support your athlete on the journey.

For me, the first Ironman was the worst.  My husband worked really hard on his swim.  From the moment he got into the water until the moment he got out of the water, I was counting the seconds, quietly willing him to be safe and well.  I cannot describe the moment when I received the text to tell me his swim time and that he was in transition (thanks Ironman for the heads up!)

After that, the day is a jumbled hash of memories as we drove to vantage points to watch the ride.  Brendon’s Ironman was at Port Macquarie, so it was only natural to stand on Matthew Flinder’s Drive for the better part of the bike time, cheering athletes up that hill.  It’s a tough climb, and more than a few dismounted at some point and walked up that incline.

Then off to the run leg to watch him pass 4 times on his marathon.  The emotions hit hard on this part of the course.  The first run past, he looked great.  I was euphoric for him.  He was doing this, he was fulfilling his dream.

The second lap, he looked haggard.  I started to worry.  There was no recognition as he ran past.  All of his energy was focussed on putting one foot in front of the other.  I started to plan how I would be able to support him is he had to pull out, what I would say to ease the depth of despair if he didn’t finish.

Lap 3 he was like Lazarus – fresh, smiling and looking strong.  I later found out he discovered Coke at the Aid Stations, and that had fortified his energy levels.  After that pass, I moved down to the finishing line, waiting for that long day to end.

The finish line at an Ironman event is like no other finish line.  If you think the swim start is electric, then this is nuclear.  Every athlete gets cheered home.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t know them or their story.  What you do know is that they have put in the hard work to deserve the respect and adulation of the crowd as they make their way down the red carpet.  This is such a dynamic place to be.  The emotional reunions as a husband spots a wife in the crowd and makes his way to the side for a kiss and an embrace before crossing the line.  An excited child in the crowd who spots his mum making her way to the end from the top of his dad’s shoulders.  Parents watching their young adult children completing a long day’s toil.  Strangers cheering everyone home, emotionally drunk on the hype of the finish line.

There is music pumping (Land Down Under was playing when my hubby crossed for the first time – it’s one of his favourite songs), lights flashing (it was dark when he finished), and then there’s that voice that you’ve been waiting to hear all day.  As you amble, run, stumble, sprint, skip – whatever you need to do to get to the end – as you make your way up that slight incline at the end and hear the words you have been focussing on all day “Brendon Boyd, you ARE an Ironman.”

When your athlete crosses the line, it feels like you have done so too.  After all, you’ve been on the journey too.  You not have swum a single stroke, cranked a single pedal or run a single step, but emotionally you have been there every stroke, turn and step of the way.  Emotionally you have been absolutely drained waiting for this moment.  Even as my husband completed his second Ironman I found myself breathing easier.  I thought it would be simpler second time round.  In a way it was.  I didn’t panic as much about the swim, and I wasn’t worried as much about him finishing because he had done one before.  However I found I still held my breath a little until he crossed the line.  After all, so much can still go so wrong.  Bikes break down, ankles roll, tired bodies aren’t always capable of giving that little bit more.

And I’m not just emotionally supporting him out there.  I’m cheering on multiple athletes from our club.  This year, one of our blokes had a health issue while on the bike.  When all of our athletes had passed and there was no sign of him, the entire Bayside spectator contingent went into panic stations.  Where was he?  Was he ok?  Was it as simple as a mechanical issue, or was he injured, had he crashed?  His wife had been unable to go to the event, so we stalked her FB page to see if she had heard from race officials – nothing.  We watched anxiously as the ambulance drove out along the course responding to an emergency.   Just when we had almost lost hope, along he came.  We later found out that he had had a health issue and had to sit on the side of the road for over an hour waiting for pain to subside.  He continued and finished, but not without showing amazing courage, guts and determination to overcome the pain.

There are similar stories at every Ironman.  Ask anyone who has completed one of these events and they will all have a story.  This year our camping spot was on the breakwall where the run is held.  After Brendon had finished and was resting in our tent I sat on the breakwall and cheered people home well past 10.30pm.  One man, who was looking very much the worse for wear.  As I cheered him past, he thanked me and said that the next 8km would be the longest of his life.  I started to run with him and told him to remember what that finish chute would feel like at the end.  He thanked me again and ambled off into the night.  Over his shoulder, he told me he’d see me at the end.  I didn’t go to the chute to watch him finish, but a lot of athletes go back to watch those guys finish towards the cut off time.  The triathlon community is amazing in that way.

I thought Brendon would sleep like the dead that night.  Not so much.  His body had spent over 11 hours being told by his brain to just keep going.  Even in his sleep, Brendon was still running.  His feet continued to move even as he slept fitfully beside me. Oh and that alarm clock?  We didn’t need it the next morning.  Brendon was awake at 4am, unable to sleep post-Ironman.

Finally it’s all over.  It’s a bit like a wedding – all that planning, a day’s work and then it’s done.  There is a very real phenomenon known as post event depression and Ironman is no exception.  Your athlete, who has spent the last 3, 6, 9  or 12 months training for this event finds their lives devoid of the need to get out on the road and train.  They mourn for the known.  They will say never again as they cross the line, but will sign up when the event goes live again next week.

When I told my husband I was writing this post, I warned him that it may sound a little negative and like I was complaining.  I asked him to read through to the end, to not feel guilty as he read my words.  Because as much as it is a hard slog, and I’m sure a marriage tester for many couples, I would not change a thing.  In fact, when the event entries opened the next week, I was the one encouraging him to register.  He loved training for the event, he had a tough day on course but the sense of achievement as he crossed the line was immense.

As a spectator I can tell you the day is one of the best you can have at a triathlon – endurance events give you plenty of time to see everything you could want without the rushing around of a shorter event.  Planning is essential to ensure you know road closures, alternate routes, the best vantage points, places to grab a bite to eat and go to the loo. It’s the chance to show your support to your athletes and the triathlon community at large.

I thrive off the atmosphere of the day – and having completed my first Half this year, know the value of a familiar face and voice calling out encouragement when you’re feeling low.  This year I took my bike to Port Mac and rode out to the other end of the run course so I could cheer on our athletes.  All up, this year at Port Mac, I walked over 30000 steps, clocked up over 19km (10 on the bike, 9 on my feet) – so it’s a win-win exercise wise.

And if you’re really lucky, you’ll make the highlight reel – yep that’s me in the blurry blue and my hands ringing the Ironman bells.  Best. Day. Ever.


Diary of a Triathlon wannabe – Tweed Enduro March 2015

After every event, I send out annoying emails to our athletes and ask them if they are interested in writing a race report telling other members about their race.  These requests are either answered with a groan and an “ok” or more often than not, are not answered.  I don’t take it personally, as I know that not everyone a) wants to share it all and b) enjoys writing.  So when I completed the Tweed Enduro three weeks ago, I knew I’d have a plethora of athletes to hit up for a report, but did not send a single email, as I knew that in order to ensure I wasn’t that annoying chick who always requests, but just doesn’t deliver herself, I’d have to write the race report.

But I had another motive as well.  I wanted a race report written by someone who trains for events for the fun of it.  Someone who trains to give them a motivation to train.  Not to be fastest.  Not to podium.  Just to finish.  You see, my name is Sue Boyd and I’m a completor, not a competor.  I am by no means saying I’m the only one, but too often we focus on places and I wanted others to see that there are many reasons that we race.

In September 2014, I saw a post pop up in my newsfeed advertising a new Enduro event to be held at Pottsville on the Tweed Coast.   I’d done a couple of enticer events and the sprint distances at Bribie Island, but was never really into Triathlon, as I’m not fast, and the shorter distances really didn’t appeal to me.  I do the events as a reason to train and try to improve my fitness.  I liked the idea of a long, slow toil out on course, and as this event was the same distance as the half Ironman event, and a first time for the area, I signed up.

Now what you need to know is that on entry, I had never swum more than 100m without a break (and a significant amount of panic and distress), so I knew that I would have to train particularly hard to overcome that fear and get through the swim to be even able to think about the ride and the run.  I’m a competent enough rider, and had run my first half marathon at the Gold Coast in July, so I figured what the heck!

For six months I worked through my water issues (if you have young children, please get them swimming lessons while they are still young, it will be much better for them later in life) and on a beautiful Autumn morning on March 29, found myself in Pottsville  lined up and ready to have a crack at my first Enduro triathlon.

I had nominated as an Athena (translation, heavy female athlete) and along with two other female age groups (one of which included our very own Bayside club coach, Karen Short) waded out to the start line ready to see if the training would pay off or if the nerves would kick in and see me breast stroke my way to the end.

I’d put in a lot of time in the pool, knew I could swim the distance (albeit slowly) but really did not know what would happen when I was in the water with a number of other swimmers.  My normal reaction was to panic, and keep my head above water while staying well out of the way.  My strategy for this swim was to get to the end and not let anything or anyone get into my head, so I started in the front line with the other women (there were only 10 of us in that wave), and just start swimming.

I was caught by the next wave, had a couple of guys swim over me and one who grabbed my ankle and pulled me backward.  I kicked him pretty hard and he let go very quickly. Other than swimming a little crooked and having to recorrect to go around the cans on the correct side, the swim was pretty good.  The water was cool and clear and visibility was right to the bottom, so as we swam we could see plenty of fish darting around underneath us. Oh and did I mention the cracking tide?  Swimming with the tide is my new favourite thing to do.

I emerged from the water like I’d won the lotto.  The photo in this post was taken by the professional photographer, and I think that he caught the moment perfectly!  There was a group of Baysiders cheering us out of the water and I turned to them and raised my arms in victory.  Who cared what happened to me for the rest of the race, I had just swum 1.9km and I hadn’t drowned!

But I digress, a quick transition (learned from my fast transitioning husband) and it was a 90km jaunt on the bike.  The course was a 22.5km out and back loop, completed 4 times.  There was a patch of road approximately 500m long that was as smooth as a baby’s bottom, with the remaining 22km just a little less forgiving and at time jarring on the body.  Can’t tell you much about it, other than that there were a couple of little hills to challenge near the out turnaround.  Why can’t I remember the ride – because I spent most of it grinning like an idiot because I’d survived the swim!

So nothing really eventful on the ride, other than the chance to encourage a whole heap of fellow Baysiders who were on course.  There’s nothing quite so heartening as hearing your name called out by a team mate and a spot of encouragement as you go.  Unless it’s a whole swath of team mates and spectators.  That first lap turnaround on the roundabout was just about as special as getting out of the water.  The Bayside crew shouted themselves crazy as I came into the corner – so much so that the announcer even commented and called out my name, because of their noise.

One of the hardest things I found about the ride was not really knowing how hard to push, knowing I had a half marathon to run at the end.  I won’t lie and say I gave it my all.  I think I left plenty in the tank, just in case, for the run, and looking back know I could have pushed a little harder (ok a lot harder), but given how it all ended, am glad I had something in reserve.

So off the bike (it was so good when I could feel my feet and hands again, which was about 3kms into the run) and through transition onto the run.  An interesting course that wound around the back of housing estates, back onto road, past parkland, along the creek bank and out to the loneliest turnaround point in the world – with just a single soul out there directing traffic. The first loop was a nice easy pace, but as the day was quite humid, and the course was relatively sheltered from any breeze, the heat eventually started to take it’s toll.

Now if I can give you one piece of advice that you must always follow (and if you’ve read Karl Frank’s race report, you’ll see I’m just re-iterating his point), never, ever try to wear new kit on race day.  I had bought a new pair of socks that were so comfy, lovely and padded under the pads of the feet and instead of wearing my race socks, I chose to wear the new socks.  This gamble may have paid off if I had kept my feet dry.  But on lap two, I allowed myself the luxury of getting sprayed by a hose.  Felt absolutely glorious at the time.  Cooled me down and reinvigorated my flagging spirits.  Ran for another 2km and realised that wet feet = wet socks.  Wet socks = blisters under the pads of both feet. Blisters under the pads of both feet = feeling like you’re running on a waterbed!

So hint number two – don’t get your feet wet!

I stumbled through the next two laps, running and walking alternatively.  Kept sane by singing songs from the 80s in my head and thankfully Brendon came out to the turnaround for the second lap, so seeing a familiar face and getting a bit of encouragement kept me moving toward lap three.

That run past the club marquee was enough to strengthen the resolve to head out for the final lap.  There was only 7km between me and the finish line.  There were only 3 of us left on course.  Being a late finisher is a lonely business.  There’s no one out of course to acknowledge you, no friendly waves or encouraging calls.  Again, thank goodness for the wonderful locals on the water stations who just kept cheering us on, and as I hit the 2km to go mark, I was greeted with the absolute best sight of the day.  Brendon, Jon Kelk, Renee and Ethan Brace all waiting to cheer me home.  I broke into probably the fastest pace I’d done all day as they ran beside me to the final marker.

With the chute just ahead, I hear a roar from Eric Brace, urging me home, “finish strong, Sue, just like Cootha” and with a song in my heart, a stupid smirk on my face and the sound of the remaining crowd in my ears, I crossed the line.  I had done it, I had finished and it was the second longest 7+ hours of physical work I’ve ever done.

Would I do another one – definitely.  Would I approach my training a bit differently – for sure.  I was pretty slack on my running, and really only started to get serious about running again four weeks out.  That is nowhere enough preparation time.  Am I a triathlon junkie – no way.  As much as I loved the event and enjoyed the challenge of training, I have to be honest and say I have the attention span of a goldfish.  I really had to mix up my training to stay engaged.  If it had been all run on paths, ride on roads, and pool swim training I wouldn’t have stuck with it.  As it was, I incorporated kayaking sessions, Metafit sessions, pool running, trail running and stair running to mix it up.  Was it the hardest thing I’ve ever done – not a chance – my first labour was 36 hours – this was a cakewalk, cos when I was tired I could slow down and rest.  Childbirth does not allow that same luxury!

But really, the one thing that I would recommend to anyone embarking on an endurance event journey is to have a great support crew.  Those people who will cheer you on and just keep you going.  Brendon helped me so much on the day by just talking to me, listening to me tell him it was so hard, and that I was hurting, but still encouraging me to go on.  Susan Davey was pivotal during my training in keeping me balanced, and talking me down off the ledge only days prior to the event.  And to those Baysiders on the day who offered a “Go Sue”, “Go Bayside” “You can do it” – you may never know exactly how much that stuff helps us out on course.

And my final piece of advice – do not wear thongs to the shops when you have blisters on the pads of your feet.  Because you will be in the middle of the store when both gigantic blisters give way at the same time, leaving you standing with wet feet and a puddle – a similar feeling to having your waters break in public.

Oh, and if someone tells you it can’t be done, knuckle down, train hard and flip them the bird when you cross the line :)