I’d done the Naseby 12 hour mountain bike race before in a team of 5 and spent SO much time just hanging out waiting for my time to ride.
So this year we decided the perfect number was 3, one rider and 2 to keep each other company. February 1st registration opened and I was ready and waiting to secure our spot. Team name Bike Chicks, it was the best I could come up with on short notice. I was excited to spend the day with Nicky and Gracie, non competitive…. but obviously we were going to smash it:)
About 2 weeks out from the race Francis the Icebreaker rep said he had a team entry he could hook us up with. Which was totally awesome! Being that I’m super organised I had already paid for my entry and did think at one point I would like to attempt this as a solo rider. With little encouragement I had opted out of the team and found myself going solo. Yikes!
I was pretty excited at the chance to race SOLO as most of the other events I’d done this season were in a team. Hoping I could keep myself motivated and in a good head space without having buddies to rely on. Not really knowing what to expect I took on a lot of advice from friends who had done this kinda thing before. My favourite was “don’t skimp on the anti-chaffing cream” – seemed reasonable.
Race day dawned to blue skies, which was a relief as it was raining the whole day before and I’m not the most confident in the mud. It was a Le Mons start which meant a little run around the camp and up a hill to spread out the riders. I wasn’t really prepared for what was waiting at the top of the hill which can only be described as pure chaos. The side of the track was lined with spectators holding bikes, yelling trying to get their riders attention, I ran along looking frantically for Kristal (camp mom and absolute legend) freaking out that maybe I’d ran past her without noticing. Finally she appeared ahead holding my bike, unfortunately I was on the opposite side of the track, I felt like I was going to get run over as I braved the sea of cyclists to get to her.
I knew the first lap was going to be my slowest, it always takes me a while to warm up and settle in. Also very aware that it was a long day ahead and didn’t need to go crazy straight out of the gate. Getting to know the course on the first couple laps, the muddy conditions sent me flying off my bike a couple times, my favourite being falling into the water race on lap 3, I was thinking you have got to be F-ing kidding me! Laps 4 to 6 felt really good, finally it was all coming together my heart rate had settled to where I wanted it to be, having a great time chatting to other riders, enjoying the beautiful tracks and the amazing day it was turning out to be. Then some nice person kindly reminded me I was only half way through. It was like a switch was flicked and all the little aches and pains came at once.
This was my chance to stop, have a proper food break, stretch, change my clothes and load up on some ibuprofen. Feeling like a new person I hopped back on my bike for Lap 8. The best part of this event was the small chats you had with people as they were passing you or maybe in the off chance I passed someone with my slow and steady pace. Encouraging words from the team riders saying there is no way they could go solo, or bumping into the same people “how’s it going now” “still going which is good”. I did a few laps with Rick who’d helped me leading up to the race by passing on some of his knowledge in going solo, he was extra crazy opting for his single speed as his weapon of choice.
At the end of Lap 9, I was starting to feel a bit tired and thought instead of hammering the last fast section through the trees I’d be a bit more sensible and slow down…… I’m not entirely sure what happened but I ate Sh*t, landing hard on my left side, smacking my
head on the ground, that did not feel nice at all! I spent the first half of Lap 10 telling myself this was the last lap, my goal was 12 but I said I’d be happy with 10, I’m tired and was probably going to kill myself. By the end of Lap 10 I had convinced myself to continue because I had come this far and am way to stubborn (I prefer determined) to give up. When I rolled into camp I was pretty stoked to see Kristal dressed to ride the last couple laps with me (again she’s a freaking legend). Lights on full we ventured out for 2 more trips around the 11km loop.
12 Laps, 144 km, 11 hrs 35 mins and 7th in my category I couldn’t be more stoked with that! Would I do it again? you bet. It was such a fun day. Great people on and off the course it was super social, what more could you ask for. I loved the challenge of pushing myself, the unknown of how my body would feel after 12 hours, and the amazing feeling of accomplishment when it was done. I’m not the best mountain biker in the world and yes I fall off my bike frequently but it’s not how you fall it about how quickly you get back up.
After the high from Spring Challenge, I briefly looked into Red Bull Defiance as a potential next goal. Overview: 2 Day adventure race, 71km mountain bike, 34km run, 37km kayak, 60m abseil, 5238m of vertical! The thought was fleeting because there was NO way I was going to find someone silly enough to want to do it with me. It couldn’t have been more then a day or two later while sitting in the office talking to Niall, a co-worker about his event plans for the summer he says “yeah I’d love to do Red Bull Defiance but I don’t think I’ll find anyone to do it with”, seriously! Of course I said I’d love to give it a go and at this point I’m pretty sure Niall thought it was just a passing comment. Little did he know…
There were a few things to sort, the entry fee being the first thing. Having a few connections from working at Racers Edge I sent out a couple texts and emails to see if I could find someone willing to donate to the cause. The one I sent to Gerard from The North Face went something like this: “Hey G any chance TNF would want to sponsor Niall and I for Red Bull Defiance? This is not a joke”, I had also jokingly mentioned it to a good friend,
John-Jo from Flashworks Media to sound him out whether he would be willing to help us out, I think he offered $50, which I replied with “that’s not going to get you naming rights” Later that night I got a text asking what naming rights would cost? Now at this point another friend had popped into the shop and told me he was going to have to sell his early bird entry for Defiance because his partner had hurt his knee. It’s like the stars aligned this was all happening a little too easily. A few days later Niall and I were registered as Team Flashworks Media supported with gear from The North Face.
So what happens now…. I should probably go ride my bike or run or something. This is also when I started to get a bit of negativity, I heard things like “you are doing Defiance???” my
personal favorite was “Niall why don’t you try to find a better partner” ouch; Really, I’m standing right here! This sort of shit defiantly rocked my confidence. I started to think what have I got myself into, what was I thinking, can I actually do this, all of these questions running around in my head. I caught up with Gavin Mason to help me lay out a plan and get my head in the right space. I didn’t want a full on training program but more just an outline. I put way too much pressure on myself, I would feel stressed if I didn’t complete something on a
structured program. I have really learned to listen to my body and know when I can keep pushing and when to take a break, recovery is just as important as training hard. Training took up most of my time, before work run or gym session, after work bike ride, days off work spent exploring parts of the course, I do also have a full time job in which I walk at least 10k a day. I would show up to the gym with bruises and scratches all over my legs, Sally (my trainer) would ask what I’d done now I’d usually reply with not sure probably fell off my bike. I
clipped into my bike for the first time (providing hours of entertainment), rode single track I’d only dreamt of before, ran places I’d thought impossible. Believing I could do it was the biggest challenge, if you think you can’t you probably won’t! So no matter what it was I had to think, “yes I can” or at least “get your Shit together you’ve got this”! I was just happy to be out doing things no matter how tough, I really enjoyed the challenge and tired to do it with a smile on my face. Niall and I had Fridays off together so we’d usually try to head out on some sort of adventure. We had some awesome missions, and like everything they didn’t always go to plan but that was half the fun! Our first mission we went to bike the Mineret Burn track after a bit if rain and couldn’t get across the Rumbling Burn. Niall was waist deep and struggling without carrying his bike, so I had no
chance. The first time we did the Skyline trail was an interesting day. We both ran out of water and decided to take the “Locals” track down thinking it would be faster but also not entirely sure where the track was. I learned that I’m useless when dehydrated! I called John-Jo when we’d finally found that track and were not far from the bottom requesting water and poweraid, stat! Bike adventures with Franck were always interesting….. “Just one more climb” usually meant this is only the beginning; Stop Francking with me was a term we used frequently. By the time the week of Defiance rolled round I was looking forward to giving my body a break, so my focus was on the little details, what to eat, how often (I have an extensive chart), transitions, what to wear…so many things to consider. Team Flashworks Media ready to race!
The day before race day (Friday) we headed to Oxbow Adventures to practice our claybird shooting skills, that’s right it’s a race that included firing guns! We had decided that who ever shoots the best was up first during the race. Niall got 9/10 so that was easy, I shot 7, not bad. Registration and gear check – tick, packed our transition bags, kayaks fitted, strapped food to our bikes, checked and re-checked. Race Briefing gave us the news we were anticipating of a course change on day one. Bikes were racked, transition bags turned in, nothing left to do but enjoy the salmon I’d ordered from Twizel, (did I mention I’m an over organizer) and try to get a goodnights sleep.
Saturday morning was a blurr of food and excitement, this was it, this is what I’ve been working so hard for. At Defiance HQ we piled into the buses and headed out past the Neck to a barge waiting to take us to the start line in Snag Bay on Minaret Station. Minutes after getting off the barge it was all on! We had a good start and climbed up the first hill; it didn’t take long for the pack to spread out. 43km, 1200m-altitude gain over formed 4WD tracks and muddy/rough farm tracks with a few river crossings. About 10km in all of my food bounced out of my bento box (not ideal) Niall was quick enough to stop and grab it. Felt a bit slow climbing/ pushing up some of the big muddy hills but we made up for it with some speedy down hills. Transitioning to the Rocky Mountain run was quick and we got on
to the steep climb and headed toward the special stage, an abseil. Which was bigger then I was anticipating and with the instructions of “this hand goes here and just keep walking backwards” it was pretty awesome!! With the Wanaka weather not coming to the party there was a course change that lengthend the run section and sent us to Paddock Bay to start the kayak. Instead of a 17km paddle (my strength) into Wanaka it was a 5km paddle across Glendu Bay and a 14km run (my weakness) on the Millennium Track. We used the towline for the run not so much to actually tow but more as a mental thing (at least for me) and to keep us together. I was pretty stoked to see the finish line and John-Jo of Flashworks Media with the burgers we had pre ordered! We stood in the lake for a few minutes to cool our tired muscles and get them ready for the next day. I had been told that my brain function would be very limited but I was unprepared for how slow it would be. I stood in my living room pointing at bags saying thing like “so I’ll get out of a kayak and get onto my bike…..what do I need to make that happen”. It didn’t help that we didn’t have very long to give our bikes a quick service and repack our transition bags for the next day. The evening plan was dinner, stretch, rehydrate and bed.
Woke up on Sunday feeling a bit stiff but once I got moving I was surprised that my body actually felt ok. We started on the lakefront in the rain with a 20km paddle around to the Outlet and down to Oxbow Adventures. Some rudder issues sorted with the help of the Kia Girls got us onto the Clutha river and making up some good time. I was pretty stoked to finally get to put my paddling and river skills to good use! My plan was to take this time in the boat to rehydrate, which was a good idea until I had to pee so bad I couldn’t think of anything else. Niall’s suggestion was just to go for it in the boat but with my bike shorts on and my pack sitting between my legs I thought “not happening”. We reached the pull out and once I’d sorted my gear I found the closest bush, which was not very far away, all modesty was lost, haha. After the kayak we ran a few kms to the clay bird shoot, which Niall smashed out in 52 seconds, BAM! On to our bikes and heading toward a big climb over Criffle Peak. 28km with a 1278m-altitude gain, wow my legs felt like lead weights as we started up the track. We had prepared for Niall to tow me and being the crazy machine he is we were actually passing teams going up hill. This was a pretty long stage; once we’d made it through the first part of the climb the rough track seemed to just continue uphill forever. We pushed and rode our bikes over rough muddy 4wd tracks, then onto a technical single track that brought us quickly down to the valley floor and across the Cardrona River to the last transition at Spotts Creek.
The dreaded Skyline track which I’d been least looking forward to but mentally felt pretty good about getting it done. Again we used the tow to keep us together, I swear I spent what felt like hours staring at Niall’s feet as we climbed up toward the Radio towers, that was the short course cut off, making it with lots of time to spare. Getting to the top of Mt Alpha we could see Wanaka and the finish giving us a wee boost then finally a little down before the last steep section to the summit of Mt Roy. We could see the 3rd place age group mixed team in front of us and we were gaining on them until we started the relentless descent. My toes slamming into the front of my running shoes was too much to put out of my mind. I tried to re-tie my laces but I just couldn’t stop the pain. This is the only stage in the race that
brought me almost to tears. There was no way I was going to let this beat me, I took a few long deep breaths and told myself to pull it together look at how far we’d come, I managed to keep it together. A few motivational words from Niall, “yup that’ll happen, lets go”. Luckily there was a water station at the bottom of the Mt Roy track because unbeknown to me Niall had run out of water round about Mt Alpha. Stoked to be off the hills and heading toward town, we talked about the day before when we’d run along the Millennium track. It felt like AGES ago. The music from the finish got louder as we made our way along the lake front, exstatic to run across the line! Team Flashworks Media finished Red Bull Defiance 2016 in 18 hours, 41 mintues.
Wow that was massive and amazing! People look at me like I’m crazy when I say I had fun, but I really enjoyed the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment! Life for me had changed so much in the last 6 months, it wasn’t just training, and getting out there, this was now just a way of life. Not something I was going to give up anytime soon. We could not have done it without our amazing support team, everyone who missioned with us, John-Jo Ritson from Flashworks Media, Gerard Bonny and The North Face Australia/ New Zealand. Hard to believe that a year and half ago I was learning how to walk again, I didn’t even think about my knee through the whole race. I would call that a total success!
Having a goal pushed me into training consistently and was such a positive thing to have in my life. Not just for my physical health but also my mental and emotional state as well. Sky’s the limit I know now I can do anything I put my mind too! What’s next…… who knows but whatever it is it’ll be done with determination and a smile.
Link Below to check out a rough edit from Flashworks Media of us in Transition at Spotts Creek.