Inspired by Matthew Acklands race report, I’ve decided to post my thoughts on my own performance in the twelve hour version of the Bike SA Dirty Weekend. I always intended to analyse and critique my preparation and performance but making it available for all to read is a great way to encourage others to reflect on their own performances. With a little bit of time and effort we can learn a lot from ourselves and I know first hand just how easy it is to simply walk away from an event, taking outcomes or results at par value.
I decided that I would take on the solo twelve hour race at the end of January this year, giving myself about 14 weeks to prepare. My ‘base’ fitness was ok, certainly enough to support any specific training I undertook in the relatively short time frame before the event. I split the time I had to work into 3 phases focusing on strength and endurance with about a fortnight left at the end to rest up before the big weekend.
Towards the end of my training, which was hot and cold depending on my moods and motivation, I started formulating a plan to ensure I knew how I was going to get the most out of myself. I had a good idea of what average speed I could hold and where I should keep my heart rate to ensure I wasn’t going too hard.
The twelve hour format at the Bike SA Dirty Weekend is split into two six hour blocks which are the first and last six hours of the 24 hour race. So long as a rider crosses the line to start a new lap before the six hour mark in the first session, they can complete the lap and it will count. This is where my strategy began and I planned to cross the line as close to the cutoff as I could. This meant one of two things: I would either have to push to be able to get an additional lap in or I would be able to relax knowing I could cross the line at 5:50 instead of 5:30, as laps were not able to be completed in 30 minutes (by me anyway!). A riders’ finish time is irrelevant to final placings in the first session, it is purely the number of laps completed.
Half a lap into the race and I had gone out strong. I knew I wanted to clear any slower riders who may have sprinted off the line and popped soon after, but I certainly had no intention of holding the sprinters that were one of four in a team. My heart rate was peaking and all the breathing exercises in the world weren’t bringing it down! Adrenaline will do that. I stayed calm as I knew this would happen; I had planned to give myself two laps to get the heart rate under control after the same thing happened in the six hour race I completed a few years ago. Once I was one and a half laps deep, about 15km, the trail got quieter as the teamsters sprinted ahead and the solo riders found their groove. It was at this point I started doing my mental maths…
Six hours is 360 minutes. To cross the line with nine laps under the belt and get that extra one in I had to clear 360/9 = 40 minute laps. That wasn’t going to happen as lap one was 37 minutes and I was pushing! Ok, how about 360/8 = 45 minute laps? Well I doubt my last lap will be sub 45 as I will surely be knackered but I should be able to get a few extra minutes under my belt on the first few laps so I can blow out towards the end…
That was it. I had settled on a final plan about 90 minutes after the start gun and I stuck to it like glue. As good as I felt in the first few hours I knew It was pointless pushing harder than I needed to. Riders rushed past and my ego willed me to latch on and hold them; but that wasn’t the plan and I knew I had to put the ego aside if I was to survive! It wasn’t all just that simple though. Pumping some of the techy terrain and powering over some obstacles had my quads and calves wincing with cramps. Not once on a training ride had they done this so I had to play coach Tyson for myself. I knew I was eating plenty, I hadn’t felt the slightest bit hungry all day and my electrolyte intake was consistent. All I could do was up my water and listen to my body; the power I was looking for wasn’t there and I just had to cool it.
I giggled to myself when I read about Ackland pushing hard for a lap only to find it wore him out and got him bugger all! I did the complete opposite; I did a lap as cruisy as I could and learned it wasn’t that much slower! Ok, that may be the difference between a racer trying to win and one simply trying to survive but it still gave me the chuckles! With a bit over an hour to go I pulled into my tent, jumped off the bike and had a play with Chester (He was the cute as anything Border Collie that never left the trails edge next to “On the Money”)! With a ten minute break to rest the mind and stretch the back I was confident I would cross the line well before the six hour cut off and embark on my final lap for the day, which would also serve as a warm down.
Day one’s plan worked like a charm. I didn’t over do it in the initial laps, found my groove early and stuck to my own race. My timing strategy got me the most laps I could have possibly achieved while allowing me to chill out and save some energy to back it all up on Sunday. Feeling good!
After a good feed and sleep overnight, Sunday’s plan was yet to be finalised. It was always going to be a matter of suck it and see as to how much I might be able to achieve. The start was much slower and I soon figured out that I was unlikely to hold 45 minute laps again. I settled for 50 minute laps which, after 7 would still leave me 10 minutes up my sleeve if things blew out… The last thing I wanted was to embark on a final lap to cross the line at 2:01, in which case the lap would not count (laps in the second session had to be completed by the cut-off time). Again, sticking to this plan meant I could chip away and know my end result would be where I wanted it to be.
All in all, I had a fantastic ride and everything fell into place. I was well prepared but count myself lucky to some degree as racing often throws you curveballs that are hard to plan for. Although I feel like everything went so well, I wanted to analyse my performance in more detail to find areas where I can improve next year.
My goal setting. It was purely intrinsic. I had no idea or care for what final placing I would achieve. I simply planned to ride the best race that I could. The results will always take care of themselves. Placing fifth, I now know there is absolutely nothing I could have done on the weekend to snag fourth.
I ate. Advice from so many riders was to eat, and eat I did. I only felt hungry once all weekend, towards the end of the second session. It hit me like a freight train with about eight kilometres before I got back to my tent so I stopped immediately and ate everything I had on me! That lap was painfully slow but I had the flat Coke ready at the tent and managed to pull myself back. I’m so glad I managed to prevent that from happening earlier. Pancakes, potato and dried fruit balls never tasted so bad but I knew I had to eat them. I’m pretty sure I did about 20 minutes with a pancake slowly dissolving in my cheek at one point because I just couldn’t swallow the damn thing!
I put my ego aside. So many times the voice in my head said “If they are passing you, you must have to up the pace. Go on, keep up!” It’s just not true and I knew I was smarter than that. There are a lot of categories on track and, of course, lots of them will be lapping faster than me. I even had a chat with one guy who passed me and mentioned he was also in the solo twelve category. “How many laps did you get yesterday?” he asked. “Nine,” I replied “and today is just about getting to the line!” He then yelled back as he slowly pulled away “Nine?! Bloody hell, I only got seven!” I let him go I got a warm fuzzy feeling as I patted myself on the back. Maybe a little cocky but I thought to myself, if he only got seven yesterday, what makes him think he can blast past me today and hold it? I was on track for completing seven laps that session and sure enough, some time later, I saw and passed him limping up the hill completely spent. Ignoring the pace of others was the best thing I could have done for my race.
The van was packed early. There is nothing worse than fighting the clock as you cram stuff into the car on race day. My bike was serviced a week in advance- just incase it needed more than I realised. Bike shops hate the Friday before race weekend- don’t be that person!
Training time. I will be giving myself more time to train in the lead up to the event next year. Having made the decision already, I can prepare nine months as opposed to three! I also know I can change the way I structured my training so that it’s more consistent and less sporadic.
Race mentality. Changing my mindset from one of survival to one of performance will potentially yield better results but will almost certainly increase the risk of over cooking myself! Including some more XC style races to my schedule will help me to learn more about how to handle myself in longer events.
Lighting time. A big oversight on my part during preparation was to not test how long my lights lasted! With two laps left I lost my helmet light which made it extremely hard to look around corners! My handlebar light (on high beam) started to flash red with over a lap to go too! I very quickly selected the lowest setting I could and hoped that it would be enough… It was, but next time I will be a little smarter and more prepared!
Equipment. It’s a bit of a cop-out but I could certainly do something about my equipment! Twelve hours on a 14.5 kilogram 6” trail bike with XC tyres was all part of my plan this year but a switch to performance mode would benefit greatly from a significant change in gear… Any offers welcome!
There you have it- an insight into what got me across the line in what’s potentially the twelve hardest hours of my life! It wasn’t all me though. I had an awesome team behind me helping where they could, making sure I could focus on what I needed to do. A massive thank you to my wife Kara who gave up her entire weekend and many nights before hand to make sure I always had food and drink. Chester for only hating on me a little when I left him home on my long training rides. He was also on the trackside the entire race- legend. Andrew & Georgia for shuttling me to and from their humble abode where I left dirt in their bathroom, only to turn it to mud when I walked through it again with wet feet! Getting clean and fed after day one made day two so much easier! My family, Ella, the Hobby’s and everyone who got out to cheer- Having something like that to look forward to each lap makes a huge difference and breaks up the monotony. Everyone who rode and Bike SA for such an awesome event. It all started for me years ago as a downhiller wanting to have a crack at the looping version of bike riding. It hurts so bad every year but it’s easy to want to do it all over again when the event is so well organised and run.
Cheers everybody, see you next May!
Words: Tyson Schmidt