“I wanna go.” “I wanna go!” I wanna goooo!” I yelled at Hubcap as I forcibly grabbed my bike’s handlebars and bounced the bike agitatedly up and down.
It was around 1am and my body was raging like an out of control fire.
The previous lap Hubcap (who was my support crew) had brewed me up a coffee with 4 organic raw sugars and steaming hot, belly pleasing, very sweet oats.
Every second standing still felt like a year had passed.
My body was leaping out of its skin.
My eyes were wide like saucers.
The energy was so rife through my body I was getting agitated and irritated.
“I just wanna go!” I repeated again and again.
As Hubcap replaced my battery for my light I had another swig of the sweet hot nectar as I jumped on my bike and screamed out “Thank you!!!” loud enough to ensure no poor soul was sleeping, and spun out of the pit area and back on the course.
I had work to do.
I stopped at the porterloo, flinging my bike on the ground and frantically pulled my bike pants down.
It was my first pee of the race and I was over 12 hours down.
Jez that’s not good, I thought to myself as the walls of the porterloo appeared to spin out of control.
What on earth did he give me in that coffee?
This is freaken madness!
Jez I hope I don’t get drug tested.
Hmmm I wonder if people use drugs?
What sort of drugs would people use?
I wonder how fast I can ride now?
My thoughts were out of control and racing!
So it had taken me over 12 hours to get into the competitive racing spirit. admittedly jolted to life by sugar and caffeine. Lots of it.
But I was now in the racing game.
And I had the whole dark night riding around the same 17km track to look forward to.
To race. To aim to maintain my lap times, if not get faster and definitely more smoother riding each and every lap.
It was by all accounts, the World Championships.
WEMBO, The World Endurance, Mountain Bike Organisation held the World Champs at Rotorua in March 2016.
This was only a week after I competed in the World Multisport Championships, The Coast to Coast in the South Island of New Zealand.
I had driven up from Christchurch in my Mazda Van named Bela, with my 3 bikes and all my worldly belongings. I had spent the past 2 and a bit months travelling around NZ, training for the Coast to Coast with a single (saggy) mattress in the back. Bela had been my (blessed) home.
However travelling up to Rotorua Bela now had another passenger, Andrew, also known as Hubcap; a bike mad, fastidious, pragmatic (so a super person to have on your support crew) mate from Brisbane. He’d completed about as many 24hr races as his age, so was super experienced in the needs of a 24hr racer. Hubcap and I also have the most completely opposite personality traits (which does make for a great team balance) but it sure was going to be an interesting journey! I had pre warned Hubcap that I enjoyed my rough, adventurous and spontaneous lifestyle with Bela, and although she was super cramped and took a lot of organising to get everything in her, she was everything I’d/we’d need; so to prepare for a real adventure.
He was keen.
We were on.
Our first day on the road from Christchurch we had the option of staying at my Aunty’s grand homestead for the night or pulling up at a spot right on the beach, pitching the tent and waking to see the sunrise.
Admittedly I was a little disappointed when Hubcap suggested having a comfy bed for the night (turns out not everyone is keen on saggy mattresses on cold grass wild camping on the side of the road!) but in normal Andrea fashion I quickly turned my attention to the positives of the situation; seeing my family, charging electronics, freezing the water bottles, and of course a comfy nights sleep.
The perfect choice.
Keen to show Hubcap the amazing NZ countryside on our way to Rotorua we stopped off at the Queen Charlotte Sounds. and I sent him off riding the track whilst I made a bed out of blankets and pillows on the grass and rested my tired body. Although physically I seemed to feel alright, my motivation was pretty non existent. After an hour of lying down I made a pact with myself to have a gentle spin on the bike for 20 mins – after all I was at the start of the Queen Charlotte Track!
This was my first time on the Mountain bike since 2015 and after using the amazing Di2 electronic gearing on my Felt IA10 my Felt Edict (Mountain Bike) seemed a little clunky and it took some getting used to.
When all the bikes were finally packed back into Bela it was 9pm and Hubcap did not like the idea of pitching a tent somewhere on the side of the road so opted to pay for a Motel. It was nice to feel clean after a hot shower and snuggling into clean sheets.
So far we had only slept in style!
The next day we headed across the beautiful Cook Strait and stayed with my Brother and his family in Wellington.
To get Hubcap to experience more of NZ by Mountain Bike i arranged for Danial (who had recently done the Coast to Coast too) to take us exploring around the hills of Porirua. I happily managed a 40 minute easy ride on the bike. The body was still feeling pretty clunky, but with 2 days to go I was trying to keep my attention in the present moment as to not think about the future (riding non stop 17km laps for 24 hours is not something I wanted to be focusing on.)
From Wellington the whole trip in the Van into Rotorua we could see very dark and scary looking ominous clouds up ahead. When we got to Rotorua the place looked like it had been truly and well drowned, and in fact later we were told that the whole pit area for the 24hr event was under water!
Taking our time to get up to Rotorua we arrived at the Holiday Park with it all closed up. With a miscommunication with our phone calls to alert them we would be late, 20mins later we had a rather angry person let us into our tiny room.
Big enough for 2 single beds and 1 Power plug.
That’s all really that was needed.
Down very steep flights of stairs to get to the bathrooms, definitely was not (especially come Monday after the race!)
Waking up far much too early the next day for my liking, I got stuck in in the communal kitchen cooking up my high carb vegan food for my 24hrs of racing the following day. Sticky rice and oats with banana, sultanas, dates, peaches, apples and coconut sugar, and boiled potatoes and pasta with fresh basil and tomatoes.
I’m one of these people that absolutely love their race food and get so excited about the idea of eating it (although often during the tough times it’s not as enjoyable or palatable however, just a mechanical action to get nutrition in) so the excitement was brewing.
All my required food was wrapped in individual ‘stuff in and go’ packs or 1 lap packs.
I also used individually customised liquid nutrition, with either 100% carbs or with 1% protein and caffeine for those hard to reach periods of time when I needed a lift or didn’t want to chew.
I aimed to have everything as organised for Hubcap as possible so he could get more enjoyment out of the process, and I’d also know I’d get exactly what I needed.
When we got to Redwoods Forrest in the afternoon the whole pit area was still under water and there was a massive (and I’d assume expensive) operation going on to get rid of the water. We were told we’d have to wait until the following morning to set up.
I went out to pre ride the course. Hubcap had issues with his brakes and pulled out from riding the course with me. The guys on track couldn’t fix it.
It was hard not to be really disappointed. This was one of the reasons why I wanted Hubcap with me.I needed his expertise in helping me pick the best lines and showing me how to ride the course as efficiently and as skilled as possible.
I’d opted to ride in elite category which really was way out of my league.
This being my 2nd ever Mountain Bike Race (the 1st also being a 24hr which I managed to win, taking away a very batted and nerve damaged body in the process.) I’d only been riding mountain bikes for 2 and a bit years. I’d done many Adventure Races over the past 2 ish years but they often had you carrying your bikes across rivers, pushing them through what seemed inpenatrable bush, towing team mates and riding along formed fire tracks/ 4wheel drive tracks; so rather different than beautifully formed single track in a park regarded as having some of the best MTB tracks in the World!
I put on the biggest smile I could muster and had an easy ride along the tracks by myself.
I’d just have to trust in my own skills and back myself. I could do this, I told myself.
I took off for an easy ride along the marked course.
I must have ridden so easily that the first thing that Hubcap said to me on my return was
“You’ve just got back now?”
You’ve been out there that whole time?!”
My heart plummeted.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself to handle the tracks well, especially in the sludge, and thought just over 90mins to do 17km the day before a big race wasn’t too bad.
I found myself getting angry.
Hubcap was meant to come with me.
He was meant to be there to help me.
I was petrified of the course, and was doubting my abilities, let alone riding amongst a group of elite experienced women.
My fear had taken me over.
It had become me and now I was projecting it onto Hubcap.
But maybe he was disappointed he couldn’t help me?
Maybe he was pissed off too?
Having done lots of work on myself I was able to recognise the self entitled ‘me’ that wanted it’s own way, who to the core was just terrrified of the challenge she’d put her self up against.
Riding in the Elite Category was purely just an exercise to “Act as you are and you will become.” I wanted to be Elite, so I might as well step up and surround myself with others better than me so I would by default rise to the challenge (or of course succumb to the pressure.)
Either way it was going to be a super learning opportunity.
I knew my strength was in the tough times.
After 12 hrs I knew I’d kick in and I would do my best work in the wee hours when others would succumb to the fatigue. I knew I’d not be the most skilled rider but knew I’d ride with my heart and soul and was super fit and strong coming off my Coast to Coast training….and the World Champs Coast to Coast Race only 6 days prior.
Eeeek 6 days prior?!
I was absolutely shitting myself.
It was time to meditate.
To calm and centre the body and mind.
The following morning rising once again much to early for my liking, I went over my race plan
1. just keep moving forward
2. focus on the now
3. stop for 5 mins or less in transition,
And the most importantly
4. enjoy the ride.
How hard could another World Championships be?!
In order to help me with my ‘enjoy the ride’ intention I’d spent up large at a $2 type store with butterfly wings, wand, tutu, sparkly hair, fairy lights, plastic flowers and even a multicoloured clown like wig for Hubcap to wear (much to his horror I’m sure! Although bless him, he did wear the wig for the first few laps when I came through which made my heart sing.)
I know this wasn’t in accordance to the MTB elite grade etiquette, but it certainly was in accordance with my rules.
And besides, it made me stand out and be memorable amongst volunteers and competitors (look at me! Oh yes look at me! My shadow value was fulfilled ha!) and also made me appear as less of a threat to the others, and meant less expectations for myself.
However I was just a little concerned I might stab myself on my butterfly wand sticking out from the front of my bike if I might happen to fall….. Best to think about what you want then, not what you don’t want. Knowing quite well that your wish is your command!
Pit stop all ready.
Pit crew ready.
5 mins until start and I look down and……flat tyre!!!!
I hurried to find Hubcap in an absolute fluster – in hindsight I should’ve scheduled in that meditation sit in the morning. I sure needed it!
But of course with minutes to go before the start Hubcap was getting a prime spot in which to watch the action.
By the time I found him I’d already blown my race plan and was not having fun, nor making Hubcaps life much fun either.
Pumped up and ready to go I made the start line in time (thanks Hubcap!) and settled into the furious fast pace. I did not want to race straight off the mark and run into my red zone, especially after coming off a race 6 days prior, but did not want to miss the opportunity to race amongst fast guys. I could watch their lines riding ahead of me and also have them riding straight up my backside, urging me to ride faster and take more risks – this being the scariest but most beneficial part of the race. Once you’ve done it once, you can do it again and again (for 24 hours in fact.)
Fast forward to 1am and my body had finally realised what it was meant to do – the competitive fire raging throughout my body…..If not a rather impatient, agitated and self centred fire- but it was still a fire!
And it was kick started by an overdose of sugar and caffeine.
But I didn’t care. I was finally racing!
Racing all over the place.
It took me back to my clubbing days. The World spinning out of control and as long as I also held on for the ride and went with it, it was going to be an enjoyable ride.
Half way along the course there were a group of guys drinking beers, lighting fires, blaring loud dance music, shining spot lights and fluro painted signs that made you chuckle. You know the ones along the lines of “Your Mother …..
I really looked forward to seeing them as they would holler and yell and go crazy every time anyone appeared and they loved me fist pumping and screaming back at them (“oh yes look at me!!) Their music was furiously energetic and positively uplifting and stuck in my head for most of the way back to the pit. I was impressed by the boys stamina however a few hours before dawn – you know that really horrible part when you’re racing and feel so tired and the World feels like it’s getting so cold and just wants you to curl up in a ball anywhere on the side of the track; well the guys dissolved (in a probable heap) into their tents and it felt like it was just me and the track in a thick deep silence.
The occasional guy would come up from behind exclaiming “it’s the butterfly again!” Or (showing their brand brainwashing, I mean conditioning) yell “red bull gives you wings!
To which I’d quickly correct them “Noooo! Mountain Biking gives you wings!!”
*Also many people along the track were also corrected that I was in fact a butterfly and not a fairy. Being likened to a 6 yr olds fantasy didn’t do much for driving me forth with strength and energy. A butterfly to me was a great combination of calm presence and awareness, the strength and power to fly, and childlike play.
So a I butterfly I was!
I know during the race I had many issues with my lights, having to stop every lap to get a new battery (a huge time wasting exercise that cost me a lot of time.) Apart from running out of lights during mid track and having to pull over and fumble in the dark to replace them, I believed it caused much more of a heart stopping and finger nail biting experience for Hubcap than me. He handled it so well.
I deep down knew it was causing issues but he never once gave the impression that everything wasn’t totally under control.
One time throughout the night I recall throwing my bike to the side in Pit and rolling around on the ground moaning trying to stretch out my aching lower back. I beckoned Hubcap to give me paracetamol which I shoved in my dry mouth, and then, like in a possessed state (going through the motions) getting back on my bike and riding the same track.
Did I mention it was the same track?
Yip I rode that thing again and again and again and again.
Riding into the morning I had continued to add more and more caffeine and sugar to my body; like a weathered drug addict needing more and more for their fix and never being satisfied with the effect.
My body was struggling.
I was tired.
My mind was tired.
My body was aching and I wondered what in the hell I’d thought riding my bike for 24hrs after racing 6 days earlier.
Actually I couldn’t think back to 6 days ago, I was just simply thinking that in his present moment, that riding my bike, is a dumb idea.
An old team mate who was also riding 24hrs came up behind me unnaturally jovivial asking me how I was. I think I truthfully replied something to the effect of
“Yeah I’m alright” in quite possibly a drawn out sigh to which he responded
“That’s not the always positive Andrea (or something to that effect.) You have to be positive Andrea!” as he flew past me, angering me with his comment.
He asked me how I was and I told him!
And he was making me feel slow (this was by far my slowest lap.)
But really it was just what I needed to relight that fire back underneath me.
As by all means, it was a race! The World Championships in fact!
As an aside, it can be quite amusing how when in your darkest hour how you interpret comments from other people. I know many of an Adventure Racing team has combusted into never recognisable and unrepairable flames due to fragile and hurt egos. This was an example of one of them as I burnt a hole through his back as he rode away with my scathing eyes looking at him in disgust. I was totally projecting my unhappiness of how I was feeling at onto him. Onto his back in fact, as he sped off making me think again about the slow pace I had succumbed to.
I came into Pit, the sun out in it’s full strength.
”You’re 5th!!!!” Hubcap excitedly screamed at me.
“5th place is only a few minutes in front. You can catch her. You can catch her Andrea!”
Is that her?! I yelled at Hubcap as I spotted long blond piggy tails leaving the Pit Area.
“Yes!” he yelled back.
“Sports drink for the next lap please. I’m not stoping now. I’m going to get her!” I ordered Hubcap as I narrowed my eyes and locked in my target.
I’d just found new energy and strength. Also a pact I’d made to myself 6 days ago through quiet sobs into my pillow, well I really mean through those hiccuping, snot filled out of control tears, that I had to honour.
During the Coast to Coast 6 days prior I’d Raced the last 70km thinking I had hunted down 4th place and was sitting (comfortably) in 3rd. I got a time split that I was 2mins behind (but I thought I was 2mins in front) so instead of giving it my all, I fairly comfortably (as comfortable as one can be after racing hard for 13hours) rode into the finish line.
I was thinking about having to ride for 24hrs the following weekend so in my mind to not beat the poor begging body to every inch of its life to still finish on the podium, was a mightily fine result.
That was until after I crossed the finish with more in my body and realised I was actually 4th.
Never ever leave anything in the body again when racing.
And especially not now.
Oh no no!
Miss Piggy Tails you have no chance!
Within a few minutes I had flown past Miss Piggy and gave a quick look back and saw there was no chase by her.
Relief flooded my body for a second and then this surge of adrenalin (and terror) had me ride the second fastest lap of the race (after racing for 22 hours already!)
I was flowy and fast, light and nimble, strong, powerful, and totally fearless.
I could feel my heart drumming throughout my body, my breath laboured and hard, but it felt so good.
I was feeling so good.
This is how feeling at one with everything was meant to be like.
I had got it all together.
Speed, Strength, skill; I felt like I had it all.
I came screaming past another woman without much of a blink of my eye and 5 mins later found her on my wheel.
She shrieked at me
“You know you’ve been riding for over 22 hours don’t you?!” Holy shit you’re riding fast!”
She managed to tell me between breaths that she’d seen me charge up behind her and she rode scared fighting to get on my tail. I told her that she’d lapped me and was 2nd so had nothing to be concerned about me being ahead of her now.
But she didn’t believe me, citing her brain wasn’t working too well and didn’t want to risk it.
She was wearing a complete performance top (and me the pants) both being coached by the Christchurch based Sports Coaches and we laughed and chatted about currently being 2nd and 4th in bright spirits (on weary tired bodies no less.)
Being completely fearless and at one with my bike (aka sleep deprived and too tired to care) I bombed down the deccents leaving her behind me taking a few minutes to catch up on the more technical stuff remarking
“Wow you’re an awesome descender!”
Never hearing anything good about my riding skills (except being able to climb well, which requires very little skill, just strength and power) I’d be lying if I didn’t feel super proud (especially by someone currently No.2 in the World!) powered me on even more.
It was like she was feeding me in the front in order to pull her to get closer to 1st place (or away from 3rd.)
She possibly asked me if it was ok if she ride behind me.
I didn’t care.
My train had left.
I was on it.
There was no getting off it now and anyone could come for the ride.
In the space of 2 laps I’d put on 30mins over 4th place in my emotional fury ridden pact to myself to never leave anything in the body again.
As I crossed the line just before 24 hrs it meant I had to do another lap.
My guts screamed out in disappointment with the remnants of terror making sure I was still riding scared.
In fact my bladder currently feeling like the size of a bowling ball was not going to take it anymore.
Not being in real ‘racing mode’ for most of the duration of the race, I now certainly wasn’t stoping to potentially give back the gap I’d made and risk losing 4th place.
4th place in the World.
In less than a week!
I was “Game on!” for one more lap.
The train ain’t stoping!!!
I stood up on my pedals and tried to pee my pants.
After racing for nearly 24hours my urine was concentrated and angry.
The flesh between my legs was inflamed, raw and also angry.
I winced and cried out as it felt like daggers being thrown at my neither regions. The pain made me feel dizzy as I proceeded to empty my bladder through the thick campos of my once admired bike shorts and into the socks and lining of my shoes.
That half a kilo of weight was still going to stay with me damnit!
At around 5km to go my brakes that had been wearing very thin and making ear shrieking sounds proceeded to jam up my front wheel.
I reluctantly stopped to try and take them out so I could ride without resistance but in my terrified fluster could not do it.
I then thought I’d be quicker to run with the bike over my shoulder (this was through a very weaving, sharp, rutty. technical and slushy section) and did so whilst sobbing (with a short wail) in anguish that I’d stuffed up so so close from the finish line.
The tears not helping me pick my path and I fell onto the thankfully soft dirt, amongst not so soft tree roots.
I had already projected my fate and was failing to follow one of the basic steps of my race place – to stay in the present moment.
I sharply spoke out loud to myself to stop it, to relax and to just ride as well as I (quickly) can.
It was like almost instantly I realised how stupid I was being and how much harder I was making this experience for myself, not to mention this wasn’t at all fun.
Looking over my back the whole time (I just couldn’t help myself) to finally make the finish and cross the line.
My poor Felt Edict was screeching, and I was a ratted, worn out, but beaming Butterfly waving a $2 New Zealand Flag Hubcap had thrust into my hands.
He came in beside me as I neared the finish line and exclaimed
“4th in the World!” How does it feel to be 4th in the World?!”
“I’m 4th in the World I quietly screeched to myself through my tired vocal cords, my smile wide and proud.
“I’m 4th in the World.
“I’m 4th in the World!!”