I've been back at training for a few months, working really hard at my running in preparation for Melbourne Marathon (my next big event - now 10 weeks out) but I've got to admit I haven't really been 'feeling' it. Yeah, I've been working, my running has improved enormously etc etc but something has been missing. Last Sunday I had a ride while on an MTC/FM Camp I think I found a little bit of it (whatever it is), this is the story of that ride.
First, concerns over the weather lead to the ride and run planned for the camp being swapped, the run moving to Saturday, the ride to Sunday. So Saturday now had a 2:15 hour run with some nasty hills in the morning with a quick 2.2 km sprint in the afternoon to cap it off. So on Saturday night my legs were toasted and the next days ride looked bad. On top of that I hadn't been riding much lately so I wasn't feeling strong on the bike at all. In short I was dreading the morning. I figured the day would go like this, group moves off at high speed, I hang on desperately until I get to the first climb, instantly get dropped and spend the next 4 hours alone, legs screaming, freezing cold, climbing on roads I didnt know with only a vague idea of the course and how to get home. Sounds inviting doesnt it? Perhaps I'll drop the hill ride and stick to the flats.
At dinner on Saturday, I basically said as much to Mike Cox who told me he and a couple of mates were planning to ride the hills but were also planning to do it at a more measured pace, taking off early, programming a couple of breaks, regrouping after climbs etc. Mike invited me to join him, Al McIntosh, his wife Rebecca, and Nathan Walsh in their little group. I gladly accepted Mikes offer and got an early night, now thinking this just might be ok.
So 0450 Sunday the alarm goes off and I'm actually looking forward to the day. The apartment isnt too cold, I find all my gear easily, my car was already packed (had to checkout before the ride) and bike ready. Got to the carpark a few minutes early and was in a good place. Nathan, Mike, Al and Beck arrived, some last minute fiddling and fussing but we got underway pretty much on plan around 0530.
The first part of the ride was simply glorious. A wonderful 40km roll down the great ocean road from Lorne to Skenes Creek completely alone except for the 5 of us. No other riders, no manic motorcyclists, no impatient cars or intimidating buses, just us, the road, the stars and a slowing rising sun (oh, and a lone Koala). It wasnt a doddle but we started as we intended to finish by ensuring everyone in the group was comfortable. For me that meant a 90 spin to ease into the day, the odd quick break as the group reformed, and for the first time in ages, the time and space to simply enjoy a ride. The ride down is mostly flat with a few rollers and short hills thrown in. Probably more interesting is that it felt like there is essentially no straight roads - you can really see why the Great Ocean Road is such a legend for drivers and motorcyclists - and we had it all to ourselves!
Sooner than I really expected we hit the first climb. I've been worried about this moment but what are you going to do? Ride up it I guess. First a little confession - I suck at climbing. As soon as I saw the planned ride for the camp I knew this would be a problem. So, applying the 6Ps (Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance) I did what I could. In short that meant visiting Mr Wiggle for a new 12-29 cassette for the back, a new chain and a general tidy up of the bike to get rid of anything that might make the climb harder than it absolutely had to be.
Ok, so here we go - up the climb. Like all strava segments, there are hundred of slight variations defining 'the' climb, I prefer a simple one that starts at the bottom and tops out before the first decent descent, so that's a relatively constant 5% grade for 9.5 km, total elevation change of 491 m. I made the call to go to the granny gear early and spin, spin spin. Best call I made all day. The climb took me around 40 mins and was pretty happy with that given that after this climb I knew I had another 70km of riding. I got into a nice little routine, of spinning on the constant bits, standing through the pinches and recovering a bit on the occasional false flats. In the end the top came quicker that I thought it would and I got a bit of a breather at the top.
The wait at the top was magic. I got to stretch out like a cat in the sun, working out a few kinks, got to eat a bar with no pressure to get moving again and was reminded briefly how fantastic the MTC crowd is. You see, while I was waiting at the top, sunning myself, a couple of groups of the gun ironman riders caught and passed me and I'd reckon I got asked about 5 times if I was ok or needed anything. I didnt, but the casual consideration, the idea that you aren't alone and of course there's help if needed made the sunshine a little bit warmer still.
Anyway, a few short minutes later the group reformed and we were off. As we peeled off I was thinking wistfully about the roll on the great ocean road and how good I felt about that climb but I gritted my teeth and got ready for the grind home - how wrong I was. If anything, the next 23 km was even better. The run from the top of the Skene's creek climb down to Forrest was some of the most enjoyable riding I've ever had. Rolling hills, a few little climbs but mostly descending. Visions of valleys filled with cloud and mists coiling out across the roads filtering the sun made the ride race past. That said, I must admit that I was glad when this stretch of the ride wound up. As enchanting as the sights and as engaging as the roads were, it was now seriously cold. Little things like the snow on the verge and occasional patch of black ice on the road meant that the cafe at Forrest a welcome sight.
I'm a slow descender so I wasnt surprised I was one of the last into Forrest in the group. In retrospect there was more going on but I really only figured that our a little later. Anyway we bundled into the cafe and were soon joined by others in the main group that had started after us but were riding a bit quicker or not taking quite as many, or as long, breaks as us. A quicker reminder of the bitterness of the cold came when Kat Wardlaw arrived in tears, not the effort of the ride, but simply from the chill. Another reminder of the generosity of the MTC crowd when Al McIntosh lent Kat a (ridiculously oversized) rain cover for a bit of warmth that really did the trick on the rest of the ride. Well a hot chocolate and more friends came and went then we were off on the next bit of the journey.
This bit of the ride was the toughest for me. 25 odd km of nothing much. Some long straight flat roads, some horrible hot mix road acne surfaces, a seriously confused magpie that swooped me in mid winter, a pair of farm dogs that attacked my bike requiring an emergency stop and to top it all off a massive hunger flat. It occurred to me that as careful as I'd been with nutrition before and up the Skenes creek climb I'd been pretty lax since then and in the 2 and a bit hours since I hadn't eaten nearly enough. Basically I was rapt to get into Deans March and down a bar, a gel and the best can of coke I can ever remember drinking - thanks Nathan, that was a brilliant idea.
Just 22km to go, actually I kept telling myself it was really only 12km. You see there's a 12km climb and then the last 10 is nothing but falling down the mountain while keeping the bike under you. So, time to roll up the sleeves and get climbing again. Here the Skene's creek strategy worked a treat again. Into the granny gear and spin, get the pinches over and done with, recover when the road allows. 40 odd minutes later I pulled up alongside Al, a couple of hundred meters from the summit and knowing I was done. For the first time all day, after about 4 and bit hours of hard work the group broke up as the tough stuff was done and dusted and we all pointed home and started the final descent.
Well the climb to the top of Benwerrin took 40 something minutes of sweat (no blood or tears thankfully). The 10km descent to Lorne took a whole lot less, 14 minutes total. As I said earlier I'm a poor descender. I wont say I descend like a girl, because I've seen Jo Coombe plummet down a mountain and I know girls are far better and braver than me at this. But by this time I didn't care. With my own imaginary soundtrack playing in my head I let the bike go. The roads were clear and open, the traffic light, the morning moisture dried and it was, well, magnificent. Lots of people are going to get down that descent faster than me and with better form, none are going to do it with a bigger grin.
So then I sidled in Lorne, parked at the Sea Shell as we'd previously arranged and settled into another hot chocolate. No sooner had I sat down than Mike, Nathan, Al and Bec joined me and we settled into the important business of eating everything we could get our mouths around. This wasnt my fastest ride, it wasnt my longest, I didnt climb more than I have before or spend longer in the saddle. And yet this was probably my greatest ride so far. It was a challenge but it was a challenge I shared with great people, I had a ball, and found I cant wait to get back into it. Is that what mojo is?
PS - apart from getting some training mojo back I note, this is the first occasion for months I've been motivated to write something more than a 20 word facebook status. Probably says something.