It's like freedom

I went for a quick mountain bike ride this morning. Out exploring the suburbs

Luckily, my suburbs now include the Boondall Wetlands. Although most of tracks are sealed, and it's hardly a bush track, I happened upon a dirt road to help me get into the swing of things for Sunday's cyclogaine.

On my road bike, I would have been limited to the bitumen tracks and wooden bridges across wetlands. On my mountain bike, I was free to roam more widely.

Adventure REALLY begins

I've just made a snap decision to do the Peachester Pedal Cyclegaine on the weekend. I'm doing the four hour race, which is probably enough for me right now. Besides, the four hour race is for those new to the sport. Yep, that's me.

My team mate though, well, she and her team mates from the Teva race on the weekend placed third in the womens teams category. What's she doing with me??!

Wish me luck.

Triathlon meets Adventure

So, kekeboy and I are now looking at some options for our next big overseas race. We've just come across the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon... those scandanavians are crazy.

The race is an iron distance race. The 3.8k swim is in a 400m deep fjord. Expected water temperature 15.5 to 17.5 C.

The 180k cycle is not only hilly - there aren't any aid stations. You are required to have a support team with a car, but you're not allowed to sit in the car on the bike leg, even for a rest when it's stationary.

And then there's the marathon.

Again, aid stations are only on part of the course. That's because, and I'm quoting from the competitor manual here, the mountain is not really a mountain, but more of a pile of rocks. It looks beautiful from a distance. This final rocky path up to the finish line will be a difficult walk up as there is an uneven path of different sized rocks.

You can't enter the last 4.7ks of the run without your support crew, and you have to carry your own food and drinks, warm clothing and mobile phone. Even in summer, the estimated temperature for this section of the run is 2 to 12 C. There's a free ride down in the elevator for every finisher - but not their support crew who have to walk back down the pile of rocks.

If you can't find a support crew willing to take this on, firstly, why...? There is an alternate route but if you take this option, or miss the final time cutoff, you get a different colour Finisher shirt. They've really got this sussed.

There are several "special rules" for Norseman Triathlon which allow neoprene caps and booties for the swim, blocking OK on uphill sections. Another rule that you never see anywhere else but scandanavia, Competitors will not be disqualified for nudity while changing in the transition zones.

Only in Norway...

Adventure Racing 101

Today was the culmination of the Phoenix Adventure Intro to Adventure Racing course - a real adventure race. I arrived at the Indooroopilly Canoe Club not really sure what to expect. Did I have everything I needed? Who would I be teamed with? Would they be able to read a map?

We all received a map and had 15 minutes of individual map reading, before our teams were announced. We then had a further 15 minutes to finalise our strategy together. Because I was somewhat familiar with the area, I spent too much time trying to orient myself to the map's landmarks. As a consequence I had basically nothing to contribute when I met with my team members, Miriam and Sophie.

Luckily, Miriam had it dialed. She became our navigator, and Sophie and I would spend the day following her directions to collect the controls throughout Indooroopilly, Chelmer, Toowong and St Lucia.

In all, we covered about 6km of paddling, 20ks on the mountain bike and a few Ks on foot. We made a strategic decision to not go after one of the controls up Mt Coot-tha (I wasn't too confident on the mountain bike component, and Miri wasn't quite sure how to get us across the freeway to the trails). As a result we crossed the line first, but had an anxious wait for the other teams to see if the half hour penalty we took for this decision would pay off.

It turned out that we and another team had missed a control point. We had to take our bearing from a metal shed in a park. We set off in completely the wrong direction, which reminded us of an important tip - metal objects can interfere with your compass.

We weren't the only ones that made this mistake though, and we were well satisfied to have placed second overall at the end of the day.

I'm not sure where to from here. The TEVA adventure race that many in the course were preparing for is only two weeks away and with next weekend already accounted for, there won't be any time for any further preparation. It may have to wait for another time - perhaps the Teva Champs in October.

Thanks Andy for a great week.

Photos courtesy of Phoenix Adventure - Andy Stewart and Erin Appleton

If you fail to plan...

So now my next challenge is getting ready for tomorrow's big finale - an adventure race through the suburbs surrounding the Indooroopilly Canoe Club.

So, I've got my equipment list from Monday's info night. Although Andy hadn't stipulated any mandatory race gear, I thought about what I would need and should carry with me. And then, figure out how to carry it all...
  • Mountain bike and helmet
  • Flat pedals
  • Spares
  • Running shoes and socks
  • Appropriate race attire - tri shorts and Phoenix Adventure jersey (a bit of flattery can't hurt can it?) as well as buff/hat, glasses, sunscreen, etc.
  • Stationery - pencils and eraser, permanent marker, highlighters, small notebook
  • Map case - or an improvised zip lock bags and cardboard
  • Zip ties could come in handy
  • Nutrition - Camelbak, electrolyte drink, energy bars, GUs
  • Extra ziplock bags for waterproofing items if required
I didn't worry about the waterproof jacket or first aid kit that are regularly stipulated as mandatory equipment by race organisers. I did take a whistle, though it wasn't the pea-less kind usually recommended; but would have to borrow a compass from Andy.

So with all this planning, surely I couldn't fail...!

It's ALL about the bike

At last, the session I'd dreaded most, given my past failures and fears. No, not lion taming, offal eating, and there wasn't a spider in sight.

It was in fact, mountain biking.

You can refer back to my previous post about my efforts at mountain biking here. In retrospect, it all seems quite positive and forward looking. Challenging my fears and all that... Well, I'm a little embarrassed to have to admit that I haven't done much "challenging my fears" via mountain biking since that earlier post.

So, we meet up at Daisy Hill, me more nervous than most. Andy took us through emergency breaking, how to balance our weight on the bike, cornering and other handy skills. I'm not sure whether it was this additional learning, or whether it was the pressure to perform in a group. But the morning went really very well, and despite a few early tears, I managed to successfully negotiate several of the trails. I'm even looking forward to getting back on, sooner rather than later.

A random number one

I wasn't the only one that had assumed that Friday night's "team dynamics" session at the Regatta Hotel was more about drinking than doing.

I can't say I was disappointed to be wrong.

First order of the evening was to randomly draw our number. I was Number One! Finally! Alas, the numbers were only to allow us to quickly split into even groups, it wasn't any kind of ranking system...

The night was full of fun and interesting challenges. We tied ourselves together and negotiated the stairs down to the bar; worked in teams to decide which rope was the odd one out; and figured out how to save our belongings in a flooded creek bed. (Imaginary of course.)

I guess it sounds kind of weird but I actually learned a few things about myself and my ability to work with others. I think everyone else did too. Maybe it wasn't so random that we all came out on top.

Start with the basics

This morning's success was always going to be measured on whether I ended up in the Brisbane River or not. We met at the Indooroopilly Canoe Club for an introductory session under the guidance of Erin Appleton, a past Australian representative and record holder in several kayaking events.

I had been really looking forward to the kayaking session. I've always enjoyed having a crack at kayaking, but never had any real tips on how to do it properly. Even so, I was extremely nervous about even getting into the vessel, as my confidence for anything that requires balance and the ability to hold your own body weight is pretty much non existent.

With Erin's help I finally managed to scramble in unscathed. We did a few different drills in the session and by the time we got to practicing paddling backwards, Erin had worked out that I am very comfortable with my limitations, and commented that she thought I was faster backwards than forwards... Could that be true?

After an hour or so on the water it was time to get out. Again, my stress levels rose, but in the end I managed to execute an extremely unglamorous roll out of the kayak onto the pontoon. I didn't care. I'd gotten through the whole session upright and dry. I wasn't about to spoil it right at the end by plunging headlong into the murky Brisbane River.

While I certainly can't say I've mastered kayaking, we learned the basics of how to paddle, steer and manourvre a kayak with some proficiency, and had the time to enjoy a sunrise on the water. A fantastic way to start the day.

Logistically challenged

Tonight's Phoenix Adventure session was navigation.

Andy took us through the basics, from reading maps, using a compass, how to navigate the landscape, planning our route, as well as basic safety techniques for getting found in the bush (if ever we needed it).

Most of us didn't know contours from controls before this session but by the end, we were confident enough to get through a 12 point orienteering exercise around Southbank. I even sacrificed a minute or so in the race against our peers to practice my compass skills. (Not that successfully, Wayne had to stop by and remind me that I needed to have North pointing North...whoops).

Despite my logistically challenged nature, I could definitely get hooked on this.

What I did yesterday

4.45am - rise and shine
4.46am - feed the cat
4.47am - whatever else I needed to do before...
5.30am - leaving the house for trail running
5.50am - drive around the outskirts of Anzac Park trying to figure out how to get to the meeting point. Who'd have thought I lived around the corner from here for, like, eight years...?
6.00am - running drills. I knew there was a reason I stopped going to formal running training.
6.15am - off on the trails. Yes, I've done heaps of running lately. I just ran a marathon. But training on flat roads and bike paths is NOT the same as running in the bush.
7.00am - end of training session, drive to work
7.20am - shower at QUT
7.30am - drive to Angela's at South Brisbane to park for the day
7.50am - walk across Goodwill Bridge to QUT, catch shuttle bus to other QUT
8.30am - work. Rest time. (Did I write that or think that?)
3.45pm - back on the shuttle back to QUT city campus, walk across Goodwill Bridge for final work appointment, celebratory drinks at the Ship Inn. Yes, I had softdrink.
5.15pm - walk to Angela's to pick up the car. Time for a quick hello and costume change
6.00pm - arrive at cliffs for... abseiling!

Susan from Adventure Seekers was there waiting for us with all the gear we needed laid out and ready for us. We practiced some drills, watched a demonstration, but it wasn't until I was all kitted up with a harness and hardware, standing on the side of the cliff that it became real. Was I up to this...?

I focused solely on the fact that I'd done this before. In fact I'd abseiled off taller cliffs, and even the Sheraton Brisbane. The first time down was a bit scary but on my second abseil I stopped and looked around... the city lights off the Brisbane river is really a beautiful sight.

??pm - arrive home for a quick bite to eat and SLEEP.

Try, try again

So, tonight's session at the Kangaroo Point cliffs. Strength and agility.

They've never been my strong points so I spent a lot of time this afternoon psyching myself up for what I thought would be a terribly embarrassing experience.

Like most things that you make yourself do under duress, it didn't turn out to be as bad as I thought it might have been. In fact, if Andy runs any more of these sessions, I'll probably go back.

It's not that I love lunges; and I certainly didn't discover a previously untapped talent for balance. Although I have trained on the stairs at the Kangaroo Point cliffs, I've never made myself run them.

But that's just the point. I dreaded these things. I would never make myself do them, even though, deep down, I know they're good for me. I'm not 100% sure that you can learn things like balance, but I am sure that I'll never know unless I work at it.

So it's off to bed. The Athletic Powerhouse has an early rise and logistical hell day tomorrow.

Seeking adventure

Tonight my new life as an adventure seeking Athletic Powerhouse begins.

I'm off to the introductory evening for the Phoenix Adventure Intro to Adventure Racing course. It is all new to me, so of course I'm not sure what to expect. The night will cover equipment (watch out wallet), nutrition (watch out waistline) and throughout the course we have the opportunity to kayak, mountain bike, and learn to navigate (watch out world!).

I'm feeling almost the same apprehension as I did all those years ago, when I went to my first introduction night for triathlon. The rewards that have followed that fateful night have been rich, so diverse and life changing.

If I have all of that to look forward to again, bring on the adventure.

Crazy Hair for Smiddy

My mate Bryn Somers is riding and Smiling for Smiddy next month.

Who was Smiddy? Smiddy was a young cyclist and triathlete who passed away a few years ago as a result of an aggressive melanoma. For the last couple of years, an ever increasing group of crazy cyclists have ridden 1600 Kms in eight days.

Fittingly, perhaps, last night Bryn kick started his fundraising for the Mater Foundation with a crazy hair party. The rules? Pay a cover charge, pay for drinks, pay for dinner, and wear crazy hair. Simple really.

Much more simple than completing the Smiling for Smiddy ride. And much less crazy.

Beginnings and ends

La Dolce Vita is a standard hangout for cyclists in Brisbane. So by association, is a favourite of triathletes and runners as well.

Today marks the end of an era for the well known haunt, with the well known barista is on his last day. This barista is not known and loved for his coffee (though he does a good job behind the coffee machine). He's known for his constant banter, calling girls sweetheart and darling; and flattering the blokes by likening them to George Clooney. In the spirit of true "dolch" hospitality, the owners brought out free bikkies for everyone, and passed around a card for the regular crowd to sign.

As for beginnings, well, I guess I can't exactly promise a new beginning, but I've signed up for the Intro to Adventure Racing course starting Monday. At the very least, I hope the course will kickstart my training (which has been nonexistent since the Marathon) and challenge me physically and mentally. And maybe, just maybe, entertain the thought of adventure racing.