As I approached the finish of this race, my throat tightened and my eyes began to water, not just from the dry dusty swirls. This would probably go down as the best thing that has ever happened to me after my wife and kids. Putting aside the slight setback of breaking my collarbone 12 weeks ago, I’d had a perfect lead up to this race in terms of training, racing and mental preparation. You could even argue the accident was a blessing in disguise, forcing me to rest and then adapt my training as my body healed. This is the story of how I went on to win a World Championship title and the place where I collect all my thoughts on the race and acknowledge those who made it possible. It is a long one and will probably take you 24 hours just to read it, but I hope some of this is good reading for you.
|Pit boss Andrew and I pre race|
True to form I had little sleep the night before thanks to nerves, call it a little sleep deprivation training but wow it felt good to be finally on the start line. The event centre and course had a great vibe of a true international event complete with “Crazies on the mountain” #popamono, the hippies with drums and trumpets and the volunteers at checkpoints calling out numbers and cheering on riders all night long.
|Heading down Luge near the end of the race|
I like to break 24hr into 4 quarters. The first quarter is where you settle into a sustainable pace and start building up the km’s, whilst topping up the carbs and sussing out the competition. For the first 3 laps Michael Redman was pushing pretty hard and I was in two minds whether to push and keep him in sight or to let him go. I concentrated hard to save as much energy as possible and still the avg heart rate was above where it should be for this race, and in the heat, that spelt danger. Just as I backed it off, Michael flatted and I breathed easy again, thankful for a bit of race luck and a small buffer.
|Putting in the big ones|
Going into the night, I had a nice gap of 10 mins and I worked on maintaining my pace in the hope of building my lead. About that time Ed came through to lap me and he was flying. It seemed like an eternity before the rest of the chasing elite group came by in dribs and drabs. What’s going on I wondered? I never saw Ed again, but Jason English continued to lap me in what seemed to be ever shortening intervals. Jason was exerting his stranglehold on the race and I was slowing.
|Sarah passing out the energy|
After 12am, it is still pitch black and pretty cold. The body is now taking an immense battering. Hands, butt, lower back and triceps are all starting to give out and the stomach cramps are coming in waves. I think I ate too much real food. As we get close to sunrise I am ready to give up. I can no longer corner the bike and I am hating sections of track like Luge and Breakout, normally the ones I love the most. The only segment I look forward to is the gentle steady straight incline of Willo Link, and just then #572 goes past looking strong as an Ox. I don’t know who it is yet, but I know he is in my age category and I basically wave bye bye to the championship.
Getting back to the pits at around 5am, I am spent, it’s time to sit down and take a 5 min breather and break the emergency glass to reach for the Red Bull. I was now seriously wondering if I would make it to the finish, let alone podium.
By 8am, the sun was finally revealing it's glory from behind a strategically placed bank of cloud. I on the other hand was really struggling again. The quick fix of the Red Bull had come and gone. Coming into the pits, Andrew said "what do you need?" and I said "everything!". I said to Sarah this is as tough as my first full 24solo in 2010 and I am so much fitter and better prepared this time round. Five minutes later I had new knicks, chammois cream, nurofen, a toilet stop and a pocket full of gels, I was ready to roll and the lights came back on. I was moving again at more than a snails pace, I regained the ability to corner a mountain bike and now knew I could finish. At this time Sarah asked Andrew "I don't understand why he doesn't just stop".
Apparently, Andrew, himself an Ironman veteran, just nodded knowingly and said
Two more good laps got me to 10:30am and I now had 2nd place secured. I figured 1 more easy lap and I could call it quits, but my crew had other ideas.
"That was really fast Mike!" called Sarah and Andrew was in the zone, he wanted two more laps and what's more he told me I was putting time back into the leader. Could I bridge a 15 min gap? Rolling back in at 11:50, my crew were going ballistic.
"He's just 4 minutes up the track!" "C'mon Mike, you can do this!" were the last words from Andrew as I pulled away.
Like a match to tinder dry bush, my energy levels ignited and I stamped on the pedals. The red mist had entirely descended and I was on the chase. My heart rate soared back to race pace, and Dean rock hopped all over the mountain meeting me at junctions with timing splits and cries of motivation.
Cockatoo 3 mins, as I charged up the climb the final time, and stomped over the jagged A line at the top to save precious seconds. I had visions of making the catch on old Duffy's, holding Ian's wheel back onto the tarmac and sprinting for the finish line. Down Skyline, I felt like a heat seeking missile locked onto a target and when I pulled up behind a train of three slower riders, I asked them as gently as possible to make way for someone chasing 1st place and they promptly yielded the track.
Slant 6 just 2 mins Dean screamed, I spurred the legs again, and I still couldnt catch a glimpse of Ian, until I got to the picnic tables at the start of Willo link. There he was, a blue jersey still some way off, but a rider who looked like he was being chased. This was no slower rider about to be lapped. By this stage the wind was howling and the sun was beating down and it felt like we were the last two riders on course. As I came up behind Ian it was such a bittersweet moment. It was clear there would be no sprint finish, Ian was running on fumes. I gently said "Hi Ian, track please" he returned with "Well done Mike, I'm done" and tears welled in my stinging eyes as I felt his pain. I held my pace back to the finish being careful just to bring it home in one piece and all 5 of us, my crew of 4 and I, danced, laughed and cried in disbelief and celebration over what had happened after saving my 4th fastest lap for last.
The scoreboard will never tell the drama of the final lap. Ian never finished the lap; after I caught him, he simply turned for home, his last lap turned to dust and was blown across the almost lunar landscape along with his dreams of victory on the hot, gusty winds now lashing Mt Stromlo.
FRIENDS AND HEROS
As I mentioned in my speech at the dinner, I love this sport and have made many many good friends through it. Ian Brigland is a new friendship that has been forged in the heat of battle and there will be many rides together down the track.
There are so many characters I love and admire, but here are just a few,
Andy Hall dropped in for a chat sometime Sunday morning and took me for a guided tour of Party Line. He completely stepped it up a notch beating some heavy hitters on the global stage to take 3rd overall. Read about it here
Ed McDonald scared everyone with his show stopper attack on Saturday. Is he about to re-build the diesel to be some kind of turbo-charged F1 racing machine set for XCO? I'm sure we'll read about it here.
Jason McAvoy is probably the first elite mountain biker who caught my interest and the first of many mates in our nations capital. He won again! If this guy has taught me anything it is the power of the human mind to make the body do things that should be impossible. He popped in for a chat when my engine had ceased to even splutter and it was all I could do to get back to the pits and curl up into a ball. He said "The sun's about to come up and you'll not only come good but you'll win this race". Thanks mate. Read about his race here
Jason English, world class, set apart, cycling royalty completely at home having a chat with lil' ol' me in the shower queue #priceless
Peter Selkrig and Phil Welch, my 300 club buddies whose races didnt quite go to plan and still with smiles on their faces heading off to the Croc Trophy. We salute you!
All year I have been asking myself why WEMBO. I knew I wanted to do it but couldnt put my finger on the "why". As a Christian (*) there is a constant conflict between this resource hungry, time consuming, sometimes selfish sport. It is not always compatible with family and or belonging to a church family. My minister Tom Henderson Brooks put his finger on it one day as we chatted. Mike you are good at this, and God gave you this ability. So enjoy it, use it and ride amongst those who may be looking for some answers to life. I dont have all the answers, and sometimes I am my own worst enemy, but given the choice of riding with mates who accept me or sitting in church with those who already believe what I believe, I think I now know what the right option is.
(*) I meet with a bunch of blokes on Tuesday night. There’s a teacher or two, an architect, a project manager who loves the Hawks and a good country pub, an arborist, a builder who is also a rugby tragic, an accountant who loves to sail and a minister with a pony tail and a cross on the collar of his leather jacket. Ordinary blokes who share the things they struggle with in life, see what the bible has to say about it and then pray God forgive us when we stumble, help us to live up to those words and thank him for all the good things he's given us. That’s being a Christian.
Andy Blair was recently quoted by Flow as saying that "Solo 24 is a contradiction". I thought that was a little presumptuous given he hasn’t done one, but given the guy "can ride" I gave it some introspection and well, yeah, he's dead right. This is why.
Four of my nearest and dearest give up their weekend (two of them give up a night’s sleep and dedicate all their energies so I can ride my bike as far as humanly possible and beyond in 24 hours.
Thankyou to my pit crew Andrew Mackenzie, Dean Israel, Sarah Israel (nee Deane) and Fiona Mackenzie (nee Deane) and to both our Mum’s for taking the kids for the weekend. Without your commitment I would not have finished, much less won the race. I love you guys so much.
CORC do a fabulous job every time we make the trip to Canberra and I’ve been there 3 of the last 4 weekends! Congratulation Russ Baker and Sarah O'Callaghan
To the volunteers who stayed up all night at Western Wedgetail and Party Line to call out numbers. That takes commitment, not only to do the job and suffer through a near freezing night, but to cheer every rider as they go past on every lap. You rock!
Turramurra Cyclery and all my friends from Peloton Sports, need I say more. This is where it all began for me 7 years ago and no matter what’s happening you always have time to deal with my tiny questions and my special needs. You guys are like my second family. Mark, Brad and Simey set me up perfectly on two bomb proof Giant Anthem 29ers.
NutriScience, I’ll review these products separately, but thanks to Wes Hurrell for your support. The NS products Extend and Refuel taste great and kept me going when I could stomach nothing else.
Peter Melville. Peter is a great mate and coach. This year we took a different approach, train on feel and keep an eye on the numbers. No structured programs, just listen to your body and enjoy the ride. It works, thanks for you regular little messages of encouragement and follow up and thanks for keeping the faith when I did something a little stupid and crashed my road bike.
Lindsay Gorrell. I call her the chick with nuclear warheads built into her thumbs. Two weeks before the race, my body was smashed. She kneaded the concrete-like knots out of my muscles and got me ready. Thanks Lindsay, you are an amazing practitioner and an even better friend.
One last thought: As I exited Party Line for the last time and rode up the fireroad, I noticed all the gel wrappers had been collected off the ground. MTBer's are normally very sensitive to the environment and at any race they carry their rubbish to the finish, but allowances are made for 24 solos. Whoever you are, who picked up all those wrappers, you are one very special generous person.
So how about it Andy Blair, are you ready to find out just how far you can go?
24 hours 46 minutes, 390km, 9000+ vm, 10000+ Calories, 1000+ TSS
24 hours 46 minutes, 390km, 9000+ vm, 10000+ Calories, 1000+ TSS