SO WHEN THE EVENT ENTRY arrived at my email inbox in July, the mental debate of whether to tackle this event or sit it out took its usual place in my mind. There’s a saying that “Competitiveness is a Curse” – a term for years that I have failed to comprehend - right now sitting here at my computer thinking if I should enter this event or not, the phrase “Competitiveness is a Curse” had all of sudden became crystal clear. I mean, who in their right minds would spend their hard earned cash just to go and “have fun” at the races? Only a handful of people will win, most of us will end up losing. Sure some people may say "It's just great to take part". Well in my view it means you are either just testing the water, got roped in by mates or you're not really taking the whole racing thing very seriously. We enter races because we all have a point to prove to ourselves. For the most dedicated and most prepared, they will come with podium aspirations, others will come with hopes of an above average finish, but for the majority of us mortals with 9-5 day jobs, racing’s an avenue to prove to ourselves if our riding skills are up to scratch, to test against others how good our MTB kung-fu are; and to take home the bragging rights to whomever would listen. As you pare it back to basics, we take part in MTB races because we’re all driven by our natural instinct in wanting to have an edge over another person. But, and this is a big subject here, the fear of a possible, totally utter failure by embarrassing ourselves in front of others for having your arse completely whipped by the rest of the field, and even worse, by your mates, that holds us back from doing what our instinct wanted us to do.
SO RIGHT NOW, I have at least 10 excuses in my head why I shouldn’t be entering this year, ranging from lack of funds, needing to spend quality time with girlfriend, to overgrowing lawn, the list goes on and on. But brushing aside all possible excuses, my personal fear was the thought of me being left painfully behind by others as result of too many cups of hot chocolate and lack of training over the winter. And as I'll be competing in a team with a friend, the thought of me taking him down with me from my poor performance is holding me back from entering. That’s it. Not because I don’t think I lack the skills to ride a bike fast, or scared of taking part in a race and possibly crash my brains out trying too hard. It was a case of simple pride induced fear of looking like a total loser in front of my friend.
SO A DOSE OF REALITY CHECK, I asked myself. Why the hell did I spend all that money on all those race bikes for? Why did I pay to join a MTB club? What is the absolute worst thing I have to lose beside pride? Judging by my performance in this event the previous year, there is no real reason why I can’t go out and give others alike a run for their money, even if it was for a glorious lap. I know I can be competitive as long as I race smart. I have the relevant experience, the right equipment, and the right team mate to get the job done. So why am I sitting here trying to rationalise my decisions and fretting about entering this race? The fire of competitiveness was building up by the hour, eventually burning hot enough for me to put aside all my doubts and the real possibility of becoming a laughing stock in front of peers, to again enter this event. Hell it will be a chance to really see where I am at if I’m scheduled to tackle the next two major race events, Kona 24 and Otway Odyssey.
FOR THIS YEAR, I have a new team mate for this event, Stuart Gibson replacing Damien Waddington who’s decided to go solo. However due to injury to his back, Damien was a scratch from this event. As this would be Stuart’s first race in Males Pair, I took on the leading role of organising the race marquee setup, registration and so forth. Got to the race site nice and early to cure any race nerves, and plunked our marquee conveniently next to the race line, just like how Damien would. With hours to spare before race commencing, I took on a reconnaissance lap to see what laid ahead in a new race course format and I liked what I saw. New single tracks linking on to the original race track, without any great deal of steep climbs or technical terrain. Perfect, although ever present dry powdery sand was a bit of concern, it was not enough for me not to take a gamble and try running the Maxxis 310 semi slicks dry racers. Again, what do I have to lose but the possibility of getting a puncture, when I can gain a huge chunk of speed by running super fast rubber?
SO TO THE RACE, being the earlier arrival between myself and Stuart I took on the lead lap. As usual a messy start was expected, the race commenced with a compulsory mad dash on wheels for a front running position, which all came to naught as we all got bottle necked at the single track entrance. Waste of energy but what can you do about it? So it was a case of taking my time and pick off slower riders as I move through the race pack, and hoping like hell that the boys (and girls) will be sorted from the men (and women) as the race settles in, the goal's to minimise the time lost playing cat and mouse with others and get a decent break from the maddening crowd around me.
OUR RACE STRATEGY was to rotate and do a lap each and break the event into mini-sprint laps over the 6 hours. So after the first lap full of traffic jam and pile ups, I gladly pulled in to our pit to hand the race over to Stuart, who took off like a banshee. Knowing Stuart was a strong climber and he’ll see to himself to do well in this event as the big hills are non-existent. Besides, Stuart was riding the latest specification of Specialized Epic S-Works race bike so he wasn't exactly going to be hanging about mixing it with others. Definitely not wanting to become a case of “all the gears and no idea”. There it is, personal pride on the line during a race. So with great turn of speed, Stu caught me by total surprise with his impressive lap around the course and returned from his maiden lap a full 10 min ahead of what than I expect him to do. This was looking good for our team, but so was the fear of letting Stuart down by going too slowly and undoing his hard work of flying first lap.
ANOTHER FEAR FACTOR was the presence of other riding mates who were also taking part in this event. Both Andrew Nurse and Matt Davis were present at this same event and they have set up their race camp uncomfortably close to ours. Although they're not competing in the same race category as Stu and I, the simple geographic proximity between us and them means the 'friendly rivalry' was ever present. If you fail or bail, they'll be the first to know.
DURING RACE EVENTS, or for that matter whenever I’m riding with others watching, I feel the pressure to be at my best, all the time, and I can't help it. I want to improve my best constantly, every ride. But the fear was that my best is pathetic in comparison to many. It's a pride thing. Really it was a case of do your best or don't bother. So after Stu's flying first lap it was now my turn to build on the momentum we have created. I was moving fast and not holding back. The combination of full knobbies at front with semi slicks on the rear was working well, aside from a few controlled slides and drift, the gamble of running 310 semi-bald dry racers was working well. By now the race pack had spread out nicely and it was time to really bang in fast laps. I saw both Matt and Andrew in front of me and I was catching up to both of them fast, but wasn't enough to overtake either before I reached the pit for Stu to take over again. Why did I want to catch and overtake Matt when it really didn't matter at the end of the day? It was a pride thing, ego? But I don’t like that word. Looking back, all that effort trying to chase them down was all a bit unnecessary..
IT WASN'T TOO LONG before Stu was back again and my turn to head out, a cycle we repeated until the sun begin to set and fatigue also starting to kick in. As usual, the cramp in leg crept in but this time a well prepared dose of sports drink and organic food saw the end of that. However there was a physical limit my body could take and hill climbs in mid ring was dropped into granny ring affair. Upon my return to pit, discussion was raised if I should let Stu take on a double stint to give myself time to recover. But then that was a defeatist talk and a polite way in saying the word "I am giving up"......Fear of looking bad in front of mate kicks in. Personal pride was at stake so as Stu returns from his lap, I was all gear to go for one last bash.
ONE THING ABOUT RACING AT NIGHT was the difficulty in recalling whatever happened that lap, as you’re too busy trying to work out what’s in front of you instead of running into it, especially when your body was fairly taxed, so I was glad that that I completed my final lap without crashing into anything that I didn’t want to, although I do recall having a few moments here and there. Nevertheless, I got back in time before the cut off time to allow Stu to head out for his final lap. Ditching the filthy bike with pride staying intact, I was quietly content that I’ve done my fair share of work in this race event. Looking across the marquees, Matt was in agony suffering from cramps, while Andrew was still out there in the darkness circulating somewhere, both of them having their own little ding dong battle all in the name of pride, and not wanting your mate to out do you....
Racing......it is not fun, but I love it. Depending on your definition of fun I suppose.