The 2011 Briars Highland Fling, the biggest Mountain Bike event in Australia and one I’ve never raced. This was only my 2nd 100km race (well, 112km to be precise). My preparation was not ideal leading up to Sunday’s race in both limited training and having to put my 2 beautiful puppies to sleep on the Wednesday. I was extremely emotional for the remaining days of the week.
We decided to leave just after lunch on Saturday after an easy ride through Glenrock in the morning. When we arrived in the small Southern Highlands town of Bundanoon about 5pm, the place was rockin! All the street corners leading in to town had bikes either on the road sides, in trees or on fences. There were exhibitor stands, music playing and the vibe was awesome. This really got us in the mood to race. “Lez get it awn”
We ate the best dinner we could find at the local Pizzeria, which was pasta, bread and salad.
Sunday morning – 5.30am rise and shine. I think I slept about 1 hour. I have never been so nervous before a race in my life. My hands and body were shaking and all I could think about was how I was going to tackle the start. I was not hungry but forced myself to eat something which consisted of cereal, fruit and half a piece of toast.
It was a mass start so we jumped the queue to get near the front (no time for a warm up). The gun went off and it was fierce. The pace was faster than any National round I have done with the Elite men driving it hard at the front. Nothing I had done could prepare me for the pain that I was about to endure, both physically and mentally. I managed to find last year’s winner and Single Speed World Champion, Heather Logie’s wheel and stuck on it like the proverbial. Naturally, the Elites of both 100k’ers and 50k’ers were up the front sitting well over 50km/hr. There was dust flying everywhere and it was hard to see. We had travelled about 1km and I found myself being spat out the back of the lead group. I could see Michael sitting on the rear of that group, looking back in hope for me to re-join. My asthma was bad from the dust, so I was finding it hard to breath, my heart was burning and then my legs became so lactic, my pace was becoming slower and slower. I started to panic as I had lost Heather’s wheel and saw my heart rate above 200bpm! I was thinking “what the **** have I got myself in for?”, but then realised that I was still passing some of the other Elite riders. I managed to get on the back of another enduro specialist, Vanina Vergoz, calmed myself down and got into a rhythm. When the dust settled, Vanina and I rode together at a high, but comfortable pace. I soon began to get my breathing under control and my legs seemed to feel a lot stronger. I decided to go on my own and as I upped the tempo, my new Specialized Epic 29er from Drift Bikes just did the rest along the undulating fire road.
The first stage (27kms) was reasonably easy going comparatively, with a few hike-a-bike creek crossings and a lot of fire roads that had some very challenging hills – a lot of hills actually. I decided not to stop at the first transition as I had plenty of food and fluids on board.The second stage (53kms) was really fun. It had some of the best single track I’ve ridden. There was a variety of flowy and fast single trail, rocks, technical sections, gullies and more undulating fire roads. There were long and fast downhill fire roads, but guess what? What goes down must come up! In this stage was the mother of all hills called ‘THE WALL’ – don’t need to say much more. The bike felt awesome, I rode fast and smooth and started to get some flow. I felt really good at this stage, but my legs were becoming fatigued and started to cramp. I stopped at the 2nd transition area this time to be greeted by my wonderful husband Michael who had completed his Half Fling (6th in Vets). I was very tired so he helped me load up with food and water for the remaining stage. He gave me some motivational words and sent me on my way. After 80kms, I was feeling pretty exhausted but soldiered on.The final stage (32kms) was physically draining. There were sandy fire roads, steep paddock climbs, creek crossings – some you could ride, others you had to hike your bike through again, and rough, rocky single track. This stage seemed to take forever as the track was slow and did not have much flow. There were sections that were muddy and this is where I had the crash of the day. I came to a big pool of mud that looked rideable and had tyre marks through it, so I decided to ride it with little caution. BIG MISTAKE. My front tyre sunk completely, and over the handle bars I went, still clipped into my pedals, I was covered in mud. I could not move, and felt my right leg over extend, thinking at this point I had torn something. I could not unclip and there was nobody around. After a couple of minutes I finally felt relief so I yanked my bike up out of the mud and just gathered myself together. With at least 15km to go I was not sure whether I would make it back. I had some energy gel, food and plenty of water and thought to myself what Michael always tells me – ‘Toughen up Princess’ (actually I have changed his words to make it PG). I seemed to find some grunt toward the end and began to motor past people along the final, hard packed fire roads. I turned off into another paddock and at last I could see the tents and hear the Race Caller on the microphone. I can’t stress enough the relief I felt when I came up the last hill towards the finish line.I was extremely happy to see Michael as he yelled out ‘You got 5th’, pointing to the electronic timing board in 5 hours and 31 minutes. Toughest race I’ve done and over the moon with my performance but very, very relieved to have finished – will I do the Highland Fling again? Yea probably!