I had a turning point in my racing earlier this year. It was at the Otway Odyssey, and although on paper I believed that I could win this race, what happened on the day bought so much more joy. I felt that it was the first race I had completed where I had made it my own, attacked the race and taken control, regardless of whether I was the best person on the day or not. I was similarly pleased with my second at the Wombat 100k, and even more impressed with my comeback at the Forrest 6hr. It's like I have reached the point where I can confidently stand up in races and say 'I am here'.
For the Australian MTB Marathon Championships however, I will be honest and say that I believed Jenny Fay would be the first female across the line. I was yet to beat her in our two encounters, and without knowing the course at Stromlo, I had resolved to race for the Jersey and title that she is ineligible for. But something deep inside of my wasn't quite content with that..
Saturday morning was an early start; I had to work at ALDI from 5am-8am before hitting the road to Canberra. Fellow Bendigonian MTB'er John Harvey was designated driver and when we arrived on course 8hrs later, I led the way for a course reconnaissance lap. For some reason I was keen to see the finishing loop, which said to me that subconsciously I thought it would be a close finish. Not surprisingly I got lost in the bush and gave up on that idea.
I spent the night at the 'Hendersons' place. What an amazing family! Firstly, three males cooked dinner; important to note that the females were away, but impressive none the less. Secondly; they are full of such positive energy that I went to bed nearly convinced that I could be an Australian Champion the following day.
We started out on fire-trail, and after 7kms, when my average HR was over 170, I couldn't believe we hadn't dropped anybody! Was I unfit? Just a bad day? Or simply nerves? I told myself it was the latter. On the first mentionable climb our start group of 19 dwindled to just five. I unclipped twice on this section in ridiculous circumstances. Was I this useless technically? Maybe I should have raced my other bike? Am I uncomfortable? PETA! Stop arguing with yourself and get on with it!
After losing Ruth Corset in a small crash and Tory Thomas on the following climb I felt a little better. I knew that Ruth was an amazing climber on the road, however not a renowned MTB'er, and that I would never shake Tory technically; this bought us down to three in the very early stages of the race.
Jenny Fay whom I believed was unbeatable.
Jodie Willett, who is a very similar rider to me and is hard to read. She shows no emotion and is as tough as they come.
The friendly rivalry between Jenny and I didn't take long to heat up. Jenny began attacking the climbs and after a while Jodie decided she didn't want a part it that game. I grovelled to keep in touch over the climbs, and regardless of the race in progress, she would still yell words of encouragement over her shoulder...typical Jen! So easy to love. Eventually I forged past her on an A-Line down an extremely rocky section and started my tactics from there. I figured that if I made up time on the amazing single track, rode tempo up the climbs while Jenny red-lined to catch me, then by the end of the first lap we would start the long fire road section together, and if I was lucky, she may be spent for the second half of the race.
I darted through the single track as if in a XC race and felt amazing on the climbs, using the passing Elite Men to gauge my speed. When I started to hunger flat at the 3hr mark (note to self, try to train for longer than 3hrs next time) I told myself to push through to the feed zone; the larger the time gap Jenny and Jodie were to receive the harder it would be for them to pull it back. I started to cramp in my groin and calves, so I eased off the pedals, trying not to free-wheel as this only made it worse, but eventually had to walk the final climb.
The final step of that final climb was elating. I knew then that if I didn't crash or puncture down the final flowing descent, the race win was mine. The jersey, the title, the feeling of being the first female across the line made it all the more pleasing. I came to the realization that I was riding to my fourth Australian title, across four different sports, and ironically to my first jersey. I have finally earned the green and gold stripes and you can trust that I will wear them proudly!
Results: Australian MTB Marathon Championships
Garmin: Peta Mullens