Racing Amongst The Elite Women
Written by Noami Hansen
Just when I was thinking of retiring to the realm of “Masters Women” my tireless team leader, Mike Blewitt, coerced me into registering for a spate of races that made me realize I am not quite finished with racing amongst the elite women. To be more precise: four marathon distance (100km) mountain bike races in the space of seven weeks, three of which were spanning a four-week block.
To be honest, the thought of racing one-day marathon events has always been a little daunting as my forte is with multi-day marathon distance races. Age and sensibility dictate that I race like a diesel day after day after day. The idea of fronting the start line with the caliber of elite women racing in Australia today, anticipating the pace of a XCO event over 100km, posed a challenge far greater than racing an eight day stage race. Couple this with the psyche of recently turning 40 and laying some money on the line to become a Business Associate in the Veterinary Practice of which I am Veterinary Director (back to a 38 hour week) and you have plausible doubt.
The problem with tagging age with a number is the psychological fallout. There are no physiological changes that can occur in the 24 hour period between 39 and 40 that alter your ability to do anything, but somehow somewhere in the recesses of your brain 40 dictates an imminent deterioration. I tell so many of my clients with their aging pets that age is not a disease, and then watch their 14 year old cattle dog chase a ball like a two year old. Animals have no idea of age, they just live every day as it comes, no preconceived ideals or stereotypes to conform to.
I confess, I slipped into the psychological age trap, but fortunately it was only a temporary slip and I managed to regain my balance in Atherton at the XCM National Championship race on the final lap.
The Avoca Marathon Challenge was my first race as a Masters rider; fortunately for me there was no Masters Women category. I attended this event to ride and report on what was deemed the "toughest marathon race in Australia". This was the final year for this event, as low attendance numbers did not justify its continuation. Too hard is such a subjective assessment. In my opinion, a race that can be finished by the majority cannot fairly be deemed too hard. The Avoca Marathon Challenge is a tough race with more climbing (>3000hm) over 100km than any other mountain bike marathon in Australia. In that respect it is a bit of a nightmare as the first half of the race is quick and relatively easy but the last half is designed to make you cry. I finished and I won the women’s category, setting a new course record that will never be challenged. Not really too hard.
The Wombat 100 was next on the calendar, and a flight down to Victoria for a weekend in Woodend with teammates Roeland and Mike. Logistically and psychologically travelling to races is so much more achievable when you have teammates to share the travel/accommodation load, especially if one of the attendees is Team Manager Mike. Mike is always so logistically appropriate, years of travelling to race has honed his skills and sculpts him as a perfect team manager. Wombat was my "slip" race, in the opening kilometers my prescription lenses fogged up, I couldn’t see with them and without them I was a liability to myself and any other rider on the track. What the hell was I doing racing with the elite women? I Zimmer framed to the first check station, frustrated and fogged up, I requested the least technical route home and within two hours of the start I was commiserating with a coffee and croissant. I deemed myself too old to race with the elite women and I immediately changed my registration for XCM Champs to Masters women.
The XCM Champs in Atherton were the weekend after Wombat, the perfect format for a team reunion and my debut in Masters Women. The thought of racing Masters was comforting, it lacked the pressure of elite women and the odds were definitely stacked in my favor. Pre race there was much discussion as to the "length" of the course (3 laps of a 33km course) as the extrapolated race time for the winning elite female was in excess of six hours. This figure bode badly for the age group women competitors as it estimated a seven to nine hour event for most and suggested many might not actually finish. With this in mind, the age group women were reduced to two laps, the elite women to race the three laps as planned.
The thought of coming all the way to Atherton and then only racing two laps (66km) as dictated by the Masters women category was less than desirable. I knew I was more than capable of racing three laps even if it did take me seven to eights hours (which it did). Then and there, the decision was made for me to race elite women and the balance was restored. Not my best race, I finished 6th in elite women, but I did make a pivotal decision to continue racing with the big girls.
The final event in triad was the Convict 100 just outside Sydney at St Albans. I confess I nearly backed out as a bronchial cough left me without sleep the night before jumping a plane to NSW. Mike worked his magic once more, a few words of wisdom and I did board that plane. I raced because I wanted to race and I knew that I was more than capable of finishing on the podium. I placed second in elite women with the fastest time I have ever done over a 100km course, a mere 10 minutes behind the infamous Jenny Fay.
(Convict 100, NH on left, Jenny Fay in middle, Imogen Smith on right)
The decision has been made; I am destined to race amongst the elite women until I qualify for super masters in ten years time. I now have a few months training before heading to Malaysia for LIMBC and then Tasmania for Hellfire Cup, both prestigious races that attract a strong international female field. In lieu of rolling over and accepting the aging process I have invested in a power meter and will be starting under the supervision of a new coach (code named "pepper"). There really are no more excuses and I intend to continue hanging with the fast girls so time to step up.