After a difficult 12 months plagued with injuries and surgeries, I was keen to set a goal again that would push me. So when this new event popped up it caught my attention: The Back Yamma Bigfoot.
With my fitness only just starting to return after extended time off the bike, it ticked a lot of boxes:
– 50km? A stretch, but achievable.
– No nasty climbs: great for the lower back.
– Relatively benign course: cool!
– Three months to go: about enough time to train.
– A different kind of bush environment? Sounds great.
– A weekend away with mates? Yes!
– Kilometres of sweet singletrack? Try holding me back!
A quick email round with The Usual Suspects and my mate Kiwi Phil was super keen and able to get a leave pass for the weekend. Entry fees were paid and accommodation locked in.
Talk about great timing, a training program for 100km events by Mark Fenner was appeared in Australian Mountain Bike magazine. It saved guesswork devising my own program plus built on my existing cycle commuting habits. The only major change was to make the recovery cycle every third week instead of every fourth, which suited me, being well north of 40.
Three months flew by. No missed time due to illness meant I was in the sweet spot and not overdoing the training. Steve, ringleader of The Usual Suspects, dubbed me “Captain Slow” for being consistently last to the top of the climbs on our last outing to Ourimbah. He’d started grumbling about having to find me a new nickname. This must be working.
The race weekend arrived quickly and after a six hour drive and a couple of missed turns, Phil and I arrived at Race Control mid Saturday afternoon to sign our waivers and attach race numbers to the bikes.
Camping at the event centre
Our scout around the first 25km loop was an eye opener. Normally for big events, the track is relatively clean due to the amount of use. Due to its status as a new event and the length of the loop, this track had not yet seen a lot of bike traffic.
The savannah forest was open and visibility of the upcoming singletrack was excellent. However, it was hard to carry much speed through the corners because the dust and quartz gravel made the surface really loose. You ended up using the brakes quite a lot through the twisty bits, meaning the washed-off speed had to be regained by putting the hammer down.
I had four or five half-loses with the front wheel unexpectedly washing out, which was sobering. Phil told me later that he was the same, and he had a chunky 2.35″ Kenda Nevegal up front. It took us about 1 hour 30 minutes to do the lap, and we didn’t hold back a lot, treating it as a pre-race day cobweb remover. It was longer than I wanted, but it turned out to be positive for us. I was thinking that under three hours for the 50km would be a good time for both of us, though the loose and dusty track conditions were making me a little nervous.
The following day the weather was superb: blue skies, cool temperatures, and just the lightest of breezes to clear the kicked-up dust away. The 100km guys took off an hour ahead of us.
Just as we were lining up at the start for the pre-race briefing we saw the first of them flow past on a nearby track section, making it under an hour for the first 25km. They were flying!
Author on start line second from right with plate B510. Local wildlife joins the race at far left.
The pre-race briefing contained a stern warning about not running off the track in the open meadows. Being a working forest, the low growth set off by the recent rains masked low stumps from recent logging operations that could lead to nasty results if you hit them.
There were some pretty serious-looking racers gathered around me by now, with bulging shaved legs and race faces on. With 200-odd 50 and 25km racers lined up astern I started to worry about getting my bars clipped, but found myself hemmed in and out of time to move. Ten seconds to go.
The sprint was manic. I heard someone stack behind me off the start. I managed to latch onto the back of the pack of 20 or so leaders. Phil had placed himself well in the middle of the group. Unfortunately with the fine talcum-powder dust I was finding it impossible to see.
Choosing to let a small gap form to try and get some vision back, I led the second bunch through the singletrack until we turned onto fire road at about the 30 minute mark.
I had managed to pull a gap with one other guy behind me, but dropped my gel, fumbling the thing trying to get it open without littering. Rubbish on the trails is really bad form so I went back for it. Moments later the bunch whirred by like an express train at a level crossing, and I found myself off the back. Arrrgh. I should have listened to advice and taped the gels to the top tube. Next time.
In the bunch I noticed a guy in a red shirt. I’d passed him earlier and would swap places with him for most of the race. I’d get him on the climbs, he’d put 30 seconds on me in the twisty singletrack. Part of that might be tyres, but most was probably technique. Hmm – something to work on. I finally got past him again and a few other riders, and held a gap. My mate Phil I passed a few minutes later when he stopped to down a gel.
The battle with Red Shirt (aka Jason Taylor) was memorable.
My nutrition plan involved a quick pitstop at the 25km water station to resupply the bidon with water and Endura powder. Red shirt went by again. So did Phil. Bugger!
Bigfoot enforces trail rule number 1: Have fun!
I was expecting the track to be quite cut up from the 100km event traffic. Pleasantly surprised, I found I was much more in control and relaxed. I wasn’t sure if that was because I was riding more within myself, was more dialled to the track, or the 100km guys had cleaned the track a bit? probably all three.
In contrast to the pre-race reconnaissance, I only scared myself once during the race. I had a big front wheel washout on a long left-turn berm in the second half and felt like it went for an eternity. The wheel grabbed again and I stayed off the deck. It was a good "save" and I was glad I’d picked tyres for a loose track instead of going for the lowest rolling resistance option.
Sitting behind a slower rider after the water stop, I was briefly entranced by a mob of adult grey kangaroos bounding in style away to the right. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a straggler, racing to catch up from the left on a path that would take it straight across the trail. I yelled out a warning to the bloke in front, but he didn’t seem to see the roo coming. It missed him by about two metres – that got the adrenaline going.
The singletrack was brilliant fun, and offered the occasional fallen tree to hop over, lots of berms, tree roots, the occasional off-camber corner to keep things interesting and plenty of variety. Passing was not a problem, with a really good vibe and plenty of courtesy between those passing and being passed.
John Crittenden shows Rodney Pitkin how it’s done.
The fire road and doubletrack sections were well placed in the lap to allow riders to keep themselves topped up with food. More grey kangaroos took off ahead of me. I dinged my bell like a madman hoping to avoid surprising a mob by arriving unannounced.
The pre-race warning about the meadows was no joke. One corner late in the race I badly overcooked, coming in much too hot and running wide. Electing to keep the bike upright and get hard on the brakes, I was able to hop and steer my way around a couple of stumps hidden in the calf-high growth. There were no trees to dodge, but knowing the stumps were lurking definitely focussed your attention on the trail, and in a perverse way made it more interesting.
Much of the race I found I was out by myself keeping my own tempo, taking in the scenery and looking out for the next track marker. On a couple of occasions I overshot the turn marker and had to double back (G’day again Mr Red Shirt!). On one section with no one ahead of me on the double-track I was thinking I’d taken a wrong turn and was about to turn back. Fortunately I spied another track marker a hundred metres or so up ahead. Some riders grumbled a little about the course signage, but this was the only moment of doubt I had. Given the small size of the hosting club and the size of the circuit they did a spectacular job. Everything handled well and started on time.
Up ahead was Phil, looking rather worn. I was about to slow down and ride with him to the finish but he waved me on. “Mate, you’re looking awesome! See you at the finish line!”
There might not have been any mountains, but the scenery was still brilliant.
Red shirt appeared out of the dust in the distance again in the closing stages, grinding slowly out of the saddle up the last of the rolling fire road climbs. On the edge of cramping, I managed to reel him in just as we topped the last crest. “At least we get some singletrack to finish on!” he grinned, as I passed. I grinned back.
Mission accomplished by getting to the singletrack ahead of him this time, and I was thinking I really had a chance of staying in front. Ah, not so.
He went past again when the track opened out briefly. I moved slightly left to give him room, but started to run out of space as the trail closed up again. The guy let out a long string of apologies, thinking he’d left me nowhere to go, but a dab on the brakes and I was fine. Carving the turns, I have no idea how he stayed upright in the loose gravel and dust as it twisted and descended between the trees. I was amazed he could recover so well after looking shot on the climb.
The track leveled out and I started to pull him back, but bobbled on one of the muddy sections and he got away. Riders and spectators from the 25km event lined the finish and cheered the finishing 50km riders home.
I was pleased with my time at 2:35:24. I didn’t have a lot left at the end. Considering the “Captain Slow” nickname had been well earned, I was happy with the improvement – and not just finishing, but doing so in a respectable time.
For a flat track it was much tougher than expected. The relative lack of climbs meant you were on the gas the whole time with little chance to rest on downhills. My peak heart rate for the reconnaissance ride was 160, about 90% of my absolute recorded peak. I was a bit shocked afterwards to see that I comfortably averaged 160 bpm for the entire 76 minute first loop.
Up ahead the 50km winner finished in just under two hours, and the 100km winner would cross the line in 3 hours and 47 minutes.
Will I be back next year? Absolutely. Great scenery, iconic wildlife, excellent organisation. With the tracks ridden in a bit more next year, it can only be better. Congratulations to the Parkes members of the Central West Off Road Bicycle Club for a brilliant event.
The author John Hawkins, crossing the finish line with a grin.
The body language says it all: Riding buddy Phil Swierczynski glad to be done.
Results for the 2010 Back Yamma Bigfoot
MTB Enduro – Put Your Foot Down
September 26. 2010
100km (Two Big Feet) Male
1. James Downing (Hackett, ACT) 3:47:28
2. Chad Gossert (Blackheath, NSW) 3:50:23
3. Trevor Rix (Ainslie, ACT) 3:51:18
100km (Two Big Feet) Female
1. Samantha Hemsley (Melba, ACT) 4:20:56
2. Sara-Jane Uden (Wagga, NSW) 4:47:11
3. Angela Farrell (Wagga, NSW) 5:13:34
50km (Big Foot) Male
1. Phillip Tucker (Chisholm, ACT) 1:57:11
2. Greg Collis (Banks, ACT) 2:02:53
3. Greg Carr (Fig Tree Pocket, QLD) 2:05:33
50km (Big Foot) Female
1. Kylie Webb (Hackett, ACT) 2:04:40
2. Michelle Ainsworth (Narrabundah, ACT) 2:08:48
3. Mary Fien (Lane Cove, NSW) 2:18:31
25km (Little Foot) Male
1. Matthew Sheehy (Young, NSW) 1:22:12
2. Trevor Crittenden (Woonona, NSW) 1:25:17 – FATHER
3. John Crittenden (Woonona, NSW) 1:25:17 – SON
25km (Little Foot) Female
1. Pamela Carter (Burrill Lake, NSW) 1:23:54
2. Anna Davies (Ainslie, ACT) 1:33:04
3. Janet Allen (Bathurst, NSW) 1:33:06
Event Website: www.backyammabigfoot.com.au
Photos @ Central West Off Road Bicycle Club