Merida Hidden Vale 24HR [Race Report]

Pre-Spiel:

There’s something enchanting about epic events that nag at me to do them.

I love mountain biking, and the past Kona 24/Flightcente Epic/now-Merida 24¬†races have vaguely been on my radar for years as ‘that sounds cool’. What isn’t cool is that I’m not a fan of things that require lots of laps (here each lap was 15/16kms), and hence probably the slow interest to actually do this race.

I chatted to my friend Shaun who does these 24hr bike races (won the division last & this year) and he made it sound manageable.. He’s a tougher guy than most, so now it now makes sense that he skipped over saying it’s actually really hard!! (He did mention that he did 18 laps last year and to expect 300kms, but that didn’t register properly at the time).

The event is also much cheaper than many other races of any kind (nice surprise for what you get), and this year I was fit-ish, willing, and only had a couple of alternate Easter long weekend plans – so the decision was to either do this race, or enjoy the long weekend at Kingscliff beach.

Somehow the Wednesday before the weekend I chose 24 crushing hours on a bike seat, instead of relaxing and listening to majestic wave crashing (I should add at this point; it was to the dissatisfaction of my lovely girlfriend Lou who was quite willing to be helper crew, but likes the sound of waves crashing much more).

The Race:

Shaun’s pep talk suggested to treat it as an Adventure Race with food, lights,etc. and so getting to the start line was fairly straight forward.

On the start line I was delighted to see a former AR teammate of mine Wayne – I remember describing him somewhere as MTB Mad Wayne, so it made sense he was doing something like this.. After the start gun 12 midday, I then made the mistake of trying to keep up with mad Wayne as he marched on – eventually to take out 2nd overall.

Mixed with us in 24hr Solo, were 4hr racers, and 24hr teams from 2-6 people. A 6 person team on a track that takes approx 1hr+/- means riding every 7 hours which sounds pretty good. I rode pretty hard for the first 8 hours and completed 10 laps only to stop for water and food topups.

Here’s were I talk about why I had doubts to do this race (we’ll leave the beach out of it, the thought is too hard to bare) – we had been intending for some time to visit Hidden Vale with its plentiful tracks, smooth berms, and nice scenery, however this was to be the first visit and as Shaun had said, you will know it pretty well by lap 3.
He was right. Lap one was interesting, 2 was as well, 3 I got the hang of it, 4 I was still going flat out and having a great time and hanging onto Wayne. Laps 5-10 are a bit of a blur of serious cramps through every muscle in my legs at any given time, and a concentration headache from trying to hang on.
At lap 10 I called a break. I was a hour ahead of next division placed Shaun, and the laps were doing my head in! How on earth do people do 24hrs of laps? It was beyond me before and now have a new appreciation: people that do insane laps in any sport have some mental toughness that is beyond compare and I truly admire that characteristic.

The course had what you call a ‘first half’ that returns close to the start/base, then the track heads back out again into the bush before returning. In between on this ‘second’ half is a tedious meandering rolling trail that traverses 3 mountain sides and eventual climb, and that section involves no fun at all. Just grind grind grind. One guy I saw a few times said it was his favourite bit because he could grind it out.. Each to their own, and perhaps it was a good all-encompassing course then?

MTB legend Jodie Willet and her partner John called it a day at 10 laps to have a weekend.. John said he enjoyed Everesting Mt Wellington in Hobart more than this race. That says something!

Couldn’t I just do these 10 laps in 8 hours, then sleep, and do 10 laps in the last 8 hours? (Fuzzy logic ignores the diminishing returns of fatigue).
Having a burger and nap until Shaun rolled in, I was reminded by Lou that I chose this weekend plan so back in the saddle I go. A couple of laps later and Shaun was revising some Spaghetti and we stuck together for the rest of the night and wee hours of the morning.

Credit to a well run and thoughtful event, in the bush there is a carcass of an aeroplane which they lit up with disco lights and had pumping music to keep you motivated. A nice touch along with providing iced water with a nutrition mix (which I didn’t realise until the end when it was empty!).

As night turned to day and the generator ran out of petrol to power the disco, we powered on and the fun parts of the course were still fun. Loving a flowing track I still put 8/10th effort into the flow section enjoying it each time – eventually to the detriment of my tyre, which tore the sidewall on maybe lap 17 or 18 through the flow. Putting in a new tube my grip strength was gone and the tension on the tyres rim bezel meant I had to get some help from a lovely gentleman who stopped to undo it. It was a sure sign I was wearing down.

Towards the end the refuelling stops got longer too – Lou encouraging as always.. I cried “I can do it, I could do this for 48hrs if I had to, but it’s just driving me crazy! The hard and tedious parts are just too much!!”. There I knew what the race was about – the same thing it always is: who can hold on the hardest for the longest (or shortest!).

Happy with the support and friendship, Shaun and I mounted the podium 1st and 2nd…¬†What a race.

I summarised it as “how to almost make you hate a sport you love”.. I love a challenge but that came too close. No more 24hr laps for me.

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