Jess interview2

The amount of times I have had random requests asking for information on 24hr Solo race related topics has led me to finally write this article.
I must preface that whilst I am offering my take on it, my experience and what has worked for me, each one of us is different.  

Take what you like, do what you want, my word is not gospel and in the end only you can learn by doing as 24hr Solo Mountain bike racing or any ultra endurance event for that matter is not just about the ‘doing’, its about the lead up, the journey and the head on meeting with your inner self.  

Be prepared for more than what you ever planned for.

Let me start at the start.

I am not a nutritionist, I am not a sports psychologist and I am not into too much of the science side though I draw upon facts when needed but rather I am into learning from what others have done before me, by doing myself and working out from my own experience and reflection.  
Everyones melting pot of ideas will look different and that’s ok, just so long as you are having fun learning along the way.

learning 1

Though it never ceases to amaze me how many athletes out there seem to make the same mistakes again and again without obviously reflecting upon where they went wrong last time and making the changes needed.

There are no secrets.

You don’t need a degree to look at a high performer and replicate what they do.  
The secrets are however in how they do it, what they think to make it happen and how they teach themselves to use their brain, their thoughts, their actions, their responses, their emotions, their beliefs…its all in their head and you can’t touch that, but you can learn to create your own secret inner sanctum.

This is where I will start my story, on how I get the job done…

Step 1 - Mental Preparation.

I know you want to get fit, start planning on your nutrition, get your bike dialled, pop those race tyres on, buy that new Garmin, get a coach etc..etc…and you may well need all this, but how often do you work on your head space?

Deciding that you want to do a 24hr SOLO mountain bike event, even just to finish or to smash yourself and race it is a big feat.  Many people you will meet will exclaim that they cannot even imagine riding for 24hrs, let alone sign up for one.  We can safely assume that you have imagined yourself riding through the night, finishing the next day, hurting but happy.  You may not have worked out how this will happen, but you are all good with that vision right?  Chances are you have attended a race, maybe in a team or a support crew or as an interested onlooker, you have seen it is possible and looks like it could be a fun challenge.  

It always helps to SEE it done before to believe it.  
Here is your new test - Believe it before you have seen it yourself.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” Walt Disney

Visualisation, dreaming, takes energy and focus of a different kind and when I do it, I get butterflies in my stomach, I get excited!  
I am a bed time dreamer, when I need to focus, instead of reading a book, I lay down in bed before sleeping and play out what I want to happen in a given situation.

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I really focus on the people, the colours, the emotions, the environment, my energy, my worries, my fears and also the things I know will be hard but I start practising the strategies I will use to overcome the tough times.
The hardest thing is to stay present and not fast forward, to visualise in ‘real time’ might take a few weeks to finish a 24hr race in your head, but OH its worth it.
You get many chances at practising the start, feeling the hurt at 3am, feeling the elation at sunrise and the sweet glory of finishing and being allowed to get off your bike, have a shower and rest.

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When you begin your MENTAL fitness regime, you will be faced with uncomfortableness, fear and doubt because these questions will start to pop up: 

  1. Why am I doing this?
  2. How will I be able to do this?
  3. What do I really want from doing this?
  4. How important is this goal to me anyway?

Before the big fitness commitment kicks in, it is extremely beneficial to get your head sorted sooner than later,  you are going to need it.

Training - riding your bike and doing fitness related activities to become a better cyclist is called training for a reason!  
Its the physical practise of your end goal.
It will get tough, there will be days when you won’t or can’t or don't want to train and how you manage that in your head will be where you start to tick off your Success Boxes and build confidence in your plan and your ability to do your best on the day.

I will give you an example.  

When I start to hurt on a ride, or want to finish up early I re engage my mind back to its purpose and lets say I really am tired, and can’t do an effort, then I quickly switch from: “Gee I am tired, I don’t want to train anymore, stuff this I am going home” to “Ok, I did train hard yesterday, and I did not go to bed early enough, just finish off the session with a 70% load instead, get the ride back in the happy zone, go to bed early tonight, eat well today and book a massage in and maybe have a hot bath tonight too!”

You never want to start blaming your life, or circumstances or attitude for lack of success.  
Blame leaves your powerless and feeling angry and bitter, instead take action and do something to move you away from your current state.

Its a fact, you WILL NOT be on fire every day of your life, there will be days of struggle town.  
You can still reach your goals by using your mind set to choose HOW you best use these days.
I can’t stress enough - Rehearse you Plan in your mind, even down to a training ride and how you choose to think on this.  

I always draw upon this quote to help me though when its tough:

“Do today what others wont, so you can do tomorrow what others cant”

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Step 2 - Training, Support & Progression

Clear cut goals are important now.  
They can change, thats life, stay flexible but with a solid purpose.

Personally I am a shocker for early morning rides so I tend not to do them, and my key event starts at 12pm midday so its not important to do 7am rides.  I would also fail if this was my plan.  My motivation lies in sleep and a warm bed and this too is part of the grand plan, feeling cosy, feeling warm, feeling well rested its all part of setting myself up for a great day and I will get my training done when it suits me and my schedule.

We are all guilty of choosing too many events to fill our weekends to ‘get fit’ and see where we are at.  Over the years of learning and doing, I have realised that I can wear myself down with travel and ‘race practise’ and by the time the big event comes around I am no longer as enthusiastic to race.  Be careful here - know your Key event, know what works for you and know when you are overdoing it.  When self doubt creeps in - go back to step 1, Mental prep.

The question needs to be asked - What should you be aiming for then?

A bit of self reflection, honesty and pen and paper time will reveal a story and a plan.

Here are some things I always ask myself, it keeps me accountable when the going gets tough.

What do YOU love about riding your bike?

I personally love the freedom and the creativity that flows when I ride for long periods of time.  
Life is not worrisome, ideas flow, world peace occurs, problems solved, even when I am hurting - in fact even more so when I am hurting, my life purpose reveals itself and I know that I am 100% engaged in every single pedal stroke, I see and understand each deformity on the earth, I feel each feature I ride over and I actively think the whole time I ride.  
I prefer not talking to others only because I am focused, its like a meditation.  

jess sunshine

Once you answer this question you will become more in tune with your training goals, your weaknesses and why you have chosen to do a 24hr mtb race.
In fact you need to know this, because at 3am in the morning you will ask yourself what you are doing out there, and sometimes winning is not even in the equation so be SOLD on it.

What do you want to improve on technically?

If you have trouble on tight switchbacks (up or down) you might find its a simple mind shift well in advance rather than the skills you believe you lack.

If you struggle letting go of the brakes as the ground tilts downwards, you need to start looking inwards. Is your fear founded? Do you lack knowledge? Are you just working on fitness and power and forgetting about losing all that time you gained on the climb as you point downhill like a nana?

Improving your technical skills is not just about a fitness program, it’s a practise, its like turning up to pilates.  Grab a skills coach, or a good friend that rides well and has good patience, but most of all choose to change your mindset on learning new things.

Jess tech

Each time I ride, each and every single time, my big 1% ‘er is to always get on the brakes as late as possible and off them as soon as possible.  
It’s just my thing, it forces me to look up more, to engage in the trail and stay focused on riding smoothly even when I am going as fast as I possibly can. 

What do you want to improve on physically - hill climbing? etc…?

Just like the skills, knowing your weaknesses then allows you to form a plan to succeed. Ignore your weaknesses and you will always have self doubt.

Sure there are some tiny Spaniards that were born climbers straight from the womb, but they firstly had to choose to ride a bike, then work on it so that they were the best in the world, and guess what their weakness probably were? Putting down the power on the flats and into headwinds so they had to work on that and learn how to sit better than everyone else in a bunch and never do any work up front.

It certainly helps if you know your race course, distance, duration of lap, climbs and technical sections, but if you don’t, just work on your weaknesses.

Each time I do a session that engages the things I am not so good at, I involve all of my senses and really visualise my pedal strokes being strong and smooth, that from the sideline, onlookers or opponents see a strong and smooth rider that is in control and focused.  It really helps me feel strong and invincible and when you visualise this, you act it out, you really do!

What time do you honestly have in a week that you can commit to week in week out?

I know when I embark on a new goal I am a little over ambitious and it only takes 1 or 2 weeks before reality kicks in, I get cranky, clothes and dishes washing piles up, and enthusiasm dies quite suddenly.
I have learnt from experience to settle into a maintainable routine to start with, keep all sessions achievable, make lots of time for recovery and other life responsibilities.
After about 2 weeks, this becomes a base standard of living.   Only then can I start to tweak the load, either by intensity or duration or sometimes a bit of both.

Still the whole time I am seeking a state of happiness, where I am totally stoked to be in this situation knowing that I have chosen to be on the bike and pushing new boundaries. This mindset - again - comes into play when the going gets tough in the race.  Remember, training is about preparation and when you really invest in your foundations, you WILL have a good race, and the result will leave no stone unturned, only lessons for next time if you dare! 

Who do you need on your team, not just on race day, but in the lead up, who has your back?

Oh wow, this is so important.

Solo is so not solo

Those that go to win, those that aim to do their personal best have a sidekick. 
I always say make sure that support has a vested interest in YOU

.jess norm

For me, its my husband Norm, and this is a pretty good situation as he loves me and wants to see ‘us’ win and do our best.  He sees me train, he looks after my bikes, he knows my goals and we don't have to talk too much about how it will pan out and when we do have our ‘conversation’ its fairly stress free.

I believe you also need someone who can dish out tough love.  

If your mum can’t bear to see you in pain, and wants to wash your face let her watch from a distance.

I got my mum to come one year, she did want to wash my face and see me rest and eat, and thats what happened. She also did not like being uncomfortably cold, which at 3am in the morning is not good.  If you can snaffle a crew that want to stay up all night, even better, but if you want to do your personal best, they (in my opinion) need to be focused on YOU come race day and only eat and have fun when you are out doing a lap.  

There is NOTHING worse than coming in late at night or early morning seeing people sleeping in warm cosy sleeping bags, or eating yummy warm food sitting down with blankets and a gas heater burning.  
These support people, get them excited, get them to invest in your emotional excitement of doing the event, and then you also have a little external motivator to keep going, not for you but out of respect to your support crew.

Step 3 - The Nuts & Bolts, Equipment/Nutrition/Race Plan/ Communication Strategies/Psychological Plan.

This really is the business plan for your race.
Firstly you cannot do business without the right equipment and it working top notch.
By now you have worked out how to get to race day, the plan and the execution.

Having a number 1 race bike is optimal, having a back-up is preferable.  
You have possibly spent all year planning to do your best on race day and if you happen to have a mechanical and no plan B thats it, race over red rover.

Unfortunately if you are choosing to do a 24hr race for money, there is none, well you might win a couple of thousand at best, but I call that ‘Even Stevens’ money.  

An opportunity to recoup some of the money spent to get there.
Getting your bike race ready will cost $ even if you are a great bike mechanic.  But if you don't have your bike working at its best, it could cost you your race.  I don't know about you, that does not appeal to me - at all. Having a spare bike speeds up transitions, allows for a back up, gives your pit crew breathing space to keep bikes maintained as you continue to lap around.

If you can’t afford a second bike, see if you can beg and borrow from a friend of similar size and set up.  

Now is the time to learn how to put a tube in even if you are set up tubeless, break your chain and add a link, sealing up a sidewall tear to get you back to the pits and all the other things that could go wrong. Get comfortable with it and ensure you carry the gear to fix it or get you back.  
Even a spare set of cleats can seem like overkill but can get you out of trouble when you lose a cleat!

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Lights - what will  you use? Can you borrow? Do you own? Do you know your battery charge times? Your burn times? How to get the best out of light and battery set up? Do your crew know this?
At night a well tuned pit crew can win or lose you a race by leaving you lapping with a low battery and you losing light out on a lap.  
Get night riding now, once a week is good, but once is better than none!. 
Night riding with the right lights is actually awesome and I think easier than riding in daylight.

Consolidating purpose and mental preparation.

My Race (business plan) was written in a notebook the night before with Norm sitting next to me.
Here it is and some pics from the book, written in October 2010.

What am I grateful for?

  1. I have consistently trained, injury and illness free all Winter long.

  2. I have the best support crew for this race who want only the best for me.

  3. My Sponsors, Giant, Jet Black, De Grandis, Torq, Bike Box, Fox etc…all have faith in me & only want me to my BEST.

  4. My family and friends think I am amazing and look to me to see what I can do next.  They have absolute faith in me and whatever I do.

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Communication Strategies (these are for my support crew and how to talk to me and get the best out of me during the race)

  1. Give me the facts

  2. Give me time Gaps

  3. Just tell me to do another lap - do not worry about what time it is and how many laps I have to do

  4. Give me ‘rabbits’ to chase down & pass

  5. Acknowledge my pain and tell me you think that I am unreal.

  6. Remind me to always have fun!

  7. Always remind to find that extra 1% - at all times.  Just 1% ! minutes at a time, 1hr at a time.

  8. 24hrs will be here & gone so quickly - it won’t last long.  Make the most of it.

  9. No Regrets.  100% Honest effort.

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Race Strategies

(points I can remain accountable to regardless of my competition)

  1. Stay internally focussed on my capabilities. Skills, Fitness, HR, Eating, Drinking etc…

  2. Get a good start. From the get go - plan to pull away 1 second at a time

  3. Be Patient. The first 6hrs could be a close race.  Always focus on ‘pulling away 1 second, 1 mt, 1 lap at a time’

  4. Beat Katrin, Vanina, Trudy, Peta, Jodie, Alex, Everyone actually - To WIN THE RACE (& all the internationals)

  5. Swap bikes often & quick 10 second transitions

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Nutrition Strategies / Plan

(this is a loose plan I had for myself).

I had a person tell me once - a wise coach actually, “Food is fuel, you don't have to like it whilst racing, if it agrees with you then eat and drink it and do your job.  You can eat for pleasure when you win.”

What I can recommend from past experience is to eat as much normal food as you can and use gels for the night time when you don't feel like eating.  There is nothing better than at 6am in the morning feeling and hearing your stomach grumble because you are actually REALLY hungry.

I also found in the early morning I was able to do 2 x 1hr laps with 1 x 700ml bottle as I just wasn't working as hard, HR was low, respiration was down, but I could eat warm risotto which was awesome.

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60 - 80 gms carbs (hourly goal, mainly for Norm to focus on giving me consistent carbs) 

  • 1 piece of bread   15gm

  • 3 scoops of Torq energy 44gm

  • 1/2 scoop of the new carb powder 35gm

  • 1 scoop of Torq energy carbs 15gm (natural)

  • 1 torq gel 28gm

  • 1/2 torq bar 35gm

  • 1 serve of risotto 30gm

  • 1 serve porridge 60gm

Example of 1 lap:

  • 1 bottle (3 scoops torn & 1/2 scoop carb powder) 60gm
  • Daytime strength with shot of coke every 2nd lap
  • 1 bottle (3 scoops tor & 1 full scoop carbs) 90gm
  • Night time strength with shot of coke every 2nd lap
  • Add bread, lollies, chips, risotto etc  (as above)

Protein Shake - every 3rd lap

  • 1 scoop recovery in 150-200ml water - shake

Remedies

  • Carb shots in the night in flask

  • No doz

  • Voltarin

  • Coke

  • Chocolate

  • Salt ‘ n’ vinegar chips

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4. In the Doing!

Here is a quick TIMETABLE of what the week lead up to a 24hr race would look like for me.

Monday

  • Massage

  • cruisey ride for 1-2hrs in a happy space

  • Lazy lunch

  • nana nap

  • Stretch

  • Plan and prepare gear

  • early to bed

  • mental rehearsal 

Tuesday

  • ergo hit out hard 1hr

  • more gear prep

  • excellent nutrition - juices, fresh vegies, curries etc…

  • walk and smiles

  • stretching

  • nana nap

  • motivational books

  • mental rehearsal

  • early to bed

Wednesday

  • Travel day - arrive, ride course 2hrs

  • note technical sections for tomorrow.

  • early dinner

  • Rollers with road bike for flush of legs

  • stretch

  • mental rehearsal

  • early to bed 

Thursday 

  • Ride the course 1 lap with technical line choice practice

  • Solve the ‘puzzle’ of the course, each race course has a flow to unlock so I enjoy finding it.

  • Ride 1 lap without stopping, 60% effort.

  • Lunch

  • Relaxation massage

  • nana nap

  • more prep

  • shopping for food

  • rollers on road bike again for recovery

  • dinner - we normally go out to dinner tonight

  • early to bed with mental rehearsal

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 Friday

  • A.M ride of course visualising everything I have practised during the week and feeling the flow.

  • Last minute bike prep, visit bike shop and supermarket.

  • Lunch

  • nana nap

  • rollers

  • clothes and equipment prep

  • charge batteries

  • Bike check over

  • sort out race plan and communication, goals etc..

Race day

  • Sleep in until 7:30am

  • Normal breakfast

  • Get gear ready

  • Be at race course at 10am

  • More food, drink, warm up on ergo with roadie listening to music and visualising.

  • Choose a “race song” that inspires you and motivates you and sends you into an upbeat state.  I use this and draw upon it when my mind wanders, its a good pinch of a reality check.

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At this point I am doing a check list against what I have promised myself to be accountable.

I get nervous but welcome it,for it means I care and want to do well

I check my bike over, gears, brakes, skewers, major bolts, suspension, saddle, bottle cage, spares, Garmin, lights, helmet…everything.
Help Norm with pit set up, final drink, final eat, final toilet and all systems GO!
I have now done everything possible to achieve my best results, now its up to me to live out what I have rehearsed.  
If I do this and remain 100% accountable, the result will speak for itself.

I cannot control the abilities of another rider, but I can control mine and when I have focused on this aspect of my race, the best results have availed themselves to me, because I have been ready to take on the challenge.

I do hope you really enjoy your journey to race your Best ever 24hr race.

It is 100% up to you, yes its a tough gig, but in the same breath, the planning, the preparation, that journey in itself, then of course the lead up to the race, the actual race and all the elements within that, well I can tell you this, You will never be the same person again…and thats a good thing!

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And remember that before anything else….Plan for what your happy place looks like in your head for 3am in the morning…you are going to need it!