Queen of the Mountain

I LOVE Mountain bike riding. Since investing in my kick-ass bike in September (a Specialized Camber Comp 29er, dubbed ‘The Saint’) I have been tearing it up (kind of) in any and every MTB park I can find. I have been LOVING. Every. Sweet. Second.

My Camber, also named 'The Saint' (it is the St Kilda football team colours, you're welcome dad)

My Camber, also named ‘The Saint’ (it is the St Kilda football team colours, you’re welcome dad)

MTB riding and Snowboarding

How to explain the thrill of MTB riding? If you snowboard, it is very similar, I think, to boarding in several ways.

  • Being a beginner is HARD – there is a steep learning curve with both
  • Some runs are better than others
  • You finish each run on a high
  • You have to pick your line carefully when going down a trail, some lines are better than others and some are easier than others
  • Doing jumps starts off as something scary and accidental and ends up being a thrilling part you try to incorporate into every run.
  • You often fall off, or ‘bail’ as I like to say. Risk of major injuries is high and you are likely to come away – even on a good day – with a few scrapes and bruises.
  • ADRENALINE. Hello friend.

The similarities end on the ascent which, in snowboarding, is a relaxing glide to the summit. In MTB riding…it requires somewhat more effort.

Fitspo

MTB riding gets you FIT. Depending on the type of trails you ride, the fitness involved can vary but is always at a high level because the focus changes. Cross Country is fast and flowing, all mountain has fast and slow bits (ascents normally are slow) but also should flow on a good run. Downhill is another kettle of fish and one I have not had any inclination to try. This is the type where you need a full face helmet, body armour and people tend to cracks bones with astonishing ease. My husband has a downhill bike and all the gear and I always worry about him. He showed me the downhill track when we did some all mountain riding at Ourimbah and it scared the bejeezus out of me.

You won't see this little fat duck on that berm track...

You won’t see this little fat duck on that berm track…

For a beginner, fitness is something I struggled and still struggle with. It is very different to running fitness and uses different muscles with pressure in many different places over the body. Sometimes, the climb is so hard it can make the descent not seem worth the slog. Certainly gets the heart rate up. Mostly I think though that effort is fairly even across the ride. You can catch your breath on a downhill section, but muscles still need to be braced and can even end in cramps on descents. On a particularly steep descent I tend to grip the handle-bars a wee bit too hard and end up with sore hands and wrists. Generally my thighs ache by the bottom from being braced in ‘attack’ position and using my body as suspension – depending on the length of the segment.

Nature and its Charms

The beauty of the Australian bush is hard to describe. One of the places I ride (Glenrock) is particularly stunning as it also has ocean views and wild, ‘untamed’ bush vistas. Sometimes you will be riding through close bush and then sweep down into a gully across a creek and over a small bridge, or through a path strewn with old and beautifully patterned rocks.

Part way through a track I have dubbed 'Fern Gully' in Jesmond

Part way through a track I have dubbed ‘Fern Gully’ in Jesmond

The trail head at Awaba

The trail head at Awaba

Glenrock after a fire went through.

Glenrock after a fire went through.

Most MTB parks are situated in state forests and, although you do tend to make quite a bit of noise, the wild life is still there. I have seen a goanna, frilled neck lizard and a wallaby on my rides. My husband has seen an echidna and even stopped once to shoo one off the trail.

Nature also has somewhat of a downside – I often shudder as I shoot through a spider web or have an adrenaline spike when I see a snake-like stick on the trail…I have started to carry pressure bandages and often GPS track my ride in the case of a snake bite – but fear is not going to stop me from riding.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

There are a myriad of MTB parks in the vicinity of the Newcastle area, the best of which is Glenrock as it is close by and very beautiful. The trails there are All Mountain, meaning a blend of up and down hill as well as some cross-country type trails thrown in. In organized and well maintained parks, generally the trails are named, just like in snowboarding (another similarity). I like the name of the track Seuss land – but it is a horrible up hill climb. Another soul destroying ascent is called ‘Snakes and Ladders’ while the randomly named ‘Kenny’s’ and ‘BJ’s’ are two of my favourite. Other excellent MTB parks less than 2 hours’ drive away include Taree, Ourimbah and Awabah – all of which I have had a crack at.

Another area to ride is Jesmond, it is not a state forest so Melvin can come along for the ride. The down side is that the tracks aren’t maintained and can be covered in sticks or washed out from the rain – it’s a bit touch and go. Jesmond is also pretty much a one hill pony, big climb up followed by a descent and repeat. So I find it to be more exhausting than Glenrock or other MTB parks which have a bit more cross country riding (which tends to be flatter to encourage speed).

I also like the idea of a MTB holiday, similar to a snow trip but instead of loading up the boards we load up the bikes. I would love to ride in Canada, the Rockies would be spectacular and Tasmania also has amazing MTB riding. It really opens up a whole new world of exploration and is a special way to see the world and appreciate its beauty I think.

Boys and Their Toys

Those of you who know me may also know I get a bit of a thrill from doing things generally considered to be more the dominion of men. Engineering and snowboarding are two prime examples. MTB riding is also very much in this category. If fact you only need to look at stats on Strava (the App) to see where the majority lies (although this could also suggest Strava is mostly used by men, but I don’t think that is the case). When you ‘Strava’ a ride, your progress is tracked via GPS. When you complete a pre-determined segment, your time taken to complete this segment is logged and compared with other riders. Anyone can create a segment and a single loop can be made up of several overlapping segments. When you are first in a segment, you are named ‘King or Queen of the Mountain’. I am Queen of the Mountain in a few tracks no other women have Strava’d (winner!) which is awesome, but also sad that more women aren’t getting out there. Here is an example of a ride I Stava’d.

Unfortunately men do tend to dominate in this arena, their times are considerably and consistently faster than women on Strava. I’m not sure why, although I have heard it said that men and women assess risks differently, which is why guys tend to proliferate in extreme sports. I suppose in general that may be true, but I don’t see why it would make men better MTB riders since the best riders are always in control and risk plays a role only when there is the chance to lose control…I would think.

I can say however that I don’t think the men of MTB riding are DOMINANT necessarily; in fact every single person (man or woman) I have come across in the bush has been incredibly friendly and even supportive. I had a somewhat embarrassing moment of making it to the top of a particularly steep incline and shouting out ‘Wohoo! I did it!!’ to Hubby, who was in front of me, when a guy rode past a said ‘Great Work!.’ Perhaps the support stops once you pass the beginner/intermediate level since right now I am not challenging anyone (literally no one) with my speed. In any case, it is nothing like surfing from what I have seen. The culture is much more inclusive and less territorial – where I have been riding.

The Lone Wolf

One of the things I love about MTB riding is how in the moment it makes you feel. You can’t be distracted or thinking about anything else, only the trail and the response of your body. It is incredibly cathartic to go out for a ride by myself. Sometimes I don’t even see anyone (depends when I go). It can make men feel like, even though I know I’m in the middle of suburbia, I am out in the wilderness.

The Lone Saint

The Lone Saint

I also love going riding with my husband. I used to feel guilty for making him come with me as I am far, far slower (he has been riding since he was a kid). Luckily, recently he told me he likes to go with me for the breaks he gets (needless to say, I basically don’t get breaks when we go together)! I also like taking my dog, Melvin along for the ride. I can’t take him to Glenrock (it is a state forest, no dogs allowed) but he can come to Jesmond with me and he LOVES it, possibly even more than I do. He races ahead, tongue lolling and gets really excited when he sees me putting my bike in the car.

I have done one ride with a group and enjoyed it as well, but it can be difficult to find people to ride with at your level. It’s all very well going out for a ride with my husband and slowing him down, but going out for a ride with someone else who wants to go faster…might be uncomfortable. I am pushing myself though and improving, maybe one day soon I’ll be ready for a faster group ride.

You can expect many more posts on this topic, it really is an amazing sport and I am slowly but surely being consumed by it entirely. I am trying not to forgo runs in place of rides all the time, but it is certainly happening more frequently. What can I say other than….they see me rollin’. They hatin’.

Snow Hangover

Who dares, wins. It’s been a slow start to the Australian snow season this year and, when we made the decision to drive the 8 hours there, snow was literally thin on the ground. Ah well, we consoled ourselves, we’ll have a nice catch up with my cousin and family and get plastered on some schnapps. But the night we got there, it started to snow. Thredbo (where we stayed) got 60 cm of fresh snow and, although the whole mountain wasn’t open, we had some great runs.

I also got to put my new camera (a Contour video cam which attached to my helmet) through its paces. I had used it before when we first got it but not in a setting like this. It was so much fun to board in a big group (despite the extra waiting around time) and even more fun to watch back the videos at night of all our ‘stacks’ and ‘chews’ (agreed vernacular for falling over). The only problem with being the camera lady is that ALL of my stacks were captured…a bit of snow/sky/snow happening there.

Photo taken by my talented photographer cousin. You can see my little camera on the side of my helmet!

Photo taken by my talented photographer cousin. You can see my little camera on the side of my helmet!

I’ve started playing around a bit with the footage and put together a condensed version of a run to begin. I want to put together a stacks reel just showing everyone falling over because it is truly HILARIOUS. I missed some of the best ones though which is a shame. Can’t be everywhere at once unfortunately. Filming also challenged my boarding skills to be more controlled and follow behind people, but I did enjoy the times the camera was off and I could just hook down the mountain as fast as I could. Also tried some jumps this trip which were super fun, confidence builds slowly but once you have done a couple it definitely gets easier.

OK, confession time. My diet (as in the general collection of food I eat, not a restricted ‘I only eat rockmelon’ type diet) took a beating. We did some groceries before the snow and it was pure indulgence. Our basket included: chocolate, cheezels, salt and vinegar chips, iced coffee and more chocolate. I was almost trying to think of stuff I would never normally eat and just load it up. I was embarrassed to check out. It is also IMPOSSIBLE to eat healthy when on the slopes. Here is an example of the possible choices on the mountain:

Hot chips anyone?

Hot chips anyone?

So basically anything with chips (currently on my banned list). We ate soooo much crap and I really capitalised on the excuse to eat whatever I wanted. I have no doubt that I far overcompensated for the calories actually burned boarding. I even broke my McDonald’s ban since it was that or nothing on the way home from the snow. I got a side salad and was pathetically grateful for the fresh, crisp, juicy lettuce! When we got home I felt ill, almost nauseous for the whole next day and am only feeling better now after having gone for a run and doing some lovely relaxing stretch yoga (I hurt my neck a bit on one of my ‘chews’ so was nice to stretch out).

Next time, I am NOT going to do the same thing. I am going to remember how sick I felt after a weekend of poor food choices and, instead, try to fuel my boarding with healthy and nutritious meals. Most of the restaurants have soup so that is probably better than the nachos and meat piesI ate…. And I’ll probably have chocolate, I’m only human!

NEXT POST: Barefoot beginnings! My Vibrams toe-socks (FiveFinger Seeya) have arrived and I am in the process of breaking them in. First impressions coming soon…

The Cat in the Hat

Two pronged blog post. 1. We are heading off for the first snow trip of the season shortly – oh the anticipation! 2. I want to talk briefly about pacing and how much it can impact on a run (completely unrelated to the post title, I realise. But seriously, how could I resist after the photo I got of our cat?!).

Now the admin is out of the way, lets get to business.

1. SNOOOWWWW!!

Well, there is apparently SOME snow in any case, covering PART of a SMALL mountain…but hey, snow is snow right? We have the chance to crash on a couch at the snow in the next week and we would be crazy to pass it up…except for the fact that it is school holidays (therefore, the slopes will be PACKED) and VERY early season. So more people on less snow. Blerk, not ideal. But we are going to make the absolute best of it. I intend to work on my technique (avoiding people packed onto the snow will be good practice) and might even try and put my worst foot forward, i.e. instead of boarding goofy (right foot down the slope) I will try a bit of au natural (left foot down the mountain).

We may be a wee bit excited, all the snow gear is laid out ready on the bed many days in advance. I think I have a budding snowboarder on our hands, what do you think kitten? Keen for the snow?

Cat in my hat (OK, helmet) and our boards ready to go

Cat in my hat (OK, helmet) and our boards ready to go

2. Pacing

I ran with a yet undiscovered pacing champion for whom I now personally believe that pacing is his (very mild) superpower. My husband and I went for a run together last night and I smashed my 10 km time  – 10 km in 1 hour and 3 minutes, BOOM baby! And even better, it is EXACTLY on-pace for my goal City2Surf time. This was no accident, I told hubby I wanted to do C2S in 90 minutes, which is approximately a pace of 6 min 30 s per km. So using his phone running app which has a very short averaging period he kept track of our speed and kept me running at the required speed the whole time! Up hills we lost speed so he determined what speed we would need on the downhill and we picked it up. I think it was the first run I have done where I didn’t use the downhill parts as a breather but actually pushed it and ran my guts out the whole time. Keeping on pace was extremely motivating with hubby saying, ‘OK we have 1 minute 20 second to run 300 m and stay on pace, so just keep going like this and we’ll be on target’ and ‘we need to race down this hill to make up for the slower pace’ or ‘smack on, good speed hon’. Last time I ran with him was kind of horrible, he told me I ran so slow it physically hurt him, but this time I kept up and it was only a little bit slower than he would have run it. Now THAT is frickin progress!

We did three circuits of our neighbourhood ( including two hills and two flatish sections which was a good combination) and by the third one I was feeling it. I tried to pin-point exactly what was hurting for future work but couldn’t. Possibly my core, my shoulders were starting to droop and breathing was a little difficult towards the end, especially after the last hill climb. I have HUGE blisters on the bottom of both my big toes by the end but otherwise felt pretty good. I didn’t even really feel it today so I have gotten a pretty big boost for City2Surf, I might ACTUALLY be able to do this!!

Some AOB (Any Other Business, not on the agenda my apologies), yoga has been going well but I have not managed to do it regularly enough for my liking. I had wanted to do it every night after the gym or a run but it just doesn’t work that way. When I get home from the gym, its time to cook dinner, or eat dinner that hubby has just cooked or sit with him and chat (yep, pretty much blaming it on hubby). I can’t relax and do a nice yoga session that way. So instead I am planning on doing it in the morning after my walk. I will soon have more time in the mornings so should be able to squeez in a 30 minute walk and 20 minute yoga session. I don’t think Melvs will mind the reduced walkies time, I run him so much I actually wonder if it’s a bit hard on his paws or if it might not be detrimental to him later in his life in terms of doggy arthritis etc. I know, he’s meant to be a working dog (Australian Cattle Dogs were bred for running all day long) but I want him to be around as long as we can have him! I don’t want to run him into the ground.

Also, I have decided that either late this year or in next years season I am going to do a half marathon. No biggie, just running 21km – as you do 😉

Winter Is Coming

The chill in the air is increasing. Our gas heater has been restored to its prime winter position and the bed socks are out in full force. The small number of deciduous trees around have made a good ole mess along the footpaths and our weekly dinner menus include an increasing number of slow-cooked stews, casseroles and curries. I also have an unaccountable craving for hot chocolate…

Yep winter is coming. And we know what that means.

SNOWBOARDING!!!!!

Well, that’s what it means to me anyway.

Sure summer is great, long days and warm air, lazing on the beach and swimming, BBQ’s and all the festivities/parties of Christmas (this is all probably very strange for any Northern Hemisphere readers!). But this year, I have been HANGING OUT for winter. Hubby and I got to spend over a week snowboarding in Austria in January and soon it will be Australia’s turn!

Yes, we have snow in Australia (see my Snowboarding page) but it is in a very specific part of the country and the conditions are incredibly touch and go. Last year we got in some amazing powder boarding at Perisher (powder past our knees! Don’t see that in Oz very often) but that is rare.

Snow montage

A bit about my snowboarding style

Stance: Goofy (i.e. my right foot faces down the mountain). My husband is ‘Natural’ (left foot down the mountain) which makes it interesting for lifts. Apparently the first person to snowboard was ‘natural’ and decided everyone who was different was ‘goofy’. Its weird because I am right handed but apparently left footed (the back foot generally does the steering in snowboarding). No idea how that works.

Level: Intermediate. I do blue and double blue as well as the occasional black run. I like the burm track at Thredbo but am not so into the jumping or park type tricks. Lots of very painful looking injuries there…Mainly I like going FAST and doing a bit of technical riding in between trees.

Things I like: Fresh powder (feels like floating and speed is picked up really quickly. Plus when you fall over its so soft! But does get everywhere and make for a wet day). Beating my husband down a run.  Riding through trees and finding snow drifts. Building up speed for a dip or going through narrow sections (gets the heart racing ). Scoping out new trails from the chair lift. Heavy, warming meals and beer in front of the fire at the end of a full day boarding. The vistas and the fresh mountain air. The exhilaration of an amazing run. Planning several runs in advance from the trail map and smashing them out in order. When trails connect and make super trails. The gear – love my new snowboard boots, can’t wait to break them in. Also love my old board which I got when I lived in Canada. I love spending time with my husband and with my good friends who also board (last year I got to hang out with my bestie but she will have much too big a belly for that this year…) and challenging each other to go harder.

Things I don’t like: Trying to catch an edge on ice. Moguls, you have to go so super slow and if you miss one turn you’re screwed…having said that they can be fun in the right conditions (i.e. no icy patches).  T-Bars. Oh I can do them (only figured that out recently, pretty horrible learning curve). I just don’t like them. Traversing – feel the BURN. Traversing (as a snowboarder you have to be unclipped and push yourself along flat sections) is exhausting and takes up time which could be spent boarding. Skiers. It’s an ongoing war between skiers and boarders – I believe it is mutual. Having said that some skiers are really lovely and give you a lift sometimes in a traverse with their ski poles. But for the norm they cut you off at the MOST inopportune times (like trying to get through a flat section without unclipping). Unclipping. Lift lines. Crowds. Being gouged (its expensive).

The likes FAR outweigh the dislikes…and I still like the dislikes more than I normally like normal things. If you know what I mean.

The Snowboarding Workout

Oh, the calories! I’m looking forward to wearing my heart rate monitor for a few runs this year to compare the energy burn and see where my heart rate gets. What I do know is that for snowboarding you need strong legs. You know you’ve done a long run because by the end that back leg is on fire. Core strength also helps as you use your stomach muscles and core to turn. A strong back doesn’t go astray in that sense either. Flexibility is also useful for clipping in (you have to bend all the way down to your feet, I like to do it while standing up but you have to be pretty well-balanced to pull it off and I more often than not end up on my rear) and ‘skating’ (i.e. pushing your snowboard along the ground with one leg unclipped, like skateboarding almost…). I plan on increasing my yoga sessions as the season cools because the muscle isolation, core strength, flexibility and balance involved can only be helpful. General fitness and squats also don’t go astray!

I really want to get the most out of the short duration trips we have planned (weekends only) and don’t want to waste precious snowboarding time ‘having a break’. My snowboarding companions better watch out, they’re in for a manic ride…

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow….