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Flung to my limits but finished on a high(land)!

Tristania's picture

By Tristania - Posted on 11 November 2013

Re: This ride meeting: 
2013 Highland Fling
Position (Overall): 
Race Category: 
Position (Category): 

In order to do to justice to my whole 2013 Highland Fling saga, I would have to explain a careful analysis of decision to enter the event at all due to firstly having exams at that same time and later realizing the poor prospects for the weather on the event day and deciding whether I should do it at all. Instead, I’ll simply confess that I will NOT do it justice and leave you to read only the best parts.


The “big three” MTB marathon events each year are meant to be Capital Punishment, Convict 100 and the ‘Fling and it was my desire to do them all this year. The former two had been booked and done, but the ‘Fling, what would be the fifth race on my Trek Superfly Al 100 Pro, remained uncertain. I knew that my exam period was just after the ‘Fling weekend and I didn’t want to register without knowing my schedule. Predictably, as Murphy’s Law would have it, my first exam (and probably my hardest subject) was at 9:30am the day after.

Not to be deterred, I nonetheless started training hard two weeks before the event, though still unregistered. I made a trip to Wingello and clocked up 70km (a great decision as it got me familiar with a major section of the course) there as well as many more on the road. After a long time mulling it over, I finally made the decision to sign up just over a week beforehand, before another (literal) cloud went into my sky – the weather forecast. 20-40mm predicted in Bowral didn’t look fantastic. It looked very un-fantastic. This is where all the hypothesizing started over whether I should actually race. I mean, I’d paid $150 to enter, but did I really like the prospect of paying another $300 to fix whatever I’d destroyed in the mud?

Throughout the week leading up, I nevertheless acted as though I’d be riding, so spent a good time reading last year’s results, figuring that my time-goal would be 4:40, 30minutes over last year’s winner. Luckily, the weather came to look a fair step better as Saturday approached, with very hot and humid conditions in Sydney, and Mum (who finds herself pulled along… er VOLUNTEERS to come along and watch) were en route to Bundanoon at 4pm, ready for rego to the Full Fling and the Bundanoon Dash. I met up with Jonathan (@jp) and his family, whose cottage I was to stay in that night.


A great warm up to the main event, I assembled for the Dash, stayed in the main group most of the way though stupidly forgot that there were TWO tarmac uphills rather than one, and sprinted up the hill, only to realize that the last one was still to come. I ploughed up the hill, but had already burned out and I helplessly watched as the main group overtook me. Shattering. That was something I could NOT do the next day! I still came around 20th at just under 11 mins though, which wasn’t bad, I guess, just could have been better!


After a nice cannelloni dinner at Bundy Hall, we noticed the sky having a severe mood swing. I settled into Jonathan’s lovely hut, just a 2 minute drive from the town and he showed me the full topo map of the course and we discussed race tactics, with specific direction to go RIGHT at “Your Call” as it’s proven to be faster. Additionally we discussed how I would ensure to refill at Wingello and not go too hard too early! I then studied for a bit and turned out the lights. My bike was ready – I’ve gotten in the habit of attaching the elevation chart to my frame as well as cable tying a camera bag to my handlebars, where I put my gels, which has proven to be much help!

It was hard to sleep, due to the uncertainty of what the weather would do, but hardly heard a thing. I set my alarm for 4:30 as per the usual on a race day, so that I’ve eaten 3 hours before the start, and was relieved to see no rain then. I lay back in bed for another 40 minutes or so and then got up to fill my bottles and get my stuff ready to leave. It was cold and damp as I arrived at Ferndale oval at 6:50am, and starting to drizzle; not the most welcoming sign as one begins such a mammoth event, but there was no stepping out now!

I never get a great position at the start line, due to my obsession with emptying my bladder minutes before the event start, but due to the transponder configuration, this is never a great worry. Throwing Mum my woollen jumper a minute before the blast, I quickly concluded that this was not a race where competitors would get carted away due to heatstroke!


The base aim was to finish Shimano in an hour, and I fulfilled that aim fine. I worked my way to the front on the dirt road getting myself close to the front of the pack. Bumping along farm tracks, this was unlike most of what I ride on, but seemed to catch on pretty quickly. I decided not to use my included bike wash voucher and carried my bike through “Free Bike Wash.” After a bit of undulation, I found myself next to a couple of similarly paced riders, and we found ourselves pulling each other along throughout the most of the rest of the stage, all working to mutual benefit. I made an effort to gain speed on the downhills and keep it steady going up, all of worked like magic. And as always, the ‘Fly worked like clockwork, despite the on and off rain. Mostly feeling all right, I held it all up until the hill down to transition (isn’t it a gift?!) to come in just under an hour.

Through the timing tent, I quickly refilled both my bottles, grabbed a couple of GUs and headed off on my way, back through the next timing tent.


I started the next stage with gusto, going around the “Slow Down” barrier (slow down… what does THAT mean?!), along the road to Wingello SF. I seemed to have lost my companions in the first stage at transition, but caught up to another group of several riders, who I tailed – and then tailed me – along the dirt road. Reaching the singletrack, the six of us hit it in one long line. I don’t think I’d been on that long straight section of track before, and wow, it was smooth! In the first singletrack on the red look, those tight trees are only centimetres wider than my bars, but having others in front is a good warning. It was good to have been there two weeks before to get to know this part better. I led the way up the hill after the first section after this tight track, feeling good up there. Due to my fogged view of the start, I didn’t know it, but these were basically the top few contenders I was with, and they knew what they were doing!

The Wall was a bittersweet tale for me – it wasn’t on the red loop, at least when I rode it last – darn it was painful, but I was able to ride it whilst everyone else walked so got ahead of them. Reaching the next singletrack section, I was overtaken by a rider whose chain had broken on it, but had admirably managed to fix it and flew ahead. “My group” caught up to me several kms later and we were back to helping each other share the pain.

Winding through the beautiful back half of the Red Loop singletrack, I led a good portion of it until I almost had an impressive OTB as I adjusted my suspension on the “Genesis” segment, which could well have led to my “Exodus” from the event. Luckily I regained control and we headed on.

Ending back on fire trails, one of the six of us got dropped as we passed a small food station, from which I grabbed a GU, and we plummeted down to the base, ready for “Halfway Hill.” Wow that hill is painful! Unfortunately, somewhere on it, I had a slip up which detached me from the group (Don’t you hate that?), leaving me about 20m behind them. On one hand, I was determined to catch back up with them, but on the other, I couldn’t blow all my energy here. After all, I had to get the bloody thing finished as well. I kept trying, and was a steady 300m behind them for a period of time, but on the long straight segment, about 5km from transition, it was too much; they were gone.

I do most of my training alone, however, and am used to it, so just kept a steady cadence, drank and ate whatever I had left, gritted my teeth and kept going. I remembered my goal of 4:40, but saw the time was now over 3 hours, so realized that it may be a stretch. With nobody in sight, I finally reached paved road, people and civilization.

Back through the timing tent, I was directed left back to the oval, away from the second 52km lap of Wingello the 100 milers “get” to do (can you imagine?) I again refilled both empty bottles, guzzled about a bottle’s worth of fluid then and there, refilled again, grabbed a handful of lollies and hit off again.


From all accounts, I had been warned that if you push it too hard early on, you really suffer in the last 30km, and now I see why! Heading off, again alone, I now passed the Half Flingers in their final half of the event, with a lone Full Flinger about 300m ahead. As nice as it’d be, it wasn’t worth it to chase him here.

Winding down to creek, I felt the what could become cramps, however changing position on the downhills made them subside, and I kept on powering it along. I was beginning to really look forward to finishing, yet determined to give whatever I had. As I returned on many of the same tracks through which I’d come (including the memorable Free Bike Wash), here I was overtaking Half Flingers every 10m. I must give my commendations though, about 99% of them instantly recognized I was at the top end of the Full and moved over promptly. I will back up the request that those walking should be on the least rideable section of track though; that does make things easier for those riding.

The roller coaster was painful but fun (Don’t you wish you could do it in non-race conditions?!). Despite it being littered with slower riders, I was nonetheless able to ride the whole thing, though it tested my handling and endurance even more than ever. Broke Back climb just about broke my back though, but I made it up without incident. Seeing my time now well over 4 hours, I had well conceded that I would not be cracking 4:40 and was rather disappointed about my performance, thinking I was doing badly, but hoping to finish on a high.

I got a stick through the derailleur just after the climb, but it fell out on its own luckily. The descent was a challenge, now to my lungs, with me calling “Rider on your Right” every five seconds, but they were all kind to let me through. I passed through the rocky section, “As Warm as Toast?” another difficult bit, particularly after 100km on my speedo. “No,” I thought to myself, “As cold as ice.” I had to concede, however that the rain, wind and cold didn’t really make much difference – had it been 22 degrees, still and dry, I’d probably be equally miserable at this point!

Robert Frost wrote in ‘The Road Not Taken,’

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one travel, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.”

As I approached “Your Call,” although neither “sorry I could not travel both” nor “long I stood,” I also had to choose one road. In memory of our discussion the previous night, I had heard that the longer but shallower option was quicker so, despite most others choosing the “Short and Steep” option, “I took the one less travelled by.”

Did it make “all the difference?” Probably not. But it got me there not absolutely exhausted, at least not so much that I couldn’t make it. Reaching the dirt road I’d started on made me sigh with relief, however passing the “5km to go” wasn’t the most reassuring thing. THAT long?! Really?

I pushed along the gentle downward gradient heading towards Ferndale Oval. Argh, I forgot about that “singletrack” segment 1km from the end. Usually I smile when I come across surprise singletrack, but not then! I wanted to be DONE. However, thank God, within minutes, I was.


I quickly put on my waterproof jacket, which had faithfully resided in my back pocket as per the requirement but luckily didn’t have to be used, where I met my mother as well as Jonathan and his friends Stu and Chris, two of whom had waited an hour after respectably finishing their own Half. Normally, I’d be keen to stick around, see the elites finish, find my official position and catch up with other NoBMoBbers and other acquaintances, but now I was feeling the persistent rain and cold that I was stagnant and going back to Jonathan’s cottage to shower and change seemed MUCH more attractive.

Still unsure of my actual position, we thought I’d come 2nd in Opens so HAD to stick around for another 4 hours until presentations, so we sat in the cottage, rested and talked until reality hit me that I had an exam the next day. Now warm and dry, I did another hour study for my programming exam, and we headed back to cram in the tiny hall for presos.

I was hoping to see more familiar faces at prize giving, but saw none. Finally the names for 3rd and 2nd in opens were called… and then “1st is Tristan White.” What?! Wow.
Up on the podium I strode, deliberately wearing my T-shirt, to get presented with a bottle of lube, bike cleaner and one of the new models of the Camelbak – I can’t believe it, because the night before I was looking at their stand about to BUY a new one only to find they hadn’t been released yet. That was lucky. I need something of that size for the 12 hour rogaines (google “rogaining” if you don’t know what I’m talking about!) that I do in addition to cycling.

How do I feel about my results? Initially, I was disappointed as I’d been hoping for 4:40 and was ten minutes above, but after finding my place as 9th in the non-elites and that the winning time this year was just under 4:20, I concluded that this increased time was due to the weather as well as a slightly longer course due to a couple of new sections in Wingello. As a bonus, I feel I did well in the exam this morning, despite having a very disrupted study timetable leading up to it!

Now it’s time to arrange a proper training regime to prepare me for whatever’s in store for next year, along with my application for a sports scholarship next year at uni. @Antsonline, if you read this, tell Kyle to answer my email about a coaching schedule; I need you guys to help me more!

Finally, thank you to all those who have supported me in my crazy training, from encouragement to tips on improving my performance, particularly to @jp who made my weekend accommodation MUCH easier (for the second time) and whose support I greatly valued. And of course, thanks to my Mum for heading down and hanging out in the rain for almost five hours; I’m sure there are plenty of things one would prefer to do on a weekend! Congratulations to all riders who survived the gruelling day in the elements and finished 58 or 113 kilometres. I was hoping to see @Dicko or @Brian get another place, but unfortunately not this time (both JUST missed out on the 5hr mark as well – great effort nonetheless, I look forward to helping you train for Cape Epic!). And now I’m only 16 minutes behind @Anstonline, who got a respectable 11th overall (your results have become a benchmark for me – well done) and @jp who got 12th in the Half in Veterans.

I’ll try to do some more “social” rides now, so hope to see you in a more “friendly” atmosphere!

jp's picture

Excellent work Tristan, a spectacular result on fairly limited training... I'm really looking forward to seeing what you do if Kyle helps you ramp up the training plan. With your talent, determination and work ethic you can take MTB racing as far as you want to, and at age 20 you have plenty of options open to you. I look forward to watching your progress and many more successes. And perhaps a few social rides if you don't mind waiting for me...

Fatboy's picture

Great read and well done. I had a chuckle reading your comments about deciding whether or not to wait around for the elite's to finish. The rest of us have goals like beat the elite's to the half way feed zone or beat them to the Gu stage but not many have to worry about sitting at the finish waiting for them. You've got a great future in the sport!

Antsonline's picture

A very good ride. Well done.

I'm not sure what the qualification criteria are, but you'd have to assume that a 2013 Open Mens catagory winner of the Fling has to enter Elite in the future - right?
Dont worry too much about comparing times - at the level you are now riding, its not the times but the positions that matter.

I'll have a chat with Kyle (who is also on Nobmob BTW - just under a pseudonym that isnt so obvious...)

Take a break, and make some plans...

Brian's picture

Well done Tristan. Another awesome result.

doc's picture

Congrats Tristan on a very impressive result. It sounds like some wonderful challenges lie ahead.

hawkeye's picture

Brilliant work, Tristan. 1st in Open! You'll get bumped to Elite for sure Laughing out loud

Really enjoying reading your reports, too.

Tristania's picture

Thanks for all the support. I was cleaning the 'Fly today after I FINALLY had some time in the midst of studying to find I managed to break a spoke and now my rear wheel is buckled. Wow. Amazing what you don't notice in the midst of the event madness. Hope other people's machines are all right!

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