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The last Kowalski was a goodie

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By adski - Posted on 24 October 2017

Re: This ride meeting: 
Kowalski Classic 2017
Position (Overall): 
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There aren't many write-ups for this year, and as I enjoy them I'll throw one up myself..


This year's Kowalski was my 'A' race and for it I picked up a TrainerRoad program and bounced between a few plans. I borrowed a trainer and skipped their 'base' and jumped into one of their 'build' plans - Enduro (for sprinting), and then to the high volume Marathon XC plan. Whenever the recovery days prescribed something without too many small intervals i'd do it on the road to avoid trainer burnout. Without a power meter I used approximate threshold heart rate to guide it. The pre-race fortnight taper was a little silly as I INCREASED the volume and DECREASED the intensity by doing a return trip to Tumut on gravel. Accepted training theory suggests the opposite, but fun rides with friends trumped race prep strategy in this case.


Last year's Kowalski was my worst - so many things went wrong: 1) After holding pace with a good group i got a burp in the 1st 30k, then a partial air top-up meant follow-up stop(s) were needed to get the pressure right. 2) my bottles had gone missing from the first bottle drop and I was at a bit of a loss what to do - missing electrolyte and energy meant I only had one bottle but eventually got going. i was pissed off. 3) Cramps came on really quickly after so I stopped to fish out some electrolyte tabs and ate 3 DRY with a chaser of a mouthful of water OH MY GOD wizz fizz and sour squirms aint got nothing on the party in my cheeks. It worked though. I wiped the mess away and got going. The worst thing about the encounter was being passed by PeteB - nothing is worse in a mtb race than being passed by a roadie Eye-wink 4) after walking up a firetrail (!) I collapsed (5) for 15mins of more electrolyte smashing at the 2/3rd mark amongst cramps front and back that felt like badgers fighting in my legs. Anyway, that's last year..

So this year I hunted down some cramp strategies and hydration methods that didn't depend on my bottles not being stolen by the leading wave riders of the race. Grrr.


For hydration, I stashed a camelbak near the top of a climb at about the 15k mark, and another at the 50k mark. This worked out really well. I felt nice and light in the first half-hour (#HASHTAG #PRO), didn't get back pain which i can get from heavy camelbaks. I did had to stow tools elsewhere (on the bike) which freaked me out when I couldn't remember whether I had all my air and rode super-cautiously on rocky sections until remembering where my stash was.

Stashing the camelbak meant a warm-up ride before the race up a hill to a spot where I knew I could pull over without causing a jam or losing momentum. Also a good practice.

As for cramping, i had tried pickle juice at an earlier race this year and it had arguably worked so I had an endura bottle with about 60ml that i could use to shock my nervous system if I felt a tinge. I reached for it at about the 40 and 65k mark and it worked.

This year I supplemented a mix of IsoGels and ShotBloks with Skratch which was excellent. Possibly a little too much hydration as it was a cool conditions race. Skratch is recommended, as are wetter gels like Iso and having something solid with caffeine like Bloks is a nice reward when the mind tells you a little something extra is needed.


After the elites and wave 1 had shot off I was out with wave 2. Some longer firetrails were in order to separate the field up some hills, which worked really well. My group seemed extremely relaxed so impatiently I surged on a steep firetrail to a position up front, looking to hitch my wagon to the windshield of a larger time triallist for the long fire road traverse back to the singletrack of yipikaye. The best I could find would have been a 58kg climber but he held a good pace; thanks for the lead Smiling I dropped off him a few minutes before entering singletrack as my ONE RULE this year was to ensure I recovered on the downhills. I've had a habit of riding for adrenaline to the detriment of overall results. This slower pacing worked well as at the base of Kowalski's descent I had caught a larger group so surged again to pass a dozen riders in one go - creating the highest HR of the race but for a great positioning for the remaining long section of singletrack.

5k of fast flattish singletrack later there was the dreaded fire road approach to some reclaimed motorcycle trails and a long climb up to the extended escalator. Knowing the effing track sits above this I paced pretty easily and then pushed myself for 10 minutes of THAT EFFING TRACK which is a great fun way to top out when you have energy.

The coffee and bacon stand was at 32k however I was doing my own thing with breaks and went past with momentum. Honestly I didn't even see jelly snakes or watermelon, which would have been very tempting but I had blinkers on. I took the jump trail down Ren at speed - quite hot on reflection but felt within race pace as there was more pure down coming to recover on.

Every 30 mins or so I would hit LAP on my computer to create a baseline to know whether the engine was running too hot, and the splits were looking 160/159/157/158/151/154/156/161/155/162 for the entire race which looked about right. My LTHR of 165 was the no-go zone i shouldn't go above for longer efforts, and I'd given myself a rev limiter of 162. Of course, little surges went over this as on a mtb course momentum is everything and race tactics take priority but as a general default it worked well.

The climb up thunder and webbs was the one I was dreading, as it pinches near the top and then has the most technical descent of romper room immediately after. No problems though - through the 50k transition for a pack swap and then BAM 10k's later hit a low point for energy going up the gradual surging climbs into Sparrow Hill. The second half of the track didn't have hills as big but it was a definite low point to sit and spin but feel like no progress was being made. Out came the Bloks and eventually I found myself on the new JOC loop which had quite a lot of exposure to the sun having been logged in recent years.

Knowing when the climbs were going to end really helped as I had the route elevation loaded from pre-rides so could push over the top of rises and recover/roll down the other side. A couple of tight corners showed me how fatigued I was, running off trail into a stump and twisting my bars. I took opportunity to get off and re-centre myself and the bike (it takes 3-4 tries to get short stems straight), then strapped in for the rest. Passing straight through the drinks station at 72k really helped psychologically to keep momentum. Passing another rider who had gone off trail a little hot also helped remind me to find the sweet spot between pace and flow - Sparrow is an amazing network of fast flat trails that you can really whip up and gallop on.

The course then had only one big climb and a couple of pinches left, but I knew where they all were so eased up beforehand to hit them with enough in reserve. I even got off and walked a short rock uphill section to avoid any chance of a cramp, which on reflection I didn't cramp so that was a good move, right? Passing the 88k drinks station again without stopping was a real buzz. It was positioned so late in the course it's a spot that would really be appreciated if you were suffering, but I was OK and self-sufficient this year.


With the Beer Garden descent having been logged, the run-in to finish was a bit less climactic but the ice-bath with cans of beer was an amazing touch. All up the vibe on course was so different than a lap event - With the front-runners always up-front there was never any tension between front-runners and the rest of the field. For some reason that meant if someone was passing you they were 'relatable' and I think this made everyone much more civil than can be the case. My event goal of 5:15 was adjusted to 5:30 when I discovered how much climbing was on the course, and i pretty much hit it with an even 2:45 split per half which was my other goal; an arguably much more satisfying one. Such a unique event and set of tracks. I recommend getting to Kowen and Sparrow ASAP as tracks in pine forest are always destined to be logged, it's just a matter of when..


Lach's picture

... and interesting write up. Very analytical approach well executed by the sound of it!

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