The enduring beauty of suffering for charity

What? Endure for a Cure, 12-Hour Charity Ride
When? 7am to 7pm, 20 October 2017
Where? Sydney Motor Sport Park (Northern Circuit)
Organiser? Children’s Cancer Institute

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THE HEAVENS
Mother Nature has a twisted sense of humour. Sydney hadn’t seen rain in well over 4 months. The weather was glorious the day before. It was sunny the day after. But as if in some cruel plan to make an already epic two-wheeled challenge truly diabolical, the heavens opened just in time for the 7am start. They then proceeded to punish us for the entire 12 hours as we pushed ourselves to the limits of our physical endurance at Sydney’s Eastern Creek raceway to raise money for the Children’s Cancer Institute. Not without lashings of irony, the rain stopped completely for the first time all day at 7:25pm – just as we gathered for the post-ride presentations.

THE INCIDENT
A crash is never good. But when it happens on just the fourth lap, barely 20 minutes into a 12-hour marathon it’s a real pain. I’m still not entirely sure what happened, but I was hit from behind on a straight stretch of road and taken out, just moments after another rider had fallen several wheels in front of me from a touch of wheels. I was just the innocent victim in the middle. One moment I was cruising along, next I was on the ground wondering WTF happened?! Thankfully we just slid across the sodden track, and everyone was relatively unscathed. My bike was a different story, however. The handlebars were bent out of alignment, as was my derailleur hanger, enforcing a mechanical pit stop (thanks to the legends from TUNE Cycles for helping me out). All up it cost me about 30 minutes. My velotoze overshoes were also trashed in the stack, sentencing me to a day of soggy feet. Darn it.

THE SOUTHERLY
For the first hour or so, the rain was persistent and reasonably unpleasant. But the circulating bunches acclimatised pretty quickly. While the initial few hours were damp, it wasn’t especially cold. Then the 35kmh+ southerly kicked in and everything changed. Temperatures dropped by about 8 degrees in a matter of minutes. It was cold. Really cold. The configuration of the Eastern Creek circuit also meant there were virtually no tailwinds, just head and crosswinds. The next 3-4 hours were brutal, some of the hardest riding I’ve had to endure.

THE STRATEGY
You need a plan to do something crazy like this, right? Well, my initial strategy was to stop every two hours and attempt to cover 275km+. But in the abysmal conditions I scrapped that idea by about 10am and just rode for as long as my body could tolerate, usually 60-90 minutes. Full credit to the organisers, Entoure, they used pit lane to great effect. Each team of six riders had their own shared garage with an ample supply of tables and chairs, food, drinks, power-points etc – a ‘haven from the heavens’ – where we were able to stop as and when needed, usually sharing in some friendly banter with our rain-soaked team-mates. There were even free professional massages on offer, although I never stopped long enough to partake in one myself.

THE IMPACT
I was pleasantly surprised at how well my body coped for most of the day, especially given my appallingly inadequate preparation. I’d fully expected the worst, a day of pain-filled grovelling. But I had absolutely zero trouble with my neck or lower back all day. While my left knee slowly became sorer and sorer from the morning’s crash, it was manageable and there were no signs (until after we stopped) of the ITB problems that have hindered me on longer rides in the past. My backside, no doubt assisted by three kit changes and copious amounts of chamois cream, was also fine. The only real problem was my hands between the 8-10 hour mark. I couldn’t feel them. I knew something was amiss when I kept dropping my bidon trying to get it out of my bottle cage. I’ve never had the greatest circulation in my hands, and a combination of riding in wet gloves and the cold temperatures finally took its toll. It made drinking and eating on the bike almost impossible, and frustratingly slowed me down for several hours. Thankfully as the conditions eased in the closing stages I began to regain sensation and was able to end the 12 hours on the bike, not in the pits.

THE FINALE
The final 90 minutes was a wonderful reminder of why I ride. By 5:30pm it’s fair to say we’d all had enough. We were soaked. We were tired. We were cold. We were sore. With every stop it became harder and harder to get back out into the cold and wet. But three of us decided to do it anyway, and roll together all the way to the 7pm finish. We chatted. We laughed. We suffered. We admitted we were all bloody proud of ourselves, as we’d all ridden further than ever before in a single ride in our cycling lives, in truly diabolical conditions no less. By wonderful coincidence, we were joined by our remaining team members on the penultimate lap – one of whom arrived at sign-on that morning confessing he’d been out drinking until 2am! – and rode to the finish line together. Well, almost. Despite having more than 230km+ in our weary legs (even with my early crash and longer-than-anticipated rest stops, I still managed a respectable 252km – my team also finished a fantastic 5th of 32 teams) a few of us couldn’t resist the chance to sprint it out. One last surge to cap off a truly memorable day in the saddle. I came third. Of three.

In the end it was a crazy, miserable, inspiring, amazing day. Cycling was the winner. As were the brave Aussie kids fighting cancer, for whom the sodden peloton collectively managed to raise over $400,000.

I’ll be back in 2018. Why not grab a bunch of your riding mates and join me?

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12 hours of pain and rain, laughing and chaffing. But above all else, a fantastic shared achievement by a great bunch of mates for a great cause.
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