This year was the 5th running of LunarC, a relatively unique Enduro mountain bike event, taking place almost entirely in the dark starting at 10pm Friday night and finishing 6am Saturday morning. I have done all 5 events, doing my first single speed race at the first event in 2010, and doing well at the next 3, this is my favourite MTB event of the year.
One great feature of LunarC for me is that it is held at the Murrenbong Scout Camp, just 20mins from home. On race day, I rushed to the track from work and setup camp right on the start/finish line, then headed home for a pre-race meal and a quick nap. I got back to Race HQ about 8:30 and finished setting up and getting ready to race. I’d picked gearing based on previous years (or so I thought) that would suit me well on both the single trail and along the many fire trails. With the predicted fine weather, I erred on the high side.
As with most mountain bike events, there is always a friendly environment, and with a live band playing, there was a real carnival atmosphere. As with previous years, you know that race start is close when the fire twirling starts and it really sets a great mood…
These Enduro events cater for all sorts of participants, from first timers riding in a team, to the veterans riding solo, and everything in between. This year there were even a couple of fat bikes designed for snow and sand. As usual I was riding the in the SS category, in which there were a total of 6 riders entered.
My preparation for this year’s event consisted of less mountain biking that was ideal, mostly due to work commitments. Also, my trusty Trek Superfly SS that had seen me through the previous 3 years was no more. I discovered a crack in the frame late last year, and Trek was unable to supply a single speed replacement frame. So this year I was riding a Titanium Koiled custom SS that I recently purchased from a friend. I had ridden it about 3 times on my regular trails and was very excited to be using as my race bike. This frame only had one bottle cage, but since it was a night race on a 10km track and I had my mate Andy supporting me, this would not be a problem.
I lined up right up the front for the race start and got away quite well on the uphill fire trail start. I didn’t really do a warm up, and the fast start sure got my heart in the red zone, so I decided to back off a bit, I saw one single speeder pass me, but was not too concerned. It is an 8hr race after all. I was in good position as we dropped in to the first bit of single trail; the field had spread out nicely, and my gearing felt reasonable too. As we hit the first of the climbs the geared riders ahead started dropping to lower gears and we all regrouped. With my high gearing, I was not able to pedal any slower without stopping, but I could not pass on the narrow trail. Someone tried to pass me, and I got squeezed, there was a touch of tyres and I went down, smashing my knee on some rocks. I lost a couple of positions getting back on the bike, and I soon realised that my saddle had been twisted in the fall. On the next fire trail, I tried to bash is straight as I rode, and straightened it slightly. As I slowed to do this, I was passed by Chris Duncan and Hallam Brooks also riding SS, and I was now in 4th.
While the turned saddle was not affecting me too much in the short term, I figured 8hrs riding like that would be a problem. I didn’t want to stop so early in the race with the field so tight and be passed by a dozen riders that I would have to then repass, so I persisted in attempting to bash my saddle straight whenever I was on somewhere safe like flattish fire trail. I was to realise later in the race, that I was bruising my hand in the process. Eventually I had to stop in the pits on the second lap to fix the saddle properly.
Generally I was very happy with my newly acquired Koiled, but I soon realised it was slightly higher than my previous bikes when I smacked my helmet heavily against an overhanging branch in a part of the track I have ridden well over 50 times. The blow was hard enough to bounce me across the track, and into the bushes. Thankfully, my mate Al stopped along with another rider to check if I was OK, and to get me up and rolling again. Thanks!
The toughest section of track is a section called “Mordor”. It is way too steep for me to ride completely, regardless of what gearing I had selected, but it was even more difficult with this particular gearing.
The first couple of laps were so eventful, that I had not been eating or hydrating, but I was much happier now that things had strung out, and I could ride my own pace. Whenever I came up behind a slower rider I really struggled. Normally I consider my ability to pass as one of my stronger qualities, but it seemed to be a real liability this race, and on a number of occasions I crashed either passing or preparing to pass another rider. On one instance it was as simple as catching a branch with my glove, and being pulled in to the bushes. Each time this took minutes to recover from both physically and mentally, while I straightened my lights and assessed the damage. Fortunately, I generally escaped unscathed, and whenever I was not following other riders, I was making good speed.
About 1 am I did my first battery change. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice until I was away from the lights of HQ that it was either flat or faulty and providing only a dim beam to follow. This meant a slower lap and following other riders where possible to make the most of their light. I then had to make another stop to change that battery.
Nutrition and hydration were going to plan; the kilometres and hours were ticking by. Hallam was looking strong when I passed him on a fire trail to put me in 3rd. Next time through HQ, I was told that Chris in 2nd was only 5 minutes ahead. Then when I stopped to change battery on my bar mounted battery, I’d caught Chis and we left HQ together. We rode together for a bit, but I wasn’t happy with the way I had strapped the battery to the bike, and concerned it was going to fall off, I stopped to fix it. Once I had it mounted better, I pushed hard to catch back up to Chris. I got stuck behind another rider for a little while and then when I attempted to pass on the edge of the trail, I hit an unseen stump in the grass and went flying over the bars. It took me the rest of the lap to catch Chris again, so he was riding well, and I was in a real race for 2nd.
With only a couple of hours to go, the hand I’d bruised trying to fix my saddle was giving me some pain. So too was my right knee that I’d bashed on the first lap, but otherwise I was feeling great. I figured at my current lap times, that would mean 3 more laps; only 3 more times of pushing my bike up Mordor (the only really tough part of the track). In an hour the sky would lighten which instantly brightens the mood for the homeward run.
It seemed that it was only on these last 3 laps that I got in to a real rhythm, and was actually able to take advantage of my bigger gearing on the fire roads. I didn’t really know how far I was behind 1st, but I was reasonably certain it was more time than I could make up in 3 laps. It was really only on the last lap that lights were not required, and I could see a little more of the track. The last lap is always the best, one last time over each trail feature, a chance to thank the volunteers, and to know you can stop pedalling when you get back to the finish line.
I ended up completing 13 laps (120km) in 8hrs 5 minutes in 2nd place and 6th overall solo. I was about 25 minutes behind Adam Hughes, who managed to sneak in a 14th lap which was 5th overall solo. Chris Duncan came home in 3rd place, also on 13 laps. The remainder of the SS field finished on 12 laps, which is the closest field I have ever seen, top effort and congratulation to all. It was only when I stopped that I checked my gearing, and realised that I was even more highly geared than I had planned. I always say that I learn something each race, and this race it was “Check your gearing!”
In the Solo Male category the overall winner was Jacob Roberts who completed 15 laps, 2nd was Mark Watts and 3rd Karl Withers. Solo Female winner was Christine Campbell with 12 Laps, followed by Sara Eastwood and Rebecca Stone. In the Veteran Male category John Slone finished 1st for the 4th consecutive year. Full results can be seen here.
Massive thanks go out to the In 2 Adventure for another awesome event. Thanks also to the volunteers and supporters that give these events such a great atmosphere. The bell ringing on the climb midway through each lap gave that real “Euro” feel. Of course the biggest thanks goes out to Andy for taking care of me through the night.