My first cyclocross race: Toowong Memorial Park

On the weekend I participated in my first cyclocross race. Organised by the good folk at Queensland Cyclocross and Bicycle Queensland, it was a tiring, muddy and absolute brilliant experience.

What is cyclocross?
Often shorted to CX, cyclocross is basically a bike riding form where riders take in a course of between 1-3 kilometres in length that includes grass, gravel, hills and obstacles. More than likely, racers will have to dismount to get over various obstacles or carry their bikes up small embankments.

You can ride a mountain bike in the races if you want, but most riders ride special CX bikes – which look like any old road bike but actually have higher wheel clearances so mud and dirt doesn’t clog up your wheels and brakes.

It’s got a rich history in Europe, and a big community in the United States but is only really a fledgling pursuit here in Australia. There is a small community here in Brisbane. And being bike week here in Brisbane, I decided to take part in the season opening event out at Memorial Park in Toowong.

How I got into it

I’ve had a cross bike since about August last year. My friend Wokka had upgraded to a new ‘hipster’ CX bike and was courtesy enough to sell me his old Specialised Tricross. It’s a great bike but I’ve been mostly throwing road tyres on it and commuting and doing the odd off road jaunt on the weekends.

But I’d been keen to ride the bike in the way it was intended and get involved in the community.


Well apart from my usual road cycling and running regime, I did fairly minimal training. I didn’t really know what to expect so I didn’t exactly know what to train for. The fast dismounting and remounting looked the most difficult part of the racing but now with the benefit of hindsight, I’d say it’s being fit enough that is the biggest hurdle for doing well.

Queensland Cyclocross were kind enough to put on a free beginners skill session the week before the race so I headed down to practice dismounts and remounts as well as jumpingover obstacles. We also did some downhill turning at speed.

The two days before the actual race, I headed out on some rides and practiced dismounts and remounts over some natural obstacles for about 10 minutes each session.

The race

I got down to the course about 30 mins before I was supposed to race, but due to a late rugby game at the Wests union club, the start was delayed by an hour. This meant a bit of extra time to practice part of the course and I was a bit intimidated.

The course, I’m told, was ‘hardish’. While a lot of it was on flat grass, it did feature an uphill bit with two hairpins on hills right after each other and that meant you had to descend safetly, turn up hill and gun it, then turn back down and descend again. There was only two dismounts required for the race, up a little stairs near the rugby club house and also a board before a little uphill after a fast grassy section.

photo 4

The heaven’s opened up about 30 minutes before my race, meaning the grass was wet and the dirt got a little bit moist – perfect race conditions!

I signed up for ‘open’ – the race classification for absolute beginners and the unfit. In my race, people used mountain bikes and I think I even saw a single speed road bike line up as well (crazy).

My race had a field of about 14 racers. I lined up near the front and managed to start out fairly strongly, managing to get out of the first turn in fourth position. Which was a great position to be in as I think there was a crash behind me going into the first dismount. The pace was fairly frenetic and I think a few of us got carried away and went too hard too early. I was definitely in this group. I managed to get into second position by about lap three, the first place rider having just taken off in a mountain bike. I held on to this position for about two laps at one stage opening up a good few hundred metres between me and third.

But they gradually clawed me back and I could feel my body running out of steam about 15 minutes in. My chain then decided to fall off after a dismount and I lost a few positions that I then couldn’t make up. Only one other rider then passed me and I’m sure I was in about 6th or 7th place though it was beginning to get tough to figure out as people were getting lapped and falling behind.

My god though, it was hard. I was thinking my running training and endurance would be enough for me to do quite well in open. I was wrong. This is an aerobic sport, meaning you have to go hard 100% of the time. Looking at my Strava ‘suffer score’ it showed that I spent nearly the entire race riding in threshold and above heart rate zone. I swear the race announcer kept deliberately yelling out ‘only 2 laps’ to go every time I went passed the start line. It was almost maddening!

Post race- exhausted and wet to the core.

Post race- exhausted and wet to the core.

Finally after about 30 minutes on the course, the race finished and I got my hands on cleansing ale. I was soaked and exhausted but exhilarated; it was a seriously brilliant event.

I was pretty happy to not finish last and actually was in a good position for a large amount of the race. Fitness and my larger frame didn’t do me any favours but I know what to expect next time and I’ll be better prepared. According to the race organisers I actually placed third “officially”, though I know I was actually somewhere around sixth. I got my very own cowbell for placing!

*Edit*: Actually I did come third – third male in – but I was fifth overall. Not bad for my first race!

Third place cowbell.

Third place cowbell.

Some closing thoughts

Seriously, give cyclocross a go. It will be tough on your mind and body and you’ll push yourself pretty hard, but the supportive community spirit and the sheer audaciousness of the events will more than make up for it!

If you live in Brisbane, the next CX event is at Bowl-o-Cross and the Holland Park Bowls Club on May 11th 2014.

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YNAB: Free for college/university students

I’m a big fan of You Need a Budget (YNAB) a straight forward budgetting tool that looks nice and works across the cloud and via app. They announced very recently that college and university students can get the program for free. Here’s some of the details:

We’re fighting free with free. I was given a free t-shirt when I signed up for my first Visa credit card while in college (charged a mattress on it, forgot about the payment, paid it off, and cut it up in disgust—the card, not the mattress).

More kids are graduating from college absolutely weighed down by student debt. I don’t know what portion of their debt is avoidable, but I’m confident that if those students were following YNAB’s Four Rules, they would graduate with less debt.

You can read more via YNAB’s website.

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Chic/Nile Rodgers @ The Tivoli – Review

Even though I’ve pretty much quit the music writing game, I did go along to the excellent Chic/Nile Rodgers concert at The Tivoli in Brisbane on the 15th of December and reviewed it for Collapse Board.

“I guarantee you a party is about to commence,” Niles says, before kicking off with 1978 single ‘Everybody Dance’. He’s not wrong; the main pit of the Tivoli is now jammed with dancers. I can’t help but join in.

We get ‘Dance Dance Dance’, ‘I Want Your Love’ in quick succession, punctuated by some virtuoso trumpet solos and bass playing solos. The two female vocalist trading singing parts throughout songs – and they are MIND BLOWING. Not only do these guys play awesome songs, they don’t go too over the top with their obvious insane ability on their respective musical devices. Yup – they’re cool.

Read the entire thing at Collapse Board.

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Running 2013: Completing your first marathon

I’m always one for outrageous over the top goals that usually never actually happen. I hate the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but still, like everyone else, I inevitably make them and (usually) inevitably break them.

Those that know me would have cottoned on to the fact that during 2012 I got into ‘running’. In a big way.

Propelling myself forward with velocity became all-consuming obsession. I monitored every aspect of my fledgling running career. Speed, distance, calories in, calories out. I feel I owe my long-suffering friends an apology. They probably endured every kilometre after boring kilometre as my new found obsession began to dominate my social media profiles. Sorry!

When I started running, my initial goal was to improve my parkrun times. I graduated to 10 kilometre races, before doing my first half-marathon in the hills surrounding Adelaide in October 2012 (specifically, the great Mclaren Vale Half). At the time, I couldn’t fathom the idea of running further.

But at the start of 2013, I decided to try my hand at completing the marathon. Specifically, the Gold Coast Airport Marathon held in July. I guess I was driven by a desire to run out the indulgences of my twenties by running an outrageous distance.

In July 2013, about six months after I started my marathon training, I finished the Gold Coast Marathon in a time of 4:00:43. A respectable time for a first tilt at the distance. It hurt, but it was one of the highlights of my life thus far. And I’d like to think it taught me a few things about personal discipline.

Perhaps you’re thinking of running a marathon in 2014. Do you mind if I share with you some insights that I learned during throughout my marathon journey during 2013?

(Be aware, I make a lot of claims here without more than anecdotal evidence. These are the things that worked for me, and I’m sharing personal insights rather than ideas based on any other empirical data or observations.)

You’ll need at least four months, probably a bit more, to get prepared for your marathon.

Obviously take what I say with a grain of salt, but I couldn’t imagine doing my first marathon without a solid base of running and training. Sure, there will be bucketloads of people who can do a marathon off minimal time and training, but I think for the most part that a long lead up would be required for the body to be ready for the strains of the marathon.

Training for a marathon requires consistency.

You will need to run at least three times a week – probably four. You’ll need to run in all weather, and you’ll need to occasionally run fast, slow, short distances and long – VERY LONG – distances.

My program usually composed of the following four-day program.

  • Tuesday – speed session (between 7-9 kilometres in an hour long session.)
  • Thursday – tempo/threshold session (between 9-12 kilometres in a session with heartrate kept near threshold)
  • Saturday – I’d usually do a shorter time trialling type session – like a parkrun.
  • Sunday – long run. The most important session of any marathon program. No need to kill yourself on this, but you simply have to get used to running for a long time.

At the start of my program, long runs where about 10-12 kilometres. By the end, I was doing 34 kilometres before the marathon taper.

Occasionally I would do a Monday recovery – a very slow, relaxed 5 kilometre. Mostly to shake the gunk out of the legs from the long run the day before.

For my first marathon, I maxed out at one 70 kilometre week. Usually, the program I had varied between 40 kilometre weeks and 60 kilometre weeks, often dictated by the distance of the long run.

Joining a running group is an excellent idea.

For yonks I was too scared to join a running group.

I didn’t think I’d be fast enough or ‘elite’ enough to participate. But after I joined a local club, one with a specialised marathon program for absolute beginners (specifically, the Intraining Marathon School here in Brisbane – an excellent group for first time marathoners), I soon realised how stupid I had been. I should have joined up years ago.

Sure there was some very VERY good runners in my club, but there was also a lot of people around my ability, of all ages and genders.

The thing about running groups and training for the marathon is that usually there will be people training for your event. This means you can meet up for your long runs, grab a coffee after wards, and keep your running social.

It also acts as a motivator to get out of bed on the weekend and complete your training. I know that when I’m training on my own, I’m more likely to wimp out – and that doesn’t really bode well for a good marathon.

You will probably get injured at some point.

Injury really sucks. I hate it. And it’s particularly annoying when you’re trying to complete a goal like doing a marathon.

But inevitably, you will probably get some kind of injury that will stop you running for days or weeks. Occasionally, it might completely derail your preparations.

In the lead up to my first marathon, I suffered a variety of annoying creaks and setbacks. I had issues with my seemingly perpetual runner’s knee that made my knees basically feel like a concrete grinder. I also got some extensor tendonitis in my right foot, which basically had me on no running for two weeks during a critical part of my training (hot tip: never tie your shoes too tight on your long runs).

These are hard things to deal with but I found that doing some core work, yoga, stretching and getting a sports massage once a month really helped in keeping my muscles loose and in some sort of shape for doing the training.

I think the key thing here is to listen to your body, rest when you need to rest, and if you have to postpone the marathon, you’re better off doing it rather than suffering long-term injuries.

You’ll need the correct gear.

No need to go over the top here, but a solid pair of good running shoes (two pairs preferably) is an absolute must. Go to a reputable athletics store – preferably one that specialises in runners – and get fitted out for a good pair. There’s plenty out there but brands like Asics, Brooks and Mizuno are well known for their quality running shoes.

I’d also recommend perhaps going to a podiatrist to check out your gait before buying a pair as it might reduce the risk of injury and ensures you buy a proper pair of shoes to suit your running style.

I had issues with shin splints before getting orthotics, and once ‘installed’, I’ve never had them again.

A quality GPS watch is a great training tool. I use a Garmin Forerunner 210 but there are heaps on the market. They’re considered more accurate than the various smart phone applications. They’re also much easier to consult during your actual running. The thought of doing interval sessions with a phone strapped to my arm boggles my mind. I’d go nuts.

Other than that – some comfortable clothes, a hat, sunscreen and (if you’re male) something to tape up the ol’ nipples with are all you really need.

Building a base before starting a training program might be a good idea.

I’m currently preparing for my second marathon and I’m struggling a bit. I’ve started a program my coach has made me but a combination of being overseas for work and illness and injury during the past few months have disrupted my usual training. As a result, I’m feeling sluggish on my training runs and having problems meeting the split times.

It’s more than likely because I haven’t really being running consistently during the second half of the year. I’d suggest being able to run about 30 kilometres a week before starting a dedicated training program. I have no evidence to back this other than my own experience and notions, but any program out there probably recommends this as a minimum (if not more).

It doesn’t have to be fast but your body just has to be able to handle that volume.

What to expect on marathon day?

Joy, despair, and an almost overwhelming sense of achievement, plus lessons in self-discipline that may be relevant to nearly all other aspects of your life.

I’ve got a series of random run-related posts on this site, which you are welcome to read through if you can endure them

Happy running.

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Shall we play ‘name that injury’?

For much of the past few years, I’ve been struggling with some form of injury that has come and gone and come again and become incredibly frustrating in the process. And I’ve had very conflicting advice over what it might be and how to solve it. Signs point to something like patellofemoral pain syndrome (PPS), but I’m not exactly sure.

A few years back, I rode out to my usual social soccer game. During the match, I copped a fairly bad tackle into my ankle, and while my ankle was fine (apart from bruising), I found I couldn’t walk properly. My knees and lower back particularly ached and I had to walk my bike home because I couldn’t bend my knee without severe pain.

I went to the physio, and I got some releif out of stretching and massage, but from then on my knees have been incredibly weak. Bending the knees, particularly the right one, cannot be done without pain. Doing squats is impossible as my knees will usually just give way under load.

This year I took up a lot of running and generally have been able to cope. I noted that after playing a game of indoor football, that suddenely I was getting sharp pains around the groin area on the same side as my more troublesome right knee. I thought I had perhaps pulled my groin muscle, and I rested. It seemed to get a bit better, but not totally correct. Even now I still get occasional sharpish pains in the groin when I do exercise.

The symptoms are:

  • Weak knees – cannot squat, need to use arms to lift my body weight off chairs.
  • Crepitus in knees (like gravel running through the joint).
  • Extremely tight quadriceps – particularly the right quadricep.
  • Sharp pain occasionally in the right side of my groin/hip area.
  • Sitting in a chair with poor lower back support causes nearly unbearable pain in my knees

Does the above sound like classic PPS?

I’ve noted yoga has given me some relief, but not total relief.

Please comment if you have any advice.

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Riding addiction and the Brisbane to Gold Coast Cycle Challenge

I’ve been slightly cycling obsessed since I took possession of a new 20 speed cyclocross bike that I bought off my friend WJ. I ride to and from work most days, usually taking a long way back home to make it worth my while. On the weekends I’ve been knocking out fifty kilometres doing an extended riverloop – a ride that is very popular with Brisbane cyclists.

Ongoing knee and hip problems sustained during a random fill in game of netball have meant that I’ve hardly been doing any running. Cycling all the time has meant that I’ve had to relearn many of the skills that I had mastered in my teenage years, a time when my old Repco 18-speed mountain bike was a constant companion.

Back during the ‘90s when I lived in Brookfield, that bike would take me to the local general store, up the dirt road of Gap Creek Reserve towards The Gap, as well as the long and windy roads out to Upper Brookfield and Gold Creek Reserve. Once I road it to Moggill and back which seemed like a giant journey for a fourteen year old. Riding in traffic was not a problem for someone as naïve as me back then. Funny how I’m scared to death of cars nowadays – perhaps I’m just more aware and informed of the seemingly rising number of cycling related injuries.

Brisbane to Gold Coast 100k Challenge.

Anyway, I suppose my cycling renaissance culminated yesterday in my first Brisbane to Gold Coast 100k cycle ‘challenge’. It’s a 101 kilometre journey from South Bank in Brisbane down to Southport at the Gold Coast, taking in the South East Busway, parts of Logan, out the back of Coomera, through Hope Island and, of course, the Goldie.

Lining up on Grey Street for the Brisbane to Gold Coast Ride.

Lining up on Grey Street for the Brisbane to Gold Coast Ride.

My previous longest ride in one sitting had been only around 52 kilometres and this was nearly twice the distance. While I knew I was physically fit enough, relying on residual fitness from my marathon that I ran a few months back, almost 4 hours in the saddle was slightly daunting. There were two nominated rest stops along the way – at the 40 and 80 kilometre marks – and I planned to take full advantage of these breaks by drinking, eating and chilling for a few minutes.

I got up at 4am, shoveling down some oatmeal and a banana, donned the lycra and packed my back pockets with energy gels, and rode the five kilometre commute down to the starting zone along Grey Street in South Brisbane. I rode into the orange start zone which for riders who generally ride between 25-30 kilometres per hour – despite the fact that I had actually registered for the slower blue zone.

I then promptly fell over on my bike, failing to get my boots loose of the clips in time, gashing my knee and elbows and landing roughly on the ground. Having fairly recently ‘graduated’ to riding clipless, I had thus far managed to avoid this rite of cycling passage. Dazed, I got up and check myself out – a bit of blood was flowing but not enough to stop me from participating! Here’s the evidence.



I actually had a bit of an issue with my left cleat the rest of the day with it not disengaging without a massive yank (as I type this, I nearly fell over this morning on my morning commute due to the dodgy cleat). You could say I was a bit paranoid for the rest of the journey.

The ride

The first part of the Brisbane to Gold Coast ride takes in the South East Busway, meaning no public roads and no car traffic but a lot of bikes. It was pretty fun and slightly surreal as large groups of riders flew past on their speedy road bikes. I had my first experience of drafting, sitting in briefly behind a bunch and feeling the air resistance melt away and my legs suddenly feel all powerful. I can see why people enjoy that so much.

I was managing to hold my own on the 20-speed cylocross, climbing a lot faster than those around me but usually overtaken on the flat by the more lightweight and higher geared road bikes. Not that I was racing, I was simply keen for a somewhat challenging but enjoyable ride.

After the busway, the ride goes onto the streets and we began to see the odd car about the place. Fortunately, police were at hand to control the traffic and I rarely had to stop to give way to road traffic at roundabouts during the early parts of the event.

Once we got to Logan, the ride began to head through fields, and all you could hear was the whirring of wheels as riders sped past farmhouses which I didn’t really know existed that close to Brisbane. I exchanged the occasional pleasantry with some fellow riders and one friendly guy engaged me on a question about the heat retention of my cycling shorts.

I began to feel a bit tired as I went past the 50 kilometre mark and I suspect this more psychological than physical. I smacked down a gel and felt immediately good again. The next thirty kilometres were perhaps my fastest of the entire journey, and had a few minor climbs which I ate up. I have a feeling that I’m a masochist – I love climbing!

The rest stops were a god send, and I made sure I grabbed a banana, a muesli bar, and refilled my water bottles at each break and take the occasional ‘selfie’.


After carbing up at the 80k rest stop, just behind Dreamworld amusement park, I was feeling pretty confident for a nice ride to the finish. Thinking I’d be close to going under 3 ½ hours for the event. I didn’t count on some vicious headwinds, a large amount of riders, and frequent stopping due to traffic lights and heavy traffic on the roads heading into the Southport. I was fretting though – I’d never imagined this ride as some kind of race or anything. I saw a fellow rider fall off his bike due to an unclipping issue, and while I hope for the best for the dude, I inwardly felt a bit of relief knowing I was just the only gumby participating today! Thankfully, all the cyclists in the event seemed very courteous and understanding.


I ended up rolling into the finish, somewhat slowly, at around 3 hours and 45 minutes, the last 20 kilometres section taking almost an hour to complete due to the aforementioned issues. I felt fine, not exactly exhausted, but still tired enough for a good meal and sleep later. I met up with my riding buddy Matt for a quick chill out before heading back home.

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