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Dig Deep Coaching's Julie Elder...says it her way as she gives her account of the Trans Hajar in Oman. Huge congratulations from all the team...and massive respect.
The Trans Hajar mountain bike race is a multi-stage mountain bike race over the Jibal al Hajar Mountains of Oman. 2013 marked the third annual race in its history, the race has attracted and continues to attract growing numbers year on year with this year being no exception; over 80 riders started the race which commenced on the 30th Jan 2013 and concluded on the 2nd of Feb.
The terrain is varied from technical rock gardens and leg sapping wadi beds (river beds ) to wide dusty graded roads and at some points black top (tarmac), not to mention the odd 20+ gradient climbs and descents thrown in for some heart pumping excitement, all elements made 100% more difficult by the 32 degree temperature of the Omani desert.
This would be my first multi day race so I was slightly apprehensive and didn’t really know what to expect from any aspect of the race; the setup and organisation of the event, the format of each day, my fitness and ability to ride long distances off road for four consecutive days.
I had been working with my coach Ciara, from to prepare for the event and I was feeling fitter than ever before so I knew I was in a good place, the only element which I could not prepare for was the heat. Ciara had put together a great training plan which had me riding consecutively for four day in a row to get my body used to the work load and recovering for the next day, I had also been doing some longer 5+ hour rides to extend my endurance fitness and allow me to practice my nutrition plan.
I also knew I needed to keep hydrated and keep well fuelled throughout each day and ensure that I was recovered as much as possible in the evenings for the following days racing. I was going into this prepared and I felt calm and composed despite everything going on around me.
I was nervous on the start line as I really wanted to put my training into practice, I went hard from the off as if I was racing an XC race, it was after all a time trial so I felt it right to give it everything.
After a few tarmac corners the trail went off road on to a dusty track, looking ahead all I could see was a mountain, oh no we were going straight up it. My speed reduced and I was soon in my highest gear churning my way up a 20% dusty technical climb, my breathing was hard and my HR was maxed, the hard work had begun and I was 4minutes into the race. Half way up the mountain it became too steep and I had to get off and push around the last section; this was a sole destroying way of getting to the top of the first climb of a 4 day event. The decent was equally tricky, very loose and very steep I was on my brakes the whole way down I didn’t get to carry much speed as I didn’t want to risk the sheer drop on the outside of the corners.
After I had recovered and come to terms with the fact this was going to be a long slog, I started picking up pace. The next 10km was a technical rock garden with loose gravel sections and steep climbs it was tough, but I wanted to push hard just like in my training sessions. It felt familiar to be riding at such a high intensity but when I looked at my Garmin my HR was much higher than I expected.
About half way the heat became a problem, I was becoming too hot and too exhausted fast, I tried to keep hydrated but the next thing I knew I was a horrible hot mess. I had to keep going but I was in a hold lot of pain and trouble, I had gone out too hard.
The last 15km seemed like a blur, I stared constantly at my Garmin in the hope that the 40km end point would magically appear, it took forever to cross the finish line. I crossed the line in a time of 2hours 16 which would place me in 3rd position in the female category and 31st overall. I wasn’t happy with my performance or my tactics.
In the race village I sat down amongst the other racers who looked equally exhausted and by all accounts were feeling the same as me. It was hard to take positives from the day; it was a tough awakening to what lay ahead.
My legs felt fine I couldn’t even tell I had ridden the day before, I had made sure I had stretched, taken my recovery drink and ate well the night before I was also making sure I was hydrated. Ciara had recommended stretching well and recovery drink so I made sure I had done everything right and by the feel of things it had worked.
Today’s race went from a mass start directly up yes you’ve guessed it a steep hill; luckily it was nothing on yesterdays. After the hill I was just behind a large group of riders I knew today’s stage started with a long wide graded road for about 27km so I had to get on to the bunch in front if I stood any chance of being in this race. I put in an effort and managed with the help of another rider to get on, proved to be a good move; I was in the same group as 2nd place female rider Kati, perfect!
The next 27km were great fun, we rode in a train dropping people now and again and picking up riders from the group in front. I was feeling really strong and because we were moving quickly there was a nice breeze to keep us cool so the heat wasn’t an issue.
I managed to pull away from the 2nd placed rider Kati at the start of the off road section I stayed calm and steady; I had learnt my lesson from previous day. The off road section consisted of two huge hill climbs and two tricky descents, it was hard to keep the speed under control when descending and the tight loose corners with sheer vertical drops added pressure which allowed Kati to catch me but I was feeling strong and knew I could get some time back again on the return loop.
Part way down the 27km return route Kati started to crack I kept pushing and created a gap. I looked back and she was no longer there, I needed to stay calm and keep pushing, I had 10km to go and it was getting hot out there. I was determined not to have a repeat of yesterday so I reduced my pace slightly to combat the increase in temperature and kept it steady.
As I reached the last hill Kati was in the far distance but I maintained a steady pace up the hill, I then descended as fast as I could and sprinted to the line finishing in just over 4 hours. Kati finished 2 minutes 20 behind. A fantastic result for me; a second place finish and a 2 minute gain over the 2nd placed female rider who was now only 4minutes in front in the GC.
The day had been full of positives I had felt strong all day and had a good result to show for it. I felt confident and was ready for tomorrow.
Today was the day 125km the longest day and the toughest route, I was a little apprehensive to say the least.
It turns out that I wasn’t the only female rider to have a good day yesterday the 4th and 5th placed riders finished strong within 2mins of Kati which meant they were only 8mins behind me in the GC. It sounds like a long time but with the risk of puncture being so high anything could happen. The race was on and I was in with a chance.
With about 5km to go before we entered the technical Wadi bed 4th and 5th caught us we were all in the same bunch, nerves were running high but I was feeling strong so I decided to sit tight and ride their wheel for a while.
When we got to the Wadi bed I knew Kati would be strong as she was on a 29er and it was easier for her to glide over the deep loose surface, I wanted to stay with her so I dug deep and pushed through the wadi bed, it was hard work and my HR rose high but I remembered my training sessions and I knew I could sustain a higher HR and still have enough energy to finish the day strong. The wadi bed lasted around 5-10km I had remained with Kati the whole way so I was happy, we had dropped the other two female riders which was a huge boost. Three river crossings and a well needed water stop later and we were on to a black top section churning out the miles.
The action was not over yet we had 40km to go and 4th placed rider Fatima caught us and was pushing hard to drop us. The race was on; 35kmph up a hill on a bumpy dusty road oh my gosh it was hard work and Fatima was going for it. I dug deep and held on well, deep down knowing that I was going to have to make a move soon.
Fatima pushed for about 15 speedy km and then dropped off she was exhausted which I wasn’t surprised about. Myself and Kati kept pushing and testing each other but we were quite evenly matched. The last section had a small slick rock decent which I didn’t manage to complete, Kati got away from me, I pushed hard to get back but I crossed the line in 3rd 1minute 30 behind Kati.
It had been a really exciting day of racing, there had been a lot of black top but for such a long stage I was glad about it. Another good day and I was once again very excited about my strength and fitness.
I maintained 3rd overall in the female category but I had moved up from 31st to 29th in the overall ranking.
Today was the last day of the race and I was starting to feel fatigued. More rock gardens, dusty graded road and black top to come oh and that huge mountain from day 1. The route out was very much tarmac and dusty graded road so it was bunch riding at high speed; I was really starting to enjoy riding and working in a bunch. As we turned to go back to the finish line we hit the wadi bed, we knew it was coming but I had no idea it would be so tough or so long.
Kati was off I think she saw this as her chance and she took it, within minutes I couldn’t see her, my front wheel kept getting stuck in the gravel and I was going slow, my legs were straining and my HR was through the roof.
On exiting the wadi bed Kati was nowhere to be seen and I was on my own, it was tough to take because for the last two days I had been riding strong and had always been with her and now she was in front, it took all of my strength to keep pushing. I pushed on and found some speed, I was flying even over rock gardens my legs were strong and I became confident. I saw Kati on the horizon which spurred me on to keep pushing.
The last section was the mountain of doom the same mountain from the day 1 time trial only in reverse as I started I could see Kati walking half way up I wanted to catch her so I rode as hard as I could. As I reached the top the view was amazing but I could see the dust trail of Kati making a speedy decent. I decided to enjoy the last decent into the race village and enjoy crossing the finish line for the final time.
Crossing the line was an amazing feeling and today had been an amazing race, I hadn’t given up I had kept going and I had decreased Kati’s lead she had created from the Wadi bed.
I finished once again in 3rd place which meant I had finished 3rd in the female GC and 28th in the overall GC.
What an achievement and what an experience!
The local television and television presenter were there at the prize giving this was a huge event and I really couldn’t believe how much of a big deal this was.
The Omani principality representative made a speech and thanked all of the riders and the organisers for coming to Oman and competing in the event, he then went on to explain that he would be endorsing the event for 2014 and investing money to increase Omani participation in cycling. It was amazing to be part of such an event and at such an early stage in its history.
As I was called to the podium to receive the trophy I realized just how much I had pushed myself, how hard I had worked and how proud I was to be part of such an event. I will never forget this achievement or forget what it feels like to have trained and worked so hard, to have believed in myself and to have been successful. At no point in this race had I given up or eased off, I knew I had given everything and the efforts had paid off.
I want to thank all at Dig Deep Coaching for the well wishes and support, with special thanks going to Ciara my coach for a fantastic training plan and some great hydration and nutrition advice. The training works and the results are there if you believe and push yourself hard enough!
I am now focusing on the 2013 season where I will be racing for Leisure Lakes Bike.com and hoping to add too my achievements and proving myself on both a regional and national level.
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