Rapha Ambassador Sarah Hammond won the inaugural edition of Australia’s Race to the Rock – a 2,300km unsupported race from Adelaide to Uluru – and was the only person to complete the course. Here, she offers an insight into the race, and shares her top tips for going long on a bike.
Adventure is what you make of it. What we seek and how we explore that path is different for each of us. For me it’s about testing my body and more importantly my mind against all the elements of the outdoors while travelling on my bike.
Preparation for going long involves so much more than just racking up the kilometres on the road. Having the mental strength to see your adventure through to the end is just as important as physical fitness.
The Race to the Rock stretched me beyond my original expectations. With only two weeks to plan I had no idea of the brutal conditions I would face once the race began. At times my pace was limited by the trail conditions. Managing time and practicing patience were more important than physical endurance. With unprecedented rainfall, the unsealed desert roads were closed and I had to slowly pick my way through heavy, sticky mud, being careful not to destroy my bike.
On one occasion I had to wade across a chest deep river to keep moving forward. At times sand drifts would appear on the road, slowing me to walking pace, or forcing me to walk. At night I couldn’t see the sand; I crashed countless times leaving my knees and elbows raw. Having only knowledge from my first unsupported endurance race in June this year, a gruelling 6,800km event across the US, I learnt quickly that no two adventures are ever the same.
If I had to lend advice on this style of racing, or just going long on a bike, my top five points would be as follows:
1. Weather can be unforgiving
It’s a force that we can’t control and so we shouldn’t waste energy by complaining about it.
2. Appropriate clothing is critical
You need to know that your kit will endure everything from the hottest to the wettest conditions. Change your clothes according to the weather as it occurs – don’t wait. Don’t think the weather will always pass. There isn’t always a hot shower and bed at the end of the day in this type of racing. The Rapha Brevet Windblock jersey was a saviour on the Race to the Rock. Over my eight days of racing, I never took it off. With its breathability and ability to provide protection from the cool night winds, I didn’t need to.
3. Practice packing your kit
It’s all well and good to have everything packed tightly on your bike, but is access easy and efficient? When the rain comes pelting down, having your rain jacket at the bottom of a saddle bag won’t be beneficial. Be smart – trial how you manage your gear and ride with a full load of gear to have an understanding of how it feels on the road. Pack smart. Pack light.
4. Know your surroundings
Riding off into the wilderness without researching your trip won’t play out well. It can be deadly. Ensuring you have enough food and water means knowing where the key resupply locations are. The Race to the Rock was held in remote central Australia. Often there are no taps or 24-hour petrol stations for hundreds of kilometres and opening hours are sporadic. The longest gap between services for me was 435 km. My planning involved imagining the worst case scenarios. What if I miss a food stop due to limited opening hours? Will I have enough to keep riding? What if the water isn’t drinkable? Have your logistics plan and cues tight, and on you at all times. It also doubles as a way to tick off distance by managing each stretch as it comes. Small goals add up to big ones.
5. Be prepared to hurt
We seek out adventure to step out of our normal lives. We want to feel challenged, have new experiences and face the things that scare us. It’s going to hurt; how you manage that is up to you. It’s easy to allow negative thoughts in, telling you to quit or turn back. You need to make a decision from the beginning to finish. It’s non negotiable. The pain and suffering won’t end if you quit – it will last forever. The only remedy is the finish line. In races like the Trans Am and Race to the Rock the real race begins when everything starts to hurt. The body is more resilient than most people think. It’s amazing how far we can push ourselves with the correct mindset.
Going into the new year for me means more racing, and more learning. Sure I’d like to be faster. We all do, but it’s not always the way to win. My focus is to keep making good decisions. We are responsible for our own well being. We decide how each adventure ends.