Archive | May, 2018

Impossible is just something you haven’t done before

20 May

A couple of months ago I saw a ride advertised – 150km from the Yatala Pie Shop to Byron Bay – to raise money for Motor Neurone Disease with the MND and Me Foundation. Of course my family all thought it would be a great idea when I gingerly sent a “should I try this” message to them… and it did seem like a good idea, until it came closer to the time! The closer I got, the more nervous I got. I had some bad rides, I had some good rides. I was trying my best, but I wondered if my best was going to be good enough.

MND fundraising events that incorporate cycling are my favourites. You see, my brother Peter was diagnosed with MND in October 2013 at aged 29. He’s a keen cyclist. He’s recently had to move his cycling indoors (with a wahoo kickr and Zwift) as his MND is in his arms – and when he came off his bike and broke his scapula he decided road cycling was not the safest option right now.


My bike frame art – and inspiration!

As time approached, Peter let me know that he was going to do the ride too – on his bike, on the stationary trainer in Adelaide. He was going to match the distance and the elevation. Personally I thought he was crazy, but I was also pretty pleased – it would be nice to know that he would be cycling “with” me.  As an extra incentive I made a photo collage of him (photos of him cycling, with me, and of course with Mandy, Jos and Emmie) – I decided when the going got tough (as I am sure it would) I could glance down and remember why I thought this was a good idea…

Saturday 19th May arrived before I knew it. It found me dressed in a nice new kit, standing in the carpark of a Pie shop waiting to take on the longest ride of my life.  We were due to depart at 7am – by which time Peter (who started at 5.30) was already 1.5hrs into his journey. I said a hello to a few people I had met at a couple of the training rides in the lead up to the event, and then it was time to set off.


Comfortably sitting second wheel

I found my place near the front of the peloton chatting to Sarah – her husband was the founder of the charity we were riding for – MND and Me. Scott was diagnosed at 38 years of age, and passed away 4 years later. As I rode during the course of the day I spoke with a wide variety of people, and while some were simply out for a structured ride and a great day out, others had stories to tell – my Dad had MND, my Father in Law has MND, my best mate has MND, my workmate has MND… I tucked myself quietly into the peloton, the wheels turned over without a whole heap of thought (gosh I love the benefit of drafting!). I had no idea where I was, but could see the kilometres ticking over on my watch. The only place I recognised was near Robina when I suddenly realised I was riding on the bike leg of the Robina Triathlon (QTS) – but it was only familiar for about 5km. We made good time and 30 minutes ahead of schedule we hit our first break – 60km. A chance to stand up, stretch, and refill the water bottles. I also checked my phone – Peter was sending me updates on his ride. He was now well beyond 100km in – and had Dad for some company (and distraction) on the back half. He was absolutely cruising!

For the Queensland part of our ride we had a Police escort. I now know what it’s like to be the queen. Well, someone special anyway. We stopped perhaps only three or four times in Queensland. Every other time the motorbikes would speed ahead, and stop traffic to allow free flow of our journey.  It made us feel so much safer, kept us united as a peloton, and kept the inertia going (so much better than stop/go and all the energy it takes to restart again).  When we got to the Queensland/New South Wales border I admit I felt a little sad to wave goodbye to them.

Once into New South Wales the group really started to help each other out – partly because we now relied completely on each other rather than having support from QPS. It was also important to try and stay in a group as we had to navigate a busy section of road. It was here that up one hill I had a friendly (and welcome!) hand in the back. One of the stronger riders helped me crest a bridge prior to a descent on a busy road where we really all needed to be as close to one as possible.  I was thankful for their support.  The guys were really good at protecting the less strong riders like myself.  When the opportunity presented to push us closer to the front of the peloton they were quick to make sure we got up there – where the advantage of the group was felt more than at the back.  I’m thankful for their care.

As we continued down through the top of New South Wales I knew that lunch was getting closer. I’ve done two Half Ironmans in Pottsville (our lunch destination) and as things started to look familiar I admit to feeling a spot of relief. The outskirts of Pottsville were a welcome sight.


Hello lunch – 110km in

Dave was there as he’d helped set up the riders lunch (and we’d seen him at a couple of points cheering us on road side prior to that stop). A can of coke and a ham/salad wrap were consumed with gusto. I’ve never stopped mid ride for a meal before and this was a bit of a strange concept – but I’d been told it was a good thing and to go with it.  With a sigh I found a patch of shade and collapsed down. As it turns out, I sat down right on a bull ant’s nest.  A few quick bites on my butt were enough to move me a metre sideways, but as I sit here typing this I can still feel the welts! We all enjoyed some lunch (and some time off the bike) but I admit I was keen to get back on – I knew that the final 45km was going to be the toughest – it was where a majority of the hills were – and I was anxious to get it started.

Having checked in again I discovered that Peter had finished his 160km – in fact he did 161km (and yes, that extra kilometre is important).  He had decided to round it out to a 100 mile ride – an astounding effort made even more impressive by the fact that he did it in under 5 hours, with an average speed of 32.5km/hr without a single break…

Heading out of Pottsville, as I encouraged my legs to start moving again, I was thankful that it was familiar terrain. The 10km of road out of Pottsville I have traversed in three Half Ironman events (once as a team, twice on my own), and given it’s a lap course I’ve seen that stretch of road on my bike 12 times!  I knew where it was rough (unless they’d fixed it… they hadn’t…) and I knew where the slight ups and downs were. By the time I got to unfamiliar terrain my legs had started to remember what cycling was again, though of course given we were now 120km into the ride they were feeling a little weary…

From here it seemed that around every corner there was a hill.  As a general rule people went at their own pace with a couple of regroup points along the ride. Naturally as the hills came, any speed I had evaporated. My weight is a fantastic advantage on the downhill (hitting a top speed of 62km/hr yesterday – unfortunately I found the roads a bit rough with a few sharpish corners, and wasn’t game to up that any higher…), but my weight is a significant disadvantage heading up hill. While lunch was tasty I think I must have skulled my can of coke and was having some pain in my side that felt like trapped gas. It was most unpleasant. I oscillated between feeling lousy from the pain in my side (as I went downhill) to working hard at breathing and trying to find my legs (as I went uphill).

I had some great company at the back of the pack. In particular I have to thank Kate, Matt and Fletch.  As Kate and I found we didn’t enjoy the hills, we found that the encouragement the boys provided was welcome. Never did I feel that I was holding anyone up, they simply told us to keep going and we would get there. At one stage I said “Hey Fletch, how many more of these hills are there?” to which he replied “oh Jen, I think this is the last one, yeah… that corner out of this valley is the last one”… FYI, he lied… there were still a few more after that. BUT, I got up each in my own steam – no hand in the back required, but plenty of encouragement from them that I just had to keep pedalling. Fletch was also known to comment at one point “We’re doing this for those that can’t” – one glance down at my bike frame to my photo art, a couple silent tears and a renewed spin in the legs got me up that hill! As I approached what felt like the 100th hill I could see one of our cyclists pushing their bike up it – uh oh I thought – how am I ever going to get up this one. Shortly after that thought I literally said out loud “Jen, you’ve got up all the other hills, you can get up this one too”. Pedal, pedal and pedal I did. Until I saw 150km click up on my watch. I was now in longest ride territory, but I also knew that we had to be close to the finish.  As I rounded a corner I saw the peloton at the final regroup point. We were cheered in by the other cyclists which was an encouragement to us back of the packer’s 🙂

finishsoloAt this point, Paul gave us all a quick pep talk. He wanted us all to travel as one the last 5km to the finish. Further, he talked about the fact that while some were out just for a ride, there were others who had been closely affected by this disease. Those who were riding for a loved one – some in memory of them, others who are currently living with the disease. As exhaustion really hit I burst into tears listening to what he said, and thinking of Peter and our whole family. It shows the calibre of the group I was riding with that one came over and put a hand on my shoulder, and others patted me on the back while I worked hard at getting control of my emotions (easier said than done when you’re tired!).  Paul asked for a couple of us closely affected to lead the peloton in – and asked Sarah and I to head to the front. So, for the last 5kms Sarah and I, followed by a wonderfully supportive group of people headed into Byron Bay.

We finished over drinks and food at the Stone and Wood Brewing Company in Byron Bay. I wanted to thank a few of those who supported me along the way – but found that I really needed them to be back on their bike, with their helmet and sunnies… it was hard to recognise them when everyone is wearing the same kit, standing up and chatting like normal people… 😉 I was able to find a few key people, said thanks, then decided it was time to head towards a soak in a tub, food and a bed. I was exhausted.


Support Crew!

So there you go – 155km. It took 6hrs 9 minutes, and my average speed was 25km/hr.  It was seriously the hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than a half ironman. Harder than any other ride. I am stoked that I made it the whole way, and thrilled that I managed all the hills from lunch onwards without needing a hand in the back. I’m thankful that Dave was roadside in multiple places, helped out at lunch and of course took care of me after the ride. I’m thankful that he supports my crazy ideas!


I’m thankful to so many – all who have taken the time to encourage me, cheer me on, pray for me and of course sponsor me ($3,164.02). To date this ride has raised $79,833 – which goes straight to support of those with MND, and research towards this disease. It remains my prayer that soon there will be a breakthrough in this disease that will lead to treatment and a cure.

So there you go. The ride recap. The MND and Me slogan – “Impossible is just something you haven’t done before” true for me this weekend! Peter, that was for you. I love you to the moon and back. xo


155km Peloton