In many ways this year’s ‘3 ring circus’ would be a litmus test of sorts. It would be the first race that I would be repeating since taking up the challenge of racing in Enduro MTB events on my unicycle. It would also be the first event since the disintegration of my relationship of 3 years- placing me in a completely different emotional and physical context in the lead up to, and during the event.
Preparing for this race was a challenge- but not for the usual reasons. I was in generally good health despite the best efforts of a miserable Canberra Winter, and I had a remarkable amount of free time on my hands with most weekends all to myself. Unusually, the hardest part for me was generating the motivation to get out on the trails and smash out some big rides to get the legs and lungs sharpened up for a 3 and a bit hour jaunt in the Southern Highlands. As the race drew nearer, I had yet another event that was playing on the mind. The Husky Enduro 100km event in Jervis Bay had been rescheduled due to poor weather and would be held the weekend directly after the 3 Ring Circus. For a while I had considered dropping down to the 50km option in the Husky- but after a few weeks of warmer weather, a more enthused riding ethic (helped by changing from my well used local trails to the slightly more exotic Mt. Stromlo MTB park trails), I was starting to get excited about tackling the flowing Wingello single track for a second time around.
For this race I would be joined by fellow unicyclist Rob O’Brien of the Blue mountains (dragonfly on the forums). Rob had been getting into some more sustained off-road riding since getting his Geared 26” and It was great to chat to him in the lead up to the event to talk about the course and generally get mentally prepared for the task at hand. Last year I completed the 50km course in 3hrs 24 minutes and felt that the time was pretty good. I remember struggling in the sustained final climbs on the last ring of the course but I had been working on my climbing endurance throughout the year and believed I had also gained a lot of experience in the other endurance events I had entered in since last years race. It would be really interesting to see how my time would compare to last years effort.
My riding set up would be identical to what I rode in last years race- Geared 24” Muni with 125mm cranks, custom handlebar, and magura rim brake. The only differences in equipment would be a new lightweight and well ventilated MTB helmet that replaced my old skate helmet, and a pair of sports glasses for eye protection and visibility in the overcast conditions.
Wingello state forrest provided cool but clear conditions yet again for this years race. Competitors awoke to cheezy circus music, woofed down some pre race food, did last minute mechanical checks and generally milled about- stretching out legs while straddling expensive bikes. Last year I started the race in the last group of riders, only to then waste quite a bit of time overtaking a lot of them in the first 7km loop of the race. This year I was a bit smarter and picked a good spot in the pack to start the race and instantly fell into a rhythm on the hard pack fire roads. I came through the transition point 4 minutes ahead and started on the 2nd circuit.
Unfortunately, the pack had not spaced out effectively enough when we made it to the first section of single track. It was pretty funny to see people on top of the line XC bikes worth 2-5k baulking at the first little technical section. It was a little bit technical, sure- with rock piles, a few steep descents and tight switchbacks but nothing that anyone who was half confident on a bike should have worried about. I lost 10 minutes waiting to get through the log jam but things thinned out after there. The Wingello single track is an absolute hoot. Lots of fast, smooth undulating trail that shoots through banksia forrest and lush temperate rain forest. I was riding lots of this in high gear with my legs feeling strong and my trail sense accurate enough to downshift before the sudden pinch climbs and root/log crossings.
Before I knew it we hit ‘the wall’ a really steep climb that flattens out after about 100 meters to a fairly rideable gradient. I was feeling much better at this point than I was last year and apart from jogging the steepest section I climbed hard and pushed on to the next section of single track. This is more technical with more squirrelly climbs and trail obstacles to negotiate and generally I was spinning hard in low gear for most of this. I was really enjoying the challenge and my legs had me picking off mountain bikers one by one in the particularly challenging sections.
I started the 3rd circuit about on par with my time from the previous year (about 15 min ahead considering the hold up at the first section of single track). The last lap does not contain any single track, but does have a lot of big sustained climbs. It is mainly consists of dirt roads, 4wd tracks and fire service roads that vary form well groomed, to vastly eroded steep swathes of dirt and rock. Last year my legs started to spaz out with cramps in some of these sections and I had to take it easy to get through the climbs. This year was a different story. I think knowing what to expect and how to save or expend energy accordingly in this section helped immensely. The climbs are big, and long, with lots of false tops. I remember them being quite disheartening in last years race but I could pace myself and actually crested the last climb with a bit left in the tank for the final 5km sprint on gentle dirt roads to the finish line. I knew I was ahead of my time form last year and wanted to get as much out of this race as possible so I was really giving it everything in the last sections and only started to feel the deterioration of my legs in the last km or so.
I crossed the line with an overall time of 3hr 25min 04 sec. My only stop in the whole race was the hold up at the first single track section- and according to my cycle computer, my complete ride time was 3hrs 12min 12 sec. I managed to take about 10/11 mins off my time the previous year which was a nice surprise. I came in 412th out of 627 riders who completed the course. There were also the 80 or so riders who pulled out after the first 2 loops. Rob put in a massive effort and came in with a time of 4hrs 21min 21 (after getting held up for 20 min at the start of the single track). He told me he blew up a bit in the last lap with the big hills and short cranks (125mm on 26” gmuni) but did a great job finishing a tough, but massively fun and rewarding race. I’m sure he’ll chime in here with some comments and some data from his GPS he used to track the ride.
A massive thanks to the organisers for being unicycle friendly! Huw Kingston has been a great supporter of unicycling- allowing us to race, not only in the 3 ring Circus but the Highland Fling as well! Also to all the volunteers and the bike riders who were great company, and sport, out there on the trails. If you ever get a chance to take part in one of these races I highly recommend you do. They are a lot of fun, very addictive and a great goal to train towards.
I left Wingello full of confidence and enthusiasm for the Husky 100km enduro the following weekend- but i’ll talk about that in another write up.
Here are some pics of the event.