Interview By: Ross Burrage
Over the past few months you would have read a number of endurance stories that were researched and put together by Adam Kelsall. Adz lives and trains in Torquay which is the surfing capital of Victoria, Australia.
We thought we would turn the focus back on Adz for this particular interview because his story is quite unique and a little controversial in the eyes of some endurance athletes.
Adz is known in the region as a very experienced and talented MTB Enduro rider who also works regularly for Norm & Jess Douglas (current 24solo World Champion) at MTBSkills.com.au teaching new tricks to budding MTB superstars. After competing in 2X24 Solo Worlds, once on a dually and the other on a single speed, Adz went in search for a new endurance challenge….Ironman.
So….we asked him what is physically and mentally harder, 24Solo Enduro or Ironman???We know the hard core triathlete and MTB Enduro rider will be petty firm on their views, but what does Adz think now that he has prepared for and executed two of the world’s most challenging 1 day endurance events.
Who does he think is the mentally tougher and physically stronger endurance athlete???? Ironman Triathlete v 24solo Enduro Mountain Biker.It makes for an interesting read so hope you enjoy it. We welcome any banter from either side in the comments section at the bottom of the post.
RB: How many 24 Solos have you done to date?
Adz: I have done four i think mate. 1. Forrest 24hr was my first. I rocked up at 11:45 (race starts at 12) back when we were all rookies then and didn’t have much of a clue. I had super market bags full of cans of creamed rice and no can opener, and a couple of litres of water. I jumped on my hardtail cannondale with a headshok and cable disk brakes. After the first lap the headshok was no longer working, effectively making my bike fully rigid and the cables were stretched and brakes ineffective. I rode well until about 11pm and started to get tired – didn’t know about caffeine Gels!! A bit of rage against the machine got me through until 12midnight. By then screaming out loud to rage while riding a bike had left me emotionally exhausted. I slept till six am in the back of my Subaru in my bike shorts that i had already ridden twelve hours in. Needless to say there were mushrooms growing down there when i woke up. I had no clue about Chamois gel…it doesn’t get spoken about much. I rode from 6 till 12 without being able to sit due to the pain of the mushrooms. I learnt a lot from that race and was happy in reflection to ride 18 out of 24 hours. The next step up in challenge was to ride for the full 24.
Before the next 24hr event I did stacks of 6hour races, one twelve hour in Werribee and a 24hr in a team where i volunteered to ride from 3am until sunrise to really mentally nail riding during those times. There was a duality of experience occurring as well…while i was sharpening my mental and physical skills/experience people like Julian Vander Noord and his ex-girl Naomi, Norm Douglas, Ross Kroger et al were doing there PHD’s in pit bitching. Pitting really is the science of doing lots of small things for your rider really well. A face and neck wash with some cold water, a sly nurofen, removing furniture from the pit so the rider know’s everyone in the pits is “in the pits” as well makes such a difference to the rider.
Next i did the Scott 24hr solo in Canberra in i think 2008?Andrew Bell was unbeatable at that time and that year this used to be fat but now skinny guy named Jason English (now multiple 24solo World Champ) rocked up. Jas had met a girl who encouraged him to give up donuts and McDonalds chips and he dropped about 10kg. Jas beat Bellie and i think everyone knew it was the start of something special for Jas as long as he could stay off the donuts. I still to this day am so grateful for Norm Douglas’s pitting for me in this race. He was so calm when i came in every lap…he had the full John Howard monotone voice(he will hate me for saying that!!) and apart from ‘trying out” choccy moose at 3am everything was so spot on with Norm’s support. Every race i have a bad day, good day and dream day goal. That day was a dream day and i finished 11th(spewing i didn’t make top ten) and qualified for the worlds in Canmore Canada. That was the first time i felt like i had really nailed a race. It must have nailed me as well…somewhere floating around there are all these great post race photo’s of all the crew and when i look at them i can’t remember anything from post race until probably dinner that night.
I then did one of those muddy Forrest 24’s and pulled the pin at Midnight again. That was my first with Kylie as support. Even though i had a shocking race we both debriefed from that and agreed we learnt a lot about having a really strong pre race plan and the more organised we could be leading up the more relaxed and enjoyable the event would b. We learnt a lot from that one! Then Canberra Worlds.
Adz: Yep Canmore Canada in 2010 and Canberra in 2011.
RB: Can you tell us a little about each of the Worlds events. i.e. how you performed personally and differences between the two events.
Adz: Both were just (i really want to swear here for emphasisJ) amazing. Even now looking back Canada seems like this big crazy amazing three week dream. It cost a lot emotionally to get to that race. I was in a long term relationship and we couldn’t align our dreams so that finished and my Mum was really crook and still to this day doesn’t remember me going to Canada or why. I travelled with a friend Kirsten who is such a fun loving creative person and was competing in worlds on a fully rigid single speed with an ipod and speakers in her jersey. She became female 24hr single speed champ which on that rooty hilly course was an insane effort! We hired a removalist van, a Winnebago was way too expensive and a friend of mine living in Vancouver lent us a mattress and a cooking stove. We cruised for two weeks just living the dream. Riding Vancouvers famous North Shore, Whistler etc. We would just roll into towns and ask for a map at the local bike shop…it was never a problem and these maps just had hours of squiggle to entertain. It was the height of summer which meant a beautiful dry heat and light until almost midnight. I remember one day riding for eight hours – shitting myself down the steepest hill i had ever ridden and riding through a massive Gorge full of waterfalls. Another highlight would have to be a point to point ride in Whistler called Comfortably Numb. It’s on youtube so have a geez at it. These rides were really sharpening me up for worlds as well – adjusting my body to the heat and altitude of the rocky mountains.
Then we rolled into Canmore (near Banff) and spent the week leading up to the race sharing an apartment with Norm and Jess, Jason and Jenny English and Spoonboy(Craig Armour) were staying next door.. Matt and Amanda Koerber, the McEvoys, Russ Bakers Hat, Andy Fellows and his girl and Brenden Den were also in the neibourhood. We did long rides sussing the course, ate lots of carbs, drank great coffee and made stupid youtube clips for the folks back home!
The race itself went so smooth. They held us all in a starting booth and played U2’s where the streets have no name. It was 36 degrees and we were all just crammed in together and i just bawled for a bit…racing internationally had been a dream of mine since the first time i saw a Mountain Bike Action magazine as a 13yr old and here i was…living the dream! Then i got on my bike and rode it for 24hrs. The course was tough with two huge climbs and all the downhills were riddled with roots so not much flow. I was riding a six inch travel Scott Genuis which helped smooth things out a bit. I had a fair ding dong battle with Canberra’s Kevin Wells for third until about midnight when i pulled away from him. Kevin and Kendra(supporting in the pits) are an amazing couple and we were so fortunate to be two Aussies having a gentleman’s race in a foreign country. When i finally cracked him i came into the pits and couldn’t find my batteries which needed changing. They were nowhere and i lost probably fifteen minutes looking for them. I think it was the only time i have ever spat it at a support crew. Eventually we found them under a pizza box in the middle of the tentJ. Because of the heat i couldn’t eat much solid food and ended up putting away 30+ Gels over the 24hours. That was hard on the Guts. With about an hour to go the vomits kicked in…luckily my 3rd place position was locked in by that time .
Canada felt a bit like we were pioneering something…a small bunch of Aussies racing oversea’s. While being a world champs the race still had a low key friendly vibe. Also i think Canada was about me realising some dreams. I felt like Canberra was about those that support me as a middle of the pack athlete. I had 24 people from Torquay all chip in to buy my worlds bike. I was riding Canberra for them and also my amazing pit crew.
Canberra was still super friendly but felt like a step up in professionalism and competition, everyone was psyched and there were heaps more pro’s and age groupers across all categories. For me Canberra was probably the best race i have done as a 24hr competitor. Although the results don’t reflect it i was mentally in a great place the whole race. I flatted at about 3am. I stuffed up the change and my spare didn’t work. I still get disappointed about this. I had enough experience at that stage that a flat shouldn’t have ruined my race. Eg Cory Wallace from Canada had three flats and still finished second overall.
RB: Out of interest, who crewed for you at the Worlds events?
Adz: Both Events i had amazing crews. In Canmore i had Geelong’s own Alicia Evans who lives in Canmore most of the year skiing, hiking and scaring the shit out of bears. She is a superstar!! Just so positive. We also had Jade Cook helping out. He was an Aussie over there travelling and offered to help out which is so amazingly generous, and of course Norm over saw it all like a CEO. He is CEO Doctor Pit.
At Canberra i felt so much love from my pit crew which had me pretty fired up for a decent crack. Lorenzo from TCF flew up just for the weekend leaving his wife and young kids which is a huge sacrifice. Julian who had pitted for me so many times and of course the beautiful and amazing Kylie Hayles . Then Dave Scarlett and Kent showed up spur of the moment and did their bit as well. These guys gave me plenty of tough love and i cannot thank them enoughJ. I am mentally hugging them as i write this.
RB: Any plans for any more 24’s?
Adz: Maybe one? Thinking Scotland in 2014 would be pretty neat. Travelling and racing has a beautiful symmetry.
Adz:hmmm probably not. Maybe in a team but i am pretty over going in circles. Defiantly keen for some point to point races and maybe stage races like the 2013 Cape Epic with you Ross.
RB: Lock it in Adz. Needs to happen soon though buddy…age will weary this old boy. PS Tour Divide is probably more my pace.
RB:The future of Enduro racing?
Adz:I think it has hit a bit of a plateau. It will be interesting to see what unfolds with two world championships this year and in the years to come. Whether this strengthens or thins the sport out i am unsure. I think the sport has great characters – Tinker, Jas, Bellchambers, Jess, Anna Mei, Corey Wallace, and i wish this was emphasised more. I also think praise should be heaped on Australia’s Russ Baker and 24 Hours of Adrenalins Stuart Dorland. These guys have been tireless behind the scenes of international level 24hr racing and make it easy for athletes to zoom in race then zoom out.
RB:Are you looking forward to moving into the 40+ category? It’s not as easy as you think you know.
Adz: Nope. Once i am over 40 i am going to grow some roses, read philosophy and collect fifty cent coins.
Adz:Not so much results but the experience of two worlds races and all that encompasses – the friendships, the training, the carbs, the travel, the bike bling, adventure, funetc
RB: Memories of Jimmy Williamson?
Adz: Man i find talking about Jimmy so hard. It’s pretty unfair that someone made of so much gold is gone. Really unfair.I had been following his Cape Epic blog and his enthusiasm was just jumping off the page. I had been sending a link of his blog to Jess and we had chatted about what it would be like to do the event. Probably the very next day i had a super late missed call from Norm and i thought that was strange. He rang again and told me the news about jimmy.
For a guy who was so fast on a bike he had some spastic moments. I remember at the Beechworth six hour i was riding solo and he was in a mixed team with Niki. I was on my last lap and he came screaming past me trying to beat the clock and send Niki out on another lap. Dell Lloyd had passed me moments earlier. Only seconds later and i hear this commotion up the trail…i come around the corner to find Dell on the ground and Jimmy getting back on his bike with blood pissing from his face. He pretty much rode right into the back of her and somehow bent her derailleur with his face!
But i will never forget on a long road ride with Jimmy and Niki from Forrest to Forrest via Lavers Hill, Apollo Bay etc. It was a month out from Worlds in Canada and Jimi gave me so so so much good advice to use at Worlds on that ride. Anyway Niki was really in the box that day. Up the Skenes Creek hill just out of Apollo bay it started pissing rain and she had enough. Jimmy the gentleman said he would go and get the car and come and get her. He absolutely busted himself back to Forrest and had the car back to Niki in no time. That moment captured for me the type of guy Jimmy was!
Adz: Male – Jimmy and Jas equally. Such funny, humble, talented champs who just love riding their bikes.Female – Jess. Engaging and Tenacious. Also winner of the Forrest 24hr a few years ago Christy Harris/Janice. She has stupid amounts of talent on a bike and has a complete personality change as soon as she starts pedalling. I would love to see her train for twelve months and give worlds a crack.
RB: Favourite all time event to date?
Adz: Too hard.
RB: OK mate….let’s get stuck into the workload because that’s what we are here to find out. Describe your 8 week training lead up to a 24solo Worlds. i.e. km’s, hours, cross training etc
Adz: Not very scientific mate. A couple of short, maybe 3 or 4 try to go fast rides up to two hours during the week before or after work with the aim of adapting the body to high heart rates….with the idea then that the low intensity heart rates of 24hr racing will be a piece of piss for the body. Lots of six hour races and maybe a 12hour race to toughen up mentally and get the nutrition/support thing right. Weekends would consist of a long road ride on Saturday to really get the fatigue in the legs then a back up long mountain bike ride on Sunday to practice technical skills with lots of fatigue already in the body.
I think my biggest weekend before Canberra was a Sat road ride up Buffalo then up falls creek. Followed by six or so hours on the single speed around the forest in Beechworth the next day. Then i went to the Beechworth bakery…
RB: So ideally, what should it have looked like?
RB: Ever get bored with the single discipline training?
Adz: Nah it’s never really single discipline because you have the roady and MTB which can provide such a diversity of experiences. Also sooooooo many cool places to ride and awesome people to pedal with it’s always an adventure!
RB: Can you share with us your most effective MTB tip?
Adz: It’s all about Vision, Position, Momentum and Technique.
The Triathlon Stuff…….
Adz: After Canberra Worlds I remember we were having some stupid conversation about which would be tougher, 24hrs or Ironman. I think I said something about maybe finding out. Then Kylie shouted me a trip to watch Lyndon Virgona have a crack at Ironman in Port Macquarie. We chatted a fair bit about it. It’s important to both of us that it’s a team effort and we are both on board. It’s too hard to do an event like this if one side of the team isn’t on board.
RB: Was it an athlete that initiated the challenge or simply the challenge itself?
Adz: As a kid I watched the Wide World of Sports coverage of Ironman every year. I used to check the TV guide every weekend to see if it was going to be on. When it was on I loved watching Greg Welch, eter Reid, Jurgen Zack going around. Also living in the same town as Jo King there is always going to be a bit of Ironman chatter going on. But I think mostly it is the challenge
RB: Tell us a bit about your triathlon background. I’m not aware of any but maybe I may have missed something.
Adz: Nah nothing really. As part of ski training in Year 11 I did the Merrijig Triathlon up near Mt Buller. That was a cross country run, then you had to paddle a lilo down the howqua river and Mountain Bike back to town. I had a ripper Lilo leg and finished second overall. First prize was a slab of beer presented by Phil Anderson. I missed out on the beer but was stoked to get to meet Phil who was at the peak of his euro roady career then.
RB: Most admired triathlete and why?
Adz: Either Greg Welch or Macca(Chris McCormack). They are both the full athletes over any distance. I love Welchy’s fun attitude and his finish line antics. I know that Macca’s trash talk isn’t everyones cup of tea but I think he backs it up with his results. I would love to see Macca race the Olympics…his balls out racing is impressive. Yesterday he ran a 31 minute 10k in a San Diego World cup…the bloke is nearly 40!!!!!
RB: I’m generalising.……but can you describe the personality differences between an Enduro Rider and an Ironman athlete?
Adz: Ha ha. I think there are perceptions about Triathletes. Especially from Mountain Bikers. However I have found nothing but friendliness and overwhelming support in the triathlon community.
Adz: Xavier Coppock is an elite age grouper who I am very fortunate to receive coaching from. I followed his blog for ages and was super impressed with his attitude and knowledge of the sport. Rod Stormonth hooked us up and it’s been fantastic. I can ring/text anytime and he always is positive and supportive.
RB: Back in the 24solo days you seemed to prep yourself, why the need for a coach to prep for Ironman?
Adz: I just felt like with three sports it’s a bit more complex. With Cycling it’s not that hard an equation once you have years of volume in your legs – just ride lots. With the three sports I thought it might be easy to overtrain. In reflection I think I would have actually undertrained. I am amazed at the volume . Especially the run volume.
Adz: Torquay Cycling Factory(TCF) looked after me really well with a Felt B12 and threw in some Zipp Tubulars front and back. I love the wheels, sooooooo fast and light!!!! I was surprised how long it takes to set a tt bike up properly. But a million adjustments later I love the bike. We have this thing amongst our mates where we name our bikes. This one is called Greg after Greg WelchJ
RB: How far back did you start to prep for Port Mac?
Adz: 6months. That’s a long time for me to concentrate on one thing!!
Adz: 10:37. I like to say about 10:30J
RB: Can you describe how you felt throughout the race. Strong & weak points?
Adz: During the swim I felt ok. I started right at the front between the buoys on coaches instructions. He said if you want to swim an hour you need to start at the front. The course markings were very poor so I just followed feet and hoped they went the right way. Towards the end of the swim I was getting a bit bored and was ready to start riding. This was ok I remembered chatting to Jo King one day and she told me she got bored sometimes towards the end of each leg. I came out of the water spot on an hour. Happy with that!
The first 90k of the bike I had a headache. I think my wettie was too thick for the water temperature and I had overheated a bit. I work hard in races to not be emotional but to problem solve. So I worked through the headache with heaps of fluids and eventually it went. Port is a very hilly bike course which I think suited me. I took in the scenery and chatted to other competitors. After the hills getting out of Port and also before coming back in there is a long flat section with really dead heavy road. I was conscious that I had to concentrate really hard through here, to aid this I concentrated on riding on the white line and staying on it. This would keep me going in a straight a line as possible.
In the second lap of the bike I got a bit sloppy, not riding bad but just not the urgency of the first lap. I also started getting frustrated with other riders who weren’t using the downhills to “slingshot” up the uphills and getting in the way making it harder for me to do it as well. I stayed in the aero position for 95% of the time and concentrated super hard on getting the nutrition and fluids in so I was in tip top shape for the run. I finished the ride 15minutes behind race plan schedule. Although this was a small bummer I was still really happy to average over 30k an hour for 180k. Something I hadn’t managed in training.
When I came off the bike and onto the run I was pretty excited. I had said to Kylie that whatever happens I am finishing before dark and I knew I had plenty of time to achieve this. Also, amazingly my legs felt so so fresh. I felt almost zero fatigue from the bike leg.
The first lap felt crazy easy. Totally not what I had imagined when mentally rehearsing the race. I was running 4:40 minute km’s. Pre race my only plan for the run was to keep it under 6min/ks, smile and soak it up. Now I was running 4:40k’s smiling and soaking it up!! I told myself that every k under 6mins was a little gift to myself.
The second lap also felt great. Around 20k I was running about 5min/ks so still on track. By 30k I was at 5:30 min/ks, still well under 6min/ks. Still smiling. With aid stations every 2km I would pour two bottles of water over the head to cool down, a cup of coke and a scoop of vegemite. I had never used vegemite in training but it was amazing. The run course was pancake flat. During the run i reflected on a 3hr training run I had done with Pez the day after a 220k ride. We did a run out through Pt Addis that was jammed with hills, also the run leg of the Upper Murray Challenge…I drew strength from this knowing how hard they had been and that this was a piece of piss in comparison! I also thought a lot about friends and family and the whole amazing journey to get to this point to be feeling a million bucks this deep into the ironman.
At 30k I grabbed my special needs bag with another four bottles of Torq for my fuel belt. Only one lap to go. I really wanted to jam it and see if I could run under three thirty but told myself get to 36km and see how I am going before I up the tempo. The boys from Triathlon and Multi sport coaching had made a secret appearance out on course and when I ran past them with about 4km to go they screamed so so so loud “Adam Kelsall your going to be an Ironman” I grinned. Running up the finish line was awesome. I gave Kylie a massive high five and did a bit of leap. It felt good to stop moving.
RB: Ever want to quit?
Adz: Nope. There was no chance. After being fatigued from training six months there was no fricken way. This was pay day and I enjoyed it to the max.
RB: You love your support crew but this format doesn’t allow hands on support to patch you up and send you out again. Struggle with that?
Adz: Nope. If you looked at me you couldn’t see them but my support crew were there swimming riding and running with me the whole day. Ky would yell out messages and facebooks and tweets and who had called every time I went past. It meant so much to meJ
RB: Any plans to do another one and if so what are the plans?
Adz: Probably busso at the end of 2013.
The tuff questions……..
RB: Now you can’t hide from these questions. No fence sitting….we need answers, so are you going to be brave enough to provide them?
Adz: OK (gulp)
RB: Let’s start with the mental questions. I know the Port Mac is fresh in your mind but can I ask you to reflect back to your 24solo Worlds and tell us which event was the biggest head f@#$?
Adz: 24hrs for sure. Ironman is tough. But you have breakfast suffer through a swim ride run then go out for some dinner with your mates. Doing the same thing for 24hours is incredibly tough. You have to find a lot of ways for your mind to play tricks on your body like that.
RB: Ok….physically, both races destroy you but surely one must stand out over the other. At what stage of the Ironman event where you running on empty and how did that compare to the 24solo format?
Adz: I’ve reflected on this a lot. Again I reckon 24 is tougher. Here’s why – Both 24 Worlds had two serious climbs every lap, as well as corners, roots, rocks that all have one cunning role – to stop forward movement. I guess when you boil any endurance event down to a minimum goal it is to keep moving your body forward. The ironman course had minimal obstacles to stop forward movement, some hills but otherwise long straight flat smooth surfaces.
There is a moment in both events where you are going stupidly slower than you have ever been in training. So slow that you feel like it is pointless to continue except everyone else is going crazy slow as well. In 24hr this probably happens at about 18hrs so you still have 6hrs of going crazy slow. Six hours of slow is a long long time!! In Ironman it’s generally about 30k into the run for most. So you know you have to hang tough for probably only an hour and a half, which is not much more time in an endurance event.
Another tough element of 24 is riding through the night. It is quiet. You know people are sleeping. There is no one out on course watching telling you how good you look.
RB: Which event do you feel would be easier to front up to and complete with zero training preparation?
Adz: Probably 24. Because you can rock up and do two laps hang out in your pit and party with your support crew then finish. With Ironman you have to get from a to b. Without the training I think it would be really hard to do this in the 17hour cut off.
RB: As you know, I’m a grungy old Enduro rider and I will defend the 24solo riders every day of the week. After all, racing for 24 hours v 10 hours is surely a no brainer. I respect that the Ironman triathletes do it over three disciplines but surely racing one discipline 24solo non-stop is much harder? YES or NO and please explain!!!!
Adz: I think racing three disciplines is harder technically, Good endurance athletes have amazing efficiency of movement. Watch Jason English through the same single track over a number of loops and he is super efficient – same lines, same vision, position, momentum and technique. However 24hrs have the advantage of having the same course over 24hrs…they can memorise it and become more efficient as laps go on. To be efficient over three different sports and constantly on sighting new terrain and having to use maximize efficiency of body movement over new terrain I think racing three disciplines is harder technically.
RB: One word answer Adz, which athlete is the tuffest mentally and physically?
Adz: Kylie Hayles for her patience, organisation and unquestioning support…Amazing. Torquay Cycling Factory for looking after me so many times at 520 on Friday arvo.. Fav, Jenko, Pez, Rossco, Lyndon, Kimmy, Rach, Natalie, Northy, Shane, the 530 Bunch,Ben and Darcy, Dave McCormack, the Weds night Altona run crew for all the run’s rides swim etc The Sunday night dinner crew for keeping me Normal. Xavier Coppock for an amazing training program that kept me healthy, injury free and got me to the start line ready to rock and roll. I really hope I haven’t missed anyone!