Armadale animal lover and ultra-marathon cyclist Sacha Dowell will tackle her biggest challenge yet when she takes off on a 2000km, off-road bike race from Sydney to Adelaide this Saturday.
Race From The Rocks is a solo, unsupported bike race that kicks off in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House early on Saturday morning and takes riders through more than 2000km of forest, snow and the rich, red dirt of Australia’s outback, before finishing in the heart of Adelaide’s CBD.
Having taken out the women’s record in the 1000km, off-road Munda Biddi Ultra race for second time in 2021, Sacha is no stranger to pushing her pedal power to the limits.
The NZ-born animal lover, who is using her ride to raise funds for the Free The Bears charity, says she is feeling anxious in the lead up to her longest ever ultra-cycling event.
Sacha flies to Sydney this week and said she is confident her determination will push her through.
“I discovered, when I did my first ultra-cycling event back in 2019, how amazing it is to see what you are really capable of,” Sacha said.
“It fits well with my personality – I am pretty stubborn and determined, I get in my head that I’m going to do something and I go out and do it.
“So far, I haven’t come across a case where I want to quit, that’s how single-minded I am. I do love the challenge; I love new challenges.”
It’s easy to underestimate the depth of the challenge that lays ahead of the off-road racer, but a peak into her efforts on the Munda Biddi Ultra shines a light on what awaits.
In addition to the physicality of long-distance cycling, that can plague riders with sores, fatigue and a terrifying condition known as Shermer’s Neck (where a rider’s neck muscles fail to support their head), Sacha says it’s the mental game that sorts the winners from the losers.
“I did the Munda Biddi Ultra in a little under three days and 16 hours, so I only slept for an hour and 15 minutes total in that time,” Sacha said.
“There are always tough times, a lot of people talk about the emotional rollercoaster, you go through times when you feel like you’re going great and you can have really negative times as well, you have to push through.
“You’re extremely fatigued, so that adds to it, sometimes you cry at the drop of a hat over absolutely nothing, because it’s such an emotional thing and your body and mind are just pushed to the absolute limit.
“You do end up having a bit of time off the bike, because these events are unsupported you have to go out and buy food, top up with water, that sort of thing.
“You have constant hunger, but at the same time it’s hard to eat because your body puts all of its efforts into powering your muscles – you can have some real issues actually getting food down.
“Then, of course, there’s the lack of sleep, or just feeling like you can’t keep yourself awake any more.
“In my case I tend to just sleep on the ground, for just five minutes, 20 minutes, get up and keep going.”
Having moved to Serpentine in 2014 and now living with her partner in Armadale, Sacha works as a fundraising advocate for Free The Bears, a Perth-based charity with sanctuaries in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
The charity works to house bears rescued from the illegal wildlife trade and battery-farm conditions of bear bile farming operations.
“We’ve been able to rescue 14 bears this year, we have over 270 bears at the sanctuaries in Southeast Asia,” Sacha said.
Looking forward to Saturday’s start, Sacha – so far the event’s only registered female competitor – is trepidatious but committed.
“I probably would have liked to be a bit better trained – in June I had a trail running injury and I had Covid, so that affected my cycling and training as well,” she said.
“I’m hoping for 10 days or less, that’s my aim, but I don’t really plan for these things, I sleep when I need to sleep, I’ll just see how I feel,” she said.
“As I said, I’m single minded, I just go for it and see what happens.”
To track Sacha’s race from September 3, visit racefromtherocks2022.maprogress.com
To support Sacha’s fundraising ride for Free The Bears, visit givenow.com.au/cr/sachasraceforthebears