Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Training Treats...

So there were a couple of really wicked things about training over Christmas this year.

Firstly, the weather... It has been so long since I have been able to get out in a long run of amazing sunshine and dry trails and cultivate my tan lines. Lately, I've been heading out to Levin for my Wednesday rides and doing my time trials up the new singletrack climb there... It's soooo much nicer than climbing that gravel road. A couple of weeks back, I bumped into an entire brigade of trail builders there doing a stellar job, and this little gem of a climb is a perfect time trial test, but best ridden in the dry, so I have really enjoyed getting out there and nailing this climb time after time. What's even more amazing is that the climb tops out around 400m and then the trail meanders across the ridge to then poke its head out with amazing vistas of the Kapiti coast... Just magical on a nice day!

Another particularly magical day of note was Christmas eve... I headed out early in the morning before work to complete my hill repeats on Ngahere Park Road. This road is a particularly nasty (or good, depending on which way you look at it) climb which gets steeper and steeper the further up it you go. I've been using this climb for my hill reps for a month or so now, each time, trying to push a longer distance for each 5 min hill rep. My first climb of the day was average... Probably on par with the climbs I had done there last week... My second climb, however, I completely smashed my previous best marker and added another 100m to my 5min climb (substantial if you consider how demoralising it is when you are racing someone and they are sitting 100m in front of you on a climb). In fact, all my climbs on this day ended up being better than my best climb last session. WHOOOP! What made this day even more awesome was that after smashing out that second climb, I turned around to head down the hill in my oxygen-deprived state and could see, through the clearest of mornings and bluest of blue skies, Mount Ruapehu and its snow-covered tip jutting out of the landscape... A sight I was treated to for every subsequent climb.

Secondly, the food... I've done really well on the moderation front this year! Having said that, though, it's also been nice to be hitting the trails and the road hard and being able to have some sweet little treats to reward myself. I am so lucky to have some workmates who are pretty amazing at baking and I have received some lovely home-baked goodies which have translated rather well into trail-side snacks whilst I am out riding. I have no doubt that the original intention of the person doing the baking was for me to be sitting around with a good book and a cup of tea, savoring the taste of their naughty little treats... Just for the record, I have enjoyed the goodies both trail-side and with a cuppa in hand and they are just as good either way!

Thirdly, I got to spend Christmas day with Cape Epic team mate, John Randal and his family... This was a bit of a last-minute arrangement I made late in November after I told my mother I had intentions of loading up my bike with a tent and setting off on some crazy adventure by myself on Christmas day, to which she told me that I am not allowed to spend Christmas by myself. "It's not right" she said (gotta love mums!). So after opening my Mum and Dad's Christmas Care Package on Christmas morning (thanks for the underpants Mum!), I headed off down to Wellington and received the warmest of warm welcomes from John and his family. Amazing food (thanks to Ma Sifter) and great company. I was so glad I had them to spend the day with. John and I even managed to sneak out for the afternoon and hit up the trails at Miramar... This was a sweet xmas pressie in itself... There is a 125m climb to the top via a trail is called "Conviction". This is one lovely climb... I've never ridden an uphill berm before, but let me assure you it is all kinds of awesome. Once at the top, we were treated to some amazing views on what was a perfect Summer's day in Wellington... A play around on the pump track and then we dropped in to "Jail Break"... Now if you want a fun trail to ride, there is no way you could disagree that this is an absolute hoot. It's like a rollercoaster on two wheels, with these perfectly carved berms and amazing flow. I remember John commenting on how there was one section of the trail where you are on a constant lean and just flowing from berm to berm. I got to the bottom and felt like I had left my brain somewhere back up on the hillside in a pile of dust... My mind was overloaded with trail goodness... So we took the "Repeat Offender" trail and climbed back up to do it again... Four times. What a perfect way to spend xmas day!

It's been a pretty inspiring couple of weeks and there's been a lot of soul-searching done during some tough times... But I can feel myself coming out the other side strong and really motivated to hammer the pegs into the ground and make the most of this next 3 months worth of training I have still ahead of me before the Cape Epic and 24 Hour Solo World Champs in Italy... There's been some really strong thoughts and ideas materialising in my mind, and I'm almost ready to lay it out there and say "this is what my intentions are and here is how I'm going to do it"... I won't call them New Year's resolutions, because we all know they are meant to be broken, and I certainly have no intention of that... I'm call them "Training Treats"... The enjoyment I intend to derive from baking myself and hitting this next few months cooked just right... Bring it on!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Touring The Rangitikei - Views, Climbing, Summer and the "L" Word

I'd been looking forward to this all week now. I'd mapped out a little 200km jaunt around the Rangitikei, starting in Hunterville, looping up past Taihape, staying in Mangaweka the night, then up to Utiku and then back to Hunterville. I'd been looking at doing the Rangitikei Cycleways for a while now, but the logistics of a one-way tour were a bit troublesome, and in all honesty, the final two legs of the cycleways were flat as a pancake and didn't really excite me too much, so I decided to create my own little loop that would allow me to ride the first two legs of the cycleway. I hadn't ridden my hard tail since Le Petit Brevet. It had been in at Pedal Pushers getting some love and servicing the forks, so I brought it home Friday night and kitted it all out, changed the tires over and put my Freeload rack back on.

The week leading up to it wasn't very promising. I had this nasty head cold which was just hanging around and by Thursday I had all but lost my voice. As I drove to Hunterville on Saturday morning, I was feeling pretty ordinary, and was wondering if maybe it was my own stubbornness that was driving me out there and I should possibly give myself another week to shake this lurgy. I had also had a pretty heavy week of training, introducing some plyometrics (who likes burpees???) and some running and core work into the mix again, so I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. My whole body ached, and I didn't know if it was flu ache or workout ache. Hopefully a spin on the bike would work it out.

Stubbornness prevailed and the weather was so bloody nice it would have been a shame to waste another weekend on a stupid head cold, so I parked up in Hunterville and put all my gear on the bike and headed off... I had packed really light... No jandals (John's words were still ringing in my head from last tour... "No jandals... Too heavy"), no underpants (shorts would do) and no spare kit or socks. Had I really wanted to shred some more weight, I could have ditched the jacket and arm and leg warmers, being such a nice weekend, but I knew that where I was going was a bit out of the way and I had no idea what the terrain would be like, so best be prepared. I knew the second day would be pretty straightforward, being an established cycleway, but I had no idea what to expect the first day. I set off pretty late in the end (after sleeping in to try and give myself some extra rest).

I headed out of Hunterville and on to Turakina Valley Road. I had uploaded the route from MapMyRide to my GPS, which was bloody fantastic. All I had to do was follow the pink line and it beeped at me if I went the wrong way... Saved having to get the map out and check all the time. I did still carry a map though (kiwimap 29 for Wanganui, Marton and Taihape), which ended up coming in handy on day 2. It was a warm day, but as I descended into Turakina Valley, the breeze was so refreshing. Those little white fairy flower things that I used to play with as a kid were floating around everywhere in the air and they felt like cotton wool balls hitting me in the face as I rode. It was actually quite surreal. The first hour or so of the ride was pretty uneventful and not too strenuous at all. I had seen two cars the whole time, which was nice and the locals were really friendly and waved as the drove past on the other side of the road. It was so relaxing.

Once I hit the valley floor and started climbing, I knew I was in for a tough couple of hours. When I plotted the course originally, I had seen that out of the valley, the road pretty much climbed for 50km up to a peak of just over 800m with another false peak just before it. It was quite strange because it wasn't really all that steep, but it was super tiring... Everything that looked flat was a false flat, so for 3 hours or so, every pedal stroke was putting vertical meters into my legs. The worst part about that was that as it got to the first false peak and then the second real peak, it did get steep, so my tired legs got a battering up the last part of the climb. The first (false) peak came along just as I was passing through Ruanui and the Ruanui Station Deer farm. As I climbed, I noticed Mount Ruapehu come into view, jutting out of the landscape... This would be a common occurrence over the next couple of days. The Mountain would just appear out of nowhere behind the most unsuspecting foreground... It was really quite cool.

As I rode into Mataroa, my GPS was telling me to turn right... I looked to my right and there was nothing there except and old "railway crossing" sign, a gate, a fence and a bunch of grass and cows... Bloody fantastic... My "road" didn't exist. Luckily, the ride around was relatively short, and also took me straight past the old Mataroa church, which was quite nice. I tuned onto Ridge road and the climbing began again. The surface was pretty sketchy. It was just loose gravel that looked like it had been recently laid (or had been laid and noone had driven the road to bed it down, which was also a high possibility). It was a pretty solid climb, but there was no point getting up out of the saddle, so I just sat down and turned the pedals over. There were parts of the road where the camber and the gravel combined would cause the bike to slip straight off the edge of the road (frustrating). On one such occasion, right near the top of the climb, I wasn't able to pull it back and went straight over onto my elbow. My whole body still ached from the previous week of training and I actually struggled to pick myself up. My elbow hurt, hopefully just bruised. I jumped back on the bike and soldiered on, a little bit miserable, but happy to be near the top.

I turned off onto Kaweka Road. There was still a lot of loose gravel on the road, but I didn't bother me for the descent (it meant I could drift around corners and do skids!). The descent was really refreshing and it undulated along, prolonging the enjoyment of not climbing. After probably about 10km, I came to an open gate with a number on it, which seemed strange... The road appeared to go straight through the gate. I continued to ride another 50 or so meters and my GPS beeped at me... I was off track??!! There was no other road I could see. I went back to the gate and looked at the screen on my GPS. The map on it seemed to indicate the road went off to the left. Great, another non-existent road... To my left was an overgrown, grassy mess about the width of a car... Surely not??? I turned down there and started riding... The GPS seemed to like it. So my "road" was this bloody grassy, overgrown goat track that looked like it had been used by noone other than cows and sheep for the past 10 years. I either continued on or rode all the way back up the hill and took another route. Deciding it would be a fun adventure, I continued on. As I rode along, I came across gate after gate, and it became apparent that perhaps I was on someone's farm. I felt terrible... I had these images of some farmer coming out with his shotgun and chasing after this mountain biker who was trespassing on his land. I thought over in my head what I would say to anyone I came across ("sorry, I got lost?"). The track became less and less obvious as I continued on, and before I knew it, my GPS was telling me I was off course again. Shit... How was I meant to find a track out here. I scoured the hillsides and could see little farm tracks running everywhere. Which one was Kaweka Road??? I continued on foot, traipsing through huge bushes of thorns which stuck in my legs (and hopefully not my tires?), trying to join back up with this mysterious track that was plotted in pink on my GPS. It was one of those moments when your gut just drops and you realise you could be in real trouble. It reminded me of that track I was riding along at Te Tawhio Whanganui and I came across the bridge that was out. No mobile reception, no water around if I ran out... I was starting to take comfort in small things like the fact that I had extra clothing and an emergency blanket in my drybag if worst came to worst. I hauled my bike up and down steep banks. I saw a road that I thought MUST be it, then when I reached it, realised that it wasn't and that the road I was looking for was potentially another couple of hills and valleys over. I got to a fenceline that was relatively clear and was about to go down it. Then it occurred to me that if I headed backwards, UP the fenceline, I was probably more likely to rejoin Kaweka road. I trudged up this steep hill, through more thorns (my legs were a pin cushion by now). Then I heard a beep. "Course found" flashed up on the screen. YES!!! About 50m up the hill, I could see a gate... That was my road! The track wasn't much better than trudging around the farm. It had been wet and a herd of cows or sheep had stamped their hoof prints into it to set on a fine day like today. It was easier walking than trying to ride a loaded hard tail over it. Eventually it smoothed out and I was on the bike riding again, still a little bit wary that I may bump into an angry landowner... Just for the record, when I got home, I checked the WAMS site to find that the road IS actually a legal public road, which made me feel a bit better. Finally, I popped out onto a sealed road (and the correct road, too!!). I had my own little personal celebration inside and continued on to my night stop in Mangaweka.

After stopping in at the pub to get a bottle of ginger beer, I headed down to the Mangaweka Campground. It was unfortunately down hill, which meant I would have to climb back up in the morning... I'll deal with that tomorrow! Over the past week, I'd been emailing back and forth with Trisha, who runs the campground. She was an absolute gem! Originally, the cabin (or Pavillion, as they call it) was booked and when I mentioned I was riding in and would prefer not to carry a tent, she told me they could have a tent there, pitched and ready for me when I arrived for $15!!! And for an extra $25, they could also have an inflatable mattress and sleeping bag there for me, too! Awesome. In the end, the booking for the Pavillion was cancelled, so I grabbed that. It was pretty basic, but perfect for what I needed. Nice to have somewhere to cook and some room to spread out and prepare for the next day and a bed to sleep in. Trisha had also been so kind as to pick up some supplies for me from the local general store and leave them for me in the cabin so I didn't have to stress about getting there before the store shut. She really did bend over backwards for me, and it meant I didn't have to carry so much stuff with me, so I was very appreciative of her help. I would highly recommend you stay at the campground if you are doing a tour through there. It's a really lovely spot and Trisha was just fantastic. You can check it out here.

I spent the evening eating and getting ready for the next day. The humid weather had caused me to develop a couple of "hot spots" on my bum. I put some antiseptic ointment on them and then went to sleep in the nude to give it a chance to air out... They didn't cause me a single problem the next day, which I was thrilled with. All the same, I really should have learned after Le Petit Brevet to put chamois cream on right from the first day, not just waiting until the second. My elbow was quite bruised but otherwise okay and my whole body still ached from the week before. My throat still hurt and I still didn't have my voice back and my abs were so sore I couldn't cough. There were a couple of options for the next day to reduce the distance I was doing if I needed to, but I'd make a call on it in the morning.

The morning brought a warm, overcast day. I had a bit of a sleep-in and planned to head out a bit later... No point in rushing. I made some breakfast and then went and checked on my bike to find my rear tire was flat. I knew when I had done it, too... There was a drain down Kaweka road yesterday that I managed to pull my front wheel over, but the rear was too heavy with my gear to bunny-hop it, so I must have pinch-flatted it. It wasn't fully flat... More like a slow leak, and I considered just pumping it back up and seeing how it went, but I remembered how much trouble I'd had with getting those tires onto the rim on Friday afternoon and I really didn't want to be out on the road stuffing around with trying to get tires on and off, so I decided to change the tube. I put a new tube in and pumped it up, then as I unscrewed the pump from the valve, it unscrewed the valve with it and let all the air out. ARGH!!! I tried again, and it did the same thing... I should have cut my losses then and just tried another tube, but I didn't... I tried another two times with the same result. Finally, I just swapped it out for another tube and that pumped up just fine. I was a bit annoyed with myself that I had just pumped up the equivalent of five tires with a hand pump. I felt a bit nervous that this now left me with no more spare tubes for the day. If I got another flat, I would need to patch it. I decided to do the full planned distance (which was another 105km). I didn't feel great, but yesterday I felt fine once I got going and I suspected today would be the same.

I set off and climbed out of the river and back to the highway. To get to Utiku, had to ride straight along the highway, which was a bit boring, and was, once again, false flat the whole way with a slight head wind, so I didn't particularly enjoy that part of the ride. I had planned to do a slight detour off the highway on my way, but as I passed the "road" I was meant to turn on to, I saw it looked like another Kaweka road, so decided to flag it and just burn straight up the highway to the turnoff. By the time I turned on to Gorge road, I felt pretty good again, and in fact, probably better than yesterday! I felt really strong on the bike, and once again, it was a lovely day out. There were some spectacular views to be had again and whilst there was still a bit of climbing today, it was by no means as taxing as yesterday (1800m of climbing compared with 2100m of climbing yesterday). I cruised along at quite a good pace, following my GPS, until the little pink line came to an unexpected end... It seemed that maybe the course hadn't fully uploaded and I was forced to switch back to the good ol' map, which was no big deal... Just a little inconvenient. It just goes to show that technology is very convenient, but shouldn't be relied on. My progress was pretty quick until I got to Sandon Block Road. Once again, freshly laid gravel... It was just a matter of being patient with it (which I'm not very good at!). I finally popped out onto Vinegar Hill Road after enjoying an exhilarating descent down the gravelly Sandon Block Road. I then had to endure one more climb up to the top of Vinegar Hill and then I was on the home stretch to Hunterville.

It's always nice to get out and do these rides alone. It's great time to clear your head, reconnect with the bike and figure out what's important in life (riding a bike is one of those things!!!). It was a ride I'd definitely do again. 210km and just shy of 4000m of climbing in two days. Great training and amazing views. What more could I ask for???

Friday, December 2, 2011

Mitre 10 MEGA Summer Series - Nirvana on a Sunny Thursday Evening

The first evening of Summer had arrived in true style here in Palmerston North... The sun was out with a few fluffy clouds hovering in the blue sky and a very slight cooling breeze to top it off. I have been riding my bike to work all this week... To do otherwise would be criminal, the weather has been so nice. So today, I cruised into work on my Yeti 575 and had to spend the whole day looking it at in the office, with it begging me to ride it... Soon my friend... Very soon... 5.30pm came and I was out the door in my kit with bike in hand and a big grin on my face.

Our store is sponsoring the MMBC Summer Series, which is a multi-lap short course race at different venues close to town. The aim of the game is to ride your guts out for 45mins plus one lap. After feeling a little jaded for the past couple of weeks, Coach Sadie and I had decided on a week of rest for me, with just some active recoveries... This event didn't really fit in with this plan, but I certainly had no intention of missing out on the fun. I wore my baggies in the hope that it would make me feel a bit less serious about lining up on the start line. In hindsight, it probably moreso made me ride like a complete hoon. I had pumped a bit of extra air into the rear shock on the bike and made some minor adjustments since the weekend, so when we took off from the startline, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the bike was carrying itself... Contrary to our plans for a week of rest, my heart rate hit the red within about 50 metres the start line and stayed there for the next 45 minutes. I spent the first lap in front of Katherine... The bike handled really nicely over the singletrack along the river and it really only took me that first lap to realise that I didn't need any brakes along this section of track. The second lap, Katherine passed me and I thought that I may have dropped off the back but I stuck there pretty tight, and overtook her again just before the little technical mound near the end of the lap. She was catching me on the flat firetrail sections, but the majority of the course was singletrack and the 575 really had a mind of it's own... I dropped the hammer along the river, hollering and hooning, railing corners and doing fat skidz. I truly believe that nirvana is when you are riding a bike so hard that you can barely supply your limbs with oxygen, but you don't even notice because you are having too much fun... I was having such a blast.

I think each lap got faster and faster, especially along the section of trail by the river. I didn't see Katherine for the last two laps. Trees and shoulder-height grass whipped at my limbs and flashed past in an instant. I was sorely disappointed at the end of my fifth lap to find I'd missed the cutoff by about 30 seconds and wouldn't be going out on another lap. What a hoot!!! We did spot prizes (all really awesome stuff from Mitre 10 MEGA, of course!) and then I enjoyed my roll home back along the river. What a perfect way to see in Summer! May there be many more days and evenings like this over the next three months!!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Falling Trees, Shaved Heads and Tan Lines

It was 6am and blowing a gale around Lake Taupo. John had started riding at 1.30am that morning for the Enduro (2 laps of the lake) so I was kinda hoping we would drive past him so I could shout out obscenities at him... We went past quite a large bunch all sporting their "Enduro" caps... No John... Passed another couple of riders... Still no John... I refused to believe he would have been dropped, then just as we came into Taupo, about 4km from the end of his first lap, I saw "the legs"... I recognise those legs!!! It's John!!! I tooted the horn with all my might, but he looked rather unimpressed (maybe he thought I was some road raging moron). Man, he was setting some good pace. He would have been just over a 5 hour lap... Bloody good going. I pulled over on the side of the road and jumped out of the car screaming until I was hoarse "Go Sifter!!! Come on John! Looking good!!! YEEEEOOOOW!"... I think I got a slight grin out him, but that crosswind looked painful. I hopped back in the car and headed on my way to the start line of the Huka 80km MTB race, quite stoked to have seen my team mate in action looking strong (I was so proud!). I also had a new rig attached to the bike rack which had arrived on Thursday, which I couldn't wait to try out! Whilst waiting for my new Yeti ASR5 frame to arrive, Kashi had kindly sent me an XS Yeti 575 demo, which was actually brand spanking new. It is a really sweet looking bike and whilst it is a little heavier than my usual racing machine, I was quite excited to get out on it and smash some descents. I figured that after climbing 7000 metres with all my gear last weekend, hauling a bit of extra weight up some small hills wouldn't phase me too much. I had spent a little bit of time setting it up, but without a proper test ride on it, I was hoping I had set the suspension up properly, and the saddle position. Everything else was a no brainer for someone my height... Invert the stem and whack it straight down onto the headset!

The wind was a bit chilly, but I knew it would warm up in the forest so I chose to rock the shorts and jersey just with a wind vest over the top (even this ended up getting quite warm!)... I cruised on up to the start chute and switched on my GPS... Hmmm, why did it say I had no heart rate??? Maybe because I forgot to put my heart rate monitor on... Argh! Was it really going to be one of THOSE days??? I considered going back to the car to get it but I had been packed into the start chute by what looked like a couple of hundred riders and it really wasn't that important. I had been moved back into the Huka Challenge and out of the elite category because I had lost my race license some time during the course of the year (that's what happens when you don't use it!!!), so this was a really nice opportunity for a brilliant test ride on this new rig.

The race started and we blasted off up the road. I felt a little sluggish climbing and there were a few reasons for this... Mainly I think it was the 7000m of climbing still hanging around in my legs from last weekend... As we reached Craters of the Moon, the wind seemed to pick up and as we entered the forest, we were greeted with the eerie sound of old pine trees swaying and cracking and groaning. As I looked through the forest, I could see branches dropping, trees falling and pinecones pelting riders in the back of the head (thank God for helmets!). On several occasions, we had to dismount and clamber over freshly fallen trees... It really was like playing Russian Roulette with the forest. We headed up Grinder trail and I really suffered. The bit of extra weight and travel on the bike was trivial compared to my tired legs, but I was pretty sure I'd wake them up at any moment. As we hit the top of Grinder, we headed out onto an open hillside... The trail was really sweet, but the wind caused the bike to thrust sideways as I was descending, making it tricky work. We climbed back up and into the forest again and my legs seemed to be starting to come right. We descended into the forest at this point and it was the first opportunity I'd had to give the bike some real stick. It was an amazingly fun ride... It stuck to the trail like glue and rolled superbly, making light work of anything in it's path. I actually think it's the fastest I have ever descended a trail like that. For once, I was catching people on the descents... I would hit little kickers and pop off them and the bike was so nicely balanced to land. I was highly impressed... And the geometry fitted me really well... It felt really comfy to ride (and when I got the photos from the event later on, I also LOOKED really comfortable on it!). If you haven't seen the "big balls" movie on YouTube, you should check it out here (it really is fricken hilarious!)... That's what riding this bike was like... Strapping on a set of "Big Balls" (although I hope I don't meet the same fate as the woman in this clip!!!)

We wove our way through the forest, still playing dodgems with branches and pine cones, when we finally came to grinding halt with a kinda frazzled looking guy in a yellow vest directing us off course and down the firetrail. He mentioned something about "too may trees down". So a group of us made our way (rather confused) down the trail to find a group of riders gathered at the bottom. We continued on the course as we were directed by the marshalls and then came to a stop again in an old carpark where word got around that they had pulled the pin on the race due to the number of trees falling and the danger on the course... Wow, that was a first for me! We were 27km in to the race, so I was pretty disappointed, although it was definitely the right decision for them to make... There probably wasn't much more they could have done, although you could argue that had they sent a lead moto out to check the course in the morning, they may have realised earlier that the conditions weren't good and re-routed the race before it started. The good thing was that they didn't send us straight back home... They rediverted us back onto the course into an area of the forest that was unaffected by the wind, so we had a bit of a "fun" ride, although the congestion on the trail with so many riders now in the same place was a tad frustrating. It also hadn't been made entirely clear to everyone whether we were still racing or not (although commonsense would prevail as we were all obviously pulled off the course at different points!). As we crossed the Aratiatia Dam, the clock there told us it was only five minutes until the flood gates opened, so now, being in non-race mode, most riders decided to stop and wait and check out the scenery, which was quite a nice and pleasant way to make the most of an unusual situation.

I arrived at the finish line, having ridden 55km (instead of the intended 80km) and absolutely in love with this Yeti 575... Maybe wouldn't be my weapon of choice in a race for climbing, but was definitely the sweetest descender I have ever ridden. A really nice all-rounder that would be a perfect fun little trail bike... John crossed the line not long after I got in and had come 4th in the Enduro (YAY!!!). I asked him out for lunch, but I think he was pretty cooked and ready for a shower and sleep!!! I headed back to my mate's place for a lazy arvo in the sun and then back to Palmerston North.

The following day, I cleaned up the 575 and rode it into work (mainly just to show it off cause it looks cool). We had Levi (Big is good man) at our store for the weekend and a bunch of us were shaving our heads to raise money for CANTEEN (I was one of these people). I had the option of taking the easy way out and doing a number four, but not one to do things in halves, decided to go the full shave (I think I rock it quite well!!!). Donations to CANTEEN can be made at http://www.canfans.org.nz/cause/Mitre10MegaShave. Other than that, my Summer riding tan lines are coming along VERY nicely. I have some nice big epic rides planned over the Christmas /New Year period to look forward to! Stay tuned!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Le Petit Brevet - Climbing for Africa

When I decided to do this event, I thought to myself "I'm fit, I train, I ride my bike a lot... How hard can 7,000m of climbing over 230km around the Banks Peninsula be? All I have to do is just keep grovelling". It appears in hindsight, there was a little more to it than that, although luckily I saw it this way at the time I booked my airfares, or I may not have ended up in Christchurch on what turned out to be an absolutely stunning weekend.

Cape Epic teammate John Randal was also heading down for Le Petit Brevet, so we decided to do the event together for a bit of a team outing. I arrived in Christchurch on Friday afternoon with a fraction of the gear I was carrying at my first tour in Wanganui earlier in the year... For the next two days, I was living out of an 8 litre drybag strapped to my Freeload rack with bungee cords... I was using my little hardtail steel-frame bike, which isn't the lightest setup, but always reliable and comfortable, and I wasn't keen on a dual suspension setup for so much climbing. This was going to be awesome!

We rocked up at our starting point nice and early on Saturday morning. It was blowing a gale and raining. My preparation for the event had been a bit rushed. Ideally, I would have swapped my tyres out for something a little more fast rolling and set them up tubeless, but time restraints during the week had stopped me making any last minute changes to my setup (possibly a good thing!!!). As others showed up for the start, I felt quite comfortable that I was travelling sufficiently light for our little trip. We set off and straight up Rapaki Track (technically still closed due to rock fall hazard but appeared to be very well-used by all the locals). The first climb was a killer... John pulled away from me with ease and I found myself being blown about by the wind. I was desperate to get into some kind of rhythm, but it was steep and windy and I just didn't feel right. We got to the top and kept climbing up the Mount Vernon single track. It had been a long time since I had ridden with gear on my bike and the rear end bounced and clunked around over rocks making me feel like a complete bloody gumby on the bike. I finally found some rhythm and was able to settle in and enjoy the lovely flowing singletrack which skirted along the ridgeline with a full view of Christchurch. We continued climbing up the Port Hills to our first peak at 500m. I admit, it was bloody hard work, and it was really quite cold. As I descended the first hill, my nose ran and the wind blew in my face at the same time, making me feel like I had put my head upside down underwater in the pool, burning my sinuses. It was quite an unusual feeling. We hit the bottom of the first hill back at sea level... This would be the general theme for the weekend; Climb a massive hill from sea level, then descend right back down to sea level, then do it again... I quickly learned there is no room for undulations or gradual gradients here on the Banks Peninsula. It was hard choosing what to wear and for the whole day we found we were taking jackets off to climb then having to put them back on to descend so we didn't get cold in the wind.

A rather boring and long, flat stint along the Rail Trail followed, and I was quite happy to be able to sit in on John and get protection from the wind. We hit the coast and headed up our second hill... A gravel climb with a pretty reasonable gradient that just kept going up and up Kinloch road from Birdlings Flat... As we climbed, the weather started to fine up and the amazing views of the coast sprawled out behind us if we took the time to look back for a moment. To be honest, I was struggling with my climbing and I started to feel like maybe I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew. It was frustrating me and I tried to remain upbeat, but I was annoyed I was holding John up so much. The descent that awaited us down the other side of the hill at over 600m was a winding descent that we could see disappearing down the hillside. It reminded me of the sort of thing you would expect to see in Europe. As we descended through the clouds, the air warmed and we railed the corners snaking our way back down at speed into Little River for lunch.

Bacon and egg sandwiches fall into the same category as pies for long rides like this... They look good and seem like a great idea at the time but your heavy stomach soon tells you otherwise. We set off after lunch and up Mount Fitzgerald on a steep, loose gravel climb. I felt pretty ordinary and was taking delight in sucking down my Powerade (red flavour ended up being my drink of choice for this trip). We passed a couple of other riders, which perked me up a little... Maybe I wasn't climbing as slowly as I thought I was. We turned off onto the Fenceline track up towards Waipuna Saddle. The scenery was magnificent... And so it should have been on our highest climb of the trip at a mere 820m. It was nice to be offroad. It kept things interesting but there were sections of the track that were not easily negotiated carrying gear and required walking. As we crossed the saddle, we had been warned to look out for a shortcut we needed to take so we went down a rutted firetrail as opposed to an overgrown walking track... We missed the turnoff and ended up halfway down the walking track (not ideal with bar ends!!!). I got the impression that John just wanted to bash on through, but as a female, my commonsense kicked in and I talked him into walking back up and taking the turnoff (in the end, it turned out to be a good decision). The whole day I had been lagging behind John on the ong climbs, but as we descended the rough off-road sections, I found I was able to hold my own, which I was quietly stoked with.

We then climbed another small (200m) hill before descending towards Akaroa. I was ravishingly hungry and couldn't wait for a good meal, the prospect of which seemed all too far away as a couple more small "bumps" reared their ugly heads before reaching Akaroa. We bumped into another couple of guys doing the tour who explained that we could head down to the fish and chip shop or join them for dinner at their mate's restaurant for some pasta, which sounded like too good an offer to refuse. It was lovely sitting in the sun and having a good meal, but the food took quite some time to arrive at the table. I was pretty keen to not sit down for too long, very aware that we were running short of daylight and that the longer I sat down, the less likely I was to face the next hill. Our intended half hour stop stretched itself out to over an hour (the pasta was lovely though) and we found ourselves rushing around to get food and snacks for our supper, breakfast and next day's riding before heading off to smash another two hills out before we reached our overnight stop in Okains Bay.

We headed off up towards Purple Peak via Purple Peak Track... Until I saw this, I hadn't seen steep (downloading my data when I returned home confirmed we had been riding up an incline at more than 30 percent gradient!!!). The road section was tough, but then we hit the track and saw a long, steep, winding, grassy slope menacing before us. We got off our bikes and started slogging up the hill on foot. The weight of my bike and gear just seemed to get heavier and heavier and my legs seemed to get shorter and shorter (like that was possible?). John was striding up the hill with what seemed like relative ease (although I know he was working hard)... He started walking his bike up, putting it down, then coming back down to carry my bike up while I walked next to him. I felt terrible... I just felt like a huge burden to him and it was really eating me up inside. At dinner, he had told me to have a think about whether I seriously thought I was up to the two massive hills we have left in front of us before Okains Bay. We had three options... 1) We could continue as we were, but it would mean we would get in to our accommodation really late and hamper our recovery for tomorrow morning. 2) We could both cut out the descent into, and climb back out of LeBons Bay and head straight to Okains Bay, but John was pretty keen to finish the full course after not being able to fully take part last year due to injury. 3) We could split up and John could complete the full loop through LeBons Bay and I could continue up the road direct to Okains Bay (which would be about 200m of climbing as opposed to 600m of climbing), but we only had one phone, one map and one set of tools between us, so if anything happened, we would have to be prepared to be very resourceful. As I pondered these three options, Purple Peak Track continued to loom before us... We would round a corner at what we thought was the summit and then see the fierce green trail disappear further up around another corner. We finally hit the top of the track, over 600m up and looked out upon a shimmering ocean... This had been worth it. John lifted my bike over the stile and I said "Hey John... Thanks"... I even felt a little tear come into the corner of my eye... He then recited his favourite line out of the movie Pulp Fiction, which was a little bit rude, but highly appropriate. What an awesome team mate. He was so hell bent on making sure his strengths contributed to the overall team result and I thought that was pretty cool... I felt much better, but I knew I was in no real shape to continue on with the next climb out of LeBons Bay. I was loathed to short cut the course, but I knew it was for the best if I were to have any chance of recovery to get out and do it all again tomorrow. I sent John on his merry way to smash out the LeBons Bay part of the course and I continued straight up Summit Road and down into Okains Bay. As I was riding, I felt much better... Much stronger, like my legs had finally got it and realised "oh hey, we are doing some climbing here... Time to wake up". The sunset was spectacular and I descended into Okains Bay right on dusk and headed to the Double Dutch Backpackers.

This place was a treat in itself... It is called a backpackers, but really, it is a house with three "dorm" rooms, a lovely modern living area and a selection of music to unwind to. It seemed a shame to have this beautiful haven descended upon by a bunch of dirty, smelly mountain bikers. I looked after myself... Had a shower, made sure I ate well and stretched and recovered and by the time John arrived, I felt like I was ready to head out and start all over again. He told me how much I would have hated the last climb and he was on a real high... I was glad we made the decision we did. I was a little disappointed I missed out one of the climbs, but I didn't feel like it had detracted from my experience at all. I was feeling quite philosophical about it. I knew I'd had a busy time at work and home over the last month or so which had been quite draining and maybe this had contributed to some sluggish legs. Asides from that, though, I had realistically underestimated where my training was at to take on such a mammoth task as what I had this weekend and I was pretty well aware that I had maybe bitten off a bit more than I could chew... But it was good because it showed me what work I needed to do. I was pretty determined to put in a good effort the next day. I had the best sleep I'd had in months that night.

We woke at a very civilised time in the morning to prepare ourselves to leave by 7am. The other riders staying there had already left and we found that some of the faster riders had finished half way through the night. John and I both agreed that we were glad we had decided to overnight it somewhere comfortable because it meant we got the opportunity to enjoy the experience and the views... There were some amazing sights that would have remained unseen had we ridden through the night. We climbed into our smelly, used riding gear (nothing is sacred on these sorts of trips!) and our breakfast consisted of two minute noodles, fruit toast and fresh scrambled eggs (thanks to the owner of the backpackers!)... I really had reservations about our mixture of breakfast foods. I was almost certain I would be seeing it again on the side of the road within a hour... How wrong I was... It sat really nicely in my stomach and kept the energy levels up for a surprisingly long time. We climbed out of Okains Bay on a stellar morning. Calm and cool with a bit of high cloud... Perfect conditions for riding! The first climbed disappeared beneath our tyres and I felt really bloody good. I felt better than the day before... Much better. Even John commented that I seemed to be stronger (YES!!!). We started our second climb and I remember half way up saying to John "so this is the climb that joins up to Saddle Road, right?"... Wrong... Our first climb had been a "warm up"... A mere 200m blip on the map... Bummer! We undulated around the hills, which was a bit of a tease, but quite refreshing to get the legs going. We had various wildlife and farm animals pounce in front of our bikes on occasion and then we rounded the corner to be faced with the view of Little Akaloa, this gorgeous little bay full of turquoise water. It really was a special sight. We had been told the climb out of Little Akaloa was "not too bad... Quite gradual"... Whoever told us that had lied... We grovelled up this endlessly steep sealed road (the fact that it was sealed didn't seem to make it any easier). I zigzagged across te road, trying to relieve the pressure of the gradient in a pretty futile attempt. I considered getting off and walking, but I knew once I was off, I wouldn't get back on... I was in my easiest gear, up out of the saddle driving my poor body up this horrendous climb. I was so pleased to see the end of it.

Backtracking along Saddle Road, we then dropped down a steep, corrugated 4WD track... Great fun to bomb down, but the inopportune meeting with the 4WD on the corner was a bit of a shock! Along the waterside at Pigeon Bay and then back up another climb. This was another gravel climb, but to be honest, it was a pretty pleasant climb (all things considered). The gradient was pretty reasonable, the sun was out and there were views for miles to distract me from the pain. I had developed a bit of a saddle sore the day before which I was nursing and being on a climb where I could comfortably get out of the saddle in a good gear to preserve my legs and my bum was a very simple pleasure. At the top, we stopped for some hard boiled eggs (oh man, this was the BEST morning tea of the whole trip... YUMMY!) and then bombed down the other side on the loose gravel track. It was a really sweet descent that I was able to let loose on. It was warm enough now to not have jackets on and I savored every moment of the wind rushing over my body and the tyres skating across the gravel surface as my bike skipped from side to side on the road taking the inside corner each time. It was one of those moments where you just feel so connected to the bike and so aware of just how fricken cool it is to ride... We had one last sealed climb after that before coming down into Port Levy to catch the ferry across. We accidentally-on-purpose missed one ferry, which allowed us time for lunch, ice cream and coffee (poor John had been caffeine-deprived since little river at lunchtime yesterday!!!).

On the other side of the harbour, we headed off from Lyttleton and up Dyers Pass Road... This was our last climb of the trip. As we approached the climb, my rear derallier decided to stop working, although, conveniently, it was stuck in the largest cassette ring, so wasn't really a problem for the climb... As we came up over the top of the hill, though, I had to spin like crazy to get anywhere, which was highly frustrating considering I should have been able to whack it in the big chain ring and smash out the flat and downhill back home. I was also really sunburnt (I had kept forgetting to ask John for the suncream out of our team kit) and I just wanted to get off the road and into the shade. We flew back down Rapaki track and then finished our journey where it had started yesterday morning (before riding the 12km back to Tim's house!). We had clocked up a total of 236km and 7000m of climbing... To put this in perspective, as John pointed out, it wasn't that far shy of starting at sea level and riding our bikes up Mount Everest. It was a bloody good workout and such a cool opportunity to spend some time with John on the bike and work with each others strengths and weaknesses. It was also a really good kick in the bum for me to get out and into some solid hill training. Cape Epic is only a few months away, and whilst it was very reassuring that in two days, we climbed half of the total vertical that we will climb in eight days at the Cape Epic, it was a good indication of what I need to work on... So I have some cool trips planned over the Christmas and New Year period before smashing out some shorter races over January and February. Looking forward to it!!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

PNP Final Race - The Mostest Fun I Have Had In Ages!

I've just finished having a great weekend on the bike. Friday evening I headed off to the gym for my first weights workout in a month... I knew it would hurt (and it did), but I was happy that I was still pushing the weights and reps I was a month ago. Saturday was a bit of a drizzly morning and I headed out on a road ride on one of my favourite routes up the Pohongina Valley and then up Valley road to Colyton and back via Ashhurst with a series of hill repeats on Valley road (lovely hill for it!). I really enjoy this route because it's quite scenic, the roads are good quality and there aren't many cars (or magpies for that matter)... My legs felt quite heavy, but surprisingly strong. It was quite a warm morning, but with a little bit of rain to keep the heat off. Very pleasant indeed.

This morning (Sunday), Sasha and I headed off to Wellington for a day trip and a little jaunt around Makara Peak for the last race of the PNP series. My legs were pretty stiff and sore, so I wasn't holding much hope of a smashing performance, but I was pleasantly surprised that I was still able to push my heart rate quite high, despite my fatigue, which is something I have struggled with previously, so hopefully that's a sign that my cardiovascular system is recovering more quickly post-ride (now my leg muscles need to catch up!). I took the GoPro with me and strapped it to my chest to get some footage (once I figure out how to edit it, I'll post some to my blog... For now, though, you'll have to make do with photos!). The course was spectacular... We started and headed straight up a 400m climb off the start line, which was hard work. As we climbed (and climbed and climbed), views started to poke into view as we made our way up Hawkins Hills. On the right was this random castle thing with a Brazilian flag (huh?? I don't get it) and as we looked down to the left, we could see the treat that awaited us at the top of the climb as line of ant-like riders descended the switch backs down with the wide blue ocean as a backdrop... Breathtaking (just like the climb).

As I hit the descent, it took me a bit to get into a rhythm after having climbed for the last half hour, but the trail was just as sweet as it looked... It flowed and wound it's way down the side of the hill. We were right next to Wellington but it felt like we could have been hundreds of miles away from anywhere. I was quite surreal. For the most part after this point, we were descending, but there were a couple of really nasty little pinch climbs (some up to about 30% gradient). It was totally worth it for the ride and the views, though! The last little piece of singletrack was super slick and sooo much fun to just hoon and slide around on... I ended up in 4th place in senior women's and also took out the 3rd place Masters series (I thought I disowned my age in round 3 when I changed divisions???). It was certainly the most fun I have had on my bike in ages... Looking forward to next weekend now... Le Petit Brevet, a 230km (add or take a few kms) ride around the Banks Peninsula... Really looking forward to hanging with John and working on some team tactics!!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tour De Manawatu - Roadie For a Day

After a hectic stint at work (the new store is open now!!! Visit us at the new Mitre 10 MEGA in Featherston Street!), I decided I needed to get out on two wheels... ANY two wheels. It just so happened that the store had sponsored the Tour De Manawatu bike race, so what better opportunity to go and thrash my weary legs?! Not one to do things in halves, I decided on the long course, which was 116km (noone seemed to believe me when I told them it really isn't THAT much of a long day!). So we were standing on the start line in the drizzling rain and cold and as I looked around me, I realised that it was possibly quite evident that I was a mountain biker... My carbon Pinarello road bike was dirtier than most mountain bikes would be, I had SPD pedals and my helmet was still covered in mud splash from my last foray on dirt (something which a number of other riders kindly pointed out)... I also didn't seem too bothered by the rain, which was a dead giveaway that I was a mountain biker. At the race briefing, I was quite stoked when they mentioned our new MEGA store that was celebrating it's opening weekend, and let out a giant "YEEEEOOOW!" which caused the entire field of riders to turn around and look at me... From that point on for the day, I was known as "MEGA GIRL"... "Best I take care not to snot on anyone, swear at anyone, crop dust another rider or lecture anyone on dropping their rubbish if I am to maintain our company image" I thought to myself.

We headed off in a fairly civil manner, and after an impressive save when another rider fell on me at the start line whilst trying to clip in, we were off... I axed myself along Napier road... Mainly to keep up with Sasha, but also to try and get into a large bunch to protect me from the rather nasty wind that was blowing my small 50kg frame all over the road. We finally caught quite a sizable bunch and settled in to be protected from the wind... Being a smaller rider, there is rarely any chance that I will get stuck splitting the wind at the front of the pack (Sasha and Mike inadvertently took that role), but it also means that very few riders want to sit behind me (I've been told I am like drafting off a twig), so it's fairly standard fare for me to get spat out the back and spend the entire length of the race hanging on for dear life, or chasing down the bunch I just lost (I don't think I've quite figured out this roadie thing yet!). Today was no different, and although I managed to work my way into the middle of the pack a couple of times for an easy ride, I found myself working quite hard... The bunch we were in was also fairly disorganised and wasn't rolling through or making much sense to me at all, so it was rather hard to get a drink/something to eat whilst hanging on to the back because chances are the pack would suddenly accelerate or slow down or someone would change line in front of me the moment I chose to try and eat or drink, so I didn't really keep myself very well-fuelled. This actually wasn't too much of a problem when I was with the bunch. I was protected from the wind and didn't have to expend a great deal of energy.

At the 90km mark, however, we descended this big sweeping bend... I backed off the pedals because it was off camber and looked really slick in the wet... I was right... It was really slick. The guy in front of us slid sideways and hit the deck sliding along the asphalt on his bum (OUCH!)... By the time Sasha and I checked he was ok (because that's what mountain bikers do), the bunch had moved on. With very little left in the tank to give chase, I got dropped and my speed nearly halved in the wind... I took the opportunity to slow down and refuel a bit instead of burying myself and got back into a bit of a rhythm by myself. I only had 25km to go, but I was pretty keen to get some food in my belly and a hot shower. As I passed through Feilding, a group of four riders who had been dropped from the same bunch some time ago came past and I jumped on the back. I felt really bad that I had nothing much left to cycle through with them (even though I wouldn't have offered much protection from the wind, I did feel obliged to earn my turn). I held on to about 5km from the finish and then dropped off again, but didn't have far left to go (thanks number 41!!).

I crossed the finish line in 3 hours 47 minutes, only a few minutes behind Sasha and about 7 minutes behind the bunch I had been dropped by (it makes a huge difference being in a bunch!). It was a good day on the bike and when I checked the results after, I found I had come 9th in the overall women's ranking and 3rd in my division... Not bad for a mountain biker on a dirty road bike!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Whaka 100 - Time to Harden Up!

I must say that I haven't been having much luck of late... In between crashes, swooping magpies and illness, I went into this weekend's Whaka 100 feeling really good and pumped and excited to jump on my bike for a long, hard ride. I'd been tossing up during the week whether I would use my old pink Yeti ASR for the race, or if I would take my unnamed hardtail training bike for a spin. I kinda liked the idea of forcing myself to concentrate on my technical game with the advantage of a stiffer climbing machine so opted for the hardtail... This bike has been flawless out on all my big training rides, and I've looked after it well, showering it with attention and love upon completion of each ride, so I felt pretty comfortable with it and figured this may well be my last opportunity to take it out for a race before my new Yeti ASR5 Carbon (hopefully) arrives towards the end of the year.

The race started well and I felt good... My legs felt strong, it was a beautiful day and I set myself up to hopefully settle into a podium placing. After a mere ten minutes of racing, I stood up on the pedals to drop the hammer up a little pinch and "CRACK!!!"... My chain snapped... What shitty luck, I thought. I was lucky enough to have a 9 speed quick link (I'm actually not sure why I had it as I usually race on a 10 speed bike) and a lovely passing rider stopped and gave me a hand to help speed up the repair (I forgot to get your race number or name, but thank-you very much, mysterious man... I appreciated your help!)... Being so early in the race, by the time I was back on the bike, I'm pretty sure I was just about dead last, but I figured I had another six hours or so to catch up so I wanted to be mindful not to bury myself to catch up quickly at the expense of finishing. I set off at a good pace, but something wasn't quite right. I looked down at my knee and there was blood dribbling down it. I must have smacked my knee on the shifter when my chain broke... Bugger... I dismissed my little misfortune and figured it should come right as I keep pedaling, but it didn't... It got more and more painful and I had very little residual strength in my left leg for things like negotiating technical climbs or pinches. Every pedal stroke I winced with pain, and every descent on the hardtail rattled my poor painful knee. If I had wanted to give myself a tough day by choosing to ride the hardtail, I certainly hadn't failed on that count.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider pulling the plug, but everytime I thought about it, I dismissed it as sheer craziness. For starters, I only hit my knee on the handlebars... I'm certainly not soft enough to pull out of a race for something that menial. Secondly, I had pitched this race to myself as a good starting point for my Cape Epic training. I kept thinking to myself that if I happened to sustain a similar injury in the Cape Epic, I would need to be tough enough to "man up" and carry on, so in a crazy way, me carrying on through the pain was like a test of my own resilience. I remember a couple of weeks ago, I pulled the plug on a PNP race that I wasn't particularly enjoying and I said to my Cape Epic teammate John Randal "it's ok, as long as I finish the ones that matter"... In my head, this one mattered, so I knuckled down and treated it as though it was just one day of this huge stage race, and maybe I wasn't having a great day, but that was just the way it was going to be today and I had to deal with it. It really was just a bit of bad luck.

I ate well, taking in enough carbs each hour, but I maybe should have taken something with me more substantial than the standard race food of gels and sports drink. I thought I was drinking ok, but at the end realised I had way too much water left in my Camelbak bladder. In hindsight, I would have put the Flowmeter on my Racebak bladder so I could see how much I had remaining. The Racebak performed really well and besides showing as a little humpback beneath my jersey, was relatively unobtrusive. The only thing I would change is that I would cut the hose so it didn't dangle onto my handlebars (adjustments like that are just part of being "vertically challenged").

The Whaka 100 course is a challenging course for the most hardened rider. 100km of mostly singletrack and a little bit of very rough fire trail with 2700m of climbing is a tough day at the office, but rewarding for the sweet, flowing trails and amazing views. I found that having the "granny ring" on my hardtail was actually really nice and it didn't necessarily make me any slower, but moreso gave me the opportunity to spin up the hills rather than smashing my legs in a hard gear. It reaffirmed for me that my choice to go with a triple chainring on my new XTR equipped Yeti ASR5 was a good decision. I found some tracks a little rough on the upper body with the hardtail and also, surprisingly, found that whilst it climbed nicely on the smooth singletrack climbs, it didn't track the ground as well on the loose gravelly climbs, where I actually think I may have preferred the full sus.

The first half of the race, I actually tracked a pretty respectable speed, but a lot of the track was fairly fast fire road or relatively flat singletrack. The second half of the race appeared to be much slower going. About 72km in, I remember I was just polishing off one of the biggest climbs of the day and I passed a 50km rider. I had picked off a few positions since breaking my chain at the start and I was happy that I was pushing on, but I was in a world of hurt with my knee... This 50km rider asked me if I had any painkillers. I laughed and told him I wish I did. At the same time, a couple of shuttling downhillers were walking their bikes up to the top of Billy T. Instead of making smart remarks about climbing hills and wearing lycra, one of these lovely chaps came over and gave me a bit of a running push up the hill, which was a lovely gesture. I still had some humour left in me to pass comment on whether his helping hand was really just an excuse to touch my muscular bottom and he sincerely swore that he had a wife and his intentions were completely honorable! Haha! What a good dude! It was around this time that I was genuinely thinking crazy thoughts about throwing in the towel. I was in so much pain I felt sick, but I convinced myself that Marcus had likely mismeasured the distance of the course by 5km, so I really only had about 23km to go. The last hour seemed to take forever... Right when I thought we were on the home stretch, we had 3 rather sizable climbs left before crossing the finish line.

As I came in towards the finish line, I heard Ra commenting over the loudspeaker that I was up out of the saddle coming towards the finish line... Little did he know it was only because my knee wouldn't bend enough to sit down anymore. I was surprised when I stepped off my bike at how bad the pain was and how difficult it was for me to walk. Once I stopped pedalling, it started to swell until it was the size of about a number 3 soccer ball (it did this right before our eyes in the space of about ten minutes). I realised that maybe I had hit it harder than I thought and was pretty worried about what I may have done to it. An xray a couple of days later confirmed that I don't appear to have broken any bones, but I have no doubt that there is some soft tissue trauma that was potentially aggravated from the 95km and 2600m of climbing that I did after injuring it... The next couple of days should tell me how serious it is, but I am holding out hope that it settles enough by mid-week for me to jump back on the bike and into training.

I completed the race in 7 hours and 11 minutes, which in it's own right, I would have been sorely disappointed with (I had aimed for a time within 6 hours and 30 minutes), but if I took from that the time I spent to fix my chain and the time lost from injury-related non-performance, I think I would have been pretty close to my target. I still came 5th in the overall womens placings and I was super-chuffed that I was able to continue on and push my body through to complete the full 100km. It may sound silly, but I felt it really gave me the confidence that if I were to injure myself similarly at the Cape Epic, I would have the strength of body and mind to push on regardless, so in that respect, I had a pretty bloody successful day.

I was gutted that I had to trash my plans the following day to ride the Moerangi trail and head out with my new helmet cam... Instead, I headed off to Pedal Pushers to pick up a new chain for my bike!!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Coming Home

This week was my last big week in a hard block of five, so it was always going to be tough... Having said that, over the last 5 weeks, I was yet to miss a session, which I was pretty stoked with. Tuesday saw the beginning of a little throat bug and unfortunately Wednesday saw me miss my first session, which was my weekly hill session with Sasha, so I was rather bummed about that! I nursed my way through the week and hit the trainer on Friday and had quite a good session, then hit the road on Saturday for a 3 hour road ride and felt really quite strong (except for the lovely headwind along Napier road coming home!), so I thought I was all but over it. I still had a sniffly nose and a bit of a sore throat, but I must admit I am not the best judge of when to pull the pin on a session (I can be quite hard on myself like that).

Sunday morning brought a gloomy grey day with plenty of morning rain, so I decided to postpone my 4 hour session to the end of the day when it was supposed to clear. I spent the morning catching up with John and talking about all sorts of cool stuff like our long weekend ahead, jersey design and Le Petit Brevet coming up in about a month... There was heaps to get excited about, and I had a new Camelbak to try out with this cool little hydration meter thing on it that tells me when I haven't drunk enough, so when I got home and the sun was out, I didn't think twice about jumping on the bike. So I headed off, my plan being to head up Turitea Street, over Greens Road, up back track, down Scotts Road and then back the same way... I calculated it should have been about 4 hours and 1600m of climbing... Not a bad way to polish off a hard week and head into an easy week. When I set out, I didn't feel quite right, and my heart rate sat quite low, which is fairly normal after a hard stint, so I thought not much of it... As I started getting into the hills, I struggled a bit so decided to back it off and just cruise out my time and get some good seated hills in (it was a beautiful afternoon, after all!)... As I descended Scotts road down to the furthest point of my ride, I started getting really cold and coughing and generally just not feeling good, so I decided to pull out and head home along the road as opposed to heading back over the hills (still nearly 3 hours of riding). It was a good decision to make because today I felt pretty ordinary, and I just wonder if I maybe should have decided to rest up and not go out yesterday... It's always a tough call to make, especially when you think you feel fine and it's a stellar day.

So this week is occupied with a couple of things. I headed in to see Barbara at TLC Sports today for my recovery massage (my reward for five weeks of hard work on the bike) and she gave me some tips on stuff that might help me shake this little cold by the weekend. I have plans to do the Whaka 100 on the weekend and it's not really the sort of ride you do half cooked or at half health, so I am really focused on making sure I feel "good" by Wednesday and feel "great" by Friday. All going well, I'll be hitting up the trails in Rotorua on Saturday for the race and then heading to Whirinaki to do the Moerangi Track on Sunday with one of my Aussie mates who I haven't seen in some time! In other exciting news, I gave my credit card a beating the other night and purchased a new Go Pro camera, so fingers crossed that it rocks up in time for the weekend so I can get some footage while I'm out and about (then I'll have to figure out how to post it here to my blog!!!).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

To Bar End Or Not to Bar End???

I love my bar ends... These near-weightless little pieces of carbon that attach to the ends of my handlebars are one of my best friends when I'm grinding up an endless hill. But an incident this weekend had me questioning my allegiance to the Bar-End fraternity...

I set out early on my Saturday morning four hour ride. To be honest, I didn't feel too crash hot when I got up, but I have no doubt this is the result of three hard training weeks on top of three hard work weeks and in my crazy mind, I obviously think the point of all this training is to feel sufficiently smashed that it MUST be doing me some good. The more hard days and weeks I can stack on top of each other, the more resilient I should be come Cape Epic time (and it's only a few months away!!!). I had some new gear to try out thanks to Jack at Extreme Gear who hooked John and I up with new Camelbaks and some Shotz nutrition, and as I rode along, the senses started switching on and I actually felt not too bad. I headed out to Scotts road and did some long, seated climbs and then down Back Track. It was on Back Track that my bar ends met their match. I was hammering down a muddy section of trail (of course, I had my mouth open grinning the whole way and eating as much of the mud as my front wheel would flick into my grotty mouth) when I was rudely snatched from my bike when my bar ends snagged on a hanging vine. I hit the deck quite hard, although lucky to have the mud to soften my fall. The force of the impact was hard enough that it spun my bar ends around (luckily not stripping the ends of my carbon bars). I lay in the mud and shouted out a few expletives (those of you who know me would understand just how well I do this) and then slowly got up to check the damage and take some very deep and audible breaths. I slowly moved all my limbs to find the extent of it appeared to be a couple of nasty bruises and a swollen pinky (who injures their pinky???). Later I also discovered I'd sprained my foot, but it otherwise wasn't too bad... Another rider came along and asked me if I was ok. I told him I was fine and explained how I had snagged my bars on the vine, to which he cheekily replied "serves you right for using bar ends"... How dare he insult my beloved bar ends???!!! But he was right... Had I not had bar ends, I would have hit the vine and my handlebars merely glanced off and I would have been on my merry way without incident. I haven't removed them yet, but when I receive my new bling Yeti ASR5C in December, I may consider a smaller bar end or even removing them altogether (I can't bear the thought!). I continued on my ride and to pad out the time and add more hills (because I'm completely sadistic) I headed up Nghare Park Road, which is known for a particularly steep and brutal climb, this time made even more brutal by a rather territorial and vicious magpie which made me aware of it's presence by swooping my neck as I stooped over my bars for the last hundred metres of this absolute bitch of a climb. I screamed and waved my arms around wildly at it (I really wish someone would film it so I could enjoy the moment later on) and finally made my way out of it's "territory" only to have to go back through the whole debacle again on my way back (at least that time I was going DOWN the hill). I then headed home after my particularly eventful ride to nurse my bruises and beak wounds.

Sunday morning, Sasha and I headed off nice and early to Wellington for the Makara round of the PNP Series. I felt particularly sore as I had developed a haematoma directly on the side of my right knee and a muscle in my right foot felt like it was in a constant state of cramp after yesterday's events. But it was a beautiful day and I knew I would be bummed out if I didn't go and ride on the sweet trails at Makara and catch up with Cape Epic Teammate John Randal. This time I went better prepared with more appropriate tyres (I haven't found a better tyre than the Schwalbe Racing Ralph) and better hydration in the form of my new Camelbak Racebak. I'd tried this out for the first time on my ride yesterday and it was fantastic. Basically, it's a well-ventilated base layer with a pouch in the back of it that houses a hydration bladder and sits under your jersey, so all you are carrying is your water and it's really easily accessible. One of my big failings is drinking enough when I ride and this was a deliberate attempt to improve on that (it worked, too!)... I thought at first it may have looked a bit dicky under my jersey, but it sits quite flush against your back and ends up just a small hump. Very cool indeed. The Mango Passionfruit Shotz that Jack gave me were really quite nice, too... Surprisingly palatable for a gel and has everything I need in it. Anyway, we got to the start line and off we went! Straight up the hill... Kathryn had just had a week off the bike and shot up the hill like it was flat while Sasha and I scrambled around to get ourselves organised and chase her... Towards the entrance to the track, I lost sight of them and instead of chasing too hard, decided to settle in and enjoy the trails a bit (although that's not to say I wasn't still pushing it!). I love the trails at Makara. This is only the second time I have ridden here, but there's no denying they are World Class trails. Technical and rocky and amazing views. The only part of the track I came to dislike was "Snake Charmer", a rather long, 200m climb to the top Makara Peak... We did this climb three times today and with yesterday's hills still fresh in my legs, I must admit I struggled up the last one. The descents were wicked though and I have vowed today to do more riding here, especially over the Summer. I crossed the line in 3rd place in senior women (an all Palmy podium!), but admittedly not my most outstanding performance of late. I must admit I always find the base phase of my training the most frustrating because I can ride and ride and ride, but lack the pace I know I have produced previously.

I caught up with John after the race and we got stoked on our impending trip to the Banks Peninsula for Le Petit Brevet in late November, a 240km ride with probably about 7000m of climbing. Hopefully, we will use part of the ride as a team-building exercise. I suppose my biggest fear going into Cape Epic is that I am going to be holding John back from riding hard and this will be a good opportunity for us to do some research on how we can spread the load for the benefit of a good team result. So with the Whaka 100 coming up and then Le Petit Brevet four weeks later, I'm looking forward to finding some form developing in my legs over the next few months!