Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Win at The Dual - A Fine Day For Ducks

When I woke up Saturday morning at 4.30am and it was raining, I knew I was in for a tough day... Good thing is that when it's a tough day for me, generally means it's a tough day for everyone else, too. I hauled my weary butt out of bed and made my way into the city to catch the ferry. The Dual is a pretty unique race in that it traverses Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands, which are otherwise off-limits for bikes. The race was a sell-out this year in only it's third year and after two previous years of amazing weather, I'd chosen to participate in the one held on one of the windiest, wettest days I had ever raced on (Karapoti a couple of weeks ago was also in hot contention for crappiest race-day weather).

When we arrived on Motutapu Island, we found our bikes, which had been transported over prior to race day for us, and had just enough time to get changed, lube our chains and chuck on a helmet before we were on the start line. Once again, I wasn't too sure on the choice of tyres given the conditions, but I was kinda stuck with them given that I sent my bike off on it's journey two days prior when the weather for the weekend was looking ok. The fact that I had run the same tyre choice at Karapoti a few weeks back gave me confidence, though, that the Racing Ralph would pull through for me regardless of the weather.

We set off and straight up a hill. The surface was clay based and wet and my tyres clogged up pretty quickly, although it seemed to be only this 1-2km stretch that was clay-based and then we moved onto a more igneous surface which cleared the mud from the tyres in no time... YES!!!! We rode this section of the track twice over the course of the race, but other than that, the surface/tyre combination handled quite nicely in the wet. When I was climbing, I felt quite surprised at the gear ratio I was maintaining at cadence, and was even finding I had some extra left in me to hill top sprint most of the hills in a harder gear to shake the last few metres of the climb. I felt really good, especially considering what would describe as a lack of time on the bike of late (7-10 hours a week instead of 15???). I knocked over the first two climbs feeling like they were flats, which was great, although I was very aware I was working myself quite hard, it just seemed natural to be moving at that pace. When I hit the top of Rangitoto, I was faced with this wicked scree-covered descent. I just let the brakes go and opened it up, sliding through corners, hearing the crunch of the scree under my wheels... Man, it was sooo much fun! I recall my speed sitting around the 40-50km/hr mark hooning down this section of the trail. YEEEEOOOO!!!

When I hit the bottom of Rangitoto, one of the volunteers yelled out to me "keep going, you're coming second!" I must admit, I was pretty chuffed by this, so kept pushing along at a good pace. I think it would have devastated me to have another woman pass me at that point. This was the first time I had worn my Icebreaker Halo shorts in these conditions and I was really stoked that I found at the bottom of descents, my quads were still warm and ready to go for the next hill as opposed to being cold and having to fire back up again, as was my experience with other shorts (thanks Icebreaker! Love your work!). At about the 30km mark, I had an average speed of nearly 20km an hour and was starting to have grand visions of completely smoking this course in two and a half hours. Whilst there was a lot of climbing, it was all fire trail and pretty speedy work... Then I turned off onto the farm track. This consisted of energy-sapping, speed-sapping grass trails. The flat were hard work, I was even working on the downhills to keep my speed up and the climbs were complete grovels. This last 20km was noticeably harder work with much slower progress. I kept pushing as hard as I could, wanting to make sure I maintained my second place. There was a section of the track we rode 3 times and some of the turnoffs on the trails were confusing and we were relying on marshalls for directions. At speed, a couple of times I misheard and ended up having to stop and come back for a turn. The last climb over the top of the big grassy hill before the descent into the race village was hard work... And I had already worked pretty hard the whole race. I was coated in a thick layer of mud (thank God my new Adidas Evil Eye Pro Half Rims kept the mud out of my eyes), my bike was crunching it's way in and out of gear and my legs were smashed.

I was so relieved to finally see the last downhill after undulating along the top of the ridge line for about 2km (what a tease!). When I crossed the finish line, I was completely surprised to be announced the first female home... I was so stoked to put a win on the board in such a short race considering I'm more of a long-distance rider, and in particular, in an event with so much competition that was a sell-out. I later found out that it was Alina Usher who had been in front of me and had to withdraw with mechanical issues, which makes me feel like maybe i wasn't really the best rider on the day, but I suppose that a race consists of a number of components which need to work for you on the day and if these things all come together for you and not so well for someone else, then you win. I could see from the stats on my heart rate monitor after the race that I'd really pushed myself and I felt like I had a really good, strong ride (not to mention how wrecked I felt the couple of days after). This for me was just as satisfying as taking home the win.

I finished in 3 hours and 1 minute (come on!!! Surely there was somewhere I could have shaved a minute off!!??) and finished first overall female and 32nd in the entire field of 229 riders... An effort I'm pretty happy with... So I was glad I got out of bed and braved the elements... Totally worth it!!! More photos still to come.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NDuro Race 3 - Some Valuable Lessons Learned

I learned two very valuable lessons at this race the weekend before last...
1. Don't put off changing your brake pads until the evening before the race
2. Remember to take your shoes with you

I did the usual early morning trip down to Rotorua for this race, and with a hectic week of work behind me, I was looking forward to getting out on the bike in the sunshine and carving up some quality trails. I arrived nice and early and registered, got back to the car to kit up and realised that the shoe bag that usually contains my riding shoes was in the car, minus the shoes that should have been inside. Some grovelling got me a pair of loan shoes that were probably a size or so too big for me, but hey, beggars can't be choosy... They also had special ventilation in them (ie. holes in the toes), but at least I got to ride... Thanks Cindy!!!

We headed off from the start line and along some of the usual trails before turning off left at "Mad if you Don't" and climbing steeply up towards the likes of "Frontal Labotomy" to head down "Corners" (FUN!). My feet felt a bit floppy in my borrowed shoes, but actually not as bad as I thought they would. There was A LOT of climbing in the course, but also quite a bit of fire trail, which made the course much faster. The trail conditions were superb and it was such a beautiful day. My complete fail attempt at changing my own brake pads the night before meant that the levers on my front and rear brake were uneven and my braking down some of the steeper sections of trail was sketchy at the best of times... Very distracting and certainly made me appreciate the amazing work my bike mechanic does... But anyway, who really needs brakes??? (insert nervous laugh here)

I crossed the line in 2 hours 51 minutes (ok for a 45km course) in 3rd place in open female, and 5th place overall female... Then handed back my lucky shoes and headed off to get my brakes fixed...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Karapoti Classic - The First Hike-A-Bike I Have Truly Loved

When I woke up yesterday morning, it was pouring with rain. I'd driven 7 hours from Auckland the night before and hadn't really slept well. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres I had ready on my bike were really designed for a dry, hardpack surface. I came so close to switching off the alarm and staying in bed... But as always, I knew once I got on the bike, I'd have a blast, so I crawled out of my nice warm bed, put on my lycra and headed off to the start line.

Let's face it, it was a miserable day weather-wise and I was extra stoked when I read in the race pack that the race began with a le-man's start (my favourite!) running with our bikes across the river. So I stood on the pro-elite women's start line with my bike slung over my shoulder and when the gun went off, sloshed my way through the freezing cold water to the other side and jumped on my bike... I wouldn't be dry now for another 4 hours. We took off down the road. My start across the river had pitched me a bit off the back of the elite bunch and I worked hard along the road to catch the back of the bunch again. My legs felt surprisingly good, and the rain?... Well, I was already wet so I was over it now. We hit the first piece of trail and I eventually dropped off the back of the bunch, my technical skills lacking somewhat when pitched against the best riders in the country (something I really need to work on). There are 3 massive climbs in the Karapoti race and as we headed up the first one, there were sections that were unridable and required walking. As a strong climber, I found I was making up good time on the climbs and reeled in a number of my competitors, so I wasn't too bothered by the climbs. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how well the Racing Ralph tyres performed in the wet conditions. I got surprisingly good traction climbing in the mud. There was a small descent that then saw us riding/walking up a flowing creek and then back into the first big climb to one of the race's high points. We followed the ridge along for a while then came to the turnoff for the "rock garden".

I'd heard people speak about the rock garden, and it's gnarliness was even further accentuated by the fact that it was wet. It was one of those trails where once you come off the bike, you're off, and there's no chance to get back on and keep riding, so I held on and edged my way down the gnarly terrain until my front wheel tipped me off and I was forced to proceed on foot. I think I lost a lot of time down here, and once I got off my bike, I was really slow on my feet with carbon soles on a rocky surface. Quite a few of my competitors passed me coming down here. Having said that, it was a sweet little section of trail that I really enjoyed and I'd love to come back and try to nail it in the dry. When we got to the bottom, there was yet another stream (river) to cross. It came up to my waist and was flowing quite quickly. Being a super-small lightweight, I was swept off my feet and under the water, holding onto my bike for dear life to stop it flowing down stream. Thank God for the 2 guys coming through behind me who rescued my bike so I could stand up and crawl through the water to the other side. It must have been the most hilarious thing to watch, although I don't remember thinking it was too funny right at that moment! I fell on my bum, and damn it hurt... "That'll bruise later" I remember thinking (and it did..), but for now, I had riding to do!

I rode a short way before getting to the foot of the Devil's staircase. This was where classic Karapoti hike-a-bike started. I hauled my bike over my shoulder and charged up the start of the clay-based and rocky climb, slightly bemused by the photographer standing on the corner saying "give us a smile!". A couple of highly inappropriate words entered my head, but I obeyed his directions for some weird reason (maybe because I was having more fun than I'd like to admit!). I must say that the hike-a-bike up the Devil's staircase was hard work, but I actually didn't mind it. I imagined my bike saying to me "about bloody time you carried me for a change!!!". This was real adventure biking and I was quite stoked I didn't stay in bed that morning. Towards the top of the climb (and it was a looong climb!) there were a series of "puddles" that I don't think would have been empty in years... The moment you rode your bike into them, your front wheel would just get sucked to a halt and you would be knee-deep in stinky mud sloshing your way to the other side... Yum!!!

Up over the hill and down the other side, things started to get fast (and slippery). I had been looking at my GPS highly disappointed that my average speed to that point had been around 10km/hr and it was looking like I would be out here for a 5 hour day, but once I started on my way down that descent, things started to speed up. The slippery clay corners required some attention, but the when I hit the final climb, my time was beginning to look like maybe around four and a half hours. The final climb was a grovel, with a lot of slick rock sections to maneuver over and the riding suited me really well. It was here that I started reeling in the competitors who had passed me going down the rock garden and I was at the top in no time, then hooning down the other side at an average of about 30km/hr. The last 15kms went by in a blur as I swung from side to side around obstacles down the track, I realised I may even get close to the 3 hours 30min I had been hoping for. It's strange, but after doing that much climbing and so much hard work carrying the bike, that descent made me feel so good that I reckon I could have gone and done the course again (don't hold me to that though!). At the bottom of the descent, we had to cross the first river again just before the finish line. As I sloshed into the river, I realised it was actually quite deep (nearly chest height for me) and once again, I got knocked off my feet... With hundreds of spectators and a photographer snapping away... Mental note... Midgets and fast-flowing rivers DO NOT mix! I jumped back on my bike on the other side and crossed the finish line grinning ear to ear and absolutely covered in mud (much to the disgust of my partner who then had to help sponge bath me back at the car).

My finish time was 3 hours 48 minutes. I had been hoping to the complete the race in a respectable time under three and a half hours but the conditions on the day certainly weren't doing the record books any justice, so it probably wasn't a bad time considering... Let's see what next year brings! (photos on their way!)