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!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Last Few Weeks of Biking Goodness

I've just finished a spin session in the living room and thought it best to sit down and catch you all up on the last couple of weeks (I have been a pretty slack blogger). The legs are feeling a little tired and heavy, but it feels good. I feel like I'm getting stronger and I'm well on track for Cape Epic at the end of March. Over Summer, I'll aim to get out onto some more technical areas of trails down Levin and Wellington way to hone some technical skills on top of (hopefully) some good base fitness.

Anyway, three weeks ago, I headed down to the PNP race at Victoria Park, which, to be honest, ended up being an abysmal display of riding and preparation from me. I've only ridden there once before and from what I have heard, that place is sketchy (although fun) at the best of times. So we were heading towards Wellington and could see the storm clouds gathering above the city. It was only at this time that I remembered that I still had Stans Raven tyres on my bike from the dry, untechnical Day Night Thriller the week before... Bugger... Long and short of it, the race was a mudfest and I ended up pulling the plug before the last lap after walking/sliding down 60% of my previous lap. Disappointing, but I kept reminding myself that as long as I "finish when it counts", these races are all experience and training.

The following weekend was quite a nice weekend. I had started my gym program again on the Friday night and had somehow managed to go a little hard on the deadlifts (oops!), so I spent the weekend on the bike adequately crippled and in considerable pain (with a headwind). Asides from that, though, it was actually a really nice weekend and I found a really wicked road ride loop heading up the Pohangina Valley and across to Colyton then back into Ashurst... Lovely!

Last weekend was the most awesome weekend I have had since my Day Night Thriller outing with John and Alex. Saturday was a beautiful, still, clear Spring day and I headed up to North Range Road and through the windfarm. It's one of my favourite rides on a nice day because there's some good climbs and amazing views and very little traffic once you turn off Pahiatua Track. This particular Saturday was so still and clear that I could see right across to Mount Ruapehu and Mount Taranaki (pretty special huh?). I climbed up and over and most of the way down the other side before coming back over to be home by lunch. On my way down the other side, I encountered a Mummy sheep and her two lambs who didn't seem to understand that if they just moved over to the side, I would go straight past them, so they kept bowling down the road in front of me until the little lamb's legs couldn't carry them anymore (poor little things)... Mummy sheep did a really impressive sideways skid to come back to them and I carried on past them (I would be really interested to see Mummy sheep handle a mountain bike... I think she would be capable of some pretty mean skidz). I really enjoyed the day out and whilst I didn't feel too overexerted, I felt I climbed solidly.

Sunday was the final Winter race for Manawatu Mountain Bike Club and they were running a "double race" day, with a short course race in the morning and the full XC race in the afternoon. The short course race in the morning was about a 2km lap which we just smashed out for 20mins plus one lap. It was great fun and a good, high intensity workout, but my low average heart rate told me I'd had a good hard week and was maybe a bit tired. I came in third woman in the short course and then rested the legs up as much as possible for the next couple of hours before the main event. The afternoon race was great fun too and my legs burned as I propelled myself around the course. The thing about Santoft is that there is no rest. It is so flat that you have the hammer dropped from go to woah, and being on my hardtail made fast but hard work of it. I came third in that one, too, and I must give full credit to Manawatu Mountain Bike Club for putting on such a wicked series. They're a great bunch of people. The next series coming up is the Mitre 10 MEGA Summer Race Series which starts on November 17th... Looking forward to it!!!

To add to my weekend, I then headed out with my friend Sasha Smith for a hill climb session on Wednesday night. We'd done this last week and I'm hoping it can become a relatively permanent fixture on our schedules because it's really great to have someone to train with and to push me. The ride out to our favourite hill at the end of Turitea Road took me nearly twice as long as usual with a nasty headwind and the hill we were climbing was also into a headwind. Regardless of this, I still posted better climb times than last week, which was a good sign considering I wouldn't have been as fresh this week as I was last week. Sasha is climbing really well at the moment and the crazy woman rocked up on her single speed (for hill repeats??!! And people think I'm crazy for riding my bike in circles for 24 hours!!!), which she probably regretted for how smashed it made her, but forced her to knock out some pretty impressive times on her climbs. After nine of our 5 minute smash fests, I hitched a ride home with the wind (only 15 minutes to get back!) and made a fool of myself once again fending against the local magpies (the residents around there must think it's hilarious!).

This weekend I'll enjoy another nice long-ish ride on Saturday and then the PNP race at Makara on Sunday, then one more hard week before a rest week and the Whaka 100... Bring it on!!!