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!!!

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