Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Whirinaki Scoping Mission

It’s not often that the Department of Conservation invites you into the wilderness to ride your bike in places that you generally aren’t allowed, so when I got an email from Simon “Tucky” Tuck from DOC (courtesy of the lovely Graeme Simpson) asking me if I would like to join a small group on a trail scoping mission in the Whirinaki, I wasted no time in replying with a resounding “YES” to his invitation. It had been some time since I had been out on a real adventure, and I suspected this was just what I needed.
A bit of negotiation with the boss (plus some chocolates, achievement of budget for the month and doing the beer run as the only non-drinking attendee at our staff Christmas party) got me an unpaid day off… No meagre task given I was asking for the Tuesday before Christmas off to simply “ride my bike” and was also going on a three week holiday the following week.
The day of our little mission arrived and I travelled by bike to the Rotorua DOC office early in the morning to meet Tucky and my fellow adventurers for the day. We loaded all our gear into a couple of utes and headed out towards the Whirinaki, stopping along the way to do various chores and also to do our “briefing” for the day… The briefing was conducted from the bonnet of the DOC ute and involved scouring topo maps, discussing the objectives of the day and Tucky showing us the various functions of the EPIRB, CB radio and GPS, should we require them (but hopefully not)… During our little chat, one of the Murapura DOC employees wandered over to chat about the area we were going into. With a chuckle and a comment about “hope you don’t mind a few river crossings”, he wished us luck and reminded us that maybe we might need to take lights along with us “just in case we had a long day”.
In the car, stories emerged of previous trail scoping missions… Long days, hard work, fallen trees and stinging nettle… Any “normal” person likely would have been grabbing at the door handle in an attempt to escape, but I couldn’t wait. Even though I have only lived in Rotorua for five months, I have long been part of the furniture in the mountain biking community, so it was refreshing (and a little surprising) to meet riders I had never come across before… As silly as it sounds, I felt a bit like I had been invited into an entirely new world of resourceful two-wheeled adventurers. As I recounted the last few months, it occurred to me that the last time I had been on a “real” adventure was probably way back when I was in Europe earlier in the year… I felt reinvigorated, like an adventurous spark inside me had been relit.
On arrival at our destination, the weather was pretty ordinary… Not necessarily cold… Just drizzly and a bit miserable. We kitted up and headed off up the end of the Moerangi Trail which was a stiff enough warm-up to have us stripping off layers in no time (I discovered through the course of the day, with all the humidity, that I could choose to be wet with rain without a jacket, or wet with sweat with a jacket… I chose the former). After a good solid climb, we regrouped at a trail junction and broke off from the Moerangi trail onto an old (rarely used) walking track. I’d just like to point out here that riding walking tracks is not ok without permission from DOC (and in any case, you would probably be sorely disappointed at how much hike-a-bike you would be doing)! The idea of these trail scoping missions, we were told, is to find appropriate areas to build suitable trails and develop some one day rides that create the incentive for riders to visit local communities and stay for a few days, providing economic benefits to communities rather than people just doing single day trips… So if, for example, there are two amazing single day rides based from the same town, riders are likely to do one ride in a day, then stay the night in town, spend a few dollars, and do the other ride the next day… Makes sense and is as good an excuse as any to scope out and build more trails!
Once off the original cycle trail, we let loose on quite a nice descent, dodging windfall and rubble along the way, and pulling to a stop and climbing over fallen trees that had made their mark across the track. One thing I was quick to learn is that on these “missions”, trail conditions change quickly and dramatically, and it wasn’t unusual, throughout the course of the day, to be enjoying a largely ridable section of track and then have to dismount and carry your bike for the next couple of kilometres. Our ridable descent turned very quickly into what one could only describe as “jungle bashing”… The route wasn’t even poled… Our only indication that a trail was present were the occasional orange arrows nailed to trees.
We descended towards the river bed and traveled directly upstream in the flowing water, riding until we were forced off our steeds into hike-a-bike mode. The further we delved into the forest, the more the track deteriorated. We worked our way upstream, negotiating mud, fallen trees, debris and scrambles up steep sections of “track” with our bikes over our shoulders. I was also introduced early on to the presence of whole lot of stinging nettle in the area… So much so, that over the course of the day, it just became a part of life that we would be stung by it, so we more or less just came to ignore it and tolerate its presence. In all seriousness, if we had been tramping this track, it would have been hard work… Doing it with our bikes slung over our shoulders was nearly superhuman. I remember at the start of the day, being a little concerned about my pace, and whether I would keep up with everyone else, and my fears were allayed somewhat as we had ridden up the first section of the Moerangi trail… Our jungle bash, however, was a completely different story. I’m pretty bike fit, but my hiking fitness wasn’t too impressive, and further compounded by my midget legs (simply “stepping over” a fallen tree trunk just doesn’t happen when you are merely 5ft short). I often found myself falling a little behind as we worked our way along the track.
The above mentioned challenges of the day, though, were all negated by the stunning beauty of our surroundings, and the sheer excitement of being out in the forest, in the rain, potentially being part of the first steps towards an epic new ride in the area. For a number of hours, we moved through the forest, sometimes riding our bikes, sometimes carrying them, stopping off at huts along the way. My lunch consisted of last nights leftover pasta, consumed from a Ziploc bag with a spork. I remember reaching our lunch hut destination, after a section of ridable climbing (through patches of stinging nettle) and peering at the maps to discover we were less than half way through our adventure for the day and being surprised by that… It felt like we had covered so much ground, but it had just been slow work. 
We finally reconnected with the Central Whirinaki Walking Trail for the ride home. Having just been on foot, carrying our steeds for half the day, it took me a while to get my balance on two wheels again, but once we were going, it was a largely downhill singletrack blast with incredibly spectacular scenery. The other thing that was incredibly spectacular (although with no witnesses to vouch for it), was my rather awkward dismount down the embankment off the edge of the trail. There were some rather narrow sections of trail to negotiate across old land slips, most of which also had precarious drop-offs on one side. At one such point, there also happened to be a rock in the middle of the trail, so as I negotiated my way around the rock, I also knocked my handlebars on a rock that was jutting out of the cliffside next to me, which sent me tumbling down the side of the embankment head first, and into another patch of stinging nettle. Ironically, the fact that my arms and legs were already numb from the nettle was probably the reason the fall (or any other dings and bruises, for that matter) didn’t hurt so much… It was a much different story a few days later when the nettle wore off. After somehow recovering myself from down the embankment with the grace of a small elephant, I continued on my way a little more cautiously than I had previously. The trail wound its way downstream back towards the Minginui Road end, glimpses of stunning, untouched native bush, the beautiful clear river, and waterfalls cascading down the side of the track… It really was paradise and I can’t wait until the construction of a cycle trail through there for everyone to enjoy.
Considering the navigation on this final part of the trip was relatively straight-forward, we had all moved along at our own pace. As I neared the end of the Central Whirinaki track, though, I crossed a bridge to the other side of the river. There was a beautiful waterfall cascading under the bridge… The crossing disoriented me quite badly, though… This whole time, I had been riding with the river on the left of me, and now it was on the right… It felt like I was heading back the way I came, and no matter how many times I assured myself that I was heading down stream and was now on the other side of the river, I still had this anxious inkling in the back of my mind that I was going the wrong way. I stopped a couple of times, hoping the group behind me would come through any minute and confirm I was on the right track, but they didn’t, so I just kept moving, constantly checking that I was still heading down stream… FINALLY, I saw a sign pointing to Minginui Road end (PHEW!!), and was on the home stretch. It took us 9 hours to work through 41km of riding/hike-a-biking. I arrived back at the car a little exhausted, but pretty stoked on an awesome adventurous day out with a good bunch of people, for a good cause.
It took five days for my legs to stop tingling from the stinging nettle… I’m sure it will all be removed in good time to hopefully make way for the new cycle track… There were some great sections of trail that were actually very ridable and good fun, which wouldn’t require any further work, but some sections where there would be a significant amount of benching work to secure a ridable trail along the route we followed (mainly along the river). The thing that I find very reassuring is that in Tucky’s hands, the work will be done with minimal disruption to the environment, and by a trail builder who is a rider and understands what makes an epic trail for an enjoyable day out on the bike… It would be such an honour if (when) this trail is developed, to have seen it through from its conception as “jungle ride with orange markers” to an awesome one day adventure that trail users will enjoy and will bring excellent economic benefits to the surrounding communities. Hopefully I will get the opportunity to head along at some point and do my bit shovelling some dirt.
I think it’s fantastic how much significance is now being placed on providing quality riding assets. It’s great to see that communities, politicians, and relevant organisations are recognising mountain biking as a successful, growing sport which brings economic benefits to communities, and are now investing resources in developing facilities that will, ultimately, raise the profile of our sport, which, in turn, provides better funding and resources all over again. I suppose it is also up to us, though, as riders, to make sure we foster a good relationship with these groups and communities by doing our bit in terms of being courteous to other trail users, respectful of the environment and the trails (this means controlling your braking and not leaving rubbish behind) and participating in trail maintenance when we have the opportunity. Furthermore, it is important that if you know you shouldn’t be riding somewhere, then please don’t… There is a huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes for trail advocacy so that we can enjoy getting out on two wheels, and this can be undone by the inconsiderate few who choose to ride in places where it is expressly forbidden, or by those who chose to abuse or torment other trail users. We are so lucky here in New Zealand to have a seemingly endless natural wonderland at our disposal to enjoy and share, and I don’t think I speak purely for myself when I say trail advocacy has come a long way in the last five years or so. Whilst I’m not in our current government’s camp, credit must be given to the establishment of projects such as the national cycleways project, which has opened the door for some outstanding adventures on two wheels. It’s an exciting prospect that as we tick New Zealand adventures off our bucket lists, that there will constantly be more there waiting to replace them.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Start of a Summer of Adventures

Wow, two weeks flies by pretty quickly in blog land! Since completing the Waiheke 4 Hour and then grovelling my way through the final of the Mid North Island Cup, I've been laying pretty low, and playing "catch-up" of sorts... It was bound to happen considering the weekend after weekend after weekend of flogging I was giving my body at races... And feeling so damn good doing it, too! So the last couple of weeks, I have kept training, but very much on how I'm feeling at the time. High intensity sessions have often turned into recovery sessions, or longer, easier rides... But this is part of the cycle, and a timely reminder that the human body is not entirely invincible (not even mine...).
It just so happens that for me, the timing of this little lull couldn't be better. I don't have another race for a month and a half, and am soon have my first Christmas off in fifteen years, so the opportunity for some good adventuring to reignite my enthusiasm is looking pretty damn tempting. This weekend just gone earmarked the beginning of my Summer of adventures. It started with, unarguably, the best staff Christmas party I have ever had the pleasure of attending. We started nice and early at 8.30am on Saturday and boarded a bus to our first stop-off at the Skyline Gondola for some luge action, then out to Off Road Adventures for some 4x4 driving and Go-Karting (man, those things are quick!), then topped off with an afternoon cruise on Lake Rotoiti and a BBQ at the bach Andy had rented for us to chill out at for the evening. I can't vouch for anything that happened past about 9pm because I went home (like a nanna), but fair to say that Andy did a stellar job organising an awesome do and has set the bar pretty high for the poor soul who gets tasked with organising next year's! You can see me in the photo below putting the boys to shame in our amazing "gun show" (hey, these things are all relative to size, ok???)

The next day's plan had originally been to go for a bit of a road trip to Opotiki and tackle the Motu and Pakihi tracks, but after awaking a bit later than planned to a slightly gloomy day, and having no friends to enjoy the ride with (I really need to find some more endurance-bunny buddies), I decided to tackle a trip a little closer to home that I had been wanting to do for a while. The fact that I had a sore neck and sore legs from the go-karting the previous day was also instrumental in my decision (yeah, that's right... I can ride my bike for 24 hours straight, but a 15 minute go-kart completely floors me!). So I set out at a fairly civil time for the ride to Rainbow Mountain. The Kennett Bros new book, "Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails" has become a bit of a bible for me planning trips over the next month or so, mainly because it is so easy to grab the book, choose an area, and then take my pick of any number of lengthy rides that I can knock out in a day or two, as opposed to just doing shorts trails or loops of the forest.

I have driven along the highway between Rotorua and Taupo on numerous occasions now, and whilst I appreciate the good intentions of creating a fully-paved concrete pathway for the 10km out of Rotorua, it wasn't exactly my cup of tea to endure a flat, boring footpath for the first half hour or so of my ride... So I set off into the forest to cut out the first 8km or so of the footpath... Up Nursery Hill, then following Nursery road around to Poplar Avenue. Then I took the forestry road that ran adjacent to Poplar Avenue until it joined up with Eight Mile Road a few kilometres down the highway to join up with the concrete cycleway. To be honest, I think the additional distance was negligible... There was, however, a bit more climbing than if you stuck to the highway cycle path. The great thing was that from here, I only followed the concrete path for about a kilometre or two before I was directed by cycleway signs off the main highway and onto a mixture of back road and gravel cycle path which meandered it's way through Waimangu Valley, past Mook the Goat and past Lake Okaro to join up with Highway 38, all the time with Rainbow Mountain looming in the background and drawing nearer. You can see Mook the Goat in the photo below... She was super friendly, very photogenic and a real poser... Her little house had a note on it asking for payment of one piece of bread for a photo... I wasn't carrying bread with me, but gave her half my muesli bar, which she seemed to enjoy before trying to eat my rear cassette on my bike! I was pleasantly surprised by how amazingly well-marked Te Ara Ahi was (part of the national cycleways project). The whole way to Rainbow Mountain, there were markers to follow and I didn't once feel the need to consult a map (although this does not mean that you shouldn't carry one just in case!!!).

From there, it was simply a matter of crossing the road and onto a piece of singletrack that wound it's way around the mountain to join the main carpark. It was evident that this track wasn't well-used. There was blackberry and gorse encroaching from the sides of the track and quite a bit of debris across the track itself, but it was definitely purpose-built for mountain biking. It's a shame it doesn't appear to get more use.

After joining the carpark opposite Lake Ngahewa, I headed straight up the track towards the Rainbow Mountain summit. The track has been beautifully constructed, and is dual use and two-way (so it is important to be aware of other trail users!). I stopped off briefly at the crater lake, a natural wonder with it's bright turquoise water upon a backdrop of an incredible ochre-red cliff-face... It was absolutely stunning!

Further up the track split in two. The left was a dual use track that was uphill only for mountain bikes and would loop back around to join the other track at Kerosene Creek. The climb up Rainbow Mountain has a reputation for being challenging and I concede that it was an absolute gut-buster! It was sheer grit that kept me on the bike on a number of occasions... And whilst I managed to clean each section of the climb, it wasn't in one clean sweep (I admit to stopping for a couple of convenient photo opportunities!). The steepest and most brutal section of the climb reared it's head right near the top, just before the trail popped out onto the fire road to the summit... Definitely not a climb for the faint-hearted!

By the time I reached the top, the gloomy morning had turned into a pretty warm day and the clouds had begun to clear. As I caught my breath at the summit, I took in the stunning 360 degree views of the area. Mount Tarawera was clearly visible. It just so happened that Barry, the fire watchman, was there for the day, so I was cordially invited up onto the balcony of the watchtower to enjoy the view completely unobstructed by trees. Barry was a top bloke, and also offered to top up my water supplies for the trip home (thanks Barry!).

The climb was absolutely worth it for the views, and for the descent. The top section of the descent was surprisingly gnarly, with loose, tight corners, and steep, rooty drops, then joined up to a more manicured (but still quite technical in places) track that delivered The Ninja and I to the foot of the mountain with a smile on our faces. The mountain bike descent joins up to the return trail right at Kerosene Creek, a stunning little natural hot pool spot hidden away off the main road... I will definitely be returning here with my swimmers next ride!

The return trail was another nicely-built piece of dual-use track, which swung past another stunning lake which boasted a shimmering green surface before arriving back at the junction to the summit, then onwards further back to the carpark. From there, I returned to Rotorua via much the same route, except I decided to give the concrete cycle path a chance on my return, stopping in for a smoothy at Waipa before heading back over the hill and homeward (I DEFINITELY much preferred the forest detour to the concrete cycle path).
I've also had the pleasure of trying out some of Endura's cycle clothing over the last month or so (thanks Nigel!). I've given it a pretty good thrashing so far and I have to say that I've fallen in love with the Women's Singletrack baggy shorts... Combined with the Womens pro shorts underneath, I've found them to be perfect for these sorts of adventures because they tend to protect my legs from nasty stuff like gorse and blackberry (I really miss sitting on the couch for weeks afterwards picking gorse and blackberry remnants out of my legs!), and they look pretty cool, too. They'll be getting a heap more use over the summer, along with their comfy Firefly shirts, which sit nice and loose under my Camelbak for longer days out. All in all, a great weekend to see in the adventure season! Looking forward to some exciting trips over the next month or so!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Success From Suffering - A Crazy Person's "How To" Guide

There are often times when I question my own sanity (although probably not as often as other people question it!) and as we loaded up the car and headed out the driveway at 4.30am on Saturday morning was one of those moments. I'm extremely lucky to have a partner who tolerates this sort of abnormal behavior... And, in fact, nearly encourages it by offering to stand on the sidelines and hand me drink bottles, but driving me to Auckland to catch a 7.30am ferry so I could race my bike whilst I spent the time either sleeping in the seat next to her, or offering unhelpful advice on how she should be driving was really showing her commitment (or perhaps her resignation to the fact that she was stuck with me). Either way, I am exceedingly grateful for her ability to put up with me and my biking ways.
So anyway, we arrived at the ferry terminal bang on 7.30am, met up with Tim, Mark and Belinda, loaded our gear into their car and then jumped on a ferry to Waiheke Island on our way to the Round Rangihoua 4 hour race. Now in it's sixth year, I'm pretty sure I have participated in all but one of these events and it has been such a pleasure to come back year after year and watch it grow. It's always a great day out, and a huge privilege to have the guys at Waiheke Mountain Bike Club share their lovely island, awesome tracks and amazing passion with everyone! Once we arrived at Onetangi Sports park and registered, I jumped on the Ninja to hit up the track for a practice lap. I had missed last year's race, and since I last rode here, there had been an additional loop of singletrack added in that I hadn't ridden before. The track wound it's way up an exposed climb, then once you were at the top, made it's way through a rabbit warren of tight corners, loose dirt and steep, pinchy climbs. It was important to pay adequate respect to the brakes and check your speed in time for the corners because being as dry and powdery as it was made it very easy to overshoot corners and end up in the bush. The track then opened up into a vast clearing before dropping back into a final section of track aptly named "Chicken Run" (you were almost guaranteed a rooster would crow to announce your entry onto this trail)... Then a quick lap of the oval (with a headwind) and you were ready to do the loop all over again! The great thing about the track was that you got the climbing out of the way first thing and then could enjoy the rest of the lap, and once I had knocked out a couple of laps at the start of the race, I had the course pretty dialled.

In true island style, the race began a little late, just before midday. The sun was beating down hard on the race village, and also on the climb up the side of the hill. We lined up across the middle of the field and ran to our bikes in a (relatively easy) le mans start. I had placed my bike in the perfect spot, and whilst my run was lacking in inspiration, I still managed to get a good position in the field to start with, and as such, experienced a relatively small amount of trail congestion in front of me. My dear friend and close rival, Sasha Smith, was also punching out a solo effort of the race, but any hopes I had of a fair rematch of last week's Huka XL, where I was narrowly edged out of a pay day by 15secs to Sasha, were dashed when I saw her line up at the start line clad head to toe in a full-body morph suit (I mean, seriously, it would be unfair of me to gloat about beating someone who was in fancy dress). Having said that, though, I was also not too keen on being beaten by her exactly for the fact that she was in fancy dress and on a single-speed (that just would have been plain embarrassing), so I dutifully put my all into my effort just to make sure. Around the fourth or fifth lap, I passed Sasha with a flat tyre, which kinda sucked. It's always nice to know when someone is hot on your heels, and she has always kept me honest!

I pushed through my laps with purpose, and was really pleased with my consistency (all my laps were within a minute of each other!). It's funny how the first couple of hours of a race can go so slowly, then the final hour or so seems to slip away from you so quickly. By my final two laps, I was definitely feeling the hurt quite a bit, and was ready to wind up my day. I punched out 13 laps of the course in just under 4 hours, winning the female category, and coming third overall in the mens solo category, and eighth overall including the teams! Not too shabby at all! And a very pleasant day out! We narrowly made it onto the earlier ferry back to the mainland and arrived home about 10pm that evening, ready for me to rock out the Mid North Island Cup race the following day.

I woke up the next morning feeling a little worse for wear. I had done my best to recover well, but the long trip home the previous day, and the late night, had made my recovery a little ad-hock. Luckily for me, the final of the Mid North Island Cup was being run from Long Mile Road, less than a kilometer from my back gate, so I was pretty much able to roll out of bed and onto the start line. Truth be told, I didn't feel too bad up until the start of the race, but once the front bunch set off up Nursery Hill, I pinged straight off the back of the bunch after about 200m, like a broken rubber band... It was going to be a loooong 25km! I just worked my way through the laps. It felt like I was riding in slow motion, and to be honest, it was a bit embarrassing and a little disappointing to ride such a poor race on my home trails. It was, in reality though, what I had expected. I knew I would suffer because I had left very little in the tank from the day before... And suffer I did! I had considered pulling the plug that morning, and for my body, it probably would have been the best thing to do, but considering it was a series final, and especially after my rantings about the lack of women at the races, I figured I should put in the effort to be on the start line!

I any case, I finished the race, and came first again, being the only open woman again. The bonus was that I took out the series win, which I wouldn't have been eligible for if I hadn't ridden today, so there was, indeed, a silver lining to my morning of suffering!

So that pretty much wraps up this year's racing up to Christmas. I have some amazing adventures planned over the next month or so during the break which I am super excited about and will be sure to share with you all! Until then, though, I think I might catch some sleep. Watch this space!!!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Smashing Goals at The Huka XL

It was a pretty mild morning when I awoke at 4.30am to head to Taupo. I dutifully shoveled food into my mouth to fuel my weary body for a another day of racing. If I was being honest, I had felt pretty flat all week, which was to be expected for the time I had been spending on my bike, and the intensity, including cramming three races into the previous three weekends. I'm always hesitant to directly say to people that I'm not feeling good heading into a race. I think it's a cop-out... But I'm also not really in the business of fibbing, either, so when asked the inevitable question of "how are you feeling?" before the Huka XL, I responded "feeling a bit flat this week, but I'll just give it some and see where that gets me"... It was the truth, and realistically, is what I would do in any race... Give it some stick and at the end of the race, I can see where that pitches me against everyone else who was racing.

As I loaded myself and my bag into Dean's mobile disco (seriously, that guy has a car stereo worth more than his car), I was swallowed by the smooth bass undertones. As we traveled the highway towards Taupo, the sun began to drape it's glorious warm light across the landscape and it was weird how I felt like I was encased in a music video, the music playing a soundtrack to the sun's morning dance... So as I emerged from my cocoon in the back seat and onto the bustling streets of Taupo, it took me some time to readjust to my environment.

Registration done and dusted, and then time to figure out where all those damn numbers go that come in your race pack! I've never fully understood the helmet sticker, to be honest, but when I read the little blurb next to it, I discovered the helmet sticker was "so we can identify you in your photos"... I found it highly ironic that we would spoil a good photo by slapping a bright red sticker on our perfectly photogenic helmet... Nonetheless, I complied with their request. The other thing I noticed hadn't had a great deal of thought invested into was the new timing system, which consisted of a timing chip placed in a sticker that had to be wrapped around the seat post. Kudos to the organisers for investing in such a great system, but they clearly hadn't taken into account that there are many a mountain biker that run dropper posts or attach their spare tubes to the back of their seat post... Not to mention, for us shorties, the timing chip received some pretty gnarly buzz off the back wheel of an XS full suspension bike. Hopefully, next year, they might have a sticker attached to the back of the numberplate, or something similarly convenient, for those of us that choose to grace the dirt as opposed to the road.

By about a quarter to seven, I was waiting in the start chute with thousands of other riders. The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge has really cemented itself as a truly iconic event on the riding calendar, and in such a short space of time, it's mountain biking brother, the Huka, has done the same. The atmosphere and buzz at the start line alone was enough to get your heart rate up. I entered the Huka XL this year, the elite category of the mountain biking event. I figured that seeing as I was a licensed rider, and it cost the same, I may as well. So here I was, with slightly overdone legs for the week, about to smash out another 80kms or so against some of the best riders in the country. The gun went, and we were off! The organisers had decided this year to run the Huka in reverse, starting with a largely wide fire trail section of track, and it was an excellent call for them to make. The change meant that there was minimal (if any) trail congestion at the beginning, which had been an issue in previous years. As such, I found myself alone very quickly. Everyone was able to set their own pace as they pleased right from the start, and a lot of the XL riders were super quick off the mark. I, on the other hand, struggled with my pace for the first half hour or so of my race. I just couldn't get into a rhythm or into a pace that I was comfortable with. That would all change as the race wore on, and I actually picked up quite a few places in the second half.

Probably about 10kms in, I had a steam train of three guys pull in behind me. They sat there for a kilometre or two and then pulled around me. I jumped on the back of them and it was probably exactly what I needed to get me into a good rhythm. I knew I could work hard and stay on the back and smash out a quick few kilometres, or I could suffer by myself at some abysmal pace. I chose the former. That was about half an hour in, and it set the tone well for the rest of my race. For the first 30-40kms, I punched out an average speed of over 20km/hr, which dropped significantly in the second half of the race as we tackled more singletrack. The Huka course is great fun, but hard work. There is a high proportion f singletrack and very little climbing for the distance (under 2,000m worth), which means that you tend to be working hard the whole time. I have always thoroughly enjoyed this race, and with the rebuilt trails post-logging, there were some real gems that we had the pleasure of riding.

I think the thing I will always remember most vividly about the Huka is that we climb Grinder twice. In the grand scheme of things, Grinder isn't a huge climb, but it certainly feels like it (especially on the second pass). And to reward you as you reach the top of your first ascent, you are presented with a $2 pink wrist band for your efforts... And the opportunity to do it all over again. I felt well-attuned to particular parts of the course that I had ridden in the first mid north island cup, and then particularly alienated by bits of trail I had never ridden before. I remember after my second pass of Grinder, disappearing into the forest again, and then coming out into a wide open space, with the trail benched into the edge of a cliff, and unexpected corners appearing in front of my wheel that would have incurred some pretty serious consequences if I had overshot them. All in all, the track was awesome. Even more awesome were the volunteers... It's so rare to come across volunteers who seem to have such an intimate knowledge of the track and who provide such concise and speedy direction to riders under pressure as they try to navigate their way through intersections.

I had started the day not expecting to podium, but hoping to crack the 5 hour mark, so when I shot past a sign that said "4km to go" at about 4 hours and 15 mins, I was stoked with the realisation that I was just about to completely smash the 5hour goal I had set myself. It soon became apparent that the sign placement had been a little overzealous, and we actually had about 10km to go, but in any case, I still smashed my target for the day, crossing the line in 4 hours and 48 minutes... A time that was quite reputable against a lot of the other elite females, which I was really happy with. The other thing I realised after I crossed the finish line was that I was a mere 15seconds behind my mate Sasha Smith. She explained to me how she had been able to see me for the last half hour (which I was entirely oblivious to!) and had her running scared, which was highly flattering. I came in 6th, and whilst I was super happy with knocking half an hour off my previous best time for the race, I must admit that having such a miniscule margin to 5th place had me analysing all the tiny things I could have done better... And I'm sure there was 15seconds in there somewhere!!! I was also stoked for Yeti teammate Sam Shaw who took out the mens elite category!

So now it's back into my usual working week to prepare for another weekend of racing coming up (4 hour on Waiheke this Saturday, and the final MNIC in Rotorua on Sunday... It's going to be great fun!!!)... But I must admit, I am really looking forward to the Huka again next year. I can't wait to smash my best time again... And make up that 15seconds!!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Inaugural Taniwha - An Early Season Win!!!

Anyone who ever says any race is "easy" is either lying or wasn't riding hard enough. It could be argued that the inaugural Taniwha was an "easy" race... True that there was a solid block of road riding in there, and some fast fire trail, but it doesn't make the task of completing the race in the fastest time possible any easier... Just faster... And there was certainly a good chunk of steep climbing, some hike-a-bike sections, and numerous awkward switchbacks which required some technical prowess to conquer at any speed...
Photo by Jonathon Kennett

Before I launch into my enthusiastic story-telling of my day, I'd like to give a little foremention,  to Jonathon Kennett and Paul Charteris, who have been kind enough to let me steal some of their photos from the day to make this blog far more interesting than it otherwise would have been (you should also grab a copy of the Kennett Bros new publication "Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails"... Some excellent holidays in there!!!)

I must say that Total Sport are still the only event organiser I have come across that are game enough to attempt the logistics of a point-to-point race, and they do it pretty well, with relatively minimal inconvenience to the people riding it. Whilst having to attend registration the evening before the race to drop off your bike for delivery to the start line may not sound particularly appealing to all, I agree it is likely the most efficient way of doing it (if you don't have a generous friend available to drop you at the start on the morning of the race then meet you at the end)... So drop off my bike and register the night before is what I did, then I arrived at the finish line just before 6am and jumped on the bus with a bunch of other sleepy riders for the trip to the start line, and to be reunited with my beloved Ninja.

Photo by Jonathon Kennett

As the sun crept up higher in the morning sky, it became apparent what a stellar day we had ahead of us... Trails, racing, cool people and sunshine. After being reunited with The Ninja and making multiple "nervous pre-race" toilet stops, we stood in on a quick briefing and were on our way! A pack of about 100 riders smashed out a warp speed lap of the park vying for a good spot to head into the first section of singletrack. I was surprised as we reached the gate that took us to our first trail that I was sitting quite high up in the field overall, and my legs felt pretty good. The pea-gravel trail hugged the river at a gradient that just begged for some big ring action, so I chucked it in the big dog and gave it some stick. The fresh morning air had a noticeable bite in it, but I had elected for no vest or arm warmers because I knew it would turn into a roasting hot day (about 5 minutes after the race began, I was sure I had made the right choice!).
Photo by Jonathon Kennett

The trail at this point was devoid of many obstacles... But at speed, the loose gravel under our wheels was pretty treacherous. On numerous occasions, a straight section of trail would suddenly turn into a corner, where skidmarks and flattened shrubs were clearly seen from where a number of riders had overshot the corner (as I did myself on a couple of occasions). I positioned myself in a pretty good place up the pointy end of the field to start with, and as the trail wound it's way around, I would occasionally capture a glimpse of a female competitor, which would remind me not to relax and keep me on my toes!
Photo by Jonathon Kennett

Big ring alley eventually gave way to a rougher section of trail and saw us off our bikes up a series of steep, tight switchbacks. It was obvious in a number of places on the trail that the original design of the trail had been for walking. To be honest, the hike a bike didn't bother me and added a bit of an "adventure biking" element to the race. I think I would have been disappointed if it had just been gravel trail the whole way through!!! The course climbed steadily for the first 25km of the race, but it was over such a long distance that, asides from the occasional little pinch, it was quite a mellow gradient. As we exited the trail and onto the road, we were also faced with a headwind. This is one of the bugbears of point to point racing... If the wind is going in the wrong direction that day, you could spend the entire day battling into it... Throughout the race, there was probably a good 15-20km of road, and this was the only time I really noticed the headwind. I was lucky enough that when we popped out onto the road for the first time, there was another rider with me, and whilst I doubt my diminutive figure was much respite from the wind for him, he humored me and we worked together for a while, until we hit the trail again and he pulled away from me.
 Photo by Paul Charteris

As the trail wound it's way back towards the next road section, I was faced with a fork in the trail... And no markings... Post-race, this point was a topic of discussion, and it was only by chance that I guessed the right way (not before wasting 2-3minutes searching around for markers, though!)... Other riders hadn't been so lucky and inadvertently added a few kms onto their race. After popping back out onto the road, we then joined another trail and climbed back up and over to the river's edge again, tackling steps, narrow cliff-edge trails and traversing a spectacular swingbridge... I found a lot of the switchbacks on the trail quite awkward because they were tight and covered in loose gravel... It actually made descending some sections of the trail quite tough work on the upper body and core. The climbing got a lot more challenging in the second half of the race. It was also around here that I started coming across runners and riders from the other (shorter) categories in the event. Everyone was super friendly and very courteous, and I tried to be as polite as possible through taking in huge gasps of air. The scenery was breathtaking, too... And I would occasionally catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye and be temporarily distracted. I'd really love to come back and ride the trail again at a more leisurely pace with friends to take in the scenery!
Photo by Paul Charteris

The last 20km felt like the longest part of the race. I had been smashing myself the whole way and my body was starting to feel pretty sorry for itself. As the distance markers disappeared behind me, I finally came upon the last 4km of trail, which was some lovely, rooty singletrack that delivered us straight into the Whakamaru Christian Camp and the finish line. I sprinted in the last hundred metres or so to deliver my body across the finish line.The vibe was great at the finish... I just wish that they had done the prizegiving there as opposed to having to come back into Tokoroa at 6pm (hopefully they will change this next year?)
Photo by Paul Charteris

Indeed, the Taniwha was a tough day in the saddle for me, and not necessarily because the course was hard, but because I rode it hard, finishing the 85km in a personal best time of 4 hours 35 minutes for the win, 15min clear of the second placed female and tenth overall. The awesome thing about this is that it puts the race (or ride, if you prefer) within reach of a rider looking to conquer their first marathon distance mountain bike event, while the fast bunnies can smash themselves for a stab at glory. The Taniwha really does cater for a wide range of abilities and fitness levels and is certainly a worthwhile race to jump on, if not for any other reason than it lets you complete the beautiful Waikato River trail without the hassle of organising logistics for the point-to-point ride.

Photo by Paul Charteris

As far as the start of my season goes, I've been pretty happy to take a third place, second place and now a win, from three races... To be honest, my aim hasn't necessarily been to win races at this early point in the season. My intention has been to use these races as a way to train myself to suffer... So I go out as hard as I can and keep going hard until I just can't anymore... I work on looking after myself on course, paying attention to how different actions I take affect me (what I eat, how much I drink, how quickly I recover after climbing hard). I punish myself in a way that I probably wouldn't in training, and I think it's good to be able to understand how much suffering you can push your body through when you really set your mind to it. For example, I made the conscious decision to run one water bottle for this race. I knew it would be hot and I would need hydration, but I also knew it would be hot enough that I may not want a pack stuck to my back (or the extra weight associated with it), so I ran the one water bottle, and supplemented that by downing a cup of water at each aid station. The result was that it got me through the day quite comfortably, but I suffered quite badly in the following days, recovering much slower than I would have had I maintained my hydration throughout the race... And it really is a trade-off... If I was doing a multi-day race, I couldn't get away with that, but doing a one day race, maybe the benefits of doing that outweigh the need for an extended recovery period. It's nice to experiment with this stuff early in the season without consequence.

It all comes back to one thing I have said many times before though... The body is merely a vehicle for the mind to complete what it set out to achieve, so realistically, a determined mind in a fit body will achieve much more than a fit body on it's own... And following on from that is that the positive mind and a fit body in training will adapt much quicker to increased and sustained efforts to make the body even fitter, which then makes the mind more confident. Interesting stuff huh? What's in your head will always carry you far beyond the point when your body apparently renders itself useless...

Friday, November 9, 2012

MNIC 1 Taupo - A Rewarding Day at the Office

A crisp, clear morning greeted riders as I climbed out of my van at Craters of the Moon in Taupo on Sunday... It had been a long time since I had ridden here, and, like many of our working forests, recent harvesting had turned the area into something quite different to what I remembered. I rugged up in my new Endura jacket (lovely gear, by the way... but more on that later!) and headed to rego, handed over my twenty-five bucks and had a deep and meaningful conversation with the volunteers about how I would like to enter the open category as I was in denial of my "old fogey" status.

A quick warm up loop confirmed the tracks were running pretty fast, but the general consensus was that there was an apparent lack of any climbing of note. I've often had this debate with people who don't like climbing... That riding a trail that is devoid of climbs is actually much harder work, and today was no exception to this... We set off at race start and I punched out my first 12km lap in about 42 minutes... I was fast, but nowhere near fast enough to keep up with Fiona Macdermid. Open females were committed to 3 laps of the 12km course, which was quite long for a cross country race. The relative flatness of the course meant that I was on the hammer the whole time, and it showed in my data afterwards, where my average heart rate for the two hours sat within my anabolic threshold. But whilst the course was hard work, it was also great fun, and to be fair, it would not have done the course justice to ride it any slower. For the most part, we were negotiating our way through flowy corners and berms and floating over small flat top jumps. I worked hard, but I also had a great time, coming in second behind Fiona. For a trail that felt so flat, though, we still punched out a total of 750m of climbing!
I must admit that I enjoy cross country racing... Realistically, my endurance legs are probably not quite as fast as they need to be to stay up there with the best in the game, but it's interesting how much differently I can approach a shorter race, and then, throughout the course of the season, how long a "short" race becomes. For example, I was quite happy to ruin myself in this race because I knew it would be no more than a couple of hours, and in all honesty, it's kinda fun to have the opportunity to absolutely thrash myself as opposed to being required to push out a paced effort over time. Over the course of a season, a "short" race will go from being two hours long, to being four or five hours long. I find it fascinating how the body adapt to training efforts!

I was actually really stoked with my ride... I smashed out a hard, fast 36km, with an average speed of 17km/hr and I felt really comfortable on the bike (even though my lungs didn't!). I had an absolute blast! Thanks to the Taupo MTB Club!!!

Some other exciting bits and pieces from the rest of my week include:
* The discovery that the bridge between the Hemo Gorge track and Waipa Mill carpark has now being completed, making it a very feasible and more interesting route to the forest from town.
* Having my Italian buddy Matteo move here to Rotorua (that's right, the guy who managed my crew for 24 hour world champs)!
* Taking Matteo out to show him the trails with the dog and then spending more time looking for the lost dog in the forest than we actually spent riding trails (although I think Matteo was secretly pleased with the rest on the climb!)
* Enjoying a stunning afternoon road ride around the lakes, seeing my flatmate out and about and smiling and waving so that I looked like I was enjoying myself for all of 5 seconds whilst I smashed myself climbing the hill up Tarawera road.
* Giving away an awesome pair of Adidas Evil Eye sunglasses to Graeme Quay, one of our Yeti Tribe Gathering buddies who had the closest guess of how many metres I rode and climbed in this year's world champs (the correct answer is that I rode 287.95km and climbed 6923m!) 
* Beating a bunch of personal best times on a whole heap of trails in the forest this week.

As I also eluded at the start of my post to the fact that I'm enjoying some new kit, and I am really stoked to announce that Endura Clothing have come on board as part of my team. I've been eying off their gear for a while now... The range of clothing they have, the fit and the quality are all huge bonus points for me... So I was quite stoked when Nigel touched base with me and invited me to come on board (thanks Nigel!). I'm really looking forward to giving the gear a thrashing and then reporting back to everyone on it... So far, though, my fav piece of gear is the Women's Singletrack baggy shorts...

Looking forward to a good weekend at the Taniwha! 80km of trails and hopefully some sunshine!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Yeti Tribe Gathering Awesomeness...

I missed last year's Yeti Tribe Gathering and after hearing about and seeing what a great time they had, I was determined to make it to this one. It was also a bonus that Kashi had kindly invited me to share my photo and story evening from my trip with the Tribe and I jumped at the opportunity both as an excuse to head to Wanaka for some riding with some awesome people and also to be able to re-live my amazing journey overseas.
I skived off work a little early on Thursday afternoon (thanks Boss!) to make the trip to Palmerston North to my partner's house. We then rose super early the next morning to make our way to Wellington to catch our flight to Queenstown. I have this (probably very annoying) habit of always wanting to be at the airport super early for my flight, especially when traveling with a bike, and I found it slightly amusing (and a little shocking) to be cheerfully advised by our Jetstar check-in agent that we were the first passengers to show up for the day whose flight had not been cancelled (wow, that it was worthy of a mention really says something!).

We arrived in Queenstown to blue skies and sunshine (although it was a little cold) where my partner's family met with us and had arranged a loaner car for us for the weekend, too... PERFECT! Thanks guys! After a late night Thursday and and early morning on Friday, we spent Friday afternoon bumming around Queenstown, chilling out in cafes and eating good food, then made our way over to Wanaka at a leisurely pace. The intention had been to meet the Tribe for a bit of a spin at sticky forest, but by the time I got there, it was late, and I was feeling just about ready for a nap, so I skipped on the late arvo ride and spent some time putting my bike together and chatting over cups of tea overlooking the snow-capped mountains in Wanaka (I have drawn the conclusion that EVERY house in Wanaka must have an amazing view!). I then swung by the lodge for a quick intro and to try my hand at the miniature bikes the Tribe were to be racing later that evening (bummed that I missed ou on the action!!!)... I wasn't staying at the lodge with the rest of the crew, but had instead took the opportunity to clock up some Brownie Points staying with my partner's family!

The weather forecast for the weekend had been looking pretty grim, so when we woke to a stunning clear day on Saturday morning, I was chomping at the bit to get out on a ride. I rode along the lakeside to the lodge where Fat Tyre Adventures loaded our bikes onto a trailer for the trip to Queenstown. We started at Arthurs Point and made our way along the Moonlight track up over the Ben Lomond Saddle to Moke Lake. The scenery was stunning with some rough, technical, rocky riding, and if it weren't for hearing the occasional scream from the canyon swing, you would be forgiven for thinking you were hundreds of miles from civilisation. To be honest, it was probably a slightly harder day of climbing than I had planned for the day preceding a race, but it was a waste to not get out in the sunshine, and even more of a waste to be in such a beautiful place and not take up the opportunity to ride with a bunch of great dudes. It was, in any case, a great way to blow out the cobwebs and get the legs moving, and having just had a rest week, the opportunity to hone my trail skills all over again before the race the next day was very welcome indeed! We cruised along at an easy pace, stopping to talk smack about bikes and stuff in general along the way. I had my camera with me and stopped to take a few pics (ok, a lot of pics... sorry guys!)... Ever since my trip to Europe, I have had this innate need to carry some sort of camera whenever I go out riding... Not so much to try and capture what something looked like, or how it felt, but more so as a prompt for the story each picture tells.

As I rode, I felt this nagging nerve impingement in my lower back/medial which just wouldn't go away, no matter how much I tried to stretch it out, and I tried to keep my complaints to myself until someone obviously noticed my constant attempts to stretch and asked if I was ok. I told them I had a sore butt and just needed to harden up a bit... I had severely neglected my commitments to my body of late, and had found myself, at the end of the previous week, trying to find a sports masseuse who could fit me in for an urgent appointment. Not surprisingly, I couldn't find one at such short notice, and I was starting to understand the price I was going to pay for my ruthless neglect of my own body.
We skirted around Moke lake and then descended some lovely terrain with some stellar views to 7 mile bike park, where we did a few tracks and then popped out by the road for our pick-up, a trip to the pub (where I ordered a hot chocolate??!!) and then the drive back over the Crown Range to Wanaka. I fell asleep in the troupie on the way back over with my foot on the valve of my Camelbak, so when I awoke, the back of the troupie was flooded asides from the liquid that my Camelbak had kindly mopped up after dispensing... Bugger.
The afternoon for me was spent preparing my gear and my bike for the race the next day before heading back to the lodge to have a burrito feast and doing my little talk and photo show from my trip for the Tribe. I thoroughly enjoyed recounting my travels, especially to a bunch of fellow Yeti-lovers. It was pretty special for me to have the opportunity to relive the trip yet again and share it with a bunch of good people (although I do get a little self-conscious that I talk a bit too much... I just get so excited by it!!!). While I talked, Zeph laboured away on some final tweaks to my bike for the following day (thanks so much Zeph... You are an absolute legend!!!), and we all feasted on a delicious burrito feed that had been prepared for us by Roshni. As we spoke and ate, the heavens opened and the softer mortals among us talked of sleep-ins and beer in lieu of racing. The whole vibe of the Tribe Gathering was just this really relaxed, friendly vibe and if you've never been to one, I would genuinely urge you to make plans to attend the next... A great weekend of riding with some awesome people on some great bikes!

I must admit that I still find myself occasionally overwhelmed by the enormity of the ideals in my own head after I came back from my trip... I have this picture of how I want my life to be lived and a map of how I get there, but I get so impatient with having to take time to make things happen, jumping from stepping stone to stepping stone... I guess good things come from planning and commitment to those plans, and I occasionally find myself straying off the path in my quest to find a short cut to my final destination.

Saturday night it poured with rain, and I spent the entire evening steeling myself for the onslaught on mud, rain and cold that was almost inevitable for the next day, so you can imagine how delighted I was to wake up Sunday morning to completely clear skies and the amazing view of a fresh dump of snow on the mountain peaks... It was simply breathtaking. I hadn't had the best night's sleep though... I had a queasy tummy and my legs still felt a little heavy from the day before. The Deans Bank 10 Hour was my first sizable race since I had come back from my relatively successful World Championships campaign, and I was super nervous for a couple of reasons... Firstly, I had only really been back on the bike training for six weeks, barely enough time to get some base back into my legs, secondly, because I knew I had some good quality competition on the start line with me and thirdly, because I felt the need to win. I'm being really honest here when I say I put a lot of pressure on myself. Whether it was the reality of how people were thinking or not, I had the fool idea in my head that there were people there with me who expected that I would win, and by all accounts, my credentials would support that theory. In reality, I really just wanted to get in, have fun and open the lungs and legs a bit, but I find it so immensely difficult to immerse myself in a race in the understanding that the result is not important. I suppose that's exactly what makes a determined, dedicated, and successful rider, is that full mental, emotional and physical commitment to each and every race, regardless of what the expectation is. This was a season opener for me, and I needed to treat it as such. I knew it was going to hurt.

As we stood in the morning sun listening to the race briefing, I finished kitting up... Helmet, glasses... And two left-handed gloves... Nice... Thank God I had another matching pair with me. I nearly cursed out loud when they announced the race would have a le mans style start... And it was a sizable run, too... I was one of the last up the hill and on my bike. I say it time and time again that it is the one aspect of my race that I really need to do some serious work on. Previously, I had been of the mindset that these races are so long that it is really irrelevant where in the field you end up after the le mans start, but my thoughts on this have changed significantly in the last year. The higher up towards the pointy end of the field that you get, the more difference every aspect of your race makes, and I'd like to quote the great Jess Douglas with her 1% theory on this one. A bad le mans start means two things. First of all, you get stuck behind slower, more recreational riders (who can run much better than I can!!!). Secondly, and far more damning for an elite endurance rider, is that a bad le mans start means you lose touch with the leading group of riders. Sure, there was a whole 10 hours to make up that minute or two, but setting an appropriate pace is near impossible once you can't see your competitors anymore, and it means that you spend your whole race chasing, which isn't a particularly smart way to expend your energy in such a long race. I had a bit of a stressful first lap, but to be honest, I felt a bit relieved when I went through the timing zone to see I was in third place and I was able to just settle into a rhythm for the chase.

My support crew consisted of my partner and her parents (awesome huh?!). I was hesitant about enlisting the services of my partner's family for a race purely for the fact that a rider's manners during a race are generally anything but impeccable... There's no time for pleasantries with a support crew during a race, so I was genuinely hoping that they would understand it wasn't a commentary on my suitability for their daughter if I sped past, threw a drink bottle at them and then yelled "COKE" before speeding off on my next lap, although I did my best to throw in the occasional "please" and "thank you". From our conversations post-race, I actually think they kind of enjoyed it... I knew her Dad was hooked when he started running alongside the bike as I headed out on my last lap giving me the lowdown on the timing situation (awesome, awesome stuff!), and they even offered to help clean my bike when we got home! I was so grateful for their help during the day. The whole Yeti Tribe also did their bit... They were split up into teams and I was constantly chased down by a clown and a convict who offered genuine words of encouragement. But I think the "motivation of the day" award definitely went to Hadley, who's hollering and enthusiasm could be heard and felt from the other end of the track (thanks man!). I genuinely envy those people who are capable of enjoying the day as part of a team. I am unsure of what it is in my genetic makeup that draws me to riding by myself... I hope that I, too, one day, can experience the joy of team racing without feeling like I should be riding solo!

I spent my first couple of laps getting to know the course... The course was about 10.5km long and super fast and flowy. After the previous evening's deluge, there were a few puddles here and there, and the forest section was a bit mushy, but as the day wore on, it dried out. I was really impressed with the condition of the track. There were really only two climbs of any note and the first of these was a series of tight switchback climbs that scaled a hill near the start of the course. The most spectacular part of the course presented itself immediately upon cresting this first set of switchbacks... The snow-capped mountains loomed beyond the track on the horizon and a bright turquoise Clutha River flowed silently down off the track to the left. Later in the race, this section of track pummeled tired riders with a stiff headwind that was only alleviated upon entering the protection of the forest (or the protection of a larger rider). The second climb wound it's way into the forest canopy and stayed fairly spongy for most of the race after the previous night's rain (that was probably the part of the course I found most draining). After emerging from the forest, though, we were treated to a delicious array of switchbacks, berms, and well-crafted jumps that descended the whole way back into the race village, with a spectacular little "pop" and a sweeping berm to ride before delivering myself to the timing tent for yet another lap. It was a great course which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The first three laps were a mess. Whilst the mud disappeared as the race wore on, it made it's mark right at the start. Realistically, I probably could have stopped for a chain lube after my first lap, but I knew that I would then have to stop again, and I really wasn't very keen on stopping, so I decided to persevere with a scratchy chain until the course showed signs of drying up. At the end of lap three, I pulled up for a quick chain lube and then didn't stop again for the rest of the race. Not long after this, I started feeling a dull pain in my lower back. To be honest, this wasn't unusual. Quite often in a race, I would ride through pain as it came and went, but this just kept getting worse and worse. The impingement I thought had disappeared from the previous day had reared it's ugly head again. As I rode, I would try to stretch it out on the bike... I was adamant that I wasn't going to stop. The pain was nearly unbearable, and given my high pain tolerance, that was saying a lot...
I remember a period around the four hour mark when I felt pretty glum and queasy in the tummy. I had been alternating feeds between drink and food, much like I did at 24 hour solo worlds, and that was working really well insofar as maintaining my energy levels quite consistently. I was pretty stoked when I came through the feed zone on my 5th or 6th lap and there was a boiled, salty potato in my little feed cup... It was delicious, filling, and seemed to take the edge off the queasiness (maybe I'm not so difficult to please after all!). So now, with a couple of spuds stuffed in my pocket and another in my mouth, all I had to contend with was my aching back. I remember at one point of the race saying to myself out loud "you're a hard women, Megan... Just deal with it"... Reminding myself of that seemed to deliver little respite, but unarguably strengthened my resolve to continue smashing out laps.

To be honest, by the time I reached the 7 hour mark, I'd had enough for the day. I kept turning the legs over, and my laps times were reasonable, but if I was being honest, the back pain was seriously bothering me, and I couldn't wait to get rid of it... In my mind though, getting rid of the pain just meant finishing the race then dealing with it... I have noticed that as I mature as a rider, determination, persistence and resilience strongly overshadow any urge to stop and pull up stumps for the day, which is an excellent quality to have developed... It does, however, cloud your judgement on when it may actually be a seriously good time to stop, and Sunday was very borderline for that... When I finished and stepped off my bike, and still even a week later, I had a numb, nagging sensation in my lower back that impeded my ability to bend at the waist... A few massages, some stretching and a little rest time will certainly fix it, but prevention is definitely preferable to cure! All up, I came in 3rd, riding 143km over the 10 hours with an average speed of over 15km/hr. I came in probably 5-10 minutes shy of being able to head out on an extra lap, which I had mixed feelings about!

I'll say in all honesty that I was very happy with my ride. I was consistent, I didn't stop, I maintained an exceptionally high intensity and heart rate for the duration of the race, I fed and watered well, and I was resilient enough to ride through my back pain... I just wasn't as fast as I was 5 months ago... And there's no shame in that. In my own head, I was disappointed that I couldn't "dazzle" with a win, but those are my own demons to battle with... Erin and Floortje rode an excellent race and I'm really stoked that if I had to be beaten, that I was beaten by a couple of quality riders as they are!

Two main things to work on from this race were:
1. Definitely my le mans start... This has been a bug-bear for me for far too long.
2. Being on top of my massage, core strength and stretching schedule.
No self-respecting post would be complete without a gratuitous plug for a couple of sponsors and some awesome new bits and pieces that had landed in my mail box in time to use for the weekend... One of these being a new pair of Adidas Evil Eye Pro Half Rims with the new LST polarised lenses. Adidas have been one of my supporters for a number of years now, and it has been a real pleasure to see them develop their technology over time. I loved the new polarised lenses... On first impressions, they looked to be very dark, so I initially thought they would most likely be relegated to road bike use only... But considering a lot of the riding around Wanaka is quite open, I decided to take them out on the trails on Saturday and I was pleasantly surprised at how versatile the lenses are. I also used them on Sunday during the race and found that even under the forest canopy, the lenses seemed to create a brightening and sharpening effect, which actually made them very usable for a bright day under the canopy. Furthermore, they look cool...

The length of the race also gave me the opportunity to put the Magellan battery extender to the test and my Switch Up survived the entire race without a problem. When I later went to recharge the unit, I noticed there was plenty of juice left in it, too, which gives me good confidence to use it for 24 hour racing. I'd also like to give a bit of a plug to Brendan Ward who was out and about taking some excellent photos on the day of the race and was kind enough to flick them my way to use here in my blog. Thanks Brendan!!!

It's nice to blow the cobwebs out with a quality season opener and come out of it with some good solid points to work on. Well above and beyond that, though, it was totally worth the trip  for the Tribe Gathering. Kashi and the crew make such an incredible contribution to the mountain biking community so it goes without saying that it's a pretty safe bet that you're gonna have a great weekend out with them. Furthermore, it was a pleasure to spend some time with my partner's family... They're a seriously good bunch of people!

This week has been a lazy recovery week for me, but I am seriously amped to get back on the training bandwagon again now... I just needed a good kick in the bum... And I think 10 hours on a bike served that purpose sufficiently!!!