Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cold, The Climbing, The Views, The Yeti St James Epic

I'd been looking forward to this trip for weeks now. John and I both flew into Christchurch on Friday where we rendezvoused with Kashi and Anthony from Yeti NZ for the trip to Hanmer Springs. After loading up our four bikes and ourselves in the Black Seal bat mobile, we were on our way! I've never been to Hamner Springs before and I was quite taken aback by how stunning the scenery is in the area. It's such a beautiful place.

First things first. When we arrived, we assembled our beautiful Yeti bikes. Registration for the event was an interesting experience. We drove around Hamner Springs for quite some time before we realised we were in the right place for rego and there just wasn't any signage to tell us that... This, we would discover, would be a common theme for the weekend. Number plates and rego packs in hand, we set off home to have a meal and prepare for the race the following day. I was sure to celebrate the fact that this was the first time The Ninja had donned a race plate (I think I was way more excited about this than anyone else!). It was a pretty cool sight having four blinged-up black Yeti bikes in the one place at the same time, and it was a slightly amusing sight to see four bikes lined up in the living room and four riders standing around taking photos of them (like the bikes were "working the camera"). I was also highly amused to discover that the bedroom I was sleeping in had a toilet in the cupboard (good ol' Kiwi baches!)

It was an early start the next morning. The race was due to start at 8am at Lake Tennyson, which was an hour's drive from Hanmer Springs. On the way out there, I was rude enough to stop the whole carload of us twice to jump out for a toilet stop behind grass tussocks... It may have been a combination of nerves, the bumpy road and the fact that I obviously drank too much water that morning... At least I knew I was well-hydrated! I didn't really know what to expect from today. I knew the St James trail was part of the national cycleways project, so I was naive enough to think it was going to be an absolute highway, and tipped myself for a sub-six hour finish. I knew there was close to 2000m of climbing, but that didn't really phase me too much. What did phase me was how cold it was when we got out of the car. I really did feel for the multisporters as I saw them jumping into Lake Tennyson in what felt like 4degree cold at 7.30am... It didn't even look like the start to a race... More like "survival of the swimmer who can deal with the cold the best"... I was glad to stick to the bike for today! It was really tough choosing what gear to start off wearing. We had a huge list of "compulsory kit" so it made sense to try and wear some of that. The rest of it was shoved wherever it would fit in my bulging Camelbak. I ended up opting for an Icebreaker layer under my jersey, which seemed to be the right choice after about half an hour, but lining up on the start line was freezing.

The race briefing wasn't all that reassuring... The race director gave us a really detailed overview of the course, to which I then asked "it is marked though, right"? I was relieved when he said yes, because I hadn't really paid attention to anything else he had said. We set off about 8.30am. There were two mountain bike races, a 65km and a 103km (of course, I was doing the 103km) and we started at the same time. The field was quite small, with all of about 8 of us doing the full 103km. The 103km course was the same as the 65km course, except it had three "side trips" off the main track, which were out and back trips.

As we set off from Lake Tennyson, the air temperature was freezing... My legs were so cold and felt so heavy I could hardly turn the pedals. Erin Greene was the only other female completing the 103km course and I was hoping that I could stick fairly close to her for a good portion of the ride. I started just in front of her and as we climbed the first hill, I managed to stay with her, but as we hit the top of the hill, I lost sight of her. The first descent with such cold legs was really quite sketchy on a loose gravel trail. I just felt like I had no control over how my legs moved on the bike... I ended up in a ditch on the side of the track at one point. I knew Erin was a good technical descender and would have made some time on me that first descent... I just kept working hard and I'd see where that got me. After that, we started to get the odd bit of sun and my legs warmed up a bit. On the odd occasion that I looked up, the scenery was amazing, with dramatic, jagged mountains jutting out of the landscape either side of the valley we were in.

The first side trip we did crossed quite a wide river (river crossings would be a big part of life on the trail today) and then climbed up along a lake and into another valley to a turnaround point. The climbing was hard work on the grass... Very energy and speed-sapping. The good thing about the "out and back" loops was that you could see where you were in relation to the rest of the field, and as it turned out, I was only a couple of minutes behind Erin.

As we rejoined the main trail, we were faced with the headwind again. It was pretty heinous and I really should have had some more foresight to try and stick with another rider to work on rotating through the headwind. But as it turned out, I was on my own, so I just had to deal with it. The second side-trip was really hard work. We were on grass, into a headwind and the trail was pretty poorly marked. We were trying to find tramping markers while we were scooting along on our bikes and there were a number of river crossings. I increasingly found myself slowing down thinking "am I in the right place? Have I missed a marker?". To be honest, it was a bit frustrating, but I was relieved to find the turnaround point with the plate punch on it and then to head back to the main trail with a tail wind. At this point, a sub six hour ride was still on the cards, but when I looked at the total ascent on my Garmin GPS, it told me that we had only climbed 500m in total so far. We were 50km in and I knew that there was supposed to be 2,000m of climbing for the whole race... I tried to put it into the back of my head, but I couldn't help thinking to myself "surely we don't have another 1,500m of climbing to do in the last 50km?" (for the record, yes, we did).

On our third side trip, as I got to the turnaround point, I saw that I was only about 500m behind Erin, which I was super stoked with. It was pretty encouraging and I turned up the pace a notch to see if I could bridge the gap (similarly, I'm sure she turned up the pace a notch to ensure I didn't!). The next 40km were the hardest in the race, but probably had the nicest scenery and trails. I really started to struggle with the river crossings... Being so small, the wind coupled with the current in the rivers conspired to knock me over at any given opportunity, so I found I was being fairly cautious with where I placed my feet. In addition to this, I had to make sure I lifted the bike right out of the water, otherwise the current caught it and sent me tumbling. I reckon I lost a lot of time on the river crossings. I would have to say that the most unusual part of the ride was just before we hit the single track and were riding across this huge expanse of flattened grass. It was the weirdest feeling... You thought you were riding in a straight line, but the grass seemed to suck your wheel any which way it felt... In the end, I found it quicker to tackle on foot with my bike in hand. We then headed up this rather long singletrack climb with amazing vistas back over the valley we had just ridden through. It was such a treat to take time out of huffing and puffing and suffering for five seconds to look at what was around me. We really were in stunning, dramatic countryside. The trail we had been on disappeared through countless rivers towards the horizon at the end of the valley which was guarded by towering mountains on either side which touched the blue sky. It was magic. Once again, I wasn't sure if I was in the right place or going the right way, and as I barreled down the single track on the other side of the climb, I came across a couple of groups of recreational riders who confirmed for me that yes, other racers had come past them (PHEW!). This was the best part of trail that we had ridden, but there was still 30km to go...

After crossing this really cool swing bridge (a camera at this point would have been awesome), I was faced with two rather long, steep climbs. They were hard work, and, quite honesty, they chewed me up and spat me out like I had done no training whatsoever... It was demoralising to say the least. I was hurting real bad, but there was no other option than to just keep pushing on. I pride myself on being a pretty good climber, and these hills taught me a big lesson. My chain was also running super dry and I hadn't brought any lube with me, so I just had to suck it up and deal with it. I took the time at the last aid station to stop and top up with a banana and some extra fluids before setting off down the other side. I considered removing my thermal from under my jersey, but decided that even if I got hot, it was probably good conditioning for what we would encounter in South Africa. The wind had picked up but was actually behind me now... A nice change from the head wind we had endured the entire race up until now. A couple of localised bug communities (best close your mouth when riding through them!), a few more river crossings and one more heinous hill and then I had a tail wind down hill to nail it home (or so I thought)... About 2km from the finish, we were directed off the road and onto a vague farm track (once again, marked with tramping track poles). I had no idea where I was going, most of it wasn't ridable and I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to pick my way across this farm paddock, all the while with the finish line in sight. It was painful, and probably a bit unnecessary. I finally made my way across the finish line, well outside the 6 hours I had planned on, but with a good day of training in my legs.

There were a lot of tales circulating at the finish line of riders who got lost, or were sent the wrong way, or who had trouble finding markers. In a way, it was a relief that I wasn't the only one who found myself geographically embarrassed on occasion. All in all, the trail was great, and I'd love to ride it again (maybe even as a day trip with some mates). I felt like the side trips were a bit tacked on just to add distance, and didn't really add much value to the ride. It would be really great to see the 103km riders do the same as the 65km riders, but continue on and finish in Hamner Springs. And, as we have established, the course marking and marshalling maybe could have been a little more comprehensive. The sausages at the finish line were AWESOME! (see insert of photo of John enjoying an awesome sausage... A picture says a thousand words!). For a first year event, though, it was a good, fun, hard ride, and with a bit of work, I could see this turning into a really classic "must do" race in a couple of years. The Ninja served me really well. I'm still trying to get the shock pressure right, and I think that I maybe still have the rear a little too hard. In addition to this, I had definately put too much air in my tyres for this race and it made the ride slightly rougher than it really needed to be, but these are minor adjustments. Otherwise, the geometry seems pretty spot on. I had no complaints of pain, and it really is just a pleasure to ride (not to mention it looks bloody cool, too!). That evening, we hit up the Hamner Springs hot pools and chilled out, which was absolute bliss after the day we had. It was actually the first time I have been in my togs this year, and my tan lines no doubt raised a few eyebrows (it looked like I was wearing white shorts and a white t-shirt under my bikini).

Sunday, we had a fairly civilised start and headed off to Nelson to watch the national downhill champs, stopping at a really cool little cafe in Murchison on the way for a second breakfast. Unfortunately, we didn't arrive early enough to head out on a ride, so I got my bike packed up in it's box and then headed up to the track to do some spectating and take some photos (it was an unusual feeling to not be partaking in the actual race side of things!). Afterwards, we headed to the airport and boarded our planes for the trip home. It was a really wicked weekend and it was great to spend some time with Kashi and bounce ideas off him and get advice on the Cape Epic (which he has done twice now). John and I are really proud to be part of the Yeti NZ team, and even moreso when it means we get to hang out with such great people who have such a huge love of the sport of mountain biking (thanks Kashi!!!)

In terms of my own performance on Saturday, I felt pretty happy with my first 60km or so. I was pretty disappointed with how I closed the day out and with my poor form on those final few hills. I guess, though, with these events, it's important to see where you still have work to do. With Cape Epic only 7 weeks away, I will be working on getting in some long rides with hill reps at the end (my idea of fun!). That afternoon, both John and I were pretty shattered and I think it hit pretty close to home the thought that this is the exact sort of ride we will be doing for 8 days straight when we go to South Africa. I can't wait, but to be honest, I'm terrified of it. There will be nowhere to hide as we ride through South Africa, and how we work as a team, and how mentally and physically tough we both are, will determine our fate on the trail. I think John and I make a great team, and I think we're both pretty tough nuts... Bring it on, I say! (Just give me a couple more weeks to get some more hills in my legs!)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mind Games and "The Ninja"

Monday saw me road-tripping it down to Wellington after work to pick up my new Yeti ASR5C (what a sweet way to start the week!). I could barely contain my excitement and spent the entire trip with my car stereo cranked up singing along to my favorite riding tunes (that I would admit to this in writing on a public forum really shows I have very little shame). I arrived at Roadworks to be greeted by two things I have been looking forward to immensely for some time now. Firstly, meeting the great man who was building my rig, Oli Brooke-White, and secondly, being united with my long-awaited Yeti ASR5C... And both well-exceeded my expectations. Oli is a such a dedicated, passionate man about his work... His modest workshop is decked out with the coolest bling and memorabilia and he takes such pride in his work. My new bike was an absolute masterpiece at his hands. The geometry and set up was just about perfect, cables trimmed perfectly, and he diarised the whole build in photo form to Facebook, so I could see it unfold. What a top dude! The bike was superb. Nearly entirely black (including the forks) with the odd bit of shiny bling and the gold kashima shocks. With my reputation for being a bit of an expert in the art of stealth, practical jokes and scaring people at work, it seemed that there was no other name for my new weapon than "The Ninja". I piled The Ninja lovingly into my car, thanked Oli for his outstanding work, tripped into the city and had a quick catch-up with John and then headed home to sit the bike in my living room and stare at it all evening...

On Tuesday, I took The Ninja to work with me and had to look at it sitting in my office all day before I could take it out for a blat (what a tease!). As soon as quitting time rolled around, I rocked out the door into a lovely Summer's evening and headed out to Kohitere Forest at Levin. As soon as I jumped on my new Yeti ASR5C, I felt at home. This is the first full carbon mountain bike I have owned, probably mainly because up until now, not many manufacturers made extra small carbon frames. The bike weighs in at 10.7kg (not bad for a full sus rig!) and is kitted out with a full XTR groupset and wheels, Enve Bars, Thompson seatpost, a lovely carbon Ritchey stem, Chris King headset, Fox Float 32 forks and RP23 rear shock, both with the lovely gold kashima coating and my favourite saddle, the Selle SMP Lite 209 (massive thanks to Kashi at Yeti NZ for helping me select the right components!). You can tell by the detail in the frame just how exceptional the quality is (something I have come to expect over the years from Yeti!). It is, by far, the coolest bike I have ever owned. But enough about specs and looks... How does it ride? It feels amazing. The bike climbs like a mountain goat, effortlessly skipping over roots and the rear end tracks the ground really well once you get the air pressure in the rear shock correct. I think it would be safe to say I have never ridden a full suspension bike that climbs so well, and I'm really looking forward to giving it some stick at the St James Epic next weekend, with 1900m of climbing. The Ninja even lived up to it's name rather well as the mountain bike track crossed close to a walking track (I was obviously really stealth and Ninja-like and scared the living crap out of a walker as I ninja'd my way up the trail). As I hit the top of the climb, I had effortlessly beaten my previous quickest time up Warpath, which I was unsurprised with. As I cruised along Top Track, it became quite evident that The Ninja was capable of some pretty dangerous speeds and as I dropped in off the top of the forest on Gardiner track, I was careful to bleed the speed a bit on the descent. The bike rolled exceptionally well and felt stiff, but not rough. It tracked the ground well, much like the 575, and felt really nice and racy. The XTR componentry is a pleasure to ride with... The brakes are super responsive and the gear changes are really crisp. I got a couple of laps of the forest in, but as suspected, my training ride turned largely into a bike porn photo shoot, especially since it was such a lovely evening to be out in the forest. As I made my way back to the car right on sunset, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I headed home a very happy, muddy biker.

Wednesday saw the return of my beloved hill climbs and after five pretty hard weeks straight of training, I was really starting to feel the pinch. I had nine 5min reps to do today and to be honest, I felt pretty smashed. It was really hard to fathom jumping on the bike after a long day at work and smashing hills for a couple of hours solid... But there I was, out on the road up Ngahere Park over and over. Unfortunately, I didn't smash my PB again this week, but I did pretty much equal it, and my climbs are getting consistently better... My second climb was much on par with my eighth, which was quite pleasing. It was a really strange session, actually. I don't remember much going on in my head (in fact, I remember I had to keep switching over to the elevation profile screen on my GPS to count how many climbs I had done), but at the end of the session, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the session had gone. Thursday's session came and went with some hard intervals and heinous crosswinds and headwinds to contend with (how come I never seem to get a tail wind???) after a morning plyometrics session.

I was really running on empty towards the end of the week, and Saturday was looking to be a busy day. I got up at 6am and was out on The Ninja by 7am (taking my lovely new bike out for a spin was certainly a good motivator!) for a four hour ride. It was quite a pleasant morning and I headed up and over North Range Road to Ballance Bridge on the other side and back. I felt pretty stuffed, to be honest. My heart rate sat really low, but my average speed for the ride was surprisingly quick. I also found the climbs fell away from under me with relative ease, and I gave a couple of roadies a run for their money up Pahiatua Track on my mountain bike, so it wasn't by any means all bad. I really enjoy the North Range ride. There's a real sense of solitude as you snake your way through the wind farm, rarely seeing anyone else. The windmills swoosh round and round like giant soldiers on the side of the hill and the views are spectacular. The Ninja performed very nicely again, and once I got home, I gave it a quick clean and jumped into my work uniform to head out to Himitangi Beach for the annual Big Dig, which we were sponsoring. I wasn't feeling much like heading out to the event, but I was so glad I did. The weather at the beach was lovely, asides from a small breeze and the turnout was great! The Big Dig is an event that More FM run (and Mitre 10 MEGA sponsor) annually to raise funds for local surf lifesaving. Basically, they bury a bunch of tokens in a fenced off area and you dig for tokens to win a prize... Pretty crazy stuff, but great fun, and it was a really good feeling to be involved in such a great community event.

Sunday morning was another early one and I left memorial park at 8am with a bunch of other roadies for an 80km road ride, which was actually rather civilised. I was pretty relieved to be in a bunch today, as the wind had picked up again and it was nice to rotate through and get a bit of a break from sitting with the wind in your face the whole way. I was home by 11am and quite happy to have a cruisy afternoon of napping, reading, writing, eating, drinking herbal tea and chilling out to some favourite tunes. I'm pretty stoked to have an "easy" week coming up this week, and then John and I head off to the St James Epic next weekend on the south island (it's going to be an absolute hoot!)

Cape Epic is growing nearer at an alarming rate. As a part of our team campaign, we have decided to support a worthy cause. World Bicycle Relief provide bikes to children and women in impoverished areas so they can have access to basics we take for granted... Things like water, food and education... It's a real representation of the grass-roots purpose of a bike and a fantastic cause. Please help us raise funds by donating on our page http://action.worldbicyclerelief.org/page/outreach/view/individual/johnandmegan

I think probably the most defining memory of my week this week (asides from getting my cool new bike!) was how my mindset switched on Wednesday night when I was doing my hill rep session. I just kept thinking to myself "switch your head off, switch your legs on, and just keep digging until you find something that you didn't think was there"... And I did find it... And I kept doing that for the rest of the week, just living out my training schedule running on little more than grit and determination. It's such a great feeling to know I can do that, because I reckon it will matter more than ever come Cape Epic in nine weeks time.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hard Lessons as a Roadie - The Hub Cycle Tour

Friday afternoon I set off from work to Hawkes Bay to do The Hub Cycle Tour. This is a three day road race with four stages. I had been debating whether to enter A Grade or B Grade and eventually decided to enter A grade just because the B grade distances were a bit short for me. I hadn't really taken into consideration that riders required a race license to enter, and that there was some quite substantial prize money up for grabs, which invariably was going to make the field quite strong.

Our first stage (prologue) was on Friday evening and was a 6km time trial (flat as a pancake)... How hard could it be??? I arrived at Ngatarawa Winery and my first task was to change over my tyres. I had noticed in the morning that there was a bulge on my rear tyre and quite a few nasty nicks and after ringing around every shop in Palmerston North and Hawkes Bay to try and get my hands on my favourite tyres with no success, I settled on something pretty close to that I picked up at Pedal Pushers. I was pretty nervous about racing on a tyre I didn't know, but I figured it was the better option that suffering a blowout on the road. It was lucky that I did change the tyres over because when I went to pump my rear wheel back up, the tube blew out. The wind was blowing a gale, but fortunately, there was no rain, as was the case when I left Palmerston North. I set off at my allocated time, and straight out of the gates, my cleat disengaged and I smacked my knee on the bars. Argh! What a muppet!!! This also drew attention to the fact that I was riding a road bike with SPD cleats (yes, everyone, I'm a mountain biker, OK???). I clipped back in and enjoyed the tail wind on the way out, averaging about 45km/hr, then turned around for the trip back to be smacked in the face with a terrible headwind. At the halfway mark, the girl who had started 30secs back caught me, and passed me like I was standing still, but at the end of the time trial, the time that other girls were crossing the finish line indicated that maybe I wasn't too far off the pace. We'd see when the results were posted.

I then headed in to Napier to check in to my accommodation and had one of those terrible moments where you think "this looked much better on the website than it does right now in real life". I thought that accommodation in Napier for $65 a night was too good to be true... To be fair, the room was clean and tidy and the food was bloody fantastic (they even cooked me up a special pasta as requested). The following evening, I was treated to the smell of weed emanating from one of my neighbour's rooms... I promptly reported it to management and the smell was gone by the time I got back! (I felt like I was at school again dobbing on the naughty kids!)

You've all heard me say many times before that I'm not a very good roadie... I like my space and I'm not good at nearly touching the wheel of the person in front of me, or nearly touching their elbow while they are next to me. I'm a terrible pack rider! We had two stages on Saturday, a 66km race in the morning and a criterium in the afternoon. The morning race set off at a reasonably quick pace and we had very little time to get organised before we hit the first climb of the day. My training for climbing has been really good lately (I set another personal best on Wednesday, then vomited on the side of the road!!!), but it wasn't good enough to hold the back of the Elite ladies up the climb. I got stuck behind a girl that dropped off and by the time I realised, I was unable to bridge the gap... It was highly frustrating, especially seeing as my plan had been to force myself to push hard to keep up with them just from a training perspective. If it was any consolation, I wasn't the only one that was dropped and I picked up a girl named Katie and we took turns at the front working together. The bunch was long gone, but I was still keen to get some good training down for the day. As we approached the top of the KOM climb, I pulled alongside Katie and said "did you want to sprint for the climb, just for fun?"... She looked at me like there was something wrong with me, but reluctantly agreed, and we raced each other over the crest of the hill, then collapsed back onto our saddles to settle in for another 58km in the wind. Just at the start of the second lap, we picked up another rider and we all worked together, taking turns in the wind... I started to get a bit frustrated because it seemed like they were just cruising along (no doubt trying to conserve their energy for the crit that afternoon), but I was keen to give it some stick and get some training out of it, so I found myself spending a fairly large amount of time at the front. I remember hearing one of the girls say "it doesn't matter anyway... We're coming last"...I had a bit of a giggle, but then looked across to see she was dead serious. That comment kinda stuck with me and bugged me for the rest of the ride. I suppose I come from a discipline where so much can change throughout the race that the thought would never enter my head. I was thinking "Do you really give up that easily?" At the end, I decided to do a mad sprint for the finish line (just for fun)... To be honest, I don't think either of the two girls contested it, but I enjoyed topping off my training session with a bit of a smashout... Not to mention it was Elite ladies and I didn't come last!

Finding the venue for the crit was a nightmare (signage would have been most welcome!)... This was only the third criterium I had ever done, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. The venue was around the grounds of one of the local coolstores, which was perfect, as it meant no road closures. It was actually really exciting to watch... There was loud music, people cheering, riders going really, REALLY fast and people washing out and crashing at high speed. All I knew about the criterium as I stood on the line was that I had to ride my guts out for 30mins plus 3 laps and try not to get lapped out by the leaders. They did a quick role call. Being the clown I am, instead of answering a straight "yes" to my name, I called out "PRESENT!". I clearly had no idea what I was about to get myself into. I was actually hoping that the pack would hold down a civil pace to start with and then wind it up... No chance... Straight from the line they went hell for leather and I only just got my feet clipped in by the first corner. I rode my guts out, and in hindsight, maybe pushed a gear that was slightly too hard, and got lapped out within the first 10mins. They don't let lapped riders remain on the course because it's dangerous, so I pulled off the course, feeling a bit bummed out. Like I said before, I found the whole idea of the crit really exciting, and I was actually just disappointed that I couldn't still be out there and be part of the atmosphere. Before my next criterium, I would likely work on figuring out my ideal gear ratio and cadence for maximum speed and minimal fatigue and would work on my cornering technique... I think these two things were a huge factor in not being able to hang onto the pack. Man, these girls were quick! After the crit, I bumped into Bridget Lodge, a well respected mountain biker (turned roadie since an injury last year). I'd had a quick chat with Bridget earlier in the day, but it was really cool to speak to her and if I recall correctly, she introduced me to someone as a "legend mountain biker", which I felt quite honored by, coming from her!

I left the crit actually feeling a bit down. I felt really bummed I couldn't keep up with the grade I had entered, and in hindsight, I think B grade would have been a better call. I reckon I had the legs for A grade but I just hadn't done enough road racing to understand the tactics and bunch dynamics very well, especially at an elite level. For the last few weeks, I had been smashing my training and my hill climbs were getting better and better and it was so demoralising to think that it still wasn't good enough... It was a real wake up call that I still have a long way to go with my training over the next couple of months (and maybe a fairly timely wake-up call to stop me getting complacent). I headed back into town, freshened up and then went and treated myself to a nice dinner along the waterfront, then headed up to Te Mata Peak to sit and read my book and chill while I watched the sunset (which was spectacular, by the way!). I slept pretty solidly that night and woke up the next morning feeling quite a bit more positive.

Sunday we had one final stage, which was a 93km road race. I felt pretty determined to stick in the bunch as best I could today, especially seeing as there was still quite a bit of wind around. The first 10km, I did quite well... I was working hard, but rotating through with the bunch with a degree of competence. As we hit the first hill, I was sitting middle of the pack and I pushed hard up the hill to find myself still sitting in the pack at the top of the climb, which was more a relief than anything else. I thought to myself "if I can position myself mid-pack before each climb, I should be able to stick to them over the hills". What I hadn't prepared myself for was that the next hill was pretty much straight away and was the KOM prime, so I hadn't repositioned myself back into a suitable place in the pack. I worked hard up the hill, but as quick as I was off the back, the rest of the pack were over the other side of the hill. I was so bloody angry with myself... And even angrier that I knew how to climb a hill like that properly, but I ended up stuck in a gear way to high for what I was trying to achieve... Real amateur stuff. A couple of other girls got dropped with me... One of them was Katie, who I had ridden with the day before... To her credit, there was no cruising this time. We teamed up and gave chase as hard as we could (and we did work bloody hard). The thing that made it such a tease was that the road was flat and we could see the pack ahead of us for ages, so we kept chasing and chasing until the pack was out of sight and then we kept working hard at it... We still had another 80km to ride, which to me was no real big deal, but I wanted to work hard, finish and maybe post a respectable time given said circumstances. I felt bad that I knew I wasn't really much to draft off for her, so I was trying to do extra long turns at the front to hopefully give her some rest. We worked really well together, but then on the final lap, my partner in crime started to drop off on the climbs. I have to say, I wasn't sure of the etiquette on things like this... If you have been working with someone to chase and they drop off the back of you, do you wait for them, or is it on their own back to keep up with you? I waited on a couple of the climbs, but then on one climb, I looked back and she was way off the pace. I dropped the pace a bit and kept moving, but she never caught back up. I felt even worse when I saw her Dad's car go past ten minutes later with her bike on the back... She had pulled out. As I rounded the corner back onto the main highway with about 20km to go, I reeled in another one of the girls that had being dropped from the pack. We worked together and rotated through for a while, but when I looked back to move over and let her roll through I noticed she wasn't there. She had dropped off the back of me, too... I was on my own again... Five minutes later, I also saw a car go past with her bike on the back. I have to say, I was a little bewildered at why you would ride a three day tour, make it all the way to within 10km of the finish line and then pull out and DNF. I didn't have a sad wagon waiting for me... It hadn't even crossed my mind, to be honest. I just kept trucking away towards the finish line... I was actually a little concerned that I may get there and they had packed up and gone home.... To my relief, this was not the case. The stage did have a hilltop finish, though, and by the time I got there, I was pretty trashed and very grateful that the organisers were able to give me a lift back to the start line (as opposed to having to ride the 20km back)... I'd worked really hard today and felt much better about the whole thing than yesterday.

Although I was the lowest-placed finisher, there were quite a large number of girls that pulled out over the weekend (maybe as much as a third of the field), which lifted my ranking quite significantly... There's a lot to be said for a bit of tenacity. Let's face it, you've been riding enough that you are going to hurt whether you pull out of the race or not, so it just makes sense to finish the job, doesn't it??? This next week, I have another hard week of training and I get to pick up my new Yeti ASR5 Carbon on Monday... There's always something to look forward to!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mid-Week Gloating and Weekend Boating - Tour De Whaka

This week was a pretty big one in terms of training and other bike-related stuff. Suffice to say, I feel quite broken sitting on the couch right now trying not to succumb to the urge to drink a beer.

It all started on Tuesday with a short, 2 hour thrash out on the Mountain Bike. It was a pretty nice evening and my task was to put in 20sec sprints every 2 minutes for an hour of this ride, which may not sound too bad, but by the end of the hour, my legs felt like jelly, especially compounded on the last week I spent in the hurt box.

The gloating part of my week started on Wednesday when I headed off to do my hill repeats. Now, I'd like to point out that until I received my month's program at the start of the week, I was actually foolish enough to think that seeing as I was racing Saturdays three out of the four weeks this month, I would miss out on hill climb Saturdays... Well, my coach had obviously also noticed this and was kind enough to move my hill rep days to Wednesday (cheers coach!). I headed out to Ngahere Park Road with some good fatigue in my legs, but after beating my PB last 3 weeks straight, I really couldn't handle the thought of not beating it again today. I have this pact I make with myself that whatever happens in this session, as long as I beat my PB with at least ONE climb, I need to be happy with that improvement... And off I went up the road on my first rep. I hit my first time check point and I was 15sec ahead of my previous personal best. "Holy Shit" I thought "I'm going to absolutely cream this!"... As I got closer and closer to the end of my five minute climb, I was definitely feeling the burn. I knew I was maybe pushing a bit too hard, but the temptation to smash my personal best was drawing me into stupidity. I hit the second pitch of the climb, got up out of the saddle and sprinted up it in my big chain ring. I knew that I had beaten my previous PB, but I wouldn't know by how much until I got home and uploaded my data. That was ok... My concern now was that I had gone so hard on this first climb and still had seven more to do... I really had smashed myself. My next climb felt so slow and painful. My legs were burning from the start of the climb, but at the finish point, it was actually still a very respectable climb. The rest of my reps followed suit... All very painful, but surprisingly consistent. It was actually quite an interesting test seeing how my body recovered and reacted after been smashed at the start of a ride, and I wasn't displeased with the results. When I arrived home, I uploaded the data from my Garmin to see I had beaten my previous PB by nearly 100m and had ascended the climb at an average of 17.5km/hr! To be realistic, I reckon this PB may stick around for a while (it was a pretty good climb!), but it won't stop me from trying to smash it again next week. The other cool news I had to gloat about was that my new Yeti ASR5 Carbon frame has arrived and I can expect to see it built up and shiny, ready to ride in a week or so. WHOOP!

Thursday's ride was a little bit lackluster after Wednesday's effort. My heart rate sat really low and my anabolic threshold was severely impeded, so during efforts, my legs were tiring quite quickly... Typical fatigue symptoms. However, I still felt substantially stronger than I had a couple of weeks before and was pushing very plausible gear ratios up the hills, so it wasn't an entirely disappointing session.

OK, I tell a lie... I didn't go boating on the weekend, but the weather and the state it left the trails in could have floated a small vessel or a bicycle alike. I tripped up to Rotorua Friday afternoon to race in the Tour De Whaka. This is one of NDuro's new concept races which was basically a short stage race starting with a hill climb, then a super D, time trial and a cross country race to finish it off. We discovered at registration that due to the weather forecast, three stages would be held on the Saturday and then just the cross country race on the Sunday (a decision which ended up being a very wise one on the part of the organisers).

Saturday's weather actually didn't end up being too bad. First up was the hill climb, which started at the intersection of Hot Cross Buns and Be Rude Not To... We had to climb to the start point (good warm up). My start time was 9.40am and I set off with a holler, soon to be choked back by my lungs gasping for air as I started ascending... It was hard work and my heart rate was sitting really low, but after a couple of minutes, it came good. Whilst I felt strong, I wasn't expecting any amazing times on the climb, being on the all-mountain 575 rig (however was really looking forward to the super D on it!). I was pretty relieved to hit the top of the 277m climb in 22mins, a couple of minutes off the pace. We then caught our breath and climbed up to the top of Billy T to enjoy some trail goodness. Man that Yeti 575 rocks the downhills! YEEEEOW!!! We then waited for the start of our Super D. To be honest, the Super D was really quite pedally, and whilst I knocked it out with an average speed of just under 20km/hr, I wasn't all that stoked with my time comparative to my competitors. It was bloody good fun though! I enjoyed letting the bike just drift over everything on the trail. It really is quite a comfortable rig and the way it tracks the ground feels really natural. I feel like I can trust it to just do it's thing. A real "point and shoot" machine. The time trial for the day was on Old Chevy... Only 5km, but a good hard smash out. I whacked it in the big chain ring and went hard. It was by far my best ride of the day, with quite a respectable average speed. The afternoon consisted of a hot tub and a bit of a nap, ready for the next day.

It rained all night Saturday night, and when we woke in the morning, it was still raining. It was one of those mornings that you just couldn't quite believe you were about to kit up and go riding in such foul weather... But there I was, on the startline in my lycra, already drenched before we started, with a handful of other diehard riders... We took off up the road and I couldn't help thinking about how slow I felt. The field was unusually pointy (ie. it was a really fast field of riders) and it was actually a bit demoralising to be chasing in vain. I settled in to my own rhythm (not much I can do other than ride my hardest) and had an amazing day of it. The XC course was about 24km long and the trails were absolutely drenched. As the bike slid around corners and hopped from puddle to puddle (with no idea of how deep they were or what lay beneath the water) I couldn't help but grin to myself at how much I love this shit (excuse my language, but there really is no other way to describe it)! I was covered head to toe in mud, hollering as I hooned down the trail with reckless abandon, railing muddy berms, pumping over jumps and just generally carving it up... It was brilliant!!! Being excitable (as I am), I stayed in my big chainring for the majority of the course, doing my best to get enough speed to be wonderfully reckless and enjoy the ride. It was just what I needed to finish off a hard week... A reason to jump back on the bike next week for another serving!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Week in The Hurt Box

The splendid weather we have been having of late was bound to come to an end sooner or later. Luckily, this week, I still managed to get in Tuesday smashfest and Wednesday hill time trials at Kohitere before the bleaker weather set in. Kohitere was it's usual fantastic self. I went for a trip out there after work on Wednesday and the trails were bone dry and rolling really fast. I beat my previous PB time trial up the hill twice (although unfortunately not with negative splits... The first one was a bit quicker than the second). I also came back with my usual allergies... There is something that particular forest cultivates that my sinuses and skin don't like! Lucky the trails are so lovely... It makes it worth a bit of hayfever and scratchiness!

Thursday's weather was a different story, and after going so hard on Tuesday and Wednesday, and doing some plyometric work that morning, it would have been an easy call to decide to flag the session. My legs felt pretty tired... I have no memory of how, but before I knew it, I was out on the road bike, pedaling down Napier Road. It actually wasn't a bad evening for it. It was overcast and drizzling, but no wind and a bit cooler than it had been. I pushed out some long big gear reps and then headed home pretty satisfied with how the session went.

Friday morning was core work in the morning and a run in the afternoon. I always look forward to Friday and kind of think of it as a day off, which is a nasty trick to play on myself, because I know bloody well that it isn't. When I got home for my run, the rain was pouring down and after much procrastination, I headed out for my run in the rain... It was actually quite pleasant, and whilst my legs felt tired, I think they appreciated doing something a bit different than going around in circles. On a small side note, I really need to get some new running shorts that are longer than my lycra. I love my tan lines, but they aren't the best look as a trot down the street on my run!

Saturday was absolutely heinous. I woke up to 50km/hr wind gusts and rain and I had to do hill repeats. I kitted up and jumped on my bike to ride straight into the headwind out to Ngahere Park Road. The wind was blowing the rain into my face so hard that it felt like my skin was being pricked with pins... There were no other cyclists out on the road (wonder why?). To be honest, I didn't feel all that bothered by it. I felt quite upbeat, and my legs felt surprisingly strong. As I rode, I thought to myself that if I can do a Personal Best on just ONE climb today, I will be happy with that. I set off on my first climb. Gusts of wind blew at me from the front and side. I have a couple of time split points that I look at for these climbs to gauge how I'm going for that rep... At my second split, I was actually 5 seconds ahead of my personal best... I kept driving into the headwind and as I hit the start of the second steep pitch of the climb with ten seconds to go, I knew I was going to smash my PB... Then I dropped my chain... I'll spare you the details of what language came out of my mouth, but it wasn't particularly lady-like. I managed to pick the chain up and hit the pitch as hard as I could in the remaining seconds and when I looked down at my GPS at the end of the effort, I saw I had still beaten my PB by twenty metres! YEEEOOOW!!! I'll be really interested to see how that translates on a nice fine day with no wind (and a chain that doesn't drop off!). My second climb came close to the first, but as the session wore on, the wind picked up and got stronger and stronger and the climbs got slower. Having said that, I was punching up them hard. I have no doubt I put some good climbing in my legs on Saturday. At the end of my hill reps, I headed back towards home with a nice tail wind (55km/hr on the flat anyone???), and enjoyed the nice warm shower I had been yearning for since I stepped out the door two hours earlier.

In the afternoon, I headed out and picked up a copy of my fav mag, Spoke. I was very privileged to feature in the Contributors profile corner on the first page (I found it incredibly fitting that the theme of this issue was "Hurt"). I knew about this, but what I didn't know was that Cape Epic team mate, John Randal, was the one that was writing it. I felt so touched by what he wrote. It was a really nice surprise and a great motivator (I now had to live up to what he had written!!!). It's really interesting how when you write articles for a magazine, you have a deadline and then you see them in the magazine two months after you last read them. I flicked to the page with my article that I had written (all about Hurt) a couple of months ago and read it... It struck a really positive note in me, and seemed especially appropriate given how hard I was working on the bike lately. It was like a reminder of how important it is to work hard and grow through the pain.

Sunday morning I woke up to more rain and wind. My whole body ached. Yesterday's session in the wind had really knocked my core around, especially after the core work I did on Friday (it's amazing how much of your core you use to stabilise yourself in the wind), and my shoulder wasn't feeling so great, either (probably for the same reason). I had to get up and knock out four hours worth. I decided to give it a few hours and see if the weather settled down a bit, and to my delight, the sun started poking its head through the clouds just before midday. My leg muscles felt pretty wrecked, but I guess that's exactly how they will feel on day 8 of the Cape Epic. I intentionally chose a tougher ride today... I didn't want to make it easy for myself... So I headed up Greens Road, Back Track and down Scotts Road then turned around and came back the same way... It was about 1500m of climbing. My choice of tyre and pressure for the day probably wasn't really appropriate. I left the Mezcals on and I had them pumped up probably just a smidgen too hard for the slippery rocks up Back Track. They roll really well, but aren't the grippiest or most responsive braking tyre. On my way out, I was flying down the section of trail that links Turitea Street and Greens Road and as I rounded a corner at full speed, came across another cyclist coming up the track on the right hand side. He saw me and stopped, but there wasn't much more he could do... He stood there and watched in sheer terror as it looked like I was about to bowl straight into him at 35km/hr. I grabbed a handful of brake and nothing happened... The tyres just skated across the top of the gravel... I then did this really impressive (if I do say so myself) evasive skid manoeuvre which took me off the track, onto the grassy verge, around the stunned cyclist and back on my merry way on the trail... I had no hope in hell of stopping and I am still completely miffed at how I missed him. PHEW! The second half of my ride was harder work than the first and I was pretty chuffed to knock off the last climb over Greens Road and be on the home stretch. Twenty minutes from home, the rain came bucketing down with a vengeance and then stopped as I dragged my weary legs in the back door.

It was a bloody good week of training, and I'm seriously looking forward to a day off the bike tomorrow. It looks like I will get to pick up my new Yeti ASR5C this week for the Tour De Whaka next weekend, so it's all good news. For now, I'm going to flop into bed and mend my weary legs... Happy New Year to you all, and remember, if it doesn't hurt you're not trying hard enough...