Monday, June 11, 2012

A Weekend of "Firsts" to Celebrate My Arrival Home

As we drove out to Santoft for our night ride on Thursday, the temperature reading on the car hovered somewhere between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius. To add insult to injury, the heating in the car had decided to stop working so I had to put the air con on to de-mist the windows. My poor little body wasn't used to this sort of carry-on... It was used to 30 degrees, Mediterranean beaches and cycling tan lines! We arrived at Santoft and cowered in the car, barely able to admit to ourselves that we would have to get out and kit up for riding sooner or later. I finally worked up the courage to emerge from the car to find it actually seemed (marginally) warmer outside than in. We unpacked the bikes and layered up nice and warm. It was only as I was about to switch on my lights that I just happened to looked skyward to see the clear night sky crowded to capacity with stars. I don't think I have ever seen so many stars at once. It was magic.

As we sifted into the forest, it became apparent that my pre-ride layering had been a little overzealous and I had to strip off my jacket before too long (my toes never warmed up though!). I was surprised by how good my legs felt (even after the previous morning's run!) and after the previous few days heavy rain, the trails were running just lovely. There were about eight of us who braved the cold that evening, and I couldn't help but smile to myself as I ripped around the forest chasing that spot of light in front of me, thinking "I feel sorry for all those suckers curled up in front of the heater watching TV. They have no idea what they are missing out on!".

Friday was a very low-key return to the gym for me. I haven't been to the gym in months (in fact, probably not since last Winter) and I actually really enjoyed it. It's a nice quick, no BS work out that you can't pike on (let's face it... What excuse could you possibly have for not doing an indoor workout?). I was really stoked to discover that finally, 4 years after the accident that damaged my shoulder, I am able to do assisted chin-ups again. It's a far cry from the sets of 18 overhand, unassisted chin-ups I used to do in my rock climbing hey-day, but it's a work in progress at least!

Saturday's weather wasn't really all that inspiring. The sun was (kind of) out, but the wind was howling, which is always a dangerous way to spend a day on a bike when you only weigh twice as much as a peanut. I slept in, then spent all morning procrastinating on what I would do for the day. After all, I'm not in training and still wanting to enjoy myself, but to be honest, all I wanted to do was ride my bike. I spent some time cleaning the Ninja and making her all lovely for the 4 hour race the following day, then finally made the call to hit up the wind trainer (once again, this was a first since last Winter!). I smashed out a pretty solid speed workout which left very little in the tank. It was highly satisfying and made me feel much better, then I racked up another first and did some baking, knocking up a pretty mean Greek Halva (thanks to Ismini for the recipe!). I was also stoked to have found my way into the NZ Weekend Herald AND the Weekend Standard for my efforts during my trip. Of particular note was the fact that I picked up more of the back page of the Standard than the rugby did! Awesome!

Sunday was a nice early start to make my way over to Hawkes Bay for the Pukeora 4 Hour. I love this race, and I really like riding the trails at Pukeora, so I was really looking forward to smashing out 4 hours solo. I was keen to see how my legs would react to it, being my first big hit-out since 24 Hour Solo World Champs. With the Manawatu Gorge road finally open (this weekend was full of "firsts"!), I was running pretty early for rego. The temperature reading in the car couldn't quite decide if it was zero degrees or one degree (thank God I had the heating fixed on Friday!), although it didn't look like it was that cold (but it was... definitely). As I drove towards the east, the sun peeked it's head over the hills and splashed across the fog and the fields, throwing pinks and oranges into the clouds that hung lazily in the Sunday morning air. In hindsight, I should have taken the time to stop and take a photo. It was one of those sights that was hard to do justice with words.

Rego complete and number plate on the Ninja, I was faced with the dilemma of what to wear. It was cold, but a beautiful clear day, so it would undoubtedly warm up later. I opted for the Rule #5 option and decided to brave the morning cold with just shorts and a jersey (which ended up being spot on after about the first half lap). We lined up at the start and then the hooter sent us on our way! I was stoked to stay with the front boys up the first section of road and into the start loop and as I made my way around the course, I was just loving it! I remember thinking at one stage "F@#k, I just feel so alive when I am racing!"... I don't know why that is... Whether it is the adrenalin, the speed, the fact that I feel so good, or most likely, a combination of all three. I felt like my legs were carrying me effortlessly around the course. I felt so good and so strong. Having just been in the thick of ultra-endurance events, I treated it like a sprint event. I started hard and just kept going as hard as I could. It wasn't that I wanted to rip the legs off anyone (or rip the legs off myself, for that matter). I was just enjoying the freedom of doing this race for fun, at a pace that I felt like riding at, and it just so happened that yesterday, I felt like riding really, really fast.

Most of my laps on the 7.5km course came in between 26min and 28min, so I set my sights on smashing out nine laps for the day. Ever since riding in Europe and South Africa, I feel so comfortable on the bike, and I'm sure it has contributed to an improvement in my technical skills. Corners that I used to brake into were now railed without a second thought, whipping my rear wheel around with just a little bit of sgommata to bring me back in line with my exit from the turn... It felt great. It was also really nice to see Jude Young out on the trails after her Moonride win, and also to meet Rebecca Houston. It was a smashing day out on the bike. I ended up taking out first place in the Women's category, nearly two laps clear of second place. I also happened to finish 9th overall (including all the teams), 5th in the men's solo and also beat all the mixed and women's teams! On investigating last year's results, I was super pleased to see I had smashed my last year's effort by nearly two laps!

So many people have commented to me about my "not training" philosophy over Winter, and how it doesn't really seem like I'm sticking to that school of thought, and they are right, I'm not training. I'm having fun, doing what takes my fancy and hopefully carrying my fitness from my trip over into Summer so I have a strong base to start training on again. My two main objectives over Winter are to stay fit and to keep loving my riding. On the back of that, most other things fall into place quite nicely. Never underestimate how far your head will carry your body... Not the other way around...

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