Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Bike Ride Fixes Every Problem

I'm unsure of where my time goes lately. Only now did I notice that it has been over two weeks since I did my last blog. The thing I find really strange during the off-season is that it is so damn hard to remember what I have done all week... At least when I'm on a program and training to a schedule, I can refer back to it to remind me what I have been up to of late.

I've always said to people that one of the best motivations to get out riding is not being able to, in particular, not being able to get out because you are sick. On a similar note, I have always been a big advocate of "working it out of the system". Sometimes there is nothing better for a cold or flu than jumping on the bike and, literally, smashing the snot out of yourself. It is probably this train of thought that keeps me so damn healthy, but I must admit that I am terrible at making a judgement call on whether I am REALLY sick and should stay inside in the warm, or whether I just need to harden up a bit... So at the risk of being soft, I will generally go out anyway, regardless of how incredibly crap I actually feel (because a bike ride fixes every problem right???). As a general rule, if I have a sore throat before I go out, inevitably I will spend the next week laid up in bed... Still, this knowledge doesn't seem to stop me going out... A little like poking a bruise... You know it hurts, but you can't help but do it anyway.
On one particular day a couple of weeks ago, for some strange reason, I listened to my body's signs of illness for a change. I had been out for a relatively strenuous jaunt on the mountain bike on a Thursday and had plans for the next day to head out on a cruisy little 155km ride up over Pahiatua Track to Porangahau, where we had rented a bach to stay at for the weekend. The plan had been to ride there on my day off on Friday, stay Friday night and drive back for work the next day... Commonsense got the better of me on this occasion... I let my snot-riddled head off the hook and drove out to Porangahau for the night. I remember as we drove along, I remarked on numerous occasions "Wow, this is a really nice road... It would be so nice to ride this"... I reckon after the 5th time I said it, my friend was ready to push me out the car door with my bike (which I had brought along on the off-chance that I may be fit to do an early-morning ride the next day) and send me on my way.

I felt terrible the next morning, so the early morning ride was still out of the question, but as I peeled back the curtains right on sunrise, I was treated to a stunning array of pinks, oranges and reds bursting through the clouds across the beach. I roused my sleeping friend, we sat on the beach to watch the sun rise, then I made my way in to work, feeling progressively worse throughout the day. The following day proved a no-go for work (when I get sick, it knocks me right off my feet!), but I couldn't handle the thought of wallowing in my own self-pity for another day, so I set off an hour early on a very mellow spin on the bike, and made my way back towards Dannevirke to be picked up along the way when my buddy and I met on the road. It wasn't a brilliant morning. In fact, far from it. The sky was grey, drizzle riddled the air and settled on my glasses and my skin, and the road was oily and slick... My eyes watered, my nose ran and I had a pounding headache, but it felt so good to be doing something. I made my way along the road and just enjoyed the sensations of the air brushing past my face, the cool drizzle on my skin and the sight of endless, rolling farmland as the beach disappeared. My clouded head became clearer and my sinuses unblocked. It's amazing what a bit of biking can do for the mind, body and soul!

Monday evening, the 16th of July, I tripped to Wellington to hold the second of my photo evenings at the Southern Cross Garden Bar (a cool little venue, might I add!). The turnout was a little smaller than my hometown presentation in Palmerston North, but they were an awesome bunch nonetheless... Interested and enthusiastic. Another set of AyUps found a new home with Ash Burgess, and I made my way home late at night... Next photo evening is Rotorua on the 22nd of August! Can't wait!!!
A fairly stressful and full-on week meant that I had to resort to the pleasures of the gym to remain sane. It drove me nuts that the weather was nice and I wasn't getting out for a ride, and it put me in a terrible mood, temporarily remedied by my amusement at my own amazing baking endeavors on Thursday. Despite my culinary skills generally being limited to healthy meals, I managed to bake my friend a chocolate, peanut butter and banana birthday cake with a T-Rex on it, complete with icing wording "Have a Roarsome Birthday". I was pretty stoked with my efforts, it got me some brownie points with her group of friends, and it didn't taste too bad, either!

Friday rolled around and the week and it's challenges were piling up in my head, life's problems seemingly compounding one on top of the other. It had been a while since I had felt this way. I'm generally a very positive person and my head just felt so crowded with thoughts that there was no room to push some aside and process the important bits. I knew I needed to get on my bike, and I forced myself to make time for it, even though it meant I needed to take the phone with me and would inevitably receive some interruptions to my ride. My favourite little round trip road ride close to Palmerston North would have to be through Massey Uni, up Kahuterawa Road and back the same way. It gets you out of town and into some breathing space pretty quickly. When I'm training, I use this as a time trial course and would smash it out in about an hour. Today, I took my time. It was a stunning morning. The sun was out and the there was a real crispness in the air. As my legs turned circles I got further and further away from home and the thoughts that had been piling up in my head seemed to dissipate into thin air. It was nice to be alone to process the goings on in my head. On the bike is the best time to think about stuff. I took a brief stop in at the reserve along the way. It was quiet apart from my wheels crackling along the gravel entrance and the creek bubbling over the stones as it glided along to wherever it was going. It was peaceful. It made me smile.
Saturday presented a number of options for entertainment underneath a crisp blue sky. I had been invited along to the Tough Guy Tough Gal Challenge by some friends, and whilst I'm not really a runner, I was certainly considering taking up their offer. My head still felt a bit clouded, though, and after feeling so good after my ride yesterday, I decided the best medicine was to head out on a ride again. I rode out to Linton Base to the start line of the Tough Guy/Gal Challenge, arriving just in time to watch my friend and a group of 20 others don pink tutus and start the race. I then continued on my way on the bike.

I headed out to Scotts Road and up the hill. I felt like I was having a cruisy ride, but my legs actually felt surprisingly strong as I climbed. I reached the top of K-Loop and was treated to the lovely surprise of new trails! The trail fairies had obviously been hard at work and quite a few new tracks had popped up on the hillside. Whilst it was pretty fresh work, and they obviously needed a bit of riding in, it was obvious that some excellent planning had gone into the tracks. At the top of the forest, I found the beginnings of what I can only hope is going to develop into a wicked luge ride. To date, it has only been diggered into the hillside (no grooming yet), but it snakes it's way down the hill in a series of switchbacks, dug out with the obvious intention of creating some gnarly berms. I wouldn't be surprised to find this trail turns out to be a mini "Corners" in our own backyard here in Palmy once the trail is fully groomed (awesome!). The digger tracks petered out at the bottom of the hill to a dead end... So fresh that the trail exit hasn't been dug out yet. I lifted the Ninja up onto my back and climbed my way out onto ZigZag Road, punched out a couple of laps of the lovely pump track that descends the hillside, then made my way down the old trails and back home via Greens Road. My head now seemed completely devoid of the week's "challenges" and had even made room for some creative thought. The ride gave birth to some great ideas that were now swelling in my mind, filling me with excitement and positivity. It might sound cheesy, but it is absolutely the best way to describe it. I felt good after that ride. Like my old self.

Sunday afternoon I made my way out to Santoft for the MMBC Club Race. It's been a while since I had been to one of their club races, and it was great to see so many new faces and a great turnout (137 riders in total!). I was the only chick racing the open Women's category, so I made it my mission to "chick" as many guys as possible during today's race. After a pretty quick start, I was "douched" early on by Colin, with whom I have some very friendly rivalry. To make up for it, though, I made sure I chicked a good portion of dudes out on the track, too. Santoft is a hard, hard course to race on... It is flat and quite soft in places, which means you are on the pedals the whole time... There's no rest on the course, so at 4 laps for the open categories, totaling 34km at cross-country race-pace, we were in for a great, hard day in the saddle. The trails were running pretty fast. I knocked out my first two laps with an average of over 20km/hr, then finished the whole 34km in one hour and 44 minutes at an average of 19km/hr! Not too shabby for my off-season! I returned home pretty smashed for the day then took a drive up to North Range Road to watch the sunset.
It never ceases to amaze me just how awesome riding a bike makes me feel. It may sound a little simplistic, and maybe a bit optimistic, but I'm pretty sure that riding a bike could solve the world's problems... Imagine if our World leaders solved their differences in a bike race instead of at war!!! A far-fetched thought, sure, but some pretty cool musings.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Being Chicked and the Art of Talking Smack - Winter NDuro 1...

"Must... Pass... Megan... Must... Not... Get....... Chicked!". It was Martyn Pearce hyperventilating his way up the first climb (of many) behind me at the first Winter NDuro for the year. For the record, he passed me and I didn't see him again until the finish line.

Since nearly losing my fingers to Jack Frost in my pre-dawn escapade up Takapari Road a couple of weekends ago, the hussle and bussle of work and life has seemingly limited my riding to three or four times a week on the bike (as opposed to five or six during my on-season). For some weird reason, I feel the need to justify this... It IS my off-season, but, let's face it, Rule Number 5 should also still govern the majority of decisions made with relation to, well, anything really... So I have made the conscious decision that I must get out and enjoy my bike more often, and my weeks must consist of at least one crazy adventure worthy of a good story-telling.
 Our Thursday night ride last week was a blast (as it always is). I headed out earlier than usual to punch out a lap before the rest of the crew arrived, then joined forces with them at 7.30pm for another lap. It was a beautiful evening in the forest. Mild enough that I was out in just shorts and a jersey with an Icebreaker long-sleeve thermal underneath. When we hit the trails that edged the forest perimeter, we would be greeted by a howling wind smacking us in the face. I always enjoy these night rides... Good for the soul. I remember setting off for the evening with the rest of the group and being so pumped to be on the trails that all I could hear was a faint whining in the distance... "Hey! It's not a race!"... Really? I thought everything was!

After a cruisy day in the forest at Santoft on Saturday with some good company, Sunday I had a big day mission to Rotorua for the first Winter NDuro. I often wonder why I would drive 4 hours to ride for 3 and a half hours then drive 4 hours home in one day. It's a big call to make. As I drove through Waioru, my car temperature gauge told me it was minus 8 degrees outside. I stopped on the side of the road for a 15min nap before tackling the black ice territory along Desert Road.

As I made my way along Desert Road, the mountains loomed in front of me, covered top to bottom in fresh white snow. They nearly blended in completely with the morning backdrop, camoflaged against the pre-dawn sky. As the sun crept up over the horizon, the colors of the sky changed and flitted in amongst low-lying cloud. As I passed Lake Taupo, the cloud hung low over the lake as the sun burst out against a clear blue sky. I was really annoyed I hadn't brought my camera, but I did the best I could with the good ol' phone camera. It made it totally worth the 4.30am start to the day, and it boded very well for a fine day on the trails (albeit a bit cold). When I arrived at the Long Mile Road carpark, the temperature gauge on the car still told me it was minus 2 degrees.

This was the first Winter NDuro since Ra had taken ownership of NDuro, and things were different to what they had been at previous events... Special little touches were scattered throughout the day, including the cute little cupcakes at registration and noodle soup at the finish line. Ra's cheery voice boomed across the PA all day and it was a really cool atmosphere... This is why I drive 8 hours in one day for a three and a half hour race! Ra's passion is a poignant reminder of just why mountain bikers are such a great bunch of people. It was certainly a fresh approach, and I doubt that any of the 250 entrants on the day would disagree that it was a fantastic day out. I think Ra should be really proud that his first event as the owner of NDuro was certainly one to remember.

The weather for the day was stunning and the trails were crisp and frosty. It was a tough call as to what to wear for the day. In the end, I hardened up and started with a jersey, thermal long-sleeved under and my shorts with no knee warmers (probably also because I was running late for registration and this just happened to be what I was already wearing!). In the end, I think it was a pretty good call.

So anyway, back to the concept of being "chicked"... We set off up the first climb up long mile hill and straight into Genesis, which had most riders off their bikes straight away... This could be a loong day! It was at the top of the first climb that I heard Martyn and his infernal smack talk behind me. The concept of "being chicked" is a relatively new one, although us gals have been kicking boy butt for much longer than when the term was coined. One can consider themselves "chicked" if they are beaten by a girl at any time. It is important to note that it need not necessarily be at a race. It could also apply to commuting or a weekend road ride or an arm wrestle. Needless to say, most of the male species don't like being chicked... In fact, come to think of it, I must admit that I don't like being overtaken by other girls myself!!! Also important to note is that being chicked is not the end of the world... There are some VERY good riders out there who happen to be female (Karen Hanlen ended up finishing 11th overall on this fine Winter's day)... It is, however, highly unacceptable for a rider to speed up merely because they realise they have just been chicked, and then to slow down once they are in front of said chick again... This is akin to those drivers who don't like being overtaken on the road and speed up during the overtaking lanes, then slow down again when noone can pass, and is very bad form (very much like half-wheeling)... On the flip side of this, it is also a girl's own fault if a rider does this, and then she lets him get away... In this case, we can say that the female rider has been "douched"... This is where a male rider speeds up purely because he has been chicked and then the female rider does not respond appropriately to the fact that this guy is obviously a douche when he should have just been riding hard the whole time, not just because he didn't want to be passed by a girl... So anyway, on this occasion, I don't think I would quite say I was douched. Martyn generally beats me anyway!!!

There had been a substantial amount of hype around the course for the day, and in particular in relation to the amount of climbing the course appeared to have in it. The course for the day was set by cross country legend, Carl Jones, and I must say he did a stellar job. Not only was it a bloody hard day out (hard means good, by the way), but it was nice to be doing a course where you had to "expect the unexpected". Very few of the turnoffs on the course took us the way we would normally have expected to go, and even on one occasion, took us on a hike-a-bike portage mission across a felled area of the forest (because we all know how much I LOVE hike-a-bike... Thanks Carl!). It was, once again, really refreshing. There was indeed, a great deal of climbing, as the hype would have us believe. At the 23km mark, we had climbed 1000m, and by the end of the day, we had churned out a good 1600m of vertical ascent. To put this in perspective, the first day of the Cape Epic in South Africa this year had us climb 960m over a 29km distance. The amazing thing about this was that we definitely earned our turns, and we were rewarded with some awesome descending. I think very few course-setters would have had the balls to design a course that made it possible to descend all of Dragons Tail, Sidewinder, Split Enz, Billy T and Corners in one hit over 45km. With all the climbing, it must have been the slowest 45km I have ever ridden (I was pleased to find out I wasn't the only one with these sentiments), but nonetheless, it was definitely up there with the best courses I have ever ridden in an NDuro before.

In terms of how I felt on the ride, it had been a good month since I had done any long rides, and certainly some time since I had been in the hills (and I felt that!), but I didn't feel too bad. I enjoyed myself immensely, finished 4th in the open womens category, and got the opportunity to catch up with a bunch of people I hadn't seen in ages. In fact, it only occurred to me once I started speaking with people that I hadn't really seen anyone since I got back from my trip, so it was awesome to have a reunion of sorts! I was also very privileged to meet Karen Hanlen. I have been using my photo evenings to help raise funds for her Olympic campaign and it was so lovely to meet her in person. She looked really strong and ready, and I'm sure she will do us all very proud in London. What a huge inspiration and so great to see her supporting local events, too!
I then jumped in the car and drove back that same day to have a very lazy evening and enjoy an outdoor bath (great idea whilst IN the bath, stupid idea once you realise you want to get out of the bath... Probably a better idea for a warm Summer's evening!). Next week brings more excitement (as it always does... I LOVE that my life is rarely boring!). Of particular note, if you are in Wellington, make sure you join us at the Southern Cross Garden Bar at 7pm on Monday Night for my photo evening! Gold coin donation goes to Karen Hanlen's Olympic Campaign and you get the opportunity to win some cool door prizes, including a set of Ayup Lights! See ya there, and keep those wheels turning in the meantime!