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!!!

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