Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Smashing Goals at The Huka XL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No comments:

Post a Comment