Friday, May 10, 2013

T42 - Our Pact With The Weather Gods

The weather forecast last weekend was looking very unfavorable for a day of racing, and as I cast my mind back to 24 Hours of NDuro a couple of weeks ago, I shuddered slightly at the thought of repeating a day out in such grueling conditions so soon after the last. Regardless, I made my way to National Park on Friday evening to rendezvous with a bunch of old mates before hitting the pillow for some sleep before the race the next morning.
We awoke to a rather cold morning with only some fine, whispy cloud hanging lazily in the air and the blue sky punching it's way through with the sun... There was a chilly wind blowing through the carpark at the start line. Perfect conditions for riding a bike in... The T42 race runs along one of New Zealand's most classic trails, the 42nd Traverse. I had been told the views across the central plateau from the track were stunning, but when I last did the race two years ago, the conditions meant that I saw very little scenery. That would all change today. I couldn't help but have a giggle whenever I heard people say "it's all downhill"... Sure, we finished 300 or so metres lower than our start point, but there were definitely some good punchy climbs throughout the course, including a 100m climb to the finish line (which I remember vividly from the last time I did this race!). I rocked out the baggy shorts on the day for reasons I don't understand, but I must admit that in my head, I feel much more relaxed when I pull on my baggies for the day... Maybe this works in my favor!
The start saw us all off on a sealed section of road for about 4km. I must admit that bunch riding with a group of mountain bikers scares the bejeezus out of me and today was no exception... Far too much drifting, brake touching and shifting of lines for my liking... So I found myself, in that first 4km, drifting backwards through the bunch in my nervous attempt to stay away from anyone who looked remotely like making a random move at any given point. I survived that first 4km still on my bike with all my skin intact... Even better, I had managed to stay in with the front bunch quite well. I was unsure of how I would fare in a race only two weeks after a 24 hour race, but I was feeling good, so I decided to make hay while the sun shines and see just how hard I could push myself for how long.
You wouldn't describe the 42nd Traverse trail as technical... Sure there are bits that get a bit loose and rough, and there are a few river crossings, but everything is very ridable. The thing that makes the 42nd Traverse potentially quite treacherous is the speed at which you ride it... I would describe the trail as a rough 4WD or double track, and as such, there are a number of wash-outs, loose rocks and river crossings which have the potential to sneak up on you pretty quickly when you are on the rivet at 40-50km/hr. This track requires the utmost concentration if you are riding it at speed and wish to make it to the end in one piece. I found it took me a while to make myself comfortable on the bike. I had a couple of close calls and some sketchy moments, but once I settled in, I was surprised at the pace I was managing to sustain.
The quality of the womens field in this race certainly wasn't lacking this year. It was a quality field (something I am seeing more and more of lately, which is amazing!). In the first half of the race, I passed a number of very worthy adversaries who had mechanical issues... Unlike the bizarre mindset I had engaged during the 24 hour solo, there was no way I was waiting around for these guys to catch me again... I knew they were faster descenders than me, so I took all the risks I was willing to take and then buried myself in the hurt box on the climbs to make sure I stayed ahead. I distinctly remember how much I enjoyed the pain, and especially considering it was hurting and I knew I was belting out a good pace (it's much harder to comprehend the pain when you are in the hurt box and groveling along as fast as your Grandma's Datsun). The one distinct advantage I tend to have in a race like this is that whilst I'm not a fast starter, I can definitely hold my own towards the end of the race. I knew this and so I knew it was important that I kept pushing as hard as I could. I had vivid memories of the last time I did this race where I was coming third only to be overtaken by 4th place just before the finish line... I wasn't really all that interested in letting that happen again... I felt hungry to push hard and to get the best result I could, and it has been quite some time since I have felt that way, so I embraced it fully.
As I belted along the trail, vistas across the Central Plateau flashed by my eyes, as dirt, mud and rock scooted by beneath my wheels. My balance and movement on the bike felt so lovely and smooth, like I had everything dialed and tuned perfectly. My heart raced as I gave the occasional nervous glance backwards to make sure that Sophiemarie or Jenna weren't catching me (yes, I know I shouldn't look behind me!). It was actually a fine testament to my equipment that I didn't have any mechanicals. My poor Ninja hadn't been serviced since finishing the 24 Hours of NDuro and still withstood a good thrashing for the day without any complaints.I remember crossing the final bridge and then barreling down the final 8km of fire trail at some hideous speed. The road had been separated by cones so runners and riders didn't collide, and it left little room for error as I hugged the line of the cones in a bid to prevent my wheels washing out on the edge of the track. The whole ride was quite exhilarating!
When I say the course was fast, I meant it. I spent probably 75% of the day in my big chainring and upon crossing the finish line, had clocked an average speed of 20.3km/hr for the day, which was, without question, the fastest 50km I have ever ridden in a mountain bike race. I crossed the line 4th placed female in 2:17.43 (a mere 24 seconds behind third place!) and 30th overall out of about 400 riders (not bad at all considering I had smashed myself for 24 hours only two weeks earlier!). I felt sufficiently used and looking at my average heart rate figures explained exactly why! I was disappointed that I hadn't caught third place in time, but that's racing for you... To be honest, I had used everything I had, but I do definitely wonder if there was 24 seconds in there somewhere!!!
Total Sport make the logistics of point to point racing probably about as easy as it could be. I've said this before, but they really do run a great event and are the only guys I know of who can successfully pull off the logistics of relocating riders between the start and finish. The afternoon was spent lounging around our accommodation and pondering what we would get up to the following day before heading off to the prizegiving where I busted out some rare moves on the dancefloor (I know right? I was scared, too...)
The plan for Sunday had originally been to hit up the Pureora Timber Trail, one that has been sitting on the bucket list of a few of us for a while now. We did agree, though, that there was no point in doing such a stunning, epic ride of the weather was just going to be miserable and we couldn't enjoy it... The forecast for Sunday was, indeed, looking rather miserable, and the weather had already set in up north and was moving southward, so we made the call to postpone our Timber Trail mission to a finer weekend and head south a little to ride The Old Coach Road. To our surprise, the further south we traveled, the bluer the skies became. We kitted up and set off along Old Coach Road, fully expecting the weather would likely set in at some point along the way, but it didn't. We must have chosen one of the few places in the whole country where it wasn't raining that day... We had dodged the inclement weather all weekend, like we had a pact with the Weather Gods.
The gateway to Old Coach Road is this wicked little tight pump track on the side of the road, just off the main drag... It begged us to play on it's sweet berms and pumps before heading off on the ride proper, and we happily obliged! Old Coach Road itself began as a gentle climb up a grassy trail before turning into a wide gravel path that lead us to an old disused railway tunnel (very cool) all the way to the Hapuawhenua Viaduct, a stunning old railway bridge which has been fully restored for public use. The views were amazing, and I had another one of those "wow, how cool is it that I am here with these people" moments as we approached the viaduct and marveled at it stretching it's majestic, sweeping structure across the full span of gaping gully. We then continued on all the way to Horopito via a lovely groomed piece of singletrack, and some fast fire trail before returning the same way again. It was a wicked day out with awesome people on stunning trails, AND we dodged the bad weather (which then made it's appearance as I drove home to Rotorua)!
It was refreshing to smash out a race with so much vigor and then find myself recovered well enough for another good ride the following day. Stoked to have recently started training with Mark Fenner (FTP Coaching) and I'm finding that whilst I'm still getting in good time on the bike, I'm not so wasted that I can't make the most of my efforts. It's also been hugely refreshing to be mixing up my time and enjoying some squash and running, amongst other things... I am finding myself hideously busy, but I don't think I would really have it any other way! Bring on the crisp, cold Winter days!!!

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