Monday, May 27, 2013

Woodhill 360 - Segments of Time Spent Enjoying the Hurt Box

My Yoga teacher has told me many profound things, but probably none that ring more true to me than this one… “If you fight pain, you have pain and suffering… If you embrace pain, you just have pain… Which would you prefer?”. It’s a tough concept to grasp. Pain hurts and it’s only natural to try and prevent it’s occurrence. You can waste a lot of energy on a bike trying to fight pain. You waste energy being angry at it, you waste energy crying and you waste energy giving up then having to start again. This week has been a pleasantly challenging week for me. Three days in a row this week, I arose early at 4am to be on the trails or on the road by 4.30am. It was, to be honest, not by choice but necessity. I’m one of these people who can’t say no… I take on project on top of project, and hobby on top of hobby, and love it all too much to let anything go. So I leave myself with no choice but to create time to do these things, and sometimes it means I burn the candle at both ends (in fact, a lot of the time it means that). Some people would say it’s crazy and unsustainable, others would say it’s dedication and I am “making things happen”. To be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is a distinct satisfaction in holding down a full-time job and having the motivation and drive to force myself out of bed early to train, then heading out on some incredible adventures when I’m not doing anything else. And in actual fact, it’s a fantastic time of the day to train… Instead of training tired after a day at work, I can punch out solid efforts when I am “fresh” (maybe not quite the right word) first thing in the morning. Sometimes it’s cold, and often dark and raining, but once again, it’s about embracing that pain to achieve a purpose.

So after making it through my Tuesday to Thursday early morning madness in one piece, I again found myself crawling out of bed at 4.30am on Saturday morning to make my way to Auckland for the Woodhill 360 6 hour race. I’d packed the van the night before, but by the time I got away, I was running about 20mins late. I was cutting it fine arriving at the race 10mins before registration closed and race briefing was due to be held. I was left with just enough time to get dressed, drag my bike and gear tub out of the van, and put my number on the handlebars before we were standing on the start line. As bizarre as it sounds, I may have done myself a favour… The running around after sitting in the car for three hours definitely woke me up and got the legs working again! Tim Farmer had done a spectacular job of pulling together a good-looking event as his fundraiser for world champs, and there was a pretty solid field of riders lining up, especially for the solo events. The weather was a bit grey and drizzly, but perfect. The temperature was good, and the drizzle was nice and refreshing.

We did a le mans start, and I had made the tactical placement of my bike right up the front so I could run straight through all the hustle and bustle, jump straight on the bike and ride off, without having to beat my way through the crowd with my bike (especially at my height). It worked a treat and as a result, I was able to avoid the singletrack congestion at the start of the uplands switchback climb. The course was about 10.5km long and, considering the landscape at Woodhill forest, actually captured a solid amount of climbing. There was little time for rest in amongst the undulations and singletrack, so it was a good test of the legs. It was just after the uplands climb on my second lap that Sophiemarie Bethell passed me. She’s a quick young las, especially on the descents, and I was running the old heart pretty hot trying to stay on her. In the end, I had to let her go and rely on my endurance to maintain some consistency that would hopefully pay off a little later in the race. I know it all sounds a little serious for a local race, but you have to use every opportunity possible to simulate a race environment while you are training. It doesn’t mean though, that you can’t have fun in the process.
I punched out a couple of good solid laps to begin with and then my lap times began to drop off a little. I think to a certain extent, I had resigned myself to second place, and I was ok with that. The prize money from second place would pay for my fuel to get to and from the race, and that was good news. Then at about the three and a half hour mark of the race, I cast my eye up above me on the uplands switchbacks to see that Sophiemarie was there, probably about 40 seconds ahead of me. I remember thinking to myself “Ah shit, now that I know she’s there, I have to chase her”… It seemed like such hard work, but to be honest, my legs were feeling ok and I had been feeling progressively better since the start of the race. I had no excuse not to dig a bit deeper, and so I did. About five minutes later, I crept up behind her. To be honest, although I felt I had plenty in the tank, I was riding a reasonably hot pace and I was hurting. I have this policy that if I am going to pass a competitor, I have to pass them hard. It’s a mental thing… Passing someone then meandering around in front of them for the next ten minutes gives them the impression that you are hurting just as much as they are, and it gives them hope that they can stick with you and take the lead again. I’ve made this mistake many a time in the past. Passing hard leaves your competitor with no doubt that you are fully capable of whipping their arse and, frankly, it can be demoralising for them, which is exactly what you want. I felt bad exercising this theory on Sophiemarie. She’s a lovely young girl and a great rider, but it was a race, and I wanted to see how hard I could push myself if for no other reason than good training (and to embrace my competitive spirit). I sat behind her for a couple of minutes and collected myself, then pulled alongside her and asked her how she was going. I could see she was suffering a bit. I knew she hadn’t done a lot of endurance stuff, so I can completely understand how it would have been a tough ask to punch out six hours when it isn’t your usual discipline. She said she was doing ok and then asked me how I was doing. I told her I was feeling pretty good now that I had warmed up a bit (in hindsight, it was a bit of an arrogant wanker comment to make), then I put the gas down a bit. She stuck with me on the descent, but then I turned up the pace as I went up the next climb and she dropped back behind me.

I didn’t have a support crew, so I had no idea how far behind me she was, but I treated the rest of the race like she was right on my wheel. The next two laps were two of my fastest for the race. I had gained my second wind and I was feeling pretty good for those laps. I pushed hard, and I buried myself so deep in the hurt box those last couple of hours that my last lap and a half, I felt like I was about to begin hallucinating. I knew I hadn’t quite eaten enough, and it was in these circumstances that I would usually drop the pace back a bit… But on this occasion, I didn’t… I figured that regardless of whether I backed off or not, I still had the same amount of time left in the race. I shoved my mouth full of the slimy, sweaty jet planes I had sitting in my back pocket and carried on. It had been quite some time since I had put myself this deep in the hurt box and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed knowing that I was leaving it all out on the track.

It may sound weird, but I love doing maths in my head when I race. From about 2 hours out, I was punching numbers in my head figuring out how many laps I had left to go. I secretly hoped that I would come through on my 8th lap without enough time for another, but it wasn’t the case… In fact, even worse was that I had been pushing out 38-39 minute laps, my last lap had been nearly 41 minutes, and I now had 44 minutes to complete my final lap, so I couldn’t even cruise my final lap. To make matters worse, the drizzle had progressed to full-blown rain. It was going to be tight, and because I had no idea how far behind me Sophie was, I couldn’t afford to call it in early (what if she came through in three minutes time and headed out on a last lap?). So I pushed on through to my 9th lap. That last lap was a bizarre experience, like my legs were turning against their own will… It had been a while since I had felt like this and I liked knowing that I could still do that to myself. I felt strong in my resolve, even though my body wasn’t so keen on the idea of what I was doing. As I rounded the corner coming towards the race village, I had two minutes left to ride the loop around the race village and through the chute… It was going to be so, so tight… In fact, I crossed the line with a mere 34 seconds to spare, then just stood over my bike in the rain, unable to move.
In the end, Sophiemarie hadn’t gone out on a 9th lap, so I won by nearly a whole lap, but damn she kept me honest! I felt so exceptionally spent, and when I downloaded my data after the race, I discovered my average heart rate for the whole six hours was 92% of my 20 minute threshold! What a fantastic training session! I was really pleased with my effort on the day, and really happy that I had managed to put myself so far into the hurt box and embrace that pain. It’s something I’m going to have to do very convincingly in Canberra come October. Until then, I'll be testing my theory of embracing pain in the early hours of our cold Winter mornings here in Rotorua. Looking forward to it!

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