Monday, August 5, 2013

A Big Weekend, Even By My Standards - The Win

The drive from Turangi to Raglan was a long one... About three and a half hours, to be exact... I was pretty tired, definitely hungry, and knew I was going to be sore the next day, especially considering I had come straight off the mountain and into the car. I felt bad that I was arriving in Raglan so late. My buddy Sarah had arrived earlier in the day and had been hanging out in Raglan... I love hanging out with Sarah and I had kinda promised her I would be there early afternoon after scooting up the mountain that morning. I felt a bit like I was running behind schedule, and a bit like I had let Sarah down (although I'm sure she was just fine hanging out by herself for a day!).
I arrived in Raglan a little after 7pm. We were staying at Solscape Eco-Retreat, which is an awesome little place I love staying when I go to Raglan. Relatively cheap and a really nice vibe. Our "room" was an old railway carriage. I arrived feeling completely famished, and was stoked to find Sarah had a pot of pasta cooked up and left some for me to devour... I couldn't thank her enough!!! Then I did some stretching and hit up the foam roller in the hope that it would loosen the ol' legs off a bit for the following day's race... It was all in vain... I knew I would suffer the next day regardless of what I did that evening!

I slept pretty soundly that night, then had another early wake-up to pack the car, eat breakfast and make my way to race registration. The race is called the Karioi Classic. The standard race is 43km long and starts at the very civil time of 10am. I, however, had chosen to do the "double buster", which was two laps of the course... This one started at 7.30am. I arrived at registration in the dark, grabbed my number, transponder and my two bananas and then made my way to the race start. It was a mild morning by Rotorua standards, and it was quite clearly obvious that I had been doing my training rides in minus two degrees when I rocked up at the start line in nothing more than shorts, a jersey and a pair of arm warmers whilst some of my acquaintances were wrapped up in beanies, leg warmers and wind-proof jackets.

I remembered doing this race in what I think was it's first year, probably about five years ago now. The turnout had surprised them on that day, and I think it still does these days... They had 310 competitors across all the races and categories!!! One of the things I love about this race is that the people who organise it truly love putting on a great event for the riders... I was so flattered that Lisa (the race organiser) remembered me from all those years ago, and she has such an infectious, bubbly personality... It's impossible to not feel the good vibes! The course itself is all gravel and sealed road with some reasonable climbs in it, but nothing too substantial... The thing that made it so hard was the fact that because it is only gravel and sealed road, it has a real tendency to be a complete smashfest... It was entirely possible to have your heart running into the red the whole way around this baby! Great training ride!

As we lined up at the start line, I couldn't help but notice just now tight and fatigued my legs felt... I couldn't expect any different after the day I'd had beforehand climbing up Mount Ngarauhoe (but so, so worth it!). We were apparently behind a neutral vehicle up to the first turnoff, which would be a lovely way to get the legs turning. The whistle blew and the neutral vehicle took off... At about 60km/hr... I remember thinking "wow, my legs must be really f@#ked if I can't keep up with the neutral vehicle!" but the fact that I was definitely not the only one was comforting... So we pretty much raced straight off the start... My legs screamed at me, as did my lungs, who struggled to supply my legs with the exorbitant amount of oxygen they were requesting.
Based on the course, I had chosen to take my Yeti ARC hardtail out for a spin today, and it was absolutely the right choice. It always amazes me when I jump on this bike how nimble it feels, and how well it climbs. The only error I made was that I put extra air in the tires to match the course, but it probably made some of the descending a little more sketchy on the loose gravel. It really was a trade-off though... Sketchy descent versus fast climbing and fast sealed road sections...

There were a few other girls in the double buster, and one of the girls, Megan (good name!), who was from Hamilton, threw down the gauntlet early and was sitting just ahead of me... I'm not sure what was going through my head, because to be honest, I think I had resigned myself to the fact that today probably wasn't going to be a strong day on the bike for me... But maybe having that carrot dangled just in front of me was enough to have my head override my legs. I remember writing after last year's 24 hour solo world champs that "the body is merely a vehicle for the mind to achieve it's goal" and today was definitely testament to that statement. I added a gear up the first climb and edged in front of my competitor, then kept pushing until she dropped off... One thing I have learned in all my years of racing is that generally, if you can force yourself to hurt enough that the other person drops off, then you have won that mental battle with your competitor.

As we climbed that first hill, the sunrise splashed us with rays of light through the clouds... For some reason, I always find a good sunrise fills me with energy, and I was off! I opened up a lead gradually on the other Megan, but whenever a looked across at the road winding back behind me, she was still there. I have this theory called "out of sight, out of mind", and it goes like this... Once you are out of sight of a competitor, they no longer have a way to gauge just how hard they need to push to catch you... Once again, a battle of minds... So my aim was to get out of sight of her, and then keep pushing to make sure she didn't pick up any time on me.

Like I mentioned before, the course is hilly, but I wouldn't say any of the hills are substantial... And most of them are a pretty reasonable gradient... So it is entirely possible to big ring a good chunk of most of the climbs, and that is exactly what I did. The views were stunning, when I reminded myself to look, and it was a beautiful, warm sunny day. It felt good, even though my legs were ready to turn to jelly. About 30km in, I caught up to two guys. One was on a singlespeed, and as we sped past a driveway to the right, he yelled out "oi, you have to go up here!"... Myself and the other guy slammed our brakes on ready to do a 180, then the guy said "nah, only joking"... I gave him a pretty deathly stare... Then made some remark to my practical-joker friend that maybe he needed a harder gear on his singlespeed if he had the energy to be such a smart-arse... Then I set about making it my mission to chick him that day (mission accomplished!!!).

I cranked out my first lap in a speedy 1:51, only 7 minutes slower than the female winner of the single-lap race! As I turned the corner, my dear friend Paul Page pulled alongside me. He was doing the classic race and they didn't start for another half hour... He chatted with me... And I didn't chat back much (very rude of me!)... I was really putting myself in the hurt box on this one, and whilst I appreciated Paul's company, I had little energy left to expend on anything beyond turning my legs in circles and drooling. So Paul, whilst I may have appeared to be ungrateful, it was certainly not the case!!!

I kept pushing hard out on that second lap, but my legs really were starting to feel the burn. I could feel every... single... step I had taken up that mountain the day before. I remember on a couple of the climbs, suddenly noticing I was drooling (yup, charming!). The gravelly descents nearly became my undoing on a couple of occasions over the course of that second lap... I just didn't seem able to concentrate properly! Finally, I climbed over the last hill of the day and continued on towards the finish line. The final one and half kilometres is on energy-sapping grass, and I was absolutely dreading riding that section, but it actually wasn't too bad... I just turned the pedals over and eventually found myself at the finish line... 90km in 3hours 50mins for the win (and a little bit of a pay day, too!).

I hung around to cheer Gayle Brownlee into the finish line (I think I told her to sprint), then headed to the holiday park next to the race village to make use of their showers for a gold coin donation (what a good bunch of people!). I returned just in time to see my buddy Sarah cross the finish line in her first ever race on her CX bike (YAY!), apparently complete with numerous punctures (not-so-yay!)

This race has such a cool vibe, and whilst it isn't the most technically demanding race, it's certainly a good one if you are up for a day in the hurtbox, on the hammer for the full race. It's also got the full support of an awesome community, which is great to see! I was actually pretty stoked with how strong I rode that day... It really is a good lesson in what your body can achieve when you set your mind to it.

I suppose after a weekend like that, most people would spend a couple of days chilling and recovering... I played squash finals the next evening, then hit the trails for some early mornings and beautiful sunrises during the week... I think as long as I keep moving, I should be just fine!!! (it's once you stop that you are in trouble!)

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