Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Pummelling For The Legs - 9 Weeks Out From World Champs and NDuro Winter #2

These last couple of weeks have treated me very well indeed. After an amazing weekend of mountaineering in Tongariro National Park and racing in Raglan, my squash team won their finals (no thanks to my abysmal loss in three games), then, despite the foggy weather I was treated to the delights of some stunning sunrises, and some unseasonably warm mornings (amongst some very cold mornings!) whilst training in the forest. Then in the middle of it, a smashing race on my home trails during a weekend where the rain the weather man promised never arrived (YUSSS!).
I've become addicted to my morning rides... There are few things these days that would stop me from crawling out of bed in the wee hours of the morning whilst the rest of the town is sleeping to throw on some lycra and launch an early morning mission into the forest on a cool, clear crisp morning. So three times a week, I find myself heading out into the darkness at around 4.30-5am to do my training before work. It has become a bit of a ritual to finish my morning ride up the top of Katore Road to enjoy the sunrise before finishing off with a choice of lovely flowing downhill singletrack routes that deliver me straight back to my back gate. It's my happy place (and time) in the forest and on the days when I don't see the dawn break in the forest, I sincerely miss it.
It blew me away these last couple of weeks just how delightfully stunning our sunrises have been. It has also blown me away how unseasonably warm it has been in the mornings (after a couple of minus two degree days a couple of weeks ago). It's such an amazing feeling standing on top of a floating island surrounded by fog as the sun creeps over the top of the fog, spattering brilliant colors across the top of the misty lake that has engulfed the valleys throughout the forest. Trees poke through the mist, spiders webs hang heavy with dew and the still lake borders our city while the sunrise throws pinks and oranges across it's smooth, calm surface.

It's surreal to ride around in the fog, then climb above it to see the first rays of sun for the day, before descending the trail and disappearing back into the fog. On the odd occasion, I will bump into another lone soul or two, but usually, I have the morning all to myself in that spot. People ask me where I get the energy to do all the crazy things I do, and I always tell them that the more energy I expend, the more I seem to get back... But those mornings on top of that hill... They fill me with good, positive vibes... Like I'm absorbing energy from those first rays of sun to hit the Earth. It's a magic feeling.

I must say that the last couple of weeks, the legs haven't felt particularly lively. Whilst I have definitely enjoyed my rides, I have found the old legs to be a bit flat, lacking the punch I would like to push out good hard training efforts. From experience, I know that these periods are just phases you go through, when you feel a bit tired or run down, but it is frustrating nonetheless to feel like you are smashing yourself then realise you are actually lucky to be sitting at 85% of your target heart rate. 24 hour solo world champs are only nine weeks away now and it's funny... I feel fitter than I ever have been, and I attribute this largely to the crossover and variety in activities I have added into my schedule over the last few months, but because I haven't really been racing against any of my 24 hour counterparts, it really is hard to quantify how that fitness is going to translate at world champs.

Whilst my competitors have been away racing overseas, I have been plugging away at home in the forest, fitting my training around work and other commitments. It's a far cry from my lead-in to last year's world champs... Different, but not necessarily bad or wrong. I'm excited, and a little bit scared... Probably because I'm feeling a little like I'm flying blind... But I don't think it's a bad thing to be slightly on edge. It keeps me honest, and I think the most important thing is that I keep my mind fresh, enjoy what I'm doing, and seek out positive vibes in the best ways I know how. My preparation on the logistical side of things is going well, and that's always quite a relief... This is something I know I have planned a little better than last year.
So as part of my training schedule, the odd Winter race has made an appearance... These things can be really hard work because I train through them and they tend to be at a higher intensity than my usual training (good stuff). When I lined up last week at the second Winter NDuro, my legs felt wrecked (for want of a better description). I don't think they had fully recovered from the previous week traipsing around the mountain and racing in Raglan and whilst I knew, in theory, that my legs must be getting stronger, they felt pretty sluggish on this particular day. I was hoping to maybe pull a rabbit out of a hat like I did last week in Raglan, but I knew that wasn't going to happen without a certain degree of pain.
I love it when these races start at Long Mile... It means I can register the day before then roll out my back door five minutes before race briefing starts. It was my only "sleep in" that week (and a welcome one at that!). We took off up Nursery climb and after about 30 seconds, my legs began to burn... This could be a long 45km! We made our way up Genesis and then into the old Rock Drop... I'm the first to admit I avoid riding these trails... They certainly aren't my favorites and I find it difficult to establish flow on them (which, in itself, should be a reason to ride them more often!). Heavy legs and a tired brain resulted in two impressive crashes in the first twenty minutes of the race... One over the bars down a rooty switchback and another collision with a tree (which I easily could have ridden either side of... I just left my decision as to which way far too late)... Best to get that sort of carry-on out of my system early in the race!
Head switched back on and legs as loose as they were going to get, I wound my way around the trails. It felt like I was working really hard and not going anywhere too quickly. The first part of the course was relatively flat, which made it even harder work... I remember thinking to myself "geez Carl, where are the climbs in this freaking course dude?!"... I was begging for some solid climbing so I could give my legs a rest on the descents.
Despite the complaints my weary legs had, I was having a blast... There's nothing quite like ripping up your local trails at race pace (or as close to it as I could get on this day), and there were a few of my favorites in there, too! The recent frost and rain had dampened the trails just enough to makes them fast, smooth and sticky, which made for excellent riding. My wish for some good climbs came quite late in the piece as we headed up Direct Road and down Hot X Buns followed by a climb up my old friend Katore to bomb down my home run to the finish line.
Like I said, I wasn't expecting much from today's ride, but I still held my own against the usual suspects (still didn't quite catch Margaret!) and placed 5th in quite a large female field. Cool thing about this is that with some more hard weeks on the bike and some taper, I should be punching out some good pace. It's a relief when you can still have an ok race on tired legs!

Nine weeks to go!!! Bring it on!!!

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