Monday, April 28, 2008

Two bikes and a race

I’ve been talking about getting a road bike for a while, especially for winter. Lots of people, who’s opinions I respect, have told me they are excellent for improving fitness for mountain biking. I’ve been keeping an eye out on Trade-Me for something not too expensive and in a small frame. This has been more difficult than I would have liked, but finally I found one. It’s an Avanti Sprint, not sure what year, but seems relatively new. I got it for a real bargain as a teenage boy was selling it to buy a BMX. It’s got a couple of wee issues, but I’m taking it into the bike shop to have it looked at tomorrow. I’ve only been for one wee tiny ride on it and it felt weird.
Strangely enough I’m more excited about the oldest bike I have, my good old Bauer Hardline steel frame. It’s the perfect bike for racing out at Bottlelake at night (well it is now). This bike’s always been a bit big for me and caused me all sorts of shoulder pain, but I’ve sorted that by stealing the stem off Pete’s Kona and now it’s fine. I’ve also swapped the old saddle for my WTB one and covered the whole bike in glow-in-the-dark and reflective bits and pieces. I think it is the business. I took for a spin round Bottlelake on Saturday (a bit of a warm up for the race on Sunday) and it was fun. Heavy as, and the old 21 speed gear ratios are crazy so quite hard work. And so very bumpy, my forearms were itching like crazy from all the shaking. On the plus side, it corners brilliantly and for some reason makes me grin like an idiot. I’m feeling pretty stoked with it. Now I just need Pete’s arm to get better and we can go night riding, wahoo! (Now I have 4 bikes that I ride, hehehe).

Sunday was the big day. The Mt Somers race which I’ve been looking forward to for months. And this year it’s been dry leading up to it so I was really excited about riding a dry track. Sunday dawned very foggy in Christchurch, but a quick look at a couple of weather websites and the race site indicated that it was going to be great weather for the race, with a little bit of rain in around lunchtime. Perfect! We were on the road on time and I was beginning to get the pre-race tension and butterflies partying in my belly. The fog was dense almost the entire way to Mt Somers (which is about an hour from Christchurch), but about 10 minutes out of Mt Somers we burst out into glorious sunshine.
Once parked and registered I got my bike set up and took it for a spin round the paddock to warm up. On Saturday I bought myself a decent knee support so with that on and my lovely supportive husband in tow we made our way to the start line. Unfortunately I was so nervous that I ended up quite far back in the pack (of the Intermediate grade) at the start so that was annoying. It was almost impossible to pass on the road going up the first wee hill as people were spread out and heading all over the show. I decided to just keep safe and wait for my opportunity when we got off the seal. I was feeling really strong and my nerves were burnt off by the adrenaline of the start.
Once we were in the paddock I really began to feel all my hard work had paid off. I remember that this paddock had seemed like never-ending torture last year, but this year I just cruised up it, passing a few people and not really getting passed. Onto a nice bit of farm-track and I started picking off more people on the flat. This track was a bit slippery and foretold what was to come on the hill. Next up was the turnip paddock. This was the beginning of the climb and was short and steep. Last year in the wet almost everyone walked it, including me. This year, lots of people walked it, but I rode the whole thing. I’m really proud of that. Unfortunately after the Turnip Paddock there was and longer even steeper section. I got about a quarter of the way up but had to get off. Lots of people I’d passed now passed me as I’m very slow pushing my bike (its bloody heavy). Once up this section I was back on and spinning up the hill, past where I had chain problems last year and up. Up to a point. It got a bit steeper and a lot looser and I was back pushing. I’d been having some problems with my glasses fogging up in the cold air when I was going so slowly on the bike and I could pick a good line to save myself because I couldn’t see the ground. Very frustrating. I was giving it my everything at this point and I had to stop a couple of times and get my breathing under control. Finally I got to a point where I knew I could ride and again and took off. It levelled out soon after this and I was off. I started dragging in people who’d passed me on the uphill and really flew on the down hill. My bike felt so stable under me, I was right in the zone. Picking great lines, centred on the bike, and flying down the farm tracks. I was lucky that in the one rutty vaguely technical downhill bit that there wasn’t much traffic round me and I was able to keep my speed up and pass more people. I completely stuffed up the creek crossing at the bottom. The creek was crowded and I was in the wrong gear so I got a bit of a damp foot. A few people snuck past as they picked good lines and rode through. I was back on the bike (I need to learn to do that running jump thing the good guys do) and “racing” across the energy sapping long grass. I nailed the next creek crossing and took off down the hill. I was really flying again and even did a few very small jumps as I passed more people. Unfortunately at one point my chain started behaving in a disturbing manner so I made the decision to stop and quickly clean it and relube it. I was on the bike again and was stoked that I was keeping up with the guys in the Classic (top) grade on the downhill farm tracks. I knew there wasn’t far to go now and I was still passing people, but at this point it was hard to tell how I was doing as we’d joined back up with the recreational grade people. Got cold wet feet in the river as there were too many people in it to ride through and man, that water was icy. There were two more little climbs after this and I dragged in a few more people (probably all recreational) on the hills who were walking and started to pedal as hard as I could as I thought I might be able to get in under 2 hours. On the road I climbed into my big chainring (for the first time ever on this bike!) and was flying along at near 45km/hour. I had a really strong finish with a final time of 1hr 59mins and 8 secs and I managed to get 9th in my section. That means I've achieved the goal I set for myself next year already! It was great finishing and having my wonderful husband there to greet me and listen to me go on about the race.
I’m really happy with how I went. I feel like the extra work I’ve put in has made a real difference to my riding and I’m looking forward to getting stronger, faster and lighter over winter. Today I’m feeling very tired, but happy. It’s a really great race and I can’t wait for my next race, but I’m not sure what it will be.

Friday, April 25, 2008

We will not forget them

I've just got back from the Dawn Parade for ANZAC day. It was beautiful and moving. Both my grandfathers and the great grandfather I knew fought in the wars. They were all heroes who were decorated. I'm saddened that I don't know more about what they achieved, but I'm sure they wouldn't have talked about it, even if I had been old enough to understand. At the parade I noticed that there weren't very many of the "old boys" left. I was heartened though, to see so many people of my age or younger, with young families, there to show their respects and remember that those men who died did so for something greater than themselves, the dream of peace.
I, and I'm sure most of my friends, can't imagine what it must have been like to travel halfway round the world, to place yourself in mortal peril, to see friends die, to be wounded, to kill. My great grandfather was in WW1, what must the trenches have been like for him. How did my great grandmother cope? Was she in fear of that telegram everyday? My Pop, who died when I was eight, he never talked about the war, but he had many medals. He was a wonderful man, but what horrors did he see? On this day more than any other of the year I feel linked to those brave men who came before me, and their wives who stayed behind. Without experiencing it ourselves we will never fully understand what it was they did for this country and the Commonwealth. They will always be in my heart and I am extremely proud to be of their blood.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Winter just around the corner

Ahhhh, Dunedin. So many memories. Land of students and hills and rain. And snow on Saturday. Pete and I drove down on Friday night for a wedding on Saturday with great plans for a quick ride in the morning. The weather had something to say about that and we woke to snow on the hills and bitterly cold wind and rain blasting through the city. Needless to say both of us were not exactly keen on venturing out into muddy trails in those conditions. It was a little disappointing, but we went to the museum to visit the live butterfly exhibit instead.
That was amazing. If not for all the screaming children I could have spent the whole day there. I ended up running round like a crazy child myself!

The wedding was wonderful and we had a good time at the reception, even though I didn’t manage to get Pete up on the dance floor. The bride looked stunning and the ceremony was lovely and very moving.

The next day dawned bright and sunny and surprisingly without hangover. After a bit of breakfast we headed into town for a coffee and then out to Green Island to visit my Gran. It was a really lovely visit and then we were on the road, looking forward to trying out new tracks in Timaru. They’ve got a really nice network of tracks in Centennial Park and Pete and I had a great time sifting around, getting lost and riding new stuff. There was so very challenging riding, which I mainly wimped out on, but I also rode some very cool rooty sections which were a bit like riding down stairs (I never ridden that sort of thing before so it was pretty cool).

Unfortunately Pete’s a bit out of action after our ride and I’m having to drive him round which is cutting into my riding to and from work a lot. Oh well, I’m off to the gym soon and will just have to make sure I get a couple of hill rides in this week. Mt Somers is on Sunday and it looks like I’ll be doing that with a cheerleader, rather than a fellow participant, boo.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lentils for power? Husbands for safety!

I thought it was time I told the other half of the story on my road to fasterness (I know that's not really a word!). My change of diet. I've always had a pretty good diet, very high in fresh fruit and veges, pretty low in rubbish. I've struggled with my weight for about 3 years now and a year ago was diagnosed with PCOS which explained a lot. I've been to a nutritionist and seen a specialist about this and there are a number of solutions they've offered to help shift the weight. Low carb diet (carbs are really not your friend when you have PCOS), weight training and/or drugs. Now a low carb diet doesn't really work when you're riding your bike as much as I am. Carbs help your muscles recover from the beating they take when you push yourself up hills and ride as fast as you can for 30+ minutes. Weight training is something I can and am doing. I like the idea of being stronger, that's why I joined the gym (as bloody painful as it is the next day). Drugs. Hmmmmm. I've had a lot of bad experiences on prescribed medication, but as the specialist said "If they make you feel bad, just stop taking them", so I gave them a go. And did exactly as she said when I started feeling nauseous and couldn't ride my bike anymore because I felt so weak.
Then I saw my wonderful friend who lives in London and has lost heaps of weight and looks fantastic. She's such an inspiration! After talking to her I realised what she and her partner had done made sense for my goals too. It's a pretty simple concept, no carbs in the evening, big meal in the middle of the day. In practise its slightly more complicated, but I'm getting there. So my diet, in a small plastic container, rather than a nutshell, is breakfast, 1 cup of homemade low-fat, low-sugar muesli with boysenberries, raspberries and a tablespoon of yogurt. Lunch consists of a combination of two of either wholegrain pasta with vege rich tomato sauce, lentil and brown rice salad, potato salad, or roast vegetable and cous cous salad. Of course this is the hardest part. Preparing all the lunches on Sunday is hard work and last week I was busy and only did the lentil and rice salad. That was mistake. Having only the lentil and rice salad seems to fill me up, but it leaves me feeling flat, like I'm not getting any energy from it and by the evening I'm ravenous. This is not a good thing when dinners consist of meat (usually chicken) and a big salad, or stirfry (with no noodle or rice). So this week I've realised that I need to ensure I get enough good fats at lunch and variety is crucial. I've also realised I miss cooking big delicious meals, but its a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Last night my lovely husband cooked us heavenly steaks (with salad of course) and then after dinner we got our lights out and went for a ride up Kennedy's Bush. This was brilliant, apart from the fact that my legs were destroyed and I felt like I was going to die from the bottom of the hill onwards. I haven't been riding with Pete for a while and it was great being with him in the dark with just the lowing of the cows (they don't like the lights it seems) and the glowing of the sheeps eyes. I was giggling like a small child riding down the single track. It was great. Not so great for Pete though, his battery died and he had to follow me as I slowly picked my way down the tracks. I feel like I've taken back the night with my husband at my side (or behind me). I can't wait to do more night rides with him. I also can't wait to do the night racing series at Bottlelake that starts in May. Wahoo.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Do-doodle-do, do-doodle-do, do-do-doodle-do (its very hard to phonetically type the Knight rider them music so I'll put this up instead). I have become Michael Knight. Actually no, that would mean I'm the Hoff and eeeewwwwww!!

My wonderful husband has made me a very cool light for night riding (the only draw back being I have to lug 2kgs of SLA battery around with me). I put the "cool" stickers on it. So after yesterday's not getting to the gym fiasco I decided to go riding at Bottlelake after dinner. For those of you who haven't visited Bottlelake, it's not actually a lake, but a sandpit planted with a pine plantation. Said plantation is full of walking, riding, and horsing(?) tracks of varying lengths. Its pretty flat, with lots of fun uppy-downy, jumpy, windy bits. If you want you can take a nice ride out to the beach. The only problem is the sand. It destroys bikes. It's horrid to clean off bikes. So generally I don't take my good bike there anymore. However my Bottlelake bike has magically transformed into my commuter so I was left with 2 choices last night. My lovely precious bike, or my orrible, hard, too big Bauer. I took the good bike (naughty).
So with my very cool new helmet and heavy backpack I headed off into the night. Riding round the forest at night alone is two things. Exciting. And scary. Everything is very different in the dark, even if you know the track like the back of your hand you still feel disoriented and slightly lost the whole time. I was prepared for this from the time I went with Pete, but was feeling confident my new light would conquer all. Most impressed with the amount of light streaming from my head I blasted into the forest and then slowed quite a bit as I discovered that my legs were quite tired from my ride up Kennedy's Bush yesterday and the biking to work, and that the corners seemed much tighter and the trees much closer than in the daylight. It was not far through the forest that I started thinking about the fact that the poor deaf girl, Emma, was found not far from here. Once this thought pushed through the Knight rider theme music my heart rate shot up and my legs spun faster.
It felt like I was going really fast, but I suspect I wasn't really and when it started spitting with rain I decided it was time to take a shortcut. That was a bit freaky too. I'd never ridden down the track I took and had no idea where it went or for how long. That really didn't help my heart rate. It turned out that the shortcut only took out 3 sections so I still had a good ride to get back to the car park. I emerged from the forest just as the rain started falling and got my bike on the back of my car in record time.
It wasn't the best ride I've ever had, but I do know that I want to do more and more night riding. Just with my wonderful 6ft 1" husband with me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Torture Chamber

So gyms. They're fun aren't they? Are they? Well I've finally joined one and got myself a weights programme to improve my almost non-existent core and upper body strength. Sounds all good, but by crikey it hurts.
I went for my fitness assessment on Monday when I was still very sore from Saturday's fun in the mud. It turns out I'm averagely fit, yay, I didn't think I was. And the instructor was a really nice guy who didn't make me feel like a complete un-co learning the exercises so that was really good too. Luckily (?!) my shoulder was very sore still so I couldn't do everything, but I managed one set of all the exercises and 2 days later I'm still in agony (ok, that's an exaggeration, but sneezing kills me).
I didn't go back yesterday as I had an appointment at physio to check out my shoulder and neck. Luckily it's nothing very serious and I've slightly strained the a.c. joint in my right shoulder and strained my neck a bit. The physio thinks it won't take long to come right. I've got another appointment on Thursday, but I'll be going back to the gym on Thursday before I forget how to do all the exercises.
I haven't been on my bike. It's in a sad state and I've booked it in for a service on Friday to make sure all the mud and water that got forced into all it's joints isn't going to damage it. I'm very much looking forward to being able to ride it again. I think it will be a long time before I subject it to such punishment again.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Dirty Girls (or my bike's first trip on a plane)

Saturday dawned mucky in Wellington as I flew in on the 7:30am flight. I haven't done a huge amount of wet riding, it's bad for the tracks and for my bike, so I was feeling a little nervous, but hopeful that it would clear up a bit. Hehehe! My wonderful friend Shelley picked me and my baby up and we were off to Karori and into the real rain. We arrived early for registration and set about building my bike in the wet. Now it should be noted that I've never put together my bike before, this will be important for later. I managed to get it together eventually, but it did feel really weird. Oh well I thought, must be these heavier tyres (sometimes I can be sooo blond).

Slowly people arrived in their raincoats and armour and soon there were a good dozen of us chatting and hoping the rain would stop. The brilliant race organiser explained the plan of attack to us and we loaded our bikes onto the trailer and piled into the van. This would be the end of the clean, for people, bikes and the inside of the van.

At the top there was a lot of polite "you go first, no I'll be slower" and finally we were off in a line of nervous anticipation (well I was nervous having never ridden the track before). The track was lovely, not technical, lots of gorgeous hairpins, not at all steep, surrounded by bush and quite narrow. There was almost always a decent drop off into the bush on one side and a few painful trees very close and sometimes low to the track. I managed not to fall off at all on my first run, but felt a bit of a Nana. The next run most of the girls decided to have a go at the other more technical track, but I was still having bike issues and decided I would stick to the easier track and just concentrate on getting faster and riding the corners smoother. I was having difficulty seeing by the last third of the track because of the persistent rain fogging my glasses so was very much hoping it would clear a bit.

On the second run it did. I was feeling much faster and was going really well until almost near the end when I clipped a tree and ended up falling down a fairly steep bit of bank. I land heavily on my right leg and managed to grab a tree to stop myself from disappearing into the bush. I clambered back up the bank with the help of one of the girls, had a wee laugh at myself, and continued down knowing I'd hurt my bung knee a bit, but hoping it would be alright. I also had a pretty good bruise above my knee pad where my brake lever had decided to try and become one with me. I walked the stiffness off, and went through the bike on the trailer, body in the van sequence and we were back off up the hill. It was at the top of the hill that a couple of boys discovered why my bike felt so bad (its too embarrassing to say). With that sorted my bike felt heaps better and I pelted off down (actually up at the start) the track feeling much more confident. A little too confident in the wet as it turned out.

About a quarter of the way down I overcooked a little corner and ended up dangling from a tree with my right arm wedged through a couple of branches. I was a little concerned I might have seriously damaged it (after all my talk at work about breaking an arm), but it wasn't feeling grindy or too sore so I regathered my composure and continued down. Unfortunately I hadn't learned my lesson and was still going a bit too fast and went over a little bank a bit further down, but this wasn't very dramatic and at the time didn't even hurt. By the bottom I was feeling not very confident, but forced myself back into the van.

We had two more shuttle runs, where the track was getting increasingly wet and slippy and we were getting dirtier and colder. Both was good runs for me, a little on the slow side because of the wet (all the previous falling off), but I was feeling really stoked with my riding. After the 5th run there was a vote to have the timed run much earlier and we piled into the van for the last run of the day. We were all grinning and filthy and looking forward to showers.

It was really pouring for the timed run and the track was a bit like a river in most places. It was very cold at the top waiting for our turn. I was glad to get going before hypothermia set in. I whizzed off, and rode cleanly the whole way down, but I feel like I could have pushed it a bit more. My tumbles down the bank had left me a bit nervous and being further back in the line up the track was very slippery in places. I am a bit disappointed I didn't push harder, I think I could have gone a bit faster, but I didn't want to really hurt myself. At the bottom I was elated to be in one piece and have gotten right out of my comfort zone and tried something new. I was also muddier and wetter than I've EVER been in my life!

The prize giving took place not long after the last girl came down and we huddled around to hear the results. There were trophies (brilliant home-made ones) for fastest on both courses and for slowest overall (the captain planet Heart trophy) and rosettes for 2nd and 3rd on each track.

"And on the salvation track we had (from fastest to not so fastest):
Zoe - 11:21 Angie Strall - 12:02 Kathryn Campell - 12:11 Kade Mills - 12:22 Rachel - 12:48 Michelle Gil - 13:01 Melanie Dunlop - 13:44 Jude Ball - 14:00 Chloe Langly - 14:36 Joan Murphy - 15:12 Emma Wending - 16:36"

Finally there was a trophy for most special person, voted by the marshalls and organisers. I'm sure those closest to me will not be surprised to know I had the great honour of receiving this trophy. Yay! My first ever trophy which now has pride of place in my office. This was a brilliant day, with an amazing bunch of girls (and guys). I hope it happens again. I'm now sorer than I ever been after a day's riding and will be toddling off to physio to have my sholder and neck looked at.

One final piece of news. I've signed up for a gym near work and am going in today for my assessment, ah haha. I'm sure its going to make all my owies worse. What doesn't kill me, makes me stronger!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The gravel, my friend, is blowing in the wind.....

Yay! I got let out of jail, oops, I mean work early today. There's only one thing for it when this happens, to the hills!

After a quick spin home on the new slicks (more on those soon) I got my real bike on the back of the Starlet and whizzed round to Rapaki. Legs were a bit tired from this morning and slightly sore, but nothing to make me think it was going to be anything but a great ride.

We break briefly for a short description of this morning. A couple of weeks ago I put slicks on my hardtail (mtb with no suspension at the back) with the idea that this would make commuting quicker and encourage more road riding over winter. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances I haven't really got to try them out. So this morning I took the slightly longer, with some little hills in it, route to work on my new slicks. It was gooood. I was faster. Powered up the wee hills in gears I've never been up them in before and arrived at work sweaty and happy. I was so encouraged by this ride I've started a graph to measure my improved fitness. (see bottom of page)

And now back to our feature presentation.

So when we left our intrepid cyclist was just heading up Rapaki. It should be noted at this time that I was well aware that a southerly front was approaching and was hoping to get to the top before it hit. I had a really strong ride (for me, probably painfully slow for most people) up to the flat section, and had fun doing wee jumps over the rocks on the down hilly bit. Now for that horrid last bit of climb to the top. I noticed that the wind had picked up and was now pushing at me stubbornly from one side. I also noticed some fairly impressive looking dust plumes further up the track. Onwards and upwards. My legs were quite sore now, but I wasn't too worried, but as I got higher I was battling the wind to stay on my line. I made it up past the little seat and up further to the corner. Now I was really struggling in the wind and was getting pelted with small bits of gravel occasionally. After I'd been blown off the bike twice, luckily I managed to unclip, I decided that I really couldn't be bothered (very slack, I know) with the last few hundred metres, so I turned around (getting another face full of small bits of gravel in the process) and headed back down. It was a pretty hair raising descent. I like to go really fast down that bit of Rapaki, saves pedalling up the other side, but I was being whipped all over the place by the wind and had to carefully reduce my speed from the 50ish kph I was doing down to a old womanly pace to avoid having the bike whipped out from under me. Once up on the flat again the wind propelled me on nicely and I had a nice rest till the downhill. Watching the front come through the city was pretty cool too.

I'm feeling fairly chuffed with my ride, I don't usually go up Rapaki if I've done other riding in the day. It was cool riding up there before it turned into a highway at 5, but I suspect chances of this happening often are very low.