Thursday, December 10, 2009

Channelling Julie Andrews

Sky larks and soldiers and walkers with big dogs
Blusterous winds and zephyrs of sea fog
Sweat from my brow that makes my eyes sting
These are a few of Rapaki’s things

Dust clouds and dry grass and stones under feet
Magpies circle and unrelenting heat
Gates held open by blue plastic string
These are a few of Rapaki’s things

Sore legs and tussocks and passing smiles
Deserted benches and blue skies for miles
Sheep that are munching on nettles that sting
These are a few of Rapaki’s things

Ok, that was a teensey bit sad, but yesterday on the hills that’s what I had going through my head. Luckily for me my fitness is now so rubbish that I didn’t have enough breath to be singing it aloud. And why do I have so little fitness now? Well at the risk of making false assumptions, like Julie Andrews, I just don’t have any biking mojo at the moment. Since the fateful Moa race I’ve been out an various bikes a few times. I’ve been singlespeeding at McLeans, shuttling Vic Park on my bouncier bike and doing a bit of XC riding and pretty much all these rides have left me feeling a bit meh.

What has happened???

I think the weather is playing a part. Gloomy overcast days that even Mary Poppins herself couldn’t whisk away with a cheery song. It is meant to be summer and the hills should be alive with the sound of music. That music being the crunch of gravel under wheels, the click of gear changes, the squeal of poorly aligned brakes and the rasp of ragged breathing. Instead sheep graze undisturbed and puddles form on the sweet singletrack. *insert immature raspberry blowing noise here*

I did have a great deal of fun watching the crazy downhillers throwing themselves down the side of Vic Park on Sunday. It was great watching people riding stuff that scares the whiskers on kittens out of me. And excitingly Gravity Canterbury is having a novice race on the 20th of December. I think I might have to have a go and if you’re a chick who’s interested in giving it a go on nice easy, flowing tracks I’d encourage you to give it a go too!

Yesterday’s ride up Rapaki was hot with a nor’ wester blasting the hills, and at one point I did almost get blown off the Traverse by a particularly strong gust. It was hard work, but it was really good to be out on the bike again. The grey skies today are a little disconcerting, but I know it’s going to be a sunny weekend and it’s time to put the grins back into my riding. Hmmmm, what fun shall I get up too? While I ponder that, here’s a little treat for you, my favourite ever Julie Andrews song, with the Muppets of course!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Slip sliding away – Moa Hunt mud fest

The thing with weather is sometimes it just doesn’t come to the party. And being sturdy mountain bikers we ride on in spite of adverse conditions because we always go prepared for these eventualities. This is often the case with racing and this year the Moa Hunt was hit by a nasty southerly front that started dumping rain the night before the race. Driving through the cold mist to Kekerengu I was feeling nonplussed after a very poor night’s sleep, and was further nonplussed upon getting out of the car into the cold southerly wind and persistent drizzle. The thought of the start of the race with its multiple river crossings through knee deep river channels was very unappealing. But I was still keenish to compare myself to last year’s attempt. Only keenish though, more than once I thought about getting in the car and going home as we traipsed up to The Store to register. It was at registration that we found out that all competitors would be doing the same course. The 21km course, with 460m of climbing. Arse. I was psyched for 40kms with about 1,000m of climbing, it hardly seemed worth getting cold and wet for this reduced race.

Feeling very flat and pretty cold I lined up on the start line and being so apathetic I didn’t bother to get good line position. This meant the river crossing start went on and on and on and on as I was surrounded by slow riders and just didn’t have the motivation to blast pass them. Up the road and then up the hill and I just spun along, not really trying and chatting away to lots of walkers. My legs felt fantastic but my head just wasn’t in it. I had a bit of fun riding up a steep, technical walking track section, but soon there was no traction to be had in the slick mud and I was trudging. It was very unpleasant pushing up the ridge with the nasty cold wind and treacherous under foot conditions. That section was probably the hardest work I did all day. Then came the first bit of descent which quickly showed me that I wouldn’t be doing my usual trick of pinning it on the downhills. It was only a short dip, maybe twenty metres, but I managed to ride most of it completely sideways. Given the exciting exposure on the course, this experience made me take it quite easy on the downs. I was still faster than most people around me and a lot of them were falling off. Then I had a rather exciting moment when my rear brake stopped working. One moment squealing, but good brakes, the next nothing, brake lever to grip with nothing happening. This worried me a tad. I was pretty sure I could get off the hill in the wet with only a front brake, but it would be very very slow. Luckily after a bit of lever flicking my rear brake magically came back to life and I was able to push on a lot faster. The mud was both frustrating, no fun blast after the climb, and brilliant fun. I was getting lots of skidding and sideways action on my crossmarks with their inability to deal with the thick, sticky mud. I did have one very very funny low speed crash on an insanely treacherous steep clay 4WD section. It was so slick that I slide for ages even though I was hardly moving. I watched one woman do a great job of getting almost right to the bottom and then trying to take the corner and sliding for about 10m! She was laughing, just like I had when I came a cropper.

Further down, near the bottom the track got more gravelly and I was finally able to get up some decent speed. Unfortunately, as soon as I did I was instantly blinded as 10 kilos of mud flew off my front tyre and into my eyes. Using a very safe one-eyed squint technique I got down to the road in one piece and discovered that my legs felt like they hadn’t done anything. I cranked up into the big ring and raced off down the road. My race through the river section was really good until I was 5m from the finish line when my front wheel disappeared up to its hub in sinking sand and I had to get off and drag it out. I laughed out loud at the fiasco this race was for me and giggled sardonically as I crossed the finish line and the announcer congratulated me on my effort.

All in all the race was disappointing and not at all what I signed up and trained for. Sure, a bit of mud can be fun, but not when you have a 3 hour car ride home. Having said that there were some brilliant moments and if I look at it as a bike ride instead of a race it was really fun. I loved being up in the hills, even though there was no view because we were shrouded in mist. The air smelt so sweet and clean it was a pleasure just breathing. I had lots of great conversations on the way up because I was taking it easy and had plenty of lungs for talking. I got a push up a little nasty pinch from a lovely runner, 706 Rebecca Redmond. If you’re reading this and I’m pretty sure you won’t be, thanks heaps and sorry for not waiting on the finish line to cheer you over, I was just too cold and wet. And finally the crazy mud was heaps of fun while I was sliding around, if the race had been closer to home the mud would have made it fantastic. I’m trying not to think about what all that mud and water has done to my poor bike, it will be getting a very careful clean today, but I still foresee an expensive trip to The Hub in its future. And then, bring on the Hammerhead, I want to push myself.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Short Track Lessons

Sunday was the final short track race for the year, and under a gloomy grey sky it was the funnerest (yes, that’s a word) one yet. I was hoping to finally break that magic 5 lap mark in my 20 allotted minutes and not to feel like it was time for lung replacement surgery after the race. Amazingly I achieved both these goals and now feel qualified to pass on the important lessons I learnt from these 3 races. Note that these lessons apply specifically to the Kennedy’s Bush course, which I like to think of as my own since it’s where I learnt to ride my bike properly.

Lesson 1: First at first isn’t a recipe for first
Or in actual english, just because I can get the hole shot (or get into the singletrack first) doesn’t mean I should. In the first race I didn’t get the hole shot, poor line position, but was in the top 3 and had to work really hard through the singletrack. In the second race I went all out and got the hole shot and then proceeded to explode as I went far too hard on the singletrack again. In the third race I went out hardish, was in second, actively took it easy through the first bits of singletrack and hit the hill climb with lungs still intact.

Lesson 2: Lungs help you breathe
Sure this seems self-evident, especially to cyclists, however when you’re out on the short course and you’ve got that big hit of adrenalin off the start line and all you can think is “GO AS FAST AS YOU CAN” you can forget this. In fact you can almost disregard it, and that’s what I did in the first two races by taking my lungs out of my chest on the first lap and leaving lying at the bottom corner of the course. It was very irresponsible of me and made it extremely difficult to finish the race. In the third race I looked after my poor fragile lungs and they looked after me. Nary a cough was heard after the third race.

Lesson 3: Spin for the win
Well, not the win, overall anyway. Well, a win of sorts, for me personally. Anyway, the first two races I pushed a big gear up the hill because I could, for the first 3 laps anyway. It hurt and was hard, but I didn’t go fast and got progressively slower through those races. The last race I dropped down into my baby chainring on the first lap and spun up the hill as fast as pushing a bigger gear. On the second lap I spun up faster than pushing a bigger gear and on laps 3, 4 and 5 I got faster each lap rather than slower.

Lesson 4: I like to go downhill
Well duh! Not so much of a lesson this one, more a bit of showing off. I went down that course fast. As fast ,and in some cases faster, than the sport guys. It was really, really fun and I want to do it again and again and again.

Lesson 5: There’s nothing like support
A good sports bra is mandatory. No, that's not what I meant to say. I ride recreational, but that doesn’t mean I’m not competitive. I’m out to push myself as hard as I can. For me it’s not about winning, it’s about improving and I do take these things pretty seriously (blush). Having people cheer you on is great. I loved having all the people cheering me on and heckling on Sunday, it made me go faster. Having the 3 races one after the other means there’s always plenty of spectators on hand to yell support no matter which category you’re racing in.

Lesson 6: Not all pain is good
Burning, jelly legs are good. Burning, jelly lungs are not good. Flopping down because you’ve expended all your energy and your legs don’t work is good. Flopping down because you can’t breath is not good. Flopping down on gorse, matagauri or rocks is not good.

I loved the short course series. I’m not a sprinter, and I never will be, but I loved every pain filled insanely fun minute of it. We had lots of people along to these races who all looked like they were hating it during the races (especially the uphill bit) but were all grinning and laughing on the finish line, so hopefully there will be more in the future. Huge thanks to Craig and Rebekah at the Christchurch Singletrack Club for organising these races.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unexpected Benefits

This year I’ve taken a different, and I think more successful, approach to my “training”. I say “training” in inverted comma’s because training is about competing better and what I do on my bike isn’t really competing, it’s more about participating as fast as I can. Last year I rode my bike lots and lots and lots and went to the gym quite a bit. I didn’t really think about the sort of riding I was doing and after early strength improvements from the gym I didn’t really get that much benefit on my bike from the gym work.

This year my training was different almost out of necessity. I had to rehab my arm for about six months when I got back to riding again and this meant that a lot of the strength stuff I did at the gym last year I’m doing in my office this year. What! I hear you say. Well as all those of you who are tied to a desk throughout the working day will know, you are supposed to take regular mini breaks to prevent RSI, OOS, or whatever the current buzz acronym is. I’ve turned my breaks into mini workouts, where I lift weights, do push-ups and do weighted Swiss Ball crunches. It takes under 5 minutes to do one of these workouts, but I usually manage to get 3-5 of them in a day so my core and my arms are stronger than they’ve ever been.

Also I’ve been much more strategic about my riding. I’ve focussed on getting long base rides in and also been using my roadie to up my cadence. Now I’m starting to focus on getting faster and I see plenty of hills and pain in my future.

The other thing I’ve done this year is started doing yoga twice a week. I started off doing it through work and loved it so much that I’ve picked up another class. I’ve often read that yoga is great for cyclists, it loosens up all the bits that tighten up from lots of riding. I’ve also heard that a lot of the top female downhill riders swear by yoga and if it’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me. So I went into yoga hoping to get more flexible and maybe a bit stronger. And I have got much more flexible and am slowly getting stronger. But the best thing is all the unexpected benefits yoga has given my cycling.

The yoga I do is called Anusara yoga and is a new form of yoga that is based on tantric principles. All the poses in Anusara focus on opening the heart, or, in layman’s terms, softening between the shoulders and opening up the chest. So what’s this got to do with riding? Well those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while will know that I’ve always hated hills. It’s only relatively recently that my hatred softened in to acceptance and only in the last month or so that I’ve actually started enjoying hills. And the thing that’s really helped me with that is all the things I’ve been learning in yoga. The softening between the shoulders, opening the chest up poses that I’ve learnt in yoga are transferrable to the bike! I’ve discovered that when I’m riding up a hill and its hurting and I’m gasping for air, if I remember this basic yoga softening everything becomes easier. Breathing is easier and my legs seem to work better, probably from the additional oxygen available to them, but I’m not a physiologist. It’s not only this physical change that helps, when I do remember to open up my chest so I can breath, I’m accepting that I’m riding up a hill and it does hurt, but I can do it and I don’t have to fight it to get it over with. In fact the less I fight and the more I relax the easier it is to go up. I’m not saying that I just lean back and slowly cruise up the hill. I’m still working as hard as I can, I’m just not wasting any energy on struggling with the hill. This has been the greatest benefit I’ve gotten from my yoga practise and it was completely unexpected. In fact the more I learn in yoga the more I see how it can help me be a better rider, so I’ll just warn you, every now and then I might pass on some of the things I’m learning that help me on my bike. Hopefully they’ll be interesting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Break’s over! To the hills!

Last week I rested and recovered from my 2 races at the weekend. To say I was feeling a bit spent on Monday morning would be to massively understate how terrible I felt. My whole body hurt, particularly my legs and my back. Luckily I had yoga that evening and that helped greatly, as did liberal application of Anit-flamme. Tuesday and Wednesday I just chilled and Thursday I had yoga again. After another fantastic and challenging class I was ready to get back on the bike and what better way to ease into it than to practise the short course track with Michelle. *

* Better ways could have included laps of McLeans or Bottlelake on the singlespeed, a leisurely ride up Rapaki and across the traverse, sifting Flying Nunn repeats or even shuttlez.

It was a tad blusterous on Kennedy’s Bush and up on Siberia it was freezing and howling. I decided to go full on for 20 minutes and see if I could break the 5 lap mark. The wind quickly put pay to this plan as I was struggling to pedal down the steepest sections. After 18 and a half minutes I’d managed 4 laps and my throat and chest was agony. It didn’t bode well for Sunday, but I try to ignore boding where ever possible.

Friday was much better fun. Lovely hubby and I put some new, wider Kore bars on my bouncey bike, at the suggestion of the fabulous local supplier. He was right! We also tweeked the suspension which was set up waaaaay too hard and moved the brake levers and shifters around, all of which resulted in a much more stable and fun bike to ride down a hill. Which is what I did and met up with the girls for some shuttles. Frist run down Vic Park and my brakes and shifters weren’t in the right place so I adjusted them for the second run. The second run we went up to the Nun, where I hammered my legs by forgetting to put my seat up for the climb. The Nun was flowing sweet and we had a great ride down to the Kiwi. I love my new bars. The down Vic park and grins all round. Amongst our party was a lovely Vorbette from the tree covered north and it was fun showing her our trails, which are somewhat more exposed, rocky and full of wonderful corners than she was used to. However this didn’t stop her riding fast and well, it is so great showing the trails you love off to others.

Saturday I spent the day watching horsies race round and drunk slappers stumble over. I enjoyed the horsies a lot, and got my yell on regularly to try and urge my horse into the money. Unfortunately my horse choosing skills leave a lot to be desired and it was not a financially successful day. It was fun dressing up though.

Sunday was short course again. After Thursday’s efforts I wasn’t feeling optimistic and was also worried about running into children on the course. Because of this I was determined to get a good start so I could have a clear run down the singletrack on my first lap. This part was achieved and I steamed into the singletrack in first and blasted down, with my usual insane grin fixed firmly to my face. I needn’t have worried about being held up by children too much, I’d gone out far too hard and was destroying myself wheezing up the first climb and everyone streamed past me. I was held up a bit on the singletrack, but not much and then Megan zoomed past me on the hill climb like I was standing still. That woman has mad-core skillz to come down and race at great speed on a track she’s never been near in her life. I’d catch up with her on the singletrack and then she’d pull away again on the climb. In the forth lap I got badly held up by a number of elite riders who were pre-riding the track, but managed to get past eventually and also past Megan in the chaos. I felt stink about passing her like that and was pretty happy when she went back past me up the climb. I didn’t hear anyone telling me how long there was to go at the top so I figured I must still have loads of time for another lap and headed out. I pushed hard down the singletrack and headed up the climb thinking “Thank god I don’t have to go out for a 5th lap”. I was so knackered that I had no idea how many laps I’d done and when I heard the hooter sound I thought it was the 3 minutes to go signal. After I’d collapsed at the end my husband informed me I was really close to getting my last lap in and I was horrified I’d only managed to do 3 laps, talk about pushed past the point of comprehension! As it was, I got 4 laps again and was 30 seconds off getting that magic 5th lap. Next week is my last chance so I’ll have to be more strategic about my start and not destroy myself in the first minute of the race.

Looming large on my calendar is the Moa Hunt, only 11 sleeps away. I don’t usually count down to races in sleeps, but the Moa is the day before the Pearl Jam concert and that is ONLY 12 SLEEPS AWAY! The excitement I feel about this concert cannot be contained within a mere blog so I’m not going to attempt to quantify it. Back to the Moa. Being so close and being made primarily of enormous climbs I’m heading for the hills to sharpen my legs up for the task of breaking the 4 hour mark on the Moa. Admittedly that’s only 3 minutes faster than last year so shouldn’t be too much of a big ask. Hopefully I’ll do it in 3hrs 30, but I’m not overly confident about that goal, I’ll just have to see what the day has in store for me.

I’ve started out this week with a new commute via Kennedy’s Bush Rd and then down the Croc. This gives my legs a really good work out hammering up the road and puts a big grin on my face with its yummy switchback descent. I’m off to do Nun repeats tonight so that should give me more hill climbing kilometres in my legs. I have big plans for the weekend, but that’s another story. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 9, 2009

From one extreme to another

All the training I’ve been doing seems to have had a strange effect on my mind and I’ve started to develop a disturbing masochistic streak. It was this fascination with pain which lead me to get my dust covered bike back out of its secure and restful home and take it up Kennedy’s Bush. To race again. The day after doing the Molesworth. Really really fast. I was basically saying “Yes, the Molesworth hurt me a lot, but I’m feeling a tiny bit better, please can I have some more pain”! What has happened to me??!!

Pinning it and grinning into the tight corner at the bottom of the singletrack

It was a beautiful sunny day and the track is my favourite little piece of singletrack for descending. The laps were short, it was Short Track racing after all, and most importantly I only had to ride for 20 minutes. Surely I could handle that, even after the Molesworth. I was running late so ended up riding harder up the hill to get to the start than I intended. I was surprised that my legs weren’t feeling too bad. There weren’t many of us in the Recreational division, so we lined up on the start line and I decided to give it absolutely everything I had for the first lap and see what happened. I managed to get into 3rd into the singletrack and was keeping up with the guys in the front the whole way through the descent, yay madcore skills, but as soon I hit the climb the rest of the boys streamed past me and I was hurting. This was a very very stupid idea. I managed to stay in my middle ring and cranked out the first lap in good time. Into the 2nd lap and I could tell it was all over. Managed to push fairly hard through the singletrack, but backed off a little in a couple of places to try and get my breath back. Up the farm track and things were bad, still stayed in middle ring but vision was going blurry and all the pain from yesterday was back in my legs and had found some new friends to add to the party.

Third lap was just a blur of pain, descending still good, hoping not to get lapped. Managed to hold the boys off on the climb and was back into the singletrack for my last lap. Pinned my ears back and went for it down the track and found my legs had absolutely nothing in them for the climb and was quickly lapped by the leaders. Down into grannies to crawl over the line at the top. Knew I was broken so didn’t use the last 3.5 mins to flog myself unconscious. I just lay face down on the ground with my shaking legs and blades of grass up my nose. It was very very fun and very very sore (the racing, not the blades of grass – they were just a bit tickly). Next week I’ll have fresher legs and hopefully put on a better effort.

The Sport category only had 3 entrants which was a bit of a poor showing. They still flogged themselves ragged around the short course for 25 minutes. Then was the Expert race and it was looking to be a goodie. With Anton Cooper, Oliver Whalley (complete with lovely belt driven singlespeed ventana), Craig Tregurtha, Kyle Wood, Sara Taylor and even Craig Sharratt lining up to push each other to the limit. With a field of 11 the race was extremely fast and furious with Anton completing laps in a scorching 2mins 20 secs per lap! It was a brilliant race to watch. With the course being so short and having a few technical challenges for the over-enthusiastic it was great to see the amazing skills of these fast talented riders, all pushing their limits. It was almost as much fun watching this race as it was racing in mine. I can’t wait till next week, and if you’re in Christchurch next Sunday I’d highly recommend you come along for a look and maybe a race (especially if you’re of the female persuasion), they’re only short!
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Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Molesworth Muster – Now with added Southerly

If there’s one thing I dread when biking for long distances, it’s a headwind. I find headwinds totally demoralising. Headwinds make you isolated, you can’t hear much except the wind blasting past your ears. Moving forward is a battle and what would normally be a pleasant ride is drawn out into an excruciating form of torture where time stands still. With this in mind I was worried about the weather for the Muster, there was talk of a southerly change, and a southerly is a headwind when riding the 80kms from Molesworth Station to Hanmer. A headwind the whole way.

Taking some very good advice I put all thoughts of wind and weather out of my mind as I prepared for the trip north. Food, clothes, camping equipment, tools and bike were checked and rechecked and then loaded into the car. My lovely hubby’s bike drew the short straw and had to travel on the back of the car which meant it got to be mummified in plastic to protect it from the dust.

Then we were off. This year’s journey was much more pleasant and relaxing, with no snow or bad weather to freak me out, although having some air-con in the car would be a good thing. Just lots of glorious sun. We made good time and had the tent and dinner cooking in the day light and then hooned about the camp on our bikes and took pictures of the stunning sun set. Molesworth Station is truly a gorgeous piece of New Zealand. Surrounded on all sides by towering mountain ranges, with deserted stretches of flats and beautiful emerald rivers flowing through it. The air is so clean and sweet, perfumed with rose-hips and the sky is a canvas of blue with amazing cloud paintings ever changing above the landscape. We are very lucky that the generous owner of Molesworth station loves to share this place with cyclists.

As the sun disappeared a white horse galloped across the ridgeline in front of me and being the superstitious type I took this lovely sight as a good omen. Soon after we retired into our cocoon of duvets in our wee tent and snuggled down to a warm night’s sleep. In the morning there was a light coating of frost on the outside of the tent, but not on the inside like last year, and I was feeling well rested and nervously excited. Breakfast and V were wolfed down and the car hurriedly packed and hubby was off on the journey back to Hanmer. As I sat on the hill watching the chaos of the departing cars and trying to get my toes warm I knew I was ready for the race and I was resigned to a headwind.

A little aside to put the Molesworth headwind into perspective. The headwind is cold, being a southerly and unremitting. For the fastest riders it means about 30mins extra on their time. That’s about 10mins extra for every hour on the bike. So if you’re super fast and did it in 2hrs 30mins last year, you could expect to do it in 3hrs this year. I hadn’t worked this out till after the race, but this wind meant I was in for an extra hour of riding. I’m glad I didn’t work it out till after the race, it would have been rather disheartening on the start line to know that.

I met up with Amy Laird and her mother waiting for the start and had a chat which was good for calming the nerves and in no time we were off on the 1.5km rolling start. Up the first pinch and Mrs Laird was gone in a cloud of dust. I see where Amy gets her biking legs from! Knowing what to expect this year made a huge difference. I eased into the first 10kms, did quite a bit of drafting to keep out of the wind and just focussed on finding a nice rhythm over the rollers. I very carefully crossed the ford just before Ward’s Pass and managed to keep my feet pretty dry. Objective 1, check.

Up Ward’s Pass I settled into a nice slow spin. Quite a few people went blasting past early on, but this didn’t worry me. Most of them blew up half way up and had to push, but I just kept pedalling. In fact I really enjoyed the climb. I could have pushed harder, but that wouldn’t have been clever so early on in the race. My whole attitude to hills has changed a lot and now I quite enjoy the challenge of controlling the pain. At the top I decided my feet were dry enough to blast down the other side without stopping and find some people to latch onto for the haul across Isolated Flat. My speed down the hill meant I caught up to some nice big men who provided excellent shelter from the wind. It was now, though, that I began to realise what a difference this wind was going to make. Last year I was blasting across the flat in a small bunch of women at 30kph, this year, with big burly men to drag me on we were lucky to reach 22kph. I managed to leap frog from one bunch to another faster bunch regularly across the flat and was feeling good as we forded another stream and I kept my feet dry again. I was really glad to be wearing my woolie socks. Up the next big climb to Isolated Saddle and I was feeling good enough to pose for the race photographer before quickly pulling over to remove my damp cotton socks from under my woolie socks and replace them with a pair of dry merino socks. Now I had two pairs of warm wool on and was ready to take on the chilly and fast descent down the other side.

Through the river valley was gorgeous and the next 20kms ground by pretty well. I was drafting as often as I could and concentrated on keeping my pedal stoke clean. At the 40 km point I made my next and last planned stop to eat lunch and massage some circulation back into my feet. I also donned my leg warmers as the chilly southerly showed no signs of abating and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake as last year. After resupplying my pockets with muesli bars and plenty of lollies for the last 10kms I headed off with a bunch of people and tucked in. Up any of the many small climbs they would pull away, but I ended up passing them again going down the other side. Soon I was battling the wind alone and hoping to catch onto someone. I did manage to hook onto the back of a lovely English woman. We chatted for a while and she was happy for me to tuck in behind her when the wind got nasty. We cruised along chatting and riding for a while and then I said goodbye as she headed up a hill faster than I could follow.

On I pedalled into the wind. Feeling a little disheartened that my speedo said I’d been riding for 3hr 30mins and I hadn’t reached the 60k mark yet. My spirits were lifted greatly as I passed the first spot where I had to stop and rest last year, when I was going through my “ride 30mins for a rest ordeal”. No stopping this year. My legs were definitely hurting but nothing I couldn’t ride through. My biggest worry was the consistent ache in my left knee and my lower back. In fact my knee had got so bad that I couldn’t put any decent power through it and when I stood to pedal and give my leg muscles a change of pace it was agony (no pun intended).

Down the hill past Accommodation House and then across the Clarence river, I caught up with quite a few people who had passed me on the climb. I keep hoping that the wind would die down and the promised change to nor-easterly would happen, but to no avail. I was really hurting now, but managed to hook onto a large bunch working well and going at a good pace. They got me through the next 7kms and then I knew I could make it without stopping no matter how bad my legs felt. I knew there were two more nasty little climbs before Jollies Pass and I just spun up them slow and steady, passing those who attacked the climb at the start and then had to walk. On the downsides I was flying, taking the chance to stand and stretch my back and work my thigh muscles. And then the turn off to Jollies was just ahead. I was stoked. I knew this next bit would hurt, but I also knew exactly what I was in for from riding it two weeks ago. I managed to occasionally find some shelter behind the Tui team, who I’d been seeing on and off since the start. This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand they were nice big guys who didn’t mind me drafting them, on the other hand they were wearing white lycra which was more than a little see through by the end. I watched in horror as they attacked the last ford and got soaked. It was too much for my eyes and I let them get away as I spun up the last climb. And then all the climbing was done and the best part of the whole ride was in front of me. I let out a whoop of joy and released me front forks and took off. It felt so good. All those painful kilometres that I’d ridden to get to this point melted away. I was flying, completely in control and focussed on going fast and staying safe. I blew past people like they were standing still, laughing and grinning. My tyres were glued to the shingle and I took each corner at speed. In no time I was down the hill and smashing the pedals. 30kph along the grass and I zoomed past the Tui boys. The onto the singletrack where I had to line up, I rode it this year and almost ran over a small child crossing the narrow bridge at the bottom. Up a steep tight pinch and then I could see my amazing husband waiting for me. I grinned and waved and wanted to smash it across the line, but there were too many people in front of me.

I was broken, but so happy. My speedo said I had 5hrs 24mins of riding and my finishing time was 5hrs 33mins. I finished in 18th place, ahead of 11 other women in my category and 120 other riders. If conditions had been the same at last year I would have finished in around 4 and a half hours! I hurt bad today. I really did push my pain boundaries again, it seems every time I push them I find new levels that I can ride through. I don’t think I’ll do the Molesworth again, I’m completely happy with how it went, it’s time for a new challenge.

Friday, November 6, 2009

It's that time again

As with this time last year, I have the chronic pre-race jitters. The usual questions are swimming round in my head like sharks waiting to pull me under. Have I done enough training? Have I done the right sort of training? Have I tapered right? Is my gear sorted? Will the weather behave?
This year is better than last though. I know what I'm in for. I know my training has been better structured this year. I know I'm stronger, I have muscles where I haven't had muscles before. I've clean and polished and lubed my bike to within an inch of its life and its running smoothly. I know I have the right bike for the job.

This year I am ready for the Molesworth. This year I'll keep warm and hydrated and feed. This year I'll still be alive at the end. Bring it on, I can't wait.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The promised video

As promised yesterday, here is the video of my new hucking powers. It isn't very big, but with the addition of an appropriate soundtrack it is very amusing. Well to me anyway.

In further news I went shuttling for the first time this year yesterday and it was good. When a friend says you have to come shuttling with her because she's just got a new bike and it's the hottest thing around roadie training gets thrown out the window. Shuttling was brilliant and while I was really nervous on the first run I was fully grinning at the bottom. The second run was even better and we rode a track I've never ridden before called Cool Runnings. I can't wait to do more shuttles, once I've finished all this training for the Molesworth.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A little Getaway

With all the house madness recently hubby and I were very happy to be heading north on Sunday to the lovely Hanmer Springs and some much needed riding together on lovely singletrack. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we got on the road by lunchtime, both happy to be leaving the city behind. It was scorching in the air-conditioningless car so windows were down and I drifted off to sleep, dreaming of downhill bikes. I was woken rudely by Pete’s exclamation of “Bloody hell” and soon saw what he was talking about. Ahead of us the hills were on fire and I made my first ever 111 call. Luckily the fire service already knew about the blaze and were on their way.

After dumping our stuff at our little cabin outside Hanmer we headed to the forest and decided to ride a lap of the proposed Hammerhead course. The whole first section is 4wd track climbing and I quickly discovered I wasn’t feeling very strong and the heat was making me grumpy. The fact that I hadn’t really eaten anything useful added to this and after heading the wrong way up Tank Track I had a wee rest in the shade and ate some muesli bar. Feeling greatly rejuvenated, we then headed over to Swoop which was fantastic and flowing, fast with some nice little technical-ish bits, then down Majuba, fantastic, and then back up to my most hated trail Timberlands. I managed to ride the whole thing without stopping once, but I still hated it. Then up to Red Rocks. I stuffed up the rocky pinch just before the top and flailed around like a fish out of water at the top over the rocks. The Anthem was very twitchy and I didn’t want to leak any blood on this ride. Down Red Rocks was fantastic, but the cool rock berm that I rode last time I was here completely psyched me out on the anthem as it looked a lot more cut up. Further down Red Rocks and a clay bog claimed Pete, which was amusing to watch, but I was glad I hadn’t ridden into it. After tip toeing through we continued on down to Dog Stream, then blasted down the road to Mach 1. I fluffed the first switchback, which annoyed me a lot, but decide to concentrate harder on the rest and they were sweet. Mach 1 flowed nicely and then we decided to quickly dash up the road, well Pete quickly dashed up the road, I slowly spun, to Black Dog for a fun but rut riddled blast down to the Forest Camp and Camp track.

The course seems really fun, with all of horrible climbing in the first half at the start of the lap and plenty of recovery before the singletrack climbs up Timberlands and Red Rocks. We called into Krank to find out about the new track that might be included and it sounds like it might be that old favourite Yankee Zypher. It was a great ride and the Anthem held its own, but was not as grin inducing as the Jamis. It was more nervous giggle inducing.

After a terrible night’s sleep we were up bright and early, Pete to fix his brake and gear cable issues, and me to lie about in the sun watching Pete fix his brake and gear cable issues and then getting him to fix mine. Once that was done Pete was showing off doing wheelies, which I’ve always struggle with. I thought I’d give it a go on my Anthem with its very different geometry. I was wearing very appropriate footwear, fluffy slippers that are a size to big, so it was rather amusing. Despite this slight handicap I found getting the front wheel of the Anthem off the ground was rather easy compared to my other bikes and with a bit more practise I think I could be wheelie-ing like a pro! Well maybe not, but I should be able to do them much better. This encouraged me to try riding up the wee rock wall outside the cabin and that went very well. Then it was time to head off on our ride of the day.

The Twin Passes! Up Jacks Pass, with just over 500m of climbing. It was very hot and still and very dusty with plenty of people heading back into Hanmer down the metalled road. Surprisingly my legs didn’t hate me too much and the climb wasn’t too horrific once we got past some of the nasty steep bits near the bottom. I did have to stop at one point to dunk my head under a little waterfall because I was overheating in the sun, but after that it was all good. I was very happy to make it to the top and enjoy the stunning views on all sides and a delicious bacon sandwich.

We also spotted that rare and elusive mountain creature, the wild lime green jandal. It was basking in the warm sun and taking in the beautiful view all around it. Then it was time to fly down the other side. The sun was starting to succumb to the clouds that were rolling in so we decided that loitering unnecessarily wouldn’t be a good idea. Down the other side and into Molesworth Station’s boundaries we flew, enjoying the stunning scenery. I know a lot of people who don’t like riding on metalled roads, they hunger for technical challenges and something more interesting to their riding. I like that too, but I do love riding along a deserted dirt road surrounded by mountains or plains or rivers or lakes or the sea or whatever. When you’re rolling along you can take in the grandeur of your surroundings and share conversation with your riding companion. I loved this ride, I was with my husband and the countryside rewarded us with a splendid show of light and nature.

Then we were at the intersection with Jollies Pass Rd and I was remembering how horrific I felt last time I was there. Luckily I didn’t feel quite so shocking on this ride, but I was pretty hammered from the big climb. The climb up Jollies was significantly shorter and easier than I remembered, which wasn’t too surprising, and then it was the fun blast down the gravel road. I focussed on keeping my weight going through my front wheel and really forcing it down into the road. It was tiring on my arms, but I had heaps of control and was able to blast as fast as I would have on my bigger bike. On the way down we found the entrance to Threshold and I decided I wasn’t interested in more climbing so continued down to find it’s exit while Pete went up to ride it. I’m very glad I didn’t bother as Pete found it a hard climb with a pretty tricky descent full of switchbacks with root drops, pinch climbs and not much flow. I found a strange trio of animal skulls to keep me entertained while I waited. Then it was down the road and off to the pub for a well earned drink. With all of the side trips and it was about 2hours 20 riding over about 28kms.

Once back at the camp I decided that I wanted to learn to huck off the step properly. It looked way too high to roll off and freaked me out when I rolled into it. So Pete showed me how he did it and then I practiced that on the wee low bit of wall I had been riding up. Round and round I went till I felt like I could land with both wheel simultaneously, rather than my usual trick of landing front wheel first. It was tricky getting the front to come up enough without then lifting the back, which I didn’t even know I could do until I didn’t want to do it. Then it was time for the “big” step. My first attempt showed me that landing front wheel first was fine, muppet. Then I got it. I’m really rather stoked with this achievement and need to find somewhere safe to try it with my big bike and then I’ll be ready to huck of bigger things!

Tune in tomorrow for an AMAZING vid of my mad core skillz*

*Note: this statement may contain traces of sarcasm.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sometimes real life gets in the way

Training for the Molesworth had been going very well last week. A couple of big roadie rides and a fantastic ride over the Port Hills on the way home and my legs were feeling good. I was particularly happy with my Port Hills ride as last time I attempted to ride home from work via Rapaki, Traverse, Thompsons and Kennedy’s it just about killed me. In fact I was quite a state when I got home. This time was quite different and I was very happy to be out in the hills in the sun after the run of terrible weather we’ve been having.

It was a fairly uneventful ride, which was nice for a change. I am getting a little bored of falling off my bike every time I ride it. The traverse was great as usual and even though my back went into spasm towards the end I was still grinning with joy. Given that it seems I must make a fool of myself every ride, now was the time to do it. My back was so sore that I decided I’d better stretch it out before continuing on. I found a nice grassy spot and did a yoga stretch called child’s pose. Of course it was now that a couple of nice young men I know appeared up through the trees. Being the cool, calm and collected type I just acted like it was completely normal for me to be stretched out on the ground with my face in the grass and they were none the wiser.

After a brief chat I continued on towards home and was feeling so good that I used the singletrack to climb up the wee bump on Kennedy’s and then headed down the Croc. It was fantastic, although there were some nasty holes to be avoided. Then I was home and feeling pooped, but not destroyed. I had great plans for weekend riding, but those were not to be.

Unfortunately all training plans for the weekend had to be shelved so we could work on the house and get it ready to sell. So instead of a long roadie ride on Saturday I was in the garden weeding and laying brick edging. And instead of riding from one end of the Port Hills to the other on Sunday I was vacuuming, cleaning windows, moving boxes, rearranging furniture and dusting. Talk about house work karma. The good news is the house is looking fantastic and if you’re in the market for a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with a gorgeous garden 5 minutes from Kennedy’s Bush and the Crocodile you should contact Cheryl Magon or come for a look at our open home on the Saturday and Sunday of next weekend and the weekend after.

Hopefully we’ll be making up for the lack of riding this weekend by having a couple of days in Hanmer to celebrate my lovely hubby’s birthday and get away from all the house stress for a couple of days.

Monday, October 12, 2009

And the prize for defending the world from roaming hordes of the undead is – a lovely handcrafted ninja throwing star!

Clockwise fromtop right: me, Mops, Rita, Nic, Anna

Saturday was the Giant 12hr Day Nighter at McLeans Island and our team was there to protect all from any wandering zombies. We were the Swine Flu Survivers Zombie Killing Mtb Army on SingleSpeeds (SFSZKMASS), and we were thoroughly prepared. Our team consisted of Rita “Double Agent” Langley, a specialist in zombie mob infiltration and endurance missions. Anna “Skull Crusher” Ross, lethal with a baseball bat and a danger to herself and others. Mops “Medic!!” Newall, the Florence Nightengale of the group, tough as nails and with a mouth to match, but always willing to go to the aid of a fallen comrade. Ring-in Nicole “Sniper” Symons, fast as lightening and crack shot, called in at the last minute to replace Michelle “Kill them all!” Peterson, who was taken down by zombie scum with a nasty bite to the hip. We can only pray she’s not infected. And finally me, Melanie “Field Commander” Dunlop, with the boots to kick the team in the arse and a voice to lay waste to all comers.

When doing battle with zombie, a large arsenal is vital for survival
The day started off in freezing style, hail pelted me as I packed the last vital supplies into the car. Anna arrived on time, a good omen for the rest of the day and we were off. Together we managed to secure a primo corner site with great lines of sight that would prevent us being flanked by the undead. In no time our camp was set up and coffee was brewing on the brazier, we were prepared for all eventualities. Rita bravely volunteered to lead us out and take the first two laps and soon she was lost in a sea of riders racing across the paddock to try and squash through the 2 rider wide scaffolding underpass. Rita set a blistering pace from the word go and we kept the camp clear of the undead scum and encouraged our fellow contestants on with kind words and soft voices.

As Rita and Mops rode the first 4 laps I decided that the 32:15 I had on was a wee bit tall for my feeble legs with the wet energy sapping grass and the nasty head winds up the stop banks and through the exposed section. A quick change back to 32:16 and I was feeling much happier by the time it was time for me to ride. It was still freezing so I decided to try riding one lap in my knee high Doc’s. They were ok on the flat and through the swoopy bits, but rubbish climbing the stopbanks and extremely slippery any time they got wet in the enormous puddles that were dotted around the course. Still it was fun riding in inappropriate footwear and all the boys that passed me liked them! I turned in a pretty good first lap which I think was about 32 minutes, but I’m not really sure. We checked our times and discovered there was a bit of a stuff up with our transponder (ours was missing when I went to get it, so we had number 21 instead of number 535), but that was quickly sorted, and we found ourselves placed 2nd. There was much rejoicing at camp with this news.

Only an undead freak could ride one of these!

We continued battling the zombie masses at camp, liberally peppering our competitors with potato pellets (zombie brains), encouragement and insults. Not to mention chasing any lurkers with guns blazing and baseball bat at the ready. Mops also went to the rescue of a fallen 6 hr solo competitor who was suffering from cramp and used her healing powers to get him back on the bike.

Mops administers first aid to a fallen competitor

For some reason we couldn’t get many people to oblige us and “DO A SKID!!!!”, but the few we did get were impressive and led to great raucous cheers. Rita, Mops, and Nic put in the hard yards and did double laps, being strongly motivated with threats of beatings. Anna and I took turn about to do single laps and the sun put in a very welcome appearance. There was still some wind, but it was no where near as awful as the morning. My laps felt better and better as the day progressed and I was loving the course, especially the flowing new section through the trees. The exposed new section was not as much fun, with its strange bump placements and constant headwind.

Zombie killing machine showing the spoils of the hunt

I even managed to pass quite a few people this year and the standard of passing was much better than last year with everyone being pretty considerate on my laps. The course was a good balance of hurty struggling parts and super fun bits where I was pretty much spinning out with the tailwind. It turns out all the roadie riding I’ve been doing has really paid off because my lungs were up to the task of the spinney gear. My throat was feeling worse for wear from the extreme heckling, so I rested it for short stretches when I wasn’t riding to make sure I could go the distance.

Zombies can sneak up from behind, however are easily fooled by this ruse!

We were lucky to be visited in our camp by plenty of cool people who came for a chat, to steal some of our warmth, to bring us delicious chocolate cup cakes (thanks so much Rachel, they were divine), and add to the lunacy we were trying to spread (yay! Michelle). There was also a very exciting moment when the evil zombies released a double ezi-up into the wind and it came rolling over the camp site towards us. Lucky a shiny new Range Rover stopped it from impaling us all, but it was touch and go. We never found the nest of zombies that threatened to lay us low, but we renewed our hunting with great vigour, smashing zombie brains with our bat whenever the opportunity arose.

Rita's amazing infiltration skillz almost result in a lost head

As the sun set we cranked up the fire again and sorted out the final lap order. As other teams stood round with clip boards carefully tracking each time, we cheered for the brave souls battling in the 12 hour solo. As other teams warmed up on wind trainers, we chased people with guns and bats and motivated them to try harder. And as darkness fell we got a wee bit serious and decided to go hell for leather at the end. I have to say I was feeling pretty nervous about doing the penultimate lap, however I was also relishing the chance to get a night lap in.

Zombie brain baseball, a fun family pursuit

As I set off there was next to no wind, but my legs were hurting bad. I kept pushing as hard as I could and by the time I got into the singletrack I was feeling good. I was in the hurt box in a way I’ve never been in before, but it was actually good and I was flying through the night. The whole last lap was a blur of passing, pain, grinning, grinding and joy. I truly loved this lap, it stands out in my mind as the best piece of riding I’ve ever done. I felt really fast and when I rolled into the camp I was completely and utterly spent and could only dimly comprehend how stoked my team mates were with my ride. I was grinning madly, but also struggling to stand and collapsed happy into the enormous pillow I’d brought with me for just such an occasion. I felt like I’d finally done a sub-30 minute lap, but the results say I only shaved 30 seconds off my time.

Nic put in a scorching last lap and we hoped we’d held onto second. With military precision, of course, we disposed of the zombie corpses littering the camp and packed it away and headed to the prize giving. Fully armed, we formed a protective circle with Mops standing sentry and waited for the results. Finally the women’s category was announced and our name was called. We got third and were all completely stoked (even though 2nd was a mere 10 secs faster). We went out there to have fun and ride our singlespeeds hard, not to win anything. I’m pretty sure that we had the most fun of any team that day and we certainly showed that you don’t need to take team’s events seriously to do well. We all received our ninja throwing stars and also managed to snake the best dressed prize, despite the crowd’s lack of appreciation for our zombie fighting skills. It was a great event, well run and more fun than just about anything else I can think of. Thanks to my fabulous team mates for getting us onto the podium, my first ever, and those who came along to say hi and support us for making it such a brilliant day. And huge thanks to my hubby for putting up with me this weekend!

Monday, October 5, 2009

It’s a conspiracy!!!

To say that my training routine has suffered slightly in the last couple of weeks is an understatement. And my lack of blogging is a permanent reminder of this period of inactivity. So to make myself feel less ashamed of my slackness and hopefully to provide you, my dear reader, with some amusement, I present the following post in the style of New Zealand’s unbiased and informative mainstream media.

Shock return of winter hinders courageous cyclist
The last two weeks have seen Christchurch plunged into mid-winter conditions as icy blasts of cold air hammer the country from the depths of the Southern Ocean. Of course, being Spring, the most settled of seasons for weather, this has taken cyclists completely unawares which has resulted in many a cancelled training ride. The preceding warm period, which strongly signalled the end of all bad weather for all time, has exacerbated the problem for cyclists, many of whom have packed all of their warm clothes away into storage containers and burnt their wet weather gear as a sign of devotion to the god’s of warm weather. All are now shocked and disoriented by this unexplained return to cold unsettled conditions.

For one rider in particular, the writer of this very blog, this sinister change of weather has brought with it other barriers to training than just bitterly cold winds and freezing rains. The rider in question has courageously fought her way back from a dramatic injury which required her right arm to be pinned together again, and since then has been going from strength to strength on the bike. She was completely unprepared for the cruel blow the weather gods had in store for her. As the temperatures plummeted to an unbearable 7 degrees C the pain in this freshly healed arm was shocking. Uncertain of her future on the bike this cyclist sought medical advice and was assured that the pain was normal. Unfortunately this injury, in combination with an enormous soccer-ball sized hematoma, has kept her from any serious training for the past 2 weeks. Indeed, even had she been uninjured the terrible apathy brought on by the strange, unheard of weather and the government conspiracy to bring forward daylight savings while the weather is cold, would have stopped her from training anyway. Can she come back from such a set-back? She is confident she can and has already thrown herself back into training with a renewed commitment that must be admired.

Tackling bright and sunny conditions on Saturday she has bravely completed a long ride for Motokara to Little River again, this time with the support of a good friend and fellow cycle addict. Unfortunately for the two attractive and fit cyclists, the weather was once more destined to throw hurdles in their path. A howling head wind greeted these brave women as they set out on their return journey, making it one of agony and slowness. On more than one occasion they were forced to huddle behind trees or rocks to get some respite from the terrible winds, before regrouping their strength and struggling onwards. They were unaided in their journey and were often mocked by those lucky souls who were travelling with the gale at their backs. After 2 hours of battling the ghastly wind the two women successfully completely their journey and were completely spent from their battle. Such bravery and determination in the face of such unheard of and unfair weather can only be commended, especially following, as it does, a period of inactivity and injury.

So as you can see from the above account (which contains no sarcasm, exaggeration, or bias, no really, it doesn’t , honest) I’m back on the training wagon, which is just as well. Saturday sees the next race of the season, although in no universe can this be seen to be serious, but more on that later. I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Needless to say, I’ve been doing a few laps on McLean’s Island on my singlespeed with my girls and we’re all hoping the weather behaves on Saturday, so we can unleash carnage on the unsuspecting. If you’re at the 12hr race and see a big red tent full of chicks dressed strangely and singlespeeds, say hi.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cheviot Hills Challenge – More fun than you can poke a stick at!

And you can poke a stick at an enormous amount of fun. Oh, I’m getting sidetracked already, onto more important matters. I’d like to start my post on the race yesterday by admitting I got DFL, which was quite disappointing when I learned of it at 6:35am this morning after a night of sleep that was continually interrupted by my new alien baby. However, as is so often the case, the black and white results print out doesn’t actually tell much about my race. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the BEST race I have ever done!

I’ve been looking forward to this race since last year, and even more so since I got the Anthem, so I was slightly excitable on Sunday morning. Well, hyperactive would be an accurate description, and that was before the addition of V. We were off to Cheviot bright and early and accompanied by an energising mix of dirty drum and base and crazy System of a Down. It would have been the perfect pre-race journey, except my bladder decided that all the chair dancing was aggravating and informed my in no uncertain terms that a toilet was required urgently about 30kms from Cheviot. Luckily my iron will and self-control saw me through to the Cheviot Domain where I sprinted further than I’ve run in the last 10 years to get to the loos. Once the crisis was averted I realised that the sprint felt not too bad, for someone with a severe allergy to running, and that I feel strong for the race. It turned out that the sprint was to be all the warm up I’d get after much faffing and gossiping.

After an extremely detailed course description at the briefing we lined up at the start and 10 minutes later we were off. I was starting in the middle of the sport field and managed to hold the end of the pack well and then pass some people as the first climb levelled off. Unfortunately I got a stick caught in my wheel and had to stop and remove it and then I sprinted a bit to repass the woman I’d just passed before we got onto the first very short bit of singletrack and down onto the slippery off-camber grass descent. I was trapped behind a guy who was hard on his brakes and was worried he was going to go down and take me with him, so I whipped round the side and then passed a couple of other women at the gate. Unfortunately one of them lost it and her bike whipped round and took my back wheel out. I managed to slow a lot before hitting the deck and rolled for a bit. I gave my poor left knee a good whack on a rock and the top of it was instantly black. It hurt like a bugger, but I jumped back on my bike and zoomed down the rest of the hill and tried to get it moving. Up the next climb it hurt like crazy still, but I was determined. I was climbing well, but getting held up in the singletrack. Unfortunately I’d race past people on the singletrack and then they’d pass me on the pinch climbs and I’d get held up again on the descents. Finally on the last and steepest climb of the lap a guy stopped in front of me and I ended up walking the rest of the climb. This meant the women just in front of me finally got away from me and I was held up on the rest of the descents and couldn’t make it up.

Down on the flat the new bike really paid off and for the first time ever in a race I was in the big chain ring and absolutely flying. It was great. The first lap was over in about 29 minutes and I was feeling good. I eased up a little before the first climb of the 2nd lap and the elites started to stream past me. One of the outstanding things about this race is that everyone, and I do mean everyone, is super friendly. Everyone who passed me was really polite and many of them were really encouraging. Back up the first climb and a free run down the slippery paddock, blasting super fast, feathering the brakes through the sharp, loose corner at the gate and then brake free down to the road. Up into the trees again and it’s just stunningly beautiful. There are still leaves on the ground, but the sun light is streaming through the trees and there of pockets of daffodils springing up everywhere. The climbs aren’t on singletrack, but they’re all pretty steep and have plenty of roots and leaf-litter to keep you on your toes. What singletrack there is, is rooty and twisty and fun and mainly downhill. I love it and the Anthem does too, even with its rear suspension set to hard. Lap 2 is great and I’m grinning. I finish the second lap in 31 mins, but I know I’m starting to feel tired.

The third lap and the first climb hurts pretty bad and I’m not really attacking it hard anymore and cruise a bit when it flattens out before the descent. My knee is aching by the bottom, but I push hard on the next climb knowing it’s the last lap. I see a couple of elite mates of mine duelling it out behind me, but know I’m faster than them on the singletrack downhill so pin my ears back and pelt down the hill. They pass me effortlessly on the start of the next climb and I earn my self a hard smack on the butt for my mad-core downhill steez! Luckily it hurts enough to take my mind of my knee and I attack this climb. Down the other side and only that one nasty last climb to go. My legs are still going well, but the energy sapping wet leafy section out the back takes it out of me pretty badly. I head up the hill and catch my breath as I get off and push my bike up the last short bit of pinch. And then it’s all down hill. Woooooo hoooooo! I’m flying along and pass a couple of guys and then I’m pedalling hard down the paved walking track, through the trees and up to the road to the finish. I felt so strong and stoked coming across the finish line. After the first lap I set myself a goal of getting home in 1hr 38 and did my 3 laps in 1:35:41. I was over the moon. And it was so very cool crossing the line and having my very own team of cheerleaders waiting for me (I love you guys).

This was the first race I’ve ever felt in complete control in, able to attack the climbs instead of just struggling up them, battling to keep going forward. Last year I did 2 laps of this race in 1:20:19, so this year I’ve improved an enormous amount. This year I felt like I actually racing, rather than just participating and it felt so amazingly good even my alien baby knee, which seized up as soon as I got off the bike, couldn’t wipe the huge grin off my face. The Cheviot Hills course is the most fun I’ve raced on, it really is a privilege to be able to ride these tracks that are usually reserved for walking in such a lovely area.

After a quick change of top, I hobbled to the steak sandwich tent and got some food for me and my wonderful husband and then we chilled out on the freshly mown cricket ground and listened to mellow jazz in the sun and talked rubbish. It was fantastic relaxing with friends, meeting people who read this blog (such a strange thing to know people read it, and sorry to the guy on the orange and blue Kona, I didn’t get your name, I was in a bit of a pre-race brain-free moment). And then the moment I’d been waiting for all day, the lolly scramble! I was very well behaved and didn’t push any small children over, but did manage to secure my fair share of toffees. Yum! The prize giving saw our contingent of riders take home plenty of meat and wine and my lovely husband scored a spot prize. It was a brilliant day, which has left me hungry for more training and more racing. Once I’ve had some more sleep!