Thursday, May 28, 2009

A triumph of sorts

Last night was the first night race back after the terrible DNF. I was determined to get to the end last night no matter what. The course was slightly changed as there’s lots of logging going on at the moment. This meant that the road sprint was on the 4wd track and then the sealed road. This was where I made my third mistake for the night. I was feeling very keen having had quite a few good training rides and feeling strong at the weekend. I was back on the squishy bike because I didn’t think I could handle the singlespeed yet. Off we went and I lost my mind. Instead of racing at my pace and pushing within my limits I let my keen legs get the better of me and tore down the sealed road, completely exploding my fufu valve. Fool. By the time I got to the landfill hill I was still struggling to regain composure and by the top of the hill I was spat out the back of the entire field. Stink.

Ah well, I thought, I’ll just get my heart rate and breathing under control and then push on to the end. This was easier said than done, but luckily the weather was nice and I wasn’t cold. My bouncy bike felt like it was absorbing all my feeble power on the little pinches and I was getting a bit grumpy. At the cross over the marshal kindly suggested I go straight to the finish line, but there was no way I was going to do that. I continued on my second lap, partially driven by anger, but mainly driven by stubbornness. I came across another racer who’d got lost and felt a bit better having someone behind me for a while. I pushed harder and struggled up that horrible hill a second time. At the top of the sand dunes I gave the rider directions to the finish and he slowly pulled away from me.

Feelings were mixed as I crossed the finish line. Yes, I’d finished this time, an improvement, at least on paper, over last time, but I felt I’d ridden worse. I didn’t really enjoy any part of the race this time, and hated the feeling of riding the squishy bike. Next time, I think there will be a next time, I’ll take the singlespeed, I’ll ride within my abilities at the start and I’ll try and enjoy it. The bonus about being last is your number is on top of the pile for spot prizes so the evening was a complete write-off. Bring on next week?
Edit: I've just seen the results and I wasn't last! Yay.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hmmmm, it’s wet and cold outside, what should I do?

The obvious answer is of course, ride your bike! I managed to do this on both Saturday and Sunday, despite nasty sou-westerly winds whipping off Antarctica, constant drizzle or rain and generally freezing temperatures. You see the thing about riding in winter is that if you let the miserable conditions get the best of you there will be little or no bicycle riding fun. The key to winter riding is preparedness, and I’m not just talking about the correct attire (although this is probably the most important aspect). I’ve already regaled you with my cold weather commuting attire for frosty mornings (thanks Ground Effect). My “disgusting, wet, windy, cold” riding gear isn’t too different. I’ll start from the bottom up and keep it brief, thick knee high merino socks, under leg warms under either lycra shorts with my downhill (water resistant) shorts or my GE baggies. Both these options give you 3 layers of coverage on the thighs which is most welcome in the wet and cold. Bottom half sorted, top half can be a bit trickier depending on the riding you are doing. Saturday we headed to Bottlelake – land of uber puddles, for a high intensity singlespeed blast. I knew I’d be working hard and sheltered by the trees most of the time so I went for a long sleeved merino only under my She Shell with pit zips fully opened (and the water resistant downhill short combo). This worked perfectly.

It was fairly wet, some showers interspersed with lovely Scottish mist (drizzle for those not of Celtic heritage) and the puddles were wide and in some cases much deeper than expected (crikey, my hubs seem to be under water!). We took off through the trees and headed towards the beach and on the way there I achieved a goal I’d set myself last weekend. I got all the way up the tip hill on my singlespeed. Yes. My first attempt a month ago saw me get a feeble third of the way up and last weekend I struggled three quarters of the way up. I was determined to conquer it on Saturday and managed to with much explosions of lungs and hauling on handle bars. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but I was happy once all the shiny stars went away. The rest of the ride was a hammerfest and by the end we were back in the carpark buggered and wet. My feet and lower legs were soaked most of the ride, but my feet didn’t get cold at all.

This is the point in the ride where the extra preparations are important. Always take dry socks and shoes, or in my case woolly slippers, when you know you’ll be driving home with wet feet. Also a layer of dry wool will be greatly appreciated and your upholstery will thank you for the provision of a towel. I myself carry a very lovely Singapore Airlines purple and blue tartan knee rug which is great for wrapping around cold legs and keeping mud off the seats.
On Saturday I was very happy to discover that once I removed my lovely Loeka shorts (as seen in this fabulous safety announcement) my bike shorts beneath were still dry. Another good idea is to start your car and crank the heater right up as soon as you arrive so that once you’ve loaded your bike, divested yourself of the wet, muddy clothes and applied dry warm clothes you can leap into a toasty vehicle and turn the demister on. Finally I discovered that leaving one’s spouse at home by the fire has the great benefit of being able to walk into a toasty warm house upon you’re arrival. These are the things that make winter riding bearable.

Sunday was a slightly different kettle of fish. I actually wasn’t at all keen for a ride, the weather was worse and I was snuggled up on the couch when I received an “encouraging” text for a ride up Kennedy’s. Brrrrrrr. Oh well, I’ve always been a sucker for a bit of peer pressure. This ride would require more attention to detail for the top half of my body. The usual winter attire for the bottom half would be fine. The Kennedy’s ride would be exposed to the wind, however much of it would be climbing so it is more difficult to work out the optimal layering. I went for sleeveless but hi-necked merino under my GE long sleeved Starfish and topped off by the fantastic She-Shell. I also threw a long sleeved merino in my backpack just in case. The climb up the road was fantastic (who would have thought) and I was the perfect temperature by the time I got to the base of the 4wd track. This would have set me up well for the climb in the wind except I had to wait for the other mad buggers I was riding with and got ever so slightly chilled in the 15 minutes between my arrival and theirs. Up on the hill things got worse for me pretty quickly. The wind was howling into our faces as we climbed the wet paddock and my legs were complaining that I’d already hammered them the day before. Up the 4wd track and the little stream that had babbled to me on Thursday was bigger and more talkative and line selection was the key to keeping traction. We crested the rise and dropped down a bit into the lee of the windbreak and could actually talk. It was nasty, but there were other mad people out on the hill. We continued down and at the bottom met a lake at the stile and the wind returned. I was feeling pretty cold now and my legs were pretty much toast, but pig-headedness drove me on and up the next climb. It was bad. I was right in that black place you go when all you can do is turn your legs and keep your weight in the right place to keep going up. The wind was sucking the energy right out of me and my breath was coming in huge wheezing gasps. Not a pretty sight. Finally we made it to where it levelled off and I knew I was completely toasted. I really couldn’t go up into that wind anymore so I was extremely grateful when scatter gave me a get out of jail free card and I could bail. It felt sucky leaving everyone else on the hill to go up, but they are all significantly fitter than I am and I’d pushed all I could.

It was then I made my big mistake for the day. If I hadn’t been so tired and focussed on getting down the hill I would have taken the time to quickly add my extra layer of wool under my jacket and zip up my pit-zips. But I didn’t and I froze on the descent in the howling wind. Having said that it was still pretty fun sliding down the hill in the mud. I was soon coated from head to foot in mud and at times had some difficulty seeing. I struggled lifting my bike over the fence in the wind and then remembered to zip up those pit zips. That helped a bit and I got a bit of warmth back climbing back up the 4wd, but then down the other side it was exposed and cold and I went down pretty slow as I just couldn’t keep the mud out of my eyes. The fast trip down the road left me struggling to get my legs moving at the bottom, but did clean most of the mud off my face as sheets of water sprayed into my eyes. Yuck. I got home in a bit of a state, but managed to take the time to clean my mud coated bike and apply lashings of lube to my freshly cleaned chain. All the while my lovely husband ran me a bath and then helped me remove my mud crusted layers as my hands and brain weren’t really talking to each other. After a soak I returned to semi-human but was completely wasted energy wise.

So the lessons I learnt from the ride were:
i Don’t arrive first and have to wait in the cold
ii If you’re body is telling you something, listen to it
iii Always add another layer before descending in the cold

Both were great rides and I’m really glad I got out and did them. Hopefully both will pay dividends on Wednesday for the night race.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Fabulous Stolen Ride

Note: I know I’ve blogged already today, but the ride I’ve just been on was so good I have to tell its story.

“Ride it like it’s stolen” is a phrase you see in biking magazines and forums every now and then. It refers to the idea that you love a bike so much that you ride it hard, fast and to the limit of your ability. Tonight I discovered it can apply to actual riding as well. Yes, you can steal a ride. A stolen ride is one that you don’t expect to have, one that seems impossible till it happens, one that you really want, but you think isn’t going to come. My plan for this afternoon to this evening was work, osteo, supermarket, dinner, wind trainer, blob on couch. My reality was so much better.

On the way back from osteo, the pain in my glut from some intense electrified acupuncture still fresh, the sun was shining brightly, not a cloud in the sky and hardly a breath of wind. It was just after 4pm and it dawned on me that I could get in a ride if I left as soon as I got home. There’s a few things that can help you steal a ride. An understanding spouse who’s willing to pick up the slack your ride creates is one. Having all your gear ready to go is another. It turns out that dumping helmets, gloves, camelbacks and shoes by the door to trip the unwary is actually a cunning idea to facilitate the quick change necessary for the stolen ride.

Out on the road with lights quickly transferred to my bouncy bike and I was off, heading to Kennedy’s Bush track for a quick ride in the sinking sun. At the base of the hill a quick stop to take my jacket off for the spin up the hill. Riding up the road on the mountain bike is often a painful and depressing experience, but not tonight. Even climbing the road was pure pleasure as I thought of the hour on the trainer I could be doing instead. My breath coming fast as I reached the top I was glad the gate wasn’t locked and I could open the gate to put my bike through. The sun sunk behind the Southern Alps sending rays of blazing orange and vivid pink streaking across the sky. Ominous grey clouds roll in. Up the wet and slippy sheep track, a cold breeze chilling muscles and tearing at lungs, the peace and beauty of the evening scene makes the pain fade away. A brief pause to snap a no mega-pixels shot of the city and sunset and then up the 4wd track. Foggy wisps of breath snatched away on the breeze show the cold. The line to the left is a flowing steam, burbling audibly as I climb. The right is comparatively dry and traction is good and I climb up, enjoying the solitude. As the track flattens out the whole track is a quagmire and mud flicks up onto my legs.

Should I ride the singletrack down? It will be wet, really wet, but it will be fun. I take the plunge and am immediately rewarded with a soaked foot. The track is pretty good and the sheep and cows scatter as I flow past. The final downhill part is super slick and running with water so I fly over the grass and come to a halt in a small lake at the bottom. Continue up or the short climb to head home? Darkness is descending fast and the cold is seeping into my muscles and bones, it’s time to head home. Spinning up the 4wd the mud flicks but I have good traction. My legs are warm and work well and on the crest I stop to put my jacket back on. The view is like a sparkling gem made harsh by the freezing wind. Further up there is snow, but I’m not going there tonight.

Down the hill I fly, gently feathering the brakes, picking lines and careful in the wet. The cold air bites deep into my cheeks and I try not to grin, I don’t want mud in my teeth. Round the corner and down the last stretch of track and the earth opens up before me. The track is rent open and deep ruts on all sides beckon my wheels. It’s the icing on the cake navigating this Worselyesque section of track. And then I blast down the road, freezing as I speed down at full speed. I’m grinning and happy and once on the flat I push my legs hard to warm them and then I’m home, muddy, chilled and huddling over the fire. This ride has been exquisite, an hour stolen unexpectedly, in the midst of a frigid and bleak wintery week.


After the best forgotten tragedy of last Wednesday’s night race I was determined this week to improve. I developed a plan so cunning, and for bonus points, enjoyable, that my feeble legs and lungs were sure to benefit from it. As I type this and look out the window at the southerly rain lashing the trees and glance at the Metservice website to see that the temperature with wind chill is a toasty -1°C it’s hard to remember that only 6 days ago it was sunny and a toasty 21°C. Luckily this beautiful weather was not squandered and I hit the hills with scatter for a bit of hill climbing practice.

I chose the divine and newly renovated Flying Nun trail as my exercise ground. The ride up the 4wd track, down the swoopy flowing Nun and back round the road is a nice 3km loop with just over 100m of climbing. Perfect. I will admit I was nervous on my first run, really nervous. This track is fast and flowing, with some brilliant rocky technical sections, jumps, bermed corners and wooden structures. I’ve ridden it before, but this would be a challenge for my confidence. I was shaking like a leaf the whole way down, but also grinning like a small child who’s had way too much raspberry jungle juice. It was fantastic. I walked a big section, but the rest was sweet and confidence building. Best of all my elbow was no issue at all.

I really concentrated on my pedalling back up the road and then up the hill. I pushed it, this was training for the race on Wednesday after all. It hurt, but it hurt good, which was puzzling as I hate climbing. The 2nd run down was even better. Nerves gone, flowing down the hill and hitting all the bits I’d walked the first time with the exception of 1 rock bridge and rocky corner exit that were messing with my mind. Fantastic. Back up the road, maintaining good speed and gasping at the top. Then down again. Oh yes, so good, faster, faster, oops a bit too fast, easy tiger. I nearly stacked into the bank after coming flying out of a corner a bit faster than I should have. Sussed out lines on the 2 sections that were messing with me, thanks to scatter, but decided I was being a bit muppety to ride them then and there. They’ll be there next time and I know exactly what to do now. Then back up the road a final time. Still had good constant speed, but my legs were really feeling it and by the time I got back to the car I knew that they were done. Even so I was still tempted for one more run down again, how could you not be, its sooo good, but common-sense prevailed and I headed home.

The next day I had even more leg hammering planned with a ride round the race track on my singlespeed. I was surprised that my legs were feeling pretty good after the hill climbing of the previous day. It was sunny and I was spinning madly. It was a brilliant ride with great company, but by the end my legs were toast, just as I planned.

With these fantastic rides under my belt I was looking forward to this week’s race. I was determined to conquer Tip Hill and finish strongly. Nothing was going to stop me. Except an email from the race organisers cancelling the race because of the appalling weather. Bugger. So instead of a night blasting around the forest in the cold I had a night on the couch under a blanket with the fire blazing. I guess tonight I’d better get that horrible bloody trainer out and give my legs the workout they didn’t get last night. Sigh.

PS. Issue 32 of Spoke Magazine is in the shops now, go get it, and read my first ever published article, on Christchurch’s Singlespeed club.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Last night I found out, the hard way, fear of failure drives me. I’m not out to win when I race, I’m more realistic than that. I would like to not get last, but sometimes I put myself in situations where that’s just the way it’s going to be because I’m pushing far beyond my comfort zone, like at the Hammerhead, and last night. However last night, at my first actual attempt at a competitive race post elbow snapping, I got worse than last, and believe me this is hard to write, I got the big DNF. I could say I got lost, lots of people did. I could say I got a flat tyre, there were plenty of those. I could even say a marauding gang of possums forced me off the track and stole my bike pump, but that would obviously be a lie, or a delusion. The fact was I was just too slow. So slow that I was very aware that even if I finished, and I know I could have, I would have had over a hundred people standing around in the cold waiting for me to cross the line so the prize giving could start, trying to prevent frostbite in their various extremities. I did not want to be that person. My initial reaction, which might have had something to do with low blood sugar, was that I never wanted to go near my bike for anything more competitive than the commute to work. However this morning I feel very different. I feel very, very motivated. I will not let this race beat me. I will finish it without those at the front of the pack getting hypothermia waiting for me. I will get my legs back.

Enough of that, now a more prosaic vision of the night race…..

Sea of night

In the sea of the night the strong gather. Lights on heads, angler fish of the darkness. They race off, fast, faster than me, legs pumping, hard, strong through the mist and chill. A shoal of the strong, zig-zag around the weak, flashing past a hair’s breadth away, streaming by on all sides in waves of brief colour. We dive into the trees, the darkness parts before me, a tunnel of light filled with the fog of my breath, the sounds of laboured breathing, and the feeling of pursuit. Off in the distance a chinese dragon fights through the trees, burning the nocturnal creatures with its stare. They flee and I chase onwards, knowing that behind me others come and I must hold them off. Soon the flight reaches the ocean and the sounds of my heart and lungs, duel beat of exertion, join with the rhythmic crash of the waves. Pockets of chill night air seep into my airways and leave me gasping, the salt on the wind stings my eyes and they weep.

The dragon is lost in the distance and I am alone in my pool. My pool follows my gaze and finds those holes that could trip me in my pursuit, in my bid to escape from those that follow. My pool is a strange place, where menacing shapes lurk on the periphery, dark fingers stretch out, figures dart from tree to tree. The creatures that creep and sneak and shock are in there, but my pool keeps them at bay. Alone in the pool, I drag it with me faster, to catch the dragon and escape those behind. They mustn’t catch me. Then back into the forest, the burning of lungs, the tunnel of light spurs me on. Through labyrinth corners I pull away from those lights that are catching me, dragging me in mercilessly. This is a playground, with traps for the unwary, this is where I have a chance to escape. No light in front, that dragon long gone, but from behind me I sense them come on. Each hill brings them closer, each corner pushes them back, I feel they have unseen cables reeling me in. The straights are their strengths and I struggle to hold on, till the forest embraces me and gives me a chance. Then the forest is over and I must push more than ever. Not far to go, but they are behind me, hot breath at my shoulder, as determined as I am.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Familiar stomping grounds

After the weather we’ve had this weekend, and late last week, there can be no disputing that wintery riding conditions are upon us here in Christchurch. This, of course, is the time I’ve finally sorted myself out some sort of training routine for the next few months. I’m really not enjoying how unfit I am and my ad hoc, go riding when I feel like approach doesn’t seem to be helping that much. What better way to kick off a diligent training routine than a ride up a big hill on a chilly, but dry, day. Kennedy’s Bush, a familiar friend, a test and the first time I’ve been up there since my crash.
To be honest, if the lovely scatter hadn’t been keen I would have been quite happy to spend the day in front of the fire. I’m glad she was, because although this climb really really hurt, it was still brilliant fun and taught me some useful lessons.

Lesson 1 - Your lungs are fragile, be nice to them, a warm up is their friend.
I discovered that getting out of a warm house into a warm car and then out of the warm car onto a bike and starting straight up a climb is not good for my delicate lungs. After climbing up the first short section of sheep/single track to the first water tank my little lungs were not just protesting. They had fully thrown all their toys out of the cot and worked themselves into a full blown screaming tantrum. I couldn’t speak and could only just stay upright, draped over my handle bars like an under-stuffed scarecrow. Once I had managed to regain some semblance of composure we continued up the gentle climb of the 4wd track and then down some singletrack. I took it easy on my lungs and they warmed up. When we got to the next steeper section of the climb my lungs were fine. It turns out that boring bit of road riding to get to Kennedy’s is necessary for my lungs and in the future I will be trying to make sure my lungs are suitably warmed up before attempting any high intensity stuff (which is just about anything that’s not perfectly flat for me at the moment).

Lesson2 – You can lose all your fitness without losing your skills
Quite a few of my recent rides have shown me this. Saturday’s wet, slidey, slightly speedy (note to self, it’s time for new brake pads) descent showed me I can still have exciting, slightly dangerous fun without damaging myself. Which leads to…………………

Lesson 3 – Sometimes mud is good
Sliding round corners is fun. Spraying mud around is fun. Skidding is fun. Flying down wet hills is fun. Unexpectedly riding into water filled ruts is fun – for the people you are riding with as they get to laugh at you! Getting really dirty is fun and it makes coming home to a warm house and a hot chocolate sooooo much better. (Sensible note: riding wet singletrack is very very bad, do not do it. Riding wet 4wd tracks and sheep tracks is good)

Lesson 4 – Mud is not good for bikes
My bike is covered in mud and poo, I’m not looking forward to cleaning it, but if I don’t it will stop being my friend and break down and possibly hurt me. It’s fickle like that.

Lesson 5 - Good friends can turn rubbish into gold (comedy gold if you’re lucky)
If I had actually managed to have to motivation to leave the house and ride up the hill on Saturday by myself I suspect I would be looking at my ride in a different light. In fact I possibly would have thrown the towel in when my lungs exploded. It was cold. It was grey. The ground was really muddy. There was poo flying. But all these things seemed fun because we were talking that particular brand of bollocks that is so good when trying to distract yourself from the pain of a climb. We could laugh together and at each other. And laughter is contagious once it starts. So I hit the side of the rut and had to put a foot down where I’ve never ever had to before - Hilarious! Especially the dance of restarting on a hill in the wet while manoeuvring out of the deadly rut.

So, with help, I’ve knocked Kennedy’s off and am looking forward to more assaults on its slippery sides, and hopefully a few stealth night missions. My legs are going to get strong again, if it kills me!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Goodbye wonderful track – Parting is such sweet sorrow

Dear Bigfoot

I haven’t known you long, not even a year, but you were my favourite from the first time we meet. Getting to know you wasn’t really that easy. Your many many tight switchbacks with their rocks and roots tested my legs, and lungs and commitment, but that first ride last year did not daunt me. Your sweet, flowing, thrilling descent hooked me and fixed you firmly in my heart. So it was with great sadness that I wrote to Neil at Krank to confirm a rumour I didn’t want to believe. Your lovely trees are to be logged this month and no longer will I, or anyone, be able to swoop down amongst them.

I couldn’t just let you go without saying goodbye in person, it would be wrong. So to Hanmer I went on Monday, to ride you one last time. Upon arrival it seemed to me you are steeling yourself for what is to come. You were icy cold and gloomy, sucking the warmth out of me. The climb up the road from your exit to your entrance was dark in the afternoon, damp, frigid. But then your entrance was bathed in warm sun, welcoming us, and my husband was winding up upon you as I took you in. You are unforgiving though. Your wet switchbacks, with their roots and rocks, more than a match for me and my currently weak legs. You showed no charity to my broken elbow and taught me that I can no longer turn right tight enough for you. In gloom, with my heart racing, you were not the friend I remembered, but on I pushed to the top and the thin rays of sunlight.

You taught me the importance of tyre choice and that my chosen tyres weren’t for you. But the descent was there before me and I hoped you would be kind and show that side of you that made me come back to say goodbye. You did, and I flowed along you, through your trees, smiling and whooping, yet melancholy that this would soon be nothing but a scarred chaos of stumps and destruction. And then you reminded me that you were in no mood for such sentimentality with one steep wet rutted corner that took my breath away as my wheels squirmed and my bike bucked under me. I held it together as you tested me, and regrouped for a final descent. Again you picked my spirits up and had me laughing as I jumped over tree roots and swept down corners and floated down drop offs. Then ahead of me I heard the warning thump of a bike hitting the dirt as your final corner stole my husband’s bike and left him standing on the track. You are a trickster in the wet Bigfoot, it’s a side of you I haven’t seen before and I didn’t really like it much. It was disappointing to have to creep down this last difficult corner on sliding feet, but I was in no mood to injure myself.

We said our goodbyes and decided to pay a visited to your older bother Detox, who is much more forgiving and fun in the cold autumn sunlight. While Detox was still quite wet and rutted in places it was all slidey fun and I rode it fast(ish) and laughing. Detox reminded me not to take you too seriously Bigfoot. Your dark tree lined corners are more testing in the wet, your climb more difficult for those struggling to regain lost fitness and confidence. But you aren’t to be blamed for my frustration and with the joy of Detox in my veins I forgave you for treating me badly.

Sometime in the next two weeks the loggers will come and they will bury you. It is a great loss, and I will miss you. I know the wonderful trail pixies of Hanmer will bring you back to life as soon as they can, but without your mature forest some of your magic will be lost forever. Rest in peace, my dear Bigfoot, you will be missed by many.