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!

Monday, September 14, 2009

I’ve Done a Big Ride

With the help of friends and K Bars

Yesterday, with the help and support of friends, I achieved a long held goal. To bike from Kennedy’s Bush to Taylor’s Mistake and out to Sumner in one day. For me this is an epic ride. Sure I’ve biked further and I’ve ridden for longer and I’ve done more climbing, but not on technical, rocky tracks, some of which I’ve never been on before. It was hard, but it was fun and today I’m shattered, more so than I was last night.

Knowing that this was going to be a big day I started out conservatively and eased up Kennedy’s Bush. We had to stop just before the last climb and adjust my brakes which were misbehaving. I opted to skip the Nun, not wanting to blow out from the climbing and nervous of riding it on my cross country beast. I, of course, regretted this when everyone else came flying out grinning, but I had enjoyed the second half of the Nun so all was not lost.

After a water stop at the Kiwi we headed up the hill to the Traverse and it flowed so sweetly. The bike was handling well and even though I don’t ride the Traverse in that direction often it was brilliant. We opted to spin round the road to Castle Rock from here as none of us, especially me, were too keen on scaling Vernon or Witch Hill. I’ve never ridden Castle Rock before and it was fantastic. Rocky, but flowing, not too fast and but fast enough that you can glide over everything. I loved it, and it gave my newly strong arm muscles a really good work out. I zoomed over rocks and down little drops, flowed round switchback corners and powered up and over rocks on the climb out. By the end of it I was grinning madly, as usual, and felt like all the Nun repeats had taught me so much about bike handling over rocks. I was really surprised how not-scary it was on the short travel bike. I’ve definitely learnt a lot from riding with scatter about letting my body do some of the suspension work. I’m very lucky to have such talented and patient women to ride with!

From there it was a climb round the road to John Britten, another piece of track I’d never ridden. Unfortunately I was so excited by my great ride at Castle Rock that I didn’t realise I was actually bonking from lack of food. That was until I went over my bars on a relatively flat bit of track in John Britten. Of course I did this right in front of my poor husband who was very worried because the crash looked rather spectacular. I was fine, as I’d landed in a nice soft patch of thistles, but it was then I realised how wobbly I’d become. We inched our way to Greenwood and caught up with Scatter and Slim and I devoured a sandwich (roast chicken and parsnip FTW) and a bit of K-Bar that the wonderful Scatter had kindly given me.

After this brief fuel and chat stop we were off and I was like a new rider. I cleaned everything! I was riding more confidently than before and was able to pick good lines and lift my front wheel up things I couldn’t before. The Anthem is made for tracks like Greenwood Park and held its speed really well which allowed me to tackle all the bits that scared the bejesus out of me last time I was here. My arms got even more of a work out and it turns out my front forks did too. When we stopped at Evan’s Pass for an ice cream, (ICE CREAM!! The ice cream truck is coming!), I discovered I’d blown the seals in my right stanchion of my forks and oil was pissing out. Booo. Luckily it wasn’t the left or it would have been ride over with oil on my front disk. After an ice cream in the sun we headed up Godley and I did a fair bit of pushing in the first section. I was feeling pretty shattered by now, but was still able to ride a few of the rocky bits. Once it levelled out it was all good and we were zooming off grinning. At the bottom of this section Scatter and I sensibly elected to sift around the road, as our little legs were feeling the burn, while the boys were all tough and climbed the singletrack.

At the bottom of that section of singletrack some engineering works were required to prevent someone killing themselves on the cattlestop that had disintegrated and we met up with Rita, who was having flat tyre troubles.

Then it was onto the Anaconda. So very sweet and flowy. All the pain was worth it as we flew down. Unfortunately Rita’s tyre troubles were passed to Slim and he had to pause to replace his tube. The Anaconda was riding brilliantly and I was very happy indeed. At the bottom I lay on the grass smiling and trying not to think about the climb out of Taylors. We were pretty happy campers, laughing at the stupid lowered cars scrapping over the speed bumps. I was surprised how good I still felt and as we spun up the hill, it didn’t hurt quite the way I thought it was going to. Flying down the other side I got to bed my brakes in really well as the traffic was crawling along.

For me it was an epic ride. And it was a dusty ride. We were out for just over 6 hours, and for me that was 4 hours of riding. Although it was only 40kms for me, the others are harder than me and rode home while I scrounged a ride from Rita, it was 40 bloody hard kms. Last time I set out to do an abridged version of this ride I broke my arm, this time it was fantastic. I’ve got my first race of the season next weekend and I honestly think I’m fitter than I’ve ever been. I’ve got muscles where once there was only flab, I’ve got confidence on technical tracks and I’ve the right bike for the job (once I get the forks fixed). I’m so excited about this summer’s riding I can hardly contain it!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fitness gains are good

Once upon a time there was a lovely princess who was passionate about cycling. She wasn’t very fit though, and she was carrying a lot of extra weight. Luckily for her, the fabulous thing about cycling is the more you do it, the better you get. The princess was blessed to live in an enchanted land full of hills and valleys and trails aplenty for riding her bicycle on. Initially the princess was quite intimidated by these enchanting tracks, but with the help of her handsome prince and some neighbouring princesses she overcame her fears and began to acquire magical biking powers. To her delight she became strong and a lot of her cuddly layers disappeared.

At the start of this blog I was larger and not very confident, now things are different!

Ok, I think everyone gets the point of this story now, it’s not a fairytale, but it does have all the joy a fairytale can bring (a Disney one, not the cool menacing old school ones where all the children get eaten alive). As you can see from the photo’s above I’ve definitely lost a fair amount of flab since starting this blog, but more importantly I’ve really improved my fitness a lot. This year I’ve been using my roadbike in a more structured way to try and improve my cadence, rather than just heading out on longish rides and not paying any attention to the quality of the ride. I’ve been doing a couple of lunchtime rides out to Sumner during the week, which is a nice 30km spin and each ride my average rpm has improved. On Saturday I headed out for a 2.5hr mtb ride with DirtDiva which tootled to Rapaki and then up it (much like last weekend), then across the Traverse and up the road to Kennedy’s Bush and down to home. A nice 37km trip in the sun. The reason I’m writing about this ride is a couple of amazing things happened on the ride.

As we headed up Rapaki we were going at a fairly good pace, but not really pushing it, until DirtDiva zoomed off ahead of me on the steeper final section. I looked at my speedo and realised that if I dug in I could probably get to the top in under 30 minutes, for the first time ever. So I took off after her and really pushed it. It hurt, but all those roadie rides paid off and I got to the top in 28mins 51 secs! I was over the moon. I was also a little light headed, but I recovered really quickly and we headed up the road to the Traverse. Amazingly my legs felt fantastic and as we cruised round the road they felt better and better. By the time we hit the Traverse I was ready to tackle it at speed, which I did. Happy sigh. It was fantastic and with my front fork set up properly, thanks lovely husband, I was faster than a speeding bullet (well, not really, but really fast).

Then over to Kennedy’s and down. With my suspension set up properly it was great, which was good because my back brakes aren’t really working well at the moment. We then headed up the little bit of singletrack on Kennedy’s and to my surprise my legs still felt strong. Then down the front and down the Crocodile. Trail pixies had been hard at work, Thank You!, and the track was flowing well. My cornering was really good, despite the lack of rear braking power and then we were done.

Last year this ride, even when I was fit, was hard work and left me feeling broken for days. This year I’m fit enough that this ride left me tired, but not broken and amazingly I am really enjoying climbing now. So much so that I’m going to take my bike up Rapaki again on Tuesday and see if I can knock a bit more time off my pb! In fact I’m hungry for bigger, harder rides this summer, the Poulter, Double Fenceline, Wharfdale, and Craigieburn have all been riders that I’ve read about and known I wasn’t strong enough to tackle them, but this summer will be different. Wahoo! I can’t wait.