Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Graperide Ultimate, 2012

For those more interested in photos rather than the blog, I’ve put the few photos we took at the top of it.  If you’re slightly more insane, have a look through the blog itself.  But be warned – it’s long!

Pre-race meeting

Pre-race meeting

Waiting for the gun

Tim O'Brien and Andrew Morrison - at start

Stu Downs

Andrew Morrison

Dusk at the start/finish transition zone

Dawn in the Sounds
Some of these recollections are a bit hazy, but I’ve done my best.  My apologies if I’ve got any of it wrong.  It was largely written on Saturday night, i.e. the night of the race finish.  I had died for about an hour during the 6pm news, but was then awake and buzzing into the wee hours of the next day.

This was a really big race for me, being 185 km longer than anything I’d ridden before and going throughout the night and day.  Surprisingly, I was not in the least nervous.  Usually I have a sick feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach leading up to a race, but not this time around.  Maybe I just thought I had prepared, organised and strategized enough, so could just relax and go with the flow.

I’d worked out that being well rested would be important, but hadn’t slept well the previous nights.  This lack of sleep was added to by spending the night before the race at the Motor Lodge right next to the bridge on the No. 1 highway at the north end of Blenheim.  Trucks thundered past throughout the night, on their way to and from the ferries, changing gears or braking right next to us.  But all up, it didn’t matter.  Lack of sleep proved to be no problem at all the next day!

As we gathered for the race, I went around introducing myself to the people near me.  Most were not that interested in further conversation, so I left them to it.  I was very relaxed as we gathered for the pre-race meeting.  It would be a long day and there would be heaps of suffering to come.  But that was ages away.  I had nothing to prove and no time to beat; only to try my very best.  So I just enjoyed the moment, listening to what the guy had to say and looking around with interest at my fellow riders and the small band of supporters gathered around to watch.  We then casually wheeled our bikes on to the road.  I placed myself at the back, the best place for a newbie to look and learn.  And we were off!

(Photo from Renate Paschke)
At the start. I'm the right-most rider

(Photo from Renate Paschke)
Just after the start. There's Helen with camera and me (no. 806)

There were around 12 of us (I’m not sure of the exact numbers, as the results aren’t up yet).  We cycled south into Renwick, then east through Renwick and onto Old Renwick Road.  It would be around 14 km of straight road to Blenheim.  Comically, before we’d gone very far, we were forced to stop and dismount at a road work’s stop sign.  Then it was down to business.  We formed into a loose pack, with some sort of rotation going, but it was generally pretty relaxed.  Once when I was at the front, I joked with the rider next to me (Tim O’Brien) that it would be the only time that I would be winning this sort of race.

Then it was into Blenheim, turning left and heading north to Picton along the No. 1 state highway.  We still largely stayed together as one group.  I’m not at all experienced with hard-out bike racing, so watched with interest at the dynamics of what was happening.  The pace was really fast, with the bunch breaking up a few times, then joining up again.  There was only a very informal system of rotation, with it often breaking down and people just sheltering behind one guy.  There seemed to be a whole lot of tactical manoeuvring going on, which I couldn’t quite figure out.  Although new to this, I didn’t want to be thought a shirker, so made sure to take my share at the front.  At one stage, as Colin Anderson passed to take the lead, he said a few words to me.  I didn’t really hear him, but got the impression that he was advising me (a newbie) to go easy on myself.  He was probably saying something totally different, but I was more cautious after that. 

Later on, I noticed that a guy with a yellow top (Nicholas Tollemach) had pulled away and was out by himself.  Finally the group broke into two, with me in the second one, although there may well have been further bunches behind.  By the time we reached the Elevation, the group was well and truly fragmented.  The pace all around had been very fast and I think would have burnt some people out and contributed to them pulling out in later laps.

I really enjoyed charging down the Elevation into Picton.  The road is steep, relatively straight, and fast.  We were then quickly through the outskirts of Picton and up the hill at the start of Queen Charlotte Drive.  As we cycled up the first bit, I felt relaxed and had a bit of a chat with Tim O’Brien.  We worked out that we were both members of the Vorb discussion group.  Looking behind him, I could see Owe Paschke, but I wasn’t sure where everyone else was relative to us.  I soon settled down into my own pace and slowly pulled away from them.

Queen Charlotte Drive is great when you’re fresh.  The initial hill is immediately followed by another one, the highest on the ride.  It’s fun to climb – not really that steep but steep enough to be challenging.  With lots of tight corners, there are always new views to surprise.  I tend to use a very low gear with a high cadence when climbing hills, and find that I can quickly outpace quite a few people without getting too tired.  Training on the Wellington hills helps too.  However, for some strange reason, that hill got longer and steeper as the laps mounted up!  At the peak, the downhill part starts almost immediately.  It’s fantastic fun swooping around the corners, with absolute concentration and adrenalin pumping through the body.  I’ve ridden the road before – at the end of last year – and found that a lot of loose gravel and stones made it treacherous around those bends.  But it had been swept well for the event and was a pleasure to ride.

After the main hill, there is probably about 8 kilometres or so of undulating hills.  Again, with the tight corners, narrow road, and this time the sharp ups and downs, it is exhilarating stuff.  On reflection, I was still pretty fuelled up on adrenalin and would continue to be for the rest of the first lap.

My plan was a quick stop at around the half way mark, where I would drop off my two empty bottles with Helen (who would be supporting me) and replace them with another two full of Hammer Perpeteum.  However, before long I was out of drink and my bike computer was showing that we were well over the 50 km mark.  By the time I got to her, it showed that I’d done more than 65 km.  “How far are we from the start?” I asked.  “Just over 50 km”, was the reply.  Not wanting to argue with my support crew, I left it at that.  But, as I cycled on, I was soon just amazed at the stunning pace I was setting –  almost at Havelock!  Then it dawned on me.  The computer’s settings were wrong.  I’d changed the batteries and just accepted the default settings.  Bugger!

From where Helen had based herself, there was some more undulating road, then it was on to the Stillwater flats.  Once on the flats, I was down on my aerobars and motoring along at high speed for quite a long distance.  I caught up with Owe, who must have passed me while I was with Helen, and had a brief chat with him.  I suggested that he get behind me and draft but, when I looked behind later on, he was no longer there.  Then it was down along some more undulating road, before the long climb up the second highest hill of the ride.  From there, it’s a quick, steep, windy descent down towards Havelock.

I caught up to Eugene Collins at the top of the short steep road leading up to Havelock.  He was struggling and really didn’t look well.  He’s a really fast rider, but things just hadn’t gone well for him and he was pulling out.  I was gutted for him.

The trip from Havelock to Renwick was great.  Really fast!  The north-westerly that would make the Blenheim-Picton ride so difficult when we weren’t protected in a bunch made this bit a dream.  Working at a high cadence, I just flew along.

My plan was for really quick transitions.  This time around, I would just put a replaceable-battery light on the front, change my bottles, and do nothing else.  In very little time I was off and cycling through Renwick on to Old Renwick Road.  The time was 5:30 pm.

This time around, I was down on the aerobars, focussing on high speed and, even more importantly, a relaxed style.  Then at Blenheim, it was again left on to the No. 1.  However, suddenly I found a huge reticulated truck and trailer stopped at the entrance to the bridge to let the traffic from the other side through.  When the truck was ready, I thought I would do the polite thing and let the traffic that was now building up go first.  It proved a long wait.  Mistake!

The Blenheim-Picton route this time around proved to be tough, with a strong wind hurtling down the valley.  I was often down on the aerobars, even when climbing hills.  Traffic was also really bad, with massive trucks thundering past towards the ferry.  This was also the case the third time around, but it was a lot quieter the fourth time.

Helen was now driving around the course with me, stopping periodically to cheer me on.  Both of us were doing 500 km!  When I passed her on the No. 1, I slowed down – “Can you get the anti-cramping spray out the next stop!”  I was beginning to cramp at the top, inner side of my right hamstring.  I wasn’t the only one either, as I later discovered.  It was the combination of warm weather and the pace I was pushing.  This was a problem well into the third leg, by which time the cooler temperatures may have helped.

I think that I was by myself all the way to the half way point, where Helen was.  A stop, change of bottles, some knee warmers and wind jacket, and my rechargeable front light and an extra rear light.  Then I was off again.  

I think that I caught up with Owe again on the second highest ascent, or maybe it was the other way around and he caught up with me.  We were to see a lot of each other over the race.  I also recall riding some of the Havelock-Renwick road with him, but I think I might have dropped him and continued on by myself.  Soon I saw a couple of riders with two support vans and slowly caught up to them.  Nick Dunne was in the lead and I think the other one was Nicholas Tollemach.  Nick’s support crew was really friendly and complimentary saying that I was doing very well.  Helen also commented what a nice bunch of guys they were, always tooting and saying hullo when they passed her.  I tucked myself behind them and rode along comfortably, with the way lit by the bright lights of the vans.  (As you would have guessed, it was now night!)  After a while, I thought that I shouldn’t just freeload, and rode up to Nick and offered to lead.  He didn’t seem that keen, so I dropped back, filled the gap that Nicholas had left in front of him, and the three of us rode like that all the way to Renwick.

Dropping my bike by the road, I marched towards the transition.  “Helen!” I called.  “Here!” came the response and I waited for her to come over.  It was going to be a quick transition again.  I chatted with a couple of people while waiting.  Still no Helen.  “Helen!” again, slightly more desperately.  At last she came with my box of stuff – she’d had trouble getting it from the car.  A change of drinks, etc. then I was off again.  The time was 9:45 pm.  I noticed that Nick’s van was still there, so I yelled a cheerful “See ya”, and was out.  Hell, I thought (wrongly), I was ahead of Nick Dunne!

However, along Old Renwick Road, I again came across the van and saw Nick with his supporters.  Nick was on his knees and looked as though he was being sick.  “Shit, that doesn’t look good”, I thought.  But there was nothing I could do, so I rode on.

So, it was down the Blenheim-Picton road for the third time.  The wind was still there, but less intense than before.  What was intense, though, were those blasted trucks.  Making this worse was the fact that it was dark and I had to be careful not to go too far to the side.  I’d suddenly realised that my rechargeable light had been on full power all the time and would probably run out of battery soon.  I put it on to half power to conserve the remaining battery.  Sure enough, it soon went, so I was left with a fairly weak disposable battery light.  A bit dicey, but I decided to continue on with this inadequate visability, despite having a head lamp in my pocket.

Somewhere along the highway, Nick caught up with me.  He was really focussed on what he was doing – driving hard – and there was little interaction apart from a curt exchange of greetings.  I considered hopping on his tail, but decided it bad manners to do so and not share the effort, so let him gradually disappear into the distance.

At the top of the Elevation, I saw Stu Downs ahead, just taking off from a gear change with Ruth, his wife.  I don’t think he saw me.  “Well done!” called out Ruth as I rode past, “you’re coming fifth!”  Fifth, I hadn’t even been thinking of my place, just on going as fast as I could.  I knew I was doing well, but this was quite a surprise.  Great support thanks Ruth; I really appreciated your encouragement!  Just down from the Down’s car was Helen.  A very quick stop and hullo, then I was charging on down the Elevation.

A lovely kiss from Helen greeted me when I stopped at the half way point.  “Half way!” she said.  Bloody hell!  It had gone so fast and I was doing so well.  I had never expected this.  It was almost midnight now, so with colder air likely, I put on some over-trou and a polyprop shirt.  Then I was off.

Helen is very generous with her encouragement and calls of support.  Later, she told me that she yelled out “Well done” as Stu rode by.  She was surprised when Stu wheeled around and cycled back to her.  He was quite relaxed and very friendly.  “How’s Andrew doing?” he asked.  “He’s about 20 minutes behind you”, replied Helen.  Stu was surprised.  “Do you know that means he’s coming fourth, because I’m going to pull out after my third leg, as I had planned?”

One thing Helen mentioned at the stop was that, when Stu passed her at the top of the Elevation, he yelled something about Linkwater.  I couldn’t think what it would have been, but when I was approaching the Linkwater Motel, I remembered one of Stu’s blogs mentioning a whole lot of support from the guests there.  What a surprise when I passed the entrance.  There must have been 10-15 people there, seated and looking very comfortable, cheering me on.  Thanks guys.  It’s you who are the champions.  And at midnight!

On from there I could see a red light blinking away in distance.  It must have been Stu.  I hoped to slowly reel the light in, but didn’t manage to.  Instead, I was reeled in by Owe, who (I think) caught me up on the big hill before Havelock.  I was surprised to see him, as at the previous transition he had settled down with a lovely dinner of rice and accompaniment.  I hadn’t expected to see him again.  At last we were at the top – “Yay!” we both said – then charging on down the other side together.  At the top of the short hill up to Havelock, I stood up and coasted on my bike a while.  “Resting?” asked Owe.  I said yes and let him slowly ride away.  After a minute or so recharging, I followed him at a distance of around 15 metres, still resting and enjoying riding by myself.  After a while, Owe started to slow.  “My legs are tired”, he said.  “It’s my arms that are hurting”, I replied, and they were.  I really need to work more on my riding style; I use my arms far too much to support my body.  Wrong!  Anyway, I went to the front and, with the wind at our back, we hurtled our way back to Renwick.

Again, it was a quick transition for me.  Owe stayed on for some coffee.  Jeez I thought, remembering Owe’s comments about his legs, perhaps I really do have a chance to get fourth.

One thing that I haven’t mentioned is just how happy I was feeling.  My approach to the race was to stay positive all the time and enjoy it.  And I did!  Even when riding by myself at the latter part of what would be a tough fourth round, I stood up on the pedals a couple of times, looked around, and let a great surge of euphoria sweep over me.  I celebrated everything I could – the interactions with people and especially the surroundings.  The weather on Friday had been wonderfully fine and hot, with the warmth continuing well into the night.  The dusk was beautiful, with thin strands of patchy cloud straddling the picturesque hills, while the sky turned mauve before slowly fading into blackness.  Sometimes I would take the briefest of moments to look at the stars above and use them to power my feeling of contentment.  I would also celebrate all the sounds of bird life, as I tore along.

The other approach I had taken was one of “Live for the moment”.  Things would get even tougher later on, but they weren’t now.  So enjoy!  It’s a good philosophy.  If only I could apply it to other areas of my life!

So now it was on to the fourth lap.  The time was now 2:30 am.  This was now the furthest I had ever ridden.  In my planning for the race, I had been really pessimistic about about how I would be feeling by now.  But I actually wasn’t feeling too bad.  Things were looking good.

So it was down Old Renwick Road for a fourth time.  Only one more to go after this!  The wind wasn’t a problem here, so I didn’t use the aerobars.  I didn’t use them again on the race, as it was now too uncomfortable.  I must see what I can do to get something like the set-up Nick Dunne used in Taupo.

The road to Picton was still windy, but there was very little traffic.  I settled into an easy pace, just focussing on keeping those pedals moving.  At about the 3/4 mark, I found Helen waiting for me.  I had not woken her up at the transition, but grabbed three bottles in case she slept through and wasn’t able to meet me at the half way mark.  I gave her back the extra bottle to reduce weight.  “There's someone right behind you”, she said.  “How many?”  “One.”  “How close?”  “Just behind”.  Bugger!

And there was Owe.  I was impressed.  These meal and coffee breaks must be giving him extra energy!  He cycled behind me for a very short time, but I was obviously struggling, so he took the lead.  I managed to keep up with him for about 10-15 minutes, but even that proved too much for me.  I dropped off and watched him disappear into the distance.  I felt spent!

It was back to my lonely pedalling.  When Owe had joined me, Helen had come behind us with full beam, so that we could clearly see the road in front.  After Owe left, I started to hear the odd snatch of music.   Then it got louder.  There was Talking Heads, pumping out of the car.  “We’re on a road to nowhere, da da da da”.  A thumbs up to Helen in the beam.  Brilliant!

At the top of the Elevation, I motioned Helen to stop.  “What can I get you?” she asked.  “I’m having a break”, I replied.  I was now absolutely exhausted and really needed a recharge.  Things were beginning to get really tough now.  After a five minute break, I was ready.  “You can’t drive all the way around Queen Charlotte Drive with lights and music on for me”, I said.  “Why not go to the half way stop and have a sleep while waiting for me?”  “We’ll see”, was the reply.  So – it was music all the way to Havelock!

Actually, the music and the company really helped.  I was finding the hills very hard by now but, with the additional help, I could get into the zone and just focus on climbing them.  First the highest hill, then the second highest hill – all with a steady, high cadence. 

Between the two sets of hills, I came across Owe once again, stopped by the side of the road.  “Are you alright?  Do you want a hand?” I asked, thinking that he might have had a puncture or some such thing.  He was just resting.  “You’re fast”, he said (not for the first time either!), as I rode off.  We seem to have quite different riding styles.  Mine is low gear, high cadence, which seems to give me the advantage over Owe with hills and on flats with no wind.  But Owe definitely had the advantage over me when he powered into the wind on the Blenheim-Picton road, with a slower cadence and a lot of strength and power.  He would also soon prove that he had a lot more fitness and staying power.

Half way up the short hill towards Havelock, Helen stopped.  “No, don’t stop here”, I thought, “do it at the top!”  We had been told that there should be no support from 6:00 am onwards, as that was when the Magnum (2x around) was starting.  “I need a break”, I said and hopped into the passenger seat.  Helen tried to persuade me to have a sleep.  I think that she was beginning to worry about me – my second break and I was sitting there exhausted, nearly comatose, with rapid shallow breathing.  I saw the reflection of a light slowly approach the car from behind and pass us, but had no energy to greet Owe.  By this time, Helen had decided that she would go to the start tent and tend me there.  (The previous plan had been for her to go back to the half way mark and wait there for me.)  Finally, I got out of the car, said I was fine, and, after having a bit of difficulty clipping into the pedals, climbed the rest of that sharp hill – ugh!

My pace was a lot slower now and I rode on to Renwick by myself.  There was no catching up to Owe!  However, I did have enough energy to (try to) take in the amazing dawn.  It was fine, but with a black bank of cloud well to the East, and a red, red sky.  The dawn lasted for a long time and I kept forcing myself to look at it and appreciate.

The other noteworthy feature of that ride to Renwick was the traffic.  There was none at first, then the odd vehicle or two, then a few more.  And what did most of them have in common?  Bicycles hanging out the back!  These must have been the pro-elite riders driving to the start line.  What was really fascinating were the toots.  Initially, almost every driver (with a bike) tooted encouragement as they whizzed by.  Much appreciated guys!  But then, as time went on, the toots got fewer and fewer.  I'm not quite sure what the explanation is, but interesting nonetheless.

Finally, I was at the transition tent.  It was now 7:30 am and I found Owe having just finished off his breakfast.  His wife very kindly offered me some spare salmon/scramble egg on bagel.  Yummy!  However, I only managed to finish a third of it due to a really dry throat.  I was exhausted and must have looked it.  Brandon Skilton was there and I asked about his ride.  He’d only done three laps, but would be doing a fourth and then call it a day.  Good on him!  Apparently quite a few riders had pulled out early.  “You’re not going to pull out, are you!” said Owe to me, “I want some company”.  “No way”, I replied, “but you won’t see me until well after you reach the finishing line”.  Owe left and I stayed, continuing to delay the inevitable.  Eventually, there was no more putting things off.  I climbed wearily back on to the bike and left.  The time was now 7:45 am – the breaks were getting a lot longer!

Old Renwick road for the last time!  Only 100 km to go!  I concentrated on being relaxed and keeping pace.  I was really hurting now, especially those arms.  I would look behind every now and again.  I thought the one-time arounders were starting at 8:00, so expected to have them whizzing by me at any moment.  It would take a while until I saw them, though.

Now through Blenheim for the last time!  There were marshalls now.  A couple of hundred metres before we turned left onto the No. 1 highway, the first ones were motioning for me to slow down.  "Yeah, yeah, I’ve actually done this before a few times!" I thought, powering on to the No. 1.  I cut the corner aggressively, probably giving a passing car a bit of a fright.  Jeez I thought, I must be careful, I’m obviously tired and not thinking that well.

I had previously been thinking that it would be good being with the one-timers.  That had definitely been my experience in Taupo, where I got a lot of support and praise from the other riders, something which would have helped take my mind off things.  But by now I didn’t think that would happen here, as there was nothing to distinguish the 5-lappers from any other rider.  I was dreading their arrival.

It took quite a while before there was any action.  First came a van with flashing lights.  Then a cop car and a bike van or two.  Then – piowwwww – three cyclists whizzed by.  Quite a pause, then another came by himself, followed pretty soon by a compact bunch.  “Good on yer mate”, one yelled as he whistled through.  Exciting stuff!  Another long wait and then the same thing happened again, but this time with the elite women.  Nice to watch!  No breakaways this time though.

Another long wait, and then it was the fastest group of the fun riders.  My first inkling that something was happening was a loud speaker repeatedly going “keep left, will you please keep left”, on and on.  Surely they don’t mean me as I was already on the verge?  Anyway, I was not very well disposed to moving over more.  Suddenly I was surrounded by riders, with some charging through the narrow gap to my left.  “On your left!  On your left!”  Then, just as suddenly, it was over and I was by myself again.

After one or two more similar encounters, I too was charging down the hill into Picton.  Christ, my bladder was getting full now.  But, where could I find somewhere to do something about it?  I didn’t want anything to distract me from the hill to come.  Whew!  By the relay transition station just before the road was a lone toilet.  A woman kindly rushed up to hold my bike.  When I’d finished, I took it from her.  “Good luck” she said, but I replied that I was having a rest.  She looked at me in surprise.  “It’s my fifth lap”, I responded, “and I don’t even know if I can make it up that hill”.  She was impressed and we chatted for a short time before she had to rush off to help some other riders.

So I lay there lifelessly, recharging my body and mind, preparing for the climb.  I got a snort of derision from one cyclist as he shot past, looking as what he thought was naive one-lapper who had obviously overdone it.  Well, fuck you!  That was the general reception I got – polite indifference or some words of encouragement to this old codger who was obviously struggling.  Surely flashing backlight, wind jacket and an obvious slow, exhausted pace are a dead giveaway!  Again, so unlike Taupo!  There were some very few exceptions, though.  One guy asked, “How many laps”, as he cycled past me early on in the hill, then yelled to the spectators at the first look out, “He’s done five laps”, who then in turn started cheering me.

The other huge issue riding with fresh riders on a far shorter race was safety.  I couldn’t even match their pace when going down the hills.  It was really nerve wracking, trying to hold a tight line on the left of the road as we raced down around those tight corners that had so thrilled me on the earlier laps.

A great view ...

... but hurting!
I found Helen at the half way point again, waiting with the two drink bottles.  "No", I said, "I'm having a break", and crossed the road to the car.  Later on, Helen told me that the guy who she was next to asked her how old I was.  Helen said I looked like my Mum, who looks really frail, being in her mid-80s and having had a series of minor strokes over the years.  I just sat in the drivers seat, panting away, shattered.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, I began to weep.  Christ, what was that about?  I never realised that I had it in me.  I think that I was so physically and emotionally stretched, it just snapped.  I was spent!

Helen put a sleeping bag over me and I shut my eyes a bit.  She reckons I was at the stop for almost an hour, but I'm sure it wasn't that long.  Anyway, there was still a race to finish.  After some nourishment, including a whole can of coke that I gulped down and a whole can of creamed rice, I slowly got ready.  “Fuel, fuel, fuel!” had been my mantra, but that was out the window now.  I couldn’t bear any more Perpeteum.  The idea of any food at all was anathema.  “No, it’s alright”, I said to Helen, trying to reassure her, “I have goo drops and a One Square Meal muesli bar”.  “I’m coming with you”, she decided.  “No, you’re not allowed to!”  “I’m coming with you!”  So I had the pleasure of Helen driving the same way, stopping periodically to wave me (and the other competitors) on all the way back “home”.

The rest had helped.  I was also with a lot slower riders now, some of whom were obviously struggling.  That was good for me and would take me slightly away from my own woes, as I offered encouragement and support while I rode past them.  I was actually passed by a couple of Ultimate riders looking a lot fresher than I was (they weren't doing the full 5 laps) and I felt really miffed when they didn’t return my greeting.  Each to his own then, I thought.  We really are quite a varied, disparate group of people.

Would I be able to make it to the top of the last hill?   Of course I would!  Once again the way was made easier by passing struggling riders.  “Good on you!”, “You’re doing really well!” I would say, with most of my encouragement being gratefully received.

Yet more wonderful views from Queen Charlotte Drive.
It was a grind down the last leg of the race.  I looked at my watch.  Could I make the end within 24 hours?  There was a chance.  Keep riding, keep riding!  In agony and total exhaustion, I kept turning those pedals.  Cycling Rule Number Five, Cycling Rule Number Five!*  It was a very up and down performance for me.  Some of the time I was just matching the pace of those around me, which was pretty slow.  At other times (i.e. the flat, sheltered bits), it was high cadence and I was speeding past people.
(*For anyone who doesn’t know Cycling Rule Number Five, it’s “Harden the fuck up!”)

Keep positive, keep positive!  And soon I was there.  The time – just after 1:30 pm – well within any timeframe I had even dared think about.  They had told us before the race to just sign ourselves in at the Ultimate transition tent, but the couple of volunteers there told me to go through to the finishing line and the transponder would do its magic.  But I don’t want to!  There was no choice however.  So, it was down on through the lane and over the finishing line.  Now what?  I just stood there, leaning on my bike, exhausted.  The announcer did a long spiel about “Andrew Morrison, who has just completed five laps”.  I didn’t take anything in, but looked around stupidly, wanting to acknowledge his kind words.

After standing in a daze for a long time, I thought that I really should get out of the way, as riders were still coming in.  There was a real carnival atmosphere, with people carrying trays of beer to tables, and huge groups of chatting family and friends.  Everyone was happy.  I just didn’t feel part of it.  I looked around, trying to find a place out of the way, where I could just quietly die (metaphorically speaking of course!)  I leaned my bike with others against a hedge, and went to the shade of a tree to lie down.  Problem!  I couldn’t!  My muscles had all seized.  I grabbed part of the tree, and slowly, straight-limbed, lowered myself onto the ground, oblivious of the people around me.  My race was over!

505 km - FINISHED!
So that was my Ultimate Graperide.  No – that was my first Ultimate Graperide.  How do I feel?  My feeling at the end of the race was one of utter disappointment.  I was absolutely spent, both physically and emotionally, and felt that I had failed!  But after a few hours and now, the next day, I am seeing things more in perspective.  Before the race, I hadn’t even known whether I could finish it.  I had genuinely meant it when I told people that I was competing for last place.  But here I was, footing it with some of my heroes, no matter how briefly.  I had raced at a high tempo for three and a half laps.  It was only then that things slowly went downhill.  I had done well!

What then were my times?

Lap 1 – 3.30 hours including fast transitions.  Expected time was 4:00-4:30 hours.
Lap 2 – 4.15 hours including transitions.  Expected time of 4:30-5:00 hours.
Lap 3 – 4.45 hours including transitions.  Expected time of 4:30-5:00 hours.
Lap 4 – 5:00 hours including transitions (including a 15 minute one at the end!)  Expected time of 5:00-5:30 hours.
Lap 5 – 5:45 hours including transitions (including up to an hour "crash" at the half-way point).  Expected time of 5:00-5:30 hours.
Overall time – 23:30 hours including transitions.  Expected time of 23:00-24:30 hours.

And I don’t yet know my place, as the results aren’t up.  Definitely not fourth!
(The correct results still have to be put up, but I think that it is basically this: 14/15 riders entered the race; 12 riders started it; only 6 riders finished it; and I was that 6th rider!)

So, what have I learnt?  First, that it’s hard!  I wanted to test myself on a longer distance, before deciding whether or not to do this year’s Maxi Enduro (640 km – 4 times around Taupo).  Now I’m not so sure about doing the Maxi, although it hasn’t been completely ruled out.  What about my training?  Even at the end of the fourth lap, I was thinking that my training had been spot on.  I’ve deliberately limted myself time-wise with training, due to work and also wanting to spend time with Helen, so it’s only been one ride a week, although I make it long one.  I’m lucky that lots of it is about clever training, and I try and include lots and lots of hills in my ride.  I also supplement this all with 40 minute lunch-time sessions at the gym during the week.  However, there probably needs to be some changes, as I came up short in the end.  Cycling Rule Number Five can only take you so far!  So, if I’m going to do the Maxi Enduro (and knowing myself and the power of momentum, this in all likelihood will be happening), it’s probably back to the drawing board on this.  I definitely don’t want to waste time on building up long, empty mileage.  Being of a slight, emaciated constitution, it’s vital that I don’t use up my precious reserves.  So maybe its interval work, speed work, lots of hill climbing, and making sure that I really respect the need for recovery.  We’ll see.

Lastly, what did I think of my fellow riders?  I had been hoping for a sense of camaradie from like-minded individuals.  But we’re not all the same.  Despite our common interest, we vary as much as any other group of strangers thrown together.  Our ages vary; our approach to life varies; our reason for racing varies; as does our interaction with other people.  One thing I would like to acknowledge is how special I found some of the people there.  I loved riding with Owe.  Our paths crossed many times over the race and I enjoyed his company.  It was also great to meet some of my local, cycling heroes – Colin Anderson, Stu Downs and Nick Dunne.  Thanks Ruth for your shouts of encouragement, and Stu for dropping in on Helen and having a chat with her.  Thanks to Tim Neal and his lovely wife for their generous set up at the start zone and also for providing Helen coffee in the middle of the night.   Also, the guys in the van supporting Nick were ace!  Great encouragement!

So … until the next time!

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