Saturday, 12 May 2012

Riding with the 60/40 group (Part 2)

Here's my account of the first five rides I had with the group.

Ride no. 1: Paekakariki Hill

The reason I remember the date of my first ride with the 60/40 group (1 April) is that it was a week after the Graperide.  I was still pretty beat-up, but had been getting cabin-fever the past few days and wanted something gentle to get the blood moving again and lift the spirit.  The 60/40s seemed the perfect answer.  So at 8am, I bowled up to TBI Health, the starting point for rides.  The first time!  As I expected, people were very welcoming to this stranger joining them.

The ride was to be up Paekakariki Hill to Pauhatanui, then Plimmerton, over Airlie’s Road, and back to Robert Harris cafe.  I was in no hurry, wanting to be easy on myself and just be part of the group.  So I stayed near the back.  I was up off the seat going up Paekakariki Hill, keeping my pace down and being kind to my butt.  At the top I let everyone go first, then started gently wheeling down the hill, singing to myself at the back and admiring the view.  My feeling of relaxed joy was rudely shattered when I suddenly realised that I had dropped right back and a bunch had formed and was powering away from me.  I started putting my foot down, rode past another rider who was also back from the bunch, and we motored towards the group, picking up another stray in the process.  I belted down the road, slowly closing the gap.  Finally it was down to about 5-10 metres, when the first rider catapulted past and made it, but I just didn’t have the strength to follow him and bridge the distance.

So the rest of the ride to Pauhatanui was spent charging along, trying to keep the eventual gap as small as possible.  Every now and then, my pace would obviously slow a bit and my fellow rider would take the lead.  I’d rest for a minute behind her and then regain the lead, enjoying both the sense of urgency and pushing myself.  I still don’t know who my companion was, as she later went with the two Pauls around the whole Aka block.  All I know is that she had strong legs with wonderfully developed calf muscles.  I’ll have to keep a look out for them!

The group was kindly waiting at Pauhatanui.  After a short stop, we were off again.  However, by now my heart was really going, with adrenalin pumping through the body, and my whole attitude to the ride had changed.  From feeling lazy and relaxed, I was now chomping at the bit.  The pace was easy around the inlet, but then I noticed a female rider (don’t know her name) take off up the Camborne Hill.  I looked around and saw that no-one was going to pursue her.  I just couldn’t help myself and peeled away from the group myself to catch up and ride behind her.  So much for taking it easy on a recovery ride and fitting in with the group!  That was to be the theme for the rest of the ride.  I didn’t want to be a wanker and race everyone, so contented myself with matching the pace of whoever was at the front.  But again I couldn’t help myself on the Centennial Drive and again on the road from McKay’s Crossing back to Paraparaumu, and stayed on the front as long as I could, retaking the lead after a short recovery whenever overtaken myself.  What a blast!  I’ve never had so much fun!

So, that was my first ride with the 60/40s.  Coffee afterwards was wonderful.  I just sat back and enjoyed the laidback interaction and conversation, chipping in every now and then myself.  Next Sunday would be Easter and I would be away, but I had a definite date forS two weeks’ time!

Ride no. 2 – Akatarawa Hill

The 15 April ride was to be up Akatarawa Hill, back down, and then up all the roads branching off the Aka road, about 75 km in all.

Bunch training rides are pretty new to me.  My new experience this ride was to be racing up a hill and also bunch riding on fairly steep undulating hills.

I think that the Akatarawa Hill is about 450 metres.  Only my second ride and I was still not quite into the racing mentality yet.  As we started going up the hill, I slowly and casually passed many of the riders and rode up to join the few riders at the front.  One rider pulled away (not sure who he was) and I stuck to the tail of the second rider (English Ian – to differentiate him from Kiwi Ian).  Slowly the other riders dropped off and I cycled just behind him all the way up the hill.  It was hard going but great fun.  I’m not used to racing up hills.  They’re usually obstacles that I try to get up riding as efficiently and fast as possible, but not pulling out all stops.  This would be something that I’d definitely be looking forward to in future rides!

We then wheeled back down the Akas and went up the various fingers – i.e. the roads shooting off from the main hill road.  I found some of these quite tough and had to work pretty hard.  This time around, I was no longer around the front of the group, and even got totally dropped on the last leg.  I’ve since read how important it is to stay near the front of a bunch, as it’s the back ones who have to do so much work to bridge gaps.  I think of the analogy of a bungee cord: as the bunch surges, you get left behind and have that much more distance to cover at a harder pace; and, if you’re really unlucky, the bloody thing snaps and you’re by yourself.  Something else to work on and perfect!  Boy, I’m really enjoying this!

Ride no. 3 – Te Horo Beach

This ride was to be a short one – to Te Horo Beach and going off various offshoots on the way.  A ride of about 55 km.

The main feature of this ride that I enjoyed was trying to sneak long turns at the front and battling to stay with the front rider whenever there was a sprint, of which there were a few.  Again, it’s so unlike endurance riding, where you’re by yourself all the time and don’t have these highs.  I loved it.

Although I felt very strong most of the ride and did well, I found the pace for the last 15 minutes to the Otaihanga footbridge to be very fast.  I’m making a point of not sheltering in the bunch too much if I can help it, but we were all racing on the home straight and I felt quite pushed.  It’s exciting and bloody good fun!

Coffee at Robert Harris again!  I’m getting to know more people now and am feeling very comfortable

Ride no. 4 – Otaki Beach

The ride was to be a double coffee ride – one coffee at Otaki Beach and the other on our return.  A ride of about 70 km.  Because it’s the off season, the plan if for the 60/40 rides to be shorter and more gentle –bugger!

I didn’t really enjoy this ride, as the focus was to be on practising bunch riding and getting a rotation going.  Not much fun when I wanted to spend time at the front and to race to catch up any sprints off the front.  But fair enough!  However, there were a couple of breakaways.  Matt Oliver suddenly took off on the only hill in Te Horo.  I looked around and found no-one else following, so took off after him.  We rode side by side all the way to the beach turn-off, riding quite fast into the wind.  Loved it!  I also started a break-away myself.  It was along the straight by Te Horo School, the place where by tradition every bunch races.  My focus here is to put myself into the pain zone as much as possible and put that mental fortitude of mine to the test, so I just took off and went for it by myself.  No race tactics of drafting for me, I just hooned it, so it was no surprise when Doug, Matt and xxx passed me half way along the straight, working together as a group.  I just did not have the strength even to hold their wheels.  Yay – something else to work on!

The other noteworthy part of the trip was, about 300 metres before the turnoff to the Otaihanga footbridge, Janice saying to me, “Shall we go!”  So the two of us took off.  My intention again was to match her pace, not beat her.  I managed it for a while, but she soon proved too powerful for me and pulled away.  Yet one more thing to work on!  We raced the following ride too, with her again proving the better of me.  I’m hoping that this will be a regular thing for us and my aim is to eventually be able to match her!

Something else worth mentioning is that I finally met Douglas Mabey, who’s done the 1200 km Paris-Breast-Paris event a couple of times.  Several times I have seen this serious, strong-looking, bearded gentleman out riding by himself, down on his aerobars.  To me he looked very different from the other riders I saw and I was sure that he was an endurance rider.  He most certainly is!  The next Paris-Brest-Paris is 2015.  I didn’t tell him, but it’s also on my radar.

Ride no 5. – over the Akatarawas

Up over the Aka hill to Staglands and back – about 60 km and 880 vertical metres.

I’d been looking forward to this ride with some trepidation.  This was because my plan was to race up the hill and really get into the pain zone.  One of the riders had pulled way ahead of me last time, so I was going to have the goal of not allowing this and to use the ride as an opportunity for learning to deal with hurt.  Key to this is how you respond to pain and to the realisation that there is more to come.  Currently I do what most people probably do, which is let it weigh on me and crush me.  This time I was going to try two alternatives.  One was to trick myself into feeling that it wasn’t mine but belonged to the rider I was racing against.  The idea was to believe this at a sub-conscious level but, even if I couldn’t do that, I would at least work on the fact of consciously knowing that he too was hurting.  The other thing I wanted to experiment with was just sinking into the pain, accepting it as a fact that I can’t get away from, and not even thinking of being able to do anything about it, but just continuing on racing.  There are not many opportunities for experimenting with such things, but this was to be one.  Hence the trepidation!

It was a bloody cold start to the day, with frosts in the odd sheltered spots.  I dressed slightly warmer than usual, but by the time I’d cycled to the meeting place at the start, my fingers were burning from the cold.  Thank goodness there was a bit of sun to try and thaw out in.  The ride to the start of the hill involved me hanging off the back of the bunch, shrinking into myself and trying to be as small as possible to escape from the cold.  I don’t think that I really thawed out until the end of the ride!

As we neared the start of the hill, I alerted myself to what was happening ahead.  There seemed to be several riders keen to be near the front, so I could sense that a race was about to be on.  At the steep bit where the hill begins, I wheeled up past the main group of riders, trying to look as casual as I could, and joined the ones at the front.  We rode up together for a short time, but before long it was just Ian  (Kiwi  Ian) and me riding together.  Again, I had the approach of matching, not racing the front rider, so we rode up together.  It was actually very pleasant and we chatted most of the way up.  Nice, but I wasn’t getting what I wanted!  In my mind, I was egging  Ian to show some mongrel, throw down the gauntlet, and start racing, but it’s hard to imagine him having a nasty bone in him.  A really nice guy!

Finally, as we were nearing the top, David rode up and passed us, saying something like, “Hullo chaps”.  Finally, I thought, a race was on!  But no, we were all much too civilised.   Ian and I matched David’s slightly faster pace and together we rode to the top.  After a short break in the sun (I was still cold!), I followed  Ian back down again and we accompanied the last riders up to the top.

It was then to be down to Staglands on the – even colder! – other side of the hill.  I waited for everyone else to go and then followed, again shrinking into myself to stay warm.  I wasn’t sure whether the trick was to go as slow as possible and cut down the wind-chill or to go fast and work the muscles.  Unfortunately, the very windy, narrow roads and slight possibility of ice prevented the latter option.

The group were waiting at the bottom of the main hill.  I dismounted and let them go off to Staglands, which was only about 5 minutes away.  I wheeled my bike over to a sheltered patch of sunshine and enjoyed the heat slowly beginning to return to my body.  All too soon the group was back and riding past me back up the Akas, with one of the riders calling out, “It was hardly worth it”.  I know!  I had felt rather privileged to experience the few minutes of quietness by myself, trying to warm up in this very lovely spot.

As I was stiffly trying to clip back into the peddles, watching the group ride off ahead, my heart suddenly missed a beat.  My race!  The front riders were getting ahead of me!  I upped the pace and, once again, attempted to look as casual as possible as I rode past the other riders.  Finally I made it to Howard, exchanged a few words with him, then slowly peddled away.  Once out of sight of him, I looked ahead.  No sign of any other riders.  No David and no  Ian!  Perfect – the race was on!

I’ve never gone up that side of the Akatarawas so fast!  Usually it’s after about 3 hours that I get to this point and I’ve already done a couple of taxing hills.  But here I was, as fresh as anything.  It was wonderful fun, egged on by the incentive of catching the others up.  I was in the pain zone, but it wasn’t any issue at all, as my mind was totally in race mode and buzzing with excitement.  It didn’t take at all long to get to the top!

I just couldn’t believe that I hadn’t caught up with the front riders.  At the top I met Hazel, a retired special education teacher (I think).  I had waited for her early on in the ride, but she told me to go on, saying that she would make it, just at a slower pace.  “Has anyone else passed by?” I asked.  “Yes, two riders and they were going fast”.  Bugger!  Still, I’d had a ball.  I wheeled around and went back down the hill to accompany the other riders up.  I was surprised to see  Ian well down with another rider.  Had I been “racing” phantoms?  (Apparently, not – I think it was the two Davids who had been ahead of me.)  I rode on past him, not realizing that he was keeping the last rider company.  There was no-one else, but I didn’t want to leave anyone by themselves, so continued on down for a while.  Finally I wheeled around.  Another fast ride to the top, where I found that people were already on their way back, so it was back down the hill, playing catch-up.  Brrr!

As usual, coffee was great!

Ride no. 6

… didn’t happen for me.  How sad!  So, here I am, writing this blog instead.  I’d just gone too long and hard on my ride yesterday and think that it’s best to let my body recover a bit.  And I won’t make it to next Sunday’s ride either, as that’s the day of the 6 hour Manfield Challenge.  So it will have to be the week after that when I’ll be able to continue with the joy that is the 60/40 group.  Thanks guys!

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