Saturday, 11 August 2012

Training and the place of long rides – part 2

Part 1 was all by way of introduction to describing my ride last Saturday.  This was a 7 hour ride with lots of hills and is early on in my programme of ratcheting up of the distance.  

The previous weekend had been a disappointment, as my bike was out of action due to a broken rear gear cable.  However, I got it back on the Sunday afternoon and, out of frustration, promptly went for a three hour, high-tempo ride that included the 450 m high Akatarawa Rd.  Tuesday night was a one-hour high tempo pace ride on my trainer and Thursday night a one-hour brisk ride with nine 2 minutes-on / 3 minutes-off efforts.  At the end of each ride, I was struggling.  The week also included three sessions of weights/core-strengthening/stretches.

So along rolled Saturday!  I was to do a ride that I love: Paraparaumu – Paekakariki Hill (240m) – Moonshine Road (290m) – top of Akatarawa Road (450m) – and back again, a distance of around 155 km and almost 1,800m of climbing according to Map-My-Ride.  While these Saturday rides are meant to be at LSD (long-steady-distance) speed, I also want to include lots of hills due to the terrain I’m training for.  Unfortunately, LSD and hills often clash!

Down the road and left - the start of the ride
Across the railway line and onto the No. 1 highway
Due to a heavy frost and the fact that I would be riding through hills and valleys, I left slightly later than usual.  So at 9:35 am, it was clip in, free-wheel to the end of the drive, swing a left, another left, and then onto the main Otaihanga Road.  Otaihanga Road is windy and narrow, with cars whizzing close by, so it’s all focus, cycling fast and staying as close to the left as possible.  Then it’s across the railway line and up on the pedals for the last bit of the road, often with a short breather at the end as I wait for a break in the traffic to cross the No. 1 highway.  After crossing the highway, it’s still up on the pedals to stretch and get the blood flowing, then charging downhill along the No. 1 south into Paraparaumu.  Paraparaumu has a couple of intersections where I sometimes have to wait, then I’m through and at last heading south along the No. 1 towards Paekakariki.  Ten minutes have passed, my heart is racing, and I’m well and truly warmed up.  Now time to settle and get down to business.

Highway between Paraparaumu and Paekakariki
It’s strange how your attitude to things change as you develop.  I never used to like the road from Paraparaumu to Paekakariki before – it is rough, the cars too many and too close, and the ride flat and boring.  However, I now love it.  I get down on the aero-bars and just motor along – high cadence and light on the pedals, but still managing a good speed.  There’s the steep Paekakariki Hill to come, so a chance to enjoy some respite before the storm.

We’re really lucky in Wellington; it’s such a beautiful place.  It’s coastal, especially the Kapiti Coast where I live.  It’s also cut through by several sizable hill ranges.  So, as I whizz towards Paekakariki, I have a view of hills to the left, the coast just out of sight to my right, and countryside all around.  Paekakariki itself is a quaint small town (village really), nestled in a narrow strip between Paekakariki Hill and a great beach.  But the No. 1 just skirts the railway yards to its side.  As I get closer to the Hill, I’m again at full alert, with the Hill at arm’s distance to my left and trucks thundering past on my right.

Approaching Paekakariki
The start of Paekakariki Hill
Suddenly I’m there, swinging sharply off the No. 1, and immediately up on my pedals climbing.  This is truly a wonderful hill to climb.  It’s steep, with the rock face of the hill almost brushing my left elbow, the expanse of Cook Strait stretching out to the right and, behind, the flat Kapiti Coast arcing to the northwest, pointing to the citadel-like Kapiti Island before curving away to disappear into the distance.  Like all seas, the Strait is always changing, sometimes glass-like but more often racked by the Wellington winds.  Usually you can see the South Island and I’m frequently reminding myself to glance at the stunning weather patterns as the prevailing north-westerly is forced through the gap separating New Zealand’s two main land masses.  My goal, the viewing lookout, often with cyclists and drivers enjoying the view, is deceptively close, straight ahead but up, up, up.

It’s 15-16 km from home to the start of Paekakariki Hill and just over 3 km to the top of the 240m slope.  There is nothing easy about the hill.  After the opening short steep bit, things flatten out (relatively!) for another short distance, giving riders a chance to recover somewhat from the first onslaught.  The going then gets tough again up to the first of what are the hill’s two sharp hairpin turns.  Then it is relatively easy going for a while, as you move up a gear or two and quicken the pace.  This provides another chance to catch your breath before the final assault, the hardest part.  The road gets steeper and steeper over this bit, with the lookout hovering tantalising just in front of you but still far too high up.  At last you’re at the second hair-pin turn, up on your pedals as you enjoy freewheeling for a couple of seconds, snatching a look back at that stunning view while you catch your breath, then it’s up, past the lookout and over the crest of the hill.
Paekakariki Hill - 1st hairpin
Paekakariki Hill - up up and up - to lookout
Paekakariki Hill - a quick look back - the 2nd hairpin
Although fun, I always find Paekakariki Hill tough.  Definitely a good, sharp workout and, might I add, something that cannot be done at LSD pace!  This time round, I again found it an effort.  In fact, more so than usual, as my legs felt over-worked and my heart had been pumping more than usual even before I’d reached the hill.  My body was obviously showing signs of over-training, probably not helped by the previous week’s three fast rides and the sudden step-up in distance.  It was going to be a tough ride!  And it is here that we come again to that training dilemma I mentioned in part 1 of this post.  According to friends and what I’ve read, these were warnings that I should listen to my body, adjust my plan for the ride, ease back, and put myself in a better position for training in the coming week.  But no, for me this was the perfect opportunity to put myself into the exhausted, hurt state of an endurance ride and to learn to deal with it.  And I could do it all within only 7 hours!

Just as the road begins to descend, there is another all-too-brief glimpse of Cook Strait to the right.  It’s always well worth a quick glance as you begin to power towards the first of many corners.  The ride down this side of Paekakariki Hill is quite different from the upward section.  It is steepish, but not so steep that you can’t pedal most of the time, albeit with a pretty high gear.  It’s fantastic fun powering along at speed, with full concentration as you lean into the many wonderfully sharp corners.  Once away from rock and scrub, the scenery is one of small life-style sections scattered along the tight, narrow valley.  It’s actually quite a distance (7 km) before the ride finally bottoms out around Battle Hill Park.  When I reach it, I often find myself surprised at how quickly it is all over but also at how much it’s taken out of me.  It's not only the aftermath of climbing the hill and being at full concentration rounding those corners on the way down, it's also getting caught up in the speed and excitement, which means some harder work than planned over some of the flatter bits.  Time for a much needed drink, and I reach down and take a few full squirts from my bottle of Hammer Perpeteum.  Now it’s time to hunker down for the next bit of the ride, the remaining 6 km from the lookout to Pauatahanui, the tiny village at the head of the inlet of the same name.

A quick look back before descending Paekakariki Hill
Down the other side of Paekakariki Hill
Going on a slight tangent, I’m often surprised at what a poncy lot cyclists can be, both roadies and mountain bikers.  It’s all about the bling; about wearing the correct gear, having the most expensive equipment, and looking good.  The peacock reigns supreme!  Maybe, at the age of 53, I come from a different era.  For me, the heroes are the Edmund Hillarys and back-block trampers, where what you wear is irrelevant, the great thing is to push yourself beyond your limits and make do with what you’ve got.  I would like to think that this is the ethos of endurance cycling.  No doubt many cyclists turn their noses up at me.  I may wear lycra, but none of it matches.  I also often have on a loose, yellow, oil-stained wind jacket.  For me, dressing like that is a point of self-respect, about being modest and letting your deeds rather than your dress count, but few other cyclists would think so.  As I cycled past Battle Hill, I suddenly saw my shadow on the road and realised that my appearance had been made even worse by my zipped-up wind jacket not even covering my back; I had inadvertently tucked it behind the two spare bottles in my back pockets.  Not a good look, even for me!  It was as I was slowing to sort this out that I was passed by a bunch of about 8-10 riders.  They had been at the Paekakariki Hill lookout when I passed.  One by one they rode past me, with only one rider towards the back of the bunch calling out a greeting.  I really think that the cycling culture has a lot to be desired!

By now only around 55 minutes have passed and I’ve already ridden three very different and most enjoyable segments, with a fourth about to begin.  As I said, the joys of riding in the Wellington region!  The ride will continue like this too, with no chance of getting bored or fed up with any segment.

As the bunch of riders passed, I briefly considered joining them, but decided that this wasn’t in keeping with my game plan.  As it was, a couple of them were soon dropped from the bunch, one of whom I passed.  He was in his late teens and looked pretty spent.

The ride from Battle Hill Park to Pauatahanui is picturesque, with the valley opening up to show wider fields and brief glimpses of a gentle, meandering stream.  Often there are pukekos (purple swamp hens) exploring the side of the road or squabbling just over the fence.  I’m generally beginning to feel quite tired by now, especially after the steep climb and full-on descent of Paekakariki Hill.  So it’s time to gather myself together and just keep those pedals spinning.  I’m usually down on the aero-bars for this bit, only moving to the bars when cars pass, or clicking up a couple of gears and standing on the pedals for a change when there is any slight rise.  This part of the ride isn’t at all long, but it always takes longer than I think it should.

The more sedate lower valley

The head of the Pauatahanui Inlet and the hills of Whitby
Pauatahanui Village
Finally I can see the houses on the hills of the suburb of Whitby, just across the Pauatahanui inlet, and eventually the reeds and water of the upper part of the inlet itself.  I’m soon riding through Pauatahanui Village itself, standing on the pedals as I glide over the several speed bumps.  The village offers another change of scenery and a chance to slow the pace down a bit as I look out for cars, pedestrians, and car doors opening.  It’s quite fun looking at the people as I pass, many of whom are stopping off at the café.  This time, unlike previous rides, I too stopped.  Usually I’d do the ride taking 6 bottles of made-up Perpeteum, which I’d consume over the 7 hours.  For this ride I decided to take only four, but with two of double concentration.  So I half-filled the bottle I’d finished with a bottle of the double concentrate, then added water to both.  Sweet!  The delay more than made up by not having to carry as much weight as before.

From here, it’s a short ride on part of the No. 58 highway, which stretches between Porirua Harbour and the Hutt Valley.  Traffic can be quite heavy here, but I just stick to the side of the road and try not to think about it.  Anyway, I soon turn off onto Moonshine Road.  This is a far preferable route over the Haywood Hills than the No. 58, being quieter and more picturesque; it’s also slightly higher.

Apart from the Kapiti Coast segment, the overall ride is really one of a series of valleys.  In many cases, I feel that I’m entering a secret world that is off limits to most.  Moonshine Road is a case in point.  The road is up the Moonshine valley.  It begins looking relatively picturesque and twee, with a narrow two-lane road, grass-lined border, and trees neatly placed on either side.  However the road soon deteriorates in quality, with potholes and patches of rubble.  It follows the Moonshine stream, with maybe 5 one-lane bridges of varying quality spanning it.  The section in the middle is the best, as the valley closes in and you follow the stream on a narrow, windy road for a while before the valley again opens up.  Although the slope is a false flat, the windy road and closeness of valley make you feel you’re making progress.  The valley has an unkempt feel about it, but no doubt with some well moneyed life-style blocks.  There’s usually more traffic than there should be for such a place, with some quite courteous cars but a few too many black utes whizzing by far too fast.

Coming up to the 1st bridge of Moonshine Road
The mighty Moonshine River!
View from Moonshine Road
Moonshine Road - still in the valley
Soon the flattish part of the road ends.  I freewheel for a couple of seconds, taking a sip from my drink as I mentally ready myself for the climb.  The first climb is close and personal, up a steep, windy bit, with banks or trees on each side blocking any view.  It’s short but quite a grunt, but soon the road opens up to a few life-style properties on the left, with goats as sentries grazing by the side of the road.  Here the road flattens, offering a short breather and opportunity to pick up the pace before the second steep slope starts.  This is finally accomplished and I’m cresting at 290m along a flattish bit with pine trees above and views of steep, barren hills leading down to the Hutt Valley.

Top of Moonshine Road
Now comes the steepest bit of the whole ride.  Luckily, at this stage it is down, but in 2-3 hours I will be returning the other way, which is something I’ve never enjoyed - it's an absolute grunt!  I’m less foolhardy going down hills now – too many close calls!  The road is steep, really narrow in parts, and it’s difficult to see what’s coming around the corners.  After what seems ages, it bottoms out in what is again secret valley stuff, with the entrance to a forestry works on one side and a damp, claustrophobic, small farm on the other.

Before I know it, I’m swinging around the Riverstone Terraces roundabout and am soon out on the Hutt Road, the No. 2 highway.  Some more quick sips of my drink, then I’m charging over the bridge spanning the Hutt River as fast as I can, just trusting that none of the heavy traffic passing decide to take any risks at my expense.

Another valley now, the Hutt Valley, but this time it’s a wide, old glacial valley and not so secret.  The river is now to my left, big, wide and shallow as it makes its way through an expansive, rock-strewn bed.  To my left are the hills of the Akatarawas, across the valley to my right the Blue Mountains, and chains of hills lining the way ahead.  At last I have a flat bit of about 5 km, offering a great river view before climbing up into the Upper Hutt suburb of Maoribank.  I settle once again onto the aero-bars and enjoy putting on a bit of speed.

The Hutt River
It was about 17 km from Pauatahanui to the Hutt Road and I’m now about 50 km into the ride and beginning to feel the effort.  A couple of hours have passed and I’m going through my mental check-list.  How’s the hydration; am I taking in enough fuel?  How strong am I feeling and what are my energy levels like?  I check my posture and riding technique.  Often I have to make a conscious effort to relax my shoulders and make sure I’m putting as little weight on my arms as possible.  On this ride, I was trying to let my right arm effectively hang loose, as I’ve been finding that I put more weight on it than I should.  I was also trying to push my sitz bones back into the wide part of the saddle, as I think that not doing so is what has caused the swelling at the top of my left thigh that I’ve had since the Graperide Ultimate.

After the Hutt River segment, there’s a chance to stand on the pedals and stretch my legs on the slope up to Maoribank.  I follow the No. 2 through suburbs for another kilometre, before hanging a left and cycling for a kilometre through the suburb of Brown Owl.  It’s then across the Hutt River again, trying to have a quick glance at the view as I glide over the bridge.

Passing Akatarawa Cemetery - the start of the Akas
View of the first part of the Akatarawa valley
At last the Akatarawas proper start.  A metaphorical pause and two deep breaths to prepare myself, then I’m off.  It’s 33 km from here to Waikanae, but for this ride I’ll turn back at the top of the Akatarawa Road, about 21 km from here.  Another valley and another river for me to follow!  Although generally uphill, there are at least a couple of places where you cycle quite a way above the valley, with both occasions offering good, fast, windy descents.

I know the Akas so well, I feel it's like an old friend.  I've ridden it slow, fast, exhausted and strong.  It's thrown all it's got at me in terms of weather; mostly it's sheltered, but there's also been rain, wind and even snow.  I know and love every curve and bump and have so many deeply-felt memories of it.  There’s just so much to look at and experience through the valley.  A big cemetery starts the ride, followed by blue berry farms, the turnoff for mountain-bikers (Karopoti), grand views of the valley, Bill Tito’s drive with its great sign “Slow down you bastards – speed kills”, cosy bush scenes with steep hidden-away streams, the world-renown and fantastic Jock Atkins waterfall, horse training yards, artists’ retreats, timber yards, gardens, and so on.  Each corner of the road brings another surprise.

Akatarawa Road
More views of the valley
Bridge leading past Camp Wellesley
View from bridge
Coming up to last house and bridge of this side of Akatarawa Road
When I cross the river by Camp Wellesley , I feel that I’m into stage 2 of the Akatarawa Road.  From here the valley narrows.  Another 5 km and you pass the Staglands Wildlife Reserve, then a kilometre from there it’s a double crossing of the river.  There’s a fantastic section and house spreading the river between the two bridges – it’s the last house before the summit.

The remaining 4 km to the half-way point of the ride are magic.  It’s a narrow, windy road, with the bush arching over you.  The road is steep, so no rushing through oblivious of everything.  You’re aware of the bush above, the land slips, the branches broken by the odd storm that’s passed through.  If you’re lucky, you also come across the odd wood pigeon.  Not too long, but a good grunt and it’s always great to get to the top.

Water vapour rising as the sun reaches into the valley

Rubble on road
Lots to look at!
Stream, moss, and the road!
The magic of the Akas!
Up and up
Almost there - graffiti on rock
At last, the top!
So it’s the half-way point, at 77 km according to Map-My-Ride.  Now what?  Back the other way of course!  No waiting around here, as it’s easy to get cold on the way back down.  So a couple of gulps of drink, then I’m off back down.

Well, more of the same on the way back in terms of scenery, so no more travelogues from me, only to say it’s a ride I heartily recommend!

Remember though that, even at the end of the first hour, my body had been feeling under pressure.  So, how did the ride go as a mental workout?  Actually, it went very well!  The first requirement was that my body suffered, and it definitely did that.  Halfway up the Akatarawas, I noticed that my jaw and mouth had gone all slack, which is something that only happens when I’m really tired.  I even had a couple of distracting thoughts, which don’t usually happen – “wouldn’t it be nice to just continue over the Akatarawas straight home” and, halfway up the wrong side of the Moonshine Road, “what would it be like to just hop off and rest?”  My arms ached, my energy levels were low despite me keeping up a good food intake (good man!), and my butt was sore.  I later discovered that I had rubbed my peritoneum and surroundings raw (so more experimentation needed for saddle, position, and shorts!).  But all though this, I just kept going, keeping up the cadence and, most important of all, keeping my mind steady and focused on the ride.  I was mentally strong!

When I got home seven hours later, I was totally exhausted.  Most of the evening was spent collapsed on the couch trying not to groan every time I moved.  However, things felt much better in the morning, so I went for an easy two hour ride trying to hunt down the 60/40 group, unsuccessfully as it turned out.  This ride was also a mind over matter one given my aches and pains, and offered another good opportunity to get my mind into that steady, determined frame that I will so need in four months’ time.

So, all in all, a good weekend riding!

77 km done, 77km to go - back down the Akas!
At last, the top of the last hill - another view of Kapiti Island and Coast
Fast descent - soon home!
Hey, where's your bike; where's the lycra?
Postscript: Photos taken a couple of weekends later.  Stuffed knee meant enforced time off bike.  Unfortunately the day was a really sunny glarey one which, when combined with my poor camera skills, meant some pretty poor photos (too much contrast).  Also, being reliant on a car and somewhat crippled, I missed out on taking photos at some of the more picturesque, less accessible places.  It's great see the ride objectively through photos; made me appreciate it even more.  I'll have to take the camera out more!

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