Saturday, 6 October 2012

Twice around the Aka block

It’s seven weeks to the 640 km Maxi-Enduro at Taupo.  My training is well behind due to 3-4 weeks off with a swollen knee and various other things getting in the way.  The longest ride I’ve done for a while was a 6 hour ride a couple of weeks ago, and that was mostly on the flats.  So I’m beginning to panic.  Weekends to date have generally involved back-to-back hill rides of about four hours’ duration each.  But that isn’t enough.  I needed to do a long ride, to test myself and remind myself again what endurance racing was all about.  So I planned the 300 km Wairarapa Loop.  However, gale force winds were forecast.  Never mind, I’d replace it with twice around Akatararawa block, which would be up in the hills and somewhat sheltered from the wind.  It would be just under 200 km in all, with about 2.3 km climbing.  Even though it’s not even a third of what I’ll soon be doing, it would still be a huge step up and would test me.  So that’s what I did.

I made up a bottle of Hammer Perpeteum four times the usual concentration, added three bottles of water to my kit, and set out at 8:35 am on a fine but very windy Saturday morning.  The ride down to Paekakariki was fast, down on the aero-bars and mostly protected from the wind, which was coming in from the side.  The 250 metre Paekakariki Hill was neatly disposed of, and after 1:10 hours I was riding through Pauatahanui village.

Progress was great and I was feeling really confident.  I’d been doing quite a bit of interval work during the weeks and this seemed to be paying off.  The 300 metre Moonshine Road climb was quickly ticked off and I was soon tearing up the Hutt Valley, down on the aero-bars again.  It was definitely windy, but much of the ride had been sheltered, with the wind hitting side-on from the West.  Then I turned up the Akatarawa Valley.  That was when I truly discovered the wind.

The wind gusted over 100 km/hour in Wellington for much of the day.  Usually the Akatarawa Valley is fairly sheltered, but not today – the wind was powering right down the valley.  Not to worry, I was still feeling strong.  But that didn’t last too long.  It was fairly slow going at times, having to hold the handle-bars tight to stop the bike from veering to the side.  Around an hour later, I crested the 450 metre pass, beginning to feel quite knackered.  Then it was down the hill, on to the aero-bars and powering into wind to Waikanae, through to Waikanae Beach, and then over the river, through to Otaihanga and home, from which I’d left just over four hours ago.

A quick hullo to the dog, reapplication of my shammy cream, grabbing another bottle of 4x Hammer Perpeteum concentrate from the fridge, and out the door 10-15 minutes later.  I was sure the weather forecast had said the wind would ease a bit, but it definitely wasn’t.  If anything, it seemed stronger.  But still, there were no problems getting to Paekakariki, with my speed again helped by the aero-bars.  I love those aero-bars to pieces; you can go so fast using them!

What was quite nice was being greeted by a couple of people in Paraparaumu.  A mountain-biker gave a wave of recognition as I passed him; I think it was Martin from the 60/40 group, but although I said “hi” I wasn’t that focussed to be sure.  And a driver passing on the other side of the highway gave a sudden toot and wave, but I didn’t recognise the car.  Long-distance riding is pretty lonely, so I really enjoy these all-too-brief encounters.

So, it was now Paekakariki Hill, the most difficult of the three hills.  The wind was a bit of a problem now, coming from the side mostly and bouncing off the hill and back.  Sometimes it would be from the front and sometimes from behind.  When it was from the front, it would slow me down a bit, then it would suddenly change to the side and almost push me off the almost stationary bike.  But no worries; the thing about climbing a hill is that it takes your full focus.  Despite being tired, I had no option but to keep pedalling.  Before I knew it, I was up the hill and riding down the other side.  Sure I was tired, but no real problems so far.

The false flat of Moonshine Valley was slightly harder this time, with a lower gear and less standing up on the pedals for spurts of speed over the little rises.  The main hill itself was also slower, with more time up on the pedals this time.  But soon it too was ticked off.  Only one more hill to go!

By the time I got to the Hutt Valley, I was really feeling it.  The wind was still from the side and was actually quite dangerous now, especially with me being more tired.  A bit scary given that some of the cars were whizzing past quite closely.  Bloody hell, I’ve only done around 150-160 km, the equivalent of just one loop of Lake Taupo.  Sure, I could do another loop after that, but three more?  I was really beginning to doubt it.

The Akatarawara Road was even harder this time.  The first time around, I had seen quite a lot of cyclists out.  I don’t think I saw one for the whole of the second time around.   Again, I had to grip the bars tightly.  It was a long way up.  My mind was still positive and business-like, butmy body was suffering.  I really was worried about how difficult I was finding it 7 weeks out from the event.

I don’t know if anyone else has discovered and uses the power of the “F” word.  No-one was around to hear me, so I could shout it at the top of my voice, “F”, “F”, “F”.  Very powerful and it helped get me up that hill.  However, as I was nearing the top, I could feel the first drops of a light rain.  And they were cold, both because of the temperature and the wind.  It was a hellish descent, especially as it was too steep and windy to use my muscles to pedal and keep warm.  My “F” words were soon replaced by incoherent roars, as I struggled to keep my mind focussed and ignore the cold.  Half way down, I was even thinking of stopping at one of the houses near the bottom to warm up and call Helen to the rescue, but it did seem too much like a wus-out.  At last I was at the bottom and rejoicing at the two little climbs that allowed me to stand up on the pedals and attempt to get the muscles warming up again.

What a change of mind-set.  From feeling exhausted coming up the Akas and dwelling on how tough it was, I was now in a semi-survival mode, with nothing on my mind except to power along and get home as fast as I could.  The wind and showers did not let up all the way to Waikanae, nor did my stinging fingers and general coldness.  I decided to take the shortest way home, so went south along the highway instead of riding through Waikanae Beach.  And boy did I go fast!  Before I knew it, I was turning into Otaihanga and was soon home.

What a ride!  The first loop was about 4:10 hours and the second around 4:30 hours.  So, that’s about 195-200 km in 8:40 hours, plus a 10-15 minute break in the middle.  I’m not really too disappointed.  Sure, I feel really sore and exhausted now.  But, despite continuing moments of doubt as to whether I can make the 640 km, I’m still planning to do it, fool that I am.  I think that my riding strategy (light, fast, and focussed, with high cadence) is the right one.  There are several things to work on, though.  One is that head-space.  I have to work on tricks to keep myself positive and happy.  Having a support car will be great, and I might also work out treats every time I pass through Taupo (maybe a shower).  Another thing I might experiment with is curbing my enthusiasm at the start, just in case it is causing me to be sorer and more tired later on.  Food is the other issue.  Hammer Perpeteum is fantastic!  It met all my food and energy needs and I did not crave food when I finished.  It was also the first time I’d experimented with having it in a more concentrated form and that seemed to work well.  However, eating or drinking anything is always difficult when you’re working hard, you’re exhausted, and your stomach is in knots.  I also found the drink started to make me burp a bit towards the end.  I hate to think what it’s going to be like after 30 hours riding, but there’s really not much alternative.  The other thing I found is that, despite my best of intentions, my arms ached.  That’s something that I’m just going to have to put up with.

So basically, it’s going to be a case of getting my planning and strategy as developed as possible, but then just relying on Cycling Rule No. 5 – “Harden the fuck up!”  As Nick Dunne once said to me, you just can’t let the idea of giving up even enter your head.  I tell you what, I find these things easy to nod to and agree with; however, putting them into practice will be quite another thing.  I’ve entered myself into a race well beyond my level.  Have I got the balls for it?  We’ll just have to see how things go on the day!

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