(Thanks to Brent Atkins for this and many of the photos below.
Also to Iain Clarke, Raewyn and Helen for their photos.)
I always encourage other cyclists to write about their races and rides. It’s amazing how much of the human story can be packed into riding on the edge for even just a few hours. So just think what a 1,010 km ride could tell us!
… Provided, of course, the rider can remember it!
At 11:00 am on Thursday 3 April 2014, I set out on the Monster Graperide race – 10 laps of the 101 km Graperide course in the Marlborough area, a total of 1,010 km. Fifty three and a half hours later, at 4:30 pm on Saturday 5 April, I finished it. This is the story of that ride.
1,010 km! I really don’t know how I got into this! When I finished my last long race, I was absolutely convinced there would no further increase in mileage. But before I knew it, I had signed up for the Monster, recruited a support crew, and begun writing up race strategies. For whatever reason, I now found myself lining up with 15 other riders at the start-line in Renwick on a hot autumn morning.
|The day before - trying to keep evidence there's a cyclist about to a minimum!|
|Start-line: me, Di Chesmar, Jamie Campbell, Christopher Lake (in black)|
|With Nick Dunne (in orange), about to start|
The start-lines of these races are curious places. There may be the odd handshake here and nod there, but generally people are focussed on themselves, sorting out last minute things with crews, checking their bikes, and so on. At the pre-race briefing just minutes before the start, I found myself looking away out at the distant hills bathed in sunlight, feeling my mind relax and just enjoying the moment. Then I managed to make my way over to Nick Dunne to wish him luck and was pleased to be able to shake Colin Anderson’s hand. Then, with little ceremony, we were off.
So how do you start a 1,010 km race? For many, the answer is … fast! I was too slow to hop on to the large front group, which quickly disappeared into the distance. There were many fast, strong riders chasing a podium finish, so the pace would be pretty brutal. This actually works to my advantage as, unlike them, my goal is merely to finish, albeit in the fastest time I can do. The measure of competitive success for me is not my placing, but the number of others who do not make it to the end, which is usually about 25-50% of the starters. Quite a lot of those not finishing tend to be riders in the front bunch who over-extend themselves.
So it was that I found myself riding alone towards Blenheim along the 14 km, flat and straight Old Renwick Road. I had chosen a theme for each lap. This lap’s theme was to be “Pacing!” There was a long way to go and I did not want to blow too early. For a long-distance race, the best pace is not slow, but steady, efficient and fast. My aim is to keep my heart-rate down and not tax any muscles with unnecessary efforts, but balancing this by maintaining a high cadence (pedal revolutions) and working to keep the speed as high as possible.
The thing most likely to upset pacing is other people! Riding in a bunch can give you a huge benefit in speed and reduced effort, provided that you’re up to taking your turn at the front. It’s a trade-off that is usually but not always to your advantage. Some way along Old Renwick Road, Alan Gilder and Tracey Parke (who had also teamed up to do last November’s 640 km Taupo ride together) rode past, with Di Chesmar tucked in behind. “Oh bugger it!” I thought, and joined them. It immediately felt easier coasting behind them. It would be nice to enjoy some company for a while! After a short period, I thought I had free-loaded enough and worked my way up to take over from Alan. Alan is a strong and clever rider who is good at keeping a steady pace. By contrast, I’m all over the place. After a while, I heard Alan call out for me to slow down a bit. Just as well, as I was into the red zone and well over my target heart rate. We’d agreed to 5 minute turns at the front, and I think it was Tracey who took us through the town of Blenheim and out onto the No. 1 highway towards Picton.
One big negative about this year’s course was the number of road works. Two long segments of the No. 1 Highway had works. They were meant to be finished by the time the main Saturday race began, but not for us. While things got better with each lap, there was a continuing risk of being taken out by stones sent flying by the large speeding trucks. Similarly, the hill sections of Queen Charlotte Drive were strewn with loose stones for the first laps, demanding caution from riders who aren’t inclined to be cautious. However, what was worse than any of this was the new seal that had been laid, which was as rough as rocks. This seal definitely took its toll over the course of the event!
My plan was to swap my water bottle for a full one every hour, with my Perpeteum (liquid food) bottle changed every 3 hours. Initially, the water changes were to be on the move. For the first change, I was third in our peloton of four riders when I saw Helen holding the bottle out for me to grab. “Oh, oh”, I thought, “This will be difficult”. We were doing about 30 kph and I had to grab a 700 ml bottle which Helen was holding by the bottom. This meant that I would be grabbing a heavy weight off centre and at speed. As I approached, I dropped my empty bottle, letting it bounce towards Helen. Wack! I had the full bottle but … no, it was falling from my hand. I heard Helen’s anguished cry as the four of us sped on. Needless to say, I slowed down a bit for my next couple of bottle swaps and stopped completely after that.
Being in the peloton worked well for me, but only for a while. I noticed Di finding it tough. She was covered in sweat and especially finding the hills hard work. It wasn’t working for her, but I thought it too rude to suggest that she leave. However, after a while, she was no longer there. Just before Picton, I decided I would do my last turn up front, wish Alan and Tracey good luck, and leave them to it. They said that they would be stopping in Picton for a bottle change, but I knew that I couldn’t match their pace.
There are really only three hills in the ride, the least of which is The Elevation, the rise just before Picton. It’s enough to tax you a wee bit and follows some gradual uphill sections, but is nothing like the two hills to come. The great thing about The Elevation is the 100 metre descent after it. Then it’s quickly through the outskirts of Picton and up the largest of the three hills. By Picton, we were about 27 km from Blenheim and just over 40 km into the lap.
The hill leading out of Picton is really two hills, a smaller one about 50 metres high, then on to the main 155 metre one, the latter being a distance of almost 3 km. It is absolutely beautiful and many of the iconic pictures of the ride are taken from it. The windy road is great to ride up, or at least was until they put a whole lot of that rough seal on it, which is cheap, nasty and very tiring on the rider. As I wound my way up, I still had Alan and Tracey in my sights. They’d caught up with another rider – Christopher Lake – and rode with him for a short period. Just before the top, they’d pulled ahead and Christopher was next to another cyclist who proved to be a recreational rider.
One of my downfalls as a competitive cyclist is politeness. Just before the top, I saw a little bay in the road and pulled aside to let the vehicle behind me pass. What a mistake! I am confident and fast on descents. I love them! The vehicle proved to be a heavy truck and there is no way he could have gone as fast as me. What is worse, the recreational rider was not confident on the downhill and would just coast and frequently apply his brakes, holding up both the truck and me. I was really itching to over-take both, but it was just too dangerous with all the blind corners.
|And more of it|
After the downhill bit, there is picturesque segment of rolling hills for maybe around 8 km, before the road flattens and straightens out. It’s then about 7 km across the isthmus before again riding by the Sounds for another 3 km before the third and last significant hill. This hill rises 115 metres over a distance of just over 4 km. There is then a sharp descent to the small town of Havelock. The overall distance between Picton and Havelock is almost 35 km
None of these bits were at all taxing on the first lap or two, but I definitely struggled as the laps mounted. Worst was the hill out of Picton, but I never looked forward to that long stretch of rough seal on the isthmus in the middle. It proved to be hard on the body, especially on the wrists and saddle contact areas.
It was somewhere along here that I overtook Christopher. My guess is that he was a casualty of that lead bunch. As the ride went on, I worked out I was stronger than him and, unless he had a quick recovery, would beat him. As it was, we yoyo-ed for the next one or two laps, which is common in long-distance riding, especially if you stop even briefly to re-stock food. He seemed a personable young man and I would have liked to get to know him a bit more, but the road conditions didn’t always allow that. Sadly, I heard that Christopher pulled out later in the race. You may be interested in Christopher’s blog – http://pukekocycling.blogspot.co.nz/.
Somewhere along this segment of the lap, I stopped to change helmets. I had Iain’s helmet on, which he had set up with a communication device. A great idea, but I was already finding it too heavy and it wouldn’t be long before I would be having problems with my neck muscles. A great shame! Unfortunately, in the rush to start the race, we’d forgotten to make sure the ear piece was out and in my ear. Helen had been trying to communicate with me from the car; she’d even been singing songs! Sadly, I’d missed it all.
As I left the volunteer, I cheerfully called out, “One lap down!” ”Still nine to go!” she responded. Obviously, she hadn’t gone to sports psychology classes! However, mind-set was something I’d spent a lot of time on. A day after the race, I asked Iain Clarke (one of the support crew) what percentage of the race was physical and what percentage mental. He reckoned it was 50 / 50. I work hard on keeping positive and remained so for long periods of the ride. I was genuinely happy that this was now one lap that I no longer had to do. Now I had to get down to knocking those other laps off.
We had designed a race log that included a lap entry for physical and mental condition. Helen had written “Good” for both for the first lap. The transition was fast and I was soon out, the time being a bit before 3:00 pm. The time for lap 1 was around 3:50 hours, with an extra 10 minutes spent having a bite, going to the toilet, and preparing for the next lap.
The theme for lap 2 was “Still Feeling Fresh”. As the second lap went on, I reflected that the first lap had not really gone well, especially the bunch riding with Alan and Tracey. But at last I was finding my pace and getting into the endurance-racing zone.
We had rented a holiday house halfway through the lap at Ngakuta Bay on Queen Charlotte Drive. For obvious reasons, this was where we did our team swaps. At the 150 km mark, Iain Clarke took over from Helen. Iain would be picking up Brent Atkins from Blenheim Airport and both would then crew together. Iain and Brent are cycling friends from the Kapiti Coast. Both were new to this role, apart from a 400 km practice run just four weeks before. Iain is a very organised and capable person but was somewhat nervous as he didn’t want to let me down. My message to him was that the key thing is food: feed the rider and put food on his bike; everything else is a bonus. Speed was also important. I’d been a bit more relaxed in the practice run, as I thought it important to spend time bonding with the crew and did not want to put them off too much. However, now we were racing! Initially I was probably a bit rude, not always answering questions but just getting on the bike and riding off when ready. However, they soon cottoned on and were magnificent.
While riding to Ngatuka Bay from Picton, I had been munching on a Hammer energy bar. The texture of the bar is a bit like peanut butter and just as hard to swallow. As I got to the end of the bar, I foolishly put the rest into my mouth. I then had to work slowly through it, swallowing bit by bit. Suddenly, I realised that it was getting stuck at the back of my throat and not going down. Trying not to panic but slowly work the rest down, all the while cycling up-hill, I eventually started choking. I jammed on the breaks and immediately retched well-masticated energy bar all over my gloves and handlebars. Not very pleasant continuing with all that stickiness, so one of the immediate jobs at crew change-over time was for them to clean all the muck off me. Lucky them!
At one stage while riding the Havelock-Renwick section, I suddenly became conscious of just how beautiful my surroundings were. It’s not something you’re often aware of when racing. There’s no view if you’re down on aero-bars; even at other times your main focus tends to be on the road and on turning those pedals. Everything else is peripheral. But for some reason, I noticed the beautiful meadows and valleys this time. I think it was mainly the late-afternoon colours, with the greens especially accentuated by my yellow-tinted glasses.
One important aspect to long-distance riding is contingency planning. I had 2 spare wheels and a spare bike in the van. About 20 km from the end of the lap, I became aware of that gut-wrenching, spongy-tyre feeling. I had a flat tyre! Damn! I telephoned Iain, only to find that he was in Renwick getting ready for my coming. Double damn! I could do nothing but sit down until he had driven all the way back. Christopher passed me and I thought again – damn – it is a race after all and I had lost all the time I’d gained on him. After what seemed ages, Iain arrived, swapped wheels, and I was off again. After that, I wasn’t comfortable if the car was too far ahead of me.
Lap 2 finished at 7:15 pm, with a lap time of 4:15 hours and overall time of 8:15 hours. Yay, two laps down! In the log notes, Iain wrote 9/10 for both my physical and mental conditions.
The transition stop made me chuckle. When I came to the end of the lap, I found that Iain had parked the car besides other support crews helping their riders. It was in a lovely grassy area close to the road and Iain had everything organised and waiting for me. The only problem was that it was away from the official’s tent (where I had to sign in) and the toilet. No problem though. I negotiated my way along the bumpy, dusty track to first the caravan and then the toilet, this being quickly done on my bike. I then placed the bike against the toilet wall and went in. When I came out, the bike was gone and Iain was wheeling it back to the car. I’d lost my means of transport! I knew that Iain was being well-meaning taking it from me (he later said that he was worried about me riding on that rough ground), but it meant that I had to uncomfortably clip clop that distance back to the car on my cleats, losing valuable time and energy. Just one of those many learning experiences that made us into a great team!
After what proved to be a 15 minute transition which included me going to the toilet, putting on a jacket and eating a bit while Iain put the lights on and replaced my food, I was off on the third lap. My theme for the third lap was “Efficient riding; Nutrition”. Basically, it was business as usual. I wasn’t in too bad a condition. Furthermore, I was still in contact with a number of riders, seeing them at transition points although not taking much notice of them. This was pleasing, but I knew that most were faster and would soon pull further away.
One of the frightening things about these longer races, especially the multi-lap ones, is the distance still to go. It can be terrifying and you don’t want that fear niggling away and under-mining you. It was while going along the Blenheim-Picton highway that I suddenly had a realisation that gave me an immediate sense of peace and calm. It’s really difficult to describe precisely what came to my mind. I think it was an acceptance that I was here for two whole days and that this was alright. It’s like waking up in the middle of the night and suddenly realising that you don’t need to fret about not sleeping or the hours still to go to dawn; you can just lie and relax. Furthermore, I realised that this was not a hostile place. I looked beyond the uncomfortable road, the threatening traffic and my tiredness and thought of the timeless hills within the bounds of which I would be travelling. I was but a speck in a far greater scheme of things. I would be alright. And so I continued to ride.
|It's night time! Did you expect a more interesting photograph?|
I don’t remember much about this lap, so let me talk a bit about support crews. It’s great having a crew. There are so many reasons for this. The obvious one is the physical services they provide such as restocking the food, putting on lights, and generally looking after you. I also find them excellent, morale-boosting company. I used to really look forward to seeing Helen when she supported me by herself, and I also looked forward to seeing Iain and Brent. One result of this is that all the photos of me show a huge smile on my face, as they were taken by my crew. The biggest smiles are the ones taken by Raewyn, my daughter, who was soon to join Helen. Another thing about crews is that you like to show off in front of them. This is a powerful motive to continue with a high pace, something that can easily wane and be lost focus of when cycling by yourself. Those who race without a support team are definitely tough athletes!
The third lap was finished at 12:20 am, giving a lap time of 4:50 hours. I was now 13:20 hours into the race.
And what was the theme for lap 4? It was “Racing!” I wanted to have a positive focus for the wee hours of the morning, and there’s nothing more positive than racing. I also thought that these hours would be the time which others would find most difficult, so wanted to put time on them. In reality though, it was really just more of the same.
I raced this same course two years ago, but the longest distance then was 5 laps around. The 10-lapper was purely a one-off event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Graperide cycling festival. One thing I remember that unnerved me back then was the traffic along the No. 1 Highway, especially at night, with convoys of huge trucks travelling to and from the ferries. I had no problems this time though. I think it was mainly that I had more lights and could therefore keep further to the side of the road and still be clear of obstacles.
We had another crew swap at Ngatuka Bay. I was now 350 km into the race. Helen and Raewyn would be with me for the next 200 km. “Tell them I’m stopping at the toilet block”, I told the guys. They drove down the long driveway to the house, updated Helen, including my request for more corn fritters, which I had become quite partial to. I continued on.
Having a shit this far into a race can sometimes be quite a long and unpleasant experience, mainly because you haven’t had much solid food to make the process easier. While I was finishing my business, I heard the car draw up to the toilet block and eventually heard Raewyn and Helen chatting away as Raewyn checked my bike over. It was great seeing them and I think they had a treat like coffee or some food for me. I was then quickly off again.
Helen and Raewyn were a dynamic crew. Helen tended to drive while Raewyn would yell out encouragement whenever they passed, with Helen also calling out in the background. I wasn’t the only cyclist that benefited in this way. I think an earlier cyclist had even been blessed by the cry, “Go Daddy!” which might have come as a surprise to him.
|And more night riding|
Perhaps the most important thing in these long races is nutrition. You have to feed the machine! If it doesn’t have enough food, it won’t work and you will struggle. My nutrition plan was 2 scoops of Perpeteum per hour, supplemented by solid food – bananas, corn fritters, creamed rice, energy bars, and gels. After a while, you get really sick of the sweet stuff, hence my favourite was the fritters. But there’s no choice. You have to eat, even if you feel like puking it up. I’m happy to say that my nutrition worked perfectly. At no point in the ride did I feel I was hitting the wall or bonking. The engine was getting the fuel it needed.
Adequate hydration is also vital to performance, especially on the hot days we had. We took weighing scales to ensure that my weight didn’t go down overly much – a good check on hydration levels. Other checks were the frequency of my stops to urinate and the colour of the urine. All were fine for the race. As an aside, let me mention that the water was supplemented with one or two electrolyte tablets and I had no problems at all with cramp.
About 20 km out from Renwick, I came across Craig McGregor stopped by our car. I slowed to check what was happening. “Craig’s cold. We’re giving him some hot tea”, called out Helen. “Oh good”, I replied, “See ya!” I had lapped Craig, although I don’t think he’d expected to finish. He’d done very little riding since recovering from an accident while on a 1,200 km ride in Australia last November. He was totally unsupported and I had encouraged him to use our support crew if he had any trouble. I was glad we could help him. He pulled out at the end of that lap.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is the dogs. Our dog, Kobe, always keeps Helen company. Raewyn had also brought her dog, Krista. It is very difficult fitting two adults, a spare bike, spare wheels, food, clothes and other equipment for the rider, as well as two dogs into a small van (car actually – a Toyota Fun Cargo). Raewyn and Helen were kept amused by the dogs’ antics to get comfortable and the pretty downtrodden looks on their faces. There was one occasion when they looked back to see Krista looking especially glum – a whole lot of gear had collapsed just over her.
|It's a dog's life!|
The weather so far had been perfect, with no rain and little wind. It would continue as such for most of the ride. One slight negative, however, was the fog on both mornings. This made it quite cold and wet and meant that driving was rather hazardous. However, the lifting of the fog later in the morning presented some very picturesque scenery.
Lap 4 finished at 5:25 am, making it a lap time of 5:05 hours. I was now 18:25 hours into the race. The log comment about my physical condition was: “Tired. Cold at stop. Forgot to take phone – mental agility beginning to fade”. However, the entry for my mental condition was: “Good spirits.”
I crave company after being by myself on the bike for such a long time. I also love meeting new people. This sort of racing provides such little opportunity for interaction with people, but I make the most of any opportunity I find. The bike log says that Raewyn had to drag me away from the volunteer who I was chatting away with. This was not the only time my crew had to step in to rescue me from too much socialising.
I got a quick leg rub and did a couple of half-hearted stretches, but didn’t want to eat anything as I was feeling full. I washed my face and hands with a cold flannel, and brushed teeth. After all, it was soon going to be a new day. As with all these stops, I also applied shammy cream (lubricant for cycling trousers to delay the onset of saddle sores). A few sips of coffee, then I was off.
The fifth lap started at 5:45 am. The fog lasted for ages into the morning.
Motivation is vital in such a ride! To the end of keeping me focussed, Iain had printed off various labels for my bike. Two key ones were “Smile” and “My choice!” I had also written “HK” to remind myself of school holidays in Hong Kong, where my parents used to live and where I would explore the hills and imagine myself being an intrepid adventurer of some sort. Also there was “Go Andrew 60/40 group” to remind me of my many friends in our local cycling group. These positive words were important. However, I also had somewhat less positive ones. Pride of place was “Rule No. 5” (code for “Harden the fuck up!”), but this ended up being hidden from view by my handlebar stem. There was also the very perceptive one I’ve frequently heard from Nick Dunne whenever I talk about how tough training and racing are – “It’s not tiddly winks!” Also to remind me of my good friend was one that has tended to cause the most amusement, especially given how skinny I am – “Ride, you fat fuck!”
Music can also be an important motivator and source of distraction. I had an iPod with ear buds and also an external speaker, but felt too tired and energy-less to use them. However, Helen is very good at forcing me to do these things that I should be doing, and I had some hours of musical delight, which really helps.
|Up the first hill out of Picton|
It’s here that I can at last mention the absolute sterling work of Raewyn’s boyfriend, Mark Dunlop. Mark is a top-level cyclist who has also provided support to professional cycling teams on tour. I found him absolutely superb. When he and Raewyn made it to Ngatuka Bay, he ran out and gave the bike a quick check and fix. Still not happy with it, he told me to keep riding and he would see what else he could do. On further examination, Mark found that the cable had become frayed, so he rang to see if we had a spare one (we didn’t), ringing Nick’s team as well. Eventually, Mark drove all the way to a bike shop in Blenheim, got a new gear cable installed and the bike tuned, and had the bike waiting for me in Renwick. Although not accompanying me in the support van, Mark was a superb support crew whose work in the background made it a lot easier for the rest of us. It’s quite possible that I would not have made it to the end if it wasn’t for him. Thanks Mark!
|Mark in action!|
|Feeling it! Lap 5|
|Bottle change sequence 1/7|
The lap ended at 10:45 am, making it a time of 5:00 hours. I was almost 24 hours into my ride. The log had no comment about my mental condition, but its note about physical condition was “Sore wrists and triceps”.
You meet some friendly people at transitions! The volunteers were all really nice. I think they were from the local air force base and whichever group they were involved with would get some money from the event. It’s a huge commitment to be outside in the wee hours of the morning! I often bumped into a lovely Englishman supporting JJ Payne (who did the 10 laps with a fixed, single speed gear, which is phenomenal), who was very friendly and encouraging. Stu Downs, a friend from Paraparaumu and an accomplished endurance athlete, also came around several times to offer encouragement. When told of my sore wrists at this transition, Stu gave good advice on another position to help reduce the pain.
|Blenheim-Picton highway, lap 6|
|Queen Charlotte Drive, lap 6|
After 15 minutes in transition, I left. The time was 11:00 am. Unfortunately I don’t remember much about the sixth lap and there is nothing in the log. There would have been another crew change at the 550 km mark. The lap ended at 3:50 pm, making it a time of 4:50 hours and total time of 28:50 hours.
In the transition zone, I suddenly heard a voice call out, “Hullo Andrew!” It was Di Chesmar. I had lapped her. I have a great respect for Di. She is a wee thing with white hair, I think in her late fifties, and finished the Taupo 4-lapper last year despite horrendous conditions that forced others to pull out. I crashed through some bushes to see how she was. “I’m thinking of quitting”, she said or words to that effect. I’ve forgotten how I responded, but remember saying something along the lines of “Don’t rush any decision”. I don’t think she was desperately wanting to quit, but was having a moment of weakness and was sounding me out. Whatever I said to her, it was one of the many voices she needed to keep her going. Within minutes of speaking to her, I saw her leaving. “Go Di!” I shouted.
|Transition: end of lap 6|
|My mate, Brent!|
The transition took 15 minutes and I left at 4:05 pm. Iain and Brent were now with me and had been so since Ngatuka Bay.
It wasn't until just past Blenheim that I caught up to Di again. It’s hard to be safe and talk to another rider, but eventually the verge widened and I chatted with her for a while. How do you encourage someone who is struggling? My approach was to recognise the reality of it. “It’s tough, isn’t it?” We then shared some of the issues we were having. Finally, after giving encouragement, I said farewell and cycled on.
The road was busy, especially with cars that had bikes hanging out their backs coming from the ferries. A few acknowledged me with toots, some enthusiastically. There were also a number of cyclists riding out from Picton, again with more acknowledgements.
|Iain providing additional incentive to the rider. Surprising I didn't stop for a glass!|
|Iain fixing food container onto bike|
|Riding up hill from Picton (Brent in background), lap 7 I think|
On the hill leading up from Picton, a car drew up beside me with four fit young men in it, obviously cyclists. “How many laps have you done?” “This is my seventh”, I replied. They were impressed and gave me heaps of encouragement. However, I’ve mentioned before about sometimes getting emotional in these long rides when physically and mentally exhausted. A while afterwards, my eyes began filling with tears. All these people were so impressed with me, but I still had 350 km to go! I was already struggling and doubt began to enter my mind. A bit later, I found myself begin to cry again, thinking of Helen and how much I love her. I just wanted to hug and hug her! And that was it, no more tears again, apart from a little one just before the end.
I mentioned Di sounding me out about quitting. Well now it was my turn. It’s interesting how the mind works. When tired, we tend to unwittingly be drawn down the path of least resistance. We can be quite sneaky about it too and can easily convince ourselves that it’s the right road. In sounding me out, I think Di was looking for chinks in the armour of her resolve. As I neared our house, where the plan was for me to have a shower and get into night gear, I suddenly became convinced that it would be alright to quit as long as I did it in Renwick, i.e. at the end of the lap and at least away from the comforts of the house. Indeed, I wouldn’t even necessary quit then, but I would have the option to. That distorted logic somehow seemed alright to my tired mind!
When I arrived in the house, everything had been prepared for me. All the heaters had been turned on (as I get cold really quickly), scrambled eggs made, and coffee got ready. It was now action stations! I was shuffled into the shower. I mentioned my wonderful idea to Helen. “Just have a shower!” she responded. The shower was beautiful! I washed all that grease and grime from my hair. My legs were black from the dust and dirt collected after more than a day’s riding. It felt so good to get clean. Having changed into my night-riding clothes, I was then out into kitchen, sitting at the table and eating my scrambled eggs and toast, with Raewyn massaging my legs then strapping my knees and wrists. While this was happening, Mark was giving my bike another quick check. I again put my clever idea to all five of them, looking at each in turn. In response, each just shook their head. They wouldn’t have a bar of it.
One of the key jobs of a support crew is to stop their rider quitting. At times this has been taken to extreme levels, with crews just driving off and leaving their rider to continue on by themselves, leaving supplies along the way. I knew I had no choice. I had to finish the race. The crisis was over. But I was unhappy. I decided to vent and tell them off. All in the nicest of ways and with a sense of humour of course, but I needed to get it out of my system. “I hate you all. I hate my family and I hate my support crew. You’re all bastards! You’ve no idea what it’s like. I’m done in and can barely ride and you’re condemning me to another 350 km that I can’t do. I hate you all!” That felt really good! I then I asked them to text a message to Nick Dunne (who was also racing and had been giving us great support) to tell him I hate my support crew and that they were being horrid. Nick would understand and find it funny. It would tell him that I was having a tough time, but that my support crew were doing a superb job of getting me to continue. “Tell him yourself”, said Helen, “Quick, out of the house before you miss him, he’s riding by.” And so I grumpily walked out of the house, hopped on to my bike, and cycled up the driveway and away.
|Shower and scrambled egg at the 650 km mark.|
Iain and Brent were still on duty. We’d actually broken the other three’s break, which I had been somewhat reluctant to do, but with impending nightfall the timing was perfect for a shower and clothes change (my only one for the whole ride). They would have been really tired.
My speed now picked up and I continued to maintain a good pace. But I still needed to work my frustration out. At one of my bottle changes, Iain read a text sent by Adam Johnston (from Ranga’s triathlon shop). Adam had also been texting through support well into the previous night. “How’s he going?” he’d asked. I dictated a response. “I’m going terribly! I hate my crew as they’re doing horrible things to me. I don’t think I can finish, but they’re forcing me to continue. I hate them all. They’re bastards!” Of course, Iain knew that I was joking. He replied something along the lines of, “He’s fine and in good humour. He’s got lots of energy and there’s no doubt that he will finish.” After accusing him of censorship and putting words in my mouth, I got on the bike again and cycled away. As they passed, I called out to Iain, “And you can tell Adam he’s a bastard too!”
Iain was quite correct. I was now in a far better mood. I knew that I would finish the race. I had mentioned previously about the imagery of being cosily wrapped up for 48+ hours by the hills. Well this was now replaced by totally different imagery. It was of having a job to do. The job was to do three and a half more laps. I had to serve my time, but I wanted it to pass as quickly as possible. It was now down to business!
I made it to the end of the seventh lap at 10:55 pm, with a lap time of 6:50 hours. I was now a day and a half into the race. The log comment is interesting. Two entries had been made in different hand-writing. Someone had written “Fair” in black about my mental condition, with someone else writing after it in thick blue pen “Positive”. Regarding physical condition, the black pen had written “Muscle pain – manageable”, with the blue pen entry being just “YES”. No idea what it all meant, but my guess is that one of my crew members was definitely a 100% glass half full person!
I had lapped people, but I myself was also lapped by others. In fact, one person lapped me twice over the course. This was Craig Harper, a local lad from Blenheim. He ended up doing the 10 laps in an amazing 37:20 hours, meaning an average speed of 27 kph over 1,010 km, including stops. And what a nice guy he was! I was on Old Renwick Road the first time he lapped me. I saw lights coming behind me. Soon he was next to me and slowed. We chatted for quite a while. Realizing that I was holding him up, I eventually said that the pace was too fast for me and wished him all the best. The next night he caught up to me on the road to Renwick, again at night. He checked that I was alright, offering food and support from his van if I wanted. I asked his name a second time. He looked surprised and said “Craig”. I genuinely thought there were three different Craigs (including Craig McGregor) for a while. What a fast man!
The other great thing about having Craig there was that the local support was fantastic. There were people waving and cheering me on when I went through Blenheim during daylight hours. This is hugely motivational and was very well received. I understand that there were even fireworks when Craig set out on his last lap. Wonderful stuff!
A great thing about the event was the use of a GPS tracker. My family and friends, including people at work, had been able to track my process over the two days. It also meant that the crew could track the other riders. I never asked where anyone else was, but the crew did sometimes tell me how Nick was doing. Iain had noticed that Nick’s speed showed that he was also having his ups and downs. He too was fairly slow when I was having a tough time, and it also improved when my speed improved. Iain had made a tongue-in-cheek bet with Nick’s team members, who he was in frequent contact with over the event, that I would lap him. The reality of course was that I was trying to limit the number of times that Nick lapped me. He ended up in third place, only lapping me once.
I remember that there had been a slight wind coming up towards Picton, but it seemed to have died away now. For large parts of the ride to Renwick, I rode sitting upright, holding the aero-bar pads with my hands and maintaining a good speed. Yet another position to try for comfort!
I left on lap 8 at 11:10 pm. Only 300 km to go!
Another race had started earlier that afternoon, with seven riders setting off on the Ultimate 5-lapper. They were pretty fast and the top riders would begin passing me on this lap, with most giving me lots of support and encouragement.
I’m not sure how this report reads, but realise that nowhere have I given any idea of what it was like for me to race the Monster. I was surprised at just how well my body handled the ride. With the exception of the hills, I believe I was keeping up a very respectable speed. My guess is that anyone looking at me would think I was out on a 50 km training ride, not well into a 1,010 km race. I would continually focus on keeping my upper body relaxed (further incentivised by the pain I was feeling there!) and just turning those legs. There was little in my mind besides this, apart from avoiding the potholes and gravel by the side of the road and keeping safe. My mind was tired, which in many ways worked to my advantage. It wasn’t jumping around doing things such as calculating the distance still to go. I would work to deaden it further, or at least to censor and direct it. Whenever I felt a negative thought coming, such as still having further to go along a particular section than I’d already done, I would jump on that thought and smother it. As I came to various milestones that had given me pleasure on previous laps (e.g. a road sign that had surprised me in indicating that I was further along a section than I’d thought), I would suck that in and let the feeling of positivity and accomplishment sweep over me. And all the time, I was keeping that speed up, continually trying to impress the crew. The hills were different though. Earlier in the race, Iain had received a comment from a spectator watching me, which was that I was climbing in too high a gear. After that, he would often pause at the hills to shout out, “High cadence; low gear!” He did a great job!
So how could I maintain such strength and energy for such a long time? The reasons are many. Fitness obviously; that and not blowing it with any unnecessary efforts! Continual intake of food to energise the body was also vital. I also wonder about the impact of drugs. The most powerful drug I used was caffeine, which was mainly in the form of my latte-flavoured Perpeteum drink and the odd sip of coffee, coke and Go Fast. This not only acted as a stimulant (aided and abetted by the copious amounts of sugar I was eating), but also kept me from falling asleep. The other thing I was using for the first time was Panadol and Nurofen to manage the pain. Previous races and long rides had given me the realisation that a major distraction from focussing on speed was discomfort. I’d read of other endurance riders using similar pain relief, so decided to give it a go.
Half way along the lap, the crew changed again. It was now Helen and Raewyn. Helen’s comment in the log was: “At change over, Iain said Andrew had been fine since the stop. Very tired and sore but keeping steady pace.”
It’s fun having two support crews, as they offer different things and you look forward to the variety. Iain and Brent learnt really fast. I found that they tended to stop more frequently than Helen and Raewyn, yelling support and encouragement as I passed them. Iain was especially pro-active in having things ready for me and making a difference. He took his role really seriously and I was very happy to hear him tell me afterwards that he’d like to crew for me again. It was also great having Brent’s friendly, steady presence. By contrast, Helen was the seasoned professional. She and Raewyn also offered something that Iain and Brent could never offer – love. I just loved seeing them!
Toilet stops are unavoidable. Most stops are to urinate. This is a lot easier for guys and I feel sorry for women, mainly because they are cursed by a ridiculous sense of modesty. However, even I like to be relatively discrete and would often have to wait quite a while before finding a relatively private place to use. However, I found that as the race went on, the need to pee would suddenly surprise and overwhelm me. When I had to go, I HAD TO GO! I think that, with all the other discomforts of the body, I was not tuned into the signs of a full bladder until it was often too late.
I finished lap 8 at around 4:45 am, making it a time of 5:35 hours. According to the log, I was in the transition area for 55 minutes. I had been fighting sleep over the last bit, so this was a place to rest up a bit. I hopped into the passenger seat and Helen put a blanket around me (I get cold very quickly) and gave me some food and coffee. I complained about not being able to sleep, then promptly had a solid 15 minute doze. While asleep, Stu Downs came over to have a chat with Helen. His suggestion of the best way to wake me up was to use cold water! Thankfully, Helen toned down that suggestion and, when I began to stir, used a cold flannel to wipe my face and wake me up.
|Cold after a 15 minute sleep, ready to face the final 202 km.|
It was 5:40 am when I left on lap 9. I was obviously a bit confused. As I cycled the short way to Renwick, I became convinced that this was the wrong road. It looked so unfamiliar. I turned and cycled back almost all the way to the start, but couldn’t find any alternative route. So I turned again and continued on and, sure enough, there was Renwick.
As with the previous day, the fog would continue well into the morning. Apart from this, the weather that morning was fantastic! No wind at all.
There was an additional problem with the ninth lap that had not affected previous laps. Because of the other races happening that day (it was now Saturday!), no support crews would be allowed on the course after 7:00 am. This had been plaguing my tired mind before falling asleep. “Never mind”, Helen had said, “We’ve got a plan.” The plan was that Helen and Raewyn would continue to support me while safe, but in the guise of being a race spectator – after all, many such spectators would be scattered around the course. As back-up, Raewyn was going to cycle back from the Ngatuka Bay house via Picton with additional supplies and Brent would be waiting for me at the lap transition area. As it was, however, I was slower than anticipated and Helen was able to discretely bunny-hop me all the way, without getting in the way of any cyclists.
At some stage on the Blenheim-Picton road, I passed Di again. I rode up on her outside. “Hello Lady Lion Heart”, I said. She appeared to be confused and tired, but at least riding in a straight line. I had a bit of a conversation with her, but it took a while for her to work out who I was. Then, because we were running out of verge, I cycled to the road-side of her and resumed the conversation. She appeared confused again, thinking it was another rider. For the second time, I wished her all the best and rode off. Her support crew were close by and waved to me as I passed. Di would eventually go on to finish the course in 79 hours. Sixteen people started the race, ten finished, and Di was one of them!
It was great having Helen and Raewyn in support, with lots of stops and yells of encouragement. There is nothing more enthusiastic than the two of them together! Mark even stopped to wish me good luck. He was on his way to begin in the Elite race. As I left him, I realised that I’d forgotten to wish him good luck, but Raewyn managed to text my best wishes through. At Picton, I even managed to have a couple of sips of real coffee.
|Up the hill out of Picton for the 2nd last time (1/2)|
As I was coming up to the last hill before Havelock, I became aware of the odd person waiting for the elite cyclists to come through. However, I was well on the way to Renwick before they passed, with Mark giving a great yell of encouragement as he swept past. There was no sign of the women elite riders, who must have been caught up by the fastest group of amateur riders, which passed me fairly close to Renwick.
It was on this last stretch that I suddenly felt an overwhelming feeling of great happiness; euphoria even! I found myself looking around at the scenery and smiling. “Thank you God!” I said. This is a strange thing from an atheist, but I felt so happy to be alive and just had to give thanks to whatever strange freak set of events had created me. I was so lucky to be alive and experiencing all this! This is not the first time I’ve felt this odd moment on these long races.
|Helen travelling in disguise - as a race spectator|
|Quick, stuff some food in your mouth so your crew doesn't tell you off for not eating. Lap 9|
The lap ended at 11:00 am, making it a total of 5:20 hours. Exactly two days into the race! Helen’s overall comment in the log was: “Very tired but steady pace”. Her comment about my mental condition was “Exhausted but determined to finish” and my physical condition was “Very tired”.
It was quite funny coming to the end of the lap. The transition zone was cordoned off, with officials directing cyclists and traffic to various other places. I was directed the wrong way, but was too tired to explain and just turned into the transition zone. Helen had to explain to officials who she was and a guy then enthusiastically let her in. She then had to deal with some old ladies who had been programmed with a simple set of instructions that they found hard to deviate from. They directed Helen to the car-park, but she ended up just driving to the transition area rather than argue with them. When I left on the final lap, one was cross with me, saying “Careful, careful, riders approaching”.
So, only a hundred and one kilometres to go! The transition was quite funny in that my crew (only Helen by this time) really had to really drag me away from chatting with people. First of all, I was having a long chat with the lovely young lady taking the time, so Helen had to drag me away from her. I then had a chat with the very friendly supporter of JJ Payne and again had to be dragged away. I was sat down on a chair and given food to eat while Helen restocked my bike, and Greg Manson (who had already finished his 10 laps) came for a chat. Then Nick Dunne and one of his support crew came over to wish me well. Again, I was pulled away. Helen’s comment was “Hard to get Andrew to get organised and get him away!” Finally, I was bundled onto the bike and sent off.
The time was now 11:35 am.
It was interesting going off at a time that many of the Saturday racers had finished. The Graperide organisers had supplied the 10-lappers with an over-sized orange helmet cover so that others would recognise us and give encouragement. I had taken mine off soon after the start because it was so hot, but put it on again for this lap, although most people still didn’t know who I was. I was quite tired and, having gone through Renwick, missed the Old Renwick Road turnoff, having to circle around to get to it. Soon a friendly young Irish man drew up to me at the head of a small group of riders and rode with me for a number of kilometres, where they were going to stop somewhere and begin their celebrations. He had been part of the team supporting Craig Harper and had seen me a couple of times on the route. He was very friendly and supportive!
It was then through Blenheim, over the bridge at the north-end of the town, and onto the highway. I haven’t mentioned this bridge before, although it created lots of trouble for me a couple of years ago. It’s fairly long and too narrow for traffic to go both ways if one of the sets includes a truck. Sometimes there can be long queues, which is very irritating when racing. No problems this year though!
Soon after the bridge, I stopped to change trousers. My whole bottom was sore by now. It felt like I was riding on one massive blister and I wondered whether the shorts I’d put on at the 650 km mark were responsible. Saddle sores were to plague me this round. Eventually I realised that I had no option but to just ride thought the pain. I’ve no idea how it would have been if I had more laps to do afterwards. My bum would have been raw meat. It sure would have been tricky focussing on the cycling!
While on the subject of pain, pain had been a pretty constant factor for a number of laps by now. I’d read about the focus of the pain changing with endurance riders, and this sure was my experience. For a long time, I had agonizingly sore wrists, as well as the back of my hands. Then suddenly I found I was not aware of these, but my triceps. At other times it was my stinging knees, the bruised bottom of my left foot, or a pain shooting up from the top of my left foot to the outside of my lower leg. However, saddle sores were to dominate this lap. There was no getting away from it. All I could do was find a position, wait for the wave of pain of changing positions to finish sweeping over me, and just get down to cycling.
Later on, I noticed a couple of cyclists waving at me from an intersection. I was really in business-mode now, tired and not aware of anything else. As I passed them, I suddenly realised they were Raewyn and Mark. They yelled something and, guessing what they’d asked, I yelled back, “No, I’m fine thanks!” Mark was "fresh" from his race, which he'd finished just under 2:30 hours. Raewyn had cycled from Ngatuka Bay, giving encouragement to lagging riders, confusing the marshals because she was going the wrong way, and even giving mechanical assistance to a rider in distress.
|Last time up the Picton hill. Quick, have a drink before you get told off for not drinking enough!|
I was now getting a number of toots of encouragement from cars passing to go to the ferry. Helen was also stopping lots of times to yell encouragement. After Havelock, Mark and Raewyn were there as well. I felt like royalty – a real champion – with such wonderful support. My brother, Hugh, also started sending frequent texts of encouragement.
How do you race the last lap? As fast as you can, of course! You have to end in style, especially as I knew that lots of people would be tracking me on GPS. A distant second reason was that the best way to lessen the pain was to focus on something else and to lessen the time on the bike!
|Dealing with a bursting bladder. Thank goodness I'm away from prying eyes!|
At the top of the last hill before Havelock, I saw a female rider who I mistook for Di. However, I discovered it was a 2-lapper who was really struggling. I asked if I could help, but she told me to continue on. She was slightly over-weight and finding the going tough, but appeared determine to finish. What a champion!
Helen had mentioned to me that I was closing in on Ed Allen, a 5-lapper. Soon after Havelock, I saw him. As I slowly caught up with him, I noticed him standing up on his pedals every now and shifting about uncomfortably. Ha, I knew exactly what the problem was! “You look uncomfortable”, I said when I finally drew up to him. “My bum’s sore”, he replied. I think I said something like “Saddle sores!” “What do you do about them?” he’d asked. “I don’t know”, was my response, “Ride through the pain!” An ironic “Thanks!” greeted me in reply!
Ed was stopping to sort things out, so I went down on the aero-bars to put some speed down. Something then happened which shows just how tired I was. I had my face pointed towards the tarmac and suddenly became aware of a shadow that quickly moved forward up and over in front of the bike and then back down again. Then, what seemed like ages later, a bit of a shredded tyre whizzed just to my left, hitting the road and bouncing along. “Interesting”, I thought and continued riding. A car with trailer passed and parked, with two guys jumping out to inspect their trailer. “You seem to have lost a bit of tyre”, I called out as the two apologised profusely. Ed afterwards said he’d seen the whole thing and it was a miracle I’d not been hit. But the whole incident had barely registered in my consciousness; if it wasn’t for Ed mentioning it afterwards, I’d have completely forgotten it.
There was definitely a lot of pain over this last bit and no getting away from it. My focus was on speed but also on controlling that mind of mine. After all, I wasn’t quite there yet.
Finally I had made it up the last little uphill bit. I was finally there! I swept down the other side of the hill and curved towards the bridge. A brief wave of emotion swept over me as I realised just what I had accomplished, with tears swelling in my eyes. But I was in pain and focussing one hundred percent on just turning those pedals, so it didn’t last long.
As I moved onto the long bridge, I became aware of some riders coming the other way, but took no notice of them. As they neared, they waved and I wiggled my fingers back in acknowledgement. “Hold it”, my tired brain told me, “Isn’t that …?” Sure enough, the riders had wheeled around and joined me. And there was Janice Hill, Gill Donald and Sue Dore, three riders from the local 60/40 group in Kapiti. They had come to give me a hero’s escort to the finishing line! I haven’t shared this with them, but they don’t know just how fitting this was. At one stage in the middle of my ride, I had imagined individual members of the 60/40s riding there beside me and keeping me company, and these three had been foremost in my mind!
We caught up a bit with news. Janice had finally broken 3 hours in her ride that day and was first in her age group, with Gill just missing out. All three had also won first female team. It was great to see Sue, who has made a remarkable come-back after chemo-therapy. Janice suddenly called out her apologies for going too fast, slowed down and asked what pace I’d like to go. “Faster!” I shouted back, “Faster! Go as fast as you can! … Faster! … Faster!”
So it was that I completed the last kilometre of my 1,010 km ride. Thankfully I managed to keep up with them! I caught sight of Helen as we raced around the corner towards the finishing driveway. “See you at the finish”, I yelled. People had already begun cheering me. As we raced into the finish enclosure, Nick Dunne stepped forward holding up his hand and I managed to give him a high-five as I raced past. Just before the finish line, my three Valkyries wheeled off, but not before cheering as loud as they could, “Woo! Woo! Woo!” I had no choice but to follow in kind and, as I crossed the line, yelled out “Yay! One thousand kilometres!” We’d arrived towards the end of the prize-giving ceremony while the MC was announcing spot prizes. With our commotion, everyone turned and I suddenly became the centre of an amazing amount of clapping and cheering. Soon afterwards, other members of the 60/40 group were coming over to talk and congratulate. Greg Manson and the phenomenal Craig Harper, two other 10-lap completers, also came over to add their congratulations. I could not think of a better way to finish any event. Thank you all!
There’s one final aspect to my finish that I didn’t hear about until afterwards. Nick Dunne and his team had prepared their own welcome for me, which was going to involve a combination of streaking, mooning, and breast-flashing. Sadly I had raced past them before they had a chance to get ready. That surely would have been icing on the cake!
|At the finish line ...|
(Thanks to Simon Cullen for the photo)
|... with members of the 60/40 group|
|Mention in the local newspaper, along with my wonderful Valkyries,|
Gill Donald, Janice Hill, and Sue Dore
A 7-second video taken of the final bit of the race,
kindly taken by John Barber of the 60/40 group
Having survived your own endurance session with me, you may have just enough energy also to read about the next few hours. It felt just so great free-riding my bike around all the people making their way back to their cars. People had commented how surprised they were that I was looking so fresh after having just completed 1,010 km. I definitely felt strong, however this was probably the result of being so ecstatically happy. There were more photos at the car, with Mark having done amazing stuff packing everything. Foremost in my mind now was having a shower and some normal food. While Helen drove, I rang my two sons and brother to share the moment with them. However, as we drove the 50 km back “home”, I suddenly felt a slight wave of dread and dismay. I turned to Helen. “I’m not enjoying this!” We were going back along the exact same route I had already cycled ten times over the last two days and I was finding the experience somewhat nightmarish. It had obviously been no jaunt in the park for me!
|The team - Iain, Helen, Brent, Andrew, Raewyn, Mark|
and not fogetting Kobe and Krista. We made it!
So what does a long-distance cyclist do once he’s had a shower? He has real food, cold, before it’s even been heated up. However, unfortunately it’s mildly spicy food and he can hardly eat it because of the ulcers that began filling his mouth over the last lap or two. Half-way through forcing his way through a small plate, he’s suddenly asleep in the chair. After about half an hour of being totally out too it, he wakes up, forces himself to have a few more mouthfuls of food, then stumbles to his bed and is dead asleep!
I want to end by giving my thanks to those who helped me in making it to the finish line. As you would have gathered from reading this, it was very much a team effort. As always, first and foremost to be thanked is my most wonderful wife who has done so much for me and who I love dearly. It was also wonderful having Raewyn with me. This was a first, as in my Taupo races she was racing at the same time, saving her enthusiasm to cheer me over the finishing line. It was also fantastic having Mark Dunlop along, with him saving the day and doing so much work behind the scenes. Thank you to Iain Clarke and Brent Atkins for your cheerfully-given time and for doing so much in getting me to the finish line. Nick Dunne deserves a huge thank you from me, for his belief in me, for his joy at my successes, and for all the real assistance he has actively given me, which means a lot coming from such a competitive man. There are many others who have encouraged and supported me and I suspect that many of you have also made it this far into this overly-long treatise. So finally, I would like to thank YOU for your support, every small bit of which made a huge difference and got me to the finish line. Thank you!
|"To the stars and beyond, young man!"|