Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Just Checking

Although I've been mountain bike racing for a long time, and cycle touring longer, I've never done an ultra-endurance MTB race. Apart from the odd 24hr race, they simply aren't a part of the New Zealand racing scene. Racing round in circles for 24 hours with fresh team riders blasting past at regular intervals has no appeal for me. However, going into something like the massive Great Divide Race as an ultra-endurance race virgin is somewhat un-nerving.

A big part of the appeal of the GDR is that I'm not sure I can complete it. It is a true challenge. But, flying halfway across the world for a DNF seems like a pretty stupid idea. Before I would commit, a long test ride was in order.

As a cycle tourer, my longest day was 210km - the final day of a week-long, high school holiday trip with my brother Paul in 1985. It was a 13-hour trudge of mind-numbing proportions, never to be repeated.

As a racer, my longest day so far is 425km on the roads from Nelson to Christchurch - ridden on a triple with brothers Paul and Jonathan. It was a 14.5-hour trudge of truly crotch-numbing proportions, never to be repeated. And while that was a long day at a reasonable pace, it was over a decade ago, and didn't present the same challenge as a solo effort.

The Great Divide Race introduced time limits in 2007. If I couldn't average 100 miles per day for weeks on end, solo, on mountainous gravel roads, without support, I may as well stay home. 100 miles in those conditions is probably roughly equivalent to 200 miles on road. As luck would have it, there was a 200 mile option at the Taupo Cycle Challenge in late November. Seemed like a good place to check my endurance, without trashing myself off-road (yet).

The plan was to do minimal training, use only food available from service stations, and see if I could ride it without burying myself in a fatigue crater the size of Lake Taupo. As an added bonus, sleep deprivation was added to the mix, courtesy of 4-month old Miro.

With just 2000 km of training logged in four months and a bag filled with bananas and Powerade sitting by my bike, I went to bed on the eve of the event brimming with confidence. Miro was back home in Wellington and there was nothing to stop me sleeping soundly for a change.

At 1:30am sharp, the race started. At 2:45am I woke up. 'Shit'.

My support buddy John and I were at the start, signing in, just after 3am.

The first 100 mile lap was beautiful. The roads were mostly deserted, bar the odd rabbit or bird. A light, refreshing rain fell for an hour or so. Dawn spread across the sky ever so slowly, and I pedalled on and on, solo.

An Australian rider with knee problems joined me at the start of the second lap, and together we started to overhaul the slowest of the 100 mile riders who had started at 7-9am. Old battlers with authentic retro gear. Newbies with shiney, expensive-looking bikes and underpants under their cycling shorts. Tough guys with tattoes, puffing on cigarettes. And my friend Andre with Brazillian tunes radiating from his handlebar bag, and a spare nut bar (thanks).

After 12 and a half hours I sprinted for the finish line, feeling relieved, satisfied, surprised. Normally, a 100 miler with a bunch would leave me feeling trashed. But 200 miles at my own pace turned out to be OK. I was duly tired, but not wasted. It had been fun!

A short ride the next morning to confirm I wasn't fooling myself and I was committed. It was time to get serious about preparing for the Great Divide Race.


Jonathan said...

The lengths some people will go to for a good nights sleep!

Seriously though, this is a great blog and I'll be glued to it during the Great Divide Race.

Good luck Simon.

Simon Kennett said...

Thanks Bro. It means a lot to have your support.