Monday, February 25, 2008


Saturday was XC National Champs day - another opportunity to remind the body just how much pain and suffering it can take during a 2 hour period. With Karapoti just a week away, it seemed like a good idea. The Mt Victoria Nationals course has such a high ratio of climbing/kilometre that it even makes Karapoti feel easy(ish).

My race went even worse than I was expecting. Last year it was 3 laps and I was much faster. I found out it was 4 laps this year, with just 3 mins to the start and only one water bottle on my bike. So, I was virtually in survival mode before 'Ready, set...'. A slow start was in order, I thought as I trundled out of the start loop in last place. Almost two hours later, with just a kilometre to go, I'd lost my new pump, become dehydrated, maxed out on lactic acid, and lost skin off my left knee/hip/elbow, but at least I'd worked my way into a respectable 4th place in the Master 2 category. Then I punctured and started walking.

The next day was family day and Miro was living up to her reputation as the cutest baby in the whole world. After Sarah got a ride in at Makara Peak, I checked the stoat traps. Two down! [Note to overseas reader: Stoats are the deadliest of introduced predators over here. When nesting, New Zealand's native birds don't stand a chance once one of these critters invades the forest.]

Then it was off to help Mark rework a switchback on the new Rimu Trail. He was running a work party, but everybody was off at the DH Nationals or practising Karapoti. All the more food for us at lunchtime.

I took today off to check out Karapoti myself. John came along and we bumped into a couple of South Islanders at halfway. There are some nice lines forming. If the course dries out it should be a reasonably fast year. We cruised most of the way - took four hours all up and the legs felt better at the finish than the start. But not for long.

At 4pm it was time for Gary Moller to get stuck into my legs for an hour. Gary's been involved in helping prepare endurance atheletes for great deeds for decades. Today he was finding knotted muscles all over the show and ironing them out with great ghusto. We're talking 10-out-of-10, class 'A' pain! Still, he assures me I'll be jumping around like a spring chicken once he's finished a few sessions. That or I'll be wishing I was a headless chicken.

If the 'No Pain, no gain' slogan were true, the way things are going, I'd be heading for a World Title by about mid-April!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Resignation (not defeat)

Handed in my resignation on Monday. Working for the Cycling Advocates' Network for the last year and a half has become increasingly frustrating. Attempts to improve the cycling environment for commuters generally occur slowly and rarely (if at all). Then, when a little progress is made, motorists kick up a stink (and a major magazine in Auckland covers the story with images including the one shown). That image, while intended to be comic, accurately hints at the level of respect cyclists receive in 'Clean Green New Zealand'.

Fortunately I can head back to the Kennett Bros to write books and design tracks for a living. I'll enjoy seeing firm results produced on a weekly basis, and I'll stay involved with cycle advocacy (as a volunteer).

Had to go for a ride on Monday, for the mind as much as the legs. Did a little jogging and a big bunch of short hill intervals.

Tuesday was a stunner weather-wise, so I rode 70 km round the bays twice on the way home. Spent most of the time getting used to the aero-bars - weird contraptions.

By Wednesday the legs were starting to feel sore. The 'Used up - come back later!' kinda soreness that will become familiar on the GDR, so I went and practiced the Mt Vic hill climb course with John at a fast pace. Ouch!

Today I went and watched the Hill Climb National Champs at lunchtime. Eight minutes of pure pain - well, not for me. More like half an hour of entertaining racing and chit-chat under clear blue skies. Then it was off back to work, into the car-infested CBD, pump-a-swinging, snarling all the way. "I AM CYCLIST. HEAR ME ROAR!"

Saturday, February 16, 2008

No Pain, No Gain?

Had a spot of physio on Friday. The old left achilles has been playing up a bit with all the hike-a-bike stuff lately. Never had an archilles problem before, so it was good to learn how to treat it now (not halfway through Montana). The physio, Sebastian, taught me a new stretch that had me writhing in agony on the table. It wasn't natural, I tell ya! But then neither are anti-inflammatories - too many of those suckers and you'll end up bleeding out your poop-hole.

Saturday was a family day, although the Great Divide Race wasn't off the agenda. Sarah, her mum Shona, and I worked on a pattern for the frame bag that will go inside the main triangle, and discussed tweaking the Ground Effect proto-type race jacket to keep the tail down. Since then I discovered it'll stay down fine when my riding jersey pockets are full. And then there was some secret-squirrel stuff to do with my sleeping bag that I can't tell you about yet.

Today was race day. A flattish, 70km, handicap road race - not my forte, especially when I haven't raced on the road for months. So, it was good to be plonked in Break 2 with a handful of vet riders. We rotated like clockwork for the first 35 km, but made no progress on the bunch in front. At the start line the Scratch and Break groups were combined, creating a real juggernaut. They gobbled us up at 37 km. We all jumped on the back and the pace was OK until we turned into the wind and started working our way back up the Wainuiomata Valley with it's endless small rises. Being at the yo-yo end of the bunch, my legs were suffering the death of a thousand 3-second intervals. With 8 km left to the finish - 'KA-PING!' - I was gone. Que sara.

It was a seriously painful workout and by the time I dragged my sorry arse back up to Northland the speedo was reading just 115 km. Hopefully, the high intensity will be all good (once I've recovered enough to ride a bicycle again).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pass me a bucket

Well, the Nationals are only 8 days away. They'll be a 1.5 hour sprint for us Master 2 riders, so I'd skip them but for the fact they are in town and only a week before Karapoti. As much as the race will hurt, it'll be good practice for Karapoti where I don't want to embarrass myself (my twin brother is on form).

So, after three busy days off the bike, it was off to Mt Victoria on the way home to get some short sharp intervals under my belt. First up, five at the velodrome where the Start/Finish is. Trevor and Samara are there finishing off a set of intervals themselves. Trevor hasn't lost a Master 2 race for a couple of seasons, except when we faced off here last season and had a most excellent see-saw battle to the end. I suspect he'll turn the tables this year.

Five one minute-long intervals on the track is enough for me before I head off with Hiskey and Chris to check out the climb. It's the steepest bit that most other riders walk that is of most interest. I'm in the granny gear and feeling rather vomitous by halfway already. This does not bode well. When the course turns right and gets near vertical (or at least 20 degrees) the front wheel starts to lift and a moment later the rear looses it on a root. I'm riding like an amateur!!!
(Hang on...I am an amateur).

Back to the start. Another four attempts (three successful) and I've run out of time. Oh well.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why MSF?

So...what's Medecins Sans Frontieres got to do with the Great Divide Race? Well, I'm inspired by cycling adventurers like the Cranes and Louise Sutherland who managed to raise funds for humanitarian projects in parallel with their incredible trips. That idea has been simmering away in the background for several years. With the Great Divide Race on my radar, it's an idea thats time has come.

Picking a suitable charity to support was bloody hard! There are so many worthy causes out there. When my folks had cancer it occured to me that things would be a lot worse if we were living in the developing world with an income of $1000 a year. So, cancer treatment in poor nations is a worthy cause, for sure. But after a little Googling it was clear that cancer isn't actually a big killer in the developing world - most folk in Africa don't live past 50. They are more likely to die young from infectious diseases - the result of a lack of clean water, sanitation and basic medical supplies.

Imagine getting something like tuberculosis in a country without decent health care, when you are living on the breadline? Throw in a tsunami or a war. Mix with a big dose of corruption. Before you know it, you and your family are living (and dying) in abject poverty.

1,700,000 people died of tuberculosis in 2004. With medication (costing about $25/month for 6 months) your chance of surviving TB goes up from 33% to over 95%. Simple stuff like lung infections, malaria and diarrhea are even bigger killers; and all are cheap to treat or prevent.

Whatever suffering goes down at the Great Divide Race, it's small fry by comparison. We're the lucky people.

Medecins Sans Frontieres/Docters Without Borders is a leading humanitarian organisation of gutsy volunteer medical crew who are often the first into a country when things go pear-shaped, and often the last ones out when things go from bad to worse. Because they are volunteer-based, they are super efficient with their money. US$5,500 is enough to stock a 10,000 person refugee camp with medical supplies for three months!

That's my goal - to raise US$5,500 with the help of my sponsors and you. There will, by my standards, be some serious suffering at the Great Divide Race; times when motivation is sorely lacking; times when I'll want the next mile to be about more than the race. If you'd like to see me suffer right to the finish (trust me, it'll be good for a laugh) and give a little aid to a bunch of people whose idea of suffering is something altogether different than a gigantic bike race, check out the form below.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

No Coast 'Big Coast'

This weekend saw the 16 year old 'Big Coast' family mountain bike ride head off round the Rimutaka Ranges again. Normally a two day ride, run just once a year, it starts near Upper Hutt, heads over the Rimutaka Rail Trail, down the side of Lake Wairarapa on a sealed road, and round the south coast on private 4WD tracks before finishing at Eastbourne about 100 km later.

John and I got permission to do it in a day, so I set my alarm for 6am, slept through that and was woken at 6:03 by Miro. John arrived at 6:30 and we were off. Took just over an hour to get to Upper Hutt, with only one homicidal driver enraged by our daring to ride two-abreast along a straight, near-deserted road. John was happy to hammer up the valley into a light headwind at 30 kph - I was happy to suck his wheel most of the way. That was the way of it for the sealed road sections.

About half the ride was on dirt, with some barely rideable sand and rock sections (and some walking) a fair bit of fast gravel, a few tunnels and some sweet singletrack. The scenery ranged from low native forest to coastal headlands with the odd seal lounging around. There were only a couple of hills of note - most of it was flat or rolling, which I was happy to suffer on as that's my weak area (hopefully for not too much longer). With John pouring the power on, there was no coasting.

We carried on past the finish to Petone where Sarah and Shona were preparing a magnificent roast dinner (with Christmas pud!). 150 km in 7 hrs. Toasted legs and a killer appetite. All in order.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Change of Pace

Life seems to have moved up a gear this last week - in a good way.

Miro has cut her first three teeth AND been sleeping better. This latter point is going to be a huge boost to recovery from frequent rides. After seven months, a regular eight hours of sleep per night might just be back on the cards. Hallelujah! But wait; there's more.
Last Saturday we tried Miro out in the Peapod bike trailer for 20 minutes and she was a natural. Choice! So, on Wednesday we rode down to the beach and back. Uphill with 20 kgs of baby, trailor and picnic gear is most excellent strength training.

Between those two rides I did a road trip up to Napier, Rotorua and Taupo to visit local cycle advocates and do a little research for the 7th edition of 'Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides'. The first ride was just 5 km in the incomplete Pukeora Hill MTB park - nice. Then I hooked up with Bernie to check out Yeoman Track (an old retired logging road through native forest). Bernie is fairly new to mountain biking, but is one of those old bearded outdoors naturals who is super-fit and automatically picks good lines. After a 20 min false start looking for a hidden ford, we had an A-grade 2 hr tempo session through the backcountry.

The next day we were a bit short of time and only managed a 1 hr spin through Eskdale MTB Park. You kinda have to join the local club to get a permit to ride in this private forest. As a result the club has over 1,500 members and enough resources to have developed 70 km of singletrack, largely thanks to the massive efforts of local riders lead by Carl Larsen.

Tuesday was a rush day again. Thomas and I quickly checked out progress on the new W2K track that Bike Taupo are building through DOC land. Thomas is one of those guys who I suspect has mastered time travel - how else can he be such an awesome advocate, business man, family man and bike rider all at once? He also happens to be a part time helicopter pilot and he jacked me up with a lift to the BikeTaupo meeting at the HeliStar Cafe. Sweet!

After the meeting I drove 4 hours solid to get to the Cycletech HQ in time to catch up with Alastair, Bryce and Craig, and pick up my new bike - a Giant XTC C0. There's a bit of work to be done now to turn this into a Great Divide Race machine. Worralls are sending me some Sram goodies and Stan is building a NoTubes wheelset. More on that when it's ready.

Thursday I zipped up the Tip Track a couple of times. This steep 400 m ascent is excellent prep for Karapoti. My second run was 22min 53sec - not too bad this early in my season. At the top Malcolm lent me a second pair of sunnies so I could check out the solar eclipse. You don't see one of those every day.

The riding week was rounded out with a 50 km lunchtime spin round the bays with the Vets bunch - grand scenery, plenty of chit-chat, and a sensible pace. The old legs felt a little crappy - apart from that, it's all good. Time for a bit more stretching...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What happened to January?!

The first month of 2008 has disappeared at record pace. Work resumed on the 3rd, and family and riding seem to take a back seat again. Like most folk, I'm not too happy about that prioritisation - thoughts of quiting do battle with various financial obligations and desires.

A training plan for the Great Divide Race has been drafted, but following it seems almost impossible. For January all I really hope to do is one long ride and two short rides each week. The first long ride is supposed to be 160 km on the road, but I make the mistake of joining the local bunch ride for the 2nd and 3rd quarter and am too fried to get past 150 km. My tolerance for any sort of intensity is close to zero.

The week-day rides are usually 50 km round the bays on the way home from work. If the weather is good, this ride is an absolute beauty. If not, it can be down right dangerous as antarctic gusts blow waves and sand (and sometimes cyclists of the hillclimb-specialist variety) across the road.

Long ride number 2 is a 40 km spin out to Karapoti followed by a lap of the 50 km MTB Classic course. My brother Paul started the Karapoti Classic in 1986 and we haven't missed a year since. The three long climbs are alternately just rideable and just unrideable. Most of the course is in native forest. These days the 1,300 rider field limit fills up several weeks before race day. On this day I ride with my twin brother Jonathan (who schools me on the climbs) and his mate Murray (who schools me on the descents). We'll see what happens on race day, in two months time.

Long ride number 3 is a 3.5 hr tandem commute to a Cycling Advocates' Network meeting in Otaki. Stephen and I grunted our way up the Akatarawas and soared down the other side with grins from ear to ear. It was a long weekend, so I backed that up with a 4 hr exploration of the Akatarawa Forest with my main training buddy, big John (see pic above, taken during a training ride round Wellington's hills last summer). We'd be doing the 8 hr Ak Attack MTB orienteering event in this area in a weeks time - what greater excuse is needed to check out some seldom ridden singletrack. As it turned out, we rode three exceptionally sweet singletracks, all of which we wouldn't repeat during the Ak Attack.

On the 27th we headed off at the crack of dawn to defend our Ak Attack title. John (a relative race-newbie) was very excited. Having heard there were only 5 teams entered, I was a little subdued. The high level of competition last year was invigorating. To make things a bit more interesting, I persuaded John that we should attempt to collect all but three of the forty controls on the map. That would require just over 80 km in some of the most rugged riding conditions you'll find anywhere. And, it was all going rather well until we entered 'The Maze' section of the course via a track ominously named 'The Widowmaker' ['John's a batchelor, but not me. Gulp!', I thought]. Anyway, the rest is history (and very well written up by John (a.k.a 'Sifter') at vorb). It felt good to cap the month off with an honest 8-hour day in the forest.