Monday, 22 November 2010

up and down and gettin' around

it's been a while since my last blog (as my winter-ridden family have pointed out) and if i'm perfectly honest the reason for that is that i just haven't been feeling much like "sharing" recently. Post race blues affect everyone, combine that with a reasonably high level of fatigue playing with my nervous system, the massive disappointment of the cancelation of Epic Camp 2011, being broke and a long way from home.... i've been suffering a bit of a low spell. It's off and on and, since we're basically here in New Zealand for a 5 month training camp, hugely influenced by how i'm doing with regards to my training. I don't train so well when i'm feeling psychologically low, so it's easy to get drawn into a negative cycle.

So, to break this spell I've been planning some cool trips and activities - the sort of thing that makes training fun, makes it worth while being in a cool country away from home and enables us to hang out with and get to know other triathletes in the area.

Trips have included a ride up to Hamner Springs and then, with the generous loan of a car for the weekend from our Scotty Brown team-mate, Dave, we were able to ride the old route from Hamner to Kaikora - a brilliant bit fo riding with virtually zero traffic on it. I drove the 120km from Hamner to Kaikora, parked up there and set off back in the direction i'd come, to meet Steven who was riding from Hamner toward me. when we met on the road, i gave him the key so he could go collect the car and meet me in Waiau a couple of hours later. The weather for the weekend was perfect and this trip enabled us both to do some good training, spend some time together and see some more of the beautiful landscape of this country.

The following weekend (which was the weekend just passed) it was a trip to lake Hood for the South Island Half Ironman. This event, which also includes a half marathon race, is organized by Pete and CISport who put on teh 5 passes Tour. I'd been deliberating whether i wanted to do a half ironman 2 weeks out from Ironman, or just run the half marathon (or neither!) when Dave suggested a team entry. He has a British mate, James who's a hot cyclist - has just returned from the Tour of Southlands, keen for a 90km time trial.We got Steven to swim and i'd pitch in for the run. The race was on Saturday, so Friday morning, after my squad swim session, we set off on our bikes to ride an extended route that would take us there via the Rakaia Gorge. Another awesome sunny day and new roads for me. We rode fairly solid but with plenty of stops making it a leisurely day, and covered the 105 miles in just under 6 1/2hrs. Moira, who we'd met on The 5 Passes welcomed us into her lakeside home with a very good coffee, before we reported in for duty helping Pete set up the race. It was really good fun to be involved in, and see behind the scenes of, the organization of such an event. Pete has a very laid back "kiwi" attitude and a great team around him and pulled off a really good event from apparent chaos!

The next day i woke early and headed over to give a hand with body marking - it was really good fun to be involved in the pre -race buzz, have a joke with the competitors, without the pressure of the imminent race start on a very grey day. James, fully kitted out in skin suit, pointy hat, booties, 1080 and disk combo has brought a warm up bike and is already working up a lather an hour before the event! Steven leads the 1.9km swim from the start and leads the first female swimmer ( also in a team) to the exit ramp in 23minutes. she then proceeds to run past him into transition, provoking jokes about his being 'chicked'. He hands over to James who totally dominates the bike course 2hrs and 17min for a 90km - flat but windy and with numerous dead turns. It's bloody cold and i'm wearing as much clothing as i think i can throw off in 10 seconds and jumping around a lot in transition. none of the other team runners are in transition and probably wont need to be there for a good half an hour! James is the first off the bike of course and I fly out onto the run. An 11am start is rather late and its been a long morning, but i'm up for it and with a flat 3 lap course expecting a good run. Wearing my Garmin i can see that my pace is good as i make my way around the first lap at about 4min/km pace i feel fast and pretty comfortable. the surface is varied, which suits me - i like to run on rough ground - but did slow up certain sections of the course. At the first lap i'm still n godo pace and feeling strong, the crowds really giving me a big encouragement to maintain that pace. I'm still feeling good heading back out onto teh second lap, but splits are beginning to get a bit longer. 10km in 41 min seems ok and i'm reckoning on a decent time. My PB is 1:24 and that was definitely on a "sporting" course so this should be at least as quick. In the 3rd lap i could see the leading male half ironman athletes a couple of minutes down. could i hold them off? i knew i had had a 10 min start on them, and Andrew has run a 73min straight out half - assume he does a 1:20-ish run, i should be able to. Bt it was not to be. My pace had dropped more than i'd realized - the back of the course was a combination of rough ground and strong headwinds and i guess i'd not compensated enough for those slower kms to keep the average up. Or perhaps it was the lack of competitors to run with ...anyway i was overtaken by the leader, who I was pleased to see was our housemate/landlord Andrew and second place runner with about 2.5km to go. Slightly disappointing for The British Team as well as posting 1:29 run - a long way off my best, but a good bit of fun.
steven then rode back home. I was cooked....

Despite a very easy day yesterday, am feeling pretty screwed still today. not sore, just damn tired. And hungry and ...well a bit apprehensive to get recovered enough for my last few pre race sessions before we leave for Busselton. Perhaps all this fun and games is really not good for me when trying to get myself ready to race quite soon after Kona, but on the other hand - i feel that it's necessary to keep myself motivated through what i seem to be finding a difficult period.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

5 passes day 4

despite having enjoyed a few beers in the Wobbly Kea ( a 'Kea' is species of mountain parrot, with an appetite for destruction and an apparent taste for bits of car ) i woke early and headed outside for a run up to the Devils Punchbowl waterfall before breakfast. The sky was perfectly clear the moon and stars shining brightly just before dawn. It was damn cold in the shadow of the mountains, which covered the valley-based village until late morning.
Preparing to ride out at about 8am, everyone was wearing pretty much all of their clothing. Promises that we'd be warm before long as the road 'undulated' somewhat all the way to Porters pass (actually higher than Arthurs but less steep when approached from this direction) were sufficient to convince me to discard my jacket before pedalling out, but hell I was frozen - it really felt too cold to ride to this fair weather cyclist! the air was crisp with the dry taste of snow, finger tips burning with cold and too stiff to apply brakes. Legs numb as i pedaled hard to stick with the group, who were descending faster than i was willing to in my near-cryogenic state. eventually we emerged for the mountain's shadow and into the warmth of another beautiful day. Kim Mary and I spent another hour or so riding together past the snow fields, soaking up the last portion of this epic ride across the country and back, played 'sprint for the line' and had a little dig up Craigieburn Cutting for KOM - an unexpectedly steep little poke in the bum after yesterday's ordeals but fortunately much a shorter climb. Roll over the other side to stage finish. Removal of excessive clothing, it's turned into a nice hot day, though there's still the taste of dry snow in the air up there.

Following stage is Porters Pass, height of about 950m, though we're already pretty high and the climb from this direction is pretty gradual and so the group rides it fast. i'm hanging in, enjoying watching teams work together and maneuver their riders around as they complete the deciding stages of the Tour. It been noted the previous day that the team prize was potentially in the hands of a B-grade team, giving some of the guys in A grade teams reason to ride a bit smarter, but meant that our Grade had good reason to ride hard and work toegther over every stage. The maneuvers of the pack often left me on the front...and i know that's invariably when something is about to happen which will not be of benefit to me! But, from my point of view me it's all good fun so i'm happy to be there and watch the moves. we race up the final steepening of the pass and i roll straight over, knowing that its a very steep descent and i'm pretty nervous about descending on this bike. It's a long time before anyone follows me down which seems a bit odd. Later on at dinner, I learn why - someone is taking what is known as "the Porter's Plunge" and we are treated to video footage of his nude 70kph descent form the top of the pass! Throughout the tour there have been a film crew collecting footage for a documentary for SkySports. They'll have some great, scenic footage and hopefully managed to capture the sense of good spirit and challenges of this event.

The very last item on the adgenda is a 25km TTT along the Old West Coast Road. After my failed attempt to hang in for even a moment of the team time trial on the first day, I was keen to do better and enjoy the very last stage of the tour with my super fast team-mates. By now it's quite clear that Team Scotty Brown were not a realistic threat for the team prize and so, knowing how gutted i was about missing out last time, Steven was keen to try to ride the fastest time as a four (rather than drop the weaker rider for a faster time as three). But, there was another prize at stake - beating Team Rolf Prima would win them the Dan McDonald perpetual TTT trophy and heaps of Kudos. So, it was agreed they'd ride for the fastest time - with me hanging in as long as possible! After all, It was only because i was the last rider and messed up my start that i got dropped last time, so i should be ok on 2nd or 3rd wheel. We were last to start,1 minute behind the fully aero Rolf Prima four. I lead out, hard, and got us started off nice and fast before rolling back, Richard kept the pace steady as he took the front. Once i'd connected to Steven's wheel, i yelled "ON" and the signal was passed forward letting Richard know it was ok to squeeze the pace a bit. After his turn, he rolled out right and his father Dave took over....the pace was fast and exciting, but i was feeling quite comfortable and even looking forward to Steven's turn on the front as i felt i could handle it a bit faster. When that time came though, there was less draft, and possibly a surge of speed for Steven . Either way, I lost a few inches and had to call back " EASE" - he did- "ON" - and he's off again. Too hard. "EASE" i'm shouting as best i can whilst riding 350W but it seems he cant hear me, and is not looking under his wheel to note i'm not there. Too much space and the whole chain would be ruined so i pull right, out of the line, and signal for Richard to come through and gap up to Steven's wheel. Of course that's when Steven does a quick under-the-legs check, sees a wheel and since it appears that I'm back on, pushes the pace. Which makes it impossible for me to get back on the back of the line....and so after 2 min of fun, i'm TT-ing solo into the headwind of the Old West Coast Road for the next 12 miles. The very last rider home. Not my idea of fun, in fact close to my idea of pure hell, but i have done this enough in training last year and so get my head down and push all i have left in my legs, motivated by the idea that, should any of my team mates have a problem and pull out, mine would be that 3rd wheel. I have to admit that as the effort went on and my spirit weakened, and i started to hope for this - that'd show them they should've waited for me!

Well, last rider over the finish i was...and things very quickly seemed to be packed up and moving on in order that everyone could get home, showered and changed and out for the awards evening at Crown Plaza, one of the posh hotels in Christchurch.
A very nice evening to round off a superb cycling experience.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

5 passes day 3

Sunday - I got up early with very tight hip flexors and thought a short run might help loosen me off. We have a pretty leisurely late start to the ride today since it's only 100km. Only 100km maybe, but it will include the BIG climb of the Tour: Arthurs Pass. I'm excited, since for the last 3 years that we've visited Christchurch this legendary climb has become a somewhat of an itch, just that little bit too far a-feild to scratch. Even for steven! With rather sore legs, I'm a more than a little apprehensive too and perhaps others are feeling the same as it's really quiet a relaxed pace as we set off and roll toward Stillwater for a regroup and start of the clock on Open Stage 6.Through the Tour, for each stage we are started in our category group and individually timed across the stage finish by means of an electronic chip on our bikes passing the sensor mat. The yellow jersey is worn by the rider with the shortest total stage times at the end of the previous day - and in this case, each category has their own yellow. The fact that in certain cases lower grade riders have faster total stage times than those in the higher categories reflects the variable nature of bike racing. For example, it may be tactically advantageous for teams to slow the pace of the peloton if they have a rider in a breakaway. On the other hand, riders continually making unsuccessful attempts to breakaway, will tend to increase the general speed of riding in the peloton. All riders finishing with the bunch are awarded the same time regardless of their actual finish order.
Not planning to ride hard this morning whatever the plans of teams in my group happen to be today, I discretely exit the rear of the bunch. I soon catch up to Kim who has made similar move, and we ride together enjoying perfectly clear views of the mountains around us. We're ticking along a good pace - not exactly dawdling, sometimes side by side but mostly sharing the work, so I'm surprised and impressed when Mary, who i'd assumed to have been left long behind us in a slower bunch, appears from nowhere to join us. She'd found the pace of the group too relaxed and decided to reel us in. So we are three again. We cant help but pick it up through two sprints Kim challenging for the second and then laughing at me for rising to it! Then slow it down for a while behind a herd of cows using the road (bulls, actually, warned the farmer) and start climbing gradually as the road turns to the mountains. Did i mention that the scenery here os fantastic?
A stop at Jacksons famous pie shop for coke and Tasti (very) nut bars and steel ourselves for the ordeal ahead. The climb had beed described to me turn by turn - the worst of it apparently being 'the viaduct', 18% with the surface of the road stirruped in order to provide some grip! With pretty aggressive TT geometry and most of the design smarts at QR were committed to the aerodynamic brilliance of the CD.01, little heed was paid to the weight of the bike. Who'd think to ride a time trail bike up a mountain? Bar end shifting it was really just a case of stick it in the 39/25 and heave the pedals around. There were several moments as the road got steep...and remained steep...that it was a case of get that pedal turned, or fall off. I've ridden steeper climbs, and at 9km i've certainly ridden longer climbs, but nothing that steep for that long. I managed to pick off a few of the guys that'd gotten ahead on the more relaxed gradients at the beginning, partly due to the power/weight ratios playing in my favour on this sort of pitch, partly due to having to keep that gear turning at that rate or i'd be at a standstill! Anyway, I think it earned me a little respect - when the road flattened off for the race to the line, there were no serious challenges made and someone said ' go for it Jo, you deserve it'. We rolled down the other side into teh village of Aurthur's Pass, where a BBQ and beers were waiting once again. I did i a token little leg-loosening run off the bike, before getting stuck in!

5 passes day 2

This is a long day, with an early start - 3 stages, 2 KOM, 3 sprints and 214km total riding to Greymouth, so the mood is a little less aggressive as we ride the first neutral section. Once the Stage started and pace picked up, rather than riding hard over the undulating terrain as the bunch geared up getting their team mates in position for the sprint at 49km, I dropped back for a spell on my TT bars. I was soon caught by Mary Jones, the other B-grade woman, and Kim, one of the guys from our grade who is riding with 6 weeks notice after a long spell off the bike with a broken wrist. We enjoyed a rather leisurely social ride enjoying the improved weather and great scenery. Until the sprint, which i admit that i picked my pace up a little for a bit of fun, when thinking i'd left the others a long way back after a hard 400m effort Mary's front wheel comes into view about 2 seconds before the line! No time to respond, it was just luck that she did not 'steal' that from me. She apologized for being sneaky, but i was really pleased that she was showing some competitiveness - and i'd been foolish to underestimate her. That wasn't going to be happening again. The three of use resumed our pleasant riding and conversation as we approached Lewis pass. Keen to get my own back on this competition, when the road started tipping upwards, i made a little effort to get up the road. which then tipped downwards a bit , before more up....were we on the climb or what?? lacking local knowledge and having already put too much distance on the others to wait for them, I rode on with an eye over my shoulder to the top, and rolled into Springs junction a little ahead of my competition for our morning break. There was a small KOM at Rahu's Saddle, marking the end of the 4th stage, after which I made use of a group that i'd caught, or who had caught me and sat in for a few km enjoying the warm day and new surroundings. Frequently i found myself working to the front of the group, tiring of the uneven pace and concentration required in the middle on the bunch, so in the end did several lengthy 'pulls' on the front. keeping a steady effort this position allowed me to rest and relax my shoulders a bit in my aero bars ( much more comfortable on the TT geometry that i ride) and get a good view of the scenery! As we pulled into the lunch stop at Reefton on a steep slope to the domain, i was caught off-balance and made an emergency dismount onto my arse and elbow as i swerved my bike into a heap of gravel to avoid the riders slowing sharply ahead of me. a bit of a hole there now but more damage to my kudos with such a clumsy fall. in my defense, surely the distracting smell of BBQ chicken that they support crew were cooking up was an obviously dangerous distraction?

Post lunch of BBQ chicken sandwiches and muffins (i never want to go home!), stage 5 was net downhill, but apparently a long and somewhat dull grind into a headwind all the way to Greymouth. The first 30km of this ride was neutral, so easy for me to sit in with the B grade until a drink stop at Ikamatua (these frequent drinks were well needed toady with temperatures reaching into the 30s) and teh 'open' racing to Greymouth. This was probably the hardest work of the trip for me ( aside form the climbs) as i hung in there desperate not to be dropped and face the remaining 50k riding into that headwind under my own power. I'm using a Powertap now, and can tell you that the draft of even one other reasonably sized rider can save me 100W in a stiff headwind - so well worth sucking up the hard surges required to stay in this group for that benefit. not to mention the moral support - it's been a long day for all of us! There was a sprint at 189km, which is where the pace picked up beyond my tolerance levels and i did have 15km then to ride solo into town. That sure felt like a long schlep, but it was with huge satisfaction that I arrived to meet the others at Greymouth. Another plush hotel, a lovely meal and a much needed massage before bed.
I'm still wearing yellow, green and the polka dot -though not all at once. There has been a bit of mocking from a few people about the women getting to 'choose their jerseys to match their handbags', whilst the men are fighting hard for their honours. I can't dispute that it feels a little hollow with only two of us in the running, but taking the piss or belittling our achievements like this is hardly going to help encourage women into competition, is it? So, whereas if there had been 20 women to beat i'd be feeling proud, with no disrespect to Mary, tonight it feels a bit worthless.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

5 passes day 1

425 miles as 11 stages in 5 days, over 5 passes and some of the best scenery and great company there's going to be a lot to say. The following entires are written after the event, but broken into seperate posts - otherwise it'd be too daunting to read any of it!
Pictures will not be posted immediately, but hopefully will follow soon.

5.00 am: Riders arrive, drop off bags, get ready for start with a much needed strong coffee in Coffee Culture, who had opened up at 5am for us!
6:00 am: Start with small time gap between grades as a grizzly day dawns on Christchurch, we ride north out of the city along the uninspiring roads to Amberly. We await the predicted rains, which are good enough to hold off for most of the morning. A neutral start and slightly wobbly bunch as we get used to one another's strengths, stability and pace, the road passes quickly and before we know it we're stopping for snacks in Ashley. Just another 20km until the next refreshment break, but this is the first racing Stage and includes a Sprint. I've been hanging quite happily with the B Grade men up to now, but with several organized teams riding in our group it's not long before the pace surges take their toll and I'm out the back before the Sprint. The race is really well organized with 2km and 500m markers at teh road side, photographers, time keepers and support crew at the sprint finish and timing mats at stage finishes (no sprinting over the 2m wide mats). More Neutral riding, and more chance to chat to other riders, and more refreshments half an hour later at Waipara. Its a pretty shitty day by now so all of these stops are making teh faster riders prety cold. We do have access to our gear bags at most of the stops, though, and the support crew have them all laid out or us to find easily, then pack them up after we've moved off. Tomorrow i'll be putting a lot more warm clothing in that bag! Stage one finishes with a 40km open stage to Culverdon, including a KOM over the Weka Pass. Steven and I had ridden this route previously but i couldn't recall any sort of a pass...and i pretty much failed to notice it this time either - the road just gets a bit lumpy for a while! But we do gain some altitude along the way and this time i loose the bunch quite soon due to the rolling terrain. Its this sort of constant undulations that make it hard for weaker riders to stay with a more powerful group. The 1-2min surges in power that are required to maintain speed over a rise are hardest for those at the back of the bunch, since they are forced into braking close to the bottom of the rise (as the front of the group starts the climb) and then have to accelerate close to the top because the front of the pack is cruising down hill this stage is a solo, wet and cold bit of time spent on my aero bars, which come in very handy, until i finally make contact with a nice guy i've had in my sights up ahead who's wheel i sit on for about 15km into the wind to lunch. We're all totally soaked and so very happy that the crew have got a hot coffee for us!

Stage 2: 40 km Culverden to Hanmer Springs - initially riding neutral, the main event of the day is the TTT - team time trial. I'm riding in Team Scotty Brown, one of the sponsor teams with a good chance of taking the team prize. We have Richard and Dave Dawson - a father and son team: Richard is a teenager who has been cycle racing for a few years (as a junior), gaining strength and is now a very handy cyclist in the senior races. His dad, Dave is also coached by Scott Molina and was recently racing in Kona. Complimented by Steven Lord (aka TGV/the Pain Train), that's a team of 3 strong riders. I'm the 4th member - the weak link (although we'll see which team member will be riding in yellow as the tour gets underway ;o)). TTT times are taken off the 3rd (rear) wheel, the 4th member may be dropped. I was looking forward to this event, having competed in several 2 -ups in the past and spent many training rides glued to the back of the TVG I was looking forward to a fast paced ride with my team for as long as i could hang on, but to my disappointment was dropped without having even contributed a single pedal stroke due to a bungled clipping in on the line. oh well, 7km doesn't take all that long even solo. We finished up in Hamner Springs, the very luxurious Heritage Hotel where we enjoyed a BBQ and several beers before dinner and a movie on Sky. Just like real Tour riders, I'm sure.

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