Monday, December 01, 2008

As Promised - Taupo Race Report!

Taupo - race morning 29 December 2008

Here it is - the race report! I am still on a cycling high. I still can not believe how well Saturday went when all the portents were against me ...

First, there was the cold. On Friday morning I was feeling better, but not 100% by any means. I was determined to start, but I was a bit concerned about my hydration levels. On Thursday I was drinking water like there was no tomorrow and for the amount going in there was very little coming out. Thankfully I finally hit optimum levels on Friday morning.

Second, there was the trip up the country. Julia was an hour late arriving to pick me up. I filled in the time by cleaning the house and then carted my gear up to the road and sat in the sun at the top of our property admiring the view until she arrived. We had a very slow trip up to Taupo, stopping frequently (once for lunch and a few times for bathroom stops for me and smoke/stretch breaks for Julia) and being held up by all the traffic and roadworks. I kept myself in a good frame of mind by taking note of all the other cars with bikes on the back heading the same way. I was part of a massive convoy all heading for the same destination. I felt like I was part of something good. I reminded myself about how, for many years, one of my motivations for doing Taupo was to be part of that crowd. I reminded myself that I was finally there, doing it.

Finally we were at Taupo. We had a pretty sweet room at the YHA. There were two bunk beds and one double bed, a small bathroom (unexpected) and a balcony with a view of the lake about 500 metres away. As the youngest of the four women staying together I got the top bunk.

After sorting out the room Julia and I walked down to registration and picked up our SWAG bags. I never cope well with large crowds at these things and by the time we'd wound our way through the Expo I was fighting the grumpiness. Things seemed a little disorganised. First, they ran out of gear bags at the registration desk where they give out race numbers. The women who gave us our numbers neglected to tell us that we would be given our gear bags at the end of the Expo and we had to go back to them to clarify. Second, there were two desks set up for collecting merchandise - one for race shirts and one for ordinary shirts and other gear. There weren't any signs highlighting the difference. Finally we got to the end of the Expo and were given our gear bags but when we got to the point where we were supposed to check that our transponders were working we were waved through without any check being done. Thankfully mine worked but I know of at least one other person whose transponder didn't. There were also more than a few grumbles about the SWAG bags. They contained one banana, a couple of magazines, a water bottle with some Leppin sachets and some flyers. That was it. Everyone expected a lot more goodies for the size of the event. We got more from some of the small events in the Wairarapa. I wasn't too worried, but it would have been nice to at least have had some chocolate.

Julia and I stopped off at Pac N Save for supplies for the following night's barbeque, then it was back to the YHA. We racked our bikes on the YHA rack, then pumped up our tires and, having driven through a couple of intense rainfalls on the Desert Rd, regreased our bike chains. Bikes ready and clothing and nutrition organised we prepared a shared pasta dinner then retreated back to our room.

I was feeling way too hyped up. Left to my own devices I would have been in bed by 10, but noone made a move before 10.30. As it turned out, I was staying with two snorers and a woman with a cold who kept coughing and blowing her nose. One of the snorers decided to stay up reading until after 11 and in my aggrivated state I felt she was flipping the pages of her magazine excessively loudly, then berated myself for my pettiness. The light that she had going was only one and a half metres or so from my face (I was in the top bunk) and it was too hot to put the duvet over my head so I couldn't sleep until after she'd gone to bed. Then after she'd finally called it a night the family in the next room came home. The children were running around screaming and banging things and then the whole family had around a gazillion showers each. By the time they finished the snorers were competing with each other and I was so strung out that sleep was an impossibility.

I was finally able to doze and woke before 6am feeling distinctly not fresh! I honestly don't I had more than 3 hours of sleep. Leonie - if you remember a certain Guy Fawkes night when I suffered similar insomnia you will have an idea of the irritation I was feeling with myself as I lay there awake. As a result I got up at 5.45am feeling really stressed and upset that I had possibly blown my chances of a good race by not being able to contain my anxiety and insomnia.

Thankfully I had only to open the curtains to find my inspiration. The hostel was about half a km back from the lake but on a slight rise so I could see that we were being treated to the most beautiful morning ever. The lake was completely still and the mountains behind it were covered in pure white snow. I decided that I owed it to myself to buck up. I could not spoil such a perfect race day with emotions that were not worthy of me. I forced down some cereal (I really didn't feel like eating) and decided I was going to triple my usual morning dose of Hydrocortisone. I got ready then picked up the black marker pen I'd brought with me and wrote this on my arm:

I wanted to remind myself that I was supposed to be enjoying myself!

Thankfully the writing in black seemed to work and I started to feel a little more awake after eating and as the medication started kicking in. We rode down to the start line and assembled in our various starting pens. Julia was with me at first but decided to join everyone else further up. I decided to stay where I was, which was probably a good thing as it meant I got to collect my thoughts and relax a bit. We waited nearly an hour for our wave to start. In the meantime I got chatting to a few of the people around me including a guy from Melbourne who was an absolute scream and rode with me for the first 10km or so.

Finally, with lots of cheering, we were off. Within the first few minutes we were climbing our first hill out of Taupo and I was being overtaken by a unicyclist. Fantastic! From there it was a gradual (and in some places not so gradual) climb to the high point of the course, about 30km in. I managed to clock around 64kmph coming down off that hill! I was riding low, crouched down over my handlebars and screaming "on your right" to all the cyclists I was passing. I found a great bunch of girls to ride with and after an hour or so it occurred to me that I was feeling great! Unfortunately the women I was chatting to decided to stop at the 40km mark to fill up their water bottles. I contemplated stopping to stay with them but only briefly. I was feeling too good to stop.

Most of the hills are in the first 80km and I was constantly climbing then roaring down the other side. I felt strong the whole way. I never had to tell myself to HTFU! I made sure I ate all the time (if I never see another Power Bar again it will be too soon) and I drank constantly. It was HOT! Apparently on parts of the course it was up around 34 degrees, including the last big hill climb into Taupo.

Before I knew it I was climbing Waihaha, one of the steepest hills on the circuit. I'd forgotten about the bagpipe player who stands halfway up each year, but I could hear him in the distance as I approached. By the time I got to him I was crying from happiness at actually being there doing this thing and laughing and grinning, all at the same time. I gave him a big wave and yelled out thanks and continued grinding my way to the top.

I stopped once to switch my water bottles around in their cages and once to put Cleo's chain back on (darn it) and then once at the 80km mark at the Kuratau support station. I was a bit worried about how dehydrated I was feeling. I drank three cups of water and refilled both of my drink bottles and dumped a heap of Leppin electrolyte gel into one of the bottles. Then I had a quick Portaloo stop (just in case) and was about to get going again when one of my Gearshifters friends called out to me. She wanted us to ride together but wasn't ready to leave yet and she's slightly slower than me and she must have seen from the look on my face that I was feeling a bit conflicted. Thankfully she told me not to worry and that I should just head off, so I did just that!

I was pushing off when a workmate pulled up next to me. He'd left in the group before me and was predicting a sub-six hour time so I was really surprised to see him. Apparently one of his tires had majorly blown out, leaving a one centimetre hole and he'd had to wait for the Avanti van to turn up so he could buy a new one. Although philosophical, he was obviously not having a good day. He got ahead of me but I caught him on another big downhill. I came flying up behind him yelling "Come on, what speed do you call this? Get a move on!" He's a big guy so normally he would have left me for dead! I lost him at some point and I think I got ahead of him, but it was nice to see him. He ended up doing 6.52, so I'm guessing he's probably really disappointed.

Finally we were climbing Kuratau, the longest hill. I had been very nervous about doing it but ended up really enjoying myself. It was long, but it was no Houghton Bay Rd and the views were beautiful. Now that I was over halfway and had a bit of extra water in me I was feeling fantastic. I had a big grin on my face again climbing that hill and passed a heap of people. Everyone had their names and where they came from on their bibs so I was making a point of calling to them by name as I passed them and, if they were from Wellington, cheering them on. There was one girl from West Auckland, so we did a bit of a "Westies Unite" thing as I went past. At this stage I wasn't really riding with a group because the course was so undulating we were all getting separated all the time. However I had a number of riders who I could identify as I passed them and they caught up with me time and time again and we all chatted when we could. There was another woman who was riding Cleo's identical twin, right down to the frame size!

From the top of Kuratau the views were mind blowing and it was a shame not to be able to stop and take photos. From then on I knew the worst was over. I tried to stick with a pack as we rode towards Turangi. Once we turned left onto SH1 we were into a headwind. That was a bit of a bummer - it was supposed to have been a tailwind! We still had 60km to go and I knew that I would blow out if I didn't ride smart. By this point we were riding with a large number of relay riders who were, of course, much fresher. There was a real mix of abilities and with such a large number of cyclists on the road it was easy to sit behind a group for a bit to rest, then bunny hop ahead to the next group for a bit.

Eventually I found a guy who was sitting on around 28kmph, which was about the speed I wanted to ride at, so I tucked in behind him. Another couple of guys jumped on my wheel and we all stuck together for around 10km before the guy in front of me pulled over. At that point I commented to the guy behind me that now I was going to have to do some work! He was an 80km relay rider so he told me that, seeing as I'd been riding a lot longer than him, he would take the lead. From that point on he and his friend alternated riding at the front while I sat behind them! The guy who'd offered himself up had a stuffed Big Bird toy attached to his helmet so he was easy to spot and he was really lovely. We had a great time chatting away before I finally lost track of them on the winding stretch of the highway around the edge of the lake.

There is one last big hill at the 140km mark, Hatepe. It's steep and long but I wouldn't normally have found it that much of a challenge. Unfortunately the heat added an unexpected factor! I sweated my way up the incline passing swathes of cyclists walking their bikes. I was determined not to give in and in truth, although it was an effort, I never really felt like I needed to stop. It was hard, but it wasn't exactly Old Porirua Rd!

Unfortunately at the top the heat finally got to my body and my big toe on my right foot cramped up. It felt like something had stung me. I tried to ignore it but the pain quickly became excruciating. Finally I gave in (reluctantly, because who wants to stop at the top of Hatepe?) and stopped for a couple of minutes to take my shoe off and massage it out. I lost some valuable time there and was really annoyed. As a result I got a bit Mad Dog and really flew down the other side of the hill, keeping my hands away from the brakes and screaming at other cyclists to warn them I was coming through!

At the bottom I latched onto another guy and the two of us alternated the lead the rest of the way back to Taupo. With about 10km to go I looked at my cycle computer and it dawned on me that I was going to make it within my target time. The two of us decided to pick the pace up. I couldn't believe how strong my legs were feeling! One of the instructors was staying at a hotel on the side of the lake and saw me go past while he was standing in the carpark. I just heard "Go Pip" and thought it was him but had no time to do anything more than yell out thanks and wave an arm in that direction. He told me later that I was really flying and looking very strong.

Together my cyclist friend and I decided to sprint the last 2km. I got a little teary again as I approached the finishline and then I was off my bike and I'd done it! Thankfully one of the other instructors was there and she gave me a big hug. I was grinning so badly I was in danger of splitting my face. After that I wandered around the Domain for a while in a daze, found somewhere to sit down, called Hamish and sent a few txts, found a few of the other Shifters, sat with them for a while, then got back on my bike and cycled slowly back to the YHA for a shower. After that I wandered back down to the finishline to watch a couple more Shifters come in then we all sat around for prizegiving. None of us won anything.

We had a barbeque that night at the house Dee was renting and at about 10.30 after quite a bit of cider my body just went "okay, sleep now". I was in bed by 11 and was lying there waiting for Julia to fire up her laptop to see if the results were up yet. The next thing I remember it was the next morning! It was like someone turned off a switch. Apparently I did open my eyes and start talking to her at some point but I must have done that in my sleep as well.

In the aftermath I have a nice red strip of sunburn on one leg where my shorts rode up. When I went for a massage this morning my neck and shoulders were really tight, as were my glutes and my left shin. My quads were a bit tight as well but that's more to be expected. I treated myself to a 5km run after work today and although I told myself to keep it slow I managed to hold quite a good pace. I'm confident I haven't lost too much running fitness.

I think what really made Taupo for me was deciding at the start that I was there to enjoy myself and I owed it to myself to have a good race. That really set me up and I know that I've come an incredibly long way from the days when I used to psyche myself out before my running races and bomb out as a result. I just feel so mentally and physically strong now and like I could take on anything. It really helps that I have my next year of events planned out and that I have more goals to aim for. If I hadn't already set that up then I'd be feeling really bereft right now.

I have a 10km running race on Sunday and my next cycle race will be the Yarrows 150km event at the end of January. I still have a sense that I haven't hit my limits yet and I'm definitely aiming to go sub-6 round Taupo next year. If it weren't for the cold and if I'd been more certain of the course and started in an earlier group I think I could have done that this year. I definitely know now that a hilly course suits my riding abilities.

And Kate, avert your eyes now - the hills weren't that hard! In fact they were fun. In fact, I recommend them!


Pollyanna_H said...

Congratulations Pip - good on you!!

Kate said...

Hehe!! If Kuratau is no Houghton Bay, I'll take it!

Fantastic report- you're almost making me want to do it :)

PS- I'm so stealing that HTFU idea off you!

Calyx Meredith said...

Yay Pip! Sounds like you had a great race because you made up your mind to. Did you take any pictures??