Our Northland holiday was a chance to catch up with some very dear Auckland friends, with whom we have spent a fair bit of time eating, drinking and dancing over the years. We were celebrating a commitment ceremony and an engagement. The exact nature of the relationships is somewhat complex and unorthodox, but it's exactly right for the people concerned. We were also thrilled that we were going to be there for our tenth wedding anniversary, and that half our wedding party (the male half) would be there with us.
We drove to Auckland on Thursday, but not before I'd fitted in my scheduled 6.30am RPM class. We stayed the night in Albany with members of Hamish's family and, after having driven from Ohakune with the air conditioning on, it was rather a shock to open the car door to get hit with a rush of humid air that felt like it belonged in Suva, not in the northern fringes of Auckland. Needless to say we were grateful for the breeze that got up later that night, but very little sleep was had.
Up early the next day we drove to Whangaumu Beach on the Tutukaka Coast, north of Whangarei. We got there at around mid day and I was handed a glass of wine. I pretty much had a glass in my hand for the next ten hours. The afternoon was spent outside next to the beach, but a fierce wind blowing in made things interesting. We women all dressed in our best frocks, the wine continued to flow and, by the time waiters were bringing around platters of food I'd had just enough to drink to make the idea of trying delicacies like chicken livers seem appealing. Needless to say the chicken livers weren't a big hit, and thankfully I was still sober enough to avoid the oyster shots.
The ceremony was gorgeous and brief and then the food and alcohol continued to flow. By 10.00 I was dozing off at my table but, as the party moved to the room next to where I was staying, very little sleep was had. At 7am the baby in the next bedroom started crying and, realising that three hours was going to have to do, I got up and prepared for my long run.
I was scheduled to run for 110 minutes, mostly flat with a few hills. Unfortunately there was no way I was going to get in a mainly flat run, unless I ran back and forth along the beachfront for nearly two hours. I warmed up for a kilometre or two by doing just that, and then it was on to the first of four monsters. The only way was up, and up was steep!
At the top of the first hill I took a side road which undulated for another couple of kilometres before ending at a signpost to a lookout. I clambered up to the top (it was really, really steep) and took the photos from my earlier post, then ran back down again. Back to the main road, over another big hill, down another side road, this time down to water level, more photos, back up to the main road, over another hill, down another side road, back again, over another big hill, and then another. As if that wasn't bad enough, I then had to turn around and run back over all those monster hills again.
Now in considering the success or otherwise of this run, let's note the following:
- I was hung over a bit, or at least, I was certainly dehydrated
- I was suffering from a severe lack of sleep
- The hills were insane
- Being Northland at the height of summer, it was extremely hot.
Performance-wise, sure I walked a few brief bits, but on the flat my pace was easily within my target range. Even as I was running the last few kilometres and making up time up and down the beach again I felt great. I had a very, very good run.
Clever me, I even made it back to the beach in time to smell the aroma of bacon wafting over the neighbourhood. A brunch had been organised for guests down by the beach. Still in my running gear, still with a Camelbak on, I jogged through down the side of the motel to the makeshift bar overlooking the water. I slugged down two glasses of water and then picked up a glass of bubbly and the drinking started all over again. All class, that girl!
The day was spent lying around consuming leftover wedding food and working our way through the considerable amounts of leftover alcohol. My diet pretty much consisted of cupcakes and wine. That evening a huge storm rolled in and all plans for a barbeque had to be abandoned. Once again the lounge outside our bedroom became party central and I ended up snoozing for a while on the sofa of an adjacent flat. Despite that I once again managed little more than three hours of sleep.
Sunday continued in much the same manner as Saturday, albeit with a slower start to the day. We ate cupcakes and drank wine. Midway through Sunday afternoon I decided it was as good a time as any to do my Monday homework run. It was either that or mash my legs trying to get a ride in on those insane hills like I was supposed to be doing.
The scheduled run was supposed to be 5km long, flat and fast. About the only part of that I actually achieved was the 5km part. I did my little up and down the beach thing but that still left me with around 3km to go and, in my slightly sloshed, exhausted and overheated mode my legs got stuck in second gear. There was no speed to be had.
Instead of continuing to run laps of the beach I took off up a sideroad from the base of the hill along a route recommended by one of the guests. This still involved a climb, but a slightly less meaty one. It was still damn long though, not to mention airless. Its major consolation was the opportunity to indulge in holiday home porn. There were some seriously nice houses to be oogled.
At the top of the hill was the consolation prize - more beautiful views. After that it was down, down, down, and back to the house for a shower, followed by more cupcakes. There may also have been more wine. It's highly likely there was more wine. I disgust myself.
At 8.45 that night I came across Hamish lying on our bed (actually a mattress on the floor). He muttered something about grabbing a nap while things were quiet and he had the chance. Seemed like a smart idea to me. I lay down next to him, fully clothed. Well, it turns out that my body was quite keen on extending that nap, and neither of us moved for the rest of the night, not even when the party geared up next door again.
Ten very heavy hours of sleep later we were up and away, driving down to Taupo for the night. We were both still very tired but it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity so, after finding a motel room with a lake view, I got Cleo out of the car. The idea was to ride the 20km to Kinloch then turn around and ride back again. Unfortunately the road was full of cars, four wheel drives and trucks and they were all intent on getting home as quickly as possible. After being passed too closely at over 100kmph a trillion times, and after one too many loud honks, I did something unusual for me these days, I thoroughly lost my nerve.
Turning around I rode back towards town and discovered that the first part of the Taupo Cycle Challenge course is indeed all uphill. Riding back took half the time riding out did, which unfortunately got me back to the motel far too soon. Trying to salvage something from the day I kept going, riding south towards the airport, stopping at the lookout to check out the view, and then riding back to the motel. What was supposed to have been a two to three hour ride lasted no more than one and a half. However Hamish was waiting back at the motel for me and it seemed rude to keep him waiting. Besides, Nic and Leonie had given us a bottle of Moet for our anniversary and it was speed-chilling in the motel room fridge's freezer.
After one violently strong shower (my skin was literally pierced by each drop of water) Hamish and I sat in the window of our motel room looking out over the lake and enjoying our Moet. It had been just over ten years since our last bottle - which we drank straight from the bottle, standing up in our student bedsit flat on the day I handed in my Masters thesis (once again with the class).
One highly delicious glass down we put the bottle back in the fridge and headed out for pizza. We enjoyed a meal at Portofinos (and another glass of wine), then returned to our room to finish off the bottle of Moet. I even managed to locate a peanut slab in my backpack, left over from the Taranaki race, which we shared for dessert.
On Tuesday we were back in Auckland by 1.30 so that Hamish could make a 2.00 meeting. Seeing as I'd only had a short ride in Taupo, and given that I hadn't done my 20 minute post-ride run either, I decided I had some catching up to do. The Gearshifters RPM class was on at 6.30 so I checked into Stefan's 5.45 class as well. I got there early and knocked off 20 minutes on the treadmill, monitoring my reassuringly low heart rate.
I don't think my heartrate stayed low though. We went pretty hard throughout our 90 minutes of spinning. Dee chose some great tracks for her class, including KD Laing's "What's Going On" (especially for the Gearshifters backrow chorus singers) and "Run Away" - the one with the lyrics "Oh, Oh, Oh - I've got to run away", which incite even the most reluctant vocalist into song.
And that's about where things all went a bit pearshaped. I slept badly on Tuesday night and wrenched my neck and shoulder, then aggravated it by still doing my (otherwise brilliant) 55 minute hill run at lunchtime on Wednesday (including part of the city to sea walkway) and following that with weights on Wednesday night. By Thursday morning I was at my desk nearly in tears and in so much pain I was nauseaus.
A few desperate calls got me a last-minute physio appointment which loosened me up enough that I at least stopped feeling sick. However I had to face facts. I was not going to be able to complete my one hour run that night. After putting so much effort into making sure I got my workouts in while away I was absolutely gutted. I consoled myself with the thought that I could make it up on Friday if I felt better but unfortunately I didn't. A second physio appointment made only a little more headway and I still felt extremely sore. I was ordered to rest and take voltaren with the intention of loosening everything off enough to attack it properly on Monday and I was banned from running and from cycling.
So, I kinda, sorta may have rode AND run today. In my defence the voltaren really helped, although I supsect it helped only in the sense that it hid the pain rather than actually coaxing my neck muscles out of their spasm. However by Friday night I was feeling improved enough that I kidded myself into thinking I was ok enough to ride this morning. I am my own worst enemy! In my defence I couldn't face the idea of not riding with the Gearshifters again. I'd already missed the first ride by being in Northland.
Whatever, however, at 7am this morning I was up and preparing to ride. Whereas the weather had been perfect all week this morning it was foggy and windy and wet. Even that wasn't enough to stop me, which is just as well, because I ended up having one of the best rides in ages.
A small group of us left from Freyberg just after 8.30. We headed out past Evans Bay and around the Bays. A stiff northerly made things fun and we took the opportunity to practice bunch riding - drafting, riding two abreast and rotating the lead clockwise. Rapid cycling our positions I ended up having to share the lead more often than I would usually feel confident with, given how much I suck at riding into the wind. Plus, we rode fast. Sure, we had a tail wind a lot of the way but even into the giant headwind we still stayed over 25kmph. Dee told me afterwards we averaged about 35kmph over that section of the ride. I was working hard to hang in there. I felt like I was having to surge on a regular basis but for a change I had the power to push it. Perhaps all that hill running is giving me a little extra pedal strength as well.
I did the whole standing on my pedals thing up the Pass of Branda and, for once in my cycling career, held my place in the bunch all the way to the top. I was well chuffed when we stopped in a car park on the other side to regroup and things continued to improve from there. Our next task was to climb to the top of Sutherland Rd in Lyall Bay. Sutherland Rd is a nasty, nasty hill. It climbs and keeps on climbing and gets steeper and steeper as it goes. I've been up there once before and it nearly killed me but I was ready to give it another go.
Up we went. I started near the back of the pack and by two thirds of the way up I was overtaking one of the instructors. I was WHAT? Oh yes. I am, it seems, still a climber. One of the other new riders, Nick, who is easily the fastest in the new squad, and I ended up leap frogging the rest of the way up. He beat me to the top, but it was a close thing and I beat him back down to the bottom.
From there it was up Crawford and three five minute hill repeats up Alexandra Rd on Mt Vic. Then it was back up again to the top and then I grabbed the tail of one of the other women on our way back down Palliser Rd. She was flying and I was nervous but there was no way on this planet I was going to wimp out and grab my brakes. My cycle computer shows my maximum speed was 57kmph and it must have been at some point during the descent. Wow.
Back at the car I threw my running shoes on and did my required twenty minutes. My Garmin has some interesting stats for that run as well. Sure, it was only a short spurt but I hadn't exactly been spinning my legs out over the previous two hours. All the same I was holding my pace at around 5.30 minutes per kilometre (if not under) and it felt easy. There is something seriously going on with my fitness right now. I don't completely understand it but I think it's good. I'm pretty sure it's good.
I guess the short version of this blog involves the words 'eat', 'drink' and 'train'. I guess a life lived at full volume is a life lived well. However, given that I value both my liver and my waistline I'm picking that a little moderation might be advisable over the next few weeks. Maybe.