Tag Archives: New Zealand

The slump before the … what?

The last couple of weeks have been tough.  I did an 80k race, which is one bottle more than I’m used to carrying,  and demanding too, of eating at least something.  I felt good though, and went off the front.  These were roads I know well, so I was able to set myself goals knowing how far I had to go, where the tough bits were, and where I had to get to with a decent gap before I could think about looking for chickens to count.  I never made it, but it was close enough to give me hope:  I was hovered up perhaps 2k before that point.   After 25k out front on my own I was toast and slid out of the peloton willingly, happy with my day’s work, but just a little sad I hadn’t quite had the goods to seal the deal.

So hope sprung eternal, and with a good performance to motivate me I took a day off work and told the kids not to get into trouble while I went to set about some serious miles.  The figures are meh:  130-odd k in just under 5 hours, with 2,900m of climbing.  It’s a tough ride, but perhaps not as tough as I made it feel.  The last hour and a half’s suffering was dante-esque.  What was supposed to be an enjoyable romp on the bike, a confidence-builder for the hundred miler at the end of the month has had quite the reverse effect.  My legs are heavy and – to be brutally honest about this – my arse is killing me.

It would be stupid to read too much into this.  Often,  my best form comes after my worst.  I’m not going to expect too much from this weekend’s racing, but I’ll be listening to my body with interest.  And it’s finally pushed me into trying a new saddle to replace the Specialized Romin which sort-of-but-not-quite suits me.  I’ve gone for a Bontrager Serano, which is an entirely different concept to the Romin, much more akin to the old Concors and Cinelli SLX’s of my youth.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’ll be reviewing it in the future, well after I’ve given my arse time to get used to it.

In the meantime,  I suspect I’m going to be trying to rack up k’s as painlessly as possible, keeping up the training stress with consistency rather than big days.  It probably won’t be enough to get me to the business end of the Round the Mountain in the right position, but there’s … just enough buts there to keep me hoping.

Not just the one I sit on.  See what I did there?

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If Schrodinger rode a bike…

Another weekend in back country New Zealand.  Another race out in my favourite neck of the woods, the aptly-named Forgotten Highway.  It’s cold and a steady, permeating drizzle falls from a low, featureless sky that tops this part of the world like nothing so much as a giant, featureless Tupperware lid.

I huddle for longer in the hall than usual, but then again, I’ve arrived too early.  I’m dressed, caffeinated, and ready for action that’s not yet ready to happen. Story of my life.  I try a warmup, but instead I just get cold and wet.  The first seven or eight k are slightly downhill anyway.  Better to stay dry.  I pin my number to my gilet; it won’t be coming off.

A huddle at the start, under a dripping lean-to that juts from an abandoned Engineer’s workshop.  Chat:  what the fuck are we doing this for’s, I think I’ll keep the warmers on, at least it’s not windy as well, eh?  Grades start to feed out, queue on the line.  I’ll stay here until the last minute.

Finally, my turn.  Plenty have stayed home today – and who can blame them? – so it’s a small grade.  A couple have moved up – it’s not a course for them, but we’ll keep them together if we can.  Once the hills kick, that’s where this’ll split, and then it’ll be game on to the finish.  Better to get warm and keep the group rolling nicely now.

Legs feel leaden, but they’re turning.  Same for everyone.  Same for everyone.  Keep saying it, look around, know you’re right.  Know you’re going well.  Hills come and go, the group thins.  Longer turns on the front now.  I can see who’s weak and strong.  I’m strong.  If we’re to get the front I’ll have to pull.  I do.  If I’m going to take it I’ll have to keep something in the tank.  History tells me that’s a greasy tightrope.

My glasses are almost impenetrable now; I’m soaked.  The chill’s crept through my overshoes and my toes are going.  The hands are still working, somehow.  Let’s get this done.  Hills are to be savoured, going up – warmth returns, and the guy who’s been sitting on is dropped and burning matches.  Another down.  The final hill, and I go.  It doesn’t last – I’m climbing well, but not that well.  We think we can see the front now, though – we’ll have more chance bringing it back if we stay together, the three of us that are left.

We get the last – well, we though it was the last, but turns out it wasn’t – a kilometer before the line.  I’ve fallen off the greasy tightrope again – too much time on the front.  Nothing left for the sprint.  Hard ride for nothing.  The finish comes and goes, no-ones hanging around.  There was no-one watching, either.  Within five minutes it might not have happened at all.  Back to a cold, miserable Sunday;  fireside reading and a roast.  Sun comes out on the journey home.

At the fork in the road

A couple of races into the back half of the season and things are going well.  True, I’ve only minor placings to show for a solid winter, but I’ve ridden strongly and attacked again and again.  Brains have been lacking, legs haven’t.

Danger lurks ahead, though.  Right about now complacency sets in:  I’m strong now, so I’ll stay strong all year.  A race a week and a couple of twiddles in the week will somehow see me improve.

They won’t.  Someone once said something about either depositing into or withdrawing from the Bank of Fitness, which is a line that I really should make a cracking double entendre from.  Right now, my balance is holding steady, but there’s been a few cracks round the edges.  If I’m not careful I’ll be skint before I know it.

Time trial pace is good.  Stamina’s OK too, but not really where it needs to be for the 100 miles of the Round the Mountain, my target race in two month’s time.

You can’t do everything, so for me there’s going to be a break from racing for a week or three and a block of long rides interspersed with VO2 max and recovery intervals.  Consistency’s the key now, and if I can build on my early season momentum rather than chucking it in the bin I’ll be on the start line at the end of October anticipating, not dreading.  Onwards!

Winter training, part 1

Here in New Zealand – or my part of it, anyway – we have two seasons a year.  Basically, we have a back-to-front system that apes the Euro calendar but for a mid year break, enforced by the general bollock-coldness of this time of year.  Our season end – traditionally marked in the northern hemisphere by getting fat and staying indoors getting drunk round the fire – is here marked by getting fat and going to the beach, then getting drunk round the barbeque.  The true beginning of the year – the base miles of December and January – are really rather civilised.  Long, slow social rides in the height of summer, followed by early morning intervals in warm dawn light, all washed down with isotonic replacement summer ales. My excuse for a core workout involves going surfing in bathwater temperature, friendly blue waves.  Bliss.

But this, the middle of the year, is a little different.  An eight-week lay off presages winter – not really long enough to get horribly out of condition and give up entirely, short enough to push through.  Cue storms from the deep south, weeks of forty knot winds.  Roads slick with cow shit and forest debris.

Against this backdrop I’ve taken a week’s leave, time to catch up on life, a few household chores (not if I have my way), hang with the kids, and pack a bit of saddle time in.  The next goal is our local classic, a hundred miler that happens in the jaws of spring, and it is, in every sense, a classic.  It’s the oldest road race in NZ, there’s books written about it, and it’s always, always, bollock-shatteringly hard.

Last year I spent the five minutes before the start huddled under no shelter whatsoever being pelted with hailstones the size of my thumbnail, before setting off on the forty miles to the first turn into the teeth of a spring storm of rare ferocity.  It’s a handicap, so basically a team time trial until it all blows to shit, and so there was no poncing about, no gentle neutral section, just balls out and go.  After thirty miles I punctured, picked up a spare wheel, then chased for three to get back, arriving  with my eyeballs hanging out on my cheeks.  Two turns in the group and I was done: spat out of the back faster’n’a thruppeny whore getting rid of the taste of the village idiot.  I turned round, rode back to the start in record time with the wind behind me, and chastened, applauded the finishers in, and  they deserved that.  The field was – well, as decimated means one in ten, that won’t do.  Half-ated.  Fully half the field abandoned.  Another hailstorm got the remnants before the finish, and to a man they were hollow-eyed, empty, shells.  I envied each of them bitterly.  They had seen the worst that this race has chucked at the peloton in living memory, whereas I had quit.

And so this year, I have vowed, is to be different.  I will not be on the start line this year wondering where I’ll come off: so to work.  I’ll laugh at headwinds, and look forward to the final climb where it all comes apart with relish.   It begins now, as it should, in the shit weather, on the rubble-strewn roads, and I’m only lying a little bit when I say that I’m looking forward to every single minute.

The Round the Mountain’s been running since 1911.  It’s a great race under threat from the cost of complying to NZTA rules about racing on state highways and it needs all the support it can get.  You can enter here.  You won’t get the thousand-strong fields of the summer jolly – you’ll get seventy-ish riders, among who will be some of the toughest nuts in the country, legs that you’ll think will never walk again,  and a memory that’ll last a lifetime.  If of course, you don’t DNF.