Sunday 15th March 2020
The coronavirus or Covid-19 has swept the world into a pandemic frenzy. This may be my last race, or even my last post, who knows?! The governments seem to be cancelling everything at the moment, but not the New Plymouth Mountain Bikers Club Champs! We’ve put too much work into this event to cancel last minute and it was a good job we didn’t as it was a record turn out; with racers, supporters and volunteers nearing 200 people!
I have been quite heavily involved in organising this event and while it was hard work and took up a lot of my time, it was totally worth it to see everyone getting out there and enjoying riding their bikes. My role was mainly around organising the fluffy bits – coffee, PA and sound system and publicity of the event. The course was designed by Graeme James and was really good and well thought out. He organised the marshals to be at crucial locations, and marked out the course clearly using tape, spray paint and signs. You could not get lost!
I had a busy few days leading up to the event; making sure my adopted trail Slam City was free from gorse, picking up spot prizes from the local bike shops and picking up the PA system, so we could play music and do race briefing/prize giving. All this as well as making sure I was on track with my event marketing plan; giving racers the important information leading into race day, with enough time to practise the course and be prepared. I was getting a little but stressed out, but I was also getting pretty excited to race my first club champs.
Things were off to a bad start. I hadn’t been training much for the last 3 weeks (here’s why) and over the last few days I’d been feeling a bit down and not eaten much. The few training sessions I did manage to squeeze into my busy pre-race week showed that I hadn’t lost too much fitness, if I was willing to suffer just a bit more. My 3 goals for the race are to have a nutrition plan and stick to it, start near the front of the bunch and finish under 2 hours.
So with less than ideal pre-race prep, it was vital for me to get my race nutrition dialled, something I have yet to manage. Thankfully, as part of promoting the race, I had pre-ridden each course, and taken notes on the sections of gravel road (few and far between) where I could take a gel or have a drink. Luckily they were fairly well spaced, allowing me to re-fuel at 30min, 1hr and 1hr25, combined with a gel on the start line and 2 bottles of electrolyte, swapped over at the half way mark an hour in. Having already thought about when to fuel, I didn’t need to make this decision in the moment, I just did it even if I didn’t feel like it, relieving some cognitive load to focus on moving forward. This was such a massive difference to my usual approach of doing it by feel because if you feel like you need food, its probably too late. Nutrition goals achieved!
I was faffing a lot before the race, making sure everything was running as it should and that Ryan had my drink bottles ready and knew where I wanted them. Plus chatting and catching up with people, including little rocket star Charlotte who had just finished second in the Kids race! Finally I was ready to line up and muscled my way to the front, well second row back, but I made sure I was in line with Jenn (training partner and one to beat).
We were off and I was rapidly overtaken by a wave of riders. There was a cloud of dust and rocks pinging off everywhere, then it was into the climb and I could feel my heart racing and my breathing becoming shallow and rapid, have I gone too hard too soon? Can I recover? I still have quite a climb to go. Up Climb Ax and down Mandatory Powerplay, no chance to overtake here, just got to sit in and let things settle out a bit. Into Outhouse and I can see Jenn a few riders ahead. They overtake her and then its my turn to make a move. I wait until the top of the little climb before overtaking her and wishing her a good race. I’m wondering who else is in front of me, as I saw Nic (defending women’s champion) lined up at the front too. I press on, hoping to catch her.
Up Slice of Heaven and I see Katie overtake Jenn on one of the switchbacks. Now my plan is to get as many people between me and young Katie as possible. Even if I’m going a similar pace, I need to overtake and get another rider between us as she is a strong rider. Down Bates, and I go hard along the gravel to avoid being over taken. Up Ridgeredoo and into Giant’s Hit Storm, a new addition to the forest and I don’t want anyone slowing me down in front and causing a potential crash. I grab a drink along the gravel road before heading into Satsuma Rebellion. Only 17mins down, so I can grab my gel after this trail. Another overtake on Satsuma and into Miharo, then along the gravel road to Lap it Up. I take my second gel and a big drink as there wont be much chance over this next section.
Around Million Dollor and I glimpse the red X of fellow MX Endurance team mate Raymond. First thought; ‘Wow I must be doing good if I’m ahead of Raymond.’ Second thought; ‘Better keep going and not let him catch me!’ Finally a bit of gravity assisted trails to rest the legs. My cornering is so much better these days and I made Cashflow feel quick and easy. Into Buddha Finger and the course split. I like this trail, as its a bit rooty and steep in places. The Pique munches through the roots and before I know it I am pumping along Headache and overtaking another rider. Another big gulp of Nuun electrolyte before tackling Ara Hoki and moving up another position. The rider I overtook on Headrace is still right behind me, but not wanting to overtake. I use his heavy breathing as motivation to keep pushing hard. As we merge into Kahore Tau and begin passing the short course riders.
Winding along Pork Pie and Snakes and Ladders, I get cheers of encouragement as I pass more riders. I keep pushing on, not wanting to disappoint anyone, taking a risky inside line and going down. But I bounce straight back up and run along with my bike, before mounting like a good triathlete does. Down Highway to Hell and then the important bottle swap. I am trying to get over to the right side where Ryan is stood but there are too many riders in my way. I yell at him to swap sides, take a big drink from my current bottle and toss it over to his feet, while grabbing my next one from him. Considering we didn’t practise, I thought it went exceptionally well! Feeling super pro, especially as I managed to take a gel in as well!
I charge on, making sure I am back in front of my guy heading into Kiwi Hi, then down Sinclair’s and we meander our way round Hihi. I start singing Queen ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ to distract from the relentless twists and turns of this trail. It feels like it goes on forever and I realise I am slowing down, starting to think too much and make mistakes. Heading into Fantail I up the pace a bit more, check the guy behind me is ok and if he wants to overtake. Nah – he’s still good panting away. The sooner I get through here then Fenceline, its onto to the fun stuff.
I can feel my legs cramping up a bit as I climb up S’Up. “Cadence, focus on your cadence,” I repeat to myself and try and spin the legs quicker. It eases of a bit and I take my final gel as I ride along the ridge line to Slam City. After trimming back gorse on Friday and scoping out the smoother lines, its over in a flash, and with cramp teasing my quads, I take the Shuttle back up to the ridge line. I see the flash of a red X again as Raymond has finally caught up with me. I push on, thinking that I must be going pretty slow now and others might be catching up to me! The quickened pace, tired legs and everlasting climb takes it toll and cramp firmly sets in.
I pull over to let Raymond and another rider pass, but it was a big mistake! My quads instantly lock up and I howl in agony. Fuck! Fuck! I cant move let alone walk or pedal! Fuck! What am I going to do. I stare at my legs willing them to relax just a little bit. Then I see Katie round the corner and that is all the motivation I need! I swing my aching legs back over my bike and pedal as fast as I can. I was so close to the end of the track too. Final decent down Stumpy’s Revenge and I am hoping that my descending skills and local knowledge will give me a bit more time. I power up the gravel road. It hurts, but so does the thought of being beaten this late in the race. ‘Finish Strong. Give it all you have left,’ my inner voice shouts back.
Kiwi kids is another seemly endless loopy trail where you are easily disoriented with riders all around you, but on different parts of the track. I can see Katie somewhere in the mix and keep on pushing. ‘You know this trail, you got QOM on it once. You can be fastest today too! Remember what you tell the kids – use your hips in the corners. Don’t make any silly mistakes.’ Another word with myself as I try to drown out the sound of my screaming legs. Finally I exit Kiwi Kids, a sharp right turn on to the gravel road and empty out the legs. Clicking up the gears, I take one last look over my shoulder and don’t see her yet. Then its head down and I sprint across the line, making every second count. Finishing in 1:43:23, Katie finishes just 6 seconds behind. It was a close race. I pullover and lie down (collapse) for a bit, to let the leg spasms settle down, before I do my prize giving duties.
At the finish I see Nic already looking relaxed and chatting, but before I can congratulate her, I am informed that she snapped her chain at the start and then later pulled out before heading up S’Up. So does that mean I won? I’m still reeling from having smashed my time goals of 2hrs!
My head is still spinning and my legs are not co-operating, but I have to do prize giving for all our wonderful donated spot prizes and announce the winners of each race. I’ve only ever been on a podium where the number of steps were the same as the number of racers, and then it was the bottom step. To actually WIN a race, and it be Club Championships, with more than 3 racers and to be on top. I don’t know how I did it. Katie is a seriously talented junior rider with heaps of potential and one to watch for future years. Jenn is an ex-pro mountain bike marathon world cup racer (won a fair few big time races) Nic was last year’s Women’s Open Champion, Louise was second at Mitre 10 Mega MTB in January and Ali is wonder woman; with a young child to look after, as well as all her cows and she still finds time to help out the club and race the event!
Well, its bit of a long one and its taken a while to get out, but I hope it gives you something else to read in light of all the virus news. It has taken me several years and a lot of hard work and dedication to go from not being able to climb S’up (the main up track) without walking or having a panic attack, to being able to race up it. I didn’t think I would ever be fit enough to race cross country, but its more about your mindset than your fitness. If you think you’re ‘too slow’ to race, let me tell you that I have been dead last a lot more than I have been first! Racing is fun, and fun is fast, so go out there ride bikes and have FUN!
Big Thank You to…
New Plymouth Mountain Bikers, Liv Cycling NZ, Cycle Inn, MX Endurance, Goodr NZ, Patterson Training, Dad’s Garage, Ape Industries, Front Runner New Plymouth and Sweet Cheeks NZ for all your support.