Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Rainbow - it dominated us

Some lessons are hard to learn, the Rainbow was all about some tough schooling

One week after Karapoti Ant and I had scheduled to take on the ultra marathon feet and ran 106 km along the Wairau Hanmer Springs Hydro Road. having just finished karapoti I rested up all week and was feeling okay heading down to Nelson. While on the plane i contemplated how tough this could be. A week after karapoti i knew the body had no way of being full recovered and adding to this the fact that i'd run all of about 40km since the heaphy (all my efforts were on the bike in prep for karapoti), it was going to be real tough. I came to the conclusion though that when the going got tough and the body started to feel the pain I'd just dominate the body with the mind and that would be the end of it - man was i wrong!

The weather forecast was for clear skies with no wind (hot) or clear skies with driving southerlies (freezing cold). With this in mind and considering we had 106 km in front of us we started early. Two bright eyed, naive runners began the trek to Hanmer at 5.00am on the 13/03/10. We had no idea what was to come

We definitely had clear skies, and there was no wind, in it's place was a bitterly cold frost. Ants was rolling skins but in my stupidity i had not even thought about it. The cold started to creep into my legs as soon as we started running, this coupled with an early stop to tape my feet for blisters which i could feel developing where early signs that this was going to be an interesting run.

We set a reasonably fast pace for the first two hours and we'd covered about twenty kilometers in the first two hours, a good pace for an ultra. It was nice running, a few mobs of cattle and some lambs kept us company along the way. It was undulating terrain but we were gradually climbing the entire way. At the first food stop I was feeling good, railing back some bars and gels and we were off again.

Over the next twelve kilometers I started to drop off the pace and Ants was pulling ahead. I was struggling. The cold was killing my legs and it was only getting worse. Ants was doing his best to take my mind off things and the scenery was awesome but it was starting to get tough.

At the 32 kilometer mark my legs were shivering but i was determined to go on. Making things worse was that any water that we drunk was freezing and chilled our core even further. The next 15km was probably the hardest i have traveled in my life. While the sun was up it still hadn't reached the valley we were running in. We could see it coming down the hill to our right but it wasn't directly on us. It wasn't till 40 km into to run, after four and a half hours of running that we got our first glimpses of direct sunlight. Those first few rays were awesome.

A few kilometers later and we were in constant sunlight, my legs were still rock solid but had begun to warm. A packet of lollies left by the support crew kept us going over the next few kilometers. The running had really slowed, the scenery was awesome and we had started to see cows and calves which was awesome. If you haven't been through this country you really should, it is pretty awesome. When we caught up to the support crew again it was two hours since we'd last seen them. It had taken two hours to cover 15km. Things were going really slow.

Ants still seemed to be doing all right but was battling internally, I'm more of an external battler and usually voice how I'm feeling. Once fueled up again we set off again. With the support crew still in sight Ant and I had our first and only argument of the run, he wanted to run and i was sucking on a lollie and wanted to walk. It's interesting how when your down and out even the smallest things can set two people off. The next few kilometers were run in silence but looking back it was barely running. My body was stuffed. Moving at barely a walking pace i was puffing hard just to be moving. Things weren't going right but i was still possessed with the desire to complete 106km.

While i was engaged in a battle between mind and body Ant had done the math and was trying to think of a way to tell the determined (Like the most determined any one could be determined) sole behind him that there was no way we were going to make it. in my mind we were still going to get there by seven but in reality we weren't going to get there at all. In the end all it took was for Ants to stop, look back at me and say, "bro you might as well be walking" and then go on to explain the maths for me to realise how wasted i really was. It's funny how when your that determined it takes someone else to pull you out of it.

We walked the final eight kilometers to catch up with he support crew and then pulled out at the 57km mark. The hot pools at Hanmer were a nice treat for our damaged bodies and by Sunday morning we were walking again.

Looking back the rainbow definitely brought us back to earth and exposed us as mere mortals. It taught us that you can't just go out and smash 100 km based on a heap of cycling fitness, that running muscles need to be built up for running and to be prepared for any conditions. The biggest lesson was that eventually after a period of the mind dominating the body, the body will eventually come back to dominate the mind. At this point the mind has two options either ignore the body and keep moving down the path of destruction, or wake up to reality and change tactics.

All in all it was a positive experience, and i now know i can really push myself onto the pain train. Now the trick is to stay motivated, find another challenges and get back to base training.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Heaphy - It Deserves a Mention

Somewhere around November last year I was getting itch feet with most of the welly boys in Canada and old mate in nelson. An epic adventure was needed and so the plan formulated to run the heaphy. The original plan was to take two days and carry a little gear but Ant, always wanting to out do himself suggested that we just roll it in one day. It's only eighty k we figured - thats only two marathons and four half's. No problem.

So it was two bright eyed armatures that arrived at the collingwood end of the heaphy around 5 o'clock on the morning of the 23/01/2010. The heaphy can be described as a 17km climb, 23 km across the tops (flat), 12 km decent and then 28 km home (give or take a few kilometers here and there). We set off at a pretty good pace but slowed down (Ant the pro was thinking ahead) to make the summit in about two hours.

After photos and some tactical weight loss we set off across the gouland downs. This has to be one of the most spectacular place in NZ and had good view all round. What was more awesome was that we could see the next twenty km laid out in front of us. This was easy running.

Somewhere around the third hut things started to go a little bad stomach wise. This meant that somewhere between the third and fourth hut I took a spew. Last night's tea just wasn't moving (something to do with mushrooms) and the body wanted out. Afterwards i felt much better.

From here we got to half way, passed a couple of walkers (such a good feeling), yarned to a DOC ranger, and boomed the downhill. A big bit of running which absolutely destroyed us. Once reaching the flat it was eight km to the coast and then a further 16km home. By the time we goat to the coast i was absolutely on board the pain train. The last 16km was definitely the toughest with a lot of mental power being used just to get from corner to corner. The end came just in time with a final climb and mashing of the legs back down to the beach.

Here's the video summary

Highlights of the whole thing:
  • The gouland downs
  • The moments after the spew
  • The use of the mangnidoodle (clears the mind back to point zero)
  • The bit where ant told me that he was stocked that I was leading cause he was battling

Low lights of the whole thing:

  • The sand flies
  • The moments before the spew
  • The non stop consumption of energy gels and one square meals
  • the bit before ant told me that he was stocked that i was leading because i thought he was doing fine and i was struggling and this was playing havoc on my mental state

Would definitely recommend the heaphy to anyway. Next up where taking on 106km through the rainbow range or something (goes for st arnud through to Hamner). Should be awesome.

Representing Team Goat Racing for Life


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Karapoti - nothing to lose ...(and nothing left behind)

Karpoti is hailed as one of the toughest mountain bike races in New Zealand. Summarised it involves three very tough climbs (the middle of which is a 2 km bike carry mission) and some gnarly descents involving everything from very fast 4wd tracks to gnarly rock drops. Karapoti is the mountain bike race that everyone uses to benchmark themselves against.


Last year's karapoti was my first, i finished in a time of 4 hours and 16 minutes, had numerous punctures and by the end of it had had enough. This year with a bit more experience, a slightly different tyre set up and a lot more base fitness i was hoping to go out and destroy the thing. Unfortunately poor planning and a busy social/work life mean that my build up over January and February was not what i had wanted it to be. I never found time to get out on the mountain bike are rail some hill/speed efforts and as such was going into karapoti with slightly lowered expectations. Some seriously heavy drinking the weekend before (brother's wedding) and the bought of hay fever experienced during the week meant that i was approaching karapoti with absolutely no expectations as to the time i should get around in. I figured I'd just destroy myself and see what happened.

Dealing with Hay fever on Friday night i smashed a couple of disprine to deal to the headache and applied the mental attitude that the hay fever would be gone in the morning and everything would be sweet. Unfortunately the power of positive thinking failed on this occasion and I woke to hay fever in full flight. Smashing down breakfast (four bits of toast covered with a medium amount of peanut butter and then mushed banana on top of that) i then got a sick feeling in my stomach. Things weren't looking good.

A common rule in all sports is never try anything when competing, only experiment during training. But I was getting desperate so this rule went out the door when i found some lemsip cold and flu at a servo in the hutt. Smashing back two doses mixed with some cold water (not recommend) i started to feel good again and just hoped that this wouldn't lead to a spew later in the day; i actually contemplated spew tactics - could it be done while riding???

Karapoti starts with a bike carry across a river. Last year i managed to get across in second place and so it was lining up at the start line that i felt the most pressure of the entire race. This year i was a bit off the pace starting and didn't attack the river with the same attitude as last year. As such i was about fifth across and a bit behind the lead bunch heading off on the bike. Bridging the gap on the tarcel I was able to draft behind the leaders all the way to the start of the warm up climb, but i was smashing myself to do so and with that in mind i made the conscious decision to let them go and dictate my own race.

By the time I'd descended from the warm up climb and was starting the 1st real climb i had already caught up to some in the lead group. This gave me an incredible surge of motivation and i passed some of them on the climb. It was good times, but i was smashing the body! After the 1st climb is over there is a decent rolling section with plenty of dips and climbs, this is where you can really make up some time on people. Pretty stocked with how i was going and that i was challenging the leaders i unleashed the body further, pushing higher gears at every chance i got.

Into the rock garden (which is a gnarly decent involving a number of drop offs, plenty of coconut sized rocks and plenty of places to have some massive accidents) i took the approach that i didn't want to be passed because of my downhill skills (or lack of). I managed to ride most of the rock garden, almost went over the handle bars and managed to roughly maintain position.

Next came the stair case which is a 2km bike carry mission. This is were i was hoping to unleash on some people but unfortunately it was not meant to be. My legs were stiff and carrying a bike while walking was not going to happen at a fast pace. The heart rate was peaking and i just had to take it one step at a time. Thankfully the longest climbs are right at the start of the staircase and the top was reached soon enough. My legs were smashed though.

Railing back some water i once again took the attitude of not letting anyone pass me because of my downhilling skills. To go fast you really have to abuse the bike, have no fear and just accept that if you crash, it will be messy, but at least you were pushing the boundaries. Crashes are even more likely due to the blurred vision for the large amount of mud covering you eyes.

Managing to hold my own on the final downhill i headed into the final uphill knowing the end was near. Climbing the entire thing on the bike was my goal. I settled in to a good pace but backed of a little approaching the top. A mechanical failure forced me to dismount and walk a section losing some time and my attitude was not good at this stage meaning i probably could have pushed myself harder. It's never a good idea to accept setting behind someone else (unless there pushing you) and i lost time on this last hill.

Into the final descent and i put the hammer down knowing that the end was in sight. Things can get pretty fast on this one and i absolutely loved it. Something about being off the mountain bike during training has meant that i now think alot more about line choices and as such downhilling is a lot more fun. The second to last river crossing i rode the entire thing for the first time ever and then nailed the final 4wd section. Back on the tarcel i got all areo dynamic, messed up the final river crossing by going to low in the water and missing the shallow spots and then the final 200 meters home.

My body was shattered but i was stocked. Considering the build up before the race i think i did pretty well. I realised that i can push myself a lot further then i could before, that i can go harder for longer, and that I'm competitive. With the lessons learnt from this year and a bit more training i might just break the sub three hour mark.

Key Lesson learnt from karapoti:

  1. Base training is amazing, you can go pretty far if your working from a solid base
  2. It's best to take a chillaxed attitude towards races, allows you to be relaxed on race day and actually enjoy the race
  3. It's important to ride your own race - it's three hours of pain out there and you don't want to go out to hard to early and suffer at the end
  4. While it's best not to try things on race day, sometimes its a necessity
  5. You can always go faster downhill
  6. It's important to have a build up of races before the main event. Helps to realise your limits and hopefully build up the bodies ability to deal with such high levels of stress
  7. Cramp can be ridden through, it's only your body telling you you can go harder
  8. The mind is the most important thing out there, it can really dominate the body if you let it

My final time was three hours and twenty eight seconds. An entire 29 seconds off getting in to the sub three club. Sixth in my age group.

The plan now is to get back to some good honest base training and hit the gym to improve muscular endurance. Then Canada for an adventure before the spring series next year and around Taupo.

Boom, Andy