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

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