Thursday, December 27, 2012

PNP MTB series 2012: A series of avoidable failures.

This post covers the three PNP ( xc races I entered this Spring.  None of the races was ideal from a racing perspective for me, but it was great to be back amongst the local MTB scene in Wellington after my year away.

Race 1:

The first of the three race was held at Mt Victoria, in central Wellington.  For those foreign to the charm of Mt. Vic., this hill is situated directly behind the famous Embassy theatre, which was the scene of the recent Hobbit premiere.  It has held many a race, local, national and I am told one World Cup a few years hence.  It is a steep little hill, with lots of fall line trails crammed into a small space, so you can always expect a technical coure, with lots of lung-busting climbs.  The course laid out contained all this, and the Mt. Vic. super-D course (touted as a mostly downhill XC race course).  However I didn't even make it to the super-D start on my first lap...

I had a strong-ish start, not wanting to smash myself off the line, knowing that I couldn't maintain a massively strong pace up the first climb from the velodrome to the summit.  I worked my way through people once off the steeper initial pinch, guessing that people would have gone too hard and not be able to keep on pushing on the flatter Alexandra road section of the climb.  I made it into a reasonable position by the first descent, a superbly steep fall line track that was a little greasy   I rode this well until the bottom section where I took a harder line to try and inside line people, which worked, until I had to turn at the bottom...  Low pressures mean good grip, but only until you roll the tyre off.  Which is what I did to my front.

No worries, CO2 out, give it a blast, inflates nice and easy, jobs a good 'un, only lost a couple of places; time to hop back on and chase hard.  On hopping back on I noticed the rear was a little less 'compliant' (over-used, under-understood cycling journo term there, deliberately used incorrectly) than usual.  How I had flatted the rear I don't know, but it was tubed, with a slightly dodgy tube.  Race over.  No more inflation, time to relax and watch and shout at my mates.

Race 2:

Belmont regional park was round 4 of the series, and race two of my failed series.  Here I made the rookie error of not eating enough.

We woke to grim rain and knew we would be in for a torrid day on the bikes.  Andy and I were due to be riding out with Thomas Lindup, and without this engagement I doubt I would have gone.  However we got our acts together and rode out along the Hutt road before turning up to Belmont Regional Park and the venue.  Not only had I not brought much food, I had brought next to no spare clothing... Another error.

My race began inauspiciously  with a poor start leaving me away from those I thought I might be racing on the first long singletrack climb.  I waited patiently though, knowing I would be losing many of the riders in front of me to a different course soon allowing me to play catch up over a longer distance.  Over the top I was riding with Kim Hurst, and jumped ahead of her into the first descent, knowing I had little grip and wouldn't be able to react to anything I didn't see if I was riding behind her.  She easily stuck with me and overtook me again once onto the tarmac climb.  The surface changed to gravel and we continued to climb.  On this climb I glimpsed Andy and proceeded to chase hard.  A bad idea.  I blew within the first 10km of the race.

From here I went backwards, barely making it up the climbs on the back part of the lap, and pulling out of doing my full course.  I then trudged up the main climb as I had no energy at all to turn the pedals.  I eventually made it back to the start-finish in dead last having not even done the full course.  Possibly the worst racing experience of my life, and all down to not eating enough.  Rookie.

Andy, Thomas and I then hung around the barbecue cooking sausages  warming ourselves and drinking from Thomas' hip-flask.  With a bit of food in me I was fine to ride home, but pretty ashamed of my mistake.  Another one to learn from...

Race 3:

The final race of the series began in a school close to Makara Peak mountain bike park, and went out to the South Coast.  Again we were greeted with terrible weather, which prompted last minute course alterations which were then removed even more last minute to leave us doing the full course as planned.

Having learnt from my previous two mistakes, I had good pressure in my tyres, and food both in my belly and pockets.  I was ready and raring to go.

The race began with another long climb, mostly on tarmac, so there was no great rush to the front to get position for a singletrack pinch.  As such I rode steadily in the second group knowing I would not be able to climb with Stu Houltham straight away.  As such a gap opened slightly between the groups and I just sprung into this gap before the singletrack, easily bridging the gap on the dirt.  My plan had worked!  Whilst I didn't have the hole-shot, I was within sight of the front.  A raising of the pace over the top though saw a gap from in this group, which I then had to try and close on the climb up from Long Gully.  Suffice to say I didn't close it by the top, followed the signs and ended up on the wrong course.

Turns out, in the hurried alteration of the course they had removed signs for our race without putting them back, and we were not told.  I started running back up the singletrack descent I had started, but there was not enough room for the flow of riders to get past me, so I gave in and rode the wrong course, and then made my own way back to the correct course.  Riding on my own, in the fog with the frustration of another race gone wrong and more money wasted was quite painful, and I was glad to see Kim Hurst on the south coast, even if she wasn't glad to see me.  She had punctured and had been riding on the rim down to red rocks until she was met by someone with a tube that she could use.  A tough race for her too then.

I ended up finishing not too far back from the field, having done a few km extra and quite a lot of extra climbing.  I wasn't pushing myself at arce pace for most of the ride out of frustration.  However at least I (kind-of) completed the race.

And so comes to and end the 2012 PNP XC series.  All being well 2013 will bring with it better results and fewer mistakes.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Whaka 100: A long overdue introduction to Vegas.

Unfortunately I have no photos to brighten this post, so you will have to cope with this unbroken and somewhat contrite piece.

For those that don't know, the Whaka 100 is a 100km mountain bike race run in the Redwoods forest of Rotorua (Roto-Vegas).  It is billed as the toughest MTB endurance race in New Zealand, which is reasonably understandable.  The race itself is all offroad, with a lot of stunning singletrack in there and 6 major climbs.  Beyond this I knew nothing about the event when I signed up, paid my money and let Andy organise getting me there and where I might sleep.

We were treated to a reasonable day for the event, but waking up early for the morning start was still painful, and we were all second guessing the weather as to whether we would be warm enough (after freezing on the ride to the start from our cabin, as usual I was not wearing gloves).  However, knowing that there was a warm-up climb from the event arena before the first singletrack I hoped that I would regain feeling in my fingers soon.  Nevertheless I started overdressed and had to dump some clothing early in the event.

The start was suitably relaxed for a big day out, none of this elbows out sprinting that you get in XC races.  I found myself a ways back and on the eventual winner, Dirk Peter's wheel.  Knowing he was a pretty damn good rider I followed him through the bunch and enjoyed following the course designers lines.  I didn't stay on him though, and soon found myself near the front, but on my own.  On a fire track climb (one of the many short punch ones, not a long drag this time) I saw Andy King (my housemate) coming up fast behind me with a few other riders.  I was more than happy to see him this early, as much as I wanted to beat him, I really wanted someone fun to ride with for this long event.  He caught up at the top with some shouted greetings between us before diving into some fun singletrack without any defined line.  I lost my first bottle here, and proceeded to lose a few more throughout the event.

From here Andy and I steadily picked up riders, with the group swelling to about 9 or 10 at the most.  This was done mostly through my stupidity and youthful-enthusiasm.  We grew quickly as I decided I would drive the group, sitting on the front for a good 35km.  The main problem was I could always see someone in front of us, and I couldn't resist chasing them, to the point that we hit the track around Green Lake (and old volcanic crater that had me distracted for a while) and I had it lined out chasing hard a group of 3 youngsters, then having caught them I set my sights on one more man in front.  This man was riding hard, and whenever we got close to him he would up his pace some more.

We eventually turned away from the lake and began a long firebreak climb away from the water.  I kept the pressure on and continued chasing, much to the groups disgust it would seem.  When I caught this guy he proceeded to tell me that he was in the team event and seemed impressed by my chasing effort, but I was not.  I had blown apart a good group to chase a rider I wasn't even racing.  Always one of the problems of not being at the front of the race and chasing to get back there.  I relented my chase, let him go and slowed to allow the group to reform around me, hoping they would take pity on me after my efforts throughout the first half and help me in the same way I had them.  I encouraged Andy to eat, not that he needed telling, and ate myself.

I let the two Aussie guys that we had picked up go to the front and sat on their wheels as they looked strong, which they were, driving the group at a very decent pace before diving into Split Endz, Pondy Downhill and Pondy New.  It became apparent that these Aussies where not all they were cracked up to be, and why they had been happy for me to be on the front through the singletrack.  Many mistakes were made, with on near the end of the trail resulting in the front rider stalling on a root, stopping the whole group and sending his mate falling into the ditch on the side of the trail.  Instinctively I stopped and helped pull him back up to the trail.  I'm not sure that he needed my help, but there was no way I wasn't stopping to at least check he was ok.

I was the only one to stop, the rest of the group riding on save for the other Aussie and Andy, with Andy waiting for me.  We exited the singletrack slowly and had lost a bit of time on the group.  Stupidly my frustration at the group not waiting manifested itself in my legs as complete ambivalence to riding hard.  I made the decision there and then to let the group go and to ride with Andy.  With around 55km to go my legs were going through a bad spot along with my mind.  Thankfully Andy looked after me, chatting up the climb before descending to the 40km to go feed station.  We filled ourselves up and ate an odd combination of foods, including a milk shake for me, much to the derision of one of the marshalls stationed there.

We then began to climb away from the feed, knowing that this was the beginning of the longest climb of the day, we set out at a fast pace, with Andy leading the way and we occasionally telling him I was too cooked to ride this fast.  Thankfully he rode with me all the way to the top and up the fantastically named 'Frontal Lobotomy'.  We then had the joy of Billy T to ride, an awesomely fun singletrack descent.

We now had two climbs to go, and we dispatched with the penultimate one without much incident, until, at some point between Billy T and the final climb Andy and I were over taking a back marker from the 50km race through singletrack and Andy caught a root slightly wrong having been made to go off-line and went down.  He was reasonably ok, but his front rotor was quite bent.  I set about straightening this with my thumbs as best I could whilst he set about straightening himself.  Whilst stopped to fix this we saw Kim Hurst ride past, with whoops and cheers from us, but us both being gutted to see another of our Welllington peers beating us.

We were back up and running after a slightly prolonged stop, and Andy's rotor wasn't quite right still.  This was potentially what stopped him from having a 10min + faster time.  We rode together for a lot of the remainder, but I got carried away on a lovely piece of open singletrack and started to gap him and half chased Ryan Hunt, a young rider I had met at Taupo two years ago.  I just wanted to have a chat and didn't expect to stay with him, and indeed once I had had a chat before the last climb I did drop back, but didn't get to see Andy again.  Now I had put myself in a gap between friends, with all of us being pretty cooked and one climb left to go.

Up the final climb I kept Ryan about in my sights although he was obviously riding harder than I was, and I set about chatting to some locals as we climbed.  It was a great distraction to my pain to chat away to someone much fresher than I.  Eventually we summited, although not after a couple of false summits.  We then turned and meandered back towards the final trail.  I was expecting downhill all the way, but we had rolling sharp climbs to navigate, which prompted much standing and smashing action.  I then saw Ryan ahead half running half stumbling with his bike as he battled the onset of cramp.  This time I wasn't stopping, we were close enough to the finish that my race head was on, and I stomped on.

It was a great feeling to cross the line, although disappointing in a way as I look back that I couldn't have held the group, I would have finished a good 10mins or more in front of where I did.  Never mind.  There is always next year.  It promises to be even better next year too, with more singletrack.  I will have to go back.

It seems that as much as I would like to think that I am poor at these longer events, they are the ones that I dream about and drag me back to.  There is so much more going on than in a 1.5-2hour xc smashfest.  Maybe I will follow BT to the endurance racing.  I doubt I would do it as well as he does, but you never know.  The fitness is starting to come back.

Anyway.  Race update one done, but now the sun is shining, it's Christmas eve, and I want to ride some fun trails.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

And now, for my next number I'd like to return to the classics.

So it has been a long time since my last post, the main reason for the hiatus has been the move back to New Zealand, which as you might tell from the last post, was something I quite wanted.  I have been here now for 3 months, and have been itching to write since I got here, however mostly through a realisation of how pretentious this blog is, and the resultant shame, I have not.  Now I have a reason to write again, but that is not something that will be mentioned here, at least not for a few months.  Suffice to say I'm working on things quietly.

In the last three months I have settled back into Southern hemisphere life (not that there is much difference in reality to life in England).  I have a house (rented), office, desk, computer, bed (my first owned bed), health insurance, income and a garage; I feel almost grown up, if only the income was larger I would be able to even afford food!

I am living with two other cyclists, Andy who I met when here last and rode down the South Island with, raced against and had more than a few beers with, and Josh, another American drafted into work at iRide.  We currently have Jon Pybus staying with us (sleeping on the sofa) for the next few months getting some training in away from the grim winter back home.  As such our garage is pretty full, with 3 of my bikes, 1 of Josh's, 1 of Jon's and 3(ish) of Andy's bikes.

Introduction to life over, time for the classics.  Riding bikes: this will come in many parts...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

This Is England

About a month directly after I received my rejection for PhD study at the University of Leeds I was having a beer with the lecturers who had interviewed me.  We discussed why I didn't get the position, and one of the over-riding features was that they knew as well as I did that I didn't want it.  They knew I didn't want to be in England anymore, but probably didn't know why.  I'm not sure I have really known why beyond almost everywhere seeming better until recently.  I said to them that I was 'done with England' and was told that that was a bit strong for a 21 year old and that England must have done something to me.

Listening to BBC radio 4 on the drive up to Leeds today I was reminded of my mental turmoil when it comes to thinking about my home.  There are so many things I love about England and Britain, but recently, when weighing up the pros and cons of this nation the negatives far outweigh the positives.  I don't see my immediate future here and I'm not sure I would want to come back for good.

This is a political rant.

This is about the things I hate.

I hate very little.

I can't lie, I can't remember lying in the last 7 years of my life, and before this I can't remember the things I did well enough to validate whether I was a lier or not.  I have a guilty conscience; if I make a mistake that affects others I will not let myself rest until I have worked out how to make it better; unless I have made my actions clear.  I therefore cannot understand how people can lie, and moreover I can't abide by people lying to me.  Lying is something I hate, dishonesty in itself is terrible, but deliberately misleading people for your own gains is unforgivable. I have made mistakes, I have done things I regret, and I pay for them.  How Nick Clegg can live with himself is beyond me, at least the Tories have done what is expected of them.

I hate the current government.  For so many years I had no understanding of politics in any way; my parents are not overly political, so it was not until Sian taught me some of the basics of politics that I felt I was able to discuss it (albeit quietly for fear of being wholly wrong).  Therefore my first formative experience of a prime-minister was really Gordon Brown.  Brown is flawed, but I long for him to still be in power, or at least leading the opposition.  The opposition is hideously weak, I don't think Brown would have let labour be this weak.  The liberals have sold out, and the Tories are just c***s.

There is nothing politically for me in England.  On watching the results of the 2010 election I shed a tear seeing Brown leave.  I knew then that I wouldn't be happy in England for quite a while.  I love the BBC, I love the ideals of advert free entertainment and news.  I love the ideals of the NHS, and my experience of the NHS has only been positive.  I know that there is a lot of negativity around the NHS, but I can only speak from experience.  When 6Music was threatened I was saddened and motivated.  When the health reforms were announced and the doctors showed their dismay I was disheartened.  Now the health reforms are being passed and the doctors still oppose them, it doesn't seem that there is any point to fighting.  I am being walked all over.

No-one is fighting strongly enough for us in the halls of power.  I trust no-one in power.  Strangely I am close to trusting Boris purely because he is openly mad, and I trust him to be absolutely ridiculous.  When I think about it, and how unjust the riots were last year, I'm still un-surprised it happened.  It was completely the wrong thing to have done, and people involved should be punished.  They did not achieve anything useful.  However, when no one is listening then you shout.

My views are at odds.  I will not riot, I will get on with it.  However I can't stand the state Britain is in.  I am done with England.  I see little future in this country for me.  Even if I can't get funding for the PhD position I have in New Zealand, come Christmas, I won't be here.  And although I will be sad to say goodbye to my friends and family, I won't be sad to be rid of England.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Working Hard and Hardly Riding.

I was reminded that I have a blog whilst reading the PNP (THE Wellington cycling club) email and seeing the link to rider blogs with my name in it.  I feel slightly guilty for that inclusion, having not written for quite a while.  I have to admit to not writing because I feel I have had nothing to write about that is really of interest.  I'm generally uninspired from a cycling point of view being back in England, however my love is starting to come back...

Since I returned to England my life has been ruled by my work; this is not something I regret, I love the work I'm doing.  However it has meant that I have been very lazy when it comes to riding.  I have no racing targets, I have even told the shop and sponsors that I don't plan on racing this season (all that will change if I get fit), so there is no pressure to train.  I was quite saddened to see the scales hit 84kg this Christmas though, which has prompted me to try to get thin again, and am already back to sub-80.

I have always struggled with weight and do see this as a bit of limiting factor, but so long as I know that I'm a heavy person it's ok.  My general race weight has always been around 73-74kg which sees me at about 3-5% body fat.  Now this is hideously low, but I'm still a lot heavier than my peers; I have always wondered why this is.  I have recently decided I have really strong bones; thinking back to the number and severity of the crashes I have had I have been very lucky to only have two chipped elbows and a broken thumb to my count of broken bones.  Neither of these injuries causes me too much pain on a daily basis, but they won't ever fix properly.  I use my thumb too much to allow it to really fix, and chipped elbows just don't.  I have had a bit of bone floating around in my left elbow since I was 17 and some idiot stepped off the pavement into me (he was fine if you were wondering; if I hadn't have been in so much pain he would have been a lot worse for wear due to my fist being buried in his face).

So, I'm a heavy cyclist; what of it?  There are plenty of heavy guys out there who are able to race top flight and get over hills; no excuse.  and I'm not making them this time.  I'm just not racing, so why would I need excuses?

What I am doing is geophysics.  I'm loving doing research and find it incredibly rewarding.  My current research is based on the stress fields of the San Andreas using both deep and crustal measurements.  In essence I'm trying to understand how the crust and mantle are deforming and then relating that to the forces involved to try and see what is driving plate tectonics.  Plate tectonics is one of the major theories which the Earth Sciences rely on, however the what drives this process is not well understood; as such my work is a major topic of research globally.  It was heartening to hear how much work was going on using the same or similar techniques in presentations given at the recent AGU (American Geophysical Union) fall meeting.  I'm very motivated and can see myself doing this for quite a while.  I really can't stop thinking about my work which is nice in a way; but gets in the way of other things that require concentration...

So on the whole, I'm happy, getting a little fitter, but not actually race fit.  And generally trying to love life.