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.