Wednesday 18 September 2013

Endura Auckland Challenge race 1: Woodhill

After my initial breathless commentary about getting into training for Huka, the weekend before last was a bit of a write-off. No real reason, other things were happening and driving for hours to Woodhill and back just couldn't be fitted in so the gym got a decent hit up instead. However, last weekend I made up for it with two rides at Woodhill, one with the Auckland MTB Club's Cranksistas group (awesome ladies) and one being my first event.

It's been a year since I entered a sporting event of any kind (almost to the week, the half marathon was at the start of September 2012) and I'd forgotten that jittery background of adrenaline that starts from when you wake up and keeps you going until the whistle. Driving up from south Auckland to Woodhill with decent weather, in various convoys of cars all with mountain bikes and stickers of various clubs and makes helped keep the jitters to the positive, motivating flavour rather than the "help-not-ready-eeek" variety. I have to say, driving up the steep "warm-up" hill at Woodhill past the punters to the event carpark was simultaneously gratifying and guilt-inducing, but ended up being the easiest bit of the whole day.

It was great to be at a start line with people I knew, even if I'd only met them the day before. The atmosphere was pretty relaxed, though there were a lot of superhero kids on carbon fibre 29" bikes that cost more than my car.

Photo not on its side, the bike is
The race itself wasn't actually as hard as I thought it would be, though that leaves a LOT of room for bloody hard. The first part of the course, a track called Uplands, was a good way to spread the pack out (being mostly up as the name would suggest) and I soon found myself comfortably at the back of the pack, pootling along at a pretty reasonable, sustainable pace. Unfortunately, nerves and not paying enough attention saw me nearly stack it coming off a drop a couple of k's in, leaving an absolutely phenomenal bruise on my thigh and making me squeak as I missed a tree by bugger-all.

Riding the course the day before with the 'Sistas was a mixed blessing. It was good to know where on the course I was and not to lose hope on the really drudge parts, but also dispiriting to know that there was another drudge part coming. There's a steep hill at the end of a trail called "Slippery's Delight" which I ended up walking every time, and I'm determined to crack the bastard eventually! The second lap wasn't as hard as I thought it'd be (traditionally I've always hated any event involving seeing the finish line before finishing), though there was some points where I had to give myself a stern talking to about making more of an effort.

So, the goals:
  • Finish
  • Finish in less than 2hr 30min
Both totally dusted, which was quite gratifying. Having completed longer distances down at the Taupo weekender with heaps of stops and chats etc. I wasn't 100% I'd be able to complete 22km in one go but despite one proper stop for a gel (delicious goo!) I did fine. Things to think about for the next one:
  • I now have replacement clipless pedals after my original posharse ones disappeared,  so they're going on the bike tonight before a ride out Friday afternoon. Hoping using SPDs will speed me up a bit on the hills
  • I'm too good at coasting on gentle inclines and flats. After the big hills and niggly bits it's too easy to just pedal on tracks that require less effort. I had to really focus on changing up a gear or two and pushing that little bit harder. Need to work on this, possibly start with some laps at Totara on Friday
Next event is the 2W Gravity Enduro down in Rotorua, which looks pretty different to a standard lap race and I'm pretty intrigued by.  The holidays will be spent on the bike both here and away, I've a big long weekend of riding with the Cranksistas, then it's just a week (yikes!) to the Taniwha 60km. I'm still not convinced I'll be able to complete the full Huka, but I'd like to think I'm moving in the right direction.

One last thing that's on my mind about the weekend. I came last. Hard. A good seven minutes behind the second last. I didn't mind, I was happy to finish and finish strong, but I know I could have done better. Being slow was never a huge deal to me when I was running. After all, at least I was out there, right? I feel a bit different about this. I feel like I need to be faster and trying harder. I don't want to be last every time. It's nice to feel more driven this time, and to see something in the sport beyond the big event...

Sunday 1 September 2013

The Huka Diaries

*tap tap*

Is this thing still on?

Hello again, it's been a while.

Things happened. In particular, my knee happened. And my back happened. Specialists happened. The marathon didn't happen. In fact, quite a lot didn't happen for a while. It wasn't a good time.

Thankfully, medical science has stabilised my back to the point where I can watch a movie without having to pause it while I get up and walk around to alleviate the pain, the doctor has given me a high chance of osteoarthritis in my knees unless I Do Something (thing not specified) and eventually demotivation brought on by the medical profession and chronic pain gave way to the grit-teeth fuckyouness of realising that my knees are like my tattoos. They might be shitty when I'm old but I may as well enjoy them know.

Which brings me back to the mountain bike. I have a new one, which fits and cost a not-tiny amount of money and gives me no end of joy. I also have a new ridiculous thing to aim for: the Huka Challenge. 85m off-road MTB event, held on the same day as the Taupo Cycle Challenge at the end of November. It's a bit terrifying.

And exhilarating. In terms of effort, the marathon pretty much compares I think. However, this feel different. My training schedule consists of daily workouts on the bike (road or spin), regular weights session at the gym and at least one weekend day out at Woodhill or one of the many other fine parks of the muddy and sweaty persuasion (which will increase as we get more daylight and I can go hit up Totara after work). Where running felt like a clockwatching exercise at times (the blog became a reason to run, I'd formulate posts on the long sessions), being out on the bike is a joy. Every time I go out I'm improving at something, every time I take on a track I manage an obstacle that I didn't before. It's a bit addictive.

On the 15th I have my first event, the first in the 20-25km Auckland Challenge series. There are three of those taking me up to a fortnight before Huka, as well as the 60km Taniwha in early November. The calendar is starting to fill up with weekends away and club rides (I actually joined a club this time) and my washing line is increasingly neon and containing funny-looking shorts.

With all this in mind it seemed right to reopen this blog of adventuring, just to keep tabs on the whole thing. At the moment I'm managing about 16-20km on long rides and I'm working on getting my cardio and lower body strength up (this weekend saw my legs go to jelly while the rest of me felt fine, which was a new experience!). MTB seems to have a bit less of the mystical waffle that surrounds marathon running, and at a recent training weekend the wizened cycle guru's sole advice was just "Ride more". Works for me....

Sunday 11 November 2012

The Otago Rail Trail

Last month my friend and I decided to get ourselves into gear and cycle the Otago Rail Trail. We'd been talking about it for ages and with work taking me down to the South Island it seemed like the perfect opportunity!

Thursday I arrived in Queenstown, a town that's outrageously beautiful and incredibly full of drunken backpackers. I'd asked around for a place to stay before catching the coach to the start of the trail early the next morning and had been told The Base was a good bet. The smell of toilet bleach as soon as I walked through the doors didn't seem to bear that out, so I dumped my gear and decided to find something to do for a few hours. Turns out there's nothing to do in Queenstown of an evening in the shoulder season that doesn't involve booze, so after a really nice dinner at the "locals" Indian restaurant (venison curry! Chocolate naan bread!) I retired to bed with a book about hiking in NZ and the last of the chocolate naan, and managed to get an early one.

This proved pretty useful as at 3am that morning I was woken up by the sound of water being poured out. Turns out it was the very drunken young man in the bunk across from mine pouring out his bladder. All over his bunk. Fifteen minutes later I'm woken up by him sitting on my bed shining his phone into my eyes, demanding to know what had happened to his bed and why was it all wet? After a short, less-than-polite response I hunkered down and tried to sleep in a bunk that smelled like an unwashed jockstrap while the poor confused and pee-stained idiot woke up everyone else in the dorn to try to find out why his bed was wet. An auspicious start.

The rail trail begins!
Friday morning was made better by a bacon and egg roll the size of my head and a decent coffee as I waited for the coach. Despite weather warnings of the dire variety the weather was looking absolutely stunning as we pulled into Clyde where I'd meet my friend Fi and our rep from Shebikeshebikes, the company who'd put together our trip. Steve was very friendly and got us set up and ready to go on our incredibly comfortable bikes.

The first leg from Clyde to Chatto was glorious. Beautiful sunshine, gentle countryside and only the occasional strong gust of wind (better than the promised/threatened gale force winds and torrential rain). We started our coffee odyssey in the Chatto Creek Tavern, one of the local businesses that has blossomed with the trail and made us feel incredibly welcome and fed us delicious blue cod and chips. 

Nice, eh?

The second leg out towards Lauder saw some rain blow in as the incline cranked up. Full of cod and chips and coffee it made for slow going, but eventually we got through the rain cloud and that made the incline easier to deal with. The rain held off until we were just outside of Lauder, where we were spending the night, when the sky went from threatening to ominous to deluge. Thankfully, the Lauder School House was absolutely wonderful, and we were ushered in to hot tea, biscuits and a good chat with the owner. The Lauder Tavern was closed for meals but the White Horse in Becks about 9km away was open and had a free taxi service! It turned out the White Horse was where I'd had lunch with my parents when they were visiting in 2011 for the RWC, and where I'd first got the idea to do the trail, so it was nice to return to it and have more delicious kai (you will not starve on the rail trail). After half a bottle of pinot gris and a steak sandwich we were in bed by half nine.

The wonders of Edwardian engineering

Saturday morning we were up early and out into the very cold morning. A storm had blown through in the night and there was fresh snow on the hills, giving us a chance to use our thermals. As soon as we left Lauder we entered absolutely stunning countryside. Viaducts, tunnels, and soaring back country gave us the finest views of the trail.

Fine views, freezing fingers.

Unfortunately, with wild country comes wildlife and the local magpies had decided that of all the cyclists on the trail I was the biggest threat to their nests. We got attacked a few times and I was actually hit twice (wear helmets, kids). We took to yelling and waving at magpies when we saw them swooping at us which must have made us look a bit hysterical to other trail users (not that there were many!). There were fewer as we dropped into the Ida Valley, a long, (false) flat stretch that led slowly towards Wedderburn and the highest point of the trail. It was a bit of a grind, though not as much as it must have been for the cyclists going the other way into a headwind. We stopped at the quirky Hayes Engineering Works, where they leisurely served us some delicious pumpkin soup and we got to have a poke about some old engineering sheds. From there, the tailwind helped get us up to Wedderburn and the top of the trail. We celebrated by the sign saying "It's all downhill from here!" with some giant jellybeans before heading on down to Waipiata and our second bed and breakfast.

Top of the trail, ma!

We had had to contact the Waipiata Hotel two weeks before we arrived to book our dinner, something of a record as far as I'm concerned as far as booking food goes. Waipiata was the quintessential central Otago farming hamlet. Gravel roads, utes, and a frankly concerning sign painted on a farm building as we walked to the hotel. However, the food was delicious, cooked on a barbecue outside by the owner in almost Scottish weather as we enjoyed a good glass of wine and some pretty, uh, quirky service. We walked back to our B&B a bit tipsy to the sound of frogs looking for other frogs, something I've never heard anywhere else in the country.

Haere mai!
We had to be the end of the trail in Middlemarch by two so that Fi could get her bus so we decided to get up and away early. We had 53km to cover but thankfully it was all downhill in beautiful weather and we made short work of the run to Hyde and coffee, then on to Middlemarch. It was a brilliant end to a fantastic few days, and the town is set up brilliantly for people coming off the trail. We ended our trip with a great lunch (really, so much awesome food) a hot shower, and some great stories from Dave (Cycle Surgery) on the journey to the Pukerangi train and Dunedin.

It was a fantastic few days and at about 50km a day really not a challenging physical workout. I've been busy telling everyone to do it and if you live in NZ there's really no excuse for taking a few days out and visiting this absolutely stunning part of the south island. Shebikeshebikes were absolutely rad as well, organising everything flawlessly and even phoning ahead to Chatto Creek on the first day to check that we were OK after the weather warning. I'd highly recommend them if you're looking for someone to make the organisation easy!

Go. Just go. It's rad. Really.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Days and Memories

(I'm hopped up on green tea with lime and feeling creative. Therefore blogging will happen. I REGRET NOTHING!)

So today my good friend and occasional writing collaborator @amiewee put forth the following question on twitter:

Good question. I had no idea. 

Then she asked:

Simple questions, yes? This was my first thought....

Why that one? I wrote about it in detail a few years ago as part of an attempt to do NaNoWriMo but I guess the short version is that it was the first time I remember going from being a spectator to a participant. My parents hadn't done it (at least in my living memory). It was something that was Mine. It was the first time I realised that things like this were possible, within reach of mere mortals, even 16 year old ones. The fact I nearly killed myself on my second jump just makes the lesson even more important I think. And man, was it fun to unearth some writing of mine from four years ago! I was preparing to move to NZ at that point. Interesting times. 

But what else? I got thinking. Today's been one of those days that's invited lots of thinking. I've been productive, my room is clean and all the laundry is done. The rats are making a nest having been cleaned out, there's good tunes on the stereo, and the weekend has been full of happy times with good people. I've been alone today, but nothing approaching lonely. 

So, what memories make themselves known immediately when I get asked this? 

One that I think will stay with me forever is actually pretty recent. It was the morning after my motorcycle had been stolen. I'd been out of hospital only a few days. I remember lying in bed, and distinctly thinking "you have two options here. You can spend the day in bed feeling really down and nobody would blame you for that. Or you can get up and keep going." I remember it feeling like a real choice, one that went further than just that morning. Now, whenever I feel a bit overwhelmed by things, I just remember how I felt lying in bed that day, leg in plaster, painkillers not working, and how I still managed to get the hell up and fix what I could. Gritted teeth and all. 

If I'd seen you nicking my bike bro, I'd have chased you. Cast or no.

Standing on the roof of an abandoned office block in East London, NYE 2004/5, watching the sun rise on a new year and toasting the dawn with a can of lager with people I'd met only weeks or hours before (some of whom I count as close as family today) also sits at the top. I'd been in the city a few months, and that was the moment I knew I wasn't going to move back to Glasgow, that I could make it here. Eight months later I was training to be a teacher, something I'd probably never have thought of if I'd gone north. Again, a total game-changer (and a hilarious night all round. Were my little parochial eyes opened to life in the big city that day)

Watching the sea haar roll in and over a massive island in the arctic ocean before totally enveloping it, in the weird milky sunlight that you get at midnight in that part of the world. Feeling awed at this otherwordly sight and thinking suddenly that it is sights like this that produce myths and religions. I remember being completely entranced, standing on this beach watching this alien seascape disappear before an advancing, inexorable force. I was 13.
Too crazy to take photos, have a poster instead

Standing front and centre for the gig Clutch played at the Kings Arms in 2010. I went with my oldest NZ friend and it was incredible. Intimate venue, absolutely packed with fans, music loud and intense and everything you want a gig to be. I had bruises on my hip bones from where the crowd had pummelled me into the stage. This was a gig like pop culture makes you imagine gigs should be like. No lesson really, just AWESOME NOISE.

Being woken up age tiny by my mum and dad in the middle of the night. I was bundled into a really warm jacket (my memory tells me it was furry) and taken outside, where the biggest aurora borealis was happening. I remember this huge curtain of red and gold like fire lighting up the sky like it was the end of the world, with green and blue flickers and jumps. Standing in the front doorway, looking out over a dark field and up to this hypnotic, terrifying and stunning display is one of my earliest memories and I am eternally grateful to my parents for thinking it was more important than sleep.

I was going to say that's my top 5 but it's six so you get one for free. They're maybe not the absolute happiest moments ever or the kind of days people say are their best memories, but they're the six that leapt out at me when I saw this so I guess they're the most important floating around in my brain right now.

I'd probably write about six different ones tomorrow.

Needing permission

Yesterday was one of those days where I felt that summer wasn't just teasing- she was actually here. I woke up to glorious sunshine and the sound of the kids next door playing outside with a noisy exuberance that was perhaps not entirely welcome at half seven in the morning, but nevertheless was an incitement to get out of my nest and Go Do Something. After looking at both my noble two-wheeled beasts I plumped for a day on the trails at Woodhill, got my stuff together, and headed up the highway to the playground.

I recently bought some MTB clip-in pedals and shoes from the awesome, and I was desperate to try them out. However, whilst I have a semi-decent toolkit (thanks, dad!) I lacked the leverage to get the old flat pedals off. In a moment of genius I decided to take them to Woodhill with me and get them swapped over at the pro shop there.
It's like a gym and a nature trail and a playground in one!

I've been steadily accumulating bits and bobs for cycling since I recently rediscovered the joys of throwing a bike round a forest, and turned up with my shiny new shoes, a Camelbak, and iPod on one of those armbands that makes you feel half cyborg badass, half poseur who belongs on a crosstrainer at Les Mills. However, my bike is ten years old and has been, well, neglected is a kind way to put it, having been used variously as a commuter vehicle (London, once ending up under a car), a scourge of cycle tracks (Glasgow), an occasional off-road beastie (everywhere), and room/garage/outside ornament (also everywhere). I can do basic maintenance things to it but intermittent use and my epic levels of procrastination (hello, facebook and tumblr!) mean that it's a bit munted. As I wheeled it towards the pro-shop I got a hit of social awkwardness. Would I look like a prat for getting new clip-in pedals put on an outdated contraption that I've been riding my entire adult life? Would they look at my new shoes and "rehydration system" and think I was the worst kind of track-blocking waster?

And this is the crux of my post. That paralysing feeling that you somehow need permission to do something, especially something active. That unless you are a world champion you're not allowed to take part. That if you have new gear you're posing and if your gear is crap you're not taking it seriously. That you're too fat to wear workout gear, too old to skate. Whatever.

Like running, I'm slow on the mountain bike. I pull over for people behind me. I'm cautious on the downhills (though with every sortie into the woods I improve my skills and my speed) and my knee means I take it easy on the uphills. I wear cycling gear I pick up from the Warehouse or clearance sales. I'm new to the sport and it's like learning to ride a bike all over again a lot of the time. I see the "cool kids" with their disc brakes and their carbon shocks and feel a bit intimidated. What happens in the playground comes back to haunt you in adultland sometimes.

I guess that's where my experiences in roller derby have been so valuable. I felt that fear, that lack of "permission" to be there when I first started out. I felt it doubly so when, on my second ever practice, I got a bollocking by the coach for not being able to do one of the falls properly. If it hadn't been for some of the other skaters there who talked to me, made me feel like I DID have permission to be there, I probably would never have gone back. It was that feeling of inclusiveness and support from pretty much everyone there that kept me going back and made me determined to do well.

It was a lesson I remembered when I started coaching. Give people permission to be there. Be friendly, don't judge them for coming with a complete set of new gear bought online before even setting foot on the track, or for coming in skates bought when disco was in, or for coming with nothing. It doesn't matter. Elitism just strangles the enthusiasm that every sport or activity needs to keep going.

I remembered all that as I asked for some help getting the pedals swapped over. The guy who helped me out clearly didn't give a stuff about how old my bike was, or that I was wearing a Kathmandu jersey and pink gloves. He just seemed happy to help out someone as keen on throwing themselves about the woods as he was. As ever, that feeling permission is needed came not from the experts, but from myself.

Of course, the bike suffered a major mechanical fail on the trails which means I might have to look at buying a new bike anyway, but that's beside the point. Don't feel you need to be brilliant at something just to start doing it. Don't feel like you need permission from the elite to enter their territory. Be honest about your skill level and confidence and you're only going to improve. Which you won't if you sit and wait for permission from people who in reality are just stoked to have you take an interest in their sport to begin with.

Thursday 8 November 2012


So my last post (and the first post in ages) was pretty dark. I don't apologise for that. Waking up to a sunny day and feeling pretty low about a life's ambition culminating in sweet bugger-all will lead to the kind of blogging usually done whilst listening to Mogwai and smoking endless cigarettes in a dingy basement.

However, I am never one to let the moodiness of one day affect another. Monday the 29th dawned with sunshine, work and the realisation that whilst I might not have run the Auckland marathon last weekend, neither did a lot of people and they managed this news just fine.

Not being able to run far and getting a diagnosis of Munted Kneecap (not a medical term) has given me a chance to do a bit of a damage inventory, and figure out where I'm going from here. The inventory is pretty long, and rather painful.

  • Right knee. Munted.
  • Left shoulder. Munted (have spent my entire adult life sleeping on my left side with my shoulder thrown forward. Apparently it's not built to withstand that)
  • Lower back. Slightly munted (prolapsed disc from poor form doing a deadlift in 2009)
  • Left ankle. Still not full range of motion, and are scars still supposed to hurt after this long?
So, where to start? What's the next goal? After years of signing up to races, events, sports etc. I decided to change gear slightly. I want to Not Hurt. I want the injuries to heal, to build up the muscle and tendon that will help hold everything in place and let me do what I want without worrying about this giving way or that stopping me from sleeping at night.
Toy store/bedroom

It's a different way of looking at my body. One where I'm working with it, not in spite of it. Getting back to the body as an ergonomic tool, rather than something to be tortured and pushed.

So with that in mind, I joined a new gym in town. One where rugby players train and there's loads of classes on all the time (it even has a pool!). I'm going to yoga 2-3 times a week, spin classes, pilates and weights classes. I've signed up with a PT to put together a recovery program. My new (to me) road bike is making me happy, as is my very old mountain bike.  I've thrown my scales away. I go out with friends instead of a run and don't feel guilty. It's all a bit new and weird and really quite good.


Saturday 27 October 2012

Marathon day.

Today, 28th October, was the day I was meant to have completed the Auckland marathon. Instead, I've spent the day feeling utterly wretched. No Saucony trainers have been laced up, no 4am ferry to Devonport caught, nothing. Instead, I read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. I drank some coffee. I felt a bit lost. No finishers medal will adorn my wall.

The trouble all began back in June. Actually, scratch that. It began back in 1998, when my right kneecap dislocated during a game of lasertag. And again in 2001, stepping over a low bench in a night club. In 2008, reaching for the final hold on a climbing wall problem I'd been trying to complete for a few weeks. And finally, in June 2012, when it popped out of its track  doing a turnaround toe stop. I wrote at the time that normal walking and running were fine. That wasn't strictly true.
On the final k of the Whangamata half marathon, 1/9/12.
I made the error of thinking that by seeing a physio a couple of times and resting it a bit that it'd be fine. What I didn't bank on was, as the kilometres increased, the knee would become more swollen and painful. I bought Voltaren and ice packs thinking that if I treated the symptoms the cause would also go away. I prescribed to the "she'll be right" attitude of injury management until I couldn't ignore the grinding I (and others) could feel when I straightened and bent my knee, the "give" of the patella after 18k or so, the near-inability to drive home after my half-marathon in Whangamata (at least I can say I completed one of those). With just under two months to go to the marathon and my excuses not to make my runs wearing thin (no, it's nothing serious, just work/friend's birthday/neighbour's cat's funeral) I realised that attempting to run more than a half marathon distance could be Very Bad and bit the bullet.

The doctor was concerned. She agreed that knees don't do what my knee was doing. I was sent for X-rays. And an ultrasound. Then more x-rays (to discount a possible fracture of the kneecap). Then an MRI. An orthopaedic specialist. Surgery was mooted.

I went from the 28th of October being my D-Day, my focus, to having nothing. A kind of medical limbo. I cycled. I swam. I waited for appointments. I didn't run. I felt out of control, helpless. I felt angry with myself for going to the doctor at all (it would be fine if I just carried on!), and angry for not going sooner. I felt like those times when the marathon seemed to hard had come back to bite me harder than I felt I deserved. The feeling of letting people down and some other, totally unrelated things in my personal life tipped me into a pretty dark place for a while. If I'm honest, I'm not out of it yet.
right knee, skyline view. 

Five days before I should have been lining up in Devonport, the specialist came back with the diagnosis. Fissuring of the cartilage under the kneecap. No surgery needed immediately (thank god) but I may need some to loosen the tendons on one side of the patella in the future. Rock climbing was off the "things to do on a weekend" menu. Cycling and swimming were on. Gentle jogging was acceptable. I didn't ask about distance, I don't think I wanted to know.

I'd managed to get my head around not doing the marathon before today. I've moved house, joined a new gym, got a road bike and started cycling to work (a round trip of 42km, amusingly). I've got a new job starting next year. It's been a sunny weekend.

Today though, today's floored me. Waking up this morning to a beautiful sunny day, knee actually aching (which it does nearly all the time), well, it's not been easy.

I feel like my body's failing on all fronts. My lower back still hurts from popping a disc in 2009 (weightlifting, as you do), so I quit weightlifting in case I hurt myself again. My ankle still doesn't have full range of motion from the accident, and I quit skating. Now I'm told I can't rock climb, and have to carefully consider things like hiking as descents can cause permanent damage. I don't know what to do next.

So yeah, that's what happened. This blog seems to have had it's fair share of triumphs and failures and I leave this update feeling very lost. I don't know what to do next, if in fact I should set myself any sort of physical challenge as I just seem to injure myself out of them.

Thanks for all the encouragement, aroha and support both on this blog and IRL. Thanks to those who donated money to the Red Cross. I'm sorry I couldn't see it through.