Contact Epic is one of those races I’ve always looked at and thought why would you ever want to do that? Then I found myself debating whether I would do the Epic (125km) or the Classic (95km). Everyone who has done the event has their opinion “obviously you want to say you’ve completed the whole circumference of Lake Hawea”, “The first 25km’s on the road sucks on a mountain bike”. Eventually, I committed to the Classic 95km’s thinking that would be a great enough challenge for my first go. Then on a drunken night at Kai, Shona North convinced me that I should be doing the Epic to the point that I sent an email to the organizers asking to change my entry! I ignored the reply that said it wouldn’t be a problem, lesson: don’t drink and email:)
Heading into the week of Contact I was feeling pretty run down, after a few big weeks at work and just a week after Naseby12hr Solo I was using all my brain power convincing myself I felt totally fine. I hadn’t had a chance to get back on my bike since Naseby other than riding to and from work and was starting to get concerned that my goal of 6Hrs 20mins was not even in the realm of possibilities. Being happy with giving it a go was going to have to do.
Bracing myself for snow, wind, and rain I was pretty stoked for race day to come with warm ideal conditions. My race plan was to ride with Richard Woodward, who’d had the unfortunate experience of racing this in 2013 with some pretty horrible sounding conditions. I should have read his blog before I’d signed up –
Anyways we arrived at the Kids Bush car park with the sun just starting to rise, the traditional start song of Eminem – Loose Yourself starts to play. Rick is still messing around putting his bib shorts into place, adjusting something other none essential item “hey Rick umm…. everyone has started to take off from the start line ya think maybe we should go?” We were literally the last people to head off down the mellow looking 4×4 track, maybe this was a mental tactic because it did feel pretty good to race past the slower riders. We started up the first big climb and my gears started jumping all over the place…. ok not ideal. We get to the top of the hill after what felt like forever, Rick grabs my bike performs some sort of bike voodoo and she was all good to go.
There is no other way to describe this course but relentless- if you’re not climbing you’re in the midst of a technical downhill. This makes it challenging to eat or drink, I kept thinking ok at the top of this hill, no wait at the bottom of this one, surely there is a small flat spot around here somewhere. Dougal Allen and the fastest riders from the Epic (125km) started to pass us before we hit Boundary Hut (approx 31Km in). Man, they were moving SO fast it was very impressive. We crossed the Hunter River (burr) and started to head back down the other side of the lake, with a quick stop at the Green Bush Hut.
While heading up thru the grassy tracks I may have made a small comment to Rick about him maybe needing to go a little faster on the downhills as I was having to keep braking when I couldn’t get around him. Well, let’s just say he gave me “the look” and that was the last I saw of him. I definitely cursed him for a bit thinking of our conversation regarding the repair kit, “Nah we’ll just split it between us”. So there I was with a pump and no tire levers or any sort of tool hoping that I don’t get a flat or any other mechanical issue.
I’d managed to keep myself fairly positive all day, even though I was feeling pretty shit. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks I went from positive just peddling along to hating life! I got into a really bad dark patch like I’ve never experienced before. My body was achy and sore but mostly my brain was dragging me down, I don’t even know how long I was in this head space or what was happening around me at the time. There was just a circle of terrible thoughts running around in my head, “What was I thinking?”, Why do I keep putting myself through this?” “Is this all really worth it?”. I was so frustrated and annoyed at myself for feeling so useless. Eventually, I’d had enough and knew I had to give myself a pep talk, I still had a long way to go with no options on how to get there. I started to tell myself (out loud) “Yes you can, you don’t have choice so put a smile on your face and get on with it” I’m sure the dude biking past me at the time thought I was going a bit crazy:) It worked I pulled it back together started to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the amazing weather, I was here and doing it so no point making it miserable for myself.
When I got to the Dingleburn station my bike was making some sad squeaking sounds. I’ve never been so happy to see Franck who asked what I needed, I replied with “I don’t know umm yeah I don’t know.” He pretty much started throwing bananas at me filled up my water bottle, lubed up my chain patted me on my head and sent me on my way.
Having ridden this section a couple of times before I knew what I was in for with the last 30kms to go and a few good climbs left. I had a nice chat with a man while walking up the Timaru Creek hill together, so close but so far. Finally turning onto Cemetery Road into across wind blowing me all over the place just had to hang in a little longer. The music came into earshot and the pub just ahead, I was very happy to cross the line in 6:39:10.
What a day, what a course, the highs the lows it was a major challenge. The views are amazing, the terrain is relentless it is not just a little ride around the lake that’s for sure. I would like to say I enjoyed every minute but that is certainly not true. I learned a lot about myself and how to climb my way out of a dark spot which is a great accomplishment in it self. It always amazes me how powerful the brain is when you think you can or can’t do something, either way, you’re always right. With my first summer of races under my belt all, I can say is yes you can and you’ll never know till you try! What have you got to lose:) Thanks to Racers Edge Powered by Torpedo7 for the entry and Richard Woodward for the photos.
I’d done the Naseby 12 hour mountain bike race before in a team of 5 and spent SO much time just hanging out waiting for my time to ride.
So this year we decided the perfect number was 3, one rider and 2 to keep each other company. February 1st registration opened and I was ready and waiting to secure our spot. Team name Bike Chicks, it was the best I could come up with on short notice. I was excited to spend the day with Nicky and Gracie, non competitive…. but obviously we were going to smash it:)
About 2 weeks out from the race Francis the Icebreaker rep said he had a team entry he could hook us up with. Which was totally awesome! Being that I’m super organised I had already paid for my entry and did think at one point I would like to attempt this as a solo rider. With little encouragement I had opted out of the team and found myself going solo. Yikes!
I was pretty excited at the chance to race SOLO as most of the other events I’d done this season were in a team. Hoping I could keep myself motivated and in a good head space without having buddies to rely on. Not really knowing what to expect I took on a lot of advice from friends who had done this kinda thing before. My favourite was “don’t skimp on the anti-chaffing cream” – seemed reasonable.
Race day dawned to blue skies, which was a relief as it was raining the whole day before and I’m not the most confident in the mud. It was a Le Mons start which meant a little run around the camp and up a hill to spread out the riders. I wasn’t really prepared for what was waiting at the top of the hill which can only be described as pure chaos. The side of the track was lined with spectators holding bikes, yelling trying to get their riders attention, I ran along looking frantically for Kristal (camp mom and absolute legend) freaking out that maybe I’d ran past her without noticing. Finally she appeared ahead holding my bike, unfortunately I was on the opposite side of the track, I felt like I was going to get run over as I braved the sea of cyclists to get to her.
I knew the first lap was going to be my slowest, it always takes me a while to warm up and settle in. Also very aware that it was a long day ahead and didn’t need to go crazy straight out of the gate. Getting to know the course on the first couple laps, the muddy conditions sent me flying off my bike a couple times, my favourite being falling into the water race on lap 3, I was thinking you have got to be F-ing kidding me! Laps 4 to 6 felt really good, finally it was all coming together my heart rate had settled to where I wanted it to be, having a great time chatting to other riders, enjoying the beautiful tracks and the amazing day it was turning out to be. Then some nice person kindly reminded me I was only half way through. It was like a switch was flicked and all the little aches and pains came at once.
This was my chance to stop, have a proper food break, stretch, change my clothes and load up on some ibuprofen. Feeling like a new person I hopped back on my bike for Lap 8. The best part of this event was the small chats you had with people as they were passing you or maybe in the off chance I passed someone with my slow and steady pace. Encouraging words from the team riders saying there is no way they could go solo, or bumping into the same people “how’s it going now” “still going which is good”. I did a few laps with Rick who’d helped me leading up to the race by passing on some of his knowledge in going solo, he was extra crazy opting for his single speed as his weapon of choice.
At the end of Lap 9, I was starting to feel a bit tired and thought instead of hammering the last fast section through the trees I’d be a bit more sensible and slow down…… I’m not entirely sure what happened but I ate Sh*t, landing hard on my left side, smacking my
head on the ground, that did not feel nice at all! I spent the first half of Lap 10 telling myself this was the last lap, my goal was 12 but I said I’d be happy with 10, I’m tired and was probably going to kill myself. By the end of Lap 10 I had convinced myself to continue because I had come this far and am way to stubborn (I prefer determined) to give up. When I rolled into camp I was pretty stoked to see Kristal dressed to ride the last couple laps with me (again she’s a freaking legend). Lights on full we ventured out for 2 more trips around the 11km loop.
12 Laps, 144 km, 11 hrs 35 mins and 7th in my category I couldn’t be more stoked with that! Would I do it again? you bet. It was such a fun day. Great people on and off the course it was super social, what more could you ask for. I loved the challenge of pushing myself, the unknown of how my body would feel after 12 hours, and the amazing feeling of accomplishment when it was done. I’m not the best mountain biker in the world and yes I fall off my bike frequently but it’s not how you fall it about how quickly you get back up.
“Just send this guy an email and see if you can get a spot” says Tom Akass, seemed harmless enough. What are the chances I’m going to get one of the 25 spots that are open in the Alexandra stop on the TranNZ Enduro? Well pretty good actually being that I got an email back 10mins after sending my request. I still needed to get the day off work and with 2 others already signed up with the day off I thought not happening… “So about your time off request” “I can’t have the Wednesday off can I?” “Nah Wednesday’s sweet I just need you to work the Saturday?”
So there I was signed up for my very first enduro bike race. It takes a lot to make me nervous but this had me totally shaking. But hey there is only one way to get better and since I seem to be on this mission to push myself outside the comfort zone this seemed reasonable. The TransNZ Enduro is a 5-day bike race, timed descents and untimed uphills around the South Island. The first 2 days spent around the Canterbury area, and 4 days based in Queenstown. The Alexandra day is the only stage where they open a few spaces for some locals to get in on the action.
My riding had improved SO much over the summer, just with loads of time on my bike and I’m willing to give anything a go so what did I have to loose really! I was struggling to keep my brain in line on this one. NO matter how many times I told myself I could do it, it didn’t make up for my lack of downhill abilities. I hit up Sticky Forest as much as I could riding over rocks and trails I’d normally avoid. Tom said if I could do the Bilantis Rock roll before the race that would be good, I didn’t. An evening up Cardrona Bike Park helped me feel a little more confident. Although I’d never ridden in Alex before I knew the terrain was pretty barren and rocky.
Niall and I headed down the Friday before the event to scope out some of the trails. There is no trail map so we went to the local bike shop for some insider knowledge. Just follow your nose was mostly what we were told and look for pink arrows, as these were the markings for the course. Starting with a steep climb up the road, then an easy track around into what looked like some potentially more technical trails, stopping every once and a while to discuss our direction. Finally we found a pink arrow! Not being overly prepared for what the down hill would offer I forgot to drop my seat (rooky mistake) and as I came into a steep rocky section I had a bail over the bars landing on my elbow which of course started to bleed immediately. Note to self; borrow elbow pads for race day. We continued on, Niall offering advice on lines to take and how to ride them. Walking back up a few places to give it another go, I knew I could walk sections I didn’t feel comfortable with but that was not really the point it was a bike race after all. I left happy to have had a chance to check out the terrain but still not overly stoked in my ability to keep it rubber side down.
Race Day Tom A and I convoyed to Alex with Ewan and Henry (also Henry’s first Enduro) and met Tom B (another co-worker) down there. After a short race meeting and some track notes about a steep cliff and the easy route vs a not so easy route on a couple sections we were ready to go. I turned around to grab my bike and the boys were gone. Oh great I get to spend the day by myself! I followed the string of riders toward the trails trying to keep my nerves at bay. Half way up I caught up to Ewan and Henry who were happy to hang out with me for the day. When we reached the top of the first of 5 stages the line of riders behind was amazing. I was kind of happy to be near the front not having to wait. The first stage was one of the more technical, so nothing like starting with the hard stuff no warm up just straight in. I lifted my bike over the fence informed the rider behind me I was going to be a bit slow so maybe give me a bit more space. I watched as the people in front shot off down the track over the rocks and disappeared, my hands were sweating,
anticipation killing me. It was my turn, I waved my hand over the timer and I was off round the corner over the first rock slab it was a bit steep, technical but I felt good. More techy stuff, rocks to navigate, all I was thinking was the pink dots are the line just follow them. Down into a little valley I could see Henry in front of me, ummm not to far behind ok I got this, I’m actually doing pretty well. Climbed out of the valley round another corner the track straight ahead this must be the cliff section they were talking about but it’s relatively flat with a steep drop to the left, I reckon I can go a little faster through here. The thought had no more then crossed my mind when BAM! I caught some soft dirt and went straight over the handlebars landing right shoulder then head first on the ground. I got up super fast, caught my breath, hopped back on my bike thinking I need to get to the bottom before something really starts to hurt. I blinked back the tears from my eyes rode though more slabby rocky bits, some stuff I recognized from last weeks mission. I walked some bits being really annoyed at myself, my shoulder throbbing hoping my helmet was still intact. Made it to the bottom where the girl at the timer asked if I was ok in which I replied with a “NO I’ve done something to my shoulder” I continued down walking one bit because I could barely put any weight on my bars, to where Henry and Ewan were waiting at the bottom. Ewan being a ski patroller quickly assessed me telling me it was probably just muscle damage, the medic gave me some panadol and ibuprofen. I didn’t want to give up but I didn’t know if it was a good idea to continue on. So being the stubborn person that I am I sucked it up and carried on. Peddling up to the bottom of stage 2 was a struggle, my head not in the right place, any small amount of confidence I’d had completely gone. The Tom’s had just finished stage 2 clearly having a little battle for who would be the fastest Tom. I decided not to ride the next stage as it was just was technical as the first stage and waited at the bottom for the boys.
The drugs had kicked in by the time they had gotten back to me and we continued up to stage 3. I really enjoyed the uphill with my right arm draped over my bars not offering much in the way of help. This stage started with a big smooth rock slab, and few smaller rocky sections, I struggled to turn my handlebars and squeeze my brake, fairly essential movements, the tears started again and I knew it was over. I made it to the bottom after walking a few sections and being really annoyed at myself. Luckily this was where the food station was and I drowned my sorrows in chips and sugary treats. I hung around waiting for the boys to complete stage 4 and pondering how I was going get back to town. Fortunately I met a Mom who’s teenaged boys had taken the day off school to compete (I love this place), half way down we ran into Tom A who was on his way to collect me.
Reflecting back on the day I’m super proud of what I managed to accomplish. Yeah it wasn’t a stellar performance, I fell of my bike (what’s new) but I pushed myself to do something outside my comfort zone. What I did manage to ride was far bigger and more technical then anything I’ve ever done before, how could I not be totally stoked with that! I don’t want to live in a cushioned bubble just doing what I can already do, I don’t care if I’m bruised and battered I’m living life to the fullest and enjoying every minute of it. The best riders didn’t get to be the best riders by playing it safe did they? If you only do what you can do, you will never be more then who you are now. – Shifu, Kungfu Panda 3. This just leaves room for heaps of improvement next year!!
As far as the battle of the Tom’s, Tom A (25:65) beat Tom B (27:64) by 2 minutes, which I was informed is a lot. So Tom B is now know as the second fastest Tom:) Feature Photo: Tom Akass – photo credit TransNZ
After the high from Spring Challenge, I briefly looked into Red Bull Defiance as a potential next goal. Overview: 2 Day adventure race, 71km mountain bike, 34km run, 37km kayak, 60m abseil, 5238m of vertical! The thought was fleeting because there was NO way I was going to find someone silly enough to want to do it with me. It couldn’t have been more then a day or two later while sitting in the office talking to Niall, a co-worker about his event plans for the summer he says “yeah I’d love to do Red Bull Defiance but I don’t think I’ll find anyone to do it with”, seriously! Of course I said I’d love to give it a go and at this point I’m pretty sure Niall thought it was just a passing comment. Little did he know…
There were a few things to sort, the entry fee being the first thing. Having a few connections from working at Racers Edge I sent out a couple texts and emails to see if I could find someone willing to donate to the cause. The one I sent to Gerard from The North Face went something like this: “Hey G any chance TNF would want to sponsor Niall and I for Red Bull Defiance? This is not a joke”, I had also jokingly mentioned it to a good friend,
John-Jo from Flashworks Media to sound him out whether he would be willing to help us out, I think he offered $50, which I replied with “that’s not going to get you naming rights” Later that night I got a text asking what naming rights would cost? Now at this point another friend had popped into the shop and told me he was going to have to sell his early bird entry for Defiance because his partner had hurt his knee. It’s like the stars aligned this was all happening a little too easily. A few days later Niall and I were registered as Team Flashworks Media supported with gear from The North Face.
So what happens now…. I should probably go ride my bike or run or something. This is also when I started to get a bit of negativity, I heard things like “you are doing Defiance???” my
personal favorite was “Niall why don’t you try to find a better partner” ouch; Really, I’m standing right here! This sort of shit defiantly rocked my confidence. I started to think what have I got myself into, what was I thinking, can I actually do this, all of these questions running around in my head. I caught up with Gavin Mason to help me lay out a plan and get my head in the right space. I didn’t want a full on training program but more just an outline. I put way too much pressure on myself, I would feel stressed if I didn’t complete something on a
structured program. I have really learned to listen to my body and know when I can keep pushing and when to take a break, recovery is just as important as training hard. Training took up most of my time, before work run or gym session, after work bike ride, days off work spent exploring parts of the course, I do also have a full time job in which I walk at least 10k a day. I would show up to the gym with bruises and scratches all over my legs, Sally (my trainer) would ask what I’d done now I’d usually reply with not sure probably fell off my bike. I
clipped into my bike for the first time (providing hours of entertainment), rode single track I’d only dreamt of before, ran places I’d thought impossible. Believing I could do it was the biggest challenge, if you think you can’t you probably won’t! So no matter what it was I had to think, “yes I can” or at least “get your Shit together you’ve got this”! I was just happy to be out doing things no matter how tough, I really enjoyed the challenge and tired to do it with a smile on my face. Niall and I had Fridays off together so we’d usually try to head out on some sort of adventure. We had some awesome missions, and like everything they didn’t always go to plan but that was half the fun! Our first mission we went to bike the Mineret Burn track after a bit if rain and couldn’t get across the Rumbling Burn. Niall was waist deep and struggling without carrying his bike, so I had no
chance. The first time we did the Skyline trail was an interesting day. We both ran out of water and decided to take the “Locals” track down thinking it would be faster but also not entirely sure where the track was. I learned that I’m useless when dehydrated! I called John-Jo when we’d finally found that track and were not far from the bottom requesting water and poweraid, stat! Bike adventures with Franck were always interesting….. “Just one more climb” usually meant this is only the beginning; Stop Francking with me was a term we used frequently. By the time the week of Defiance rolled round I was looking forward to giving my body a break, so my focus was on the little details, what to eat, how often (I have an extensive chart), transitions, what to wear…so many things to consider. Team Flashworks Media ready to race!
The day before race day (Friday) we headed to Oxbow Adventures to practice our claybird shooting skills, that’s right it’s a race that included firing guns! We had decided that who ever shoots the best was up first during the race. Niall got 9/10 so that was easy, I shot 7, not bad. Registration and gear check – tick, packed our transition bags, kayaks fitted, strapped food to our bikes, checked and re-checked. Race Briefing gave us the news we were anticipating of a course change on day one. Bikes were racked, transition bags turned in, nothing left to do but enjoy the salmon I’d ordered from Twizel, (did I mention I’m an over organizer) and try to get a goodnights sleep.
Saturday morning was a blurr of food and excitement, this was it, this is what I’ve been working so hard for. At Defiance HQ we piled into the buses and headed out past the Neck to a barge waiting to take us to the start line in Snag Bay on Minaret Station. Minutes after getting off the barge it was all on! We had a good start and climbed up the first hill; it didn’t take long for the pack to spread out. 43km, 1200m-altitude gain over formed 4WD tracks and muddy/rough farm tracks with a few river crossings. About 10km in all of my food bounced out of my bento box (not ideal) Niall was quick enough to stop and grab it. Felt a bit slow climbing/ pushing up some of the big muddy hills but we made up for it with some speedy down hills. Transitioning to the Rocky Mountain run was quick and we got on
to the steep climb and headed toward the special stage, an abseil. Which was bigger then I was anticipating and with the instructions of “this hand goes here and just keep walking backwards” it was pretty awesome!! With the Wanaka weather not coming to the party there was a course change that lengthend the run section and sent us to Paddock Bay to start the kayak. Instead of a 17km paddle (my strength) into Wanaka it was a 5km paddle across Glendu Bay and a 14km run (my weakness) on the Millennium Track. We used the towline for the run not so much to actually tow but more as a mental thing (at least for me) and to keep us together. I was pretty stoked to see the finish line and John-Jo of Flashworks Media with the burgers we had pre ordered! We stood in the lake for a few minutes to cool our tired muscles and get them ready for the next day. I had been told that my brain function would be very limited but I was unprepared for how slow it would be. I stood in my living room pointing at bags saying thing like “so I’ll get out of a kayak and get onto my bike…..what do I need to make that happen”. It didn’t help that we didn’t have very long to give our bikes a quick service and repack our transition bags for the next day. The evening plan was dinner, stretch, rehydrate and bed.
Woke up on Sunday feeling a bit stiff but once I got moving I was surprised that my body actually felt ok. We started on the lakefront in the rain with a 20km paddle around to the Outlet and down to Oxbow Adventures. Some rudder issues sorted with the help of the Kia Girls got us onto the Clutha river and making up some good time. I was pretty stoked to finally get to put my paddling and river skills to good use! My plan was to take this time in the boat to rehydrate, which was a good idea until I had to pee so bad I couldn’t think of anything else. Niall’s suggestion was just to go for it in the boat but with my bike shorts on and my pack sitting between my legs I thought “not happening”. We reached the pull out and once I’d sorted my gear I found the closest bush, which was not very far away, all modesty was lost, haha. After the kayak we ran a few kms to the clay bird shoot, which Niall smashed out in 52 seconds, BAM! On to our bikes and heading toward a big climb over Criffle Peak. 28km with a 1278m-altitude gain, wow my legs felt like lead weights as we started up the track. We had prepared for Niall to tow me and being the crazy machine he is we were actually passing teams going up hill. This was a pretty long stage; once we’d made it through the first part of the climb the rough track seemed to just continue uphill forever. We pushed and rode our bikes over rough muddy 4wd tracks, then onto a technical single track that brought us quickly down to the valley floor and across the Cardrona River to the last transition at Spotts Creek.
The dreaded Skyline track which I’d been least looking forward to but mentally felt pretty good about getting it done. Again we used the tow to keep us together, I swear I spent what felt like hours staring at Niall’s feet as we climbed up toward the Radio towers, that was the short course cut off, making it with lots of time to spare. Getting to the top of Mt Alpha we could see Wanaka and the finish giving us a wee boost then finally a little down before the last steep section to the summit of Mt Roy. We could see the 3rd place age group mixed team in front of us and we were gaining on them until we started the relentless descent. My toes slamming into the front of my running shoes was too much to put out of my mind. I tried to re-tie my laces but I just couldn’t stop the pain. This is the only stage in the race that
brought me almost to tears. There was no way I was going to let this beat me, I took a few long deep breaths and told myself to pull it together look at how far we’d come, I managed to keep it together. A few motivational words from Niall, “yup that’ll happen, lets go”. Luckily there was a water station at the bottom of the Mt Roy track because unbeknown to me Niall had run out of water round about Mt Alpha. Stoked to be off the hills and heading toward town, we talked about the day before when we’d run along the Millennium track. It felt like AGES ago. The music from the finish got louder as we made our way along the lake front, exstatic to run across the line! Team Flashworks Media finished Red Bull Defiance 2016 in 18 hours, 41 mintues.
Wow that was massive and amazing! People look at me like I’m crazy when I say I had fun, but I really enjoyed the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment! Life for me had changed so much in the last 6 months, it wasn’t just training, and getting out there, this was now just a way of life. Not something I was going to give up anytime soon. We could not have done it without our amazing support team, everyone who missioned with us, John-Jo Ritson from Flashworks Media, Gerard Bonny and The North Face Australia/ New Zealand. Hard to believe that a year and half ago I was learning how to walk again, I didn’t even think about my knee through the whole race. I would call that a total success!
Having a goal pushed me into training consistently and was such a positive thing to have in my life. Not just for my physical health but also my mental and emotional state as well. Sky’s the limit I know now I can do anything I put my mind too! What’s next…… who knows but whatever it is it’ll be done with determination and a smile.
Link Below to check out a rough edit from Flashworks Media of us in Transition at Spotts Creek.