My Romance With Running

Stories about running


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Taupo Cycle Challenge

10 years before I was born, in 1977,  26 friends got together to ride and raise funds for their local IHC and The Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge was born.

It is now New Zealand’s largest cycling event, and is the event I picked it to be my first ever cycling race. The main ride circles around Lake Taupō, which has the largest surface area of any lake in New Zealand and was formed by a huge supervolcanic eruption 26,500 years ago. It is the largest known eruption in the whole world in the past 70,000 years!

The lakes around where I grew up in Fiordland were formed by glaciers, slowly carved out by ice over thousands of years, not created by a surprise burst of extreme heat.

Trust me this is relevant.

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Storm rolling in over the Hunter Mountains – Lake Manapouri

This year I was one of 5,156 people that took part in the Taupō Cycle Challenge. Amongst the elite athletes like Olympian Hamish Bond, the people on tandem bikes that must have incredibly stable relationships, the mud splattered mountain bikers, the little shredders in the kids race, and the two guys riding Onzo bikes wearing tiny dick togs, I was right there getting in on the action.

My goal for entering this event was to have something to focus on other than running. I had entered the 160km ride, but I wasn’t able to train for it to the level I wanted to because of various things like the pēpi not taking a bottle, Wellington’s inhospitable weather, and just being the most tired I have ever been in my whole DAMN LIFE WHY WONT THE BABY SLEEP so I downgraded my entry to the half lake.

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Elliot didn’t know that you’re allowed to ride two abreast. She’s just a baby.

I was tossing up whether or not to downgrade as I didn’t want to have to pay the $15 administration fee. But as a friend pointed out, ‘When you are done riding the first 80km, would you be willing to pay 20cents per kilometre to not do another 80?’

Yes I would. Here, take my $15.

Friday night and the pre race preparations were going swimmingly; pasta for dinner with red wine, good friends, good food, and great conversations. A lovely king size bed with no old milk spew stains on the duvet cover, ready to sink in to and get a great night’s rest before the race.

Elliot had other ideas, and woke up every 60-90 minutes wanting to be fed and re-settled. After six months of this it didn’t even really register that I’d had stuff all sleep and I just dealt with it.

I woke up for the fifth and final time on race day at 6am to the sweet songs of my human alarm clock and decided that this time I’d stay up for good. The smell of coffee was already drifting up the stairs meaning Chan and Orsi were awake, time to get ready for my first cycling race!

I’d laid out my kit the night before so it was easy to find everything. I had a small tin of Butt Butter anti-chafe cream that I lathered on my saddle contact points (compare it to spreading Best Foods mayo all over a tortilla, get it right to the edges) before putting on my bib shorts. Moments later, there was a warm tingle, then a surprise burst of extreme heat. This company also make a deep heat product too, who knew?

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After frantically trying to wipe off the burning cream I fed Elliot, got dressed, then we were on our way to meet the bus that would take me to the start of my ride.

I sat on the bus making polite small talk, staring at the floor and judging everyone’s cycling ability by their socks. The leaky roof of the bus was steadily dripping on to the sleeve of my jacket and I pretended not to care, like I was some hardened cyclist who totally didn’t ever bail on rides because of a little rain.

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Found my bike!

I felt a mixture of pre-race nerves, painful period cramps, some remnants of deep heat fury and an increasingly desperate urge to pee. After an hour of absent-mindedly sipping electrolytes whenever there was a gap in the conversation on the bus (and the conversation was almost all gaps) I was really looking forward to the portaloo.

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‘It’s my first ever race!’ ‘No shit? Sweet vest.’

There was no mass start for this race, we just went whenever we wanted to. I started with a couple of teenage boys who were powering up the first hill. My ego told me to stick with them, you can’t let a couple of tiny kids beat you Amanda you’re over 30 for fuck’s sake, you’re a mother! Pedal harder, get up!

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Mid race selfie

As we climbed the first few hills I wondered if I was going out too hard too soon, there’s only one way to find that out so I just went for it. I wanted to get with a good bunch, but there were none around me so we had to make one.

I stuck with the boys, taking turns in front, grateful for the calm breathing techniques I learned in labour so I could pretend like I wasn’t at threshold trying to pedal with these annoyingly fit teenagers. We picked up a few full-sized men doing the 160km who joined our motley bunch, a fast female rider who had been dropped, a few more men, and by Turangi we had a little group of around 12 riders and things were moving well.

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I’ll just sit back here thanks

We drifted in and out of different bunches as we made our way along the lakeside. I was getting dropped by the curvy (or is it burly?) men on downhills, floating past them on the uphills, working together with so many different riders with their different strengths was a great experience.

The bunch had broken apart on the undulations before Hatepe Hill, the hill that everyone talks about as being steep and awful. It’s definitely the biggest hill on the course, but it isn’t as hard as riding up Makara.

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I almost look like I am supposed to be here.

In the final 15km I was in a new bunch of four men doing the full lake ride, all a lot stronger than me, all riding S-Works bikes that looked like they probably weren’t purchased off Trademe with a free pair of old MTB shoes. We worked together until the final hill up to the roundabout when I thought I should ride a bit harder and put some effort in, and I dropped them all. Pew pew!

So maybe they were riding twice as far as I was and they were tired. Maybe they had more weight to carry. Maybe they were finishing well under 5 hours. I still felt like it was a small win within my race that wasn’t really a race.

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The final km, suffering a lot.

The final stretch in to the centre of Taupō was where it rained the hardest. By this stage I just wanted it to be over, I was groaning in pain pushing dead legs as fast as they could go, my ass hurt, my back hurt, I was soaking wet. Looking at my finishing video, my form is awful and it looks like I’m trying to run across the line, but on a bike. I was giving it my best.

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I did it!

The finish wasn’t how I had imagined it back when when I first entered the race. I would think of finishing to get me through all of those crappy sessions on the wind trainer, think of the end goal, the prize!  I would hear the GPS beeping to tell me I’d hit 160km, squinting into the sun, pushing hard and racing right to the line, people cheering, elation at having completed my longest ever ride, meeting my family at the finish, holding Elliot in the air like a squealing trophy filled with sour milk, happy to see her after hours spent apart.

When I crossed the line I had no idea of how the race had played out, since we had all started at different times.  There were no familiar faces as the HCR group I was going to ride with were still out doing the full 160km, and because it was wet I knew that Brendon and Elliot would not be standing in the rain waiting. I had no phone to call anyone, it was in a drop bag that hadn’t made it’s way back to Taupō yet. I was freezing cold. It was my first race so my time felt a bit irrelevant, did I do ok? Should I be happy?

I got a good five minutes of cyclocross in as I rolled around the grassy wet finishing area, trying to find just one recognisable face, pretending that I wasn’t at a complete loss as of where to go and what to do.

When you’ve just ridden in the rain for over two hours, your only sustenance in that time a coffee flavoured gel that stuck to your gums, and a cliff bar that had the ingredients sticker soaked in to the back of it (you ate the sticker too), you’re pretty damn hungry.

Just past the race finishing chute was a huge trestle table with mandarins. PEELED MANDARINS! Hallelujah! I bit off all my nails the day before the race and now my fingers were so cold that I’d have had better luck peeling it with my frozen nipples than my useless numb stumps of fingers.

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Mandarins instead of bananas, what next?!

After 72km of riding with a wet chamois, what could be better than eating a mandarin?

I finished 72.4km in 2.17.32, 8th female of 362 and first in my age group, you can see my ride on Strava and the official results are here.

I figure that with a few minor adjustments I can improve my time if I try this race again next year:

  • Lose the additional chest weight – 30 seconds
  • Replace the CX bike with a real life road bike – 2mins
  • Order some sunshine – 1min
  • Wear lipstick -15 seconds
  • Start in a bunch -5mins
  • Sleep 8 hours the night before -2mins
  • Don’t have a baby 6 months before the race -3mins

I learned a lot in training for and riding this event. I learned how to make time for myself when everyone else seems to be the priority. I discovered the importance of taking proper rest when I’m tired, and how a lack of sleep can impact your training. I figured out how to push myself a bit harder over hills, and how to do just the right amount of work when riding in a bunch.

I would love to go back next year and do it all again, Elliot will be older and sleeping better (dream on), I’ll be riding the new S-works that Santa is bringing me, and hopefully I’ll be alongside the people I train with doing the full lake loop. See you in 2019!

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The Wrong Side of the Bed

Tyres pumped up, lights fully charged, kit laid out, snacks ready, alarm set. I was pretty excited about doing a hill session with the HCR group early on Thursday. Riding with friends as the sun is coming up is such a great way to start the day.

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Then I got out of the wrong side of the bed…

Thankfully this was at 11.30pm, so I just got back in. I got back out on the right side at 1am. 3am came around, woops, wrong side! Better try again. 4.15am, woohoo! Right side, but a couple of hours too early. Better get back in!

As much as you can prepare to make sure you fit in some exercise, there are some things that you can’t help. Things like your baby waking up 7 times in the night; the four month sleep regression is a real thing.

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The alternative to my hill session.

I haven’t been feeling very enthusiastic about exercising the past few weeks. The usual tactics I use to motivate myself just aren’t working for me.

In the past I would be thinking about a goal, and each session would be a step towards completing it. Right now I am a bit aimless with my running because I don’t have any goals to work towards. This is largely because I don’t want to put the pressure on myself or on my body to train hard.

Just run for the fun of it then! Well. The only times I can run are early morning or late in the evening. Often it is a run in the dark, and I’m on a short leash- limited to the extremely hilly neighbourhood streets. The running is almost always done alone. Where is the fun in that?

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All charged up and nowhere to run

My fitness and health have been a priority for me since 2009 when the price of Southern Gold increased from five bucks for a six pack and I realised that the cost of partying wasn’t just hurting my wallet.

It’s hard to make it a priority when you have another human to look after that needs to be fed, clothed, cleaned and now, entertained!

Last Sunday I should have done a long ride to train for the 160km cycling race (gulp, nervous fart) that I am doing in November. Three hours or more on the bike by myself was not appealing. I would rather spend time with my family and do something relaxing with them; go for a walk, have coffee, eat cookies, blow spit bubbles and do some out of control arm and leg flailing on the floor with no pants on.

I was happy that I chose family time, but felt a little bad that I was lacking in motivation to train for the big event I had committed to. The more I thought about it, I realised that I was motivated. Looking back at what I did that week, I still did two sessions on my wind trainer, I ran four times, I did rehab work and I walked with the buggy.

That doesn’t say ‘not motivated’ that says that my priorities have changed and I’m giving time to the things that are important to me.

I did have a win recently when I ran pretty close to my race handicap time of 32 minutes for 8km at my club’s Tanadees cup club race. I was a bit disappointed to go 26 seconds over the time then I realised how ridiculous I was being. I am proud of this run! I am only running 30km a week and have had such a long break from running. That can only mean good things ahead right?

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Closed eyes, striking heel, weird headband and no lippy. Disaster.

I did a three hour ride last month and I am hoping to do a couple of five hour rides in the lead up to my event but since E no longer takes a bottle this is going to involve a few loops that stop off at my house to make sure I can feed her. Hopefully she is keen on the bottle by the time the event comes around, if not I will find a way to work around it.

I’m not going to worry about ride logistics and possible baby challenges right now, because it’s bound to change and worrying won’t get me anywhere. I’m also not going to compare myself to pre-baby me because that is pointless too, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy unless you just got a Strava CR’

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