My Romance With 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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