Round the Big Lake

"The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot"

Wow! Time flies. As usual, the end of November is heralded by the iconic kiwi event that involves circumnavigating a big puddle of water in the middle of the North Island. I've always loved the vibe on the journey up from Wellington for the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, as a procession of cars adorned with bicycles journey northwards. This will be my third time at the event, which feels like it is becoming something of a milestone for me. Lots has happened in the last two years.

The 2011 edition was all a bit of a last minute decision. I was mainly enjoying the occassional club road race and a friend, Rob Te Moana, egged me on to race in Taupo 6 weeks later. I first met Rob at a club race, initially because I was tactically astute enough to cotton on to the fact that hiding behind a big Maori fella on the flat just prior to a sprint finish wasn't a bad idea. I was contracting for NZ Army at the time and he was keen for me to join a military team. Six weeks doesn't leave much time for base training for a 160 kilometre lap of the lake (and these were my racing days prior to any structured training programme) so I opted to chalk up some of the "fun ride" events in the local area last minute, including Tour de Whitemans, Martinborough Fun Ride and Tour of the Wairarapa. Being fun rides, these aren't races (yeah, right). For Taupo weekend that year, the weather conditions were a tad blustery - in fact, several trees fell during the mountain bike race and it was called short. Accordingly, I was smug about my decision to ride on the road. I finished my "Round the Lake" roadie stint in 4 hrs and 36 minutes. All things considered, not a bad effort. I was the fastest chick round the lake and fastest military rider overall. The NZ Air Force went away with the military cup - a nice irony considering my retired Squadron Leader status. I decided then that the following year I wanted to race the Friday evening criterium (it looked like heaps of fun) and one day I wanted to tackle the two lap option (not sure the reasoning behind that decision, it just was).

Then 2012 rolled around. It had been a somewhat bizarre winter with the discovery of some additional horsepower in the legs (after some fabulous coaching guidance!) and some hidden cyclocross skills. Who would have thought riding around a park in winter could be such a revelation? And so much fun?! And that I could ride that fast?! I'm not the most observant person and provided some amusement for the Ultimo clothing boys at the expo in Taupo when I failed to notice the huge photo of my mug on the wall.

Just realised what I was standing under

I provided even more entertainment when I rocked a yellow bikini around the expo with Emily Miazga of scrumptious Power Cookie (and yellow bikini wearing) fame. True to my word, I raced the criterium and had a blast. Even managed something that resembled sprinting and finished 5th. Then jumped on the mountain bike the next morning and raced the Huka XL, taking third spot on the podium behind kiwi MTB legends, Karen Hanlen and Annika Smail. I had raced Annika years before. In the Fort Bill World Cup in 2006. Although neither of us would have known it - I finished 62nd to her 16th. The margin was a bit closer in Taupo (well done, coach).

Huka 2012

And here we are. Two years later. I've piloted my way through a good chunk of fun on two wheels in that time and, true to my word (just like last year), tomorrow I'm doing the two lap version of Taupo. A work colleague chuckled when I described it like that and said, "Two laps makes it sound like a 10 kilometre jaunt, not a 320 kilometre race" followed by, "How do you prepare for that?".

The answer for this week's preparation schedule seems to be run a heap of clinics, get through a load of meetings, fit in some time to sleep and eat and pack, squeeze in a couple of easy commutes to constitute a taper, work until 11 hours before you're due to race, grab a flight to Taupo, be re-united with your bike and dedicated support crew, grab a big pizza, drink coffee, maybe a nap, more coffee, throw on lycra, and jump on the bike...somewhat relieved that all you have to do for the next few hours is pedal.

Two hundred miles is a decent bicycle ride. It will be the furthest my road bike and I have travelled together (at least when its not been on the roof of the car). My personal best prior to that was the 284 kilometre Hutt to Palmerston North loop that I rode with young whippersnapper (I'm allowed to say that, he's only just over half my age), Ryan Hunt, before we both did our first 24 hour race back in April this year. It was an epic day out and heaps of fun. We experienced the bidirectional headwind which is customary for this part of the world and cruised over the summit of the Akatawaras just as the sun went down. Ryan is a great training buddy and has since told me that, one day, he wants to ride home. That's Wellington to Taupo. Three hundred and seventy kilometres. One day.

Old bird vs young fella legs after a long day out!

I have fantastic sponsors. Really awesomely fantastic ones. Ones that not only support my crazy plans but actively encourage them. Ones that make a custom high visibility gilet cos it's in the rules to wear something like that (high vis, not bespoke clothing that is - thanks Ultimo). Ones that launch an extra tasty bar just in time for a long race (pretty sure that's the best coincidence ever - thanks Em!). Ones that make sure your bike will run super sweet on race day (thanks Slackboy & Mud Cycles- again!). Ones that are willing to be support crews at all times of the day or night (you've only got yourself to blame, coach). As well as friends that are willing to join the support crew (thanks Charlotte Ireland - I will repay you with shuttling!).

The gun goes at 1:30am tomorrow morning. Lake Taupo is a bigger than average sized puddle to ride around twice - actually it's the same size as Singapore. For those back in the motherland, distance wise it's like smashing it along the M4 from London to Swansea (plus another 10 miles and 3,500 metres of climbing hilly bits too). Or Wellington to Napier in NZ. And I hope to do it in good time for lunch on Saturday. Make that four lunches.

Good luck to everyone on their journeys "Round the Lake" (once, twice, or may times), at the Huka, crit, or any other way you're getting out there on two wheels. Fingers crossed for PBs and sunshine all round! Go visit the Em's Power Cookies stand at the expo and be sure to grab some Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge merchandise from the Ultimo boys. And if you pass me in the morning say hi! 

Conspiracy Theory

Having survived today's session on the paining trogramme...whoops...I mean training programme, I had a sense of dawning realisation that there is a lesser know conspiracy out there. A greater force at work.

Today, was the second time that my coach suggested an impromptu point-to-point (predictive text keeps trying to make that pint-to-pint...if only) training ride. It went a little like this:

Coach says: It's sunny outside and if we go to the beach then you could ride home. Stick to the flat roads - don't ride over the hill. It should take you about 90 minutes. I'll make risotto for dinner.

My interpretation of that went like this:

Awesome! I'll get to ride on some different roads to the usual ones. In the sunshine. And I can take it easy on the flat rather than caning myself on the hills (again). I'll be done in 85 minutes instead of the 90 minutes she reckons it will take me. And I get dinner made for me. Perfect!

What coach actually thought was this:

Brilliant - it's sunny so this will be an easy sell. If she starts at the coast then she'll have a headwind all the way home. I'll get her to stick to the coastal road so she gets no shelter in the hills - I want to keep that resistance nice and constant through the whole session. In fact, that wind looks likes it's going to pick up - great! There's no way she'll do it in 90 minutes but she'll bust her ass trying. And I better make dinner because I don't think she'll want to cook after this. Perfect!

And the real world experience was remarkably close to that last interpretation of events. And that's my second impromptu point-to-point ride this month. Both experiences were remarkably similar. And, of course, both were coach instigated. With a headwind the whole way.

For the non cyclists out there, riding in a headwind is to cycling what aqua jogging is to running. With less buoyancy and more drool. And much more swearing. When I was young(er) and impressionable, I remember reading about the strength Lance Armstrong gained from training in Texas in the wind. Hindsight suggests there was a bit more to it than that but I remember feeling some romanticism about it at the time. Lone cyclist conquering the elements. Utilising Mother Nature's force to become the ultimate athlete.

Today, I did not conquer the elements. And that idea (of utilising the weather system to become the ultimate athlete) and I fell out of love. Although, there is a certain smugness associated with sitting on the couch afterwards which is inevitably worth revisiting. More importantly, I am now certain that coaches have a direct line to Mother Nature. Next time that a point-to-point is suggested I'm going to demand to ride it in the other direction than the one recommended. And ask for a motorbike to hide behind.

For pro tips on riding in headwinds (like my favorite: Get Aero. For, having got down on the drops, the aim will be to stay there as long as is necessary, which might be quite a while…) click here.

Photographic evidence of me busting my ass training in a headwind wouldn't be pretty, so this blog post is photo free. Just in case it scared small children. Plus, I'm not pro enough to have a camera crew following my rides around the Wellington environs yet.


Happy Anniversary! It's officially four years since I landed in the Land of The Long White Cloud. It was a day that left an impression and a feeling that we're not in Kansas any more, Toto. They say you can't beat Wellington on a good day. And whoever they are, they're right. All along the harbour there were people out running, cycling, paddle boarding, surfing and generally doing outdoorsy stuff. In the sunshine. Kiwis, this is how the rest of the world imagines New Zealand. Maybe with the addition of Mt Cook in the background and a couple of hobbits running about. Oh, and sheep. Lots of sheep.

This weekend felt a lot like that first day four years ago. While this winter's training has been a more isolated affair - somewhat inevitably due to the inclement weather conditions, early morning starts, and long routes in the Wairarapa (which definitely satisfies Johnny foreigner's view of New Zealand and sheep) - Spring has finally sprung and both training rides this weekend involved cruising around on some of Wellington's most scenic roads. Makara Valley. Eastbourne and the bays. In the sunshine. With people everywhere doing outdoorsy stuff.

The other thing I remember that first struck me about Wellington was that there were hills everywhere! Having never visited New Zealand, my in depth pre-emigration research had been a combination of Google Earth and watching Lord of the Rings. Google Earth did not disappoint, I was gonna like living here.

I'm not sure why I enjoy riding my bike up stuff so much. I always have done. My mum reminded me recently about how I'd ask to get driven out to the bottom of a long climb and dropped off there so I could ride up it then back home. Aged 12. I think it's got something to do with watching the mountain stages of the Tour de France as a kid. My Dad used to wake my brother and I up so we could watch the 30 minute highlights package on Channel 4 late at night. We'd huddle under a duvet and watch in awe as the peloton flew up the alpine passes. Then we'd go out on our bikes the next day and pretend we were doing the same thing.

Riding with my brother made me strong on my bike. He didn't treat me like a sister. He didn't carry stuff for me and expected me to ride like the guys we went riding with. There was a strong mutual respect but equally strong sibling rivalry. It was a lot of fun. And also incredibly painful. We'd give each other a whole heap of banter on the flat sections of the ride then smash up every climb we came to. There are a lot of them in Wales. He'd inevitably get a gap and give a glance back over his shoulder with a wry smile. Just to let me know he was kicking my ass. Very occasionally, I would get the opportunity to return the favour. He has a sweet tooth, the upshot of which was that he could be bribed to clean my bike in return for chocolate. Riding together lasted right through University. Although, by that stage the bike cleaning stakes were a bit higher than a Mars Bar.

Wellington hills were a baptism of fire, in the form of quad burn. Three months off the bike, while it was stuck in a shipping container cruising from the other side of the world, didn't do much for my leg strength. In an "eyes bigger than your quads" scenario, I planned out rides that included the roads that looked the most wiggly on a map. Among the first was Moonshine Hill Road. I had to do little circles in the road on at least two occasions before the summit. You know, the ones that allow you to get your heart rate down so you can actually start pedalling again but you can kid yourself that you didn't stop or get off the bike. Yep, those ones.

Two years later, at the same time of year, I decided to get a coach. It was in a bid for a faster Karapoti time and a decision made immediately after suffering my way through the Whaka 100 having done no rides longer than 2 hours. It was an uncomfortable way to race 100 kilometres off road in the Redwoods and not a strategy that I heavily endorse. Riding up hills ad hoc on your own and being fit enough not to do little recovery circles in the road on steep climbs gets you to a certain place but some fine tuning was in order.

And it's been a lot of fun. And hard work. And all worth it. And I ride Karapoti faster than I used to, which I think will remain an annual goal for some time.

Of late, there's been a nice moral of the story bit to my posts. I guess this time it's that everyone has to do circles in the road on steep climbs at one stage or another. And with the help of a whole heap of other people you can get to the place you want to. And, while there's no place like home, there are places that do a beautiful bottle of pinot, fantastic coffee, great hills, and make you pedal faster. Those are the places that feel like home the most.


PS See you guys in the UK for a visit in less than a year. I told you I'd make it back in 5 years, sis!