Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Sellaronda Hero

Last year October the entries for this 'fabulous' race opened. Zane & Dave had done this race before and it came highly recommended. Christiaan was very keen to do it and I obviously didn't want to miss out. I consulted Zane about the toughness of the race and he made it clear that it was no tea & cake party. I convinced myself that it couldn't be that bad, so decided I am accepting the challenge and waited till 23:00 for the entries to open. I have mentioned *FOMO in previous posts! Well FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) always has a snowball effect... by lunch time the next day, 6 of us were already signed up! 
June 21st, 10 riders and a support crew of 3 (wags - wives & girlfriend) descended onto Wolkenstein, Italian Dolomites for the toughest mountain bike race.

The night before the race, Zelda, Kerryn, Pokkeltjie, Zane, Milli, Willem, Christiaan, Jason, TC & Albert

Making new friends on the start line

Liezl and I entered the 62km with 3300m ascent. The boys entered the 84km with 4300m of climbing. We were all in for a very long day in the saddle.

The route went immediately out of town and after 1km we were straight into the first climb of the day. I have never seen anything like it. A long 7km climb with people in front and behind you as far as the eyes can see. 

Zane catching up with us already
I hate the start of a race. So many people fighting for position, riding outside their comfort zones, taking risks ie almost riding into you. I decided that I am going to ride at my 'comfortable' pace and hoped that the field will thin out eventually.

Looking back to Val Gardena where we started the climb

It was quite funny to see men falling over on an uphill because they are just too excited. ;) My main aim was not to fall over or get into an unworthy crash like this. Somehow these guys also left their manners at home, they cut in front of you etc. I followed the same principle as in the Argus, pick a side of the road and stay on that side. I still expected any man to be stronger than me so in my head I thought I can't overtake them, well I soon learnt otherwise and started saying passing in the middle left or right wherever the opportunity arose.
Heavily pregnant Zelda pumping Liezl's tyre
At the top of the first hill, Kerryn, Zelda an Milli was waiting on us. They took the gondola up and could actually see us from the gondola. It was such an encouragement to see them there. Liezl waited at the top for me and as soon as we were about to descend we realised she had a puncture. We quickly fixed it, the girls helped her to pump the tyre as they were so cold and wanted to heat up. 

We started our first downhill, this was awesome single track, bermy etc. I realised quickly that by being polite to not damage the male egos in front of me I will be pushing my bike on single track. I couldn't stand the thought of having had to work so hard to get to the top of the mountain and not being able to enjoy the single track as reward. 

On one of these tight berms a guy was going a bit too fast and ended coming off his bike running down the bank of the berm whilst his bike was at the top of the bend. It was funny to see and I burst out laughing, thankfully he also saw the humour of the situation. 

In all honesty the 1st water point is a bit of blur to me. We refilled, got Liezl's back tyre pumped up & carried on riding onto the second climb of the day. 

We passed a tiny town called St Tarina, I was quite touched, nothing has ever been named after me before. I was also embarrassed so didn't take photo evidence. 

The 2nd climb consisted of the connection of shorter climbs that all made up climb 2. 

I realised that we were running out of time to make the cut off time at Arabba, but there was nothing that we could do about it as we were riding as fast as we could.

Arriving at Arabba was a scene of devastation, the officials waiting with their clippers, clipping our timing boards, a sea of empty water bottle & lots of disappointed people.
Place of devastation: Arabba
Liezl's words to me were: "I feel defeated." TC: "No we can carry on & finish it, we just won't get a time." Unfortunately we stood around a little bit too long & then got into deliberations of whether we should go back with the shuttle or complete the race.

TC's Question: "What would you be able to cope with tomorrow? We didn't complete or we complete the race, but don't get a finish time?"
Liezl's Answer: "Well we were going to go the distance anyway, we should finish the ride."

So we got back onto our bikes for about 30 seconds when we saw the start of the next climb, talked more, but eventually started going onto climb 3!

Climb 3 wasn't that bad a lot of it was actually on the road & we were able to get into a nice rhythm before going off road again. I almost got taken out by a motorbike that I didn't see, Pokkeltjie had such a freight and gave me a lecture for not looking, but I did look - I promise!

Christiaan catching up with us
As we were going up the tar road I could see a line of 'ants' (other riders) pushing there bikes. I knew we were going to go up & join them & were dreading the thought of pushing my bike as I could see that it was rideable singletrack.

Our route did join up with the longer version again. It wasn't long before Christiaan came past & said that he was stuck behind people and had to walk the whole of their 3rd climb. Needless to say he wasn't very happy about that.

At the 3rd water point I was properly 'gatvol' translated to fed-up to say the least & just wanted to sit down on a normal chair & not my bike. There was a hotel/bar close by where we went for a loo stop & sit down for more deliberations. We met some guys from Norway & Belgium who missed the cut off & were not happy about that. Liezl took a sip of their beer before we took on our 4th & final climb.

One of the hard realisations about this race is that, it isn't just a hill that you can quickly do in 15 minutes, you KNOW that it will take you at least another hour to get to the top...

On hill 3 we were riding with a guy who has tried to do this race for the 3rd time, he was determined to complete it this year even if he doesn't get the time. We past him & then suddenly at the bottom of climb 4 there he was again. Pokkels & I were confused because he didn't come past us on the single track. When we asked him, he said that he stayed on the tar road instead of going via the single track. He told us that even if we pushed our bikes it will take us only an hour to get to the top. So we started the 4th & final climb together. The gradient was often too steep to ride, so we pushed & we actually started chatting for the first time during the race. We weren't cross with each other we were just a little bit too far from each other. Eventually the altitude combined with fatigue made us stop talking as it took too much energy. We took some photos and we also knew that we are 'almost' home.

The FINAL CLIMB and just look at that view!
At the top of this climb we were close to Passo Sella which we rode the day before. We bumped into some Germans & Pokkeltjie had the chance to chat with them for a little bit. We then got a little confused as to where the route was & could see on the profile that there was still a little bit of a kick before it was downhill to the finish line. We faffed a little searching for the route, but eventually got going.

Because we lost our time chips the others couldn't follow us anymore so I text Kerryn to say we were on our way down & that it would be nice if they can be at the finish line. At that point emotion came over me as I realised I was about to finish the longest ride of my life on the longest day of the year. Sniffling along we started descending. Man it felt good, you wanted to go fast, but then you also don't want to get injured or do something stupid so close to the finish.

Unfortunately Liezl had another puncture & we quickly worked together to fix it before we carried on. The single track was pretty awesome, but all I wanted was to be at the finish & see the rest of my friends.

We made it! Kerryn, Zelda, Milli, Zane, Albert & Jason were all waiting for us! Wow! That was a long amazing day.

We waited for Willem to come in before we took some final photos & went back to the hotel to clean up before going out for a celebratory dinner!

We made it!
Jason, Zane, TC, Pokkeltjie, Albert & Willem

1. Any man wearing white tights shouldn't be on a MTB
2. Any man in white tights on a MTB doesn't know how to ride single track
3. There is no flats! You are either going to ride up or ride down in this race.

Things that I am very grateful for:
1. We had NO crashes
2. Neither of us hit 'the wall'  or bonked (No it isn't what you are thinking... It is when you run out of energy and hit 'the wall'. The wall being where body and mind decides they can't do this anymore) 
3. Fresh ice cold Italian water
4. I expected to throw at least one tantrum about the terrain etc, but that thankfully didn't happen!

1. Eating a white flesh nectarine in Riva del Garda
2. Buying a new set of earrings
3. Swimming in Lake Garda
4. Our last meal, seafood spaghetti
(note none of these were actually cycling related - OOPS)

Quote of the weekend:
TC: "Are we at altitude?"

I would highly recommend this race as it is just so beautiful, Val Gardena is geared for cyclists and they welcome you with open arms. I would love to do it again. I will adjust my training though. I will start off with 4 days of road riding for some base training, I'll do hill reps till it comes out of my ears & ride as often as I can. Physically I couldn't train more than I did for this race as life still goes on & training for a race like this is time demanding & steals a lot of energy from other things, so I would have to think carefully before taking something like this on again, but I would definitely do it again. The mental strength and potentially muscle memory that I've gained from this race will go a long way in the future. It was great to train for this race with friends & we had so much fun during training & going away together.

The B&B we stayed in was just perfect, our hostess were a mom away from home. Not in our space, but just so incredibly helpful & knowledgeable of the area. She arranged an emergency dentist appointment for me within 2 minutes after I broke a tooth after biting through a breadroll. http://www.garni-crepaz.com/Default.aspx?lang=en

Saying goodbye to Raphaela our lovely sweet host

*TC's Definition of FOMO: That feeling that if you don't participate the disappointment will be too big to deal with OR scared that anybody else is going to have more fun than you.

Sella Ronda Bike Day - this was the cycling highlight of our trip to me. The Italians close the roads that form a circular route around the Sella mountains on the day after the race and anyone & everyone can ride this. Everybody rides in the same direction at their own pace. The four of us rode up to Passo Sella where we sat in the sun for hours whilst drinking beer before we went back down into down with the final downhill of the race.

Tessa, Lizeli, myself & Pokkeltjie chilling in the sun - Passo Sella

Swimming in Riva del Garda
Our most delicious final meal & wearing my new earrings. :)

Friday, 13 June 2014

Cross training aka Surfing

What to do when you have been cycling every weekend and commuted in to work twice a week?

Last year we were training for Sellaronda Hero in the Dolomites. 

My friend Nic is a Bible teacher at a Christian School in Kigali, Rwanda. He was enjoying his Summer holiday in the UK. He invited me along for a weekend surfing the weekend before our big race...  

The Husted family booked a holiday home in Croyde Bay, North Devon for a week and I drove with Andrew & Joy, Nic's brother and his wife also friends of mine. We met the rest of the family there on the Friday. Ryan & Sophie friends of Andrew & Joy also joined us. 

 Nic loves surfing and the idea was to hire boards & wetsuits from the local surf shop on the Saturday morning so we could surf all weekend. 

Back at home I wiggled my way into a tight full body wetsuit - what a mission? 

Not knowing how far the beach was from where we stayed I asked Andrew if I should take my plakkies (flip flops). On which he replied, "No-no-no don't take it you want to carry as little as possible as we will be carrying the surfboards down to the beach."

If you have seen or met me you would know I am a mere 5'2" which makes the surfboard almost double my size. We all teamed up & carried our boards down to the beach two-by-two.  

 We messed around on the beach whilst taking photos and during this time Nic announced the one hand rule in the water. If you put your hand up you are admitting that you have wee'ed in your wetsuit. As if any of us would do that & 'that'? We all laughed it off. 

I only learnt to swim properly in 2013 and I've done one surf lesson in 2012 when we took my friend Beatrice for a lesson as part of her kitchen tea. 

Somine, Bee & TC back in December 2011

I'm not sure if it was with confidence or impatience that I ran into the water whilst the others were still giving Sophie tips on the beach. 

As I only learnt to swim the year before I still had in my mind to stay behind the break of the wave. Boy I had to hang onto my board for dear life. I got properly klapped by the waves coming one after the other. So I made my way to more shallow water where Sophie was surfing and doing really well by getting to stand. 

I started managing to catch some waves as well, but unfortunately because I used all my energy to brave the waves at the back I couldn't get myself to standing.   

It wasn't long since I joined Sophie that I realised that I'm moving deeper and deeper into the sea. I've never been in a rip current before so what did I know?

I recognised that maybe I am in one because I an trying to swim to shallow water but wasn't getting anywhere. Sudden panic wanted to come over me when I realised that. I had to pep talk myself by keeping myself calm and deciding that instead of trying to get out I'll just hang onto my board because at least I am floating. I prayed and asked God to keep me calm & protect me. 

I weighed up my options to ask for help. During my brief moment of panic I realised that I couldn't remember the sign for help so getting the life savers to come out were not an option. I also didn't want to draw the attention of the whole massive beach so I looked the other way and thought ok I can't really call Ryan or Andrew I recently met them. So my last option was to call Nic. Only problem was that he was going to think that I wee'd in my wetsuit if I waved at him...!  

Myself, Nic, Andrew, Sophie & Ryan
Plucking all my courage together I shouted across the water, "Niiiiiiiccccc!" Just to the the exact response I expected. Nic looking up pointing and laughing at me. If he was closer to me he would've seen me rolling my eyes and tst-tst at him.

Back to the drawing board and waiting another minute before I screamed "Niiiiicccc" again. This time all three of the guys came swimming towards me. Thank you Lord! 

Ryan managed to get hold of my board and swam to the side with me hanging onto the board. I was so grateful and only really realised afterwards what could've happened.  

 Walking back to the house after our morning of surfing was absolutely painful. I should've never listened to Andrew. Seriously bare foot for over 1km on a sunny day carrying a surfboard... My little soft British feet wasn't used to the harsh warm tar!  

 We went for a high tea at a nearby village in the afternoon.

In the evening Nic wanted to go for another surf. I had enough of surfing for one day, but found a bodyboard in the property's garage. I thought great this must be a safer option. Off we went again, Nic, Andrew, oom Rob & myself. 
The lovely Husted family

It was now high tide and the whole beach was covered with water leaving only a small strip of sand free at the top of the beach. I've never body boarded or body surfed before. That evening was my first time ever...  

 There was another girl in the water and she was catching a lot of waves. I tried to copy her and soon after I went in, I caught that perfect wave and immediately knew what the fuss was about! I suddenly understood the thrill you can get from it! We played/surfed until the sun had set and went back to a home cooked meal by Tannie Sandy.  

 On the Sunday morning we went down to the surf-shop to rent another wetsuit for oom Rob and handed back my surfboard as I was definitely not going yo chance being taken out to see again. 

All oom Rob wanted to do was to stay at home and do his suduko, but we didn't give him a chance to back out of it. 

Getting ready was a dream, my wetsuit glided on like a well fitted glove. I grabbed my bodyboard, put it under my arm and was about to announce smugly that I am ready and waiting for them when Andrew told me to take off my wetsuit and give it to Oom Rob. NOOOO I said, it is mine... Suddenly it made sense why it just slipped on, but stubborn as I am I didn't want to believe him and kept fighting back whilst oom Rob was patiently standing in his jocks waiting for a wetsuit! 

Andrew handed the leftover wetsuit from the washing rail to me and I instantly realised that Sophie was wearing mine and the one I had to wear was a size smaller! NOOOOO! Andrew & Nice were just to happy to stuff me into the wetsuit. I literally stood still whilst Andrew on the left and Nic on the right pulled it on for me. Once you been through that you will either have self-esteem issues or have none left! Andrew commented that it felt like he was making a sausage - thanks! :-)

There were not a lot of surf that day, but we were able to play around a bit before I travelled back to London. It was exactly the type of weekend I needed and hanging out with the Husteds are like hanging out with family! 

Another boost for my self-esteem! 
My brothers from another mother! Me, Nic & Andrew 

Friday, 6 June 2014

1st Nightride for TT1 (Tango Twin 1)

Last night I had the privilege to join Iain & Lizzie for my first night ride. 

We have been trying to arrange a night ride for the past 2 months, but different training goals and schedules made it impossible until last night. I actually cancelled as it is month end at work, but Iain kept saying how nice the trails are so I couldn't resist. 

We set off up to Leith Hill, by going up The Rookery and some of Summer Lightning and then took a fun right turn onto a kind gradient which led into a fast & fun downhill. We eventually reached Leith Hill Tower following a nice singletrack climb. Singletrack up or downhill makes me so happy. 

We were riding at a steady pace and as I've said before, in my head riding with Iain & Lizzie, is riding in another league. There were times when I was grateful that I didn't wear my heartrate monitor as  I think it might've exploded or the alarm warning you of sudden heart failure might've gone off. You know when you are struggling to breathe and starts to cough that dry irratating cough... I knew recovery usually come after a climb, but as soon as I started recovering a little we up the pace a little again. Ellie Goulding's song Burn Burn Burn has been the theme song of the majority of my rides lately. I've specifically memorised the lyrics for the Hero. :) 

At the top of Leith Hill we were spoiled with this view.

As the saying goes, What goes up... Must go down! From here it was all downhill.

It was the first time that I rode the new section (which were under dispute and closed for a while) of Summer Lightning it starts at the tower on the left handside of the old track down from the tower. Speedy bermy fun. Nothing to hectic, well built and super fun. 

We then continued on the SL connection to the old part. Singletrack goodness, it is so well built that your bike is just flying and getting air without much effort. 

I'm usually weary of drops, but these are great, all the drops gives you momentum and lead you from one piece of fun into another. I would've been a great ambassador for Colgate whilst riding last night. 
Iain & Lizzie riding the night away!

At one of the junctions where we usually go right we were turning left. My front wheel was pumped up a bit hard so it literally just slipped out underneath me, my bike came to a stand still, but I kept running to the left without falling over. This was bizarre, but definitely the best crash scenario I've ever been in. 

The darker it got the faster we were riding. What you can't see, can't harm you...
I'm so over this training for the Hero and am appreciating putting the fun back into riding. Thank you Iain & Lizzie for another fun ride. 

Ps. Why work late when you can go on a night ride?!