The Other Side of the Fence

I have a habit of learning things the hard way. Through stubbornness, I successfully dug myself a large hole after the World 24 Hour Solo Championships in Canberra in 2013. Strangely enough, it turns out that it is a fruitless exercise to gainfully crank out the watts you think you should be producing while ignoring your body yelling at you, "Have a break!" none too subtly via a megaphone. Not to mention the coach. So, in 2014 I decided to listen more attentively to the instructions of both.

Those instructions included taking a decent chunk of time off the bike that could be filled with enriching experiences on the other side of the fence. So, I stepped aside from goals related to personal bests, podiums and pursuing world domination and instead sought the rewards associated with helping team mates survive their own races by riding with them, handing up bottles in feed zones, missioning out to remote places to cheer them on mid race and dishing out general advice about things I have learned (inevitably, the hard way).

It was a huge amount of fun. Surprising several hundred people with rowdy hollering* in the middle of the forest on their second ascent of Grinder during Taupo's Huka was only usurped by passing guys on Blue Mountains while riding one handed and pushing my team mate with the other during Tour de Whitemans. I'm not sure the phrase "chicked" does it justice if you get dropped on a climb by a chick who's pushing another chick.

The last couple of months have reassured me that there are plenty of people out there who get themselves into a right mess every weekend in the name of sport. Many of them I call friends. I guess you only need to change the parameters of those you surround yourself with to become one of the norm. MTB racers are definitely my clan.

I also realised that handing up bottles is not nearly as straightforward as I might once have imagined from the racer's cockpit. There are a myriad of challenges to negotiate including getting to the right place, getting there on time, getting to the next place on time before your rider, being able to identify your rider among a lot of other people who look remarkably similar, not missing your rider when they come through early, not panicking when they come through late, not to mention the brief interlude during which you try to both have a meaningful discussion about how the race is going with some gentle reminders about sticking to the pre-determined nutrition plan, which rapidly spirals down to nodding and grunting that is often misinterpreted as successful communication from either side. I have way more respect for my support crew as a result. That job ain't easy.

Taking all those lessons on board and saddling up for 2015, I was super motivated to pretty much kick ass. Coach's carefully crafted summer racing programme looked to be the perfect preparation for badass form in February and March. A dash of road stage races combined with a soupcon of punchy cross-country events was the recipe for success. One thing I have learned over the last 3 years is that as soon as something looks perfect be prepared for something out of left field. Needless to say...

During a frivolous foray on some dusty trails while preparing for this weekend's NZ MTB Cup, I decided to take an unplanned inspection of the exit of a corner with an over-the-bars excursion and a super close up of the opposite bank. I remember thinking, "Arse!" while I watched my left hand change size then colour in the Emergency Department, while being distracted by a friend who joked that the reason I didn't "get the back end down" was because I didn't have enough bum to counterbalance it. The level of giggling only increased when the attending staff nurse informed us that the On-Call Plastic Surgeon was on her way. Butt implants. Heaven forbid.
An x-ray (confirming some broken pieces of bone in my left hand) later, I went from a perfect build up to being limited to a windtrainer in the garage in the middle of summer. Thank goodness for the well timed Christmas gift that keeps on giving (the whole Sufferfest collection) and even more timely reminders about what is and what is not possible from my coach.
Karapoti is 7 weeks away. I'm as determined to be there in kick ass form as I am to shave my right armpit properly (believe me, motivation is high), although I concede that I'd prefer to achieve the latter goal sooner than in 50 days time. And in the last 10 days I have reflected on what really is possible when you want it enough and can find ways to adapt to the various hurdles that inevitably crop up in life.

Which brings me to a close. We are deep amidst the season for people throwing the towel in on their New Year's resolutions. By now, there are plenty of reasons stacking up not to continue working towards crushing that goal you set (like why would you uncomfortably sweat it out in the garage in the middle of summer with your arm in a cast when you could just sit on the couch and eat ice cream with your good hand and bore everyone with epic stories about the 2015 summer season that never was?). I implore you to reconsider taking the easy way out. Be stubborn about your goals but flexible about your methods. But remember, being stubborn alone won't cut it.
*I can't believe I didn't pack a cowbell! 

Cool Snaps For the Cover



Even managed to teach myself a bit of coding!

Beware of Juniors

We came. We saw. We conquered. We also nearly got a sun tan and I didn't have to spend ages cleaning my bike afterwards!

After watching the spectacle that is kiwis building snowmen on the bonnets of their cars at the summit of the Rimutaka Hill Road then driving them back home (true story), I was somewhat surprised to be welcomed by stunning sunshine in the Hawkes' Bay.

Winning the NZ National Cyclocross title yesterday was super cool. This time two years ago, I was experiencing a breakthrough in form. I was finally able to race at the level I'd always imagined I could (but never managed to quite put together). It was nice to have some evidence that I wasn't completely delusional. Achieving it with 'cross racing was probably no accident. I'd never raced cyclocross before and, to be quite honest, didn't particularly expect to kick ass at it. The beauty of 'cross is that it doesn't matter if you screw up - you actually expect to! You learn pretty fast that at some stage of the race you are guaranteed to end up losing traction at an inconvenient moment, stumble your way over some obstacle, wrap course tape around your bars, roll around in the mud and generally just feel like you're making what appeared to be a very straightforward course during your casual pre-ride seem like really, really hard work. It will rarely look graceful and it taught me to let go of trying to race perfectly and embrace the inner mongrel.

It's fair to say that the transition between stage racing and the World 24 Hour Solo Championships wasn't forecasted to include too much cyclocross racing. But, a change is as good as a rest. Spending the last 3 weeks remembering how to race a 'cross bike and reminding myself how much a 40 minute race really can hurt has been a lot of (ouchy) fun. This time of year, there isn't much that makes me smile more than going out for a shred and deliberately riding through as much mud as possible. And I even get to call it training.

Moral of the story? Try not to overthink your racing - be more bad ass than perfectionist (relax and just do your thang). Set goals and smash them - but also don't be afraid to mix it up (it might not improve your love life but it will make you a better racer). And finally, beware of juniors. Team Barnes joined us for the trip to Napier last weekend. After cruising round the course, I innocently advised 15 year old youngster, Martine Barnes, not to be scared about trying to beat as many of the racers in the Open Women's category as possible. She replied, "Yep, I will try to. I will try to beat you Kim!". Thankfully, I escaped this year. I'm going to make the most of it while it lasts.

PS This cool chick got some awesome action footage from the this space for a rad video! Big ups to all the Wellington riders shredding it and taking home five of the eight white and black jerseys that were up for grabs, with a special mention to fellow road trip buddies Team Barnes (Martine taking the Under 19 Champion title and Jonny grabbing the Under 19 bronze medal) and Rob Kilvington (Master 3 Men's Champion). Good stuff!