Saturday, December 23, 2017

Training Camp 1: meeting the team

I was sitting at the table on Monday 9 October, and was working through my morning staples:  Rachel Maddow (a post-Trump addition), Stuff, Inner Ring, Cyclingnews, and a great big bowl of porridge.  Last but not least was my Facebook feed, and there sat an advert for a Tour de France Tour.  I'd seen it a month or so earlier, but hadn't paid it much heed then. 

On the Saturday, two days prior, I'd finally written about putting myself through the ringer at Club Nationals and was close to confronting the 2016 North Island Series in a second "write about it so you can stop thinking about it" post.  I'd hoped that the culmination of those was going to be some clarity about which basket it was worth putting my cycling eggs into (and which not).  So, the fact that I needed something different was pretty fresh in my mind.

Reading the details of the Tour a bit more closely, it struck me what a fascinating match it was.  It well and truly ticked the cycling box.  My history of depression, and the role cycling has played in its management (and also identification), offered interesting opportunities with respect to the chosen charity - the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.  And, somewhat ironically, given my step away from structured training, even the thought of working with one of NZ's cycling superstars, Hayden Roulston, had great appeal.

It got me, hook, line and sinker.
When it's on song, my brain works fast, and within an hour or so, I'd discussed the prospect with Sarah, and had fired off an email to the organiser, Jonathan Douglas, and was thinking about the sales-pitch at work.

Sarah had asked useful questions, one of which was to tease out the relative merits of a trip like this, and some sort of repeat of Le Cycle-Tour de France.  While I'm a big fan of a "choose your own adventure", the logistical aspects of the cycle tour had worn thin after four weeks, and I realised the thought of being looked after, as Rouleur Tours promised to do, had great appeal.

Having secured Sarah's blessing, by the end of the day, I had been accepted onto the team, and had a meeting scheduled with the boss to talk about a month off next July.

By the end of the week (one of the virtues of joining in late in the peace), I discovered I was one of eight riders on board, and the process of becoming a team was underway.

The Tour de France route was announced by ASO, the owners, the following week, and as if I needed another sweetener, the Tourmalet (aka, the one that got away) was on the route.  What's more, Jonathan had proven his worth by pulling an all-nighter booking strategically located hotels. 

In amongst all of that, he also been able to find a weekend at the beginning of December that we were all free and had booked accommodation for our first team-gathering, in Cambridge.

* * *

The lead-in to the training camp was far from ideal.  Two weeks out, I had a stressful work trip to Malaysia.  In hindsight, being told I couldn't check in with my passport showing only 5 months and 13 days to expiry was the world trying to tell me to stay home.  $1000 and 16 hours later, I not only had a brand new passport, but also new flights that would get me to my meeting on time.  Less than 72 hours after that, I was back in Wellington, with the beginnings of a cold.

Symptoms were standard fare for the rest of the week: plenty of snot, and regular fevers, but I woke on day six with swollen eyelids and bad double vision.  Making my way to the Eye Clinic at Wellington Hospital alleviated the worst of those effects, but nonetheless I found myself admitted to the Surgical Assessment and Planning Unit - they were worried about infection behind my eye, gaining access through the broken orbital floor I'd sustained crashing my MTB at the end of 1999.  (The first, and hopefully the last time anything like this has happened...)

CAT-scan coming right up

Tuesday morning's treat was a CAT-scan (which ruled out what they were most worried about), and the following morning I gave a summer-school lecture with an IV line hanging out of my elbow.  By Friday morning, the aggressive course of antibiotics, near-complete rest, and the passing of time had helped, and when Kaitlyn, Khulan, Sarah and I drove north out of Wellington, my bike hanging on the rack had a 50% chance of being used.

Kaitlyn and Khulan were entered in the 2W Enduro, and Sarah, who was herself becoming sick, had a road bike with her.  Sarah and I dropped the girls at the Whakarewarewa carpark - watching them set off alone for their ride prompted me to reflect on what amazing young women they were.  As I proudly proclaimed on Facebook:  "happy, healthy, confident and capable."  I helped Sarah with their supermarket shopping, and then pushed on for the solo drive to Cambridge.

Katy and Khulie about to roll out

Being notoriously bad at learning names, I kept myself entertained during the drive by trying to list everyone - we'd been receiving regular group emails from Jonathan and Hayden, to which we were all replying.  We'd also set up a Strava group, so we could keep an eye on how much less we were riding than everyone else.  I was missing the eighth member for a long while, until I realised I had grabbed someone's first-name and tacked onto it another's surname.  It was a useful exercise, and it definitely made things much easier once I got to Cambridge. 

I was the last to arrive, which meant we were soon getting down to business.

Jonathan introduced himself, and spoke a bit about the ground we'd already traversed together.  We were then asked to introduce ourselves, and also to say what we were most worried about.  Unfortunately, I'd sat in a bad spot, so was first.  Had I had a bit more time to reflect, I think I would have talked about the importance of getting the team dynamics sorted:  eight guys all at risk of deferring to one another's preferences for pace, appetite, bed-times, etc, and the challenge of getting that all right over a period of almost 4 weeks, and 3600km of roads.  Instead, I blurted out "the cobbles" - Stage 9 into Roubaix has 21km of centuries-old roadways in it.  In any case, I was off the hook.

Next was Aaron, from Rangiora, about to do his 10th Coast to Coast; Paul and Mike from Auckland; Stuart, from Christchurch - a Christchurch Mitsubishi team-mate of David Rowlands, and the only name I'd recognised when the first introductions were made, and too modest to tell us all he'd won NZ's premier stage race, the Tour of Southland; Jason, from Hawke's Bay; Steven, the third Mainlander, a general practitioner in Waimate; Bruce, an air-force mechanic and now recruiter, living in Auckland; and finally, Hayden himself, Olympic silver and bronze medallist, and Tour de France finisher in 2009 with Cervélo TestTeam.  Also in attendance was Matt, a young videographer from Nelson, and an old friend a collaborator of Jonathan's.  It was great to hear from everyone, and to start the process of putting faces to names.

That all done, we headed into Cambridge for dinner.  Good conversation came easy.


One of my first tasks on Saturday morning was slightly mortifying:  1 x antidepressant; 1 x antibiotic; 2 x panadol and 2 x nurofen.  The latter were dealing with a sprained rib, sustained when trying not to cough too much when sitting in the ward, and/or trying to deliver my Wednesday and Thursday lectures.  That handful of pills on board, it was a 100m walk to our breakfast venue, the extremely local cafe.

I ate well - my body had mostly passed diagnostic checks, and I was committed to riding, albeit with the understanding that I'd need to pull the pin if need be.  Back at base, we all suited up, and once Matt was done with some photos, we were ready to roll.

First team photo:  (L-R) Steven, Jason, Paul, Stuart, Aaron, Hayden, Bruce, me, Mike and Jonathan.  Photo:  Matt Jenke

Hayden had lived in Cambridge on and off when he was training on the Velodrome there, and had selected some sweet roads for our first ride together.  I rarely ride in a bunch, with exceptions usually being in races, at which time chatting is not really high on the agenda.   So, the constantly changing conversation-partner was a bit of a pleasant surprise.

Having sorted who everyone was looking at them front on, it was surprising how long it took to get their "from behind, on-bike" appearance sorted too.

Matt was on fire with his video camera.  He was in a car, and was constantly leap-frogging us, but never in the same way.  We'd pass the camera sitting on a small tripod on the roadside.  Then he'd drive by with a larger tripod sitting astride the passenger's door with two legs inside the vehicle and one out.  The one that really made me laugh was when he appeared in front of us with the boot open, and the tripod sitting on the tray, camera pointed at us.  He was obviously in his element, and it was a pleasure to watch.

It was a lovely day, and not a good one on which to head out with only a single bottle.  Luckily, we pulled into Hobbiton's garden just in the nick of time, and made good use of their drinking fountain. 

The breather was nice, but for Matt, it was another chance to work, and he got busy interviewing a few of us about our experience so far.

Matt Jenke of Silver Eye Films, about to interview Hayden

After close to half-an-hour chilling out, we rolled out again.  Soon after we were cruising back into Cambridge, uneventfully, apart from a nifty rear-wheel lock-up well controlled by Aaron on the way down to the Karapiro Dam.

About to cross the Karapiro Dam, all the blood on the inside

After lunch at the cafe, we each had a one-on-one meeting with Hayden.

When my turn came, we talked a tiny bit about riding, but the main focus of our chat was on nutrition.  I'd like to write more about that another time, but what interested - and impressed - me most, was the holistic approach he was taking.  He'd made it immediately clear to us all that a big part of his coaching, not only of us, but of all his clients at Roulston, was a focus on nutrition.  He's clearly learnt a hell of a lot about fuel in his many years as a professional cyclist, and while it's no surprise that he wants us to benefit from his sometimes hard-won lessons, it was when he said "and I think this might be good for your mood too", that I realised how seriously he was thinking about each of us on this project.

While us riders had merely had to learn each other's names, and retain what detail we could about work and family and riding, and other standard titbits.  He'd clearly done a lot of prep, and had been thinking about us as individuals.  Despite the common goal, out paths towards it show signs of being individually crafted, and carefully at that.

Things were working pretty much like clockwork, and by the time we were done with our one-on-ones, Keshlar, our liaison person from the Mental Health Foundation had arrived.  She told us a bit about the Foundation and its goals, and did a great job impressing upon us the importance of the fundraising aspect of this project.  She also made it clear how much it is appreciated.  Before she headed back to Auckland, she gave us all a goodie box - various collateral from the foundation was expected, as were the "I'm supporting the Mental Health Foundation" t-shirts, but the croissants and French chocolate were a lovely touch.

Dinner in town followed, and then another handful of pills, before a bloody good sleep.


I was pleased to wake to discover I'd not done myself a mischief on the previous day's 100km ride - literally my first ride in a fortnight.

Matt had headed back to Nelson, so we didn't have the pleasure (and entertainment) of his company.  But, we'd been joined by Cam, who'd be travelling with us to France as team mechanic.  While Matt had been in the vehicle, Cam was riding his bike.  That, and the fact that almost everyone was dressed differently, added a small challenge to rider identification, but it was good to see names were sticking.

Bruce (in the "Fuck Yeah" socks) chatting to Hayden; Steven just ahead of him in his post-Everest souvenir jersey.  Photo:  Jonathan Douglas

Our ride covered few of Saturday's roads.  Hayden had foreshadowed a climb "to see what you've all got", and by the time we got there, I had less than I would have liked.   That didn't stop me from trying to eke it all out, nor regretting slightly travelling with my mudguard and commuter-light-laden Crowe-Rishworth.  Given my health, I could have done with my race bike, I think.

Regrouping, in various states of disrepair

Soon after the climb, we were treated to some absolutely gorgeous road, aptly named "The Brunskill Rollercoaster".  I may not have enjoyed it quite so much had it been 20 minutes down the road, as by the time we got back into Cambridge, I was pretty much running on fumes.

Cheeky selfie by Jonathan.  Over his shoulder, Jason, who'd brought his A-game to the hill test and went up like a rocket! 

Once we were back at base, it was time for our fourth and final meal together at the cafe.  I'm sure they hoped we'd come again - nothing like ten hungry cyclists to keep the kitchen pumping!

Then, it was time to scatter to the winds.  Sarah had ridden towards me from Rotorua, and while I'd been hoping she'd arrive in time to meet everyone, the wind, heavy traffic and heavy cold all worked against her and had meant slow progress.  She'd handled conditions well though, and we were reunited a mere five minutes after I'd bade the fellas farewell.

Our under-19s had ridden different categories in the 2W event.

Kaitlyn placed a fine second in the 4-hour shuttled version...

Katy, waving the Roadworks flag, just as I'd been all weekend.  Photo:  Digby Shaw

... while Khulan had placed second in the 6-hour shuttled option.

U19 women, 6-hour shuttled podium.  Photo: Digby Shaw
Neither parent had come a cropper on the road, and so all in all the weekend was a glorious success.  We celebrated in the confluence of a hot water stream with a cold one, just south of Waiotapu.  Just what the doctors (and daughters) ordered.

I'm down to two nurofen a day to keep the rib pain in check, and making the most of the university closure, the fine weather, and the last few days before Hayden's first training block begins!

Yesterday's highlight was Matt's handiwork surfacing.  View it here, and start putting faces to names yourselves.

Merry Christmas to you all, and see you in the New Year!

* * * * *

This blog describes a fundraising project for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
  • Nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and one in five will have experienced a mental illness this year.
  • Depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020.
  • The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is a charity that works towards reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. We provide free support, training, and resources for anyone who is going through a difficult time, or for people who are supporting loved ones.

To make a donation, visit  Any contribution, big or small is greatly appreciated, and will be put to good use by the fine folk at MHF.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The role of the project ride, and the next big project

Those of you who follow me on strava, or anyone who has clicked through to my Karori Caper ride report and its ever-growing appendix, will occasionally see my suburban masterpieces pop up..., e.g.:

A few weekends ago, all the roads in Crofton Downs, Ngaio and Khandallah - dead-ends included...

Dave Sharpe and I rode Karori together back in 2014, and since, I've done the Western Hutt Hills, Wellington City as far north as Khandallah, and Carterton, Greytown and Featherston in the Wairarapa.

I haven't started a craze, that's for sure.

I do recall Clive Bennett clearing the map of a MTB area in Auckland years ago, and a friend in Hawai'i riding his local area, but Matt Dewes' ride on the Miramar Peninsula has been the only direct replication that I've seen.

I get why - they're fiddly bloody rides, and you very rarely get a chance to cruise.  While Dave and I found Karori surprisingly safe (and enjoyable) to do together, you'd need to be good mind-readers to attempt something like this with a larger group.  Getting through a suburb without losing someone, or hitting the deck after a miscommunication about whether the next turn was right or left, would be a miracle.

Oh. And, they're plain weird.

Despite appearances, there are actually some advantages to rides like these.  Some of my favourite aspects:
  • You don't actually go very far, as the crow flies, so you're unlikely to get caught by bad weather at a far extreme of the ride (unlike a 150km loop in the countryside, say).  
  • They're incredibly hard on the legs, which, depending on your perspective may be a good or a bad thing.  You spend so much of the ride bringing the bike back up to speed, it starts to feel like the mother of all interval sessions.  That hard work gets in - like liquid into the chalk.
  • You generally pass shops, and many houses have taps out front from which water can be liberated.  
  • They're mentally engaging - trying not to miss streets, and trying not to add too many unnecessary repeats is a constant challenge.
  • They force you to see everything - kind of like a sampler box of biscuits, but with every variety of biscuit ever made...

Having done quite a few suburbs now, barely an hour has gone by when I haven't said "Wow" whether on account of a view of the city, a spectacular or surprising bit of architecture, a startling gradient, or some of nature's finest.  

Despite having lived in Wellington all my life, I'm constantly amazed at how little of it I have actually seen.  At a rough guess, I'd ridden maybe 10-20% of the streets before this - and in some suburbs it is much lower than that.

Pretty much every street in the lightest blue has been ridden only because of the project

There's another reason for these crazy rides, and its actually the main one.

* * *

I've got a good memory - not one of the greatest of all time, like Trump's - but good nonetheless.

I've just finished teaching my favourite course, and lectures largely consist of me solving relatively complicated mathematical problems despite 12 months passing since I'd last done it.  I don't forget how to do them.

I give other lectures five times a year, and pretty much do those off the cuff, too.

I never forget to put salt in my porridge, nor to brush my teeth before going to bed.

If there's one thing I've literally done and enjoyed more than any other, it is turning the pedals.  My natural cadence is about 90 pedal strokes per minute.  Strava reckons I've logged about 400 hours so far in 2017, so that's over 2 million (confirmed) strokes per foot.  Throw in another 1000 hours for 2015 and 2016, and that's a cool 7 million per side.  For the vast majority of those I was enjoying myself immensely.

Despite all those happy repeats, my brain chemistry is constantly trying to trick me into not riding.

When I was first diagnosed with depression, it was because I couldn't ride home without coming to a virtual standstill on hills I'd ridden thousands of times.  My GP sent me for x-rays to rule out cancer.  I still find those physical symptoms absolutely astonishing, and a remarkable reminder that the brain is in charge of everything.  

My psychiatrist, Charles, used to often say that depression fights to keep control.  Thankfully, my mood is mostly in check these days (a remarkable run of good form, at least since the Remission post), and adult life is mostly manageable.  But, I experience an almost constant sense of fatigue, which when I ignore it, usually proves to be an illusion.

Often-times, it affects my choice of which way to go home at the end of the day.  I can sit in my office for up to half an hour trying to muster the energy to get changed, yet find myself smacking it through the Makara Loop an hour later, almost home, if brave enough to head out despite feeling physically incapable.

And, not just outdoors.   Here's a curious set of messages sent to coach, Joel Healy, during a session of 3-minute intervals in the garage:
  • 18:51  I'm suffering
  • 18:57-19:07  [expletive-laden grizzles, groans and moans] 
  • 19:13  Just stopped pedalling in the middle of that one.  Swore loudly then got back into it.  Legs seemed fine with the right instructions
  • 19:29  The loud FUCK really helped.  Finished now.  Last 2.5 at full gas.  
And, the power metre confirmed the last two intervals were the best of the season.  Yet, I almost didn't start, and came closer again to not finishing.

Throughout those sessions I was constantly arguing with myself as to whether or not I had the energy to continue, and more than once I got power PBs despite wondering if it was worth even trying to start the session given how tired I felt. 

In the face of all that, I need feasible strategies.

The single most reliable one is having no choice.  Not long ago I was in Carterton, and Sarah had the car since I'd planned to ride home.  I was too tired to do so... until she left, and I had no choice.  A few hours later, I was not only home in Karori, but had thrown in the Makara Loop on the way, adding the best part of an hour and bringing the ride up to 110km.

I don't often ride with others.  Brendan and Sarah have been the notable exceptions in recent times, and when our schedules mesh, my inclinations be damned, and I'm usually heard to comment that "I really didn't think I had the energy for this..."

Joel's role as coach is another strategy, and that works reasonably (the second half of the 2016/17 season aside) but he'd get pretty damn tired of "coaching" me through life.

And that's where the "project rides" come-in.  I've discovered that I'm highly motivated to do them, and for whatever reason, the anticipation of seeing or doing something new, is generally more than enough to cut through the apparent physical fatigue that would otherwise keep me home.  The quirkier, the better, and there's good material all over the place: suburbs, coastline, mountains, you name it, there's a project there waiting to happen.

Le Cycle-Tour de France was the grandest one of all, and what an adventure that was.  The planning and anticipation kept me going for months, and the ride was everything it promised to be.

Col du Glandon, July 2013
The silly suburban larks hit the spot too, but without the hefty price tag.  "Painting the town red" is close to completion, but I've got something lined up to fill the gap.

I'm proud to say that I'm joining a small group of like-minded New Zealanders to ride the 2018 Tour de France route as a fundraiser for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.  The first "team" gathering is in Cambridge in early December, where we'll meet not only each other, but Hayden Roulston, one of NZ's most accomplished cyclists, who's lending his expertise to ensure we're all in suitable shape by the time we get to France.

We each have fundraising targets, and I'll be thinking about what that looks like for me over the next few months.  I've also been discussing opportunities at work to shine the light on depression, and mental illness more generally.  I've been talking about it with y'all long enough, and this out-of-left-field opportunity has given me a good nudge towards sharing my experience within the university community.

The 2018 Tour de France route

In the meantime, I'm going to keep riding my bike, even if I don't feel like it.  I rarely regret saddling up, despite regularly overlooking that fact.  

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Processing old film: Club Nationals Time Trials

It has been almost eight years since I first posted on this blog, and in those years, I've used it in a variety of different ways.

It's not a diary, locked in the top drawer of my bed-side table, so on some level, I must want people to read it.  That does affect the way I write, and to an extent, what I write about.  If reading something here triggers someone to go out and have their own adventure, that makes the effort put into the posts all the more worthwhile.  Similarly, I try to leave clues as to what my challenges were, and how I overcame them (logistical, physical or mental) and hope that others enjoy the fruits of that labour.  I do want to entertain, and inspire, and be useful - I'd be lying if I said otherwise.

That all said, this blog is very much something I write for myself.

Crafting a post takes me hours, but that process is something I really enjoy.  In and of itself, writing here is a great second hobby.

Reading old work always brings back memories, and I'm often surprised at what I've forgotten.  It's an opportunity to record things I want to remember, in isolation, but also as a package, and well worth the effort for that aspect alone.

As I've come to realise over the last couple of months, there's an aspect hidden from the casual reader, that is probably where I get the most value.  This blog forces me to work out what I think, and then the act of carefully laying it all out (over many hours, usually) both challenges me and lets me off the hook.  Confronting myself is the first aspect, but what also seems to happen is that I become forever free of re-litigating whatever issue it was that I've described.

Reflecting on that, I realise that writing has long played a role in my thought processes.  As a PhD student, I wrote as I went - the words not only securing the maths that had gone before, but informing the forward direction of travel.  (Or, also common, highlighting a glaring problem and the need to take a step back.)  The act of writing helps me move in the right direction.

Spring is here.  The fourth North Island Series has begun.  I've had yet another solid winter of riding, on the back of a 25-year-long (and ongoing) transformation as a cyclist.  But, things don't feel right, and it's high time I sorted out why.

Hopefully by the time I've got a few things off my chest, I'll be both unburdened, and clearer about what the future holds...

* * *


From the moment I'd seen the M2 time trial results at the 2015 Club Nationals, I was committed to the 2016 event in Alexandra.  Missing the silver medal by 15 seconds, and the bronze by a mere 3, had stuck in my craw.  Worse had been the fact that I'd paced myself badly, and while it was somewhat satisfying to be there or thereabouts, I was keen to race again.

The first part of the 2015/16 season was dominated by the successful North Island Series, but well before that was done, I'd dusted off the time trial bike and begun preparations for nationals.

While I'd again licensed under Port Nicholson Poneke Cycling Club, the road arm was in a bit of disarray, and besides, did not typically run time trials.  On the other hand, the Wellington Masters Cycling Club ran a fantastic time trial series using a variety of courses: 3 or 4 laps of the Liverton Road circuit just south of the Haywards intersection, hill climbs from Makara to J'ville, both sides of the Akatarawas, and the south side of Paekakariki Hill, the 40km Kahutara course, and the 80km lap of Lake Wairarapa, as well as a shorter TT in Whiteman's Valley.

My intent was to do as many as possible, but the North Island Series clashed with quite a few of the early events, and even the Wednesday evening TTs on the Liverton circuit proved somewhat elusive.  I was able to do a few though, and managed to grab the club record on my final outing of the season on the 24km course.

Liverton Rd
After the Christmas hiatus, which included a wonderful cycle tour with Sarah and the daughters in Northland, I managed to log a 55-minute 40km time on the Kahutara course, despite again, lousy pacing.

Things began to go wrong around the time I received a special gift from my coach, Joel Healy:  a t-shirt reading “Train Hard, Get Lucky:  the harder you train, the luckier you get.

I got absolutely smoked on the 80km Lake Wairarapa course by David Rowlands, so despite clocking a  respectable 1:57, being over seven minutes slower than Dave was humbling.

The 80km race had been somewhat torturous, but afterwards I once again felt at home on the TT bike.  Three weekends before the nationals, I was nearing the end of a great ride on the outskirts of Carterton, when I felt a sharp pain on my right ankle.  I looked down to see a bee in its death throes, flicked it off, and thought nothing more of it.  That night, my ankle didn't feel right, and by late on Sunday afternoon, it didn't look right either.  A trip to the medical centre confirmed I'd contracted cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection.  It wasn't clear if the bee had played any role other than punching a hole in my skin, nor was the time frame to recovery obvious.

Monday was a dream, by virtue of the Tour of Flanders being raced overnight.  I spent most of the day lying on the couch with my leg up in the air, watching the 6-hour race from beginning to end.  I caught up on more recorded-cycling over the next day or two, but by Friday, my ankle was still flaring up every time I moved off the couch.

Hot, red skin: there was obviously a battle going on in there, and it was rather creepy

I was symptom free on Saturday, and enjoyed supporting Sarah at her first Centre Champs.  The next day, I tried a gentle spin while my peers were vying for the centre Road Race title.  My legs didn't last, locking up as they've often done after international travel.  It was another few days before I was able to ride properly, and then it was back onto the TT bike.

In hindsight I overdid it, something I knew was on the cards, joking to friends: “I've done my taper, and now it's back into the training”.   I was enjoying myself though, and my body hadn't forgotten its hard-won comfort on the torture machine.

The long drive down to Alexandra had much promise, but was riddled with frustration.  Sarah and I had booked on the 2:30am Bluebridge sailing.  The boat arrived into Wellington late the previous night, and while the promise of boarding at 10:30pm and heading straight into a cabin for a good night's sleep had been appealing in theory, in practice it was closer to midnight before we hit the pillows.

We spent the next night in Twizel, managing a lovely ride along the canal, before all hell broke loose and the evening was wrecked by a by-txt-message tiff with someone back home.

By the time we raced on the challenging TT course the day after next, both Sarah and I were pretty exhausted.  She was out racing while I warmed up.  At the end of her race, I retrieved my helmet from her, and set off before learning her result.

"Warming up the engine."  Thanks to Kirsten Hagan for the photo, and the caption

The out-and-back course was hard, climbing, gently at first, and then not so gently out to the turn.  Gauging how much to overdo it on the way out was tough.  Time trials always feel hard, but the good ones are usually obvious.  Crossing the line, I wasn't pleased with how I'd ridden.

On the upside, I returned to learn that Sarah had won a silver medal in her race, only 8-seconds behind the winner, and was able to watch her receive her medal.  A decent sleep in either of the previous two nights would easily have accounted for that difference and then some, but to her credit, she didn't seem to be dwelling on that like I undoubtedly would have.

Before the M2 results went up on the notice board, my name was called out to report for the medal ceremony.  Nestled in between David Rowlands and Heath Lett, I felt sure I'd got silver, but was unable to sight any confirmation of that before lining up for the podium presentation.

The chaperone put the three of us in order, and as instructed, I climbed onto the top step of the podium.  No more than 15 minutes had passed since the three of us had finished our 30+minute all out efforts, so when my name was called, and the silver medal was placed around David's neck, it took us some time to register what was wrong.  When his name was called as the winner, we silently swapped places, and he gave me my medal before receiving his rightful prize.

It's impossible to judge how I would have felt without that stuff-up.  But, I can tell you, being the “first loser” feels a lot worse than it should after an experience like that.

2016 M2 Time Trial podium.  Rowlands (36:10), Randal (36:32), Lett (37:13)

The following day, Sarah claimed a brilliant 4th place in the combined W1 and W2 Road Race.  All three riders ahead of her were unfortunately in her own W2 grade, but she performed exceptionally, finishing third in her first ever bunch sprint (for 2nd place).

The day after that, I rode in support of David, even spending half a lap out on my own to give him some time out, before collapsing at the start of the final lap.  I limped around the course to the finish.  Despite learning that Dave had won, I don't think I've ever wanted to cry more at the end of a race.  Only exhaustion prevented it, I think.  I was physically and emotionally spent.

The long drive home had its ups and downs too.  The wonderful seal nursery on the coast north of Kaikoura was the highlight, but came soon after a $200 ticket for cutting a corner on a windy hill. Apparently 30cm over a dashed white line is a ticketable offence, and the ticket itself was part of an education campaign.  Insult to injury, duly added.

Third time a charm maybe?  Roll on Cambridge...


My bike and kit were fairly dialled prior to Alexandra, so the focus in the months preceding the 2017 event primarily focussed on getting my legs organised.

I'd been surprised to see Huib Buyck representing the Wellington Masters Cycling Club in Alexandra, and leapt at the chance to do likewise in the 2016/17 season, not least of all, to get rid of the horrible plunging neckline of the PNP skinsuit.  Besides, it seemed like a bloody appropriate hat-tip to the club for continuing to put on a full race calendar, all things considered.

Unfortunately, the Liverton Road circuit was out of commission due to the upgrade of the Haywards interchange, and the Wednesday night TTs had shifted out to the Miramar Peninsula.  Despite being closer to work and home, Sarah and I struggled to get to these.  I probably should have ditched the disk wheel and ridden out, such was the horrendous traffic, but after several wind-related cancellations, gave up on the idea of them entirely.

The season was not without its successes - probably the best time trial I rode was on a whim.  I'd had a disappointing road race on the Saturday, and when returning from Wairarapa on the Sunday morning, stopped in to do the Vets' Harcourt Park to Akas summit TT.  I had only my road bike with me, but the damp roads probably made that a good choice.  I also did a decent 40km TT in blustery conditions at Kahutara, pipping ex-NZ hour record holder Steve Bale for the Club Championship.  We were blitzed off the course by a flying Hamish Bond, building TT experience towards his next Olympic goal..  Watch *that* space!!!

It was around about then that the wheels fell off...

I feel very privileged to have been coached by Joel Healy - I think that he has found a very nice balance between pushing me hard when I've been threatening to fail, and letting me off lightly when I do.  He would be very glad if I had a power meter on every bike, and while I've managed to hold off on that, there's been a great deal of structure training to numbers.

One of the staple sessions is modelled on Sufferfest's Revolver:  15 reps of one minute on, one minute off, on an indoor trainer.  The first time I did it, back in April 2015, I collapsed on the 8th rep, and limped home, by then, the minutes-on feeling like an eternity, and the minutes-off passing in the blink of an eye.

I did the session nine times in the 2015/16 season.  On a good day, I could hold power through the entire session, and finished with a PB of 492W average for the on-minutes.  In the 2016/17 season, I did the session six times, and got a personal best average on five of those occasions, 3 out of 4 through August and September, and then up a level in November, and again in late February.  On that last effort, almost a week after the Club Champs, I was tantalisingly close to my goal of holding 500W for each minute, but had to make do with an average of 517W, with a 498W on the second rep, and 497W on the penultimate one.

But I wasn't moving...

A fortnight after the Club Champs, we were again racing on the Kahutara course.  It was a relatively windless day, and I had high hopes for a fast time.  I felt like I'd paced myself relatively well, but about 500m from the finish, I was passed by Ben Storey despite my one minute head start.  And, to make matters worse, despite my power being higher than a fortnight earlier, I'd been 15 seconds slower.

That result had a profound effect on me, and one which I still don't fully understand (the cause nor the effect).  I was more time-poor than usual, with a busy load at work (ironically, I'd shifted a whole lot of teaching forward to be able to be free for the week of Nationals).  Up until this point, I'd been making regular sacrifices to slot in the various training sessions Joel had prescribed, and the power numbers were showing the benefits of this.  I'd been a successful time triallist but I hadn't thought that was the cause of my enjoyment of it, and nor the reason for my commitment to it.  But, this loss, not only to Ben, but also to Steve Bale who'd turned a 40 second deficit into a 1:14 advantage, was strangely crushing.

Not in the garage any more.  Photo: Di Chesmar

Nationals was still a whopping two months out, and while I still told myself I wanted to do well there, I wasn't acting like it.  I let myself succumb to work pressures, and missed session after session after session.  I had half an eye on a second ascent of Mauna Kea, but wasn't even shirking indoor sessions to ride hills.

I teamed up with Steve, Mike Stewart and the ever-impressive Andy Hagan, to ride the Hope Gibbons Team Time Trial.  We came away with a win, largely thanks to Andy's disproportionate spells on the front.

Hope Gibbons TTT:  Hagan, Bale, Randal
I think it is fair to say I was stronger than Steve that day, but a week later crumbled at Centre Champs, finishing behind not only Ben and Steve in my age group, but a raft of others that I'd hoped to beat, despite not being in their grade.   Further demoralisation ensued, but I had little time to dwell on that before jumping on a plane to Hawaii.

Immediately upon arriving home, I went out to see Joel, and he tinkered with my bike a bit, looking for some free speed.  A 1cm spacer was shifted from below the stem to above it, and both elbow rests were moved inboard.  I then spent the weekend riding it, and was relieved to feel relatively comfortable on the bike.  We hadn't done any harm, at least.

I got out another couple of times early that week, but by then had overdosed on it, and was getting weary of the precarious position and the high speeds.  The air temperature had dropped significantly too, and while I'd made decent attempts at a couple of hill rep sessions, the fan forced cold air in the garage late in the evenings was a different story.  More missed sessions...

It's embarrassing and somewhat ironic to think I probably did more training in and around the bee-sting the previous year.  But, the event finally rolled around, nearly a full nine months after my first Revolver session for the season.  I'd been referring to club nationals as my goal since around then, but in reality, had completely lost sight of it.

The race was on a Friday, and Sarah and I made our way north with Brendan on the Wednesday.  While he and Yancey did a recce around Saturday's road race course, Sarah and I rode our TT bikes over the time trial course.  Just once, unlike Hamish Bond who we saw a couple of times, the last of which was as he set out for a second lap.  He would go on to absolutely blitz the field the next day, taking the rare step of loading his power data up on strava.

Unlike his disciplined excellence, my race was an absolute mess.  My warm up was good, though about 20 minutes from the start, I somehow knocked my power meter pod and had to spend about 5 minutes getting it sorted.

By virtue of David Rowlands moving up into M3, I started last in my field.  And, from the outset failed to get on top of the occasion.

About to take off.  Photo: Kirsten Hagan
One of the things a power meter highights, is how free the first minutes feel.  The pedalling seems easy, yet the power numbers are so high, and it can be easy to convince yourself that the meter is miscallibrated, or on the blink somehow (especially if you've been fiddling with it mere minutes earlier).  And, so it was, at Club Nationals, that I set off way too hard, wondering for the first couple of minutes whether the numbers I was seeing on my screen were correct.

Aside from that regularity, everything else felt foreign.

My position felt strange.  Since Joel had changed things up front, apparently successfully, I'd ridden forward on the saddle, successfully avoiding the "pissing glass" symptoms which arose time and again when I'd ridden too far back, obviously affecting a nerve somewhere that nerves are best left alone.  Yet here I was, having to fight to get forward in the saddle, for the first time in weeks.  I didn't understand why.

It felt like there was friction somewhere too.  I'd had the same sensations on and off during Hope Gibbons, and again at Centre Champs.  The disk wheel was only on the bike for special occasions, and while post-event checks seemed to suggest everything was fine, in the heat of the moment, it felt like the brake was rubbing, or the tyre was rubbing the frame, or something.

Unfortunately the pedalling effort is not quite enough to slow my brain down, and so I fixated on how wrong my position and the flow of the bike through the air felt.  I convinced myself that the wheel was rubbing, and I almost convinced myself to stop to check it.  I was literally one "ah, fuck it" away from stopping the bike.

The course was basically flat, but the outbound leg was predominantly into the wind.  That made it hard to supplement power data with speed, and so I had little else to go on but my power numbers and these horrible sensations.

After the turn, the tailwind gave me a healthy speed boost, but "you always pay the piper" as the saying goes, and my apparently over-zealous start began to catch up with me.  I rationalised the fade later on by figuring I'd made better gains into the wind than the resulting losses near the end of the ride.  Who knows if that's actually the case.

I managed to drag myself out of the saddle for a burst of effort as the line approached, and hung my head in disappointment the moment I was done.

Despite Sarah (who'd won a bronze medal in her race, I was delighted to learn), and Brendan, and other friends being around, I wanted to be alone.  After a few minutes, I called Joel, and was talking to him when someone came to me and told me I'd placed second.  Joel immediately began ensuring I was happy with it.

2017 M2 Time Trial podium:  Henton (35:04), Randal (35:27), Gardner (35:59)

When I smiled for that photo, I really was smiling.

* * *

I've now raced three Club Nationals time trials.  Across the three events, I've been a total of 60 seconds behind a silver and two golds.  I didn't pace myself well in a single race, and that's a good enough reason to be thankful for where I did end up.

At the time, fourth place in 2015 really did suck, and being 15 seconds slower than second place (and only 3 seconds slower than 3rd) was a hard pill to swallow.

My 22 second deficit to David Rowlands in 2016 in some ways was harder still.  Despite Dave being one of the best 40-something-year-old amateur cyclists in the world, and nursing a heavy cold at the time of the race, I genuinely believe that the sting had prevented me from giving my best that day.  Throw in the podium debacle, and there is little satisfaction remaining.

On the other hand, it has never crossed my mind to lament the 23 second deficit to Mike Henton in 2017.  This year, the gap I've thought about, if any, was the 32 seconds to third. 

The lead in to the 2017 event was like being in a slow-motion train crash.  It was obvious what was going on at the time, but apparently, I was paralysed to do anything about it.  Of course I did have options, but chose not to take them - I guess there's something optimistic about us that hopes things will magically resolve without us having to take charge and make hard decisions.  In hindsight, the saddest bit for me is knowing that had I intervened, I could have avoided a miserable couple of months of feeling shit about everything (including feeling like I was wasting Joel's time).  Calling it for what it was might even have improved the training outcomes, such as they were.

As nice as it would have been to win this year, I made choices in the months prior that worked against that result.  Too many, and I knew it when I stood on that podium.  I also knew that those choices could easily have had me standing in the crowd, and it was for that reason that the medal was an overwhelming relief.

Big Dan consoled me after the 2015 race with the gem:  "there's winning, and there's learning."  As enjoyable as a job-well-done is, this most recent reminder that to win, you need to work hard, is surely of longer-lasting value.  I was working hard, but not to win the time trial at Club Nationals.  And I'm OK with that.

As nice as it would be to rise to the challenge of riding a perfect Club Nationals TT, that's the last challenge I feel like taking on at the moment.  Ironic, since the 2018 event is in little old Carterton, just down the road from Sarah's and my home away from home.  I'm now much clearer about the sacrifices I would have to make, and realise that the convenience of the event makes little difference in the giant scheme of things.

Even a half-arsed attempt at stuff  like this comes with a massive opportunity cost.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A bicycle built for me - Part 2

I don't recall exactly when I first met Patrick Crowe-Rishworth, but it would have been not long after he started working at Capital Cycles in downtown Wellington.  As is true of many of Paul Davies' employees, Pat has a lovely manner, and knows how to make a customer feel both welcome, and confident they've left the shop with just the thing they needed.

About a year ago, I discovered he was a frame-builder, and while I found that impressive, his kind and friendly manner were really the qualities that most impressed me.

For several months, I fretted over replacing the CRX, and it may even have been Pat himself who told me about the Open Cycle U.P. (unfairly, but at least anonymously, described as hideous in Part 1).

Blind to something that had been in front of me the whole time, my eyes were finally opened by the wonderful Tom Lynskey, who had commissioned Pat to build him a frame.  While I regard Tom's taste in riding outfits sometimes questionable, I've no doubt the man knows his bike kit.

Tom's build in progress.  Photo: Michael Hayward
I'd seen Tom's bike pop up on social media, but it was bumping into the man himself one day at Capital, that triggered the eureka moment.   (Thank you, Tom!)

"Hey Pat - how would you like to build me a frame?"

And, as simply as that, we were underway.

We sat down over a coffee in early April, and I ran through the things I wanted:  same or similar geometry as the CRX, disc brakes, 35mm tyre clearance, and mounts for mudguards.  Simple, he said.

A work trip to China a couple of weeks later was a good opportunity to drop the donor to Pat, so he could take a much closer look at what made it tick, and to note where the various contact points were relative to one another.  Based on that measurement of the CRX, Pat thought that a front triangle which had been made to fit him might work for me, and if so, we'd save a bit of time. 

I was given a short shopping list:  wheels and brake calipers to account for the format change in the stopping department.  Pat said he would take care of seatpost, fork, head-set and stem.  Otherwise, the donor bike would cover most everything else.

I proved to be much more hands-off than Tom had been, and simply left the man to it.   I had plenty going on at work, and while it would have been interesting to see how it all went down, didn't really have time to spare.   From time to time I would get an email or txt update, and of course whenever I popped into Capital, it was good to hear how things were progressing.

Near the end of the building process, we got together to chat about finishing options.  Pat has a degree in Industrial Design (specifically, a Bachelor of Design Innovation from Victoria), and it was clear to me over the next hour or so, that to him, building a bike was much more than just getting the tubes in the right place and picking a colour. 

While I had absolutely no qualms about my choices to date, these last decisions were stressing me out a bit.  Pat had some novel ideas stemming from his theoretical background and hands-on experience since, but I was nervous about regretting my choice.  In some ways, I wanted to keep the bike to myself - have it look understated so that to a casual observer, it might not look like anything particularly special. 

Prior to our meeting, I'd asked Pat about whether or not reflective paint was an option.  We'd both since done some homework, and discovered that while possible, it would be an expensive option and the frame would have to go to the US to be painted.

In the course of our conversation, the possibility of using 3M reflective tape for the decals arose, rather than faffing around with the paint.  We were both excited about the idea, and both left looking forward to the final stages in the project.  I was confident Pat has sensed my conservatism, and once again, left him to it.

I'm notoriously impatient, especially when it comes to shopping, but this process had been very different.  It was nice to let Pat control the pace and therefore enjoy the build without stressing about me asking "are we there yet?" at every turn.  Better late than rushed, we both agreed.

Then again, two months from first conversation to "here's your new bike" was nothing to be sneezed at.  Before long the request for the donor came, we did our last ride together, and soon after that it was time... 

I'm just the operator

I'd collected the bike before Pat sent me some glamour shots taken by the very talented Digby Shaw.  I was bemused at the time I spent in those first evenings looking at the bike on my phone while the real thing was downstairs in the garage.  But that didn't stop me from looking at that bike on my phone.  I couldn't believe how beautiful it looked.

Material:  Patrick Crowe-Rishworth.  Photo:

And another angle.  Photo:

But I wasn't just looking at it.

I'm aware of post-purchase rationalisation, so I tried to be a bit critical each time I felt the need to proclaim how awesome the bike was.  But, every time I threw it around a corner on one or other of my regular road loops, or simply looked at it, I really was astonished at the extent to which Pat really had nailed every aspect of this build.

I've ridden some very nice bikes in my time, and it genuinely staggered me how wonderfully this one performed.  As you would expect from a steel frame with mudguards, commuting lights, a wide range 11-32 cassette and a mix of 105 and ultegra componentry, it was heavier than most roadies - just as well, otherwise the superlatives would have got ridiculous.

The decals were a source of pride for both of us, I think...

No flash (top) / Flash (bottom).  Flash!
... and I had some fun on early commutes trying to enjoy the effect while out and about.

Makara loop shake-down.  Fooling around with the decals

I realised that with this bike, I could be fussy.  I lost a plug out of my bar-end - something which happens from time to time - so replaced it with a lock-in variety.  Yes, slightly heavier, but unlikely to ever frustrate me again.

I had a challenging experience with the cockpit.  Neither an out-front mount for my GPS, nor a position on the stem would allow me to take the GPS unit off for charging without rotating my commuter light out of the way.  It dawned on me that this could be solved by running the GPS mount asymmetrically - it was designed to be mounted on the right of the stem, positioning the GPS dead-centre, but putting it to the right gave me the latitude I needed. 

Days later, I was still wrestling with this solution, trawling my life for instances where things weren't in the middle yet were unquestioned (including the god-damn light that was part of the problem...).  I got there in the end.

Off-centre.  Ridiculously hard to get used to...
Things reached somewhat of an equilibrium with the installation of a 52-36 105 chainset, and the second-hand Spur Cycle bell was an extravagant, but wholly fitting, accessory. (Diiiiiinnnnggggggggg!)   A visit to Oli for a couple of R O A D W O R K S stickers to mount to the otherwise bare top tube were another simple but important tweak. 

It's almost there, I think, bar a couple of minor changes.  When the bar-tape is next replaced, I'll get some gel pads added (and maybe buy something a bit more durable that the Lizard Skins tape), and I'm contemplating replacing the TRP Spyre brake calipers with a cable-actuated hydraulic set, just to eliminate the occasional faffing with the pads.

Having clocked up the best part of 3,500km on it already.  In the wet, and dark, loaded, and not, it's rocked my world again and again and again, and has proven itself a worthy upgrade of a very versatile and well-loved bicycle.  I was prepared for it to feel same-old-same-old, and with the exception of the brake upgrade, I wasn't expecting a big change.  How wrong I was. 

Loaded, in front of le Sphinx, Hienghène, Nouvelle Caledonie

I'm pretty fussy on some aspects of my bikes.  Saddle height is an obvious thing that must be right from bike to bike, but the thing that drives me most crazy when it's wrong, is the angle of the brake hoods (on a roadie), or the brake levers (on an MTB).  On the other hand, things like stiffness and ride quality are things that I can perhaps detect, but not in such a way that I really know what's causing what.  I've always been told "steel is real", but I honestly have no idea why...

The nitty gritty

I asked Pat for a bit of a run-down from his side of things, information I hadn't bothered to seek prior to engaging him. 

I'm assured the frame is made from 4130 Columbus chrome-molybdenum steel tubing.  The drop-outs, cable guides, mud-guard mounts and drink bottle bosses (a modest number, see later) are stainless steel.

The geometry is part-genius, part-miracle.

The front triangle had been pre-built for Pat himself, around a fairly aggressive road-racing design.  Pat wanted to keep my contact points in the same places, without cheating by use of radical placement of the seat on the rails, or wacky stem length.  He wanted the wheelbase and bottom bracket position relative to the wheels to be pretty much the same as on the CRX.  And he wanted my hands to be in the same place relative to the front axle, but what happened in between to reflect the switch to disc brakes.

Despite his front triangle being designed for a different rider, and a distinctly different purpose, rotating it slightly to bring the front end up:
  • made space for a cyclocross fork to give me the tyre clearances I wanted;
  • slackened the head tube slightly in fitting with the more powerful disc brakes;
  • slackened the seat tube to put my saddle in the centre of the rails;
  • transformed Pat's long road chainstays into standard CX/gravel lengths; 
  • and all the while lengthened the wheelbase to match that of the Giant.  
He was fully prepared to start from scratch, but delighted that he wouldn't have to.

Pat spent considerable time finding the right fork for me, eventually settling on the Selcof carbon gravel fork.  The difficulty he both faced and overcame, was the mudguard mounts - a funny little detail over which to choose such an important component, but one which I demanded.

Here's to the long road ahead...

This bike has taught me a few things about myself.

I was surprised at how beautiful I found it - I'm not unused to admiring something's appearance, but this has been one of only a few possessions I've had that I actually wanted to look at for the pleasure doing so gave me.

The bike was well-used by the time Sarah and I got back from a short cycle-tour in New Caledonia, and so I had a massive catalogue of good experiences on it already.  Despite knowing full well its ride quality, and that its looks were not contributing to that one iota, I nevertheless almost burst into tears when I took the frame-bag off.  I'd managed to avoid damaging the paintwork up to that point, but gentle vibration over hundreds of kilometres had taken a toll on the finish.  The bike was not ruined, far from it, but boy-oh-boy did I have a moment...

Pat sensed my distress, and invited me around to his workshop where he would take a crack at the paint to see if some of the discolouration would polish out.  By the time we met, I'd recovered significantly, realising that the scars we (or our things) carry, often become an important part of our story.  I'd also acknowledged that a bike is there to be ridden, and as pleasurable as looking at it might be, the real value of it is what you see from it.

The polish worked a little, mellowing what had been harsh lines initially.  More than that, it had given me a perfect excuse to visit Pat in his workshop.  I apologised that this blog remained unwritten despite Part 1 "hitting the newstand" almost two months ago - not really necessary, but because I'd indicated then that it was imminent.  That said, I realised the delay was important (for me), and that the story had still been writing itself in the meantime.

I'm overwhelmingly grateful to Pat for his fine work.  It was a business transaction, fair and square, so the gratitude is not what I might have directed towards Santa Claus as a kid.  Rather, I appreciate the way he conducted the process, and in particular, the way his interpretation of my needs resulted in a bicycle with the best ride quality I've ever experienced.  (Yes, and that's saying a lot.)

Apart from general parameters, my contribution to the outcome had been very limited.  I'll claim the 3M tape call, and Pat reminded me of my response to the question of bottle mounts:  "It's not a fucking Surly...".  He was quite taken by that, and in hindsight, I'm rather proud of it.

Pat reckons my frame was number 25 or thereabouts, and I've seen a couple of stunners hit the streets since.  If you're interested in Pat's work, check out his portfolio at or follow him on instagram @raddnessnotmaddness.  Maybe there's some magic up his sleeves just waiting for you...

For my part, I thank you Patrick - I really couldn't be happier to be riding my very own Crowe-Rishworth, a bicycle built for me.

Where (and by whom) the magic happened


When I finally got around to picking up the CRX leftovers from Capital, I was perplexed as to why the seat post was sitting loose in the frame.  As it turns out, my stunning Crowe-Rishworth sports one part of the original off-the-Burkes-showroom-floor Giant CRX.  Pat repurposed the seat clamp, and by doing so symbolically marked this as just another transformational step of the original bike (a whopping one, no doubt) rather than a complete reincarnation.  The clamp is showing a bit of wear and tear, with a hairline crack in it - but, Pat reckons that crack may have been there for years, and may survive many more.  When and if it goes, that'll be a special moment too, but the continuity has been established, and that's all that was needed. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Family Fun at the Day Night Thriller

I still find it hard to believe we're staring down the barrel of October already - this year really has gone by in a blur, and I've felt constantly in need of a break.  In addition to the Monday to Friday pressures (which more often than not spillover into Saturday and/or Sunday), Khulan's weekend job at Mud Cycles has also taken a toll on our ability to hang out as a family of four. 

So, it was with some delight that when the 2017 Day Night Thriller event popped up in my Facebook feed, an enquiry to my cobbers on the family couch elicited some degree of interest.  Never one to piss around when a decision is made, we were soon entered, annual leave had been approved, and an Airbnb booked in Atiamuri.

The last time I did the Day Night Thriller was back in 2011, riding with Alex Revell and Megan Dimozantos as Team Yeti, in the trails around Spa Park in Taupō.  Despite the non-technical nature of the event, or perhaps because of it, I'd had a blast then, and had always imagined it would be a fun event to do as a family, given we were all capable of enjoying ourselves on mountain bikes.

The event had since moved to Tokoroa, and rather than attempt an after-work drive on Thursday, we opted to drive north on the Thursday.  Accommodation in Atiamuri seemed to make sense at the time of booking, and actually worked fairly well in practice.  It sits at one end of the Waikato River Trail, and is about 40km from both Rotorua and Taupō, so we'd have plenty of options for a ride on the Friday without being too far from the event itself.

All winter long, I've often arrived home to find a mud-slick on the driveway, a sign that one or both of my beautiful daughters has been out on her bike (and dutifully cleaned it before stashing it in the garage).  For both Sarah and I though, an off-road ride is a rarity, so our bikes needed a bit of attention, snuck in around a hectic work schedule.

Luckily, not only are we compatible riders, but our four bikes marry together well on the Q-spear bike rack.  As a result, the loading process on Thursday morning went pretty well.  Not so well was the driver.  I'd raced on the road the previous Sunday, and what I thought was a bit of my legs rattling round in my lungs had turned into a full-blown cold. 

It rained all day long on the Thursday, making for tough driving conditions, and while Friday dawned fine, none of us seemed super-inclined to go riding.  That not only made for a restful morning, but saved us about an hour of bike cleaning later in the day, and bought me some recovery time.

Around lunch time, a walk to the lake was suggested, which I countered with a much more sensible idea.  We were soon riding, in a very European sense, and not long after we were at the lakefront.

The girls seemed content lying about in the sun, so Sarah and I left them to it and went to check out the power station below the dam. 

Atiamuri Power Station
Not only had the fresh air and the sights been nice, but it was good to know the bikes had travelled well.  

We were joined that afternoon by the grandparents, who Sarah and I left in charge of the daughters while we popped to Tokoroa to register, and top up our grocery supply.  The trip wasn't entirely necessary, but I wanted to test the water with the organisers about a grade-change.  My cold was still in full-effect, and while entering in the 12-hour option had seemed like a good idea at the time, none of us were keen now.  

Thankfully, the organisers were very encouraging, and were happy for us to make the call in the morning.  The likely options looked to be a 6-hour women's team, or 6-hour mixed if I wanted to ride (and the girls would have me).   

The day dawned fine, and we were well ahead of schedule by the time we hit the road.  Once we arrived at Cougar Park, first order of business was swapping into the 6-hour grade.  Not a soul was interested in the 12-hour, whether I was riding or not.  

We were soon setting up camp - a rather rudimentary one - but perfect given the conditions.  In between a fairly decent playlist, the organisers were occasionally giving us information about the event, including that no grade changes would be accepted after midday.  With a 10am start, that would give us a couple of hours to sort ourselves out.

Warming up
We were told time and again to send our "strongest and most experienced" rider off first.  Khulan got that nod, with Kaitlyn being next - I wanted to ensure Khulie was able to brief Sarah about any potential trouble spots on the course - sensible I thought, given the last time she'd been on the MTB was in Kaiteriteri (where not all blood stayed on the inside). 

After a briefing, we watched the 12-hour teams start, giving Khulie 5 minutes before she'd be off. 

Ladies and gentlement, start your engines...
As it turned out, that time hadn't been used particularly wisely, and when the gun went, it was a long while before Family Randal-Tumen's first rider made her way past the increasingly anxious onlookers.  Almost dead last, so the only way was up!!!

Not 15 minutes later, the first 12-hour riders started returning, and it was very nice to see how clean they were.  The 6-hour teams arrived roughly 5 minutes later again, thus beginning the endless stream of riders past our campsite. 

Khulan's first lap had taken around 30 minutes, and she arrived back reporting no technical sections, but a lot of climbing!  Her red face seemed to reinforce the point.

With Kaitlyn taking over duties, the three of us (and the grandparents in their management role) had a bit of a pow-wow about the relative merits of me suiting up.  It was agreed that I'd enjoy myself and so I went to the car to get organised only to discover I wasn't organised at all. 

I'd brought heaps of riding gear, but no shorts!!!  What to do...?!

I was wearing heavy canvas trousers - totally inappropriate riding attire.  We began to relitigate our decision in light of my sloppy packing, and 40-minutes deep into a six hour event, we decided it would be worth me taking the grandparents' car back to Atiamuri.  There seemed to be general agreement, so off I went.

Hoping to find my bib shorts on the bed, overlooked at the last minute, they were actually neatly packed away, adding slightly to my embarrassment.  I don't know what had gone through my mind, and while I could vividly remember setting aside one of the pairs I'd brought, soon after I must have fired them away with the discards. 

I put them on then and there, lest I forget them again, and grabbed the creamed rice we'd also inadvertently left behind, and some leftover pasta from the night before. 

By the time I returned to the team, Khulan's arrival at the end of our fourth lap was imminent, and while Kaitlyn headed out for our fifth, I struck off on my own for a warm-up on the streets of Tokoroa.  I made good use of the time I had, and wasn't waiting for too long when Kaitlyn arrived.

I'd decided to do a double lap, lest I be unable to get going again once stopped.  I didn't particularly ease into it, and was soon "passing on your right". 

When I handed over to my dear wife some 45 minutes later, I was probably about a kilo lighter, due to the sheer quantity of snot I'd ejected during the two laps.  That had been a lot of fun, but I'd also enjoyed the riding, and hadn't had too much trouble with traffic. 

The team manager was impressed by my consistency, and while the second lap had felt rather horrible, I'd been only about 30 second slower than the first.  At a guess, I probably lost about a minute on the climb, but had a cleaner run on the long descent. 

Sarah, looking slightly worried about the next bit!
Sarah came in looking absolutely shattered, and her time reflected it - despite being  relatively new cyclist, Sarah has well and truly mastered the art of being in the box.  Khulie was next, and by all accounts enjoyed some parts of the course more than others.

With our 9th lap underway, it was time to start the arithmetic, and when Kaitlyn set out, we thought we needed to average about 29 minutes to complete another four laps (in fact, we'd initially overlooked the 10:05 start, so had a little more time up our sleeves than we'd thought).  While there was absolutely no way we'd manage a fifth - the race rules said all laps had to be completed by the six hour mark - barring accident or bike problems, we wouldn't have to kill ourselves to get the four extras done.

I rode again immediately after Kaitlyn, and was disappointed that the snot production had tailed off a bit.  On the other hand, it was my fastest lap of the three, largely by virtue of reduced traffic and familiarity with what I was up against. 

I headed to the far end of the camp area to watch Sarah come in, and a minute later was able to cheer Khulie on as she set off on our final lap.

Goooooo Khulie!

She came in dead on schedule, and pushed it hard to the line, an effort that didn't go unnoticed by the announcer:  "what a magnificent strong finish!!"  We agreed wholeheartedly, and were looking forward to seeing how the results had fallen.

Khulio bringing it home!
We'd packed most of our stuff into the Corolla, and once Khulan's bike was loaded up, Mum and I drove out to the carpark, all the better for a quick departure after prize-giving.  That done, we regrouped with Poppa, Sarah and the girls, and the ceremony began moments later.  The organisers did a fine job, perhaps with the exception of one award of an unfortunately named sampler-pack of beer:  "and [insert woman's name] is going home with a Hairy Box...".  Oops... 

Other than that, Murray Fleming ran very efficiently through the podiums for the 3-hour solo riders, and the various 6-hour categories, unsurprising, given this is the 15th year of the event. 

When it came time for the mixed teams, we were delighted to learn we'd placed second, 10 minutes behind a team of Smurfs!  This was fantastic in and of itself, but it was also nice to note that we'd managed the fastest lap of the division, and that our ratio of women to men was somewhat unique! 

The most important thing of course, was that we'd all really enjoyed ourselves, and each other.  The grandparents joining us had made it even more special, and had been excellent time keepers and transponder swappers, and general encouragers. 

I realised too the folly of my original instinct.  I'd entered us into the 12-hour division, thinking that we wanted to maximise the time together.  I suppose that logic does make sense for individuals who would arrive from disparate places and then scatter to the winds once it was all done.  Why hang out for only six hours, when you could enjoy a dozen together?

For us though, I realised only with hindsight, the entire trip was family time.  And when push came to shove, enjoying the second six hours of the event not on our bikes but soaking in thermally heated water at the bottom of Spa Park, having a meal at a restaurant, eating dessert back at our bach, and even watching a bit of election coverage, was actually nicer than doubling up on the first six hours.  As nice as they were, the economist's law of diminishing marginal utility surely dictates they could not be beaten. 

As it turns out, more is not always better, unless the "more" in question is simply some top-quality family time. 

I'm so proud of us.  Not because of how fast we rode, but because we did it together.

Thanks Event Promotions, for a great event.