Tuesday, October 30, 2012

K2 Ride Review

First off so you don't waste anytime wondering if I rode the entire thing.  Achievement Unlocked.  We rode K2 this past weekend and it lived up to their claim of "the toughest one day cycle challenge in the Southern Hemisphere."  Or at least it did in my mind.  So how did I get to the starting line?  Well I thought it would be a good idea to do some of the iconic races while I was down here and so I entered K2.  I am currently toying with entering Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge and Port of Tauranga Half Ironman (relay team, where I am the swimmer).  Then there are the non-event, but fun things to do that I've been slowly ticking off.
Scenic lookout on Pumpkin Hill
Back to how I got to K2.  So last month I decided to go with the guys from Koop's and do the K1 course.  This consisted of going from Coromandel to Tairua which was approximately 106 km.  I finished the training ride, but was hurting as my longest road ride was about 40 miles since moving here and I ran out of food and water on Kopu-Hikuai (see Webster for long ascent).  I also put in an extra 20 km on the day by biking to and from the shop.  Gotta love not having a car to drive to a ride.  Then again, getting groceries and to far off places kind of sucks.  Not to mention the crappy winter rain season of drenching proportions.  So I did a few more long rides with the guys I ended up going to the race with.  This consisted of Martin (South African), Clive (Kiwi), Matt (British), and Willie (Kiwi of Dutch Descent).  We were like the United Nations of Biking this past weekend!  We rode to Rotorua, did the 5 Angels, and the Welcome Bay loop together.  I also did my daily commuting and some other short stints on the bike by myself and once with Faye.
Water-side of the bach

We left early Friday morning to get to registration by 1 pm.  We all met up at the Tairua Rugby Club and got our packets.  Since I didn't know how fit I would be I said it might take over 8 hours to do the ride.  So I got put in Group 10.  Everyone else but Clive were in 9, with Clive being in 8.  The groups were assigned by anticipated completion times.  Lets say some people over-estimated their fitness and under-estimated the course as many people didn't finish in their anticipated time.  However, they did finish and that in itself is an accomplishment on this tough course.  We then went and did some recon of the first ascent, Pumpkin Hill, which is right outside Tairua.  The view is pretty stunning at the top of Pumpkin, but that can pretty much be said about the entire race course.  I had my head on a swivel the entire ride as it was so stunning.  I'm pretty sure if I was paying more attention to riding, I might have gone faster.  Oh well.  Everyone who visits, should drive around the Coromandel Peninsula and if you're adventurous bike around it.  We did see many loaded touring bikes as we raced.  Martin had organized a bach for us to stay at in Pauanui and this place was ridiculous.  4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms with a deck that stretched around half of the building and a patio on the half.  Then there was a dock and his own boat ramp.  We were definitely in the nice part of Pauanui as we were on the  waterways.  We had a big spread of lasagna and salad for our evening meal and retired early as it was bound to be a long day.
View from the bach

Race day:
We woke up early and got kitted up, but Martin took it a step further.  We could hear him prancing around the kitchen in his cleats.  All we could hear was tap tap tap as he was making his breakfast.  We had to be at the starting line at 7:30 and it was about a 20 minute drive to Tairua from where we were staying so we packed up and headed out at 7.  However, as we were starting in the later groups, we didn't end up starting for some time and had to wait around in our groups as the lower wave got to leave ahead of us.  There were 4 minutes between each group.  Finally it is time for group 9 to go and the announcer just decided to lump in group 10 as well. It wouldn't have mattered much as I was going to jump groups at the beginning to ride with the guys.  We quickly leave Tairu and within the first 5 minutes we are tasked to take Pumpkin Hill in all of its 240m of switchback glory.  I spun comfortably up the first climb with 3 cogs to spare.  However, not everyone found it easy.  This was unfortunately where we dropped Matt.  He went on to ride mainly solo for the rest of the day.  His biggest pack would be 3 people.  I quickly ascended to the top and spun easy waiting to regroup with Martin and Willie.  I had set some mental goals for this ride.  1st was not to run out of food and water.  Mission Accomplished. I ran out of solid food, but didn't go hungry as there were bananas, oranges, and jelly beans.  I also had a half a bottle of Accelerade left to drink and powder for another serving.  Water and Electrolite mix were readily available at the water stops.  Many of which were located 2/3 of the way up a steep climb.  Strange location.  It could have been worse and been on the opposite side of the summit.  My 2nd goal was not to exceed 140's bpm on the flats and then stick in the 160's on the climbs to try to conserve my energy.  I averaged 144 bpm with 176 bpm max.  Martin took a different approach and was keeping at 155 bpm for a long time.  A decision he regretted later when we cramped unexpectedly and his cadence went to almost nil.  He even wrote last night that he is still finding it hard to walk.
Spent our afternoons here drinking tea and telling tales

The next stage is reportedly the hardest.  I would have to agree that the final hill before Coromandel was the hardest.  Having to relieve myself, I worked hard to outpace the group I was with so that when I pulled over, I wouldn't have to work that hard to catch back up.  In practice, this didn't work as well as I planned as I pushed close to 40 km/h to catch up.  Just in time for a steep .8 km hill.  This took a lot out of my legs.  A hard solo effort with a short break off the bike and then another hard effort.  The name of the stage includes the maori word for 'to inspire fear'.  In a way I'm glad I had no idea what was coming up as I was busy chatting with other riders who had done the ride.  They kept saying that this was the worst hill between their huffing and puffing.  It was long and it was steep.  This stage follows with a climb up the Kuaotunu Hill rising to 170m and back down again to sea level and the township of Kuaotunu. The ride continues on towards Coromandel with three shorter steep climbs before reaching the big one, the Whangapoa Hill. On the ascent there was an aid station and even some comic relief.  2 signs pretty close together read "Drafting Permitted" and a couple meters away was "Cardiac Corner".  I think I took the corner at 10 kmph.  It was slow going as it was a drastic switchback and steep.  It was also towards the end of the 5.9km ascent.  You were treated to a fantastic view of both coastlines, but the blue water out from Coromandel stole the show. There is a steep downhill with a wicked hairpin bend at the bottom known as Devils Elbow (so be extremely careful).  This turn was toward the bottom of Whangapoa and it is posted to take at 15 kmph.  It almost doubles back on itself and the roads weren't closed.  I had a couple people shout get off the road, but for the most part we had a lot of cheering spectators and a lot of volunteers.
Trusty steeds
After descending Whangapoa, we arrived in Coromandel so I knew the rest of the race course.  I was only worried about Kopu-Hikuai.  I once again had to go to the bathroom, but since both Martin and Willie had stopped for water, I assumed I was safe in doing so.  Wrong.  I was dropped by my mates.  I got on my bike and downed the rest of my granola bar (google bumper bars, they are super tasty) and a bottle of water.  I tried to catch them, but they always seemed to be 20m ahead of me on the first hill out of Coromandel.  It was at this point that the K1 racers started.  So I had to deal with large packs of fresh legs darting past me.  Group 1 was past before I realized, but Group 2 wasn't so lucky.  I managed to jump on a bunch of about 30 riders and we clipped to Thames at roughly 40 km/h.  I was in rough shape at Thames as I cramped and needed to eat and drink.  It was hard to eat and drink in a fast pace line as we were also passing slower people on the right.  I happened to see Willie and Martin on the side of the road.  Evidently Martin had had a bad cramp and needed to get off the bike.  Willie was the diligent domestique and waited.  I also road past Clive and shouted to grab a wheel if he could.  He had some mechanical issues with his front derailuer, but managed to finish the race.
We got mighty hungry post ride

The final stage is from Thames to Tairua and it is a ball buster.  This stage is named after the highest point on the course with a steady rise from sea level up to 425m. The hill starts about 10km into the stage and is a steady 14km climb through sub-tropical rain forest to reach the top. The final kick of the hill is 5.4km with your last chance at an aid station.  Afterwards is an exciting downhill section with a few turns to begin with followed by a 100 km/h straight. I was reserved and only hit 76 km/h.  Willie hit 94 according to his Garmin.  It was at the aid station where I was busy making a bottle of Accelerade and chowing on some food that Clive and Willie caught up.  I didn't get to see Martin until the end of the race.  Clive and I left together, but his chain dropped twice and I caught the wheel of a bunch pacing at 30 km/h.  I decided that 7 hours on my bike was long enough and kept on their wheel. I was joking with a group of K1 riders that if a K2 rider had enough energy to sprint at the end of the ride that they didn't ride hard enough.  There was a girl from group 6 that decided to sprint to the finish.  I finished in 7:18 and burned 7500 calories.  As I was checking my watch I saw English Pete, who rode the K1 training ride with Koop's, finish along with Clive, Willie, and Martin.  We then changed and waited around for the awards and spot prizes (door prizes).  We were still missing Matt.  He ended up finishing in 8+ hours, but his goal was just to finish. 
My room for the weekend.  Bunk beds!
That night we had bobotie and tumeric rice for dinner and basically polished off the rest of my caramel oatmeal cookies.  My monster cookies crumbled apart, but went over well.  We also stood in the waterway in our boxers and briefs to cool our legs.  We must have been quite a sight.  There are some pictures of us toasting to a well fought day.  People said that once is probably enough.  I'm thinking that I could knock off a bunch of time and could probably do it in 6:30.  It would be one of those races, that I would travel back for.  It is very scenic and the area has a lot of nature to offer.  The race was only part of the fun we had over the weekend.  The stories and tales we told and the welcoming spirit were what defined the weekend for me.  Listening to Martin weave tales of his adventurous past or those of the others, it seems that every country has some jokers and I just happen to find them.

Then on Sunday we had a short recovery ride and breakfast in the happening city center of Pauanui.  Willie had a cousin in town, so she stopped by and chatted for a bit.  After that we cleaned up the bach and headed back to Tauranga.  I fell asleep on the way back and woke up in Katikati.  After getting dropped off, I had to bike to the store for some groceries as I needed fresh veggies and fruit as I missed the Sunday Farmer's Market.  There will always be next week to get to the Farmer's Market.

Now I'm looking at Cycle the Lake, which is 2 laps (42km each) around Lake Rotorua this coming weekend.  Then the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, 160km, on November 24 and possibly swimming 1.2 miles on Jan 5th.  I guess I better start training.  Before you know it, I'll be back in MN for my brief appearance.  You can admire my awesome biker tan then!

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