Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Coromandel Classic

After a slow trip out of Auckland on Friday night we arrived in Thames just in time for race briefing. Dad and Mum got all my gear scrutineered while I soaked up as many tidbits of information about the course as I could. Back to our cabin for a short mediocre sleep before the alarm rang at 5:30am. A few last minute instructions to support crew before they headed off to the first transition at the top of Kauaeranga Valley Road ahead of the riders. Ten minutes of riding round in circles served as a warm up before joining the throng of riders on the start line. I was feeling a sense of anticipation mixed with trepidation.

Day 1
The pace was hot right from the start with bunches quickly forming on the flat tarseal road. The 20km mtb ride is a gradual gravel climb up to the end of Kauaeranga Valley Road. For half up to the DOC visitor centre I was tucked into a bunch but eventually dropped off the back. The crisp early morning was enjoyable and I cruised along by myself soaking in as much of the surroundings as I could. There was a hint of frost in sheltered parts of the valley and my feet were numb by the time I came into transition.
A quick change into running shoes then it was through the Kauaeranga and into the 27km run. I found my running legs immediately but it took 20 minutes to regain full feeling in my feet (trail running with little feeling in your feet is an interesting exercise). It wasn’t long before the climb began in earnest and I was bounding past people up the rocky Pinnacles Track. Turning off the main track just before the hut, the run turned into a scramble as we descended into the upper reaches of the Kauaeranga River and back up the other side. Mud, bog, and rocks characterised these few kilometres (sometimes alternately, sometimes all together). Near the end of this technical section I was pleased to catch up to another individual woman. Finally we emerged at the top of a clay road which wound through a very barren area before a long steep descent where several of those whom I had overtaken came racing back past me. Fording the Rangihau Stream marked the end of the trails and the start of 9km of gravel road to the kayak transition at Coroglen. The road dragged on and on, and those 9km seemed to take forever!  A local called out that I was the fourth woman which perked me up for a while. At one stage I reckoned that we must be nearly at the end only to have someone say that we still had 4km to go. I was not really enjoying myself for the last few km and was struggling to keep my mental game focused so didn’t run as well as I could have. I took the opportunity provided by the easy terrain to polish off most of my food (although I didn’t drink as much as I should have).
The Coroglen transition was a welcome sight and I was soon paddling happily down the Waiwawa river. It was a bit of guess work as to which line to pick as the river widened into the Whitianga Harbour and a relied on my memory of the satellite images which I had studied on Friday. No opportunities for wash hanging, but the tide was racing out and made for a quick trip down the harbour. Rounding the headland by the ferry landing was a bit of a washing machine but there was only a very small swell along the coast – all well within my comfort zone. Paddling under the cliffs was spectacular and I relished the open views out to sea. I felt strong throughout the paddle and was half an hour faster than expected thanks to the outgoing tide. Rehydrating was a priority and I drank as much during the 1 ½ hour kayak as I had during the 3 hour run.
Landing at Cooks Beach I was neck and neck with Kim Daubney in 3rd place. A slick transition saw me hit the road first and I hammered it for the first 10 minutes in a futile attempt to retain my place. However cycling is my weakest leg so it wasn’t long before Kim came zooming past. The first 15 km of the road cycle was quite pleasant – fairly flat through to Whenuakite with a few undulations and a tail wind. Then it struck. At first I assumed it was just another undulation but I soon realised that this was more serious. Thankfully the road wasn’t too steep as it wound up the hill and I could grind away in my smallest gear. By now I was feeling pretty tired and my finger-mounted timing chip was digging in to my hand and giving me grief. 200m of climbing later, all that remained was one last descent into Tairua for the finish of Day 1. The long flowing downhill almost (but not quite) made up for the ascent.
We settled into our accommodation and sorted out gear and race plan for the next day. My legs were pretty tired and I snoozed until it was time to head to dinner and briefing. Bed at 8:15pm!
Day 2
No sign of the forecast heavy rain overnight but we woke to strong wind. Dark clouds were building to the west as we gathered for briefing at the Tairua Wharf. The harbour was quite choppy and some kayakers were a little of their comfort zone. It was tricky lining up for the start with the wind roaring up the harbour and a strong incoming tide (a feat made harder by not being able to hear any instructions from the wharf). I missed the start by about 50m but some people were still facing the wrong way! A fast lumpy paddle up the harbour with the odd bit of surfing thrown in. Thankfully there was enough water to cover the sandbanks. The water was nice and calm once we entered the Tairua river. Several of us got onto the wash of a four person traverse team for a few kilometres which made the going easier. The first big drops of rain began to fall and the rain set in. Towards the end of the 15km kayak I could feel my pace slipping. I wasn’t surprised as I had done two long paddles in two days, after doing no more than 14km in training.
Beaching the boat on the riverbank we had to slither up a muddy paddock to the transition before jumping on the road bike over to Whangamata. A steady plod up the first hill (being passed by lots of riders) then a nice cruisy descent. I was being very cautious on the wet corners and didn’t attempt to push the pace. This was my favourite bike section of the race – a bit of everything to keep things interesting but with no nasty climbs or long flats. The rain had eased to a light drizzle but I was thankful for the extra vest which I had donned in transition.
Changing into running shoes on the other side of Whangamata it was off up the Wentworth Valley for the 21km run. The first 5 km is gravel road and I got into a good rhythm (although it felt slow). The weight of all the compulsory gear was quite noticeable. Once we hit the end of the road and began climbing the track up past Wentworth Falls I steadily picked runners off. From the falls to the top of the ridge was nice single track, and the whole climb was nicely runnable (which is not to say that I didn’t walk at all). At the top of the ridge we emerged onto a 4wd track which undulated along the ridge through the cloud. There were many slippery clay sections and the odd thigh-deep mud hole to catch the unwary. By this time I was feeling a little weary and my coordination was starting to deteriorate so I was running carefully. My big toe was also aching – I must have strained or knocked it earlier on. Had some company along this section which was nice. Eventually the track steepened for the final descent to the Maratoto transition.
The final cycle back to Thames started off nicely with a gently rolling downhill which was quite enjoyable. After the first 10km the headwind began to increase as we got closer to the coast and I found myself wishing for aero bars or a wheel to draft off. In addition, it was almost impossible to find a comfortable position on the bike! The support crews cheering from the roadside helped to spur me on, but by Kopu township my speed had dropped below 20km/hr thanks to tired legs and a headwind. A bunch came past just before Thames and I managed to stay with them for a kilometre or two but I didn’t have anything left in my legs to keep up the pace. Turning off towards the Thames Racecourse it was just a couple of minutes before I rode into the grandstand, racked my bike, and crossed the finish line. Coromandel Classic was finished!

The race had been an experiment to see how I would cope with a two day event. The first day went as planned but the second day was definitely much tougher for me and I lacked my usual oomph. Admittedly I hadn’t done many hard back-to-back training days. For the first time ever I treated myself to a massage after the race and it felt absolutely wonderful! My legs definitely felt better afterwards. Next time I’ll have one after the first day to aid recovery for day two. Although my cycling has improved this year I still have a lot of work to do to get up to scratch on the bike legs.
Day 1  6:40:02
Day 2  5:49:41
Total  12:29:43
4th woman, 33rd out of 63 overall (including teams)

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