Thursday, May 17, 2018

Training Camp 2: banking miles

The team's first and only other get-together, was back in Cambridge in early December.  Since, we've had plenty of interaction online, discussing among other things, jersey design and logistical matters ahead of our lap of France.  Jonathan, owner of Rouleur Bike Tours, and operator of our wee adventure has been great with keeping us up to date with things. 

Recently, I've had a couple of opportunities to see team-mates:  Steven and Aaron at the Graperide, and Stu at Road Club Nationals, where I was managing the Wellington Master's Cycling Club team (Jason I literally saw, but he was whistling past on his bike and we didn't get the opportunity to talk).

Mid-April marked the end of our fourth 4-week training block, after which Hayden had booked in some serious miles, for the period 25-29 April.  The nice thing was, we'd all be together, this time in Christchurch.

While I'd driven to Cambridge, one of the small benefits of the trip to Christchurch was that flying provided a nice test for the real thing at the end of June.  My BMC had recently been serviced by Oli - usually I make no special requests, and his "stem to stern" once-over has the bike running like new.  I did report the need for slightly longer cable outers, and as a result, packing the bike up for travel was a breeze (previously, I couldn't swing the bar into position without crimping an internally routed cable).

After a hectic couple of days' work, it was nice to pull the pin on the week on Tuesday evening.  My flight got into Christchurch just after 8pm, and I was picked up by Jonathan about 10 minutes later.

All present and correct
Our accommodation in Cambridge had been palatial, and while the Airbnb Jonathan had booked in Upper Riccarton did have beds for everyone, the two in the lounge doubled as couches!  I nabbed one of the single beds in a room in the reconfigured garage, and was joined before lights out by my room-mate for the duration of the camp, Steven, who'd driven up from Waimate.

Day 1 - Gentle warm up

Getting breakfast organised could have been an absolute nightmare had ten hungry men descended upon the small kitchen simultaneously, but luckily, everyone seemed to be on slightly different schedules, and there wasn't ever a long queue at the stovetop and/or microwave.

Stu hadn't stayed with us at the house, but arrived after breakfast, and led us all out to where Hayden was waiting near Tai Tapu.

For our first day, we had eleven in the bunch:  the eight "tourists" (Aaron, Bruce, Jason, Mike, Paul, Steven, Stuart and myself), as well as Hayden, Jonathan, and our mechanic/soigneur, Bill!  The sun was out, and being in the bunch was a great opportunity to chat to everyone.  Graperide aside, it was probably the first time I'd ridden in a bunch of more than 2 or 3 riders since the first training camp!

We were largely on very quiet roads, and the route took us out as far as Leeston.  We stopped for coffee before farewelling Hayden and Stu, and riding home.

Jonathan had lined up access to a sauna and pool near Cathedral Square, so we piled into the vehicles, and headed into town.  In the end, I couldn't be arsed with all the fiddle-faddle, so sat at a cafe/bar with Bruce and chatted while the others had their water-fun.

We had dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant, before heading back to base.  The next day's "Queen Stage" beckoned...

Stats:  130km ridden, 160m climbed!  0 punctures, 0 crashes.  Dry, 13 degrees.

Day 2 - Oh, the glorious peninsula

I'd had the pleasure of riding on the Banks Peninsula a couple of times before (most recently at the 2011 Petit Brevet) and was very much looking forward to the camp's ride number two - Hayden had sent us all a bit of a run-down, so we knew roughly where we'd be heading each day. 

As an added bonus, most would be back to work after yesterday's ANZAC Day public holiday, so this felt like a treat on that front too.

Jonathan was riding with us, while Bill and Matty from Silver Eye Films would be supporting the team in a vehicle.

We rode to meet Hayden, and then made our way out through Tai Tapu before crossing over Gebbies Pass and out to Diamond Harbour.  There, we stopped for a bit of a refuel and clothing adjustment.  The merits or supported riding were immediately obvious, and Bill had done a fine job at the grocery store!

Looking back the way we'd come
We were able to get our legs warm again before hitting the Purau - Port Levy Road climb, which ascends the best part of 400m at an average gradient of 10%.  I rode on Jason's shoulder for almost all of it, but near the top started to worry about bringing my breakfast up, so had to ease off and let him go!

Despite the climb taking almost 20 minutes, it was a relatively short wait for the entire group to reassemble, which bodes well for the long French climbs we'll tackle in July.

A quick regroup, while Matty warms up the drone

The descent was a stunner, but I couldn't help but stop to grab a shot of Port Levy in the distance.

Once back down at sea level, we enjoyed the remaining tar seal, before starting to climb again, and turning off onto the gravel Port Levy Pigeon Bay Road.

Port Levy
This time I found myself climbing with Hayden and Stu.  The gravel would alternate between a surface smoother than many sealed roads, and one littered with loose chip.  The gradient was pretty sublime though, and only needed the odd effort out of the saddle.

After about 25 minutes tapping away, we crested the climb, and decided we'd be warmer waiting for the others at the bottom of the hill, and pushed on... for a minute or so, until Hayden was halted by a pinch flat!  I'm sure the irony was not lost on him, since he'd suggested we all run 120psi for the day to avoid suffering this very fate.  I was fascinated to see how my tubeless tyres would fare - they were down around 80psi, just between you and I!

Hayden fixing his flat. Stu and Steve posing!  Pigeon Bay in the background
Unfortunately, the puncture was not the only drama on the gravel descent.  I took a fairly conservative approach, drifting back through the field, but came around a corner to find Steve settling himself down in a pile on the road.  It was soon apparent that he'd taken a bit of a knock to the head, and the call was made to get him to hospital for a check up.  Not only could he not remember the crash, but he also had no recollection of Hayden's puncture a few minutes earlier.  He asked incessantly "what happened?" but none of us had seen the incident play out. 

Fortunately, we had the support vehicle, and with Steve and his bike safely stowed, Bill, Jonathan and Matt gave us our final neutral service a couple of hundred metres before the top (?!?!) of the sealed climb out of Pigeon Bay before high-tailing it to Christchurch to get Steve checked out.

Akaroa Harbour in the background
The puncture and crash had slowed us down a bit, and so the optional drop down to Barry's Bay was off the table, and we took all took the ridgetop road along to Hilltop before the long descent into Little River.

Mike punctured on the way down, and I stopped with him while he replaced the tube.  He and I were hoping to find the team settled in at one of the cafes in Little River, but alas, they were all waiting for us at the petrol station, and we learnt the call had been made to head straight back to Christchurch.

It was a flat run back, but we did have a headwind to contend with.  I spent a lot of time on the front with Stu, and was fascinated to hear stories from the couple of years he spent racing in France.

Steven, getting his temperature taken...
We got home to find that Steve was OK, but in hospital under observation for a few more hours.  We distracted ourselves at a nearby Lone Star, and ran through a few logistical issues in Bruce's bedroom before turning in.

Stats:  158km ridden, 2000m climbed.  Two punctures, one crash.  Dry, 16 degrees.

Day 3 - Last of the summer weather

The highlight of the third day was seeing Steve back in the saddle.  Ironically, he's a GP, and possibly would have suggested to his own patients that they rest up, but in any case, he felt well enough to give the ride a try. 

Hayden dropped by our accommodation, led us out of Christchurch on the Old West Coast Road, and took us on a big old loop through Burnham to the bottom of Gebbies Pass once more.

We were due for two ascents of "The Bastard".  Things were relatively civilised through to the Gebbies Pass turn off, but soon after, Stu put in a costly surge, and not long after that, I was unable to cope with the torrid pace Jason and Hayden were setting.

The first full ascent took me just under 35 minutes, during which time stopping to photograph the stunning views over Lyttelton Harbour seemed like a good option (but one I managed to resist).  I was feeling pretty trashed by the top, and laboured along the summit road to the Sign of the Kiwi.

Summit Road, overlooking Christchurch
Coffees were waiting for us there, as well as a TV One news crew.  The Victoria University of Wellington Communications team had reached out to the media in advance of the training camp, and it was pleasing to see there'd been some interest.

L-R:  Bill, Aaron, Stu, Jonathan, Bruce
We were asked to do a bit of riding up and down the road for the cameras, but Hayden wasn't having a bar of it.  We were his priority, and he didn't want the ride duration blowing out any more than necessary.  (It gave fascinating insight into the mind of an elite athlete, and gave a clue as to one of many things that enable them to be so...)

The compromise was for Aaron, Hayden and myself to be interviewed down at Governor's Bay, while the others got a head start on the second ascent of the Bastard.

Aaron being filmed, while Jonathan and Hayden wait
After our short interviews, Aaron and I cruised off together, fully expecting to be mowed down by Hayden before too long - we imagined him being motorpaced up to us at 60km/h by Jonathan.  He did catch us, but alone, and not until Gebbie's Pass.  By that time, I'd fully committed to cruising, and didn't even attempt to chase him, saving me the ignominy of not being able to!  Playing silly-buggers up the hill the first time, and then all the stop-start since, had tapped me out, both physically and mentally.

Lyttelton Harbour
I met Paul near the top of the Bastard, enjoyed a photo stop, then waited for Aaron up on Summit Road, before regrouping with the others at the Sign of the Kiwi.  Disappointingly, there were no coffees waiting the second time around!

We'd been booked in for yoga that evening, but cancelled.  That was good for me, since I managed to avoid opting out of yet another extra-curricular activity! 

We had Indian again for dinner, joined by Jonathan's partner, Julie.  It was great that Steve had made it through the day OK, despite his road rash and previous day's ordeal.  He and I celebrated by staying up way too late looking at old photos and chatting...

Stats:  144km ridden, 1450m climbed.  0 punctures, 0 crashes.  Dry, 15 degrees.

Day 4 - Wet gorges

We'd been treated to some stunning riding, in lovely conditions, but woke to find the forecasters had been spot on.  As Hayden pointed out to us, we'd have no control over the weather in France, and the implication was there was no opting out at the training camp either!  Wet and cold was the order of the day.

Hayden was as punctual as ever, and we all begrudgingly rolled out a couple of minutes later.  Bill was riding the first half with us, and would swap with Jonathan in Oxford.

We headed north out of Christchurch, ducking and diving around, so that before too long, I had absolutely no idea where we were (the GPS on my handlebars would have enlightened me, I suppose...).

Before we reached Rangiora, we passed through the red-zone of Brooklands, which was pretty freakin' eerie.  Jonathan was waiting for us in Rangiora, and we quickly raided the food he'd grabbed for us at the supermarket.  Given the weather conditions, we were moderately better off moving than not, although sitting in even a luke-warm spa pool would have trumped both.

Hayden was aiming for a 200km ride, so we did a side loop out to Sefton, and then a second out past Loburn, during which we rode straight past Sarah's Kiwi-mum's place - one of the rare moments in the ride that I knew where I was!

It was then west through the Ashley Gorge, and into Oxford, where I was delighted to find a replica of the Sheffield Pie Shop.  Jonathan had pre-ordered coffees, but I couldn't resist ordering a steak and cheese pie too.  I swear it was the best damn pie I'd had in quite some time, and it was mighty tempting to have a second.

Pie fan?  Stop here...

The stop was a good opportunity to put a dry shirt on, but I almost didn't bother - this ride was proving a bloody good test for my new Gore shakedry jacket, and it was passing with FLYING colours.

We were quite a way inland by now, so it was time for the false flats to work in our favour.  Indeed, we had a pretty quick run back into town, pausing only when Jason's bike-mounted pump decided to randomly fly apart.

I think Hayden either had pity on us, or was as sick of the endless stream of water in the face as the rest of us were, and we made a beeline for home.  Despite shortening it, the ride was still solid, and we averaged just over 31km/h for the 180km we completed.  The team cohesion was impressive, and everyone seemed to be ticking along really well, despite mounting fatigue in the legs. 

It was Paul's birthday, and we celebrated by dining at Lone Star again.  He was treated to a rowdy rendition of "Happy Birthday", around which time, people's cell phones started going off like crazy - our clip had screened on One News, triggering a few donations, and a lot of supportive messages.

We had a short stroll back to our digs after dinner, and slept well in anticipation of another wet ride the next day.

Stats:  180km ridden, 400m climbed.  0 punctures, 0 crashes.  Wet, 8 degrees.

Day 5 - Getting it done

We woke to very similar conditions on the Sunday morning - the final day of the training camp. 

Bruce and Paul, and Jonathan, Julie and Bill had early flights, so only Mike, Aaron, Jason, Steven and myself rolled out suited up in our foul-weather gear.  We were anticipating meeting Hayden and Stu about 15 minutes away.

We'd typically taken a cycle path between Wigram Road and the motorway en route to meet Hayden, but on account of the weather, and lateness, Mike and I stayed on the road.  The cycle path was out of sight, so when we got to the second bridge and they weren't there, it wasn't obvious whether they were ahead or behind us.  After a short pause, we decided to keep moving.

Half an hour later, there was still no sign of them, and so Hayden, Stu, Mike and myself finally figured there was no point waiting any longer.  A couple of wet and cold hours later, we were back where we started, and I for one was none the wiser for where we'd been!   The only clue had been the constantly changing wind conditions.  (A common theme of the camp had been people getting home, uploading to strava, and only then making some sense of it all.)

Mike and I said our thanks and farewells to Hayden, who I sincerely hope to see again, but not until we're back from France.  He was certainly part of the lure of this adventure, and it has been a pleasure to work with him.  Not only has he done an awesome job getting us all into shape, but has done it incredibly respectfully and warmly - if you're in the market for a coach, I highly recommend you check out

Photo pretty much consistent with the conditions.  Shit.
We said goodbye to Stu a few minutes later, though we'll be seeing each other again in Nantes, France, on July 3.  

Stats:  80 pan-flat km ridden.  0 punctures, 0 crashes.  Wet, 7 degrees.

Summing up

All-told, we rode just under 700km together, very harmoniously indeed.  It bodes very well for our French mission.  We were really well supported by Jonathan, Bill, Matt and Julie, and seemed to look after each other well, too.

Five rides in the countryside surrounding Christchurch
The team's fundraising is going really well indeed - at time of posting, we're collectively closing in on $32,000, and well on the way to reaching our revised target of $50,000.

We have Team Facebook page, which I encourage you to Like, if you're that way inclined.  There you'll find a couple of short videos Matt made from the second day of the camp.  It's beyond fantastic that we've managed to convince him to come to France with us, drone and all. 

It's now about six weeks until I set sail from Wellington.  My mood has taken a bit of a hit since Christchurch, but did manage to knock out a 280km ride two weekends ago (Carterton to Karori, via Palmerston North), and that endurance isn't going to vanish any time soon.  Just in case, I've booked a one way ticket to Gisborne for Queen's Birthday weekend, and plan to ride home (via Whakatane, Taupo and Whanganui, if the weather plays ball).

Life is a lot too hectic for my liking, but, on the upside, riding 3400km in France in July is going to seem like a real holiday.  And, the eight months leading up to it is something I'm going to look back on with a great deal of fondness and pride, I'm sure of that.

* * * * * 

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.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Graperide Magnum

By virtue of a couple of rides around the 100km Graperide course on the back of a tandem, most recently in 2014, early this year an invitation to take part again hit my Inbox. 

Given preparations for long days France were going to be well advanced by early April, the 200km Magnum seemed to make sense, and I suggested to the TDF team that we do it together.  Understandably, annual leave and finances precluded participation for most, but that didn't put me off, and I fired an entry in.

I booked a return trip on Bluebridge for Sarah and I (plus bikes), and soon after, she'd confirmed accommodation with friends of ours, Mike, Lynzi and Karen.  They'd have a car, which meant not only could Sarah and I put a bag of clothes into their boot, but also the coffee machine, making the early start on the Saturday morning a bit more bearable.

We all made the ferry crossing together, and Sarah and I enjoyed a blat along SH1 through to Blenheim.  For the most part, we rode on the road, but when a cycle path appeared, I took the opportunity to leap onto it.  That slowed us down somewhat, and elicited a query from Sarah:  "why are we riding on this shitty little road?!"  To be fair, some of it was actually a road, providing access to a few residences, but she was right to complain about the rough surface.

We had a nice evening with Lynzi, Mike and Karen, and turned in with alarms set to 4-something.  Eek.

I left home at about 5am, after a big bowl of porridge and a couple of coffees, and enjoyed a chilly but straightforward 30 minute ride to the Forrest Vineyard on the outskirts of Renwick.  By good fortune, I immediately bumped into Aaron and Steven, both of whom are riding around France with me in July. 

I was glad to have warm legs when we lined up for the 6am start.

This was the first time I'd ridden in a bunch since our first training camp back in late November, and my first race for months.  As a result, I had no real idea how things were going to go.  I'd already knocked out a 200km ride that week - making the most of the university holiday, I'd decided to spend the hours of 9am to 5pm on my bike, and had followed that up with a partially successful interval session on the Thursday. 

Once we were underway, I was fairly conservative in terms of my position in the bunch, but by the time we got to SH1, I was putting my nose in the wind from time to time.

It was still fairly dark, and besides, looking around to see what's going on behind is not the safest thing to do when riding at close quarters.  So, it wasn't until the climb into Picton that it really became apparent that I was riding in a very small bunch at the front of the race.

Paul Odlin disappeared up ahead at some point, and by the time we reached the top of the high point of Queen Charlotte Drive, there were only five of us.   We pushed on and when we got down onto the flats into Linkwater, there was no sign of anyone behind.  It was nice to see Sarah on the side of the road with her camera, and Paul surprised us too, appearing on the side of the road and slotting in as we went past.

R-L:  Chris, Tony, Jan, Josh and me.  Photo: Sarah Tumen
It was all fairly civilised through to about Havelock, but once gravity and the wind were both on our side, I was amazed to find us lapping through at 45-50km/h.  100km deep into a 200km race, this didn't seem completely sensible, but it was a case of joining in, or sitting up and leaving them to it...!

We'd passed the start/finish line during the release of the 100km bunches, introducing the tension of how to interact with the groups we caught.  Some of those saw an opportunity to crank things up, which both broke up our flow and complicated things from a racing point of view. 

Unfortunately Chris got a flat tyre somewhere around Koromiko and no-one was inclined (or capable, most likely) of chasing Paul Odlin when he ghosted off the front before Picton.

I pushed the pace on each of the short climbs out of Picton reaching the top of the second with only Josh.  When we realised we had a gap, we agreed that pushing on was the right thing to do.

Josh and I on Queen Charlotte Drive
We hooked up with a strong but surgey dude which gave us a little bit of shelter on the flat roads through Linkwater, and caught a large bunch just before the road tipped down into Havelock.

Not much time to enjoy the abundant scenery
Just before the descent, we were passed by a couple of guys going very quickly, but by the bottom a gap had opened up.  I bridged, and caught them just before a nasty ramp.  By the time I turned left onto the Nelson-Blenheim highway, I was well and truly in the red, and had to sit up.  I took the 30 second hiatus as an opportunity to eat and drink, and waited for the cavalry.

It all got a bit messy in the last 25km.  For quite a while Josh and I were part of a small group, but we got caught by about 15 or so one-lappers with about 15km to go.  The nightmare scenario of a fast bunch pulling our competitors back to us had indeed materialised, and we could only guess how much of an armchair ride Tony had had getting back to us.  He may well have been flogging himself, but more likely he'd had an easier time of it than Josh or I.  

The finale needed a bit of care, but I was still feeling pretty good when we crossed the Wairau river for the fourth and final time.  I upped the pace and managed to string the bunch out.  While it took a fair bit of energy, it did simplify identifying who was where, and as I slipped back a bit, I was pleased to see Tony in third or fourth wheel.  

With a couple of hundred metres to go, I made my way around him, and hit the final driveway section ahead of both him and Josh.  There's probably some protocol about not passing in those last metres, but to be sure, I kept the pace as high as I could, and was bloody delighted to be the second Magnum rider across the official finish line.  

Almost done

Despite being some 8-and-a-half minutes behind Paul, Josh, Tony and I had still averaged 37.5km/h for the 200km, which was definitely respectable.  Aside from that highlight, it was a nice surprise to see Rhys from Westport, who'd been a near-constant companion for Simon and I on our first attempt on the tandem record back in 2013.  When he said gidday about 10km from the finish, I didn't initially recognise him, but was very pleased that I remembered his name (and the circumstances of our first meeting).

The rest of the day was very nice, and a great opportunity to spend a bit of time with Aaron and Steven.  Unfortunately, Aaron had been tangled up in a crash about 30km into the event, and had to withdraw when his bent derailleur hangar sent his derailleur into his spokes (and then into the bike-parts graveyard).  Steven had missed the split while giving himself a bit of a break after far too long at the front of the bunch, but was otherwise very pleased with his ride.

Sarah and I had a lovely ride the next day, heading contra flow to Havelock and then along Queen Charlotte Drive to Picton in time for our afternoon ferry.  She'd ridden almost 200km herself the previous day riding out through Portage to the end of the sealed road before completing the Graperide lap.  We nonetheless knocked the 75km out without too much fuss, and even had time for the best lamb curry I've ever had, at Plaza India

For me, that brought to a close a nice 600km week, and was a great confidence booster a few weeks out from the team's second training camp, this time in Christchurch between 25 and 29 April.  

Friday, April 20, 2018

A Virtual Everest - one bite at a time

Back in November last year, a small team of us at Victoria University of Wellington were brainstorming on what sort of initiatives at work would mesh nicely with my fundraising goals and advancing conversations about mental health within the university environment.

One Saturday afternoon, I wrote: "Had a silly idea yesterday to Everest Kelburn parade. It would take 385 ascents of the straight bit of road. Reminded me of the joke about how to eat an elephant. Symbolic of starting something that seems insurmountable at first...".  The cycling link to university work (for staff or students) seemed somewhat tenuous, but as the months went by, I became increasingly convinced that an Everest attempt was actually a very good analogy for work that is commonplace.

The "six week dip" is when the rubber hits the road for many students - orientation activities are over, and while the hangovers might well have faded, they're replaced by headaches on account of the first major assessment dates.

I touched base with Hayden about the merits of an Everest (riding up and down the same stretch of road until 8,848 vertical metres are climbed, the height of Mt Everest), and he suggested it would be fine so long as it was in an easy week, and so when the end of the TDF Team's third training block looked to coincide with week 3 of trimester, the project team and I started planning for an expo highlighting the role of physical exercise in facilitating good mental processes.

As the date loomed, HR all but vetoed an on-road attempt, but before getting told "no", I proposed I try Virtual Everesting instead.  As much as I hated to admit it, it was a much better format for what we were trying to achieve.  My only apprehension was the voyage into the unknown...


The setup for a traditional Everesting is pretty simple:  you need a hill, a bike, and a GPS recorder.  On the other hand, a virtual Everesting ride is done within a computer game called Zwift, hooked up to a computer-controlled "smart-trainer".

I don't own one, so was very lucky that Capital Cycles were willing to lend me one for the day - yet another generous act on their part in my direction.

Once I'd got it home, the first task was to master the critical u-turn feature.  On a real road, the major concern is not getting squashed, but in Zwift, executing the turn seemed best achieved using the smart-phone companion app rather than my tablet.

The climb remained a mystery until the day before the event, but when I got home from work on Monday, I was able to ride the hill I'd selected for the first time.  I'd picked out a Leith Hill segment, largely by virtue of its 7% average gradient, and 134m gain per ascent.  I'd need to do it 66 times to complete the challenge.

The hill was part of only one of the pre-defined London loops on Zwift, and I rode the whole thing before realising I could take a shortcut or two to get to the base of the climb (no driving out there in Zwift!).  The day would begin with a 10km ride, with 150m of climbing in it, and the climb itself was much more lumpy that the strava data had indicated, but the die was cast...

Given I was going to be stuck in one place all day long, I approached my favourite cafe at the Kelburn campus, to see if they would be interested in looking after me through the day.  Hamish and Bryson are two employees there, and both Rongotai Old-Boys (a discovery I made only when taking mum - Deputy Principal at Rongotai for many years - to The Lab for coffee one day).  Hamish chatted to the bosses, and gave me the thumbs up a few days out, both making my life simpler, and my legs stronger in one fell swoop.

The Tacx Neo trainer Capital had lent me was set up for a 130mm rear hub spacing, so the 135mm Crowe-Rishworth was going to spend the day in the garage.  I was slightly nervous about this, since I've barely ridden anything else since I got it.  But, the irony of riding the lightest bike in my stable on this particular hill challenge was delicious.  My BMC racing machine got the nod a few days after it had emerged from Oli's workshop with a medium cage rear derailleur to cope with a wide range 11-32 tooth cassette.

The wonderful Danny Ryan at Ultimo Clothing worked wonders yet again, and Sarah was able to three new pairs of Victoria University bib-shorts for me at the very last minute.

They were thrown into a basket with various other bits and pieces, many of which didn't get used: surplus items included a different saddle, various tools, a spare pair of shoes, and an MTB-orienteering map holder.  On the other hand, three sets of riding gear, honey roasted peanuts and a tub of Sweet Cheeks Butt Butter were integral to the day's activities...

Various essentials, and insurances:  two pairs of shoes, a few sets of clothing, honey roasted peanuts, Sweet Cheeks Butt Butter, a spare saddle, donation bucket and a few tools.  

While I was getting myself sorted, I'd received the txt:
Good luck for tomorrow Johnno!  A significant donation relies on you keeping on going...
To which I'd replied "I'm shitting myself somewhat..."   As if the expo hadn't put me on the hook enough, I'd also emailed my colleagues within the Victoria Business School letting them know what I was up to.  Oh, and told my 700 statistics students.  I'd have to explain failure to quite a number of people, if it came to that!

My plan was to arrive at work by 7am, so the alarm was set for 5-something, and I hit the sack feeling like there was nothing else I could do to change the outcome of the day.


I started the day with a cheesy-omelette, some streaky bacon and a few of Gladstone's finest mushrooms, all washed down with a couple of coffees.  It was a bit early for some of my usual morning processes, and as a result, the weigh-in was slightly disappointing.  I dutifully increased my weight in Zwift by a kilogram (to 86), making my day that little bit harder - the computer would tweak the resistance in the trainer to mimic the additional effort of hauling that extra weight.

Sarah and I arrived at Victoria University's Kelburn Campus just before 7am, and by the time I'd retrieved a trolley stashed in the faculty office in the Murphy building, Sarah had started unloading the car.  It had felt very strange leaving the rear wheel of the bike at home...!

I was already in my cycling gear, so it didn't take long to set up the trainer and my bike.  Trish, one of the project team, was there soon after we were, thus beginning a long day for all of us.

I jumped on the bike at 7:14am, and began my unusual commute - it took just over half an hour to get to the start of the segment I'd spend the rest of the day on.

As my legs warmed up, so too did the university - Jonny and Adrian had set me up to share my Zwift screen within a Zoom meeting, and that feed was then picked up by a set of four large TVs over my left shoulder.  Various posters around the place let passers-by know what I was up to, and it wasn't long before people were dropping by to donate.

Shift-one. TDF training kit

Aside from the fundraising aspect, doing this challenge in a public place meant I was never short of distractions.  Only once did that cost me - the bottom of the segment was not the bottom of the hill, so once, engrossed in conversation, I completely missed the long-press on my phone to enact the u-turn, and had to add another 20m to my "unnecessary" climbing tally.

My on-road everest had taken a total of 14.5 hours, with about 2 of those off the bike.  This was proving to be a very different experience, and it wasn't until the 5-hour mark that I'd amassed 3000m of climbing.  To celebrate, I treated myself to a new set of riding gear, and a bit more Sweet Cheeks.

Shift-two.  "I'm supporting the Mental Health Foundation"

Aside from the rate of progress, everything was going well.  The fan I'd set up on the floor was perfect, and I was neither too hot nor too cold.

The Lab had been looking after me very well indeed, with occasional coffees, and slices of quiche.  I was well on my way through a bag of honey-roasted peanuts, and Sarah had brought in half a dozen soft-boiled eggs (peeled!!) which went down the hatch very nicely indeed.  From time to time, a kind volunteer would venture up to the Maclaurin building to fill my bottle with cold water, and all the while, online and cash donations kept coming in.

On the other hand, the arithmetic of it all was really mind-blowing.  By just after midday, I was a third of the way through the challenge, and assuming there was no way I'd keep that early pace up, it was looking like a late night beckoned.  My legs were already feeling tired, and I'd occasionally have to fight to not think about what remained.   Mostly, I managed to keep that at bay, and so long as my time horizon was a mere 5-10 minutes, pedalling on was simple enough.

One of the things I love about bike riding is the solitude.  Strangely, one of the things I loved about this challenge was the lack of it.  I had a chance to chat to many people I didn't know, but was also visited by family and friends.  Sarah popped in and out, and my parents too.  Lynzi and Mike (who I'd cut a few laps with when he successfully Everested Ngaio Gorge on Christmas Day, 2016) dropped in, during which time a donation by Mike was filmed, netting him a cameo appearance in a short video the Victoria Communications team produced.

My students had their first assignment due in a few days, and while I'd told them I wouldn't be able to respond to them on our online Discussion Board, I'd also invited them to drop by with any queries they might have on the assessment.  It was cool that a handful did, and I was fascinated to notice how my brain instantly snapped out of whatever place it was hiding, and I found more than enough energy to think about, and answer their queries.

At the half-way mark, Kathryn pretty much forced students within earshot to give me a bit of a cheer, and busted out a stunning wolf-whistle of her own!

Psychologically, the last third was much easier than the middle third, where extrapolating to the finish had been incredibly confronting.  I was well entertained by the Rec Centre's annual outdoor Zumba class - about 110 students between 5 and 6pm, they said!

Oli - whose logos I've worn on my shoulders since forever - spent some time observing the madness, and in the evening Simon and Miro swung by, as did Brendan and Fletcher.  My bro Dave came to check-in, and Vaughn hung out for a while too - one of a few bike racers who've passed through my statistics class.

Once I was into single digits, it became only a matter of time.  My Dad, having dropped Mum at the airport, was there, as were Sarah, Kaitlyn and Khulan - just as they'd been waiting at the bottom of Raroa Road for me at the end of that Everest.

Going beyond the call of duty were my wellbeing project team - Trish, Jude and Catherine - we'd put a lot of thought into this event, and while I'd not dreamed they would be cheering me on at 11pm at night, it was lovely to have them there.

To counter a sense of guilt that I was keeping these wonderful people from their beds, I put Tool's Lateralus on quietly, and during Parabola knocked out my fastest ascent of the day - the 5th to last.  And not long after, the job was done.

My wonderful cheer-squad!

Thankfully, things didn't take long to pack up, and we were all in our respective beds before the stroke of midnight...!

By the numbers

The elapsed time was 16 hours and 3 minutes, during which time I rode the equivalent of 278km, climbed 9,031m, and spent only 35 minutes off the bike.

My weighted average power for the entire ride was 202W, and as can be seen from the data for a typical interval, I spent most of the climb out of the saddle (the first couple of minutes from 14:34, a few seconds in the middle, and 30 seconds or so fron 14:43).  The hill was a bad choice really, and my hands got hammered with so much weight on them throughout the day (pedalling as per a 13% gradient, but on level ground).

Data for a typical ascent

I got off the bike only six times throughout the day, as evidenced by the six longer times in the bottom left graph.  The vast majority were in the 10-12 minute range.

The numbers I'm really proud of though, were on the financial side.  The Mental Health Foundation received $2674.20 by virtue of the ordeal, including a whopping $1000 from the mystery txt-er.  Most of the remainder was from my amazing colleagues, the majority of whom are staff in the Victoria Business School.

All cash donations were passed to the VUW Student Hardship Fund, which disburses small grants to students in financial dire-straits.  It was wonderful to be able to deposit $1300 into that account, on the condition that it was "new money", over and above the usual funding sources.

The value of the conversation-starter was probably much more.  I've had occasion to speak briefly to the Vice-Chancellor about the day, and told him I was both gladdened and saddened by the number of disclosures I'd since received about struggles with poor mental health.  I guess the problem is there whether we're talking about it or not, so giving people the confidence to speak about it openly, can only be a good thing.

As fundraising gimmicks go, this was a good'un.  Aside from the late night, I really don't think it could have gone any better.

This was hard, in an overall sense.  As mentioned, thinking about what remained was the worst bit.  Focussing on the present, and actually doing it, were not so bad - more or less the opposite of the top section of Mauna Kea, where the present is the truly miserable bit, and what remains doesn't even register.  (I can't say I recommend either...!)  I very much doubt a single day in France will be as tough as this day was, physically or mentally, and I'm sure that'll be something I'll remind myself of when the going gets tough.

Thanks to all those who dropped by, donated, or wondered how I was going.

Thanks to the project team and my family, students, colleagues and friends who dropped by, donated, or simply wondered how I was getting on.   Special thanks to sponsors Roadworks Bicycle Repairs, Capital Cycles and The Lab.

My personal highlight

Since I joined the university as a student in 1992, I've enjoyed the intellectual might of the institution.  It is freakin' cool to be constantly around such smart and eager-to-learn people, staff and students alike.

At times we might be accused of being out of touch with "the real world" (a most-hated term by some of my Academic Committee colleagues, since when used it implies the converse is happening everywhere else), we largely control our own syllabi, and can change things at a moment's notice if a learning opportunity arises.

When Prof. Annemarie Jutel walked past mid-morning, she saw an opportunity to challenge her Health and Wellbeing 101 class on what it means to be healthy and/or well.

Created mid-morning, in advance of a 1pm lecture
She wrote to me afterwards:

Having to confront the relationship between mental health and physical health, as well as recognising that many things which count as “disease” can be managed, treated, and palliated and not interfere with health was pedagogically very useful.  (well, we don’t know if you are “healthy”:  we just know that you are fit, and your wellbeing is deeply personal, and can’t be assumed.  We also know that you may very well consider yourself to be healthy, but everyone might not.

While I'm sure Annemarie had other examples up her sleeve, it was nice to be part of the university doing its thing.  Not to mention, incredibly empowering to be so open about my own mental health (she told them, with my permission, that I'm taking two medications daily to treat my depression).

* * * * * 

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.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Good Friday Criterium debrief

By virtually all metrics, the North City Shopping Centre Good Friday Criterium was a great success - most importantly, $2100 was raised for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

Photo:  Lisa Ng Photography

 The day began on-site for the organising crew at 8am.  First order of business was to transform two levels of shopping mall carpark into a race course.  About 2km of tape, eight goal-post pads, and 25 road cones later, it was time to set up the BBQ, and hope that the gloriously fine weather wouldn't put too many people off.

Until midday, the course was open to anyone and everyone.  The morning session attracted about 50 riders - it was great to see some kick-bikes and scooters, and even a loaded touring bike.  A gold-coin donation granted access, and thanks to Trina, an opportunity to raid a box full to the brim with easter eggs.  For each rider, there was typically a parent or two, and there was a nice buzz about it all.

Our first customer - about to start the first of his many laps

There were six races in the afternoon:  kids (12 minutes plus one lap), mountain bikes, men's B, veterans, and women (30 minutes plus two laps), and men's A (35 minutes plus two laps).  While I'd capped the fields at 25 riders, the kids and men's A fields were the largest at 12 riders apiece.

It was fun to watch these unfold - laps were taking only a minute or two (or three), and sometimes quite a lot would change in the space of those few minutes.

The kids' race was very tactical.  Tom, Elliot and Oli rode at the front of the field throughout, and Tom waited patiently for the final lap to cut loose.

Ashley, from WORD, briefing the kids before their race start

It was great to see these guys in action.  Photo: Trina Aiono

Millie - rocking her hard-earned speed league jersey.  Photo: Trina Aiono

The MTB race was not unlike an actual MTB race where the fastest get to the front immediately, and barring mishap, the order remains constant, and only the time gaps increasing as the race went on.

It was great to see Gareth Warnock lining up in the men's B field - he'd been the peer reviewer of my course - and by the time he'd had enough, Kerrin Allwood had established a commanding lead.

Gareth letting loose.  Photo: Trina Aiono
Kerrin looked very at home on the circuit.  Photo:  Scott Frudd

The Vets' race blew to bits very early on, while the women's race was fascinating to watch.

Great to see Mike O'Neill in his Hells 500 Grey Stripe jersey, courtesy of a successful Ngaio Gorge Everest ride.  Photo: Trina Aiono
Young Grace Saywell glued herself to Kim Hurst's wheel for the first 20 minutes or so.

Kim, with Grace in tow.  Photo:  Trina Aiono

Kim was the first entrant, and recent winner of the Karapoti Classic, and was up to the task today, riding Grace off her wheel to claim the victory by almost a lap.

Sarah, not content with doing just the MTB race, lined up with the women too.  Photo:  Trina Aiono

The final race was truly spectacular.  The dozen men stayed together for at least the first half of the race, and were moving noticeably faster than they had in practice!  At some point, Mike Naylor put in a searing attack, and rode solo to the line.

Gruppo compatto.  Photo:  Trina Aiono

The daughters, cheering on Nick Warren in the final race.  Photo:  Lisa Ng Photography

For the record, the results were:
  • Kids:  Tom Joyce (1), Elliot Robertson (2), Oli Mears (3), Millie Donald (4, first girl).
  • MTB:  Gary Moller (1), Ryan Hunt (2), Gene McNaught (3)
  • Men's B:  Kerrin Allwood (1), Camden Feint (2), Aaron Stagg (3)
  • Vets:  Mike O'Neill (1), Jaycee Masalunga (2), Simon Gilbert (3)
  • Women:  Kim Hurst (1), Grace Saywell (2), Sarah Tumen (3)
  • Men's A:  Mike Naylor (1), Maxwell Wickens (2), Matt Sharland (3)

Here's the (race) Director's cut showing a few video highlights:

It's worth checking out a the cool on-course video Lisa Morgan took, at the event's Facebook page, and there are some other great short clips too.

Lisa circulated most of the day, with GoPros front and rear.  Photo:  Trina Aiono


A lot of work went into this event, and many deserve thanks.

First and foremost, North City Shopping Centre (and owners Kiwi Property) were both amazing to deal with, and both brave and generous to allow an event of this nature to go forward.  Thanks in particular to Marketing Manager, Caroline Shearman-York.  In addition to access to the centre, they supplied some gift cards, and covered the (public holiday) costs of security.

The event could not have gone ahead without the underwriting of the Wellington Masters Cycling Club.  Thanks to President Rob Te Moana and the committee for facilitating the event, providing the registration system, and essential insurance cover.

John Goodman's help was invaluable on the day.  Photo:  Lisa Ng Photography

Bunnings Porirua, and in particular, Activities Organiser Jackie Smith, were also behind the event from the very beginning.  They provided course tape (supplemented by supplies from the Huttcross crew), spot prizes, and the use of the store's BBQ, gazebo, and a trailer to haul it all around.

Capital Cycles donated a large number of spot prizes, and logistical support via Gareth and Liam.  Wheelworks also donated some spot prizes.  WORD were official first-aiders on the day, and thankfully didn't have too much to do!

Pak'n'Save Kilbirnie donated edible supplies for the BBQ, and my colleagues Francine and Pam both donated some delicious baking for sale (you guys rock!).

It was a beautiful day for a barbie!  Photo: Trina Aiono

Petone Rugby Club lent us a few goal-post pads for the day, and these were used to line the leading edge of a few somewhat unforgiving concrete poles.  Thanks to Club Captain Mike Woollett for these.

Hirepool discounted the hire of a toilet.

Many hands made light work, and it was both amazing and essential to have so many volunteers on the day.  Special thanks to:

  • John Goodman from the cycling club
  • Gareth Warnock and Liam Cooper from Capital Cycles
  • Ashley and Steven Peters from WORD
  • My incredible family:  Sarah, Kaitlyn, Khulan, Suze and Ross, Auntie Annie, and Pam and James
  • Trina AionoLisa Ng and Lisa Morgan
  • Karen, Lynzi, Kerrin and Gemma, Bronwyn, Vicki and Gene, and Ange

Karen and Lynzi checking Sarah in for race #2


When a cycling event organiser complains about turnout, and weather, it's usually because bad weather put people off.  The next day's blustery and overcast conditions possibly would have given a boost in numbers and may have been preferable to the light winds and blue skies.

On the upside, the event went off without a hitch. We left the carpark cleaner than we found it, and provided a nice safe environment for those that took part. 

Occasionally during the lead-in, I lamented running it at Easter - quite a few folk were out of town, and there was no possibility of ducking to the supermarket for supplies if we ran out of stock.  I had to remind myself that the event was only possible because of the Good Friday date - one of the few days of the year the mall was completely closed. 

I think the course worked well, though in hindsight, I'd have redesigned the top level to avoid a dripping pipe, and to make the top turn very different than the lower level's (to prevent people trying to ride them both the same way when their shape was subtly different).

I wish I'd had a bit more time and energy for promoting the event, but it's been a very busy month, and between work, other fundraising activities, and 15-20 hours per week training, time has been somewhat scarce.

It was heartening to see people having fun, and in many ways it was good to have low numbers to keep everything manageable.  The $2100 raised is not an insignificant boost to the Mental Health Foundation's coffers, and it was wonderful to see and hear people enjoying themselves, whether riding, spectating, or eating!  With luck, this will not be the only time this novel event goes ahead.

For my part, this marks the last major undertaking in my fundraising activities.  I must admit to have getting a bit lost in the scale of things, but I'm sure in the fullness of time, memories of the small problems will fade, and the $12,000-plus raised over the last few months will fully register.

* * * * * 

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.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

North City Shopping Centre Good Friday Criterium

It's been quite a few years since I rode past North City Shopping Centre's carpark one Easter, and, having noticed it devoid of cars, wondered how awesome it would be to hold a race there.

Well, my dream is about to become a reality.

Thanks to the foresight of North City's management, I've managed to secure permission to hold an event there this coming Good Friday, 30 March.  The Wellington Masters Cycling Club have kindly endorsed the event, which has helped immensely in gaining permission to race, and others have provided input and assistance, notably WORD's Ashley Peters, and Capital Cycles' Gareth Warnock.

Race on!

The carpark consists of three levels: two covered, and one uncovered.  We'll use the top (outside) deck for parking, and the course will consist of a loop on each of the two covered levels.  Each "lap", riders will descend and then climb the vehicle ramp between the two levels.

This is a fundraising event, and all money collected will go to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

Event programme

The day is going to run as follows:

  • 8am - 9:30am:  course set-up
  • 9:30am:  top carpark and registration desk open
  • 10am - noon:  Fun ride
  • Noon - 12:30pm:  Lunch break
  • 12:30pm:  Kids race on full course top level of course only.  
  • 12:45pm-4pm:   Open races using full course.  MTBs with fat tyres first, followed by B grade men, Vets, Women, A grade men.  
  • 4-5pm:  thanks and pack-up
The fun ride will be open to bikes, scooters and roller blades, and access will be by gold coin donation.  Racers will be welcome to ride the course, but should be mindful of other users, and open the taps only when the course is completely clear.  

The precise programme in the afternoon will depend a bit on demand.  Gareth and I think a maximum field size of 25 riders is appropriate, with a controlled first lap.  The demand for spots will determine the race durations, and we'll try to squeeze in as many riders as possible with approximately 30-35 minute races (think cyclocross, but with no hurdles, and no MUD!)

With luck, we'll have a BBQ running for most of the day with snarlers and hash browns...

Keep an eye on the day's Facebook event for updates.  

Entry fee and process

There is no pre-entry for the Fun ride, nor the kids race after lunch.  Turn up on the day with cash for a small donation.  A gold coin is fine, but more is welcome at your discretion.  If you're racing in the afternoon, you don't need to pay for the Fun ride as well.  

Entry to an afternoon race is a two-step process.  
1.  Register using the Wellington Masters Cycling Club online portal.  Indicate which grade is your first preference, but be aware that I reserve the right to move folk around to ensure as many people can race as possible (e.g. Vet women from Vets to the Women's race, or B grade male to A grade male).  
2.  Make a donation directly to the Mental Health Foundation at my fundraising page.  The minumum donation to secure your place is $25, but of course, you are welcome to give more.  Please mention the North City Criterium in your comment.   

Being involved in other ways

I have high hopes that many who go for a spin around the course in the morning will hang around to watch the afternoon races, and also that people will come down to cheer even if not interested in riding themselves.  Closer to the time, I'll aim to dig out a suitable cyclocross video on youtube to get everyone in the mood.  It should be spectacular to watch, and a decent crowd could create a wonderful atmosphere for the racers.

I'll also need a team of volunteers to help the event run smoothly.  If you're interested in helping, please get in touch via email ( or via comment here, or the facebook event page.

Thanks to...

This event would not exist without the generosity of North City Shopping Centre.  And, its unlikely I'd have had the energy to confront the Traffic Management hurdles to hold an on-road event.  So, we all owe the a huge debt of gratitude.  They're also covering some security guards for the day, and donating some gift cards for race winners.  

Similarly, the Wellington Masters Cycling Club are providing invaluable support.  It's unlikely I could've done without them either.  

WORD is helping with the kids event in particular, and with community liaison in general, saving me a huge effort (and probably doing a much better job to boot)!

Bunnings Porirua didn't flinch when I asked them to donate course marking tape, and a few other goodies.  Nor did Kilbirnie Pak'n Save when asked to donate some food for the BBQ we'll have running during the day.  

Similarly, Capital Cycles have been super supportive and will sort out some spot prizes.  

If your business would like to be added to this list, please get in touch by commenting on this blog.  

Here's the event poster - if you fancy printing it off and displaying it prior to the event, flick me an email for a pdf (and my appreciation).

For a pdf version, email


The concrete has a nice bit of grip to it, and we're able to avoid all but a couple of judder-bars.  The only tight turns on the course are into and off the uphill ramp.  The race course is almost everywhere much wider than a single lane of a standard road.  There are no curbs, but there are very unforgiving concrete poles at regular intervals.  The course will be designed to give you as much width as possible, gentle turn radii, and run-off if things start going pear-shaped.  But, common sense should prevail at all times.  This is not the world-champs.  The winners will be those that turn up and have a good time, enjoying both the novelty of the event, and knowing that the money raised will go to a good cause.   

* * * * * 

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.