Friday, February 16, 2018

Off-Road Hill-Climb series - debrief and thanks

When Simon and I ran the first hill-climb series back in 2012, we had a blast, and it served a useful purpose from a training point of view.  We had four races:  one at each of Te Ahu-Mairangi, Wright's Hill, Makara Peak and Red Rocks, with a step up in difficulty and/or length each time.  We went legit, i.e. we had permission for the events from the WCC, and across the four races, we had 95 individual starts.

With my $5000 fundraising target for the Mental Health Foundation, this seemed like a natural thing to recreate.

Setting up

It took me a little while to settle on the four courses for the 2018 events.  Wellington's MTB facilities have grown somewhat, but so too has the number of users.  I've also become a lot more time-poor, and so was facing a larger set of constraints on many fronts.

In the end, I settled on two races at Makara Peak, followed by Red Rocks, and nice finish at Polhill.  For permission, I had to liaise with three different Park Rangers at WCC - Tim, responsible for Makara Peak, was a great help, and once I had the paper-work done to his standards, the other two quickly followed suit.

I contacted Michael Jacques once more - he'd generously provided four entries to Karapoti then, and kindly came to the party again.  Jennie Taylor at Sweet Cheeks was happy to provide me with some tubs of her amazing chamois cream - also with a no-less amazing name, "Butt Butter".  I also reached out to Kashi and Mat Wright at Yeti, and they too were very happy to contribute - Yeti first supported me back in late 2011 when Megan and I were getting ready for the Cape Epic, and while I've not been doing a huge amount of MTBing since, I still regard myself as an ambassador for them when I do ride off-road.

My talented daughter Khulan produced a wonderful event poster, and I whipped up a bit of a social media storm - multiple shares of my series announcement soon made it one my most read posts ever.

Art-work and design by Khulan Tumen

I decided to funnel as many entries as possible through the Mental Health Foundation's donation portal.  I set the entry fee as a minimum donation of $30 for the series, or $10 (minimum) per race.

By the afternoon of the first race, I had 18 people entered for the entire series.  As a sign of things to come, these 18 generous souls had averaged $50, with three over $100.  Not only that, but the online publicity had no doubt been responsible for almost as many donations again.

A few days out, I collected a whole lot of arrows from Marco Renalli, club president of PNP.  Over the years, they've really refined their spring XC series, and have a great assortment of lefts, rights, and straight aheads, that they were more than willing to share, thereby saving me a huge amount of time and effort (not to mention some expense).

Race 1:  Makara Peak

The first race was by far the most complex.  In order to keep the Peak Flow line from the Makara Peak summit to the main carpark open for casual use, I'd decided to run the event from the end of St Albans Avenue.

Aside from the first few minutes, riders would be riding up tracks usually only ridden down.  Crowd control was key, and I needed no fewer than six marshalls to ensure no riders inadvertently rode onto the course.  Luckily, Sarah (top of North Face), Dean (top of JFK), Jo and Aidan (controlling a short two-way section on Ridgeline Extension), Khulan (on Miro), and my Mum and Dad (top of Rimu), were all happy to help.  Kaitlyn was time keeper at the summit by virtue of the late arrival of Simon's flight from Auckland.  At 6:15pm, Khulan rode the entire course from top to bottom, ensuring it was clear.

I'd done a short lower lap to bang in a couple of marker arrows (JFK/Smokin' intersection), and to close of the Third Brother with a bit of tape and a courtesy sign.

When I arrived back at base, I was astonished to see a huge crowd of people.  The weather had certainly played ball (it was almost TOO hot), and the novelty factor also contributed to the event's popularity.  But, I think people were largely motivated by the charity aspect, and genuinely wanted the series to be a success.  It was humbling (and, slightly intimidating).

Not even a third of the entrants in this shot!!  Photo:  Brendan McGrath

I'd advertised one-minute start intervals, but hadn't for a moment expected it to take almost an hour to get everyone away!   I suggested riders roughly self-seed, with the fastest away first.  In between starts, I'd ensure I had the next few riders' names written down, and collected cash off those who hadn't entered online.

I needed about 42 or 43 seconds per rider, I think, but stuck with the full 60 - even though it slowed things down a wee bit, I preferred a bit of down-time over an overly hectic schedule.  Everyone was very patient, and seemed to enjoy hanging out in the sun.

Ashley and Bex celebrating working out how to pay me back for the last bit...  Photo:  Brendan McGrath

I set off last, with a pocket full of cash.  My parents were the first marshalls I came to, so gave it all to them before continuing.  As I passed each marshall, they were invited to follow me up the hill, which some did.

It's always fascinating riding things in the wrong direction, and it was a hoot employing a bit of old-fashioned tenacity to keep the bike moving up the steeper parts.  I faltered a couple of times, and almost passed out on the final, incredibly nasty, 4WD section.

There were a quite a few folk still hanging out at the top, and none of them seemed angry, which was both surprising and very welcome.  One rider had mysteriously vanished, and the means of contacting her was in the car, for which she had the keys.  Apart from that, everything seemed to have gone very well, and by the time I got home, not only has the missing driver been found, but my parents had counted up $390 in cash entries!  The success of the event was not lost on my dear family, who'd all played an integral part in that, and we had a very upbeat dinner indeed, despite our weariness.

Hi-five from the Soanes.  Photo:  Brendan McGrath

For the record, there were 52 starters, with Edwin Crossling summiting in a mere 14:51.   Izzy Soane, the youngest competitor took almost exactly twice as long, clocking in 29:37.  Matt Cryer got a free Karapoti entry for making the arithmetic easiest (he finished on a whole-minute), and Andrew Ivory earnt himself some Sweet Cheeks Butt Butter by riding the course on his loaded Tour Aotearoa rig.

Round 2:  Karori Park to Makara Peak

The second course was significantly harder to ride than the first, but easier to organise.  The route would take them up Wahine, across Makara Road and then up Varley's Track, before taking the 4WD along the ridge southwards towards the Makara Peak summit.  Rather than grovel up the last 50m of the previous week's course, a lovely bit of mostly-mellow singletrack would take them up to the finish line.

I headed up the top half of the course early with a few signs - directional mostly, but also one at the start of A2Z indicating a temporary track closure.  By the time I got down to Karori Park, my marshalls were in place:  Dean at the summit, Kaitlyn on the A2Z/Zac's intersection, Sarah at the turn off the 4WD track, Mike and Karen at the 4WD at the end of Varley's, and my parents at the Makara Saddle road crossing point.  Khulan headed up to the top of Wahine after she'd ripped down the course to make sure it was clear.

I was joined for the starts by Tristan, and that enabled us to have a crack at 30 second gaps.  He wrote down names against start times, and I offered to hold the riders so they could begin with both feet clipped in - hardly necessary with double-sided MTB pedals, but a novelty most were willing to embrace.  The weather was again stunning, as was the turn-out.

True to form, Andrew was happy to receive his Sweet Cheeks spot-prize at the start, and carry it up! 

I'd warned everyone not to go too hard from the start-line, and tried hard to follow my own advice when I got underway myself.  As I feared, the rampy nature of the course meant for a tough juggling act between going hard enough to stay on the bike and easy enough to recover sufficiently for the next steep bit.  I once again offloaded a pocketful of cash to my parents on the way past them, intrigued to learn how much there was.

By the time I passed Sarah, the sunny conditions at the bottom of the course had vanished.  Rather, we were inside a cloud!  She'd clearly dressed for the bottom, so it was lucky the starting-duo had been able to get folk up the course at twice the advertised rate.

Despite the conditions, it was nice to see a few riders milling around at the top, and it was nice to join them for a few minutes while those I'd passed on the way up finished the course.

Always nice to see the old Cycle Services colours being flown

The second round had a slightly larger field than the first, with 54 riders starting, and I added $330 to the fundraising tally when I got home.  Edwin blazed the course again, and the ramps took their toll on those unused to the steep gradients, blowing out the slower times a bit.  Tom Lynskey scored the Karapoti entry by virtue of having a finishing time only 1-second different to that in his first round.  It was a near run thing though, with another handful of riders being within 5-seconds.

The next day, it was great to see an article appear in the Independent Herald.  I'd reached out to them after the successful first round, and they'd been happy to publish a story about the series and the motivation for it.  Thanks to Brendan for providing the original photo, Julia, the reporter, and her editor.

Independent Herald, 24/1/18

Round 3:  Red Rocks

I was literally expecting only 20 or so to show up for the third round.  The Red Rocks track is a bit of a brake-burning descent, and it is not generally ridden up.  On the other hand, it is steeper than it's more "popular" neighbour, the Tip Track, and perfect Karapoti training.

The route was pretty simple, so I didn't put out any course markings.  Sarah and Kaitlyn marshalled the intersection with the Tip Track, and Simon stationed himself at the finish line - the grassy spur a few minutes along Barking Emu.  Dean had kindly offered to drive gear from the start at Red Rocks to the bottom of the Polhill reserve in Aro Valley, though only myself and one other took him up on it!!!

I rode to the start from work, enjoying a stonking northerly tail wind, which I came to loath on the way up the course.  Despite the "treat" in store for them, the Wellington MTB community proved how hard core they are, or how generous, or how much they were enjoying the novelty of the series, by turning out in droves.  The turn-out was slightly down on the 52 and 54 of the previous rounds, but that 46 people paid good money to ride up this particular track still blows my mind.

Sea-level, en route to 400m above.  Photo:  Gavin McCarthy

I decided to start people on the far side of the stream, ensuring that when they clambered up the first unrideable section, it was with dry shoes.  Well, that was the theory, though I swear people were politely lining up in the stream bed...!

Despite being the lone starter, I gave 30 second intervals a whirl, and managed to keep on top of it, by the skin of my teeth.

When I finally got away myself, I really struggled to find some semblance of flow. The first few metres were a clamber, and I was off the bike more than I was expecting on the singletrack section up to the old ridgeline route.  The combination of the gradient, loose rock, headwind, and fatigue-induced lapses in concentration, all were conspiring against me (and in all likelihood, everyone else).

The surface was easier to manage on the second half of the course, but by then, tired legs were the bigger problem.  I passed a few folk on the way up, none of whom spat at me (and indeed, they were all quite encouraging), and myself got passed by Nick, who'd arrived late.  It was impressive watching him muscle his narrow-tyred CX bike up the hill, while he was still in sight, at least.

The final section along Barking Emu was there to provide a "fun" alternative to the top few hundred metres of the Tip Track, but on the day, I rued my choice.  Judging by Lisa Ng's awesome photos, some enjoyed themselves!

Jonny Waghorn, with Cook Strait in the background.  Photo:  Lisa Ng Photography

Simon had found an awesome spot to time-keep, in the lee of the spur, and he had a decent sized crowd watching the latter part of the field come in.

I foolishly turned down a lift with Sarah and Kaitlyn, and proceeded down the rest of a rough and overgrown Barking Emu.  On the plus side, when I got home, I banked an incredible $296 with the Mental Health Foundation.   Marco Renalli won the Karapoti entry spot prize, since his Round 3 time was closest to the sum of his Rounds 1 and 2 times.  He pointed out his life-membership of the Karapoti Hall of Fame entitled him to a lifetime of free entries, and kindly gifted it on to a rider at the 4th round.  Cheers Marco!

Race 4:  Polhill

The fourth and final race was designed to leave a smile on people's faces.  As far as I'm aware, it was the first event to use Clinical, between Holloway Road and George Denton Park - one of my favourite singletrack climbs in the city, and nothing short of a work of art in a few places.  From there, the course went old-school and headed up the Fenceline 4WD, and then across the road and into Carparts - also a blast from the past, given all uphill traffic is on Windmill these days

The weather was once again warm and dry, and people coped well with Waitangi Day throwing a spanner in the works and pushing this round onto a Wednesday night.  It was great to have series sponsor, Yeti NZ along, not to mention the biggest field yet, 58 riders (including the tandem pair of Benjamin and his daughter Amelia).

I was again ably assisted by Tristan with the starts, Kaitlyn at George Denton Park, Sarah Bramwell and Dave Nendick at the road crossing (stopping riders, not cars!), Khulan at the Windmill entrance to Carparts, Dean at the top of Carparts, and Simon as time keeper at the top of the course.

As I had done with the previous rounds, I started by thanking everyone for their attendance and generosity, reminding them their entry fee would go directly and entirely to the Mental Health Foundation.  And then, it was time to head up the hill...

Briefing.  Photo:  Rex Massey-Molloy

The start was a bit of a fizzer - no sooner had Edwin and Jack got underway, than a bus turned up at the Aro Street terminus, dictating a short hiatus.  I went and spoke briefly to the driver, and after ascertaining that the bus would be there for five minutes or so, we agreed we could cope with the large obstacle via a judicious overtaking manoeuvre.  The driver gave us a toot when she was about to set off, but I think she'd kindly waited for a gap, bless her.

I spent a few minutes on Clinical behind a trailer bike, eliciting fond memories of riding with Kaitlyn.  Unfortunately for Benjamin, Amelia was also keen to watch me, so mostly I was admiring him wrestling with the ever-changing weight behind him!  I took the rough line past them eventually, and the next person I saw was Kaitlyn in her marshalling position - very fitting.

As with the three races before, there was a happy congregation at the top of the course, and once people had had their fill of that, a fine selection of routes back down to the bottom awaited.

Blue skies onec again.  Photo:  Lisa Ng Photography

Edwin's time of 18:07 was four-seconds shy of the winning time, ridden by Jack Compton.  58 riders was a series record though, as was the $415 deposited to the Mental Health Foundation.

* * * * *

In all, 93 different riders participated in the series:  33 for a single round, 20 for two, 23 for three, and 17 hardy souls every round, for a grand total of 210 starts.  If people had donated the bare minimum, that would have pulled in $1930.  Many paid more than I asked though, and direct entries to the series totalled $2797.20.  Amazing.

I would like to thank everyone who supported this series:  landowners and trail projects, sponsors, volunteers, participants, photographers, and everyone who liked or shared the event online, or encouraged someone to go along and give it a try.

This, a personal message from Shaun Robinson, the Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand:
Thanks so much to everyone who has so generously donated.  We are absolutely blown away by the support we have received from this series. We are working hard to open up conversations about mental health, to advocate for better access to low costs services and to provide useful, free resources on mental illness and available support to friends, families and whānau. The money you have raised helps makes all of this possible.

If you have not already, check out our Take the Load Off campaign. Here you will simple things you can say and do to help lighten the load for people living with mental illness.

Once again, thanks for joining our mission to improve the mental health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders – you’re all legends!

For my part, it was great to see people enjoying themselves, and fantastic to know that in the future, people in need will be better looked after because of the money raised.

I genuinely hope to have the energy to make this an annual feature of the Wellington cycling calendar.

Dean, without whose help the series would not have been as successful.  Photo: Brendan McGrath

* * * * *

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.

1 comment:

  1. So glad it was a successful series, congratulations!