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...


Logistics

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.


Execution

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.

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.

And so it was that Prof. Annemarie Jutel 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).

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, and climbed 9,031m.

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 the future not a problem at all.  (I can't say I recommend either...!)

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. 



* * * * * 

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 https://events.mentalhealth.org.nz/fundraisers/sifter.  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



Thanks

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

Reflections

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 https://events.mentalhealth.org.nz/fundraisers/sifter.  Any contribution, big or small is greatly appreciated, and will be put to good use by the fine folk at MHF.