Taupo Solo

I was always going to enter in the Lake Taupo Challenge. The question: which event? Last year I thoroughly enjoyed doing the Enduro (2x laps), especially the first lap which took place in the dead of the night! However, it was a long day and a long time to be on a bike (it took me 12.5 hours) and so I settled on the single lap.

Dad also decided to challenge himself and asked me to sign him up for the single lap. I questioned whether he was up for this 160km bike race, considering he doesn’t bike often and if he does, it is only 20km or so. He was also doesn’t have a road bike and was pig headily adamant on doing the race in his heavy steel frame MTB he bought from The Warehouse!

I arrived in Taupo the night before and stayed at a backpackers lodge. Despite arriving with plenty of time I couldn’t go to sleep before my Dad arrived, who was driving up from Wellington. When he arrived at 11pm I wasn’t impressed, but there was a fatal car crash en route which created chaos and added several hours onto his trip. After imparting a few words of wisdom (eat every 30 minutes, drink when you need to etc) I eventually got some sleep at 1am.

With only 4 hours of sleep, I felt tired and drained when I woke up. However, the crisp Taupo morning soon prised my eyes wide open. I started cooking my usual pre-race bowl of porridge. Unfortunately, the kitchen was locked and I had to use what was available in the kitchenette. The porridge came out undercooked and tasted terrible but did the trick.

I met my Dad outside and saw him off. He started in the last group, which actually starts before all the riders at 6am. I meandered and then made my way to the start line. Because it is such a popular event (with >10,000 riders!), riders are released in waves.

I turn on my GPS watch (Garmin 910XT) but to my dismay it does not come on! I frantically try pushing all button combinations but to no avail. I suspect what has happened is that the watch was not turned off, which happens after it had come off charging and downloading. My colleague has also had this problem before.

If anyone from Garmin is reading this, you ought to make the watch smarter: if the watch has not moved in half an hour, it should go to sleep. Instead, it sits there happily chewing through the battery and continues to log itself flat!

Frantically I pull out my phone and with minutes to spare, I manage to install a bike logging application (MapMyRide). The only place to put the phone is in my back pocket, which means I can’t see the display.

Without my watch, I’ll be racing without knowing how long I have biked for, what my current/average speed is, and what my heart rate is doing!

The group I’m with starts off with a good pace, but I’m feeling ambitious and break away and catch up to some faster groups. In the Sunday bunch ride I sometimes join in, usually there are two lines with the front riders peeling off every so often. In this Taupo group, I’m introduced to the circular paceline which takes a bit to get used to. All goes well until the Kuratau Hill. Half way up the hill I slip to the back of the group. At the time, I wasn’t too worried as I reason I’ll just put in a few hard yards and catch up with them at the top of this hill. Big mistake! In a drafting event, it is always a good idea to ‘hold onto the wheel’ of the rider in front so you get the benefit of drafting. I end up spending too much energy trying to catch up to them and take a breather as the group vanishes into the distance.

As I make my way down to Turangi, my stomach churns from the previous exertion. I slow down and decide to consume only water until my stomach feels better. Fortunately it does, and I chomp down a muslie bar. I continue to ride solo for quite some time and tag along to the next group. They’re too fast and I take a couple of token pulls then decide to drop off and hope the next group isn’t too far away and is of a slower pace. The bunches are few and far in between. I suspect my average speed plummets but I welcome the space as I do most of my riding solo.

Before I know it, I am at the foot of the dreaded Hatepe Hill. Since I’ve already done this hill twice before and having done the K2 a month ago, the hill does not trouble me much. A friendly onlooker offers me a bottle of coke which I take, which is unusual as there are no bottle pickups at Taupo (there are in the K2 and in Ironman events).

After conquering Hatepe, there is a long downhill and an undulating road to the finish. I spend what is left in the tank and cross the finish line for a time of 5:05:06. I was aiming for under 5 hours (and secretly around 4:45), which I think I am capable of, but considering that I was riding ‘blind’ throughout the race, I think that today’s ride was acceptable.

I pulled out my phone and notice that it is completely flat. I head back and charge it up and look at the data collected by the MapMyRide. I ran out of juice at 113km into the ride, or 3:38. This gives a 31.0km/h average. The remaining 43 kilometres (Taupo is not quite 160km) took 87 minutes, i.e., 29.7km/h. Definitely room for improvement and I’ll be back next year!

Note to self – what I had on the ride:

  • 1x Large banana
  • 2x Replace gel 38g
  • 2x Muslie bar
  • 2x Electrolyte sports drink
  • 1x Water
  • 1x Coke

ps. Dad finished the bike ride in just under 10 hours! The odds were against him, especially since his bike weighs a ton. But he persevered and finished the race, which I highly commend him for. 10 hours is a long time out there, irrespective of how fast you are going. He still enjoyed the ride and even said some of the other cyclists took out their phones while riding and took photos of him pushing his bike up the hill! He saw the funny side in it and came to his senses and will let me sort out a proper bike for him next year!