Tour Te Waipounamu: Round Two
For the 2022 edition of Tour Te Waipounamu, 44 keen racers and a few onlookers and supporters gathered at the stunning cliff edge start line, above the crashing waves of the Tasman Sea. It was a slightly larger group of riders than 2021, with Hana and I among only six returning finishers from the inaugural edition of the race, including race organiser Brian Alder, Steve Halligan, Matt Quirk and Pete Maindonald.
Day 1, Sunday: Cape Farewell to Murchison 268 km
3453m elevation gain
15:23 moving time
Drafting is permitted for the first 30 km, to Collingwood, and being in one of the first couple of groups on the road would ensure a fast start to the day. The race started at 7:00 am and the front of the pack surged quickly over the first small gravel hill and soon settled into a long string of riders as we hit pavement and flat roads for the run to Collingwood. I sat in about 17th place right to town, and as with last year was happy to reach the beach section, where drafting finishes and everyone settles into their own pace.
After the beach the route follows the main road to Takaka, and then tackles the singletrack of the Rameka Track. I was just behind Matt Quirk when we entered the second, technical half, of the track. On his full-sus bike Matt floated over the tricky broken limestone that signals the start of the rougher stuff. Despite already making an agreement with myself not to try to ride this short technical section (knowing I’d be excited and that a mistake could see you fall off a cliff), I was inspired by Matt’s effort. Sure enough; I was not in a relaxed state, lost my balance and tipped over down a very steep bank, with only a small sapling that I grabbed saving me from going further. My bike came down on top of me. With a burst of adrenaline, I managed to throw that and myself back up onto the track in front of another surprised looking rider.
It was a moment of idiocy. I’d gotten off lightly with some bruises and a bent derailleur hanger that took a couple of hurried attempts by hand to set back in the right place (and stayed good for the rest of the race!). I gave myself a very vocal lecture to be more careful as I carried on up the track.
Having done the race before, I’d spent time in the months prior pre-visualising sections and reminding myself how they would feel mentally and physically during the event. This was to prepare myself for those low moments I knew would come, and also to remind myself of the times I felt best. Last year I’d felt terrible on the paved and gravel section between Riwaka and Tapawera – it seemed to take forever, I never felt like I was going the speed I wanted to, my legs and back ached and I was questioning why I was there. This time I was prepared for that feeling, and it made this hot and tedious section more bearable, although I did still find myself questioning why I was there, and decided this would be the last time.
I was happy to reach Tapawera after 161 km, ready for a feed and stretch, and I knew from last year that beyond there my legs and mind had felt much better. Brian Alder and Rob Brown were just leaving as I arrived, and Matt had rolled in just before me. There were another 10 riders up the road.
I downed a pie, a double espresso coffee milk and bought food to get me to Springs Junction, 187 km away. Just before the big pylon road climb I’d caught Emma Bateup who was slowed with a seized pedal, but still admirably moving. I rode alongside her briefly and chatted about her options, before wishing her luck and heading on. As usual I was happy to get my teeth into a sustained climb and find a good rhythm.
Dusk came and darkness had fallen by the time I reached the top of the Porika. The spark had gone from my legs and I had walked more of it than I expected to. A steep and rock strewn descent led to Lake Rotoroa. Last year I’d slept here, feeling exhausted when I’d arrived, so I was pleased to feel motivated to continue to a cabin I had pre-booked Murchison – definitely not done for the day.
I arrived at Riverside campground shortly after 11 pm, had a meal of cold instant mash with tuna and lay blissfully down for 4 hours of sleep.
Day 2, Monday: Murchison to Home Bay, Lake Sumner 169 km
2368m elevation gain
14:00 moving time
I woke feeling motivated and reasonably fresh and was away at 4:22 am. Just ahead were two blinking red lights, so I enjoyed a bit of company with Debbie and Emma (team FittoLive) while we rode towards Mariua Saddle. I was on my own again from the base of the saddle through to Springs Junction.
Unlike last year, at this point in the race, my problematic achilles tendon was feeling ok. Like a lot of people though I spent the first two days struggling with food intake. In the early stages of the race you’re perhaps pushing slightly harder and although you need all the calories you can get, it’s hard to digest them. I was eating less than I’d budgeted for, and could only cope with small amounts of any one thing at a time. As usual, a mix of savoury and sweet was the way forward, and dried banana chips were a sure way to keep nutrition going in slowly as they seem to remain palatable even when you feel slightly nauseous. Gels were helpful too.
I saw Debbie and Emma again at Springs and then again at Boyle as we collected our food parcels which contained all the calories we’d need to get to Methven, which I’d estimated would take me 30 hrs. After the monotony of the pavement over Lewis Pass and down to Windy Point I was looking forward to the beech forest, technical riding and hike-a-bike. I made Hope Kiwi Lodge in reasonable time, but my swollen, wet feet were starting to get sore so I stopped there to dry them out. During that time Matt, Emma and Debbie all caught up and we were all close together for the start of the next leg through to Lake Sumner. Matt and I rode together for most of the second half, but I rounded one fast corner to find him flat on the ground with his bike, after a stick had gone into his front wheel and caused a violent endo which left Matt a bit shaken and with a cut in his hand.
The sun was going down as we reached the grassy flats at the lake inlet and golden light spilled down the valley. It was a pretty special moment and reminded me that one of the best aspects of endurance cycling is the great light you get to witness by riding through dawn and dusk. Although I’d found much of the Hope Kiwi track fun and rode most of the bits I expected to, I was still of a mindset that I wasn’t going to ride this event again. The early pressure of the race was still on and I was very much wrapped up in moving forward as efficiently as I could, with little space for reflection.
It was 9:30 pm when I got to the bottom of the Lake Mason farm track climb – early by racing standards, but ahead was a no-sleeping zone until Deep Creek at the base of the trackless HAB of the Dampier Range crossing, which I estimated was 3-ish hours away. I was feeling tired by now and – perhaps inevitably – my left achilles tendon/paratenon had begun to get sore from the technical riding and hike-a-bike (HAB). I decided to sleep where I was for a few hours and aim to be moving again by 2.30 am, figuring that would have me starting up the Dampier in daylight at about the same time as if I’d continued to Deep Creek. Matt and team FittoLive (who caught Matt and I up while we were deliberating) were thinking along the same lines and in the end all four of us camped nearby. Emma Bateup had fixed her pedal, caught us up and continued up the hill in the dark – determined to get back in the race.
Day 3, Tuesday: Lake Sumner to Castle Hill Village 136 km
3449m elevation gain
15:51 moving time
Waking at 2:00 am I was feeling motivated, but with a lot less spring in my step than the morning before. The Lake Mason climb is a cruel warm up and with a stiff and sore achilles I walked a fair bit of it. When I topped the climb I could see Matt’s light off in the distance and eventually caught him at the crossing of the Hurunui South Branch. We rode together most of the way to Deep Creek and started carrying up the steep grassy ridge that heralds the beginning of the 800m climb up Dampier Range. It was 5:30 am. I could see lights over at Deep Creek (Ali/Lizless and maybe Rob Brown) and before long, Emma (who’d bivvied near the base) practically jogged up beside me and Matt.
The 12 km, mostly untracked, Dampier Range section felt more physical than I remembered and I switched between carrying and pushing depending on steepness and scrub thickness up to the saddle where you descend and begin the big sidle through deep tussock. Towards the beginning of the descent Matt and I caught back up to Emma and also Andrew Laurie. It was quite nice to chat for a moment – the hard work behind us – before dropping down the long ridge to Andersons Hut. The riding on this bit is fantastic; one of those places, deep in the hills, on barely tracked terrain, where a mountain bike is definitely a better tool for the job than a pair of tramping boots.
The crossing took about 4.5 hours, but as with last year it had taken its toll on my achilles and which was now painful. I stopped at Andersons with the other three for a quick bite to eat. Emma was now in the lead of the womens’ race, with Ali’s pace slowed sadly by injury. We joked about how she could begin picking off the men now, and with that she took off across the river. Andrew and Matt then left, but I passed them both a little later on as we rode down the stunning Esk Valley, one of the highlights of the ride. I was trapped in a paradox that afternoon of feeling quite strong, warmed into the ride finally and quite a bit more relaxed, but I was fighting a losing battle with my achilles. Despite feeling great on the climbs, my achilles was so sore I was unclipped and using my heel for most of the 56 km to Andrews Stream Shelter.
At the shelter I took my shoes off to let my swollen, wrinkled feet dry out and did some static achilles holds that both my physio recommended: like doing a calf raise, but you hold it for 40 sec, 3–4 times. These hurt like hell at first, but are actually pain moderating. They take a while to kick in, so I set the alarm for 20 minutes and lay down for a power nap. I was out like a light, slept well, and as I was about to leave, Andrew arrived looking quite weary. Matt had rolled by shortly before.
On a positive note, by the time I reached SH73, I was already roughly 16 hours faster than the previous year. Aside from the tendon, everything else was going my way. The static holds had done the trick though and I pedalled clipped in most of the way down the highway to Coal Pit Spur and the Craigieburn singletracks, but I was dreading this 23 km section because I knew the short steep climbs and windy singletrack would put me in pain again.
I rode conservatively, protective of the tendon, and got off on a lot of the climbs, but I still had a lot of fun on the classic beech forest and tussock singletracks of the Castle Hill Basin, a place I have spent a lot of time over the years. It was dark for the last hour or so and I eventually rolled into Castle Hill Village around 10:15 pm, just behind Matt and with Andrew just a few minutes back. Again it was relatively early, but my plan was to rest the tendon now and get up early again. The community centre by the tennis courts has a good porch, which Matt and I made use of for a 4 hour sleep.
Day 4, Wednesday: Castle Hill Village to Royal Hut 209 km
3099m elevation gain
15:23 moving time
By 3:45 am I was on the move again, riding through thick fog towards Porters Pass. Four mornings-in now, the race was starting to take its toll and I felt groggy and stiff when I woke, and it took some discipline to get out of my bivvy bag, when the body just wanted to rest more.
But by the time I reached Lake Lyndon I was warmed up and enjoying myself alone in the dark. I kept turning my head back, expecting to see Matt’s lights come up behind me, but there was no sight of him, or Andrew. Once I was down in the Rakaia Valley I caught up to Ali, who had passed Matt and I after we’d stopped at Castle Hill. We rode alongside each other in the twilight for a while, but she was still suffering from a sore calf so I continued at my own pace and rode through light drizzle and mist into Methven for 7:45 am. I was still suffering myself, with a sore achilles and had decided that I was going to try and buy some flat pedals in Methven to see if they would offload the tendon by allowing me to pedal with a mid-foot position.
The bike shop wasn’t open yet, so I collected my small resupply parcel at the campground, and then went to the Four Square where I got a second breakfast, and some extra food for the rest of the route to Tekapo. My plan was on track so far; arriving with resupply locations open, and if the next leg worked out, Tekapo would be open too. I sat outside the bike shop and wolfed down a pie, a sandwich, a double espresso milk and a spirulina smoothie and set about repacking until the shop opened. I rode out of town at about 9:00 am with a pair of $27 plastic flat pedals, and my SPDs stashed in my frame bag in case the plastic pedals broke.
In the time I’d been there, I’d seen Ali and Andrew Laurie arrive, and chatted briefly to Scott Ardern who had experienced stomach problems the day before and had been virtually unable to eat. He was resting up before continuing later that day.
Pedalling down the long straights of the Canterbury Plains I felt like a fish out of water. I hadn’t ridden flat pedals without toe clips on a mountain bike since I was in my teens, and my SPD shoes were not the right thing to be riding plastic flats with, but with an adjustment to my cadence and foot position I started to get used to them. I also dropped my saddle a bit to compensate for the mid-foot position I’d changed to.
I did get some immediate relief from the tendon pain, but after an hour it was back. By now I had that disconcerting sensation of crepitus, where you can feel the grating friction between the inflamed paratenon and tendon and there was some swelling. I felt despondent. Was I doing the right thing continuing – again, in a second TTW – with an injured achilles? I lost quite a bit of time between Methven and Peel Forest, dithering over the achilles problem and reading messages from my physio and a doctor friend I’d messaged. Their words were encouraging: persevere and try to manage it.
I stopped on the side of the road and added some more K-tape to the already well-strapped achilles. My calf compression sleeves were helping keep the swelling under control. Shortly before Arundel, Andrew Laurie caught me up, and we rode together through Peel Forest. It was good to have some company for a while, but I was having a low point with the injury and my energy, and imagined I was probably slowing him down. Sure enough, Andrew picked up the pace a fraction and dropped me like a stone.
I struggled up the easy climb over to the Rangitata and had to get off and walk for a while, but then my energy kicked back in, in conjunction with a vigorous tailwind, and before long I caught back up to Andrew again as the wind kicked up dust and whooshed through the poplar trees. After 20 km the wind changed 180 degrees and we rode the final 10 km to Mesopotamia into a punishing headwind. At the turnoff into the station I chatted for a few minutes to Clare, Brian’s wife and some of the Prouting family, who had been out marking the many deer gates for us. The tendon must have been feeling pretty bad at that point, despite the new pedals, because I remember saying to Clare I didn’t feel confident about making it over to Felt Hut and that I might turn back that evening if I was in too much pain.
I carried on briefly, with Andrew a few minutes back, and then stopped at the last shelter belt shortly before Scour Stream, planning to have a quick power nap to regain some energy and concentration for the hard climbs over to Royal Hut. I did a set of static calf holds, lay down in the shade with my alarm set for 15 minutes and was asleep in seconds. I woke up feeling fresher, and less sore and quickly got into the rhythm of the long grind, actually feeling pretty good and riding nearly all of the climb – static holds combined with short recovery sleeps were working well for pain moderation and I felt like I could put power through the leg properly again, as long as I stayed mid-foot on the pedals.
I was in my element again. The Mesopotamia section was a scenic and emotional highlight last year and again this time. It was a calm evening and the light and shadow across the stunning post glacial, tussock landscape was amazing. The thought that Andrew was perhaps 30 minutes ahead of me motivated me too, and gave me a rabbit to chase as I pushed on into the evening. My headspace now was ‘I’d do this again, but maybe with my camera and at a slightly slower pace in a team’.
Passing the Felt Hut turnoff just after 8:00 pm I looked up at the daunting HAB to Bullock Bow Saddle and could see Andrew about 100 vertical metres above me, but despite my best efforts that gap remained and I topped out at 9:50 pm into mist and a strong SW wind. For the second year running I rode the long and sometimes technical descent to Bush Stream in the dark. It’s a minefield of rocks, tussock clumps and ruts and I was happy to make it to the bottom with my tyres intact. Andrew’s light would appear tantalisingly close and then seem to be miles away again, but eventually I caught up just as we reached Royal Hut. Brian’s bike was outside and there were a few trampers in the hut and a couple of beds free, but the sky was mostly clear so I decided to hop into my bivvy outside the hut. I ate cold mash and tuna once again and quickly passed out.
Day 5, Thursday: Royal Hut to Otematata 167 km
2152m elevation gain
13:44 moving time
This was the coldest night so far but I slept well with my head drawn right inside my bivvy bag and under my Big Agnes sleep quilt. But I woke at about 3:00 am to the sound of a squall of hail battering my bivvy bag. I jumped up, bundled everything up and went inside and redeployed on the floor and went back to a broken sleep, disturbed by two tramper/photographers debating whether to walk to Stag Saddle for sunrise or not. I think Brian put them off.
I woke a bit later to a floor-level view of Brian putting his shoes on. With continued wind and hail on the roof I’d gone back to sleep resigned to the fact that the weather had gone to shit and perhaps I should wait until closer to daylight. In retrospect it was a brief fissure in my motivation and resolve to keep pushing forward. But seeing Brian up motivated me instantly because he’d be great company, and two is so much better than one when you’re travelling in the dark with little to no track – especially in potentially dodgy weather.
I felt very tired that morning, but I’d readied myself for a quick getaway before I went to sleep, so it didn’t take me long to get moving and I think I left the hut at 4.30am, just before Brian and Andrew. My achilles was really sore as I got underway and crossed the first stream and I thought I might be in trouble, so I kept my footfalls precise and careful while it warmed up. Brian soon caught me up, but there was no sign of Andrew close by, and we moved on as quickly as we could, sharing the route finding in the pitch dark and cold wind.
We stopped once after perhaps an hour to adjust clothing and eat. I was wearing everything I had except my down jacket. The white speck of Andrew’s light already looked quite a long way away. It was light by the time we reached a sheltered cliff, just below Stag Saddle and we put on our down jackets before pushing on over the route’s highpoint (1953m) into the strong, freezing wind. Brian and I were stoked to have reached the saddle in good time and were feeling pretty excited by the time we crossed the chunky talus and scree over to the top of the legendary Snake Ridge.
It was still freezing cold on the ridge and we didn’t hesitate, stopping only once for a quick photo before speeding off down the ridge. We didn’t stop until we reached Rex Simpson Hut, by which time we were in sunlight. A couple of centimetres of water that had been left in my bottle as we went over the saddle had frozen as it sloshed around, so we were glad to warm up while we ate.
The ride out to much-anticipated Tekapo was uneventful, except for me getting distracted while talking to Brian and trying to ride a steep singletrack where I should have been walking. The result was a spectacular endo that I was lucky to walk away from with my body and bike still functional. I’d landed right in the middle of a huge spaniard (aciphylla), so when we got to town, the first thing I did was spend several minutes digging a spine out of my hand. Reaching Tekapo is a psychological moment in the course: the hard HAB is all behind you, and as Brian put it that day, ‘only two sleeps to go…’ (or none if you’re Olli Whalley).
We sat in the sun outside the Four Square while we ate and caught up with Mapprogress. Up until then, I’d barely looked at the tracker and done no social media. I’d made a point of minimising distractions, so the first time I’d checked the tracker had been a brief moment at Castle Hill. Although it didn’t feel long at the time, Mapprogress tells me now that Brian and I were in Tekapo for an hour and a half, which sounds rather relaxed, but we left rested, well fed and motivated to ride on to Otematata. The afternoon was sunny but we had a headwind much of the way towards Lake Pukaki. The Pukaki River Road was bumpy as hell but we smashed it out in a focussed effort and then stopped for water at the loos at Haldon Arm. I phoned ahead and booked us two beds in Otematata, along with pizzas, as well as breakfasts and ‘packed lunches’ for the next day to be left in the room.
I was starting to really enjoy the pace and focus of the race by this point. It was great to have company. Brian is an old friend, so we chatted a lot as we rode, and our paces were similar. My race satisfaction radar was now reading ‘I’d race this again, this is awesome!’
With company, the hilly Black Forest Station section, high above Lake Benmore, went by quite quickly. But by the time we reached the endless small, steep climbs just before the dam my knees had begun to hold a bit of fluid and were aching intensely, which was not a problem I’d had last year. Encouragingly, my achilles had settled down remarkably well with the combo of easier riding and the flat pedals.
We rolled into Otematata at 10:00 pm, feeling pretty weary. As arranged, there was a huge pizza on each bed and a fridge full of food. Mapprogress told us that Grant Guise, who’d had trouble with punctures that day and had to hitch to Twizel, was also ensconced in the hotel. It was satisfying to see we had a good gap on everyone else behind us. I had my first and only shower of the ride and crashed out between clean sheets.
Day 6, Friday: Otematata to Lake Onslow 168 km
3349m elevation gain
14:24 moving time
The alarm was a rude awakening. Through puffy eyes I could see Brian looked as exhausted as I felt and my legs were stiff and sore. Grant stopped by before leaving. He didn’t look a lot better than us and said something to the effect of not actually recognising Brian at first. We got away at about 4:40 am with Grant about 20 minutes ahead of us. My knees were so sore that Brian dropped me immediately, so I swallowed back a couple of Panadeine and hoped for the best. Sure enough they soon warmed up and the meds dulled the pain as we rode and pushed up the first steep climb over to Chimney Creek.
We caught up to Grant at the top of the descent down to the Otematata River and rode as a three up the valley and into the 400m switchbacked HAB that takes you up onto the Hawkdun Range. Again, it was great to have a change of dynamic and a second person to talk to, although I was also mindful that our pace had slowed with the chatting. We broke up a bit on the easier riding to Ida Railway Hut but regrouped there for a brief lunch break. It was a stunning day to be up there and the hut – fascinating in itself – is in an awesome spot.
Through the tussocks, rock outcrops and over barren screes we crossed the rest of the range, and regrouped on the big descent to the Ida Valley, rolling into Oturehua together at 2:15 pm. The legendary museum-like Gilchrist’s Store was open, and we all walked out the door with our arms full of treats to eat there and to get us through to Lawrence, 162 km of mostly hilly riding away. Down the hatch went a thick shake, a pie, a double espresso milk, a big sandwich and a piece of cake. We were there over an hour by the time we’d eaten, dried sleeping bags and attended to maintenance.
The rail trail and gravel roads of the Ida were over quickly in my memory, especially with some conversation to pass the time, and as we started the climb up to the Poolburn Reservoir and Rough Ridge, conversation turned to our destination for the night. Serpentine Church seemed like a good place to aim for, with the huts at Lake Onslow being a second option. Crossing the rolling 4WD roads through golden tussock towards Oliver Burn Hut we were treated to one of those never-ending blazing orange sunsets.
During a brief stop at the hut we were all feeling the long day and still considering stopping at Serpentine, but the fun riding and descending heading there from Oliver Burn perked us up and I got to the turnoff keen to continue into the night. Brian wanted to continue too, but Grant was feeling particularly wrecked, and stood there indecisively for a moment, before Brian spoke up and said assertively ‘I think you should take a concrete pill and come with us!’. It was quite a hilarious moment, with the three of us standing there in the dark and cold, exhausted. Grant knew he couldn’t say no.
We carried on purposefully towards Lake Onslow, knowing we’d be there late, but excited that it would be the last night, and anticipating a short sleep and a good final day while the weather held. It was lining up nicely for Brian’s goal of finishing in daylight on the 7th day, while I just wanted to finish!
We got to the Onslow lakeside huts at midnight, but being Friday night there were a few people around and some lights on so we quietly crept under a shelter belt of pine and nested in among the cow shit. I ate a cold pie and muffin and fell asleep rugged up with all my clothes on.
Day 7, Saturday: Lake Onslow to Slope Point 224 km
2531m elevation gain
15:09 moving time
At 3:00 am it was cold and we got up and left wearing every stitch of clothing, agreeing that we’d eat and sort ourselves out once we warmed up. That didn’t take long, because once we’d collected water from the cold, misty lake edge came a steep climb up towards the Teviot junction, and off came the down jackets.
Day was breaking as we passed the Teviot junction and followed dirt roads along the ridgeline towards the new Lammerlaw section. We still had all our shell clothing and warm gloves on in the cold wind and had to negotiate a traffic jam of sheep in the deep tussock as the sun began to rise.
The previous afternoon I’d mulled over how this race might end with the three of us. While I was stoked to be finishing nearly two and half days faster than last year, I still felt the urge to be competitive too. This year has been less of a race against myself and more of a race against others; which was what I’d wanted. As much as I’d enjoyed the camaraderie of the past 48 hours, I didn’t want to ‘tour’ to the finish with the others. I knew I’d suffer more through the last day riding solo, but I was ok with that. While Grant’s pace was a little slower, Brian’s strength was obvious and I assumed that if I showed a moment of weakness he’d probably ride away from me.
At about 7:00 am we reached steeper climbing just before the road breaks right onto a 4WD track and climbs to the summit of the Lammerlaws. I’d been eating well and had quite good energy flowing and without consciously trying I realised I had created a gap on the first steep climb. Nearly all my riding is in the hills and I run very easy gearing to make loaded climbing manageable, as well as to protect my knees, and I’d noticed in the Hawkduns my 50t sprocket/28t chainring with 27.5” wheels enabled me to ride stuff the others had walked.
More steep climbing followed, so I pushed a little harder to see if I could drive the gap open more, and soon had 200m. I rode on up towards the summit, with the others out of sight, and stopped to take a quick photo when I got to the trig. The rolling, tussocky landscape looked amazing in the early light and I was riding a wave of euphoria, high up and alone on the range. On the following downhills I rode as fast as I could get away with. With the sun now right up, the day was quickly warming, so I stopped to take off a layer and my overpants. I was still alone, so I decided I’d try and hold the gap I had to the finish.
I checked Mapprogress as I rode on the rail trail towards Lawrence and saw I had roughly 20 minutes on Brian, with Grant further back. When I resupplied in Lawrence I did it as quickly as possible, partly because I didn’t want my legs to go to sleep before the brutal climb up Breakneck Road, and I didn’t want Brian to catch me while I was there.
It’s 56 hilly kilometres from Lawrence to Clinton, the last resupply, and about 15 km out I began to feel increasingly sleepy. My concentration went, and with that my power, and then I began to fall asleep on the bike. I persevered for a while, but realised I might crash if I didn’t do something. I still had approx 20 min over Brian, so I went for a strategic 10 min nap, knowing that even if he did catch me, I’d be better off than I currently was.
I lay down in the shade by a farm gate, my pack under my head, and was asleep almost instantly. When the alarm went 10 minutes later I was up immediately and away feeling much better. I could push again.
I bought my final supplies for the road in Clinton, including a pie to eat at the finish, and was just hopping on my bike for the final 93 km when Brian arrived. We chatted for a moment, and then I left, still eager to finish alone with my best effort.
Some big waves of emotion hit me as I spun up the paved climb out of Clinton. I felt very satisfied with how things had worked out overall. As with last year I seemed to get better as the race progressed, and despite my achilles beginning to get very sore again, at least I’d had two settled days out of it, thanks to the flat pedals. It was the ride I’d wanted.
While the early morning’s ride has a lasting clarity, the rest of the day is a blur. I remember pedalling squares in too hard a gear up gravel climbs, an emergency poo in a paddock, constantly eating, and never being able to find the right thing to listen to. Phone signal came and went, but I got an enthusiastic message from Hana telling me to hammer it, and that Brian was 3 km behind me – which did not seem far enough.
When I reached Waikawa, 20km from the finish, I tried to pull it together and concentrate harder and before I knew it I was on the final climb, which I mashed up pedalling on my heel because my achilles was killing me. Bruce, Mojo, Emma and Clare were there at the finish to welcome me and Brian in, which was so much appreciated. I felt surprisingly unemotional – that moment had already passed leaving Clinton. I just felt deeply content, and I was looking forward to my cold pie.
6 days, 14 hours, 14 minutes.
Would I race it again? Hell yes.
Where my higher intensity training for the 2021 edition started late and was ad hoc, for the 2022 both my partner Hana (who also raced TTW but sadly withdrew at Tekapo due to multiple tendon problems and knee pain) and I decided to start with a really solid base and then do Kurt Refsnider’s Ultra MTB 4-month training program. We also strength trained through winter and autumn. We bought heart rate monitors, read up on LTHRs, nutrition, recovery and enjoyed the methodical process of training. I seemed to respond better and faster than Hana, but we both saw significant improvement in strength, speed and recovery times. I haven’t trained to a program for racing since the mid 1990s so it was a great learning curve rediscovering it all again and also seeing how far the science has come. Some of the education and habits I picked up during that training period (particularly to do with nutrition) have stuck with me since and informed how I think about exercise and incorporate it into my life, so it has been a rewarding process and I would go through it again.
Achilles tendon issues
During my 2021 attempt at Tour Te Waipounamu I developed a significant paratenon/tendon flare which resulted in a lot of crepitus, swelling and pain. Despite efforts to determine why that happened, nothing conclusive resulted but I remained determined to have another crack at TTW in the 2022 edition. I spent much of 2021 rehabbing the injured achilles, with regular physio, calf raises, eccentric loading and heel drops. I also addressed muscle imbalances in my legs with a progressive strength loading program which I continued right through to late 2021 before shifting to maintenance loads a couple of months before the race. Signs were pointing to a good recovery and the tendon was responding well to rides up to 7–8 hours in length.
But another milder flare developed during an attempt at a 3-day Kahurangi 500 in Nov, which made me realise I was still susceptible to issues on 12 hour plus days, so I revisited my set up with Anthony Chapman (physio/bike fit specialist) and we changed my cranks to 170mm (from 175mm) and I bought some slightly wider shoes. I left no stone unturned during 2021 to prevent the issue happening again, including getting ultrasound guided high volume IV saline injections (not cortisone) into both tendons in January, after the Nov flare. This rid me completely of milder issues with my right achilles, but it did not help the left one, as it still flared during TTW 2022. I have no doubt that strengthening has helped, along with 170mm cranks, and daily K-Taping, as my flare in 2022 was less severe, but it is still an ongoing issue I’m yet to resolve.
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