After going to watch the start of the Karapoti Race last year we decided we should have a go in the original NZ mountain bike race. The race is 50 km, with three big hills in it, and we had done a bit of training for it. The hills are so steep that it is more of bike/hike than ride - so my tramping trip to Fiordland was part of my training! We had done a practise ride a few weeks earlier, so we knew what we were letting ourselves in for. It is almost all 4WD track, but much of it is rutted with a few river crossings and a couple of big muddy puddles/lakes. Fortunately the last few weeks have been pretty dry, so the track was in pretty good condition as with a little bit of rain it gets very muddy and slippy. The weather forecast for the race was for rain, but fortunately it held off until about 2:30 pm.
Aaron was in the largest category with over 350 men in the 30-39 yr age group. The start looked like carnarge as they all ran across the river carrying their bikes.
Aaron waiting at the start
The start - a run through the river (which is fairly deep if you pick the wrong line - one guy swam as he went neck deep!)
Helen's race report
I was in the last wave of starters - the 19+ yr women and the 50+ yr men. I was surprised how many of us there were. The problem with going in the last group, is that by the time you get to the first hill there is absolutely no way to ride up it as everyone is pushing their bike up the hill in front of you. I think I made it about 1/3 or the way up the hill but then was forced off my bike by the mass of people in front who had no way of getting out of my way. Fortunately I have a relatively light bike - so pushing it up the hill is not too bad, and I'm well practised at it as I often have to walk when I try to follow Aaron up/down things that are beyond my mountain bike skills.
Down the other side of the first hill is rather tricky - with a steep gravel track. Fortunately with the 1000 or so people who had gone before me there was quite a good line picked out, so I think I managed to ride more than I had in our practise ride. However, I had to get off half way down as there was a man lying at the side of the track with a couple of medics sorting him out - this didn't stop some guy flying past and almost taking us all out! The track undulates along for a while after this, with a few short uphill pinches. I had started to get cramps in my legs near the top of the 1st hill, as I think I went out a bit too hard and I didn't have any proper electrolyte stuff with me. So I didn't push it and tried to stretch out my legs along the ridge. I made it to the top of the "Rock Garden" and stopped and had some food and got some electrolyte stuff and a magnesium tablet from one of the other guys who was also taking on some food. I started to feel better and managed to ride quite a bit of this tricky "Rock Garden" descent.
The next hill is called the "Giants Staircase" - this is impossible to ride and is so steep, rutted and slippy that it is hard enough to get grip walking up it, especially while carrying/pushing your bike. About half way up my cramps came back with earnest and I had to stop and ask one of the other girls for some more electrolyte stuff. I pushed through the cramps and made it to the top. Cycling along the ridge was okay - I stayed in a low gear and just spun my legs and the cramps seemed to stay away. Descending "Big Ring Boulevard" was great fun and I almost forgot about the painful cramps in my legs. I was following this girl, who rode so smooth and I tried to copy her and take the same lines around the corners.
Start of the third and final hill I was feeling pretty good and I just got into a rhythm and spun up the first part in my granny gear! By this time of the race everyone was so spread out that it was possible to ride up the hills around the rest of the riders. About half way up, however, the hill gets a bit steeper and I had to get off and walk as everytime I pushed a little harder the cramps returned. About 5 minutes from the top of "Dopers" hill the rain finally arrived and came down pretty hard. Fortunately all the tricky stuff was done and now it was just a matter of negotiating my way down the fairly tame 4WD track and back down the gorge. I looked at my watch and I realised that I was getting fairly close to my estimated time of 4 hours and I was feeling pretty good after a fast, fun descent so I tried to pedal hard down the Karapoti Gorge. I soon had to stop as the cramps were so excruciating that I had to stretch out my legs before I could continue. This happened a couple of times down the gorge and I finally managed to complete the race in a frustrating 4 hour 11 minutes. The fastest female time was 2 hours 47 minutes, but I came in a respectable 14th out 37 in my 19+ yr women's category.