So there we were, sitting in the car being driven by our faithful coach (Cubby) backwards along the route we were due to ride the following day. It was dark so it was hard to tell the gradient of the road, but the length seemed to go on forever.
As a team, we were lucky enough to have accommodation from family members and we arrived in Kuratau Village at about 10:30 pm. You see all of us had to make arrangements for our young families to be taken care of after school, so our leaving the Waikato didn’t happen until after 5:00pm.
BTW we could not continue this adventure without the dedicated support of friends and family who step in to look after the little people.
We discussed on the drive down what our tactics on the road would be the following day. Priority was to stick together as much as possible, primarily because we are a team and even with our differences in riding style and speed, our main objective was to finish the challenge together. Never the less the rules were agreed upon.
- Try and stick together – riding at a supportive speed comfortable for the team, try and practice lead rider rotation
- If separated, wait for the other team members at the next watering stop
- If mechanical failure the whole team would stop and assist
- If in case of an injury and a member couldn’t go on, the team was to wait until that member was safe and on agreement finish the race
- Each member could take the hill climbs at their own speed and wait at the top of the hill for the others
We all headed to bed by 11:00pm…. I for one felt a sick apprehension combined with ensuing excitement in the pit of my stomach, “I hope I sleep ok, I’ll need my energy”.
Training worries and member illness hamper training efforts
Looking back at the months leading up to this event the team had some serious training goals to ensure that we could each make the distance. Let me tell you, as I am sure many of the Spirited Women out there that have the responsibilities of families, as well as work commitments, would probably agree, juggling our already full schedules and taking the time to train for a notorious event is challenging.
Having never trained like this in our lives, it came as a shock to each of us as the pressure of our decision to enter this race and finish successfully, really began to bear its weight. Our collective worry was real, it meant so much to each of us to finish successfully, that at some point during this journey we may have lost our function of FUN.
Our lesson here, stick true to your original goals and objectives, be realistic in your capabilities of time and energy and health, and always remember, we are investing in our achievements not to up the level of pressure, but to create for ourselves the fulfilment of that achievement and inspire those around us and above all enjoy the journey along the way.
Event day – Alterno Cougar Mummas part of the Holden Team
Movement in the Kuratau Village batch around 7:00am. The girls are up and getting on the kit. The night before we had dropped the bikes at the Taupo Events Center.
It is fair to say that we were in awe of the logistical organisation of the event. Thousands of bikes were being loaded onto massive purpose made racks and lifted onto the back of high-ab trucks ready to be delivered to their various start lines.
As a team, we were fortunate enough to have been accepted into the chosen few 200 riders as part of the Holden team. We were issued with Holden Shirts and passes into the corporate tent for the end of the race.
We did look spiffy, like real road riders that do this sort of thing on a regular basis, Go Figure!
After breakfast, being sure to fill our bellies with slow burning nutritious food, filling our water bottles with electrolyte drink, and our shirt pockets with on the go snacks, we all sat down to a demonstration on changing a flat tyre. “REALLY??” I hear you say. Well yes, you can’t ride your bike if it has a flatty and if you can’t change a flatty 40k into an 80k race you will find yourself walking 40k.
We all kind of had an idea of what to do, and to be fair we probably would have figured it out being smart successful women in our own right, but our Coach Cubby imparted some awesome little nuggets on how to change that tyre in the most efficient way possible, meaning we would be on our way faster.
Sunscreen check…., Gloves… check, Helmets…. check, Sunglasses…. check, Clippy shoes…. check, let’s go
Because we were staying close to the start of the 80k challenge we were able to drive directly to the start line and collect our bikes. Most other riders were transported by bus from Taupo and were arriving not long after we did. There were rows upon rows of bike racks and several trucks transporting the bikes turned up, as the volunteers started unloading the bikes and racking them in entrant bib number order.
We finally found our bikes, checked the tyre pressures, and…. one last wee stop before we lined up alongside the other several thousand participants, and with bikes waited for our turn start.
As we were waiting, groups of speedy riders would whizz past the paddock in which we were situated. They looked fast and aggressive and incredibly impressive, having come from Taupo and doing the 160k event.
To be fair, I wasn’t that keen to get caught up in one of those pelotons, the thought of being clipped and falling at speed did not delight. We all have kids to attend to tonight. But still, we just wanted to get on the bike now.
As we get closer to the start line, riders were being let go in waves, most likely in an effort to ensure safety by spreading the riders out, and also to merge with the faster 160k riders and not hamper their efforts by blocking up the road.
Emergency stop 3km into the race
Finally, we were on, it actually felt quite good, once your butt gets used to the seat and your legs warm up and your breathing takes on a musical rhythm. It feels good to stretch the legs, we weren’t going too fast, about 25-27k at the start. There were still those long distance riders flying past us probably and speeds of closer to 35k, but that was ok.
We passed a layby where we saw coach cubby on the sideline taking photographs. The road was that nice rolling type, where there is not too much effort in going up the hills because your momentum from coming down the last takes you most of the way up.
We formed our rotation structure and when it was safe the lead rider would fall back and allow the next to take the front force and break the wind. We were quite lucky in that the wind, whilst a little gusty wasn’t too bad, and the sun was even trying to peek out from behind the clouds.
All in all really pleasant riding, we were even passing other riders. Until our resident nurse, Wild Cat Sue saw a poor man flip off his bike and land hard. We estimated this happened about 3-5k into the race.
The team stopped and Sue went to work assessing the condition of the rider. He had briefly knocked himself out and had various scraps down his face and on his knees. It looked as if ‘Sue said’ like he had fractured his “clavicle” that’s nurse speak for collar bone.
Shona assisted Sue by helping the man keep his head still in case of a neck injury, and Kellie dialled 111. It took about 20 minutes for the St John ambulance to arrive, as it turns out they were assisting with another accident further down the road. This was one of many times we would see them on the job during this event.
We carried on a little taken aback by the ease in which one could do themselves harm but with stone-cold determination that we would finish as intended, if not 20 minutes slightly later than expected.
Kuratau Hill – So much for staying together
One of two major climbs came into view, to be fair as we had driven down this hill earlier on our way to the start; each and every one of us was quietly pooping our padded pants. Not only did it occur to us that the start was further than we had envisioned but that Hatetapu hill was not the only nasty thigh burner on this road.
The thing with climbing hills is this, everyone takes a hill at their own speed, some charge with as much speed as they can to take them higher faster, others take it slow and steady reserving their energy to be sure they make it to the top. Within the Cougar Mummas we have the full spectrum of approaches, and this is where our ‘Stay together’ team strategy fell fair and squarely apart.
You see Crazy Cougar Leasa is the charger, in fact, it is nearly impossible for her to begin a hill at a slower pace and actually make it up to the top. So from the start she was in fact first to the top, almost dry reaching with effort, but she made it none the less, closely followed by Captain Cougar Kellie. They waited for a bit and Huntress Cougar Shona and Wild Cat Cougar Sue came grinding up not far behind. Off they went, the downhill was fun, but the stage two of Kuratau Hill was still to come.
Kellie made it up first this time and she and Leasa stopped at the water stop to wait for the others and take the opportunity for a quick pit stop. As they were waiting and toileting Sue and Shona breezed past saying, “we’ll just keep going”. The fact here is that Kellie and Leasa couldn’t catch them, they had the best of the Kuratau downhill and were off at speed, putting great distance between the other team members until the half way point 40k in.
Halfway and not feeling too bad – Hatetapu Hill at 60k
40k in, well actually 40k is not a biggie for the Cougar Mummas. The Te Miro and Maungakawa 40k ride is actually steeper than Kuratau. We know that now, and our poopy pants were totally unfounded.
Time to clean up, get some food and drink in carry on with the next half. One more really big hill to go just shy of 60k.
Just shy of the main event Hatetapu hill, the team were anticipating the climb ahead. It’s a famous one, known to have many a rider walking, 2km of unrelenting slope.
Leasa: ‘I witnessed many riders on the side of the road, I passed many riders taking the grind at their own pace, I sang to myself “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” I tried to sing it to others too, but most of them looked at me like, “shut the ‘F’ up” Well it’s part of my rhythmical breathing what can I say. I made it to the top! red faced and panting, legs like jelly but I MADE IT without stopping.’
Back on the hill, Shona climbed at a steady pace, making the top comfortably. Knowing that Sue and Kellie were still conquering the hill Shona waited a couple of minutes to be reunited.
Kellie: ‘My little sparrow heart was working hard out in the red zone 😂’
The team reunited at the top of Hatetapu relieved that part was over. Many hit the wall part way up, totally hard yakka. That is a hill worth swearing at.
On the home stretch – 20k to go
Together again as a team on the home stretch, it felt good. We were all still smiling and even talking about entering again next year. The wind was blasting across the lake, and as we hit the 70 mark, we realised that this was farther than we had ever ridden before.
Our collective arses were hurting. Pressure points that you never knew existed were making themselves painfully obvious. We knew this last 10-20k was going to be pure pain and it was.
We counted down the kilometres, were passed again and again by fitter, younger, faster riders, but we didn’t care. We were going to finish and by my count not too far from our original estimate of 3-4 hours.
Total riding time 3.29 hours, total time on the course including stops, emergency and otherwise 4.25 hours.
We rode in four abreast, we could hear the announcement of names of the incoming riders, ours included. In our delirium, we noticed supporters and family on the sideline cheering us on. It was an AWESOME feeling to have done it and done it well enough.
As we received our medals, each and every one of the Cougar Mummas team got a taste of achievement, a taste of what it is like to push yourself to a place where you have never been before, and to know that you not only are capable but are willing and able to go further.
So we know now that our journey going forward will be one of achievement and success, and that our main event in March the ‘Spirited Women’ will be a fantastic adventure.
But for now, we are off to the HOLDEN TENT for our burger, beer and a good old natter.