Karapoti: An ongoing exercise in frustration
For the best part of 20 years, my goal has been to break the magical three hours for getting around the notorious Karapoti course of Upper Hutt. Notorious because it sucks participants into its foul mixture of rocks, dirt and mud, swills them around for a while, adds a few massive hills, then spits out what remains three to four hours later.
Half or more of my attempts have been thwarted by flat tyres, broken derrailiers and other general bike carnage, along with a good helping or two of cuts, bruises and exhaustion. One very wet Karapoti cost $750 in bike repair bills! Each time I have vowed never to do it again, only to forget and return, a few years later, for another crack at breaking three hours. Four years ago, the closest to breaking three hours was still a depressing three hours and 12 minutes. That's a long way off a sub-three and I was way over the hill when it comes to being an athlete at the top of his game.
Then the body clock clicked over to 60 years. The record for the 60+ age group was 3 hrs 15 minutes. Hmmm.. might give that a go next year. Then cycling legend, Peter Reynolds, just turned 60, smashed the record that year, reducing it to 2 hours and 56 minutes. I just can't win! By all calculations, my time for cycling glory was well and truly done and dusted. Roll out the Zimmer Frame for Moller!
What I and others did not count on was the continuous incremental breakthroughs I was making with what is best described as "anti-ageing nutrition". The biological clock was being steadily wound back one tiny click at a time. Legs and heart were getting stronger and stronger in tiny incremental jumps - one discovery at a time! Definitely not weaker which is the norm with each year from about age 30. I was starting to perform on a par with where I was when competing in my 30's. Astonishing. Unbelievable to most, including myself. But the stop watch was not telling lies.
At 61 it was one more crack at Karapoti and up we were up against the age group champion who was out to reduce his 2:56 record even further. Beating Peter, let alone his record, was not anywhere on my radar.
The final result was astonishing - breath-taking in more ways than none. I crossed the line a little over 2 hours and 46 minutes while Peter, not having the best of days, including a bloody crash just minutes from the finish, crossed the line a tad over the three hour mark. After 20 years of trying I beat the three hour mark, knocking anunbelievable 20 minutes, plus the rest, off my time!
I have since gone on to break every over 60 age group record in every race entered in New Zealand and Australia, with winning margins that have been as gaping as one hour. One hour on a mountain bike is 18 to 20 kilometers ahead of the next old bloke.
The last six months have seen another jump in performance along with more age group records, so it was predicted, with confidence, that Karapoti's 60 plus record would be reduced to somewhere between 2:42 and 2:40. Especially since the 2016 Karapoti track was dry and fast on race day.
I smashed it, or so I thought, leaving many of my usual opponents eating dust and my finish was fast and strong. However, Karapoti had the last laugh, very much to my immense frustration and disappointment. I was 20 seconds off my record! How could that be? I was stronger, faster, had a better bike, race conditions appeared to be perfect. I was not alone. Despite the apparently perfect conditions, one lonely record fell, courtesy of Kim Hurst in the pro women.
There were two things that worked against a fast time: the wind and the combination of water and dust. Karapoti is a race around what is essentially the rim of a huge bush clad bowl. On the way out there was a head wind, then on the way back it had turned slightly to be yet more headwind! That's several minutes lost right there.
Chains detest water and dust. There was plenty of both and by the half way mark the chain on my beautiful Cannondale Scalpel was grinding and groaning, then downright noisy and shuddering all over the place when climbing the final massive hill where that race is either won or lost. A dry chain is calculated to reduce power by 5-10 Watts. No cyclist can afford to lose that, especially towards the end of a race when even the slightest loss of momentum costs more than those precious few Watts of energy.
The end result of wind and dry cahin was as much as six minutes lost over the 50 kilometers. Not much as a percentage, but more than enough to cause enormous disappointment.
Oh well, such is sport! We will just have to have another go next year and hope for perfect conditions. Or maybe the year after. We will have to mull that over a while.
Chances are, whenever next time happens, it will rain the night before and turn the course into a slipperly quagmire. Such is the challenge of riding the Karapoti!