The Graperide Ultimate

From - "Stepping Up", by Stu Downs.

Chapter 13 – The Graperide Ultimate
Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.
Newt Gingrich. (Kindly sent to me by Steve Plowman).

During the 2008 Maxi Enduro my entire season started to unravel at about the 430km mark. Ahead of me were 2 Hatepe’s and the long straight road heading north back to Taupo...where I would start each lap all over again. Yes, it got pretty bleak. Many things were considered and weighed up along this stretch of road, including my sanity for sitting on the bike for that long, spending all of that time training, and most of all spending time away from my 3 beautiful children. But I finished, and in doing so broke through a distance I had doubted.

With the season a success, and still a lot of training to do I enjoyed 2 weeks off the bike and then got back into my training. It would be a long road to the Graperide, with 4 months of training to an all out 505km race around the Graperide circuit. So, in the midst of training for the Graperide Ultimate I decided it was time to finish my degree. Studying part time takes forever, but with just 4 papers to go I know that if I don’t finish my degree now I never will. So this created an additional variable with my training. Not much down time from now on, but I still have a lot to do.

There were a few other changes from January onwards. I did a few Waikanae Crits, (very rare for me), several higher intensity long rides, and a few longer group rides. This all assisted to take me well out of my comfort zone and with the intensity higher on my rides, the feeling of my cycling really shifted from the solo lone rides of mid to late 2008 to inclusive tempo riding that often spat cyclists out the back of our groups, but oddly seldom included me with those who blew up. Everything was different. No, this was not Taupo.

Actually, nothing was like Taupo. I feel I peaked too soon (mentally) and felt stale in the weeks leading up the event. In fact I was sick for 3 weeks. Another comparison between the events is Taupo having me in a Zen like state leading up to the outing, but this time I was wound up like a swiss watch. Finally though, and critically, in a mind set whereby I felt I was doing everything for the 1,000th time, there was something truly unique. There was a cut-off of 19 hours at the start of Lap 5. This was not a factor of the event I liked, but I acknowledge it was a way of ensuring riders were off the course by a specific time.

With all of this clutter we all departed for Blenheim. It would be fair to say that I was not in a good place as we headed over to Blenheim. Did I mention I had an essay based exam on my first day back in the North Island?? No, apparently the stars were not lining up for this outing. This said, having grown up in sunny Marlborough I now thoroughly enjoyed the trips back to my childhood town, as it meant I was on holiday each time I was in the district.

This Graperide outing would mark both the 5th edition of the event, and also my 5th occasion of participating. The circuit is 101kms in a circular loop, which is ridden in an anti-clockwise direction. In 2005 and 2006 the longest distance available was 101kms, but in 2007 the 2 lap Magnum was introduced, with this being repeated in 2008. My previous outings have all gone as well as could have been expected under the respective circumstances, with the below times representing my efforts for each year...
2005 - 4:04 (Solo).
2006 - 3:19 (Solo).
2007 - 7:07 (2 lap Magnum).
2008 - 6:33 (2 lap Magnum).
Me at the inaugural Graperide event in 2005.
"Everything was different. No, this was not Taupo."

We actually left for Blenheim on the Wednesday, as I am a fairly poor traveller, and I reminded myself of the money we were saving by crossing by boat (rather than flying) as we endured a bumpy sailing that left my son and myself in a foetal position trying to sleep through the large swells and white capped surroundings. This was possibly the moment that I realised that this may simply not be my year.

The following day was spent generally getting gear ready and stressing out. I went out for a sedate 10km ride with Mum and Dad just before lunch. This would loosen up my legs and get me all ready for the race the following day. I arrived back at their place and actually needed a sleep after the ride. That evening Dad asked me, “How do you feel about the event??”. I didn’t need to think about a reply, as it was on my mind already. Without making eye contact I simply said, “I know what I’m in for”. Yes, it would be a sufferfest...regardless of what happened and how well I fair suffering would be had. This conversation would be played over and over in my mind as I went out to the start / finish the following day. The ball was in my court in terms of how I approached this event and I needed to decide whether to sit back or back myself.

Friday arrived and with a 2pm send-off it was a long wait. I went to the start / finish area and registered at 10:30am. Soon after I finished packing my gear and we all departed for the event. On the way to the race I felt like I was heading off to my execution, so was fairly quiet about the ride ahead of me. All this talk of the season being a success 4 months earlier meant very little at this point in time. I also thought more about specific heart rate (HR) zones for the event, and used this time to contemplate, but get no further ahead with any concrete decision.

So with no game plan and no real idea what the next 24 hours had in store for me I headed off on my own to warm-up. It was interesting that few others did this, and this point was not lost on me. It should be noted that those riders I lined up against were not to be underestimated. Included were 2 riders who completed the 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris (1,200km), along with former Olympian Robin Reid (who also won the Elite section of the Graperide a couple of years ago), and lets not forget our field also had the runner-up from last year’s Taupo Maxi Enduro. The other riders were here to compete.

I warmed up back and forth along the main road, and began to have this growing feeling that I was ready to go then and there. At this point I thought to myself, “Ok then, lets have it!!”. I also decided that it was better to be the wolf than the lamb, and if I was to miss the cut-off for this event it would be through going too hard than simply fading away. We had a short ride briefing, and then lined up for the Grande Depart. I would like to say that I felt nostalgic in these moments, but truth be known I simply wanted to shout out to the race director Pete Halligan, “Start the ****ing race!!”. Looking back this is possibly the point that I was ready. And just in time too, as we were off...

My pre-race estimate of how long each lap may take is below, with 9am the cut-off of the start of Lap 5. This was a realistic best case scenario for my progress. Having said this, I was very concerned that I would miss the cut-off...
Lap 1 – 4:00 (2pm to 6pm).
Lap 2 – 4:30 (6pm to 10:30pm).
Lap 3 – 4:30 (10:30pm to 3am).
Lap 4 – 4:45 (3am to 7:45am).
Lap 5 – 5:00 (7:45am to 12:45pm).

The 2009 Graperide Ultimate Grande Depart
“How do you feel about the event??”. “I know what I’m in for”.
Having competed in the (2 lap) Graperide Magnum for last 2 years I expected nothing but a sufferfast start to this event. In fact, I fully expected to be dropped by Blenheim. However, in the opening moments of the race it would be fair to say that the pace was sedate. This continued through Renwick, and I thought that at any moment the flag would drop. But no. Through Blenheim and on our way to Picton more of the same, sitting on 28-32kms per hour I was getting more and more puzzled about how this event was unfolding. Still slow progress through Grovetown and then Tua Marina, and then past the airport the same. I realised that the pace would start on the hills, and enjoyed the last few kms of group riding as we approached the relatively steep ‘Elevation’ climb just before Picton. The start to this outing had been a gift.

Nearing Picton several riders actually commented at how fast the pace had been. This would later turn out to be a sign that they were possibly riding too hard, but personally I was feeling pretty good about the pace. None of that mattered now though, as the Elevation was rapidly approaching. Getting to the base of the climb I sat up. Despite taking it easy up the first climb my HR went through the roof and I felt out of breath for the first time on this ride. I counted 8 riders ahead of me as the leaders rode away and shortly thereafter I would be alone.

It would be fair to say that riding alone would be a theme on this ride. With the exception of the last 5kms of lap 2 I would have the next 465kms riding solo. I’m not trying to paint a dark picture about the situation though, as we took 1:20 thru to Picton!! (This compares to the 60 minutes for the Magnum last year). I would later learn that the leaders did Lap 1 in 3:00 - Not shabby. So the speed from Picton through to the start / finish was the equivalent to a 2:40 pace. Not bad for Lap 1 of 5 considering the Elite winner did 2:28!! So in hindsight I am pleased I rode at my own tempo, as the race had started in earnest shortly after I sat up. Just like Taupo there would be a high DNF rate (over 40% of riders pulled out) due to, I assume, riders pushing too hard too soon.

My strategy wasn’t sedate however, with a ‘comfortable’ pace 80-85% on the flat and 85% on the hills. This compares to 68-72% on the flat at Taupo. I knew I’d blow-up, but my sole goal now was catching someone. Anyone. The reason was the winds between Blenheim and Picton. With a brutal headwind to Picton (to be repeated 5 times for good measure), some kind of rhythm needed to be found. So if I could catch someone we could work together through the headwinds. Then once at Picton it would be every man for himself once again. That was the plan anyway, and if nothing else it gave me something to think about while I tapped out a moderate pace getting closer to the start / finish. In fact, I checked the time about 10kms out and realised how far ahead of schedule I was. Ruth would not be expecting me this early and looking likely for 3:20 for Lap 1 I phoned ahead to advise of my earlier than expected completion of Lap 1.

Those final kms of Lap 1 were really the only time in the event that I felt any emotion. 4 years ago in the inaugural Graperide event I rode in my first cycle race. I had done 10 weeks training and weighed about 30kg more than I do now. It was pretty grim stuff. I still don’t know how I did 4:04 on that day, as it seemed like 8 hours at the time. So here I was, 4 years later, a Maxi Enduro cyclist, 40 mins ahead of schedule, and feeling good. How much things had changed...

Lap 1 Summary
Start Time – 2pm.
Finish Time (including transition) – 5:25pm.
Lap Time – 3:25.
Expected Lap Time – 4:00.
Schedule Status – 35 mins up.
New Expected ETA for Lap 5 Start – 7:10am. (Cut-off at 9am).
A view of the Queen Charlotte Sound.
“Included were 2 riders who completed the 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris, a former Olympian, and last year’s Taupo Maxi Enduro runner-up. The other 13 riders were here to compete.”

Lap 2 would be more of the same. That is, solo riding, pacing myself, and trying to stay in some kind of contact with those in front of me. I was 7 minutes behind the next set of riders, and 20 minutes behind the leaders at this stage. My plan was simple. I had 115kms to catch someone, so at least Blenheim to Picton would have some shelter on Lap 3. Other than that it was time to settle in for the long haul.

I would push the pace into the wind on this lap and through to Picton would not let up. This meant I was well placed for a daylight assault on the entire Queen Charlotte and importantly I could ride the descents at pace. (Due to my vision this would be my last time bombing through the Queen Charlotte in this event). Support vehicles were allowed and the plan was for Ruth to leapfrog me on this lap, with her signing off at the end of the Lap 2. She struggled to stay with me in the van through the Queen Charlotte and this was encouraging.

With lights fitted I settled into the rules of night that I would need to respect for the next 10 hours. Shortly thereafter I enjoyed a rapid descent into Havelock and had my only close call of the outing, with the second sweeping corner needing harder breaking that I gave it on the first attempt. Having the breaks lockup in the dark is not something you want to do too often, but the road surface didn’t help, with the freshly swept surface leaving a sandy layer on many corners.

I sat on 35 to 38kms per hour and tapped out a good pace from Havelock. Ruth was under instructions to give progress reports of those seen ahead or behind me. Out of the blue came the update, “Riders 2 to 3 minutes back”. I could see their lights way behind me, and on the next straight they were just 100 meters back!! The group of 3 riders exchanged pleasantries and passed me doing 45-50kms per hour. I jumped on the back and actually started to cramp whenever I took my turn at the front. I asked the inevitable question, “Are you finishing Lap 2 or Lap 3??”. They were also on Lap 2, but were riding like they had lapped me. The pace was to hot, but for now it would save me several minutes. Their plan was to have a 5 minute stop and then to carry on. I arrived at the transition and changed into my night clothes and was gone within 5 minutes.

I never saw those riders again however. It later transpired that they pulled out later in Lap 3. Withdrawing from the event was apparently becoming another theme, with several other riders pulling out on the third lap. The exodus included former Olympian Robin Reid. Lap 3 was now ahead of me, and this was to me the critical lap.

Lap 2 Summary
Start Time – 5:25pm.
Finish Time (including transition) – 9:25pm.
Lap Time – 4:00.
Expected Lap Time – 4:30.
Schedule Status – 65 mins up.
New Expected ETA for Lap 5 Start – 6:40am. (Cut-off at 9am).

The Graperide circuit.
“The start to this outing had been a gift, but I would have the next 465kms riding solo.”
With night clothes now on Ruth was informed that she could now go home to enjoy some well earned sleep. The original game plan had been for Ruth to meet me at about 8:30am for the start of Lap 5, but I was well ahead of schedule so I said I’d simply phone on Lap 5 to advise of my ETA at the finish. Ruth remained at the transition area sorting my drinks etc after I left, and this meant my food was sorted for the remainder of the event. It must be said that the transition area was to behold. There were 2 guys signing people in, with everyone’s gear placed around them. You simply arrived, signed in, were assisted with gear, and left. They even knew which boxes of gear belonged to which cyclists. I have to say, this was head and shoulders ahead of Taupo’s service station sign-in arrangement, and is a credit to the Graperide organisers. Well done Pete Halligan!!

About 10kms into Lap 3 I was feeling decidedly cooked. I had been pushing the pace pretty hard and apparently the gap was just 10 minutes to the riders ahead of me. I decided that time had come to ease up slightly though, or I’d have repeat of what happened on the Wairarapa Loop, where I never eased up until my legs were gone. So it was a relatively sedate pace through to Blenheim, with a moderate pace into the wind through to Picton.

The temperatures were dropping by now, with 2 clear sets of temperatures. South of the Wairua river it was freezing. I mean really cold. However, north of the Wairua river it was relatively warm. This meant cold temperatures for about the first 40 minutes of the lap. I was prepared for the cooler weather though, and had exactly the same clothes as Taupo overnight...except this time I started in my Skins leggings, and wearing them for entire race saved my approximately 10 minutes at transitions.

With the cold temperatures came the issue of my right eye once again. In short, it goes foggy on colder overnight rides. The situation meant very slow going through Queen Charlotte’s descents, as I found it difficult to judge distances and gradient changes. By now I accepted that I wouldn’t catch anyone on this outing, and I accepted that I also wouldn’t be through the start / finish by 6am for the start of Lap 5, (thus being ahead of the Magnum riders who started at 6am). This disappoint was short lived, as I reminded myself that at 2pm the previous day I had doubts about making the 9am cut-off!! I wondered how the 2 lapper event would go, with a 60 minute ride into the headwind for the first 40kms thru to Picton setting the tone for a complete sufferfest. Several Kapiti Cycling Club riders were entered for the Magnum this year, so their experiences would follow later.

It was past Havelock, heading towards the start / finish once again, that I decided to push the pace once again. In the middle of nowhere, in the dark and alone, there can be moments where you ask why bother pushing the pace when you don’t really need to. I pushed on though and reminded myself that easing up too much would simply cost me time. Self motivation was really needed on this ride, as over 92% of it was ridden alone and it would have been straight forward to take it easy at any time. It’s not like there would have been anyone there to shout at me to go faster.

In the last few kms of Lap 3 I did ease up a fraction and reminded myself that I had just 101kms to sign-in and then I was safe in terms of the cut-off. This meant a great deal to me, as I was the only person starting the Graperide Ultimate who had ridden in every event, and who had also participated in 2 Magnums. Finishing thus meant I would be the only person who had completed maximum distance of 1,110kms over the 5 editions of the Graperide. If you had told me this 4 years ago I would have thought you a little mad.

I pulled into the transition area and was pretty pleased to have brief break. The guy at the sign-in area asked me if I was pulling out, I thought this a little odd, but it later transpired that 6 riders had pulled out in the previous 2-3 hours. I clearly said “I’m not giving up”. But it seemed fitting that when I also said, “This is almost as tough as Taupo”, the guys in the sign-in area couldn’t understand me. I was getting mentally tired too, and the only mistake of this event was made while I was in the transition area. With my outing having 95% of my calories from the bottle of Hammer Perp on each lap my next move was not clever. In a moment of infinite wisdom I decided to take 3 bottles on Lap 4. So 3 bottles of water (and not my Hammer Perp) were grabbed, and with little thought off I went. I would realise in Renwick what had happened.

Lap 3 Summary
Start Time – 9:25pm.
Finish Time (including transition) – 1:55am.
Lap Time – 4:30.
Expected Lap Time – 4:30.
Schedule Status – 65 mins up.
New Expected ETA for Lap 5 Start – 6:40am. (Cut-off at 9am).

Profile of the Graperide circuit.
“So here I was, 4 years later, a Maxi Enduro cyclist, 40 mins ahead of schedule, and feeling good.”
Stopping in Renwick briefly I took stock of where I was at with spare food. I would lose significant time by turning back, and thus was relieved to find I had enough for caloric needs on Lap 4. No Hammer Perp on this lap though, and the spare food was simply random bars and gels. Lesson learnt (apart from needing to remember to actually grab your food!!) – Spare food should match race food.

With a now stronger headwind towards Picton I was reminded of the stretch between Turangi and Hatepe close to midnight during the Maxi Enduro. Yes, late last November it had been a hard stretch of road at night, with the road markers and poorly swept road meaning I need to ride to the right of the white line, but the endless stream of trucks made this seemingly simple task dangerous. The roads were wider and safer as I headed towards Picton however, and even the bridges were fine. As I approached the Elevation I recalled riding with the group, now 300kms ago, and wondered how others were getting on with their respective rides. It seemed meaningless that we all started together now, as everyone had their own personal battles to contend with.

Halfway up the second climb out of Picton, (the longest climb on the circuit), I stopped to get the last of my spare food. I was feeling decidedly light headed and was also having odd cravings for KFC french fries and sausage rolls...never of which I normally eat. Then near the top of the same climb I stopped again. I was freezing cold. Why had I not sorted everything at once??(!!) A raincoat was put on and I reminded myself that obstacles (such as headwinds to Picton and freezing temperatures), were to be managed by everyone, so this was simply something to get through.

I never felt sorry for myself regarding the state of my vision, but this was becoming an issue. I crawled through the downhill sections of the Queen Charlotte and had lost all vision in my right eye. Unless I was mistaken I was starting to losing vision in my right eye also. With however just 150kms to go there was no time to waste thinking about factors out of my control.

Riding between Havelock and the transition area I became aware that I was watching the white line on the left of the road to guide my way. While this may not sound odd, this was out of necessity, not choice. The reason was due to my left eye now losing vision also.

Finally, I arrived at transition for the 4th time. The first thing I did was grab my bottle of Hammer Perp, as there was no way I was going without this for 2 laps!! By now I had actually started to feel a bit sick from the bars etc, so food I knew I could rely on was well received. I could barely sign-in though, and had to ask where my name was. After being told I simply asked the guy to put his finger on the paper and I signed next to it. This was getting silly, but it wouldn’t get better. On Lap 5 I never once was able to read the time or speed on my cycle computer.

Lap 4 Summary
Start Time – 1:55pm.
Finish Time (including transition) – 6:50pm.
Lap Time – 4:55.
Expected Lap Time – 4:45.
Schedule Status – 55 mins up.
Lap 5 Started at 6:50am. (Cut-off at 9am).

Starting with 13 others, I would end up riding 465kms on my own.
“I never saw those riders again. Just like Taupo there would be a high DNF rate (over 40% of riders pulled out).”
Knowing that I had made the cut-off I hopped on my bike and readied myself for the final lap. I asked the guy at the transition area how far ahead the next riders were. “2 are XX minutes ahead, and the 2 leaders are XX minutes ahead”. (I don’t remember the exact splits he gave me). I thought it odd that I had been told the placings in exactly the same way the previous lap. “What about everyone else ahead of me??”, I replied. “That is everyone ahead of’re in 5th place”.

I wondered what had happened to the remaining field and was about to setoff, when I heard Ruth’s voice calling out. I was very surprised at this. After sorting my drinks, it transpired that Ruth had gotten back to Mum and Dad’s at 10pm and had been woken by our 2 year old son between 2am and 5am. Despite the sleep deprivation she had then gotten up at 6am to get to the start / finish in case I needed anything. This was beyond anything I would have asked for, and left me feeling very loved and supported as I set off for Lap 5. I commented that she could wait at Grovetown and I’d dump my night clothes then. This was a good location for a transition as the back road meant Ruth was never ‘on the course’ on my final lap.

While cycling to Blenheim for the last time I pondered the ride and thought about my chances of getting 5th. A reality check also had me weighing up my chances on seeing all the way to the I just missed a guy walking across the road near Blenheim. This was not the time to get complacent.

Dumping my night clothes at Grovetown I carried on towards Picton. I knew my season would be finished in just over 60kms. I recall at the start of 2008 mapping out the Maxi Enduro and Graperide Ultimate, and here I was nearing the end of the season, with finishing both events looking to be actually happening. Had I really come this far??

Along this stretch of road I once again had the cravings for foods I wouldn’t normally eat anyway. This time ‘gourmet’ sausage rolls. I reminded myself that just 4 riders were ahead of me and stopping to buy junk food would have me feeling a little foolish if it cost me a placing. In fact, if this was to happen I would have missed the point of the event altogether. These kinds of food are what got me overweight to start with. I decided to ride the remainder of this event for the fat kid I had been throughout my adolescence, teenage, and later years. All I had needed to see was that everything was possible if I just believed I was in control of my destiny.

Starting the first climb after Picton I knew the Elite riders would have started by now, and the chase was on in earnest. 15 minutes behind them where the 2,500 waiting Solo riders, so I effectively had a solo breakaway with the finish line providing a good test as to whether they could catch me. This wasn’t all about my ego though, as I had now removed my glasses (no vision at all with them on), and could only just make out the white line on the left of the road. As I said to Ruth afterwards, if there had been a grey car in the middle of my lane I would had gone straight into the back of it. Therefore, my thoughts were actually of being clear of everyone else at the finish, as a crash would not be a good look!!

The Queen Charlotte descents were pretty slow going once again, with much time being lost in an area I normally excel in. All this time I expected to be passed by the Elite riders, but this wasn’t to follow until I was almost halfway between Havelock and the start / finish. I was passed by the lead car, and this obviously meant the Elite riders were soon to follow. I expected a big bunch and my cunning plan was to ask if they had passed any Ultimate riders near me, but I never bothered as they were going too fast to hear me ask, let alone reply. Being passed by just 4 Elite riders was a little puzzling though.

Being passed by riders would now apparently become a theme. I now accepted that I would be in the masses at the finish and carnage would be had around the technical finishing area. So maybe I’d get off my bike and push it to the finish line. Not the best way to finish the season.

Then I was passed by another Ultimate rider (Scotty Brown). So I assumed I was now in 6th place. I felt like I was going backwards. (In reality it transpired that Scotty Brown had slept during the night and was actually a lap down – So I was still 5th).

Time passed. 2 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, and still no one else had reeled me in. Those Elite riders who passed me must have been a breakaway!! I pushed on, and shortly before the finish the remaining Elite riders passed me in a single bunch. Not a word was said.

Then a single climb to go and then flat road to the finish. I heard various cheers as the finish got closer, but never made out who (or where!!) it was coming from. I turned off the main road and slowly started down the finishing road. Carefully navigating my way around the last twisting 100 meters of the circuit I was very relieved when I crossed the finish line. I was also relieved that everything had gone well.

As my transponder was being removed I heard Pete Halligan say over the loud speaker, “Done 5 laps Stu??”. I simply replied, “Yep, and then some”. I expected a “Well done”, but instead Pete gave a blow-by-blow of my 5 Graperide outings and announced that I was now the only person to have completed 1,110kms over the 5 events. It was quite humbling to have this mentioned, but to be honest I was too buggered to soak up any attention I was getting. The season was now over.

Lap 5 Summary
Start Time – 6:50am.
Finish Time – 11am.
Lap Time – 4:10.
Expected Lap Time – 5:00.
Schedule Status – 105 mins up.

The finishing area. Relief and relaxation.
“South of the Wairua river it was freezing. With the cold temperatures came the issue of my right eye once again.”
Ruth came over to great me and I told her, “I can’t see”. I had a 30 minute massage and simply switched off to everything, except for listening to the announcements of the various riders arriving. I have to say, it was very nice to finish early. Finishing at Taupo at 5:59pm (1 minute before prize giving), I really feel like I missed the chance to enjoy the atmosphere at the finish. I then headed off for a shower and a 2 hour sleep before prize giving. So this is what’s it’s like to finish nearer the front. It seemed fitting that I’d experience this on what may be my last long ride ever. Because if my vision is not sorted, then that is what the Graperide Ultimate was.

So next is 5 weeks off the bike, and I honestly have no idea what is next. Additionally, at this stage I don’t really care. It is time for a well deserved break, with light spins before my yoga sessions 3 times a week. This will be my sporting life for a while. Maybe forever. Whether this is the journeys end or just the start will depend on discovering what is happening with my eye on those cold night rides. I only need about 3 hours sleep for them to come completely right, but since the Graperide Ultimate they have had a dull ache. As much as I love cycling...I love my vision far more.

If this is the end of the journey, then I have much to be thankful for. I have found my youth, fitness, and vigour for life like I have never experienced it, and look forward to a healthy and happy life thanks to cycling. I have also planned for and completed rides in the last 18 months that have changed the way in which I look at myself and those around me. From the early fearful moments at the start of the Taupo Enduro in 2007 where I simply promised myself if I just finished I’d never doubt myself again. To the Maxi Enduro in 2008 whereby I finished the event shattered, empty, but satisfied. And now finally the 5th Graperide finding me alone once again, but never lonely, and never once doubting myself.

I never did it alone though, and a genuine thank you goes to the following individuals and businesses...
***My beautiful wife Ruth. Who puts up with my moods after a ‘bad ride’, and tolerates my endless commentaries on how the ‘good rides’ went. (There is seldom a middle ground). Ruth your support crew efforts absolutely phenomenal at the Graperide, with no critiques or negative feedback. In fact, I may even go so far as to say that your efforts may have qualified you for being involved in an even bigger event later in the year. You may want to keep Friday 27 November clear on your schedule...

***Hammer Nutrition. Top products that I am more than happy to associate myself with. A big thank you to Rachael Button for not only providing perfect fuel for my rides, but for also giving superb advice every time I had a seemingly stupid question about nutrition on the bike. I look forward to another season with more of the same. (Note to self: Ask Rachael if they sell Hammer arm warmers, as it was way too cold through the Queen Charlotte!!).

***On Yer Bike Paraparaumu. Big thumbs up and thanks to Nigel Welch and his team on Rimu Road. The staff always seem to have a smile on their faces and find a way to get repairs done before ‘the next ride’. On a personal note, Nigel was kind enough to loan me his own bike as a spare bike for the Graperide Ultimate. This is a true measure of the commitment of a genuinely nice team. I look forward to promoting positive cycling in Kapiti with Nigel and his team next season.

***io Altitude Simulator. A big thanks to Bronwyn Jones at io for her support. Speaking as someone who suffers from (and used to suffer through!!) exercise induced asthma, the difference that io has made has been like night and day. I have faster recovery times, and pushing the pace on faster rides sees me simply blowing up...not feeling smashed for days afterwards. I recommend io to anyone looking to reach their potential.

***Finally, to those cyclists who chose to ride on the extended group rides that I planned for members of the Kapiti Cycling Club. Your attendance, camaraderie, and good humour meant a lot. Specifically, a genuine thank you to Sam King-Turner, John Robertson, Adrian McKenzie, Doug Barrett, Derek Ward, John Borthwick, Brian Bushe, Paul Rawlinson, and those who regularly attend the Kapiti 905’s outings. You have all made a bigger (positive) difference to my training than you’ll ever know.

I have ridden 12,610kms since the 2008 Graperide Magnum and it would be fair to say that a lot has changed since then. With my hopes of becoming a 'Maxi Enduro' cyclist fulfilled late last November my season’s high point would be reached halfway through the season. This was a double edged sword in some ways, with the biggest part of the season completed before Christmas and still to complete I had the 505km Graperide Ultimate event on the horizon 4 months later. This left me a little shell shocked at times, as I felt like I needed to do it all again, despite ‘the goal’ being accomplished already. But it all worked out, and as with cycling so often, all is well that ends well.

I will think about the journey ahead and whether I will follow the narrow path in the new season. In my thoughts will be a new question that has presented itself to me. Rather than "Can I??", is the question "Should I??". From my heart I can say that the realisation of reaching this point was a moment to treasure.

The official results of the 2009 Graperide Ultimate.
“It seemed fitting that when I also said, “This is almost as tough as Taupo”, the guys in the sign-in area couldn’t understand me.”

Finally then, in a season that will always be special, l have 2 lasting memories. It seems appropriate that they are both recalled from the 2008 Maxi Enduro...

Firstly, cycling between Turangi and Hatepe at about 7am (on Lap 3) of the Maxi Enduro. Totally shattered and losing self belief I questioned why I was doing the event and didn’t know how I was going to get over Hatepe on 2 more occasions. It was in those moments that a new bench mark of fatigued was found, with “Taupo tired”, meaning physical, mental, and spiritual emptiness. These rarefied moments made me stronger however, and I will carry throughout my life what I learnt about cycling and myself along that road late in November last year.

Finally , my other lasting memory of this season is standing on the shore at Taupo the evening before the Maxi Enduro. Looking out across the water I could see the shoreline surrounding the lake, with the most distant shores so far away they were partially obscured by the haze. Everything felt right and I announced that I was ready for the ‘Taupo Challenge’. The next day (during the ride) my 5 year old daughter asked my wife, "Is Daddy really going all the way around 4 times??". She was stunned by the confirmation of this, as many others may well have been, and truth be known as I once was.

The true lesson here is that you don't have to see the finish line to reach it. All you need is enough faith to believe it exists...along with the perseverance to keep pedalling until you reach your journeys end.

These were my experiences of the Graperide Ultimate, my season, and possibly my journey’s end as a long distance cyclist. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you.

Who knows what is next. I gave 100% though, and this is all I could ask of myself.

“Done 5 laps Stu??”. I simply replied, “Yep, and then some”. Pete then announced that I was now the only person to have completed 1,110kms over the 5 events.”

The End


Anonymous said...

well done, Stu. A great ride, a great achievement, and a good read as usual.


ruie_d said...

i love you very proud of everything that you've achived.. not sure about nov I'll have to check my diary....

Anonymous said...

We enjoyed reading your report.
We congratulate you on your achievement and are proud to know you.It gives us insight into a different Stu.
Kathleen and Robert

Gary said...

Well done, it is scarey to think that your eyes went with so far to go. All the best with checking them out. You are a true inspiration.
I'm proud of you Stu.
Love Sandra