The Pioneer is a mountain bike stage race that is brutal – stunning scenery but brutal none the less. Dan, co-owner of Active Earth Adventures and Hiking New Zealand took on the 7-day challenge in 2017.
Let the preparation begin….
My helmet seems to have sprung a leak? Or maybe I am just sweating in ridiculous quantities? My lower back is screaming for relief and a stretch. Not to mention my feet which have long since gone numb. As for my rear end, I curse myself for not applying the chamois cream this morning. My legs….what legs? I have stopped taking notice of them, I try to convince myself they are not mine just another part of the bike and they’ll keep going as long as I just ignore them! Food – all I’ve got is a sickly, gooey gel, an effective means of keeping a bit of fuel in the tank, the culinary experience stops there. Oh, and what is the rule number 5 that cyclists go on about?
Addicted to Strava
Six months out from The Pioneer and night rides during the week and big missions in the weekend, leaving before the crack of dawn, become the norm. I become a Strava addict and obsess over PR’s, segments and kudos, or the lack of it. My bank balance starts to make a steady decline as things start to wear out on the bike The grocery bill goes up as I am always hungry and amaze myself with the sheer amount of food I seem to be eating to quell my constant state of ravenousness.
Winter rolls by and the days get longer. I am giving myself a little pat on the back; I don’t think I have ever trained this much for anything before in my life. The potential that The Pioneer could turn into ‘7 days of hell’ remains a constant motivation for me to keep up the training. I tell myself that I don’t want to survive the Pioneer, I actually want to love it. The weekend rides get a bit more ambitious, the weeknight rides get faster. My teammate, Hamish, and I start to set a few goals for PR’s, some of them we crack, some remain elusive. On a couple of long rides, I do experience some dark moments when the legs can barely keep the wheels rolling and the trail ahead just seems so bloody long and hard – where are the easy miles!
Two to three months out and Hamish (team mate or team captain as he refers to himself) sends me a blog about several different versions of interval training. It makes for pretty horrific reading, and I wonder if having someone following along behind us with a defibrillator could be prudent. Eventually we develop a fondness for one called ‘SHITS’, which if you are not in the know stands for ‘Seriously Hard Interval Training Session’. Our version of it includes intervals of hill sprints on nearby Mowatts Road; it offers a good steady gradient, and we mark out a stretch that takes roughly 35-40 seconds at a sprint and repeat this with a 2-minute rest in between. My kids think it’s funny and repeatedly ask me if I have done ‘SHITS’ today. I get texts from Hamish, asking me “are you ‘SHITTING’ today?” My last session of ‘SHITS’ before my taper begins sees me do 10 sprints with 2 minute rest intervals. Given that my first attempt saw me stop at 5 with legs like lead and feeling slightly nauseous I feel happy that they have done me some good.
The annual January camping holiday comes and once again it’s all about the bike (at this point I really do need to thank my family for being so supportive and not getting thoroughly sick of me being off on my bike all the time). Cold beers (well most of them) are replaced with electrolyte drinks and sleep-ins are replaced with early morning rides. The change of scenery does us good, and there is only one way out of Totaranui and that’s up, so we get in plenty of our characteristic hill work. My riding gets curbed a little when my rear derailleur literally blows apart - another invoice to add to the tab.
8-10 days out we officially taper. I’m enjoying this, I feel like we have done enough, or as much as was realistically possible. All there is to do now is get ourselves to the start line. I do a couple of short medium intensity rides during the week and try not to get paranoid about Murphy’s Law (I am one after all). Falling off and suffering a ‘Pioneer stopping injury’ this close would really suck. The lack of long rides this week leaves me feeling way more energized than what I have felt for months! I feel a little restless and keen to burn off excess energy, but I keep it in the tank, if there is ever a time I need my needle pointing to full it is now!
This is it
It’s a balmy Christchurch afternoon at Hagley Park as we arrive for the compulsory pre-race briefing. We get issued with our Pioneer goodies, an 80-liter Marmot gear bag, a Tinelli cycling top, a few more gels, drink bottles etc. The bikes are checked and given the green light, and our compulsory gear is checked.
Geoff Hunt gives his first safety briefing; he instantly gets everyone fired up by saying only four people will capable of riding the ‘Body Bag’ in tomorrow’s pre-lude. Those who know the ‘Body Bag’ give knowing nods and look forward to the challenge, those who don’t start chattering away nervously. Dinner is served - a hearty carbo-loaded pasta – the first of many great meals we’ll receive over the next week. We head home – feeling like we are as ready as we will ever be for seven days, 545km and 15,508 meters of climbing through the South Island High Country.
I remember my prime motivation and hope that tomorrow isn’t day 1 of ‘7 days of hell’….