The domestic season is done and dusted for another year. I can't say it went all to plan. I have been sidelined for the last two weeks or so, which gave me plenty of time to reflect.
My season kicked off very promising with two wins in a row at the National XC Series Round 1 (Rotorua) and Round 2 (Cambridge) in early January. Especially at Round 2 we had a good women's field with a visit from South African Pro Bianca Haw.
Leading the girls out at Round 2 in TeMiro (Cambridge).
After two weeks in the North Island, I headed home to Nelson for a couple of weeks of hard training before the next race on the calendar - The Top Gun. This race consists of the three MTB disciplines: cross country, downhill and enduro. I decided to only race the XC because the risk of injury in the Enduro was too high. I was also organising the XC, which included marking the course for 5 hours on Saturday. Racing and organising at the same time is hard work! But also a lot of fun and I think the 60+ competitors enjoyed our old-school single loop course. I won the XC race 6 minutes ahead of Raewyn Morrison. After de-marking the course and packing everything up, I was truly spent on Sunday night!
Organising and racing the Top Gun XC Event in Nelson.
Three weeks later I opted to race the Coppermine Epic in Nelson instead of the third round of the National Series in Wanaka. The Coppermine is my favorite race for multiple reasons: it's on home turf, has everything a big race needs (big hills, technical rooty single-trail and a flowy 17 minute downhill) and has some cash on offer. I had a good race, taking home the queen of the mountain and the overall. But my training buddy and Coppermine founder, James Hufflet, got the better of me- again. Have to work on that one next year!
Taking home the cash for the QOM and the overall Coppermine title.
The following week I flew south to Dunedin for the final round of the National Series. With three out of four results counting towards the overall, I needed a podium finish to seal the overall title. I struggled to find my legs at the start of the race, but came through mid-race making it 3 wins from 3 and taking home the Overall win of the National XC Series 2016!
Working hard at Round 3 of the National Series in Dunedin.
Happy to win the National XC Series 2016!
So far, so good! It's been a really good two months of racing and training. The legs are feeling good and the National Champs and Oceania Champs are three weeks away.
That week I started to feel a bit under the weather with the typical symptoms of a oncoming cold. I didn't feel like racing the Karapoti Classic in Upper Hutt that weekend but had already committed to taking other people's bikes over to Wellington in my van and meeting them there. So I drugged up on some herbal remedies, vitamin C and onion juice and made my way to Upper Hutt. The race went well and I came second behind 'Miss Karapoti' Kim Hurst who has raced their every year for the past 5 years. Considering I wasn't 100% I was super happy to join the infamous sub-3 hour club in my ever first Karapoti!
Trailing Kim across the River at the start of the Karapoti.
After a short recovery from racing and traveling, I kicked into the final two weeks of hard training before the National Champs. My cold had almost gone and I thought I had got away with it. But in hindsight this is were things started to deteriorate. I was constantly tiered and lethargic. On a hard training session I'd get a sore throat and had problems with my breathing. Afterwards a training session I would pass out completely into a 3+ hour coma-like sleep. At the time I attributed it to the combined effects of a busy racing and training schedule over the past three months. It is just too easy not to listen to your body too closely and come up with simple explanations why you feel how you feel. I tried to bank some extra sleep and look after myself to get ready for the National Champs.
Rocky and slippy descent at the National Champs in Wanaka.
The National Champs were held at the Cardrona ski field near Wanaka at an altitude of 1700 meters. It had a lot of climbing and one technical descent, which both suited me very well. On the first hill straight of the start line I lost contact with the front group and my legs were protesting hard! I pushed as hard as I could to keep them in sight. At that point my lungs started protesting, too. I was coughing up blood and had a pretty bad headache. So I dialed it back a notch to minimise these symptoms and keep going. On the first rocky downhill I sliced my side wall and had to stop at the tech zone to get it fixed. To be honest, I welcomed the break to clear my throat of the blood and recover. I started to think that there is something seriously wrong with me - maybe altitude sickness?
Pulling out crossed my mind multiple times because feeling like this is no fun! I carried on though, you may call it stubbornness, slowly passing a few girls back. Finishing in 6th place was a huge disappointment but more worrying was the state I was in. I didn't think 1700 meters of altitude would affect me that badly as I grew up in Europe with regular trips to the Alps. It was nice to see my friends and coach Matty at the finish line for a well-needed hug and some comforting words.
Matty made sure I rest and recover the following week in time for the Oceania Champs the following weekend. So I explored the beautiful Queenstown area by car (thank good for a four wheel drive van) and foot. I also caught up on a number of movies from my 'watch list' and slept like a marmot. Strangely though, despite all the rest in the world, I didn't feel any better (or worse).
On the first practice day of the Oceania Champs (Friday), I attempted an easy ride on the track. As soon as I started pedaling everything started to protest again - lungs, legs, head... The wintry air probably didn't help either. After only 5 minutes I went back to the race village and pulled out of the race. There was no way I'd be ready to roll in two days and I had no desire to repeat the experience from the previous weekend. As hard as this decision was, the long-term goal of a European season ahead was more important. I used the opportunity to do something I usually never get to do - to watch the girls race from the sideline. It was pretty cool cheering them on and I learned a thing or two as well.
On the sideline at the Oceania Championships.
As soon as I got home I went straight to my doctor for a complete check-up. Turns out I have been racing and training for 4+ weeks with a viral infection. The varicella zoster virus causes symptoms such as painful rashes, mild cold symptoms, fever, lethargy and headaches. Now it all made sense! It's good to know what is wrong, so you are able to make sure you are doing everything you can to get healthy again. In my case it means complete rest, good food, lots of sleep and waiting... waiting until the virus has settled down again.
While waiting and sitting still is not one of my strong points, I am making the most of the down time. This actually gave me a chance to reset my mind and I am now ready to attack the upcoming World Cup season. I might not be the fittest at round one in Cairnes in 3 weeks time, but I sure will be my healthy self again!