Monday, May 31, 2010

Melburn Roobaix - The Hell of the Northcote!

Where would you see a woman wearing jeans, a fat bloke in a suit and a guy on a unicycle all in the same event? Only one place: the Melburn Roobaix. This is what I call an event for people riding bikes rather a bike event. It is certainly no race though there are lots of fast folks. It is like Woodstock on two wheels and takes in a selection of Melbourne's cobblestone laneways as it winds its way through the suburbs towards a finish at the Brunswick velodrome 30k or so later.

Because of increasing numbers the start of the fifth annual event was switched away from the middle of the city and with entries capped at 400 the actual location was not announced until two days before. Unfortunately the locals of Hawthorn had their peaceful daytime at the park interrupted for an hour or so by the gathering masses. Upon registering you are given a musette containing the event map and list of checkpoints. It is your job to navigate a route between the checkpoints gathering answers to the questions posed at each one - a kind of quiz on two wheels.

You can see from the map that it is a rather circuitous route although as the organisers say on the course details "You could ride straight to the pub and await the raffle if you choose. Wouldn't be much of a story to tell the grandkids though." Which kinda sums it up!

Progress through the first few checkpoints was chaotic to say the least as the "mob" was yet to disperse and traffic jams ensued. There was also a fair bit of dodging the Sunday afternoon traffic through some busy streets which added to the fun!

I took the unorthodox decision to ride with my camera draped around my neck which meant I took more pics but also lived in fear that one slip on some wet cobbles would send me and my camera to the hospital. (Thankfully we both survived intact!)

The course included not only "normal" roads and cobblestone lanes but also gravel tracks and unmade "goat tracks" through the scrub. It is this complete lack of formality and normal-ness that makes this ride so attractive.

Through halfway or so we stopped for a coffee before beginning the final sections of the course.

We recreated that great scene from Grease where they race down along the drains (only we didn't have any hot chicks in tight yellow pants waving us off at the start) before tackling the main climb of the day up the "Koppenburg" (or something just like it). At the top we were greeted by some nice Red Bull girls handing out cans of the stuff. (Maybe they should have been down by the drains?)

The event finishes with a lap of the Brunswick velodrome before retiring to the pub for a few beers and the sharing of tall stories.

My favourite quotes from the day included the guy to whom I had said "thanks" for letting us ride on his cobblestone lane. His response: "You can keep it if you like." And to the young woman who, when a phalanx of riders were waiting for a break in traffic, had the bright idea to ride up to some nearby pedestrian lights and activate them. Her comment "That's why girls come on these rides!" Touche!

See all my pics from the event on Flickr.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Doing It In A Group Can Be Fun

Before the start of the Run Melbourne training group session

I had forgotten what it is like to run with other people. Not in the racing sense which I continue to do frequently, but for training. In all of last year when I did more running than ever before - it was all by myself. Essentially this was so that I could run each and every session according to my plan and pace rather than some group pace.

I used to run with other folks - in fact this used to be 90% of my running - but apart from being less structured it was also in a time "BK" (before kids) when I could run when I wanted to. Now it is just different!

So what a change to hook up with the training groups for the Run Melbourne event in July. It was my first run in over three weeks too as I have been suffering from (yet another) nasty chest infection. [For the record, I am TOTALLY OVER getting sick.] But I ventured down to Federation Square on Tuesday night this week to join the crowd of about 300 people taking part in various sessions and speeds over 6-12k. Of course I decided to do the longest (12k) and fastest (5m/k) session on offer - completely ignoring the fact that whilst the "c.2009 Paul" would cruise through this without raising a sweat, the "c.2010 Paul" might find it a bit harder!

As you can see from the map, it is a bit of Tour of Melbourne which takes in many of the inner city sights and parks. It is lovely at night ... and would be equally so in the daytime when you might be able to see a bit better! The guys taking the group ran at a pace which felt much harder than 5m/k and my suspicion is they were taking a pace inclusive of stops. In any case, it was much more difficult than I would have expected this pace to be for me!

As our group of about 20 circled around the place we regularly crossed paths with others doing different distances. It was really cool seeing so many people out and about.

Three days later and my legs are still a little sore from this run. But gosh it feels good to once again be out on the road! And I have rediscovered what fun it can be to run with others.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Great Train Race 2010

After last year's abysmal showing (by the train - not me) it was kind of inevitable that old Puffing Billy would this year show what she was capable of and rip out a fast one. But crikey, 51.49mins for the 13.2km journey up and down some big hills. That seems hardly fair!

Not that it mattered to me. I was glad just to be there having a go. No aspirations (delusions?) of grandeur as this time I set out to have a fun run in the countryside and shoot some video before returning on the train with Brooke (Miss 5y.o.) who had looked forward to this for a long time - like since last year's race.

It was another perfect day weather wise for the race - about 10deg.C. with no wind or rain in sight. (We've had a few of these in a row now so we'll be due for another shocker soon!)

The race begins with the runners heading in one direction and the train driver in the other as we begin our respective journeys. After about 1.5k of solid downhill the first "meeting" occurs as runners go under the famous Trestle Bridge and you get your first sense of whether you or the train are having a good day. Normally at this point I see the train either just in front or just behind me. This time it had gone ... completely. The driver was obviously on a mission.

From here it is uphill through to the lovely hillside town of Selby before turning right down a narrow winding tree-lined road (lane?) for the next few k's. This section of the course is just magnificent running country and I love it.

Then it gets hard. Really hard. First is a steep uphill that goes on for 2km and this is almost immediately followed by one of the nastiest downhill sections you will ever run. Then a short up and down hill followed by another 2km of uphill. This is not an easy course! My blog post from last year has a graphic of the hills.

But this year all of that stuff was pretty easy really. I ran quite slowly (for me) and enjoyed it immensely. Normally where I am ready to puke (or worse) I was this time running along enjoying the scenery, the crowd and the free boiled lollies being handed out by some kids along the route. (I guess no one told them that runners find it hard to eat that stuff during a race!)

It was only when I was in the last kilometre that I heard and saw the second train (which is the designated one for the ladies to race against) so I sped up a little to make sure I at least beat *something* on the day.

My final time of about 1:12hrs was very modest and some 12-minutes slower than last year. But I felt great and have recovered beautifully. It was a great day - especially for my eldest daughter Brooke who got to ride the train and eat some cinnamon doughnuts when we got back to the car.

Thanks as always to my wonderful spouse Fiona who trundled everyone around the place to ensure we all had fun. We'd never be able to do it without her!

Here is my video of the race. Enjoy!

For the record, only 64 people beat the train this year. I was not one of them.

PS - I should mention that on the morning of the race I did my lower back in completely. You know, one of those "oh my god I cannot move" moments. I shouldn't have raced. But who wants to disappoint a five year-old who has her heart set on riding the train?

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