Race Rundown - Ash Hough on the Whaka 100

Race Rundown - Ash Hough on the Whaka 100

The Whaka 100 is a gruelling 100 km mountain bike race in the the stunning surrounds of Rotorua, New Zealand. Our guest contributor, former national champion Ash Hough, runs us through his build up and race day, giving us insight into how to fuel this legendary, challenging endurance event...

Years ago I raced multiple mountain bike cross country world championships, world cups, Oceania's and added my name to a list of national champions. After having a spell away from racing and preceding the arrival of our second child I took the opportunity to sign up for my longest mountain bike challenge yet, the Whaka miler; 160km of sweet, sweet mountain bike action amongst Whakarewarewa’s world class single track!

Juggling a full time job in the construction sector, a toddler, as well as both my wife and my personal and physical aspirations, training time had to be orientated towards quality over quantity! The aim for this race was just to finish, and push my body and mind to a place where I hadn’t been for years. My only recent yard stick were smaller Olympic style mountain bike races lasting up to 2 hours and covering about 24km in the rugged hills of Wellington. Using a basic average speed, I figured at 12km/h average I would be in for about 13 hours on the bike. The Whaka had a cut off time of about 14.5 hours so knew I would have a little time up my sleeve if things really went to the wall.  However, I knew that I really needed to make sure my nutrition was on point for the day.

The Whaka Miler is a daunting race. Most of the 160km is Grade 3 and 4 single track and 4,000 metres of climbing. Starting at 5.30 am from Rotorua CBD, you race the first 1.5 - 2 hours under your own lights and a late autumn morning frost, before thawing out and then roasting in the midday sun. There are numerous water stations along the way, and then two aid stations which offered a variety of drinks and food. None of which I had much experience with, so I elected to pack my Camelbak with all the PURE products and food that I thought I would need for the day!

The build up to the Whaka was a mixed bag with various work commitments, family ailments and life often putting a squeeze on training time. During the week I would concentrate on building strength, FTP and explosivity for those pinchy climbs and then during the weekend one long ride on a Saturday of up to seven hours followed by a half distance long ride on the Sunday. This helped my legs to deal with the fatigue I was sure to experience during the Whaka. During my longest week I managed about 10 hours of training. A far cry from days gone by of 20 on the bike and five in the gym. All in all each week had me completing between 3 and 5 sessions, emphasizing that I needed each session to be quality!  In order to get in these quality sessions, I always made sure I had adequate nutrition to get the most out of each workout. Generally, this consisted of either PURE Electrolyte Hydration (Pineapple, Raspberry or Superfruits) or PURE Endurance Formula (oranage or rasberry), caffeinated PURE fluid gels (because there’s no such thing as to much caffeination right!?!) and some sort of protein or muesli bar on longer rides to silence a rumbly tummy. Post ride was always followed up with PURE Honey Salted Caramel whey protein shake, and Hydro + aid.  In order to fit my long rides in, some mornings would see me starting at 3.00 am so I still had time to spend with the family during the day.  It’s great to get in the kms whilst everyone is still in bed!

Race day came around really fast (maybe a little too fast) and I remember sitting down the evening before, organising my bag to take - in went spares, additional layers, the sandwiches, cookies, bananas, leftover pizza, protein bars, 13 fluid gels and 12 ziplock bags of Endurance Formula, each containing enough formula for one litre of fluid. My camelback had a three litre reservoir which I would fill up at any of the water or aid stations I needed and then dump in how ever many of the endurance formula bags I needed, to make sure I had about the right concentration of electrolytes at every refill.

I’ve always struggled to eat the morning before a race so the nutrition plan was simple:

Breakfast (wake up at 2.00 am):

  • Two black coffees (did I mention I like coffee?)
  • Two pieces of Vogels toast with 1 whole avocado and two poached eggs

Travelling from Tauranga to Rotorua for the race and before race start (3.30 am to 4.30 am):

  • One banana to eat on the way to the race
  • Another coffee (yes, that is number three)
  • 750ml of Hydro + Aid
  • One more banana before race start
  • One fluid gel

During the race:

Post race:

  • Eat everything

The race started off in the dark and cold (1 degree Celsius) which made hydration and fuelling difficult. The first 30km were relatively short climbs and lots of single track, adding to the difficulty of fuelling. Over the first two hours I only managed to consume about one litre of the Endurance Formula, despite generating quite a bit of sweat. At about two and a half hours and as we headed up the back off hill road to hot cross buns, I could feel that beckoning feeling of the onset of cramp. Keeping track of my heart rate I knew that I wasn’t pushing myself too hard but if I did not make a change it was going to be a long day. I began to increase my fluid intake again and by about hour four had managed to nearly consume all my three litre Camelbak and down two more fluid gels!  Making that conscious effort to get back on top of my hydration early meant I was able to push that feeling of cramp away and return to enjoying the ride.

Over the next two hours I took on another two gels, two litres of fluid and two pieces of cold meat covered thin crust pizza.  This section of the race saw us climb to the highest point of the course and also the most technical section of the track - Tuhoto Ariki!  This natural style track really puts riders to the test and I was feeling pretty spent by the bottom of the 3.5km track.  Luckily the second half of the race incorporated some flatter sections which allowed for more time to stay hydrated and fuelled.  Over the next five hours of the race, I continued to make sure I got in the one litre of Endurance Formula and one fluid gel per hour.  The PURE products were incredibly easy on the stomach and so palatable, especially considering at this point I had only managed to eat one more banana and one protein bar.

Into the last hour of the race my legs were really starting to feel the hills earlier in the day. But amazingly I had still not had that beckoning feeling of impending cramp. Without a doubt this was down to the amazing products that PURE Sports Nutrition create!  I eventually crossed the line in 10:57:05hrs, two hours clear of where I thought I might end up, and cramp free!

Thanks PURE Sports Nutrition for creating such amazing products that allow us athletes professional, amateur and recreational to achieve our goals!