The Contact Epic is New Zealand’s ultimate mountain biking challenge, with the 125km distance hailed as the ‘test piece for endurance athletes and people with a sense of adventure’. One of the reasons the event is run is to raise the bar for endurance mountain bike racing in New Zealand. And with a slick operation, great prizes, and the recent introduction of the Centurion 100 mile event, it’s a goal the race organisers continue to nail.
Looking across Lake Hawea, home of the Contact Epic.
This year I was on the fence about whether to race the Epic event for a third time, or to give the Centurion a crack. I put the decision to a vote at the hands of the Make it Dirt followers - and the overwhelming response was to get out of the sandpit and play with the big kids. I don’t regret it. After months of Coast to Coast prep I thoroughly enjoyed the simplicity of just having one primary piece of equipment, and one discipline, to worry about. And I loved the challenge of the extra distance!
While it’s actually just awesome to see so many people out on their bikes, no matter what the distance, here are 5 reasons why I rate the Centurion distance.
(Disclaimer: Mostly tongue-in-cheek, but with an element of truth.)
1. The satisfaction and glory is that much sweeter - 28% more in fact.
You’ve conquered the Epic course and are feeling pretty chuffed with yourself, and rightly so. It’s a massive achievement and a special thing to be able to say you biked around New Zealand’s 9th largest lake. Take this sense of immense satisfaction, and borderline legend status that is bestowed upon you as you cross the Epic finish line . . . and add 28%! Only a Centurion finisher can tell you how truly great that feeling is.
Another moment of mountain biking glory on the Dusky Trail near Twizel.
2. You’ve already warmed up by the time you reach the Lake Hawea dam. Except for maybe your fingers and toes.
While my toes were cosily wrapped in a space blanket under my socks, my holey double gloves were not particularly effective in keeping the heat in (or the cold out), especially ripping through the frosty air before sunrise. Following dawn, the world warmed up in a hurry, and so too did my fingers. . . resulting in a classically painful case of the screaming barfies. If you were a rider I crossed paths with on the first 10km of the tarseal section, my apologies if you were offended by my moaning and swearing.
Sunrise over Lake Hawea.
3. The journey and the people.
Attaining the physical (and arguably the mental) fitness and conditioning to allow oneself to “enjoy” the Centurion ride means a lot of preparation kilometres. Although I didn’t know it at the time, as I was doing it just for “fun”, doing several of the Flahute brevets was great training and I met some fantastic people along the way. It was a way in which I intimately experienced pockets of the country from my own 2 wheels - the salty sea air, the strong whiffs of cow excretion, the inescapable searing heat of the central Otago sun, the crisp air pinching your cheeks as you ride off in the early morning - things that you just don’t get from travelling in a engine-powered, temperature controlled metal box on wheels. A special mention goes to all my adventure buddies and “Mountain Bike Mates” for getting me prepped for a big day out.
Left: Bike adventures at Nokomai. Right: The Odyssey brevet.
4. The opportunity to connect with your magical flow state.
There comes a point in the race where you’re done with admiring the stunning scenery, done with casual chit-chat with fellow competitors, done with sticking to your fuelling plan, and you just want to get across that damned finish line. This is the “flow state” I refer to and for me, I found it as I passed through Dingleburn. Shortly after, as I performed one of the world’s slowest passing manoeuvres on another rider, he asked if I had stopped for the famous tea and scones at the Dingleburn aid station. My response, “Hell no, I just want to get to the pub!”
All that matters is what you’re doing right in that moment. No daydreaming, no twitching around in your seat, no adjusting your helmet, and no fiddling with snacks or drink bottles. Every single ounce of energy and focus is going into generating power and forward motion. And it’s a magical place. Nothing else matters, and all the problems and worries of your everyday reality fall away - if you can only embrace that overwhelming burning in your lungs and legs!
5. All the snacks!
Taking part in a race that takes the most part of a day to complete requires a lot of calories. And because it’s ridden at more of an 'all day, comfortably hard' pace (as opposed to the 'red line, might vomit' pace of shorter MTB races) one actually has time to enjoy all the delicious snacks. For this outing I chose Bumper Bars, mini roasted and salted potatoes, a selection of Only Organic baby food pouches, salt and vinegar Pringles (although they met a soggy demise when I teetered over in a stream crossing), and Tailwind for liquid sustenance. I carried a few gels as emergency backup in case the wheels fell off, but turned out I didn’t need them and my sensitive stomach sure thanked me for it!
All the bikepacking snacks, of which only a selection made the cut for Centurion snacks.
And there you have it good mountain biking enthusiasts - a race report / inspirational click bait piece about my first Centurion experience. See you on the start line in 2019!