Sarah Lawrence tries to break the winter blues by training for the epic Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge. Here's her first report.

The harsh reality of the season has hit me and I'm in a winter rut. Too much miserable weather and an overdose of stodgy winter casseroles loaded with carbs that seem to have stuck to my hips.

There's only one thing for it. Exercise. Hardly the weather for it I'll admit, but it'll break the monotony of the long winter months with the added bonus that by the time summer comes around I will have shed those extra few winter kilos and will be trim, taut and ready for the beach. Ah, I feel better just thinking about it. I'm thinking I need a goal to keep me focused and committed. That goal will be the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge.

The race is held annually and spans 160kms around some of our most beautiful countryside. Last year's race had over 9,000 entrants and over half the field rode the course in its entirety. My trainer, experienced cyclist Amy Taylor from Bike NZ, agrees that to attempt the entire 160km is a big ask, given that I am a single mum with a full time job. So, I've decided to try two legs, a total of 80km.

I've had an initial meeting with Amy, where she's given me some good tips on building my training programme. I've got to start with some regular rides, maybe two per week and build up to three to four. She also wants me to vary my training with a combination of easy and hard rides, and keep pushing myself just that little bit further each time I ride. Amy says the biggest mistake novice riders make is to focus too much on the end result, rather than starting small and building from there. I'm down with that.


So I'm armed with a bit of cycling know-how to get me going, now to get out on the bike. A generous friend has offered me the use of her super light hybrid bicycle (half mountain bike, half road bike) which will do the job nicely. I've also invested in a good quality helmet to keep the noggin intact should I have any mishaps. In my opinion the next most important accessory is a good pair of cycle shorts, complete with built-in shammy. Anyone who's spent any length of time on a bike I'm sure will agree that without proper bike shorts, your nether-regions will be screaming out in pain for days afterwards. Take my word for it.

My goal for Week One is to get out for two weekend rides, each 20kms. The first will be gentle and easy, mainly just to familiarise myself with the bike. The second will be a little more intense to really get the blood pumping. I've been lucky enough to borrow a windtrainer from another generous friend (a clever little contraption which you fit your bike onto so you can train indoors) which I will train on at home for half an hour twice through the working week, just to help increase my fitness. I'm committed to get out on the road rain, hail or shine, but for particularly bad weather days the windtrainer will be a godsend.

So, off I set, on my first training ride. Within minutes I hit my first hill - damn it, I live where there are nothing but hills in all directions! My pride tells me to tackle the biggest one and halfway up I am panting like a dog and realise just how unfit I am. Then it dawns on me that I hadn't quite got to grips with the gears and I was actually in completely the wrong gear for such a big hill.

At that moment, a young dude on a mountain bike breezes past me and I swear I hear him let out a little snigger, although I prefer to think I imagined it. I quickly sort out my gears and decide to try and catch him at the next hill. I'll show him. I tear down the other side and I can see him just rounding the next corner. I feel like I'm in a leg from the Tour de France, I've got a good rhythm going and I'm feeling strong. I'm like a female Bradley Wiggins.

I didn't quite catch the young dude - well, to be honest I never came close, but it was most certainly a good incentive to get me up that next hill.

The rest of my maiden ride goes surprisingly well. I've finished my first 20kms and I'm quite pleased with myself till it occurs to me that on race day I have to do this three more times! Then I hear Amy's words of wisdom ring in my ears: "Start small Sarah, start small". I can't wait to get back out there next weekend.