...I have yet to determine why I decided to return to do this crazy race! My race going so well was starting to unravel. Feeling emotional and close to man tears sitting in the shade of a low karoo bush halfway up a madman’s climb, a place called Rooiberg, I had around 260km and roughly a solid 16 hours plus in my legs but right then the heat was threatening to burn a hole in my soul, to leave an ever lasting ugly scar to remind me I might not have been tough enough on the day…
Having registered just after 10am on Friday morning I opted to only take one of the three boxes on offer for the three checkpoints. I opted to put in a change of cycle clothing and a spare light battery for checkpoint two which was the halfway mark. This year I was after a sub 24hr finish and didn’t want to waste too much time at water-points and checkpoints for this year’s race as I had done so the previous year.
My training was a little off the mark compared to 2016 but then again I had included the 36One into my training for the 2016 Freedom Challenge race across South Africa which came in handy and was partly instrumental in my successful finish of the grueling 2300km race. Yet, I felt confident that my base was solid and my mind was in the right place for the 2017 event. It was only the heat that was going to be my biggest enemy and concern.
On Thursday evening I had met up with Martin who I had met and helped in 2016 with his failed light battery power enroute to the finish.
(Last year blog) http://afrivence.blogspot.co.za/2016/04/no-guts-no-glory.html
He was looking good and it so happened that for 2017, no arrangements made, he and I would start and finish together with him being very instrumental in helping me get through the last 80km and to the finish 2017.
The Friday evening start was traditional. An electric vibe, nervous energy in the air and race debrief from the organizers, last bike and gear check and then we were in the chute waiting for the countdown chatting to loved ones over the barrier line.
At 6pm sharp it was all go and we were counted down and off! The evening was a little cooler than last year and this would become predominant through the late night and certain areas. The pace up front was fast and I had to repeatedly tell myself to ease up a little as the 500+ solo adventurers excitedly got going. A short tar section and then we were onto dirt road and the dreaded dust!
Martin and I seemed to compliment each other quite well and from the gun we were pacing each other steadily and our riding styles seemed in sync. With buff drawn over the face to ward away the wheezing from dust filled lungs and about 30 minutes in, I started up my bike light for the first time as the fading light made way for the start of nightfall and the blackness that would lay ahead for us the rest of night. From then on, it was the blackness and the tunnel vision for the next 10hrs at least.
The evening was somewhat of a blur for me all the way to CP2. I had the distance splits on the top tube of my bike and I have found a race like this, like last year, is to break it up. 53km to the first waterpoint, then add 30km to make 83km to CP1 and and.
The climbs kept coming and I caught myself thinking that I was feeling comfortable, riding within myself and this just boosted my mindset. We were into WP1, a few minutes, water bottle refills, a snack and we were off again into the darkness. I think I was smiling in my mind as I had started to realize that I was rolling faster than last year. After some continual twisted and winding roads, along with the par for the course ascents and following descents and after some more grinding away, rounding a bend there lay CP1 just off the rise of a small valley. We clocked into CP1 in just over 4hrs. I had started to have some mild stomach cramps running into CP1 and so it was off to the porta-loo to try alleviate the problem to no avail. I rolled off some toilet paper and placed in my pack in case I had to ‘bless the Karoo in the dark of night and scamp off into the bush. I forced some soup, a coke and a slice of banana bread down my gullet and then whipped on my jacket as the temps had fallen below what I was desiring. Then we were off!
The section from CP1 to Cp2 was lost in my subconscious with just a beam of light in front of me and I just recall riding hills, some single track, railway lines, dirt roads covered in thick mist of dust with cars moving through and stirring it up all over again and eventually some tar running into Volmoed our halfway checkpoint. I was over the moon as Martin and I gunned it on the tar almost in time trialing mode and rode into the jovial atmosphere of CP2 at 180km in and around 10.5hrs. Way earlier than last year! I was extremely ecstatic as well as motivated now and according to my Garmin stats I was on track for a 23hr finish!
I retrieved my box. Got my change of cycle clothing gear and made the change. A few cups of coke, a tinfoil bowl of lasagna, coffee, bottles refilled and we were all go!
As we rode out of CP2 I started to realize just how cold it was and I started shivering uncontrollably on the bike. I just needed to suck it up and hang in there until first light. I knew once the sun came up it would bring on a whole new mindset change and warmth.
Martin started to cramp mildly just after sunrise and we stopped for a few minutes so he could stretch the calves. The surrounding Karoo was gracing us with its beauty as the new day dawned and being an avid photographer I was sorry I didn’t indulge in some quick camera shots with the lilac skies on the one side and the blazing orange on the other. Now that we were no longer chasing red lights in the darkness it was good to see the course in daylight as I recalled certain areas from the previous year. We arrived at the next waterpoint and I couldn’t help but feel humbled by the volunteers who had been at it practically the whole night whilst taking care of all the passing mountain bikers and again they were there to serve us with a smile and real traditional karoo hospitality. After a bottle change, shoving down some incredible date balls and koeksusters we were out of there.
Up to this point I was still fill of hope. My Garmin was still relaying positive stats and all we had to do was get to the next waterpoint as early as possible as the weather had predicted the temps would rise during the course of the day. It was important for me to get here early as this waterpoint was the last before and on the outskirt of Rooiberg.
The ride onto the Rooiberg waterpoint was nothing but bland. I still remember saying to Martin that it was probably the most boring section on the entire course. Very desolate. From the time we arrived at this water-point the temperature was starting to climb steadily. We filled bottles quickly, had a few snacks and set off. We descended into a shallow valley and then the climb started. It was around 10.20am when we started at the base of Rooiberg and I was starting to feel the heat. The sweat started to run. My body started feeling the slight discomfort. In hindsight I started to panic…
I started thinking about a lot of things.
Up over the 1st straight and around the first bend, I blew! or was it my subconscious, my mind just telling me stories.
The battle royale in my head had begun. It was arguing and deciding between you are good enough, you are not. You can do this, no you cant. Ride! no stop! Its hot. I’m overheating….The noise in my head got too much and I promptly un-clipped and sat down in the first bit of shade I could find. Martin too.
…I have yet to determine why I decided to return to do this crazy race! My race going so well was starting to unravel. Feeling emotional and close to man tears sitting in the shade of a low karoo bush halfway up a madman’s climb, a place called Rooiberg, I had around 260km and roughly a solid 16 hours plus in my legs but right then the heat was threatening to burn a hole in my soul, to leave an ever lasting ugly scar to remind me I might not have been tough enough on the day…
(With temperatures that would later peak at 45 degrees), I made a choice. I stood up. Picked up my bike and started walking….Rooiberg wasn’t taking me prisoner. I started the battle but I wasn’t ready to lose the war…
We eventually rattled over the infamous cattle grid highlighting our summit of Rooiberg at exactly 12 noon and as I looked down at my Garmin which by now was showing completely different stats to a few hours earlier. My hopes, in this heat for a 24hr, never mind a 23hr finish was dashed! I would have to pull off one of the biggest feats of my life if this was ever to happen from here onward.
Martin and I found a water-point just after the summit. Ice cold water! Sent from heaven! We made our way off Rooiberg, rocky and rutted in sections, fatigued and again the heat making it a whole lot more challenging.
The run into Calitzdorp, CP3, had been a nightmare. With around 5km to go to get in, I knew I had hit the proverbial ‘wall’. Martin had used one of his water bottles to hose me down from behind to keep me cool, to keep me going. I really appreciated that.
Arriving at CP3 – 280km, I was finished. I was broken. I had that thousand yard stare. I was thinking of quitting. I was thinking of calling it. I had nothing more to give. The heat demons had done their utmost to annihilate me and soften my mind.
I had stopped eating, I wanted nothing from this checkpoint. I couldn’t even bring myself to put food in my mouth. I drank plenty fluid though.
My wife, Martin, Gail (Martin’s girlfriend) were all offering encouragement. I had to go on! 80km to go, I had come too far to throw in the towel! I respected what they were trying to do for me but I just wasn’t registering. I decided to take myself off to the grandstand off the field and walked into the change room and put my head under one of the cold showers.
Martin was not taking no for an answer in his quiet resilient way. My wife had seen to my bottles being refilled and in a partly zombie like state, with goodbyes and hugs done, Martin and I saddled up and rode out of CP3 and back onto the course. We had lost a lot of time at CP3. How much? I wasn’t even certain.
Around half an hour in I had one more “breakdown” which had me sitting in the shade and contemplating my race status. Martin, ever calm and cool in his approach, just kept reassuring and his patience was beyond me. He was not leaving me behind in my part delirious state and he was positive I would come out of it. The sun was setting lower and there was more shade. After popping an energy sachet, and around half an hour later, I started going through a more positive transformation. I was ready to go. It is incredible how my mind shifted and this cannot be accurately explained.
At around just after 300km, it was Martin’s turn to ‘slide and we stopped briefly with me scratching for a energy sachet in my pack and handing it over to him. We met some other riders riding in pairs battling on. The climbs kept coming. Up and then screaming descents just to do repeats. With close to 40km to go and the sun having just set, a quick pitstop at the second last waterpoint and we pushed on. I was battling to hold food down and the sickly sweet energy gels were starting to make me nausea. Whatever I had consumed was repeating on me and after a flying dash and long twisted descent at high speed, trying to keep concentration in amongst the bouts of fatigue in the dark and with around 800m before the last water-point, I couldn’t any longer and stopped to purge whatever contents I had left in my stomach. Pulling into the last water-point a medic was there to assist me and offered me a tablet to control the nausea.
I couldn’t believe we were 23km from the finish line! This year’s race had played out way differently than last year. I logged a call to my wife who was waiting at the finish to let her know we were coming in and I was fine!
Fresh liquids in the bottles and thank you to the volunteers at the support station and we were off. Roughly 13km of dirt and 10km of tar would take us to the finish line and take us out of our misery, and I guess a good kind of misery. It was on this last section of dirt that I heard Martin complain for the very first time throughout the entire race. The road was rough, rocky and corrugated and riding a hardtail was certainly not serving his cause. I just smiled, and encouraged him that we were nearly home!
On the last tar section heading to the finish I had a very brief moment of reflection, which caused a stir and emotions to well up inside me. I told Martin I was grateful for his patience and encouraging help and even though we finished together last year and I took line honors, it was now his turn. He deserved it! Sticking with me, encouraging, helping along the way, it was his for the taking.
The marshal signalling us to turn into the park and onto the finish line was one of the most welcoming sights at this point and rounding the corner and crossing the finish line was one of an incredible sense of exhausted accomplishment.
That average moving speed of 16.4km/h still highlighted that I can get in under 24hrs but that is a ‘next time’ issue.
I firmly believe the 36One is not about fitness, speed, the bike you ride, what supplements you take, how you plan to tackle it, even though they are all important components of your race.
I firmly believe your 36One success will ultimately rely on one key component.
The power of your mind!