Flip, this was tough. Toughest thing I’ve done so far. Insane race! But highly recommendable.
I am still trying to understand how I managed to arrive at the finish line. It’s all a bit blurry. I was sure to bail, at least twice but somehow ended up on my bike again continuing my long way to the finish.
Well, here is how the race unfolded. It all began with the usual high paced start as if the finish was just a couple kilometers ahead. I was determined to hang on and find a suitable group to ride with, as I wasn’t keen for a lonely 9 hours night ride in the Karoo. At about 8pm and 2 hours into the race temperatures started to drop to 9deg. I didn’t feel it at first as my heart rate was still going in high zones and I was wearing four layers, including a windbreaker. Once we all got into a more maintainable rhythm I sensed on the first couple downhills that we are in for a chilly night. I didn’t wear leg warmers during the first stage which was a big mistake. I could feel how my muscle contractions slowed down and as result struggled to maintain my pace. The first stage was much harder than I expected and it was then that I realized that this event is all about reaching the finish, not the podium.
80km, 1100m ascent and 3.55 hours later I arrived at the first check point (CP). The rider’s support was allowed only at this point, and two more later in the course. Pierre made sure my Garmin and cellphone gets charged, light batteries are fine, bottles and nutrition refilled. Why needs my cellphone and Garmin a recharge so early in the race, you might ask? Since i was riding Solo my husband insisted on loading a tracking app on my phone for him to know at any time where I was. My iPhone drained quickly and hence needed a recharge at all check points. My Garmin 805 Edge lasted a max of only 12 hours or so, considering a much shorter battery life span at night when one has to use the background light. I had considered mounting my small power bank on my bike but for some reason it would not charge as soon as it was taped to the bike. The next best option was then to charge everything at the check points.
I stopped for about 30min at the first CP before I continued with the next leg of the event. 103km and 1575m ascending lay ahead in the darkness of the Karoo. I was motivated and refreshed, feeling instantly the difference of wearing leg warmers. I brought my iPod along loaded with old trance and electro classics, and had a great party the next four hours while riding through the pitch dark. There were always a few riders around and had a quick chat along the way. At about 80km I hooked up with Naomi, a lady from Pretoria who ended up on the podium in third position. We road together the last 2 hours of the second stage. We both welcomed the company. What a difference it makes knowing someone is with you, providing light when the chain falls off, protecting and encouraging each other along the way. I would always do a team over solo, if I have the choice. The last two hours were a bit blurry. I started to get really cold and couldn’t warm up, even on the climbs. Temperatures were down to 6 deg. Also, I started to be sleepy. The darkness, long hours in the saddle and no sleep took its toll. At some point Naomi swayed to the other side of the road, realising that she had fallen asleep for a split second. She tucked in behind me and we digged deep the last stretch to finish a good 6 hours ride.
I was tired and pretty close to hyperthermia. Sitting by the fire place, slowly getting up my body temperature, I was seriously contemplating to stop the race right there. After 180km and 2400meters I convinced myself that this was a decent workout. No need to continue. Pierre simply ignored my quitting talk and continued prepping my bike as per usual. He handed me some fresh riding pants, asked me to get dressed and continue. Some words of encouragement along these lines “No worries, sun is coming up in 2 hours. It will get warmer and much easier. You’ll see”.
I reviewed the profile of the third stage and don’t think I really understood what lay ahead of me. Another 6 hours of riding, two long climbs and 100km of distance to cover. I am not sure how I ended up on my bike but somehow I continued the journey. Naomi had left the CP 20 minutes earlier. I was alone again. The music in my ear dragged me along and it helped that we immediately climbed to keep warm. The biggest challenge during this stage was the sleepiness. I must have fallen asleep many times, just for a second, but enough to land in a bush once and sway left and right on the road. The monotony of the landscape and ride did not help and started talking to myself, singing songs and appreciated any opportunity to talk to riders along the way, just to stay awake. Apart from the sleepiness I felt good and relatively strong.
Just before we started the second climb of the stage over the Rooiberg Mountain I stopped at the waterpoint and had a serious intake of caffein. Pierre surprised me with a visit at the waterpoint which really helped to get me back in the right frame of mind and to prepare for the 800m climb ahead. By that point we had ridden 256km and climbed 3400m. I got on to my bike and off I was with the caffein pumping through my veins. I alternated my riding position on the climb to ensure I use all muscle strength left to an equal amount. That meant 5 minutes in the saddle 5 minutes off the saddle and so on. Was a nice mental game breaking up the effort into sizable chunks. By that time the 180km guys began passing us. These fresh legged guys let me feel like a snail. It was nice seeing Caren Henschel along the way throwing some encouraging words my way. She finished 2nd lady in the 180km race.
After Rooiberg it was all the way down and then flat to checkpoint three. The caffein must have worked its way out of my system on the climb as I started falling asleep again the last few kilometers. At CP 3 I spotted this amazingly comfortable looking bench. It took 1, 2, 3 sec and I passed out and woke up 25 minutes later rejuvenated and ready for the last stretch of 80 km and 1150m climbing. Pierre, in the meantime, had prepped my bike, nutrition etc, striped the bike off all the lights, batteries and mud. It was about 11am and the sun had warmed up the air to a perfect 19 deg. It was time to take off the wind jacket, put on a new jersey and ready I was. I started with a bunch of Joburgers who I had met along the way. We rode together for the first hour and once again was welcoming the company of human life around me. One of their mates had done the ironman two weeks earlier and didn’t feel too good. They dropped back and took it easy while I continued at my own pace. I started counting the kilometer down. 50km 49 km 48 km 48 km 48 km 48 km, it just didn’t want to end. Lots of rolling hills at the end and even after the last couple climbs they didn’t make it easy to get to the finish line. Corrugated roads, headwind and passing cars, leaving one covered in a dust cloud, made the last stretch a bit unpleasant. About any muscle group in my body was aching and every single dent and bump in the road let my body scream to stop this torture.
I finished in just under 23 hrs of which about 20hr30min were riding time. 250 riders started in the Solo category and 160 finished. 12 ladies out of 18 finished. My position: 83. overall, 5. lady, 2. sub vet.
I need to dedicate an additional note to my incredible husband. He drove over 700 km in total to meet up with me at the different check points and made sure to meet me half way during each stage to see that I am fine. I was pampered all the way and the effort reminded me of the Formula 1 pit stops, lots of people fiddling on the car to get ready for the next round. Pierre did all of the fiddling while I could rest and rejuvenate.
The 36ONE MTB Challenge is an amazing experience showing one the power of mind over body. Great event. Well organized!
Also, big thanks to Kate Slegrova for preparing me for this event!
If I would do it again? Hmm, maybe, but certainly not Solo. For those more extroverted riders, a team entry is the way to go!