XCO Racing is certainly not for the faint hearted, but if you like the ‘blood’ zone effort (the area beyond red) and enjoy riding rock gardens, don’t mind the odd drop in the trail and some airtime in between then this is certainly for you.
I wanted to try out something new and so I entered the XCO champs in June. With some high intensity training in my legs and my endless appetite for technical riding, I thought this could be fun. I practiced the course on two occasions and found it to be quite rideable. With some of the Enduros I had done over the last two years, I felt confident to ride the course, although for some of the sections the B lines became my best friends. Parts of the course are pretty nerve racking, but this is exactly why I developed this instant love relationship with the XCO course. It is challenging and pushes one’s ability to new heights.
To avoid the rain on the ‘official’ training day, I came on Wednesday and found the course nicely taped with the Subaru ribbon. For the first time I could practice the route in correct order. The practice runs went well until I decided to try those four logs down the stadium. Flip, it was sore. My confidence was definitely more developed than my skills going down there. I pulled the front brake (yes, you read correctly) on the last log totally confused and flew nicely over my handlebars. Be certain, I now know where to find my rear brake.
I was told that XCO is an ‘all out’ race from the start and made a point of warming up properly. While riding back and forth along Die Laan, the river next to Coetzenburg, I was thinking of these crazy university initiation activities that take place in this river and that my husband had told me so many times about. Back at the stadium, a delay of 20 minutes was announced so I went on to some rounds on the tennis court to stay warm. Eventually the youngsters and Elite riders had to line up. Off they went. A few minutes later it was us, the older crowd that had to line up and before I knew it my heart rate soar to 185 (my max HR) climbing the first hill. Clearly my legs weren’t quite as powerful as two of the ladies in my category and Diane, the powerhouse. I caught up again with one of the girls in the trails and tried to stay on her wheel, but after about 3kms my legs blew and was forced to slow down. From there on it felt like torture, my body shaking from the exhaustion and I was certainly not maneuvering as smoothly through technical sections as I usually do. The spectators along the course were cheering and heard my name all the way. This was the coolest thing, and kept me motivated to continue the ride as hard as I could. I only had to complete 4 laps which equals just over 20 km and around 800m of ascent, but doing it all in a sprinting pace made it feel an eternity. Cherie Vale flew past me at some point and was gone on the horizon in a split second. I counted each meter I progressed and continuously recalled the course, analyzing how much more I had to go. Thinking to myself, ‘just up this climb, down the trail, up another steep climb. Just get safe down the pump track and from their descending, flat for a while until the next hard climb. One more lap to go.
Reaching the finish was a relief and I could have not ridden another lap. My husband and dad welcomed me in the finish line, helping me to forget the pain in my chest and the feeling of fainting due to the prolonged extreme effort I had just gone through.
The XCO champs was a thrilling and memorable experience, and certainly a welcoming change to the marathon format. For me it’s all about pushing limits, learning new skills and having fun in the process, and will certainly be back for some more pain cave racing. In the meantime, I will become a regular visitor at the pump track in Uitsig.