Monday, August 24, 2009

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Courage and Arrogance

For someone who lays down some high standards in terms of personal and collective levels of accountability [to what you ask - well, to reality]I have to apologise for atrocious levels of arrogance over the weekend. See, I thought it was possible that I would stick with the A group this year, and repeat something resembling my performance last year at the Cansa Lost City Cycle Race.

To recap, here's what happened at last year's race.
And here are a lot of graphs, profiles of the road to Sun City and the actual race and some extra detail.

I was in the gym at Melrose Arch on Friday 21 August, letting off some steam, and giving my legs I good old thumping. Getting dressed, at around 9pm, I saw there was an sms saying they'd [they being some club mates] picked up my number for me if I was still keen on coming down. Once home I checked the Hub where I had left a message saying I might be keen to share a lift to Sun City [there and back on the day] and it turned out the lift was still available. So I called David at about 9:30pm and made arrangements,and then Mina who was sleeping near Rustenburg, to confirm picking up the number. I went to bed at around 1am having spent a few hours getting my bicycle off the wall, wheels pumped, cycling clothes out of deep storage etc. Fortunately I picked up my heart rate monitor earlier the same day [it's battery had run down].

Up at 5am on Saturday, first time in months, and then the 170km drive to Sun City, a trip we did by bike in 2008. Apparently Andrew MacLean went with the group this year [and he was 3rd overall in the MTB race]. It was icy cold on 22 August, the car's thermometer read -2C at some stages. When we arrived, at around 7:20am, it was about 4C, but beautifully clear and breathless.

As I say, I was counting on staying with the A group, seeing as though my legs weren't fatigued this year from a 170km cycle the day before, and since I was using my ultralight Zipps. And finally because I was guessing I was probably 2-4kg lighter than I was same time last year. Problem is I had the perception that in 2008 I had ridden 170km and then 103km on near to no training. A closer inspection showed that perception, that impression, to be incorrect. I had in fact done a modest amount of training in August 2008-

2h45min in the first week of August, including the tough Cyclelab 72km ride on Saturday.
5h09 in the second week, plus the tough Cyclelab ride [60km]
2h44 in the third week and no Cyclelab ride
and in the 4th week, the race, which I did in 2:32.

The picture above is one of the tougher climbs on the Cyclelab route.
In 2009 the cycling training, all of which in the gym, dried up after the Tour de France. I did a few runs, including a 10km run, and a few swims, but that's it.
4 weeks is more than enough time to undo fitness, and that's what happened.

CANSA Lost City 2009, A Bunch

Before the start I noticed my heart rate was 110, and thought, that's not right, it's way too high. It almost immediately fell down to about 90.

I had a decent start, and beyond one guy who looked like he had had 3 Red Bulls together [wearing a blue STELLA shirt] who was skittish as hell, and looking primed to take himself out, had a great first 30km. My heart rate seemed a little high, and legs felt heavy from the night's run, but I actually felt better than I feared. So at 30-40km I thought staying with the group wasn't pure fantasy. It was also good to be riding with the guy I'd driven up with, David.

Between 40km and 50km is probably the toughest part of the race. The guys hoof it over a series of uphill drags. You might think the Lost City race is flat, it mostly is, but those drags hurt. I remembered I almost got unhinged here in 2008, and so I was determined to hang tough. I misjudged it though. For some reason my HRM wasn't picking up any signal, so I had no idea how far we were. And after one drag I thought we were done. I even said to a guy next to me, "It's not as tough or fast as last year." A few moments later I was choking on those words.

David also fell off, slightly ahead of me. Caught up to him and did a turn, he then moved forward very hard and I fell off. A cheerful Irish-sounding woman picked me up out of no man's land sometime later, and we closed the gap on David, except some other huge fella thundered by, again after I'd done a major push, and they went off into the sunset together. As we approached the turn to take us on the 103km loop, with turning right taking one on the 72km route [and just 23km to the end] I got picked up by a tandem group and about 5km later we eventually reunited with David's group, near the quarry.

The children in the dusty landscape dotted with Platinum mines shouted "GIVE ME CHOCOLATE" and a few of us tossed them some of our energy sachets. Peculiarly, I only consumed 1 during the entire race. As we advanced on the quarry we were about a dozen riders, including a hot blonde wearing white on a beautiful red Trek. I asked her how far we'd gone and she said, "65km, and still a long way to go." "It's especially far without training," I breathed. I had an unholy feeling in my legs. Like they had stage fright or something. It was a bit of lactic acidosis. Well, more than a bit. So, at about 65km, with the road angling upward again, I started my collapse. It makes perfect sense. From memory I know my longest stint in the gym in July, on the exercise bike, was 2 hours. So I'm pretty sure it was at close to that time period that my body started giving up the ghost.

At about 75km B group reeled me in and about 3km further, up a modest climb, left me for dead. And here's where something funny happened. I was back in no man's land, trying to maintain a sense of humor, when I heard a commotion behind me. It was three black guys riding on three different bicycles, but fairly humble pieces of scrap, each fitted with a thick chimney sweep of feather dusters. The three of them advanced on me from the other side of the road, they waved at me, I nodded and smiled at them, and watched them disappear into the sunset. Here I am on my R12 000 rims, dressed professionally, all the kit, they come by in their takkies on their feather duster bikes. Yup, that's when the arrogance of thinking I'd ride with A bunch just like last year, hit me.

On the downhill on the other side I caught them, not that I had much on my mind besides finishing. And after the turn, one of them caught me again, though this time, on a flatter road, he was a lot more winded, and as he drew alongside, laughing, he titled his head back and his hat blew off, and he suddenly jerked out of sight. Those last 20km took forever. They're flat, well, flattish. The remnants on B went by, and then some of the F group. I'm surprised C didn't catch me at the rate I was going. I found the last 10km also ridiculous.

At 3km to go a tandem came by, and the guy in yellow said, reassuringly, "Almost there." Another chap from A group was nursing a swollen knee, also wearing yellow. He was disappearing into the sunset then whooshing back into view every so often. My goal had gone from a 2:30 finish with A, to 2:40, 2:50 and now 3:00. I was pretty unimpressed when the 3 hour mark came and went and I still had 2km to go.

In the end I finished in 3:05. It's okay considering I did no training over the past month. My heart rate monitor recorded erratically, but did show a maximum heart rate of 175 [compared to 170 in 2008] and an average of 152 compared to 149 in 2008.

David finished in 2:47 as far as I recall, and said he had one of his best ever rides with a group of 6, 2 ladies [the Irish Telkom rider and the hottie on the snazzy red bike] and 4 men.

I was glad to find David at the car when I finally rolled in. I was dying to have a beer and a wors roll, I'd been dreaming about it for the last 30km, and somehow the gritting of my teeth and the determination to finish didn't leave any extra computing power to just chow a gel. It's hard to believe I did the whole race on one gel - although I did guzzle a Jungle oats bar immediately prior, and had a small breakfast at 5am of Oats, which must have given me a minimal energy buzz.

David wanted to go up to the Lost City to shower. It turned out to be a bad decision, because the one gondola was broken and we had to queue for about 45 minutes just to catch the train-gondola thingy. Guests can drive up to the hotel but visitors have to catch buses and shuttles and these are in short supply when there's a big event like this. Once we reached the Cascades on the Gondola we stayed put, thinking it would go on to the next stop, but instead it reversed back and brought us all the way back down. So we got off and didn't bother going further; we had free passes to the Valley of the waves, but by then it was about 1pm and I so hungry I was shaking and David was gatvol.

So while David washed in the overflowing bathrooms, I got my long awaited boerieroll and a beer, which in my condition almost knocked me out cold. And then we headed home.

Oh and by the way, the amazing journalist who had been 450 times, now 451, I didn't see him anywhere. Maybe he was there, but I didn't see him. I was obviously at and in the race, and at the prize giving where the elite men, well all the winners were announced. Nope, didn't see him.

Anyway I am glad I went. Always good to have a reality check to get your training [or your life] in check and on track. My next race is a 10km road race [running] on the 13th of September. I've learnt a very valuable lesson, and I'll share it with you now. Are you ready? If you want to do well in a race, you have to train for it, that is, you have to prepare for it. And to do that well, if you're under the wrong impressions about your fitness and what's in store, you're likely to suffer, like I did. So make sure you know what's in store, and where you stand. And hopefully, whatever happens, you come through it stronger.

On our way back after the race we passed the back markers. These folks had been on the road for around 4-5 hours. They were really suffering, and moving agonisingly slow. I said to David, "What do they get out of this? Did they totally underestimate themselves, or the route, did they get 10 punctures? Are they having a race from hell? Is this their first ride? I just can't see how you can come here and struggle the whole way and say it's fun, and something you want to do. If that is why they're here, it's crazy. And having suffered so much, would they ever do it again?"

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