Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A South African Epic

According to the countdown clock on the website for my next adventure, in just 3 days and 21 hours, I will be setting off with my race partner Dave at the start of the 2013 Absa Cape Epic. (Hmm...really should be doing more packing...)
With 8 days of stage racing (like the Tour de France, you race a set distance each day and everyone stops in the same place each night), 700km of tough off-road riding around Cape Town and the Western Cape, and over 15000m of gruelling climbs, as the event draws nearer, I am becoming increasingly super-excited, and very nervous!

The race has 1200 competitors, and with a massive prize kitty for the pro riders, has this year attracted 7 of the top 10 finishers from the men's cross country mountain biking event at last year's Olympics, not to mention many mountain bike world champions, world cup winners, and all-round super-human athletes...and a few hundred mere mortals such as ourselves!!! The guide for this years route can be found here Cape Epic Route Guide, but I'm trying not to look at it too much as the hill profiles make me feel scared!

It will undoubtedly be an incredible experience, probably up there as one of the hardest physical challenges I have taken on, but a chance to see a part of the world I've never been to before, meet other racers from all over the world, and hopefully take away some fantastic memories. I know from past experience, that if we can make it to the finish, the sense of achievement will be immense, having taken on a challenge that pushes our bodies to beyond what we think is possible, every day, for 8 days...I already know that we will feel broken, physically and mentally, over and over again during the event...but hopefully somehow we will get through that and cross the finish line....fingers feels a long way ahead right now!

I don't actually know what part of me it is that makes me drawn to these kind of challenges, even though they normally involve suffering, pain, and are almost always of the "type 2 fun" variety!... Any of my friends who have done any of this kind of event (and there are lots who have done waaaaaay bigger things than this), will know what I mean about being continually being tempted back into doing something that really challenges you...something big enough to think you might not actually be able to do it, and something that most people would think "why on earth would you want to cause yourself that much misery?" It's hard to explain, but I guess part of it is that you are doing something that makes you go beyond what you think you are capable of, to your absolute limits, and how many people can really say they have ever done that? In doing that, and realising that you went through things that would have made most people give up, you gain a huge amount of self-believe, and you really feel alive. You learn things about yourself that you never knew, and would probably never have discovered if you hadn't taken on a challenge like that. If you look at it another way, you could say it's an addiction...the fact that you can't stop wanting to seek out ever bigger challenges, for the adventure, for the adrenalin, for the endorphins, for the satisfaction of completing them.

When I rode from Lands End to John O Groats off-road last May, from about 10 days in to the 23 day trip, I felt tired beyond anything I'd ever experienced before. Exhaustion doesn't even really cover it...I woke up every night drenched in sweat like I had a raging fever, my ankles had become so swollen they were painful, and every morning I would wake up thinking I couldn't possibly get on a bike and cycle another 50-60 miles up seemingly endless hills. But somehow, the first hour of pedalling turned into 2, which became 3, then 4, and before I knew it, feeling just as exhausted as when I'd set off, I'd have reached my destination for the night! I have no idea how I kept going, but funnily enough, looking back now, I don't remember it being anywhere near as bad as it felt at the time...I think that's maybe the real reason I keep taking on challenges...after a while you forget how hard they were at the time!

Anyway, I'm a firm believer that a massive part of endurance challenges, is conquering what's going on in your head. Knowing when to ignore the little voice that's telling you to stop and take a rest because you're tired or your legs hurt and you can't go on. Everybody hurts and suffers on events like the Cape Epic, even the pros, and the people who do well are those that accept that fact, put their head down, and endure the suffering, knowing that it's only temporary!

I think I've found mental challenges like this easier in some ways since I lost Gareth. Because I know that whatever I do, and however hard it is, physically or mentally, nothing is anywhere near as hard as the many many days I've had, and still have, where I have to wake up, and accept that the one person I wanted to spend my whole live with, and who I thought I couldn't live without, has gone. I know the Cape Epic will be tough, but I can guarantee it won't be as tough as that....
Besides, if at any point I start feeling sorry for myself, I'll have Gareth's voice in my head telling me to "MTFU!", and that'll be one I won't try to ignore!

So for anyone who wants to follow the race, there'll be live tracking and coverage on the Cape Epic website from the start on the 17th March:

Wish us luck!
Mmm...hopefully lots of this kind of riding...

And this....
And not too much of this! (wishful thinking)
Or this!!!
For now it's back to packing, and sheltering's freezing! I seem to have turned soft after a winter of sunny, warm days! Brrrrrr!

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