Thursday, 26 January 2017

My road to 2016 burnout and why I wouldn’t take it back for the world

October 2016, a dark dark place: 3 Towers. A race I look forward to all year in one of my favourite places in the world, Mankele Bike Park. Hard climbs rewarded by the most amazing Bush Tunnels that go on for days!  Everything about it; the vibe, toughness, thrilling technical terrain makes it a highlight of the year! I never thought it possible but I was dreading it.

Before I begin, I’d like to note that this burnout was completely self-inflicted; oftentimes coaches and/or sponsors get blamed for pushing their athletes over the edge. In my case my sponsor Valencia, and coach at the time, Nadine Visage advised me more than once against racing too much but I insisted that I was fine; thinking I was invincible and oblivious to how dangerous over-training and over-racing is.

Now when I say I over-raced, I don’t mean that I did a marathon every weekend, I mean that I did 2 of the hardest races in the world within 6 months of each other (Munga and Iron Bike) and in between that was Joberg2C where I emptied myself for 8 consecutive days racing for podium. In-between all that I raced marathons almost every weekend and travelled like crazy. In hindsight… Well obviously I was never at my best and duh I burnt out!

My story starts with The Munga, December 2015; 1090km of base training done in 3.5 days… Lekker! Uh, not so much, I quickly realised that although you gain a ton of character and mental strength in The Munga your physical strength takes a big dive (at least that was the case with me).
I took 2 weeks off and treated the tendinitis that I had everywhere and started training immediately for a season that would start full-swing in January with the first national marathon. 


I was quite shocked by my lack of form and so to get strong I raced almost every weekend in Jan and Feb including Ashburton Sabie, a national XCO race and local races in-between. My results were less than desirable at first but I started gaining form quickly. In the beginning of April it was African Champs in Lesotho, I did both XCM and XCO races seperated only by a day and I developed a horrid chest infection I got from the altitude on the first day. The infection lasted for 1 week. Luckily I recovered just in time to earn bronze and XCM SA Champs which took place in Clarens 2 weeks later.

 I finally felt on top of my game and ready for Joberg2C which started the following week; most competitive stage race I’d ever done. For 8 consecutive days I turned myself inside out; Grant and I had the goal of winning the mixed category in a highly competitive field. Every day was super close and exciting, the top 3 teams were constantly within minutes of each other. We ended up coming a respectable 3rd despite many mechanicals. The race took a huge mental toll which I shrugged off because J2C boosted my physical strength further which was motivating. In hindsight I see so clearly that unbeknownst to me, in the background I was already taking strain. 

Anyway, no rest for the wicked, the following weekend was travelling to Sabie for the Forest to falls and then a flight to PE for a national XCO the following weekend.
The week after that I was off to Magalies monster where I came 2nd, yay! The week after that I won Nissan Trailseeker #1 on Saturday and JUMA on Sunday, double yay! We are now at the end of May. The following weekend was my first off weekend however I put in far more hours than Nadine had planned for me to make up for it. As I write this I am thinking WTF ‘Dougall??

Ashburton #4 in Van Gaalens was next and I came 2nd, I was also handed the series leader jersey but it pretty much went south from here, I didn't make life any easier mind you, but in hindsight burnout had settled in already. I was forced to take time off because of illness and tendinitis, surprising? This was not ideal because I was to embark on the hardest and most technical stage race in the world, Iron Bike in Italy. 5 - 10 hours per day with an average of 4000m of climbing per day for 8 days in the Italian alps (you should Google it) I got a chest infection on Day 2 from the altitude and pushed through the tendinitis every day until it stopped bothering me. After Day 6; 10 hours in the saddle and hiking, I had liquid seeping from my ears, I couldn’t eat and was nauseous and light headed all from altitude and exhaustion. It was the closest I have ever been to quitting in my life but my heart wouldn’t let me. This race is intensely and indescribably stunning, riveting, grueling and rewarding. I wouldn’t take this experience back for the world and I’m so glad I didn’t quit! 

Two weeks later I hung on to Theresa Ralph's back wheel for dear life at the Transbaviaans, still unable to breath from the chest infections and legs still poked. We managed to win the ladies section, but being the nail for 230km is never easy. A couple of weeks later my chest infection finally cleared and I surprised myself with a silver in Ashburton Dullstroom (beginning of September). 

After the race I felt the beginnings of a chest infection… Not again!! That week I left for Iron Bike Brazil, a 2 day race, and had to take a yellow fever shot before I flew. The shot pushed me over the edge and I was full-on sick with flu. The sickness lasted the entire trip, through the 2 day stage race, York Enduro, and still hadn’t cleared by 3 Towers.
Were Iron Bike Brazil a local race I would have pulled out but I had gone all the way there and felt I had to!

 I returned from Brazil and left that day for another highlight of the year, the York Enduro 4 day invitational event. I was still sick and massively jet-lagged and although the racing is short, the days are fun but long. When I raced I was "pap" and slower than the other pros . My form was nowhere and I knew Sam Sanders, whom I was to partner with for 3 Towers the following weekend, was peaking for World Road Champs in Doha and I had a week to pickup the pieces *didn't happen. When I finally got home from York with a broken-legged boyfriend (Grant broke his femur on day1)  slept in my own bed for the first time in 3 weeks I was utterly shattered and depressed. It was then that I knew I was burnt out. It fell on me like a ton of bricks. All I wanted to do was stay at home and take care of Grant. Alas, 3 days later I was driving to Mankele.

As anticipated, Sam was a lot stronger than me, and there was huge pressure to perform. I knew there was no chance of recovering or pulling out. I would just have to “vas buit”. I gathered up the mental strength, tasted blood on a daily basis but was still struggling to breath and my legs had nothing in them. Sam was an amazingly patient partner, pushing and pulling me but I felt guilty for letting us and Valencia down. I still adored the trails and made a point of having fun but I was so far over the edge that I just wanted it to end.

I AM DONE!! I hung up my bike, for a week, then did Berg ‘n Bush with my Old Man and then hung it up again to gather dust for another 3 weeks.

Berg and Bush with my Dad was the best thing that could ever have happened to me and I had the most fun I’d had in ages. No pressure, chilled riding, hanging out with the back-markers (what an amazing group of people!!) Most importantly I got to spend proper quality time with my old man. 

I was scooped out of my depression and was enlightened as to what is truly important in life! I then focused solely on being as much of a slob as possible! I jolled, spent time with friends, slept a lot, ate a lot of whatever I felt like. My energy returned and so did my lust for life. During this period I saw a pulmanologist about the chest infections and difficulty breathing during races. Low and behold I was diagnosed with Asthma after a series of tedious testing. I was so glad that there was a reason and simple solution for all my chest problems; 2 pumps and meds for allergies (all 100% legal)

At the beginning of November, after another night at The Jolly Rodger eating pizza and drinking beer, I was finally over it. I was feeling fat and unfit (which was the goal). I woke up, rejuvenated, motivated and ready to ride. I had more than enough time to build a decent pre-season foundation, so when I was ready I flipped the switch from slob-mode to athlete-mode and went straight into a massive base and strength training block. 

Look I wouldn’t recommend burning one's self out out, it sucks but why would I not take it back for the world?
a)       The experiences I had were magical. Munga and Iron Bike are not races may pros would do for the fear of jeopardising their season. Iron Bike cost me a lot of money as there is no prize money but WOW what incredible life changing experiences, both of them. They will stay with me forever.
b)      I realise that over-doing it results in never peaking and consistently average performances.
c)       I have learnt a lot about my body and mind.
d)      I learnt that I am not invincible, nobody is!
e)      I feel that I’ve done enough crazy things for now and am ready to focus on a successful season without FOMO.
f)        I can smile and say wow… I am young and have lived and experienced so much already!

It is now the end of Jan and after almost 4 months I have just completed my first race, one of the hardest single day races on the calendar, Attakwas. It was a shock to the system which I anticipated but I surprised myself in a good way! More about that in my next post!

Friday, 28 October 2016

Munga Tips and Suggestions According to Amy

As The Munga draws closer, my FOMO grows fiercer. I opted out this year to focus on 2017’s season as it is not possible to start a season strong so soon after The Munga. I have however been getting really excited for this year's group and have been chatting to a lot of people about preparation etc. I decided to write a quick article for everyone with advice based on my personal experience; especially since I made many mistakes which I'd like others to avoid! Obviously my word is not gospel, do other research but this is advice I'd give myself in the future and I'm sure you can take something away from it!

Before The Race

The way people prepare for a race like The Munga varies vastly from person to person. Some people like to weigh each piece of equipment, practice sleep deprivation, train through the night, find corrugated roads to train on... I on the contrary am pretty happy-go-lucky, probably too much so. Maybe a happy medium is ideal? For me I'd rather not freak myself out unnecessarily. I prefer to take a more chilled approach;  I decided a month before to do the thing, and went into it with the knowledge that it was going to be the hardest thing I'll ever do, and there's nothing I can do about it. I took it as it came... For me, that works. Below are some things (according to me) to spend time and and not to waste time on.
1. LEAVE THE SUFFERING for the race. Yes, there will be mountainous corrugations for almost the whole way, it will be scorching hot, we had gale force headwinds every day, you will ride through the night and be sleep deprived, hungry, and thirsty... I don't think wasting time on "adapting" to these things helps a thing, in fact I'd say it just messes with your head. I'd rather go in fresh, you'll figure it out soon enough! - Like I said, that's my take, I know many would disagree, if it will give you piece of mind then by all means, there is no right and wrong!
2. DO spend time on strength training. I suffered terribly from tendinitis which almost ended my race. If you haven't started yet, now is the time. Gavin Horton from Gemini Sports does a Munga specific program, for me this is non-negotiable.
3. INTERVAL training is a must. That may sound strange but intervals get your cardio and muscles fit without overusing your tendons and joints. (LSD Long Slow Distance) will naturally have to be done not only for fitness but also for body and butt-adaptation purposes. I wouldn't over-do them though, you don't want to go into the race with the beginnings of an overuse injury. I'd say 2 - 3 x 4-7 hour rides a week plus 2 interval sessions is a good balance. If you are strapped for time, 2 of each is fine, just do them properly.
4. PRACTICE on the bike with equipment you'll be riding with. I can admittedly be quite unorganised and end up shooting myself in the foot at times. I used a sweep-back handlebar and tri-bars for the first time in the race (pure luck that they were great) I stuck a solar charger on my camelback which didn't work (nailed it). I left my big saddle bag at home, so I had to pack everything in my teeny camelback and toptube bag which actually ended up being fine *minimalist. Next time if I remember the Revelate saddlebag I will fill it with mostly drywors and nuts.

During The Race

1. WATER. I used a 1.5l camelback and 1 bottle. Due to the wind and heat I dehydrated severely and even had a couple of very counterproductive panic attacks as a result. I'd recommend at least a 2l camelback and 2 bottles; fill up at every opportunity! Although I didn't get sick, I would recommend water purifying tablets.
2. EQUIPMENT: The ideal bike is a dual sus 29er but if you don't have one don't stress or run out and buy one. John Ntuli and I were on 650B hardtails and Grant Usher was on a Rigid 29er, it is totally possible to do it with what you have - unless it's a cyclo-cross bike... Ask Tim Brink ;)
Tri-bars were amazing; I ended up getting carpel tunnel anyway but it would have been much worse without them. Also it saves your butt and back with the different options in body position. I think they are a must!
3. CLOTHING: I wouldn't waste space with warm stuff. 1 x rain jacket should suffice. At least 1 or 2 x clean set of kit incl socks and gloves makes the world of a difference (I washed dirty kit at stops) A buff is also a must.
4. FOOD: What food? You go hours upon hours without it, like I said; If I did it again, I'd pack loads of droewors and nuts and possibly some electrolyte enriched energy drink.
5. MUSIC: A good playlist in those dark places adds some light.
6. LIGHTS: I had a very average light with 2 batteries which I charged at the stops. That being said; I did the last 10km in pitch dark, sleep monsters and all. If I did it again I'd invest in a better quality light
7. COMFORTS. No, I don't mean an ice-cold frapuccino; I'm talking  fresh layer of sunblock and chamois cream, I applied both several time throughout each day, it's funny how your definition of "luxury"changes! I also showered at 2 of the stops getting clean makes you feel like a new person!
9. PRIORORTIES at stops. Time is of the essence. You need to have a system at the stops especially as the races progresses and you become increasingly doo-dally. Charging lights and Garmin is #1 priority at stops, food is #2 and sleep #3 After that comes other important things like Twitter, Strava, showering, massage etc :)
10. SLEEP: Massive error on my part. I slept 5.5 hour in 3.5 days which resulted in very slow riding, worsening of tendinitis and lack of focus and the inevitable sleep monsters. Next time I would sleep more, if you are one of those lucky power-nappers, those are ace!
11. PACE your self: Another big rookie error on my part, went out way too fast! In fact I was one of the first people to arrive at Van Der Kloof dam which was unnecessary and caused more harm than good. It is extremely easy to get caught up in the hype in the beginning. Guys go too fast and because of the drafting rule the temptation to stick with the bunch is very attractive. It takes willpower to go slow when you are feeling fresh and to let the bunch go.
12. MENTAL mind games: The Munga is one of the most magical experiences you will ever have, you will find things within you that you never knew you had. You'll soak in the harsh, raw beauty of the Karoo, and bring back memories that cannot be explained. But the magic does come at a price; I went into some very, very dark places mentally and physically; I'll even admit a few sob sessions. Sit or lye down, remind yourself that it is temporary and that as long as you keep pedaling you will get to the end and that's all that matters. I often came out stronger after those moments.

13.SLEEP MONSTERS. A vast majority of last year's riders suffered from "sleep monsters". We all had fun comparing notes at the end. Basically you start hallucinating due to lack of sleep and everyone's are different. I was lucky that mine were not scary (except for the final climb into Diemersfontein where I saw ghosts and a leopard). For the most part trees and bushes took on the shape of animals and every now and again a rock moved - Lets not forget that I did sleep way too little so you won't necessarily experience them. I did know about them going in so I managed to just let them amuse and not scare me.

Other random things
1. The carpel tunnel in my left hand lasted 5 months. I figured it must be due to the fact that I used my right hand for gears, bottle, pockets etc. Maybe alternate hands.
2. There are lots of gates, get off the bike on a different side each time, sounds silly but they add up and swinging one leg over each time can cause tendinitis. 
3. Apparently wetting your buff is super refreshing, I didn't even think of it!
4. After sipping your camelback, blow the water back in, it becomes hot and gross if left in the tube.

Most important  
Soak it in and enjoy the magic. It will be hard but it will be worth it!

Erm I think that's all! Email me if you have any other questions

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

My move to a 29er dual-sus, the Scott Spark 900 RC

I was excited and honoured when my ever faithful and supportive sponsor, Valencia signed me for the 3rd year running. They generously asked me what bike I wanted for the season. After much deliberation, research I finally chose to take the step and go 29er dual sus, and here’s why.

Those of you who follow me will know that last year I dubbed 650B or 27.5 wheels the “baby bear wheel size” for small people in particular. I always held a firm belief that a back shock is not necessary if you have a good riding style and felt that small wheels are simply easier to manipulate technically.

Last year I rode a 650B hardtail, the Scott Scale 700 RC and absolutely loved it. It was nippy, light, and responsive. I won races ranging from the York Enduro Downhill to the 3 Towers, Transbaviaans and even the Munga on it. I was just as able as anyone on climbs and with the light riding style I have adopted I felt one with the bike and creamed the descents. There was however one major drawback, I was never as strong on district roads and flat bumpy stretches like corrugations, grassy track etc. I felt like I was fighting the bike and had to work extra hard to turn the smaller wheels over with the back wheel bouncing around. People with big wheels and a back shock kind of floated over these sections and I really struggled to keep up.

When faced with the choice of a new bike for the 2016 season, I took careful deliberation in weighing up my options. My goals for 2016 are marathons and stage races. I did research on the specs and geometry and gathered advice from knowledgeable riders and people of the industry. One of those people was Patrick Morewood, the “wizard of mountain biking”, founder of PYGA bikes, and sponsor of my Pascoe oneforty650 650B enduro bike. The conclusion: 29er dual-sus is the fastest all round bike for marathon and stage racing, and these days the small-frame-big-wheel geometry has advanced a lot in the past few years.

Last Thursday I was hanging around at Valencia in Nelspruit when a Scott branded box arrived at Valencia, and inside *insert angels singing* a brand new, size small shiny Scott Spark 900 RC. This is the top of the Scott range, weighing in at just over 10kg with superior geometry tailored to account for the needs of a small person. 

I was extremely anxious and excited to see what this little pocket rocket could do so I built it up then and there. As per usual I threw myself in the deep end and tested the new bike in a race 2 days later. Sappi Mankele is a technical race on some of my favorite trails which I know like the back of my hand. The following Monday I rode Heia Safari, another technical route, one of the best in Joberg. Because I know these two trails so well I could make an accurate comparison between the two bikes, and here is what I found:

Sappi Mankele starts abruptly with the infamous “tar on dirt” climb, anyone who has ridden Mankele would know…. I was ahead and felt comfortable up the climb. Because of the lightness of the Scott Scale 900 RC, the extra bit of weight compared to a hard tail doesn’t make much of a difference on the climbs. I experimented with climbing unlocked on the bumpy climbs at Heia and Mankele and felt I actually gained speed due to extra traction on the back wheel with the shock activated. I have always found with the big wheels that when accelerating on a climb, the bike is not as responsive, the bigger picture the difference is negligible.

On the first technical descent of the race: “Bees Single Track”. The geometry has made it possible to still be nippy and agile in tight single track. When I got to the rocky part, I felt well in my comfort zone. In fact I felt I was tapping back more than I have previously. I was floating over the bumps and big rocks. When I uploaded my ride to Strava, I had gotten a PR much to my surprise.
The second major difference I felt (and was looking forward to feeling) was about 30km in, you go into a mowed grassy section which I always struggle through.. this time I peddled through comfortably. Instead of “fighting the bike” with the back wheel bouncing around, The wheel stuck and rolled over easily. It felt like cheating!

In conclusion, at 10kg the Scott Spark 900 RC is one of the lightest carbon dual sus bikes on the market. That combined with superior geometry makes it light and agile through the single track. It is quick… very quick, and comfortable on pretty much everything; climbs, descents, bumpy district roads, jeep track and grass sections, saving you a lot of energy. It has a dual lockout and being so light, it climbs like a demon despite being slightly more sluggish in acceleration.

I still do believe there is a space in this world for 26ers, 650B’s, and hard tails but that is another lengthy article for another day.

A massive thanks to my sponsor Valencia; I am super motivated for the upcoming season and excited to discovering what this machine and I can accomplish. 


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The York Enduro Mountain Bike Rally

Upon receiving the email inviting me as one of the pros for The York Enduro I replied immediately with YES!!! I was invited to the inaugural event which was held this time last year. It proved to be a huge success and possibly the most fun any fun-loving mountain biker could hope to have!
It is a huge privilege to take part as a pro and York treated us like stars with an appearance fee, a Salomon goodie bag with shoes and a jacket, accommodation at Floriet, lovely food and great prize money for the races.

So basically what the race boils down to is for each pro, there is a corporate team. This year there were 24 pro riders and 24 corporate team (of four riders). Day 1 is a downhill race for the pros. Based on the results, or whatever other reason they would want a particular pro, each corporate team bids or “buys” a pro. I’m not 100% sure how it works.
For the 3 subsequent days the corporate team, with their pro, would race against other teams. Some teams raced seriously for the win, and some just there to have some good clean, dirty fun J. The main aim of the event is to raise money for the upliftment of the community by providing disadvantaged youngsters with the opportunity and resources to start up their own businesses. An inspiring and moving initiative by York.

Wednesday evening was a dinner for the pros, where we got the low-down of our roll in the race and a basic introduction to each of us. The pros this year were:
Arno du Toit, Lourens Luus, Oliver Munnik, Kallen Williams, Matthew Beers, Adriaan Louw Justin Victor, Darren Lill, Max   Knox, Kevin Evans, Waylon Woolcock, Dylan Rebello, Ben Swanepoel, Owen Hannie, Gawie Combrinck, Timo Cooper, Charles Keey, Nic White, Willie Smit, Yolandi du Toit, Theresa Ralph, Leana de Jager, Dalene van der Leek, Stuart Marais, Andrew Hill, and myself.

Day 1: The Downhill stage.

The downhill course was about 3 or 4 km of mountain biking nirvana! The twisty turny descent consisted of steep switch back corners, rocks, drop-offs, berms, more berms and some table-tops to end off the awesomeness. Do not be deceived, there were a few sections where frantic pedalling was required leaving you shaky with endorphins and adrenaline. Me and my little 650B hardtail Scott Scale 710 nipped through the course I won the race in a time of 7:17. Yolandi du Toit came in 2nd with Theresa Ralph rounding off the podium.

Arno du Toit took the win in the men’s race with a time of 6:04 beating last year’s record set by Lourens Luus who came 2nd and Oliver Munnik 3rd.

Day 2: 35km, 4 timed stages.

My corporate team was Team Cashbuild; Chris, Chris, Johan and Brett. They were fit, fun and part of the Joberg Single Speed crowd so we got along really well! I won the 3 downhill stages and Dalene van der Leek won the uphill stage. The ride finished at “Cuddle Puddle” with an awesome lunch and some beers, everyone comparing their war stories. Once again I was in my element on the downs, loving what York had set out for us. That evening was festive with live music, great food, wine and fantastic company!

Day 3: 35km, 4 timed stages and the Duel Eliminater.
Pretty much the same setup as the previous day, except the hill climb was longer which suited me. I ended up on the podium in 3rd behind Theresa who took 2nd and Dalene in 1st. I won the downhills again but they involved a lot of pedalling, some had a decent amount of uphill which left my legs tired and sore. A proper day in the saddle!
A highlight of the day, for riders and spectators alike, was the Duel Eliminator. The course: two strips of single track running parallel to each other with tight berms and jumps. Riders raced against each other twice per round, once in each lane. Each round eliminated the slower rider until there was a winner. Oliver Munnik cleaned up the men’s race with Arno du Toit in 2nd.
Erika Green and I duelled it out for 1st place. The left line was the race favourite as it was a few seconds quicker. I won the first round in the left lane but Erika pipped me in the second round when we swapped lanes. I won a lucky draw for lane choice for the final, I chose the left one, focussed and went as fast as possible taking the win! It was a super fun and exciting addition to the York Enduro!  
Once again an awesome day of riding was concluded with an amazing dinner and more festivity.

Day 4: 40km, 20km and kiddies race. XCO race for pros.
About an hour after the 40km ride, the pros raced the beautifully built XCO track. My legs were sore from the previous day’s efforts and I was quite grateful that they shortened our 2 laps to just 1. When the gun went off, it was a flat-out sprint up a climb into the single track. Yolandi du Toit managed to get into the single track just ahead of me. Up the switch back climbs, my chest closed up and felt my lack of racing the past few months. Theresa passed me up one of the splits, pulling a gap. I managed to minimise the gap through the technical sections like an uphill rock garden, a downhill log section and the duel eliminator course but finished in 3rd behind Theresa. Yolandi took a well-deserved win!

This weekend was the most fun I have had on and off the bike in a while. Hats off to York Timbers for going the extra mile, not only in making it a special weekend of fun for the pros and corporates, but also for all they have done for the community. 

If I get that email next year, I will definitely reply with a YES!!!

For the full set of results go to:

To see more pics, see the album on our Valencia Facebook page:

Monday, 1 September 2014

Nkomazi MTB Challenge - a Good Kick Back Into Racing!

The Nkomazi MTB Challenge would be my first race and first time mountain biking since marathon World Champs exactly 3 months ago. I have been recovering from an Achilles’ Tendon injury since SA Marathon Champs which was on the 8th of June. This was a huge disappointment as I was on the best form of the year and had been chosen to represent South Africa as part of the national team for the World Champs which took place 3 weeks later. I entered a forced rest with a few easy “test rides” in between, in hopes of being healed and well rested by the time World Champs rolled along.
About 25km into the race there was a hair raising portage section where I started to feel the dreaded twinge in my Achilles. The twinge turned into a stabbing pain that came and went. I ignored the pain until it became constant agony and pedaling unbearable. I pulled out at 60km in, devastated at 1) having pulled out and 2) the realisation that it would be long time before I’d be reunited with my bike.

Anyway, 1 month and loads of physio later, I was back on the bike. Although I felt super sluggish and I had this terrible pain in my cheek bones (the butt ones) that I hadn’t felt since I first started riding, I feel the rest was a good thing. I was hungry to ride again! For two months I just rode wherever and whenever I felt like, no intervals, just riding for the love of it. Confidence that my Achilles was ok started growing and I found myself doing long rides like to Sabie and back, sometimes taking the long way round resulting in entire days of riding. It felt good to be back in the saddle and the great outdoors!  
In hindsight the injury was a good thing in many ways. Insanity preventative measures included starting a clothing line - Over the Bars - which will be launching in the next few months (watch this space!) Over The Bars ladies mtb skills will be starting mid-September. I am very grateful for the support of Valencia and Coach Bosseau for their support during my down-time.

Now, back to the Nkomazi MTB Challenge… I was really excited to be racing again, to feel the burn and taste some blood J It felt weird preparing for the race, I hadn't worn my proverbial race-face in ages, nor has my heart rate been anywhere close to race pace in 3 months. This would be interesting!
The race was held in the small local town of Malelane about 40km from Nelspruit. The R50 600 of prize money for the event was good motivation to do well but I had no expectations considering my current form so I thought I’d focus on doing my best but most of all have fun!

The start was quite chilly but warmed up fast as the pace was hot from the gun, well, it was a canon actually that they set off which was original, fun and kicked us off for a fiery start! The first few k's was undulating and took us through some beautiful farmland. It felt good to feel the burn in my legs and lungs, I found myself in the lead from the canon and kept a good steady pace I felt I could maintain. The profile was something like this: __/\__. The climb in the middle was seemingly never-ending with 2 sections that were too loose and steep to ride. I still felt strong at this point, with the help of my PowerBar gels and energy drink I was diligently fueling with. On the other side we were rewarded (some may disagree:) ) with the local downhill course. It was so steep that I spent a good deal of time almost sitting on my back wheel to prevent going over the bars! To add to the steepness there were switchbacks which made it even more challenging. Just how I like it.

The last section was probably the toughest. It was undulating and mostly downhill actually but it seemed to go on forever and although I started passing people, it was getting super hot and I was getting tired. I was happy to see the finish with a welcoming crowd and hug from my awesome sponsor, Naeem Omar. The feeling of emptying the tank is priceless. It’s good to be back!

Thanks again to my sponsors Valencia, ADIDAS, PowerBar, Continental, and coach Bosseau from Infinita for your constant support.

Also big ups to Laerskool Malelane, event sponsor Toyota Malelane, Carine Van Der Wershuizen, Dirk and everyone else who made this event so festive and well organised with a proper mountain bike race!


Friday, 13 June 2014

SA Marathon Champs, Cascades.

I was nervous and excited for SA Champs which was held at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg. I am familiar with the World Cup XCO course which is technical and demands respect! Upon examining the race profile, I could see we would either be riding UP or DOWN. If trail builder Nick Flores’ reputation is anything to go by, the downs would be super technical, challenging and FUN!

As expected, on the start line were all the best mountain biking ladies in the country. It was daunting but the training with my coach Bosseau had been paying off and I am confident in my technical skills. I would just have to keep a level head and do the best I could.
The race immediately started with a big climb – or more accurately a series of nasty kickers with the relief of some single track in between. Robyn de Groot set a crazy pace from the gun, putting us in the hurt-box from the beginning. 

We climbed up the back of Cascades for 7km where we reached water point 1, I was now lying 10th, just behind my teammate Samantha Sanders. As luck would have it, a few hundred meters later down the first section of single track I heard the dreaded hissing sound of a deflating tyre. I hoped that it would seal but the puncture was too big. I was forced to stop. I saw it was a sidewall puncture which often don’t seal and need to be plugged, or worse, a gator and tube put in. I decided to bomb it and try to get it to seal, but it didn’t work and to add insult to injury I pulled out the valve in my hurry to get going again. My tyre was now completely deflated along with my spirit, almost the entire field had over taken me. Luckily I had packed another bomb, I screwed the valve back in, used the entire bomb and bounced the wheel making sure sealant got into the hole. It worked thank goodness.

I was now lying in about 25th position, I started reeling my competitors in, quickly at first which lifted my spirits. I found that it didn’t take me long to pass girls who usually beat me even after my puncture; this was encouraging and made me chase harder. 14km in at the 2nd Water Point, I was almost out of energy drink but I skipped my bottle as I knew there would be another one at the 21km mark. Which there wasn’t. The route was changed and the next tech zone would only be at 40km. In the distance, to my surprize, I spotted Yolandi Du Toit and Leana de Jaager. I kept them in my sights gaining slowly on them. We reached a long stretch of awesome foresty single track riddled with rocks and other fun surprises. I passed the Yolandi and Leana in the single track and had pulled a good gap on them by the time I got to the water point.

I was super grateful to see my coach, Bosseau, holding my bottle. I was parched; 40km with only one bottle is not ideal! While I savagely downed some juice Boss expertly lubed my chain and changed my bottles. We then began the next massive climb. It had varying levels of steepness and felt like it would never end. I was now ‘man aleen’ There was no one catching me and no one in the distance. It was hot and I was hurting, I took yet another life-saving PowerBar gel and forced myself to the top. The reward: more amazing single track! The last 15km was undulating with some enjoyable single track but I was ready for the finish. I crossed the main tar road back into Cascades up a rather unnecessary (I thought) final climb and back into the race village. I was quite happy to hear that I had finished 5th Elite. Although I was disappointed to have lost time with my puncture, I surprised myself with the number of positions I managed to take back. I was really happy to hear that Sam had come 3rd, an awesome achievement!

I absolutely loved the course and I am looking forward to Worlds! I have just been informed that I made the South African team, super stoked! 

A big thanks to my sponsors ADIDAS, Continental Tyres, PowerBar, Bicicletta, and especially Naeem from Valencia for the amazing sponsorship and support, making my racing around the country possible. Also to coach Bosseau Boshoff for being so encouraging and making me fast.

Next up, MTN National XCM, Hilton.

Monday, 21 April 2014

650B, The Baby Bear Wheel Size. An article from the perspective of the vertically challenged.

As a slightly vertically challenged individual, or more commonly and ‘endearingly’ referred as a midget, dwarf, hobbit, Oompa Loompa… you get my drift. I am shorter than average; 1.59m to be precise. As most of you can relate, I started mountain biking on a bike with 26” wheels, back in the good ol’ days when another option wasn’t fathomed.

Although 29” mountain bikes are by no means a recent invention, they became a trend a couple of years ago and have since taken the country by storm. I made the transition at the end of 2012. The first thing I noticed was how it seemed to float over rocky, bumpy sections. In places where a 26er would catch and struggle through, the 29er would bomb through smugly, the admin of line choice significantly reduced. The other big advantage is the speed you can pick up and maintain on the flats. Speak to any marathon racer and they will agree that to keep up with a bunch of riders on 29ers in a marathon when you are on a 26er is near impossible.

Now although these pros are significant, there are a fair number of cons. Not only are the wheels significantly bigger, the frame and fork had to grow to accommodate the wheels. Since everything else had grown except me, sadly, major adjustments had to be made to get my setup correct ie. ALL headset spaces removed, negative stem, upside down handlebar, an 80mm fork (less suspension) all to get the front end slightly lower than the saddle. After all this, the bike still felt big under me, the front wheel so far away!

The big wheels took away the responsiveness from the smaller wheels, both on climbs and through tight single track. I felt this especially toward the end of a race when I was fatigued I would struggle to turn the big wheels on steep climbs

Bike manufacturers have noted the pros and cons of 26ers and 29ers and created a new wheel size, the 27.5” or 650B, exactly half way between the two. After doing research, and many people having told me that it would be the perfect bike for me. I spoke to my sponsor Naeem Omar from Valencia and he was keen to see the theory in action. I have been very happy on the carbon 29” Scott Scale 910 which I have been racing on the year, it is light and fast with a superiorly engineered geometry so I was super keen to give the 650B Scale 710 a bash!

I spent the Easter weekend in Sabie and Mankele, the perfect playground for the true test, loads of climbing, single track and kilometers of heavenly Mankele bush tunnels. My immediate reaction to the smaller bike was that it felt like a part of me, and extension of my body. My first ride started on a huge climb out of Sabie, I set a hard pace with sprints in between. The responsiveness of my accelerations was back! The next test was a very bumpy descent. The 710 didn’t float over the bumps like my 29er would but it was comfy enough with impressive rolling power.

The Mankele bush tunnels at the end of a ride are always the highlight, you can seriously pin it through the twisty turny single track shrouded in dense vegetation. There are loads of rocky surprises, small drop offs and roots that keep you on your toes and could easily result in devastating talent and sense of humour failure, the risk making it all the more enjoyable!

With the 27.5” wheels and smaller frame I felt I was able to throw the bike around underneath me, dodging trees and rocks at speed and whipping it around corners. It was exhilarating. THIS is why I ride I thought… The deal was sealed.

650B, the baby bear wheel size… Just right!