Monday, 21 October 2013

Ending the National Marathon Series on a high.

Crater Cruise: Totally not my idea of a mountain bike race but somehow I enjoy it for the mental and physical challenge. You’re on the rivet for 4 hours + in the scorching heat and this year a howling wind to contend with. If the heat, wind and dehydration don’t break you, the seemingly endless and monotonous corrugated and bumpy roads would easily do the job… Challenge accepted!

Our race started at 7:30, just after the Elite men, and the temperatures were already hitting the 30’s. It was going to be a scorcher! Once the Elite men were off, we were ushered into the start chute. Standing alongside me was the series leader and SA Marathon Champ, Robyn de Groot, Swiss marathon champ Ariaan Kleinhans and our XCO Olympian, Candice Neethling. I had never beaten any of these girls and I felt strong but wasn’t too sure of my form as I haven’t been following a structured training program... All I knew is that I’d be in the hurt box for 103km. Hopefully my hours in the Cradle and Suikerbosrand would pull me through! My plan of action was to do my best, stick with them as long as I could and finish with an empty tank.

Once the gun went off we meandered through the quaint town of Parys chit chattering behind the lead vehicle for about 7km of neutral zone. Once out of town we followed the car along an undulating tar road. There was an MTN sign board pointing left, the car stopped, the chatting stopped and we were left to fight it out for the 95km. Our speed picked up with Robyn and Ariaan setting the pace up front. We soon dropped most of the field and I was surprisingly comfortable so I made an effort to do my fair share of helping up front. The wind was pumping and being in front was hard work.

Ariaan, Robyn, Candice and I were working comfortably together for the first 30km or so, with Liesel Lourens just managing to hang on. The pace started picking up especially on the climbs and we dropped Liesel and Candice. I stuck with the two national champs but was hurting, we hit a concrete climb and I was dropped. I kept Robyn in my sight for the next few km but just didn’t have the legs to catch her. My CycleOps showed that my heart rate had steadily been sitting in the mid 180’s and stayed there for at least 2 hours before dropping into the 170’s. I started getting worried about bonking, my max is only 188 and to keep it as high as I did was not ideal. On top of that I was dehydrated, I had to stop at every water table with an empty bottle and downed as many cups of liquid as I possibly could within the time they filled my bottle. I’m sure I broke a record ;-)
I made sure to take my High 5 gels every hour which definitely helped me keep energised and able to push through!

When my CycleOps measured 80km, I knew I needed to put my head down and just do it. I was hurting, fighting against the heat and strong wind. Km after km of a long stretch of corrugated road was causing sense of humour failure; there was nowhere to go! I felt my brain rattling in my head and was ready for the end. Eventually I reached the last water table. A sigh of relief. The worst was over, now it was just grassy dual track a nice big rock to climb over and homeward bound along the railway.
I filled up and stole a quick glance behind me, expecting to see Candice closing in on me. Thankfully no one was in sight. I zooted off not wanting to get complacent and hey, maybe I could even catch Robyn or Ariaan, you never know!
I dug deep, a few more kms and I could chill…. I was so happy to eventually see the bridge that signified the end of the race, I ramped of the other side and pedaled over the finish line. I rode through the hall with a smile, 3rd at Crater Cruise and 2nd in the series! I was happy and I knew I had done my best. The 29er definitely made the bumps more bearable and I was grateful that the Dogma ran flawlessly for the 103km, helping me along! 

I got of my bike only to find my left foot was in spasm and I could barely walk. I must have looked like a complete wreck as I hobbled off to the fountain where a few other broken looking cyclist were cooling off and comparing notes on their race. The water was a manky brown colour with floating grass and other unidentifiables but I didn’t care, it looked divine! I slipped in, dunked my head and chatted to a few guys I knew. It didn’t take long for the slimy floor and floating things in the water to gross me out. Time to get clean and start feeling human again.
I am happy with my result at Crater Cruise, it has been an up and down year and it was good to end it on an up! 

My main goal for the day was achieved; I kept my 2nd place overall in the series and 1st in my age category. My fasbyting and consistently “ok” results throughout the series paid off! I have learnt a lot in this season of marathon racing and am looking forward to using my experience to kick ass in next year’s season!

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