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!