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.