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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org