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April 28, 2013

Joberg2c Day 3: The Headmasters Office

Yesterday, I spoke about burning matches and entering the pain cave. I would be lying if I said today was any different. In actual fact, today I took a bigger box of matches out on the course, and if I have to be completely honest, it felt like I only sat in the reception area of the pain cave yesterday. Today was more like the headmasters office. I am hoping that the “showing off your jack lines to mates” vibe is next to follow.

Today I suffered beyond anything I have suffered in a long time.

The day started for me, around 3am when I woke up with an ice-cold face. Nic had been quite vocal about the cold at this race and I hadn’t really taken him seriously until 3:01am but now, I am a believer.

The athlete village is a buzz by 4:30am; an immensely irritating thing as there is no need to be talking about your “smashed ass” at this time of the day. No reason at all. Yet, the voices begin almost in unison with the flatulence. Personal space is limited in this environment & caring about it is even more limited as the days go by.

We started the ice-cold day as mountain bikers always start the day: By going absolutely flat out until they bomb. Every day. With 131km & 1750m of vertical ascent between Reitz & Sterkfontein Dam, this seemed a silly approach but it didn’t stop the masses from totally hammering themselves early on. Hope is the most powerful emotion.

Baffling.

Today went a little better and I was with Nic within 10km, but upon finding him looking fully in control, I checked my matchbox to find only a few left. I had brought a bigger matchbox today as mentioned earlier. Alas, it was time to consolidate and see what was possible for the rest of the day.

I tried to hide as smartly as possible and all was going to plan. We built a strong group and bridged across to the front pack of elite men around 30km and hung with them through the first water point. Somewhere around 60km, Nic had his water bottle decide it was time to fall through the bottom of the cage (attached to his seat post).

Nic and I have a partnership this week. It’s a very real thing. It was a tough moment for me, because I wanted to hang with the group as I was already hurting but I wanted to help Nic as well. I knew that if I dropped off with him, I would possibly not make the chase back.

I trusted he would get back & continued to the second water point with the group who had now split again. I hung with the chasing pack because that was all I could manage as the surges continued. I figured he would chase straight through and collected food for him as I expected him to bridge at any second.

It turned into a 15km slog for him and wore him down considerably. I also realized that half the food I had picked up had fallen out somewhere. By the time he bridged, he was hungry, grumpy & it turned out his seat post was slipping too, so I handed over the remaining food I had and hoped for the best.

All was going well and I was feeling superb, leading the group for a long section to make sure we rode smoothly and consistently. Just before an amazing piece of single track next to the river, I misjudged a corner and was suddenly in the back of a group of 20 riders.

More notably, I was behind three mixed teams. The girls can hammer like the boys, but their technical skill was lacking and every short, sharp uphill they would walk, which meant we lost the front of the pack. It meant another match was burnt each time as they sprinted to get back into the group and my triathlete legs eventually just gave that pain that means the back is done. I had no more matches and had to let the group go as there was a 400m sharp drag out of the single track. It was a gutting moment for me as Nic had just found his legs and I felt I had let the team down.

Gutted.

Simultaneously my stomach went empty and I had no more food with 10km to the next water point.

Outstanding.

Within 2km I had gone from being fully in control to knowing it was going to get very messy.

In fact, it was already messy.

I committed to going beyond on the day and chasing as hard as possible. I had no more power so I would have to ride with an economy I had never exhibited before whilst applying my mind to quieting the pain.

The water point is a bit of a blur but I know I threw in eggs, potatoes, bananas and 4 cups of water to try skip a sugar rush which would have been catastrophic with 40km to go. I embraced the suck as well as possible and whenever a personal demon / doubt found me, I opted to just shout it out and get back to business.

The miles were passing and our gap became more consistent to the group we had lost. It was around 2min and I was determined to keep them in sight. At 114km we hit the biggest climb of the day.

Torture.

I was snorkel deep in a world of discomfort as my back was completely seized and there was no power to climb. I went as hard as I could for as long as I could, then give a little more. This was the process to get over what felt like the longest climb I have ever done. Nic was quieter now and I knew the day was starting to take its toll on him as well but we were picking up the odd team here and there, so I pushed a little harder again.

Nausea had set in and the familiar goose bumps of being totally blown were persistent as we hit the Red Bull enduro section. What should have been an amazing 4.5km became just another downhill as I realized we had 14km to go from the top, which meant 9.5km of more smashing of my body before it would all be over.

I could haul on the flats and we would get closer to the group in front but every time the road went up it felt like I hit a brick wall. An immense fight between the mind and the body; a body that works so well most of the time. It was beyond negotiations and I just kept the pain levels constant and just as I thought I could take no more, we were within 500m of the finish line.

As always, there are lessons. I am sure that in a few days, it will all make sense.

Sure, we could have ridden slower.

Yes, it would have been easier.

But then, what would we have learned about ourselves?

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