Monday, March 30, 2009

New Places, New People

No disrespect to my normal riding partners but sometimes a change is needed for fresh perspective. Riding in White River with a bunch of roadies was a brilliant way to refresh mind and trash the body.

I met some really interesting people from all walks of life - deadly serious racing vets to babbling babes who talked up every single hill and down again. We rode and we rode and we climbed some mega hills. My scottish and almost scottish friends also provided me with a laugh a minute as they gently waged a psyche war on each other - good partnership skills that.

Mentally, I was glad to do over 100km at a time and spend over 5 hours on the bike. The area is astonishingly beautiful with forests, banana plantations, views, rocky outcrops and smooth roads (although there was pothole alley which claimed a collar bone). This is also mountain biking heaven and it would be great to come back for more of the same but off road. Hmmmm, now there's a thought.

I was also chuffed to spend time withRASA legend and record setter Tim James and his family, chatting about the race over a good tasty breakfast. The sad thing was that Tim had time to go home and shower before I finished - he's that good.

He is also doing a fine job of persuading some of the local lads to tackle the Big One....that should be interesting as there seems to be some navigationally challenged riders. But what a mentor.

So now I must plan a little for April because there are quite a few holidays and an opportunity to put some decent miles in back to back.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Big Finish

Oh yes! I went for a leg massage today and oh my greatness...was it good. Three weeks of build-up, not a lot of stretching and one massage later the legs feel as good as, well almost new. Am definitely including this little treat into my training regime.

My spur to go and get a massage is the 321km I am going to be riding on the road this weekend. We are heading to White River (Mpu) for the annual MTN Panorama Tour training camp. As Race Organiser, I don't get to ride the event at the end of April, but I like to empathise with the riders so I make sure I have done the time as well.

The area is seriously hilly but absolutely stunning scenery. We'll do 5750m of climbing which includes sections of the infamous Long Tom Pass but along the way we'll also take in Pancakes in Sabie.

This will bring March to an end and one month closer the Big One. So far, so good - I am pretty happy with my progress.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Training is overated" - The Myth

Ok, so this is a long thought process so bear with me.

Here I am clocking 14 hour training weeks which isn't bad for laying the groundwork for the big event. This means early starts, a couple of hours on the road bike most days and longer rides on the weekend.

I've always been disciplined about training as I lack the genetic gifts that allow some athletes to do the bare minimum in training and still complete long endurance events successfully. This is where The Myth comes in.

A lot of people know about The Myth because I mention him all the time but few have actually met him. But his exploits are legendary for their scope and minimalistic training.

Now I've been pretty consistent this year in training and I went riding with The Myth on Saturday only to see him chase other cyclists up and down the hills leaving me far in his wake. Annoyingly, his legs didn't hurt afterwards either. The sum total of his riding this year? Probably 300km if that? If he trains for longer than 6 weeks, he gets bored so sometimes it doesn't even make that time frame.

Last year, he "trained" for the 500km Bull of Africa adventure race. This comprised of about 6 weeks of riding 2-3 times a week. His sole running training was an exploit in the Drakensburg where he and a fellow mad man left Witsieshoek at midnight and finished at Cathedral Peak some 16 hours later - in mid winter!

This year in early Feb, not having run one step (no exaggeration), he and the same mad man ran from Primrose on the eastern side of Johannesburg to Krugersdorp Hill on the western side taking all of Jo'burg's highest peaks - about 60km. His legs were only sore on the tar sections...

Then two weeks ago, with no running since the last epic, he took part in a 24 hour trail run race but then he was hobbling afterwards. The man is human after all. Now he plans to ride in a 350km cycling stage race in six weeks time which is why he hit the road this weekend.

So I ask myself. Why, oh why do I do so much training and not seem to get anywhere. I understand The Myth is genetically gifted albeit damn lazy but his exploits really rub my nose in it.

I wonder if we do not over train in general. We allow ourselves to panic when we hear of miles and hours put in by other competitors. We feel the pressure to put in our time and log every minute and kilo. We take pride in logging the time committed to our preparation. I did that..proudly listing how many hours I have ridden in March.

Sure there is conditioning required and sure there is some preparation to ease our way through our events but when is it enough. I try to resist getting sucked in to other people's programmes and every now and then, I have to remind myself that more is not better. If I try to do too much, I will hate the training. This is about enjoyment not employment and other such mantras.

One thing I do know, I only have to be fit enough for the first 6 days of RASA because those will set me up for the next 6 days and the cumulative riding will then launch me into the final 8 days of the event.

And if I keep that focus, I won't panic and I will enjoy the build up far better than having a piece of paper dictating my life until June when I line up at the start.

So The Myth may have a point after all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

2008 Toyota Freedom Challenge on TV

This just in from the race office. It will give you an idea of my undertaking but bear in mind, they were trying to race it, while I will be trying to finish it!

Following on from the incredible success of the 2008 Toyota Freedom Challenge a two part documentary of the event will be aired on Supersport over the next two weeks.

Each part of the documentary is one hour long so get out your coffee, kick back and join the riders on a tour of the incredible countryside through which the race progresses whilst enjoying a unique insight into some of the hardships that the riders have to endure.

Here are the broadcast times of Part 1:

Monday 23 March
Supersport Channel 6 20h30 (Premier)

Tuesday 24 March
CSN, SS2 & SS2A 02h00 (repeat)
SS6 10h30 (repeat)

Wednesday 25 March
SS2 & SS2A 08h30 (repeat)
CSN, SS2 & SS2A 16h00 (repeat)

Thursday 26 March
SS6 19h00 (repeat)

Friday 27 March
SS7 & SS7A 15h30 (repeat)

Saturday 28 March
SS2 & SS2A 10h30 (repeat)

Sunday 29 March
SS2 & SS2A 09h00 (repeat)

Enjoy it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A great couple of weeks

What a great two weeks of riding. March was the deadline to get going and so I have. Last week I managed over 13 hours and this week is over 14 hours. All good base miles including a brilliant 70km plus mtb ride this weekend.

If I can continue this base mileage, I am more than on track for the race. Most of the miles have been done on the road bike with another aspirant RASA rider, Steve. He has enough free time to do 70 -80km rides in the week which are a bonus. All the office bound workers don't have that luxury and I am more than grateful to have a committed riding partner for these sessions.

My call for ice cream containers has been met with a lot of enthusiasm and commitment from friends so I should get my 26 containers soon.

The rehab on the calves is going well and I hope to start running in a weeks time. But this time, I will be ultra strict on starting off slowly and increasing the mileage very gradually. It will be tough as my lungs will hardly be tested before having to stop but it will be worth it.

And finally, I decided on the saddle for the race and collected it from Summit Cycles this week. I tested it on the long ride on Saturday and whilst I can't quite make a call yet, it is infinitely more comfortable than my previous one. I chose a Specialised Ariel with all the right geometry.... I hope.

So all in all, a great start to the 100 day countdown.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A big sacrifice required

Now I am going to ask you to dig deep and sacrifice. I am going to ask you to to help me out in a way that you will be remembered on my journey.

I am going to ask you to force yourself to eat at least one 2 litre container of ice cream. And if you are going to do this, make it a decent ice cream. Like Gino Ginelli Choc Chip.

And if you are feeling particularly giving, you can eat another container as I need about 26. Then, when you have finished it, write a message with your name in it so I will be reminded of your efforts and will be encouraged not to fail at mine.

These containers will be our life lines and emotional and physical sustenance. We pack them with everything we think we will need at that point (and hope there is enough space) and send them off to be delivered in the week before we race.

Anecdotal evidence of what riders will add to their little boxes run to any or all of the following:
biltong, shampoo, bum creme, bars, nuts, chocolate, socks, butter, salad dressing(?), condensed milk, tea, batteries and other extravagances.

I have some ideas of what to pack but its all a gamble because you have no idea of what you will feel like and what meal you will be served at the support station. But peak nutrition concepts won't play much of a role, I reckon. Its going to be about what tastes nice and what will get me going the next day. The upside is that each container will be a surprise as I will have forgotten what went into them.

I also plan a few comforts like body lotion and face cream as I don't plan on finishing looking like a dried prune from the cold. Its a girl thing.

So whatever your flavour, dig in and enjoy - its all for a good cause.

Friday, March 6, 2009

100 days!

100 days till my Freedom Challenge start, then it's 75, 50, 25 and then it will be Pietermaritzburg in the gloom of winter and the first pedal strokes of a long journey.

100 days is a reminder to stay in the present and not squander time.

100 days is five times as long as I hope to ride.

100 days is a whole change in season.

100 days is a big chunk of 2009 gone.

100 days is a countdown to an absolute deadline and missed opportunities don't come round again.

100 days....

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A touch of autumn

Is this going to be the cold winter that everyone has predicted for the last couple of years? This morning as we headed out on the road for a training ride, the wind had a chill to it that heralds the change in seasons.

Already, the mornings are darker and getting out of bed is a battle. Now adding the first shivers of winter, its going to require huge mental effort to stay disciplined.

But it wasn't just the chill, it was the additional effort of riding into a relentless headwind that stayed in front no matter what direction we rode. By 55km, I was tired and sore. Much of it coming from my non-cycling training - push ups, sit ups, squats and abdominal crunches.

That coffee stop couldn't come quick enough today. But the good thing about these rides is the mental tenacity that one gains and I play games with my head, imagining I am out in the Karoo, in the bitter cold, hanging in until the next support station.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tough Luck

I am so disappointed for Jill Homer who started her epic Iditarod mountain bike adventure on Sunday. She had to pull out with frostbite on her toes with barely a day under her belt.

All that time, preparation and effort shelved without even breaking a sweat. I can only imagine how gutted she must be.

And for her legion of fans and followers, they all share in her disappointment too. Which makes me think how risky it can be to share big dreams and drag everyone with you on the training trail.

I thought it was a wonderful thing to tell my friends and family how I was chugging along but now, I also see how my not finishing will sadden them too.

I, like Jill, don't even contemplate failure but this blog entry gave me pause to think - what if? Having poured 6 months worth of emotion and effort into one big adventure, how will I cope if it is taken away. Or worse still, I don't even make the start line.

Its all about balance - balancing expectations, commitment and responsibilities. Its about remembering that there is life outside training and day dreaming. It's about having goals post the Freedom Challenge to prevent the "blues" and the sense of anti-climax.

And I am sure that after the first moments of bitter dejection, Jill will bounce back and continue to inspire Up in Alaska.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Medical Frat, love 'em, hate 'em

Let me say at the outset that I have met some amazing representatives of the medical community and all of them are caring people, dedicated to their profession. But, sjeesh, they can be a circus too.

And what really gets me going is the assumption that medical aid will pay and pay and pay. Not so when there is a mere hospital plan in place - then its the credit card that gets hung out to dry.

For two years, I have struggled with calf injuries which apparently have been anything from a spasm in a trigger point to tears in the muscle. My frustration is that I have run and ridden for years and now, I am battling on much lower running mileage.

So the physios poke and prod and stick needles in sensitive places. They test flexibility and suggest endless exercises to compensate. But one talks about muscles that are too tight and other muscles that are too weak. Another focuses on nerve mobility but the problem persists. Yet another just massages the hell out of the muscle so that I couldn't run if I tried. WTF. Oh and I didn't mention countless trips to the chiro which leaves me wonderfully straight but for the shortest time.

Then the GP gets in on the act unsolicited and gives another explanation after a cursory check. Then the sports specialists nods his head, asks a few questions and refers my case to the bio-kinetiscist and all of them charge like wounded buffalo.

By now, I could have bought several pairs of Assos cycling shorts for what I've spent on getting nowhere in terms of being able to run again.

But why, oh why, did none of them suggest measuring calf strength to check for imbalances and strength differential?? It seems so obvious now.

A session with the bio and so many things fall into place. A fancy machine which threatens to pop something throws up data showing between 15% and 26% difference in left and right leg. Plus, I get to see how off the scale (or not) my leg strength is. I get to see how certain movements are going to stress the muscles in my calf cos they simply aren't strong enough or balanced enough.

So its been a moerse rigmarole to get to this point and I think I can safely say that I have eliminated almost every other possible contributing factor with and without the help of the medical profession. The other upside is that my cycling may improve as a side benefit - just too weird.

Oh, the reason why I have wanted to run is because of the portaging we will do on the Freedom Challenge. Legendary bike carries such as Lehana Pass, The Ladder and Stettynskloof will require legs used to uneven ground, calves and achilles used to stretching and aching and thighs used to burning.

So, we will see how this latest attempt works out but suffice to say, I am at last hopeful.