Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Perfect Science

Hindsight. Oh so perfect. But actually, not so far off the real thing.

I wondered before I started the race, what I would wish I had done differently. I was pretty certain that "training with the pack" would be one of them. But a little different to what I envisaged.

My weakness has always been my lower back and additional weight triggers back pain and huge discomfort when riding especially climbing. Well, for some bizarre reason, that issue never surfaced. But where I would train more with a pack would be to develop better leg strength, practice stretching out quads, hamstrings and especially achilles.

I wanted to run more in the build up but injuries prevented this. I reckon, though, hiking with a load heavier than race weight is ideal. Anything on the trail to strengthen ankles and legs for what they will do is a bonus.

With back pack and bike on backs, I was carrying around about 24kgs up the side of mountains. I didn't prepare for this well enough. But by the end of the first week, if you haven't injured yourself, you are getting rapidly conditioned to this effort!

In line with this, I would also recommend gym work if you are into that sort of thing. Upper body strength is an absolute pre-requisite and calf raises, squats and the like would add to the conditioning you need.

I must mention here though, that these are the opinions of a rider aiming to finish. The more genetically gifted may have other ideas.

Proper moist fruitcake. Shirley (Doug's mom) made the most divine cake and there was never enough. Doug was very generous to share. I would have had masses in every box if I had known how good it was. Sorry, Woolworths, you don't cut it.

I had a wide variety of foods in my boxes, usually too much but this worked for me. I would like to have had more variety in the bars as the Jungle Bars got too much. The mix of sweet and savoury was essential and yes, I loved my smoked oysters when I found them and Doug had the Jack Daniels.

If you are not racing to win or break records, use the first couple of days to ride yourself in. I think a lot of the injuries were due to going too fast and too hard initially. My injury forced the issue and we finished strongly. Way better result.

Squirt - yeah baby! We lubed and lubed and then lubed some more. Mostly, this was all the tlc the bikes received. As a sponsor, Squirt was available in large quantities and we made good use of this.

A waterproof camera - I would love to have taken photos of the sleet, snow and rain but usually my camera was in a waterproof bag for protection. There are some cool small digital waterproof cameras coming out now and if you don't have one, they'll be worth it. Btw, take lots and lots of pictures. Act like an American or Japanese tourist. You'll never have enough.

Another suggestion would be to put a bottle of sealant in your Prince Albert box. After the gazillions of thorns in the Karoo, you slowly but surely lose sealant. The size of some of my thorns were so big, we cut them off and left the rest in the tire. I would have needed extra large plugs to sort those holes out.

Have a plan but be prepared to turf it...regularly. I am glad we had a starting point even though it was probably too ambitious. But it set us up for all we had to do later on. Having done the homework gave us opportunities to re-group, re-assess and go forward with confidence.

Stretch often if you can. Initially, I was pretty slack but then every time I got off the bike to portage, rest bum, whatever, I would do at least a hamstring/lower back stretch So frequency took precedent over thoroughness, but it helped.

Never abrogate the navigation to others. Its great to consult but we found that as soon as we were in a bigger group, we were prone to making mistakes as we lost our own focus. Either we'd be chatting, or leaving the responsibility to someone else and then not know where we were on the map. Luckily, nothing ever went seriously wrong but we had to keep reminding ourselves to stay out of the group mentality and make our own decisions.

And most importantly, staying in the moment was my most potent ally. By keeping the task immediate and small, I was able to cope with most that was thrown at me. I never ever thought about giving up which was great and kept me mentally positive. The analogy of "eating an elephant bite by bite" stayed with me the whole way and that's what I did. Took bite size chunks of the race and got through them.

I am sure there are many of you who have post race thoughts and suggestions and I would love to hear them as would all the other readers - so, c'mon, share, please do.

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