Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Story of Courage

I write this with tears in my eyes. Tears of pride and joy.

My dear friend Aileen has just crossed the finish line of the the Comrades marathon - a run of 90km between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. But for Aileen, it wasn't that simple.  Since she entered the race last year, it has been a momentous struggle to get to the start line.

Its been months of fighting niggles and muscle tweaks and the constant nerves of a big goal.  She dealt with both injury and fear with eveness and acceptance. And when the final large hip injury struck just weeks before the event, she fought back despite the naysayers. With a week to go, she managed to get on top of the injury but life hadn't finished yet.

She and Doug had travelled to Pietermaritzburg for the race and when they stopped to collect her race number, their car was broken into.  Everything was taken.
All the carefully packed running kit, the worn in shoes, the running belt with all the pre-packed kit she would need - everything. It was a devastating blow.

But she fought back again, bought brand new stuff ignoring the old adage of nothing new on race day. Having come so far and through so much, she refused to allow these petty thieves to take the dream away.

She finished.

I am so proud to have run just some of the way with Aileen over the last couple of months.

Posted via email from Go Cycling

Monday, May 24, 2010

Blood thickeners wanted

I love autumn the best of all the seasons. The yellow light as the weaker sun shines through the fading leaves of the Syringa tree, the subtle colours of the grasslands  sprinkled with candy coloured cosmos and the freshness of the cold mornings.

But I wish my body would adjust quicker. I went for a run this morning. Came back, had hot tea, then a hot shower, breakfast and sat down at my desk. I just got colder and colder till my hands were numb.

On Saturday, it was the same. Even after a huge bowl of hot porridge. I ended up huddled in a blanket on the couch in the only spot of sun trying to get warm again.  Sometimes I find that after eating, my extremities get icy cold as the blood rushes to my stomach (at least I think that's why it happens). Then as autumn progresses into winter, it all eventually settles down. So I want to know? Is there something I can eat/drink to make this process hurry up?

Soon though, everything will adjust and come August/September, these same temperatures will feel too hot.

Posted via email from Go Cycling

Friday, May 21, 2010

And now for something different?

I am not sure how to write up experiences of the past week. Its been a different mountain biking experience - especially when there is no bike.

On Friday, I zipped to my lbs to collect my bike only to find out there had been a misunderstanding about the spares and some strong advice not to ride it in its current condition. So it was off to the Berg with hiking boots and trail shoes.

We were going to begin planning some trails for a client as well as recce the area for a new event.

It was three glorious days of quiet and fesh air. Tramping all over the mountains assessing grade, fall lines, drainage and routes was a whole new way of getting involved in mountain biking. Alpheus, the hotel guide, had cut about 200 bamboo stakes and painstakinginly painted their tips white - good call else you can't see them in the long grass. 

The tractor delivered them in the trailer to a central point and then it was boot camp.
I filled my back pack with stakes and felt like an archer with a quiver of bows. I would have been useless in battle though as I could barely reach around to grab any - none of those Lord of the Rings Elven archery skills. But we hiked to a particularly steep section where we planned to link some cattle paths above us to the trail we were on. It was hard work stamping through the thick grass and hammering in the stakes with a 4 pound hammer.  And we were trekking up the hill.

Once the basic route was in place, it was back to the trailer to mark another section along the edge of a small waterfall. This was a lot easier and the terrain was flatter.  Then it was time for a well earned break.
In the afternoon, we got wiser. We requisitioned the tractor to take the trailer all the way back to our morning's provisional work and bring all the stakes with him.  Better still, he was able to drive up the hillside and drop them off along the way.  So now we had a winding trail of stakes every 2/3m. Finally, we could see the shape starting to emerge.
It was getting dark by the time we had finished and we jolted back in the trailer to save a bit of time and to save our now very sore feet.  One particular gear change squashed my hand against the side of the trailer and I had a cut and immediate bruising to add insult to my already sore legs and would have repercussions the next day.

The next day we arranged for the tractor to meet us closer to the top of the trail where we had run out of stakes. I headed out before the others intent on measuring distances on my GPS as well as to suss out the planned descent.  I hiked down the hill which gives a different perspective and then I hiked back up again. I made some modifications, bashing in the stakes with a stout bamboo cane (the hammer hadn't arrived yet).

Eventually Alpheus arrived with a bundle of stakes on his shoulders as the trailer could not be brought close enough.  He also had a spade.

So we finished the last pegging and got to the muddy river crossing which was the cattle drinking spot. Alpheus was keen to dig out the crossing and make it rideable (I don't know if he can actually ride a bike- will have to test him) and I felt bad that he had brought the spade all the way.

So the two of us got stuck in and moved rocks and clods of earth to create a temporary stone bridge. It was here that I realised the folly of digging in this mud/dung with a cut on my hand. (I followed up with a tetanus injection the next day).

But it was fun to do although it will have to be contructed better. The upper section of trail was a well defined cattle path and didn't need much marking but we did spot an alternative descent off the mountain which will be better than I had originally planned.

So now, the staff will have to brushcut the route, we'll ride it rough and then begin the hard, manual labour of clearing the trail and building the turns.

It was a tired but happy body that came home to the city.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Weird & beautiful

I am amazed how one can ride the same old routes and never discover their true value and beauty. Saturday was no exception. The trusty mates and I headed out to the Cradle for a gorgeous autumn amble. Six kms into the ride, Gadget was writhing in the grass clutching his thighs, then his calves then his hamstrings and then he started all over again.

Racked with cramps after completing a tough 9 day ride the week before, he couldn't move whether it be riding or walking. We decided that seeing there was no blood, we could leave him to make his way home. It took him about 2 hours.

In the meantime we pushed on. There comes a time in every rider's life when the phrase "Why don't we ride that and see where it goes" can be a gateway to a magical experience or just plain awful and frustrating moments.

Our first "Lets try that track" climbed up the hill and ended at a huge game fence and a battered braai. Great views but disappointing result. Although we did wave to Gadget as he gingerly made his way home on the opposite hillside. So we took the tiger line across the veld and picked up the farm road and came to another decision point. You know the one where someone has regularly said, "Next time we must see where that goes" pointing up the hills and fast disappearing jeep track.

Game we were and game it was. Probably 500m into the climb we crested the hill and spotted a herd of Eland blending into the gray green landscape of trees and boulders. As they moved off, we pushed on and to our absolute delight, the jeep track turned into stunning single track winding along the base of the hill and dropping down to various river beds before meandering on again.

"Shame, poor Gadget" we muttered as we explored. I wished for the thousandth time that I had my camera.

A chat and a sticky bar under a spreading tree gave us renewed impetus and we followed the track all the way back to below the mountain with the braai where we startled some more eland into crashing into the game fence before bolting up the hill to safety. Then we circled back to the main farm road. It had been quite a hard effort as the single track had sharp ups and down and had been very rocky but we loved it.

We had to cross through several fences on the next section and where we usually manouvered our bikes around the posts, Dave (The Elf) simply threw his bike over onto some tall elephant grass leaving us stunned. He's getting a new bike so I guess he really didn't care. The rest was pretty much the usual until we hit the veggie farm. Bakkie loads of cabbages had been coming out of this farm and there were still zillions of fat and flourishing plants.

The bridge over the river had been partially washed away with the heavy rains of the past month which must have made it difficult for the farm trucks but as we rounded the corner - What? More single track! Ok, so we were doing it about face and going up hill when we should have been racing down it but it made for far more interesting climbing. Somewhere in the middle of our happy moments we made a pact not to tell Gadget. It would kill him to know that he missed out.

I'm not going to mention how long it took us to ride a mere 40km but the fun factor was off the scale.

On a side note, I rode my road bike on Sunday and was astounded to ride up behind a horse and cart going at a helluva clip up Witkoppen Rd in the midst of suburbia. The horse (apparently a Shire) was enormous and the driver of the trap explained in a guttural accent that the horse was well shod in the front and wasn't hurting its legs on the tar. Did I ask a stupid question?  Maybe.  But I had to ride like hell to get away from this huge, huge beast. If the hill had been longer, I would have lost.

Posted via email from Go Cycling

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Turning the legs inside out

I haven't "raced" in a very long time. I can't remember when I last lined up in a start pen surrounded by hundreds of other riders but Sunday was the day.

I received a complimentary entry to the Honda Mountain Trophy Adventure race. A whole 45km! But remember, I haven't been on my bike for several weeks and almost all of my riding over the last year has been at coffee ride pace.

The rain had bucketed down in the night and the going was wet and muddy. But I had a secret weapon. Left over from the MTN Panorama Tour were some sachets of USN's Anabolic Nitro. These are guaranteed to give you explosive energy and going by what the riders in the Tour's time trial said, it works.

So it was with a bit of trepidation, I glugged down some of the stuff 30 minutes before starting.  We stood around in the pen chatting and reminiscing and eventually we were off. I felt good.

I passed people. Then we hit the jeep track and I passed people on the left (I don't why they were all in a polite line on the right). Then I started passing the people from the stage race who had started 5 mins before us. Then I hit mud and grass and I heard my rear wheel start to whine as it all jammed solid. At the top of each steep rise (which was a quick push), I tried to poke out the solid mixture but was hurrying to keep my place which I think was at least the first woman.  I was conscious of the need to free the wheel else my legs would take more of a hammering than they were already.

Eventually I was crawling up a hill feeling like I was in my big ring and I realised I would have to take the time to do it properly. So with a lot of prodding, digging in of fingers, I eventually got rid of the mess but by now I had lost interest.  Returning the same way we left, I made the silly error of changing lines on a rocky, muddy downhill trying to pass a "girl in pink". Thump - I hit the deck. Luckily it was more damage to the ego but I have a beaut bruise on my thigh.

It was now 12km into the race and I was bored. I was sore and the guys dressed warmly on the other side of fence made for far more interesting conversation than the slog. But "girl in pink" remained just in front and, I reasoned, I had a comp entry so should at least respect that.

On we went. Bumpy grass firebreaks along the fence and a few brown buck in the distance. Not the most inspiring. Then we turned out the reserve and had a quick downhill. I had lost sight of the "girl in pink" when I stopped at the waterpoint but I figured she wouldnt be far.  A quick downhill section on a blessedly smooth dirt road and we hit another dirt road which was all too familiar. It was a section that we had ridden often on our Magaliesberg rides when preparing for Freedom Challenge and also for years before that. I knew where we were and what to expect.

Against the odds, I had good rhythm going up the hill and encouraged some riders explaining about the long downhill to come. Big Ring finally. I put my head down and cranked up the speed. Everytime I looked back, I could see a train of riders behind me. Didn't they know I was a long slow rider?? Clearly not. We blew past "girl in pink" like she was looking for parking and eventually, I left my train behind as well.

Bizarre. But now it was slog time again and I was mega hungry. Being out of race and long distance practice, I had no bars or snacks. Eish - what a mission to get home with slurpy mud which hugged your wheels and slowed your speed dramatically. I caught up with another girl (this one I knew) so I shamelessly sat on her wheel recovering although the effort of riding in the soft squelch was a killer. Eventually I chose a better line and also left her behind.
Now I was tired. But I could see the entrance to Maropeng and the finish. No, no, and again, no!  Do race organisers not realise what a mistake it is to bring the riders close to the finish and then send them on an arbitrary loop around crap grassy riding for no other reason than to add distance! It is such as basic mistake. The extra loop around the perimeter fence was bloody awful and added no value at all.  I was seriously grumpy and sore when I finished. A very respectable 3rd lady and with my stoppages for mud, not that far behind in riding time.

I was suitably impressed but also very surprised. Apparently I was fairly hyper when I got home (several hours after the event as I was socialising) and the conclusion was the unbelievable performance of the USN Anabolic Nitro. Because it can't be me - I just haven't got that kind of talent nor fitness!

Hmmmm. Looking back, I really enjoyed riding hard and pushing. So I reckon a few more shorter races had better be on the cards but with a bit more training inbetween.