Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Another year, another race

New Year, Easter and Christmas - the milestones that mark the passing of the year for most folk. For a small band of mountain bikers there is another significant event that indicates another year has rolled around - The Freedom Challenge.

Yesterday while preparing the number boards for this years event I was struck by the number of people who have entered again.

This years field for both the Ride to Rhodes and the Race Across South Africa has swollen to almost 100 riders of which nearly a third have entered before. 100 riders might seem like a small number of entries but it is large for this event. Approximately 50 will start with the intention of getting to Capetown and the balance will face the challenge of traversing what is the hardest yet most beautiful section of the trail over 6 days.

Just over a dozen of this years RASA entrants have previously wrapped a finishers blanket around their tired shoulders at the finish in the Cape. What makes them come back to do it again? As one of those I battle to make sense of the draw that this event has on me, especially as we roll into winter and the nights get colder and I am reminded of the extreme conditions we face during the race. It is a hard race to prepare for and complete. One previous finisher when asked if it was fun replied "If I want to have fun I can go to Sun City for the weekend - this race isn't fun".
So why do it? Because its there? Everest is there and I have no intention of doing that. Last years winner and back-again-this-year Alex Harris has been up Everest amongst other things but that's not for me. For me, a dyed in the wool Ordinary Cyclist, the Race Across South Africa is the hardest physical challenge I have faced. It is an extraordinary race that is within the grasp of the ordinary athlete who has a heart for the challenge.

Lastly, why do it again?
Not everyone wants to ride it again and some are content to ride it once and tick the box. I had coffee with Tim James (current record holder and winner 2008, 2009) last week and we were talking about the race. He is back for his 4th race this year. He summed up his motivation to come back time and time again which is true of many others - "You need to finish this race knowing you have done the very best you possibly can otherwise you have to come back and do this stupid thing again!"

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