Sunday, 24 May 2015
How hard is the Freedom Challenge?
If we claim to do extreme riding then we need to examine how hard it really is. My experience of extreme is limited to a handful of stage races including the Epic, JoBerg2c and the Freedom Challenge. I don't consider either the Epic or JoBerg2c to be extreme. That is not to say they are easy. The Freedom Challenge events are not stage races in that once the clock starts it only stops when you cross the finishing line days or weeks later.
Just as there is a continuum across the spectrum of riding difficulty there is one for the Freedom Challenge. Any event on the Freedom Trail is hard in the sense that there are no easy days. The section from Masakala to Malekghalonyane is the shortest and easiest section of the trail to Rhodes at around 68 km's. This can take anything from 5 to 8 hours. A pair of riders stretched it to 12 hours in 2011.
In 2007 I rode my second Epic finishing middle of the field and then went on to do my first Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa. I arrived at the first support station at Allendale after dark shell shocked from the experience. As I recall we started at 07:00 that year. Even so it took 11 hours to cover the 100kms. Back then the route was a little easier as we avoided the current gnarly route down the Umkomaas valley. We simply rode down the district road. These days the racing snakes bang out this section, grab a mouthful of food and push on. Even so, it still takes the top riders 7 or 8 hours to cover the distance. It's just a hard race, particularly when you ride out of the predawn hours into the evening darkness every day for 3 weeks.
I spoke to a rider who had failed to finish last year. Many days had elapsed from the time she had withdrawn from the race and the post race dinner. The morning after the official dinner she sat alone having breakfast looking a little bleak. I joined her and asked her how her ride had been. She was still shattered and hollow about the experience. Her words to me were, "People must stop romanticising this race. They make it sound easy and it isn't." She was right. It is hard. I have finished 3 times and dropped out once. On all three occasions when I have finished there have been moments when I was on the brink of throwing the towel in. I had a hundred good reasons to quit but only one flimsy reason to stick with the race. Pride is such a powerful force.
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- Johannesburg, South Africa
- Just an ordinary guy who started riding in 2005 at the age of 45. I started with the ambition of completing the local 94.7 Cycle Challenge (94.7km). This is an annual road cycle race in and around Johanesburg. Some where along the way it become a race and not merely a completion excercise. I clocked a 2h54 in my first attempt only 6 months from my first trundle down the road and back. I was hooked and then discovered the magic of MTB. While my efforts on the road were credible, MTBing humbled me. Having said that, over the last 24 months I have competed in 9 multi-day events. I'm a very middle of the field rider, but I enjoy every minute of it.