Monday, 30 November 2015

Is the Munga really the toughest race on Earth?

If you go online, you will see the Munga billed as the "Toughest race on Earth."  Click on the Race tab and it proclaims, "The Munga is Unsupported."

Now, about the unsupported bit. Apparently there will be mechanics available at the checkpoints and the rules have been changed so that they may be used without incurring any time penalties. There are reasons given but the reasoning is flimsy. In fact, you are able to prebook a bike service at one of the checkpoints.  

"Unsupported" has taken on new meaning. This is certainly not the Freedom Challenge which forms the bulk of my endurance riding experience. 

The presence of masseurs at each checkpoint to give your legs a good rubdown is certainly not an FC feature. With the "fluid" race rules now allowing for mechanics, masseurs and race office supplied recharged power packs and probably a fully stocked pharmacy I am starting to wonder about the stuff I am going to carry. 

Perhaps the focus of this race has shifted away from endurance bike packing to cater for weight weenies who want to do a harder Epic!  Hard to call it "The toughest race on Earth" when it's so over supported. I am not sure what the motivation is behind the softening of the event. Perhaps the changes are to ensure middle and back field "non-racers" have the opportunity to finish. Except it also plays into the hands of the fast riders who can now pack lighter. 

The other side of the coin is attracting people to subsequent editions of the race. In the absence of million dollar prize money, or at least a world class purse it is unlikely that overseas riders will fit it into their schedules.
Domestically there are only a handful of riders who find really hard and unsupported races attractive while there seems to be no lack of appetite for fully serviced stage races such as Epic, Sani2c, Wines to Whales, etc.. That's the reality of the local biking community. 
This year there are less than 50 riders doing the Munga. To grow this race Alex needs to find the sweet point that becomes commercially inviting without stripping out too much of the grit and adventure. Billing it as "The toughest race on Earth" probably worked against them. I am keen to see how that line morphs into something that will resonate with Joe Average.  

Alex himself likes to take on tough challenges. I am not sure he would find the changes to his liking if he was racing. But he isn't racing. He is running the race and there is the economic reality of making the race attractive to both riders and sponsors and to make a profit. This is the inaugural event. I am sure there will be a few more tweaks before the race starts and a whole lot more after the event. 

Getting to the finish line before the 120 hour cutoff will be a big achievement, whether or not you opt for bike services and massages, you still have to pedal your bike all 1090 km's to the end. 

Make no mistake, this is still going to be one extremely difficult event to finish. Pushing an average of  218 km's per day through the heat of the Karoo to get to the next pampering station is still a big ask and there will be casualties. 

Is it the "Toughest race on Earth"? Probably not. But I can assure you that it is probably going to be the toughest race that any competitor in the starting line up for this years race has ever done.

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