Sunday, 3 July 2016

Why would you do FC RASA more than once?

I have just added a forth Race Across South Africa blanket to my Freedom Challenge (FC) collection that also includes four Race to Rhodes whips and two Race to Cradock windmills. I've been asked why anyone would do the FC more than once. I've also encountered people who say they have ticked that box and then they walk away never to be heard from again.

In many ways the FC events are no different to other races - I've done two each of Epic, JoBerg2c, Sani2c, Sabi Experience and a few other one day races. The second time around was to see if I could do better, and I did. But these other events never engaged me so completely as the Freedom Challenge. They were mere exercises in fitness and cold numbers.

The Freedom Challenge community is without equal in mountain biking circles, certainly in this country. The mere sight of a FC fleece creates an instant bond. It matters little if you tore across the country in 11 days or snuck in just inside the 26 day cutoff to reach the finish. The mere fact that you participated and endured says volumes about the person you are.

What makes it so special? Firstly, the route isn't marked and GPS devices are as welcome as Donald Trump at a Mexican Independence Day celebration. While a red line on the maps indicates the intended route, there are numerous options that can be taken while keeping an eye on the Out Of Bounds sections. It creates an interesting dynamic. I have been engaged with this race for ten years and can ride the entire route without maps. Yet, you will still find me and other trail veterans poring over the maps before the race tweaking our lines to either save a minute here and there or to ride lines that, while a little slower, simplify night navigation.

I sat across the table from Liehann Loots in Anysberg during this years race. As we drank our coffee we spoke about what it was we wanted from the race. We, just like many other riders, were after the same experience - to go it alone and put down our best performance to date. Arriving at that point, I believe, is an iterative process. The first time on the trail in 2007 was incredibly hard. I struggled everyday and had to deal with a constant barrage of self doubt and anxiety. Those 3 weeks changed the way I rode my bike. There was something about the total engagement offered by the Freedom Challenge than tarnished the shine of regular events. I was never going to be a contender in a regular race. The FC opened a whole new world of racing where tenacity counted for as much as athletic ability.

Over the years I have refined my approach to endurance events. I have encountered and in some ways learnt to tame the funk that results from extreme sleep deprivation. I have come to understand the ability of the body and mind to bounce back when completely drained. This year we saw the old strategy of veteran Tim James' and myself ride-until-you-drop juxtaposed with the ride-fast-sleep-well of Bruce Hughes and Liehann Loots. A contrast that is certainly going to be examined and added into the mix in the years ahead.

It has been said that the Freedom Challenge is as hard as you want it to be. In many ways that is true. Simply riding from one support station to another every day is still a big ask. No one is forcing you to walk out the door and do a double or ride on into the night. It's a personal choice. The fact that the choice exists makes it attractive. Doing the first day double to Ntsikeni or getting to Rhodes in under 3 days is still a goal that many find attractive and would like to achieve.

So why come back and do the race again? We all want different things. Perhaps it's just about time-out and spending a few weeks in a different space. Perhaps it's about plumbing new depths in your being. Or perhaps, like me, you just want to prove to yourself that you're not past your use-by date.


Tim Deane said...

Well done Mike!
Definitely not past your sell-by-date!
Sorry I didn't get to see you at the finish.
I'm sure there'll be a chance for a beer, or a cup of tea at some point soon.

Tim Deane

Liehann Loots said...

I think I told you that this FC was different for me because this time I felt like I was done, no need to come back. But... Now that the bum has healed the inevitable wondering has returned. Should I have left Grootdam with you and Theo and maybe shaved off another day (seriously, who sleeps 9.5 hours while racing!), how can I improve my gear, do I still need maps (that map board holder is heavy!). It's all I can think about. Maybe not next year but a return is inevitable. For me part of it is to improve, to challenge oneself, another part of it is to be part of the Freedom Challenge bubble and family again, even if only for a couple of weeks.

It was awesome crossing paths with you out on the trail!