Friday, 30 September 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Climbing, Climbing, Climbing

After leaving Paul to sort out his puncture I was on my own. It's a space I enjoy. Without the pressure of chasing or being visibly chased I was able to ride my race on my own terms. I had no idea who was immediately behind me. The trick is to stay focussed. There is always the risk of slowing down as you have no other riders around to benchmark your progress. After many years of endurance riding I have a reasonable sense of the pace I can maintain over long periods. And it's reasonable to assume that an hour into a race the  field will have settled into a rhythm and unless something drastic happens the position of the field remains fairly static. That is, until the sun goes down and anything can, and does happen. Nighttime for me is the fun part of ultra endurance riding. 

My hamstrings were still whinging on the way up Polly Shortts and I backed off a little more to give them a break. I needn't have bothered. Once at the top of the climb I joined the morning rush hour traffic heading in to Pietermaritzburg and got all the rest I needed. It was hectic. I slowly threaded my way into the CBD where I carefully picked my way around the hordes of taxis engaged in the morning game of maximum trips with maximum passengers. A bicycle doesn't mesh well with manic taxis. I was glad to start the climb up Town Hill on the Howick Road, not because I looked forward to the brutal 10 kilometre grind but rather because there was hardly any traffic.

When the road flattened out in Hilton I knew it was a temporary respite. I had climbed just over 1000 metres and had another 300 metres of climbing to get to the first checkpoint at Old Halliwell Inn 15 kilometres beyond Howick near Currys Post. 

As I made my way through Howick the rain stopped but the sky still looked threatening. It wasn't time to strip off the rain gear quite yet. 

The climb out of Howick had me back into the mist. The sun had been up a couple of hours so I figured the mist wasn't going to burn off any time soon. 

Arriving at Old Halliwell gave me a chance to rest my aching hamstrings and get a warm cup of tea into my belly. I caught up with the race news and was surprised to hear that 5 hours into the race Paul was already a full hour behind. He had obviously battled to sort out his puncture. It looked like Dave was struggling as well because he was still a long way from Halliwell. 

Andy told me that Ted was right behind me and a few minutes later in walked Ted. He looked like he had just strolled in from the breakfast room. He certainly looked a lot fresher than I felt. I removed my warm but still sodden gloves from the fire guard and tugged them on. This was going to get interesting.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - A Bumpy Start

Soon after leaving the parking lot of the Station Masters Arms I turned onto Old Main Road and start heading along the Comrades Marathon Route. I have never run the Comrades Marathon and am not au fait with the route but I have been told it goes that way. Paul Erasmus, who has run Comrades, pulled up next to me and confirmed that it was in fact the Comrades route. 

We rode along at the front of the group and within minutes encountered the first climb of the day - Botha's Hill. On fresh well trained legs it shouldn't be that hard. My legs were fresh, very fresh. I had been tapering for a couple of weeks. I realised soon into the climb that fresh legs without adequate training don't count for much. My hamstrings quickly settled into a cramp threatening burn and I knew I would have to back off if I didn't want to seize up. Fortunately Paul was happy with the pace I was setting and we rolled along together. The other bike lights were falling further behind every minute. Or so I thought. When I turned around again there was a third rider closing on us. 

  "Don't worry about me." It was Heather. 

As far as I recall there were only three of us riding mountain bikes with standard off-road knobblies - myself, Heather and Dave. Paul was on a Cyclocross bike as were Ted and Kenneth. I'm not quite sure what John and Kevin were riding but they had skinny tyres.  

I had met Heather for the first time the evening before. She took the Botha's Hill climb in her stride and managed to jabber away all the way up. It was evident that she was a very strong rider. I knew from riding with him the previous year that Paul was a strong contender. Heather, Ted and Kevin were newcomers and I didn't know what to expect. 

There I was, not yet ten kays into a race of six hundred, already evaluating the relative strength of the other riders trying to figure out who to keep a close eye on. It's not like I'm a great rider and able to hold off a strong challenge for the lead. Although winning the race was a nice idea, it was more about engaging myself in the race and maintaining momentum. It was also about occupying my mind to stave off the boredom that was bound to occur sometime in the next 34 to 37 hours. 

I had heard that John and Heather had an arrangement to ride together as had Dave and Dawn before Dawn withdrew. So the only "team" I was aware of was John and Heather. After the first climb it seemed the glue had already softened on that arrangement. The three headed through Drummond and started up the climb to Inchanga. Somewhere up the climb I looked behind me and saw that Heather had unhitched and was out of sight. We figured her ride commitment to John had finally overshadowed the fun she was having at the front of the race. 

By the time we got to Cato Ridge the mist was heavy and was starting to soak our clothes. Unlike me Paul wasn't clad in rain gear. He commented on stopping sometime to get his rain coat out. A short while later he called out. I looked back and saw he had stopped. I slowed and turned back. The problem was obvious. Looking back twenty or thirty metres a could see little white patches neatly spaced every two metres terminating at a bigger milk like puddle under his tyre. A big cut across his tyre had the sealant leaking out. Not a great start to his ride. 

I gave him all of ten seconds worth of sympathy before remounting and heading off into the light drizzle. It's an individual race and there wasn't much I could do to help. I needed to maintain momentum and with the drizzle turning to light rain I needed to stay warm. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Off You Go

The race registration venue for the race consists of a table or two on the veranda of The Station Masters Arms in Hillcrest. With Dawn Bell unable to ride due to illness the field was whittled down to just eight competitors. 

Most people were either unsure or cagey about their race strategy. I had at least announced that I was planning on riding nonstop and that I wanted to finish before sunset on Saturday, 37 hours, with my audacious goal being to crack 34 hours. Having opted for my mountain bike, instead of my road steed, 34 hours was going to be tough. 

Race briefing lasted a few minutes. It consisted of Andy Masters handing out race numbers and engaging in some two way prattle with John Loos. To be fair, Andy did say something useful. He told us there was no accommodation available at The Border Post and that the kitchen there closed at 8pm. I knew I wouldn't be there by 8pm and didn't intend stopping so the only 'useful' information he gave us was of no import to me. Race numbers in hand we wandered off. 

With race numbers cable tied to our bikes we trickled back just after 4:30 am the following morning for the 5 am start. Bikes were unloaded from cars, helmets were fitted and lights checked. We wandered around blinding each other with our headlights while Andy did his best to line us up for a start line photograph. He must have managed because after a while he stepped back and announced, "Off you go!" And so we did just that. 

Monday, 26 September 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Getting to the start line.

5 am. Piercing alarm. Right... where is the soldering iron and solder? The right approach would be to get out of bed and look in the toolbox where it was last seen. The wrong approach would be to lay in bed another fifteen minutes trying to figure out an alternative in case the soldering iron was missing.

5:15 am. I go downstairs and plug in the soldering iron which I find in the soldering iron drawer of my toolbox.

5:25 am. Wires are a bit of a mess but I manage to get them back in working order. Or so I thought.
After 20 minutes of spinning my wheel trying to get the dynohub to work I plug in my multimeter and concluded that the wiring is perfect. The AC to DC USB convertor has obviously cooked itself when the wires got tangled and shorted out. Make a mental note to get a new one before The Munga.

5:50 am. What now? Tea!

6:00 am. More tea.

6:10 am. Fit cross tube bags and make sure there is chain lube, butt lube and sun cream and an assortment of tools, inflator cartridges, and general spares.
Other bag is loaded with power banks (2 because the USB charger was toast), earphones, charge cables for phone and GPS. Track down my standby Hope battery torch and fitted fresh batteries. Headlamp batteries seem fine, they should last. Load up 4 spare AA batteries just in case.

7:00 am. Tea.

7:10 am. Dig around in my cycling clothes drawer and take out a selection of riding gear... rain coat missing...

7:30 am. Dumb place to hide a rain coat. What was I thinking putting it there?

7:32 am. Tea.

7:45 am. I know there is something else that needs fixing...

8:00 am. Check the weather app. It is definitely going to be cold and wet. Long fingered gloves and leg warmers needed. Leg warmers are where they should be. Long fingered gloves are more of a challenge. I find one in the race box and the other in the garage.

8:30 am. Should have left 30 minutes ago. Water bottles! That was close. Find two bottles in the fridge already topped up with Oros. Yes, Oros, the sports drink of champions. I put them in the car.
I toss the bike in the car and hope I haven't forgotten anything.

8:45 am. I realise that I might need my Garmin. It's fully charged but no route loaded. I fire up the PC and download the race office suggested route onto the device and put that in the car.

9:00 am. Time to leave to pick up Dave and Dawn Bell. As I exit the complex it occurs to me that I still haven't sorted out the problem with the bike. Still can't remember what it is. Oh well.

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Just do it!

This time last year I did my first Durban Dash event. The race coincided with an oppressive heat wave that resulted in all but two riders pulling out of the race. Paul Erasmus and I pedalled up from Durban crossing the finish line together to jointly win first and last place. First place gets you kudos from your mates. Last place gets the only special award of the race - the coveted Lanterne Rouge. 


While it may seem ridiculous to celebrate last place anyone who knows anything about an Andy Masters event knows that completing any of his events is as good as winning. There is no shame in taking home the red lantern. 


That was last year. Roll around April this year and the Down version of the Durban Dash beckoned. Dash events are like bookends - unless you have both ends the set is incomplete. The weather office predicted fair weather so I prepped my road bike. There is a section of gravel road leading to the Old Halliwell checkpoint that rain could make impassable. It's only a fifteen kilometre stretch but it can be tricky, even in dry weather. One rider doing the Up last year on a Cyclocross bike fell off 5 times on this section resulting in him having to pull out due to an injury. There's an alternative route but it adds so much distance and time that you may as well ride a mountain bike and take the direct route. The weather office predictions came to pass and I was able to tick off 613 km's in 28 hours and some change. Although fast, it was only good enough for third place. Two guys planned well and executed better, crossing the finish line in just under 24 hours - I want to be like them when I am big. 


As race time for the next Up race approached I started thinking about how much faster I could do the Up ride on my road bike. I already had my bookend set and didn't need to do the race again. However, I couldn't shake the idea of riding the Up on a skinny bike. A few mouse clicks later I had officially entered the race. You would think I'd snap into action and start prepping my bike and planning my race. While a good idea, it's just not me. 


I squeezed in a few training rides early September and even managed a pair of tar sessions on my road bike. Nothing too demanding. It's always a good idea to get used to the different setup like I do the weekend before any big road race like the 947 Cycle Challenge. 


I had already fitted a big range MTB cassette on my road bike for the Down ride. I knew the Up was going to be a bigger challenge. In particular, the climb out of Pietermaritzburg and the climb up Oliviershoek Pass were going to be tough. I hoped the modified gear ratios would suffice. I was prepared to suffer a bit for those 25 kilometres to enjoy the speed benefit the bike gearing would bring over the remainder of the route. A mountain bike, while more comfortable, is not the weapon of choice on a tar road race. It's like entering a donkey in the Durban July. It will probably finish but the photo finish technicians won't be on speed dial.


Then the weather changed and the heavens opened. One week before the race the roads around Harrismith were sprinkled with snow and the field for the Hill 2 Hill MTB race in Durban thinned out as people didn't relish the idea of a mud race. Various weather sites agreed that it was going to be cold and wet on the first day of the race. All of a sudden my faithful "donkey" started to look a lot more attractive than my Cervelo "race horse".


The Cervelo had developed a creak and I suspected the bottom bracket needed some attention. I also knew there was a niggle or two on my mountain bike. 2 days before the race with the certainty of rain at 100% I abandoned the idea of riding the Cervelo and settled on my mountain bike. Someone said they might have a set of 29er slicks I could use but they couldn't find them and I wasn't about to part with a handful of shillings for new tyres for just one race. I knew I should have be proactive and got my ducks in a row but that never happened until the night before I headed down to Durban


The wiring for my dynohub USB charging system got damaged in the last day of The Freedom Challenge and I hadn't got around to fixing it. I also needed new brake pads and there was something else that needed fixing but I couldn't remember what it was. 

The cassette, chain and chain rings were well past their use by date with almost 3500km's of use since last service. I figured they hadn't showed any ill effects so were probably good for at least one more outing. 

The tyres, while adequate for serious off-road use, were a little heavy. I didn't fancy swapping them out for a lighter set which I had as I wasn't sure I had enough sealant to do the job. In truth, I was also being lazy. 


Before I tucked into bed I had managed to do very little on my bike. I found my Revelate saddle bag and fitted it to my bike. It should have taken less than a minute to fit but it ended up taking me at least ten minutes as I couldn't remember how it fitted to the saddle. I couldn't find new brake pads so fitted an old set that had a little wear left in them. I figured I would only have to use the brakes through towns if I caught the traffic lights on red. I also found two power banks in my box of race stuff and put them on charge. 


I set my alarm for 5am so I would have enough time to find the rest of my kit and attend to my bikes wiring problem and that 'something else' that I couldn't recall. 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Overview

Durban Dash, not your average ride. In a country inundated with more cycle races than weekends in which to host them, a new genre of cycling is starting to take hold - Unsupported Adventure Cycling. You start at point A and self navigate through a number of compulsory check points and finish a point Z. All without without any formal support or race organiser intervention. While not new on the global scene it has finally made its way to South Africa thanks to the vision and enthusiasm of Andy Masters whose stable of races are run under the Massive Adventures brand. The pinnacle offering is Trans Afrika, a race from Beit Bridge to Cape Town via three compulsory check points located in Swaziland, Lesotho, and Prince Albert. The 1000 Miler runs from Johannesburg to Cape Town. The Freestate Dash is a mini version of the 1000 miler and runs from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein while the Trans Karoo picks up on the 1000 miler from Bloemfontein through to Cape Town. The most recent race was the Durban Dash which comes in two variants, namely, the Down and the Up. The Durban Dash Up is a race from Hillcrest in Durban through 3 checkpoints - Old Halliwell Country Inn at Currys Post, The Border Post at the top of Oliviershoek Pass and the Heilbron KFC in the Freestate. The race ends at Thaba Trails in Johannesburg South. Any route is permissible as long as you don't ride on the N3. A suggested route is supplied in .gpx format. The Down race is simply the reverse. The cost of entry is cheap as chips. Granted you need to pay for accommodation and food along the way which makes a nonstop strategy attractive if you are stingy. The race is also short enough that competitive riders are able to ride nonstop. I used the .gpx route as supplied with one small variation that I knew from riding JoBerg2c. I'm not familiar with the tangle of backroads that thread you around the motorway and out of Durban into the midlands so was happy for clear directions. I packed sufficient food in my two ice cream tubs which were available at CP1 and CP2. Fuel station convenience stores kept me hydrated and provided treats like ice creams and crisps. That gives you an overview. I will delve into the events and headspace aspects of the race in following posts.