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.