Monday, 9 January 2017
Racing The Munga 2016 - Of Chess and Endurance Racing
Unlike chess, there are no standard opening moves. If you wish to push the chess analogy, assume that you are playing black. Your opening moves are dictated by white. White in this case is not your competitors but rather the weather. You need to play the game according to the conditions on the day. That is not to say you arrive at the start and wing it. If you are racing it helps to have a strategy. My plan was to arrive at Van Der Kloof dam before midnight but the weather conditions meant that wasn't going to be mine or anyone else's reality. Fifty kilometres into the race and doubled over puking into a garden I knew my priority was simply to get to RV1 with enough gas left in the tank to grab a meal and head off toward the next race village. My time of arrival at RV1 was of little consequence. The conditions were brutal and I knew the whole field was going to be equally affected.
I am of the opinion that you don't need to sleep the first night as it is the freshest you will be for the duration of the race. We knew the days were going to be hot and probably windy. That being the case it makes sense to make the best of the cooler, and hopefully, less windy nights.
In chess the opening phase is considered over and the middlegame commenced once the pieces are developed, the centre is controlled and the King is protected. The middlegame of The Munga commences the moment you step out the door of RV1. By refuelling and moving forward without stopping to sleep you join the ranks of the racers. You can be fairly certain that, no matter how long you took to get to RV1, by moving through you will be in the top 25% of the field.
If you push through after a gruelling 222 km with the intention of banging out a further 170 km before breakfast/brunch, you fall squarely into the "Racing Snake" category. The next trick is to translate "intention" into "reality".
Middlegame is where the excitement and freestyle aspect of the game plays out. Middlegame strategy in chess is complex and involves a mix of tactical manoeuvres that result in piece attrition. Competitor attrition during The Munga is not necessarily the result of direct competitor interplay but it happens and it plays a huge part in the final outcome of the race.
If you want advise on a solid middlegame strategy then make it simply to stay in the game. Don't be one of the riders that goes home early. By all means be aggressive but a thoughtless do or die strategy for a race of that distance and duration will be stacking the odds against yourself. Look at the numbers from this years race - The last finisher was well inside the top 50% of the number of riders that started.
Another way of staying in the game is to ride your own race. Too many riders get caught up in the excitement of the chase, particularly on the first afternoon. It's not a one day race - ride to survive. I am happy once the mania of the start settles down and I am riding on my own at my own pace. It's as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. Don't let someone else get inside your head. If your head gets soft, your legs follow.
Middlegame tactics play an important part. The most obvious tactic revolves around when to sleep and for how long. In this regard there are opportunities to play a few mind games with those you are racing against. You don't have to sleep at race villages. Designated water points and a clearing next to the road in the middle of nowhere can do just as well. But don't get caught up in trying to get too cute with the mind games as they can just as well backfire. A comfortable bed is always going to be more refreshing than cuddling up with scorpions and spiders in a ditch. When making tactical decisions let your first thought be, "I must stay in the game".
Chess endgame theory revolves around the movement, exchange, promotion, and dominance of the pieces left in play after transitioning through the middlegame. It is the phase where the game must be carefully controlled to produce the desired outcome.
Arriving in Sutherland, through a combination of tactics and competitor attrition, I found myself in 4th place. With only 293 kilometres between me and the finish line in Diemersfontein the middlegame was over. I needed to eat, shower and bank 90 minutes of sleep before executing my endgame.