Monday, 13 March 2017

What will it take to win Race to Cradock 2017?

The Race to Cradock is a 575 km, non-stop, self-navigated mountain bike race starting in Rhodes and ending in Cradock, Eastern Cape. Riders are allowed a maximum of 6 days to complete the ride.
It is a non-stop event, so riders are not required to stop every day/night as in other stage races. Riders are required to be self-sufficient and carry all their own personal belongings with them.

There are a couple of people who could take line honours this year. My top picks start on the last two start days of the race - 21st and 22nd March. That's not to say a dark horse from an earlier start batch doesn't raise its head.

If you are not familiar with the race format you might be confused by the concept of 'the last two start days.' Riders are batched in daily start groups of 5-9 riders leaving every day from 15th March through to 22nd March. This to prevent congestion at the overnight support stations. Riders advise the race office of their strategy and riding tjommie preferences when they enter and are batched accordingly. The guys and girls who either self identify as race snakes or have a race pedigree that places them in that category start at the back of the field, hence my suggestion that the winners will most likely come from the last 2 start days.

The ladies top pick would have to be Janine Stewart who is the current woman's record holder at 61 hours 20 mins. She has a race pedigree of note. She's tough, determined, and experienced. She knows what it takes to prevail over that distance. I'm sure she will be looking to pare off at least a handful of hours so we'll pencil her in for 56 hours.

The guys in contention are Antony Avidon, Casper Venter, Charles Mansfield, Jacques Tattersall, and Leon Erasmus. All have race experience and know this section. I have the most experience on this section and although I lack race conditioning I'll tuck myself in at the end of that list as route knowledge and night navigation experience counts for something.

That's what it is and who they are. Now what will it take to win the race?

The key is an executable strategy. The old-bullet strategy of ride until you drop is going to come face to face with the young guns strategy of ride fast, stop and recover, and then ride fast again - the old tortoise and the hare story, except the hares are focussed and the tortoises more determined.

The challenge is the distance involved. It's almost short enough to race non-stop and almost long enough to win using a race-rest-race approach. It's going to be interesting to see who adopts which strategy and then how those strategies play out in a head-to-head contest of the Almosts.

I think the men's winning time will be in the order of 50 to 52 hours. Sub 48 is the holy grail. The current record set by Alex Harris in 2015 is 47 hours 35 mins. You need to beat that if you wish to wrest the chalice from him.

I've crunched all the data and offer the following as a race plan that will get a rider to the finish in 48 hours.

Place name, distance to get there, in and out times, (transit times to the get there from the previous point)

Rhodes 05:00

Chesneywold 68km 09:15 - 09:25 (4h15)

Slaapkranz 37km 12:20 - 12:30 (2h55)

Moodenaars 58km 17:30 -17:45 (5h00)

Kranzkop 38 km 19:45 - 20:00 (2h00)

Brosterlea 49km 01:00 - 01:45 (5h00)

Romansfontein 82km 06:45 - 07:30 (5h00)

Hofmeyr 72km 13:30 - 13:45 (6h00)

Elandsberg 33km 16:45 - 17:00 (3h00)

Newlands 51km 20:00 - 21:00 (3h00)

Rockdale 28 km 23:00 (2h00)

Cradock 58km 05:00 (6h00)

That's the plan. All that's needed is someone to deliver.

Any takers?

Friday, 10 March 2017

Racing The Munga - How to Prepare (Part 7 It's a Wrap)

'When' not 'If'.

If you are familiar with the name Norman Vincent Peale the chances are that you are at least 50 years old. If the name rings no bells you might recognise the title of his seminal book - "The Power of Positive Thinking." Crudely speaking it is about autosuggestion    and the benefits of a positive outlook. The important aspect for us is understanding the influence of thought over performance. Too often failure is foreshadowed by negative thinking. I guess we have all seen it happen in a race and we can easily pick out the riders who will not complete a multi-day stage race based on their narrative. 

Stop using words like 'if' and replace them with 'when'. It's not that much different to the Assumptive Closing Technique they teach you in sales training. If you're a peddler of goods then you've no excuse for not being a positive pedaller. Rather than, "If I get to Diemersfontein.." say, "When I get to Diemersfontein..", otherwise you are going to 'If' yourself home on an early bus. 

Go one step further and visualise yourself riding over the finish line, feel the weight of the precious finishers medal as Alex places it around your neck and then allow your minds eye to look down at the medal and then imagine it has a low single digit number on it. 

Adjust your timeframe.

When we're at gym or riding up a steep hill we tell ourselves that we just need to dig in for another 30 to 40 seconds. We reason that we can do anything for 30 seconds. When I ride 947 and I pass the Douglasdale police station I know I just have to give it everything for another 30 or 40 minutes. Hanging in there for those seconds or minutes makes it all worthwhile when the ride is done and we reflect back on our achievements. 

When you race The Munga the seconds and minutes matter but not nearly as much as the hours and days. I think in terms of hours when I'm waiting for the sun to dip below the horizon so that I can put my head down and make the best use of the cooler hours. I think in terms of days when I contemplate the overall race. When you've spent the better part of a year obsessing over a race it's easier to think in days and sometimes weeks. At the start of the Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa last year I adjusted my timeframe to 2 weeks. That's the time I wanted to finish the race in and I constantly reminded myself during the race that all I had to do was dig in and give it everything for just 2 weeks. On The Munga, standing on the start line at midday on Wednesday, my focus was on Saturday lunchtime. That might seem like a long time to ride your bike but whether you are curled up in a bed, or sleeping under a tree, or riding your bike, Saturday lunchtime is going to come around. And when it does I would far rather be slurping on a milkshake in the restaurant at Diemersfontein than pedalling along a hot dusty road with hours and days still ahead. The thought process is this, "No time to go soft now, you've done the training, you know what's needed, you have a race plan, now execute. If you go soft now you will have regrets afterwards. Get on with it!"

I covered the aspect of racing without regrets in a post last year after finishing the Freedom Challenge.


Have a plan.

Before the race I set myself a target and then break that down into the various stages. Once I have a workable plan I go public with it. Nailing my colours to the mast is my way of cementing my resolve. I get it wrong from time to time but I feel obliged to deliver on my plan and it keeps me motivated.


You don't need an audacious plan, but certainly don't stand on the start line hoping to wing it. That's an indication of a scruffy mind. The most important weapon you have is your headspace. Have it ordered so that it serves your ambitions and doesn't detract from them. 


Thursday, 9 March 2017

Racing The Munga - How to Prepare (Part 6 Last But One)

Learn to live with compromises. 

It's a simple issue but one that some people struggle with. If your bike shares a bed with you and your partner sleeps in the garage then you are probably one of those people who get edgy every time your bike creaks or the brakes squeal. Get over it. When you are in the middle of the Karoo and you break a spoke, or heaven forbid a fingernail, no one else cares. Least of all the sheep. I've seen people break a derailleur and convert to single-speed. I've seen them riding with pringled wheels and even walking with bikes on their backs. I've even seen someone riding with only front brakes over mountainous terrain. All these people finished the race they were in. If your bike isn't in perfect working order there is nothing to be gained from dwelling on it. Stick your earphones in, choose some happy music, crank up the volume, and get on with it. Yes, earphones are allowed on The Munga as are aero bars. Do yourself a favour and download an audiobook or two to help while away the hours.  

Become your own expert. 

When I arrived at Van der Kloof dam this past December I was shattered. Amy McDougall was there and came over and chatted. She could see that I was exhausted. She asked if I was stopping or pushing through. When I told her that I was going to push on her response was, "You know your body." She might be young but she is crammed full of race experience and wisdom. 

No one knows my capabilities better than I do and she knew that. She also knew it wasn't her place to suggest otherwise. 

I left Van der Kloof and, as expected, I recovered and had an enjoyable ride to the next race village. Don't let other people tell you what to do unless you are not the best expert on yourself. If you aren't, then listen to your body and try understand your headspace under stress and start figuring out what's best for you. 

Set new endurance boundaries for yourself and then go out and break them and set new ones. You are so much stronger than you think you are. I'm no stranger to feeling completely shattered. Read this post:

Funny thing about that race is that I went on to win and set a race record in the process. 

Then there's this strange story. I heard of one guy who decided to pull out of The Munga and was trying to talk another competitor into quitting as well. Sis! If someone tries to talk a hole in your head immediately strike them from your Christmas card list. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Racing The Munga - How to Prepare (Part 5 More blah blah blah)

Ditch Tonto. 

Get used to riding on your own. Even if you are planning on riding with someone during the race, get used to riding in your own space. If you need safety in numbers find some riding partners that don't suffer from separation anxiety and ride near each other without the need to be in constant contact. Endurance events are solo events and the chances are that you will spend most of the ride on your own. Even if you plan to ride with someone there are going to be times when you become separated. In fact, you will probably have times where you just need to be on your own. I love riding on my own but it wasn't like that in the early days. When you are on your own you get to ride at your own pace without having to match someone else's speed or stopping schedule. 

Uncomplicate Everything.

It goes without saying that you need to get your equipment choices optimised for the race. There is nothing worse than carrying something from the start to the finish only to realise that you didn't need it at all. How do you know what you need? Experience. I have improved in this department over the years but still haven't got it perfect. That said, I would rather take slightly too much gear than too little. 

Leave your heart rate monitor at home. 

It's a distraction that adds no value to your race. A heart rate monitor is a training tool. It's not that useful for endurance racing. In the short term you have to deal with cardiovascular drift which skews the reading. By days two and three all it will tell you it that you are tired which is consistent with how you feel. 

I have had many conversations with people who think they have heart problems because they can't get their heart rates up when they have been riding for days. The funny thing is that no matter how I try and convince them that it's normal they aren't convinced. Most people understand the basic principle that we have a fixed volume of blood in our system and as exercise increases the demand for oxygen and nutrients our heart increases its rate to match the demand. Once you have shredded your legs over a couple of days the muscles simply cannot perform at peak and require fewer nutrients and less oxygen. Therefore, heart rate will naturally decrease. There's nothing wrong with the heart it is simply maintaining an equilibrium between requirement and delivery of oxygen and nutrients. I have watched people pack up and leave a race because they think they have heart issues when there is nothing wrong with them at all. Do yourself a favour, avoid unnecessary headspace scribbling and leave your training tool at home. 

Rid yourself of the NEED for anything. 

This point might be a bit contentious but hear me out.

If you are one of those people that need XYZ drink on the bike and ABC recovery shake every time you get off the bike, perhaps it's time to think about it rationally. If you really think you can't ride without them then what are you going to do on The Munga? Yes, there is an energy drink and supplement sponsor involved in the race and you can use their products. But here's the point - all you actually NEED in your bottle is a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar. Salt for sweating losses and sugar for energy. Just sugar? Yup. Your muscles can't read labels and sugar is sugar no matter how you dress it up. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that you ride with only salt and sugar (although I know people who do), just don't be fussy about what you use and don't have a melt down if you can't find the "right" stuff. By all means fill your bottles at the start with your sugar brand drink of choice and maybe take a few sachets along if you wish but it's not necessary. This is not a 3 or 4 hour race and I can assure you that even if you could carry your race juice of choice you are going to hate it after a few days. In summary, rid yourself of the burden of NEEDING anything and rather settle for what can be found along the way.