Saturday, 23 December 2017
The Munga 2017
If we want a remarkable Munga tale then we need to unwrap the story behind medal number 69. The story behind it is extraordinary.
Laz Mashishi has worked with me for many years. His first bike was a BMX that he used to roll with the the 'bike gang' at school. They would ride around town and from the school to the pool in town. It was normal kid stuff hanging out with buddies. It never crossed his mind that bike riding could be a competitive sport.
Not long after joining the company in 2008 he rooted around in our bike room at work and put together a usable mountain bike that he would ride from time to time.
A bunch of us from work entered the 2009 edition of 94.7 Cycle Challenge and Laz managed to finished in 4h45. He entered again in 2010 and finished in a similar time.
A few years later having upgraded to one of my 29er MTB's he entered again determined to get under 4 hours. In both 2014 and 2015 he missed that target by a few minutes.
Over the last 9 years they were the only races that Laz had ever entered. Even though he had only ever ridden a mountain bike he had never entered an MTB event.
After my 2016 Munga Laz and I spent many hours chatting about the race. The conditions of the 2016 event were brutal and highlighted the importance of mental strength over physical condition. Don't get me wrong, physical condition is important but if it isn't paired with fierce determination then the Munga is likely to slap you down.
Sometimes when going on a country trip to do an installation he would take a bike and spend many hours exploring the area once the job was done. He enjoyed his cycling but didn't have any goals or ambitions. He was an active member of our weekend ride group and would also join in the occasional night ride. It was obvious that he was passionate about riding and I believed he possessed a natural toughness that he had yet to explore.
One day while chatting about the race I looked Laz in the eye and asked if he thought he could finish the Munga. He thought about it for a moment and replied, "I think I can."
When people hear about the Munga and say things like, "I could never do a race like that," I agree with them. When Laz replied, "I think I can," I agreed with him.
It all comes down to this century old pearl of wisdom
"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't—you're right."
To finish a tough race like the Munga you need to lead with your head—your body will follow your headspace.
And so started Laz's preparation for the Munga 2017.
First up he needed a bike. I gave him the choice of my bikes and he settled for my Lynskey.
Next up was a training programme. I felt that I'd be a suitable mentor for preparing Laz mentally for the challenge ahead having done the first 2 Munga's and a load of other endurance events but I'd be a poor example of how to train effectively on the bike—I'm too random in my ride training. For that I turned to my brother Sean who has been a lifelong athlete and understands the science and numbers behind setting up a proper training schedule. He was the perfect match for Laz. Sean met with him on a number of occasions and devised a programme that would get him to the start line in good shape.
The training wasn't plain sailing and there were a few rides where Laz realised that long distance cycling isn't as easy as pedalling for hours at a time. He came to understand that it hurts. Rather than shying away from the discomfort he accepted that it was part and parcel of endurance cycling and pushed himself harder.
Laz took part in every Mini Munga and made some solid riding mates. Many of whom ended up riding with him on the race.
ArcelorMittal came to the party and sponsored his entry into the race where he registered as a Development Rider. If anyone ever qualified as a development rider it was Laz. After all, this was going to be his first mountain bike race.
At the start venue my last words of advice to Laz were, "Forget about where you finish, just make sure you finish."
The rest is history. It wasn't as simple as joining the dots and he had a few challenges along the way but he prevailed. Laz started and finished and got his hands on his own Munga medal.
I had originally planned to wait for him at the finish to celebrate his success with him. In thinking about it I realised that his achievement was all his and had nothing to do with me. I simply opened the stable door and left the running up to him. From my own experiences I've learnt that finishing a race like that is intensely personal. The people that mattered to him at that moment would be the ones he'd spent the last few days riding with. They had shared an amazing experience and I would only be an intrusion in that space. With that in mind I hopped on a plane and headed home.
I did fetch him from the airport when he flew back and had a chance to tell him how chuffed I was for him.
Medal 69 is not mine and I have no claim to it. It belongs to Laz and I am proud to call him friend, fellow competitor and finisher of the Munga.
What started out as a quest to get an inexperienced cyclist to finish one of the toughest events around ended with me standing shoulder to shoulder with a fellow Munga warrior.
Salute my friend.