Attakwas - The Comrades of Mountain BikingMy Facebook status update, the day before the Attakwas read something like this: “121km on a mountain bike tomorrow - what was I thinking when I signed up?” A very accurate response from a friend was: “Was that not a typo ‘what were you drinking?’” I was about to take on the Comrades Marathon of mountain biking (cutoff for Atta is 11 hours, not 12 hours like Comrades).
I signed up for one of the toughest one-day races in 2015 after chatting to some friends about it around a braai (yes, there might have been a few beers involved). The closest I came to mountain biking all year was the fact that I was on a “MTB” whatsapp group. My wakeup call came when @Anna_Afrika invited me to a charity mountain bike race, the STBB MTB Challenge. My initial bravery of attempting the 60km route without training was changed by my un-gladiator-like move of downgrading to the 30km event instead…I completed the race with a smile (and a tutu), as I am involved in a breast cancer charity myself and thought it would be worth it to put a smile on people's faces (and to distract me from the fact that I did not train for it).
This race was a wakeup call for me to start training for the Attakwas...or it was supposed to be. I upped my game with a record breaking 5 times on my mountain bike for the next two months. In December I doubled my efforts. With an average of 18.5km per session for the 10 times I did go cycling I started to get nervous. A 52km ride after Christmas with less than 300m of elevation gain was my last desperate attempt to prepare myself...in the saddle for less than 3 hours is not exactly what I would call T.I.T.S.
The last 6 training rides in January did include a bit more climbing but I was still really stressed. My mountain biking friends were more stressed than I was, not only for my level of training but also because I wanted to do it on my 26er mountain bike...a very, very basic model, with tubes and v-brakes. This was about to change. Helderberg Cycle World came to my rescue. I had a meeting with Petie and he made a Specialized Stump Jumper available for me, a week before the race. Looking back, I can truly say that there was no way that I would have been able to do this race without this beauty. Thank you Conrad Stoltz for the advice - your recommendation did put a big smile on my face, the day I hit the trails the first time (I did a skills training course with Conrad, so he knew my abilities and his recommendation was spot-on).
On race day I arrived with my plus sized tyres (27.5s and 3.0 wide) and a nervous smile on my face. People stared at my bike, thinking I’m crazy to do it with these wheels. If only they knew...the combination of my fitness and technical abilities down a rocky downhill would have raised many eyebrows. The bike had a dropper post on the seat - this together with the wheels made all the difference. I was riding up and down tracks that just more than a week ago, with my old bike, I would NOT have been able to stay upright on. Lance Armstrong said “It’s not about the bike” but I would have to tell him one day that he was wrong. ;-)
Water points on route were truly impressive. The big smiles and support was really encouraging. A feast was set before our eyes, including biltong, watermelon, ostrich steak and even Spur burgers. I did however only make very quick stops at the first two water points as it would have been very difficult to keep moving if I started indulging in all the great food. I stuck to the mix of nuts, cranberries and droëwors that I had with me - sticking to what works for my body was the safest. At the 3rd waterpoint I was uncomfortably close to the recommended time, should you wish to do an 11 hour race.
With less than 500m to the last water point, I hit a wall. From the halfway mark I did not eat enough and I felt as if I was going to faint. Lying in the shade in a fetus position seemed like a much better option than walking to the waterpoint...I forced myself to eat something and the stars in my eyes turned back to daylight. FOOOOOD...I stuffed myself for the first time, starting on one side of the table and feasting on anything and everything. The announcer did his best to get me going again, as he knew I was on the edge of the cut-off times. I was on my own for the last leg...the guys I was riding for the last while only had a quick stop and were gone. With a headwind and a broken body, I had to put my head down and push through. With about 5km to go a guy came past, working hard against the wind. The company, and especially the fact that I could draft behind someone else helped.
With about 5 minutes left we cycled past the “2km left” sign. This was going to be a close one...people started screaming and cheering us on. I was waiting for Chariots of Fire to start playing and golden streamers to start falling from the sky. I just completed the longest mountain bike race I’ve ever done. With 1 minute and 2 seconds left, I was the last official finisher at Attakwas 2016. What an awesome experience it was!!!!
On the Sunday morning I went for a short recovery ride, to get a coffee. My body was full of “happy hormones”. The sense of achievement was incredibly high after finishing such a tough but beautiful race. Thank you so much for all the support!