As luck would have it this past weekend saw not one but three intrepid MarathonMTB.com’ers take on the Roc Laissagais, a race with a name so unfathomable for my sledgehammer African linguistics that it boiled down to, ‘The Roc’ and so it shall remain!
Heavens above, having basically hit the ground running from four solid racing days in Malta and diving straight into a rammed car bound for France, my head was spinning and the general feeling in the body was GOOOOO!!!
One serious head cold later and some high powered Mike Blewitt ‘If it doesn’t kill ya it’ll only leave you delirious’ flu tablets I was starting to have a few doubts I’d be quite the well oiled a machine as I had hoped. This was MEANT to be my chance to impress my mates with all my Euro flair and tenacity I’d picked up racing the Cipollini lookalikes in the Tour Ta Malta. I had hope this would go some way to even the balance of awesome in the car after all their over-achieving antics in the ABSA Cape Epic. We could hit the start line, lean, mean, race tanned and PUMPED!
‘Pooped’ may have been a more apt description, but hey after a mere 12 hour drive no rider I know would have been willing to admit defeat before the feat had even started, this weekend was going to require a few little chats to oneself.
Chat one: ‘this sucks’
It’s pissing with rain outside, it’s cold and Sundays race is looking set to become infinitely tougher than expected. I can hear the words leave my head before I can stop them. This is not helpful to the rest of the guys’n'girls in race hut central – and instantly I regret opening my yap. I endeavor to keep my little ray of sunshine to myself and approach things more positively.
‘erm sure going to make a change from 40 degrees eh?’ Feeble Spies feeble…
Sunday is upon us, the rain has mercifully stopped and I’m actually not feeling too bad, new team kit on, we set about the ritual, fiddle, twist, stretch, fiddle, prod, squish, click oh and pee. Somehow I spend enough time in the toilet to return to my race prepped machine and find someone has actually stolen a bottle off my bike…eh? Why? More importantly DON’T PANIC.
‘WATER! Will, Mike, water, some bastard has…water….must’ I’m a headless racing chicken, the boys give me a spare bottle, shake their heads and we line up.
Chat two: “be calm, carry on,”
Strangely saying to yourself ‘be calm’ seems to put everything into slow motion, the pace out the start is as expected, batsh** but after the eyeballs out adrenaline madness at Tulbagh and the Sabie Ultra things seem steadier, I really like you Frenchies! Mud soon starts clutching at our wheels and sucking our energy, yet the 29er still somehow remains in its element, and the skills of those around me is evident. We roll on razorback ridges, slide in and out of gulleys until eventually the trail turns to a vertiginous war trench and our bikes need to be lifted!
Pacing is a tricky old thing in marathon riding, unlike runners we don’t ever tend to discuss pacing strategies in any great depth. Maybe it’s thanks to the ever changing conditions, or the inability to ride in exactly the same environment as you will race or maybe its just because it has to be such a fluid thing. Personally I’m still trying to find the perfect pace, I’m out to beat my overall average speeds for each race, while having the ability to ride an entire event with an element of strength. Regardless, I really like finding a pace buddy, the unspoken universal knowledge that two is better than one really helps keep the spirit up and the focus dialed in.
I find him, knee high to a French grasshopper with a tenacity to match. Me and my new pal tackle the course together, he’s a machine on the climbs, I grovel behind him then I lead us through the technical sections, which for me is a bit of a first! One nose wheelie over a root and my pace buddy is now growing dubious of my skills, but we push on. At 20km to go I remember thinking ‘pfff this is NOTHING like Sabie’ where at the 60km I still had 52 odd kms to get my head around, while it felt like my face was literally going to melt off in the heat. Oh but march on Chat number three!
Pace Buddy finally shakes me, and I’m alone, I’m freezing and suddenly all the warning lights fire up like someone has tripped over the main power lead. The engine room is empty and I’m scratching for a gel, how? Was I in a daydream? I can feel my concentration slip to all things negative, ‘another rubbish result, LOSER’ where did that come from, time to break out my angry words. I must have a split personality but somewhere my pint sized ‘in case of emergency break glass’ has released my inner East German cycling coach.
Chat Three: ‘Push Spies!”
He’s amazing! ‘Push Spies, these are the final miles to the final moment, how do you wish to ride them, like the defeated?’ Cruel but fair, all doubts are soon eradicated with a venomous verbal assault ‘how many times have you felt like this and how many times WILL you feel like this and how many of THOSE times do you plan to concede defeat?’
‘Whoa there fella’, I whimper to myself, but it carries on, gradually the verbal self flagellation has the desired effect, I’m angry at the course and the soul sucking gloop that is hindering progress but now I batter myself to overcome it, for every pedal stroke I remind myself ‘someone has done more with less’. As cliched and contrived as it may be, the element of vague truth in my own harsh assessments push me over the finish line to see my equally shell shocked mates, there is no better feeling, race done, let’s eat!
Angry words, find ‘em, use ‘em.