Having never done an ultra-endurance bicycle race before, I figured the best way to tackle The Munga is by doing some longer distance rides that will test me physically, mentally and emotionally. I’ll also get a chance to work out what kind of gear is best for me. The gear that’s good for 100km on my local trails isn’t necessarily going to be good for 1000km across the Karoo. – By Sean Badenhorst
Having a reasonable riding base throughout this year (I have done 2-3 rides most weeks), I decided that my first The Munga benchmark ride should be 100km long and ridden solo – a bit of a stretch for me after having done very little riding in July. In 25 years of mountain biking, I’ve probably done less than 10 rides longer than 100km.
Thankfully, I did my 100-kay pedal fairly comfortably on a Specialized Camber Evo, which is actually a trail bike, but which worked well with its slightly relaxed geometry, putting me in a slightly more upright position. There was about 40km of singletrack on this ride because I need stimulation. Riding gravel roads for hours on end isn’t my idea of fun, but I suppose I should start getting used to it… The weather was warm and sunny and I wore Assos T.Equipe bib short, which is third from the top in their six-model range (more about my bib-shorts options in a later blog).
A week later I did my first stage race of the year, the Isuzu Trucks PE-Plett – just under 400km in four days with a vast variety of terrain and gradients – and incredible scenery! My teammate, Issy Zimmerman (aka Jerusalem Jet) and I managed to keep a pretty good pace throughout to finish 10th overall and second in the Veteran men’s category. Issy is fairly new to mountain biking, but has a good cycling engine from years of racing road and triathlon. We ‘clicked’ quickly and, both being competitive, spent a lot of time in our respective discomfort zones…
Issy cut a tyre on Day 2, which forced me to discover and develop my plugging skills – fast. Amazingly, it was the first tyre I’ve ever had to plug! Seriously. I’m either very lucky or I don’t ride often enough to have to deal with cut tyres. Or, as the late Burry Stander used to say, “if you choose your lines carefully, you have a much lower risk of tyre damage”. I think I’ll take the last one…
We lost 28 minutes that day, but I did gain some valuable skills in learning just how to plug a rather big cut and hope to never have to use that skill during The Munga (or any other race for that matter).
During the PE-Plett race we did a 125km stage and I felt pretty strong throughout. Very strong actually. This was psychological plus for me after having only just done a tentative 100km ride the week before. I did PE-Plett on a Momsen VIPA, a full carbon, dual suspension XC-style bike.
Two weeks later (2 Oct) after having recovered fully from PE-Plett, I did a 93km solo ride almost
entirely on singletrack – on an aluminium hardtail (Momsen AL829). I didn’t ride fast, just steady. Just over 4hours 30minutes in total. The amazing thing is that I didn’t even feel like I’d ridden when I got home! Another psychological plus! I’d focussed on pedalling steady, not hard. It felt a bit weird to be honest.
It’s amazing the difference between race pace and steady-ride pace. I’ve never really just ticked over on my rides. Almost every ride is hard because I don’t get to ride as often as I’d like to, so I usually feel like every pedal stroke must count – completely. But now I’m settling into a new mindset. One where there’s no real urgency. It’s a bit strange finishing my rides and not seeing any Strava segment badges. I’m starting to get my head around endurance – ultra endurance. The Munga will require over 1000km of steady pedalling. Very steady.
As I start to understand the concept and strategy required to cover a great distance in one go I’m not as completely fearful of The Munga distance as I was initially, but there are moments, a few times a day actually, when I’m still scared to death. Fear is still my main motivation. I don’t know for sure, but think that’s a good thing.
Mike Woolnough is my teammate for The Munga. He has completed a few ultra-endurace races, including the Freedom Challenge and the Race to Rhodes. He has his own blog where he offers great insight into what goes into his own ultra-endurance racing and preparation. Check his posts out here: http://www.mikewoolnough.blogspot.com/
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