It’s been eight years since I last rode the Telkom Cycle Challenge. Two things excited me: The idea of a backwards route (man, it was tough!) and of finally taking the initiative of doing the race for charity. After a lot of back and forth over which charity to choose, I went with The Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC).
The bush has always been a big part of my life. Most of our holidays growing up were camping in the middle of nowhere, digging a hole for a toilet, sleeping under the stars, and having my fair share of close (sometimes a bit too close) animal encounters.
I feel so blessed that my parents brought my sister and I up in this way, with a real love for the bush, animals and conservation. Once I looked into the amazing work HESC does, it was a no-brainer – they were my charity of choice!
So, I was excited about riding this race again and about the charity I’d be supporting. What I didn’t expect was the incredible camaraderie between the charity teams on the day. It was really inspirational. The energy and passion of all of us standing in that start pen, knowing we were riding for a cause, was unforgettable.
“Anyone can appear strong and in control when things are easy, and life is going well. But it’s when you are pushed to your limits that your true strength and character come out.”
Remember, some of these gents and ladies are fast riders, and sacrifice an earlier start time in order to ride for their charity of choice. Others are just trying to finish, pedalling one foot in front of the other for their cause, spending hours in the heat of the day in order to create awareness and raise some much-needed money for these charities.
The heatwave in Jozi during the week of the cycle challenge created quite a bit of anxiety and nervousness leading up to the event. With temperatures reaching a high of 36 degrees on the day, we all woke up pretty much expecting to die.
Anyone with a later start time – like us – would be riding in the midday heat. My start time was 8:25am and I finished at 1:37pm, which means I spent five hours and 12 minutes in the saddle, riding the 95 km route – not a very fast time, but reasonable, particularly given the fact that it felt like everything about this cycle challenge seemed to be working against my favour.
First, I only decided to do the event in September and I only managed four practice cycles in the weeks leading up to the race. I borrowed a bike from a friend, so I wasn’t riding in the comfort of my own saddle, and I generally really struggle in the heat. Give me a chilly July cycle any day! I also ended up at the physio a few days before the event because of a sore knee and elbow, both of which had slight overuse injuries in the days leading up to the race.
Given all this, imagine my surprise when, as I was cycling along, I felt calm, happy and energised. It was by far the most enjoyable cycle challenge I’ve ever done, even though it wasn’t my fastest. When I finished that day I went home, hugged my family and fell asleep on the couch with my three-year-old.
The next day, I thought about the great race I’d had, and why it was such an overall enjoyable experience.
I believe three key factors came into play. One, I exercise a lot, so keeping in general good shape will help you accomplish most averagely-difficult physical tasks. Two, I finally ditched the sugary crap I’ve eaten during races like this one in the past, and went with the nutrition that I know is best – real food!
I had berries, nuts, seeds and full cream plain yoghurt in the morning (like I do every morning); a full-cream fruit and chia seed smoothie on the start line; and a boiled egg, banana, Kiri cheese and a boiled sweet potato during the ride. I mixed an apple juice with water in my bottles at a one-to-three ratio, and had one bottle just with salt mixed with Rehydrate. I made sure I added lots of salt to my egg and sweet potato as well, knowing I’d be losing sodium because I’d be sweating my ass off in that heat.
Three, my mind was in the right place. This is probably the most important factor to consider. I went into this race with few expectations, other than to finish, to raise some money for my cause and, hopefully, enjoy at least parts of it. (Also, I really didn’t want to pass out from heat exhaustion – this was a genuine concern).
I wasn’t aiming for a Sub 4 or a Sub 5. I just wanted to finish. This was my first cycle challenge since entering into motherhood. In the last few years since my daughter was born, I’ve learnt about my own strength and tenacity. I’ve learnt to power through any situation, no matter how tough it seems at the time. To not only get through it, but to connect with the idea that whatever difficult situation you’re going through, you will come out better on the other side.
I’ve learnt that if it’s not hard, it’s not worth it. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all things in life, but it sure as hell applied that Sunday. Anyone can appear strong and in control when things are easy, and life is going well. But it’s when you are pushed to your limits that your true strength and character come out.
Sitting on your bicycle in the midday heat of a heatwave, your legs burning as you’re slowly pushing one foot in front of the other, climbing up what must be the 35th hill of the day, will test your mind power better than most things in life. And it’s at that point that you can give up, or truly surprise yourself.
I’ve always been a fairly positive person, but I’ve also let the small things and the ‘daily grind’ of life get to me. Pushing yourself to your physical limit teaches your brain to respond in one of two ways. The first is to say ‘f*ck you! I don’t want to do this!’ OR ‘This is pretty hard, but man, I’m going to feel great when I cross that finish line.’
I chose option 2. I concentrated on how great it was to experience my city and the people in it from the view of my bicycle (For those non-South Africans, you must understand how rare it is to be able to safely ride on a closed metropolitan road in Joburg).
Look, I didn’t run the Comrades, or do a multi-day event like The Cape Epic, or a multi-disciplinary race like Iron Man. I did a mere 95km on a bicycle. But I enjoyed it, which, for me, is an achievement. The toughest things in life, like having a child, or pushing yourself to the maximum, are often also the best things.