How hard can the Absa Cape Epic be? Let’s just chuck that out there so you can all roll around on the floor laughing with that ‘oh he is so dead’ hilarity that comes from knowing the answer.
No, I’m not trying to be provocative, that is a genuine question. It’s a question that I’ve been asking myself for a numerous years and then by some miracle of the stars it got to take on a whole new kind of urgency. ‘Dear Stuart, we would like to invite you to compete in the 2016 Absa Cape Epic….’
That’s about as far as I could read, ‘oh kaaaaaaay PANIC!!!’ The Monday office bustle around me suddenly disappeared into the ether, my pulse doubled, the world went woozy and the morning croissant stopped mid chew. I’m in? Really? YES YES HELL YES, oh I must pack, but I must train, how do I train, I will move to Spain and ride mountains, no wait – that’s insane, I’m IN, YES!!!
Well WE’RE in actually, unless you’ve been living on Mars, you will know Cape Epic requires two lemmings to both jump diligently off the cliff together. I was lucky enough to have found a kindred spirit in Scott Cornish, accomplished marathon racer who at the ripe old age of four zero years, fulfilled the one vital criteria, he’s a Master just like me.
Man, a combined age of 80, thats impressive in itself, I’ve wanted to call it a day on chasing fresh faced whippets, it is time to get with the weather beaten lot
Anyway, back to my morning shutdown. I immediately started working out the weeks I had to prepare, and realised I had barely 4 months to train and then tackle arguably the biggest marathon stage race in the world, mmmmm, it can be done I just need to figure out how. I started listing out the peaks and troughs I would be facing in training. It was pretty obvious some big sacrifices were going to have to be made and some reality was going to have to step in, the Northern Hemisphere cyclocross season has not exactly ranked high on the ‘must-do’ lists for pro marathon racers so I should assume amateurs should follow suit and my hallowed track night start places would have to be relinquished in favour of riders who would be slightly less paranoid they could ‘do a collarbone’ every time they set off onto the boards. Yes I was paranoid, but hell, this is a great opportunity, let’s not duff it up right?
So with the weeks mapped out the coach contacted (read, my fiancé requisitioned), the scale of the puzzle was becoming evident but with any luck this was still very doable.
As I think back over what was a pretty bleak winter’s worth of riding it comes with a great sense of pride, the mates around me appreciated that my road season too would be put on hold and they were going to do a world class job of highlighting any lingering vestiges of slobbery by tearing the legs off me on an almost daily basis. Rain, sleet, bitter cold and howling winds, the boys plowed through and dragged me with them. I started out in an utter box, my first ride was effectively a 120km 2 up with the road team’s newest hitter, that hurt everything, especially the confidence.
But as the weeks rolled on I occasionally showed a spot of good form, the odd bunch ride with a bit of beans, the turbo with good numbers. I was not going to have the luxury of easing into the season, If I wanted to stand any chance of enjoying this I was going to have to dig in and work for it so I’d like to think that is exactly what I did.
Tracy, fiancé/coach (never sure the order) has been getting high performing athletes attaining goals for some time now, she has some different approaches to hitting the targets.
Sessions are hands on, they involve standard conditioning but strength work and extended turbo efforts that on more than one occasion had me being physically yelled at to get to the finish. It’s made all the difference, it permeated my outlook, gone were the cheeky wines with a meal and goodbye was the friday beer. Juicing became the norm and I pretty much forgot what bread tasted like, numerous small shifts and multiple little controllable tweaks. Weight was monitored but not with some bonkers carrot-for-the-day lunacy, simply monitored to understand how some of the training load was effecting the physiology, I stood to lose a couple of kilos and they seemed to drop off then stabilise early on.
With the Cape Epic being the first focus naturally I had to shift out of short burst efforts but there seemed to be no shortage of 1 minute sprints, this helped keep an element of freshness to the weeks, short, sharp and actually fun. Each week held a truly different program and I can only thank Tracy for her ability to dream up new ways to keep that fun and focus. I don’t believe training should be about mind numbing repetition, that has never worked for me, the same goals can be achieved through a little left field thinking and I got that by the bucket load.
Avoiding the standard winter cold was an art form. Man how inconsiderate is EVERYONE when they don’t know your health is clearly more important than theirs! I was merciless, if a buddy was sneezing, I’d banish them to a ‘safe’ distance, if work colleagues started coughing I vacated their vicinity, catching the Tube was like asking to be dipped in bacteria so I pedalled to work on all but the worst days. It didn’t entirely work, I still faced a river of snot on some days as riding to limits in winter can be very tricky, dressing appropriately and never leaving anything to chance was the norm, I was mostly over dressed but eventually found all the layers that worked.
So here we are, ready to rock, I’ve done as much as I can and all that remains is to pedal and enjoy, race hard with and for my team mate and finally get that answer, how hard can it be?