“I Posted A No-Make-Up Selfie During My Toughest Moment — Here’s Why”
Sport is just one example of when we feel really strong. We grimace as we overcome fear and obstacles. We feel joy at completing a near-impossible feat of fitness. It’s real and raw. It’s dirty. It’s emotion. But it’s power. It’s not all red-lipstick-and-contouring back here at WH HQ. We’re girls with true grit! And that’s exactly why I shared this picture…
The Race That Led To This Epic Selfie
The night before my very first-ever mountain biking race, I’m all nerves: “I can’t find my cable ties! Have you seen my gloves?” My boyfriend, Bernard – Mr calm and patient – sighs as he hands me extra cable ties and lifts my bib shorts to reveal my gloves.
Together, we are Team 1 #WHGetsFit and we’re about to do the Dr Evil Classic, named after (I find out the night before the race) course designer Leon Evans, the same course designer of the toughest mountain-bike race in South Africa, The Cape Epic. Eeeck! And, as a team, we’re not allowed to be more than two minutes apart at any given time over the next three days of riding.
This race is the culmination of my 2017 staff fitness challenge, where I decided to take up a sport I’d never tried before: mountain biking. I hadn’t had a bike since I was a kid! But, I thought, six months is surely enough time to work towards my first race. I wasn’t even thinking of doing a stage race (back then). I wanted to do Karoo To Coast, but Zandile Meneses, the events and operations manager for K2C convinced me to give Dr Evil a try too.
And I’m not one to back away from a challenge…
Day 1: Sweat And Tears
All 114 solo riders and 51 teams gather at Wittedrift Highschool. It’s the first time I’ve been surrounded by so many bicycles. I’m excited and emotional.
Bernard asks me if I’m okay and I awkwardly try kiss him, but then bump helmets instead. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that I’m not doing this alone. Mostly because I still don’t know how to change a flat. (I’m not kidding.)
We make it through the start shoot safely and begin our 73km of riding and 1 200m of ascent. (My Strava showed 1 621m, but I’ve come to realise that my TomTom smartwatch tends to exaggerate elevation.)
At around 30km, Bernard is not feeling too perky. He woke up with a head cold and now he’s hit a wall. I encourage him to try salted potatoes at the feeding station – they work wonders for me! It’s a big thing for him to go against his principle of “not trying anything new on race day,” but it works! Supporting and trusting each other is key to getting through this challenge. We carry on with renewed vigor until I hit my wall at 52km, just after a big climb.
I can’t believe I’ve still got 20km to go. It’s hot. I’m tired. I smash the last half banana I have wrapped up in my back pocket, sip some Energade and will myself to move forward. “The only way out is through,” says Bernard. And he’s right. There’s no cellphone signal and we’re pretty much alone in the bundus. It’s the views that really carry us through, from black and grey desolation that the raging Knysna fire left in its wake to lush indigenous forest that twitters and croaks.
Sailing back into the school, we ride through the finish hand-in-hand – a balancing act in itself. I feel so relieved that we made it – no flat tyres, no falling – and we’re not last! Day 1 of my first race – DONE!
Back at our hotel, The Old Rectory, we hold each other under the oversized rain showerhead and rinse off the day’s mud and adventures. After setting out our gear, we celebrate with a bottle of Kay & Monty Sauvignon Blanc (#SupportLocal) and mentally prep ourselves for the next stage. I’m so glad we made it through Day 1 unscathed.
Day 2: Short And Sweet
The shortest of all three days: 37km and 1 113m ascent (just going with my Strava now).
It’s much cooler and we’re feeling super-stoked to get back in the mountains. But just a couple kilometres into the race, I fall off my bike – I wasn’t looking far enough ahead and lost my line. My confidence is knocked. But my BF keeps encouraging me to move on and find my groove again.
It starts raining and I put on my jacket that’s been precariously tied around my handlebars. It’s amazing how quickly your core body temperature drops when you’re cruising downhill and you’re wet. We finish in three-and-a-half hours, stoked and ready for red wine.
When mountain biking, your mind is forced to stay focused on the terrain and so, much like yoga, the constant grind becomes a moving meditation. It’s as calming as it is stimulating.
Brain bonus: researchers at Illinois University found that a five-percent improvement in cardio-respiratory fitness from cycling led to an improvement of up to 15 percent on mental tests. This is in part due to building brain cells in the hippocampus – the region of the brain responsible for memory. So becoming a stronger cyclist will lead to better smarts?! Hell, yes!
Day 3: The Last Of The Evil
I’m worried I’m going to have to race this last day alone. The BF has been coughing and sneezing all night. I’m worried about him pushing his heart rate too high. And we wouldn’t be the first team to lose a partner during the past couple days. But he’s having none of it. So, tissues in tow, we gear up for the day. About 10km into the race, I ask him how he’s feeling. “Do you want the real answer?” he says. I worry about the 35km we have left to go and 960km of climbing that lies ahead.
We make a pact to take it easy, even if we finish last.
Today is really a feast for the eyes. It’s all about ocean views and slippery single-track through the thick forest. At times it feels so heavy, as if the forest is closing in on you and a Highveld thunderstorm is about to hit. But it doesn’t. Instead it’s just frogs and wheels sliding and the occasional “Oh shit!” followed by a nervous laugh (that’s me!).
We feel so privileged to be able to experience this immersion into nature.
Everyone’s A Winner!
About 10km from the finish, we turn a corner and happen upon the Scott activation (Scott is the brand sponsor for the event). The brand manager, Joggie Prinsloo, and his team pull us over and exclaim to our disbelieving ears that we’ve won a whole lot of mountain-biking gear, worth about R8k each. They hurriedly change us and – AND – put us on new full-suspension bikes to complete our race. Switching from a hard-tail made a massive difference!
It takes us a while to get used to the feel of the gears, but I’m all endorphins and really embrace the last stretch! The winding single track that leads us home is pretty easy going and the scenery is spectacular. I feel so far removed from my day-to-day reality and desperate to hold on to every last piece of the experience.
After prize-giving, we say our last good-byes to the friends we’ve made along the way. It’s ended too fast. Suddenly three days of mountain biking feels like no time and no effort at all and I don’t want to leave.
2018 Entries Are Open!
I have great news! The entries for the Dr Evil Classic 2018 are open! And if you want to share some of the incredible experiences I had, book your spot here. It’s not too technical and it’s a lot of fun and really beautiful.
It was an awesome first-race experience and it really kick-started my journey and love of mountain biking as a sport. It’s a sport that makes you feel brave, strong and confident. Mud, sweat and all.
One day I hope to take on Leon’s other course, The Cape Epic.