Brutal. That is the only word that comes to mind when describing my 80 kilometers of body-busting hill climbing through the Knysna Forest. And so started an epic week of sporting madness called the Big 5 Challenge.
The race started in Waterfront Drive alongside the festival grounds. Parking was no problem, signage was spot on, and it was easy to find your starting pen. RACETEC timing chips were required for all cyclists meaning your race starts when you cross the line and not when the starter’s pistol fires which I think contributes to a more relaxed start.
From Waterfront Drive we headed onto the N2 and then right up the valley to the first climb of the day in the Simola area, all still on tar. From there it was onto the dirt and the dreaded Mine-shaft in the reverse direction to the Marathon course. It’s a thrilling descent followed by a tough ascent as you claw your way out the ravine.
I bonked in spectacular fashion at the 42km mark. I have not been doing nearly enough work outside the 2 hour mark and it came to beat me over the head. Gels, Coke, Endurolyte: nothing was bringing me out of the dumps. And then a young girl came flying up the hill past me and I decided it was time to get back in the saddle up and man up.
All was well for some time with just one other small dip in energy levels before reaching the well-timed Pick ‘n’ Pay station at the 60km mark with (drum-roll) banana bread! I really need to learn to eat. There were two spectacular sections of single track, one in each half of the race. Totally unlike anything I had experienced before, the first was down a long hill and the second had some slight incline and then some pretty sharp downhill.
I was expecting an easy cruise down Simola Hill on the tarmac to the Lagoon-side, but was instead treated to a snakey, muddy single track descent which had me milking every last drop of strength to work the brakes.
My official time was 05:23:05 with an average speed of 14.86km/h. I am absolutely amazed by the times that were posted: the winning time Kevin Evans was 02:57:00 – that’s an average speed of 27.12km/h. Scary.