12 Reasons why my trip to California was NOT a holiday – And what you didn’t see behind the stunning photos!
After my return from California, I was truly amazed to discover how many people had been following my journey. Some of you got it just right, especially the snapchatters, who witnessed what really happened, live, every day. And I felt supported receiving compliments on getting through the gruelling trip. I was approached by others, however, with: Wow, amazing holiday!
Holiday? Let me tell you why this was NOT a holiday.
1. The travel (35 hours on Emirates Airlines)
I was one step ahead of the jet lag. I planned to the minute what to eat, when to eat, when to sleep, when to stay awake, when to have light and when to have darkness, how many litres of water to drink and how I was going to get from the window seat to the toilet without waking the people sitting next to me.
No sugar, no salt, no alcohol, no to anything coming from the trolley.
2. Pro Racing
I had no idea what to expect. I knew it was going to be challenging for sure. It’s easy to sit back on the couch with a beer and watch pro racing on TV, right? Although I knew the level would be much higher than what we do in the UAE/Middle East, I was really hoping I would be able to ‘just hang in there’.
Holy f***! It was tough beyond tough.
I set a new PR for my 20mins max power on the uphill individual time trial. That hurt. For that effort I placed 78th of 81.
In the two circuit races I did, I red-lined for 30-40mins until I got dropped. That hurt. I then fought solo or with a few other riders, chasing the time cut. That hurt. I then got pulled from the races and dealt with disappointment and failure. Now that really hurt.
3. While my team members were racing – and I was on my own.
It was hard. It was very hard. I have put a lot of effort into my training, in every shape and form. But it wasn’t not good enough. As the race team was off to race the next stage; I was left behind, with the time now in my own hands. If I am not good enough, what could I then do? I had many choices, really. But in my head, there was only one option: Go out and work harder! One day I went out and climbed 80km (3250m) of a total 172.5K. That was 7 hours where I was stuck with my own thoughts. That was tough. Mentally more than physically.
4. I cancelled my own holiday
The plan was to do 8 pro races, after which I was going to treat myself to a ‘holiday’ and explore California. I was a failure at pro racing and completed only a fraction of what was planned. In my mind, I didn’t deserve a holiday. Plus if there is something you are not good at, how do you get better? Work on your craft. Practise practise practise. I just couldn’t justify taking holiday. I found another 3 day stage race. I took off alone, to practise.
5. Racing and camping – at the same time.
On race day, I checked into a concrete campsite, living in 2 persons tent, on a 2cm mattress, in a sleeping bag, with no electricity, no fridge, no heating, no light, nowhere to cook or boil water, no peace, no quiet, no space, nowhere to unpack, not knowing anyone, except from the very lovely Janice, who I met only as I crawled into the tent.
And this was all while asking both my mind and body for top performances. I felt like death for 3 days while racing.
I crashed twice during my time in California, both while racing. And while I was lucky enough to avoid getting any serious injuries, the battle with the tarmac left me with bruising and open wounds. When the medics used the rough side to scrub and remove stones from the wounds, I can tell you something: It hurt. Sleeping on a 2cm thin mattress (literally on the tarmac; yes I kid you not the camping ground was an asphalt car park) with bruises and wounds; that hurt. Then there was the dealing with post-race muscle soreness, while racing again and camping again. That also hurt.
Did I mention showering with open wounds and road rash? That really stung.
7. Failing equipment
It’s the same story over again. I have only myself to blame for not buying myself a working bike before I head of to do pro racing. I always crash on the right side, the sensitive side of the bike. There is nothing more to be done. The Di2 software has been damaged, the software has set itself to crash mode; the software is in charge of the gear shifting, the software has control of me.
Every morning of the Sea Otter Classics races, my gears failed to shift during my warm up. Every morning before lining up at the start I raced around to find mechanics; I ran in my cleats through exhibition crowds, wondering if I would ever even make it to the start or out of the start box. Always frantically counting down minutes. And what will happen during the race? Will my gears shift? What should I do if they don’t shift? Train? Complete the course? Work on my mental strength? Quit? Go sightseeing? Those were the thoughts running through my mind on the start line. Stressful. Not ideal.
8. When race officials get it wrong
On the first day of the Sea Otter Classics, I raced a Criterium. I crashed. But I was eager to get back out on the circuit. A little too eager perhaps. I couldn’t care less about the dripping blood. But I cared about my handle bars turning sideways. I might have raised my voice at the officials and mechanics, not on purpose of course, but from the crash-adrenalin. “Let me out. Let me out. I want to finish”. The official held me back; “Stop, breathe – let me check you”. “What? NO! Arms and legs are working just fine. Let me out!” They finally let me out. I raced well. And I sprinted myself to a 5th place overall, which was 100% a top 3 and podium position in the Masters category. Apart from crashing, stage one was a success!
After the race I had a feedback session on my racing with a ‘race mentor’; an LA Sweat female pro rider, sitting at the back of the race, taking notes and helping riders improve their racing. How awesome is that?? I got cold waiting. I also had stones in my open wounds, dried blood up and down my body and my bike was getting checked. A while after finishing, I went over to check my final position and the podium ceremony time. I blinked once and walked away. Ice cold. I was at the bottom of the list with ‘one missing lap’. All energy was sucked out of me.
After failing the pro racing, I really needed a bit of success for myself. I had crossed the finish line in podium position with open wounds. But instead of heading to the podium, I headed to the medics, where I screamed in agony as they scrubbed the stones out of my wounds – as opposed to embracing success, smiling at the flashing cameras and receiving my deserved prize. I just couldn’t take anymore that day.
9. Road trip
Sounds amazing, right?
Of course it was. But it wasn’t easy.
Road Trip #Day1
Here is how I started my road trip. I woke up in a tent, I then raced in temperatures above 32C. I suffered on the final climb to get my 3rd place on the podium. I almost fell off my bike at the top. I didn’t expect a podium place, so I rushed back to the campsite to pack up and shower (only to get back into my sweaty kit for the podium pictures). At 3pm only I left the race venue to start my road trip. I still had not had any proper food and I was of course very dehydrated from racing 3 hours in the heat. I had to get on the road as I needed to get as far down the Californian coast line as possible before darkness. I was in charge of everything. Driving, navigating, flicking the radio channels, absorbing all impressions from my surroundings, eyes peeled non-stop. I stopped the car more times that I could keep count; out of the car, into the car, out of the car, into the car, again and again and again. I took pictures, I filmed, I snapped. But I never stopped for more than a few minutes. I simply didn’t have time. As it got dark and my surroundings turned pitch black, my vision literally disappeared. I was too exhausted to drive in the dark and I now searched for a motel. As I crawled into bed, I selected and edited the best photos from the day. Stunning photos. It would have been too selfish to keep them to myself. I made it a priority to share with you too.
Those pictures however, revealed only beauty from the Pacific Ocean coast line, not how hard I pushed my body through that day.
Road Trip #Day2
I had a very long journey ahead of me with many miles and many sights to cover. I had to manage my time in each place and most likely make decisions on the go. After my first stop I was already set back almost one hour. Why? In a car park by Pismo Beach, a large truck reversed into the front of my $700 Hertz rental car and caused damage to the front my car. Oh my god! That didn’t just happen! Luckily the driver was a good guy and happy to share his details. His 4 family members though were a hard piece of work. I had no knowledge of what sort of accident reports or insurance documentation was needed in this scenario in order to proceed with insurance claims. All l knew was that in the US everybody sues everybody. I stayed calm. But trust no one. To my random luck a police car passed. We explained the accident. 5:1. Each of the family members provided a witness statement saying that I drove into the back of the truck. Oh my god! This was not happening! Just get me out of here! I might have paid an extortionate $700 to rent a car for one week, but at least that was including full coverage on damage to the car. Just get me out of here.
I took off, a little shaken, naturally. I didn’t enjoy any part of that. But the journey had to continue…
For around 10 hours I was driving and doing sightseeing; eyes peeled, full concentration. The goal was to hit Redondo Beach in Southern LA before darkness. I just made Malibu, North of LA, to watch the sunset. Just. I snapped an amazing picture. I stayed for around 1 min, after which I continued driving through the dark, blurred vision, tired eyes. I drove through LA in the dark. I felt like I was going the wrong way. I realized my Sat Nav had stopped working and I had gone too far East. Eventually I arrive in Redondo Beach. Exhausted.
10. Los Angeles
The next day
I had only one full day in LA; which meant I had to cover ALL sights in one day. I got on my bike, naturally. 10 hours later my mission was accomplished. I had covered all sights on a 140K ride. However, halfway through the day and at the bottom of Griffiths Park (the hill with the Hollywood Sign), my Di2 battery went dead (totally my own fault, but still not helping the situation) – and I was sitting on my one single gear while looking up to the Hollywood sign, thinking: I WILL get up there! To make it short, I was given wrong directions and I went up and down twice, grinding my legs in a too heavy gear for a 7% incline. No matter which road I took, I didn’t seem to get close enough to that sign! It turned out only a dirt road for hikers go to the top. Nope, that is not going to stop me! Not now! Let’s test if the 60mm carbon clinchers can handle the mountain biking surface. Towards the top I hit a 14% incline. I could only just keep my bike upright. The final section to the top is a climb on rocks. That can be done walking in cleats while carrying the bike, of course!
Was it worth the effort? To see the view from behind the enormous letters? No. My advice; save yourself the hassle.
My phone was dying, which meant I would soon enough lose navigation. I had to find a route home where I couldn’t get lost. I chose the simplest route – and the longest. Down Santa Monica Boulevard to Santa Monica Pier (it took me one hour to ride that street because of all the ef**** traffic lights). And then another hour along the coast line to Redondo Beach. I didn’t make it home before darkness and I didn’t recognize a thing around me in the dark. Did I mention this day was HOT? I eventually arrived home, exhausted – and dehydrated.
Holiday makers may call it wining, dining, lunching, brunching, sun downing etc. I call it fuelling.
During the two weeks with the pro team, all fuel consumed was with the aim of providing the body with the best tools to perform. One day though we all had a chocolate-chip cookie (some of us 2!) (and it was one of the medium sized ones too!). Oh my god, that was so good.
In San Francisco, I had sushi one night. Otherwise during my time in San Francisco, racing at the Sea Otter Classic while camping, and my road trip; so around a week, I had no one single real meal. I survived only on snacking on rye bread, peanut butter, avocados, carrots and hummus, freebee Cliff bars – and coffee. Fuel that required no cooking, no cooling, no heating, no preparation and no plates. Fuel making my life easy, while on the road, on the bike, in a tent, in the dark or simply out of time. And fuel that could keep me going through my adventures.
12. The last day
On what was supposed to be my last day in California, I woke up with heart palpitations. The few nights before I had also started to become affected by insomnia. It was very simple and very clear; I had run myself down into exhaustion. I had not given myself room for recovery. I had pushed on too hard to fit in too much in too little time. I woke up ill from exhaustion. I recognized the signs. I knew what I had to do. RELAX. I postponed my flight to return to Dubai 4 days later than the original return date. I was desperate for rest. Desperate for a holiday.
My California trip was freakin’ amazing! I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be invited to test my strength and skills (or lack of) in a Pro field. I am extremely blessed to be able to travel for a whole month. I am forever appreciative of the amazing people I know or meet along the way who help and support me through my adventures and travels. On many levels I can be my own best role model, especially when it comes to courage and bravery. Every single day of that trip I discovered beauty, beauty in nature, beauty in people and beauty in my sport. Every day I learned and every day I grew stronger.
But it was NOT a holiday. It was simply to exhausting to be a holiday.
Before, during and after my first ever (unsupported) ultra cycling race, BikingMan Oman, 1000km with 7,200m elevation meters, I said it countless times; selling it to myself and also attempting to convince others (who just looked at me and laughed… “yeah yeah… you have no idea, just wait and see”), I WILL NEVER DO IT AGAIN!
Ultra cycling is one the most ridiculous thing I have ever done in my life.
I’ll tell you why:
- It’s long, it’s stupid long, there is just no need to cycle that long, what for?
- It’s lonely. Yes, the actual event is lonely, from start line to finish line, but that I don’t mind that so much, because something happens when the gun goes off and I know I have to deal with myself and my mission, totally alone. This is actually a unique opportunity to learn about one self. In my opinion, it is more so the demands of the training which is the harder part. Because how can you possibly ask someone or anyone not into ultra “hey, you fancy going on a 8hr slow ride?” Hell no they don’t! Training is ultimately long and lonely. And this is even coming from someone who is very comfortable in her own company and even so often prefer yet. Yet, I still think it is lonely at another level. Do I enjoy the long and lonely training – and the long and lonely drives to training? Not that much.
- It’s painful. Yes, it’s going to be painful. It will probably happen to most riders. We just deal with it. And then we heal. But during the times of dealing with the pain and no way to escape it, again I swear to myself; I will never do it again!
- Wet, cold, tired, even freezing. How about dealing with bad weather? There’s no escape. Fun? No!
- Mechanical issues. Well well, if you are not a bike mechanic, or like myself, don’t have any interest in repairing bikes, well then you might be screwed.
- Organizational stress. Organizing a million small things; some mandatory, some personally selected, some I don’t have a clue if I will need or not. To carry it, or not to carry it? What if? This might be useful, but what if I’m not going to need it? Borrowing from other riders. Asking for help. Getting help. Argh… It’s stressful. Stressful organizing. Stressful packing. I have said twice now (as I head off to my 2nd Ultra Race); I will not do it again!
So this is the reason why I am going back. I can’t stop where I started. I am not satisfied. I need to know for myself if I can do better. If you remember from Oman, I rocked up with ‘all the gear and no idea’. I jumped on the bike and started pedaling into the unknown. I had ups and downs, I has mechanical issues and I had pain. I was on a mission to learn about myself, and I dealt with every situation as it appeared. In the latter part of the course (final 300km), I hit race mode, flicked my psycho switch and will-powered (because there was zero physical power left) through the ridiculous Omani hills, crossing the finish line Top 10 overall and 2nd Woman (53 mins after female winner Jasmijn Muller). I was overwhelmed and surprised, but admittedly pretty chuffed with that result for my first ever ultra. I remember my exact feeling at the finish; Good I did so well, I have now proved to myself that I can do ultra cycling well and there is no need to do it again!
Was I physically strong in Oman? I am not sure. Was I mentally strong? Yes. Was in control of myself and my situation? Absolutely yes. Was it beginners luck? No, I had plenty of problems along the way. Was I efficient? No (not enough). Did I waste more than 53 mins? I would say yes. Do I know where I wasted time? Absolutely yes = unfinished business.
I have to know.
I went to Oman as a beginner. I will now go to Corsica with experience. I am by no means an expert, it takes years and many races to build solid experience. But I have one ultra race under my belt and I know where I should be able to save time (as long as it is within my control). I want to know how I do with my time saving strategies, if I will be able to cover the entire course faster, if I can handle it mentally and physically (there is also risk of breaking down) and if I can be efficient, when there is also the option to take it easy.
BikingMan Corsica – 700km w/ 13,000m elevation.
This is not Oman. This is Corsica. It’s way more hilly, it’s colder, it’s wetter. There may even be encounters with angry stray dogs. I have never been to Corsica, but it also looks absolutely stunning, I hope I will be able to take in the breathtaking views and not miss too many beautiful places while I pass during night time. Once again I will be heading into unknown territory, geographically. But this time, I believe I know what to expect, from myself. I believe I know my ultra cycling strengths and weaknesses, to a certain extend. I have mentally prepared myself for above mentioned reasons for not doing it; loneliness, potential bad weather and PAIN.
I aim to go all in. Push myself harder than Oman. Enjoy the dot watching.
Race starts 29th April 2019 at 5am GMT+1
Unfinished Business – a predominant reason to take on my 2nd Unsupported Ultra cycling race. Since BikingMan Oman in February, instead of being satisfied by actually completing 1,000km in one go and then closing that book, I had been haunted by the thoughts of ‘I can do better’.
So here we are, 8 weeks later, in Corsica, where the 2nd race of the BikingMan Sprint Ultra World Series is taking place. It’s a mission of BikingMan to take riders to unique, adventurous and epic locations across the world, the majority of the places where you probably wouldn’t for a split second think of taking your bike. And here they certainly don’t fail. What a fantastic opportunity to explore random places in the world, while being united with fascinating and inspiring people from all walks of life, all joining together to complete these extreme cycling challenges, each at their own pace and for their own personal reasons.
I always had Corsica and Sardinia on my bucket list of places to visit, but this was the chance to actually do a loop on two wheels around the island of Corsica, ‘I’m in’.
Corsica, also known as ‘The Mountain in the Sea’, nothing flat and nothing straight. Like seriously nothing. The highest peak on Corsica, Monte Cinto, rises 2,706m above sea level.
BIKINGMAN CORSICA – Course and Profile
Just under 700km, with just under 13,000m of climbing.
THE DAY BEFORE – and last minute changes
We arrive at the start /finish campsite the day before. I have mixed feelings and priorities between catching up with the wonderful BikingMan riders, organizers and volunteers – and the slightly stressful preparation of getting bike, bags, food, maps etc. organized, loaded and ready. Do not forget anything! I also made a last minute decision to remove my aero bars from my bike. Why? Because the majority of the other riders didn’t have them fitted, especially the top guys. I copy the top guys. Watch the best. Learn from the best. Could be risky removing the position of relaxation while riding, but I have to be ambitious and confident; if they can do it, so can I.
My strategy is yet again to test myself, push limits and learn about my mental and physical capabilities. It is entirely a personal challenge. But I want to push myself further than in Oman. The course profile on Corsica is more demanding. I am confident I will have to step up another level.
From my first ultra experience in Oman, I also want to try and minimize ‘waste time’ (which is probably anything that brings pleasure).
I am also pretty certain that for the first time I have to sleep. I mean 13,000m elevation, that’s a lot of physical exertion. But once again I don’t have a plan. I have never before put myself through a challenge of this size. I will go with the flow and listen to my body’s signals. Ultra is hard to plan, anything can happen. My strategy: keep calm and keep pedaling. And deal with practical or physical obstacles and barriers as they emerge. Remember to eat and drink. And don’t stop unless it’s really necessary.
START TO CP1 – 180km / 4,150m elevation
We set off from the campsite in the dark at 5am and head pretty much straight out to a climb. I hadn’t really studied the route map. Why? Because it is non stop ascending and descending for 700km. When it goes up, keep pedaling and when it goes down, keep pedaling. That’s all I needed to know for myself. The first climb is longer than I expected and I find myself digging deep to stay near the front, closing in on max heart rate. This is not how ultra is done. I surrender and let go. Relax Helle, there are still 690km to go. It is dusk with lightly drizzling rain when I reach the top of this first climb, alone at the time, somewhere in between all the other riders, and I look forward to flying down the first ascend. I take off downhill, ‘Bib bib’ (Off course!). Argghh, hammer the breaks and turn around. How could I miss ‘the right road’?? Okay, enough. Two mistakes in the first hour. Concentrate Helle! I got on the right descent and I quickly realized how cold it was. I was shivering heading down the other side. This was also my first introduction to the mountain / forest roads of Corsica; half broken, half patched up, narrow rollercoaster roads, left right left right left right. 100% concentration required.
I feel good. I push on through the day, maybe I push too much, I am willing to take the risk and test myself. I am here to test myself anyway, so let’s go. I am actually freezing most of the day, it’s around 7 degrees Celsius descending from the peaks, but of course the body heats up on the climbs. I didn’t care to change clothes. I remained too cold on the descents and too hot on the ascents. Overheating on some body parts actually felt quite good after being too cold. I reach CP1 as the female leader (and 29th overall) in 9 hrs 24mins after an interesting first day in the mountainous forests, dodging road traffic in forms of cows, pigs and a near head-on collision with a massive hairy donkey. But I must also say I was WOW’ed by the Corsican forest terrains and the snow topped mountains in the distance. Gorgeous landscape. I had stopped only a few times to refill my water bottles, learning that there are pretty much nowhere to refuel and restock, only the odd water fountain, but you gotta keep your eyes open.
At CP1 I set myself a target of 1 hour. I have 1 hour to take rest and get myself sorted to get back on the road ‘fresh’. In this time I manage to freshen and crème up, charge devices, eat a hot meal, drink a hot tea and get a massage. Rest not so much. I don’t really talk to any of the other riders either. I don’t really have (or make) time. I stay focused on my one hour target. After the massage, mainly on my lower back and neck, I slip into my ice cold wet jersey and carry on. I never really manage to get fully warm in that one hour.
CP1 to CP2 –140km / 2,380m elevation
To be quite honest, I don’t actually remember the details of this section. Perhaps I was getting tired. Perhaps I was cold. I don’t have any footage or pictures either from this section and that means only one thing; I didn’t have the capacity to take my phone out. One thing to note about this terrain, is that it requires 100% concentration. Eyes on the road. Eyes on the GPS. Always being alert. Non stop bike handling, changing and reacting, left, right, up, down, break, turn… repeat. Fiddling with a phone; reading messages, checking the tracker, posting videos while cycling? Forget it! It is simply too energy consuming, too risky. I stop once in a shop of rare occurrence to stock up on chocolate, biscuits, Haribos and coke.
I reach CP2 still as the female leader (and now 26th overall) at 11pm after being on the road for a total of 18 hours (having covered now total 320km and 6,530m elevation). I am very cold.
I know I need a good rest. But I don’t know how much. I notice there are a fair amount of male riders sleeping at CP2 and the men arriving, while I am eating my hot meal, are all going to sleep…. Hmmm….
I consider two possible scenarios 1) These guys are clever taking some rest, I should probably do the same 2) Do I really want to sleep? Or do I want to get a head start and head out into the night pushing myself to my limits?
I take a good long 2-2 ½ hours rest, incl. 20-30 mins rest lying down on a mattress, but I am too afraid to close my eyes. It’s unknown. I never practiced sleeping in the middle of a ride. I don’t know how I will feel if I close my eyes. I don’t even know if I will wake up again. I am too afraid to sleep. I check the tracker, it is a race after all. The positioning of the other riders will help me decide what I want to do. Eleonora, female rider in 2nd position is around 80-100km behind, I could easily take a good nap and cut down on the time spent riding in the dark and cold and still get a head start out of CP2. I count the male riders on the course in front of me. 14 male riders.
CP2 to CP3 – 190km / 3,550m elevation
But I can’t help myself. I get ambitious and stubborn. I have to go. It’s past midnight. It’s cold. I wrap up in all clothes I have brought with me (which is not a lot by the way). At approximately 01:30 I head into the dark and cold night. It’s pitch black. After only minutes of riding, my legs are burning, Garmin says 12%, 13%, 14%. Ah that’s why. I am on a steep climb. Can’t see a damn thing. I head down a long descent, I go as fast as possible. I can’t see more than 3 meters ahead in the dark. I use my Garmin GPS route to foresee the sharpness of the bends and I literally break according to the route displayed on my Garmin, rather than looking at the shape of the road.
So this is pretty much how the entire night goes. I can’t see a damn thing. It’s around 5 degrees average all night, the coldest 5 degrees I have ever experienced (lowest temperature recorded on my device is 3C) . I am freezing all night. On all descends I pray for the next climb to appear, I’d rather do the work and stay warm-ish. Fingers and toes, forget it, freezing no matter what.
I roll through the night time darkness. There is nothing pleasant about it. No opportunity to stop ever presents itself. There is nowhere to get warm, nothing open, no bathrooms, I also only find one water fountain the entire night. Luckily I didn’t drink much in the cold. There really is no option other than to ride on. Even if I did want to stop and rest. I could not. If I stopped I would get more cold.
In the early dark morning hours, I reach the sea side. I hear the waves crushing into the shore. It sounds wonderful, I can’t see anything. I pass something that could potentially be exceptionally beautiful. I am riding on a narrow snaking cliff road, the rock formations around me look different, could be spectacular. I have a feeling this is a place not to miss. I totally missed it. I can’t even tell you where I was. I never even paid attention to any names along the way. I just followed the route on my GPS and the road in front of me.
Dusk arrives and the picture perfect rocky shoreline finally appears before my tired eyes. Tired because I have been going now for 25-26 hours and tired because 100% concentration from my eyes had been required, especially through the night. Although daylight approaches and the sun emerges too, I am cold to the bone and it doesn’t change much in daylight. I can’t do anything but keep riding. The route takes me away from the shoreline and along some fields and these fields take me on to yet another climb. It’s around 8am and the cars passing by are not frequent, but pretty regular. I need the bathroom. Like I really need the bathroom. I also have a feeling my period has arrived in the early morning hours. It is not great timing. It is not pleasant. I really need to stop and get organized. I am riding along fields. No trees. No big rocks. No nothing. I keep pedaling. I need just one tree to appear, just something I can hide behind. Finally I find a small gravel pathway leading a few meters down below from the road. I hope I can hide enough. The dirt road basically become my bathroom. This is maybe the part we don’t talk so openly about. I’ll spare you for the details this time, but this is the reality of ultra cycling, we have to deal with whatever is available, or in some cases we have to deal with nothing being available. This is as far from glamorous as it can be. I feel better after ‘organizing myself’, relieved and I head up the climb.
I am moving upwards with about 8km/h, that’s too slow, I am basically not moving, I know what is happening, I have bonked. I have to stop in the middle of the climb, get off the bike and sit down. It’s not working, I am empty. I have almost 10,000m elevation in my legs, never been here before. I have now been riding for around 8 hours in the cold night since leaving CP2 and only filled my water bottles once. I have been rationing on water too. I take out electrolytes and salt and add it to my last drops of water. I empty my packet of Haribos and have another 5 degree Snickers, hard as a brick, it gives me zero satisfaction. Back on the bike. I can’t sit there on the middle of the climb and wait for what? Keep moving forward. I make it to the top and down the descent. I pedal straight into a Spar Supermarket at 9:30am, first shop I see open in maybe 12-14 hours. I have completely bonked. And I have totally underestimated how much energy it takes to stay warm. I have been cold pretty much non-stop for 28 hours. How many calories did I actually burn climbing and freezing all night? I raid the shop and sit on the tarmac in the sun to warm up. 2 cokes, the entire pack of chocolate biscuits and a block of chocolate. All in. I need to feed my muscles.
50km to CP3. I can do that. At some point I am riding along a tree lined uneven road surface, I feel the vibration through my stiff road bike frame, my whole body is aching. BikingMan always have something up their sleeve, they throw in little surprises, and at the moment in time, I am sure we are all cursing. They do this, so we have ‘something special to talk about when we reflect and share our stories from the course, our most memorable moments’. It’s working. This time they put CP3 on the top of a 5km climb, with a steep ramp leading to the actual check point facility. I bet the organizers are all laughing while us riders are swearing. I make it to CP3, after being on the road for just under 31 hours total, still leading the female race and arriving in 17th place overall. I have now covered total 510km and over 10,000m elevation. I am still watching my resting time. I am not too strict, but I am watching the clock.
CP3 to Finish –180km / 2,550m elevation
The home stretch, supposedly the ‘easiest’ section. I leave CP3 at 1pm in the afternoon. Nothing is easy by now. My target is to ride as little time as possible in the cold and dark. And certainly to avoid riding through the night, also to avoid the appearance of hallucinations. I am not sure I can ever recover properly from hitting the wall after the night. I have to just plot along to the finish line with whatever is left in the tank at whatever speed is possible. As long as I keep pedaling, I will eventually reach the finish line, right? Keep going until it’s done.
I have to pass 3 longer climbs on this final section. It’s a beautiful sunny day at least. We even reach 24 degrees Celsius. I have been cold to the bone and around the back of my neck for so many hours, that I keep pretty much all my clothes on; on some parts of my body, I never really get warm and on others I am overheating. I ride high up on the cliff side overlooking the azure blue ocean, simply breath taking. I don’t have extra capacity to take my phone out. I always try my best to share my journey live on social media, but I simply didn’t have any more capacity at this time; anything but pedaling and staring at the road, takes too much energy.
Before the last of the three climbs, we are being diverted to loop around a cap. The road down to sea level is complete broken. I ride a stiff road bike frame with carbon deep rim wheels and 25mm tires pumped to 100psi. I hammer down the broken road, I just need to finish this section as fast as possible! I am close to crying. Every part of my body hurts as the vibrations hammer through my tired body, and I also realize I have a banging head ache. Final climb of the course. I climb up to the exact same point that took me down. Typical BikingMan; adding an extra challenge, adding to the list of memorable moments, for great story telling. Admittedly, it is pretty gorgeous. I feel a bit jealous of those not racing and actually enjoying these spectacular areas of Corsica. I just wanted to get home, to avoid too much darkness and to put an end to this ache.
The male rider behind me, Corsican resident Seb, catch up with me at the top of this climb and we kind off descend together and head together on to the last 40km section towards the finish line. We watch the sun set in the distance and it starts to get cold again.
Seb pushes on, I simply can’t squeeze enough out of my tank to stay by his side, even on the reasonably flat sections. I have nothing left, I have only just enough to survive the last 30km. Reaching Bastia, a main port of Corsica, 10km before the finish line, one speed bump after the other covers the road. At this point there isn’t one part of my body that doesn’t hurt. I know exactly the consequences of hitting a speed bump. I scream out loud to help myself get distracted and to exhale through the painful vibration through my cold, aching body; every muscle, every joint, every bone, every old injury, every brain cell. I howl crossing every speed bump, while crying in between. Tears flying. Pedaling and sobbing the last 10km to the finish line. I can’t take anymore. Two things are going through my mind 1) I have never been waiting this hard to cross a finish line, I am literally at the edge of my limits 2) If this wasn’t the end of the course, I would have refused to continue without rest and warming up. I couldn’t take the pain any longer.
EMOTIONLESS FINISH – 690km / 12,600m elevation
I reach the finish line at 11pm after 41 hours on the course. On the final day I was aiming to finish UNDER 40 hours, but I was so empty I was riding snail pace through the final section. As I roll on to the red carpet, I can hardly clip out. EVERYTHING HURTS. I am so relieved to be home, and to put an end to this pain. Cold blooded, literally speaking. I don’t care much about celebrating, eating or anything else. I am the first female rider back to camp and I lost only one place since CP3 and finish 18th overall (of around 70 riders). I couldn’t think of anything but getting in a hot shower and straight to bed and finally close my eyes after almost 2 days straight awake.
PAIN BY CHOICE
There are many times along the way of my ultra races where I envy those riders enjoying the ride, enjoying the landscape, enjoying exploring new areas and countries, sampling local cuisine and meeting local people.
But I can’t. I haven’t learnt to enjoy that part of racing yet. I am racing myself, hard. I race myself to the ground, even when I have no immediate competition. I am my own biggest competition. I go hard against myself. I choose to push through the pain. I choose pain.
I am still new to ultra racing. I am not smart. I don’t think it’s smart to choose pain. I realize I have quite a large mental and physical capacity. I have only learnt this about myself this year through my two BikingMan Sprint Ultra Races. I can shut down emotions and eliminate fear. I can ride through pain. But I am not a smart ultra racer… yet.
I am not sure. I need to make some decisions. Is ultra racing something I want to do? I am not content with ‘just completing’. If I choose to do ultra racing more long term, then I want to put in the investments to become better. Set higher goals. Become more structured. Become more clever. To push my limits further. And very importantly, I have to learn to enjoy the journey as well. Let’s see what comes next….
Some interesting facts from my race
- I didn’t train for Corsica; in fact the 3 weeks leading up to Corsica I had an extra big load in my daytime job and I nearly cancelled the travel due to exhaustion.
- 4 weeks before Corsica I completed an Everesting in rain and cold. I didn’t want to jinx myself, but I was certain I was put through such misery in preparation for Corsica. It kept me strong.
- I raced through Corsica with only just the most basic measures; time, distance, elevation, grade, temperature and time of the day. No power. No heart rate. No performance measures. I performed by feeling – and will power.
- I carried 3 dry ham and cheese sandwiches and 3 rock hard Snickers all the way around the island. I just couldn’t face eating them, even through times of low energy and struggle.
- I started getting lower back discomfort after only one hour. It continued for all 41 hours.
- I had prepared some epic music playlists, however the course and profile required full concentration the entire way. I never listened to music.
BikingMan Sprint Ultra World Series
If you are interested in participating, either as a first time ultra rider or as an experienced ultra racer, BikingMan has another three epic ultra races on their 2019 calendar:
- BikingMan Peru / Incadivide – 14 August 2019
- BikingMan Portugal – 23 September 2019
- BikingMan Taiwan – 4 November 2019
More info below:
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