Every year I cross the finish line and say never again. I know hate is a strong word, but I hate that race! In 7 years of cycling I have managed to miss 2 and done 4. This year was number 5 and I decided I was going to do what I had wanted to do last year - go sub 3:30.
For those of you who do not know the route or Joburg let me run through the route... you start on a slight uphill by Makro in Woodmead, thereafter you zom onto the M1 highway where you ride as slow, if not faster than what cars do in peak traffic. After your moment of thinking you are a speeding car, you are then taken off the highway at Joe Slovo Drive where you meander through town to the M2 which you ride on for a bit before going back into town, though Gandhi Square, then back onto the M2 where you then head onto the M1 (I think); then you head to the Nelson Mandela bridge, then onto Jan Smuts Avenue. From here you fly through picturesque suburbs to the first real climb that is in Randburg. This is perhaps where the unfit wonder if they should have trained. After the cimb, the flight resumes as you go through Bryanston and Douglasdale, as you creep up to the next climb. The section through Bryanston and Douglasdale makes you feel like a pro cyclist with hundreds of people cheering you on! Then comes Witkoppen road. You are now just over half way and you start climbing but the crowd support is still there so its not really that bad. The section after Witkoppen is where it gets hard as you now in an industrial area and its boring. This bit starts with Malibongwe road, then takes you onto the N14 Krugersdorp highway. Anyone who has ever ridden this race will tell you that this section is why it is called Joburfs Toughest race. Wide, open road with no shelter from the elements, endless rolling hills and perhaps the most boring scenery ever! Yawn. After what feels like 100km of highway, the route then kicks it with a nice little hill called Summit road. Its actually not a bad section but this is where plenty people cramp after the highway. At the top of Summit road you get a nice rolling flat bit that's a relief, this is followed by a turn onto the R55 (I think) which gives you an awesome downhill before Heartbreak hill. This is a short but fairly steep section of road that is the true test of fitness. This little monster will tell your muscles if you are unfit, fit or a super hero. From the top of the hill, its a gentle cruise to Kyalami, a sweeping downhill past the race track, then a short pimple up before a quick downhill finish to the Waterfall estate.
Ok, back to race day. This year I have been training hard but this race still scared me. There is something about Joburg weather that makes this a toughie because no race is the same and the weather is insanely unpredictable. I actually think the organizers order random weather patterns for the race! My alarm was due to sound at 4am but I was awake before it. I got u, got ready for the race and my trusty soigner (Dad) drove me to the start. Being typical me, we were there super early so I had zero stress and we could get fairly close to the start. The only negative with getting there so early is the long wait but I endured and before I knew it I was standing like a cow in a cattle crush moving up the start pens with my batch. Whilst waiting the one holding area some oomies were chirping me about my split time calculators on my bike (I had stuck 2 stickers with where I should be at what time if I was aiming for 3hrs or 3:30), so when the commentator who we all know from various runs and races said he needed something to talk about, I offered my split times as a topic. He accepted and I became famous. For the next 94km, people would come up to me or I would pass them and they would say "so you are the lady with the split times, how is it going?" Well, I think that's gonna be my new trade mark: split time calculators. Anyway, eventually we were released from the cattle crush and set free to race. I started flying and at the 1st split time check point I was a minute or 2 ahead of the 3hr split. It remained this way right into town, up until after Gandhi Square when the wind hit. It honestly felt like I was riding in Cape Town! Wham. So, despite feeling strong, I was forced to hide in a bunch which meant riding a touch slower than I would have liked but it was the only option at that stage which didn't involve being battered and wasting energy. Anyway, fortunately that bit ended and the fun bit down Jan Smuts began and I could try catch up a bit of the time I had lost.
At Dunkeld, I eased off a bit to greet a friend and as usual, she was there. As was the mystery person who greets me every year - mystery person, if you are reading this, please let me know who you are. Then I started flying again, up Jan Smuts hill where I actually passed a lot of riders (which is a first for me and was quite a shock to the system as I am normally slow at this point), then down through Bryanston, through Douglasdale and to Witkoppen road. At Witkoppen I had a bit of fun and cheered the supporters, chatted to other cyclists and just generally clowned around until we hit Malibongwe where some of us formed a proper bunch again and got some speed. Whilsy cruising along Malibongwe a fellow cyclist commended me on having so much spirit. To think: I am by nature introverted, so ja, this other side of me is quite funny. By the time we hit the N14, a guy came up to me and said we were set for an easy sub 3:30 and although we were 5mins ahead of the 3:30 split, I tried not to believe him.
The highway was rough with the wind and at one point I had no group to hide in and I had my misery moment. My legs felt tired, I felt tired and my bike felt heavy. Ugh. I needed this insanity to be over. I decoded to stop being an idiot and get my head together. I ate half a banana, drank some juice and told myself to stop this. Was tough. Then a spectator gave me dry wors. I ate half of the piece, tucked the other half in my pocket and continued onto the next bit: Summit road and its challenges. Nearing the top of Summit I decided I needed more liquid so I stopped to get a bottle of coke and water which ended up being diluted coke and water. Yuck!!!!! This top although brief is exactly what I needed because I got back on track. I was at this point about 5 or 7 mins ahead of the 3:30 timing but I kept telling myself I wasn't going to make it. I turned onto the R55 and knew there was 1 hill left. Heartbreak hill. I enjoyed this climb and cruised up it, even looking back at the top to see where the real climb was. The give going up was great!!! Felt awesome to be there. At the top I looked down at my GPS and knew: I had made it. My eyes welled up with tears. I had finally conquered not only a sub 4 but a sub 3:30!!!!
I was brought back to reality by a guy on my left literally falling over from cramps and being unable to uncleat. Fortunately some other cyclists stopped to assist him. Poor guy.
The next few kms were a blur of surreal as I hammered it to get to the finish. Then came the last 1 or so km. I was having a blast and enjoying the moment and a fellow Toyota Cycle Lab club member turned to me and said "lets go" and off we went in an attack. Was tough but we sprinted to the finish. Hands off the bars, I crossed the finish line. Number 5 was done. 3hours 21minutes. I had not only achieved my goal but I had smashed it.
This was the first time I enjoyed this race. I conquered the race and had fun at the same time.
After the race I headed to the amazing club tent where I got a clean shirt, a neck and back massage, food, beer and a coke. The club really went all out with such a great tent and it was what I needed.
Race positives: a coke at the finish. Plenty water points. The spectators.
Race negatives: stickers instead of the normal numbers. City centre is probably still filled with that carnage. Only 1 exit out of the finish venue.
Me at the start in my Kitty Puppy Haven cycle shirt: