In like a lion, out like aaaaa, less ferocious cat... I don't dare say 'lamb' in reference to the Cape Epic, but when you replace 45c with 20c, one could maybe say 'pissed-off rabid lamb'? As expected, there was a rollercoaster of emotions, from Prologue to Grand Finale, and many a tear was shed. The team lost a member along the way, but to say we both didn't succeed, would be a lie. We'll have to search pretty hard for a positive, but with retrospect, I'm finding lots of good to take away from this, even for Evan.
Full of optimism - registration, VA Waterfront, Cape Town SA (photo by Sportograf)
Cape Town 2.0:
Like a home away from home, my arrival to the Mother City, was like walking into a place so familiar, you could open the fridge and put your feet on the coffee table. Showing up five nights prior to the race was meant to help adjust to the time change, and to get in a couple easy spins to be sure legs, and bicycles were ready to race.
When Saturday rolled around, the eve of the prologue, we strolled calmly into the race registration. We holstered the knowledge of our previous experience there, and we were able to get in and out pretty quickly. It's not a relaxing place, the anxiety of others is almost palatable, and it was good for us to get out of there to get off our feet, eat, and hydrate - the forecast of some hot days was weighing pretty heavy on our minds so we wanted to be sure we were going in as fresh as we could.
Prologue (Meerendal Wine Estates): 26.1km - 714m climbing
Drawing an 8am start time has it's pros. Knowing the temps were going to be in the 30's, getting out early was our best chance at limiting our time melting. We chose to wear our 2L Camlebak's, even though the course was short, for the sake of the looming African heat.
Meerendal is a familiar route for us, it was the site of the Grand Finale venue for the '15 Cape Epic. Riding trails we've been on before gave me comfort, and with Table Mountain in the distance, it was a great distraction from my burning legs.
Fresh legs - Prologue Meerendal Wine Estates, SA (photo by Sportograf)
We borded the 2 hour shuttle to Hermanus, the start venue for the first two stages. The shuttle root took us up and over a beautiful mountain pass, foreshadowing some later stages.
Average/Max HR: 138/163
Stage 1 (Hermanus to Hermanus): 101km - 2300m climbing
Unable to record all the route on my Garmin, because it took a dump with 40km to go, I'm not sure the data would have said much more than OUCH! Heat was the name of the game. The hard climbs where we would walk, were unshaded. It wasn't until Evan said it was 42c, that I realized why I wasn't exactly in top form.
I started getting cramps in my legs, a headache, and irregular heartbeats (I kept the ticker issues to myself), something I've never had in all my years of racing. We stopped to mix me a Skratch Rescue Hydration - used not to prevent dehydration, but to rehydrate when things have gone wrong. It worked like its label suggests. The symptoms of Heat Exhaustion subsided and the slow slog towards the finish line continued.
Passing through the aid stations, the medical tents were overflowing with long-gone riders, many on IV's awaiting an ambulance. In a way, those in the tents were oddly better off, because the trail too was littered with passed out riders, oft lying in the arms of their teammates. Yet we soldiered on, only making the 9.5 hour time cut by 15 minutes.
Thank goodness we were able to eat right off the bike, making the most of the recovery tent and the food offered, or the next day would have been disastrous! (insert sinister music)
Average/Max HR: 131/160
Stage 2 (Hermanus to Elandskloof): 62km - 1500m climbing
Originally slated as a carbon copy of stage 1, stage 2 was shortened by 40km, as per the advice of the head race doctor: The text we woke to read "Substantial risk to riders safety". 5:30am came with the sound of bagpipes, the temperature was 28c, and all weather reports were calling for an even hotter day than the day before, and I was overwhelmed with an delusional sense of relief due to shortened the stage.
The organizers revised the cut-off time to six hours. Believing we could tough it out for 62km at 10kph, we trusted our fuelling program would keep us hydrated, and set off with what would turn out to be the hardest day I ever spent on a bicycle. It didn't take long for the dial to hit the mid 30's. The temperature kept rising into the 40's, and without a cloud or leafy tree, we were being cooked, and felt like we were melting. Evans Garmin read 45c! Again the race course and med tents were littered with exasperated riders. For the last 30km's, we didn't see and aid station!! If not for the friendly homeowners along the route who offered a shower from a hose, I'm not sure Evan or I would have made it.
Crossing the finish line with only 3 minutes to spare, I wasn't sure if I was happy to have made it or not. Due to the shortened stage, what's usually a recovery tent with nourishing food, wasn't much more than a water stop. I sat in the shade, and fought to stay conscious. My vision went dark for a second or two, I braced myself, and it took all my whits, not to fall over backwards into the grass. We sat in the shade for a few minutes, taking every ounce of fluid that we were served.
That evening was rough. I was able to coax Evan into the medical tent in search of some IV fluids. I had a text conversation with my wife about the day, and she urged me to do the same, so I joined Evan in the neighbouring stretcher. My vitals were indicative of someone suffering from Heat Exhaustion: temperature 38.5c and a resting heart rate of 83 (almost double my normal)! After some blood work, I wasn't eligible for fluids; however, I was required to drink at least 2L of water over night, and check back with the Dr. in the AM for a follow-up round of blood work before I could be cleared to start the stage.
Average/Max HR: 113/142
Less full of optimism - Medical tent, Elandskloof, SA (photo by Me)
Stage 3 Elandskloof to Elandskloof) 78km - 1650m climbing
I woke feeling ok after a cooler over-night, and being able to sleep. I passed the cut with regards to my follow-up blood work, and was excited for a 78km day. The forecast was calling for "cooler" temps, and my main concern was withEvan. I woke to his news that his slumber was.... not continent, and it put me on edge as we prepared for the day. I was reassured he was well enough to start, but time would show he'd might not be well enough to finish.
Come to find out, South African meteorologists have an inability to properly predict the weather similar to their North American counterparts: Evan's Garmin read 41c (so much for cooler). Evan's internal issues came back, and I watched the day come undone. We had to summit "UFO Climb" before we could limp the kid towards the finish. The road/trail, lined with cement blocks for traction, exposed and on the leeward side of the mountain limiting any sort of breeze, broke Evan. Watching him lean on his handlebars pushing his bike, not responding to any words of encouragement, called for me to ride just at the limit of ear-shot: knowing he'd try to stay with me. I'd fall off my pace every 100m or so, to question his wellbeing. Evan attempted a conversation about my leaving him, and it was quickly quelled, as I would have no part in that! I wasn't interested in letting him sit in the sun, thinking his slog to the top would prove more beneficial knowing a tent awaited us at the peak.
I made the summit with a small gap to Evan. I quickly started filling bottles and Camelbak's, to give the impression that we were going to continue. I took a good look at Evan and asked point blank about his well being and made myself clear that I wasn't impressed in what I seeing. I was again reassured that he was ok, and as he mounted his bike and began to roll, I watched as he bobbled/swerved for no apparent reason. "Whoa!! what the hell was that?!", evidently something gone unnoticed by him, I started believing I was duped into letting him go on!
We started the final 15km with what would have been a super fun, flowing bermed descent. I made a gap after the first downward pitch, something I could NEVER do under normal circumstances. After re-grouping after the singletrack, and now on a wide dirt road, Evan went through as if the coast, and headwind from the downhill cooled him, and light a fire. The road to the finish was oddly manageable. I set the pace, giving a wheel/draft, and what ever little bump the course threw at us, was easily ridden.
We crossed the line, and Evan set off for some.... relief.
Average/Max HR: 111/132
Post stage 3 and later that night:
I had finished my bag of food before Evan returned from his... evacuation. I grabbed him a bag of food, and was hovering over him to get it eaten. Watching him struggling with each bite didn't stop me from foisting a bowl of spaghetti upon him. Mid bite, searching for something to help his distress, he sent me off to his tent for some GI medicine, because what ever was inhabiting his guts, wasn't appearing to be leaving anytime soon.
The three days of heat had me feeling terrible too; however, I don't think I was feeling worse than what I've come to expect during the Epic, but I tired to reassure Evan, that he wasn't alone in the ills. Hoping my attempt to share in his grief would spur a recovery, I continued my soft-sell from the days stage throughout the night, simply to try to keep up the forward progress.
The night was rough, I was nauseous, and had no appetite. I was getting off the bike famished, and would eat a bag of food, some supplemental spaghetti, and then hit the pizza truck; all before dinner. When I finally made it to my tent that night, my brain wouldn't turn off. It was the first time I looked at the data collected on my Garmin from the stages. I noticed my low average HR, and calorie expenditures. With all the food I'd crush post race, and the modest supper I could stomach, it was no wonder I wasn't hungry: I come to expect the pukey feeling when racing a bike, and the heat certainly would cause some too.
Pizza and butt repair! - My tent, Elandskloof SA (photo by Me)
Evan did what he could with dinner, skipped his massage opting for an early bedtime, and I went right back to feeling worried about his wellbeing. I reached out to Zara, Evan's dad, and had a conversation about the kid. Hearing what I've come to expect from Zed, in his motivating verbiage, I started to question if I was just searching for an excuse to stop the "pain". I was told Evan and he had been speaking all evening, so the news I conveyed, wasn't surprising.
The race is a two person team with the idea that we are there to help each other, and keep each other motivated and safe. I wasn't sure I'd uphold the later of that statement if Evan wasn't going to make it through the night.... uninterrupted.
......to be continued