By contrast, I did very little research as far as riding partner is concerned. When my regular or occasional partners ran a mile, I had to resort to unusual methods. There isn’t a cycling version of Tindr (if there were, perhaps it could be called Peddlr), so I wrote a blog post Be My Epic Valentine.
As a result, a friend connected me with Piet (Viljoen), who met me for a coffee almost exactly a year ago. At that point, I was midway through six weeks of radiotherapy, I couldn’t speak, and was on my way to losing 10kg and cultivating a scab that covered the entire front of my neck. I didn’t eat solid food until early April, instead subsisting on soup and morphine.
Piet is a value investor, but even a ‘reversion to mean’ model would have had difficulty forecasting the extent of my recovery. In my darkest days, I was the equivalent of buying into African Bank while it was under curatorship, or buying Greek bonds under threat of default. We couldn’t sensibly cycle together until the end of 2016, and yet Piet didn’t waver. The level of commitment puts his immediate “yes” on the level of “I do”. I have spent many hours looking at the back of Piet’s RECM cycling kit, with the strapline: “Follow your conviction.” Even if I’ve been the one doing the following, I can tell you that the conviction part is real.
You may recall from earlier training updates that Piet’s actual objective this year is to run the Comrade’s Marathon, but with an additional layer of difficulty, in that it’s part of the Unogwaja Challenge, which will see the athletes cycle to Durban over 10 days. While running and cycling are not complementary athletic activities, they draw off the body’s single store of energy. My body is just about keeping on top of my training programme; Piet is doing this at the same time as running. Often, he cycles in the morning, and then runs 10 or 15km in the evening. I don’t know how he does it.
Actually, I do have an idea of how he does it, because I see it in action when we are cycling. He relishes challenges, and he sets them up as non-negotiable objectives. Going outside his comfort zone is something he does as a matter of course. It helps that he is a strong rider, but I’ve often seen him ride up steep and loose climbs that most people are walking up. This is as much about strength of will as it is about strength of muscles.
This week followed the regular pattern of gym on Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday’s ride consisted of hill repeats (in the wind, by the way), and I moved Thursday’s road ride to Wednesday morning, so that I could ride with Piet.
Our Wednesday ride to Hout Bay and back was largely uneventful, except for when the ‘La Perla Express’ passed us on the approach to the Twelve Apostles Hotel. Had we stepped on the gas while they were still alongside we might have had half a chance of hanging on to back of the peloton, but the gap was 20 or 30 metres by the time Piet suggested that we chase them down. Classic Piet. I felt like a dog chasing after a motorbike (well, I was, perhaps Piet could have caught them if he’d been on his own).
It was only after I reached safety that I asked myself what the fuck I was thinking. There is no way I could out-ride a cobra going uphill. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time riding with Piet, in that I felt able to take on the impossible.
My plan for Sunday was to do a road ride with my son, but near-gale force wind killed that idea. Instead, I rode over to Pat’s Track, which is sheltered from the south-easter. The additional benefits of Pat’s Track are that it tests technical skills, going both down and up.
While it’s a physically challenging section of riding, it’s relatively short. I braved the wind back on the City Bowl side, but still ended up riding just 90 minutes instead of three hours. With Strava, there are no secrets, hence the message I received from Piet some time after getting home: “Are you doing the rest of your ride indoors?”
Well, I suppose he had run the Peninsula Marathon in the morning – running into the wind the whole way. It’s not as if he turned it into a half marathon, although that part is non-negotiable, because running Peninsula is part of qualifying for Comrades.
I’ve painted a picture of a partnership so unequal that you’d wonder how it works. However, before we even started this journey, Piet accepted that he was doing Epic with me, rather than the other way around. And, his actual objective is Unogwaja.
It’s been very good for me to have Piet as my partner. He has challenged and stretched me when it would have been all too easy for me to coast along while waving the “impaired breathing cancer treatment” banner. I’m not the victim type, but it would have been possible to get to – and through – Epic at a lower level of intensity.
Sometimes we over-think or over-research things. Often, great results follow from committing to the options that serendipity puts in front of us. My Epic partnership is one of those.
The difference between five and four is small. Somehow, however, reaching the point of there being just four weeks remaining to the start of Epic feels like a dramatic shift. It’s all feeling very close.