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Epic 2018: Riding Tall(boy)

Oscar Foulkes December 4, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
I started the week feeling a bit deflated, having aborted a third of the way into the Double Century. However, there’s nothing like new equipment to provide some excitement.

In Piet and my case, it was a matching pair of Santa Cruz Tallboys, complete with Reserve rims (carbon). No, I didn’t suddenly come into a bunch of cash as a result of a racehorse winning a big race, or a distant relative popping her clogs. Piet has been a Santa Cruz brand ambassador since just before Epic, and it only seemed correct that both of us should be on the same bike for Epic 2018. Thank you, Rush Sports!

I’m no petrol head, but I seem to have turned into a pedal head.

Before you all fall about laughing at two average 50-something riders having a bike sponsor, give some thought to the logic of this. We’ll be on the route (i.e. visible) for many more hours than the pros. Plus, we’re quite happy to answer questions about the bikes while we’re riding (well, Piet is going to have to do the talking on my behalf, but you get the picture). If you wanted to ask a pro rider about his bike you’d first have to catch him – good luck with that!

Having a sponsor, even if it is just for bikes reminds me of Jonno Proudfoot’s “web of accountability”. He and Thane Williams swam from Mozambique to Madagascar, which is a much bigger thing than completing Cape Epic. However, to help him get through it, Jonno imagined everyone that he was accountable to, in undertaking to complete this massive challenge. In his case, there was also a sponsor on the list.

Jonno might have called it a prison of accountability, so firmly did he lock himself into those promises.

There was a gale force south-easter on Tuesday, but I was keen to take the new bike for a spin, mainly to get a sense of how it descends. It was certainly quick, but I was still getting used to the feel of it.

I went out for a hill session (five times six-minute hills) on Thursday morning, which didn’t give me much opportunity for play.

On Saturday, Piet and I did a big loop along the Atlantic Seaboard, turning at Noordhoek to go up the Ou Wapad. We dropped down through Tokai, and then worked our way back up to Rhodes Drive through the Constantia Green Belts, finally heading via Rhodes Memorial back to the City Bowl. There were plenty of opportunities to test downhill speed, and the Tallboy came through with flying colours. I’m still getting used to it, but it gives such a solid, stable feeling on the trails that I know it’s got plenty more to give – if I can get my head out of the way!

Regular readers will know how talismanic the breathing-impaired racehorse Sergeant Hardy has been to my Epic efforts. In fact, if we don’t get a team sponsorship for 2018, we may reprise the ‘Hoarse Power’ concept.

Anyway, on Saturday he was running in the Cape Merchants, one of the top three races for sprinters over the Cape season. I invited Spook and Erica to join me at Kenilworth, along with a psychiatrist friend, which opened the door to interesting conversation about the psychology of Epic teams.

Erica had many layers of interest in proceedings, given her work in training cyclists, as well as her background in dressage.

I was keen to get a picture of Erica and Justin Snaith together – he trains Sergeant Hardy, and Erica trains me. She has to deal with my breathing impairment, so she was interested in how Justin manages Sergeant Hardy’s breathing issues. Erica had many more questions about how racehorses are trained that I wasn’t able to answer. Her curiosity is part of what equips her to be great at what she does.

Sergeant Hardy has a quirk, in that he hangs (veers) to the left, which definitely got Dressage Erica’s mind ticking.

Anyway, in the race Sergeant Hardy was disadvantaged by racing on the less-good going on the outside. His natural running style is to go to the front, but his jockey probably did it at slightly too quick a pace. Whether one is a cyclist or a racehorse, too fast a pace is a killer, and the horse ran out of steam in the final stages.

Sunday’s ride was billed as 70km on the mountain, in zone 2, with a coffee stop. Yes, the coffee stop is in Erica’s programme. It was raining in the morning, so I headed out in the afternoon. It was a little odd to be going for a long ride in the afternoon, and it made for a strange-feeling Sunday night. I had several play opportunities as I made my way via Plum Pudding hill to the Green Belts and Tokai, matching or beating Strava PRs on a bunch of downhill segments.

There were times I felt as if I was in flight, so harmonious was the feel I got from the bike. It truly seemed as if I could aim it at any line, regardless of roots or rocks.

The one segment that was an eye opener (when I saw the time afterwards) was the big downhill from the Plum Pudding singletrack to the cattle grid at the Rhodes Memorial entrance. I had to stop to walk around a tree that had fallen across the road, which I didn’t do with any sense of urgency. Despite this, my time for that roughly 10 minute segment was just 7 seconds slower than my fastest. The Tallboy must have flown, because it’s not as if I went slowly on previous occasions when the road was clear.

I never got that coffee stop, but if La Parada had been closer to home I’d have stopped for a gin & tonic instead.

The Santa Cruz Tallboy is a sensational piece of machinery, but even this epicness is going to benefit from tweaking that is specific to each day of next year’s route. Spook’s mind has been hard at work with the ideal combinations of tyres and gear ratios.

I’m responsible for keeping the wheels turning. For all else, there is Santa Cruz, Erica and Spook. And Piet, because the teammate isn’t just there to make up the numbers (#psychology).

I’ve come full circle with Santa Cruz Tallboy. It was the first bike I test-rode in 2016, and very nearly bought. Read my report here. A lot has changed since then, which is inevitable given all the riding I’ve done this year.

Tallboy epicness - it looks orange, but is actually a slightly retro light brown (officially it's "rust", which is kind of ironic considering it's made of carbon)

Tallboy epicness – it looks orange, but is actually a slightly retro light brown (officially it’s “rust”, which is kind of ironic considering it’s made of carbon)

The Week After Cape Epic

Oscar Foulkes April 1, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
I made the promise, on the day of finishing Cape Epic, that there would be a ‘decompression post’. I suspect there may be potential for several of these things as time passes.

The big theme of ‘my’ Cape Epic (apart from re-building my strength after radiotherapy) was my impaired breathing hence the “hoarse power” on the backs of our shorts, as well as the reference to Sergeant Hardy in our team name. I wouldn’t say that I had a victim attitude to it, but it must have shaped my views of what my limits were. I realised afterwards that somewhere along the route I stopped thinking in terms of limitations. Yes, on steep climbs my breathing was like a donkey’s braying, but I got on with what was in front of me without couching it in some kind of excuse structure.

Perhaps subliminally I realised that it was a waste of energy to think in those terms, or maybe it was the effect of watching Reuben van Niekerk do it all on one leg. Apart from these factors, Epic is relentless. Eventually, all one can think of is the here and now of keeping the cranks turning. It empties the mind of much irrelevant thinking.

My impaired breathing was the result of a web of scar tissue growing across the pointy end of my vocal chords. My surgeon, Prof Fagan, had suggested a procedure whereby this would be split. In view of recovery time, it had to wait until after Epic.

I was on the phone to his rooms first thing on Monday morning, and surgery was booked for Thursday. As I was being wheeled into the operating theatre I asked them to take pictures, both before and after.

I’m not going to say that I felt no emotion at the finish of Epic, but what I felt when I saw those pictures (see alongside) was different. I was almost in tears when I saw that I’d ridden Epic on something like 50% breathing capacity. It’s not the same as breathing through a straw, but you get the picture.

Even while lying in the hospital bed, my breathing felt easier.

In my head, I had lost 10% to 20% breathing capacity. Sometimes it’s better not to know – if I’d known that the impediment was more like 50%, perhaps I wouldn’t even have started the Epic process. Or, if I had, my attitude (see paragraph two above) would have had an even greater limiting effect.

Last year, in a letter of fatherly guidance, I said to my son: “We have powers of endurance that are far in excess of what we might imagine.” Little did I know the circumstances under which I would experience that for myself.

If only we knew how to access that extra capacity without having to get conned into it!

Before: the web of scar tissue still in place

Before: the web of scar tissue still in place

After: the 'normal' extent of the vocal chords restored after removal of scar tissue

After: the ‘normal’ extent of the aperture restored after removal of scar tissue

Cape Epic: Stage Five

Oscar Foulkes March 24, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
Today was nominally an easier day, at a billed 84km, with 2150 metres of climbing. That’s the theory.

We did 25% of the day’s climbing in the first 10km, and 50% in the first 26km. It’s a tough way to start, so the game plan was to take it easy until about 30km. This was when we started the first of the singletrack, and we would then decide how we would ride. That was the theory.

In practice, Piet was particularly frisky today, even by his standards. In fairness, he had two dreadful days on Monday and Wednesday. Why hold back a man who is on form?

On the initial few climbs I did my best to keep him in sight, although not to the extent of tracking him on the Cape Epic app (he is carrying our tracking device). He waited for me at the tops of climbs, and from the first singletrack we were in closer proximity for the rest of the day.

In keeping up with him, I wouldn’t describe my level of exertion as ‘taking it easy’. We then rode the singletrack at a furious pace, partly because the A-to-Z series above the Grabouw Country Club requires constant effort, and also because we kept having to power past slower riders.

The technical skills (or, lack thereof) of some riders turned into a frustration throughout the stage. I’m not claiming extraordinary skills on our part, but on Epic one would expect something more confident than we encountered. There was so much singletrack on today’s route that it wasn’t the day for patiently sitting it out.

The tactics we employed to pass some riders were much more aggressive than one would expect from a team heading for a position 360 finish on the day.

At this point I should probably issue a general apology if we ruined anyone’s day. I have already apologised in person to Ashley, with whom I brushed handlebars in my eagerness to attack the berms. I’m not holding my breath waiting for an apology from the German rider who cut corners to drop into the trail ahead of me after water point three, and then proceeded to descend like a granny.

While we’re being polite it’s probably appropriate to express my gratitude to Cape Epic for not taking us the hard way up Nuweberg. Yesterday’s over-delivery of climbing is forgiven. We’re good.

It is a subject of study by sports scientists that riders’ heart rates drop during Epic. Today my average heart rate was 131. Based on the degree to which I was gasping for breath much of the way, it’s a ride I would usually have done somewhere closer to 140. My maximum today was 161, whereas I would ordinarily have peaked above 170.

In trying to get perspective on why I felt quite as poked as I did, I had a look at the day’s final results. Today we were the 20th Grand Masters team home, having been in the high 30s and 40s all week. That’s what happens when Piet is the captain of the Sergeant Hardy team.

Tonight we’re having a steak dinner, delivered courtesy of the Dish Food & Social team. It’s just the thing to fuel up for a day that has 2750 metres of climbing. Well, that’s the theory.

Today's route profile

Today’s route profile

Epic Training: Week 27

Oscar Foulkes March 12, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
The Velominati Rules leave no doubt about what type of kit is appropriate for which cycling discipline, but the sole prescriptions relating to looking great are reserved for the bike itself. Nevertheless, there is a requirement for team members taking part in a stage race to wear custom kit. One can’t pitch up at Cape Epic wearing matching Wines2Whales tops, even if they are of vintage provenance.

No, nothing less than specially made up shirts, with matching bib shorts, gilets and arm warmers, and the relevant year’s Cape Epic Riders’ logo, will suffice. If you are travelling with a support team, whether masseuse or mechanic, those people should have matching t-shirts. WAGs, too, should have appropriate kit (matching pom-poms optional).

This was Kit Week. On Monday, we took delivery of our Sergeant Hardy kit (see related post here). On Friday, we received our ABSA Pride goodie bags (a total spoil in the kit department). And, for good measure, Piet gave me a full set of RECM kit (complete with Epic rider logo).

I also picked up my Jenna Lowe Trust top (you can still donate here), bringing the tally to seven new tops and six new bib shorts, as well as four new gilets. The Velominati have a rule relating to the number of bikes one can own, but not the number of sets of cycling kit. My cupboard space (a fraction of that available in the master bedroom) is already full to overflowing, but I’m not going to test the possibility of the “S-1” rule by encroaching on the other cupboards. I may be living out of a suitcase for a while.

We’re on the ABSA Pride list thanks to Piet’s banking relationships. I bank with FNB, and have regarded myself as being on the winning side of the equation, thanks to my Ninja use of eBucks. The level of spoil from ABSA is on another level (but, in fairness, so is the scale of my use of FNB’s services – ABSA aren’t doing this for holders of savings accounts).

The structure of the week followed the usual pattern, with gym on Monday and Wednesday. I did a toned-down session of hill repeats on Tuesday, and similarly less intense intervals on Saturday.

I joined Piet for a road ride on Thursday with his gym trainer, Kate (comparisons with my trainer, Derek, would not be fair). Due to the strength of the wind we turned around at the Twelve Apostles, and rode up The Glen.

During this ride Piet made his decision about which bike to ride for the Cape Town Cycle Tour (mountain bike, because he’s had so little time on the new Santa Cruz). I deliberated for a few days, until the wind made up my mind for me. The Yeti would be more stable in the wind, plus I’d get some valuable distance riding in advance of Epic.

As it turned out, the choice of bikes was irrelevant. I feel for people who have trained hard with a target time, and especially for those who travelled from overseas. On my ride back from the start I passed a particularly disconsolate Italian.

The fact is that people were getting blown off their bikes at the start. Even if this was because of the wind tunnel effect on the Foreshore, the more social end of the field would have had a tough time getting around the course in a gale force south-easter. Also a factor was the possibility of fires in Hout Bay necessitating the use of roads for access by emergency vehicles.

For some, it would have been a relief to not ride in the wind. For others, it was all blow and no happy ending.

One week to go (and then it will be eight days of Rule 5) …

Epic Training: Week 26

Oscar Foulkes March 5, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
We are now into the part of the training programme referred to as ‘tapering’. Things are taken just a little bit easier. The body gets a chance to properly recover from the fairly tough racing schedule we have followed since late January, as well as build up some reserves for the week of Epic.

Gym sessions on Monday and Wednesday focused more on mobility and recovery than strength. Wednesday morning’s hour-long spin on the road was about recovery only.

On Saturday, Piet and I did a meander around Meerendal and Hoogekraal. Having spent hardly any time on my bike during the week it was good to get out again. I certainly went at it faster than I should have, and discovered that the climbs get quite steep. Before I knew it, my heart rate was well over 170, with accompanying sound effects as a result of my restricted airway (best I don’t pull that stunt anywhere near a medic – I’ll be kicked off Epic faster than I can say Yeti).

Speaking of bikes, Piet was on his new Santa Cruz Tallboy. It’s the yellow version with turquoise branding, which looks very cool. If I hadn’t, after much deliberation, selected the Yeti, this is the bike I would have wanted for Epic. I suspect my days of keeping up with Piet on big descents are over. The Tallboy is a lot more stable on the trail than his old S-Works.

However, I’ve done our team no favours by insisting that we complete the Sergeant Hardy story by wearing my mother’s racing colours. Picture, if you can bear it, two middle-aged gents wearing pink shirts and pink socks, riding as a pair on these brightly coloured bikes (see alongside).

The fabulous Afrikaans word bont springs to mind. Our colourful ensemble is topped and tailed with black, in the form of black helmets (new, matching), black shoes and black gloves.

Sunday morning’s ride was an easy three-hour road ride to Noordhoek and back with my son.

Even this relatively casual week involved eight hours of either gym or riding. Over the months, my training programme has required a lot of shuffling of timetables, of squeezing things in, and of outright just not being available at certain times. My family has been massively supportive and tolerant. I could not have got this far without them. Thank you, Andrea. Thank you, Sophie. Thank you, Aedan.

The Prologue start times have been announced. We’re off at a very early 7.15am, which should leave enough time for us to get off the course before the seeded riders do their thing. I’d hate to be responsible for causing one of them to lose time on the route.

Next Sunday, I’m riding the Cape Town Cycle Tour in support of the Jenna Lowe Trust. Their aim is to raise R50 000 for two new oxygen machines at the Jenna Lowe Clinic at Groote Schuur Hospital. Click here to make a donation, however small (more information about the Jenna Lowe Trust is on their website). The entire process will take you less than a minute. Your support is much appreciated!

My immune system has done a sterling job for the past year. Three more weeks of defence against illness would be fantastic.

Two weeks to the start…

I’m riding The Argus in support of the Jenna Lowe Trust.  Follow this link to make donations.

Piet's new ride, the Santa Cruz Tallboy cc.

Piet’s new ride, the Santa Cruz Tallboy cc.

The other half of our colourful pairing, my Yeti ASR40, in turquoise that doesn't quite match that on the Santa Cruz.

The other half of our colourful pairing, my Yeti ASR40, in turquoise that doesn’t quite match that on the Santa Cruz.

Epic Training: Week 21

Oscar Foulkes January 29, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
With just eight weeks to go to the Cape Epic Prologue, there was no time for rest this week. Fortunately, the training process is working its magic, and my body bounced back quickly. Had I been a racehorse, the trainer might have said, “he took the run well”.

Monday and Wednesday were gym days. Two other Epic riders train at the same time, so there’s always plenty of cycling banter, which feels like an important component of arriving on the start line with my head in the right zone.

Tuesday and Thursday were both billed as 90-minute “tempo” rides, which I took to mean high intensity. It made a nice change to be heading out on my old routes without having any concern about keeping my heart rate below specified maximums. And, because I was riding for just 90 minutes I didn’t have the same concerns about blowing up, as I would on a 90km stage.

I was delighted to find that my times on most Strava segments were at early-2015 levels. A few hot laps don’t equate to Epic performance, but it was positive reinforcement nonetheless. Considering that I’ve never ridden as much as I have over the past 10 months, and I’m riding a superstar bicycle, one might have expected better. However, for all the additional fitness and strength in my muscles, my breathing remains impaired.

I may also have benefitted from something I call the reverse Samson effect. I thought it was time to truly enter the cycling spirit, by waxing my legs. Somehow, with my smooth, shiny legs my brain could fool my body into believing that I’m more of an athlete than I really am. Unlike Samson, who lost strength when he was deprived of hair, I got stronger.

Sergeant Hardy, a horse I race in partnership with my mother, has featured in my training reports. Despite a breathing impediment (he has a paralysed right vocal chord) so serious that it’s legitimate grounds for the purchaser cancelling a voetstoots auction sale, he is the top-rated three-year-old sprinter in the country. He’s become something of a talisman for our Epic journey, and it was Piet’s idea that we call our team Sergeant Hardy.

On Saturday, he faced the biggest challenge of his career, in the form of a $500,000 race on Sun Met day, for which he was the hot favourite. I’ve known for more than a year that he had this as a likely assignation, which makes 28 January 2017 just about the most anticipated day of my life. Sergeant Hardy is a big, powerful galloper. His running style is to take the lead early, and to literally run his rivals into the ground. He’s a special horse!

This time he was completely flat, and Richard Fourie was scrubbing at him from halfway just to keep him in contention. Barring a health issue surfacing in the next 24 hours, the only explanation is that after heavy rainfall on Thursday night the track developed a draw bias. He was drawn on the outside on the straight 1200m course, whereas the winners of the sprint races on Saturday were drawn towards the inside.

He finished well down the field. As an indication of how far below par that was, a horse he has comprehensively beaten on three occasions finished a 2½ length third. Richard was almost in tears as he walked back to the weighing room afterwards.

I haven’t shed a tear, but the scale of my disappointment has been substantial. It’s at a time like this that the words from Rudyard Kipling’s If spring to mind: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat these two imposters just the same.”

When things are going well, horse racing can deliver the most extraordinary highs – perhaps because one cannot be 100% assured of victory. When things don’t turn out as expected, there isn’t much to do other than say “that’s racing”, and look forward to the next time.

My mother’s racing colours are vieux rose (a.k.a. pink) with a white sash, which will be the inspiration for our Epic kit. For the races on Saturday we got quite involved in pink, as you can see in the pic alongside.

Saturday’s ride was supposed to be four hours, but was cut a bit shorter because of commitments I had at the racecourse. The four hours that were on the programme for Sunday were a suffer fest, after a day at the races of eating too little and drinking too much. My smooth and shiny legs felt as if they were laced with razor wire.

We have three stage races planned for February – the Fairtree Simonsberg Contour, Tankwa Trek and Knysna Bull. It’s going to be a busy month!

Monday update: In their report on the race, Sporting Post suggested that Sergeant Hardy was below-par because of breathing issues. I don’t agree – if that had been the issue he would have been affected towards the end of the race. It hurts to see this guy get unfairly underestimated or sleighted. Don’t worry, Champ, we’re flying your flag!

Horsing around - Team Sergeant Hardy flashing pink at the 2017 Sun Met (pic: Amanda Bloch)

Horsing around – Team Sergeant Hardy flashing pink at the Sun Met (pic: Amanda Bloch)

A happier day - leading in Sergeant Hardy after his first feature race win, on Met day 2016 (pic: Equine Edge)

A happier day – leading in Sergeant Hardy after his first feature race win, on Met day 2016 (pic: Equine Edge)

Epic Training: Week 16

Oscar Foulkes December 25, 2016 Cape Epic No comments
Last week’s training (which incorporated a day of this week) ended on a high. Both physically and emotionally, I felt great.

Then I was exposed to any endurance athlete’s worst nightmare. I started purging on Monday night, and spent the week with a severe case of the squirts, accompanied by the usual cramps. Lethargy, if not outright fatigue, was ever-present. If this had hit me in the middle of Epic, I would have had to withdraw.

I should add that I have a cast iron stomach. This shit just doesn’t happen to me. I grew up on a farm drinking damwater, which must have helped my body build up resistance to a wide range of bacteria. Unless it’s obviously ‘off’, I’ve never shied away from eating anything, whether it’s street food in Asia, or several days’ old leftovers from the fridge. Except for India, I drink tap water wherever I go. In fact, during our little boot camp, I thought that proper Epic preparation would include drinking tap water from various points on the route, not just riding the major climbs.

Anyway, I came down with a bug, the identity of which will be revealed some time next week when the results of the pathology are available. Blood samples are collected by nurses, whether pin prick to finger, or fully-blown draining of a vein. Collection of DNA samples involves a simple swab of the inside of one’s mouth. Urine samples are also quite straightforward. Stool samples, on the other hand, require some precision. Consider, firstly, the three-quarter inch diameter of the container, not to mention its double-tot capacity. And, by virtue of simple anatomy, one is essentially flying blind.

The required level of precision may not be on a par with dropping a bomb down a chimneystack from an altitude of 30 000 foot, but it’s certainly a bit more tricky than landing an A380 on the deck of an aircraft carrier. I’ll spare you the balance of the details, but without any mess I successfully collected and sealed a sample.

I delivered the pristine container to the pathologists. No sooner had the words “stool sample” left my lips, than the person across the counter was snapping on latex gloves. In fairness, if she’d been present during the collection of the sample, it would have been advisable for her to wear a Hazmat suit, but it just seemed to be an unnecessary sleight of my achievement.

A portion of the week was earmarked for recovery, so my training programme wasn’t dramatically affected. I had to call off gym on Wednesday, but I managed Thursday evening’s easy ride. It rained on Friday afternoon, although I was in any case not up to doing anything. Saturday morning, also, did not start well.

Buoyed by Sergeant Hardy’s runaway win under top weight on Saturday afternoon (earlier reports about him here), I headed out for an interval session (ten repeats of two minutes in zone four, interspersed with three minutes of easy riding).

This wasn’t the only time during the week that my heart rate got above 150. There was also a drive home, when my entire body was in a clench to prevent a massive explosion. When I reached safety I was very thankful to be pulling down trousers, rather than having to extricate myself from a bib short. It would not have ended well.

Lezandré’s programme included a three-hour ride on Christmas Day. My family is fully supportive of my Epic journey, but I suspect that would dry up quickly if I deserted them today. While on the subject of Christmas, I’ve had the perfect preparation for a day of overeating (in training terms, this week has been what athletes call a ‘taper’).

Merry Christmas!


Epic Training: Week Five

Oscar Foulkes October 10, 2016 Cape Epic No comments
There could be a life lesson in this. You may think that I’m talking about the mental aspect, in which riders “force heart and nerve and sinew” over the Cape Epic course. No, what I have in mind is the training, which on its own is a massive commitment, or so it seemed to me when I heard about other people doing it.

I print out every week’s training schedule, which gets posted on the fridge. Yes, I’m a digital creature, who lives in the cloud, as it were, but somehow it’s important that every week’s structure takes a physical form. I did the same thing with the schedule for my 33 radiotherapy treatments, except that then I crossed off each session as it was completed.

Having a plan, especially one in printed form, takes away negotiation. It simply becomes something that has to be done, regardless of the weather or how I feel. Being given this value – or, put differently, me having accepted the path – helps me to just do it.

During Monday’s conditioning session I managed to just about deadlift my body weight, which is big progress for me (for perspective, the guys who train at the same time as me weigh the same, but deadlift 100kg).

Tuesday’s ride was a warm-up, followed by three eight-minute climbs in a big gear, and then a cool-down. Thursday’s ride was billed as an easy spin, which it may have been by comparison, but there’s no such thing as a totally easy ride on the City side of Table Mountain. On Saturday, I did a warm-up followed by six repeats of heart rate in zone four for five minutes. These had ten-minute gaps to allow decent recovery. This was on the same route as Tuesday’s climbs.

Sunday’s ride was just two hours on the mountain, with high cadence, but keeping heart rate below zone four.

As usual, the more interesting stuff happened off the bike. On Wednesday night, I was invited to join the Val de Vie management team at the Cape Epic route launch. My connection to Val de Vie is that we are responsible for the hospitality (i.e. restaurant, bar and ballroom) on the estate, which now also includes the adjacent Pearl Valley. I was sitting next to Ryk Neethling, who professed to be getting chills (of awe and excitement) when watching the preview video. Mountain biking may be a different discipline to swimming, but training remains training. He told me about the long distance swimming he did, in which he swam 20km every day for eight years. He started talking about the importance of breathing, when we were interrupted by the next part of the programme. I’ve arranged to get the detail on the breathing, which is one of my top concerns at the moment. Swimmers spend a lot of time facedown in the water; I have no doubt they’d know something about breathing properly.

While on the subject of breathing, during the week we discovered that a racehorse I own a small share of has a paralysed arytenoid cartilage. This causes one vocal chord to block the airway, and requires tie-back surgery. Without this procedure he’ll never reach his full potential (which appears to be significant). Coincidentally, I have an interest in another racehorse – Sergeant Hardy – that also has a paralysis, but is apparently not affected by it (or he is such a superlative athlete that even with the disability he is still superior to many). Breathing appears to be a theme at the moment.

What we’ve learnt about Sergeant Hardy is that he needs to be extremely fit (you can read about him here and here). There’s no such thing as him going into a race slightly underdone. In my case, breathing only becomes an issue at elevated heart rate. In other words, the fitter and stronger I am, the less of an issue my breathing will be.

Process is an uninterrupted sequence of directed actions (much like a training programme).

There is magic in process.

Impaired breathing appears to not have affected Sergeant Hardy, now a winner of four of his five starts.