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Epic 2018: Different strokes for Foulkes

Oscar Foulkes January 8, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
A few weeks ago I encountered the word “coachability”. It would seem to be obvious that if an athlete has an objective, and enlists the services of a coach/trainer, they would do their best to act on the direction they are given. In other words, to be coachable. Apparently not.

On the other hand, what kind of coach would one want? Over the months, my training reports have been liberally sprinkled with references to Erica (Green), Spook (Groenewald) and Daisyway Coaching Systems, the brand that joins them and the rest of their team.

Given my horse racing background, a trainer is the person responsible for getting the athlete to peak fitness. A coach takes a more holistic view of performance, including technique, strategy, psychology and more. It would not be inaccurate to refer to Erica as my trainer, but that would be diminishing the amount of care and attention to detail that she puts into all aspects of her athletes’ performance.

She and Spook happen to have been on holiday in Keurbooms while I’ve been in Plett. At her instigation, we all rode in Harkerville together on Tuesday. There was plenty of fun to be had riding the singletrack sections, but she spent some time adjusting my pedalling technique when going up short inclines. I have this habit of surging, which wastes energy and is not ideal for multi-day marathon events.

I should mention that watching Erica on a bike is a treat, because her upper body hardly moves, and her legs seem to effortlessly rotate the cranks, regardless of the terrain. The gliding of a swan across a pond springs to mind, but one can easily map her cycling technique onto that of a dressage rider, which was her sport before cycling.

So, Tuesday was a relatively relaxed 29km with fun sections and some on-the-bike coaching.

Spook and Erica joined me for the first 30km of a 100km off-road ride on Wednesday. The stroke coaching continued, getting me to focus on the lateral pull-push at the top and bottom parts of the rotation. We stopped several times for Spook to make adjustments to seat height and saddle position. The objective was to get me into a comfortable position that would enable the most effective/efficient pedal stroke.

Thursday’s ride was 120km on the road. I went via Keurbooms, meeting them at 6.30am, so that Spook could sort out the setup on my road bike. I continued on the N2, with a beautiful detour via Nature’s Valley. My back did get a bit sore after I’d been climbing, but my comfort levels were dramatically improved.

Friday was a rest day (thankfully), but Saturday and Sunday continued the base miles theme. On Saturday, I did a 116km spin to Storms River Village and back. It was definitely the most comfortable I’d been on the road bike, and I felt fresh afterwards.

I need to share a little about my riding partner’s training over the holiday period. Piet is competing in the Iron Man in East London at the end of January. While I’ve been doing high volume base training, he has been doing a high intensity final push. His Saturday consisted of 60km of cycling intervals, followed by a very tough 20km straight off the bike.

He was understandably not that gung-ho when we did our off-road 70km (was supposed to be 100km) on Sunday. Notwithstanding his residual fatigue, after a couple of hours of pedalling, he reverted to his usual machine mode. It took every scrap of adjusted stroke technique, and recently upgraded fitness, to stay on his back wheel up the final climb. This was all about watts.

When we crossed the bridge at the Belvedere turn-off for the final section to Knysna, I decided to keep the ‘short on kilometres, long on watts’ theme going, with a 15-minute push (into a headwind) that took me to the edges of my comfort zone.

Returning to the coach question, it’s game changing to be on the receiving end of the kind of attention that Erica and Spook put into riders and their bikes. It’s a boutique service with built-in limits for the number of clients, and I regard myself as being extremely fortunate to count myself as one of them.

Epic 2018: ‘Holiday’ riding

Oscar Foulkes December 30, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
On Christmas Eve, I casually mentioned to Andrea how tired my body was feeling, and that I just didn’t know how I could drag myself through a four-hour ride on Christmas Day. As far as my Epic lark is concerned, there is no more supportive spouse. In fact, if there were a parallel competition for long-suffering spouses, Andrea would certainly be on the podium.

“Are you joking?” was her response, while looking at me in a way that warned of the imminent launching of daggers. Of course, I was only joking, although my original plan had been to get into cycling kit immediately after opening Christmas presents. The fact that I’m here to share the week’s training report with you is certainly a product of that bit of sensible discretion.

I was supposed to do 100km on the mountain bike, mostly on the road, on the 26th (Tuesday), but the drive to Plettenberg Bay got in the way.

Wednesday’s ride was supposed to be 90km on the road, but I was so excited to be on holiday that I headed off on my mountain bike instead. The excitement also translated into me riding at higher intensity than Erica intended for base ride, and I also did a lot more climbing, partly thanks to riding all the way to the Diepwalle forest station (I needed to be sure of getting to 90km).

The highlight of the ride was bombing down the Petrus-se-Brand singletrack on the Tallboy, especially the steeper sections with roots and little drops. What a great piece of machinery! A close second in the highlights stakes was a toasted cheese sandwich at the Diepwalle tearoom, paired with extra large Coke.

Piet had also done a bit much for his Wednesday ride, so I suggested an easy road ride for Thursday (even though my programme had it as a rest day). I met him in Knysna for a 94km spin to Wilderness. The plan was to stop for coffee before turning for home. When we got into Wilderness I was following him on the assumption that he had a preferred spot, perhaps even an artisan French baker with the best croissants on the Garden Route. We rode past some likely prospects, until rounding a traffic circle about a kilometre later.

“I wanted to get to 50km”, he said while giggling sheepishly. Seeing as he’d ridden a few kilometres extra to meet me, reaching a round 100km by the time he got home didn’t apply to me. Epic partnerships have to endure much more than a small FFS moment in Wilderness.

We stopped for toasted cheese & tomato and cappuccinos (with double shot, please), and then headed back to Knysna.

Friday was going to be a rest day for me, until I saw the Rush Sports posts on social media about a relaxed ride in Harkerville with Greg Minnaar as guest of honour. It was more informal than relaxed, with some youngsters and racing snakes setting a cracking pace from the start. Greg couldn’t have been more chilled if he tried, but the young guns were showing some serious skills as they went racing through the forest. It was fun riding behind these guys, although the ride back to Plett on the N2, solo into a headwind, was less so.

Missing Tuesday’s ride had messed up my programme somewhat, so the 120km base ride on the road that was intended for Friday got moved to Saturday. Piet and I rode from Plett to Storms River and back, clocking a healthy 128km. At the halfway turn we again stopped for toasted cheese & tomato – if anyone from Woolies is reading, could we please have these at our Epic feeding points in 2018? I’m quite happy to have them cold, by the way.

Sunday is programmed as a rest day, so I could theoretically do Saturday’s 80km MTB ride, which would bring me up to speed with the week’s programme. However, I have to fly back to Cape Town to be present at the New Year’s Eve party our restaurant is hosting for Pearl Valley residents and hotel guests, so Sunday will remain a rest day.

Next week has four big rides. Starting it fresh will be a good thing.

The positive of doing these big distances on the road is that there’s less effort involved than doing it off-road. Plus the work gets done in a shorter time. The downside is that my road bike is fucking uncomfortable (apologies, the F-word is appropriate in this context). While I’m totally in love with the Tallboy, I’m headed for divorce with the road bike unless there’s a set-up issue that Spook can sort out.

The programme for Monday and Tuesday has gaps for a bit of playtime on the Tallboy. I can’t wait!

The obligatory pre-ride group shot (without me, because I was late). Pic: Warren Fleming, courtesy of Rush Sports.

The obligatory pre-ride group shot (without me, because I was late). Pic: Warren Fleming, courtesy of Rush Sports.

Epic 2018: Another Kind of Tall Boy

Oscar Foulkes December 24, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
With the Western Cape being in the midst of the worst drought in decades, it’s become a badge of compliance to drive a dirty car. The same goes for bikes – although the chain should be kept clear of grit to prolong its life.

With this in mind, I’m loving the light brown colour of my Santa Cruz Tallboy. Officially, it’s ‘rust’, which is not something one would normally associate with a carbon frame. Be that as it may, a light coating of dust suits its bush credentials perfectly.

Given my equine interests, I’ve taken to calling the colour ‘light bay’.

Sticking with horses, Sergeant Hardy is a giant in both achievement and physical appearance, standing a good few inches taller than his competitors. He’s definitely a ‘tall boy’!

On Saturday, Sergeant Hardy made light work of near-top weight, charging home in the feature race at Kenilworth. The second horse carried 9kg less (that’s almost the weight of a Tallboy), which equates to about six lengths. January will be a busy month for him, with the Cape’s most important sprint races coming up on the 13th and 27th. Having him on point for both of those will be an impressive training feat by Justin Snaith.

Erica has no such concerns with me, although in some respects my training objective is similar to Sergeant Hardy’s, in that we both need to be super-fit to lessen the impact of impaired breathing. The current part of my training programme is all about base training – long, slow distance, most of it on the road.

On Saturday, I did a 95km spin to Simon’s Town, and on Sunday, an 80km run out to Koeberg and back. For me, there isn’t a whole lot of fun in this kind of riding. In addition, I’ve decided that my road bike is uncomfortable to the point of me having to be Stoic just to sit on the damn thing after pedalling for a couple of hours.

I may end up doing most of my base training on the Tallboy, which is an extremely comfortable ride.

Comfortable, on the other hand, is not how one would describe Piet at the prospect of wearing the Sergeant Hardy-inspired pink kit we wore for Epic 2017.

It’s not the colour of the bike, nor the kit, that makes a difference. There is work to be done…

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Sergeant Hardy's South Easter Sprint

Sergeant Hardy’s South Easter Sprint

Epic 2018: More torque…

Oscar Foulkes December 20, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
In recent years, Cape Epic has been criticised on the basis that the route is partly made up of trails that one can ride any time one wants. There is some truth in that.

Except.

Except, without access to private land one cannot connect the public trails, plus who is ever going to subject themselves to the equivalent test of “eight days of courage”? And, Epic isn’t just those eight days – it’s the six to twelve months of training that precedes the event.

As weeks of training go, this one started off fairly normally. I did a core/conditioning session on Monday. Tuesday was a crazy day, so I moved the Hills session to early Wednesday morning. To recap, ‘hills’ are strength training, in which one rides up a hill in a difficult gear at low cadence. In the case of this session, it was six minutes of effort, repeated five times. It may not seem like a lot, but it all adds up.

My 90-minute Thursday ride got swallowed by work commitments, but I wasn’t that stressed about it, because I knew that I had four days of Daisyway Boot Camp coming my way.
As a marketing-orientated person, I’m big on benefits, so here are my views on the benefits of taking part in the boot camp:

  • getting exposed to key parts of the route, so that one knows what to prepare for
  • meeting fellow Epic riders – we’re all sharing the same journey, and it’s helpful to join the tribe
  • brushing up on skills, especially with route specifics in mind
  • four consecutive days of riding for five to six hours

The first day involved a look at parts of the Robertson stages, which we were lucky to ride in cool conditions. I can’t add more than I wrote previously (read that here), except to say that I’ve seen what we do in the stages that follow. One definitely wants to take it relatively easy, even if the terrain might suck one into riding harder.

Parts of the transition stage from Arabella to Worcester are long and flat. For day two of the boot camp we rode from Nuy to Rooiberg (close to Robertson) and back, climbing under 1000m over 80km. In mountain biking terms, that’s the equivalent of riding on the Makgadikgadi Pan. All well and good, except that at roughly 75km into the stage there is a mother of a climb, with another 40km remaining. This is another stage that is going to suck testosterone-fuelled riders into going too fast.

We were shown around the Worcester leg by one of the local MTB enthusiasts, who is responsible for building many of the trails. There were times I looked longingly at his e-bike. Given the many hours to think, and with us being in a part of the country where English is only spoken in self-defence, I pondered the Afrikaans name for an e-bike. Bear in mind, also that I have a fascination for descriptive Afrikaans words or expressions (read more here).

I humbly put forward karaokefiets as my candidate, in the sense that the technology is providing assistance to the efforts of the rider.

Day three of the boot camp involved a look at the route from Worcester to Wellington. Once again, there’s a longish stretch to the start of the day’s climbing. The first bit, behind Du Toitskloof winery is pretty straightforward. These recently completed trails (some of which we rode, but aren’t part of Epic) deserve special mention. Most South African readers will be familiar with the expression “boer maak ‘n plan” (farmer makes a plan). This is almost a case of boer maak ‘n pad (road), in that the local farmers have built a trail that would have earned the respect of Thomas Bain (the road engineer responsible for Bainskloof pass). The trail is just a little wider than usual, and beautifully moulded into the natural features, which means that one can really gun it on the flowing sections.

Get out there and ride them – they are fantastic!

The Slanghoek single track that follows, on the other hand, is – in parts – nothing more than a glorified hiking trail. It’s narrow, off-camber, rocky, steep and steeper. Riding it takes constant concentration, varying intensities of effort, and it’s slow. This is going to be possibly the toughest part of the entire 2018 Epic, especially if the temperature gets up to 40 degrees.

Given the length of time it is likely to take to get between the water points that straddle it, I’m considering riding that stage with a hydration pack, in addition to a water bottle.

I return, once again, to the climb up Groenlandberg, which is something of a benchmark. It’s a big climb, but the terrain is relatively smooth. One can spin one’s way to the top without any major energetic penalties. Slanghoek doesn’t offer that luxury. This is constant effort, with bits of extra effort in between, and occasionally another layer of effort above that.

The extra effort comes in the form of torque required to pedal over rocks, or up loose or steep sections, hence Erica’s Epic Intervals. My theme song for this section is All You Do To Me Is Torque Torque.

Attention then turns to Wellington’s Welvanpas trails, which was where we rode on the final day of the boot camp. Except for the succession of technical issues that befell unfortunate members of the group, necessitating long waits on the mountainside, the riding was a pile of fun. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Welvanpas may be the most underrated riding in the Western Cape.

I need to give special mention to a section called True Grit, where the Tallboy felt totally at home on the rockiest of rocky parts.

The Western Cape lays claims to being home to one of the world’s biggest concentrations of great mountain biking trails. Yes, some of them get incorporated into Epic routes, but there’s a symbiotic relationship between Epic and the growth in trail building. Everyone benefits.

The next step is an emerging tourism offering, along the lines of outfits that take care of visitors’ skiing holidays.

Anyway, the next step for me is 1000km of base training between now and 7 January. Having seen what awaits on Stages One to Four, I have a big incentive to get all that work done!

The Welvanpas scenery is as spectacular as the riding (pic: Capetownmountainbikingtours.com)

The Welvanpas scenery is as spectacular as the riding (pic: Capetownmountainbikingtours.com)

Epic 2018: Wind-ervals

Oscar Foulkes December 11, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
Erica’s Epic Intervals were back on the programme this week. I had previously done them on the bike, but ran out of mountain, so it was interesting to do them on the Wattbike. Tuesday was a big, happy tick in the ‘done’ column. I felt strong.

Thursday was just a regular 90-minute ride, which I shifted to early Friday morning to avoid the heat wave. Before talking about the ride, I do need to mention that we rode Stage One of Epic 2017 in the same kind of heat. No wonder so many riders ended up in the Medics tent!

I duly set off at 6.00am on Friday morning, and purposely included a few sketchy descents. I’m enjoying exploring the Tallboy’s downhill capabilities, which are regularly producing new PRs when descending. Thankfully, I haven’t yet found myself in the situation of running out of talent.

I don’t think it’s just a placebo effect – the bike gives a secure, solid feel, which builds confidence.

Erica’s programme had the 112km Race2Nowhere down for Saturday, but I had commitments in Cape Town. The problem with not doing the race is that there was a gale force South-Easter blowing in Cape Town, so I couldn’t replicate the ride locally. It was of similar strength to the wind that caused the Cape Town Cycle Tour to be cancelled earlier this year.

The first climb out of Deer Park is a little bit sheltered from the wind, so I did a bunch of circuits (up from Deer Park, turn right on the road towards the Big Tree, then turn right again after a couple of hundred metres, which brings one back to the start of the climb). The entire circuit is about 1 km, with about 46 metres gained. One gets roughly three-and-a-half minutes of effort, with a minute-and-a-bit of recovery, so it makes a nice interval. Because this is my go-to wind route I’ve called them wind-ervals.

It was so windy on Saturday that the clouds were getting pushed far enough over into the City Bowl for a rainbow to be formed.

However, even an hour of these intervals didn’t make up for 112km under race conditions, so the plan was for Piet and I to do a long ride on Sunday morning. The wind had moderated overnight, but was still very strong.

Piet’s renowned stoicism doesn’t quite extend to training in the wind, so we headed to the gym for a Wattbike session. I’m very pleased we did, because I inadvertently learnt something. Well, I knew it already, but it was very clearly illustrated.

About 10 minutes into a Building Blocks session on the Wattbike app, I looked over to Piet’s phone. It wasn’t quite as furtive a glance as someone cribbing another’s exam paper, but this stuff is a little bit private (until it gets onto Strava, of course). The Velominati should have a rule about this. That would make it #96.

Anyway, I noticed that my target power for each interval was a bit higher than Piet’s watts. Rule #97, if there were one, would relate to the need for cycling partners to know each other’s MMP (maximum minute power). I couldn’t tell you Piet’s ‘number’, but I know it’s higher than mine, which means that my target power has to be less than his.

I decided to implement Rule #5 (HTFU), but then the required power jumped again, and I realised I was heading for trouble. I could match the power, but not for the full extent of the session.

I fiddled with the app settings, and started the session again. However, the damage had been done – I could turn the cranks at a reduced power level, but anything that required proper effort had me stumped. And that was all as a result of riding at too high a power output for 13 minutes. That is all it takes to ‘blow’.

There is such a thing as Epic pace. I can be thankful that my impaired breathing forced me to be conscious about riding at a moderate pace for much of the event.

I’ve received my training programme for the next month. There will be some interest this weekend, with the four-day Daisyway Boot Camp.

But then it changes – from 23 December to 7 January, I’ll be riding more than 1000km, most of which will be base training. This is not exactly the kind of riding that gives me opportunities for fun on the Tallboy. The Santa Cruz Stigmata, on the other hand, is perfect for that kind of thing.

There was a time when the drive to our holiday would involve me loading assorted kids’ bikes. This time there will be multiple bikes, but they’ll both be mine (i.e. road bike plus Tallboy). Given the amount of time I’ll be riding, followed by recovery on the couch, the concept of family holiday could end up being largely theoretical.

On the upside, I’ll be able to – or should I say, I’ll need to – spend many of my waking hours eating. That feels like holiday.

Please excuse the quality of this pic that I grabbed off the interwebs, but I wanted to illustrate the view one has when riding a Wattbike at the Virgin Active in the Silo District.

Please excuse the quality of this pic that I grabbed off the interwebs, but I wanted to illustrate the view one has when riding a Wattbike at the Virgin Active in the Silo District.

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)

Epic 2018: A weak week

Oscar Foulkes November 27, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
My reason for writing a weekly training report is to record the individual steps that get riders to – and through – the Absa Cape Epic. While much of the training will apply to many riders, this is obviously from a personal perspective. Some of the journey is physical, but much of it is mental or emotional. In fact, there’s no question that when the going gets tough, Epic is more about mind than matter.

I was upbeat at the end of last week’s training, thanks to riding some great trails over the weekend in the company of other Epic riders. What I’m getting at is that the most recent step in the journey didn’t feel like a big stride towards the Epic goal. It was more slump than jump, more creep than leap.

Off-the-bike stresses made a reappearance this week, sapping energy and generally clouding my mood. As far as training was concerned, I lost Tuesday’s recovery ride to rain (not a bad trade-off given the drought). Thursday’s ride was also supposed to be a recovery ride, which I was going to do as a spin to Franschhoek from Pearl Valley.

On a whim, I decided to instead follow a jeep track up the mountainside across the road from Pearl Valley. It’s gnarly climb that is ridden fairly frequently by the locals, and was a happy discovery for me. While it’s close to densely populated areas, one quickly gets the sense of being alone in nature.

Saturday was the Coronation Double Century, for which I’d been invited to join Piet’s RECM team. Cycling for six or seven hours is a standard part of the Cape Epic experience. A 200km road race, however, was a new frontier for me, but my training programme has had several road rides in the vicinity of 100km. One of these was with the bulk of the RECM team, and I’d more-or-less held my own.

Within the first few kilometres I could feel that I was outside my comfort zone. I was getting pushes from about 20km, and by the time we got to 60km I told them to carry on without me. I wasn’t feeling good; whether this was from riding at too fast a pace to start, or it being an ‘off’ day, I don’t know, but it was depressing to not be up to completing the race with the team.

Up to that point, my heart rate had averaged comfortably in excess of 150 bpm. There was no way I could have continued at that intensity.

A call was made to our support crew to collect me. My brain must have been affected as well, because instead of either waiting where I was, or riding back the way we came, I carried on for another 30km before I was picked up. At the team fines meeting that night, I was severely punished for causing the person to drive 90km instead of 30km to pick me up.

I had a good sleep in the afternoon, and another nap on Sunday, so perhaps something was amiss with my body.

One bit of amusement on the route was about 40km in, when we were passed by a team that had “04:55” emblazoned on their tops. Given that we were aiming for 6-ish hours, they were going a lot faster. That didn’t stop Piet, who is an inveterate wheel chaser. Before we knew it, he was in the middle of their peloton. We managed to call him back before he disappeared out of earshot.

My programme had a three-hour ride for Sunday morning, which I thought I would do as a spin from Swellendam to my mother in Ashton. However, it was raining, and in any case, I couldn’t possibly let my teammates see me head out for a longish ride the day after bailing on them in the DC.

With 16 weeks remaining, a week of less than five hours on the bike may not obviously seem like a positive step towards Epic. While it may have been a somewhat wobbly step, it was one nonetheless. Like all the others, it needs to be recorded.

Our DC team while it was still whole, with Piet at the head of affairs (Pic: Richard McMaster)

Our DC team while it was still whole, with Piet at the head of affairs (Pic: Richard McMaster)

Epic 2018: Embracing Erica’s Epic Intervals

Oscar Foulkes November 20, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
This week saw the international launch of Erica’s Epic Intervals, especially developed with the 2018 route in mind. You may think that I’m about to go into a detailed explanation of what they are, especially seeing as there’s no patent protection for something like this, but no, my lips are sealed. If you, too, want to be preparing for Cape Epic with this bit of training in your toolkit you’ll need to sign up with her.

I would normally do intervals on the Wattbike, because there’s no guessing the power level at which one is pedalling. However, the only way my Tuesday was going to work out was if I did this session in the morning, which meant that it was going to have to be close to home. The first issue I encountered was that it started raining 10 minutes into the ride. Then, believe it or not, I ran out of mountain, in that the first climb I chose wasn’t quite long enough for the intervals.

Erica’s Epic Intervals left me with jelly legs, but I can see them working very well (more on that in a bit).

Wednesday morning kicked off with an hour-and-a-quarter root canal session, for which I prepared by getting myself into a state of ‘Epic mind’. It turned out to be not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Perhaps the Stoics were onto something.

After this, my week got insane, with multiple competing demands for my time, fires that needed to be put out, and generally high levels of stress. In short, everything that gets in the way of having the time and energy to do high intensity training sessions. Thursday ended with a score of Life 1, Super Intervals 0.

I was involved in a horse auction on Friday night, which saw me getting to sleep well after midnight. I was awake at 4.30, my mind abuzz with the events of the week. I had to rise at 5.30 anyway, so I eventually got up and caught up on two days of emails before heading to the Absa Pride training camp at Boschendal.

Saturday’s ride was 70km, with about 1600m of climbing. We rode up and over Helshoogte, then to the very top of Jonkershoek. We bombed down various trails, then around to the Paradyskloof trails and the G Spot, before returning to Boschendal. Riders were grouped roughly according to ability/strength, and led by a marshal. I ended up in the intermediate group more by coincidence than design, but it was the right place for me to be.

Sunday’s ride was a big loop around the Franschhoek dam, where the terrain is very different to Jonkershoek, prompting me to say to fellow riders that nothing says “Welcome to the Western Cape” quite like our loose, rocky mountainsides. In places, they are almost like rocky sandpits on an incline, and these are why one needs Erica’s Epic Intervals.

Groenlandberg is one of the Cape’s iconic climbs. Yes, it’s long (9km), but you can spin your way to the top. It’s just a long grind in granny gear.

By contrast, the loose stuff requires a prolonged transfer of power with even pedal strokes to avoid the back wheel spinning and losing traction. Actually, spinning out can happen even with perfect technique, but the bottom line is that riding climbs like this saps energy.

I’d never ridden the trails around the dam, which have plenty of loose climbs, and some fairly technical singletrack. I was riding up one of the steeper of the loose climbs when I heard complimentary remarks about my technique from the rider behind me, who turned out to be James Reid. There’s nothing like praise from a former SA Cross-Country Champion and Olympian to put a spring in your step (if such a term can be applied to cycling). I may as well have had an simultaneous infusion of EPO, HGH and methamphetamine.

Erica has a footer on her emails: “Don’t join an easy crowd. You won’t grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform and achieve are high.” With this thought in my mind, and James’ praise still ringing in my ears, I latched onto the fast group after the next water stop. I discovered later that some of the riders in this group had aspirations for a podium finish in the Grand Masters category. If I’d known this I’d have stuck with the intermediate group I’d ridden with the day before. Sometimes, as I’ve said before in relation to this stuff, it’s better not to know.

On the off-road climbs I was admittedly only just hanging onto the back end. We regrouped when we got back onto the tar for the spin back to Boschendal, which is when they really turned up the pace. For about 9km I managed to hold onto the wheel of the rider ahead of me, my heart rate well above 160 and eventually maxing at 175, as James set a pace of at least 40km/h. There was no letting up on the inclines. With a couple of kilometres to go, my impaired breathing could no longer cope with my heart rate, so I had to tap off, but it felt good to have tagged along with the ‘non-easy crowd’ for a bit.

A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined where my body is now. Similarly, in the midst of the week’s multiple crises, it would have been easy to get sucked into imagining impending disaster on a scale from which there is no recovery.

I wrote last week about ‘monkey mind’. I far prefer ‘Epic mind’ … keep the pedals turning!

I struggled to find appropriate pics using the Google - imagine this, but rockier, and going up instead of down. (Pic: Sportograf, poached from Kate Slegrova's website www.cycletraining.co.za)

I struggled to find appropriate pics using the Google – imagine this, but rockier, and going up instead of down. (Pic: Sportograf, poached from Kate Slegrova’s website www.cycletraining.co.za)

Epic 2018: Letting sleeping dogs lie

Oscar Foulkes November 13, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
It’s a ‘thing’ to have an answer to “where were you when [insert momentous event in world history]?” This isn’t exactly the same, but the saying “let sleeping dogs lie” has its own tags in my memory.

Whenever a teacher didn’t appear for a lesson (not often, admittedly), a schoolboy discussion would ensue. I say “schoolboy”, because there were significantly contradicting points of view, and the discussion would need to take place at low volume so as not to alert someone in authority. Inevitably, the day would be won by the person reminding the class about those metaphorical sleeping dogs, so that we could have a free lesson.

After a heavy schedule the previous week, I was feeling a bit knackered, even by Tuesday. I hadn’t yet received the next month’s programme, so I was very much in that “sleeping dogs” mindset. I knew that if I had the programme, Tuesday would involve a 90-minute recovery ride, but there was a gale force South-Easter blowing. Plus, I had all kinds of demands on my time that day. Monkey mind was doing a brilliant job of keeping me off the bike.

People, this is why one has to have the programme. There is no negotiating with a task that has a day assigned to its completion.

Thursday, I guessed, would also be a recovery ride (if I had the programme, that is). It was also a busy workday with a late finish, but I managed to persuade the kids to shop for – and cook – dinner, so I went out to do the work required.

I’m riding the Double Century for the first time this year. On Saturday, our team met in Green Point, for a 5.30am departure. We did the Cape Point loop along the Atlantic Seaboard. The one cool thing about leaving that early is that by 7.15 we were in Simonstown, and we were back over Chapman’s Peak by 8.30.

This ride would have happened regardless of programme, and was in any case the kind of activity that might have been on it, so all was good.

Sunday was bit of a problem, because I needed to be in Paarl by 10.00. Fitting in three hours would have required another 5.30 start, for which I really wasn’t in the mood (oh, the negotiation that’s possible in the absence of a schedule!).

I compromised by knocking out two hours on the mountain, but forcing myself to press on the descents. I also went down the Plum Pudding singletrack below the Blockhouse, which will be part of the Epic Prologue. The top video alongside was made when the trail was still in relatively pristine condition. It’s subsequently become very rutted, with much bigger drops at the steps. I included the second video to give another perspective.

There were several collarbone fractures the last time the Plum Pudding singletrack was part of Prologue, which has contributed to its ‘fear aura’.

Completing Cape Epic isn’t just about being able to pedal the bike for as many hours as required. Technical skills are just as important, if only to reduce the risk of a race-ending crash.

I wonder if riding a bit of technical singletrack makes up for going out for two hours, instead of three or four?

Yesterday, the saying “who will guard the guards” popped into my head. Time will tell whether it becomes fixed in memory the same way as the one about letting sleeping dogs lie.


Epic 2018: Sergeant Hardy leads the charge

Oscar Foulkes November 6, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
The talisman of our 2017 Cape Epic, and indeed our entire ‘team story’, is a racehorse by the name of Sergeant Hardy. To recap – he has a paralysed right vocal chord, which reduces the amount of air he can inhale. Following five surgeries on my vocal chords, as well as a six-week radiotherapy course, my breathing was also restricted.

The similarities end there, because my equine brother is not only seriously talented, but also much better looking.

Regardless of his physical handicap, he has claims to being the best sprinter of his generation. It is one of the great privileges of my life to be associated with so fine a racehorse, by virtue of my mother having bred him, and the two of us racing him together. He runs in her racing colours, which Piet and I adopted for our Epic kit.

He made his seasonal debut at Kenilworth on Tuesday, against a strong field of sprinters of various ages. In fact, it’s pretty much the same line-up that will contest the major sprint races this season. Despite this being a prep run and him not being fully wound-up, he stormed home under close to top weight. The fairy tale lives on.

Tuesday would usually be a training day. I did get home in time to jump on the bike, but I postponed to Wednesday morning. This was a hill session on the mountain, and then on Thursday I had another hill session (this time on the Wattbike).

Hills are basically about strength training, riding in a big gear at low RPM for six minutes at a time. This week involved five repeats per session.

Saturday’s ride was supposed to be three-and-a-half hours on the mountain, but Piet wanted to get in some training for the Double Century. So, we rode to Simonstown on the road. I tacked on the ride to meet him, plus getting home over Camps Bay drive, so ended up on close to four hours.

An 80km mountain ride was on the programme for Sunday. I rode with some mates as far as Tokai, following the trails above Kirstenbosch and then dipping to the Green Belt. They continued to Kalk Bay on the road, while I headed up to the Tokai trails. I mistimed my entry to the singletrack, and got stuck behind a large group of riders, many of whom were walking down the steep sections. As frustrating as this was, it was also satisfying to be able to compare with my former self. There was a time that I would also have been walking in some places.

Getting back was a slog. My legs were toast – the cumulative effect of a big week, as well as riding to Tokai into a headwind. Including a stop for buying and eating a sandwich in Tokai, the day ended up on five hours.

While on the subject of headwinds, I have an apprehension about Stage Three next year, in which we ride from Arabella to Worcester. If there’s a cold front coming in – and early ones are possible in late March – we’ll be riding into a headwind for pretty much all of the 122km.

Justin Snaith, who trains Sergeant Hardy, believes in having him super fit as a way of reducing the impact of his impaired breathing. As a big, strong horse, he is capable of doing a lot more than his more average stable mates.

I don’t have the same physical attributes as Sergeant Hardy, but Erica Green is following a similar strategy with my training programme. The fitter and stronger I am, the less I’m affected by reduced air intake.

We’ll have a new (still-to-be-decided) team name for 2018. Whatever we decide on, Sergeant Hardy remains a personal talisman.

Sergeant Hardy leads the charge, beating a fine field.

Sergeant Hardy leads the charge, beating a fine field. I’m sure Erica could repurpose jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe’s perfect balance for charging down singletrack.

Our 2017 kit was drew inspiration from my mother's racing colours.

Our 2017 kit drew inspiration from my mother’s racing colours.