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’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!