Stage 3

Stage 3

I will start with how it finished last night: rain, lots of rain, it began during the race briefing and prize presentation then lasted through dinner and beyond.  This wasn’t initially a problem, when Rob and I had been decanting our huge suitcases into our camping bag before setting off I asked him if I should take my rain jacket, after all the forecast did not include rain.  He said I better take it because if I didn’t it would definitely rain.  So this moment was actually quite satisfying, I meandered achingly over to my tent and smugly pulled my jacket out my bag. 

What I didn’t do was take my towel off the roof, put my shoes inside, or even close my tent.  So when I got back from dinner my tent was filled with a big puddle of water, with my booster connected to my computer laying in it, towel and shoes were obviously soaked, I mean they were already wet from the hell hole of a day, but they were drying, now I could look forward to putting on soaking wet shoes at 7am - awesome.  Somehow, and I don’t know how, even my pillow was wet, this made no sense to me as it wasn’t even near the entrance, an absolute mystery to behold.  I am officially a terrible camper, I hated myself, in the dark with my head lamp on I used a T-shirt to soak as much of the puddle up as possible.  This was, in many ways, the perfect end to the day.  

Fortunately, I slept okay, probably because I was absolutely broken, or had simply given up on life, quite hard to distinguish between the two.  I woke up and it was grey, foggy and wet. The campsite did not look homely.  I trudged through the wet long grass over to breakfast, absolutely no residue of fatigue in my body from yesterday, which was surprising and relieving in equal measure.  Looking at the breakfast buffet revealed cracks in my armour, I couldn’t be bothered in consuming real food, having to think about what to choose, or god forbid peel a hard boiled egg, was not an option this morning.  There was a box of weetabix which everyone seemed to be ignoring, jackpot, I had ten weetabix.  Job done.  I made a cup of coffee, proper camping style powder coffee stirred in, I filled it with hot water, which the person following me informed me was actually tea (I hadn’t cared that it looked like dirty water).  I just looked at him and shrugged, I figured it couldn’t taste worse.  It did.  I drank it anyway.

I was quite late getting ready, this was another sign things were not all well, my brain was not functioning at full capacity, a few cylinders short let’s say.  I told Rob to head to the start without me, when I got there a few minutes before roll out I couldn’t see him, so I figured I’d push myself closer to the front, unsurprisingly this was not difficult, nobody seemed that interested in being there apart the mentally unwell.  I figured I may as well get a head start, my tactic today was the opposite of yesterday, go fast early then slow down and pick the right people to ride with.  It was in pieces after only 5km, the front group had flown away, and there was no sign of anybody behind.  While in this no-mans land I saw two wilderbeast, I went to get my camera out but the sketchiness was too intense, crashing is top of my list of things not to do here.  It was a majestic site, two lone beasts, running along the plains in parallel to me.  

I’m not sure when it happened, but eventually Sarah Sturm (women’s leader) and Josh Reid (racer content magician) caught up to me, the very two riders I’d been with yesterday, it was like a reunion, a weird one, but nice all the same.  My plan was coming together.  We stuck together, not going too hard but keeping it rolling along, miraculously I was feeling good, I’d also done some deep thinking about why yesterday had been so traumatic, and come to the conclusion maybe the altitude had something to do with it. Hello genius.  So today I was a little bit more realistic about what my sea-level physiology could cope with, and a little bit more careful about what I should and shouldn’t do.  I have a kind of permanent lactate thing going on in my legs, a highly unpleasant sensation, and my heart rate won’t go up, power is obviously down, and if I go too hard then it has catastrophic after effects.  Which was what happened yesterday when I got carried away on the big climb up to 2600m, I basically ended my day right there, self-inflicted-abject-misery the gift I gave myself.  

Not long before we hit the big climb of today the second and third placed women caught up with Sarah, Josh and I.  I decided to just do my own thing up it, refusing to go anywhere near the hurt zone, this meant I spent most of the climb just behind them, then rejoining on flatter sections or little descents.  The climb peaked out at 2500m, another monster altitude, in fact, looking at my Garmin throughout the day, we barely went below 2000m.  I can add this to the list of things I should have considered before coming to the Migration Race.  Applying this new found intel worked wonders, I felt great, I mean, better than yesterday.  I was in my element once we were back down off the mountain and into the hilly up and down terrain, I became super domestique for the women, understanding that 4th place woman was way out of contention and I wasn’t effecting their race I figured I could get the headwind sections done on the front and get us all to the finish quicker.

With 10km to go I got out of their way to let them race, it was really interesting, I could feel the tension and was almost wiling one of them to do something, I was genuinely nervous for them, “Ooo, I’d attack there.”  “Go now.”  “They’re worried about the headwind.” “Too tired to risk a move.” “All in for the climb to the finish.”  When I got to that last conclusion with about 3km to go and it was all stalling I went on the front again and just set a steady tempo to allow them all to sit on the wheel and rest before the final climb.  Then Sarah and Luisa jumped off me, Maddy couldn’t go with them and trailed valiantly behind.  I was with Josh watching and willing them on.  I was also getting really pissed off as I could see on the final climb up ahead the Chris McCormack and Nick Gates group (who were finishing the zebra ride so nearly 50km behind us) with their own following car on the narrow road as Sarah and Luisa were approaching, I was saying to nobody but everyone, “Get the fucking car off the road! Can’t they see they’re coming?!”  Fuming I was.  They did, so all good, I calmed back down.  It was so impressive to watch them race up there, and being with them for a big chunk of the day was an absolute pleasure.  No matter how hard it was Sarah kept waving to all the kids, such good vibes.  Sarah won in front of Luisa with Maddy not far behind, they are now holding the same places on GC.  I have no idea what’s going on in the men’s race apart that Matteo di Marchi is leading.  

Rob made it through the day in good form again, he says he’s getting the hang of gravel, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The carnage is real here, in yesterday’s stage 50% of the Leopard riders chose the escape route, absolutely no shame in that, and goes to show just how off the scale it was.  I’m feeling much better today, and the stage was much more like what my rose-tinted self-selecting mind had imagined it would be.  There were moments of breathtaking beauty, at one point Josh, Sarah and I were fully taken aback, we didn’t take pictures (even Josh), we knew they wouldn’t do it justice and we were better just to soak it up and lock in our own heads.  Tomorrow is the last day, zebra and leopards doing the same ride, 140km back up to where we started. Rob is a bit nervous, I’m going back to buddy systeming him, I haven’t told him this yet, so he can sweat it out over night and appreciate it all the more in the morning.