I had never ridden a mountain bike race when I lined up for the 2014 joBerg2c. My training had started less than five months before that frightening day. Somehow, in the form of #CountryCyclist, I made it all the way to Scottburgh.
On the way, I learnt a lot. Most of that was very meta (which I won’t bore you with), but here are the practical tips I reckon will help if you’ll be a J2C newbie in a few days.
1. You’ve run out of time to get fit and strong, but you can make improvements.
I saw the excellent sports physio Amie Stewart (then Amie Collins) for several things in the final days before J2C 2014. One was a pre-race massage. This is not the sort of brutal (and probably restricted by a Geneva Convention) sort of treatment you might get in the heart of training. Just a relaxed prod, push, squeeze in the right place to get the muscles primed.
The other help was kinesiology taping. That’s the colourful stuff you see looped around the limbs of rugby players every weekend. It does have some detractors, but I find it very useful. It won’t correct a big injury or boost performance, but it certainly can offer enough help to keep a niggle under control, improve body position and make marginal improvements in several other areas. I’m using it now for shin splints while training for Comrades. Amie also uses Kinesio Tape on horses, where noticeable results are unlikely to be put down to any placebo effect.
You can visit Amie at Stewart Physiotherapy at the Woodlands Office Park in Woodmead. 011 844 0400 or 082 441 6101.
2. You’re body will still degrade as you clock up the 900km to Scottburgh.
Fortunately, Adventure Physios, run by the excellent Claire Fuller, will be on hand at each race village. These guys are hugely popular, so book early! I developed a nasty Achilles tendinopathy in the latter stages of my ride, and my session – complete with needling and kinesiology taping – was vital. [email protected]
3. Pack smart.
You’ll regret it if you pack your bag as an afterthought. The best advice on packing was a tip I got from Andrew McLean. Go to a place like Builders Warehouse and pick up a set of the vacuum plastic bags they sell. Each can hold a day’s racing kit. More important, you can roll all the air out and seal the opening with a little clip. This saves lots of space. You can then do the same with your muddy old kit at the end of the day, until a laundry stop.
4. Spend 20 minutes with your GPS if you haven’t used it before.
It really is easy to navigate this way, but you need to be accustomed to your device. I got lost briefly on day one… which I don’t want to talk about any further.
5. If you think you need a bit of gear, get it.
I’m thinking primarily of warm riding clothes. Early mornings and nights are bitterly cold. If you’re considering a balaclava, warm riding gloves, a new buff or sleeping bag inner, go for it. Anatomic is usually a good bet and typically has a stall at registration. One trick I especially liked was sticking a bit of masking tape over the mesh on the toes of your cycling shoes. This will save those tootsies during the first few icy hours, then you can rip it off as the sun gets going.
6. Finally, when in doubt, get stuck in.
If there’s a view, stop and take it in. Make every water point a party. Chat heartily to every rider you meet on the trail, in the marquee or on the treatment table. That’s what it is all about. You won’t get to Scottburgh and wish you had made the top 400. You’ll bask in the pure wonder of the preceding 9 days.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll not be the same person once you’ve done this. You’ll hobble onto the beach a fuller person.