03 Jun, 2015

Have I bitten off more than I can chew?

At the end of the 50 kilometre race at Modders.
I started riding my mountain bike for enjoyment and fun as well as to get fit. Now I'm becoming obsessed ... Or so it seems.

How did this happen? Well, let me explain. About six weeks ago, Rodger (the “Godfather”) needed a foot operation and that has taken him off his bike for three months. He and Suzie were going to ride the Sani2C together this year.

Yes, you guessed it ... I am now Suzie's partner for this epic race. Yes, it is on my bucket list. I have watched the footage of past races’ highlights, and um ... Well I go from 'oh how wonderful' to 'oh how extreme', from 'I can do that' to 'WHAT, how can anyone in their right mind do that'. I have never been to that part of South Africa, so it is all unknown. Of course, everyone is full of advice, especially for day two. If I do survive the ride, and live to write about it, you will definitely read about it here.

But in the meantime, my butt feels like it is permanently on a saddle. The Godfather is now our coach and our team name is, yes well obviously, '50 Shades of ... Mud'. A training schedule has been set out for us which we do try and follow, but sometimes life gets in the way.

And so it came about that I did my first 50 kilometre mountain bike race at Central Park Trails, Modderfontein. Neither Suzie nor I were fast enough to register for the race before it was full. Luckily we managed to get late entries on the day of registration. Not so sure about that word 'luckily' but we got entries and timing boards for our bikes.

Saturday morning found us with Jean, Kenneth, Colin and hundreds of other cyclists milling around the car park at Modders. I now even have a backpack with bladder, special endurance juice in my bottle and GU sachets in my pocket. My stomach was in a knot and I couldn't decide whether to go to the loo again or if it was just nerves!

We all started in the D-batch, and watched previous batches start off at intervals. However while we were getting ready to start, the 30 kilometre racing snakes were already bustling to get to the front. Just a bit of confusion, but probably a good distraction (I didn't need the loo anymore).

And then we were off. I thought that knowing this bike park pretty well would help except that our shortcuts were of course off limits and no chicken runs! Our first obstacle was the steep downhill ... we usually take the bridge. Suzie promptly got off her bike and walked down it, I have to proudly confess that I rode it. This put us right at the back of the race. Now I'm not too competitive, but I certainly don't like being last!

We trudged up the tar road and entered the park and the ride was on. It really did help knowing many of the routes. Riding with this many peeps on the tracks does get a bit frustrating. Especially on single track when you have a long queue and a slow rider in front. But that only happened in the beginning, as eventually we passed the very slow and the field spread out. Colin and Kenneth had gone far ahead of us girls. In the beginning, we didn't ride together as it was too difficult but as the field thinned out and everyone got into a sort of rhythm and pace, we connected again. There was no chickening out of obstacles, no time to hesitate and the pace was fast.

But obviously not that fast as the 30 kilometre racers started to catch us at the other end of the park. I tried to be very helpful and give them passing space when they needed it. Most were very nice and said ‘dankie’. Then we came to a twisty up and down bit which I was busy doing my best to navigate, when five or six of these speedy riders caught up with me.

As I was going up they passed on both sides of me, cut me off and knocked me off my bike. Before I could even swear at them they were gone. That really knocked my confidence, and another bloody elbow and knee. At that point, while I was standing there, Jean arrived. She too had been knocked off her bike further back on the single track. Anyway, we are tough, so we got back on our bikes and wobbled along for a bit, and eventually got back into the spirit of the race and off we went again.

Modders is a lovely trail, some jeep track and lots of single track through woodlands, grassland and reeds, rocky areas, sandy areas but not too many muddy areas this year. While I was zooming along some windy single track I heard a voice behind me say “hello Braveheart”. Didn't get it till he explained tartan and blood ... yip, that was me, in my pink tartan cycling gear and blood stains down my legs and arms.

At about 25 kilometres, I stopped near the reeds, my legs had just said they had had enough, my lungs agreed and my head said it needed to be read. Luckily my heart said not a chance, so I took a gooey GU, clambered back onto the bike and pedaled onward. I don't know if it was the GU or the brief respite, but suddenly I had a second wind and felt fine. I started to really enjoy the ride.

We zig-zagged across the grassy hills, up and down, bantering with other riders and greeting marshals. And then just as I was getting comfortable, they sent us up a hill in the new area, and not just a hill, but a Hill … Us three girls got together here again and started the trek. We puffed and we panted but only when we got to the last, steepest part, did we do some 'shovage'. Here the jeep track had been concreted, that's how steep it was. And a bit of cross training is okay too!

We got back into the main part of Modderfontein Reserve again to what we knew. Suzie and I were ahead of Jean at this stage but then there are two short but very steep rutted downhill sections which Suzie and I walked/scrambled down. Not brave Jean, the downhill queen, she swooped down them and we were together again. At this stage we didn't know if the other riders were 50 or 30 kilometre racers, but we all seemed of an equal pace and egged each other on. A nice camaraderie.

Gosh 50 kilometres is a long way. But we did it. Jean finished just ahead, and Suzie and I crossed the finish together. We came sixth, seventh and eighth in our category!! Not too shabby.

And now we have all entered the Northern Farms 50 kilometre Quickie …

But no rest from training. Coach has us training five days a week (actually it's now four as I rebelled due to sheer exhaustion). On the weekends, we do long rides and during the week we do intervals etc but I'm still going to enjoy my rides. The other day, Jean and I stopped to watch an African Grass Owl swooping and gliding right next to us. And we saw the crested eagle, listened to the fish eagle and enjoyed the gracefulness of the grey herons.

Life is such a rush here in Johannesburg, we have to remember to stop at times and look around and appreciate everything, from the little shongololo (millipede) which Suzie says we mustn't squash or we will have a fall off our bikes, to the head-shaking wildebeest (which frighten Suzie from the time they stampeded near her) to the little mongoose which run in front of us along the path.

Our little group of ‘50 Shades of…Mud’ is also growing as we meet more mad mountain bikers. Bev, also known as Plummet, and Jacqui (Jax) regularly ride with us. I’m sure they will give me plenty to write about as we go shred the trails around South Africa!

We have now done the Quickie and I nearly died! Perhaps I really have bitten off more than I can chew? My goodness I better up my training ...

Well enough writing, time to go to the gym.
Marie-Anne Meijers

Marie-Anne Meijers

50 Shades Contributor |

Marie-Anne Meijers is one of the original 50 Shades of ... Mud riders and is also a keen photographer.