As I finally swing left to rejoin a properly tarmacked road again, I realise that it is here that I have just won my own race, regardless of what will happen next. This is the defining moment of BikingMan Oman for me. The moment where I overcame my fear of gravel and freed myself of the excuses. I have bloody well done it. I yell into the dark of the night, into the wind, to nobody but myself… Read on if you want to find out more about how my first unsupported ultra distance cycling race went.
March 2018: Inspiration
Images of ultra endurance cyclists Josh Ibbett and Juliana Buhring, who I have been following on social media for a while, are slowly colouring my feeds. They have just placed 2nd and 3rd in the inaugural edition of BikingMan Oman, a 1040 km long unsupported cycling race taking in the best of Oman’s mountain, desert and coastal roads.
The images are vivid. They beautifully capture the impressive landscapes and the determination of the racers. BikingMan Oman may be a “warm-up” race when compared to longer races such as the Transcontinental, Trans Am Bike Race and TransatlanticWay, but shots of Juliana (who is a pretty handy climber and seriously tough racer) walking up Jebel Shams, defeated by cramps, gravel and gradients, and Josh huffing and puffing his way up the climb, tell me BikingMan Oman should not be underestimated…
As a flatlander and time trial specialist, I am not very good at climbing. I can sort of handle steady gradual climbs, but anything with double digit gradients stops me dead in my tracks. What is more, I have never braved gravel. Anyone who has ever ridden with me knows that I don’t even dare to ride up or down a curb! The thought alone of my wheels slipping and skipping all over the place whilst all contact points are being given a serious beating, scares me.
Yet, there is something about this shorter “sprint” distance race that lures me: the opportunity to ride in the desert heat whilst Europe is still in the grip of winter, to experience those majestic landscapes on two wheels, to try out a new style of racing, and to combine my cycling with seeing my sister who lives in Dubai. Next year perhaps? …
14 July 2018: Entering the race
By now, I had hoped to have been successful during my second attempt at breaking the Land’s End to John o’Groats and 1000 mile records. Instead, after another year of focused preparations, records were indeed broken: it was the hottest July on record in the UK with tropical temperatures even in Scotland, and what little wind there was, blew in the wrong direction.
With the prospect of having to postpone my record attempt until after the summer holidays, due to summer holiday traffic and crew availability, my focus starts to wander and my mind opens to dreams my heart had long since been filled with: the call of the road less travelled, the thirst for scenery and adventure, the quest for pushing my limits when being left to my own devices, and a curiosity to meet and connect with a new tribe of racers. I send a whatsapp message to my sister.
“Hi… I am thinking of entering BikingMan Oman and then hopefully spending some time together after the race. Do you have time for guests at the end of February/early March 2019?”
Exactly 1 month later I hit the entry button for BikingMan Oman 2019.
February 2019: Oman here we come
After another failed attempt at the LEJOG record in September 2018, an operation to my labia in early October, followed by two months of hardly any exercise whilst waiting for the wound to heal, and a slow but gradual return to fitness in December and January, I fly out to Dubai together with Chris, my husband.
For a change he doesn’t have the stressful prospect of supporting me in my race, of handing up bottles by the side of the road or putting up with my moody barks for bananas and flat coke. The plan is for him to spend some time in Muscat with a friend who works and lives there whilst I race and then go camping somewhere in the Hajar mountains after the race together with my sister, brother in law and little niece who will come over from Dubai.
After a relaxing day in Dubai, a short check ride with my super cute 1.5-year old niece (also called Jasmijn) and a good night’s sleep, Chris and I set off for Oman in the biggest four-wheel drive monster I have ever sat in.
The day before race day I go for a short check ride with a few other racers staying in the resort in Barka from where the race will start the following morning. Guess what? It rains! I come out to the desert and get drenched. The irony.
As anticipated, I can’t sleep very well, despite the eye mask and ear plugs. My mind keeps racing, going through all the ‘what ifs’ and lists of stuff I should have with me on my bike.
I am feeling a little uneasy as I am out here with my old Scott Foil that is renowned for being one of the harshest carbon aero bikes (i.e not particularly suited for long distance stuff), yet has served me well for many miles. Yet, only three weeks ago the frame needed a new carbon layup because the crank and bottom bracket kept falling out, hanging off my cleat instead…
My new all-road race bike with disc brakes, Di2, tubeless wheels and the perfect ultra racing fit sadly isn’t ready yet. So the old faithful Scott will have to make do. Oh well, I can’t complain. Just three weeks ago I feared not having any bike to ride this race on. Now at least I have a bike that I feel confident on for 95% of the race. Fingers crossed it gets me safely through the other 5% too…
At 11pm I suddenly realise that while I downloaded the mandatory race route onto my Wahoo, I have forgotten to download the Oman basemap. With a bit of help from Chris the crisis is averted. Panic over, I finally fall asleep around midnight, to wake up an hour later ready for breakfast and the 2:30 gathering for the race start.
24 February 2019, 3am: Three, two, one, GO!
The racers are waiting under a big inflatable Red Bull canopy. Loud music is pumping out of the speakers. Photographers are snapping away. The track pump we brought to the start is popular among fellow racers for final tyre pressure checks or even last minute repairs.
A quick good luck hug with my friend Cat, who is racing as a pair with George. The mix of tension and excitement among fellow racers is palpable. Some have a tentative look in their eyes; others grin as if the DJ has just laid on their favourite tune at a party. I line up about 5th row from the front and soon after it is count down time: three, two, one, GO!
The race has a neutralised start escorted by several police cars and two Harley Davidson bikes. It is super cool. I have never experienced anything like it. In the darkness of the night, the peloton glides effortlessly along the silky smooth and pan flat tarmac from Barka to Al Rustaq, where the route continues west towards Ibri and becomes more undulating.
I try to stay near but not at the front of the pack to stay out of trouble from unexpected surges and to keep an eye on how the race develops. A few riders escape off the front, either alone or in small groups, but their advantage remains small. I resist the urge to follow them. This is a 1040km long race. It isn’t won in the first few hours, not even in the first 12 hours. Be patient. Easy does it. Play the long game.
Because of the pan flat roads, it takes a while for the peloton to properly split up once the cars beep their horns to signal that the neutralised section has ended. There is some confusion about the route while going through the first village (Al Rustaq). The earlier escapees took a wrong turn and rejoin the big peloton again. A little while beyond Al Rustaq, once the road starts to roll the pack finally splits up properly and the unsupported non-drafting race can start in earnest.
After 170 kilometers, at an average speed of 29.4 kph, it is time to refill my bottles at a road-side petrol station. I only need some water, having brought a lot of my own tried and tested ride nutrition including: Rawvelo energy bars, gels and powder, a pack of Piadinas (Italian flatbreads), some home-made pouches with a blend of instant oats, coconut milk powder, a dash of olive oil, cinnamon and umami salt to taste, and some 33 Shake chia energy gels that only need water adding.
5 minutes later I am back on the road again. Time to get into TT position properly now and get into my element, making my way into a mild cross/head wind. Just me, my bike and the long straight road ahead.
A few hours later, I haven’t seen any other racers in ages. I decided not to look at my phone at all for any updates on the race tracker or social media.
I want to ride my own race. I haven’t brought any earphones either. I want to be in the moment, take in the sounds of my surroundings and draw motivation from the power of my own mind.
I do however know that I am the first woman on the road as I haven’t been overtaken by any other women. I am not too sure how many men are ahead of me, but at this stage in the race, none of that matters. What matters is that my legs feel good, I am not overdoing it, I am eating and drinking and my head is in a good place.
The temperature is rising. Highway 21 is long and straight. Proper time trial terrain, the sort of stuff I enjoy. I imagined this may be a bit like how time trialling on UK dual carriage ways was in the 40s or 50s before mass car ownership ? and obviously without the heat !
This section of the route is wide and open, with few options to refill my water bottles. I thought I was clever by annotating my version of the race route in RidewithGPS with the location of petrol stations and mosques where I may be able to get water (as well as potential places to sleep), but somehow none of those notes seem to have made it across to my Wahoo. As I am starting to run out of water, my pace drops, and a few other racers overtake me whilst shouting a few encouraging words.
By now, I am getting desperate for fluid and guzzle a few Rawvelo gels which at least provide me with some liquid. Finally, about 10 hours into the race, I reach Bahla where I refill my bottles with water. I also make an icesock by filling some knee high stockings with ice cubes (a trick I learned after suffering heat exhaustion during my first world 24 hour TT championship in the Borrego desert) and stuff the ice sock into the back of my jersey to cool me from the neck down. After chucking some water over my head, I leave the rest of the bag of ice cubes with Jonas Eichmann’s bike (who has just pulled into the same petrol station and rushed off to the toilet) and hit the road again.
I am grateful for the light and cool Le Col Pro Air Jersey and the white Isobar Compression calf guards I am wearing. I realise a few spots near my wrists on the intersection between my gloves and my arm coolers where I am getting badly burned and reach into my top tube bag to spray a bit more P20 sun tan lotion whilst riding on.
I am heading north now, towards Al Hamra and the start of the dreaded Jebel Shams climb which climbs up to 2000 meters over 21 kilometers and includes some very steep sections and gravel to boot …
Jebel Shams: a pig of a climb, but what a view!
Conceiving a race strategy for BikingMan Oman was hard. As it is my first race of this type, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, be that from the race or from myself. I did however hope that I would be able to make it up and down Jebel Shams before dark as I am afraid of gravel full stop, but even more so of the prospect of having to descend on the gravel at night.
The consequences of trying to time climbing and descending Jebel Shams before dark, mean that I hit the climb at the middle of the day, when the temperatures are at their peak. I didn’t really think that one through!
Whilst filling up my water bottles at the bottom of the climb by one of the road side mosque water stations, I meet some of the other racers, some of whom had taken the optional gravel short cut and some who had taken the same mandatory and longer road route, but overshot the turn off for the climb. We wish each other good luck for what is ahead.
The Jebel Shams climb starts in earnest once you already have 335 kilometers in your legs. Having run out of water earlier in the day, I was probably more dehydrated than I realised.
As I hit the 3km long steepest section of the climb, Rodney Soncco, the race leader, is already flying down the mountain again. My mind is playing funny games with me. For some reason I imagine he is just showing off and about to climb Jebel Shams for a second time, just for fun. He quickly disappears into the distance and obviously didn’t climb Jebel Shams again. Once in a day is enough, even for those who love climbing!
The gradients are cruel and as I try to push my way up the mountain, my left hamstring cramps up. It hurts like hell and I can’t move anything anymore. Unfortunately, I can’t unclip my foot either and fall over, with the bike still attached. The fall doesn’t hurt, but the pain in my hamstring is still excruciating. Luckily there are no cars in sight. I can’t get up, but slowly manage to shuffle myself to the side of the road, still on my bum, pushing my bike with one arm and dragging my cramped up leg with the other, whilst letting out some screams of pain.
A few fellow racers that pass grunt a few words of encouragement whilst fighting their way up or give me an understanding smile like “yeah, I know what that feels like; I’ve been there too“.
After an unusually large effort to get my cleat out of the pedal and finally liberated from my bike, I try to undo the damage by swallowing a few Precision Hydration salt tablets and guzzling some water with strong 1500mg Precision Hydration electrolytes, but it I fear it is too little too late. I should have anticipated this earlier. Stupid.
I did however anticipate the prospect of having to walk some of the climbs. So out come my Look Keo cleat covers, which proved to be by far the most useful piece of kit I brought! Each time I try to clip in and ride again the cramp shoots back into my leg as soon as the road goes up and I have to push on the pedals a little harder.
During the fall and forced dislodge from my pedal something has gone wrong. I now either have to twist my ankle to the right with all the power I possess or to the left (which I only discovered after 20 times of fighting with the pedal in the other direction and hurt my knee).
So I walk. A lot. Having seen the images of Juliana walking part of this climb last year, I knew there was no shame in walking. Seeing other racers overtake me, but struggling up the climb zig-zagging their way up, and some walking too, it is obvious that this is indeed a serious climb and worthy of its reputation as one of the hardest climbs in the world, even on fresh legs.
Once I get to the 6-km long gravel section, I initially try to ride it. I am scared, but adamant to at least give it a try. It is hard to pick the right line, to keep control over the bike. On the flat it is sort of OK, but going up is hard and going down scares me even more. So I walk once again. Pretty much all of the gravel.
It is here that Georgie Panchaud overtakes me on the way up to the top of Jebel Shams. She is riding a shiny all-road bike, properly set up to tackle gravel and, from her smooth style, it looks like she is not only a strong and lightweight climber, but also knows her way around gravel.
Finally after 3 hours and 10 minutes and a ridiculously slow pace of 6.9 kph, barely faster than walking (unsurprisingly given I had walked most of it), I finally make it to the top of Jebel Shams.
Taking in the views from the top, I really don’t care how much I have walked. I made it to the top of the highest peak in Oman! The flatlander has made it out of her comfort zone and conquered a proper steep mountain, with gravel and all.
The slow ascent meant that I could forget about my hopes of descending Jebel Shams by daylight. After a quick meal the BikingMan organisers put on for us at the Jebel Shams Resort, I head down and walk all of the 6 km of gravel, saying hello to several racers still making their way up, including Helle von Bachhofen von Echt, who would continue to chase me for the remainder of the race…
I try not to panic by loosing so much time from walking. Just accept it. There is still a long way to go. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest for your legs and hopefully it means they will be a little fresher for the miles still to come.
Into the night
Night falls, the cramps subside, and I try to make the most of the cooler temperatures and lack of wind. Descending Jebel Shams my Wahoo read as low as 12, but for the rest of the night temperatures remain in the high teens / low twenties and I soon need to stop to remove the warmer layers I had brought.
I love the loneliness of the night. It feels calm and peaceful. I like to keep moving while the world around me slows downs to sleep. There are some pretty awesome sounds of birds. I was expecting camels on the road, but the biggest thing I encounter is a donkey.
There are hardly any cars and the few villages I pass through seem fast asleep. As I look at the funky silhouettes of the Eastern Al Hajar mountain ranges in the dark, I wish I could I could have seen some of this part of the route during the day light.
Oman has a reputation for being one of the safest countries in the world. At one point in the night on a deserted part of the route, a car suddenly starts driving alongside me for what feels like for a couple of minutes. The window lowers, and a man repeatedly asks me a question. My instincts kick in and I decide to ignore him. When I finally understand that he isn’t asking for sex or shouting abuse, but instead wants to know what race I am participating in, I feel so rude and stupid. When I tell him that I am racing all the way to the coast and then to Muscat, he doesn’t quite believe me, but wishes me luck nonetheless and drives off into the night.
Omanis are so friendly. Lots of cars beep their horns, but contrary to the “get out of my way” message most UK drivers holler at cyclists, the Omani drivers mostly seem to be saying “hello” and “go go go“. If a car sees me stop, even if it is just to remove or put on a layer, they slow down and ask if I am OK. Amazing.
At several points both during the day and the night I have the pleasure of one of the BikingMan media cars riding alongside, filming me as I pedal along. We have been asked to be true, not to act for the camera. The funniest moment is when one of the media cars catches up with me again in the night after a couple of hours and complains about how hard it has been to catch up with me after they dropped back to film someone else and underestimated the pace at which I was motoring along.
At a petrol station a little after Izki I bump into Jonas Eichmann again, who tells me he will stop to sleep a bit soon, and I also start to bump more regularly into Marcel Graber, the recumbent rider who officially scratched on Jebel Shams as it was too hard to push the recumbent up, but continues riding as a non-ranked rider regardless.
This is where my memory becomes a bit hazy. I know there was a petrol station where I ate a pot of hot noodles and chatted a bit to Daniel Green, but I can’t remember exactly where that was anymore, I think it was at my next brief stop, at Ad Dariz, about 600km into the race.
The next section is a bit less scenic. Oman is developing quickly and so is its road system. The road we headed out on from Barka for example didn’t exist yet last year. The same holds true for the beautiful road after Balad Bani Bu Ali which leads through a stunning but steaming hot dune desert area. But before you get to Balad Bani Bu Ali there is a long straight section on road 23 with a lot of road works and the hard shoulder is not quite finished yet. Luckily at night, there is very little traffic on this fast section.
Another hot day in the desert
As day breaks and the sun rises higher and higher, I approach the dune section which was one of my favourite sections of the whole route. The beauty of the landscape, the happy feeling that checkpoint 2 is now within reach and the sounds, smells and views of the seaside to your right.
A media car follows me into checkpoint 2, a typical Omani oriental guesthouse where, after 756km and just before 11am, I receive a very warm welcome from the BikingMan team of volunteers.
They tell me I am the first woman to reach the second checkpoint, but also warn me that Helle is hot on my heels. I still hadn’t looked at the tracker info or any other updates, so never knew exactly how hot that was. Either way, I decide not to hang around too long and hit the road again after a bit of rice, vegetables and a nice and cold Fanta orange. I also shove some flatbreads into my jersey pocket for the afternoon. Renette and Laura, the angels of checkpoint 2, have meanwhile cleaned and refilled my bottles for me.
Setting off from checkpoint 2, I joke with the team that I will try to chase Niel Copeland down, mostly because I hadn’t seen him since pretty much the start (he took advantage of his gravel skills and braved the gravel short cut to Jebel Shams) and at checkpoint 2 he just told me that he had been checking the tracker info regularly to see whether he could safely enjoy a power nap or had to keep pedalling to stay ahead of me!
From here on, it is ‘only’ another 300km or so to the finish, but it would be a long and hot slog to start with. Fellow Dutchie Matthijs Ligt had rolled in and out of checkpoint 2 a little before me, but I find him by the side of the road fixing a puncture (his 3rd of the race?) briefly after. How unlucky.
Following the coast, I pass Ras Al Hadd Turtle Bay Reserve (and hope that some day I can return here for a more leisurely stay and some snorkelling), before stopping briefly in Sur to stock up on water for the long and more sparsely serviced highway section ahead. I fix myself another icesock and chuck a nice ice lolly into my water bottle too, that whilst slowly melting cools my drink and gives it a nice taste. A little local girl curiously follows my every move as I go through my routines, but refuses any food or drink when I offer her some.
Much of the route between checkpoint 1 and checkpoint 2 is either downhill or flat and I had tried to tap as lightly as I could on the pedals, saving my legs for the final section instead. Faster racers like me were lucky with the wind.
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Here is a good example of how it is more than just the wind that plays a part in the desert. – Fortunately I went through there before it got this bad! 😉 – #Repost @christianlartillot – Racing in the desert in Arabia: Atim and Mohammed, two from the Omanese Royal Guard fighting against the sand storm. – #endura #alltribesoneclan #bikeshopnl #spronq #massageamersfoort #truekinetix #truebike #vifitsport #ultraendurance #liveslowridefast #outsideisfree
Updates from the mid and back of the field who hit this section later on, were of very strong headwinds along the coast and a lot of sand flying across the road. Looking back at My Windsock data, it looks like I enjoyed a tailwind pretty much along that whole coastal stretch. I can tell you, it didn’t feel like that though!
I enjoy making the most of my aerobars, using them both up and down the shallow climbs along the endless highway. It is effective too. A few hours later, Daniel Green tells me it took him more than 2 hours to catch me once he had me in sight on that stretch. Conversely, it takes him less than 20 seconds (if that) to float away into the distance on the final gravel section later that night.
After another hot day where temperatures soar as high as 44 degrees according to my Wahoo, there suddenly is a 5 minutes spell of refreshing rain in the late afternoon. I am trying to catch the rain with my tongue, but my big nose is in the way.
The final push
After a final stop near Ramlah some 937 km into the race for water, some nuts, a quick toilet stop and a bit of zombie chat with Marcel Greber, who had arrived there just before me and Niel Copeland and Daniel Green, who had arrived just after, it was time to get back on my bike for the final push.
That night the temperatures never dipped below 21 degrees and remained in the high twenties for a very long time still. As the road climbs again, I am dripping in sweat and keeping a closer watch on my electrolytes and water intake. Luckily there is a fair bit of descending too. The descends are fast and fun. The road wide and empty. The traffic is light, but what little traffic there is passes by at great speed.
I was anticipating hallucinations during my second night, but am left disappointed. The closest I come is thinking “oh that tree looks a bit like a dragon and would be cool to look at it if you were hallucinating”.
I was also expecting some fatigue. My sleep strategy had been to play it by ear. To listen to my body and stop as soon as I felt the first nod of my head or struggled to keep my eyes open. Perhaps it was because of the pleasant night time temperatures, perhaps it was my caffeine management, or most likely because the finish is now in sight, but during the second night I never feel sleepy either, so push on without any power naps.
Axel, the organiser, had a few more surprises up his sleeve for us racers in the final section. The first surprise was a 6 km long gravel stretch. At first it feels good to come off the main road. Hitting the first bits of gravel I assume it is the gravel stretch in earnest and dig deep to find the strength and courage to attack it head on. I ride through it in fear but without any accidents whilst some locals on the other side of the road look on shaking their heads after I ignore their warning shouts of “broken road !”.
I keep a close eye on my Wahoo and once 6 kms have passed pump by fist into the dark sky and holler a loud “Woohooo, I did it! I rode the gravel for the first time in my life!” to Matthijs Ligt as he overtakes me on the gravel.
Ha-ha. I had celebrated too soon. Not long after that the actual continuous 6-km stretch of gravel starts. Unlike the gravel on Jebel Shams the road is mostly flat, but the gravel is much more severe with lots of loose stones and humps and bumps everywhere. Judging by the lines from the much more experienced gravel riders who had surged ahead of me, even they had found it difficult to pick a good line. Probably, because there was none.
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Working through some of the drone footage. Amazing to see the desert and mountains from above after the race. Pic by: @skyrise_productions #bikingman #bikingmanoman #experienceoman #rideshimano #outsideisfree #roadslikethese #cyclingphotography #cyclingphoto #cyclist #bikepacking #adventurer #activelifestyle #roadcycling #adventurephotography #cyclingday #keeppushing #challengeyourself #droneshots #cyclingpic #lonesomerider #ciclismo #ciclista #flyomanair #omanairbikingman #omanair
It is here that I go through my lowests lows and highest highs of the race. Braving that gravel of Wadi Al Abyad in the dark of the night, after having cycled non-stop for more than 1000 km already. My progress isn’t pretty, very slow compared to others and I utter swearwords in several languages, but I make it through the continuous gravel section without falling off.
My Scott Foil somehow holds it together. I miraculously don’t puncture (despite forgetting to let some air out of my tyres before hitting this section). And, aside from a lot of noise as the gravel hits my wheels, the brake surface survives relatively unscratched.
I grip the handlebars so tightly that my knuckles are white and my thumbs swollen to twice their usual size afterwards. About 1/3 of the way through the gravel section, Niel Copeland shouts something about saddle sores as he overtakes me gracefully on the gravel. My feet are killing me, and the sweat is dripping off my back, but I AM RIDING THE GRAVEL.
As I swing left to rejoin a properly tarmacked road, I realise it is here that I have just won my own race, regardless of what will happen next. This is the defining moment of BikingMan Oman for me. The moment where I overcame my fear of gravel and freed myself of the excuses. I have bloody well done it. I yell into the dark of the night, into the wind, to nobody but myself. I silently thank Helle for chasing me, because I am not sure if I would have been equally brave without the thought of her being hot on my heels!
As I approach the final section of the route, I still haven’t looked at any race rankings but can tell from my Wahoo that my official goal of finishing the race within 60 hours is well and truly smashed. Glancing down at my Wahoo now, I can also tell that not only will I beat my secret goal of being able to complete the race within 48 hours, I might be in with a chance to do so faster even than the overall winning time of last year: Rodney Soncco’s time of 46 hours and 17 minutes…
Josh Ibbett had warned me to expect three very steep climbs within the last 20 kilometers. He hadn’t oversold it. The first one in particular feels like a wall. In the distance I can see Niel Copeland struggling his way up. I slowly zig-zag saying out loud to myself “easy does it”. I am so nearly there now and as I approach the final lumps the mantra changes to “I can do this” and I finally allow myself to think of the finish and what finishing may feel like.
Riding into Muscat in the night along some beautifully lit official buildings feels pretty special. The wind is picking up and with it my excitement to finish. As I reach the finish line near the gigantic incense burner, I know that over the course of the last 45 hours and 37 minutes I have found my soul again and discovered my new “thing”.
The finish: 45hrs37min: 1st woman, 9th overall
The welcome at the finish is so cool. Chris is there to give me a big hug and a beautiful bouquet of flowers from my sister. The BikingMan team congratulate me and welcome me into the family of official BikingMan finishers. I now proudly own the finisher’s Tshirt and my bike has been adorned by the finisher’s sticker. I am proud of my bike and thank it and the mechanics at Sigma Sports at the finish for giving me such a beautiful, speedy and hassle free race.
After a brief chat with some of the other riders who had finished before me (I learn that Niel finished only 2 minutes earlier) and once I have seen in Helle about an hour later, it is time to finally get some sleep and prepare for a leisurely camping trip with my family.
The next day I find out I had placed 1st woman and 9th overall. With better conditions than last year, Rodney had taken a whopping 8 hours (!) off his own course record to take the win once again. Jason Black placed second and Josh Ibbett third, both improving on their times from last year too, partly due to the conditions, partly due to being better prepared and knowing what they were getting themselves into. Helle and I had both placed in the top 10. Girl power!
A top 10 finish in my first ever unsupported race. Wow! And, for those who wondered after my flapmash blog, not a single saddle sore! Hooray!
In the days after the race I wrote some reflections on my Instagram page. I am just going to leave those here exactly as I wrote them then as I still feel that they capture my thoughts and feelings pretty well.
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When one picture sums up your feelings better than any words ever could. … From feeling worn down by chasing a goal you once held for the ultimate achievement. From the loneliness of dealing with failure and doubting the qualities you once took pride in defining yourself by. And from overcoming physical setbacks that test the complex relationship between body and mind. … To falling in love all over again with the beauty and simplicity of just you, your bike and nature. To redefining how you want to challenge yourself. To experiencing the biggest highs by pushing through fears and freeing yourself from the excuses. … To finding your new “thing”. To being back, back to yourself, back to a new start. … Where will it take me ? 📷 @bikingman_ultra @thefujidude #BikingManOman #bikingman #BB02 #betheegg #ridefarandfast #womenscycling #inmyelement #ultraracing #bikepacking #adventurebybike #insearchofup #outsideisfree #jebelshams #oman #cyclinginthedesert #explore #endure #empower #lecoluk #thesweatexperts #rawvelo #sportfuelledbynature #Isobarcompression #exposurelights #ownthenight #kingstonwheelers #rlperformancecoaching #bellavelo
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Supported vs unsupported ultra distance cycling racing. The golden cap vs the numbered cap. The trophies vs the finishers T-shirt. Chasing PBs vs being chased by dogs or other demons. Reliance on the kindness and selflessness of others vs mastery of self-reliance. Racing the clock vs racing yourself. Being at one with your bike vs being at one with the universe. … Or simply two different types of the same madness. Each with its own challenges and rewards, its own tribe and spirit. … Two different types of caps. One worn for the occasion, the other for the duration. One celebrates winning, the other the bravery of beginning. … Both are cool caps.
I promise my blog won’t turn into long race reports, but for my first unsupported race I wanted to make an exception and take readers along for the whole journey.
Thanks to sponsors Le Col, Isobar Compression, Precision Hydration and Rawvelo for continued support. Thanks to my coach Rob Lee for helping me with my training and encouraging me as an athlete through ups and down. Thanks to Cat for sharing part of this amazing adventure with me (it was a pleasure to see you and George finish with such a big grin on your faces!). Thanks to Chris for helping me with my nutrition strategy and ferrying me off to bed after the race. I’ll try to finish at a more sociable hour next time…
Thanks to all who followed my dot. I hope to move that dot to many more exciting places.
As always when the post-event blues strikes, it is tempting to loose yourself staring at images that, even if ever so briefly, take you back across time and space, back to happy memories of a beautiful place, which now feels so far away from the day to day realities of life.
Below is a short selection of race images.
Many thanks also to Paul Maunder and Soigneur Cycling Journal, for publishing a beautiful photo reportage of BikingMan Oman, with accompanying text about the ‘Queen of the Desert‘ or perhaps rather Folle du Desert (crazy woman of the desert) …