Saturday, November 26, 2011

Maclehose Post Mortem

I posted a couple of weeks ago to give some insight into my transition from pure cyclist to someone just about able to stay on their feet long enough to take on Hong Kong's toughest hiking event- the annual Oxfam Trailwalker. Most will know by now that mission was accomplished- we made it! No fast times (28hrs), but we made it.

Firstly, to say a big thank you for any readers who sponsored team 'Full duck or no dinner'. As a team we raised over $110,000HKD for Oxfam and individually I raised over £600 GBP for Marie Curie- a fantastic contribution to charity and something that wouldn't have been possible without all your combined generosity. We are certainly one of the top 10 fundraisers and should get a mention in the South China Morning Post come December.

Secondly, I thought it may be worth adding a few insights into the event itself and how it may equate to similarly arduous cycling challenges. Completing Trailwalker wasn't the hardest pure physical challenge I've set myself (I think a 240km Etape du Tour wins that), but physiologically and from a pain management point of view, it was certainly the toughest. Clambering up muddy wet slopes in the dark with only a head torch for guidance, sleep deprived, cold, wet and miserable is not easy. When 4am hits it's very difficult to stay focused and awake, and to keep on going. This equates with 'Sleepless in the Saddle'- a UK 24hr endurance mountain bike race I've competed in a couple of times, and similarly, as soon as the sun rises the energy of just having daylight around you gives is an amazing boost. But where 'Sleepless' is deliberatly held on a course that isn't too technical, the fact it rained all night on Trailwalker made it very challenging to stay upright on your feet- people were sliding in the mud on a very technically demanding course left, right and center.

As with any endurance test, the key is generally preparation. Getting the right footwear was the most important element of Trailwalker for me. I wouldn't say my feet came off the training or the event scott free, but I did make it around. To put this into perspective, one of my team mates had to quit at 80km, simply unable to walk as his foot was basically one big blister. He had never suffered anything quite like it, and seemed to suffer from the rain and the wet feet even worse than the rest of us. Of course, the training is key, and you need to be fit, but if you get one element wrong (e.g. footwear, chafing, hydration), then it doesn't matter how much training you've done- you can find yourself going home early. Similarly, on the bike, there's nothing worse than showing up in a race with a badly serviced / low end bike and having to quite because something fails. All cyclists have plenty of stories of this happening to them, but one sticks in my head as my biggest learning experience- Back in around '06 I competed in a stage race in Northern Ireland. On the last day, having not bothered with a warm up (it was raining), I rode out of the car park on the neutralised zone to discover that my headset had seized. Unable to steer properly, I ended up having to climb into the broom wagon and quit the race because of a mechanical. When I got home I discovered a bent steerer. Lesson learned- cheap kit is more likely to break, and no matter what you're using, check it over.

Lastly, I just wanted to emphasize the psychological aspect of completing something like this. If your head isn't there then you won't get the most out of yourself. What doesn't kill you makes you harder. So, when times are tough, I'll take solace from the fact I can look back and think they probably aren't as tough as hauling myself up the back side of Tai Mo Shan in the middle of the night.