Words by Andrew Hill
A wet cold and muddy start was awaiting us at this years berg 100 marathon from Nottingham road to Himeville. The event has grown dramatically over the years to one of KZNs most popular one day events with over 1000 pre-entries, but as the weather gods didn’t fair favourably on the riders as a big cold front passed over the area.
The 2 days of consistent rainfall and icy cold winds made for some epic conditions for everyone involved. The race is held between two of the most beautiful towns in the South African Midlands and follows 100km of district road that meanders around and climbs up and down some spectacular mountain passes and green farmlands. This past weekend of heavy rain had turned a lot of sections of road into muddy slip n slides and shrouded the mountain tops in mist and cloud but still the beauty was evident alongside the roads as small streams became fast flowing rivers and water poured out of the hillsides forming a cascade of pure mountain spring water. It was amazing to see the water after being in the drought stricken cape for the last couple of weeks, even if the mud off the road was continuously flicking up onto the bike, mud guard and your body.
The start was compellingly pedestrian as the anticipation of what lay in store up the road kept even the most excited rider holding their cards tightly zipped in their rain jackets. We started to roll more quickly as we were falsely came to think the conditions weren’t “that bad” but as we turned off the tar onto the farm roads the reality hit us square in the face with a cold spash of mud and cow sh#*t, we were in for a long day!
I found it easier to ride my own consistent tempo pace and on one of hills 20km I gradually accelerated and sensed I had a gap on the rest of the group, I didn’t know if if was the right thing to do just 20km into a 100km race as soloing the remainder could be either stupid or very lonely. I kept the tempo going but didn’t force the watts as I knew it could hurt later on in the day when the bigger climbs were definitely going to come back and bite me. Thinking my move might entice one or two of the other guys to come across the gap I also kept the pace steady and didn’t attack the climbs with huge intent.
Passing the water points, KOM spot and the long down hills felt like it was just me on the lonely road as the mist and rain kept me isolated from the real world and deadened the feeling in my legs and face. To keep warm I kept pushing the cadence up and tried not to force the power on the pedals, it seemed to work pretty well and the warmth I generated kept my core temp up until I could see the heavy dark clouds breaking towards my destination and even some sunshine accompanying the blue sky. The mud was starting to dry and the road became faster and faster in the last 15km, “a bit late weather gods” but welcoming none the less.
heading into the final 5km I had some “more” time to reflect on the crazy conditions I’d come through during the almost 4 hrs of damp solitude. The final 100m was one of the best things I’d see all day and so was the warm coffee I quickly gulped down.