Dan Hugo

I spent my formative triathlon years idealizing Conrad Stoltz, the races he did, the stories told on return to Stellenbosch, and the bikes he rode to success. It made for an ingrained affection and infatuation for anything Specialized; including the old "hand-me-down's" - but above all, a desire to be Specialized someday and race the best in biking equipment.

I now find myself two years down the full time fool lifestyle, and on board the S-Works express. Its been a dream - one that keeps me based in Stellenbosch, South Africa for most the year, and Truckee in California, when over in the USA. I'll do a second year focussed on the Xterra USA Series, and take stock thereafter.

Xterra WC 2010

October 27, 2010

Not all races are equal. Neither their expectation.

This had been visualized in the conscious and subconscious one too many times – it seemed just so, another rehearsal of my wishful thinking. The Hawai’in blessing on the beach, the pulsating heart and toes clenched in sand, the canon fire to start my second outing on Maui, the gateway to Xterra legacy.

When meeting with Libby Burrel last December we spoke about this race and that swim form should be such to allow my racing to start after a 20min warm up. I was comfortable in the front pack and other than tripping over my own feet at the start, had a smooth time stroking sky blue water. Felt like I could move if needed but waited it out instead. Successful start.

T2, which I’d say covers swim exit to gloves on and re-tightening the bike shoes, is a discipline in itself. It’s a tough start up a golfing fairway before reaching road which convinced me to get the shoes on in transition and power up the grass. To keep my time down standing still, I went without a swimskin, figuring I’d be swimming in the pack either way.

I did not mount in the top ten but few had their shoes on and by the time we reached the asphalt I was in third and ready for the customized short finger gloves. Got them on just as Stoltz edged past. This then the real race start. And I was on.

Stoltz lead off the tar, myself in second wheel, but we must have had a tail behind including Marceau, Llanos, Battelier, and Rakita. Not far up this initial gradual drag the road turns back on itself and I realised we were in the clear for real.

I used the term “we” a bit loosely there, much to own benefit. Stoltz was tapping out rhythm, I was following. He hardly looked back, never asked for relief and seemed entirely confident and in control. He took his water bottle without a rush, stretched his back in the usual still pedalling intimidating way, and just got on with it.

The first right and up a kick had me thinking Heartbreak Hill was done but its the mini one before. Just after ended my draft with the first real descent. No breaking on my side; just that Stoltz didnt miss a pedal stroke. Soon after is the real heartbreak hill and there was some festive feel about it. I knew many who’d snuck onto the media van, including Shelby, my Boulder homestay. She was in touch with my family back home and as you come to a near standstill up this wall, was able to tell me they send their love and are with me in thought.

Somehow we had built the better part of a two minute lead, but now I too was starting to loose time on Stoltz. There was one near un-ridable pitch and seeing Stoltz walk it did not leave me with much hope. It was definitelyt too loose and dusty for my Renegade tread if his Fast Trak’s would not hold. It must have been one third into the ride, and almost of the end for my ambitions. If I could freeze frame this moment in time, it would have been one of my all time favourites.

The next portion of bike route traverses more than climbs and has a few fantastic smaller rollers. One of these curved to the right and dropped with a few rocky ledges. It was reflex, it was airborne, it was a mistake. I did not clear the ledge but came down on it too hard, pnunching my rear carbon rim to the rock. My rear was spewing Stan’s through a small hole that should have sealed. I spun but still it did cease. Eventually I decided to plug – all of which is a matter of seconds and mostly expected. I did struggle to get the plug in but managed, inflated, but could still hear leaking. Biked on hoping the solution would seal itself but stopped a km on with a low tire and air coming out inside of the rim. Once you tube it, on that course, your day is done.

(Josiah Middaugh riding similar splits to Stoltz before flatting in 2nd – his day too was done after putting in the first tube)

Everyone passing was passionate in support and a few dropped more air, including foam. It wasnt the fastest change and I was riding mid twenties now I’d guess. This course is open once yearly, on raceday, so I really needed to get a feel for it and kept digging. Things feel different at race pace. The climb and plunge were both more user-friendly than my memory from two years ago, although the last minute on the plunge did have my hands and forearms feel like that were over heating from the jarring and tight grip. A little ways on any I flatted again – think it was the plug coming out and exposing a bit of tube. Perhaps a thorn. Changed successfully after begging more air and a tube, watched the front girls race passed, and joined just after McQuiad.

Admittedly I was now riding a little recklessly from here but staying on the line meant inhaling more dust than air. It was terrible riding back there, and I was wishing better days for the masses. It was on one such messy line of my own that I flatted again. This time I begged with less urgency and was eventualled aided by a friend from Mexico, Paco Serano, who was soft pedaling and feeling ill. At this stage I was more into knowing if Stoltz had made it though the bike route and was asking as soon as I got back into T2. “5min lead” they said. It lifted my spirits.

(Thanks to Nikki Butterfield for the images. Stolen off FB.)

I somewhat enjoyed the run, which would have been different if pressured. Got to pass a few friends, appreciate the views from up top and on the beach… While reminding myself what the course is about and what it would take to get it right. My Puma’s were better suited, the Haraka XC shoes, than the race flats I used two years ago. I recall feeling the lava rock through the flats while the XC shoe has a harder platform.

And that was that. What started like the daydream ended like a worst case scenario. Been a bit harder letting go than anticipated which might have a correlation to having felt better on the bike than anticipated. Whether a different tire would have made a difference, I couldnt be sure. Would the Epic have been more forgiving, no doubt. Should I have run higher psi in the rear, seems so. Is the 29′er HT still the bike I’d choose – I’m not sure, but probably. The woman’s race was won on one. Did I crack the carbon rim, seems not, why was it leaking, I dont know. Mmm.

I loved the racing however short lived. I have many more thoughts on the race, but thats my story for now. A battle lost, a war continues.

Two of my favourite characters were crowned as all time greats. Conrad Stoltz had everyone in awe, and Shonny Vanlandingham is simply phenomenal. Big congrats to both.

Time to play.

Xterra Mexico 2010

September 7, 2010

Xterra Mexico, 4 Sep 2010

Valle de Bravo

2nd, 2:19:21, 46sec behind winner Seth Wealing

I feel to complain of my incredible few days down south in Mexico but that would be a small crime and a coup for my delayed Continental flight frustrations and my three spills in three days. It was a true expose of “race travel” at its best – and since I wrote a recent column in Go Multi Magazine encouraging such faith – I best be telling it as it was – a sensation.

Setting an alarm to 2:50-am cannot be a professional act in any sense. I vow never to do so again. Between this sleep sacrilege of a start (which included acquiring lifetime debt to a friend for carting myself, a cardboard box and trusty Jeep duffel to a nearby bus stop) and twisting down gradients assuredly outlawed in first world nations to reach our remote destination some three hours outside Mexico City – I’d exchanged three helpings of the same veggie quinoa dish for a once intact sense of humour. It may have more to do with the state of Mexican road surfaces than the tamato basil sauce, but I arrived pale, desperate and amusingly unable to appreciate the luxury villa and breathtaking mountains till sunrise.

Our Villa is the furthest one in sight.

It’s often best to get the blood moving in such moments; so I built the Epic and set out for a spin. Two lads in early teens caught up to me and did their best as passionate tour guides despite not comprehending a single word of English other than “Xterra” perhaps. It was sufficient of course as I repeated “Xterra Xterra” and off we went. The one had a better time holding his own and on most climbs would turn back and beg his partner to hang in. It must have been a good moment for them, hope so anyway, and it did lift my spirits while resurfacing memories of Dylan and I years back — over excited and under prepared.

It was after greeting them and the sun that I connected with industrial grade grid wire exposed at the end of a cement road in the making. I went over the handle bars faster than conscious thought but seemed intact to sulk the last 300m to the villa. It was within those last three hundred meters that I crashed the next morning, sliding out on a mossy cement corner…

Ah, but then the course was fantastic and being back on technical terrain soothed the soul except when chased by local dogs offended by red Specialized kit. Valle de Bravo is lush forest and every afternoon is cooled by a thunderous downpour. Across the lake was the town proper which serves as a weekend playground for the privileged from Mexico City. We were on the golf course-resort side but spent our time in rural subsistence mielie fields and indigenous forest. It all seemed very contrary to my desert cactus expectations. Seth Wealing and Shonny Vanlandingham had returned after racing the inaugural Xterra Mexico a year before and we enjoyed incredible hospitality with full time cooking and cleaning staff.

The racing side of the weekend was a three way show between local Olympian and crows favourite Pacco Serrano, defending Xterra Mexico Champion Seth Wealing and myself. Small and personal. After really consistent training in Boulder over the past month I was hopeful to handle the 6000ft elevation, barely higher than my Colorado dwelling, with better success than my previous altitude race at Beaver Creek. My lungs did not disappoint and I’ve come a long way although I feel my output, my sixth gear, just is not available when air is scarce.

The start was slightly delayed as last minute guidance in foreign tongue had me overcome with shivers. A rookie error really. Swimming a warm-up when the water is borderline shouldn’t be risked. Despite the cold and not understanding the language, the energy and excitement was magic and much the same as in Brazil, South Africa or the USA. We share passion for a challenge, adventure, fitness and health that is universal. I loved it and wished more from back home could share in such a moment.

Defrosting arms and thinner air had me loose touch with the front three. When race visualisation, that ripple effect of wishful events doesnt realise, the voices of doubt and excuse become persistent to the point of distraction. My emotional space did strengthen on the second lap once settled and warmer. I’ve been loving the swimming in Boulder – joining the various masters groups – and felt that form late in the swim. My deficit was minor and soon the four leaders were within earshot on a lengthy hike-a-bike. Being second in line had me pushing at Serrano’s tempo, which was a notch below my redline. Amazing how a few moments of semi-respite can lower blood lactate and perceived excursion.

As we re-clipped I picked a straighter line over a log while Serrano went round and that had me one bike length ahead on the second portion of walking. I dug in and kicked as we crested, giving me some space. When looking back a few kilometres on I had a couple hundred metres to Wealing and Serrano who were riding together. I was moving fluidly and loving the muddy conditions. Being in the right gear, on the right line, finding the limit, sync’ing body and mind.

And then in a section Shonny described as a slalom course on the pre-ride; I hit the forest floor like I belonged beneath it. I must have had my front wheel veer off the little clearing and centre a hidden stump, but that’s a guess at best. I just know I hit hard, went over the bars and banged my right patella on something more solid than I. I got up a little shaken, gave the bike a once over, centred the muddy helmet and gingerly hopped on. There is no way around it: That’s my mistake, an avoidable mistake.

After two hundred bikes had churned up lap one it was a proper mud bath for round two. The hike-a-bike was best done off the now mudslide path on the leaves adjacent, and the technical descent was best partly run. Whether I did or did not have excessive top end wattage or reckless confidence on the second lap, I was still riding really well, and to have Wealing within 60sec off the bike was a fine effort on his behalf.

The run course wasnt ideal for a tender knee but it warmed to the occasion. As in Brazil I was in need of more traction and will have to scout Puma’s arsenal this week. No more race flats when spikes would do. The first part of the run unpolished trail running at its best, and the return was just opposite, smooth, fast and wide trail.

With about 1.5km to go Seth finally bridged the gap and was moving too well. He is in fine form and had a flawless day. Congrats to him. Serrano was some ways back and I jogged it in. Disappointed and tender but elated for the setting, experience and countless memories on a course that offered many.

Beyond the race; well, two glasses of Argentinian Cab Sauv and some traditional Mexican treats suggested by new friends and I was more than merry… We chattered a local boat for all of 200 pesos one way (about $18US) and spent two hours in the classic Mexican town that seemed positively bursting at the seams. Flora de natta ice cream before some traditional meat – thinly sliced and spicy. Seemed agreeable in that order.

My lessons:

* Never underestimate travel – I prefer a later start and arriving three days prior. Dont get utterly fatigued.

* Don’t ride after sunset when you dont know your way around.

* Take spare pedals – had to borrow Shonny’s as my broke.

* Have two sets of running shoes, and two sets of tires, when the conditions are unknown.

* Dont warm up in water if its cold. Swing arms, stretch, do some push-ups, perhaps even stretch cords.

* For goodness sake dont crash, and if you do dont bang anything. Some forest utensils are deadly.

* Accept altitude treats everyone differently.

* Never ever stop noticing the small pleasures. Even when you like to win.

One of the new friends

Again, many thanks to the Mexican locals. And bravo to a festive race.

Chapter 2 on Xterra Brazil

August 13, 2010

So that previous posted did need editing - sorry about that. A friend gave me grief for not finishing the race report and leaving him “hanging”, which I take as positive indication of good story trumping good editing… Here is the rest:

Crazy swim start

At 11km the forest single track started with some hiking on red mud that seemed created to cake over my cleat and prevent clipping in once remounting. That started a panic of cuss words and a wtf are you doing with Renegades in here question to self. It so happened to be the worst of sections and from there it settled down to expectations. The forest is not quite like Jonkershoek or even Hakerville outside Knysna - but of the kind that I wouldnt want to be left in at night. Wild stunning lush stuff, and possibly my highlight on the course.

Spinning the legs the day after

The rest was high powered Renegade friendly riding again. I am still indecisive on whether I chose the optimal tires, but they were amazing on the open roads. Coming off the bike I really wanted to run the first 4km of the run as best I could, which was a slight uphill drag. I had my 310XT on and would know what pace I was at, baring in mind that I wanted to bike with all I had and see where it left me.

Its unsettling running blind. Perhaps its a 2minute lead, perhaps more. I was possibly told in transition but just didnt understand. I was running as honestly as I could, which was more honest at the start than the end. By the time I reached the mud pit I was starting to fade and so presented my best facade past the media contingent that was hoping for a lost shoe or some mud theatrics. Alas. My tip toe was too skilled.

I’d not seen the last 3km of the run and just as well… Shonny had given me a run down and the course profile hinted at walking but other than that I was blissfully unaware of the slowdown to come. My Puma race flats are amazing at all but 45% descents on that red mud, and well, thats what it was. I grabbed at passing leaves and bamboo shoots with the hand speed of the great Ali in the hope of breaking my fall. I should have set my ass down, lifted my feet sky high, and hoped for a soft landing, but then I was in white? Anyhow, I’m being over dramatic about the descents, they had me smiling mostly, it was the ups I’m trying to forget.

Somehow Manzan closed 3minutes on the run which I hope was mostly on the last third of muddy traverse. I was groveling by then and on one walk, if you can call hands on knees robotic-like movement a walk, I glanced a 179bpm on the Garmin which for me is on the unnecessary side of lactic accumulation. Somehow, somewhere, my run split left much to be desired, and it might just mean getting up on Magnolia Road a few more times, a little more vartlek or just trimming my Bhuda belly.

I’d promised Bernardo, the man behind Xterra in Brazil, way back in 2006, that I would some day win his event. It felt good to do so.

Podium after my usual bed time...

Again I did the night trail run, which had a capped entrant count of 1500. Unbelievable. Shonny and I weaved our way through masses in their night run shirts and headlights until we found the party we were hoping to: Olivier Cozan and his lads accompanied by Manzan and Manoela. There was no moon and the stream of night lights when looking back were amazing once spread over 2-3km. I loved it, running midpack, shooting the breeze, supporting the lads, and hearing the cattle somewhere in the darkness.

Shonny, myself, Manzan, Olivier and his boys Louis and Pierre

After this were the awards, dinner and awkwardly parading a fashion line on a catwalk. Xterra by Ellus is small range done by a Brazilian brand much like GAP. A pretty amazing collaboration. And that ended a fantastic day which included winning a luxury Tag Heuer, numerous photos as the winning “gringo”, including one nervously holding a baby, and one potent caipirinha.

A triathlete’s first impressions of Boulder

July 6, 2010

My mental capacity, likened to that off a child carried to bed from the car, begs for a disclaimer at all this. Too late for another latte and too long since the pre-swim fix and too ready for a minimum of 8hours in the fetal position.

(William and myself heading to the washing machine that is a Flatiron’s masters swim session.)

I am staying “up the hill” in a grand old home positively coming undone with vintage character that creates a homeliness a modern house simply could not equal. The floors moan with age and the tiny blue shutters seem reminiscent of early settlers and the pink bathroom must have been fashionable before I was born. I couldnt be happier. The house is ideally located on the corner of the Chautauqua park with its endless maize of trails beneath the Flatirons. It’s on Baseline which leads down to the pool and up to the Flagstaff climb. Its a three minute freewheel down to town’s centre but a nasty post dinner slog back up.

(Love at first sight. Excitement not unlike my Kelfords’ Fiesta back home. Helps getting back up ‘the hill’.)

Determined to end outings on a buzz not from a sugar low I’ve made the 49cc Honda flower powered scooter my own, and seem to have been soul mates all along like peas and carrots, now united and inseparable till ‘the hill’ becomes less elevated.

Boulder was to me as love in Paris is to most - some perfect thought never really considered plausible for experiencing first hand but just perfect for fantasy. Unsure why this was so, the attraction but lack of action to here. In any event, here I am in both Boulder and love. Town was designed by the gods of endurance sport favouring triathlon and is near perfect from what I can analyze seven days in.

The pool I’ve been swimming at is called “Flatirons“. And I’ll be referring to it as such, and perhaps the pool of death, the lactic bath, the rat-wheel and most other affectionate terms aptly describing a water once immersed into, seems to be frenzied till someone gets out about an hour later. The thing is, Dave Scott - a legendary name, is on the pool deck and commanding a sendoff I cant hold and there is a world champion in front of me and one behind and one in the lane to the left and one in the lane to the right. And my arms are turning as fast my heart is beating. Crisis times. One Thursday I was at the back of the fastest lane, meaning instruction had been given by the time I touch in, so too has the lane leader pushed off already. Was probably better not knowing, like knowing the end of the world or something that would alter actions is best not knowing. It was only the distance I was curious of anyhow, as the pace was all I had and the rest never much more than five seconds…

Boulder seems to riding as chocolates are the Willy Wonka. You never have to ride a road that does not have a bike lane, thats when you’re not on a completely separate bike path network through town. And if you happened to get lost onto a road with a designated bike path, concern not, for most cars passing you have a designated bike rack on the back… Everyone here rides. I saw earlier a mother pulling a kid on a half-bike pulling a toddler in a wagon; that makes five wheels in total I believe. There are endless flat rural roads for Ironman time trial’ing, and climbs of every length and gradient. So so good.

And the running, well every path I’ve found seems perfect excepting for the few individuals I share them with who are running visibly faster than I am (many of whom are of the fairer sex). I’ve not yet scratched the surface, and am excited to explore over the coming weeks. But its just so groomed, so manicured to my very needs, with smooth gravel pathways that have cars slamming breaks when they cross roads as I have right of way. Try that back home and you’ll be sanz lower limbs before your warm up is done. Imagine - trailheads have long drops with loo paper - so posh.

(It was necessary. With reference to the trim and not Will sharing the moment with my camera in hand.)

Next Thursday evening I intend joining Happy Thursday - a cruiser ride that gathers up to 800 weekly themed up characters and their stereos. “The Cruiser Mantras: One speed is all you need, Less gears more beers! Happy Thursday!”. We watched they passed in “America theme” last week. Looked like the funnest way to look peculiar on a bike.

(Birthday night out - girls heading towards the Thursday cruiser bike parade with their jukebox pulsating.)

I am trying to ease into training - when not sending off on 1:20 in the pool that is - and eating all I can before and after training, and making sure the shirt pockets are topped up. Not wanting a repeat of three months ago in the least. Form is certainly returning as is my motivation.

(The end of some climbing efforts. Still no road bike in Boulder. The Flagstaff climb.)

This coming week should have my shipment from Truckee coming in. Eish, that was a cruel call of friendship. I’d begged to leave my USA life in the basement of Truckee friends, and have had to ask them to ship three times. Once just the Epic, to buy some time in Richmond. Then gather a collection of race bits from various boxes of my guessing. Before a request to send them all last week. I am eternally grateful, and hope some day, some how, to make it up to this couple. Life as a full time fool is made possible by the help of others. No way round that. Many thanks guys.

Such pleasures in those boxes - like another set of running shorts which will relieve my current air washed pair from a daily salt lining… But mostly I’ll be glad for the road bike and powertap hubs. Its time to settle into some consistency and get the work done.

(Somewhere in the mountains up Lefthand. Cracked and did not reach the summit - ride down felt shameful.)

Did feel more coherent midway than at the start, but the fade is a steady free fall now and a necessary re-read and edit are as inviting now as twenty one legged jumps at the top of that climb above would have seemed yesterday.

Xterra East Championships, Richmond ,VA

June 23, 2010

Xterra East Championships, Richmond ,VA

2nd

1h47′39 - 71 seconds behind winner Conrad Stoltz

Xterra Richmond Swim 2010

I was positively certain I’d exceed personal expectations but not once considered a showing that different to the envisioned struggle and certain too that I’d be content and smiling with disregard to any result. It’s just the space I am in, the timing of it all, and doubt I’ll ever get to experience this measure of reckless carefree ambition.

Standing up against a 20foot cement pile on that suspends the train bridge above I could feel my heart out pacing the countdown to canon fire used to start the race and trigger my push off from the pillar. I’d picked the most upstream line across the James River and putting the butterfly jitters to good use kicked off to a clean start and onto second feet when converging with the rest of the pro wave.

Digits 1-6 were vertically tattooed on my shoulders. The last to enter, the lowest ranked. I’d only gone into registration the day before in all fairness. But not to management’s surprise - seemed word had got about, and they’d welcomed me with a complimentary entry all prepped by the time I’d got there. Twas really appreciated. Their support was shared by all I got to connect with over the weekend. Good crowd this. But stroking the tiger across the James was not time for reflection just yet.

I’d already settled into the fun side of it. Enjoying jostling, picking a different line on the return, and eventually exiting the swim in 2nd; which seemed wrong in itself. To complicate matters, I ran way to quick across to transition, just incase this was my one moment, you know, to be in the mix, and well, just to say I’m still here, mostly to myself.

Just about dropped a shoe and my fingers staged a glove protest that thankfully meant no chance of following Conrad Stoltz’s wheel as he opened up a smooth and powerful seated cadence. I’d have popped my cherry in a few minutes had I tried to.

And then the moment.

Midway between Conrad passing the lead swimmer and the forming train behind - midway between risk and being conservative. I was shouting to self, to settle the 172bpm on the 310XT and hang onto Evans and Rakita who were just 10seconds back for as long as I could. But self ignored the ordered sense and rolled the dice.

That’s a feeling I appreciate. And one I hope all get to experience when racing and in life general. When reason gets substituted with improbable desire. It’s a feeling that dances to the tune of self purposed destiny in the shoes of freedom.

I kept getting splits hollered my way that seemed I was now holding Stoltz, and edging away from third. I’d hear 42seconds, mark the spot when Stoltz passed returning from one of the many hairpins in Forest Hill, and get encouraged that no one passed where I was by the time I got to Stoltz’ spot. Meant I had at least 42seconds myself. I’d ridden the trail so many times in the past two weeks and felt fluid and sure in a way I’d not been on the two previous races in Richmond.

The chorus of self-doubt kept announcing the passing of Middaugh at any moment, and the fading of power, but instead I was holding the gap to Stoltz. Seemed more wrong than the swim exit.

Race start was changed to earlier for the expected heat and humidity. In any event, I couldn’t be as hot on the run as my long run had been the Sunday before when I got out at 11am and made my way around the run course one and a half times. I was feeling electric and enjoyed the ice packet sliding down my back before settling unreachably inside my one piece against the hollow of my back. So effective this ice packet that I needed to think warm thoughts to avoid my ass cramping from the cold…

It wasn’t until a the boulder hopping expanse around the 8km mark that I took a long disbelieving look back and truly considered holding 2nd. I was still loving it as much as in the swim, only now my HR was round 174bpm (I’ll upload the file soon) and very much out pacing any countdown of mileage. Somehow it felt comfortable, and seemed to be sustained by months of consistency over the South African summer.

Recipe for unfit race success:

* Make everyone else race 7days earlier in warmest Alabama.

* Get the Frenchman to stay home and the guy from Durango to tear his chest apart and the Canadian to change careers.

* Pick a course thats really technical, and ride on repeat for two weeks. Even train the run route a few times.

* Make sure the profile has no sustained climbing, for the bike or the run.

* Get the event organizers to shorten the race, to a winning time of 1h40′ish.

* Stay relaxed; drink a glass of Kannonkop Kadet from my hometown the night before.

* And ask the girl you’re falling for to be out on the course.

Seemed to work for me at least.

I ran my affectionate belly in 71seconds after Stoltz, more daylight than the 24second loss here two years ago, but closer than that personal expectation I’d mentioned would ever had dared gamble. The most improbable result for me ever I’d say.

And sure, I was beyond grateful for the result and the unexpected payday it earned, but the greater emotions were for the feeling of being healthy, of my body responding as normal, of my self-condemnation voice being silenced for a moment.

It felt somewhat like life from stone.

(Craig has been beyond supportive over the past 2months. And gave me little choice in racing after a heartfelt pep-talk - thanks mate - this one was for you.)

Make me feel

April 28, 2010

want to run through oceans of green littered with the colours of spring - I want to share in its wealth. I want to bike to the top of a clif’s edge, stand in awe, overwhelmed by space and magnificence till nothing else exists. I want to taste determination in the back of my throat as if my lungs could not contain its measure. I want to dream and turn dream to belief, undeniable resolve within self. I want to feel. I want to live and live with all I have.

Ten low days, slow and low, pushed into the corner of remorse and bitter frustration void of usual addictions and escape’isms. I’m enslaved to purpose and direction, to some future fix. I’ve known this in the past and find myself shifting focus to the next goal before a current obsessions matures and I get entangled in a maze of not knowing where to.

Thats been the past ten low n slow days. Not knowing where to. Being who I dont want to be.

The response to I am Broken has been moving - thanks so much for the mails sharing encouragement, personal experience, sympathy and occasional humour. If I’ve not responded to your note, apologies. It was read and much appreciated.

I’ve read:

Outliers - By Malcom Gladwell. An interesting investigation of some anomalies in society. Enjoyed, but a little tedious towards the end.

Raising the Bar - By Gary Erickson. The story of Clif Bar told by the founder and owner. Remarkable, inspiring, and some metaphors to life lessons I could really relate to. Am a fan.

The Invitation - By Oriah Mountain Dreamer. I’ve had the poem for years, and the author expands on her sentimesnt shared after a night of usual superficial social interaction. Powerful. Perhaps the book just met me at the right time and place, but think its timeless and a gem. Soulful and hard to drop - has had a lingering effect.

Notes from a Big Country - By Bill Bryson. Hilarious compilation of columns written to a weekly newspaper publication. Musing about America and all its particular ways. Too funny. Have been laughing out loud.

I’ve watched:

The Hurt Locker, Brothers, Food Inc, King Korn, The Cove, Buddha, Up in the Air, The Lovely Bones, Avatar, The Hangover, Crazy Heart, Adam and Precious (thats the list I can think of right now, might be missing some…). So I think its time to consider going camping in Yosemite?

One of the common advice themes have been to relax, eat what I shouldnt, and forget about training. Relaxing and forgetting about training havent come as easily as ‘eating what I shouldnt’. I am trying to put on some weight and refill reserves. Even had a celebratory beer last night in San Diego - the first in forgettably long. And possibly the most enjoyed. An Oregon Brewery - Sessions premium dark lager.

Celebratory in that I had the opportunity to go down to San Diego and connect with the crew at Triathlete Magazine. Good laughs with some passionate individuals. Most the laughs at my expense, but so it should be. Was great to get me out of hibernation and be packing a bike, and brand new Epic at that.

Symptomatically I am doing better, with a lot more cognitive clarity and less dizziness or head throb. Energy wise it still fluctuates, but the constant yawning as if just not getting in sufficient oxygen is more spotty than last week. My eyes are still twitching on their own mission, goodness knows why, but seems less pained and tired than they were.

All this to convince you, and me, that I’m strengthening, despite not understanding. I am still trying to connect the dots, and piece the puzzle together. Will persist till satisfied. I need to be able to identify where I wronged and how to avoid in the future.

But what I do know, is that I want to feel. I cant go through days apathetic and indifferent to a cause. I want to feel. Feel life beating inside my chest like its too much.

I am broken

April 23, 2010

Have been putting off starting this post for days - not knowing what to say to myself or you. I am unwell, have been for numerous weeks, and whatever the underlying cause of chronic fatigue it has been exacerbated at altitude; bringing me to the point of collapse and acknowledgement that something is wrong.

I will not start racing in Las Vegas this weekend.

I will not be training for a while.

I dont know why, whereto, or for how long.

I have suspected foul play since the Sani2c-Giro-Brazil effort, and just not been able to get on top of my fatigue. Each week it was a different justification, different reasoning, and despite 3 blocks of 4days rest I was still caught in small micro-cycles of trying, failing, resting. I kept hope that it would settle once here in Truckee where life compared to The Bosch is greatly simplified. But instead, either just with time or with time and altitude, the fatigue has become unbearable.

The past week I’ve been feeling weak and incapable of doing much more than shuffle between bed, kitchen and couch; followed closely by my dull headache best friend. Getting to the point of accepting and acknowledging that something on a biochemical level is not right become the last option.

I spent a small fortune on blood tests this Monday - with no clear explanation in yesterdays results. At first I’d hoped it would be low iron levels, a common endurance athlete vice, but my levels are fine despite cutting back on meat over the past months. We tested for everything it seems, except the Limes disease test which seemed too expensive. So I now know I dont have Aids, my prostate is functional and I am 24 years, 9months and 18 days old. Sure, there are some slightly higher and some slightly lower values, but nothing to explain the chronic fatigue and haze I’m in.

A day or two I’m able to bluff through, and even a session here and there. But then the crash comes.

I have an insatiable appetite for sleep; 12- 14h at night and long daily naps - but keep waking in no clearer space than when going to sleep. Usually some serious rest would restore me to neutral in a day or two, but not now. Something is broken.

My test for Mononucleosis, or Glandular Feaver as its known back home, came back negative, but the test has a high false-negative percentage and still seems to be the diagnosis that the physician felt was most probable. Apparently a patient has a normal blood profile be down with Mono. There are further tests that would be more specific and reliable, but more expense and no change in treatment: rest and time.

I dont know what to do from here really. I am trying to take small steps, slow the decision making. I would like to stay in the USA, I dont have conviction to pack it in just yet, even if racing is only months away. I may need to get to lower elevation for speeded recovery, but I’ve not thought much of that.

I do know that something is wrong, and I’m trying respect that.

In the short run, I wont be attending the Xterra USA Series opening event in Las Vegas this weekend. I need to be in San Diego on Monday. Beyond that nothing is planned.

So many emotions to process - I’ve had such a long positive build up, and have visualized racing on the Lunar landscape at Vegas too many times. I’d reinvented so much of my usual life and routine, and in been in great space. 5weeks back in Brazil it felt like I was in the best swim, bike and run form I’d ever been in. Alas. A wise friend in Stellenbosch talks about “layers”. “One layer at a time, layer upon layer.” If this be the end of one, then it was the best one I’ve laid down.

My disappoint is immense, and will be shared by many who have contributed to my build up. Am sorry for it.

It could be worse, its pure white outside after all. The snow, like my fatigue, will melt at some point.

I Am Specialized

April 17, 2010

I got to spend time at the Specialized Head Quarters in Morgan Hill this week and feel the passion, drive and ingenuity first hand. Sure I’ve heard tales and myths of lunch time rides, of every employee living the brand, and experienced the momentum behind Innovate or Die through continually bettered product, but to be there, in the heart of it, was some kick.

Conrad Stoltz, Specialized Bicycle Company HQ

(Photo stolen from Conrad’s Flickr account)

Morgan Hill is near the Californian Coast, 90min South of San Francisco, and a 4hour commute from Truckee. After hibernating most of last week - shuffling between indoor pool, computrainer (in front of Apple TV), treadmill in the garage, and my personal favourite: the double bed that makes you want to jump on it with like minded kids; it was magic seeing Dylan and Conrad and the rest of the familiar Specialized crew. It’s Dylan first visit to the USA, and we did not get much social time together, but hearing of his first impressions made me smile. How accustomed I’ve become.

The theme was mountain biking - which included the XC team, the Downhill and Freeride cultus, some Freeride Super D boys, and Conrad Stoltz and myself on the mountain bike multisport side. Big time honour lining up alongside some global icons.

Time spent with engineers was enough to exhaust my limited mental energy in quick time. Steep learning curve just listening in on dialogue between the the architects of innovation and the super sensitive rider perception of Sauser and Stander. What was unbelievable was the testing lab where stress tests were performed on new models - simulating years of riding stress in the matter of a day. But it was the overall feel that was most amazing, the vibe between the different sections of the company, each buzzing with new developments and secretive success. Open plan and relaxed, interactive and stimulating. Numerous dogs trail their owners from desk to department and back. And bikes, more bikes than you could imagine. Prototypes, bike in archive, bikes riden by legends, bikes of staff, bikes for visitors and SBCU.

Got to meet Ned Overend - a sure highlight. Hopefully some day I can continue the legacy he handed down to Conrad.

We did a live team introduction and Q&A with with the entire company - streamed real time on the IAS Facebook page.

The opportunity was something I would not have been able to dream of not so long ago. So grateful and excited to be a part of the most inventive bicycle company in the world, a company thats determined to be the best, and provide the support needed for me to have a shot at being the best I can be.

Race Report: Xterra Estrada Real

March 15, 2010

So I dont really recommend two stages of the Giro, two days after Sani2c, leading into 24hours of cross continental travel as a perfect taper - but well recommended for the thrill of spontaneity.

I woke on Wednesday morning, having skyped with Xterra Brazil organisation the night before, agreeing they wanted to get me over, but no itinerary in my inbox meant I hit out a second stage of the Giro - one double as tough as the first. I’d ticked through some vartlek the night before, and was schooled properly for my lack of respect. By the time I got home at 3pm, fragile as blue and white china porcelain, the ticket sat waiting with a 6:20am CPT JHB start. Was really fun getting everything together in the space of hours. Most importantly a massage, finding a bike box, and getting Nici to cook a feast for the trip.

Travelling never goes to plan. The 5hour delay at Sao Paulo airport before, and 4hours of gridlock on a highway last night. And real time has me waiting for a flight out of Rio that is 1hour late already, and still not landed… Might be a longer layover in Sao Paolo than expected! But it was fun getting to see some of the country side, especially the first two hours out of Sao Lourenco was breathtaking. Vertical mountains with wall to wall carpeting. Forest so think you’d have to threaten me to enter in. Wish I had more time in Sao Lourenco, a city on the old coal trade route. Or gold. Now I’m unsure. But is current fame is water and tourism. People travel there for 15day treatments with various natural spring water. I did not get to smell the good one - good for sinuses and getting high!

The course was going to be really fast, I figured close to two hours, and ended up being under that. 1200m swim, 26km open road mtb, and a 9km run going up, more up, and then plunging back to town centre. Meant full gas from the gun. Or rather the belly flop. We started on the grass back that was neither good for running in or diving in. Would have been hilarious to watch.

There was one class swimmer, too classy for me, and think by the end I’d conceded 20-30sec which I was fine with. But when I’d not pinned him back by the 4km ascent summit, I was getting edgy. The first major descent had plenty ruts - and I let me Epic roam free. Airborne was better. By the bottom I could see a good lead, and tried to find rhythm along the valley floor.

This heard, maybe 30strong, lay in a shaded section of the road. I started whistling at first. Then shouting. But they did not even turn their heads my way. Eventually I locked up front and rear. This was not “bunny-hoppable”. I picked on the smallest more nervous calf, and nudged with my front wheel. Far out. But they would be there for the second and third guy too…

My roommate at The Colonial Hotel is the local icon - Alexander Manzan. He phenomenal running talent, and I’d not be able to let up till the finishing straight. In 2006, on my first visit to Brazil, Manzan caught and passed my slowing stride in the final kilometer. He is a class guy, and so enjoyed getting to know the person behind the reputation. We discussed politics and environmental issues while over dosing on Acai. His English is fluent after years of racing the ITU scene.

It was super fun racing back down into town, lead by a few motor bikes. The attention to fine detail throughout the weekend, was insane. The athlete experience could not be bettered.

With no idea of my lead I started out on the big cobbled roads beneath local eyes disapproving from balconies coloured with laundry. It was my first triathlon with my Garmin 310XT on my wrist. Waterproof GPS triathlon specific. One, it means I can offer my coach some valuable race specific information, and two, means I could see my pace real time, which really helped my confidence along. Seeing a 3:22/km - however brief, means the chasers cant be making too much time.

I got to a gate at a water station, which had Xterra bunting on either side. I stopped, the water table staff starting shooting, not a word made sense. I was meant to climb over the metal gate, into the coffee plantation, but honest, at the top of 4km climb, with a HR of 174bpm, it did not seem obvious. So funny. The down had some really cool running in it. Cambered hairpins down natural forest canopy, in and out of the coffee plantation, really different to anything I’ve done before.

Was stoked to come good for Bernardo and Adriano who’d risked getting me over last minute. But it was the crown coming good more than me. Brazilian culture seems so much more expressive and energetic. And animated. Really big reception finishing up. Being able to host a triathlon in a city centre is power. Being able to do so with an offroad event, a rare gem.

Manzan did follow me across the line - and for a season opening event showed fine form. He’ll be closer or ahead on the next battle than 3:25 winning margin.

The weekend was somewhat of a festival, and got swept up in the atmosphere for the night trail run. Nothing is per chance, even the timing of the surround sound music in the Xterra Village is planned. Standing on the night run start line, 90% of the 400 entrants were wearing their event shirt, and event headlamp. Made such a strong impression. Every event has a unique shirt, the triathlon, kids run, night run and mtb cup.

It was magic running along in the back, didnt break 6min/km very often, and stopped for a few photos. The most fun easy aerobic 6km one could tick. The marshals had the same little red headlight on, and were positioned perfectly through the park. Cant praise the attention to fine detail enough. The high point was the start line - something like a fitness nightclub. Runners were clapping, jiving, shouting out. Such a buzz.

Sunday morning was the Xterra Mountain Bike Cup - identical to the triathlon in that it was the start to the series, and offered an equal prize purse to the triathlon. My ears perked when I heard the top guns were at another event of great importance. I knew I’d be hurting, but was well keen to test it out. A 45km route in the opposite direction of the triathlon course. So worst case scenario it would be a glorified tourist exploration.

There was a 5km neutral zone, at the start and end, which meant the first 5km was a peleton of noise and joking and what seemed like teasing. Couldnt understand a thing, but could feel their excitement and energy.

I could not follow up the first climb, it hurt too much. I needed more time to warm up, flush the toxins and loosen up the stiff muscles from the previous days down run. I slipped from 3rd wheel, to 4th, and then dropped in 5th. But on the descent the four leaders let up, and I got back on.

About 20km in, the road become a devils pot of corrugated mud and rock. I was the only one of a dual suspension setup. Considering I could not respond up the climbs, I figured to turn up the heat. After some tempo and a risky descent I had 15m and decided it was time. I felt neat through to 35km, turning over well and staying fluid. But the final 10km was too close to breaking point. The hardest part was convincing my emotions that I wanted the hurt. You need to be fully committed to go to that point, and I was tempted but fence sitting somewhat.

Unreal and further unexpected to double up. I was smashed though, and might have dug myself a small hole to get out of this weekend. Another brilliant reception at the finish.

Must go, plane boarding. Fun distraction. No time to edit text - forgive mistakes. Well done for surviving all that text. As you gathered, pretty excited here… Some weekend!

Cup overflowing

March 12, 2010

Precariously dangling between too much going down and semi control – that’s been the feel over the past three weeks. Much like the 2nd Giro Stage yesterday I guess. Well, gracious to self to say I had semi control there… The final roll of the dice has me in Joburg; departure to Brazil; Xterra race on Saturday morning; return Tuesday.

I’ll need to rewind

The week after Xterra Grabouw was graveyard stuff. Thought on Sunday morning I was in the clear after governed race, but by Monday morning my legs were swollen, and two trains had hit me head on. A few meetings to start the week before doing some images with Runners World and Gary Perkin.

I was really stoked to get invited back to the cover shoot. Rodale Media are very particular in what the like, the style and feel of covers. Again it was international, so unsure whether I’d get to steal onto the local cover again or only international, but either way, great for my profile and partnership with Puma. Day1 was in studio. Where nothing feels natural to me. Thought I was more relaxed this time round, till I watched a real model at work… Day2 was more my gig, out on Table Mountain. Biggest issue was flicking my feet up too high. Both need to be visible, proportioned, running into the cover, not out… Other than Puma I got to shoot in 2XU gear – and maybe the most standout apparel all there. Such fresh training gear.

Had planned for ages to do some work with Gary Perkin. Was a fan of his work published on cyclingnews.com long before realizing her was South African. Better known as Flipper, Gary is now contracted by Specialized for mtb world cups, some local imagery, and perhaps this season, a few triathlons.

We got some stuff done in Eden on Friday, but decided to get setup for the night after. Gary wanted to explore unchartered waters, and I was only to stoked to go along with it. So purchased a few small lights, got the S-Works Transition setup, and after some sushi, we started playing. Unlike anything I’ve done: Rolling through in pitch dark, sunglasses on…

Through this, James McDulling, my Sani2c partner had come to stay. Our second attempt, after failure last year. I had to withdraw after my concussion seemed too serious. We hit some great mountain biking over the weekend, and finally the body started to bounce after the Grabouw damage.

Travelled up to Underberg on Wednesday morning – quite a process. Think we left home at 5am and got to our hotel round 4pm. Was fortunate to steal away from airport layover thanks to Barry Lewin, who took Mari Rabie and myself to the nearest pool for an hour. But the migration from Bosch to Sani was lengthy and taxing.

James and I shared many fun moments together, but unfortunately he was not at his best during the three days of mountain biking. That said his road skills, and my lack of, had him putting pressure on me off the start…

Was a treat to represent EA Sports again. Was like the first Sani2c I got to ride with Dylan in 08. Grateful for the entry and support. They are a dreamGiver in my portfolio now, so thankfully did not have to win a stage for an Xbox like two years ago!

Had a crack on Day2 and Day3, and much enjoyed riding with the best in South Africa. Some real class – the few minutes I did get to watch. Day2’s start was the most mental experience, chasing down into the Umkomas Valley in missed too think to see three bike lengths in a peloton kicking up sticky mud at 60-70km/h. Hairy. When trying to change facial expression to speak at the bottom, my face strained under the mask of caked mud. Unreal really. Day3 was like motor pacing. Leg speed through Sugar Cane fields that must come good for me later this season. Was so fun.

But Sani2c is more than riding. Somehow 1300 riders per event (1day apart) get bikes cleaned, warm showered, fed three meals and snacks, housed in a tented village, and enjoy evening entertainment in an area that had no real infrastructure. Big vision, and amazing organization.

Had two days to recover and get some good swimming and running in before starting the Giro del Capo – a 4-day road stage race – the most prestigious in South Africa. I’ve not raced on the road much in years, other than the Tuesday evening Boca hit out in Truckee.

Day1 had me real nervous, and overly twitchy in the pack. Did not enjoy the first hour. Perhaps the hum of deep sections at 60/km was sweet as, but between locking up my brakes at the sound of anything, watching two crashes, and worst, need to piss too badly. I was at the back of the peloton with a pressure headache when the action started. Thing is, I never have to hold a slash, so my bladder is probably smaller than most. And I had over hydrated after Monday being the most severe heat in Stellenbosch.

Luckily, in true to Dan amateur style, my news S-Works road shoes (unbelievably comfy, nuts light, and super stiff) started shifting on my cleat. I’d not tightened them sufficiently. Dylan and Piet were in my Kelfords Fiesta (the Specialized Team vehicle for the Giro) as it became unplayable. Meant I could take a slash. Ahh. Was maxed out getting back to the group, but survived Day1.

Yesterday was a beast. One I could have should have respected a little more. Felt the running in the legs from the night before, and prob just the accelerations I am not used to from Day1. 146km, three identical laps. That deep dark place found me, found me empty and unable to respond on the second climb…

Pity I could not start this morning, a 170km loop going passed our family farm in Worcester. The Signal Hill TT tomorrow would have been a treat as well, and for sure riding in a pack with Lance Armstrong on Sunday would have been a moment. But I am pleased with the work done at Sani and Giro, 5 days of top end riding. Mostly would have been part of the winning team (even if I did not contribute once! Burry Stander will mostly likely win the GC, and think Friday night be a mean celebrations.)

I had been in touch with X3M in Brazil since the weekend, bouncing ideas and options. The first regional Xterra is on Saturday morning. I’d figured closed it out, figuring too little time to get my stars aligned. But yesterday a ticket got booked, and this morning I am on an SAA flight to Sao Paolo. I’ll drive from there to the Venue, and stay in Rio for a night after, before returning Monday evening, home Tuesday morning.

Can’t tell you how excited I am to be on the spontaneous trip. My 2006 experience in Brazil still tops my list, and been wanting to get back since. The guys there are so dynamic and power. Look forward to catching up with them, supporting their Xterra evolution in Brazil, and hopefully adding value to the their weekend.

So, wish me well. Forgive the lack on blogging with new perspective on my cup overflowing. It’s been a great block, form is coming on really well and spirits are high.

Xterra South Africa 2010

February 24, 2010

Midway through the bike course I glanced down at my legs, goose flesh shriveled pistons willed on by heart and mind, heat treated to total dehydrated. As was everything else. I still could not get a sweat droplet onto my sunnies, my Enduren was nearly all out. “Kid, you’re going to blow”. Was all I could think. Had I over cooked it? I couldnt think.

Arriving into Grabouw yesterday was manic in the most positive sense. Dylan had driven me over, as he had two years (we were still listening to Faithless’ Insomnia) - we hadnt spoken much. Stopping road side for a slash meant 1 - Hydration was working and 2 - some 20 vehicles loaded with bikes laid into the hooter. Exodus to Grabouw en mass. Really brilliant to see and be a part of that feel - that momentum of outdoor lifestyle choice.

750 athletes enjoyed the Xterra Lite, which was getting into running as I arrived. They’d maxed out the transition with many having no choice but to ready their transition stash like a picnic on the cricket oval. It was noticible, the amount of youth in the Lite, so awesome.

Big shout out to Oaklands High School, for making the trip from Knysna. Hope you guys got home safely. I believe the size of the Lite is a show of new interest, and hope they’ll evolve to the full next year.

Arriving in all this was some buzz. Seems no matter how early I plan to arrive - and perhaps staying in the aircon till later yesterday was better than warmup - it always gets a little frenzied. Warmup routine, racking, tracing my race number (had forgotten my 2XU race belt), staying hydrated, dodging ques at the toilet… But made it down to swim start semi orderly.

One lap 1500m wetsuit legal swim in the most serene water. So stunning, the mountains and sky from water level. After a solid start effort, I settled in, 4th feet maybe. Felt great, comfortable, and to plan, till I noticed my feet had let go of his feet: Kent Horner, my marker for the day, had pulled a few metres with a team swimmer. I responded immediately but damage done. And again, had to swim the majority of the swim on my own. Little disappointed, as I’d really been intent on sticking. That aside, fair swim, stroke felt good, and my second outing in the V:1 2XU confirmed my suspicion’s: Legal cheating in a medium is more my fit.

Spectators lined the entire swim exit to transition pathway - like a corridor of pumping support. Kent had 37 seconds lead onto the bike. 37seconds means:

I get to watch him for a while, being the chaser and not the chased.

Can gauge relative strength, by speed of gap closing.

And psychologically toughen the challenge by passing. Passing is horrible.

I biked up alongside Kent on a small hike-a-bike section, one trying to out walk the other. For all our speedy training, there we were, one foot infront of the other at snails pace. I managed to mount a meter before, and pushed down with all I had sitting on the front edge of my saddle. The gradient was ride-able but still hurtful, into a sandy left, and onto the fire road withouth glancing back. The heat was sweltering. I kept pressure, trying to stay smooth with a high cadence. I wanted but couldnt get out of the saddle. Only later did I look back, on a switch back, to check the damages. I had 200m. Thats all I needed.

After a bike setup with Jeroen Swart at Sport Science Institute 10 days ago, I’ve been getting comfi with an entirely new position. Its power. I could not recommend his expertise more. Especially my climbing feels to be more comfortable and in control. I’d been out to Grabouw 5 times in the past two weeks. But the course is like a cameleon, ever changing. The rock that wasnt there, the branch that had been moved. I picked my way down loose terrain, slid out on pine needles for a light crash, kept sipping Enduren, and felt like I was on.

But then it stopped, the power sensation.

Had I over cooked it? How could I be on empty so soon?

I throttle back. I needed my coffee fix in the morning, but its a diuretic? Maybe I shouldnt have. Before I can dictate this flow of thoughts, I’ve lost focus and energy and a few precious seconds. My mouth was dry, my skin was dry.

I stopped at the drinks station, unclipped, and knocked back three cups of water. Never before have I stopped on the bike at an aid station. It was time well spent. Together with easing off from from full tilt, I got to the final climb before the rock garden holding it together as best I could. My old man was out in the sun, with precious information. 3′ he said. I needed to hear that. Partly as a boost and partly as security for taking less risks through the sketchy single track.

I loved the rock garden in pre-riding. So testing. So perfect for my full suspension Epic. Now it was tricky getting my hazey mind to control my hands. Like a ragdoll.

From here it was a a quick push to transition. A quick push to more water, to more Enduren. Its strange, feeling so on the edge, so close to shutdown, but only pushing at 80%.

Shuffled to the first water point, and got a 4′50 bike end split there, as well as 6 water saches. Between them, and the swim in the stream crossing, I got my core temp down, and blood flowing more to muscles than skin for cooling. I’d thankfully got friendly with this climb last weekend, and felt like I knew exactly what needed to be done. Aid station to aid station.

Having seen Chad Gordon numerous times in Grabouw over the past weeks for chiro treatment - I’d jogged on the beach finish a handful of times in the past month. This time it was not alone, not without arrows, not without my sister there going crazy, or a crowd on the far side, or a chopper keeping pace.

I wanted this one. I needed this one.

My sense of relief was like a wave you didnt know was building. Grateful. To have talent and opportunity from my father in Heaven. Grateful to have family and friends present, to have new coach beaming, to have Specialized’s Global Marketing Manager present for my first outing in his Specialized kit design. Grateful to be on the board, to finish after last years mechanical. Grateful to end the chapter and start the next block.

Seems it stretched out to 7min by the finish, to Kent Horner. He’s a class act, and suffered in the heat. Would have been a closer race had conditions been normal. Third was Nico Pfitzenmaier, a German now residing in the Cape. Mari Rabie won the ladies race without hesitation - amazing effort. Michelle Lombardi 2nd, and Hanli Booyens 3rd.

This morning my stomach hurts more than my limbs. Had a feast last night. Off to catch up and plan with coach in a moment, maybe after another Zambian coffee, and late afternoon I’m joining a kids duathlon in Grabouw.

If you were in the 70% that survived and finished the full:

What a champion. Congrats to you.

For more race images visit www.danhugo.com

Xterra Buffelspoort

February 1, 2010

The first sentence uttered on the mike after crossing the line muddied and spent: “Girl power – Ladies, don’t know where you’ve been, but welcome.” Obscure Buffelspoort Dam – miles from civilization – soaked in fine drizzle, hosted the largest Xterra turnout in South Africa – 1000 entrants, of which most new recruits were female. It was a significant day for the lifestyle I love in South Africa.

It was my third race on the outskirts of Johannesburg in the Magielsberg mountains; and being three weeks out from Xterra South Africa Championships in Grabouw, become my most important race there as a building block of personal significance. I needed a fine day out. I needed confidence. I wanted to win.

Dylan and I travelled up on Friday morning. Billed excess on a bike that arrived 3h late. Tripped out to Buffelspoort. Pre-rode the course which was rocky and technical and nothing short of supreme. Shot back to Joburg, slipped into my mint new 2XU V:1 Wetsuit overnighted from PE, dined on fine Thai, crashed, and woke at 415am to trip back to Buffelspoort – only the Garmin was programmed to shortest route.

An issue after the cloud bust storm that burst Joburg on Friday evening. The Garmin lady said right on the gravel. We obeyed. The first serious rut made Dylan and I smile – we were in the Land Crusier after all. But by past the point of no return, staring at c for serious 4x4’ing, we were less amused and more panic’d. It was the most mental pre-race adrenaline pump I’ve had since missing the swim start as an 11year old (just joined in for the bike/run!).

The detour meant we’d not found yoghurt for the homemade muesli breakfast. Its fine detail management that can push favour out of grasp. I usually eat three hours before – ie, I have confidence in eating three hours before, now were we trying to find parking amongst the million Jozi Xterra newbies and the buckets of mud, while pouring sketchy Caltex fuel station milk into Tupperware bowls. Anyhow, atypical scenarios usually make for the best of memories after.

It’s not about the bike, but it sure makes a difference, having the shit that kills. Between my new wetsuit, new 2010 Epic, and new Puma race flats, the small advantages add. But then I stumbled and broke the first rule I could – was caught napping and started the opposite side of the good swimmers.

Trying to be respectful of altitude swimming and desperate to find feet I stroked the tiger best I could to the first bouy, and was perhaps one body length shy of Kent Horner’s feet, who was trailing Charl Keet. Did not come undone, but sure wasn’t able to show pool form. Bit disappointing, but limited damages to 25sec at the swim exit.

Xterra Buffelspoort bike route starts out with bone rattling rock gardens now slippery as shower soap. Within 3km of riding I’d nipped past  a Charl – one of the nicest lads in the sport, and past a ground level skidding Kent. I was a bike length back when he went from vertical to horizontal riding.

Kent politely apologized for costing me a few seconds, and with a no worries I was off. Kent is a class act, and ran down a 2min lead last year at on this course, and I wasn’t keen for a repeat.

If you were one of the Xterra Lite masses I passed between this point and the reserve – my sincerest apologies. My screaming, whistling, clipping handlebars and indignant gasping is not my usual self… Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I took all sorts of risks maxing my front and rear suspension through the reserve trails of loose jaded rocks. I loved the excuse to risk, to roll the dice. I’d received course information – of a section cut out – while riding and knew I know had less bike time to come good.

At the point of the course where I’d passed the school kids making out the last year (still one of my favourite racing moments) I was passing families doing the Xterra Lite as a unit. So precious and positively reflecting of the sports future. Kids as young as 10years of age like Hanno (got to meet afterwards) braving the mud, bridge crossings and thin air. Fair play. It was overwhelming, the sheer number of young, old and female entrants on the Xterra Lite course. If you made it through the extreme conditions yesterday – you can make it through any course. Well done.

The last few kilometers needed tender shifting and no out the saddle accelerations. Mud had jinxed my chain, and my rear brake was at 20%. Braodside into corners is not the time to have only front brake stoppage. But she brought me home, and will never be the same again…

Was desperate for a strong run after a few weeks of niggling and inconsistent running. I could tell out the transition that my feet were at home. Not knowing any information had me pressing through the first lap of 5km with the  urgency of a warthog with aerial tail.

Turning for lap two I heard it was 7 min lead into T2. Relief. Tried to work on form and cadence from here, and get the work done for a solid prep race.

(The flights nearing Cape Town, and the baby in row 27 (I’m n 26!) is surely about to scream again.)

Kent ran down Charl to place second, so did Justin Porteus for third and a Belgium athlete for forth. Charl rounded the top five. Riana de Lange was did real well in extreme mountain biking for win the girls side.

If you were at the prize giving and had to endure the repeated calling of my name – my apologies. Was cleaning the bike on the farside of the camp misinformed on prize giving schedule. Alas.

Again – big up to Joburg for getting mudy en masse. The turn out was phenomenal. Well done for finishing.

so that ends 2009 racing.....

November 17, 2009

Aha, so that ends 2009 racing on a positive. Start 2010 early with another local multisport event on 9 Jan, before doing my 70.3 debut one week later in East London.

Have a read on my blog @

dghugo.com

Triple Challenge 2009 - Durban, South Africa

November 16, 2009

Three years ago I'd just pulled the plug on my final semester of a Bcomm Investment Management, and travelled up to an three stage mutlisport event starting in Pietermaritzburg (first UCI MTB venue of 2009) to race what I believed was the door to my first financial support. It turned out to be just that, and I cant imagine life any different now, but looking back at that chapter, and being "here" three years ago, far out, how brave and or foolish.

 The event starts with a 21km trail run, transitions into a 55km mtb leg, before finishing with a 20km flat water kayak section. Roughly 5.5hours of work through rural subsistence farming valleys dotted with mud huts and live stock kraal's. I'll be doing my best to dodge through the free roaming cattle and goats on route, and there will be countless of them. Its such an African day out, far more so than my usual first world Stellenbosch enclave.

My S-Works Epic has been rigged, tuned, and made race ready by Dylan van der Merwe - Specialized Factory Team Mechanic - who is based in my home town. I've not had his prep before, and seeing the meticulous attention to fine detail is unbelievable. Master links, plugs, spare tube, all perfectly wrapped with easy access on a small double folded last centre of electrical tape. Fine detail I'd not thought of before. So, bike is ready, and should be rocking out.

Will be running the Fast Trak SLK 2.0 as the bike route is mostly fast rolling jeep track, scattered tarmac sections, and a few natural livestock trails as single track. Might run a little higher pressure than usual, perhaps 32psi, for the course specific conditions. But then its bucketing outside as I write, and that could change it up a little. Suspension I'm indecisive on, perhaps 180psi in the rear Brain Mini, and 90psi in the E100, with over firm settings for the fast nature of the ride. Hopefully be the right call.

So I won that first race three years back, and got 2.5oz of gold for it. If only gold was trading at its current price... But it was the start in many ways, of a full time dream chasing career. I've won two since, and hoping to make tomorrow a 4th. But this is just a stepping stone along the base trail... Form is building real well, and starting to nurture expectations re 2010 and beyond, starting with 4 local events in Jan/Feb here in RSA.

Will keep you posted.

Cheers.

Dan

Back on the bike

September 11, 2009

At its peak, the flu pandemic had numerous schools closed for a week, university students mourning the death of a friend, and authority puzzled over where to from here. Stellenbosch seemed to be the centre of this swine flu mess, and I live in the centre of that centre. Alas. I seemed to be doing well in avoiding the aggressive flu strain, but ultimately had to succumb to its fangs.

After 17 days I mounted my S-Works Epic for a ginger 1hour spin. I’d spent the better part of 8days in bed, exhausted, sleeping 11hour nights and napping during the day. Like any athlete, I waded through near 20 DVD’s and two books, making up for lost time. The flu caused the onset of secondary infections, which I could have been more alert to, but tried to fight without antibiotics. So in all, it totaled two and a half frustrating weeks.

As opposed to racing Xterra Brazil as planned, I went to the family farm and hibernated under mother’s care. Alas. The plans changed further, as I’ve decided to stay home and let the international racing be for 2009. I’d like the create an opportunity from the illness to take a step back, lay down a significant base block which has been lacking, and build towards a strong 2010 and beyond.

17days and the body forgets; I hopped back on, and felt like a toddler trying walk. One leg going in one direction the other opposing. My posture felt uncomfortable, my lungs felt strained. But the greatest sensation was one of home, of being back where I should be, on the mountain bike.

It was in an isolated part of South Africa, hardly touched by modern development. And as good a venue as any for a “first date” with the mistress after being away… The sun was setting – my favourite time of day – and the changing light changed the colour of jet wind cloud streaks. Really magical. The kind of sight and moment one would not experience unless you did some sport.

So from here I’ll be back and forth on the Epic, Transition and Tarmac, putting low intensity high cadence time into the bag.

It’s good, to be riding again.

I dont shop much these days

August 17, 2009

I dont shop much these days, not as much as I used to at least, nor as much as I should. But did earlier, always on the rush, never quite knowing what I really need -but with some general impression - nor quite where to find everything I think could aid hunger and optimal health - and then finally, never quite sure on all I have in the basket - until checkout. Figure to tempt checkout tonight.

On the sunrise horizon (too short a night) the trip to Brazil has ambushed my training time line a little, but excited to be heading back to Rio de Janeiro next week Tuesday. Only a 17hour commute, which seems to manageable compared to the States. And time zone change is a little less. Second attempt at Xterra Brazil - new venue though. Little play time, and get back on the Monday 31st.

A few days in Bosch, before another weekend in Natal - complete with chain breaker and master link this time. Have planned to connect with a few guys who'd apparently like to meet and do a long ride, which should be a treat, and then race on the 6th at the 3rd Jeep Apparel Multisport Race at Nagle Dam. Felt like such a clown, again, last weekend. Perplexed how I navigated hazardous mistakes through seven races in the States without misfortune? Twas the third multisport event in Natal I'd hashed in a total amature fashion. One last year, and two this season. Alas. Cheers to better days. One of the things I love about racing, the promise of a better day, never far off. Its half the life blood of us athletes, that form of reality escape, ever lifting one's gaze to the future.

That leaves me with two weeks of quality training in Spring time Stellenbosch, before returning States side for 5 weeks, 2 races, and 1 big goal - Maui. My mother dearest celebrates a significant birthday September 19th, and I have decided to hang for it. Which leaves a short week to get to Ogden, Utah, for the USA Series Final on the 27th. Am thinking midst my new found NYC infatuation that I may travel only to the East Coast, settle for two days, and then migrate further West to the Ogden, and drive from there back to Truckee for three and a half weeks of altitude tuning before Xterra World Champs in Maui.

As you gather, I've not finalised the travel and am leaving it well late, somewhere on the 'desperately must do list".

Fancy the idea of travelling back the other way round the globe, and stopping in Tokyo on return from Maui. Wonder if such a ticket would be possible? Great thought though. Been wanting to get there for a while. Either way, that gets me to early November. Gary I have discussed trying to keep it going a little more than last year to have better form and more racing options locally through the summer. Would very much like to do the Hell and Back; a 2day mtb event near Oudshorn on the 9th, and then attempt a 4th win at the Triple Challenge on the new date weekend of the 15th. Out of character, but considering joining the 2XU lads round the Double Century end November.

And thats all the stern checkout girl bills me for on the race pile.

Why did I just finish the 2l Ginger Beer? Oh dear. Might haunt me in the sack just now. Oh well. In that context, still very much enjoying being home. Many small flavours and smells and conveniences that shape my time here. Stellenbosch is visually so striking with greenery through the blackened hillsides many a perfect winters day. But the fronts are rolling through too, and weights the 'restday convictions' in the wrong direction. Not been on the farm as much as I'd like. Still flat hunting in Bosch. Time to trade the Principality of Mon Desir. So good to be indulging at Greengate - big news on the greengate horizon - blog post soon, and much enjoyed time with Naude at Eden Health - but been so stiff, and Pilates is always a treat. But I have learnt the distant longing thereof is more romantic than the actual 1h class...

Sponsorship side has me really excited. All seems well, and have new kit with Luma in the pipeline which has me amped. Something different. Seems I'll have a major opportunity with Tropitone, in trying to position the brand in the sports arena in South Africa. The first time a brand would like to use my identity as much. Seems the latest cover on Runners World and the article inside has been received well. Hope you read it. I sure havent. Dont have the bravery for it, and can only hope it was heavily edited. Anyhow, I owe my dreamGivers an update (also on that list...), but otherwise all rosy.

Mmm, the checkout girl is polite, but suggests subtly I dont have enough sleep in my basket. In the context of the desert and wholesome goodness and all. So will stop it at that, and leave my play time checkout for a rainy day. Thanks for wading through all that, am not even going to myself to edit all the mistakes... You're more loyal than I. I.

Stats for Dan Hugo are coming soon.