Diabetes Adventure Type 1 Cape Epic Railway tracks

Taking on the infamous railway tracks. photo:sportograf.com <http://sportograf.com>

The 2010 Absa Cape Epic as a type 1 diabetic weekend warrior.

“One day I would do the EPIC”, this sentiment was quickly established in the two years that I have cycled.  But this was for “future Darol” and not me now.  I entered the Lottery thinking, “Why not?  What are the chances I’ll get in?”. But with just 51 days to the start, my partner Mike Bissett and I were offered an entry.   The Absa Cape Epic is an 8 day 722km Mountain Bike Stage Race. It is considered to be one of the hardest in the world and I didn’t even have the right bike for it, Being a type 1 diabetic, this was no small ordeal.  On the upside, I was getting the hold of exercising with the two tools that became invaluable to me in the next two months, my insulin pump and CGM (Continuous blood Glucose Monitor).

Within 2 weeks we had secured 1 entry into The EPIC, acquired 2 bicycles and clocked up 30 hours on the bikes. It was all or nothing.  My body wasn’t quite ready for what I was to subject it to, including up to 18 hours a week on the bike and much abuse from the physiotherapy!  As a diabetic, good nutrition and blood sugar management were essential during training and the race. Mike lost 9 kg in 2 weeks of this training because he wasn’t taking enough nutrition in. (Not that he didn’t have anything to lose, mind.)

As we had no idea what to expect and had only heard “horror” stories of Epic, we started off at Sunday afternoon drive pace.  By the first water point, we weren’t even going to make the 9 hour cut off for stage 1.  After water point 2 my CGM was alarming to the extent that I was ready to break it.  Thank goodness,  for without it I would never have noticed that my sugar levels were skyrocketing.  I took a few units of insulin without getting off my bike (a proud moment) and we punished the next hill.  Shortly afterwards that familiar incessant alarming started again, “low predicted”.   I promptly smashed an energy gel plastered muffin and my sugar decided to co-operate.  That was the last time I gave myself so much insulin! Another few hours of riding down, some sweating, much inspiration in the form of mad screaming and nonstop noise making from friends and family and we made it to the train tracks.  The train tracks (insert inappropriate word here), 12km of the hardest riding I have ever done, endless sleeper after sleeper!  Eight and a half hours had seemed like forever, but we had made it to the end of the first stage.

My hardest day was definitely the second day – admittedly it was of my own doing.  Of the 90km of this stage 70km of it was single track, some of the best single track in South Africa! I have an affinity for single track, thus, true to style, I went bananas and with 20km to go I blew (it must have been the non-single track section of the ride).  I have very little recollection of those last 20km apart from glimpses of soft beach sand and Bissett pushing me on the hills and flats. The end of this day will stay in my memory forever.  We came up to the finish line and 2 of our mates were waiting there, it was the start of the first-ever “post-ride humour” session.  “Post ride humour” is rather like hang-over humour. Your body is so tired and broken that your mind doesn’t want to think, and everything that anyone says is the funniest thing you have ever heard. Friends, adventure, exercise, pushing your limits and just awesome people, hands down one of the best moments of my life.

Biscuit looking pretty…

Keeping a sensible head is vital, without it one could find oneself out of the race very quickly. I found it really hard to hold myself back on the mesmerizing descents the Epic had to offer. I remember coming over a hill to see Worcester, the finish and home for the next two nights.  Typically, with no regard to “Future Darol”, I let go of all form of self-control and bombed the next hill at mid 70km/h getting a puncture, overshooting the corner and narrowly missing some barbed wire.  Surprisingly Bissett wasn’t pleased with my spectacular performance and I got a well-deserved talking to. The talking too and my attention span did not last longer than over the next rise where I instantly dismissed all caution.  I smashed what Bissett called a crater (or I’m not sure what he called it, but it was something vastly exaggerated, any other tyre would have handled it fine!) at about 60km/h ripping the sidewall of my tyre.  “Present Darol” acknowledges that this was not clever with 5 days to go!

My CGM proved its worth. Often thinking my blood sugar was pretty stable, I would hear my pump alarm and my sugar would be at either extreme. Being so tired it was hard to distinguish whether I had blown, or if my sugar was just low!  The first few kilometres of every day my bum was too sore to sit and legs too drained to stand, leaving me out of options.  Much to my bums’ dismay, my legs won. Your body is broken, but they say that once you have passed day 3 you have made it, no kidding if your body had let you come this far your brain would take you the rest of way.

By legs or brain, we made it to the final stage, over the Gamtoe pass and down to Lorensford -the finish of the 2010 ABSA Cape Epic. As much as I now hate the Black Eyed Peas for the now way too familiar “tonight’s gonna be a good night” (one of the epics theme songs), I didn’t care as it blasted when we crossed the finish line. In fact, there is nothing better in my memory than crossing the line to that song (Although Hansons’ mbop probably would have had the same effect).  We had done it, and it only took us 49 hours 13 minutes and placing us 265th out of the 600 teams to start. Not bad for a hazardous (riding wise) diabetic and just 51 days of training. I would never have finished without the support from my friends, family, insulin pump and most of all my level-headed riding partner Biscuit. Thank you!

This was possibly the hardest thing I have ever done but given the chance, I’d do it again and again and again!

Finish of the the Absa Cape Epic with Type 1 diabetes

Mike and myself on the podium!