Type 1 diabetic Darol Howes crossing the finish of the 2011 Cape Epic

The Finish of the 2011 ABSA Cape Epic

I love the Cape Epic. It has a special place in my heart and awakens an inbred need to break myself physically and mentally. I love that your mind is no-where but right where you are, no facebook, email, sms, bbm, phone calls and Twitter posts to worry about. I love those training weekends, where you finish a 10hr plus ride, out in the middle of no-where, mountains, fynbos and dust. At the end of the day you are absolutely stuffed and humbled by the environment. Weirdly, that stuffed, every muscle is crying for arnica, “I wish I put on more chamois cream” feeling is the best I felt all week… That’s why I love the Cape Epic- You feel like that every day for 8 days in a row. It’s the best 8 days of the year, Period. The only problem to my best 8 days of the year is that I am a type 1 diabetic. This quite obviously provides its own problems without regard to Dr Evil’s (the cape epics route designer) sick sense of humour and “why go around the mountain when you can go straight over the top, around it then over the top again??” mentality. So here are a few problems with a few solutions.

P:  I’m Type 1 Diabetic-My body can’t regulate its blood sugar level.

S: Insulin Pump (Medtronic paradigm . system) +CGM(Continuous blood Glucose . Monitor)+Contour TS

P: Hypoglycaemia

S: Hammer gel, Dextrose, Coke +anything I . can find at the water points+ Bruce . Hughes to tow me there..

P: Hyperglycaemia

S:More Insulin, rehydrate, water, chill

P: 707km, 14000m of climbing

S:Self-build On-One Skandal 29er bicycle(My weapon of choice)

P: Blowing with 70km to go… 

S:Bruce Hughes (My partner and spare . . legs..)

P: Loss of humour

S: H.T.F.U. (Harden the F^&* up)

I was supposed to ride the Epic with Kat (Legend), but due to a tumble at the top of Black Mountain in Lesotho in some horrible conditions, Kat was less one collar bone- Long story Short , I was riding with “Spruise” Bruce, and this wasn’t going be easy, as Spruise (soon to be known as Sprusifer), is a beast on a bike.

The Joys of Mountain Biking…

Day 1 was in the form of a Prologue on my home turf, Tokai. Early Sunday morning I cycled there from Kats house with Bruce. Excitement filled my veins, Mediclinc kit looked supreme, my On-One Skandal 29er was a mere extension of my legs and I got to ride my local course to start. Arriving early we were greeted by many friends and family.

I check my sugar in the start ramp, 6.4 and on the rise, Perfect. One more squirt of gel.

“10 seconds to start”, “deet, deet, deet, deet, doooood!” Down the ramp and I could hardly ride, weird what excitement will do. It was an awesome course: lots of single track to keep me happy, plenty hill to separate the field and one goal: to beat the Belgium guys in their onesy skin suits… Once at the top, we flew down overtaking team after team on the single track until the last section, part of the downhill course I knew like the back of my hand. Hopping both sections of roots, clearing the next gap, I was feeling good(too good). I then tried to overtake the next team by taking the shorter Jump (cocky and  really silly), I cleared the landing completely, landed in sand and pretty soon I could see the other rider’s crankset, eyelevel… Thank goodness I never took him out (humblest apologies mate)! Bike, check, me sort of check. Scramble back on the bike for the remaining kilometre, front wheel soft, bar end broken, skew bars and I couldn’t see much through my lenses, But hey- nothing broken. We finished 105th(mens) 1hr 27mins. Good thing I was wearing Mediclinc kit, I got some extra special attention at the Mediclinc.

A little battered on the Prologue..

Stage 1 and 2 were in Tulbagh, A hot, dry, rocky and sandy place nestled between 2 mountains, perfect for Dr. Evil to set out an epic course. Not to disappoint both days were proper! Gruelling uphills, some not ride able and some awesome (even more awesome if had a downhill bike) downhills. After a perfect (sugar wise) stage 1, stage 2 was a night mare- getting my sugar up seemed impossible. I was Eating at every opportunity, I Stopped my insulin completely. I rode on my hypoglycaemic limit for most of the day. Small spirits of energy let me accelerate a bit but ultimately my sugar would drop again. Or at least till I came off very hard again doing about 40km/h on a slight bend (low sugar induced), This caused some much-needed adrenaline, and a sugar spike(thank goodness). The limp to the finish was sheer pain… My legs, my bruises and my blood sugar…. one-word: VASBYT!

Stage 3 was a special one… One of the hardest to meet the Cape Epic I imagine.  Tulbagh to Worcester. Coming out the blocks quicker than I have ever and a low sugar hitting just a few kilometres in I knew it was going to be a long one. Fortunately, the road turned from bad to horrific and my technical skills meant I could catch up without loss of energy or sugar for that matter and my blood sugar came right for the rest of the day. I was in sheer pleasure now, I was riding strong again with no sugar worries just crushing the hills into Worcester. Result: 93rd men’s category.

The Worcester Time trial was spectacular. Definitely my favourite days racing and the hardest I have ever pushed on a bike. We had a late start time this morning so I thought I could get my blood sugar right for a change. BUT I took too much insulin too late and my sugar was plummeting in the start shoot. Have you ever chugged down (or tried to) a bottle of Energy gel (25 gu servings)? Well, I tried and nearly lost the contents of my stomach onto the team in front of us. Revolting!

We set out chilled and slowly picked it up. The course was awesome- with tough technical climbs and sweeping single track. We started eating several teams for breakfast. Bruce was on fire this morning, crushing the mean climbs as if he had a score to settle. Up the last climb of the day, my Insulin Pumps started alarming… “Low Predicted” thank goodness it was time to go down. And oh man was it an amazing downhill! Across the line: 101st overall.

 Time for the big day, 150km from Worcester to Grabouw over Groelandberg… Not one I was looking forward too as there is a lot of flat at the start of the route. Something I really struggled with was keeping up on the flat. Anyhow this day got much worse than that! From the start, my continuous monitor was alarming “Low Predicted”. “Dee J Vu” I thought. As usual, I was taking in a lot of fast acting carbs to try getting it up. It never came up! By the time we got to water point one, I knew something was wrong.. A little too late, I tested my sugar and it was 27mmol/l! Not great if you sleeping, let alone planning on riding a further 110km… The Mediclinc staff at the water point showed great concern and definitely did not want me to carry on. After about 40mins, two of our mates Cam and Vogel cycled in and we joined them. (Vogel being a 6th-year med student my parents and the paramedics were a little happier I think) Heading out at a much slower pace and relaxing a bit, my sugar slowly came back to normal. I rehydrated and was ready to go with about 60km to go. Hammering it home, Bruce’s rear derailleur (the gear changer at the back) broke so he had to ride single speed for the last 30km. Never the less we made up about 50 places and came home properly broken in 265th place for the day… Moral of the story, always trust your body and use your GCM as a reference, not fact.

Our Cozzie tents at Oak Valley

Stage 6 was on our home turf, Grabouw, and we were expecting to smash it. But yesterday’s high had left my legs and body broken. I was left at the start line from the front group. Once over Groelandberg for the 2nd time, I could see our batch at the bottom. Needless to say, we descended like men possessed and brought ourselves back into the group. Then S$%^ hit the fan, my sugar went low big time. So low I couldn’t ride- I even went straight at a fork in the road (Yes, straight into the bushes). This was possibly the hardest I have ever buried myself while being pushed by Bruce for the next 30km up Mt Lebanon. Until we met my old friend- the Lebanon Trails… 30km of mind-blowing trails lay between us and the finish. YES! Winding through the unnecessary single track in Oak Valley we pushed hard taking many teams on the run in. When we crossed that finish line I can honestly say that I had absolutely nothing left.  I have to thank Bruce for that 30km push how he did that I have no idea and the utmost respect.

Few memories beat climbing the waggon trail above Sir Lowery’s Pass to see the finish of the ABSA Cape epic in the distance, Truly Iconic. The Last 20km of the day were possibly the fastest of all and still the feeling of arriving on the grass fields of Lourensford gives me goosebumps. 2 BIG crashes and a blood sugar that resemble Wall Street Stocks in 1929; this was the hardest I have ever pushed myself both mentally and physically and I will cherish the memory forever! Weirdly I really enjoyed it too…


The ABSA Cape Epic 2011 707km, 14000m of climbing, Overall Time: 41:06.26,7 Overall Position: 96 (Men’s) and in 147 (GC) TICK!!!!!!!!!!!

Keep the rubber side down-It helps!-Darol