Well here’s some tips from four-time finisher Chris Whitfield: If you have a family, sit down and tell them you’re not going to be seeing that much of them over the six months up to March, 2018. You’ll be training early in the morning or in the evening and going for very long rides on weekend mornings … so long that you will barely be able to do much more afterwards than sleep them off.
Then go and invest in a good set of lights for the aforementioned early morning or late evening/night rides and get yourself a training programme. The growth of the race has been matched by a similar number of people offering training schedules and it is definitely advisable to get their advice.
But back in 2006 when I entered for the first time there weren’t many around, so I went online for advice and developed my own six-month schedule (basically I calculated the speed required to finish each day comfortably and trained to be able to achieve that on similar terrain).
My programme evolved over the years: in 2013 from the beginning of September through to the race in March I did the following number of hours per week: 10h39m; 11h35m; 4h12m (restricted by illness); 8h0m; 13h04m; 16h01m; 16h00m; 15h08m; 10h13m; 14h22m; 14h12m; 15h49m; 13h27m; 10h22m; 14h21m; 6h52 (rest week); 18h10m; 16h20m; 21h06m; 11h07m (rest week); 16h38m; 17h51m; 12h44m (rest week); 15h44m; 19h13m; 12h24m (rest week); 15h20m; 6h44m (tapering); and 6h02m.
During this time I took part in several stage or one-day races, where the riding was more intense than in training. During the six weeks prior to the Cape Epic I also did intervals and some intense hill work.
I based this approach on refining my efforts over the three previous events I had done (in 2006, 2007 and 2009) and it seemed to work for me. That said, my brother and partner in 2013 took a more scientific approach, with more intensity and fewer hours and arrived at the event in about the same condition as I was. This latter approach has become increasingly popular with sport scientists, who will tell you that it is quality and not quantity that counts.
Whatever method you choose, you will want to arrive at the race confident you can manage the tougher stages – of more than 100km with loads of climbing.
And don’t neglect your skills. All that time on the bike should sharpen you up, but even the very best riders go for skills lessons and you would be well advised to do so: being tense on descents and difficult technical sections can drain your energy as much as climbing. There are also skills required when climbing on sketchy surfaces and these are worth acquiring.
Related to skills is your choice of bike. If you are not racing, you might want to use a bike that has more relaxed geometry, which most major brands are now producing. This makes the technical parts of the ride easier and sits you in a more relaxed position, for which you will be very grateful after a few back-breaking days out there. Similarly, go for a dual suspension bike: even the racing snakes are doing so these days.
And learn to do all the necessary trailside repairs. These range from fixing a small puncture or a tear in the wheel to replacing a broken chain link or temporarily turning the bike into singlespeed to overcome a broken derailleur. You can look up most of these on YouTube or there are mechanics who offer lessons.
Another aspect of your preparation should be mental: there will without a doubt be times during the eight days of the Epic when you go into what some like to call “dark places”, when you wonder what on earth you are doing this for and are tempted to throw it all in. The best preparation for this is to do some other tough events, where you will learn that the bad times inevitably become good. Or you toughen up to the point where even the bad times are good.
There are a 1000 different theories out there about diet and nutrition. Start experimenting early in your training and find what works for you (or get advice from a nutritionist). You will be tempted to pig out because of all the energy you are burning, but it is important that you eat sensibly and arrive at the start as trim as you can be: no point in buying super light equipment if the rider is a tub of lard.
You will also want to ensure that your bike is in great shape for the event: give it a thorough service and put on a new drive train and tyres before the event.
And then it is the race, but more about that later.
There are probably three keys to finishing a Cape Epic. The first is good physical condition, the second is mental strength and the third is a bit of luck – that your bike doesn’t break or you have a bad crash (and as Gary Player once said, the more you practise the luckier you get).
And the best way to address all three is preparation, preparation and preparation.