I tell Hilke, this is our annual holiday right? We won’t be doing anything too difficult as I don’t want to arrive at the start of the Styrkeproven tired. It worked, but Hilke proved just how tough she is by taking in the huge climb up the Vikafjellet pulling our beautiful daughter up the mountain in the burly trailer. I struggled too, an extra 30 kg makes a huge difference and I just couldn’t get along with the one wheel Bob trailer.
Too soon the holiday was over and it was time to focus on the race. Herwig had booked us into accommodation just a few km’s from the race start area and the pre-race HQ from where we picked up our tickets (and met up with Henrieke to wish each other success!) was even closer. We rode together to drop off my trailer, only to find no truck to load it onto and the news I’d have to return with it in the morning, just before the start. Not ideal. So next up a shopping trip to pick up food for our pre-race meal and the next mornings breakfast, after which we turned in early. I didn’t sleep well, in truth I never do before these kind of events.
Up early the next morning, I make my porridge, eat bread and jam and drink copious amounts of tea. I’m in the zone and hardly notice Herwig doing his own thing with his breakfast. Little is said between us, this is what we have come for and we both find our own way of processing it. I leave the apartment first to drop off the trailer, which was a simple and straight forward job. Then Herwig arrives and we wait to be called forward. Now it begins.
The starting pace was gentle, but the riders were nervous. As we increased pace the riding became more erratic and I became more alarmed, calling out on more than one occasion for riders to ‘calm down’. I feared a collision and so moved forward in the group to get closer to the front and the safety of the more experienced riders. It worked and soon we were rolling along at a decent pace with no further need to feather my brakes. I felt we were flying, with Herwig tucked in just behind. Then he called out. I wasn’t sure what he had said, but suspected it was he needed to slow down because of a problem. My decision was instantaneous and may seem to some wrong, but this was a long, long event and we would at times have to ride our own race. I left him behind, not wanting to forgo the drafting and speed the front riders were giving me.
The group thinned down as we hit the feed stations and I ended up riding alone, as I would invariably leave the feed stations earlier than the other riders. I felt strong, so was not worried by this, but was also smart enough to jump on any wheels that came passing by at a pace I was happy with. It was a good strategy, by the half way point I was under 10 hours total time which would more than see me achieve my own personal target that I had set myself.
Sat on a bench eating my sandwich, I hear a familiar voice and turn to see Herwig standing there. I was surprised, I genuinely never expected to see him again until the finish. I listened to his tale of woe, the puncture, the chain. I’m kind, but think only a fool arrives for such an important event with a tyre and bike not in tip-top condition (I later tell Herwig this and he agrees with me!). We decide to ride together and are soon on the road again, setting a nice tempo. I’m genuinely pleased with how strong Herwig appears as we have been working together on his training/coaching and it’s good to see it showing such results. As the day begins to come to an end, he announces that at the next feed station he will change the tyre, not wanting to go into the night with a possible problem. Hmm I think, as long as it’s a quick job. Then he announces he will wait 20 minutes for the mechanic to change the tyre (I never did get a reasonable answer as to why HE could not do this!) and I initially decide to wait with him, but after eating double helpings of sandwiches and soup and no sign of a mechanic, I decide to leave and tell Herwig I will ride slowly to allow him to catch up.
I’ll never know if the following hours riding (that’s how long it took Herwig to catch up) at a silly slow pace cost me my own personal finishing time, because I broke two of my own rules. The first was don’t slow down unnecessarily and the second was NEVER ride at another riders pace if you are uncomfortable with it. Now here’s the rub; I could never complete the high intensity sessions I had been giving Herwig, my one remaining lung made that kind of effort impossible to breathe, but Herwig, well it had made a huge difference to his riding. He was much stronger than me and while in the early part of our riding together I could hold his wheel, later it became a trial of strength the like of which I’ve seldom experienced. Only pride and stubbornness kept me from getting dropped (and of course the kindness of Herwig himself) but I was suffering. By the time we reached the final 30 km’s I was done in, I reached into my very soul to find a strength I never believed I had in me. My lung was on fire, my legs were shredded and yet still the hills kept coming. I’d get out of the saddle to ease the pain in my backside, but my legs would almost buckle from the effort. Six kilometres from the finish I told Herwig to go, I didn’t know if I’d have to walk the final hill to the finish and needed to find something special. I thought back to October 2012 when I stood in the oncologists office and his words to me: “12 months, 18 at best”. ‘Fuck you’ I shouted aloud, you will not deny me. I sped up – did I actually close the huge gap Herwig had made on me? (he finished 3 minutes in front) and crossed the finish line, lung heaving. I never really noticed the girl placing the medal around my neck, I had spotted Herwig and quickly made my way across. A feeble ‘high five’ from me, but the smiles said it all. We had done it.
I am so proud of the people who made this possible. We couldn’t have asked for better companions than Diana and Herwig on our vacation and the help they provided. Four Trapsters set out and four finished, heroes all. But the biggest hero of all was my wife Hilke. Next up, I’m hoping to ride the Race Across Germany, 1,100 km’s in 56 hours. After that? well then it really gets silly!