The philosopher Nietzsche had a lot of strange ideas. ‘What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,’ is one of his more popular quotes. For no reason at all, this thought struck me out of the blue while I was ascending The Wall in Timberland last Saturday in All Terra’s King of the Mountain bike race.
I was with more than a hundred other bikers who were struggling up the steepest part of the dreaded Wall, drawing heavy breaths, gritting their teeth, grinding their cranks, giving everything their legs could possibly give, but I was also wondering: will I get stronger after this or will I simply drop dead? While marinating in gallons of my own sweat, the outcome seemed more like the latter. But I kept two fingers crossed while I held on to my handlebars.
The King of the Mountain race is one of the more prestigious MTB events in the country. The last time it was held was over four years ago. It takes bikers up the torturous 2 kilometer uphill from Aling Tina’s carinderia to the gates of Timberland, and then up the Wall 2, and then into the Blue Zone and Green Zone trails. The race features lots of climbs, fast descents, technical maneuvering, and some very beautiful scenery. The route also requires lots of guts and power.
It was also my first MTB race, and I was dreading the idea of finishing dead last. Thus, during the weeks leading up to the King of the Mountain, I mapped out a training plan which I thought would help me do well in the race. To do well, of course means, to not suck–my slacker goals are always modest.
The training plan involved lots of pain and suffering: twice a week climbs up to Timberland, three hours of hard cycling everyday in UP, and (most painful of all) avoidance of beer. The hope was that by subjecting myself to such torment, the slings and arrows of outrageous racing would be a piece of cake. I was pretty sure, old Friedrich would have twiddled his walrus mustache and approved.
But the morning of the race, I was sucking… big time. No surprise there, as I’d forgotten the training plan almost as soon as I made it. Twice a week climbs to Timberland? I managed only one climb during the entire 20 day interval between my last trail run and this bike race. Biking hard for three hours everyday? But who could possibly bike in all that rain? In all that heat? In all that… stuff (insert more lame excuses here.) And how about avoiding beer? Hahaha. But without beer, how could I possibly bring back fluids into my body?
What can I say? The slack is strong in this one.
Thankfully, by the time I cleared the hardest part of the Wall, something began to kick in. My legs were not as tired as I thought they’d be, and I was beginning to pass other bikers who started ahead of me. By the time I crossed Timberland’s gates the suck seemed to have subsided. I was feeling like I was in my element again. Maybe that trail run in Daraitan three weeks ago did me some good? Who knows?
The transition from pavement to trail as we entered the Blue Zone however, required another adjustment. This beautifully twisty and flowy route required a higher level of technical bike handling skills. Apparently, those skills can only be had through lots of practice on technical bike trails, which I never had. Skilled descenders began to pass me as I fumbled my way through the Blue Zone’s berms.
Then, like a lightning bolt from the thundercloud of the gods, an apparition of a mountain biker passed me on a gnarly descent. If anyone ever deserved the nickname Super Lolo, this guy would have to be it. He was probably over 60 years old already, and he rode an old rigid bike which looked like it was cobbled up from parts left over from the Japanese occupation. But man, did he ride it with style!
The almost unrideable stretches of slippery and muddy ascents however allowed me to catch up with some of the riders who passed me earlier. On sunnier days, some of these sections could have been ridden. But because the slopes were rain-soaked, bikers had to dismount and push their rigs up, all the while grabbing at tree branches and tall grasses to keep themselves from sliding down.
It was a relief to finally hear the noise of the finish line as I began to exit the Green Zone. I wanted to punch the air in triumph in the tradition of Tour de France as I crossed the finish line, but I thought I’d probably look foolish if I crashed while doing that, so I didn’t.
All in all it was a great event. It was my first time ever to join a pure mountain bike race (offroad duathlon doesn’t count) and I guess I achieved my goal of not sucking… too much. I finished no. 49 out of 77 in my age group, and no. 147 out of over 200 racers. Pretty sobering stuff since I was able to finish no. 17 out of 105 participants in the trail run I last joined.
But at the end of the event, I was quite relieved that I was still breathing, that I could still stand up, and that I hadn’t dropped dead. Nietzsche may be on to something there. But was I stronger? Maybe.
Anyway, Kudos to Bong Madriaga for pushing me to sign up! 🙂 And congratulations to all the winners, and everyone who took part in this race. To the organizers: another serving please, and soon! Participants who want to check out how well they did in the race can visit Mountain Bike Philippines for the complete list.