The Freedom Challenge

The Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa is an "unsupported" non-stage mountain bike race of approximately 2,300 km across South Africa. While recent winners have won in around 11 days, the race cut-off is 26 days. The race starts in Pietermaritzburg in early-to-mid-June, and ends in Paarl near Cape Town. Temperatures are known to drop as low as minus-10 deg. Celsius. While there are periodic "support stations" which will feed and accommodate riders should they require, the race is unsupported in the sense that riders must carry their own clothing and equipment, are responsible for their own maintenance and navigation (without the aid of GPS), and there are no marshalls or safety officials on the course (Race monitoring is done by satellite tracking). Estimates of cumulative ascent are around 37,000 metres, and the highest point on the route is approximately 2,700 metres above sea level. See the following link for an introductory slideshow by Mike Roy -

Monday, 18 June 2012

Final part of the pre-race interview with Glenn Harrison

We're all set for the big start of Batch J tomorrow morning. The final part of the pre-race interview with Glenn Harrison involves his pre-race preparations. Enjoy...

JL (John Loos): “Now we know a bit about Alex’s (Harris) training, because he tweets his 30 laps up Northcliff Hill and other such stuff….what’s your style of preparation?

Glenn: “This year I approached things differently..I spent more time on the bike. In previous years, because I do a lot of trail building and work on mountain bike events, I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors…and that’s a form of physical training because it’s a long and physical day….and it’s time on your feet. And I also rode whenever I got the chance, but my training wasn’t very structured.

This year, I went as far as getting a coach, and trying to structure things better.. But mainly just riding at slightly higher intensity...higher intensity than what it requires on the race. So that’s something I’ve done differently, and I’ve definitely seen a difference on the bike. I have a little bit more power, and can keep a slightly higher average speed. And that was the goal…to get faster on the bike. It hasn’t all gone 100% according to plan, but that is something that, if I can tap into that on the race it will make a difference. A lot of my higher intensity training has been on a stationary bike, so I’ve done interval sets at sort of medium-to-three quarter pace intensity for up to 4 hours on a stationary bike which is in itself a bit of a mental training session just to stick it out on a stationary bike. So I’ve done it very differently this year. I’ve definitely spent more time in the saddle. I’ve been working harder on the bike.

I did hope to do a little bit more running than I have done, but not much I can do about that now. So, ja, more time on the bike and training on a stationary bike were the differences this year.
But I have been sick recently, so that may have an effect on me (going into the race). I had an aggressive start planned, but I’m not quite sure that I’m going t be up to it…just because I haven’t been able to train right through to the end. But that we’ll see on Day 1. So at the moment I’m thinking maybe a slightly more conservative start, and then pick up speed  once I get going.

Also, riding with gears this year is very different. There are parts where you can capitalize on that…where you can make up a lot of distance compared to the single speed (Glenn has ridden on a single speed bike in previous races). So it’s going to be very interesting, and it’s a different type of ride for me. Whereas you have to be very aggressive on a single speed, and attack all the hills to get up them otherwise you have to walk, now I’ve got the option of spinning up the hills in an easy gear. So there’ll be a lot more spinning/pedaling up hills rather than walking, and hopefully the niggles that you get in your knees and ankles etc will not be such a factor. But it’s a very different ride for me…a bit like attempting the race for the 1st time. ..obviously just knowing the route.

JL: “Do you think the gears alone are going to make you significantly faster?”

Glenn: “Ja, if they don’t give me mechanical issues in the mud then ….

JL: “And for the laymen listeners is that the main reason for riding on a single speed…maintenance issues?”
Glenn: “Well, there’s a single speed record, so that was one of the reasons…to go for that record, but single speeding in a race like this….there’s a whole component that you don’t have to think about in terms of maintenance…especially if you ride on a rigid fork. The bike…basically you can abuse the bike. All you really have to do is lube (lubricate) your chain. There were times last year when we rode through some really bad mud, and even with a single speed I was having to lube quite often as the chain was getting sticky. It wouldn’t stop me riding, but I would have to pay a bit more attention to it, and I was glad I didn’t have a derailer, because it can be quite frustrating. But, yes, so riding with gears you have to look after your bike more than with a single speed, so there’s more time involved there. But then  it (gears) makes you faster  when everything’s working well…and you’re definitely running at a higher average speed, so it does have an advantage. I think it is from after Rhodes…after all the big portages where you start hitting the flatter sections and get a bit of momentum going (that gears will be more advantageous)

JL: “And the rest of the year. What other events do you do, if any?

Glenn: “Actually, part of my build up for this year’s Freedom Challenge has been to do 24 hour races. I’ve done 3 of them now since December , so those are the other events I do, mainly because they are quite similar to a day on the Freedom Challenge. It’s a bit of a simulation exercise. I did a 24 hour race single speed, and the idea was to see how far I could go in 24 hours, and at what intensity you have to ride in order to go that far. That was a good exercise to do, because you go through very similar fatigue on a 24 hour race. You are actually going at a higher intensity than you would on the Freedom Challenge, but you don’t have to navigate and there’s a whole mental part of it that starts coming into play, so it’s a good physical simulation of what’s required in 24 hours. And the main idea was to try to ride more than 300 kms in 24 hours. It went well on the one race… JL: “It was quite a hilly route I gather?  …  Glenn: “The first race wasn’t too hilly. It had a couple of stiff little climbs but that wasn’t the main feature. It was a more technical ride..quite tight twisty riding. I went and did one in the Cape which was very hilly and a very rough course, a hard course, and hard on a rigid bike as well. I did that one with gears, but had nutrition issues and stopped riding after 12 hours. So, the whole idea was to ride more than 300 kms , or to see how long it took to ride 200 kms, and the one race I finished the24 hours and went more than 300 kms. The other 2 races I stopped after 12 hours having done 200 kms, and pulling out because of some sort of problem. The 2nd one which I didn’t finish was nutrition-related…and I was experimenting with different types of nutrition there as see what worked and what didn’t work….and also to see when you’ve hit the wall what can you do to try and bring yourself back, i.e. what gets you going again after you’ve hit the wall. All of this was with the Freedom Challenge in mind. That was very useful preparation, because I think there are going to be some pushes this year where I’m going to (need to) draw on that experience…either because you’ve pushed too hard and you have to nurse yourself back to just normal riding (strength), or in terms of knowing what’s possible over what type of terrain in 24 hours. So, that was something different as well and that was all part of the training.

JL: “And nutrition-wise, do you want to give anything away in that regard?

Glenn: “Yes, nutrition for me is very difficult. I’ve had a history of stomach upsets on this race….JL: “I believe you were on bread and milk last year?”…Glenn: “Ja, on day 3 last year I think I got some dodgy food in in Rhodes, because other people were also sick after Rhodes, but my stomach was horribly upset and bloated, and I had no energy, and the wheels were coming off. I lost my appetite, but when it came back a couple of hours later I wanted fat. So it was full cream milk and bread and butter. That’s what I rode on for about 5 days …JL: “Sounds like Tim Noakes…Fat and protein…Glenn: “Exactly, that’s actually what I experimented with in the 24 hour race, was to ride on fat and protein….JL: “so is there something in Tim Noakes’ diet?...Glenn: Well find I found is that it works for me as long as I don’t go too hard. As soon as you’re going at a certain intensity then you need carbs (carbohydrates) and the type of carbs that your body can absorb quicker. So, that was part of the experiment and I know that now…and I’ve been using a wide variety of stuff. But on this race you can’t just ride on supplements and energy drinks (alone). It’s 12 days of riding so you’ve got to eat. And fortunately your body tells you exactly what it wants through its cravings. So some days you’re eating savoury stuff and others you’re eating sugary stuff. My race boxes (the ice cream tubs that are pre-packed and delivered to support stations in advance of the race) are packed with both savoury and sweet stuff, and some of it won’t get eaten because I just know that when I get there I won’t be craving that. But all the stuff that you pack is just supplementary stuff to the food that you get given along the way. And getting good food in is crucial JL: “And along the route you pretty much eat whatever is put in front of you and as much as you can?”….Glenn: “Ja, possibly not as much as you can. I tend to over-eat because one has such a huge appetite. But that tends to throw my stomach out so I’ll be a little bit more disciplined with the eating. But, ja, I might end up riding on milk again, I don’t know…it depends what the body craves. Luckily there its quite clear what you want because you have a craving for something.

JL: “And last question. I’ve heard that there’s going to be a single-speed world championship held somewhere in South Africa. Are you going to be there?”

Glenn: “I’ve actually been asked to help with the route….JL: “No Man you must ride it….Glenn: “Ja, so I am going to be involved, but not just sure how yet. I might ride it, but you know I still have to ride Freedom Challenge, and come through that without injury. That’s an event that’s happening about 3 months after this one so here’s still time to decide. But I will be involved in the  event in some way.

JL: “Glenn, thanks a lot and good luck with the race”.

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