Craig McKune
Craig McKune

A beer at the finish line please

I rounded the final bend where a family of six, the spectators, pattered a modest round of applause, and as I wheeled up to the finishing table a thick-set man handed me a dewy can of beer.

“A beer?” I stared at him in disbelief, tentatively extending my hand while an obnoxious, Lycra-clad, cyclist droid-type angel on my shoulder wheezed in disgust: “Haaaahh! You can’t drink that. Not after training. Muscle recovery will be delayed and you will lose the benefits of blah blah blah.”

I swatted the droid angel and snatched the beer, pouring it down my hole — sports nutrition mumbo jumbo be damned. What have I become?

When I bought my mountain bike two years ago, I promised myself I’d never get a bike computer to measure my speed, I would never wear a tight-fitting cycling jersey, I would never waste my life counting calories and freaking about food regimes, and I would never strap a heart rate monitor around my chest.

Two months later I entered my first ever mountain bike race. Lighthouse to Lighthouse, as it is called, is a two-day ride from Gansbaai lighthouse at Danger Point, across the plains of the Overstrand, through Agulhas National Park, across 30km of beach to Cape Agulhas where we camped one night before heading back. Back in 2009 I wore a baggy vest and naively set out for day one, which took me five and a half hours in the blistering heat.

On day two I rode for nearly six and a half hours. For the last 15km my bum was too sore to sit on the saddle; my palms were too bruised to hold my handlebars and my knees were too sore to pedal. I winced, limped, cramped and moaned over corrugated gravel roads and sand tracks until I reached Danger Point where, if memory serves correctly, the Lions Club of Gansbaai served me with spaghetti bolognaise, and beer.

The beer thing probably does not seem unusual to the average well-adjusted person. Although the average well-adjusted person probably doesn’t wake up at 4am every day to run, ride or swim for three hours, tied to a small computer that measures everything that thuds, moves, turns and radiates on or about their person before heading home to plug this data into a spreadsheet so they can pathognomonically analyse every possible variable to impact on their little treadmill of a life.

No, bicycle races these days usually finish with a cup or two of whichever overpriced, overly sweet energy drink has sponsored the thing, and perhaps a sponsored energy bar. This is followed by a measured stretching routine and a carefully formulated protein drink of sorts. Okay, I do usually sneak off to the bar eventually, but no other race I’ve ever been to is so down-to-earth that you are handed a beer while the sweat still drips from your nose.

Or: “You can have a Coke if you want, we’ve got some brandy here. It’s your choice,” the finish marshal at Cape Agulhas offered.

This past weekend was my third time riding between those lighthouses. This time I was there in full cycling kit, watching my heart rate, counting the kilometres, pace and average speed (though I still don’t count calories).

But these obsessions fell away 70km into the first day, as I rode from a gruelling, soft sand track running across the back of a low dune field and onto a wide flat beach at low tide packed with damp, firm sand.

As I rode into the mist alone — the field of cyclists was both far in front and far behind me — the jolting stopped for a few minutes and my tyres hissed on the sand. I closed my eyes, taking my hands off the bars and spreading my arms as I continued to pedal through the salty air (without thinking about the Titanic) … I have lost track of where I’m going with this, so I’m going to be lazy and reprint some rather silly but almost-apt lyrics by a reggae-sounding punk band of old called Operation Ivy — I just don’t quite agree with their analysis — and then I’m going to bed so I can wake up at 5.30am and ride, ride, ride:

    “Expensive vitamin pills and wheat germ on your windowsill. Your schedule’s hectic and you’ve got no time to kill. Earning money and you’re spending it the right way. Just in such a rush you don’t know if it’s night or day.

    5:30am get up, run, run, run. Then you work eight hours slaving under the gun. Your little world’s based on lies lies lies. Always rushing but you’re never ever satisfied.

    Healthy body, sick mind, working overtime. Healthy body, sick mind, too hectic too hectic. Healthy body, sick mind, why don’t you just survive. It’s just a matter of time, sick body sick mind.

    The money you spend on running shoes could feed me for a week. Your plans are laid so well you can’t even sleep. Pursuit of happiness got your life locked up under martial law. You got everything to lose so you’re paranoid about some fatal flaw (pre-chorus, chorus etc).”