What happens to your body over a week of extreme distance mountain bike racing? Some things that have happened to my body in the Cape Epic.
Hair: Mud, dust, sweat, gel and various other bits of road crud get stuck to your hair. This requires daily washing.
Eyes: After just two days of stage racing, your eyes take on a glazed, red-raw look. Despite one’s best attempts at shielding the eyes from road dust and blazing sun, even the very best glasses can’t keep it all out.
Nose: If you can still breathe through your nose at the end of a stage, you weren’t working hard enough.
Teeth: Besides your eyes, this is where most of the road grit will end up, caked around your teeth in grainy masses. Add to this constant sugary gel-shots, regular sucking back of Coca Cola at water stops and you have a recipe for oral disaster. Your teeth will start rotting by the end of the week.
Shoulders: By the end of day five, your shoulders will have worked themselves into bunched-up knots, tensed from 8+ hours a day on the saddle, hunched over the bars. They may also show signs of mild rash from your Camelback, wearing slowly into your skin.
Neck: One word: sunburn. Chances are, you’ll sweat off whatever sunscreen you managed to apply in the morning and as one of the most exposed pieces of skin, the back of your neck will bear the signs of the sun for months to come.
Arms: Not only will eight days in the saddle at calorie deficit shrink your arms, you’re bound to get little strips of sunburn where your sleeves move around throughout the day. This creates an interesting ring effect. Rider number wrist-bands are also a potential hazard for interesting tanning.
Lungs: Forget the Black Lung. A few days of dust inhalation will give you the Orange Lung. Expect to cough up dirt for a few days to come.
Hands: Repeated gear changes and long, steep downhill sections will leave your hands crippled in several ways. First, they ache. You will be unable to type efficiently or hold cutlery for a few days. They will also acquire a few blisters; best left to turn into calluses.
Butt: It will shrink over 8 days. It will also be the most painful bit of your body, with saddle sores so deep and wide-spread, no amount of chamois cream will save you. Sitting becomes a problem, remedied only with heavy doses of pain-killer.
Thighs: Your ITB (the big muscle running the outside of your femur) is going to get very big, and very sore. Treat with massage and regular stretching. You will also see a marked change in the shape of your thigh. New muscles on the inner thigh seem to take shape. Another zone for potential sunburn and interesting tan-lines.
Feet: Much of your race elevation gain is spent hiking up rocky, sandy mountains and your shoes will inevitably fill will grit and sand. In the heat, this will rub against the bottoms of your feet and create deep blisters on the soles. The best remedy seems to be daily foot massage.
Stomach: Chances are, after a few days of your primary diet consisting of gel shots and road dust, your stomach will be in tatters. I’ve avoided the orthodox approach of pasta and cheese loading by eating most high-protein and veg when I’m off the bike. But the worst part is that it’s actually difficult to eat anything without feeling a bit sick. Chances are, you’ll eat a lot less than you’d expect, and a lot more gels than you were planning.