Yes, another article on that March event, but with a slightly different take. Having received a late call-up, 3 months before the start from a biking friend in Panama, I jumped on board. At the time I was reasonably fit and had been doing a ton of trail running (close to 40km a week) and some mountain biking (had a decent PrinceGeorge100 miler and Die Hel & Back), I felt confident. Immediately got on my bike and smashed right into it and started shedding some weight and settled in at 67kg, my lightest in all my previous 7 Epics.

My head was right, I truly felt dialled in for this – tweaked my eating and sleeping routine. Completely stripped down my bike (not there is much to it), new tires and chain and selected my chainrings pairing of 32/23. We both felt that was the correct ratio as this Epic looked like a major climbing one.

Decided not to do TankwaTrek (that turned out to be a big mistake) and settled on Attakwas in late January and bombed!! That heat spat me out by the second waterpoint and I then hooked up with a mate and we both threw the towel in – I never forget his face when he decided to not carry on. Slightly ahead of me he came back to WP 2 as I was leaving and looked at me and said “Max, don’t carry on…. don’t go in that valley – you will die buddy” – I abruptly stopped and turned around and quit. In less than one second, I made that decision. The look on his face scared me s***less. At the time I justified it under the “self-preservation” flag – another mistake. I should have pushed on and got through that dark place.

After Attakwas, when back in McGregor where I live, I should have realised then I was not 100% Epic ready, but I still felt confident I could do it. I have an Epic routine that I follow each time and I dropped into that pattern – getting organised, taking probiotics, vitamin shots weekly in the build-up and I also ran an electric dog hair clipper over my body including my butt cheeks, getting pretty close to the “rusty sheriff’s badge”! I do not wear a bib, so it just became quite normal for me to do this for Epic. When I told my crew from California and ride partner, they cracked up. In fact, Joaquin laughed so hard he nearly peed himself.

And then launch day arrived, meeting up with Mark and Chip from California and my partner Joaquin from Panama (we were both doing it on rigid SS bikes). Had a great Saturday at registration and slept over at the Lord Charles in Somerset West. Sunday’s start, we had a steady and pretty decent prologue, and in fact a great Sunday start to Epic. It was my first-time eventing with Joaquin, and we were quite evenly matched, technically we were confident of taming this beast. He is taller than me and I could see there was some power in those legs of his.

Weather for the next five days looks like it could get gnarly hot, but hey the days are never easy. As the day unfolded on Monday and we got to WP 2 I could start to feel some engine problems on my side. I was drinking and getting in nosh, but as we left that water point and headed out, I began to slowly disintegrate and crumble. Our average speed started dropping and by the time we got to WP 3 we had a team meeting, and the call was made to release my partner. I was going to try regrouping and then get back on my bike and meet up on the final leg for a push to the finish. I quickly realised with the time penalty that would be imposed on me for separating that I could not make the cut-off, The enormity just drained me. I sat on a crate at WP3 and watched Marius Hurter come in and miss that table cut-off and he was done. I did not go up to him and chat as I knew what was going through his mind. And that was my Epic…….one mega disaster. I felt embarrassed and ashamed, dropping Joaquin like this. Why could I not just suck it up like previous years and just push on and get to the day’s finish? Got a lift back to the finish with the USN guys and waited on Joaquin to come in, I got in just before he arrived.

Besides all the physical preparation that you must do in preparing for an Epic, one must develop a mental hardness to persevere and push through, what everyone at some point experiences in doing that event. I then spent the week with my 3 new mates being a “handlanger” supporter, it was the least I could do. I did not have it in me to continue as a blue board rider and in hindsight I am not sure I would have even made it through that week. This event has got crazy hard with very tight daily cut-offs. Previously, I remembered 9.5 hour day limits…it seems like it has been shaved by an hour per day? Add the inevitable heat that you will get in March, and it is bliksem difficult. Looking back on the Covid Epic edition that took place outside of March it felt so easy then, being cooler. For me, the door has now permanently closed on doing this again – I am not prepared to do nine months of structured training in getting ready. I remember chatting to Robbie Sim a while back and he mentioned that he felt that many riders were just not ready and prepared when taking on this beast.

This is such a special event and it has had a profound impact on my life in so many ways – all of them good. But I must make peace with this, I am getting close to 60 and will continue to ride other tough bike events on my special bike, Scelerat - it defines who I am and how I want to lead life.

When I got back home and was stripping my bike down and changing the gear ratio back to my 35/19 mix, I felt a slight ridge under my bottom tube and on closer inspection the tubing had 2 cracks running about 60% around. It was only a matter of a few more Epic hours, and it would have broken in half! I am the only bloke that has broken a Dave Mercer bespoke bike, and this is my second time nogal, can you believe it. This Epic was not meant to be, the cycling gods had clearly decided this for me.

Joaquin, my partner finished Epic, a solo journey for him – what a bladdy legend. On Thursday he nearly quit around WP3, he was shattered and had nothing left. An angel at the water table placed some cold ice blocks at the back of his neck and that got him out a very bad place. And so did Mark and Chip. We all had a great 10 days together.

My tip for newbies lining up next year (if you in the 70 percentile plus Epic finish profile): Start your training in June/July, no later, and on a structured programme managed by an outside person who has Epic experience. You must do tough race type technical demanding stage events in the lead up and there plenty to choose from, but I would include W2W, Attekwas and TankwaTrek. I would strongly suggest you make use of the Epic race village as your event accomodation, either in the dome tents provided or arrange to be in the supporter’s village in caravans/mobile home/campers. The amount of time you save by staying in the village and not having to commute twice a day is huge. You have so much daily admin to do and can’t be running or driving around – makes no sense, and I have done all the accommodation options over the years. Have the same massage therapist for the week if posible, as that person will get to know you and your body. Have fun whilst training and riding Epic.

See you somewhere on the trails in the future…..and thanks for taking the time to read this.