Archive for Januar, 2011

Kili training blog

Dienstag, Januar 11th, 2011

Hi, my name is Mark Taylor. The nice people at Chagga tours got in touch and suggested I write a few notes about what it is like to train for this event, while being based full time here in Tanzania, the host nation. Gladly:

The first thing that I think of is; “It’s mad.” To different people, for different reasons, it is mad. The locals think it is mad. Without going too deeply into social science, exercise is not normally a lifestyle choice here in East Africa, and certainly not where we are based, in the poor, rural South. My wife and I work in public health and live in Mtwara, a sprawling community that makes its living by fishing and harvesting cashew nuts. We try, despite the heat and the dust, to keep up with some sport and stay fit, but it is hard work. Riding a bike for fitness or for pleasure is not something that most Tanzanians would contemplate – they do it to get to work, or even as their job, for instance delivering crates of drinks to bars – but very few people would do it for fun. And as for trying to stay in shape? Many villages in rural Tanzania still experience true hunger at certain times of year, and there is a pragmatic desire among many young people to GET fat, rather than to lose fat. The social pressures are totally different here. A friend of mine told a funny story of how she would go running in neighbouring Burundi, and frightened locals would stop her, and demand to know what she was running from; a lion, an angry mob…? The sight of a white man – a man who can afford an air conditioned car – choosing instead to ride a bike under the African sun, is a strange thing and a strange idea to many Tanzanians, and sometimes, as the sweat drips from my soaking wet shirt, I can understand why.

This leads me to acknowledge that training for this event, at this time of year, occasionally does feel a bit mad to me too. I will admit now that in terms of long distance events like this; “I’ve got form”, as the British police would say. I did an Ironman race about 18 months ago, so long training sessions around the dirt roads to Tz are familiar to me. But that actually had a couple of advantages;

Firstly, it was a Northern hemisphere summer race, so my training sessions during the height of Tz summer (November to February) were actually shorter ones, and I did my long sessions when the weather began to get a little cooler from March through July. Despite this, any bike or run session had to be followed by 2 cold showers, the first just to slow my sweating, and the second about half an hour later, to attempt to get clean.

Secondly, an Ironman starts with a swim, so even if 2/3 of my training was hot and dusty, i could always enjoy the times I got to plunge into the clear waters of the Indian Ocean, and swim between the fishes and the lobsters in Mtwara bay. No such relief this time, as Kiliman is too far inland to have a water element!

So what is a training session in Tanzania like? It goes roughly like this:

Alarm goes off at about 4am. Put on the kit lined up from the night before. Force porridge and coffee into yourself and check the tyres are still pumped up. Smear sunblock on head, neck and arms, grab sunglasses and a hat. Then get ready with lots of water bottles and a backpack of tools and emergency supplies, and get into the saddle before the temperature starts to soar.

The first hour or so feels strange. The dirt roads look spooky with nobody around, nightjars flutter away at the last moment making you jump. Feeling dozey from the early morning and slightly sick from the rushed breakfast, I try to focus on good smooth technique, and remind myself why I am doing it. Then the sun and the people emerge for the day, and everything gets busier. Time to head out into the villages. The roads outside town are great for riding, having few cars and a dirt surface, but smooth enough to go quite fast. (In town is a different matter and the standard of driving in Tanzania is generally horrific. I recommend that all competitors get into the habit of looking over their shoulder at EVERY vehicle they hear approaching, especially bigger diesel engines that are likely to be lorries or “dala dalas”- cheap communal minibuses. I’ve been hit by two of these but fortunately both times I was in my car).

Monkeys, eagles, lizards and all manner of other beautiful things scatter from the quieter country roads as you approach. Keep your eyes peeled and you may even be lucky enough to see a leopard or a python, resting silently in the shade near the country tracks. Schoolchildren are always amazed and usually delighted to see a stranger pedal through their village, and will wave and cheer even a single rider! Sometimes, when I’ve been riding for 4 hours and I am tired and hungry and thirsty, I start to find all the noise and attention rather annoying. I’ve been here over two years and I wish I wasn’t still treated as such an outsider. But then I remember training rides in London – the traffic lights, the exhaust fumes and the white-van-drivers swearing or occasionally spitting at me – and I remember how lucky I am to be doing this in Africa.

So, Karibuni sana, you are all very welcome to Tanzania. I am sure that Kiliman is going to be a huge experience, no matter which combination of the 3 stages you sign up for. I’m looking forward to meeting my fellow bikers and chatting with a cold beer afterwards.