Excitement at the top!
"If you can catch Neil, you'll be fifth overall!," John said as I stuffed some more food in my mouth and gulped it down with water. He was talking about Neil Melville, my friend Julie's husband who apparently had just come through the start area ahead of me. I felt a twinge of renewed excitement. "Now we're really racing!' I thought. We were around 22 hours (I'm really guessing - it's all a blur to me!) into the 24-hour race and I had been through so many low points I thought I couldn't do one more lap. But with this information, I felt a surge. I hopped back on my bike and set out for another grueling lap.
It was hard to rest right away. I had a quick shower and was immediately desperate to be in the company of other people. One very surprising thing I learned about myself on this journey is that I am a very social creature! I can picture some of you thinking that's not really shocker as I am slightly extroverted, but I really love my alone time and thought I was going to love the isolation and alone time involved in ultra endurance cycling. In fact, whenever I had the chance, I was talking people's heads off! Even if they didn't understand a word I was saying! I still enjoyed the solitude, but it made me crave conversation especially by the end of it.
Final push to the finish
I hit the road after stocking up at the service station next to the hotel. There would be a number of stations along the way to Muscat, but as I was leaving at 10PM to cycle through the night, I was expecting them to be closed. I ensured I had extra water and snacks, and going on only two hours of sleep with a dodgy tummy, I pedalled slowly as I started up the slight incline out of Muscat.
I was starting to get used to night cycling, and enjoyed the lighter traffic and the focus that comes with your limited view of the surroundings. I could still make out the profile of the mountains around me, but I wasn't missing the view - all I cared about now was making it to the finish.
Whenever I thought of the finish, my mind immediately went to all the things that could go wrong along the way. I pushed those thoughts aside and focused on pedalling and breathing. I purposely left my iPod off, and instead enjoyed the relative silence of the night.
Day Four begins from CP3
I woke excited to don my clean kit at around 2:15AM, long before my alarm was to go off. The momentum of being more than halfway to the finish has hit me and I simply cannot sleep. I snapped a photo of myself looking nervous before leaving.
Part Three: Nizwa to Oriental Nights Rest House (CP3)
188.2km total distance
9:21 moving time
11:01 total elapsed time
The cavalry are here
Three Omani police officers - one man in a thobe, and a man and woman in uniform stood stiffly on the steps as I approached the Oriental Nights Rest House - more significantly known to us riders as manned checkpoint #2.
I was wrecked and as I pushed my bike over the camel grid, Axel - one of the founders of Bikingman - came jogging out to greet me, helping push my bike the last few meters towards the building and the officers. "They're here for you," he said, to which I immediately laughed at what I thought was a joke.
It was only then it all came rushing back to me. The events of the day replayed in split seconds and a sinking feeling replaced the relief I had felt at finally being able to dismount my bike after a long hard day on a sketchy road shared with traffic and not quite enough room to call it a shoulder.
Part Two: Bahla to Jebel Shams to Nizwa
171.57km total distance
10:29 moving time
16:01 Total elapsed time
A beautiful morning for a bike ride
I woke up after only four hours of sleep feeling wide awake an hour before my alarm was to ring. I quickly dressed and scarfed down a chocolate croissant and some dates. I clumsily made my way down the hall and back down the stairs, trying and failing to be stealthy; conscious of not wanting to wake anyone else who might be still sleeping but managing all the stealth of the proverbial bull in a china shop.
I set off for Jebel Shams - the main event within the main event, and the moment many had been talking about since we registered. It was a quiet morning and I enjoyed the silence as I rode all alone. My bright light illuminated more than enough of the road in front of me, even with a packet of Oreos bungeed onto my front pack slightly obstructing it.
With each pedal stroke, I felt happier and happier. On the mostly straight road to Al Hamra - the last town with services before Jebel Shams - I felt a positive energy for the day ahead. “I’m doing this!” I thought excitedly. Compared to the previous night’s desperation, I felt positively refreshed. It's incredible what a shower and a snooze can do for one's outlook.
I arrived in Al Hamra shortly after sunrise. I stopped for more water and made a new friend, for whom I seriously considered making space in my luggage.
Part One: Al Nahda Resort to Bahla
291.87km total distance
16:35 moving time
20:23 total elapsed time
General mood: Totally shattered
The night before the race, we were encouraged to sleep on the floor of a large conference room. Finding a spot, I instantly regretted my decision to check out of my hotel room which was just steps away from this common space. The thin mattress was covered in a sheet of plastic and every time I or anyone else moved, there was a rustling of plastic. Already in my race kit, I settled in for a night with very little sleep - about 2 hours max. I awoke from my restless slumber hot and sweaty from the heat generated between my sleeping bag, me dressed in my cycling clothes, and the plastic mattress. Off to a great start.