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.
Donkeys, donkeys everywhere
As the terrain got steeper and more challenging, and as tiredness started to set in, I knew needed a bit of a pick-me-up. I reached for my iPod, selected the first playlist I saw and continued without dismounting.
At some point I remember looking to the side of the road and seeing big black eyes shining back at me. As my eyes adjusted, I noticed there were several pairs of eyes and started to make out the shape of ears pointing upwards into the air. I thought I was hallucinating but the donkeys continued to appear seemingly out of nowhere. I stopped to video one that was standing in the middle of the divided highway between the guardrails. But they seem to spook easily, so as soon as I stopped it started to trot further down the road. It's a terrible video, so I won't bother sharing it here.
Up, up, up...
After awhile, the uphill slogs kept coming and I was stopping far too often just to get off the bike and give my legs a stretch and a rest. I was going so slowly, but at least I was still moving.
At around 4:30AM I pulled into a service station with some shops, not expecting too much. I was thrilled to find a shop that was open and serving food to people outside in their cars. "What the heck are they all doing up at this hour?" I wondered incredulously, not realizing the irony of this thought at the time. They must have been thinking the same thing about me.
I ordered Omani bread with cheese. It's kind of like a crepe with fake cheese spread in the middle. I'm lactose intolerant. And it was terrible! And before I finished the first one, I ordered another! I was just so hungry and they didn't seem to have anything else. I forced the second one down with a coke and jumped up to leave. At the same time, I noticed another shop just opening and went in to find they had bananas and cakes, so I bought some new supplies and started off again for the next leg.
It's all downhill from here...NOT!!!
As the roads flattened out, I started to get a surge. Always goal-oriented, I am compelled by finish lines. I know it's about the journey and blah blah blah, but when I can smell the finish, I just can't help it. I pedalled and pedalled my little heart out now, anticipating the gravel section I had heard about and wondering just how hard those little spikes at the finish (see elevation profile below) would be.
John sent me an encouraging text message saying I was nearly there (Oy! This again??). I texted him back saying it was looking good and I was almost at the last steep climb, which was not only false, but which would lead to a great deal of frustration when I reached the final kilometers only to find the worst was yet to come! This was a rookie mistake on my part. I had spent so much time studying the first two days of the route, and never really spent much time at all looking at the end. (Note: This is being filed into the "What not to do" category with many other learnings from my first ultra endurance race!)
A bit like an MTB race!
The gravel section catapulted me into the headspace of a local MTB race. Finally some more gravel after days of tarmac! I pumped the trail using my arms for front suspension, and I pushed and pushed the pedals hard up some short hills, willing myself to go faster and faster. "You're nearly there - for real!!!" - I thought naively.
I rounded a bend and two ferocious looking dogs immediately started chasing me with determination I have never seen from a dog. “How fast can dogs run, again?” I wondered frantically trying to retrieve this fact I know I have read elsewhere. Barking and snarling, they flanked me on both sides and the one on my left was eyeballing my calf as it kicked up rocks and dirt, digging in and gathering speed as we all rounded the sharp turn together.
I didn't make eye contact and as I dug in harder and harder, every muscle in my body tensed up in a way I have never experienced. Miraculously, I managed to outpace (or outlast) them, and they gave up at some point but I continued to put distance between us without ever looking back.
When I was finally satisfied they were gone, I sat down on the saddle and tried to look back over my shoulder, but found I could not turn my head. My neck muscles had seized like a rusty door hinge. I was in immense pain, but I continued racing towards the finish. Which, for some sadistic reason, I kept telling myself was just around the corner even though I knew the difference by the mileage total on my computer (I think I still had around 30km to go).
This is the race that never ends
I was still making my way along the dusty dirt road at around 6AM when I saw a text message pop up in Whatsapp from Andreas at Bikingman saying, "@JennWicks we're expecting you around 9-9:30 this morning, keep pushing!"
"People are waiting for me?!" I thought. I was so motivated now. I continued to push with a sudden burst of energy.
Secretly, I kept thinking John was going to surprise me at the finish. I knew this was very unlikely because he still could barely get himself to the kitchen, let alone through an airport, but I still wished he would show up. Otherwise, I had fully expected to show up, as I had on Jebel Shams, to a small crew of about two for a humble stamping of my survival map.
Eventually, I came out at the bottom of a very long, very steep hill. I stopped in my tracks without even making the decision to stop. I looked at my map, looked back at the hill. I looked left and right, but no, there was no choice - this was the way.
"You've got to be kidding me!!!" I shouted.
I looked around for someone to be angry with.
I knew I didn't have the legs.
I pushed my bike up the long hill, stomping like a child having a strop, not even having the sense of humour to take a photo. I had lost all perspective. I was seriously almost there, but I couldn't reframe my negative disposition. I was completely depleted.
I crested the hill only to find another bloody hill - and not an easy one either. I felt some tears of self-pity and devastation roll down my cheeks. I was destroyed.
And then I heard someone calling my name, "Jenn! Jenn!" It was Perrine in a truck being driven by Andreas F. I couldn't even turn my head to look at them. I slowly pedalled in squares up the hill as they parked and started filming me with their phones. They were clean and smiling. It seemed out of context. "You're sick!" I choked at Andreas as I passed him. "You guys are sick! And not in a good way!" He grinned like someone who had showered recently and had not ridden 1050km in the past few days.
I continued on and they followed me for the last little bit to the finish. About 2km from the finish, my Wahoo ELEMNT died. I was so irrational. I stopped to plug it into the power bank. There was no way I was coming all this way and not recording the final kilometer!
At the finish!
I actually can't describe the finish as I honestly have no idea what it looks like.
I was overwhelmed by people at the finish line and so much seemed to be happening simultaneously. My phone was ringing, people were hugging me, I was signing my survival map and getting it stamped, there were cameras everywhere and people were videoing and taking photos of my emotional finish.
It was a very special moment. A moment that was perfectly captured on film by the talented Muhammed Naushad Saleem (see above photo and photos below with the Bikingman logos).
As the activity continued, I was swept up in the moment.
I talked to John, which was very emotional. Our close friends and family know what we have been through in the past couple of years, and it has sometimes felt like it was more than we could handle.
The fact that John had had a second cycling accident leading up to Bikingman Oman was particularly hard to take because this race was his idea, he had done so much research for it, and he was gutted when he realized how serious his injuries were. (Read here to learn about John's first cycling accident and how we got ourselves back on the bikes for joBerg2c).
It was stressful for the both of us with this major setback, and hard for me to prepare and get excited for the race when I knew how disappointed he was. He relied on me to get a lot of things done, and I leaned heavily on him to help me with the enormous learning curve of preparing for my first ultra endurance race!
We are stronger for it, and have come through a lot to get here. I felt like he was the one person who truly understood what I had been through to get myself to this finish line. And I was so disappointed he couldn't be there in person to celebrate with me.
So the photo where I am on the phone with him represents the celebration that we did have. The one we could have. While not ideal, it was our moment to acknowledge, however briefly, that we had done it. He was so proud of me, and I of myself and of him for his strength and support throughout the 103 hours it took me to complete this immense journey, as well as the nearly two years leading up to it.
In my next post, I will round off the Bikingman Oman race report with a few details about our post-race celebrations and how it felt coming home.
Would love to hear from you if you have any questions or if our blog has inspired you to try something new!