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Test Your Limits: Munga


This is a race that is in my bones, it is the failed attempts, it is in the seventh place finish, it is in the people I met and the friends I made along the way, it is my reference point as to what is possible.


The Munga is an annual ultra-distance single-stage mountain bike race for anyone crazy enough to pedal a bike across the Karoo in the midst of summer - it gets hot, really hot, and also can get really cold, especially at night.



The toughest race on earth...
“At the Munga we celebrate what it is to be human. We know the fight. We know what it means to grovel, and grind, and crawl in desperation to the light at the end of the tunnel. We know what it’s like to hang on to a thread, but claw and pull it back till it’s a tight rope, and walk that thin line, balancing the life and death of dreams, till at last we lean forward and the momentum of action carries us inexorably towards our destiny! At the Munga, we know what it’s like to live, but really live” Alex Harris – Munga Race Director


Typical Munga

  • Dates: Always on starts at 12pm on the last Wednesday of November.

  • Distance: 1124km

  • Elevation: 6584m

  • Time to complete the distance: 120 hours or 5 days.

  • Format: Solo semi-supported meaning that you will be provided with support from race officials, water points and at the 5 race villages, but will not allow to have support along the route.

  • Terrain: Bits of tarred road, and mostly flat to rolling district dirt roads that hard packed and sometimes rutted.

  • Water points: 10 water points placed between 60 and 90 km apart.

  • Standard accommodation: You can rough it out, sleep in out in the wilderness on the ground, at the water points or on a soft bed in one of the 5 race villages where you can also eat, charge devices and get mechanical assistance.

  • #1 rule: If you go off route or get, back track and re-join the route at the exact location where you took the wrong turn.



What you can expect

  • Long hours on the saddle in very hot, windy and even cold, very cold at night, blue or grey skies, dry and or wet conditions, anything is possible.

  • The route is not technical, but does become challenging when the body and mind is tired.


Definitely not walk in the park! Definitely not the Cape Epic! If you finish this ultra-adventure you get a medal, a realization that you are stronger than you think, a sense of achievement and memories that will last a lifetime.



What you need

  • A GPS device is a requirement for entry into the Munga, so make sure you have a good one. Tip, a good choice is any GPS device that has a long battery life and can be used while charging.

  • A mobile phone is a must; this is your lifeline in bad situations.

  • You need lights, lights that don’t die; you’ll probably be doing a fair amount of riding in the dark.

  • Two water bottles and a backpack are going to see you through 1000km of the toughest single stage race on earth you may want to rethink that strategy. Keep the essential off your back, bike packing bags are definitely the way to go.

  • Opt for durable instead of lightweight equipment.

  • Bikepacking bags - your bag will always be full no matter what size it is. If you don't want to carry a lot get a smaller bag.

  • Anything that can break or get lost should be on your spares list.

  • Warm kit, rain coat and sun protection.

  • Who can ride... at least 19 years old, declared medically fit by a professional, and properly trained for it.



My personal experience...

Best Munga result 2016, placing 7th with a ride duration of 78hrs15min.


Best Munga 2019, why? I didn’t put any pressure on myself, didn’t have any desire to race, it wasn’t about covering the distance in the least amount time, it was about the journey - I saw and felt more than I did when I raced it in 2016, and placed 37th with a duration of 100hrs54min.



My preparation

  • I used the week days to do indoor interval training and weekends for longer rides.

  • Long rides - I started by doing one longer 5 to 6 hour rides regularly on the weekend, and gradually built up to 10 hours. Then did 2 back to back day of long rides in a row, with longest day first and the second day slightly shorter but faster and or harder.

  • It’s really good to do a few night rides - these rides helps you mentally, you get more comfortable riding in the dark and to properly test equipment. Three weeks before the Munga I did one big training block that consisted of 2x two a day sessions. On a Thursday I did an interval session in the morning and then evening outdoor tempo road ride between 10:30pm and 1:30am. Indoor interval session Friday evening, long endurance ride on Saturday and finished off the block on the Sunday with a 6 hour mtb endurance ride in the morning and outdoor evening tempo road ride starting after 10:30pm and 1:30am. During the evening rides I made sure that ate and drink enough so that after the ride all I needed to do is take shower and get into bed immediately for a short snooze before work.

  • Training for the heat - I prefer riding in hotter weather, my body can withstand the heat, but hates the cold.



Training nutrition and hydration

I kept it simple and always started with a good breakfast. I had mostly water and or carbohydrate drink in the bottles and real foods in the pockets – apples, banana, dates, dried figs, nuts and raisins and peanut butter and jam and or cheese sandwiches, and sometimes a coke midway through hard ride.



Training

  • Even if you are reasonably fit start your training 6 month before the event date.

  • Train smart, doing junk miles isn’t going to help you so find good training plan and stick to it or invest in a coach.

  • Training isn’t just time in the saddle, it also good nutrition and hydration, taking care of your body and mind with sufficient recovery (sleep, rest days, riding easy on easy days, massages, etc.) as well a steady dose general strength training, core conditioning and flexibility work.

  • Do most of training exclusively on your bike you intend on using for the Munga (mtb, or gravel bike with wider tyres) even if it is on the road and make sure that you are comfortable when training on it.

  • If you are going to use aero bars then train with it early on, fine tune the setup and get accustomed to it. Remember the aero bar aren’t really about speed, the biggest advantage is the extra comfort.

  • Test your equipment, know their limitations.

  • Include a few low sleep training sessions. Low sleep sessions can be done on the indoor trainer late in the evening into the early morning of the next day and followed by an outdoor ride to allow your body to get used to dealing with the dark hours and minimal sleep.

  • Heat adaptation, you can train your body to withstand the heat so your performance doesn’t suffer. You need to do this....if you don't then the summer heat of the Karoo will crush you. A period of 9-12 days of heat acclimatization training is the minimum amount necessary to get you accustomed.



Final tip... bank your sleep!

Generally I don't sleep well, and have a history for starting the race sleep deprived. With 4 weeks to go, bank your sleep. Sleep longer on your off days and days with shorter training rides. Trust me when I say that the biggest benefit in your prep is not going to be hours in the saddle but hours of quality sleep.



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That is it. Thank you for reading. I hope you found it to be a useful resource. Questions, comments and high fives! Drop them here.



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