Here’s why Ultrabloke likes big charity sports events
Purple Group’s Justin Pearse and legendary mountaineer Sibusiso Vilane will be riding the exceptionally challenging Cape Epic mountain bike race in the Western Cape in March 2017. The super-fit duo will be sponsored by Purple Group, which is one of CN&CO’s clients. From time to time, Justin – aka Ultrabloke – scribbles a few notes on riding and running. Here’s his latest blog…
By Justin Pearse
Having recently had the fortune and privilege to participate in two fantastic charity cycle tours in the Cycle Tour of Hope (supporting projects in Alexandra Township) and the uBhejaneX (raising awareness of and funds for Rhino’s), I enjoyed them both so much, it caused me, as I have many time before, to pause and take stock of what made them so enjoyable.
Having participated in many charitable events over the years, it’s something I’ve pondered many times before, and my conclusion has always been that it came down to the simple act of taking part in something larger than self.
More recently, with these two particular events, I’ve added another reason, and that is the people you meet – both those involved in putting the event together and those that participate in it. I’ll elaborate on that shortly.
If you partake in Ultra-distance events (in particular), but even more standard endurance events like your marathons and cycle races like 94.7 and Cape Argus and haven’t raised funds for a charity before, then you really are missing a trick. Friends and family, in fact people in general, really respond well to the idea of someone they know training hard for and completing a challenging event.
Furthermore, I firmly believe that most people are charitable by nature, but often sceptical of the many charities out there and where their hard-earned cash might go. All they need is a trigger, a trustworthy go-between if you will to help them take that step. In my opinion, there is no better than someone they know, undertaking a tough sporting challenge and raising funds for a chosen charity to get even the most frugal of mates opening their wallets and doing a good deed.
If you haven’t done it, PLEASE give it a bash. You’ll almost undoubtedly experience what I have.
Endurance events are by their nature, most often, an incredibly solitary undertaking. Over the distances covered and time spent completing events that take anywhere between 5 and 17 odd hours (my longest to date), it’s very difficult to find a mate of the same ability that can cover the distance at the same speed comfortably without it negatively impacting either party’s ability to finish.
Furthermore, in events like IronMan / half-IronMan, it’s even more difficult over three distinctly different disciplines to stay together. In fact, it’s nigh on impossible. You can possibly engineer to meet up on the run, but trying to work that out can cause unnecessary stress in the earlier parts of the race.
Then you’ve got the endless hours of training and different and difficult life schedules to work around if you want do a training run / cycle with mates, particularly when you have young children.
As far back as I can remember, when I first started running ‘seriously’ in London back in about 2007, I’ve been very comfortable training alone. I think that was in large part because I didn’t have any mates at the time that were as keen on running as myself – so it was out of necessity rather than choice. But having done that, I became very comfortable training alone.
Well I say alone. I always, always had my music with me. There is still no better way to consume an exciting new album / mix you’ve been looking forward to, then through headphones while on a long run. I never get an opportunity anywhere else in my life to be completely alone and uninterrupted with my music, and that’s a special time for me.
In London, training alone gave me the flexibility to train in the morning or evening, and I could change my plans on a whim without negatively impacting someone else who was relying on me. I often ran to work in the morning, or ran home in the evenings and I could just slap on my shoes and head out the door within a few minutes of deciding to go.
And since stepping up from Marathons to Ultra-marathons, I’m thankful that I’m comfortable training and competing alone because I just find it infinitely more time efficient, particularly with regard to cycling.
The prep-work for cycling is a complete pain in the ass. You’ve got to take your bike off the trainer or down from a rack, possibly change wheels, pump the tyres, lube the chain, fill your water bottles, make sure you have your shoes / helmet / gloves / sunglasses, apply your chamois cream (to avoid butt issues mentioned previously) and sun cream, put the bike on the car and head to a safe cycling venue. Then do the ride, put the bike back on the car and drive home.
Compare that to walking into my cottage (where my bike is almost permanently mounted on my brilliant Wahoo Kickr trainer), climbing on my bike and starting to ride. In that way, I can spend an extremely high quality hour of training, have a quick shower and be ready to have breakfast with the family, in what would have taken me almost two hours to do an out-ride.
My cycling mates often joke about whether I’m ever going to cycle outdoors, but aside from weekend rides, I just can’t see the sense in it. I have better quality and more time-efficient training indoors. PLUS, I get a lot of hours to watch any movies / series that I want to watch. At this point in time, I am just 6 paltry episodes away from finishing Breaking Bad, which has been a great show. For those that know it, Walt has just confronted Hank in his garage about a tracker on his car and they’ve had the BIG standoff where Hank finally knows. I can’t wait to finish.
London Marathon – for something more than myself
So how do these sad tales of Norman Nomates and the many lonely solitary training hours he spends tie back to his periodic charitable ventures mentioned earlier?
Well thankfully, the first ever Marathon I ran was the London Marathon. Why I say thankfully, is because unless you get a ballot entry (a tiny portion of the total number of runners) you cannot run the London Marathon unless you run it for a charity.
As a result, the London Marathon has raised (according to Wikipedia) over £450 million for charity since 1981 and holds the Guinness World Record (2009 – raising over £47.2million for charity) as the largest annual fund raising event in the world.
So back in 2007, I registered for the marathon and joined a UK charity called Sense who help sufferers of deafblindness – see www.sense.org.uk . I hadn’t even heard of deafblindness before. It’s a combination of sight AND hearing loss that affects a person’s ability to communicate, to access all kinds of info and get around. It’s not just a deaf person who can’t see OR a blind person who cannot hear, but the two impairments together increase the effects of each, so it’s an incredibly difficult disability to deal with.
I think the fundraising target was £1,600, which is a decent sum of money, and I had to work really hard to reach that target which I eventually did with the help of friends and family. The charities in the UK are very well run and during that time in the build-up to the race, I received lots of emails and guidelines and encouragement. On race day, I wore a special Sense running vest and while excited for myself, couldn’t help but feel proud and motivated at the fact that I would be raising money for and running for something other than myself.
It’s a massive motivator when really struggling or hurting during an event or training, to think of those who simply can’t run, even a short distance down a road and remember how blessed you are to have good health and the ability to exercise. I am often mindful of how fortunate I have been over the years to be healthy and relatively injury free.
The human body is an amazing machine that is incredibly tough, but also incredibly frail and susceptible to illness if not looked after. In fact, even well looked after bodies are susceptible. Two years back my lovely wife Nina had a large growth removed from behind her chest-plate which had caused her all sorts of pains and issues. It was thankfully benign and she’s had no further issues since, but it did really cause both her and I to take greater note of our good health, take advantage of it and delight in it when we could. In a philosophical way, I believe that we were given human form so that we can walk, crawl, run, jump, skip, swing, bounce, surf, ski ….. and delight in doing so.
Think of how much joy kids derive from activity. I’m not saying that I am always having fun when I’m breathing heavily, sweat pouring off my nose, quads burning as I bust my balls up a savage climb, but I do have fun on most runs / rides and the feeling of achievement on completion is almost incomparable.
So that was my first.
New York Marathon – meeting inspiring people
While the New York Marathon runs slightly differently to the London, when I came to enter as a foreigner a few years later I established that I’d need to dust off the old fundraising cobwebs again and raise some money.
This time I joined a UK charity called Get Kids Going – which gives disabled children and young people (up the age of 26 years old) the wonderful opportunity of participating in sport and provides them with specially built wheelchairs so that they can do so.
As I’d loved sport throughout my life and running now meant so much to me, this charity resonated strongly with me and I set about raising the funds I’d need to get my entry.
After months of training and fundraising, I reached the goal amount, and after a harrowing flight (because I’m slightly OCD and was seated next to a guy with a hacking cough), an excited little bunny arrived in New York ready to complete his 3rd marathon.
The Get Kids Going charity held a cocktail party in the hotel the staff were staying in, to which all fundraisers were invited. The main speaker on the evening was a very successful British wheelchair athlete named David Weir (who won the Wheelchair division that year), who spoke passionately about racing and what it meant to him as a wheelchair athlete. His talk was both moving and massively inspiring a few days before the run.
One of the Get Kids Going staff also spoke about the charity and what they do and thanked all of the runners and fundraisers for the contribution they were making to the charity and what a difference special wheelchairs would make in the lives of the kids that received them.
It was a very moving occasion and chatting to some of the other fundraisers and staff after the formal part of the evening was concluded, one couldn’t help but feel part of something bigger and privileged for having had the opportunity to meet a variety of such cool, interesting people, the likes of which I was unlikely to have met anywhere else.
And ultimately, feeling part of a team whose participation in the race meant more than just a medal at the end, made running in the race and finishing it so much more enjoyable and meaningful.
And so to cycling – The Cycle Tour of Hope
After not raising funds for a year or two, I decided to pull the proverbial finger and dip the proverbial toe back in the fundraising waters for my 2nd Comrades Marathon, and managed to raise about R10,000 for two of their six AmaBeadiBeadi charities.
As on previous occasions, I felt that distinct feeling again and decided that I should try and do a few more charitable events when the opportunity arose. I don’t want to appear all saintly and suggest that I then actively started seeking out charity events, for there are many and it was another year or two before I signed up for the Cycle Tour of Hope.
I had been alerted to the ride about three years back when a friend at Rosebank Union Church who knew I was a cyclist told me about it. Unfortunately, each year I considered it, the timing was wrong and I could never make it work.
Somewhat fortuitously, the timing was perfect in 2016 to get three days of big kilometres and hours in for my Cape Epic training. Jaco thought it was a good idea too and so I signed up.
The event is not a race, but rather a tour format starting at Golden Gate and cycling through to Johannesburg over three days totalling 335 or 398km depending on whether you opt to do the full long stage on day two
And what was so lekker about this one? A couple of things:
- I LOVED the fact that it was a tour rather than a race.
All the cycling events I had taken part in till that point had all been races. And despite how relaxed one might like to approach a race, there are always other racers and there is always a clock and it’s very difficult not to get overridden by Testosterone and ride hard against yourself and others.While we were split into 3 groups according to what speed you wanted to ride at, the whole aura of the event was relaxed and friendly and despite needing to push a little on the long stage on day 2 (because of a hectic headwind, to get to Vanderbijlpark on time) the cycling was all pretty mellow.
- A small event full of fundraisers makes for a great energy.All the people on the event were really just very lekker, good-natured people. I think probably the fact that everyone there felt they were doing this for something bigger – the excellent Rays of Hope charity that manages a large number of social outreach projects in Alexandra Township (Alex) – created a very tangible feeling of togetherness and purpose.That energy was most noticeable in our giant Whatsapp group, particularly at the conclusion of the event where there was a massive outpouring of general goodwill and camaraderie in people thanking the organisers and one another for such a great few days.
- A couple of days to get to know peopleThe fact that including the bus trip from Joburg to Golden Gate, the event spanned 4 days, meant that aside from the time on the bike, there was a lot of time over meals and relaxing at the accommodation to get to know the other fundraisers. Particularly enjoyable was the long lazy afternoon we had in Reitz after Stage 1 where most cyclists spent an hour post-ride relaxing in a makeshift frame pool before lazing around together outside their rooms and on the hotel lawn.
- It was incredibly well runAnd I don’t just mean that we stayed in nice comfortable hotels and that we had safety motorcycles ride with each group and manage the traffic to ensure our safety. Or that we had a refrigerated truck follow us with enough cold refreshments to keep us happy. Those elements do all increase the enjoyment of an event substantially and maybe I am discounting their importance. But the event was run with a great degree of care and authenticity.You could feel that at all the pre-events, in all the mailers, in all the dealings with Andrea and Charis from Rays of Hope.And you could definitely feel it while on the tour itself. It’s a weird one to describe, but it was definitely there.The extreme care the organisers go to was particularly evident in a Certificate of Appreciation awarded to me for editing a few Youtube videos of my Garmin Virb footage. It was totally unnecessary, but hugely appreciated.
- I helped people in AlexYip. Once again my efforts, and relatively small efforts in the greater context of things, will help a number of people in Alexandra, and that’s something that can’t help but make you feel happy.So thank you Charis and Andrea for your excellent organisation skills and for putting on such a superb event.Thank you Rays of Hope for the marvellous work you do in Alexandra Township.Thanks to my fellow cyclists for your amazing energy and good cheer over the few days.
uBhejaneX – another very special event
The uBhejaneX could, nay should, become a highly sought after event. It’s a real gem that I hadn’t ever heard about, before discovering it in rather a roundabout way from my ABSA Cape Epic partner. It’s the kind of event that’s challenging, fun and intimate in a way most of the more established events would struggle to achieve.
And I think that is achieved again, by the fact that participants are riding for a purpose and doing it with other very lekker people (cyclists, support teams and all involved with the event).
I told Sibs about the races Jaco had suggested we look at and then somewhat off the cuff and as a bit of an afterthought he said “Oh, I’m riding this 240km event for Project Rhino in December”.
The distance mentioned immediately caught my attention. That was exactly the kind of stupid mileage we needed to be doing in training for the Epic. When I quizzed him further, he told me he’d met a guy named Grant Fowlds at an event for Scouts South Africa, of which Sibs is none other than Chief Scout.
After a mutual meeting of minds, Grant persuaded Sibs (I’m sure it didn’t need much) to ride the event in December as an official ambassador along with famous adventurer Kingsley Holgate and equally famous Tour de France commentator Phil Liggett.
The ‘main’ event (the Long Horn route) is actually an even longer 340km cycle from Hillcrest to the Hilltop Camp in the Hluhluwe reserve, while the one Sibs had sensibly opted for was the Short Horn, a mere 240km’s from the North Coast toll road to the same end destination.
It was a great opportunity to spend a very long time on the bike together, and once again, the fact that it was for a charity rang my bells.
I arrived in Durbs very early on Friday morning and eventually met Grant face to face, having spoken to him many times on the phone, and he turned out to be every bit as nice a bloke as he’d proved on the phone. Kind and gentle in nature and incredibly passionate about his work for Project Rhino KZN, which he heads up.
That same passion and commitment to his work was abundantly clear again in the Friday lunch event held at a lovely Italian restaurant in Hillcrest where ambassadors Kingsley Holgate and Sibusiso Vilane spoke and various prize pieces were auctioned off to attendees.
Grant worked the room, making sure everyone was comfortable, telling his story with passion and marking sure the event ran smoothly. He had already gone out of his way to squeeze me into the event.
Following a late conclusion to our lunch, we had a quick drink pitstop at a B&B in Hillcrest, at which some of the 340km cyclists were staying and where we collected Sibs’ bike. He and I then had the incredible privilege of being driven to Zinkwazi by Kingsley Holgate himself as Grant was staying in Hillcrest to see off the Long Horn riders.
While the reason I did the ride was for the Rhinos, from a ‘meeting incredible people’ perspective, heading to Durbs and spending 17 hours in the saddle was worth it for that car ride with Kingsley alone. I must embarrassingly confess that I didn’t know too much about Kingsley before that weekend. In fact, I must confess even more embarrassingly, that for some bizarre reason I had thought he was a Brit before a family member thankfully corrected me during a conversation about the event before I left Joeys. What a complete putz.
Anyhow. What an incredible man. He’s a big man, tall in stature and big in build but with a gentle, warm and infectious nature that you can’t help but be drawn to. He is very eloquent and like Grant, the passion for his various causes shines through when he speaks about them.
During that car trip we discussed a number of his charitable causes (Right for Sight, Rhino Art, Mosquito Nets), a great idea he had for raising funds through Investment and a variety of other interesting topics and it was a delight to get to know him and share his infectious optimism on the fact that ordinary people can make a difference in the world.
Following the car trip, we arrived at the house of Mike Nixon (one of the remaining four Last Lions of the Cape Epic), another fascinating and warm guy who I subsequently learnt was a very close friend of Kingsley’s who welcomed me into his home (as it was there that I was spending the night). After arriving, I was introduced to his lovely wife Fiona and family before being led out onto the balcony where none other than ex-Springbok Rugby World Cup winning Captain John Smit and ex-Sharks and Saracens rugby player Jeremy Thomson were coiffing red wine.
We had an amazing dinner, full of incredibly colourful stories from Mike and Kingsley and were it not for the 17 hour ride the next day held in store, I could have sat there the whole night.
I’m going to intentionally avoid detailing the ride, which was an absolutely amazing experience, and point you instead to a Youtube video I edited from my Garmin Virb footage. It’s 15 minutes long as it’s difficult to edit a 17 hour ride and display all that it had to offer in a shorter timeframe, but you can always scroll through and get a nice idea of what it was about.
This piece was instead about the great people you meet on charitable adventures. I’ve already mentioned a few, but my fellow cyclists on the day were all great too. All willing to help each other out in any way possible. Encouraging and in some instances physically pushing and pulling other cyclists up the hills. Having a long chat to John Smit about cycling and family were a particular highlight, and Cliff – when I’m dying of heat on a long ride, as I did recently, I will always miss your daughters ice-filled stockings.
The support staff were also incredible. Always smiling and cheery and quick to react with food or ice cold water when requested.
I really can’t speak more highly of all involved. And as the pouring rain forced us to move Grant’s post ride event into the relatively small confines of an indoor room at Hilltop camp, the spirits were anything but damp as the incredibly tired cyclists and crews enjoyed a lovely wrap-up by Sibs and Kingsley that concluded a simply brilliant weekend.
The visit to the Rhino ‘hospital’ in the morning and 2-hour trip with Kingsley and Sheelagh back to the airport on Sunday morning were just cherries on top of a very big cake.
The high volume of training for the ABSA Cape Epic isn’t fun. It’s bloomin’ hard. It involves hours and hours of often painful time in the saddle.
So anything to ameliorate the experience is most welcome. Music, podcasts and TV (on the static trainer), definitely make some of the solitary hours more bearable and variety in terms of different locations, different routes, different disciplines (road bike vs MTB) all help.
But you have to do events to, and on reflection I am delighted that I got to do two incredible charity fundraisers and meet some amazing people in the process, rather than having done two mainstream corporate events.
I will always think fondly on both experiences and the people I met and will definitely consider doing them and others like them far more seriously in the future.