Training for a purpose: Africa’s most adventurous mountain bike event

Join Fitness magazine Publisher, Tanja Schmitz, as she trains for an MTB experience through Southern Africa.

With a little under a month until the start of the Nedbank Tour de Tuli, things have gotten very real, very fast. I started this journey with a purpose – to step outside my comfort zone by committing to a challenge connected to my passion for mountain bike riding.

Why do something if it’s not challenging? Right?…

What’s proved difficult in my journey (which you can find on Instagram) has been documenting the process, to share with you here. I presumed gym time or more time on my bike would be the hard part, but surprisingly the challenge lies in being the average weekend-warrior Jane. Balancing work, life, parenting and training towards a goal is difficult, but the take-home message I’ve taken from the experience so far is to be flexible and don’t sweat the small stuff.

If I’m honest, the training is also hard, but it is rewarding. Comparing my performances and the distances I was riding a few weeks back to where I am now, inspires me to push even harder over the coming weeks in the lead up to the start. But a major question that still remains, is…

Am I ready to ride for 4 days in Africa?

The route for the most adventurous mountain biking event in Africa was recently revealed. It’s 250km of challenging terrain through South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. This has been the big motivation behind all my training: To ensure I can get on, and stay on my bike for 4 days of riding.

(Did you know; It’s more than just a ride. The tour raises funds for Children in the Wilderness (CITW), a non-profit organisation that runs sustainable environmental education programmes in rural areas. )

The progress I’ve made isn’t just about getting stronger on a bike, though. It’s also learning about the commitment process and exploring many other ways to stay fit and be active. I’m seeking adventures outside of the gym that connects that need for physical improvement with the excitement of exploring nature and pushing my personal limits.

I know there are many of you who’ve been itching to do something different (Spin class doesn’t count). Maybe you already even have a bike? One of the burning questions I’ve encountered from those interested in riding is, ‘what about your butt?

What I’ve learnt about saddle time

A lot of women who are new to cycling complain about how uncomfortable time in the saddle can be. It happens and it’s not a topic I can sugarcoat, but it doesn’t have to be that bad. While it’s true that you need riding time to get use to being in the saddle for that long, you also need the right gear to make it a little easier.

#1 Get a female-specific seat

Our anatomy is different to that of males (duh). While some women cope fine with a unisex seat, most still opt for a female-specific saddle. Our sit bones are wider apart, resulting in female-specific seats being wider. They also come with a variety of padding options. Some designs have a cut-out channel in the middle which helps reduce the pressure on the soft tissue.

But don’t just reach out for the softest seat – your riding position and your anatomy also matter. Getting feedback from friends helps, but bear in mind what works for them might not work for you.

Booking a bike fit with a professional will also help determine which saddle is best for you (Ask if they do a ‘saddle mapping’).

#2 Invest in the right cycling shorts

Thankfully I have a network of (girl)friends that ride who were able to offer advice. Price ranges in this regard can be huge. Around R400 get’s you an entry level chamois with relatively suitable padding, but the costs can escalate quickly. Top-of-the-range riding shorts can cost upwards of R3,000.

Before making a purchase, check some reviews online – mountain biking platforms, like Dirty Heart magazine, are great resources, and you’ll find many other online resources on buying women’s cycling shorts.

Key things to consider:

  • Cycling shorts are worn without underwear (it will cause chafing)
  • A snug fit – the padding should be tight against your skin. The fit should feel natural and comfortable.
  • Buy to fit your budget. Consider how often you ride.

I ride with Fox Ripley baggies (for the past 2 years) or the Ciovita bib shorts (recently, since doing longer rides) and both get a ‘thumbs up’ from me.

#3 Build your base

Riding frequently will help you get used to ‘riding’. Hitting the trails once a month isn’t going to do much. Know that it gets easier them more you ride, and if it doesn’t, it’s definitely worth revisiting points 1 and 2 above.

But there’s much more to the journey –  follow my story on Instagramor find me on Strava, and let’s see if I can get more kilometres in…

Or leave questions in the comments below.

Author: Tanja Schmitz

Co-Publisher at Maverick Media and until recently, Fitness Magazine editor. Tanja now manages multiple digital platforms, consults and create exciting campaigns and opportunities in the fitness industry. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.

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