Jeannie Dreyer not only won the women's category of The Munga, but finished second overall by a mere thirteen minutes in a field of determined ultra endurance athletes. For those who don't know: The Munga is a 1000 kilometre plus, non-stop race across the heart of the Karoo from Bloemfontein to Wellington, outside Cape Town. We chatted to her about her experience, and to find out what it takes to win a race of this magnitude.
Not many people would be attracted to a race like the Munga. What drew you to the race in the first place?
"The toughest race on earth" ...Am I tough enough? How could I miss the opportunity again to test my all. I think there will definitely be a spike in interest in The Munga next year: how tough is a race when a girl manages a podium position overall?
What was your weapon of choice: hardtail, dual suspension or gravel bike, and do you think it was the right call?
Still so much debate as to what is the right bike. Maybe I wouldn't be tough enough on a gravel bike? With carrying close on 4 litres of water and with the elevation gain across the duration of the route not being much, weight seemed insignificant to me. It is all very personal really, but for me comfort over 1000km is a no brainer as you know you are going to hurt, you just want to lessen the pain for as long as you can. I can only treat my Cannondale Scalpel like a princess, as she sliced through the relentless headwind, over corrugations and soft sand like dream machine.
What sort of training (physically and mentally) do you do for a race of this sort?
I think this race for me has been an accumulation of my life happenings and my genetics. My mom always reminds me of the day I came home from nursery school and told her I that I had won a running race AND I beat all the boys. Being a stay at home mom to Callum 6 and Ruby 4, I have thrown all my energy into bringing them up. My 'time-out' is when I exercise and race and so I wholly appreciate when I get time to do it and I just thrive on being able to ride and run, and even more so when I get to do it for more than a day, and non-stop.
What was the hardest part of the race for you and how did you deal with it?
The almost relentless headwind for the entire three days was mind-blowingly crazy. I mean, Cape Town is downhill from Bloem but there was rarely a moment when we didn't have to pedal to keep moving forward. But as I have said: if it wasn't for the crazy headwind that kept us slightly cool, we might all be lying in the Karoo frazzled to the bone by the searing heat.
What was your favourite aspect of The Munga?
I LOVED it all! The beauty of the route totally surprised me. The terrain was far more challenging than I expected. Riding into a sunset and again into a new day is so surreal, and such soul food. Meeting the people of the Karoo who open their homes to all us smelly riders, and the support stations with all the helpers that just can't do enough for the participants.
Tell us about riding with Heinrich at the front of the race for so long. How did it help you ride as a pair? Did you discuss the inevitability of only one person being able to win?
Heinrich and myself criss-crossed paths up until the halfway waterpoint at Pampoenplek (the water station before Loxton). We left from there together. We just plodded on together, me either ahead of him (I didn't want anyone to think I would be drafting him) or on opposite sides of the road. Funny enough we hardly spoke to each other for the 500-odd kilometres we rode together, and I was certainly happy to be entertained by the thoughts in my head, and he seemed much the same- we were a great team when it came to opening and closing gates.
We never chatted about the finish line ahead although I am sure we both gave it a little thought. 18km from the support station in Ceres is where the overall race winner was decided. Here we said our farewells as I had to pump my front tire every so often as I made my way to the stop. As we were aware then that Mike Woolnough was rapidly gaining on us it only made sense that Heinrich maintain his lead in the men's category and leave me at the support station to mend my tire. For me, I had exceeded all my expectations and would ride the final 70km stretch as hard as was possible by then, with a little bit of hope that I could catch Heinrich before the finish. However, I do believe the result is as it should be as Heinrich is an excellent descender and would have owned The Munga from the top of Bainskloof, regardless.
Will you be back anytime soon?
Having had such a radical experience of The Munga, I am sure my husband Martin will be on the start line next year, and maybe it will be the next Dreyer dice. Watch this space.