So I overestimated the distance of the race by 266%. Nobody is perfect, and I'm a prime example.
Yesterday, with a fair bit of arm twisting by one of the Ghanaian cycling superstars, Randolph Mensah, I started the Tour d'Accra road race. When he showed up at our house on Saturday afternoon he didn't have all the details on the tip of his tongue. In fact, all he knew was the starting location (Teshie-Nungua police barrier) and approximate time - 8am Sunday morning. I thought I had him convinced that I was in no condition to race unknown distances. No, my target heart rate lately has been set on "recreation" not "decimation." Cleverly, he upped the ante by presenting two bright green sponsor t-shirts for me and the missus. Everyone asks about the missus - SJD. I had to accept.
Really, I did not want to race. The bike wasn't prepared. I didn't feel like waking up early.
Later that evening I was feeling a bit guilty. Here I am in Accra with a small fleet of bikes, parts and gear to spare. These guys bust their bee-hinds every race in the same duds, on beat up bikes, on terrible roads in scorching heat. No classes based on weight, age, ability or gender. Just show up and ride what you have. It is rough on the edges with just a hint of rules, but is pure racing in some sense. This time though we actually had to pin on numbers. The big time!
SJD, who has much better sense than I much of the time, told me that I really should race. She didn't go so far as to say that she would wake up at 6am to make coffee for me. Just nudged me out of bed. A free t-shirt and a nudge got me going. In fairness to SJD, she did drag herself out of bed by 10am to cheer us on passing Burma Camp.
I had just enough time to lube the chain, pump the tires up to pressure, and get all gussied up in City-Bikes/Metro Gutter wear before riding to the Teshie-Nungua - about 10 miles. It would be a perfect warm up...if the race were to begin on time.
Geez, that road between La and Teshie is in horrible condition. Potholes, dips, sand, crumbling edge rumble strips. I'm trying to think of a road in DC that might compare to it. Hmmm...
Things are running late again. About 90 minutes late. Given that many of the racers arrive by tro-tro, taxi or riding (like me) a little extra time is okay. After several introductions, a prayer and display of the prizes, the promoter goes over the course - in one of the local languages. I heard three laps, and mention of a few landmarks - Burma Camp, Achimota, Kaneshie, La. No doubt it seemed like a long race to me. I didn't really have any high expectations of finishing with the leaders. As these races go, once you're spit out the back from the pack, you tend to lose ground quickly.
Finally around 9:30am we're set loose behind a rolling enclosure police escort. Police, bikes, team cars. Add Sunday church traffic, goats, chickens, pedestrians, tro-tros and everything else Ghana into the mix. There is a lot to pay attention to. Early on I was content to sit mid-pack. The pace was pretty high at first, and the police were having a tough time clearing traffic. At one point we bunched up and instead of simply slowing, the lead riders overtook the police and weaved through a sandy shoulder between waiting tro-tros. Everyone followed including the team motorcycles. Talk about hairy.
The course eventually made its way onto roads with less congestion with the pace hovering at around 25mph. Seemed comfortable enough. I recognized the landmarks, but noted that we were headed farther and farther northwest of town before finally turning left on the Tema Motorway. The pack was split in two by a mid-pack crash. Two riders seemed to run out of road, or simply squeezed into a stopped car. Meanwhile the front of the pack seemed to accelerate, creating a gap. I was in the chase group now trying to bridge up to the lead. The police escort abandoned us and zoomed ahead. Traffic took over the roads, but a few volunteers were able to keep a few intersections clear while we passed. The 15 second gap steadily increased until we reached Kaneshie Market - notorious for traffic jams. We more or less had to give up the chase at that point.
At this point we had clocked 30 miles and were just now pointing back eastward towards Teshie. Two more laps of this? That is absurd! I rode out the lap with two other riders, eventually dropping one with a flat and the other to fatigue. Back at Teshie, I completed the first lap logging 47 miles. Do the math. Three times 47 equals 141 miles. I did this while stopping to purchase a water sachet. I have never ridden 141 miles, let alone raced that distance. The officials checked my number and I began the second lap. A few miles in, I decided I really could not face another 94 miles of Accra traffic and smog. I phoned SJD and told her my sob story and that I was coming home. She promised an ice cold smoothie would be waiting for me.
In the end I logged a decent 72 miles at 19.5mph average. Not bad, all things considered.
Today, I had to laugh reading the newspaper coverage of the race. In the end, Samuel Anim, of Accra won a TV and about $300 for first place. Randolph did not place, but was glad to see me out there. Total distance was stated as 53 miles. Apparently the course was one 47 mile lap, plus two 3 mile laps. Not 141 miles. Oops. Guess I mis-understood the pre-race instructions and didn't notice the course marshall telling me to turn right instead of left.
Oh well... Like I said, I'm not perfect.
The Ghanaians, for whatever reason, like to see me fizzle out and will likely invite me to the next race. The silly thing is is that I'll probably do it.