Hardening up for the Pioneer

In September Diana Carolin found out, much to her excitement, that she’d be racing the Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek in the mixed category for the Craft Racing Team. With just over a month to go before the start of the race we asked Di to share her crash training plans and psychological build-up with us.

For those of you who don’t know the Pioneer it’s a seven day MTB stage race which covers 570 odd kilometres, and climbs nearly 12 000 meters, through the Karroo and Garden Route. It passes through the towns of Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp, Prince Albert, De Rust, George and Herold, the terrain is tough, technical and very challenging. It’s a race I wanted to do for so many reasons: the challenge, the camaraderie, the hospitality, the thrilling singletrack, and the sense of achievement when you cross the finish line each day! This is the race with soul!


That said, I have seven and a half weeks to prepare. Eeeekkk!!! Normally you need three months, minimum, to prepare for a stage race of this magnitude. I did the race two years ago, as a solo lady, so thank goodness I have some idea of what to expect. Fortunately, recently I have had a good rest after the World Marathon Champs and have been doing lots of long base mile rides which are very important for endurance. A few weeks ago I started boot camp at Ab-Solution in Hout Bay because general body fitness and strength is very important for successful mountain bike racing. Being a woman it takes some serious training to be fit and strong enough to ride this rough terrain, to push your bike up unridable climbs and to carry it across rivers, especially if you’re racing with a guy in a mixed team. In order to be competitive and cope with the strains of the race you need to watch your weight and make sure that you eat healthily to keep your immune system strong and energy levels up.

It takes a tough cookie to do these stage races. You have to ride in all types of weather, from 40 degree heat to flash floods, up and down mountains, through mud, sand and rivers, and if you fall you have to pick yourself up, HTFU and carry on. Being a woman in a sport still dominated by men you do come across some men with big ugly egos, who hate being passed by a woman and will do just about anything to prevent that happening. You also get the plonkers who suck your wheel for kilometre after kilometre, without doing any work.

But there are many more perks than downsides to being a lady on the trails, and I write this with a big grin… We get to stand on the side of the trail and smile and flutter our muddy, dusty eyelids when we have a mechanical or a flat and most of the time some chivalrous male on his shining stead stops to help, while we stand by and utter profuse thanks. We also get to hang on to our partners pockets when we ride in mixed teams without one iota of embarrassment being pushed or pulled as it is a given, as a female rider, if we are expected to keep up with the guys.

Zoon Cronje

I have found that at the toughest moment in a race when you are dying quietly at the back of a racing bunch or struggling up a particularly steep climb you will feel a hand on your back giving you a shove. To those men, those angels I say “thanks” from every aching muscle in my body. Another perk of being a lady is that you can play the princess and book accommodation along the race route. After all we need our beauty sleep and comforts, and honestly sleeping in tents all in close proximity to each other can be quite disturbing with the farts and snores that go on throughout the night.

Something that has started happening recently and I believe is long overdue, is that equal prize money is being given to women and men. The Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek started the trend and I am pleased to see that other big events are following their lead. We ladies race just as hard as the men over the same terrain in these races, why shouldn’t we receive the same reward if we podium!?

On the whole preparing for a race like this you need to make sure you put in your hours, watch your nutrition, rest well and know that you will be eating many spoons of cement along the way (that’s mountain biker lingo for “harden up”). Luckily I have a great team mate, a nice strong man, and a great sponsor for support which is crucial to a great racing experience. Big thanks to all whom have made it possible for me to do this race again and happy training everyone. See you there!

Di’s Stage Race Tips

– Eat healthily in the lead up to boost your immune system.

– Don’t be too proud to take your partner’s pocket.

– Batting your eyelids can help you get help with a mechanical (it worked for Ariane Kleinhans!).

– Stay in a B&B if you can, it can be difficult to get a good night’s sleep in the tent village.

– Take a teaspoon of cement and harden up.


Diana Carolin is a sports’ massage therapist and a passionately competitive mountain biker. Keep up with Di’s Pioneer build-up and race by following her on Twitter @di_carolin.

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