A veil of darkness hung over the jungle, punctuated by a single beam of light coming from my bike. The muggy night air full of strange noises, my senses heightened, my mind alert despite having not slept in over 24 hours. My legs, on the other hand, were beginning to feel the effects of cycling for 400km non-stop. I reasoned with myself that if I could just make it through this section of the race, I’d be ok, and that’s when it happened…
Without warning my front wheel slid from under me and in an instant, I was on the floor. I landed heavily on my left hip, but I refused to move, scared that the pain shooting up from my hip would intensify. The sudden hiss of a snake brought me to my senses and in a flash, I was on my feet, bike in hand and running down the dirt track, my pain a distant memory. I got back on my bike and peddled frantically, heart pounding as I questioned my decision to race. In that moment I was in the middle of BikingMan Taiwan, a 1,125km ultra cycling race that is designed to push participants to their limits in a voyage of discovery and empowerment.
The race started at 4am at the foot of Taiwan’s most iconic building, Taipei 101. Twenty-eight riders set off on their own individual quests; some had come to explore at their own pace, others, myself included, were there to race, and this meant inordinately long stints in the saddle, limited sleep and plenty of suffering.
As riders settled into their own rhythms, I found myself alone with nothing but the little voice in my head. The only way to compete is to take your body and mind to places you didn’t know it could go. I was a long way from reaching that point as the bright neon lights and dazzling signs of Taipei gave way to more tropical surroundings, however, by the end of the first day I was well on my way. For all of the suffering of an ultrarace, there are moments that wash it all away, filling you instead with a sense of pure joy. Arriving at Sun Moon Lake and check point one, to be greeted by the majestic Longfeng Temple, was one such moment.
My plan had always been to ride through the first night, but that plan was put to the test when, upon cresting the race’s first major climb, I began to descend into heavy fog and rain. As much as I wanted to stop and seek refuge, I knew that to be in with a chance of finishing in the top five, I needed to ride on. That night was one of the longest and loneliest of my life.
By the time a slither of light appeared on the horizon, I was on the verge of quitting. My mind was warped, I was beginning to hallucinate, and I knew I needed sleep. I lay in a field to rest my eyes, only to panic and think that giant ants were crawling all over me. There were no ants, just an imagination and body desperate for sleep. After almost 30 hours and 540km, I arrived at the second check point, delirious and adamant I couldn’t go on. I was in third position.
Two-and-a-half hours later, following a hot shower, food and much needed sleep, I somehow mustered the energy and mental resolve to get back on my bike. My saving grace was that, other than one climb, the road was pretty much flat all the way to the Tropic of Cancer, the next check point. These hopes could have been washed away by the torrential rain, but instead the rain focused my mind, making me believe that I had a chance of making the top five, and possibly even finishing on the podium.
The next 150km went by in a blur of street and tail lights, and this time I knew I would be stopping for sleep before one last push to the finish. I had only intended to sleep for 4 hours, but extreme fatigue meant I overslept, waking in a state of panic 1.5 hours after my alarm was meant to rouse me. I had dropped from third to seventh and I used this as motivation to hunt down the riders who had passed me.
I caught up with three riders during a section of the race that took us on one of the most beautiful stretches of road I have ever ridden. The Taroko Gorge climb, whilst relentless at over 70km long, is set against a staggering backdrop of sheer cliffs and domineering mountains littered with remote temples. By the time I crested the summit I knew I had no choice but to attack the final 220km in the hope that I could regain third place. I found myself descending in the dark, rain and fog once again. The road ahead was barely visible, but I knew with one last effort, the race would be over.
With just 100km to go, I saw the distinct flashing of a bike light ahead – the third-place rider was in my sights. I passed him as fast as I could, never looking back as I pressed on, heart racing from the effort and legs burning, and yet something told me he was still there. For 50km I gave it my all, but at the penultimate climb of the race, my legs began to falter, and I could no longer sustain my efforts.
I watched helplessly as third became fourth, the same flashing bike light I had chased down now slowly disappearing up the road, and with it all hope of a podium finish. The final 50km of the race was the hardest, seemingly going on forever until finally I was cycling along the street lit roads of Taipei. This was only my fourth ever ultrarace; I was competing against some of the sport’s leading names, and I’m proud that I battled on right until the finish, achieving my goal by finishing fourth overall. This achievement may have escaped me however, for seeing my wife, 3-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter waiting for me at the finish line, at 2.30am, was the greatest prize I could have ever asked for.
Distance: 1,125km | Ascent: 15,000m | Time: 70 hours 30mins | Place: 4th | Sleep: 7.5 hours
Adventure athlete Marcus Leach knows what it means to #BeResolute when times get tough. Pure perseverance and determination are what helped him to achieve his goal of finishing in the top five and refusing to give up helped him to stay focused on the task ahead. Will you continue to #BeResolute in February?
*Photo by David Styv and BikingMan