It’s a valid question as ‘epic’ must be one of the most overused, and in some cases misused adjectives out there. So what is the bar? Is there one? Is it a matter of time, distance, or climbs and gradients? Or might it also include other factors like weather; riding through extreme heat, cold, wet or wind?
I put this out there today to see what others thought. John van Seters (JVS), one of the masters of Everesting (he currently holds the records for both the longest and shortest Everesting rides, at 430.5km and 114.8km!) is well qualified on the topic of epics, said that the target needs to be unrealistic. I’d expand by adding that it should be something that exceeds by a significant margin anything you’ve achieved before.
Andy van Bergen, one of the evil masterminds behind the infamously difficult Hells500 epics, including the Everesting challenge, added that it should be something that requires “specific training and planning”. It’s probably not the ride that you can just dream up the night before.
The epic, then, takes us into special territory. This is more than your Sunday ride, even your big one. Much more.
It is by definition extremely difficult. It’s the kind of ride that takes you in all rosy eyed and spits you out wondering whether or not that was actually real. It’s the kind of the ride that leave riders by the side of the road wondering how on earth they can possibly finish. I loved Joel Nicholson’s response (he’s another master of feats of super endurance): tears. He didn’t say whether they were the bitter tears of defeat or the sweet tears of victory, but I think both apply.
I was going to say it had to be really long, and for most of us that’s true, but some of the recent Everesting rides like those of JVS, Gary Beazley, Pierre Geurn and George Mallory have achieved the 8848 mark in under 160km. Seeing the laps countdown last week on JVSs, record of 114.8km was an exercise in perpetual amazement and disbelief. How this is possible? What is consistent though is the effort that is sustained over a long period of time. These super efficient Everesting rides still take a very, very long time, think in the range of 18-19 hours.
Not that all epics have to be that long. At least I hope not!
Lets go back to one of the first points, that it basically needs to be unrealistic. I like this because it’s also a way of seeing the epic in relative terms. So, for example, if your biggest ride to date has been 20km, with minimal climbing, then I would suggest a 150km ride with 2500 vertical meters of climbing would present an epic challenge. It would require months of training and planning to completing it take much most of the day.
It’s easy to focus on scale, on the numbers. But at it’s heart what makes a ride epic is that this effort must take you way, way beyond your comfort zone both physically and even mentally on an inward journey as much, and even more than, an outer one. It’s a task that requires marshalling every ounce of focus, courage and steely determination to push on against the odds. It’s a ride that by even giving it your best shot, challenges how you perceive yourself, not just as a cyclist, but as a person because it asks you: who are you and what are you made of? Even to start, you have to stare down the imaginary gatekeepers mocking you before you’ve even clicked in.
To give yourself the best chance of success you have to move through fear and doubt. You have to be resourceful, seeking knowledge from all quarters while also learning through your own errors and successes during the training period.
And even then, this is no guarantee of success.
Because this is epic.
So what’s your epic going to be? Will it take you into uncharted territory, maybe some temptingly beautiful mountains, or will it be something close to home?