„Bruno, after how many long-distance races can I start calling myself an ultracyclist?“ 

I asked my partner as we climbed to the highest point of Badlands, Calar Alto. In September, I completed my second long-distance race, Badlands: 760 km and 16000 m of elevation gain in 4 days and 12 hours. So…

Hello everyone, my name is Tatiana Myk, and now I can say that I am some sort of a beginner ultra racer! And there is something about it I want to share with you.

After completing my first race, Seven Serpents: Quick Bite! (550 km and 10000 m) in May with my friend Maya, I knew for sure that I wanted to  have a similar experience again. I was eager to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone in exchange for unforgettable experiences and in the meantime  explore remote corners where I had never been before.

One month before the  race,  I had the lucky possibility to join Badlands! Despite feeling unprepared, I accepted the challenge, needing only a bike and an adventure partner to ride as a pair.. 

Through 8bar bikes, where I work I got a 8bar MITTE V3 frame, whileShimano Germany offered their unreleased GRX 1×12 (10-50) groupset. With the ideal bike and supportive partner Bruno, I embarked on this challenge.

I was really excited!

Suffering even began before the race as I rushed to build my bike just two days before flying to Granada, leaving little time for testing. 

Unexpectedly, rain and storms were forecasted instead of the typical Andalusian heat. Two days before the start, food poisoning hit me hard, leaving my body empty and with fever. Doubts flooded my mind, questioning if I was truly prepared for the challenge and if my commitments to sponsors were a mistake.

Day one. At the start.

With my natural optimism, after a good sleep, having taken a bunch of tablets for food poisoning, and stuffing myself with a few rice crackers, on September 4th at 7 in the morning, my partner and I found ourselves at the starting line . I told myself : If I  finish or not, at least I have tried. I like the idea that this race will bring me to some amazing places where I have never been before while doing something completely unsupported. However, this was not completely true because I found soothing comfort and support in my riding partner along the way. Support, and a common cause.

The first 24 hours. Desert and Autopilot.

3, 2, 1… We started! More than 350 participants flooded the streets of beautiful Granada. The leaders were already ahead, ambitious enthusiasts followed them, then those who were more casual about the competition, and at the back, those who were participating for the first time. The start of Badlands turned out to be an amazing place where the most diverse group of cyclists gathered, and everyone wanted one thing: to either be the winner, score second to 10th place, or just battle their own race within themselves and their expectations.

„I want to finish in 3 days! And I will do it.“ Expectations. I felt too ambitious from the start with people around… 

Then I crashed at a fairly high speed on a slippery gravel turn. By that time, we had  only cycled 35 km so far. I saw blood on both hands and my left knee. I realized the cuts were very deep and severe. My skin cracked in several places, and blood dripped onto the dusty rocks. Shock, I couldn’t breathe. Did I break something? No, I can move. I weaped. It hurt and i was upset! I felt that I wanted to give up. “Forget everything, hide, and stop tormenting myself. Why am I doing all this? Who needs all this?” I was asking myself. 

A warm hand on my shoulder, Bruno beside me. Other riders approached, asking if I needed help. I calmed down. I’m not alone. I’m being helped. I’m not afraid anymore. Now I’m just angry. 

Accepting what’s happening and moving on, at 100 km, we were in the hospital, where they dressed and washed my wounds and gave me the necessary bandages and compresses to last for 5 days. I didn’t feel pain; the painkillers did their job well.

By evening, we arrived in the Gorafe desert. I screamed from joy! I remembered why I came here. To see these places. The desert stretched beyond the horizon, and due to the wind and sandstorm, the sky was the colour of the earth—dusty orange. There, we also met the sunset. Layers of sand in the air completely obscured it. Darkness smoothly came, and with it came the fog. Tired. The time approached midnight, and it seemed like we were not far from the covered 200 km mark and our hotel, where we decided to spend the night. But my strength left me. I couldn’t really eat well. Mistake. I took out rice with avocado, cooked specifically for the road, as nutrition after the food poisoning. But it had gone sour after only 15 hours. Everything I had experienced overwhelmed me at once, and I could barely move my legs uphill. Painkillers were wearing off, and the skin, torn to the flesh in places, burned and throbbed. I ran out of strength. I couldn’t talk anymore. It was in an incredible state I had never experienced before. Autopilot – My brain locked in a powerless body. I heard and understood what my partner Bruno was saying to me. But I couldn’t respond at all; my body wouldn’t obey. I needed to conserve energy for everything. I knew I had to get to the hotel, and there would be well deserved rest awaiting me, but not just yet. I had to keep moving, keep an eye on the arrow shown by the glowing navigator screen and pedal. All conversations were postponed.

We reached the hotel around 1 a.m., the navigator showed 200 km and 4300m of ascent… The shower burned the dried and stuck-to-the-bandage skin, the last thing I remember: Bruno stuffing a not-so-tasty dry tuna sandwich into my mouth…

Sleep, how wonderful it is. How I love to sleep… But we only slept for about 5 hours.

The second 24 hours. The highest point and unity.

I woke up, and the ability to speak returned to me! Perhaps my partner wasn’t so happy about it, but I was myself again. Sleep is such an important and incredible body-rejuvenating resource. The morning started with the same not tasty tuna sandwich, but optimism was again with me as we continued on our route.Ahead were still 550 km and 12,000 m of ascent. The incredibly delicious and juicy fig fruits picked from the trees we encountered along the way served as our second breakfast. Probably, this is the most lovely memory. The air heated up, and it became hot as we approached the beginning of the climb to the highest point of Badlands and the city of Gor. We weren’t at the end of the pack of riders, but we could clearly see that the townspeople were already tired of shouting and applauding everyone who arrived at the local bar before the ascent. I could only imagine how warm and hospitable all these people were greeting the first participants. I had absolutely no appetite, and it was difficult for me to force down the overcooked scrambled eggs, so I drank sweet drinks and rebandaged my wounds.

 After the break, we started the long and hot ascent to the observatory, the highest part of the race. We climbed for many hours and were greeted by the sunset right at the top! As a result, the downhill descent seemed even more beautiful, faster, and more relaxing. We were cycling around 10 hours. Our goal was to find a place  to sleep in little village Tabernas or somewhere around. Morally, I was ready to sleep on a bench in the park. But after the poisoning and eating whatever I could find, on top of everything else, I started to have heartburn… I was getting mad about food. I need something “normal” to eat. But what will be “normal” for me I also couldn’t tell. Somehow at 1am, after being 17 hours on the  bike we found a hostel which was open and had fresh toast which I could eat. Basic pleasures: tasty food, warm shower and soft bed. 

The third 24 hours. Let’s ride for all we’ve got in 4 days!

On the third day, a light euphoria settled in me again. There were only 340 km left, so we did more than half way in 2 days and if they were divided into another 2 days, we could celebrate triumph the day after tomorrow! To motivate myself, we decided to book a hotel at the top of the mountain above the city of Almeria. Never! Never ever book something when you are still laying in bed. According to our calculations, we could ride 150 km and squeeze in another 25 km after a good dinner in the major Andalusian city of Almeria. Another mistake.

The third day was like a haze for me due to the heat and an argument with my partner. There were many heavy thoughts and little motivation during the day. I only began to enjoy the views as the sun approached the sunset, the heat subsided, and we were in the Cabo de Gata, a magical reserve reminiscent of pictures from Africa. And then we saw the sea. And the Salinas with flamingos! Then there was Almeria’s beach and sand, and it got dark completely. I remember the annoying feeling of sand in my socks and small stones that bothered me with every pedal stroke. We were flying. Two little lights, we were racing at full speed to dinner in Almeria! The crisp air gave me an incredible boost. I dreamed of  fresh salad, rice, and salmon… We overtook several racers, and I was sure I will manage another 35 km until we will reach our booked hotel. We had delicious dinner in Almeria but afterwards, I realized that I simply couldn’t get up from the chair. And The itching pain in the area where the saddle touches the skin began to make itself felt. The skin on my ass was completely sore.. Suddenly, I realized that I also had aching knees. Yes, it was so bad that I could barely make it to our new hostel 500 meters away, which we had booked minutes before since it was impossible to have reached the initial hotel we had booked that morning. I was completely wasted, painkillers didn’t work anymore and we still had 200km and 6000m of elevation somehow to go.  

The fourth 24 hours arrived. Reason prevailed over emotions.

Over morning coffee, there was a discussion of the plan for the day, the next 24 hours, and about life in general. Emotions were running high, and the body demanded sleep and a second coffee. Being in the moment, I felt like a complete failure and that everything was falling apart for me. I was really tired and felt the pressure of my expectations.

I had these thoughts. Ultra cycling is not Instagram pictures and those few individuals who complete a race in 2 days without sleep. It’s not what many brands preach, showing ex-athletes in a hobby race saying, „you can do it too.“ It’s easy to believe in it when you are sitting at home. But Sometimes, you just can’t do it. Or at least not in  2-3 days. I completely forgot how hard it is to have 2 jobs, a personal life, and hobby all at once. . I agreed to participate in something I was neither physically nor morally ready for. And I built expectations that cornered me. I somehow stepped out of my comfort zone too much. It was just 200km till finished and I was about to scratch. I was so tired, demotivated and couldn’t stand all this pain in my body. And then I found some trick. Facts.

And reason prevailed over emotions. We reached Almeria (550 km into the route and over 10,000 m of ascent) in 65 hours. It was September 5th. And just 4 months earlier, on May 9th, I finished my first race, Quick Bite, the same 550 km and 10,000 m of ascent in 81 hours… So, I improved my results by 25%, which means I got better. It sounds a bit nerdy, but I needed these numbers just to calm down and tell myself that I did a good job. To realize this, so to speak, with facts. 

Bike and gears were working well. Bruno was strong. I still have some painkillers left. And I decided to go till the end. And at least try. 

The fact is that long-distance races are a tough mental and physical challenge. It’s not for everyone. Everything can happen with you on this journey. It’s mostly about how you adapt to these situations. Unfortunately, full recovery after the race took around 3 months… So it’s really an incredible immersion into your own world and the boundaries of your body. You get to know yourself and your partner, if you’re in a relationship, from different sides. Eventhough, sometimes not always from the most pleasant one. During this race, I crossed the boundaries of my body and mental health several times. And this is exactly what I wanted. Put myself to a hard challenge and try to break through.

And you know what? I want to do it again! 

Damn it, I did it! We did it! It was really a Worselands for my body and mind! Without consistent training, a new bike, food poisoning, a crash and all with my partner, who helped me a lot to ease the sweet suffering of the ultra-distance Improvementlands race.