What is BikingMan Oman?
Bikingman Oman is self-supported 1,000km cycling challenge around Oman.
Before the race
Arrived a few days earlier to Oman to go through compulsory equipment check and tried to install the route map. It was difficult to find ways to do it as I have never used any navigation devices or used navigation for my training. After a few panic attacks, BikingMan crew loaded the Middle East map on my Garmin and Jason Black (my hero!) have loaded the route. I wanted to have a back up on my mobile but by that time I was so exhausted from the panic that I skipped it. That was the only stress I had before the event. At that point, I didn’t realize yet the importance of navigation system in this kind of events. This realization will come much later.
I packed and repacked my bag so many times. Surprisingly, the weather was warm, so all the warm clothes were not required, and they went into the bag for the next days. Wake up call at around 1:30 am to have breakfast and have enough time before the official start at 3 a.m. We started all together and it was flat for the first 60-70km which meant we stayed in small or larger groups for a while. This helped me to get comfortable with Garmin navigation and get into a rhythm. Once the sun was up, the views opened, and they were breathtaking! I stopped few times to take photos. Our path was going through the mountains with rolling hills. We have experienced some strong crosswinds, so strong – I found it difficult to keep the bike stable. But views were making up for all the discomfort! I didn’t realize how long it would take till the first coffee/ tea break. The first opportunity I had was at about 156km. Typically, by that time I already have 3 stops. Thankfully, I had few bananas and some gels with me to keep me going for this distance. Following that coffee break was a long stretch to Ibri and then towards Jebel Shams for about 150km fighting the headwind. During the training, you have a choice to tailor your route, but here there was no choice – all of us had to go through that headwind.
Jebel Shams: I have been to Jebel Shams before but only hiking. I didn’t really experience the road to the top by car, so I had no idea what to expect. I heard from others it was tough and my plan was to tackle it on the second day after taking enough rest. As I was getting closer to Jebel Shams, I saw our fellow cyclist from Dubai Simon who was descending. I remembered him passing me at some point on the highway not too long ago, and I understood he already climbed Jebel Shams and was coming back. It gave me a lot of hope and encouragement to try to go up. It was about 5-6pm in the evening. Despite having a hotel booking at the bottom of the mountain, I decided to start the climb. On the go, I have also convinced some others, referring to Simon and we all went on concurring the “beast” with a lot of hope. Even thought of coming down on the same day! (ha-ha) From the bottom to the top it is about 50km with first 25km of easy and last 25km of some extreme 18-22 percent climbing roads and gravel section. By the time first 25km was done, it became totally dark and I couldn’t see anything in front of me. As I entered the first serious climbing stretch, I almost had a heart attack – my heart rate was all over the roof, I struggled to breathe and felt like collapsing at any moment. I had to stop to collect myself and decided that I better of to walk to avoid the medical emergency. From now on, I walked most of the steep climb sections. As I hit the gravel section, I started to be hopeful its going to be over soon. All my Garmin devices and mobile died and I was in total darkness about time or distance left to the top. Gravel felt never ending with up and down segments. I couldn’t see much in front and was hitting rocks and bumpy sections left and right. I had no choice but keep moving. At some point I had a moment of madness as I saw the sign pointing to the right but there was no road on the right. I thought I was going mad at that moment. I must also admit, I have darkness phobia. This was something I suffered from childhood. When I was by myself not knowing how long to go, it was haunting me again. I screamed and freaked out several times seeing some creatures staring at me from the darkness. All fueled me to move forward without stopping. it sounds funny as I imagine myself now: freaking out in the middle of the road out of nothing and trying to run as fast as I can uphill, pushing the bike along.
I was delighted to find some fellow athletes catching up with me at some point. What a relief! Now I wasn’t alone anymore. However, there was almost a breaking point when I saw a sign stating it is 5km to go to Jebel Shams resort which meant another 1 to 1.5 hours or may be more. I had to accept immediately, there wasn’t any chance to stop. By that time adding another 1 or 2 hours didn’t seem a big deal. A glimpse of hope emerged when I saw Andreas taking video of us. He informed it was only 3 km to go on asphalt before we reach the Jebel Shams Resort – our first checkpoint (CP1). When I finally saw the lights of the resort, they seemed the most beautiful thing I have ever seen: so bright, so magnificent!
It was almost midnight, 20-21 hours past the start and about 6 hours on Jebel Shams itself. Watch the video I made in the morning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zab5UV9ADQQ
Day 1 from Biking Man Perspective:
I slept only 4 hours and surprisingly was fresh and ok in the morning. Unlike the day 1, start of day 2 was lonely. Everyone was going out at their own time. I went off alone at about 6 a.m. – just before a sunrise. Seeing sunrise on Jebel Shams was amazing. Everything was so beautiful: mountains, canyon, trees, perfect weather.
Prank: As I was on Nizwa highway enjoying some straight easy road, I see biking man crew on the side of the road indicating me to make a full stop. I was a bit worried as I didn’t know if I have done something wrong. Axel comes in saying that I am in the wrong direction. What?! Wrong direction?! My heart skipped a beat. Where did I make a wrong exit? Next thing I hear was a “Happy Birthday” song. Aha-a-a!!! Today is my birthday!!! I totally forgot. Jebel Shams climb has knocked out everything. It was a nice surprise! Thank you for making it special! Watch it here:
The prank reminded me to keep a close eye on where I am going. From now on I kept close look at my Garmin and route. As the day was progressing, other riders started to catch up with me. I met Omani team and Fabian.
Day 2 from Biking Man Perspective:
Check Point 2 and day 3:
Unlike CP1, CP2 was busy with riders. Some arrived earlier, others arrived later. I was there at about 8 to 9pm and close to 10pm I decided that I will start at 12 midnight. What a madness!!! I informed others about my intention and Fabian agrees to leave at the same time. That meant sleeping for 2 hours only. Eventually, the adrenaline level was so high I couldn’t sleep even for one minute. Just laying down for 2 hours praying in my mind to give me some sleep. Cycling at night through small villages was interesting – we were chased by street dogs, harassed by some teenagers on the fast car, followed by someone who claimed they were a police officers, passed several police check points. Finally, we found ourselves on the road with no lights and beautiful endless sky with thousands of starts. It was beautiful! However, it didn’t last long. In few hours, I noticed patches of fog which was getting thicker and thicker and from around 3am till sunrise we hardly saw anything around us.
Sur and sea side: Coming from the mountains, the sound of waves felt surreal. Are we at the sea side already? How tempting it was to go and jump into water! After having breakfast in cafeteria along the way, Fabian gets a puncture, and it was a serious one. At that point, Fabian tells me to continue my ride and he will try to catch up once puncture is fixed. I left with heavy heart and for a very long time was afraid I will have some mechanical problem as punishment. Hills started to roll as I was getting closer to Sur, but I still had some energy to go through them.
Coastal road: that stretch tested me physically and mentally. Its good 100+ km stretch and when it started I was already 200+km (about 10 hours) on my bike. I’ve been on that road before, and I knew there was one petrol station along the way. I went low on water before I found it, which was very dangerous. The only person I saw after Fabian was Marcus, who caught up with me at that petrol station. It was great to see a fellow participant and reinsure yourself you are on the right way. We exchanged few words and he reminded me there is another big hill coming. By that time, I already did almost 300km. It started to feel uneasy in my knees, wrists have been numb for a long time and I was experimenting with different positions on handlebar to get some stretch. With only 120km or so to go, there was no choice but to continue. Surprisingly, the hill we all were worried about was gentle. Nothing, compared with Jebel Shams. I called it a “baby hill”. As I was coming close to 350km I was finding it more and more difficult to move. With about 70km to go to the finish line, I found another cafeteria and decided to stop to rest and eat. I was a very demanding customer at that cafeteria, so much so, that passing by Omani paid my bill to calm me down. When you cycle 350km in one go with no sleep, your nervous system starts breaking down. That gesture by the Omani passer by grounded me down. Surprisingly, after that break a new wave of energy hit me. It was mostly downhill from now on, and I started to push as much as I can to get over it fast. Garmin navigation was showing I was on and off route from time to time, so I was following the sign boards towards Muscat. At some point, Garmin alerted me on missing the exit again which I have disregarded and continued straight. Only after some time I realized I was in fact on the wrong route… But it was too late and since I was going towards Muscat any ways, I decided to keep going and find my way through the city. As I was getting closer to Muscat, roads started to get busier and busier. I had about 15-20 km to go to the finish line, so I collected all my courage and attention to keep an eye on the cars and trucks. I think this was the first time I started to feel really scared. I kept thinking of pre-race advises by the Biking Man crew “Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die”. I was thinking about my mother, about my promise to myself to stay safe at any point in time, not taking risks, not to do anything stupid. I was clearly going doing an opposite and heading into some sort of disaster. Since my Garmin GPS navigation wasn’t making any sense to me, I had to use google maps and heading towards “Lighthouse Muscat” (finish location name as per the map). My mobile had about 10% of battery and I was praying to have enough to get to the finish line. When I finally arrived at “Lighthouse Muscat”, I saw a shop in front of me called “Lighthouse Muscat” with no sign of race finish line. Wrong place! I think the entire race went in front of my eyes in one second... To go through those 3 brutal days, no sleep, struggle, pain and arrive at the wrong location…. How stupid! I was heading to a meltdown. At that moment, I see my phone wringing and May from Dubai is calling me. With just 6% battery left, I reply… What I hear next felt like God himself called me. She told me, she knows I am lost and she is tracking me. She gave me directions to the correct finish line. That was such a great gift and gave me the energy to keep going in a hope to finally finish the challenge. Crossing the finish line was an unbelievable moment. Couldn’t believe it was over. With about 21 hours on the bike, 420km in one go, meltdowns, hitting the wall, getting reborn, going down on water, getting lost, losing hope, stress attacks, experiencing miracle - it was finally over.
Day 3 from Biking Man Perspective:
Thank you to everyone who supported me. Thank you, everyone, who believed in me and understood my aspirations to participate in this challenge. There are so many of you!
Thank you very much!