It’s been almost exactly a year to the day that I decided to race Transportugal. My initial goals were to race strong, finish high in the standings and to achieve something I’d never accomplished before. In retrospect, I see the problems I set myself up for with such a lofty goal.

This was to be only my 4th multi-day race ever, and even though the first was 10 years ago, and a lot of miles and races have been in between, there is no substitute for practicing the same thing over and over. It’s really impossible in my view to train for improvements at these kind of events without riding more of these kinds of events.

It’s also hard to know the first times when to push hard through the suffering and when to call the sissy wagon. Is a hard fall and a banged up helmet and body enough? Is a ripped sore ass, lost in the woods doing an extra lap enough? I don’t know. I think not now, but going back in time it seemed the right thing to do.

Fitness improves slowly in my endurance world. I lost almost 20 lbs this year, but would still be considered a heavy rider by any top level athlete in the sport. Did I learn to eat better this year? Oh yes, in so many ways. The choices I make now are substantially better and geared towards fueling a healthy lifestyle. The only cold I got this year was in Los Angeles, and that was probably stress from a business deal going sideways.

Did I learn to take better care of my bike, and look at items on it with concern and respect for their functionality better than I had before? Oh yes, you better believe it. But still there were new little things popping up unexpectedly. I rode in South Africa with stripped screws on the brake pad housing, which meant it was impossible to change the brake pads. Had it ever occurred to me that this would be a problem? I also went without derallieur hangers (which I ordered two of for Portugal and inexplicably couldn’t find before leaving for Cape Town), so one hard knock there would put me out of the race for sure.

But these are the things you learn, little things that either save time or stress, like how to strap the Garmin to the handlebar stem so it doesn’t flip upside down when you wipe out, what the best size hydro pack is for you (my total of 4.5 litres is ideal for a 4-5 hour session).

The right clothes – sure it’s easy to order based on a friend’s recommendation or a review online. But there is no substitute for experience. I changed to a smaller size bib short after so much chafing in Portugal, and it worked great in the heat in South Africa – no rubbing at all (although to be fair the days were much shorter).

I spent months looking at different sunglasses – I went to Portugal with cheap ones, and broke them then I crashed, but in Cape Town I invested in Oakley’s photochromic lenses which are unbelievable. For the first time ever I raced two full stages without removing them once. I even kind of forgot they were there – they adapt perfectly to light conditions. It sounds like a small thing, but it saved valuable energy to focus on my performance, instead of wiping dust or mud out of my eyes and squinting in the sun.

Even the way you pack for the race has an impact – I go with transparent boxes now – one for electronics, one for spare parts and tools and the other for nutritional items. Sounds silly, but you’d be surprised how much stress builds up from not being able to quickly locate a small item. After a few days your brain is on a different wavelength racing – add jetlag, alcohol and unfamiliar surroundings and you’re guaranteed to make stupid mistakes.

But I will say this, I had the best year’s riding ever. I rode with great riders from all over the world, saw old friends and made new friends. I had days where all I had to think about was riding and days when I saw sights to bring tears to my eyes. I laughed with friends, we grumbled and complained up steep hot climbs, and we woke each other up and night tossing and turning trying to get comfortable on crappy hotel beds.

I felt that I lived this year through racing and that’s why I’ll be doing it again next year.

Here’s my photo from the last day – to me it says everything about what it feels like to achieve your goals. I didn’t place at the top of the scorecard, but I had a great time being where I was, with the people I shared it with and I can’t wait to do it again.