In a way, I was never designed to be a cyclist.
Not only was my mom cursed with a baby with only one happy kidney, my body also rejected the number one cycling sustenance of my era: bananas.
Unfortunately, my mom didn’t know about my system’s little shortcomings and didn’t understand either when I told her about it during those first few months.
Therefore, when I screamed my lungs out to alert her to the pain in my side, she started feeding me the mushy fruit when all other remedies failed to dry up my tears.
This resulted in me becoming more ill and wailing even more intensely, which meant I got more bananas rammed down my throat. This caused trauma on both sides.
While I complained bitterly as my precarious position worsened, my mom felt like a failure when her firstborn was the only one to lose weight at the monthly clinic weigh-ins.
Fortunately for both of us, a clear-thinking doctor made a proper diagnosis before I withered away and I was summoned to the operating table at the wee age of 13 months.
I suspect he was also the one that figured out the banana allergy, so that was scrapped from my diet for the next 39 years. Well, almost.
As a five-year-old, I remember gate-crashing a tea party and taking some slices of what I thought was fruit cake when no one was looking – an episode that almost landed me in hospital.
I recall another near-death experience when my mom dished up some fruit salad from which she thought she had extracted all evidence of banana. The trace elements clearly packed a punch and I was lights out once more.
By my early teens, I had developed such an aversion to bananas that even its smell made me nauseous.
When I took up cycling in high school, I soon realised that my inability to consume the fruit (in a sport where eating on the go was necessary) was a setback.
It was nature’s answer to today’s energy bars and gels and even the wrapper was biodegradable. It was sheer genius.
At my first international tour 20 years ago, the organisers stocked the neutral service vehicles with three food items: banana, individually wrapped squares of banana loaf and Bar-One.
My on-road menu was thus limited to one item and, after scoffing down Bar-Ones for six days, I was never to go near them again.
I made peace with the fact that banana would forever be a no-go zone and I would even say I was comfortable with the thought – until this last Absa Cape Epic.
During the months of training, my jealousy grew incrementally as my team-mate stuffed his face with one after another while I was battling my way through a selection of chewy bars that tasted worse and worse as the Epic grew closer.
Then, at the Epic, I found that little had changed in terms of mid-race menus as an assortment of banana-inspired delicacies greeted me at the water tables. I found that there was a limit to the number of Marmite sandwiches one could force down in the heat of battle and vowed to find a solution.
Afterwards, I turned to the most recent literature (aka Wikipedia) I could find on the subject and there was an immediate ray of hope when I stumbled on documented cases of people outgrowing the allergy.
This put in motion a series of events I referred to as the banana drill. The first step was one small bite of banana loaf at the Old Mutual joBerg2c and, after giving it 24 hours to settle, another.
In the months that followed, I graduated to a full slice and then to an entire loaf. Even though I still found the distinctive smell nauseating, there were, mercifully, no physical symptoms.
With the next Epic on the horizon, it was time to go for the real deal and I waited several hours for any repercussions. There were none and I took this as evidence that I was cured.
Then I entered the Moon to Noon day-night endurance race in Knysna knowing that I was biting off more than I would be able to chew with regard to fitness, but with a plan nonetheless.
Though the 170-kilometre route with more than 3 500 metres of climbing was simply beyond my reach, it presented me with an opportunity to try out my new diet as I kick-started my Epic preparations.
I had to stop dead to peel the first banana, but it went down like a dream. By the third one, I was an old hand at the technique.
After 25 years in the saddle, I was at last able to substitute bars for bananas and at the first water point I re-stocked my pockets.
Unfortunately there is no substitute for fitness and those golden fruits at the second water table were the destiny of another.
Full Stop Communications
041 368 4992
082 575 7991
On behalf of:
Cyclingnews & ASG Events