Photo Credit Jacques Marais
Before I start with the actual race report, which can be somewhat boring, I need to put big thanks out there to Max Cluer, first and foremost. The inspiration for his life comes from the passion he has for people achieving great things for themselves. Max pushes the limit with events, with people and with himself. His events are impeccably organized and always a treat. Having one of the best MC’s in the world to keep the vibe going helps and his energy is what makes the day that step above. If you can get to any of his events, do it. I have no professional association with Max, I just love his work.
As such, I decided to head back to Triple Challenge after the win in the Multi-X last year. I knew I would be tired, having raced Kona 4 weeks prior and Maui 2 weeks prior. I would never have imagined thinking I would be going into the race with 1 big toenail, the other hanging on perilously and both still sensitive. I would never have imagined I would be racing with a locked up right hip, the product of 3 long haul flights in a row. Would I have imagined waking up at 4am with a head cold? Not in your wildest dreams.
Such was the start to this year’s Triple Challenge – I had a triple threat of deep fatigue, injury and questionable health going for me on race morning but was up for the day. It was only going to hurt for 4 hours, so I figured I should have a race plan at least, considering I was racing some pro guys, some seriously fast amateurs and had the big X on my back. Fun boys’ adventures to try and hurt each other, but high five each other afterwards, you know…
The day was bright and less muddy than I expected which was a blessing for me as I had no idea how the hip would hold under sudden movement. We set off and I started specifically slow, letting Justin Porteous go early on, as I knew I would never have his speed, him being an Xterra specialist, me being a 9 hour I-will-get-less-tired-than-you-eventually kind of guy.
Myself, Stu Mac & Gareth “work on top, play in the back” Harrington were running comfy, steady and managed to bridge to Porteous at 6km or so. I thought that I would have but one opportunity to try and hurt him today and this was it, so I ran by steady, his breathing in my neck like an ominous undeniable eventuality settling in there. I was working up front trying to get these 3 guys to drop back but there was none of it. They hung like a bad rash, despite my feeble attempts at getting rid of them.
Photo Credit Triple Challenge
I ran specifically slow up the last hill as I knew the flat section into T2 would give me a chance to bridge back and hammer the transition for Plan B. There was no Plan C so I was going to go ALL IN on Plan B, which involved getting out of sight and hanging on for dear life, as I was well aware that the body was going to high five me in the face, eventually. 4 went into T2 together and I came out with about 20seconds and just put the hammer down as hard as I could. At 10km it was a minute, at 20km it was 3minutes and by 30km I was 4 minutes up on a chasing group including Cas Van Ardenne and John Ntuli, who was a big threat if he could hold it together, considering he dropped us like flies on the first run.
Around 30km there are a few short, sharp hills. The first two I was out the saddle, motivated, going for it. Hill 3 I was seated, begging my legs for forgiveness, promising that if they held on until the end of the ride, I would take them for 10 sessions of floatation when we got home.
“come on boys!” – as my Fretten would say.
There was nothing in return. The boys had gone on holiday, right there and then. Instant heart rate drop of 10 beats, motivation out the window and the deep fatigue hit like a freight train in a Denzel movie. I started bobbing and weaving and power shifted trying to get over a little rise and somehow heard a ping (broken spoke) instead of a bang (ripped rear derailleur) and there was definitely someone looking out for me at that moment.
The spoke was catching into the derailleur but I kept pushing on as decently as I could, hoping I would be able to hold the boys off till T3 where my run should have held me for the win but they pounced like hungry tigers once they caught sight of me. Porteous is a pro and handled himself accordingly, passing me without a word, Ntuli hanging on for dear life to his wheel as I was bending the spoke back into the wheel in order to progress a little more smoothly.
I chased hard on the descent and had them in sight until I overcooked a bank and ended up hugging the adjacent tree with my left arm and I knew I was in trouble then, my concentration levels peaking at Amy Winehouse somewhere on the scale between 1 and Lindsay Lohan. It was desperate stuff out there.
Photo Credit: Jacques Marais
Then the best moment of the day as I hit the last tar section. 5 proper African dogs must have seen this bleeding, weary eyed “thing” in a white suit emerge from the bush and thought this was easy pickings, flanking me 2 on each side and one in the rear as I peddled hell for leather for the 2km to get rid of them. I was petrified and impressed at the same time, a rare combination that led to cramped calves and an elevated heart rate again. I must have made some time back there because shortly after this I got into T3 as Porteous was coming out and I could see Ntuli in there. I reckoned 90sec to Porteous and 60sec to Ntuli and somewhere the never-say-die 4 year old in me said “catch them”. Where the voice came from is another story entirely considering I was hanging on by one fingernail at this point with cramps in calves, hamstrings and quads.
Nevertheless, I set out and caught Ntuli at 2km and gave it my all when I passed him as I could see Porteous ahead, maybe 30-40seconds. Just as I made my mind up that I was going to catch him it felt like I got stabbed in the hamstrings approaching the aid station. I ran straight past it, had to go back to get a band, went in the wrong direction again and lost 2nd place to a far more calm and collected Ntuli at this point.
There are moments out there where you have to laugh and I had such a great one about 30seconds later. You have to jump into and out of this 2m deep pit on the run. I was on Ntuli as I jumped into the pit but the landing sent me into what can only be described as panic mode. My body was revolting against my mind and I was contorted in spasm, standing still in fear of moving in a 2m deep hole near Inanda Dam, 2km from the end of a 4 hour day with only a smile to laugh at myself. This was it, the moment of truth where I had to obey. Movement meant immobility. It took about 30seconds but I made it out the hole, now running with a straight right leg (the hip had truly had enough) for a while until the cramp eased and I could jog to the finish.
I had forgotten about Porteous and was happy to plod behind Ntuli to the finish. The Battle Royal was over and the body had truly given in, the mind only a short umbilical cord ride behind it, thinking of pizza and ice cold Jack Black Beer.
The best man won. The new kid, who came in second, 60seconds down, despite getting horribly lost on the first run, is the future. The guy who came in 3rd was just happy to have given them a run for their money. I left nothing in the bank; it was all out there somewhere. The joy of having my family out there to watch was definitely a part of it, the fact that special people had made the effort to come out to watch from a distance kept me moving and the spirit of competition and racing neck on neck for 4 hours with 2 great competitors was the icing on the cake.
The battle was over, but we are all aware that the war is far from won. Triple Challenge is a race that is going to grow and better, stronger guys will arrive to challenge. I will never go into this race quite in the state I was in again. Mistakes get magnified on a course that leaves to margin for error and it’s an honor to have been part of the action out there.
I am now done racing until January. I will share my 2011 race schedule later in the week but for now, I need to learn to walk forward down stairs again and this body needs some rest before the next adventure. There will just always be another…