We have to start a few days back from the actual race to appreciate the full extent of how crazy a weekend this was.
On Friday morning I woke at 4:20am and went to the airport, to fly to Johannesburg, the polar opposite of East London, to make a presentation to a client. Work comes first unfortunately, when you are not a professional athlete. Flight, Gautrain, 20min walk. Pitch, discuss, 20min walk, Gautrain, Flight, home at 9pm. Pack last things. To bed at 10pm. 2am scare. Very little sleep after that. 6:15am wake up, 8:45am flight to East London.
No bike in East London – SAA have left it in Cape Town. %$#^*&%%$
Off to register and collect new race gear. Race gear been completely destroyed in heat press. Resembles old chewing gum in places. **^$#$&(*&%^&
Revert to old kit. Wait for bike.
Assemble bike in the rain. No warm-up. Stiff legs. Not ideal…
Rack bike in pouring rain. Fail.
…and so went the “race preparation” and “rest phase” into the race start. Race morning presented itself as gloomy, windy and with much excitement. I woke up feeling tired but willing to hurt, which is a good thing in these environments where willingness to suffer equals reward in many cases. The excitement in the air was palpable and the fresh air was combined with nervous laughter and movement all around me. I sat quietly on the beach after failing a swim warm-up (12 degree water had me doing a dry-land warm-up instead) in the sand with my eyes closed, absorbing as much as I could and accepting the fate I was about to tempt. I knew I had to power the bike to get away from the guys I would normally run with. I knew that the deep fatigue in my body from weeks of initial prep for races in 6 weeks time would mean a slower run than normal.
I was well aware of what had to be done to get the victory today.
So I went at it full steam.
Around the first buoy with an ice cream headache and a member of a small pack of 6 who had gotten away. Awesome. I stuck my head down and sat feet for as long as possible until I lose them feet going around the 2nd buoy and back into the current. It’s choppy and windy and I am being thrown all over the place. I accept and make the best of it as I still have clear water to hopefully, all my biggest rivals.
Onto land and the scramble begins. Wetsuit off, run run run… find your bag, get all the gear out, wetsuit legs off and run out to find your bike. Hop onto bike and get shoes in…
GO INTO SHOES, FEET!!!
I head off and am struggling with my shoes, getting 2 out of 3 straps on each shoe fastened and decide it’s good enough for now, having fretted and lost enough time already. As per agreement with coach, we want to hammer the bike and test the legs there. I hear there is about 550m of climbing on the way out and the hills start almost immediately. By 5km I am in 2nd overall and I can see the superstar swimmer ahead of me, about 90 seconds up the road. I am content with how I am riding and settle in riding the hills well and managing to open gaps on everyone behind me slowly and steadily. At 30km I catch the last link to the lead in the age group race and hope the guy will help me a little at least. We hit 45km and I had done enough asking for help with no result, so made the decision to put my head down and ride home as hard as I could without destroying my legs. 800m of climbing had already happened and I was sure there was at least 200m on the way back.
I turned at 1h30 and knew that I could make it home in under an hour if the weather held. By holding I mean that it kept raining softly and consistently and that the wind would stay around 30km/h and not be too gusty. It was nasty out there already, dressed in white lycra and riding skinny tires with a pointy helmet. We are a strange lot, us triathletes.
But the weather was having none of my plans in it’s own mind. The rain became torrential, the wind gusty and I was out the aerobars quite a bit coming home, even having to hop a few potholes on the way back. 62min later and some seriously scary moments later, I had pedaled my way into T2 first with my superstar swimmer on my tail. Next time, let’s work together and instead of putting 2min into the field, let’s make it 5min??
A quick transition and I was onto the running route. I had been running 3:45 per kilometer quite easily in training and was looking forward to running the same sort of speed for the run. I had almost completely forgotten my crazy build up to the race until I hit the 5km mark and my body just shut down on me. I was well hydrated, full of calories and ready to rumble but the latent fatigue and stress was hating me. My heart rate dropped and my pace settled to a far less accommodating pace, considering I was being chased by a pack of fast runners.
I held through the first lap and managed to hold until about 13km when my good friend Marcel Roos passed me like a freight train. I had no answer, no matter how badly I wanted to go with him. I was in a world of pain and my legs felt like lead. I let him go with quite a bit of disappointment, but such is life, no? These things happen. 1km down the road I ran past an old mate and he picked up his pace to run the next 2km with me, helping me lift my pace a little again and stay focused on the task that lay ahead. I was still 2nd overall in the amateur race and reminded myself of that.
I made the last turn at 16.5km and saw that I had around 2min on a charging youngster and thought to myself… “stuff you kid, this old man is going to make sure you don’t catch him”. I closed my eyes and bombed down Bunkers Hill and managed to hold him to the finish line. This may sound strange to you but the race was over very quickly and almost disappointingly so.
I had a fun day out, suffered the elements, fought myself and come up just short of the overall win. Sure, my run was slow, about 8min slower than I had planned on running, but the reasons for it were easy to understand. I smiled as I walked the finish chute and thanked the crowds for coming out, despite the weather. A content settled over me that it had been a massive weekend already and that this was a very satisfactory day considering.
A special thanks to everyone who made the weekend possible. To sponsors Fairbairn Private Bank, Axis House, Garmin, BoE, Velocity Sports Lab, Ceepo, Puma, Whaspgel – many thanks. I was kitted to the nines out there, despite the kit issues. I am blessed to have you as a part of my life.
To all the warriors who fought out there. I heard 200 punctures out on the bike route. I heard 10 people had hypothermia on the swim. I saw many a hobble on the run. You are all warriors for choosing to race in the worst conditions ever. You humble me with your ability to keep going, despite the chips being down. You give me inspiration and you are the reason we all keep racing.
I salute you. Pics to follow shortly….