On Friday this last week past TheHousemate and myself made the trek up to Buffelspoort to race the first Xterra race of the season. Having raced 70.3 the week before and having picked up a great weight loss inducing (read: energy sucking monster) gastro during the week, I have to admit I was less than excited to be putting a tired body through 3 hours of extreme exercise at altitude. I was, however, quite excited for the route, which was supposedly proper muddy and proper tough.
My goals were a top 10 with a star studded field lining up for the race and possibly a first in my age group division.
The area of Buffelspoort is exceptionally beautiful and made me miss home nearby in Pretoria just that little bit. Given 4 weeks of near non-stop rain, the area was lush, green, thick and filled with mud. Oh, and quite hilly. This excited me as I was in all white gear and hadn’t ridden in mud since Sani2c last year. Again the Caveman rule of low air, big gear, no fear was supposedly the correct method with which one approaches these “challenges” which included 2 climbs up a ladder up the dam wall (heavily overflowing) and a few mud pits which were virtually hip deep. Proper boys fun, and as such, 1200 people in the field.
The gun went off and there was, as always with these shorter races, a plethora of bravado, ego, aggression and passionness among the front crew. At times it’s tough to tell if its water bubbles or froth from the mouths of pro athletes that makes up whats affectionately known as “the washing machine”. I could say I felt great, but it would be a big fat lie. The altitude combined with the wetsuit and hot water had me doing catch-up by the first buoy begging for mercy and for the air to return to my body. I was doing backstroke shortly thereafter, feeling weak and blown from the gastro. I wanted to quit, so badly.
I walked out of the water and into transition. Walked. I lay down on my back and put my feet in the air, watching my rivals collect their bikes and head out of T1. I was done. I had nothing to give and felt flat, which was quite pertinent as I was lying on my back watching my sky high heart rate on the Garmin drop to relatively normal levels. Suddenly I heard a voice scream at me from outside transition that I should stop being such a girl and get on my bike.
In my head I heard my coach telling me to go out there and have some fun and take it as a training day. So I made the decision to do just that. I took off my wetsuit, slowly put on my shows and went off rather gingerly on the bike. I still felt flat and would not lose the feeling all day. The mud was fun, the rocks were fun and the route was really distracting and before I knew it I was 17km into the 28km ride and feeling at least consistently a little better, but had no idea where I was in the race and was not catching anyone or having anyone catch me. Just before the end I passed someone who said I was in 11th and I was fairly surprised. I went with the Zula this weekend instead of the 29er and was happy with the choice after going through the severely technical rocky descents near the end. Man, I love that bike.
Off the bike in 11th and my running legs felt, well, like they were still stuck in East London somewhere. Thankfully, the route was fun and I passed a few guys in the first few kilometers, even walking up a hill together with one of my competitors, laughing about how steep it was. Crossing the weirs below the dam wall has to be a highlight on the South African multi sport circuit. Hundreds of thousands of liters of water thundering just outside from where you are walking in almost knee deep water is a fantastic feeling.
I was merely surviving the run and at the end of lap 1 I had managed to run myself into 6th overall but was hanging on for dear life at this point, having another extreme low but happy to be out there suffering in what was my best Xterra position overall, as well as leading my age group by now. I made a deal with myself to hold off the two guys charging behind me and maintain form for the last 6km out there.
Going up the last hill was agony, I kept looking back to see where they were and motored the last downhill to make sure I stayed out front, my bright orange Puma’s holding surprisingly well for a road racer on the offroad tracks.
I crossed the line relieved it was over and suitably happy, pulling another good performance out the bag, despite circumstances leading into the race not being ideal. C’est la vie and there is no such thing as a perfect race. We have to deal with what we are given and in the end, I was glad to have made the deal to keep going, rather than quitting. Sometimes, when we are at our worst, the best things are just around the corner.
Thank you to Stillwater for another world class event. I wish all the races we did were so well organised and had such a great vibe after the actual race was over. The Rehidrat Chill Zone was milked of fruit, sweets and about 16 cups of Rehidrat by myself alone.
Another special thanks to all the sponsors who make the event possible, DueSouth, Rehidrat et al and as always, a very special thank you to my sponsors for making it possible. Fairbairn Private Bank, BoE, Garmin, Axis House, Velocity Sports Lab, Morewood, Puma… you guys rock!