After a very disappointing DNF at Xterra Buffespoort due to mechanical issues I was back home in the Western Cape very eager to get a solid race in under my belt as a confidence booster going into preparation for Xterra Grabouw and then on to the Philippine Islands for another 3 Xterra races. I competed in the AJWWW in 2011 but unfortunately was unable to attend in 2012 and had a serious case of FOMO following twitter updates during the race. The scenery of this spectacular event is second to none and the amount of passion and effort the organiser and good mate of mine Paul Ingpen puts in ensures that an absolutely incredible weekend is had by all, from toddlers to Pro's it is not easy to satisfy everyone's needs but somehow every year he pulls it off and everyone is very sad having to leave at the end of a magical weekend. So before I get into the racing itself another big Thank You must go out to Paul for all the blood sweat and tear he puts in each year, thanks mate!
2013 saw a new format to the weekend, traditionally there was a long road triathlon on Saturday, well road until you started running at least, followed by a few more chilled out events on Sunday, trail run, MTB "race" etc. But this year we had the opportunity to compete in back to back triathlon races something that I have never had the chance to do. There was the normal long road bike triathlon on the Saturday with a shorter distance race as well for those not brave enough to take on the full and then another off-road triathlon on Sunday again with a shorter option for those who wished to do so. The distances of both these races were as follows, Road Tri (2k swim, 70km TT, 12km trail/beach run) Off Road Tri (2.8k swim, 30km MTB, 10k Trail/beach run).
After a fantastic dinner all the competitors hit the "stables" (beds) for a good night sleep before round 1 of this action packed weekend which lay ahead. An early 5:30am rise, couple of bowls of Futurelife cereal and a banana for good measure we were off and taking the short drive to the lagoon where transition had been set up. The small intimate feeling this race provides is something everyone should experience, we all love the occasion of a massive World Championship event but being on the white beaches of the lagoon gazing out over the cristal clear water with just a handful of like minded individuals is something very special indeed and I really tried to soak it all up. No real nerves to speak of as the atmosphere was so relaxed, everyone chatting away as if we were about to start an easy recovery swim in the lagoon. I am hoping to take this calm relaxed yet focused mind set into my next big race.
Once the race started we all bunched together up front no one up to setting a hard pace just yet, but once we rounded the first bouy Nick put in a surge while Stuart and I were trying to work out if we were still on course. Conrad is much to experienced to miss an opportunity like this and immediately jumped onto the strong swimmers feet. That was it gap made and now it was just myself and Stu working to minimize the time gaps. After lap 1 of the 2 x 1km swim course we had only lost around 20meters to the guys up front, with a 50-60m beach run before entering the water again for lap 2 Stu managed to run across the gap and leave me in no man's land. Running half way through a swim leg and diving back in for lap 2 must be the best way to find your maximum heart rate, mine was through the roof and I needed to settle down to avoid a fatal heart attack. Luckily Stu was experiencing much of the same effect and soon dropped back to me. By the end of the swim we had only lost around 20-30sec and after a smooth transition I was now lying in 3rd place overall, Conrad up front and Stu just ahead.
Conrad had picked up a niggle during the brutal Buffelspoort Xterra run course the previous weekend and had informed us that he would be stopping after the bike leg as his coach had instructed so effectively I was now in 2nd position. The bike course is deceptively tough never allowing you to settle into a rhythm and always grabbing at the shifter trying to find a good pedal stroke/cadence. The wind was also not helping the situation and combined with the undulating profile of the course I was immediately onto the back foot. I was able to keep Stu in sight for the first 10-15km but then his power on a TT rig began to tell and all I could do was slowly watch him open the gap on me. At the 35km turn around I was very happy to see that the time gaps were not big, 2minutes down on Conrad and 1:30 on Stu, however the tough part was still to come with the long slog back into the wind before a short rolling section with a tailwind back to transition. Jean van Wyk had lost around a minute to me on the swim but that advantage was all but gone at the turn, with a bike course suited to the bigger more powerful riders I was in trouble and hanging on to 3rd(2nd) position. With about 20km to go Jean made his move and opened up a small gap on me but I picked it up and managed to match his intensity. The gap hovered around a minute all the way home and at T2 I got the splits of 3:30 to Stu and 45sec to Jean.
I have still not worked out the trick to running on sand, perhaps there is no trick just slog it out and wait for harder ground. To be honest the run was a bit of a none event for me, with little motivation to hurt myself and try to run down second position I resided to the fact that I would settle for a podium finish. I tried to enjoy the scenery but unfortunately thick west coast mist had settled in making sighting a big problem. By this stage I will admit I was a little grumpy as the sand was not giving up and I was looking forward to a good massage at the finish line but once we hit the beaches of the lagoon for the final stretch of the run I couldn't help but smile as the view was spectacular. White beaches, Blue water families playing in the water with their kids, people boating in the bay it was phenomenal and I finished in 3rd position with a big smile on my face.
On Sunday morning we dragged our tired and sore bodies to the breakfast table where yet another feast awaited us. Either one too many glasses of red the night before or just the accumulated fatigue of a weekend filled with far too much excitement I was feeling decidedly groggy and I wondered to myself how exactly I was to completed another triathlon. Luckily many similar looking faces surrounded me at the breakfast table and I knew I wasn't alone, but we were all braving a smile and slowly getting everything sorted for another great day.
The talk around the table was that the original plan of a 3.8km swim across the lagoon had been scrapped due to safety reasons and we would now be completing a 2.8km lap in the safety of the bay. The wind had picked up and swimming right the way across the lagoon would have been a real slog so I was very happy with the new format. Theo Blignaut had made the trip out for the second triathlon so myself and Stu had to come up with some sort of strategy to chase down the fast swimmer. With a long 2.8km swim to start the race Theo had a big advantage because of his ITU experience. From the gun he was away and myself and Stu settled into a good tempo ensuring we weren't losing too much time. Surprisingly my body was feeling pretty good even though I had completed a nearly half ironman distance race less than 24hrs ago. Perhaps again it was just the wine talking but at the dinner table the night before we had come up with a seemingly flawless plan to chase down Theo, flawless at the time anyway! But watching his majestic stroke fade off into the distance I was beginning to have my doubts, either way we kept pushing on and stuck to our guns. Exiting the water we got a split of 2min down on Theo, I was very chuffed with that considering it was a long swim and now Stu and I could begin putting our plan into action.
The MTB leg of the race started with a 5km stretch of tar road due to a forced last minute alteration of the route from the nature conservation officers. There was a strong headwind on this stretch of road and we were going to make the most of it. Stu and I were taking 1-2min pulls in front working hard and then recovering while the other took his chance to work up front. By the time we turned off onto the dirty road we had already closed the gap to under a minute and soon Theo was in sight. The plan had worked but perhaps a little faster than expected, we were hoping for Theo to spend a little more time out front and by the time we caught him to not have the energy to respond to out attack. But we were now 10km into the MTB leg and all 3 were together, Stu and I were pulling our turns up front into the constant head wind but Theo was attempting to use some road tactics on us and sit at the back hiding from the wind and the work. Stu was having none of it and forced him to the front, after a minute or so of working Stu attacked and I responded leaving Theo with a dead wheel and the gap opened fast. Theo was obviously struggling because he was not able to close the gap up to us and soon he was out of sight. Despite a near lethal run in with a piece of barbed wire out on course Stu and I were working well together but with about 5-6km remaining my legs began talking to me. My coach and I had discussed the weekend at length, the plan was to race hard on Saturday push the swim on Sunday morning and then back off for the MTB and run. However here I was at the sharp end of the race with only a run ahead of me, on a small incline Stu had opened a gap on me and I didnt have much to respond with so I just settled into my pace knowing that we had done a lot of damage to Theo behind us.
Into T2 I saw Stu running up the sand embankment on the opposite side and got a 45sec split back from him. Now that I was a little more fatigued it was easier to convince myself that I needed to slow down under strict instructions from the coach. Even if I had been racing full out I am not sure I could have run much faster, again very sandy just in the opposite direction to Saturdays run. Onto the beach section of the run I could see Stu just ahead of me, not more than 400-500m but as he turned and saw me coming he put in another effort and began opening the gap again. The remainder of the run went smoothly and my legs felt great on the harder surface of the dust roads surprisingly after 2 days of quality work. Well done to Stu for taking his second win for the weekend and Theo for fighting back well and finishing up 3rd.
Lastly a big thank you to everyone involved in making this weekend such a great success, you know who you are and we are all deeply grateful for your tremendous effort!