The two weeks building up to the biggest Olympic distance race in South Africa proved to be as mentally challenging as it was physical. With less than 7days to race day I was still sick in bed sucking down all forms of medication trying my best to rid myself of the dreaded flu I had managed to pick up. I was nearly positive that I would not be able to make it to the start line so the fact that I did was a miracle all on its own.
After returning from the USA in July my sights were firmly set on making a strong comeback to the local SA road triathlon series. The Bela Bela 5150 would be my first race and I was excited to be back on the road and back on my Giant Trinity SL TT bike. Being part of the International 5150 series Bela Bela is a 1.5km swim 40km (Brutal!) Individual TT and 10km flat fast HOT run. After receiving the Pro start list from the organisers and knowing that my preparation for this race had not gone to plan my expectations for my performance on race day were somewhat reserved. However I was fit and healthy come race day and ready to give it all I had in an effort to make a good start to the local season.
Race Morning as usual snuck up on us faster than expected and soon myself and Nico Sterk (fellow pro athlete and my home stay in Pretoria) were packed and headed to the venue for our 12am Pro start wave. Just two weeks prior to race day Pretoria had recorded some of the coldest temperatures in recent history and in fact it had even snowed! something us South African's are not accustomed to. But on race day it was a beautiful morning with locals warning me of temperatures expected to rise well over the 30 degree Celsius mark. With my transition area sorted and the normal formalities of race morning completed we all headed down to the water's edge for the final race briefing and warm up before the action kicked off.
Racing at altitude is something all of us coastal athletes approach with some form of trepidation and this race was no different. With a strong Pro field most of whom live and train at altitude I knew I was already on the back foot and in order to get on the podium I would have to have a near flawless race. The swim start is always frantic and this time was no different, I have been working hard on not getting caught up in all the hype which comes with a triathlon start and I managed to execute one of the best starts I have ever had to a race. Calm, controlled yet powerful strokes, this is what I was looking for and surprisingly managing to achieve. With the water temperature below 20 it was a wetsuit legal swim which is news I always welcome with open arms! My ORCA ALPHA seems to always give me that competitive edge all athletes are searching for so I was thrilled to be pulling it on again. The swim was 2 laps of a man made cable ski loop, with no portage point it makes it very difficult to judge where exactly you are positioned as the swim did string out faster than I would have liked. With the likes of Henri Schoeman and Kent Horner in the field I knew the swim would be very fast but I was not expecting the 15:45 swim split Schoeman was able to put in. Just for some perspective that swim split would have seen Schoeman lead out of the water at the recent Olympic Games triathlon in London. So yes if you were wondering I was firmly on the back foot exiting the water over 3minutes behind the leader but still fairly happy with my swim performance (still lots of work to be done). I knew there was still a lot of racing to be done and those who had gone to hard on the swim and now pushing even harder on the bike would slowly come back to me throughout the day.
T1 was a bit of a disaster, a lack of racing over the past two months has left much to be desired in terms of my speed threw transition. Much fine tuning needs to be done in this department over the coming season. Dropped helmet, dirty glasses, unclipped cycling shoe are just a few of the amateur mistakes made in T1. The less said about this the better so moving right along! Onto my Giant Trinity ADV SL TT bike I knew I was a long way down but was still feeling good and in no mood to raise the white flag just yet. The mental aspect of racing is something all athletes have to deal with and often when you are so far into the hurt box it takes very little to succumb to those voices in your head screaming for you to stop pushing so damn hard! I was three minutes off the pace well outside any hope of a podium position (or so I thought at the time), heading uphill into a brutal headwind, legs screaming at me to ease up, you can imagine that little voice in my head became more of a 'fat lady singing' scenario! However I soldiered on and coming back down the climb with a tail wind gave me the inspiration and energy I required to turn around and do it all over again. The 2nd loop of the bike went a lot smoother, controlled my heart rate up both climbs and managed my efforts a lot better than loop 1.
Coming off the bike I was lying in 9th position but the last 10km of the bike was mainly downhill with a tailwind so I was well recovered and ready to chase the men in front of me. The first couple of kilometers of any run coming off a TT bike is always tough but I managed to get into my work quickly and soon I was striding well and straining my neck around every corner looking for my first victim. The Puma FAAS 250's which I am currently racing in are hands down the most comfortable shoe money can buy. Racing without socks and often with wet feet leaves you with very little protection but I have yet to get one blister or even slight rubbing which most other light weight racers are notorious for. At the finish of most triathlons it is a common sight seeing athletes tearing their shoes from their blistered feet after just 10km of running. nearly 2hours after I had completed the race I realised I still had my FAAS 250's on. It was at that moment I realised what a gem of a shoe Puma had created here. I don't see myself racing in anything else for many years to come! 8th.... 7th.... 6th.... I was moving up fast but each position I gained I was having to work harder to catch and over take the next. Half way through the run I was still lying in 6th and because of the twisting nature of the course it was very difficult to judge where the runner ahead of you was until you had nearly caught him. I made a mental decision at the 6km mark to put my head down and just run as fast as I can for as long as I can. The water points were fantastic, it was well past 2pm and very hot out on the run but the cold water sachets ensured my body temperature remained low and the GU gels being handed out gave me that little kick in the pants when I needed it the most. A very big thank you to GU for being the official nutrition sponsors on the day. With 2km left on the run I had made my way past Nico Sterk and Henri Schoeman (a.k.a the human fish) and was now in 4th position with only 3 men left up the road ahead of me. On one of the looped sections of the run I was able to get a look at Erhard Wolfaard(3rd) and Gerhard De Bruin(2nd) it was obvious they were both hurting as was I but clearly moving faster than both of them. Digging even deeper I bridged the gap to 3rd place and had my sights firmly set on 2nd position. Ever consistent Kent Horner was well up the road with an awesome performance on the day so I knew the best I could do now was 2nd. I caught Gerhard with about 3-400m to go but I must give credit where it is due. Gerhard ran a fantastic last 1km. I am sure he knew I was coming but never panicked. I was working as hard as I could to close the gap and as soon as I caught him he kicked. Unfortunately I had just worked too hard throughout the run and had no chance contesting a sprint finish as much as the crowd were cheering for one. Crossing the line in 3rd position with the fastest run split of the day, I was a very happy man!