Howzit from South Africa! The land of Mandela, rugged mountains, sandy beaches, deserts and more wildlife than an Attenborough documentary!
Going into SA I was optimistic that it could be quite the holiday destination, but geez was I mistaken. It was amazing. SA had it all, from the welcoming people, quality food and wine, spectacular scenery and yep you guessed it, the animals. We were lucky enough to fly into Cape Town and spend two weeks tapering, I mean, travelling across the country seeing some of the main tourist sights – Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, wine regions, safari parks, beach and desert towns. A truly memorable experience for the family who have put up with my delusions of grandeur and even encouraged me to live the life of a pro triathlete (for a few weeks) as I raced the 70.3 and standard distance world championship races.
For those that know me well, tapering and generally not burying myself in training seems to be more difficult than the actual training. I can’t say I embraced and loved the 2 week taper, but I did enjoy the break and I think that it did freshen me up both physically and mentally, and by the time we rolled into Port Elizabeth I was amped to get out there and have some fun. Port Elizabeth wasn’t the most appealing city on first inspection, however the closer you got to race central and the coastal strip, the better the city looked. Ironman had taken over. The city was overrun with the united nations of some of the best in the business and maybe a few that had all the kit, but you know, were a bit…inflated with their own self importance. Yeah we’ve all met that guy haven’t we, and I know I’ve taken a secret pleasure in passing them on the bike as they fall away into the distance. But in all seriousness, the place was buzzing. Something that I’ve not experienced to this level at or during a race before. The atmosphere was electric.
We arrived into town on the Saturday and saw the women’s race unfold in front of our hotel as Daniela Ryf and Lucy Bartholomew tore the race apart. Great to see and it put me in a nice mindset as I headed off to rack the bike and gear in T1 and then over to T2. It was the first time I’ve had a split transition set-up like that but it all worked out well on race day. The organisation and set of this race was second to none.
As they herded the first few waves of male athletes into the swim start chutes the race anticipation was in full swing and I couldn’t wait to get out there. I love a beach swim and combined with some rolling swell and a wetsuit swim I thought this could be a good start for me. And it was. A clean getaway from the sandy bottomed beach and a nice pack formed with some larger euro gents helping tow me around and back into the beach. A PB swim at pace that was my old standard distance pace (time to aim up!) was really encouraging, and after a few high 5’s to the kids I was out of T1 and onto the bike.
The overcast conditions had slowly deteriorated and a slight drizzle was setting in which made the road a little greasy but negligible as we rode a hard 45 minutes out of town along a grinding false flat. I was working hard and trying not to be bothered by the slower than normal speed as I knew the downhill was coming up. I had expected it to be more of a draft-fest on the bike but I settled into a nice bunch of 4 or 5 guys and we worked hard, and just the right side of the drafting rules, as we hit the hill sections. Some nice climbing along some picturesque roads then ensued and I tried to hold back a little and not blow up too early. Long wide sand dunes then gave way to rocky cliff beaches as we tore back into PE coming against a bit of a head wind. The legs felt decent as I kept a good tempo and tried not to push into the red as I came into T2.
After a text book T2 I was out onto the streets of PE and hit by a wall of noise as I charged along the first few kays getting the legs and breathing in order. The first 40 minutes flew by in a whirl of gels, water, red bull and chants of ‘go Aussie!’. Very cool and all was going to plan. I was sitting slightly under the goal of 4 minute pace and the body felt good. Time to dig in and pick up a few of the guys further up the road. The next 40 minutes were at worst comfortably uncomfortable, as I left nothing out there and I was stoked to come down the red chute and cross the line at a World Championship race with a PB run. A top 30 finish in my age group and top 180 worldwide against some of the lesser known guys like Frodeno, Brownlee and Gomez was well beyond what I though some roughie from Wollongong could achieve. All the hard work devised by Nathan cannot be underestimated – I was ready for this race like never before.