The Midlands Ultra was a race I had always wanted to come back to after a mishap in December 2013.
This year it promised to be a lot hotter and drier. On arrival at Midmar Dam in 2013 - I couldn't see any dam because of the mist and rain - this year I almost couldn't see any dam because of the drought. A warmup swim the day before was without wetsuit as Craig assured us the warm water was just like Kona... (Apart from some barbel replacing Dolphins, and the visibility being 20 cm not 20 meters...but same same!)
At 5:23am on race morning, as I was dropping to race weight, the organizers were tying a dodgy thermometer to a concrete block and dropping it into the deepest (and coldest) part of Midmar. They then converted the reading to KZN local standard, deducted the number of competitors with the name David, and rounded down to come up with a temp of 23.5 degrees. Wetsuit legal.... I didn't ask questions!
A quick shuffle of transition bags, a change of kit (I won't bore you with technical ITU/TSA rules here - I'll save it for a 5 hour ride), grabbed the wetsuit, a quick jog/stretch and I was ready.
The whole vibe of the race is quite casual and chilled - a million miles away from an IMSA type event. The guy counting down actually shouted “Start".... And whilst a few looked around to see "was that it?" someone sounded a hooter and we were off. I was delighted to be aided by a wetsuit as I normally swim like an ostrich, and need all the help possible. Despite my very old wetsuit I had to use (another 5hr bike story...) I felt comfortable and even picked up the pace towards the end. By my standards - I felt like Michael Phelps.
As I exited from my good swim, I saw Aubrey and co and asked them if I had beaten Lucie... They laughed... It must've been the old wetsuit looking a bit too retro.
The retro suit was not too easy to get off, but I was soon enough out on the bike. I passed my usual throng of good swimmers in the first few km's (fellow ostriches know what I mean) and sat back into a rhythm and watched my efforts.
The bike is three loops out-and-back on an undulating course.They're not massive hills like East London, but I don't think there is a 200m flat stretch anywhere.
Anyway, I rolled along and after the first 20km I settled into position and only picked off the odd rider for the next 50kms. At the final turnaround, I saw that I had made significant ground on two hot shot age groupers and would probably catch them on the next hill. Chuffed. At this stage I was probably in the top 20, and gained another few places as people started slowing because of the heat as we finished the bike.
Despite a sock malfunction (where the heel is in the front, your foot is sweaty, you can’t bend down and ..... Aaaggh) and losing a place in T2, I was happy to be on the run and taking a few ice cold sponges.
In 2013 whilst everyone was on the run, I was on my way to hospital and taking on some Pethidine. Unknowingly I had had a flat front, with the wet conditions, I came in a little fast and lost it on the turn down into transition. My feet were out my shoes at that stage.... big slide, chainrings, toes, knees, tar, blood... Bad. Ambulance, stitches, Pethidine. Good. More pethidine… Better
Okay, so the run was hot. No surprise... We knew that it would be. Again, an undulating course through the campsites along the dam and back - times 3. My main goal was to get done as quickly as possible without too much heat and muscle damage. It was a tough run, but the varied nature seemed to make it a little more manageable.
I was passed early in the run.... By eventual winner Matt Trautman… on a different lap. He is seriously world class. It was a pleasure to run behind him for 100 meters (during which time he ran 200m).
On the course from fellow athletes, and at Trifactri corner from the withdrawals, family, supporters and widows of Howick, the encouragement was great. Thank you. The support was not only cheers, but we were also given ice from the sacred beer cooler box. The odd ice cube helped, although not sure what I’m supposed to do with a two kilogram block of ice mid-run, Lucie? Is this a weird Russian thing?
By the middle stage of the run, I could see that unless things went badly wrong, I wouldn’t lose a position (despite a certain whippet running a 1:24 and me having to carry 2kg’s of ice for half the race?). Overall on the run, I gained one and dropped two spots and wasn't put under much pressure, so ran home fairly solidly with plenty of walking at the aid stations.
In the end I was 3rd in my age group, 14th overall and a huge chunk of time better than my last race. Quite happy for a day that served up a tough course and some challenging conditions.
As a race, I’m pleased to have finished this one. The event is very well run, organisers are very personable, the MiWay sponsors were excellent, the area is great and I would highly recommend everyone to make the trip.
Things I learnt from this weekend:
• I truly can swim like a Guinea fowl if I try
• It’s good to be back in the Trifactri squad
• There is something I need to learn about ice
• James Curtin is very good at running
• There are 4 establishments people refer to as the "Notties Pub"
Where Trifactri athletes get to tell their side of the Swim, Bike and Run