I am a person who lives life from goal to goal - I set myself goals in my personal life, at work and in my sport, and I will stop at nothing to achieve these set goals. They hardly ever come easy and some take time and I suppose there is one relating to triathlon that has taken many years. My incredible wife, Sharon, wrote an article on Facebook after I completed Xiamen, about how she is a firm believer that ‘life is a journey and not a destination’. I have been on a triathlon journey since 1999 (with a few forced injury breaks in between). Sharon has been part of the Kona journey of my triathlon years since 2008, when it became a realistic goal with my first sub 10hr SA Ironman. I have had my up and downs and come close but just never quite made it - until now. To be honest I didn't make Kona the be all and end all, simply because I love every race I enter so much - they are all part of the journey. I always thought that when the time is right I will qualify - there wasn't a specific year that it had to happen in. Then in late 2015 I was urged on by Craig Wilson (who had just completed Kona) to join the TriFacTri club, led by coach supremo Lucie Zelenkova. The inspiration and motivation from likeminded triathletes at TriFacTri, the incredible belief from Lucie in my abilities and the ongoing support of my wife and beautiful twins, then created a year to remember. Three 70.3 races (2nd in my age in all 3), two Ultra's (1st in my age in both) and a couple of strong performances in shorter events has ended in a Kona slot.
Every race I enter motivates me and gets me exited to get up most mornings just after 4am and train. Yes, I train damn hard because I love the reward the races give me when I know I am race ready. What I love even more is racing in foreign countries, on new courses and amongst new competitors. There is something awesome about having to pack the bike into a bike bag together with all the race kit and having to pull out a passport together with the airline ticket. Makes me feel as close to pro as I will ever get! Sharon has joked before that for me, triathlon is my career and my job is just that - my job! Maybe in another life that could have been true.
Back to racing - the race entry to 70.3 Xiamen was a surprise gift from Sharon after a brief chat over dinner where Lucie suggested I race in China. It was the only place in the world where you could get a Kona slot in a 70.3 race, and according to Lucie, the 70.3 race distance suited me better than the full ironman distance. There you have it, all you need in life is an awesome wife and great coach and have dinner where both are in attendance!
So the trip was planned, Lucie set some frickin hard training sessions, the family didn't see me much and my form was superb. I didn't know what to expect from China, but the race itself was a huge success. The Chinese put up a great show and the totally different culture was something I enjoyed and made the most of in the short space of time I was there.
Race morning went fairly smoothly, strange start time in China of 9.45am, meant that I didn't need to get up as early as usual but I still had my Future Life (brought with from SA) at 5.30 am and ended up being the first person to line for transition opening. That gave me plenty of time to relax and absorb some of the pre-race atmosphere.
The swim was great, I excited the water 3rd and still remember hearing Paul Kay coming through on the loudspeaker talking about a South African being in the top 3 – great feeling! The run to transition and getting the bike was a rather long one but once on the bike course it was all worth it. My favourite discipline lay ahead on a pretty flat course, on perfect roads that were barricaded for all 45km (2 lap course) and policemen standing what seemed like 100m apart. Apparently the Chinese have no idea what the sport entails so they took every possible precaution to ensure a safe race for all. The heat starting taking its toll and it felt like I was weakening but my splits were exactly 1.10 per lap. Happy to average over 38km/h.
I was now ready for the discipline I had trained the hardest for and which has always been my least favourite - the run. It was now 12.30 in the afternoon and the air felt hot and heavy (air pollution is a problem in China). It was a 3 lap run, very flat along a beach front similar to Durban 70.3. I started ok, but towards the end of lap 2 I felt really weak and at one point felt like I was going to collapse. I got to a water point and shoved my entire head into the giant drums that were full of ice water for the sponges. I think the local Chinese volunteers thought I was crazy. I recovered somewhat and finished the third lap slightly better than the second. I crossed the line - I was absolutely exhausted. I try finish every race in this state – It might not be healthy but I tell myself that at least I left everything I had out on the roads. Why waste precious energy for any other time but the race!!
I still love getting the medal after a race – and this was a special one. It took me a short while to recover enough to get a quick massage and food/drink before making a few phone calls and sending WhatsApps to some special folk back home that I knew would be chomping at the bit to speak to me. I was told I got 2nd place by 30 seconds in the age group - slightly disappointed as I was convinced I had won this one. Unfortunately with the rolling start I had a competitor behind me that I didn't know about. This second place thing is making me feel like my old cycling heroes results – Jan Ullrich’s second places in the TdF!
Now it was the wait to see if I had got the slot to Kona. The prize giving and Kona slot allocation was made more special than usual because of the possibility of the slot. I got it!! The emotion is hard to describe and the road to Kona will be an article for another day. For now it is about the love for racing and I hope in the year ahead I love every race as much as I did this one. LOVE what you do!