In the run-up to my first ever Ironman I knew i had to complete an ultra distance event. For time reasons it had to be the Prestige Ultra in Sasolburg on 28 Feb. The fact it was reputed to be a flat course was not irrelevant to my decision tree! I was looking forward to travelling down with Eugene and his girlfriend Shannon. However Huge fell ill shortly after the monster Sunday set of 30 x 800m and was forbidden by coach Lucie to race. So Shannon decided not to race either. One down.Then on Wednesday at track i heard that Karl and Gareth were going to do the sprint event. Phew. So at least i would have some Trifactri peeps on the scene. Had a bad couple of days of sleep and was not feeling great.
On Saturday morning i got ready for cycling and was ready to leave at 5:25 but felt awful. Decided with coach's approval to go back to bed. Got up late and went for a Nurobian jab (which is no fun whatsoever). Managed a short spin on the IDT and a 3.4km jog. On Saturday afternoon we all got the bad news that Karl's home had been burgled and he would not be racing. Another one down. Was I going to join the DNS list too? Went to bed early after a lengthy prep session and thought let me see how i feel in the morning. When i got up at 04h30 (a wake-up time which should be outlawed IMHO) i felt OK so decided to race. The trip to the Abrahamsrust resort next to the Vaal River next to Sasolburg was uneventful but i had a slight problem when, upon visiting the loo for my usual pre-race weight loss routine (in track parlance, a 2 lapper), i discovered that the toilets had no paper. Fortunately some of the other male athletes had experience of the event venue and not only brought their own loo-paper but generously gave me some.
Got my bike set up and went for a quick warm-up jog before the race briefing. On the return i encountered Gareth who was looking distraught. At the entrance to the resort there is a face-brick portico gate. It is quite low and Gareth's bike had been mounted on the roof of his car. Unfortunately the combined height of car and bike resulted in his bike hitting the brickwork, causing serious damage to his bike and roof-rack. Absolute disaster for him, he was out of the race and worse, facing the prospect of a massive repair bill. Another one down, and i was the last Trifactron left standing. Was this race cursed for this club? Now i just had to finish.
After the race briefing the wetsuited athletes clambered gingerly into the river (the slipway was aptly named) for a wet start and we spread out and got ready to start. With about 2 minutes to go i heard a lady shout from the bank: "Someone's lost their ....!!!" What was that? I swam a bit closer and asked someone what she had said. "Timing Chip!" Some instinct made me reach down to my left ankle. Holy guacamole! my ankle strap and chip were missing. It must be me! Horrors.
I sprinted to the bank and collected the chip. 30 seconds to start. OK don't panic. I wrapped the strap around my ankle - this is not an easy task lying on your back in murky water.. As i was doing so the gun went off. Then i felt the strap lift off my ankle. A four letter word sprang to my lips. The chip and strap bobbed to the surface right in front of me. I tried again but it was quickly obvious that this was not going to work. No way am i quitting though. I shoved the chip and strap down the front of my wetsuit and set off. With my myopic vision it looked like the entire field was ahead of me and the leaders were out of sight already. But i just put my head down and felt the wetsuit lift my ample glutes out of the water. The swim was beautifully flat, up and down along the banks of the Vaal, and having started so late i was never in the pack so it was clear water all the way. Got out of the water and checked my watch - 35:06 (from my own start) which for a brickswimmer like me was a pleasant surprise. The ankle strap was still in my wetsuit and i was not going to lose it again so i strapped it onto my ankle, slowly and carefully,while in transition to the bike.
The bike course was an enjoyable one for a bigger rider. It was a two lapper mainly on the R59 highway. No major hills, just some rises and a bit of a headwind on the return leg. Proper cyclists like Therian, GC and Houding would give it a sound thrashing.The two turnarounds were good because I was able to count how many riders were ahead of me and was pleased that the number went down a lot on the second lap!
I slowed down a bit in the last 20km but was still happy with my bike time of just under 2:25. In transition i saw a chap i had befriended at the Imana MTB race in the Transkei last year (Estie that race is for you) who was swathed in bandages having crashed heavily. I thanked my lucky stars for about the fourth time that day.
The run started off very hairily with some cross country on lumpy grass before an uphill section through the rather dodgy campsite. Eventually i settled into a rhythm. Again it was a two-lapper, most of which was through the leafy (and yes, very quiet) suburbs of Sasolburg. The water stations were more than sufficient although i appreciated that Coca Cola was the real thing, since the substitute Cola they had was revolting. Some of the lanes were beautifully shaded and soothed by birdsong. Other parts of the route were out on the tar, unshaded, and leavened only by the grunting of tired runners. There was not much movement in the (small) field as far as my overall position was concerned but i felt that no-one had passed me except for one team runner. In the dark parts of the run i closed my eyes and thought of waiting. After some waiting i felt better every time. And finished the last 3kms strong. I really felt the benefit of the 30 x 800m set the previous Sunday. Thank you Luc for that session (i mean it this week!).
My hand time for the run was 1:39 and change, which was exactly as planned.
Just after crossing the line, another old-timer finished just behind me, Mark Wolff. This was quite pleasing as Mark had given me carrots in Germiston. My podium hopes were however quickly dashed as i discovered that Clive Sack had done a blistering 4:30 and that since there was only a 40 to 49 age category some 42 year old spring chicken had stolen second place (there was only a podium of two). As a consolation I did manage to snatch one of the Bar-Ones thrown to the enormous crowd of 12 at prizegiving. Plus for the first time in a race i didn't get chicked (a dangerous remark which i am sure will be regretted).
Coach Lucie called me after the race and gave me some inspiring words of encouragement, including but not limited to a licence to eat pizza that night.
Overall i was very happy with my time of 4:44 and am pleased to report that despite all evidence to the contrary, there is no Trifactri curse in Sasolburg!
Where Trifactri athletes get to tell their side of the Swim, Bike and Run