Ironman SA in April always marks the end of my triathlon season, and I usually take some time out to rest, rebuild and assess what needs to be done for the new season. This year I made 3 important decisions, the first being to join up with My Training Day, and more specifically Kent Horner, the second was to invest in a proper indoor bike setup, and the third was to commit to a big race early in the South African triathlon season.
After seeing the success of last year’s Cape Ultra, I decided that this was the perfect race to motivate me through winter. It offers something unique – a race in an area I have never raced before in a beautiful part of the country, and an off-road 21km through the vineyards. Structured training started in the first week of July, which basically gave me about 10 weeks to get myself into race shape. As the race drew closer I started to feel better and better, and decided to race a local sprint event in East London to get myself race ready again. As it turned out, the race went very well, and I knew things were starting to come together just in time for the big race.
I flew to Cape Town on the Saturday afternoon flight, rented a car, and drove through to Franschoek. I then checked out the race venue and returned to my accommodation for an early and stress free night.
Race morning was very cold, with the air and water temperature making us all keep our warm clothes on until the very last minute. I met up with the MTD athletes and it was great just chatting to the guys and being introduced to a few of the athletes who I hadn’t met before.
Knowing I was up against some very good competition made me very nervous, especially with the wet / mass start. I got in the water to get a few warm up strokes in and try and just ease the nerves. The water was freezing, but fortunately we only had about 2 minutes to wait until the gun. Kent asked me to swim the first few minutes as hard as I could to get into a good group. Hard as I tried, I just couldn’t get onto the feet of the lead group, and decided to rather settle into my own pace. I got my breathing under control and just focused on my stroke and felt quite good throughout the swim. I exited in about 20th position with a time of 28 minutes, and started the long and painful run up to T2. I couldn’t feel my feet at first, but this changed quickly after running through the sharp gravel that was once the lake bed. It was certainly the longest T1 I’ve ever done!
Onto the bike, and Kent had set me some power targets to maintain. At first I was a little uncertain but after looking at my training logs, I believed that I could hit these numbers. I come from a running background, and so I try to focus on a strong run, and that isn’t possible if you push too hard on the bike. As it turned out, I felt quite comfortable on the power targets I had been set, and was steadily making up some positions through the first 20km. After the first half of the bike, I was only 5 watts off the target power I had been set, but the undulating route was also starting to weaken the legs a little. I focused on my nutrition, even though it was still cold and I made sure to get the calories into the system. My power dropped off slightly for the second half of the bike, while I made sure my legs would be ready for the tough run. Richard Lawrie’s words of wisdom certainly paid dividends when we spoke earlier in the week about the bike route – he said there is a huge hill at the turnaround point, and don’t go more than 120% of FTP up that climb. I focused on a steady power output, and made sure not too many matches were burnt on the 3 times we had to make that climb. I finished the bike in a time of 2 hours and 37 minutes – pretty much where I had expected to be.
I came into T2 feeling good, but also knowing that I had just done a very tough 90km. I think I was placed about 12th going into the run. Kent told me to run the first 5km at a 4-15 pace, and try and pick it up from there. I ran my first km in 4-02, then the second in 3-57, and so I thought I might as well just run at the pace at which I feel comfortable. The legs felt amazing during the run, while I just focused on my cadence and again, getting in the right number of calories. I continued to make up few positions here and there, but it was difficult to judge exactly what my position was as the course doesn’t allow you to see the athletes in front of you too often. I wasn’t too concerned with where I was positioned, as it just felt great to be running strong after a tough bike. With about 5km to go I still felt good and decided I would try and ‘empty the tank’ for the last stretch. We also had a tail wind for the last portion so that made it a little easier to increase the speed. I ended up completing the run leg in 1-24, but the measured distance was 21.9km, which gave me an average pace of 3-51. This was certainly the highlight of the event for me.
I ended up finishing in 7th overall, and taking 3rd in my age group (35-39), behind Kent and Brad Venter. My time was 4 hr 36 min. I am super chuffed with the result, particularly since it is still early in the season for me, and it is certainly one of the more difficult courses I have done. I have seen big gains under Kent’s guidance and I am looking forward to the next big race which will be the Midlands Ultra in November.