Durban is definitely not an easy place to race in. Rewind to June 19th 2016, my first ever 70.3 race. I was so excited, I had no idea what I had just signed up for which is probably why I was so excited. I still had a road bike that was 3 sizes too big for me, with clip-on aero bars, and I thought I was the coolest kid in town. Until I saw the pros with their aero helmets that made them look like mushrooms, TT bikes with full disks and I was like- woah (googly eyes). I had no idea what I was doing but I still felt pretty kiff. On race morning everyone was uhm-ing and ah-ing and me being me, I had no idea what was going on with a weird grin on my face just waiting to start, taking selfies with Sabrina and Mariella for our dads because it was Father’s Day. Until the time came to start and nothing happened so I looked over to Mariella (luckily, she always knows what’s going on) and she said- dude the swim has been cancelled. CLASSIC! First ever 70.3 and it’s a bloody duathlon that starts at 9am which means we run in the heat of the day #notlakka. Luckily it was ‘winter’ in Durban at that stage so it was slightly better than a Durban summer.
Fast forward to the 4th of March 2018, my second 70.3 race in Durban and 6th 70.3 race overall. I was super excited as I generally am to race, because being able to do this sport is just such a massive blessing and privilege to me. We sometimes get so wrapped up in chasing numbers, watts and green blocks that we forget how lucky we are to do this sport and how many people are unable to.
Race morning arrives, I chow some peanut butter oats and we head to race venue. Sabrina (manager) and Daniella (#1 support) make sure I have everything I need and I go to rack my bike. I run into Schmitty who is looking for elastic bands and I’m like bro, I don’t use an aero helmet let alone put my shoes on my bike I am that rookie. I then run into Annah and Kelly in the ladies’ bathroom and we have a laugh because the boys bathroom has a queue and the ladies doesn’t. Annah and I have a little warm up run and then we head to race briefing.
The sprint was supposed to start at 7am followed by the ultra-men starting at 7.30 with the women being set off 2 minutes after the men. There came an announcement at 7.30 that the swim had been cancelled for the sprint due to rough sea conditions but that a shortened (1.2km) swim would still take place for the ultra-individuals because we are technically more ‘hardcore’ (paraphrasing). We watched as the sprint individuals were set off on a run up the beach to T1, after which we had to walk down to the start flags on the beach. Coming from a lifesaving background I knew that the sea conditions were definitely not ideal but manageable if you could stay calm and not be caught in one of the many messy sets rolling in. After the lifeguard gave us a briefing on what we needed to do in case of an emergency (signal a lifeguard/jet-ski/boat for rescue), and we were told that if you pulled out of the swim you were still able to continue but you would be given a DNF at the finish. The men were set off and we were moved down the beach. Two minutes later we were set off after the men.
Entering the water, I tried to stay quite close to the ladies around me but it was impossible. I couldn’t see the buoy, the lifeguards or anyone around me, the water was so choppy. I was dragged across by the rip and suddenly popped out next to the men. A set was rolling in and I hadn’t managed to catch the rip out so I was stuck trying to navigate the waves and where I had to go. I saw a wave coming towards us so I shouted at anyone listening to me – duck down deep. Which in hindsight is quite hilarious because no one was probably listening but I just felt how panicked everyone was around me. A man in front of me started screaming for help so I swam up to him, grabbed his arm and asked him if he was okay. He looked at me and stared at me with a completely blank expression so I repeated myself. A lifeguard was behind me helping another dude out and signalling for the jet ski to come and pick him up so I told the guy I was holding onto, to start swimming back to shore. He told me he couldn’t, so I told him he had to. All he had to do was swim backstroke, watch the incoming waves and that he had to go. Yet again he looked at me blankly so I left him and started swimming again with the knowledge that there was a lifeguard quite close to him and that if he had made it that far he would be okay to make it back to shore. I came across another dude screaming for help, so I grabbed his arm and asked him what was happening here. Yet again I got a completely blank stare, so I told him to duck down deep if a wave came and to swim back to shore. Unfortunately, a massive wave came at this stage, smashed me and him and I couldn’t tell up from down. I inhaled so much white water when I came up again and had such a sense of humour failure. I was like jeezlike, this is such a joke. I saw a lifeguard on a Malibu, asked him were the effing buoy was and he said- hahaha it’s over there. So I grumbled- hahaha this is so average. At this stage I thought I’d reached the backline but this massive wave rolled in and the lifeguard and I both screamed and paddled/swam for our lives. I FINALLY reached the buoy, made it to the other one and headed back in. I was seriously considering calling it a day, putting up my feet and supporting my friends. A woman was having a meltdown next to me while I was swimming in and telling me she can’t do this so I shouted at her that she made it this far so she can. As I was about to call it a day I saw Kent in the shore break frolicking around like a dolphin. He swam up to me, asked me if I was okay, told me to not let the swim shake me and to get onto my bike. I listened, walked up to T1 and got onto my bike.
I honestly love the bike leg so much. It’s such a pure form of power. You can’t go fast without pedalling hard. And you can only pedal hard in an aero position if you have the aerobic gains. Unfortunately, I could only hold my aero position for the first lap of the bike leg and then the nausea set it. I tried to eat small amounts and drink a little afterwards but it would just come straight back up again. Luckily the rules state that you have to have a 12m gap between you and the person in front/behind you or else someone would have had some serious words with me. I had to have a serious internal talk with myself on the second lap after about my 3rd upchuck session as to if I was going to finish this race or not. I told myself to just finish the bike leg and then I could stop/DNF. I love seeing everyone on the course and shouting for them. Schmitty and Fred were top 5 and absolutely destroying the course and I was getting so excited for them which improved my mood substantially.
I reached T2 in one piece, put my shoes on for some reason and walked out. As I exited I saw Kent and Claire. Claire ran next to me and I think she could tell I wasn’t doing to well because she promptly told me that it was helluva hot out on the course and that I shouldn’t overhydrate. I told her I didn’t think I could do this and that I wanted to stop nearly bursting into tears in the process. She then told me I was one of the only girls to make it out of the swim, that I could finish this and that I had to. So I put on my big girl pants and I plodded along the promenade with the rest of Durban (literally, the whole of Durban was on the promenade having a jol. One guy was even feeding the monkeys). On my 2 and a bit hour stint running along the promenade I had a bit of time to think. Firstly, how on earth was I one of the only girls to make it out of the swim when I mauled myself past girls on the bike leg and some of them were on mountain bikes. WTF? Secondly, how can Durban get so humid and hot, it’s only a two-hour flight away from Cape Town. And why on earth was I doing this. I saw Schmitty on his last lap and cheered him on with a grunt and awkward wave because my body wasn’t functioning anymore. I saw Maz and she was absolutely annihilating the course running like she had a rocket attached to her and I was so stoked for her, I knew she would come third because I only saw Annah and Jade and no Magda. As the nausea set in at the end of the first lap I walked as I saw the water table about to throw up everywhere and I heard Annah shouting at me: “Lexi, no walking.” I burst out laughing instead of chundering and cheered her on, turned the corner and grabbed my elastic hair band and the dude asked me if it was my second lap and I told him it was my first nearly crying as I did it. I heard them announce Annah as the winner and my mood picked up a bit and I plodded on. The last 10km were the worst. I got heat stroke, my head felt like it was going to explode, I couldn’t take in any fluids without walking 500m and severe nausea and the medic thought I was going to die. He cycled up next to me and asked me if I was okay, I told him I was nauseous and he told me- know your limit. The guys in the ambulance also asked me if I was okay which made me think I obviously look as bad as I feel. My friend Daniella ran with me for the last stretch, making sure I kept my sense of humour and stayed hydrated. I crossed the finish line and I don’t think I have ever been as relieved or as chafed as I was that day. Chafed everywhere.
Stubbornness prevailed and I am so glad that I finished. Hearing every ones’ stories afterwards was interesting, especially the ones that didn’t make it to the finish line. Stewart Marais didn’t start the swim due to his near drowning experience in Durban in 2016. A lot of men and women were pulled out of the water yet continued to race and did not get a DNF due to the lack of monitoring and in essence cheating on the day. It is so hard to monitor who makes it out of the swim and who doesn’t when there is as much carnage on the day as there was that Sunday yet one hopes that good sportsmanship would prevail.
It might not have been a good day and it was definitely not an easy day, but I learnt so much about myself and the people around me. I learnt that you can literally do anything you put your mind to. I learnt that having the support of your friends, family, coaches and teammates is so vital because even though you are out there by yourself you depend on their support and encouragement to get through the tough times and the good times. I learnt that given the opportunity, people will cheat. But that I shouldn’t let that undermine what my friends and I achieved.