War of the Worlds - The ITU London Grand Final Triathlon

The 2nd dude behind me was the overall winner of the race
 Before heading into this race report, it would be inappropriate to not set the scene.

I’m going to say it: London is not an ideal location to host a world championship triathlon for 4,000 age groupers. There – see what I just did – I said it. The weather is tempestuous, the traffic is unruly and the beer is tepid. Moreover, the English can be sticklers for rules. Rules imposed on a jumble of nationalities with temperamental personalities. Nationalities with differing ethical and moral exactitudes. I’m not referring to the race rules, just the regular rules which the lanyard-collared organisers enforced, with the assistance of their pens and clipboards, with the precision of a tightrope walker nursing a bout of anal retention.

It was the application of these Kafka regulations that resulted in Keith (The Blur) and I, fuelled on adrenaline and hot coffee, doing 40 miles per hour over Putney Bridge racing towards the race start in Hyde Park. The cold air snapped at our legs and burnt our squinting eyes which wept quietly beneath our helmets. I tightened my grip on the shivering handle bars, narrowing my shoulders to hide from the oncoming wind. The wheels hit every bump with the elegance of a hippo ice-skating over frozen pebbles.

The rain-stained roads were black and empty. I could taste London’s sweet smell with its neon sizzled sidewalks, fried onions and Starbucks coffee. Keith’s fingers released from around my waist and he put them underneath his butt-cheeks. “It’s bloody cold! I should have worn gloves,” he shouted into my helmet. It was just gone 5am, and we had borrowed the only mode of transport we could get our hands on at that time of the morning – my mate Mich’s Vespa scooter.

The organisers had agreed that all bike prep and run prep (placing of helmet, checking tyre pressure, mounting bike computers, setting up bike shoes and elastics, stowing of food & bottles, setting up run shoes, etc) be concluded, and the transition area vacated, by 6.30am. I should say that last bit again and massage the emphasis .... vacated, by 6.30am!

At this stage I‘d like to digress into a tirade of soliloquy, bear with me:
My age group race started at 9.40am. Setting aside the fact that we’d be freezing our nuts off for 3 hours waiting for the start of the race, the key issue was that public transport, on which we were heavily reliant and fell within our budget, did not commence until 7am on race day. We had run out of options. No tube, no train, no direct night buses, no reasonably priced taxis, no nada. And our accommodation was an hour from Hyde Park. If I was perturbed, you can imagine how Keith, straddled with a firecracker of a temper, unleashed his thoughts on any ITU official who cared to listen.
Bill Shakespeare would have paraphrased accordingly:

To taxi, or not to taxi, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to pucker up and pay the faire
suffering the slings and arrows of the taxi driver’s fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles provided by Mich’s two wheeled chariot,
And by opposing end them: to ride early or to sleep in an extra hour, or so,
and by a sleep, to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That tapering flesh is heir to?

To ride, nay to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to dream; Aye, there's the rub,
To grab a hold of that line between speed and chaos,
Wrestling it to the ground like a demon cobra,
For in that extra three and ten score minutes of sleep, what dreams may come,
As ye ride ye two wheeled apparition,
ride it like a skeleton horse through the gates of hell,
and then ye win, forsooth, ye win.
And ye don't win for anybody else.
Ye win for ye, ye know why? Because a man takes what he wants.
Before we shuffle off this mortal coil all alike, before we give pause,
A man takes it all.
And ye be a man, be ye not?
Be ye not?
Hence the scooter.
TT'ing through Wellington Arch.
Perched atop the arch is The Quadriga.
It ios Europe's largest bronze sculpture and depicts
the angel of peace descending on the chariot of war.

Fired up and saying howsit to my London friends.


The water temperature dropped below 16 degrees and the 1,500m swim was halved. Immediately my race position dropped 40 places. My advantage is the swim. It allows me enough time to get to the pointy end of the race before the strong cyclist onslaught. They usually reach me at about 20 to 30 k’s into the ride, dented from the swim and their hammering of the bike pedals. At that stage their speed tends to settle and I can hang with them. A 750m swim, unfortunately for me, would not have the same affect. This distance change had a big impact on my race. Anyhow, everyone races the same course so I didn’t worry too much about it.

I loved the swim. I’m able to generate considerable effort in the water so I didn’t feel the cold. I was one of the first guys away from the pontoon and managed to hold onto the first group, exiting in the top few guys. This is a new experience for me leading me to smile broadly as I ran through T1 to my bike. I attribute my recent swim improvements to working on an increased stroke rate and concentrated exhaling to relax the body.


The riders came past me with a ferocity felt only by homeless pedestrians from the wake of passing long-haul trucks. At one stage I was doing 42kph along the flat and fast Thames, and riders came by me as though they were on travelators. It was impressive and frightening at the same time. My quads were in the red zone for so long that I doubted their ability to get me through the run.

One thing about the ride though: it has to be one of the most impressive historically charged courses I have ever done. We rode around Hyde Park, through the Wellington Arch, past Buckingham Palace, past the three parks (Hyde, Green and St James), past Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, under Big Ben, along the Thames, to the Tower of London, around Trafalgar Square and down the Mall. An excuse I am working on for such a slow bike time is that my highly refined cultural tastes were so aroused by the iconic course that I forgot I was in a world championship race.


I opted for the approach of hitting the road at pace and holding on. Thankfully the screaming crowds and run legs were there waiting for me and I was able to push. Seeing old friends (including those from my first triathlon club, SAUK) and Jake and Natalie on each loop was an incredibly powerful stimulant. The run was three loops and on the start of the second loop, Roger Oakley, the South African team manager, called to me through the cacophony of the crowd, “It’s all in the head”. I thought for a split second about that, concurred, and pushed even harder. I was on the limit for the rest of the run.

High-fiving Jake on the last bridge before the turn to the finish line was one of my proudest moments. I hope that one day when he’s old and grey he remembers his dad giving it horns for his country over London’s Serpentine in pursuit of age group glory.

My final position was 54th out of 163 athletes with a time of 2h00m40s. The winner did a 1h50m21s.

My splits were:

• Swim 10m46s (13th fastest)

• Bike 1h04m37s (63rd fastest)

• Run 38m50s (39th fastest)

Breaking for glory

Nobody left to overtake

A great present from my work colleagues.
I love books. I'm also a Lewis Pugh fan.

Left are my SA team mates Kenny Poole (Gold in the 70-74s),
Robbie Coulson (7th in 60-64s)
and two Apocalypse Cows (the writer and Izak Smit)

Javier Gomez and Jonathan Brownlee gunning for gold

The Blur - now you see him, now you don't
The Blur, The Justinator and the dude with the big forehead

The Knights of Piccadilly Circus

Jake's first experience of Piccadilly Circus

Legoland coffee - fuel for Sunday's race

I am married to royalty

Hugh, biggest shoulders in town, and Jake
at Trafalgar (Triathlon) Square for the Opening Ceremony

The Blur and all his new mates

Japanese athletes rule

Jake was broken from waving for too long

Saturday pre-ride with Piers Pirow, Neil Malherbe, Hugh Basel et moi 

A day in the London life of Michy the Kid - living da vida loca

In pursuit of age group glory,