Cape Town ITU World Triathlon Series

"We're not into music. We're into chaos". The Sex Pistols

The water temperature off Cape Town's Victoria and Alfred Waterfront was 12 degrees (an ideal temperature at which to serve Mai Thais), and the controlling bastards halved the 1,500m swim into a measly 750. Warriors on the quayside growled at the easing of the battle ground. Screwed again by The Man. My wife's cousin, MicMac, informed me that one of his damaged ships had been leaking diesel in the harbour for weeks and was surprised that anything, let alone the wetsuit-clad swimmers, could survive those waters.

Undeterred, my support crew, the indomitable twins Keith and Steven Buhr, threw a double espresso down my throat, zipped me up into my wetsuit, put an extra swim cap under my race cap, and pointed me in the direction of the water. I was about to find out what lay in those frigid dark green waters.

The water, surprisingly, was quite pleasant. After you recovered from the initial shock of spontaneous teeth clenching and puckering up of the sphincter muscles, once contact was made with the water, the sight of a brooding Table Mountain and a thousand spectators lining the quayside made everything rather pleasant. The water simply made everything numb. Very numb.

My strategy was pretty simple: Come out with the front guys. Red-line until dry ground. Figure out the rest on the bike.

All went to plan. I was 5th out the water, and because of the cold couldn't tell if I was maxing out or not. A few of the Robben Island swim crew, stopped running as soon as they entered T1 and I exited on my bike in second place. #1 was about 30 metres up the road. "Yeeha Kimosabi" I yelled in my head and lit a few torpedoes to stay with him.

The road was fast, flat and narrow. Within the first few minutes we were enveloped by a team of killer bikers. I was out of my league, but they couldn't tell, and I hung in there. For dear life. The race was non drafting but without sufficient room for draft marshalls to even be on the course, it soon turned into a free for all.

At this stage I need to curse my Catholic upbringing. I confess I drafted, but because of the guilt I tried to pretend that I wasn't and sat off the guys by an unnecessary bike length or two. If I had switched my conscience off and just gone feral like thoroughbred killer athletes are meant to, I'd have stuck to the wheel in front of me like a pickpocket's hands on a Rolex and saved plenty of energy beans for the run. Instead I didn't. And this, alas, became an issue.

By the third lap, I was pressing the "THRUST" button on my quads but just kept seeing the red "No Fuel" sign. Fumes were lactating their way out of my quads and calves, and I could feel my muscle fibres tearing off the skin and bone. "Hold on for the run" I grimaced and made my way off the bike.

At the start of the run (at the time of the above picture), Keith shouted that I was 2 minutes off the leader. A thought occurred to me: "Two out and back loops = 4 x 2.5k segments. I need to make up 30 seconds per segment". I entered instructions into my command module: "Go as hard as possible for 1 x segment. Then reassess."

With this new idea, I switched over to energy reserves and leaned forward to Glory. Glory, it was soon apparent, had buggered off up the road. Nearing the end of the first segment, I looked at my watch as the leader ran by me in the opposite direction. I calculated I was 90 seconds behind. If I maintained this pace, and he overcooked himself, there was a chance. A really small one. But a glimmer nonetheless.

At around this time I heard the dreaded pitter-patter of feet gaining on me. Not one pair of feet, but two. My podium was under attack! I checked my reserves, became aware of a flashing red light and noted my status quo change from "hunter" to "hunted". The first runner (let's call him #2) went by me and immediately put a few good metres into me. Drat! The next runner took his time and pulled up alongside me. My pace had increased significantly to try hold off his killer thrust. Not having the energy to stay ahead of him, he finally pulled up alongside me. I had a quick glance and saw his cool, steely misdemeanor. Wretched international athletes I cursed in my head.

#3:- "Hey Rob, how's it going?"

I quickly checked my face recognition archives. It dawned on me that this was Terry Flack, a fellow age group triathlete from the South African team with whom I had raced in the 2013 London World Champs.   

RR:- "Terry!" I heaved. "Howsit. You're styling my boy." 
TF:- "The guy with the yellow shoes up the road is in second. If we work together, we could catch him."

I smiled, nodded and attached my imaginary carabiner to Terry's left hip. Let's go get that Glory I thought. 

Terry, a chivalrous gentleman of an athlete if there ever was one, helped me through the pain-filled toffee and treacle, motivating and urging me to maintain my form and will to live which were disintegrating. We clawed back a few seconds from #2 every twenty metres. As I faltered, Terry would say something like "I'll lead for the next bit", and on we would go. #2 with the yellow shoes was coming back to us, just barely. He was about 15 metres away from us. With a few k's to go, I mentioned I was on vapours and for Terry to go get him.      

Thankfully the rest of the run has since been removed from my memory storage. 

The results tell us that:
  • #1 finished in 1.54 flat. 
  • #2 (yellow shoes) finished in 1.56.29.
  • Terry (#3) was 3 seconds back in 1.56.32.
  • 4th place was mine in 1.56.46.

It occurred to me, as I sat nursing my singed quads and julienned calves, that it was a good race. Well fought. A bit messy. But all my reserves had been depleted. There were no regrets. As I sat speaking to Terry after the race about life, racing and the road, it occurred to me that both "gory" and "story" rhyme with "Glory". 

It would not be right for me to sign off without a quick thanks to my training Squad; my legendary support crew - The Blur brothers; and to Keeto for having built an engine and chassis for our best season to date.  

"Call me the Breeze,I keep blowin' down the road...." Lynyrd Skynyrd