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.
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.
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.