The One Race - JailBreak 2015

At last year's Ironman South Africa after-party, my friends and I bumped into the winner of the 40-44 women's age group, Kelly van der Toorn. Immediately we went to her aid keeping the well lubricated womanisers at bay. Chivalry, my friends, is not yet dead. The initial conversation went something like this:

Patrick: What's that you're holding?
Kelly: It's the trophy for winning the 40-44 age group.
Patrick: What was your time?
Kelly: 10h58
Patrick *bellowing*: Oy Rob! Here's the chick who beat you into second lady home!
Kelly vdT - mother of three.
Marco, to her right, devours the remains of his competition.
I explained to Kelly that this whole Iron-malarkey was a bit much. It's way too hard to prepare for: what with the whole work thing, having my training partner's wife ban him from cycling, raising three impetuous children. I could have gone on.

"You have three kids" she said warmly "just like me", crushing my excuse before it even had time to ripen on the vine. She suggested I drop my mileage to 16 hours a week. "You'll be amazed with the results". The ground began to slip beneath me. The nausea tightened my gut. 16 hours?! My weekly training barrel barely contained 12.
Kelly then planted a nugget in my brain.
"Why not come down to Cape Town and race the JailBreak?"
Brandvlei Maximum Security Facility
The Prime Jailbreak Triathlon, it turns out, is a jewel in South Africa's crown of triathlons. The race takes place on the banks of the Brandvlei dam surrounded by the Brandvlei Correctional Services estate with its varied and gaudy maximum-security offenders. It would be the event's 10th running.

After much procrastination, and goading by my wife, I flew down for the race opting for the Maximum Escape: 2.2k swim, 71k bike, 22k run.

Kelly wasn't feeling hundreds and pulled out of the race thereby effectively relinquishing the #1 spot to the Joburger before the race had even begun. This was unfortunate. Showdown postponed. Kelly, however, with her local knowledge and bundles of enthusiasm, proved an invaluable supporter.

The Jailbreak was the last big race of 2015. Its organisers are a remarkable lot with their extraordinary care for each triathlete, the spectators, and the highly innovative House Arrest privileges. These perks are allocated to athletes who scored the highest rankings in varied Jailbreak 2015 Facebook contests in the build up to the race allowing them: preferential parking spaces, a prime spot for bicycle placements in the transition area, and a supersized goodie bag. I scored one of these babies. The prime spot for my bike near the exit of transition would be worth its weight in gold.

And so the gun went off......

I was third out the water and, being so close to the bike exit, somehow found myself the first out of transition and leader of the race. It has always been a curiosity of mine how the leader of race feels. Buoyed by their position of being #1? Fuelled by adrenaline of being chased? In my case, it was neither. I had no clue that I was leading the race (for at least 15 seconds) until the cycling storm troopers came by me like fireworks on New Year's Eve. I was oblivious to my first fifteen seconds of fame.

The bike was fast and furious and led us in through the green vineyards of the Breede Valley. The recent heat wave, pacified by a thin blanket of clouds, allowed the wheels to turn easy.
15 seconds of glory
A few k's out before our re-entry to the prison, my good friend, Marco Stichini, came by me like he was on a rails, with a nitrous oxide tank strapped to his back. It was like watching Pablo Neruda exchanging his writing pen for a time trial bike:

Don't leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.

On our return to the prison and T1, I was informed that I was heading into the run in 8th spot.

After a few kilometres, I could see my competitors lining up in the road before me. Like a drawn out chain-gang of escaping convicts being hunted by foxhounds. I set my gun sights. "Good form. Quick feet. Run tall. Easy elbows. Stay in the moment".

Looping back past the maximum security prison, surrounded by its Texan-style sand moats, high perimeter fencing and the gaze of its hushed tenants, we - the runners - eyeballed each other. It was immediately apparent who was being hunted. And who was doing the hunting.

Eventually a few athletes came back to me. And I was able to edge the gap back to Marco. He encouraged me to keep going. "There's still one more. Still one more." It was hard to take in. I had just overtaken Pablo Neruda.

Don't leave me for a second, my dearest,
because in that moment you'll have gone so far
I'll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?
Chris makes one look pretty groovy
The first male for the Maximum Escape was Jean de Villiers in 4h00, with the first lady, Jenny Nel, across the finish in 4h44m. 
My legs held good until the end. My feet - and their tender blisters - not so much. Somewhere near the end, oblivious to my position, but optimistic that I was near the front of the old dudes (40-44 yrs), I decided to drop the hammer and go for everything. "Maybe the podium will be waiting there for me in the last 100 metres where I need to beat one more runner. Just one more."

I left it all out there.

We do what we must
I crossed the line in 4h23m, the first veteran. Marco took second in 4h27m narrowly escaping third place, the fast finishing Henry Wolstenholme, by a minute.

Some thoughts:
I have never won a race before. I've podiumed once or twice but was never really close to first spot. Sure as a kid I won a few team events, the odd swimming race and occasional tennis match, but never have I won a triathlon. And I would certainly have recalled that. And what is interesting is that, whether I like it or not, I now know how all those other #1 podiumites feel. Kind of warm inside - fired up by a rapidly dissipating intangible heat - but not really any different. And it crossed my mind, pretty quickly, that this may be the only race I ever win. And if that's the only race I ever win, I think that's fine by me.

Thanks to Kelly for her good vibrations and for sending out the invite.
Thanks to Marco for The Race.
Now where's my compass,

PS Thanks Pablo for letting me use your poem "Don't Go Far Off".

PPS Below are some of the post-race pictures which, at the time and looking back now, make me happy.

Henry, Rob and Marco

Post Race celebrations (The 80s):
Boyd, Marco, Greg vdT, RobbyRicc

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