Category Archives: Race report

Joining the 5 Mile Club

Well that’s it – the Cape Mile done and dusted.

This is a story about going into a challenge under-prepared. Or maybe it’s about never underestimating nature.

Now if you know me, you’ll know that I am a lot like my mom in a lot of respects. Nature or nurture I’m not entirely sure, but I am at least slightly OCD and I like to be prepared and in control.

This year my mom convinced me to join her and some friends doing all 5 events offered at the Cape Mile on 19 Feb. It sounded doable. My mom had done it the previous year and had coped just fine. But then again my mom is a machine.

We decided to try and raise money for a good cause: the Philippi Children’s Centre new learn-to-swim pool.

The new pool came about due to two drownings on the farm lands last year. The farmers excavate small dam-like structures, using DPC (black plastic that is slippery when wet) to line the dams. The children go in to cool off and then cannot get out as they cannot swim.

The money raised would go towards learn-to-swim lessons for the children as well as the running costs of the pool. By teaching these children to swim we could literally save lives. Our cause was noble, but unfortunately I soon learnt that trying to raise money is not particularly easy, but nevertheless we gave it a good bash – sharing our story on social media and telling anyone who would listen.

I didn’t start training particularly early, but with about 5 weeks to go I started to put in some serious swimming mileage. Coming from a swimming background, I generally find it quite easy to pick up my swimming (this probably has something to do with 6 – 8 swimming sessions per week from age 8 to 18). I need to thank Stuart Marais for always getting me to Virgin Active to do a session. I hate swimming alone and so really need the help of swimming mates.

Two weeks before the event I joined some of the “5 Mile Club” up at the Silvermine Dam and did 4 x 1 mile with 5 – 10min rest in between each one. It was super chilled. On race day we’d be starting every 45min. That meant around 25min to swim the mile, walk the 300 odd metres back to the start, maybe have a bite of a bar, a sip of Skratch and then line up for the next mile. I thought I was ready.

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Ready? Packing light in comparison to a triathlon

Race day dawned and driving to the event out at the Grabouw Country Club it felt as though we might be blown off Sir Lowry’s Pass. The wind was gale-force. I didn’t think too much about it. It was only when the hooter sounded for the first mile and I started swimming that I realised that the wind had turned the dam into what seemed more like the sea. An angry sea at that.

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Before the fun began – in our snazzy matching TYR cozzies

The first 650m or so was directly into the wind, which was kicking up waves such that whenever I tried to sight for the first turn buoy I would either just see a wall of water, get a face full of water or 1 time out of 10 attempts I’d actually be able to see ahead. The waves were short and fast which meant that I had to adapt my stroke as I tried to roll with the water instead of fight it. It really was a challenge getting to that first turn buoy. By then I’d already swallowed copious amounts of water and was almost feeling sea-sick. Then it was 100m swimming almost parallel to the waves before turning for the final 800m back to shore. You’d think that having the wind behind us now would make it easy, but instead of pushing us the waves just seemed to wash over us, also creating a bit of a suck and push feeling. I was quite relieved when the finish arch was in sight and I could put my feet down! One down, four to go.

My mom was quite rattled after the first mile and was almost adamant that she’d had enough already, but I knew that she’d put on her big girl pants and continue. Of course she would.

Number 2 was just as tough and by the time I started number 3 I was feeling pretty drained already. This was not how I’d expected it to go down. I was upset with myself that I wasn’t coping better. I always like to be so prepared and well-trained that when the actual event comes it’s almost a breeze.

To give you an idea of how tough the conditions were, I’ve been holding 1:20/1:21 in my hundred repeats and about 1:23/24 in my longer sets. Obviously this was in the pool and with tumble turns. Now I was swimming around 1:36/1:37 per hundred. Eish.

My hip flexors started hurting quite a bit during the third one and I was getting progressively slower, even if it was just by 20-25sec per mile.

I gritted my teeth. Tried to ignore the pain in my hips. 4 down. Just one left. And suddenly the wind died down a bit. The fifth mile was the easiest and I clocked my fastest split of the day!

Exhausted euphoria! At the end all the 5 Mile Club swimmers waited for each other just under the finish arc, hugging and high-fiving. We’d done it. Some slower than others, but we all suffered through our own issues and hiccups on the day to finish rather triumphantly!

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The 5 Mile Club

I was a bit disappointed with how I’d coped. I felt like it should have been easier. But then again, I set high standards for myself. And I can’t control the weather. It was probably good for me to suffer a bit, to remember that one can only control the controllables and that nature can be a tough opponent.

Really looking forward to my Cryotheraphy session later this afternoon. Don’t know what this is? How does going into a chamber that’s -120 degrees Celsius sound? It’s really not that bad and it really helps with a myriad of medical conditions, recovery and acute injuries. I’ve been using it for recovery and to help with the dodgy tendon in my knee.

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Stu and I after our Cryo session

The Cape Mile has grown tremendously in just the 3 years that it has been around. From a small event they now need to split up age categories to accommodate all the swimmers. A big thank you to the Sillwater Sports team for accommodating those of us crazies wanting to do all 5 miles and also for putting on such a well organised event. We know you can’t control the weather. Unfortunately.

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It was very special doing this with my mom – she managed to come 2nd in her age group in the process of swimming all 5 miles!

I also need to thank Karen Graaff for all her organisation, TYR South Africa for helping out the 5 Mile Club with some gorgeous cozzies, Virgin Active for the best training facilities and Skratch (Puremotion Sports) for fueling my adventures.

If you’d like to donate to the cause that we swam for you still can. Just a little bit could save a life.

https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/5-x-cape-miles-to-teach-children-to-swim

 

 

 

Weekends to look forward to – the Cell C Arabella MTB Challenge

So the World Triathlon Cape Town race, which happened this past weekend, marks 2 years since I started this blog. It began as a means of documenting what would be a very unique experience as I “went pro” for three weeks.

I was given three weeks notice that I had gotten a start slot for this prestigious race and I stopped all my studies for that short period of time and got myself into the best shape that I could. I dove into the icy waters of the Waterfront alongside my heroes and will forever have some pretty rad memories and pics to document the event.

Fast forward two years and my knees are too much of a mess for me to run. I decided I didn’t want to be around tri folk all weekend having to explain why I couldn’t race.

Instead the inaugural Cell C Arabella MTB Challenge jumped at me! Two days in a beautiful part of the world doing what I love with like-minded people. I was sold!

I begged and pleaded to get off work a bit early to allow Ila and me to drive out to our accommodation in Hermanus on the Friday, but a monsoon arrived and we decided that it would be wiser to drive through the next day.

An early alarm, some peanut butter and banana toast forced down and we were on our way. Despite the darkness of the autumn morning we could tell that the weather was going to be beautiful.

Day 1 was 52km with around 1200m of climbing that would take us from Arabella to Wildekrans Wine Estate. The route was not particularly technical apart from some rutted and washed away descents and we were seriously thankful for the huge amount of water that had fallen the night before which helped to compact the many sandy patches.

Day 1

I have really been struggling with my knees and at around half way my left knee started to hurt. I got slower as it got worse. I am used to pushing through the pain that comes from pushing your body faster and harder, but injury pain seems to be a different story. I eventually dragged my sorry, sore ass across the finish line in 10th place.

We had our bikes washed and stored them in the bike park at Wildekrans before being bused back to Arabella for the most amazing lunch spread at the pool. Ila and I decided to pack up early and head through to Hermanus for a nap before our friends, Lara and Maria, arrived.

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Ila and Marianne taking their post-race stretching/ yoga very seriously

We spent the evening having drinks in town (milkshakes for the racers and wine for the non-racers) and making homemade pizzas with dough from Gino’s. Perfect between stage food! 🙂

The following day was another early alarm. Today’s stage would take us from Wildekrans to Arabella over 42km – much of it singletrack. After popping a myprodol (or two) I was keen to race again. I always say that one should never underestimate a MTB race. 42km can be deceptively hard, with lots of ups and downs. This proved to be the case. I was quite motivated to try and make up for the previous day’s ride and was quite happy with how I maintained focus for the whole stage – I had really struggled in the final 10km the day before so I made sure to stop and throw back some Coke with the last of my Skratch Labs at the last waterpoint.

I crossed the line in 10th place again as I was surprised to be pipped at the line by a fast-charging motivated woman! Love the aggression and competition!

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GC results

Again, I am just seriously annoyed at my technical skills (or lack thereof) which I feel hold me back so much. It’s an irrational fear and I haven’t yet learnt how to conquer it. But I’ll keep on working at getting better.

Another lovely poolside lunch was followed by prize giving – we had to wait because Ila had come 4th overall and 1st senior lady. So in awe of how much she has improved on a bike since I met her last August as well as her mad tech skills!

The race was incredibly well put-together and applause must go to the Stillwater team who, without fail, put on arguable the best sports events in the country – maybe even the world! The tricky logistics of two venues were nailed-down, the food was amazing and most importantly the MTBing was fun and the race was a vibe!

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Had such a rad time with an awesome bunch of girls

We dashed back to Stellies, I flew through a shower and then Maria and I were off to Cape Town to watch the elite men’s triathlon. The mad rush was worth it as it was amazing to watch the best triathletes in the world battle it out through the Waterfront.

Dinner with the family in Rondebosch and then back in Stellies by 22:00. So much for a relaxing weekend – what is that even?

At work at 7:30 the next day and it begins again.

I think it might finally be time to give some serious attention and rest to these poor knees of mine. I’ve been fighting it for so long and I can’t really stomach the thought of a proper break. What does one do if one can’t train? What do normal people do? I hope I never have to find out.

A massive thanks to everyone who enables me to do what I love – Specialized Bicycles for my lovely, capable Era Expert and the best kit and gear in the business; Bicycle Power Trading for the PowerTap that enables me to do the specific training that I need to when pushed for time; Skratch Labs for the no-nonsense nutrition that goes down a treat; Virgin Active for their amazing training facilities; TYR for the best wetsuits and swim gear and  G-Form protective gear for keeping my skin intact.

 

 

 

 

A spare lung, a sense of humour and stacks of anti-chafe cream

In the week leading up to the start of AfricanX on Friday 13 March, participants were asked to tweet the three things that they wouldn’t be able to go without at the race. This was my response:

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How prophetic it would prove to be.

I was supposed to do the race with my mom. It would either be a super bonding exercise or we’d be at each others throats. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we never got to find out. My mom broke her ankle 3 weeks before the race and I was left scrambling for a partner.

Luckily for me, my gooooood friend Amy shouted “YOLO” from the rooftops, booked her flight from Durbs and before long was on her way to join me on an epic adventure where we would cover 90km of tough trail running in 3 days in Grabouw. Neither of us were prepared. Neither of us had ever run more than 21km on trail. But we were keen for the challenge!

I moved into my little yellow tent at Houw Hoek Inn on Thursday evening and the nerves kicked in. I’d never even run with a hydration pack before. I tried my mom’s pack on and couldn’t imagine running with it. And how does one fuel for 3h30-4h30 of running? Would my legs hold up? Only the previous week my ITB had flared up badly and I’d taken a course of anti-inflammatories and done nothing for three days. I started to think I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

Home for the 3 nights
Home for the 3 nights

But Friday morning I pinned my number to my vest, donned my hydration pack and stood on the start line. Our game plan was simple – look after each other, eat and drink sufficiently and walk the hills.

Nerves and excitement at the start of day 1
Nerves and excitement at the start of day

The first day was 34km and was supposed to be “easy” in comparison to day 2. The gun went and immediately we were going uphill. The running was nice with lots of singletrack, but I wasn’t feeling on top of things. At around 14km I was feeling decidedly tired. I checked my heart rate – 186. Whoa! That didn’t seem right. I checked it 5min later. 187. I put it out of my mind and kept on running, although I was feeling decidedly uncomfortable. At 22km I decided I needed to do something, so I made Amy stop and I took an Enervit gel. HR went down to 176 while stationary. I was struggling to breathe and eventually ripped my HR strap off as my chest was feeling constricted. The rest of the stage was a bit of a blur as I really struggled to keep going. I was feeling absolutely awful and extremely sleepy. Not quite usual when running. Amy got me to the end and I dropped onto a seat in the Rehidrat tent.

The rest of the day was spent eating, napping and grunting my way through a foam roller class. Prize giving and dinner in the evening was a fantastic affair with great food and entertaining MCs.

I chatted to my coach and he voiced a concern that I might have a bug. I wasn’t to start the following day if my waking HR was more than 20 beats above my normal waking HR. Alas, waking HR was 80 – well above coach’s recommended 20 beats up. But there was no way I wasn’t starting. Death before DNF remember.

Saturdays stage was also 34km, but with far more climbing. It was also going to be a much hotter day. Add to that that the start was delayed by an hour and we only set off at 9am. Today we would be going over Sir Lowry’s Pass by means of the Gantouw Pass, the old wagon trail. Saturday was also a dress up stage and some of the teams had gone to town – there was Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, pharaohs, grown men in nappies, minions and more. At that point I could not imagine adding to my discomfort, but spirits were high.

Trekking up the old wagon path
Trekking up the old wagon path

Again I wasn’t feeling well, struggling to breathe and run. I couldn’t answer Amy when she spoke to me and she eventually ended up chatting to all the other teams around us. We ran some absolutely spectacular trails in Grabouw, including Xterra’s infamous rock garden, unfortunately I really wasn’t enjoying myself. The first water point was at 9km and I really didn’t know how I was going to get to the end. Shortly after the second water point at 19km I asked Amy if she would rather go on alone. I was being a huge liability and I hate being the weak link. She said no – we were there as partners.

Running the Rock Garden
Running the Rock Garden

At 21km I stopped, telling Amy I wanted to throw up. What I brought up didn’t come from my stomach, but rather from my lungs! I won’t go into detail, but Amy worked with TB patients last year and she called it a “mucus plug”. Yum. But I felt like a totally new person. All of a sudden I could breathe and talk and run! It was absolutely incredible. I am guessing that having blocked lungs had been putting enormous pressure on my body while I tried to run, forcing my HR up and depriving my body of oxygen and making me very sleepy.

I sincerely hope that these guys had lubed up
I sincerely hope that these guys had lubed up

The rest of the stage was fantastic as we traversed Groenlandberg and ran some amazing trails. It was incredibly hot, but we had renewed energy. I was chatty and we even ran hard at the end to stay away from another woman’s team to finish strongly at Paul Cluver some 4h30 after starting. This was an incredibly tough day with some teams taking over 8 hours to finish and others having to pull out.

I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to enjoy the awesome trails in the first 21km, but was also super relieved to have figured out what was wrong with me. [I also think that this is what affected me during the run at Xterra and one or two other races so I am very excited about trying to determine the cause]

I think my favourite sponsor of the event was Fair Cape who provided ice cold high-protein chocolate milks at the end of every stage and chocolate mousse after lunch. Yummo. Probably drank a few too many choc milks.

Cold deliciousness
Cold deliciousness

We were bused back to Houw Hoek Inn and immediately jumped in the pool, before cleaning up and sitting down to another amazing meal. Again we grunted through a foam roller class, before eating again.

The third and final day was a 22km stage. The first 10km was downhill and the next 12 was pretty much uphill back to the start. We didn’t want to underestimate the stage, especially as I was worried that my niggly ITB might flare up with so much downhill running. Amy and I were super strong, running well together and taking turns to carry the one hydration pack that we were sharing. We traversed an amazing mountain with spectacular views, alas there was almost no time to look up as one careless foot strike would send you flying. Amy pushed me all the way to the end, so much so that I almost went head first down the singletrack in an effort to keep up. We finished 8th ladies team on the stage.

Smiling again
Smiling again

Without doubt AfricanX has got to be the best, most challenging, exhilarating, well-organised and amazing race I have ever participated in. The routes were superb. The food was scrumptious. The vibe among the participants was electric. Everyone there was having a jol – even the top racing teams. It was such fun sleeping in a tent – I felt like a kid again. Every night when my head hit the pillow I was lights out until the next morning.

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Seems eventual winner, Bernard Rukadza, was as excited as I was about sleeping in a tent

I ran in my Hoka Huakas which were absolutely amazing. While others were sorting out massive blisters I walked away with not a mark on my feet. We also ran about 1km on super sharp railway rocks which I hardly felt under my more cushioned shoes. Winning!

I have such new respect for trail runners. We were all limping around from the end of the first stage, but each morning we got up and ran again. Hurting together brings a special kind of bonding and while my race wasn’t as great as it could have been I already can’t wait for the next AfricanX. I am just bleak that I have to wait a whole year.

The top dogs - respect!
The top dogs – respect!

A huge thank you to Amy Burger for dragging me the first 55km. You were the best partner I could have asked for – always chirpy and positive. It was a pleasure suffering with you.

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Aeroplanes down the finish chute with Amz

I reckon this has got to be Stillwater Sport’s best event. Put it on your bucket list.

All the stunning photos were taken by Tobias Ginsberg