Category Archives: Training

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

 

 

 

A Body Geometry Fit – the best thing you can do for your cycling

I had the supreme privilege of having a full-on Body Geometry Fit on the Specialized Shiv that I am getting to use at Durban 70.3. I am so ridiculously stoked about getting to ride this fast bike and I just hope that I can do it justice!

The BG Fit was nothing like anything I’ve experienced before. It was an incredibly thorough process and I left feeling that no stone had been left unturned in the process of optimising my comfort on what could be a very uncomfortable bike to ride.

And I was pretty nervous about trying out the TT bike. I once borrowed my mom’s one for a race. I just used it for the week before the race and was just so uncomfortable that I couldn’t produce any power in the race. Neither could I run off the bike after being in such an uncomfortable position that I wasn’t used to.

The BG Fit is designed to make your bike and gear fit you, not the other way around. The aim is to optimise comfort, endurance and power on the bike. This is done in a few steps.

Peet le Roux, a professional Body Geometry fitter, did the fit at the Revolution Cycles BG Fit studio in Cape Town. He started off by asking questions about my cycling background, my goals, previous injuries and any discomfort that I currently feel while cycling.

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How gorgeous is the Shiv? Pretty in pink

This was followed by a physical assessment that checked my flexibility, leg length discrepancy, spinal curve, knee position, feet arches, the strength of various muscles, range of movement in my neck and shoulders and various other things.

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This angle will partly determine how aggressive my TT position can be without causing fatigue or discomfort
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Not so good at the one legged stuff

Next Peet checked the width of my sit bones to determine what saddle width I should be riding.

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The Ass-o-meter recommends a 155 width for me
The Ass-o-meter recommends a 155 width for me 😉
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We then checked my feet aches to determine what insoles would be best – I have high arches
We tried different options just to be sure
We tried different options just to be sure which would be best

My knees are very sensitive to cleat position. Peet used various observations to set up the cleats initally and then we fine-tuned them once on the bike.

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Finally it was time to actually get on the bike. Again, all sorts of angles were checked and rechecked, but the most important thing was how the adjustments felt.

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We tried different saddles, which then altered saddle height and angle.

My favourite road bike saddle - the Power saddle
My favourite road bike saddle – the Power saddle

Peet explained each part of the process with the goal being to make me comfortable. Even a little bit of stress on the body over a 90km TT can cause serious fatigue.

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#aeroiseverything – well in this case comfort is everything because I am such a novice on a TT bike

And the end result:

Happiness
Happiness

Now I need to spend quite a bit of time getting used to riding in this position. I’ve been doing some solid tempo rides on my road bike so it is going to be interesting to see if I can attain the same power in this new position. It may take a little while, but I am super confident that this is the best fit that I am going to attain!

Thanks to Johan Badenhorst and Specialized Bicycles Africa for the photos.

Not drowning according to Robyn

I love swimming. I was born to swim and I’ve spent 18 of my 25 years doing it. I also blame the fact that I am a bit socially inept on the fact that my head was always under water during my school years.

My mom took me to my first coach, Brian Button, at the age of 7. I made my first Western Province swim team that year, fell in love with the sport and went on to break SA records and kick boys’ butts. Seriously, I swam faster than all the boys my age. I was taller than them too.

Swimming was my thing. I was good at it and I loved it. We were a great gang of swim squad kids and we all loved swimming training. I was always super serious though; getting annoyed at those who didn’t take training quite as seriously as I did – pulling on lane ropes and turning early.

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Attempted cozzie selfie

I have fond memories of taking bets on who could swim the furthest underwater. I always won the brownies with my ability to swim 60m under water. I think I killed many brain cells only surfacing when I was near to blacking out.

And then at about age 14 I hit a plateau. I stopped improving and galas became miserable. I still loved swimming and training, but I just wasn’t achieving faster times or enjoying competing. Eventually, I moved coaches looking for a change. I joined a group of super disciplined youngsters under the watchful eye of a strict Hungarian coach, Karoly von Toros. I loved suffering with my friends. We’d do main sets like 5 x 800m or “4 ones and a four” (8 sets of (4 x 100m + 400m) and set each would have to be faster).

We’d rejoice when coach said “dive day.” It meant a shorter set of race simulations.

We’d swim at Newlands public pool in summer. Some chemical imbalance in the water would make our teeth hurt all day after the session, making it almost impossible to eat something hard like an apple. Eventually some of the kids had gum guards made to protect their teeth from the water while they swam.

Swimming there during the summer holidays was the worst. We’d pitch up for our session at 5:30am to find the previous days revelers’ chicken bones at the bottom of the pool. What else was in that water did not bear thinking about.

I was a backstroker and as such had to swim in the lane next to the wall because there were no lane ropes. Coach moved bins to where the flags should have been so that we knew when to tumble turn.

The squad would move indoors at the end of April and then back outdoors in October. The water was still so cold that I remember crying into my goggles. Otherwise we sucked it up and got on with it.

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Straight pull and rotating hips in the TYR Torque swim skin – photo credit Joshua Hodge

We used to swim 8-9 times a week. In winter we swam 05:00 – 06:30 and 18:30 – 20:30 each day. I’d have dinner before training and again afterwards. I was always hungry and couldn’t make it to first break at school without tucking into my homemade, brown bread sandwiches. And I’d sleep in every first language Afrikaans class (but, really! Who’d blame me anyway?).

Good times! Enough with the nostalgia though.

Now that I only need to swim for triathlon my swimming training has changed drastically. My time is far better spent working on my biking and running and as such I only do 2-3 sessions of 3km per week. I swim by myself at Virgin Active because my coach is in Cape Town and I can’t warrant extra money spent on another gym membership to be able to swim with others. Swimming is the one thing that I really struggle to do by myself. I can run and cycle for days, but swimming alone is really tough. So I like to keep the sessions simple. That way I won’t try and negotiate with myself.

A few examples of main sets that I repeat quite often are:

5 x 200m easy leaving on 3:00 + 10 x 100m hard leaving on 1:30

or

2 x (300m easy on 1:30 leaving pace, 6 x 50m hard on 50sec, 200m easy, 4 x 50m hard, 100m easy, 2 x 50m hard)

or

15 x 100m on 1:40 at max sustainable speed

The hard is always very hard and the easy very easy.

Warm up is always 400m swim, 5 x 100m kick on 2:00. Followed by the main set.

Cool down is 100m.

Just like that. Every single time. I don’t believe that sets need to be complicated.

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Killing it in the new TYR Hurricane Cat 5 wetsuit – photo credit Chris Hitchcock

In 2012 my coach, Brendon Pienaar, spent a long time working on my stroke. It was a tedious, frustrating process and I hated it. My stroke is not perfect, but as a result of that work I have a very straight pull. We worked around my shallow hand entry and added in some more hip rotation, changed my breathing from every 3 strokes to every 2 and now my stroke works just fine for me. I think that having a decent stroke allows me to get away with less training too.

I like to do no-nonsense sessions. No drills and no frills. Just wham bam. Drills don’t help me now. The only training tool that I take to the pool is my kickboard. My coach is a firm believer in needing to be able to kick. When I swim with him in CT we never do less than a 1km kick set. By myself, in Stellenbosch, I am a bit lenient and only do 5 x 100m.

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“Mutant zombie” TYR swim cap, goggles and kickboard – the only things I take to the pool

I never use a pull buoy or paddles. Brendon likens the use of paddles for me to going to the gym and doing 1000 lat pull downs with a 1kg weight. Pointless.

My swimming is nowhere near what it once was, but that’s okay. I used to do 8-9 sessions per week of 6-8km. Now it’s a big week if I get to 10km.

So straighten out that pull and in the words of Dory, “just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”

Origin of Trails #whoopwhoop

It had been a mad few weeks of almost non-stop racing, but the race that I was looking forward to the most was the last one on the calendar – the Pennypinchers Origin of Trails (POOT) in Stellenbosch. This would be my first two day MTB stage thingy and I was really looking forward to the challenge. Firstly, I haven’t done too much MTB racing and 70km each day would be quite far for me. Secondly, the Origin of Trails is all about the singletrack – something I have a love/hate relationship with. Love because it’s a massive thrill to ride twisty, narrow trails. Hate because I generally end up sprawled somewhere off the trail having been found wanting in the skills department. And thirdly, because it would be the first time that I would race and then wake up the next day and have do it all over again. Please remember that I am a triathlete who trains for races that last between 2 and 3 hours… 🙂

Since I started mountain biking at the beginning of 2013 I have wanted to get to a point where I could do a stage race. Wines2Whales almost happened. And then didn’t, much to my disappointment. I thought that POOT would be the ideal “stage race” to start with.

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The entire Stellenbosch MTB crew was looking forward to POOT with huge excitement – a chance to ride well-known and completely virgin singletracks in our backyard. The race was also viewed as the end of season MTB celebration and many of the pro riders were doing the race chilled, stopping at the various water points situated on the participating wine farms for a glass of wine before continuing on. It had been a long season for everyone.

The afternoon before the race I started developing a very sore throat. I already felt that I was lucky to have gotten that far without getting sick – I am quite susceptible to picking up a bug when I’ve been training and racing hard and my immune system is suppressed. Coach’s rule is that I can race as long as it’s above the shoulders. A sore throat is okay, but if it’s in your chest then its not.

The day of the race I woke up with a very sore throat and snotty nose. Not ideal, but I rolled out of bed, got dressed and hauled myself to the start line. I was starting in B batch and was super excited for the race. I really wasn’t sure how things would pan out, but the vibe at the start was electric! Everyone was stoked to be booked off work and about to ride their bikes.

No shortage of big names on the start line!
No shortage of big names on the start line!

Words from the coach were “steady Eddy,” but as much as I tried it was just really hard to take it easy. I’m used to short races where you go all out from the start. 70km on a MTB is still a long way for me. Shortly after some zig-zagging up and down vineyards I was in home territory – Jonkershoek. We climbed up to one of the Canary singletracks, then across to Neverending, then Valley Trail, onto circle route and around to Specialized Epic, finishing off with the lower Firehut trail.

One of my favourite trails in Jonkershoek - Firehut
One of my favourite trails in Jonkershoek – Firehut

The second water point was at my favourite coffee shop – Ride In – but I didn’t stop. I was feeling like an uber dork with a camelback, but it meant I didn’t need to stop to fill my bottle. The other reason that I was feeling dorky was that I was wearing my G-Form kneepads. Rag me as much as you like, but if I wear them then I don’t fall and if I don’t wear them I fall. So I’m gonna wear them.

We then wound our way to the other side of Stellenbosch, tackling a particularly nasty, rocky climb in Coetzenburg that I didn’t see anyone ride. We rode some great new singletracks (ST) around Dornier and then started to head back towards the finish. I had started getting a bit tired with around 20km to go. And 20km on a MTB can be no joke. There are no easily gained kilometers on a MTB and you need energy to tackle the demanding climbs and your wits about you on the ST.

How not to do it
How not to do it
Demanding day 1
Demanding day 1

Arriving at the finish I quickly stripped off my kneepads and joined the party. We all had lots of fun swapping war stories over an awesome lunch at the finish venue at Paul Roos rugby fields with live entertainment.

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I still wasn’t feeling well that afternoon and decided to downgrade to the shorter 40km route for the second day. The other option was not to start, which actually was just not an option!

The second day started with some major climbing over Botmaskop and then onto the gorgeous Bartinney Wine Estate where the most insane Skyfall ST had been built. Unfortunately, because I had started in a later batch due to downgrading, I was caught behind some slower riders and this took some of the fun out of it.

Skyfall - a masterpiece of ST
Skyfall – a masterpiece of ST

I was really feeling a bit energy-less and glad that I had downgraded, but the ride was still awesome with the most gorgeous scenery in one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa.

We made our way onto Hillcrest Berry Farm and climbed some more, before entering a mad, long, dark culvert to cross under Helshoogte. Then it was over Botmaskop again and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but once at the top it was pretty much all downhill to the finish line.

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The second time they sent us over Botmaskop – carnage!

I think that only in cycling and running is the phrase “it’s all downhill from here” a great one!

After crossing the line I got cleaned up at the Fedhealth tent and had the most amazing massage thanks to the guys at EPT Recovery.

Heaven
Heaven

Again enjoyed a spectacular lunch and then it was time for prize giving. By doing the 70km/40km option I had come second.

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After a great nap, I joined the afterparty which was held in a cobble-stone square in Stellenbosch. It was an absolutely awesome evening, with great food and company, and was topped off with Goodluck being the title band.

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Stillwater Sports once again put on a master class in event organising and no detail went unattended to!

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Origin of Trails was a superb event and hopefully the first of many MTB stage races for me 🙂

#whoopwhoop

Mad, muddy fun at Woolies Tri

Last year I got chatting to an old friend Francois-Jacques Malan of Simonsig Winery. He kindly agreed to have me race for Simonsig at the 5th annual Woolworths Trust Charity triathlon. I won the race and so enjoyed it that there was no way I was going to miss it this year! Again, I had the privilege of racing for Simonsig.

The race is held at the Paul Cluver estate in Grabouw and if you’ve ever done Wines2Whales or ridden in the area you’ll know what fantastic MTB trails they have on the property.

Word got around that the recently crowned World Xterra Champion, Flora Duffy, would be racing. This meant that everyone else would be racing for second place.

The weather forecast for race day was looking pretty gloomy with lots of rain predicted the afternoon before the race and showers on the day. This was in holding with tradition as last year the race was scheduled to take place the weekend that the Cape flooded in November and Woolies had had to postpone their event.

The morning of the race was pretty dreary and I drove out to Grabouw in some heavy showers. The air was icy cold and it was reported on the radio that there was snow on the mountains somewhere. You could feel it.

I got absolutely drenched getting my bike down to transition, but luckily it stopped raining for long enough to allow us to set up in transition and warm up.

I was ready to race at 8:00. Unfortunately there was lots of traffic making its way along the narrow dirt road leading to the race and the start was delayed by about 30min. The water was 18.5 degrees and the air temperature was just 10 degrees. I did my warm up for an 8am start and then I started to get really cold.

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I always think there is almost no point in racing unless Chris Hitchcock is there to capture it

I am never able to start as fast as the guys and they always sprint off, leaving me to fight my way forward again. The swim was short – only 800m. This didn’t allow me much opportunity to make time on the other girls, but I had a fast transition and left on the bike leg just behind Flora.

The bike route was super fun and muddy, with more singletrack than any other offroad tri I’ve done. I was feeling strong and seeing some good power numbers on my PowerTap Joule. Definitely impressed with how my coach had enabled me to get to the race feeling strong even in the middle of some very tiring training for DC.

There was absolutely no point in not embracing the mud! I had so much fun!
There was absolutely no point in not embracing the mud! I had so much fun!

I took a bit of a tumble down an incredibly muddy, slippery switchback. After that my whole right side was just brown with mud. There were some rain showers on the bike. Try cycling in a wet trisuit when it’s cold and raining. Chillos!

1025364_10152510041898963_9194193727938248388_oI almost forgot to take my gel, but managed to get it down just before taking my feet out of my shoes. I was stoked to get off the bike ahead of my biggest competition (after Flora) who I knew was super strong on the bike. If I had my running legs I thought I could hold on for 2nd.

The run was slish-sloshing through very slippery mud that was made worse by lots of bikes and runners having churned it up further. My legs felt good on the run, but I was still running scared. Katharine Wilson had also just returned from Xterra Worlds and was in good shape.

We ran some nice hills and then hit the most amazing, flowing singletrack. I was loving every second of the race and grinning like a Cheshire cat as I jumped puddles and navigated switchbacks. I don’t think I could ever say the same thing about a road triathlon. Having such fun definitely takes away from the pain of racing!

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I hand washed my trisuit after the race. The amount of mud that came out was amazing!

I finished strongly and was super happy with how the race had gone and how I had performed. Unfortunately I then heard that Flora had gone wrong on the bike and the run and hadn’t finished officially. So I ended up winning the race, although under the circumstances I would have preferred to come second to a world champion.

I would go so far as to say that this is the best offroad tri of the season. The only not so fun thing was having to clean my bike and dirty kit once I got home. I don’t think that my bike will ever be the same again…

Woolies also put together the best prizes. This year I won a very appropriate and extremely comprehensive Mediclinic first aid kit. Most of you will know what an #uberklutz I am. Between my G-Form knee pads and my new first aid kit I should now be able to sort out any damage I inflict on myself 🙂

Not often that one gets to celebrate a win with some Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel. Now that's winning in my books!
Not often that one gets to celebrate a win some Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel. Now that’s winning in my books!

The following day I did my final long ride in preparation for DC. My legs were a bit dented and it was a loooong 5hrs with lots of climbing, but was made easier by some good company and finished off with some great coffee at Ride In Cafe.

Now it will be a bit of a chilled week before heading to Swellendam on Friday with my Velocity Sports Lab Ladies team for 202km of fun on Saturday morning.

Huge thanks to Simonsig for having me race for them! And to Woolies for such a great event – best route and goodie bags ever! Over 2 million was raised for charity!

And a final thank you to my awesome sponsors: EnduroHub, Bicycle Power Trading, Virgin Active, 32Gi and G-Form. It is a privilege to represent such great brands.

 

Robyn races TriRock Robben Island

Please excuse me, but how often does one get to do a triathlon on an island named after you? Sorry, I mean an island with the same name as you.

Robben Island is the island, 7km away from Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 year prison sentence, and, as such, forms an important part of South African history.

At the last minute I got an entry for TriRock Robben Island. A once in a lifetime opportunity to race on this iconic island in the only sporting event that takes place on the island.

A triathlon on an island makes logistics incredibly complicated for the organisers – everything necessary to hold the race needs to be transported to the island by ferry. The trip takes one hour.

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The afternoon before the race athletes had to drop their bikes at the waterfront. They would be transported to the island that evening and unloaded into transition area.

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The ferry left the dock for Robben Island at 6:15 promptly the next morning. An hour long ferry trip would be a bit too long for those who suffered from seasickness, but thankfully I was able to hold on to my breakfast and enjoy the views as we left Cape Town.

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Arriving on Robben Island, we had to find our bikes which were already on the racks, set up our transition area, get body marked and into our wetsuits all in a fairly short amount of time.

RobbenIsland2The water in the harbour was a fresh 16 degrees. A bit chilly to get in to, but lovely once you got swimming. It was a 2 x 400m swim course. As per usual the guys sprinted out, but by around the 200m mark I was where I wanted to be – clear water ahead of me.

RI5Apparently the spectators were quite shocked that a girl lead out the water, but it seems that I’ve done this so often that I can do it with my eyes closed.

RobbenIsland4Bounding to my transition area.

RI8The bike leg was a mix of thick sandy sections and old dirt roads with amazing views like these!

RobbenIsland1I knew that I was on the island for reasons more than just a race and as strange as it sounds, on the bike leg I tried to reflect on all that had happened on the island, the unjustice and what it represented in our country’s history.

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I rode hard and managed to finish the bike leg uneventfully, although others were not so lucky and fell victim to the many many devil thorns of the island. This is not a race for tubes!

RI6Thank you to BMT bike shop and the songo.info guys and girls who were in charge of the marshaling. Top effort and great refreshment provided on route, although I didn’t stop for any 🙂

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The run was 2km out, then 2 x 2km loops and 2km back to the finish. It was fun to win on the island!

RobbenIsland8The very novel medals

After the race we had the opportunity to be taken on a tour of the prison by a former prisoner.

RI7The awesome Western Province race referees. No triathlons would happen without them. And I think that red suits them.

RI2And then it was back to the main land. We picked the faster ferry the second time around.

TriRock Robben Island was a fantastic event and an absolute must for all those who have never been to the island! Huge thanks to the organisers for having me to race and for a very novel triathlon experience!

All photo credits to Chris Hitchcock and Dylan Haskin

I do maths on the bike

I’ve always been a numbers person. And that’s probably the reason I took Additional Maths at school and was a complete nerd and outcast and shunned by all. Kidding. Partly.

It’s likely that I will remember your phone number before I remember your name.

I don’t like “odd” numbers. And by odd I mean I just don’t like them. Like 3, 9 and 23. But 5 is okay.

I liked my Gun Run number, 8262, because 8 minus 2 is 6 and the 2 is repeated. I like looking for patterns.

My favourite number is 7.

I am so glad that my mom held out a few extra minutes so that I was born on the 30th of September and not the 29th. That would have killed me.

During swim sets I enjoy watching the clock. Leaving on 45sec means repetition.

Start at 0, 45, 30, 15, 0, repeat.

If I have to do 30 x 100m I will start counting down in fractions. After one I’ve done 1/30. After 3 I’ve 1/10 and need to do that another 10 times, etc.

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Numbers and analysing stuff just does it for me. At varsity I did a BSc Mathematical Statistics and this really tested my love of numbers, but we got through it.

So training with power is just up my alley. The watts I generate on each pedal stroke are measured by the PowerTap in my back wheel and recorded on my Joule GPS and saved for later analysis.

Joule

Training with power completely changed the way I cycle. No more freewheeling down a hill – because then a big fat zero is displayed on my Joule and coach will be able to see this later when he looks at my training files.. No more soft pedaling in the middle of a bunch because then I am not riding the exact watts that my coach specified in my program (although I have had to learn to be a bit flexible in some special cases).

I’ve learnt to ride much more consistently. Cyclists usually see a hill and want to thrash it out to the top and then cruise over the top. Because I am seeing my exact output I can often let them go and then catch them as they slow down over the top.

Training with power is incomparable to training with HR. Say you need to ride 5min at 170 HR. If you go hard for 1min your HR will go up. Continue going hard, but decrease the effort a bit as you tire and your HR won’t go down. HR stays at 170.

Now to maintain the same power your HR is going to keep on climbing as it gets harder and harder to ride at the same watts. Training is never easy and as you improve, the goal posts change. Tempo watts will go from 210w to 220w and you’re able to quantify your improvement and track your progress.

In a recent interview, Jan Frodeno (Olympic triathlon champ) was asked if he uses a power meter. His response was: “I’m German. Of course I run a power meter.” This testifies to the precision and quality of training that using a power meter in training allows one to achieve.

Because I am super A-type, over the years my coach has had to try and get me to relax a bit or I might have killed myself in the pursuit of the perfect cycling power graphs. I’ll get a bit anxious if I am not nailing the exact power that he specified in my program or if I suddenly end up riding in a group and can’t ride as hard as I’d like to.

I do most of my cycling training alone because of this. Not that I would choose to, but cycling with power can make you a bit of an anti-social cyclist if you need to do a structured session like ride at 220w for 90min or do 12 x 30sec at 380w. So it’s really just easier. I will, however, tell my coach if there’s a weekend group ride that I want to do and he will work it into my program so that I can be flexible.

My MTB PowerTap
My MTB PowerTap

One of the harder sessions that I often find on my program is something like 50min at threshold broken down as 8min + 7 x 6min at 250w. These will be done on a hill so that it’s easier to maintain the power and the last 45sec of each rep might be standing at 60 cadence. Turn around when done and head back down the hill to start the next one.

I had to do this session last Thursday morning followed by a run off the bike. I see this session on the program and think “ouch”. I’ve done them often enough to know how much they hurt.

I will generally do this session on Helshoogte as it has a nice constant gradient, but lately it’s been too unsafe to go there alone and so I’ve had to find another hill in Stellenbosch. This one is not quite as nice in that the gradient changes often requiring you to gear up or down as necessary and even get out the saddle when it gets too steep.

250w is quite a lot for me. It hurts pretty much from the start and you just need to grit your teeth and tell yourself that you can do it. It’s sessions like these that you can mentally draw on for confidence when going into a race.

So in my head it goes something like this:

Okay, that’s 8min done already. Only 42min to go. I can do this.

2 down. One quarter done.

3. Flip. I’ve still got 5 to go. This is getting hard already.

4. Half way. I can do this. I only need to repeat what I’ve already done.

5. Eish the numbers are dropping. Legs are burning. I am pulling ugly faces as I try and maintain 250w. Is it okay if I just do 245w? What is a 5w drop percentage wise? Then I’ll work it out. 2%. That seems okay. I can deal with just 2% lower than what coach asked for.

6. Okay. 245w now. OUCH OUCH OUCH. Only 2 to go.

7. OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH. Really ugly faces.

8. Now I’ll count down the minutes. 2min down. I’ve done 1/3. Only 4min to go. 3min down. Half way. I can do this. 4min. Only 2min to go. 1min to go. And then I am done!

High fives all round!! Oh wait. I am by myself on a hill in the middle of nowhere.

It’s this ability to push oneself so incredibly hard when no one is watching (and perversely enjoy it) that separates firstly the athletes from the non-athletes and secondly the good athlete from the average athlete.

Stellies

Limp home. Running shoes on and out the door for a 25min build run just to get used to the change of mode.

Then I’ll get home and upload the file, with detailed comments on how the session went, so that my coach can view it online.

It looks something like this:

CycleOps PowerAgent software used for analysing power data
CycleOps PowerAgent software used for analysing power data

Endless hours of number fun!.

I am incredibly lucky as I am a Bicycle Power Trading ambassador. They bring in PowerTap power meters, CycleOps indoor trainers and stationary bikes as well as Saris bike racks. They provide me with a PowerTap for both my road and MTB. These are expensive items that I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford,  but they are absolutely invaluable training tools for cyclists and triathletes.

Bicycle Power Trading (BPT) have been an incredible sponsor since 2010 and always go above and beyond when assisting me. But they don’t only do it for me. BPT are well-known for their incredible, fast service and fantastic customer support. I strongly believe that PowerTap is the most reliable and easy to use power meter on the market and is one of only two power meters that is independently verified to be accurate.

PowerTap is super easy to set up and use and requires very little maintenance. DC Rainmaker, who writes the only reviews worth reading when it comes to anything cycling/ triathlon-“techy”, recently wrote: “PowerTap is the closest I get to ‘set it and forget it’ when it comes to power meters on the market today (talking specifically to calibration/offset variance and stability).”

It is so cool to be associated with a brand that I truly believe in! It makes me a very passionate brand ambassdor 🙂

If you are looking at taking your cycling to the next level, you must take a look at PowerTap (www.bicyclepower.co.za) and contact me if you have any questions.