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Last chance saloon

I am now at 5 weeks post hip operation. I am walking a fair bit without crutches, swimming with a pull buoy (no tumble turns or kicking allowed) and able to sit on a stationary bike for 20min. I had a labral repair of the hip (the cartilage surrounding the hip joint had torn), an iliopsoas tendon release (they cut into the tendon to allow it to lengthen a bit) and a herniation pit deroofed (don’t even ask – I almost passed out watching the surgery video). And so began the long road to recovery.

But wait! Hip operation you say? You’ve been complaining about knee pain for the last 2 years? And therein lies the problem. The reason why my injury took so long to properly diagnose was because the pain I was experiencing was in my knee. The knee doctor was contemplating finally operating, but decided to send me to have my hips looked at before going that route. Lo and behold an MRI revealed a labrum tear and tightened psoas tendon. I’m no doctor, but the way I understand it is that the tight tendon was causing my femur to rotate internally which was causing the maltracking of the patella in my knee. No amount of glute strengthening exercises and rehab could get my body to hold my femur in the right position.

People always say that surgery is your last resort and only now do I understand why. It just completely floors you. The fact that I was told that the focus of the first 6 weeks post surgery is just healing and range of motion and only very minor rehab exercises was quite a shock. The first few days after the surgery I was in a fair bit of pain. The iliopsoas muscle is a muscle running down the side of your stomach and attaching near the hip joint. The doctor cut into this tendon and every time I did some movement where my stomach muscles wanted to engage I would experience a searing pain. Try doing a movement without using your stomach muscles!

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Pre-op: Lying in bed reading a book on a Wednesday morning felt like pure bliss

I think most people think that I’ll be racing to get back to full activity and I am constantly warned by well-meaning friends to “take it easy”. The reality is that I will not allow anything to jeopardise a positive outcome of this surgery. I’ve struggled for too long to cut the recovery time short. I have made peace with the fact that my 20min on the stationary bike is not training – it is just getting my leg moving again.

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STOKED just to be outdoors!

Apparently after 6 weeks most of the healing will have happened and I will be able to start doing some proper rehab and a little bit of training. Full healing is supposed to be complete after 3 months. I have never done so much of nothing in my whole life and I am busy watching my muscle waste away. It’s quite scary and depressing.

And on that note, do you know what’s depressing? An athlete who can’t do sport. I am so used to getting endorphins on a daily basis and the withdrawal symptoms have not been pretty. It makes for a rather ratty, unfriendly Robyn. Like an addict I’ve been on a low with no means of getting high. Not to mention that all my mates are out cycling for hours and I am unable to be a part of the activities.

But as “they” say, this too shall pass and I’m already dreaming of the day that I can run and ride pain free. It’s been so long since I was last able to.

Unfortunately I have no nuggets of wisdom to impart on you. No lessons learnt (apart from impatient patience). I listened to my body. I stopped when it told me to. I did my best to get a proper diagnosis and treat the knee accordingly. I went for countless bank-breaking MRIs, arthrograms, physio sessions, doctors appointments, cortisone injections, grucox sessions, shock wave therapy and spent hours diligently doing my rehab. But I am sure I’ll come out of this stronger, albeit slowly.

Anyway. As the aspiring pros say, “Onwards and upwards!”

Oh the places you’ll go (on the CycleOps PowerSync)!

It was a long, dark, wet winter in Stellenbosch, but I made it through without too much serious damage to my waistline and I’ve regained my motivation mojo!

The reason for my sudden increase in motivation is that I realised that Double Century is just around the corner. This is a 202km 12 person team race and it ranks very highly on my list of favourite events. Only 6 of the 12 riders need to finish together and it is not nice being the nail for 202km. I’d much rather be the hammer.

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That’s me on the pumpkin coloured bike at last year’s DC with my amazing Velocity Ladies team

So with this new motivation and it still being August and wet and dark in Stellenbosch I twisted Bicycle Power Trading’s (BPT) proverbial arm and got them to send down a piece of equipment that I’ve been dying to try – the CycleOps PowerSync.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that they enjoy cycling on an indoor trainer (IDT). In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever even heard a luke-warm response to the suggestion. Most people hate it. And let’s be frank – who enjoys sitting in their living room, going nowhere and sweating up a storm? Minutes pass by like hours as the sweat pours off you like a river. Add to the fact that I don’t own a TV and you’ve got yourself a real fine time ahead when you need to do an indoor training set.

I much prefer doing my training on the road and when my coach suggests an IDT session I normally do everything in my power to make the same session work outside. But sometimes it is just not practical due to the weather, time restraints or lack of proper male cycling partners to act as crime deterrents. Deep down I know how beneficial an IDT session is – there’s no stopping at robots, no cars, no wet, dangerous roads and no freewheeling – but to get me to do one is just torturous.

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As you can see, my pain cave is very bare

So when I realised that I needed to get my ass into gear and get training properly I first called my coach and put him on the payroll again and secondly, I wrangled a demo PowerSync from BPT.

So why did I want this piece of equipment? My training time is severely hampered now that I am doing this 8-5 thing and I need to make sure that every minute that I spend training is quality – so using an IDT makes a lot of sense to me. But the boredom! And that’s why the PowerSync is just so cool. It is Bluetooth enabled which allows it to connect to a laptop, tablet or phone and from there it is controlled by an application called Virtual Training.

The advertising blurb (cos they just sum it up best): No matter the time, weather or traffic, CycleOps’ virtual bike training app lets you get out and ride—even when you can’t get out. So you can reap the benefits of a full workout paired with the excitement of riding a virtual bike trainer along real routes all over the world as the app tracks your training data.

Virtual Training costs $6.99 (+/- R100 at the moment) per month or $69.99 per year to buy a subscription for your tablet or phone. You can then download and ride any route that has been created by users. Many of the routes also have video which is super awesome and engrossing as you can meander through French countryside or take the scenic route from Somerset West to Hermanus!  The trainer is controlled by the app so as you hit a hill, you’ll feel it and need to gear down appropriately.

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I’ve been to Italy, France and Gordon’s Bay without leaving my living room. I also now lie on the Strava leaderboards of the segments that I rode while there. Seriously! How cool is that?

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Where shall I go today?

But that isn’t the only feature of the PowerSync – it also allows you to race your friends. So if your mates also use Virtual Training then you can set up a race and show them who’s boss.

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You actually don’t even need to be in the same country as your friend to set up a race 

One of the features that I really liked was the ability to set up my own sessions, such as 8 x 5min threshold or 7 x 10min tempo. You can set the watts, the trainer controls the resistance and boom – perfect sessions.

Then on the other stuff – it’s super easy to set up. Being a demo unit that was sent to me the instructions had gotten lost (I think BPT did this deliberately to test me  😉 ), but using just a little bit of sense and a spanner I was able to put the trainer together in no time as well as set up a Virtual Training account and there you have it – ready to ride!

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Where the magic happens

The trainer is also very quiet. Living in a block of flats I was quite nervous of waking up my neighbours at 5:30 in the morning, but when I asked them they said they knew nothing of my early morning activities!

The PowerSync is also compatible with 3rd party applications such as Zwift and TrainerRoad. If you’re looking to revolutionize your training and make the most of your time then I could not recommend the CycleOps PowerSync more highly!

Oh, and I quickly finished writing this review (it was sitting in drafts) because Bicycle Power Trading are now running the most insane special on this very special trainer – it’s now just R8 495.00! A seriously amazing deal!

DC – I’m coming for you!

Death before DNF. When things don’t go as planned

My Xterra Grabouw race didn’t go as planned and that is why I am going to make a point of writing about it. I don’t think I’ve had to write about a bad race yet, but the truth is that they happen so I am not going to shy away it. This race was actually a huge disappointment, but things don’t always turn up roses and we, as athletes and human beings, need to learn to deal with disappointment and take the good with the bad.

I was actually looking forward to racing Xterra Grabouw. For the first time ever. I have done the race twice before, but both times I could barely ride a mountain bike. The bike route is very technical, lots of singletrack and lots of rocks. Lots of places to make mistakes. My goal in the previous two years was just to survive the race. This year I knew that my MTBing skills were much improved and I made a point of riding the route a number of times before the race, ironing out some issues and getting faster on all the technical sections (Strava told me so).

After a good race at Xterra Buffelspoort, my coach and I decided to focus on MTB skills and my run as we felt that these were the two areas which would provide the biggest bang for my buck at Xterra Grabouw.

The Grabouw MTB route is almost one where a slightly less fit or strong rider can hide because there are so many technical sections. A skilled MTBer could make heaps of time on someone who is slower on the singletrack.

I trained well, I tapered well. I was feeling confident that I could tackle the MTB route after about 5 pre-rides of the route. Alas, performing well on the ST under pressure is clearly something else entirely…

And know this. If something is going to go wrong, then it will go wrong on race day.

We had all been expecting a non-wetsuit swim. The water in the Eikenhof dam had been hovering around 24/25 degrees for the past 2 months. Unfortunately, some cold weather the day before the race apparently caused the temperature to drop, making the swim wetsuit legal. And all the non-swimmers shout hallelujah.

I am never too stressed about an Xterra swim. 20sec faster or slower is neither here nor there. The water was very choppy and I slowed my stroke rate and lengthened my pull to compensate for the waves. I had a good swim, exiting the water as the first individual age-group lady, also having overtaken a number of the pro women, despite their 4min advantage at the start.

Race day is always very different to a chilled ride of the route. There are people on the trails around you and they make mistakes that can affect you. I guess that part of being a good MTBer is being able to deal with this and the added pressure.

So I will quickly highlight the major incidents of the MTB:

On one of the STs someone had a mechanical and stopped in front of me, hopping off his bike and clipping my handlebars. Whoops! On the ground. I lost the pros who I had in my sights.

On a section called Forest Twist, the gels that I taped to my top tube slid to the side and were in the process of tearing off. I tried to rectify this and looked up just in time to find myself heading straight for a tree. At speed. I think my eyes grew twice their usual size as I ploughed straight into it. Sorry to the people who I caused a delay. I really didn’t mean to crash.

My chocolate caffeine gel had torn off, but there was no way I was leaving it. I needed that caffeine boost later. So I grabbed it and stuck it under the leg of my new TYR trisuit. Obviously it was open and immediately started leaking on to my leg. Great. I gathered my bike and tried to gather my wits and got back on the trail.

I must have fallen twice more. My bloody knees tell the story, but the major issue of the day happened at the beginning of the rock garden.

Being a bit of a nervous rider, having people put pressure on me from behind through a technical section is likely to make me stress out and crash. At one section that I wasn’t confident I unclipped to let some people through. Once they were through I then fell to the other side – the side that was still cleated in. Not too terrible, but after disentangling myself I found that somehow my shifter (my one and only shifter) had broken off from the handlebar. Eish. I tried wrapping the dangling shifter around the other cables, but its cable was too short and I figured that I needed to hold it in my hand. So now I was gripping the bar and the brake and trying to hold to the shifter in my right hand while navigating the rock garden. Not ideal, but somehow I got through it without falling again. Once out of the rock garden I realised that I now had a single speed. And I was in my granny gear. But there was no time to sort it out as I entered the next piece of singletrack, which, luckily, was uphill.

I kept on dropping the shifter as I couldn’t get a proper grip on the three things in my right hand. At one point I moved the shifter to my left hand and managed to drop three gears which would be sufficient to get me to the end of the bike. But there was still more singletrack to navigate and still I couldn’t hold the shifter.

Somehow I got myself back to transition, downed the gel which had, by now, leaked all over my trisuit, got my feet out of my shoes, dismounted and ran to my bike rack.

Running out of transition my legs felt okay. My mom was running in a team and she left transition shortly after me, catching me about 500m into the run. We had a quick chat, I related my MTB woes and then she ran off. I figured something was wrong when I realised that the girl ahead of me, who I should have been running down, was actually running away from me. I wasn’t sure exactly what was wrong, but something wasn’t right. My legs were just not cooperating, they were not going at the speed they should have been.

The thoughts that go through your head at times like these are quite strange as you try and analyse what the problem is. Is it my head? Is it my legs? Is it my lungs or is my stomach upset. I couldn’t figure out how to make myself go faster, just nothing was happening.

And then when people you know start passing you and ask whats wrong and tell you to “RUN, ROBYN!” you realise that something is very off.

But I kept on expecting things to turn around. I kept on trying to convince my body to go faster, but it just wouldn’t. When a friend passed me, one I never thought would ever pass me, I considered stopping. People would understand that it really just hadn’t been my day. But I have never before quit a race. Not even when I was tripped at the start of a cross country race and ran 6km with a broken navicular bone in my foot to still make the WP cross country team (needless to say I couldn’t race SAs, being in a moon boot for three months). So no, stopping was not an option.

But getting to the finish line was hard. It was a real struggle. An internal struggle with my body as I willed it on. And I was already starting to deal with the disappointment of the day. I had so wanted to win my 25-29 age group. I wanted to win the coveted SA champ cycling jersey. But it was not to be in 2015 and I need to wait another whole year before I get a chance to make amends. As it was, I fell just 90sec short of my top-step podium goal, beaten by my very good friend Amy. We both qualified to race Xterra World Champs in Maui. I could not have asked for a nicer person to beat me.

And that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Sport is cruel. It doesn’t always go the way you want it to, but you deal with it and you learn from it. On the plus side, even though I had so many mishaps on the bike, I still managed to take 16min off my bike time from last year. So I have improved. Next year I will be even better technically. My Specialized Epic dual sus was the perfect bike for the route. Watching other girls struggle over the rocks I realised what an advantage a dual sus was over a hard tail.

And a bad race is definitely not the end of the world. After passing me, my mom twisted her ankle at 3km. She then proceeded to run the next 9km with a BROKEN distal fibula lateral malleous and torn ligaments to take her team to second in the ladies category. She is super fit and was supposed to race SA Long Distance Tri Champs this weekend. Instead she’ll be spending the next 10-12 weeks in a moon boot. Very, very disappointing. It puts a bad race in perspective, but a broken foot is also not the end of the world. We are still ridiculously privileged and there are other things of more importance than just sport.

Massive congrats to the winners, Stuart Marais and Flora Duffy, on absolutely world class performances. Xterra could not ask for better ambassadors for their sport as these two are true champions in every sense of the word.

And to everyone who completed the race, whether you did it in 2h30 or 5h30, you are an Xterra Warrior. And that is a hard-earned title. Congrats.

The Stillwater Sports organising team put on, arguably, the best Xterra event in the world. The race is flawlessly run, with many stocked waterpoints, fantastic, well-marked routes and a great vibe at the finish. You know what you’re paying for when you enter a Stillwater event.

Please, put Xterra Grabouw on your bucket list.

I will be back next year for another attempt.

Worrying my way to Xterra Warrior status

Xterra Buffelspoort

Race reports can get a little tedious. After all, every race that I do consists of the same elements and sometimes there can be little to set apart one triathlon from the next.

Firstly the facts:

1.5km swim – 0m climbing

28km mtb – 552m climbing

12km trail run – 405m climbing (say what?!?)

Before the race someone asked me if doing a triathlon ever becomes second nature. He was watching me fret the night before the race, running around looking for gels, electrical tape, my post-race golf shirt and countless other things.

The short answer is no. The first reason being that triathlon comprises three different sports. Three different sets of required gear. The second reason is that I don’t actually get to race that often. I do pretty much every triathlon on the Western Province calendar, but I only managed to do 13 multisport events last year. A cyclist or a runner has race options pretty much every weekend.

I last did a triathlon at the beginning of November. This was almost three months later and I couldn’t find my PowerTap running visor.

Oh and add to the mix that I am totally “A-type”. Straight lines, black and white, yes and no, right and wrong. It must all be perfect. I try keep it a secret that I walk back to my car twice to check that I locked it (of course I locked it) and drive around the block to check that I closed the garage door (of course I closed it). So maybe a little obsessive compulsive too.

Skip to the swim.

Non-wetsuit and all the swimmers say hallelujah! Although I still didn’t have one of those fancy swim skins I was pretty stoked to be swimming unencumbered by neoprene.

At the start I was at the mercy of hundreds of over-excited men (as per usual) who think they can hold 1:15s. Consequently, I had an absolutely abysmal start as all these buffalo herded over me, only for me to have to pass them all after the first buoy. Once I had some clear water I started the chase, but kept it very comfortable. 24min out of a 3hr+ race is not much and as such one must budget energy requirements. I exited comfortably in second.

Those stampeding buffalo - all photo credits: Tobias Gingsberg
Those stampeding buffalo – all of these stunning photos were taken by Tobias Ginsberg

For the first time I put on long-finger MTB gloves for the cycle. No easy feat when your heart rate is 180+ and your hands are wet. But I will say that it gave me a bit of extra confidence.

Out on the cycle thoughts that passed through my mind were “easy does it” and “don’t fall” as I tackled the first piece of rocky singletrack. “Phew, nailed it.” Kind of. I unclipped before I could fall.

Other things that worried me were that I might have taken my first gel too soon (only 10min into the bike), but we had come to some jeeptrack and I figured I should take the chance to down the gel while I could take a hand off the bars. I had no idea what was coming having never ridden the route before.

I also worried that Matt had applied enough sunblock. I really didn’t want to burn.

Matt and I discussing the best method of sunblock application, optimal SPF and time before submersion in water
Matt and I discussing the best method of sunblock application, optimal SPF and time before submersion in water

The bike course was not quite as technical as I had feared and I was able to ride most of it. Okay fine. I fell once. I downed my second gel on my way into transition, deposited my White Stallion, pulled on my Hoka Huakas, poured the rest of my water over my head and grabbed the visor that I had found hidden behind the heater the previous evening.

The run was absolutely brutal. The hardest run that I’ve ever done. 12km in insane heat, at altitude, with 405m that needed to be ascended. We scrambled up dam walls, climbed concrete blocks, scaled metal ladders and negotiated a river bed comprised of boulders. But it was the 3.5km climb that got me.

The yellow arrow indicates the route
The yellow arrow indicates the route
The dam wall and concrete blocks in question
The dam wall and concrete blocks in question

I tried not to look too far ahead. I didn’t want to see what was coming. My motto was “just keep plodding, plodding, plodding” sung to Dori’s little ditty and I had to employ a bit of a run/walk strategy. I quickly realised how much I gained on my competitors if I could keep on running just a bit further while they walked.

Halfway up the hill I saw a yellow mirage. It was the defending champ, Carla. She had taken a wrong turn, run longer than she had to and was now smashed. Disbelievingly, I passed her. Just minutes before I had told myself it’s not over until it’s over. I was now in 4th spot.

Finally I crested the monster hill, but the descent provided little happiness. It was very steep and rocky causing me to brake at every footfall. Technical running is not my forte.

At the bottom of the descent I looked back. Carla, a good technical runner, was closing the gap! I looked ahead and saw everyone walking up the next hill. I knew I had to run it if I was going to hold onto 4th. I kept on going and managed to stretch the gap a little and then I knew I had to give it everything to the finish. I was running scared and looking back, but it seemed as though that hill had made the difference. I crossed the line absolutely trashed. 100% shattered.

That run was a war of attrition. A war of pure survival.

A wet towel was draped around my shoulders and I staggered to a chair under the shade of the tent where I remained pretty much motionless for the good part of an hour.

I was pretty stoked with 4th – my highest ever placing at an Xterra event.

The next day I felt as though I had been hit by a train. My entire body was in agony, including my sunburnt back. I was reminded just how tough Xterra events are.

An enormous thanks to Dave and the guys at PowerTap who hosted me in the days before the race. They are my longest standing sponsor and have been behind me through thick and thin.

They have just opened the most amazing indoor cycling studio. If you want to do effective, safe, power training in Joburg then this is where you need to be. It’s in Rivonia, so if you’re in the area stop by and check it out. It almost makes me wish I lived in Joburg 😉 I’ll even make sure that they serve you your choice of cappuccino or espresso.

http://www.cycleopsvip.co.za

World class facilities at CycleOps VIP training hub
World class facilities at CycleOps VIP training hub

This was the first race that I did on my beautiful Specialized Epic. I am so stoked to be racing for Freewheel Cycology this year. Thank you Lionel and Richard for backing me! I usually go into a race just hoping that my equipment is going to hold up. It is amazing have a super awesome team of guys behind me, there to make racing easier. I’ll never again doubt that my equipment isn’t in tip-top condition. Their mechanics are top-notch. Richard and Ken – you rock.

Freewheel are supporting women. I think that’s flipping awesome.

Next up: Xterra Grabouw feat. Rock garden 2.0km

ALL PHOTO CREDITS: Tobias Ginsberg

117 hours swimming, 414 hours biking, 92 hours running – 2014 a year in review

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So that’s another year done and dusted. And man was it a good one – I turned a quarter century old, added some new scars, swam, cycled and ran many kilometers [117h05m42s swimming, 414h22m33s biking, 92h25m37s running], drank copious amounts of coffee, ate many pizzas and met some excellent people.

I cycled so hard I threw up.

I fell while running. Four times.

I checked that I can still swim 50m underwater.

I gained weight. I lost weight. I gained it again.

I had all my valuables stolen out of my car.

I spent many hours on the MTB and can say with a small degree of confidence that I am now semi-proficient – ie. it is now less likely that I come back with bloody knees.

I spent many hours in the library.

I made lots of banana pancakes.

I ate lots of pre-training FutureLife.

I spent many great moments with my awesome family.

I did some good training with Veteran Viv.

I coached the Rustenburg Junior School to an unprecedented 2nd place at interschools and the high school team to a win.

I did my first half-ironman distance race. And I did it off-road.

I caught the train, went to concerts and lit paper lanterns.

I dove into the harbour at the Waterfront with the top 60 female triathletes in the world.

I raced stacks and I stood on podiums.

I moved back and forth between Stellenbosch and Cape Town quite a few times.

I washed my bikes more times than I can count.

I didn’t wash my car nearly as much.

I got many blisters.

I chafed lots.

I took road trips and explored more.

I jumped over a puffadder.

I rode quad bikes.

I got sun burnt.

I took many pictures of my bikes and Instagrammed them all.

I made some rad new friends – on and off the bike. Mostly on 😉

All in all I had an absolute jol!

I can’t let this moment go by without a thank you to everyone in my hectic life – my parents, brother, grand parents, aunts, uncles, crazy cousins and awesome friends.

And also to my amazing sponsors who help me so in many ways: EnduroHub, Bicycle Power South Africa, Virgin Active, 32Gi and G-Form South Africa.

I am also thrilled to have new sponsors on board for 2015: Freewheel Cycology bike shop in Kenilworth (if you haven’t visited them yet then get your butt down there) and Specialized South Africa (and if you haven’t had the pleasure of planting your butt on a Specialized, then you should definitely do so!). I am absolutely loving my new Specialized Epic Expert WC! What a machine!

So with 2014 all wrapped up, here’s to a new year!

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Slanghoek MTB tri: getting the job done

Slanghoek is one of the races on the local calendar that ALL Cape triathletes look forward to. You need to enter as soon as entries open or you might miss out. Slanghoek is sold out every year.

Usually the road and the MTB tri are held on the same day, but with so many athletes wanting to race and a relatively small dam, it is necessary to start the races in waves.

For the first time, the race organiser, Pieter du Plessis of Iqela Events, decided to hold the MTB tri on the Saturday and the road tri on the Sunday. This would enable some crazies to do both events. Initially I planned to do both, but between Enduroman, an easy week, a hard training week and a hard gun run, I managed to overdo it and with a strained immune system I picked up a bug that kept me from doing any training in the two weeks leading up to Slanghoek.

So I pulled out of the road tri and just hoped that I would be able to compete in the MTB tri. The MTB tri is not quite as popular as the road tri. The roadies clearly haven’t yet seen the light. Offroad racing is around 1073 times more fun than road racing. And more challenging in my books 😉

I was really not feeling confident about racing, but didn’t want to let my main competitors know this. I decided that sitting at home and not racing would be more torturous than actually racing and perhaps not having a good race. So I decided to suck it up and do my best.

Slanghoek is really one of the most gorgeous race venues in the Cape. The swim is 2 x 650m laps and you need to run up and over a grass embankment and dive off a platform between laps. Points are awarded for the best dives.

This gentleman received a score of 9.2 for his dive. Photo: Chris Hitchock
This gentleman received a score of 9.2 for his dive. Photo: Chris Hitchock

The women and teams started together. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, but easily made my way to the front of the field and started pulling away. I do like not having to fight with anyone in the water, but it also means there is no one around to push you. I didn’t exert myself, but extended my lead steadily throughout the swim and had a healthy gap on the next lady at the end of the swim.

Photo: @mohebo
Photo: @mohebo

I had a quick transition and was onto the bike in no time. The bike route was very different to last years; starting with a fair bit of up and down singletrack. I took around 40km to cover the first 10km of the bike leg! After that there was some nice flat jeep track and some of the men’s teams passed me. It’s always a bit unsettling being in front. You have no idea who is behind you and if they are catching you or not. You just have to ride your own race and hope that what you’re doing is enough and hopefully being smart enough to leave something for the run. It was imperative that I didn’t kill myself on the bike as I was going to struggle through a 10km run on two weeks of illness.

Then it was back into some more up and down, sandy singletrack, some climbing through vineyards, back onto the road and then some really mean and sandy tight switchbacks which I had to run.

Yes, my bike's name is Fred (Faithful Fred)
Yes, my Specialized Epic’s name is Fred (Faithful Fred)

I finally got back to transition still lying first lady, but with no clue as to what was happening behind me.

This year the run was 2 x 5km laps which I enjoyed much more than just one big 10km loop. It is really nice, after one lap, to know what you still have left to do and it also means that there are more people around you on the route. The run route is just sand. Sand, sand and more sand. The only thing that changes is the depth of the sand.

I had already started to tire towards the end of the bike leg and I knew that the run was going to be tough. I just had to try and keep a maintainable pace and hope that that would be enough for me to hold on to first place. The sand was incredibly draining and the end couldn’t come soon enough.

Slanghoek run
The new EnduroHub trisuit is flipping awesome!

I was super relieved to get to the finish. It definitely wasn’t a pretty win, but I got it done with the fastest swim and, very surprisingly, the fastest run as well.

Apart from the awesome trophy made out of a wine barrel, the other souvenir that I took home from the race was a strange cut (from a little fall) in the crook of my arm that ended up getting a bit infected. Fun times.

I seriously hope to convince more roadies to give the MTB tri a go next year!

Thank you to Iqela Events for another fantastic event. Next on their calendar is the Liberty Duo Challenge on 22 November at Blaauwklippen. This is a seriously awesome event. Check it out at their website: http://www.iqela-events.co.za

Mixed bag update: nerds in the Kruger, DualX, DC, G-Form & mum

I haven’t been too good at blogging lately. So here’s what I’ve been up to:

Training has been on and off in preparation for Enduroman next Saturday (more on this race later in the week). I put in two good blocks of training, each followed by 10 days of illness which really put a damper on things. Oh, yes, and I’ve been super busy with my masters and all sorts of others things that tend to demand attention. I had to move back home to Rondebosch after I was unable to find accommodation in Stellenbosch for September. I am checking gumtree everyday for accommodation and my fingers are never uncrossed. I love being in Stellenbosch and find it so much easier to work and train from there so I really hope to be back soon!

Nerds: Stellenbosch University invited all their masters students to attend the fifth International Mathematics in Finance conference in the Kruger Park for a week in August. This was quite an eye-opener! I have never in my life been surrounded by such amazing brains and nerds. We were lectured by leaders in their fields from the Deutsche Bank and the Bank of England from 9:00 until 17:00 each day. Luckily we were able to escape and do some driving in the park and I was able to do some running. There is not much option for running in Skukuza camp and this is what a 9km run looked like:

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DualX: This is a series of offroad duathlons held in Gauteng (unfortunately none in the Western Cape – hope this changes soon!). I was super keen to race one and was stoked to find out that one was being held on the Saturday before I was supposed to fly to Joburg. So I quickly changed my flight and got my entry in. Anyway, the race ended disastrously in a massive mechanical just 5km into the bike leg. My bike came to immediate stop as the front and rear derailleurs were ripped to shreds and 5 spokes broke. I still have no idea why this happened and was absolutely gutted. I have never not finished a race before. It was a long, sad walk back to transition. My results:

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Double Century: I was super stoked to be asked to join the Velocity Ladies Double Century team. This is a 202km team race where teams start with 12 riders and have to finish with at least 6 riders. The Velocity ladies won the race last year and broke the ladies record by 9 minutes or something (no pressure). We had an absolutely awesome training camp at the Breede River last weekend which was characterised by lots of cycling, food, waterskiing, boat trips to the local pub for pizza, quad biking and more food. We range in age from me being the youngest at age 24 (25 next week!!!!) up to age 47 and despite the age differences we make up such a cool team and all had a blast!

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G-Form: who would have thought that one could pick up a sponsor by being supremely bad at MTBing? Seems that I did! Some friends wonder why I keep at the mountain biking when I fall so often. The reason is that I absolutely love it. But I really am racking up quite a few scars and my parents are getting concerned that the reverse is not true – guys don’t dig scars.

G-Form is the coolest thing since like forever! They make knee pads, elbow pads, crash shorts and vests. It is super soft and flexible and you totally forget that you’re wearing it. I do 3-4hr MTB rides and they don’t bother me in the slightest. The basic construction is like lycra knee and arm warmers with pads on the critical areas. The pad material is soft, but immediately hardens on impact. Such kickass technology!

The reason that I am using it is that it gives me confidence on the trails. I know that if I fall I am not going to do any damage and you’ll know if you have taken a nasty crash that you would have done anything not to endure the resulting damage!

So here’s to many more blood-free hours on the trails!

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You can buy it online at http://www.g-form.co.za or at your local bike shop.

They also make protective covers for all your electronics, so that you can drop your iPad from space. And stuff. How cool!

Mum: I just have to boast. My mother, the Vivinator, won the silver medal at the Ironman 70.3 World Champs in the 50-54 age category in Canada two weeks ago. She was overtaken in the last kilometer to miss the gold medal by just 21sec. She had absolutely no idea where she was lying while the lady chasing her had family there who were able to keep her updated on where my mom was. Anyway, Viv was absolutely stoked to win a medal as she didn’t even imagine she’d be on the podium after very little run training before the race due to a nasty, persistent hamstring injury. What a champ!

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Oh, and she was also awarded the International Triathlon Union Women’s Award of Excellence for 2014. Each country gets to nominate 4 candidates and Viv was selected out of everyone! Massive achievement proving that hard work (sometimes) does not go unrecognised. Soooo proud!

Next up: Enduroman | 27 September | 08:00 | Berg River Dam | Franschhoek

And my thesis… of course

Xterra Knysna. Two words. Mud & climbing

I didn’t make plans to go up to Knysna as it just seemed too much to find accommodation and someone to drive with. But when my housemate, Nina, said she had accommodation and I was offered an entry I jumped at the opportunity to race. This was the Sunday before the race on Thursday. Very last minute for A-type Robyn. Now I had to get my head around the idea of racing.

Rewind. Training for Enduroman (more on this race in my next blog) had been going super well and I was putting in good 20/22 hour weeks. Then all of a sudden my body decided to rebel. My heart rate went crazy. I would wake up in the morning with a heart rate of around 65, I would stand up and take it after 15 seconds and it would be 112! This was totally not normal and very worrying as the difference between the two values is not supposed to be more than 20. Mine was closer to 50!

So I spent two whole weeks going stir crazy, doing zero training and waiting for my body to sort itself out. Needless to say I was rather stressed about where my fitness was and nervous about racing. But what the heck, I love racing so why not!?

We left for Knysna midmorning on Wednesday and drove through to Groot Brak where we would stay with friends of Nina’s. After a quick spin around the place we enjoyed a pasta meal, watched some Tour de France highlights and had an early night.

Feet up!
Feet up!

The next morning we drove the remainder of the distance to Knysna. As a #mtbretard (and A-type person) I really like to know the route before I race. This was not possible for this race and it added to my anxiety. All I knew was to expect lots of mud.

Spotted: the love mobile. Bikes and surfboards
Spotted: the love mobile. Bikes and surfboards

All too soon we were lining up on Pezula Estate’s Field of Dreams. We bolted off and I am sure that my HR hit 195 within 1 minute and stayed there for the remainder of the 3km run. The run was pretty tough, going into climbing singletrack soon after the start. And then we climbed and climbed some more. I was pretty much maxing out before hitting a steep concrete descent which took us back to transition. I was lying second lady as I swapped my running shoes for mtb shoes.

Photo credit Peter Kirk
Photo credit Peter Kirk

The bike immediately took us onto some muddy, rooty singletrack, but after that it was much less technical than I had feared. There was just a lot of climbing and a LOT of mud.

I am quite cross with myself as I ended up racing bmx style with my saddle 4cm lower that it should have been. I had recently got my grubby hands on a dropper seat post (oh so much fun!) and the saddle height had not been copied over. Oh well, you race and learn.

I lost some positions on the bike, but tried to keep focused and prepare to run well. Unfortunately it was the second 7km run that really showed me how unfit I was. I really struggled. It just went up and up and up some more. It was very technical and very muddy and I came very close to losing my sense of humour.

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Tackling the last concrete climb back into transition. I wore compression socks as protection against mud and falling ;). Photo credit Jeff Ayliffe

I passed one girl at the start of the run and one girl with around 400m to go to finish 4th woman. Carla van Huyssteen was absolutely dominant in taking 1st place! I was pretty happy with this result at my first Xterra Knysna and given that they took out my best leg, the swim.

This was the first race that I did with my new mtb PowerTap. Coach is stoked to have data from all my rides now and I am so enjoying doing intervals offroad. Huge thanks to the guys at Bicycle Power Trading who finally took the (not so subtle) hints as to what I so wanted! You guys rock!

The best tool in the industry!
The best tool in the industry!

We drove home that night after the race and arrived back in Stellenbosch at 23h00. Couldn’t afford to waste half of Friday. This Masters waits for no one!

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Stillwater Sports once again put on a fantastic event. Always first class. Xterra racing is so hard! I will be back!

Many thanks to my sponsors for their unwavering support, Virgin Active, Bicycle Power Trading, 32Gi and the newly formed EnduroHub for which I am now an ambassador! Stoked!

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Banhoek Conservancy Duo Challenge: the wetter, the better!

You’ll have to excuse me not writing my own blog, but when it’s done this well it’s impossible to top. This blog post was written by fellow team member, Frank Smuts, about this past weekends race that happened just outside Stellenbosch. Frank is the just the best guy you’ll ever meet, a talented veteran triathlete and the funniest writer. There is no one in the world who can so accurately capture what goes on at a race and I’ll often find myself in stitches at his descriptions. Maybe it was a “you had to be there moment,” but I am sure you’ll find it hilarious nonetheless! Frank even lets me add my two cents worth!

The Triathlete Who Shouldn't.

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Size does matter, unless you know how to do it really well. And that is what happened at the Banhoek Conservancy Duo Challenge, a 20 km mountain bike race followed by an 8 km trail run. With serious rain forecast, we did not expect the biggest field, but Iqela Events took care of all the details to set the standard very high for a first time event, right in the midst of winter.

Weather reports said rain, rain, and more rain, but there are always do-or-die’ers out there, refusing to accept the fact that a warm duvet is a better choice. Three Team Tri-Plex members, namely yours truly, Robyn Williams and new, but extremely able team member Marleen Lourens, showed up for the challenge. In the spirit of wishful thinking, hoping to beat him at his own game, I also invited friend, training partner and off-road specialist Douglas Burger. Sadly…

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The weird world of the pros

I am going to be totally straight up and say that I don’t think that this is a lifestyle I would choose for myself. As clichéd as it sounds it is really just train, eat, sleep, repeat.

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As a “pro” I spent two weeks doing hard training and one week tapering. It has made me realize how it is pretty much impossible for mere mortals to compete against professional athletes. There is no way that I could do three sessions a day as well as my usual “work” activities. The main thing is recovery time. Perhaps you are a superhuman and are really good at time management allowing you to do two sessions every day of the week. I still doubt that you would be able to do the quality of training that pro athletes do. You are allowed to disagree with me.

Another thing that I have realized is that my capacity for hard training has increased. At the beginning I really struggled trying to do so many quality sessions, but as time has gone on this has improved and I cope better and am able to do more intensity. But again, the main thing that has enabled this has been proper recovery.

I did some training with other South African pro athletes in Stellenbosch and I just can’t believe the amount of training that they do. Even in this “pro” block I was  not able to get in anywhere near the same amount. I honestly don’t know how they do it! I can only assume that after years of being a pro I, too, would be able to do this quantity of training. That, or I would end up an injured heap of skin and bone. Who knows?

My days were quite different. I would wake up late*, phaff a bit, have some breakfast and a coffee and head out for my first session of the day. This may be something like a speed run session or a hard bike with a short run off the bike (ROB).

*My options were:

  • set alarm and sleep around 8 hours, with a nap sometime in the day
  • don’t set alarm, sleep around 10 hours and don’t nap

I mostly went with option 2 as it is now pretty much winter which means it only gets light and warmer much later and I didn’t really see the point in setting an alarm if I didn’t have to.

That being said, when I had to do three sessions a day I did need to wake up early and get one done to increase recovery time between sessions.

I would get home around 12h00, shower and then it’s time for food. Food is another very important aspect of the professional triathlete’s lifestyle. No sugar, gluten, dairy or preservatives allowed. Some will even have you believe that no carbohydrates are allowed and that you should eat tablespoons of lard.

I am not one of these. I eat to fuel my body for the next session. I believe in chocolate milk for recovery and I believe in eating breakfast. I believe in being normal. So I just ate good quality foods. Chicken, sweet potato, oats, spinach, etc.

I found it quite hard to “diet” (remember I said I wanted to lose a bit of weight before the race) while training hard. It went okay for about 5 days, but then I started getting tired and I needed to eat more to get myself through the sessions. I have, however, lost some weight and have no doubt that I would get to my goal weight given some more time.

Next I would maybe answer emails and attend to some social media and then time is up. It’s time for the next session.

Most of my bike and run training I did by myself, roping in a friend every now and then when I could convince him, but I have had to swim with someone each session. This is the hardest discipline for me to do by myself and I find that I need to swim with someone to really be able to push myself to the limit. Never ever in my tri career have I swum 6/7 times a week, but this seems to be the norm for pro ITU athletes where the swim is so crucial. My costumes and towels were never dry and I took a whiff of chlorine with me wherever I went.

Up and down. And up and down. And up and down again
Up and down. And up and down. And up and down again

I know that most view the lifestyle of a professional triathlete as an ideal, involving training as much as you want to, lots of coffee stops and travelling to exotic locations, but I have found the reality to be quite different. I was generally so tired that I could barely make it up the stairs to the gym pool. Training sessions can either be awesome or a total chore. Sometimes I didn’t even know how I was going to start the next scheduled session. The person I was closest to was my coach. We spoke pretty much before and after every session. I spent loads of time uploading files and writing detailed comments for him to analyse. That being said, the feeling when training is going well is awesome!

The thing that I disliked the most was feeling so unproductive. I think it would affect everyone differently, but I had a Masters degree sitting on hold like a monstrous purple mass that was growing and growing while I did nothing about it all day.

I am sure that if you were part of a training group and spending a few months at a time in different countries instead of doing it alone from home then things might be different.

I don’t want to sound too negative about the whole thing. There are definitely some awesome things about being a pro athlete and it has been a very interesting experiment for me. When people oooh and aaah at the awesomeness of being an athlete I don’t think that they realise that being an athlete is actually a job and that athletes need to earn money by training hard and winning races. A lot of things need to come together for that to happen. An athlete relies on staying healthy and uninjured to be able to work. I am sure this is pretty stressful. At least if Joe Soap age-group athlete is injured he can still go to his day job and earn money. I definitely have a new respect for professional athletes.

But the long and the short of it is that I don’ think that I am wired to be a pro ITU athlete. An Xterra athlete might be a different story though… 🙂

 

** I wrote this before the race. Post race and I feel a little differently now that I know what all the hard work is for. The race was a very cool experience and something I am very glad that I got to be a part of! Blog post coming next week…