Tag Archives: Triathlon

Things fall apart #gutted

This is not how things were supposed to end.
I haven’t run in 6 weeks due to a knee injury. I’ve done my best to sort it out. I’ve spent so much time in the gym doing rehab that all the Virgin Active receptionists know me by name. I have exhausted myself in my quest to make it come right, but after an absolutely excruciatingly painful attempt at a run this past Sunday I am resigned to the fact that my first attempt at a half Ironman is in tatters.
I am absolutely gutted. I invested so much training, time, planning, thought and energy into this race and the thought that it is coming to nothing kills me. Apparently I’ll see the bigger picture at some point in the future, but right now I am quite upset.

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I am still going to go to Durban. I’ll do the swim and the bike and I’ll try and gain some experience for when I do get another go at this. And I’ll try and run. I can’t not try. My coach is not particularly happy about this. It’ll be a toss up between doing serious damage and damaging my ego. I’ve never not finished a race.
A huge thanks to my wonderful family and friends for their support, as well as to my amazing sponsors who have been unbelievable in coming to the party. I am still going to take the Shiv for a spin around Durban!

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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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.

clock

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.

Enduroman. And the best pulled pork burgers ever

Enduroman. By far the toughest race I have ever done. In the event I did my longest ever MTB and trail run. Needless to say that although I prepared as best I could I was not quite ready for the distance. But that’s okay. It’s good to get chucked out of one’s comfort zone now and then. I am super keen to go back next year and give it a better bash!

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In June when I signed up for the race it sounded faaaaar away on the 27th of September, but the time flew and before I knew it I was having to taper. I thought that it would be a good challenge and a way of keeping me motivated through a long, wet Cape winter. My longest race up until this point was Xterra Grabouw which was a far cry from what I would now attempt and I was properly daunted to tackle a 2.5km swim, 80km MTB and 21km trail run.

Something that I didn’t factor in was the weather. We arrived in Franschhoek in freezing temperatures and icy rain. All of a sudden I was a bit stressed, I wasn’t prepared for this and I didn’t really have the necessary gear. My hands were so cold that I couldn’t even squeeze lube onto my chain while setting up my transition area. The rain made getting ready difficult and I scrapped any kind of warm up. The water was also pretty cold so I decided on a dry-land warm up.

My best discipline is the swim. This would take me around 35min. In an 8 hour race that is really not much and I didn’t really feel that much would be won or lost here. 2 min gained or lost was neither here nor there.

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I swam at a steady pace for the 2.5km. I had Raynard Tissink touching my toes for the first lap before he blew past me at the start of the second. During the second lap I saw a rainbow over the water and was extremely relieved to realise that it wasn’t going to rain the whole day.

I exited the water 5th overall and 1st lady
I exited the water 5th overall and 1st lady

I struggled with cold hands in transition and took my time getting ready for the longest leg. Gloves, socks, G-Form knee pads (there was money on the fact that I would fall somewhere in the 80km and I decided to mitigate losses and wear them. Plus I just feel more confident with them on), waterproof gillet and hydration pack.

Straight out of transition we were sent up a mountain. Anyone who has done a triathlon will tell you that the first 5 kilometers on the bike are super hard. It’s like all the blood is in your arms from swimming and suddenly needs to redistribute to your legs. So being sent up a loose, rocky mountain with no legs in icy rain is a tough ask!

Seeing the pictures after the race I realised what a beautiful setting it was. Not that I checked out the view for one second in the race
Seeing the pictures after the race I realised what a beautiful setting it was. Not that I checked out the view for one second in the race

At the top of the climb was a long singletrack along a contour around the dam. I was fortunate in that no one caught me on this section. As a strong swimmer and “weaker” MTBer I always stress about having to let better riders through.

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Modeling the stunning new Endurohub kit

The first 20km to the first waterpoint was fairly uneventful aside from me checking the depth of a huge boggy pit with my shoulder, but I could feel that the cleat on my right shoe was coming loose. This has kind of always happened to a small degree, but has never been serious – I normally just tighten the screws every two weeks or so. But I did know that it was an issue and so I replaced the metal plate that the cleat screws into thinking this would fix the problem.

Alas, if anything is going to go wrong it is going to go horribly wrong on race day. So shortly after the first water point the screw came out entirely and the cleat was stuck in the pedal as I could no longer twist my shoe and cleat together. This made portages (and falls) (and there were a number of both) incredibly interesting as I had to take my foot out of the shoe to get off my bike.

This was taken just before I hit a massive low
This was taken just before I hit a massive low

And I’ll quickly summarise the rest of the bike: I lead until 43km when Hanlie Booyens sped past me. This should probably have told me that I went too hard to start as I never thought I would have the lead for so long. I hit a huge low right at the start of the 3km forest climb and lost quite a bit of time from there on. I really just didn’t have the endurance (and could probably have paced myself a bit better). At the final water point my coach took a crow bar and got my shoe out of the pedal and a friend who was spectating gave me her shoe. Thanks Vera! I rode the final 15km a lot happier knowing that I could uncleat.

Bike
The bike route

In transition I swapped my soggy socks for some fresh ones and headed out onto the run in 5th position. I was really happy to be off the bike and tackling the final leg. The run route was quite retarded, comprising a stupid climb at the start of each of the 3 laps that wasn’t runable (at least not for me and 98% of the competitors). The rest of the route was a bit of an uphill drag along a contour, a rocky descent and then zig-zagging through vineyards and up draining, sandy pieces between them. There was no rhythm to be had and was more of a slog than a run. A 21km slog.

The run route profile
The run route profile

I started feeling not so lekker towards the end of the second lap. 2km into the second lap I really wasn’t feeling well and was struggling to keep moving. I stopped and did two whole body gag/throw up things and then felt like a million bucks and stormed (at this point in the race moving forward was deemed “storming”) home.

"Storming"
“Storming”

I crossed the line and my first overwhelming feeling was that of relief. And then came the hunger. I suddenly realised I was ravenous and my dad rose to the occasion and dashed off to find real food (I was so sick of bars and gels). He arrived back with two mini pulled pork burgers which I attacked while sitting on the grass just past the finish line. That meal definitely ranks up there in my top 5 all-time best meals!

I finished in 7h46 which was enough for 6th place overall and 3rd in my age category. I am super keen to come back next year, knowing what I am in for, and do it a whole lot better.

Massive congrats to all those who tackled and conquered Enduroman! It was no mean feat!

This inaugural race was absolutely fantastic and I believe that it will go from strength to strength in the coming years. Well done to Glyn Bloomberg and co.

A huge thanks must go to all those who are involved in getting me to the start line:

Endurohub

Bicycle Power Trading

Virgin Active

32Gi

G-Form

My training buddies, coach and support crew

My parents who just shake their heads at me and wish I’d focus on my thesis

Oh, and I just turned a quarter century old. Here’s to the next 25! Scary stuff!

Birthday included bikes, friends, coffee and good food. As all good birthdays should
Birthday included bikes, friends, coffee and good food. As all good birthdays should

Until I race again! 🙂

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!

Endurohub

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…