Race day is finally here!
Another early start (5 30). I collected breakfast but wasn’t eating till 7 as my race was one of the last starts. I did a final check of my kit before getting the shuttle bus down to transition. Our hotel was the first stop which removed any stress as it was empty, however the support team got the final one and there were some competitors and no standing room so glad I went down early.
Down at transition I went through my kit and did the final checks on my bike, nutrition and water etc. Once this was sorted, my start still wasn’t for 3 hours, I went to watch the pros rack up. Very interesting seeing what they did and finally got to see and get some photos of Alistair Brownlee!! It was interesting that despite a really strong field he is the one that was drawing all the interest and photos and not just from the brits.
I struggled to find the support crew so went to watch the pro mens start. Following the national anthem and a traditional tribal song they were off. The pros didn’t make getting in to the sea look that easy and I confirmed later it wasn’t! The weather was pretty good, light rain which persisted all race but there wasn’t any wind which was most important as the forecast had been mixed. We also got lucky as the water was 4 degrees warmer than the day before for the ladies race, so wetsuits were optional whereas they had been allowed boots and hats.
I dropped off the last of my kit and got changed before watching the pros into transition. Alistair was in the lead group with Jan Frodeno and off they went! I returned to the beach to prepare for my race, wetsuit on, mentally preparing myself and going through my race plan until I was ready.
Finally it was my age groups turn and we were started in sets of 10 every 10 seconds. I planned to start at the back which I did but turned out there were only two of us left so went off in a two.
I ran in to the waves and as I hit the first big one I tried to dive under it, goggles came straight off, so had to stand up put them back on and set off again, luckily i didn’t encounter any more big waves. I quickly caught the wave in front and then settled in to a comfortable rhythm and felt I was slowly moving through people. I was struggling with sighting in the swell but feeling good. Just before the first turning point at 800m the fast people in the wave behind me caught me. This was the first time I’ve been swum over and it is not fun. Having turned at the buoy I set off and looked up and couldn’t see anyone in front of me, in hindsight I think it was because of a wave, but I figured I hadn’t turned enough and turned further (going back the way I came). I shortly realised my mistake and set off back in the right direction when a life guard came and stopped me twice to check I had been round the buoy. Very annoying as I think the whole thing must have cost me at least a minute or two but just had to carry on with the race plan. On the way back I was still struggling with the waves and in future I will be doing more sea swimming to practise this. I was lucky leaving the sea as avoided any big waves so just went up the beach in to transition. I was disappointed with the swim and figured it probably took about 40 mins with the detour and beach entry and exit, however it turned out I did 35:02 which I was super happy with as could probably have been a PB (33) had I swum the right way!!
In transition they had wetsuit strippers which was a new experience, having taken the top half off I sat down and two people whipped the legs off. Still haven’t quite decided if its quicker than me stamping but I guess was useful. Then there were volunteers helping with the bags so I didn’t have to put my kit away which was useful. I found my bike easily (there were hardly any left!!) and set off towards the bike!
As I got on my bike the guy in front stopped so I went round him but also had failed to clip either shoe in so wobbled and hit a sandbag! My front wheel went over it but I stopped dead when my back wheel hit it, luckily I wasn’t clipped in and didn’t fall off. After a quick regroup I set off again and successfully got going this time.
Having settled and checked everything my garmin was telling me my heart rate was 64, it should be closer to 164! This was a major problem as I ride off heart rate and cadence. To make matters worse shortly after my cadence went to zero and then blank. I noticed that the chip on my pedal shaft had come off. I don’t know if this was the bumpy roads or had come loose in the sandbag incident but combined with the heart rate issue I was now riding blind and thinking this could be a long 90k. Luckily the heart rate started to increase and around the 10 min mark it was where I expected it to be.
I then settled in to a rhythm as the first 15k was uphill before long rolling roads along the coast for most the rest of the course. It was all going well, eating every 20 mins and drinking every 10 and having people come flying past me which I’m used to. However, as I was one of the last starts I hardly caught anyone and knew there were less and less people behind me.
A third of the way through the bike we moved down on to a beautiful coastal road. The surface was awful, one of the bumpiest roads I have ever cycled and had speed bumps. Lori had warned me the day before that lots of people had lost bottles and computers. Given this I had taped everything to my bike which worked well. What I hadn’t anticipated was the on the biggest descent the vibrations shaking my handlebars loose. I started to lose control and the tribars and wheel where shaking out of line. I completely lost my nerve and had to pull over to stop but given the lack of steering it took a while. As I stopped a referee came past and told me the bike mechanic was at the bottom of the hill. I continued very slowly down the hill but the mechanic tent was on the wrong side of the road. Going slower the handlebars felt ok and it was only a couple of k to the turn point and back so I continued on. On the way back I pulled over and the mechanics loosened, straightened and then tighten the handlebars and then I was off again. Not great for the race but happy it happened here rather than Finland. There were also a lot of people serving penalties in the penalty tent.
The rest of the bike went without drama and was good fun. The coastal road was beautiful, just a shame that it was raining and poor visibility. They had relaid some of the road and parts of it were great and as soon as you hit the smooth parts the legs felt great without the vibrations. However some parts look smooth but weren’t which was massively disappointing! But the legs felt pretty good all the way to the end for a 2:53:24 bike. I would like to have gone quicker but given everything it could have been a lot worse.
In transition there were volunteers who took my bike and racked it which was great. Quick change and then off on to the run.
All day I had been operating at a higher heart rate than usual and again at the start of the run it was too high and I was struggling to get it down. Given everything that had gone before I wanted to try and have one awesome leg so decided to crack on and try and hold on as long as possible. I actually really enjoyed the run course despite it having two hills. You could split it in to every manageable chunks and just tick them off. The whole way through I was feeling strong and so just built the effort as I went, helped by the support of my parents, aunt and fellow competitor Sophie.
When I had started there had been a lot of people on the run but by my second lap it was beginning to significantly thin out. I was finishing very strong and thought I had a nice gap to have the finish tunnel to myself however everyone in front of me slowed down so I had to go round them and squeeze through the finish line! (not great for the photos) The result though a 1:35:36 run (a half marathon pb) and a very happy finish.
I was struggling to function post race but joined the support crew as the rain started to increase. The weather actually deteriorated severely over the next 24 hours so in fact we were very lucky with the weather we got.
Once I had recovered slightly I collected all my kit and headed back to the hotel for a rest and to pack before heading out for a celebratory dinner with Sophie and her parents as well.
The final result was 171st in my age group out of 213 and a time of 5:11. I am very happy with this and about the drama as I could have gone a bit quicker but have had the most amazing week and its been such an awesome experience. I also remembered how much I love racing and that there is still massive room for improvement! But for now I get a nice long rest and will start planning next seasons races!!
Thank you South Africa and Port Elizabeth, having visited its totally appropriately called both the windy and friendly city!! Its been the most awesome experience and so glad I made the journey from Vancouver! (I didn’t meet anyone that had travelled further!)
Lots of thanks to: the support crew of Jamie, Susie and Jane; race support Sophie and finally new big sis and race/training partner Lori!!
Also a huge thanks to my coach Tim George for preparing me over the last 10 months. I have come so much further than expected and couldn’t have done it without his help, enthusiasm and knowledge.