Tri-Rock Robben Island – My first triathlon!
Last Monday I received a text from Malikah. She (and some of the brave Trail Bokkies) had signed up for the Tri-Rock Robben Island Triathlon, which was taking place this coming Saturday the 1st of November.
Malikah: “I don’t think I’m going to make Tri-Rock, my foot still hurts. Do you want my entry?”
Me: “Umm, let me think about it”
5 minutes later…
Me: “Okay, I’m in”
And just like that I was 5 days away from my first triathlon!
All hands on deck!
The Impi Challenge was supposed to be my last event for 2014, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check Triathlon from my bucket list. I would be doing the 4:14:4 short course which was made up of:
- a 400m ocean swim,
- followed by a 14km mountain bike leg, and
- finishing with a 4km run
There was also the option of the 8:28:8 course which is basically two laps of the 4:14:4, but only Wafiq was registered for that. Machine!
Not only was I not prepared training-wise for the race, I also had to scramble for all the pieces of kit that I needed to be able to compete. And thus one of the weirdest weeks ensued:
Tuesday: I thought a quick “triathlon” in the gym would be the litmus test on whether I could handle the race. I hit the gym earlier and in frantic fashion completed 16 lengths of the pool, 20 minutes on the bike (9kms) and 20 minutes on the treadmill (3kms). I finished with relative ease and it was close enough to the full distance to put my initial fears to rest. Step one complete!
Wednesday: Aanikah and I headed to Sportsman’s Warehouse and, after 90min testing various models, I found my first pair of swim goggles – the Arena Nimesis. I headed straight to the gym’s pool and knocked out 30 lengths to test my new kit. I was really impressed with the comfortable fit. But, then my thoughts turned to the fact that I was going to be swimming in the open ocean in pretty deep waters for the first time…anxiety commenceth!
Thursday: I realized that a wetsuit wouldn’t be a bad idea since the water can be really cold at Robben Island. My buddy Abu-bakr was kind enough to lend me his surfing wetsuit which I picked up that evening. After collecting the wetsuit, I immediately scooted over to Waleed’s house for a crash-course in mountain biking.
Waleed offered his mountain bike to me and had it ready and prepped by the time I arrived. We went outside and I hopped on it and went for a spin up and down the street. Yes, this was the first time in probably 15yrs that I’d ridden a bicycle, and with gears no less! Where’s the rear-view mirror on this thing?!?
Friday: I thought I would reach out to my Dad for some fatherly advice on how best to tackle my anxiety about swimming in the ocean. His tip was to just focus on what was in front of me and keep swimming. I then asked my buddy Rob who does open water swim events. His reply was “I don’t understand? Are you telling me people get scared of swimming out in the ocean?” – Thanks Rob for those words of wisdom 🙂
No turning back now
On Friday afternoon, we had to drop our bikes on the boat that would be transporting them to Robben Island. I got a lift with Wafiq and Malikah to the V&A Waterfront where it was all happening. We managed to finalize my substitution for her and picked up a couple of tickets so that both Aanikah and Malikah could join as spectators.
At 5:45am on Saturday morning, the Trail Bokkies (with probably the largest contingent of supporters!) met up at the Nelson Mandela gateway all (surprisingly) wide awake and ready for the short boat ride on the Nauticat. The ocean was clear and the morning bright as we sailed out of the harbour.
The second ferry, the Susan Kruger, was getting in on the race spirit and overtook the Nauticat about halfway to our destination – pretty quick since we estimated that it left about 10min after we had. Definitely need to grab that one on the way back!
About 45min later we docked at Robben Island. Aanikah and I were glad to get off the ferry – sea sickness is the devil!
Before the start of the race, all participants had to collect their bikes from the transition area and then recheck them back in while the WP Triathlon Association representatives checked our kit for “race-worthiness”. This is when we all got into our wetsuits and prepped the transition area with our kit for the race. A short race briefing was given and some last minute words of encouragement shared by our loved ones before we headed to the start.
The Swim – time to get wet behind the ears!
At about 8:30am the longer distance athletes hit the water. Wafiq headed out for the 8:28:8 race and started with a phenomenal swim, finishing just behind the leader pack – Go Fiekie Go!
While the 8:28:8 guys were swimming, the 4:14:4 athletes got a chance to “warm-up” in the chilly 16°C waters. Danyaal gave us some great words of inspiration before the race and my open-water-swim-anxiety seemed to ease. I overheard some of the other competitors talking about their race preparation:
Athlete 01: I’ve been training for about a month and a half for this!
Athlete 02: I’ve been training for a year!
Me: I just found out about this on Monday!
Yep, this was going to be hilarious. All I was aiming for was a finish. Let’s go!
As soon as all the 8:28:8 athletes were out of the water, we set off. I let the more eager participants head out first. I was a bit nervous and didn’t want the “washing machine” to knock me off my game. Once there was some distance between us, I set off at the back and immediately tried to establish a smooth rhythm and keep my breathing under control. The water was murky and all I could see was the extension of my stroke in front of me.
The wetsuit was awesome and provided some nice buoyancy. It basically kept me in the optimal position just below the surface of the water and I felt really good as I built up momentum.
Then suddenly I saw some fine bubbles ahead of me – it was the stragglers at the back of the pack and I’d caught up to them in a few strokes. That’s when the competitive streak in me took over!
I peaked up and saw that there was a mini traffic jam in front of me. No sweat – I was just going to push through.
A kick right in the left eye. I got too close to another athlete and paid the price. I had to stop and adjust my goggles, but quickly got back into it – albeit a bit pissed off. That’s when the voice at the back of my mind spoke up and said, “Time to pass these okes!”
I surprised myself on the swim and made steady headway through, around and sometimes over the pack (sorry whoever you were!). I even caught Aanikah by surprise when I left the water – a theme that would continue across the rest of the race 🙂
I headed into the first transition (T1) with a big smile on my face. This race was on!
The Bike – going along for the ride
While I was taking off my wetsuit in T1, something funny happened. I didn’t realize that the sudden shift from swimming to running can lead to dizziness. Suddenly, the world around me was spinning and I ended up… falling over. The dizziness didn’t stop the competitive buzz that I was on and I resorted to flapping around on the floor to get the wetsuit off…lol.
I had my running tights on under the wetsuit so all I had to do was dry my feet, pull on my red socks and singlet, strap on my Nike Frees, and grab my helmet and spares pack before I headed off on the bike leg of the race. By the time I exited the transition area I was back to full control.
The course was not tricky, but the trails seemed to be littered with thorns which caused punctures by the dozen. Within the first two kilometres, I probably saw 15 athletes stuck roadside trying to fix punctures. I even passed Danyaal, not realizing he was also struggling with a puncture.
About a kilometre later, Wafiq waved me down. He too was stranded and after we traded some spares I was off (I hoped I wouldn’t need them later). Unfortunately, the damage on Wafiq’s bike was worse than he initially estimated and he ended up carrying his bike for almost 5kms before he had to retire from the race – You’ll get ‘em next time bud!
A word of advice: If you are planning on doing the Tri-Rock Robben Island triathlon, please make every effort to puncture-proof your bike. A couple extra grams will do the world of difference to your race and help you finish.
This was my first cycle since I was a wee kid, the entire 14kms felt like a fight between gravity, the ground and me. Many a time during the ride, I had to fight being flung from the seat. Fortunately, I held on and tried to power through every opportunity I got on the less tricky sections.
On one particularly sandy section, I hit the sand a bit too fast and sent the back wheel sliding first left and then right, all while the front wheel snaked through the sand. Somehow I miraculously held on and managed to ride away unscathed. Erica, a fellow athlete, rode up to me and shouted, “Amazing recovery! I thought the sand had you! Well done!” – First timer hangs on for dear life!
I decided to stick close to Erica who gave me some valuable pointers (and encouragement) while I waited for the shock to subside. Erica seemed to be loving every second of the race as she floated across all the obstacles. She displayed that “Tri-Rock spirit” that I was starting to notice.
As the event unfolded, yes speed was important (it is still a race), but the main takeaway was the privilege of being able to compete on Robben Island. The island now stands as a monument of struggle and the will to overcome adversity. You couldn’t help cast your mind and reflect on the decades spent in incarceration by the fathers of South Africa in order to realise our democracy.
The route for the bike stage was capped off with scenes of Table Mountain in the distance, and the deep blue ocean and crashing waves caressing the island’s coast.
The Run – hitting the road
Again I caught Aanikah off guard as I pulled into T2. Apparently I was coming in a bit sooner than she was expecting 🙂
I racked the bike, dropped my kit bag and helmet, grabbed my running cap and was off on the run. Those first couple hundred meters were rough. My legs felt heavy and I didn’t feel like they were able to go the usual speeds that I normally train at.
The course is set on a very flat road with no real hills at all (thank you!). You run next to the prison and along a stretch of road past some homes on the island – so not much of the epic views that we were spoilt with on the ride.
There was a drinks station midway and I quickly dunked a glass of water down my back before heading towards the finish – my usual battle with overheating continues
On the return leg I passed Danyaal, running like a beast! We exchanged a high-five and I felt some added lift to my legs. As I was passing some other athletes, I overheard one of them mention that there was 300m left to the finish… so naturally I cracked on the pace for my usual sprint finish.
As I rounded the corner, I saw another athlete about 100m ahead of me on his way to the finish. That’s when I heard the voice again in the back of head say, “Go get him my bru!”
I burst into a full sprint and was hunting him down as the finish line approached even getting the announcer excitedly shouting, “And we have a sprint finish on our hands!!!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Aanikah running with her camera to grab a pick of the scene as we crossed the finish line.
I’m not sure if I finished ahead of him or not, but as I crossed the line we were both neck and neck. What a fun way to end an awesome race!
A marshal took my number for the results and I was handed a finishers t-shirt, a Bos Ice Tea and an awesome master key as a medal (great idea btw!)
The way home
I’ve never had a post-race high like the one I experienced at Tri-Rock. It truly was a great way to scratch Triathlon off my bucket list.
Special mention has to be made to the following peeps:
- Rushdie and Nailah for completing their maiden triathlons! Well done!
- Danyaal for carrying his bike for 2kms and then still finishing at a blistering pace – always an inspiration to us all
- Wafiq for deciding to end his race after the torrid time he had with his bike – you did it with grace and are an example of how to face disappointment like a champ
- Our families and friends for coming out to cheer us on and for the awesome chicken mayo sandwiches 🙂
After getting changed and grabbing some of those chicken mayo sandwiches, we joined the prison tour which added another great dimension to the event. I really feel like I’m overusing this word, but it truly was a “privilege” to see where Tata Madiba spent all those years incarcerated and to learn about the hardships that the prisoners went through – an inspiration that we all as South Africans need to celebrate.
After the tour, we loaded the last of our stuff onto the Susan Kruger and headed home. This time we were sure to grab the quicker boat on the way back – it’s still a race day after all 🙂