Rockman Ultra 2014

It all started on the Saturday afternoon when I experienced my first Hurricane (my guess would be a category 5 Hurricane) of my life. To the Vaal Dam locals they will better know these types of weather systems as a normal Highveld Thunderstorm on steroids. Just to survive these thunderstorms is an achievement of note. The only reason it does not make big news on CNN is mainly because the houses in the area are build out of concrete and reinforced steel. Not like the wooden match sticks found in Florida USA.
After the Hurricane episode me and my two good friends - Martin and Jean-Louis - booked ourselves in at Korranaville-Inn in Oranjeville on the shores of the Great Vaal Dam. We soon realized that we entered into a self-catering accommodation that pushed our “self-catering” skills to the limit. For starters there was no electricity for our chalet. I must have missed it in the fine print when booking the chalet…This meant we had to make do with the limited light we could muster with our cell phones and one torched I brought along for incase we experience Load Shedding. Secondly we were surrounded by people who enforced the alcohol limit only to the age of 5 years and younger. But this was still all manageable for the three of us. Because as I went to bed (earlier than normal) I soon realized I was not alone in my bed. It became apparent to me that insects found my body tasty and they wanted a feast. I held out (remember by know my cell phone battery died and I had to make use of the moonlight to figure out what to do next) for a few hours until I decided to go sleep in my car. Sleeping in a double cab bakkie is not ideal, especially when the neighbors wants to know why you don’t want to sleep in there comfortable chalet. Thus to cut a long story short, I ended up “waiting with my eyes closed” for 4:30 am so that I could leave to the race venue for Rockman Ultra.
The start of the race went well for me given the circumstances of the previous night. I had an easy start in the water and slowly made my way through the field passing Terrance Parking at the 500 m mark to go into 2nd overall in the swim leg. I held this position for the remainder of the swim leg.

I had smooth but slow transition and jumped on my SCOTT Spark trailing Markus van Niekerk by 1:50 min. My legs felt strong in the beginning and I managed to rail Markus in without much effort. By the 15 km mark on the MTB bike leg I already cycled 4 min out of the entire field. My luck soon ended when I encountered the worst kind of mud/turf that would bring your bike to a standstill within a few meters. My lead disappeared in an instant to the rest of the top men. I came to a standstill trying to get my bike’s wheels from turning again by clearing all the mud between my frame and wheels. Once I managed to free my wheels I noticed that the mud prevented my jockey wheels from turning. Thus the chain basically rolled over the “jockey wheel” for the rest of the race…At this point in time I honestly thought I would not be able to finish. But somehow I just managed the situation in a calm manner and got myself and my bike trough that section. 

Bryn Freeman (a pro veteran at 41 years old) in the meantime worked his way through the field and caught up with me while I was clearing my bike from the mud. He opened a gap of a minute before I started to cycle again. It took me the rest of the 1st lap to close down the gap to Bryn. We came through the feeding zone together at the 35 km mark. I then realized that Bryn was on a hard tail and that meant my SCOTT Spark had a massive advantage on him through any rough sections of the course. Thus I decided to attack him in a section where the terrain was littered with rocks and uneven surfaces. My plan worked well and before long I opened up a healthy lead of almost 2 min. Unfortunately my lack of fitness did not help much. There was only 20 km left to cycle for me when I started to feel weak and vulnerable. I always knew before the race that my preparation was not ideal given the serious injury I sustained in late July this year. I knew that Rockman 2014 will be an 50/50 event whether or not I will be ready in time to race. But as defending champion I had the responsibility to do my best to get fit in time for the event. In hindsight I was reckless. I gambled with my health and maybe Rockman was too early… (By the end of the cycle leg Bryn made up about 30 seconds onto me when I started with the trail run)

I instinctively went through T2 as fast as possible trying to extend my gap to Bryn…For the first 4 – 6 km I was running ok. Not fast but good enough to work with the 1:40 min gap I had. Bryn on the other hand felt great and started to pick up his running pace. I still wonder that if I was not in his eye sight for most of the race. How would he have done? As I have never before saw him so committed and strong in recent years. He is clearly in fantastic form and well driven. He is an athlete I respect and for the last few years we got along extremely well. His parents have always supported me in all my racing. Something I appreciate a lot.

As I came close to the end of the first lap I started to feel light headed and not 100% focused. I felt like I was somewhere else if that makes sense. This sensation began to settle in from 6 km mark in the trail run. It wasn’t long and all of a sudden I had to stop and sit. As I could feel I was losing my consciousness. I am fully aware that some athletes specialize in this Hollywood style of acting when things are not going well and they need some valid excuse. But I can honestly say that this happens to me once a year (maybe once every two years). Delwyn Dunbar can tell you this happened to me last year while training on our family farm in Namibia. Another time it happened in my Math’s exam in matric…Any way I lost the lead in this process. I did ask for medical help but in the same time I got back up and finished the race in 2nd overall position. Why this happened... I still don’t know. Low blood sugar I think is the most obvious factor.

Looking back at the event objectively. I must give credit to the race organizers for improving the course and layout of the entire race. It was well managed and marked. The water points was well staffed and ice cold water and drinks made the run so much easier at the end of the day.

I congratulate Bryn and Sylvia for winning the 2014 Rockman Ultra edition and hope them both all the best for the 2015 season. 

Safe Training,
Nico Sterk


2nd Overall

VAAL DAM – Peninsula Estate – 2 km Swim/70 km Mtb/18 km Trail run!

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