- Monday, 04 January 2016
Personally the event is one of the most important year ending events as the event gives me a realistic forecast for my 2016 Xterra season. Furthermore the race gives me the opportunity to test my current fitness under extreme heat, altitude and terrain.
As most of the country was going through a terrible drought due to extreme heat conditions - the day of the race at Heia Safari Lodge was no different in terms of weather conditions. The maximum temperature forecasted was well over the 35 degree mark. Given the high altitude and rough/hilly terrain managing your core body temperature and calorie intake was the name of the game for the top athletes to be able to compete for a podium position.
The morning of the race consisted of the usual pre-race routine by preparing my equipment in transition and a warm up swim of 1 km plus. No frills no fuss…
The race started fairly calmly as it was a wet start in the dam and everyone was spread out on the start line. It took me about 300m of swimming to go into 2nd overall position (1st of the individual athletes). At the end of the 2km swim (which took me roughly 23 min high!) I managed to open up a 2 minute gap between me and my nearest competitor, this meant I had a fairly clean start going into the MTB leg of the race.
Once on my MTB bike I realised I needed to conserve my energy and power for the tough trail run lying in wait after the MTB leg. Therefore even though I and Ian Peterkin (who was then in second place) rode much faster than the rest of the field – I was still well within my cycling capabilities.
I focused on not making any mistakes, riding efficiently and pacing myself evenly. The rest of the field needed to do some serious catching up if they were going to catch me on the course… well that’s what I thought at that time in the race.
The MTB leg comprised of 60km split in 2 laps and after lap 1 I had a 5 min lead over the second placed athlete (Ian Peterkin) and an 8 minute lead over the third placed athlete (Charl Nienaber). At this stage in the race I firmly believed that I would comfortably open up another 5 min on Ian and go in the run leg with a 10 min gap more or less. Unfortunately this never happened as Ian managed to reel me in to within 60 seconds at the end of the MTB leg. My only hope at this time was that Ian had over worked his legs in trying to catch-up with me and that I would manage to hold him off on the run leg.
By the time I started the 16 km trail run it was seriously hot and no joke to race anymore.
I was positive but wary for the trail run as I knew I would have to keep hydrating and take care of my body otherwise I will not be able to compete for the win.
Ian caught me 2km into the run leg flying past me as if I was standing still. At the time I honestly thought he was having a great day and I was having a bad day, because on this level he should not have passed me so easily…
I then found myself in 2nd place with more than 13 minutes over 3rd place, so I knew I would just have to get to the finish and at least get 2nd overall. But something in my mind told me just to keep up a steady pace and see what will happen with Ian running so hard in such tough conditions. I have learnt through the years of racing that funny things tend to happen with the leader of such an event.
After the first lap of Hel, I got a glimpse of Ian running about 5 minutes in front of me. I could see that he was in some trouble as he lost his normal running stride and cadence. I then started to seriously turn up my racing mind-set and decided to see if I could catch him. Knowing that it was a tall order to begin with…
The stretch between kilometre 10 and 14 will go down in my books as the hardest running I have ever done. Running in extreme heat at a snail’s pace with a 2L coke bottle in the one hand trying to catch Ian is something I will treasure for my whole life… but hopefully will never have to do again.
I caught Ian 1km before the finish line – unconscious and in need of serious medical attention. My whole mind-set changed from racing to trying to help/save Ian. I stopped next to Ian and after a brief conversation I sought medical help for him.
I ran as hard as I could to the finish line asking and calling for medical help, luckily medics were nearby and able to respond speedily to my urgent calls. In the same process I claimed the win, in unfortunate circumstances, but still satisfied with my performance. At the end of the day a lesson for all that we should never give up hope.