70.3 Durban 2016

9th Overall of the Proffesional Males – Lets be frank – Last Male bassically!!!

(I shouldn’t be alive story)


This past Sunday I took part in the 70.3 Durban Ironman event.

I was so excited to take part in this event as it would have been my first road Triathlon for many years racing as a professional. Unfortunately, the event turned out to be anything but a joyful occasion for me.

Just my final 5 weeks building up towards the event was a hell of challenge. I first of all managed to tear my Plantaris Tendon (MR Scan confirmed) in my right leg. I then developed unusual knee pain in my right patella as well. Not sure if the Tendon tear and knee was linked or two isolated problems. But it meant that for 3 weeks (From week five to week two before the race) I did not run much, for 2 weeks (week four & week three) I struggled to cycle with my knee pain being at times 9/10 sore while pedalling….and making matters worse two weeks before the race I crashed cycling over a pothole. Causing my left knee to get irritated and inflamed until race day.   

For each of these single issues I had a more than valid reason to pull out of this race long before the start…But I fought against each issue and figured a plan to get around each one of them. Why was I so stubborn?  Mostly because 5 weeks before this race I had the best form of my life. If the race was a month earlier and I had no physical injury concerns I would have been in shape for a sub 4 hours 15 min. I was so confident in my form and fitness that I looked past my issues to something bigger. Regretfully now I look back at huge disappointment and in some sense embarrassment at this result. As it will dilute my last few top performing racing results in many athletes and bystander’s eyes. Not that I should care about these things. But it does play a role in endorsements, sponsor opportunities and overall athlete profile. The one positive thing I take from this build-up to the race was I have learnt to stay motivated and believing in myself regardless of the amount of issues I pick up preparing for an event.  

The race proved to be a real disturbing experience for all the professional athletes who took part in the event.

The Sea Swim of 1.9 km was cancelled for all the Age Group Athletes the morning of the event. But as we were told on the Friday already at our own race briefing for the professional athletes – we will swim!

So what really happened:

The sea proved again that it is not something we should take lightly when entering. The morning of the race the period between each wave was 20 seconds plus. Meaning that compared to the usual 10 – 13 seconds period between each wave (like the Saturday before the race) the strength and speed of each wave on the morning of the race was a lot more than what any non-expert realized.

The Life Guards battled to do their Job in which they are trained to do – save swimmers in trouble… They knew the sea was not safe to go swim in that morning (later the afternoon two swimmers drowned at the very beach we went in for the start of the sea swim).

At the start area I have never seen that Life Guards stand guard/tunnel for us to run into the sea. I then tough to myself that if they do not want to go into the water…then something is not right. Unfortunately, most of us are not experts in reading the sea conditions so we were blissfully unaware of what we were going to experience.    

When the gun went off and I ran behind Kent Horner into the Ocean I immediately realized the sea was a lot rougher that day than the previous day when I managed to do a short swim warm-up. I couldn’t see the first buoy we had to swim left around while I was making my way through shallow surf into the sea. I just followed Kent Horner the whole way. The first few waves were nothing near troubling for me. But then, the waves got bigger and stronger. Me and Kent at that point did not swim much, we basically just kept on going underneath each massive wave one at a time…. I manged to swim trough these set of waves only to see people on Jet ski’s pointing to us to swim right against the direction we should have been swimming. This meant that the rip current dragged some of the best open water swimmers in the country a couple of hundred meters to the left of the first buoy.  

My reaction then was to stop racing and swim for safety.  At the first buoy was a big boat and I swam straight towards it to get out of the sea. Once I got there I was informed I am in one of the leading positions and should just keep on swimming… So like an idiot I kept on swimming, full knowingly I was in trouble.

 At some point swimming towards the last buoy I was almost taken out by a massive wave. I then turned 90 degrees to the right and swam another 50 – 100 m deeper into the ocean as I was not ready to take on these waves again.

A good couple of hundred meters before the last buoy I saw guys on Jet Ski’s riding up and down the sea just screaming to me “swim straight back to the beach for safety”. I thought to myself this is crazy…how on earth do they want me to do that? The next moment a big, no a massive, no a F*&%ing big wave came and I went as far down to the bottom of the ocean as I could to avoid this wave. Did my underwater swimming skills help? Not at all…the sea just played with me. I cannot explain to people how strong these waves where. I will never forget how dark it was under that water with the wave crushing down on me.  

As soon as the darkness disappeared and it became light again the next wave came at a tremendous speed. Again I do not think people understand! After a similar experience of pitch darkness and terrifying thoughts I managed to come up for another breath of air and then I saw a guy on a Jet Ski…I screamed to him “Please I am so scared, save me” his response “Bud I cannot save you now”. For the record I do not blame him, the conditions were not so that he could have done it without putting himself at risk. I have no problem with what he said or did!

I then realized I had to swim for my own life - I really really do not know how I managed to swim back to the beach but I did! I got out of the water 300 m further down from the exit point. Meaning that the rip current took me down more than 600 m from the point where I started swimming towards the beach for safety.

Can you believe that I was among the top 5 Male swimmers out of the water…what an experience the other swimmer must have had to deal with – especially the girls?

The rest of the race: I decided just to finish. I tried for about 20 – 30 km on the bike leg to race. But me left knee was too sore and more so, I was too rattled to carry on racing as I realized what could have almost been…. For those of you who think I am soft or I feel sorry for myself;

  • I have been shot at by criminals with an AKA-47.
  • In a separate occasion held at gunpoint for hours in my own house with my whole family.
  • Saved by life guards in East London from a shark.
  • Attacked by a Male Lion in Kruger park in a private camp.
  • Attacked by a kudu bull on our farm in Namibia that I managed to shoot meters away from me and few more other close encounters.

Sunday overshadows all of these near death experiences…MARK MY WORD – never again will I go into the sea in such severe conditions to take part in any form of swimming event!!! For those idiots who said “you guys are getting soft”, “you do not know how to swim” or they “we are disappointed to not have had the opportunity to swim”. Next time please swim in my place….

Here are some of the other Pro Men comments on what they experienced:

Stuart Marais (Who I regard as one of the toughest athletes ever in our sport):

“Thanks for all the support out there today – life and death situation in the final 150 m of swim got me DQ’ed! The rest of the race was great”

Freddy Lampret: (Personally directed to me)

Nico Sterk, well done man! When I exited the water I shook my head and thought "How on earth could we swim in there?" then I said a little prayer: "Lord please let nobody die, and thank you that I am still alive!"

When people hear that the swim was rough, I don’t think they REALLY understand. Last year I was surprised that people struggled because of how easy I found the conditions.

Yesterday was the closest I have ever come to dying. In fact when I was on the sea floor being held down by a combination of wave and rip current, then fighting through meters of whitewash, unable to breathe, I thought that it was the end.

It was a strange feeling to have to continue racing after that. Sitting on the beach crying would have been an appropriate and totally normal response.

Again Nico, well done bud! We live to tell the tale.

Gerhard de Bruin:

“Happy to be alive" is how a fellow pro athlete described the swim at Ironman 70.3 Durban yesterday! I feel the exact same way!! I am thankful that Ironman in South Africa ?? with Race Director Paul Wolff at the helm cancelled the swim for the AG athletes as I am confident the outcome would have been nothing short of a disaster, ultimately risking the lives of all athletes.

So what happened? The water looked rough, but manageable. Here is what I experienced: Immediately as we hit the water, the rip current dragged us to the far left of the first turn buoy, forcing the entire field to swim south along shore for 100+ meters against the strong current. The first casualty of the swim came quick as my friend Lynette Van Der Merwe withdrew from the race due to the swim conditions. On the way north towards the second turn buoy, we all got continually pounded by the waves and the current. I got dragged under a few times, and almost passed out once in the water. In the words of James Cunnama, it was "disaster swim territory". I could feel the fear creep up and got to a point where I thought this was it, but thankfully caught a quick breath in the foam of a wave. I saw one athlete call for help from the lifeguards! My friend @clint.gravett88 was in front of the field, and used his past as a pro surfer on the world tour to navigate the waters - we all could have used some pointers from him! Seeing the turn buoy drift, Clinton went for shore in an effort to stay safe and get out of the surf. About a minute behind, fellow athletes and myself powered though towards the last buoy, but it kept moving in the massive waves. We got separated, and I continued around the buoy while the rest of the athletes got beached by the lifeguards. All in all, we got lucky. I was the only athlete to hit the last buoy, but I can say with certainty that we all did more than prescribed, and that we are all happy that no one got injured. In short, it was a dangerous swim that should never have taken place.”

Safe Training,

Nico Sterk

Last modified on Thursday, 23 June 2016 17:34
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