Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Race report: FNB Desert Triathlon

The FNB Desert triathlon is not really a huge race, but it takes place in one of the most beautiful settings you can imagine for a race. You swim in the icy cold Atlantic Ocean, after which you cycle through a portion of the Namib gravel plains with vast open nothingness on your one side and huge coastal dunes on the other. And to finish it all off you get to run along a portion of the beautiful Swakopmund beach line. What is not to love. Also, OTB Sport organises the race and they really know how to bring an exciting event together smoothly. The triathlon used to only comprise the half-ironman distances (now the Ultra category), but in 2010 it was changed to encourage more participation. Ever since then I have been wanting to take part in this race but I have been pregnant or unfit every year since then. Until 2014. I just had to do it.

I have not been running for the last 6 weeks due to an injury of sorts, but I was able to swim in our local indoor pool. I have always been a relatively confident, although slow, swimmer, so easing back into longish distance swimming wasn't a big deal. But now with hindsight I think perhaps there were a few things I could have done differently in preparation for this triathlon.

Vee and I, preparing my transition area before the race.

For instance, it would have been advantageous had I swam a few times in the sea before the event. The last time I actually swam in the sea (longer distances) was when I was pregnant with Zee. I used to swim laps in the Mole for exercise since I didn't run during my pregnancies.

My word. Although it was nearing low tide the sea was very choppy in the usually calm Mole area. The swim route even had to be changed just before the event started since the outermost buoy was washed away. So even the ultra-distances had to swim laps out and back in the Mole, instead of triangular laps. 

Zee and I, waiting for the participants in the Standard to finish swimming for the Sprint to start.

Then it was our turn and off the gun went, and we all started wading through mesh of sea bamboo in the shallower waters. For the first 50 m or so it was just arms and feet and bamboo around the arms and ankles. And 15 ˚C water creeping down my back in my wet-suit and attacking all my senses. The water was so shallow that we could actually stand and shake of excess sea plants if the kicking didn't help anymore. The faster swimmers just seemed to fly through the choppiness and sea plants, but I was brave and only took a few swim-breaks during resting. So needless to say I was in the top five to endure the cold water the longest (no cash prizes for that though).

After that fabulous shock to my system I emerged from the cold of the ocean (wet-suit and all), cold to the bone. I made my way across the beach a midst cheers from my hubs and boys like I was the first swimmer out. They are just the bestest supporters ever! I called the Hubs over to the transition area to help extract me from my wet-suit, which had, after our extended swim, developed severe separation anxiety and didn't want to let go of my calves and ankles. By the time I got the wet-suit off and my feet dry enough for socks and shoes, the remaining 4 competitors that were behind me were already off on their bikes. I still fiddled with my helmet and just before lunchtime I was also out on the bike.

Now, the beauty of a race like this, an extremely well-organised one, is that all the competition categories share the same course or at least parts thereof. Once we were cycling, the competitors in the Ultra and Standard categories started to lap us, and I found it uber-inspiring to watch super-trained athletes in their specialized attire doing their thing. Once again I found myself pedaling my little heart out, with burning quads and calves, and along come these guys and gals, donning little reversed garden gnome hats and moon suits, flying past me with a swoosh, never to be seen again (unless they lapped me again, but luckily I wouldn't know). To say the least, I was honoured and humbled to be sharing the desert vistas with athletes of that caliber. 

Cycling through the Namib gravel plains.

Here it would suffice to mention that my hubs was home for the weekend from an interrupted field trip. He contracted malaria and was advised to rather return home until he was out of the woods. We had an unpleasant experience with malaria during our Canada/South America stint in 2012 and didn't want to take any chances. Turns out he was (mostly) as fit as a fiddle after 36 hours and we ended up enjoying the weekend with him home. 

My Love came out to support me every step of the way.

He gallantly oiled my bike the day before the race, for which I was so thankful, for this time I could be the one smiling (instead of blushing) when I heard the normal tell-tale of an amateur Swakopmund local cyclist: that corrosion-induced tweet... tweet... tweet for every revolution of the pedals. But those bikes and their riders are the ones that warm my heart. They and those beer-bellied guys that came out shirtless, donning short skipants, still giggling at each other before hitting the water for the swim (and beating me). Staying in their normal comfort zones just was not an option. I love it and I respect it.

After an hour on the bike, completing the 20 km, I got back to the transition area where the official requested I disembark my bike. I thought no sweat, I will just run the remaining 20 m to where my changing area was, which is when I discovered that I couldn't feel my feet. Actually, the entire portion from my knees downward. Fist I checked if I hadn't indeed lost my lower legs while swimming or cycling, but they were still very much attached to my body. So I immediately slowed the jogging effort to a walk and just stowed my bike and my helmet for the run. Three kilometers. Easy. My toddlers can do 3 km. 

Running along our beautiful Swakop beach.

But man, did I suffer! I honestly thought that running used an entire different set of muscles than cycling, so I really pushed hard in the cycling and didn't worry about the run. But I enjoyed a suffer-fest of note. And this was the part that I was looking forward to most! I was also wearing new running shoes that I was so chuffed with, and at the 1.5 km turnaround point I was wondering how my feet were doing in the new shoes since I  was still running on my knees and couldn't tell if I was indeed wearing shoes. Only in the last 100 m I started feeling my feet again, as well as the massive side-stitch that also had me limping across the finish line. 

Finishing with a brave smile. 

There were no finishers medals, but there were chocolate, and I soothed the stitch and tender ego with a huge piece. 

I finished in 12th place in my category in a total time of 1:28:01 (9:24 for the swim, 1:01:00 for the cycle and 17:37 for the run). Will I do it again? Most certainly yes. I loved every moment of it. The vibe and organisation is great, the caliber of competitors, especially in the Standard and Ultra categories, is a huge inspiration. All in all a great race. Next year I will be sure to actually practice open water swimming and also work on faster transitions. How I will improve on that cycling time I don't know. I still don't see myself sitting on a bike for hours on end. But I will be back and can only improve on this first effort. 


Riana