A dream finally came true for me this past weekend when I had the opportunity to participate in the Jailbreak triathlon out at Brandvlei Prison, situated on the Brandvlei Dam between Worcester and Rawsonville.
Before I got bitten by the tri bug, I used to listen with wide-eyed wonder as my friends recounted their Jailbreak experiences and always hoped that I would one day be able to do this race too.
As our final triathlon of the year – and ahead of Ironman 70.3 on 20 January – Jailbreak would show us where work still needed to be done, so it was an important race for all of us Embarkers.
Not in the mood for yet another 3am wake-up, we decided to find a spot to sleep on Saturday night, which turned out to be rather challenging. Thankfully Tanja came to the rescue, having found space in some backpackers-slash-school-hostel in Worcester, and after a few phone calls and coordination we were all set.
But first, we had to dress our buckets. When you collect your Jailbreak race number and documentation, you also get a big black race bucket which you are encouraged to decorate.
I was really excited to see everyone’s interpretation… meanwhile I had to think of a theme for my own bucket. In the end, I decided on “Bucket Of Dreams”, which would depict my journey this year and the things I have learned along the way.
So after a quick braai with fellow teammates Sean, Dave & co, we returned to our room to pack our stuff. And I started panicking because I couldn’t find my Race Food (bite sized cranberry & almond nougat bars from Wedgewood which I absolutely love). Now, I know that I had packed my beloved Race Food and was convinced that the kids nicked it from my bucket before I left home. I was heading towards a panic-stricken melt-down, so Tania rescued me once again and gave me one of her bars.
After a sleepless night (note to self: take a sleeping pill the Thursday & Friday night before 70.3, because I won’t sleep on Saturday night) and literally watching the minutes tick by on my cell phone, Meg and I finally got up just after 5am, had coffee (Meg) and a bowl of Oatees with orange juice and banana (me) and got race ready.
We looked out the window and saw wind. And it was already warm. A definite sign of things to come. We wondered whether this would be a wetsuit swim or not… but decided that we were fully prepared for whatever the decision was. We had done enough training without our wetsuits to be comfortable swimming in just our tri gear and we were ready.
As we drove towards the parking area we noticed the buoys in the water. DANG – they were far apart… a little bit of a shocker! Now, the reality is that our canal swims are actually muuuuuuuch longer in distance (over 2km), but because it’s a fairly contained environment, surrounded by apartment buildings and a hotel, we don’t really have any idea of how far we actually swim. In the wide open spaces which made up Brandvlei dam, the buoys were far apart and it looked scary.
Suddenly I was nervous. And my wetsuit didn’t fit as nicely as usual. The collar was too tight. I couldn’t breathe. And when I squeaked that I wasn’t feeling well, Sofie quickly unzipped my suit, pulled here and tugged there, and suddenly the suit sat like a glove.
It was a wet start. Which meant that we had to swim in, station ourselves between the two buoys and tread water until our start.
As usual, I was caught in the washing machine of flailing arms and kicking feet and I got kicked in the face a few times while everyone jostled for a good line.
First good sign: I didn’t panic but calmly moved away from the feet and swam on, reciting What The Ladybird Heard over and over in my head.
Before long I settled into a rhythm and the next thing I knew I rounded the first buoy. At that point I thought I was last and had a quick look up to check how far behind I was. Then the swimmer next to me popped up as well, and I looked straight into Tanja’s smiling face! And, even better, there was about a dozen swimmers trailing behind us. JACKPOT!
I got out of the water a few seconds behind Tanja and felt a wave of happiness and gratitude – not because the swim was over, but because I had enjoyed it so much. Radesh mentioned afterwards that there was this calm, serene look on my face…
I had finally nailed the swim!
I’m usually quite speedy in transition, but this time around I was really slow. I struggled to get my shoes on, struggled with my gloves, struggled with my helmet… couldn’t find my on-bike nutrition. Then I forgot to put on my race belt and had to run back for that. And when I FINALLY left transition, 9 minutes had passed!!
Technically the cycle was a breeze and I made up for lost time by quickly catching up to a bunch of riders. But the challenge was yet to come.
While it’s a fairly easy course, Jailbreak has the same non-drafting rules as Ironman, so it’s just you, your bike and your demons. This forced me to will myself into a positive space (SMILE, says Chrissie Wellington, even when you suffer) and before long I was back in fun mode and enjoyed the course.
The downside was that my bike computer wasn’t working, so I was completely blind on the course and had no idea how far I had already gone. At one point I thought I had about 10km left, so when a cyclist came up from behind and pleaded me for some water, I didn’t hesitate to help a brother out, and I gave him my bottle, only to realise that I had, in fact, just covered about half the distance and still had a good 22km to go! SHIT!
I couldn’t exactly ask for my bottle back (he was super fast, and clearly doing the maximum escape), and I knew that there was a water point up ahead, so I rationed my mix, then took a good few gulps when I reached the water point and replaced the remainder of my mix with fresh water.
Sadly I lost that bottle about 2km later, and by the time I reached T2, I was ready to drink the entire dam. Thankfully Sofie’s bike was parked a few metres away, so I helped myself to some water in her Camelbak on the way out to the run.
The water issue aside, I had a great ride and still felt fresh going into T2, so I’m confident about my performance in January.
The first thing that struck me going into the run was that my achilles tendon was really painful. Flexing my foot hurt like a mofo and it was a case of mind over matter to deal with the heat and general ouchyness.
I couldn’t hang onto Sofie and I had to let her go in the end. Which is where the mind games started…
I knew I had a choice: I could either let the heat and pain get to me, or I could rise above it, run slowly and focus my mind. This time there was no room for nursery rhymes or motivational songs. It had to be loud and violent and take over my brain. And for you runners who came running towards me and wondered why my lips were constantly moving… I was singing Marilyn Manson’s This Is The New Shit!
With one loop down and another one to go, the pain had subsided a little and I started to enjoy myself enough to shout “THIS IS SO MUCH FUN!!!” to friends on the side of the road. And it was true, despite the discomfort and heat, I really was having fun.
Oh and Waterbottle Guy? He cheered and shouted encouragement, every time he ran past me 🙂
There’s something about approaching the finish line that is truly magical. Apart from the fact that my body usually wants to shut down (regardless of how short or long the race) in the last km, hearing the commentator and cheering spectators (even when it’s not you they’re cheering for) gives you a boost like nothing else.
I even felt the hint of a little tear as I approached the FREEDOM arch.
And as I was handed my medal and shared sweaty hugs with team mates and friends, I realised that 70.3 is now within reach.
PS – So… What happened to my Race Food?
I had a swim session scheduled for Monday night, so I quickly threw out the stuff I wouldn’t need – my shoes, extra clothes, etc.
Suddenly Da Son asked me why there was vomit in my shoe. Upon closer inspection I realised that it was squishy, melted nougat. I did the full 44km ride, in the heat, with a bar of Race Food in my cycling shoe! And I didn’t feel a thing!