The Ultra test
by Noel Stevens
On Sunday 6 March the KZN Midlands played host to the Future Life K-Swiss Midlands Ultra Triathlon. It also happened to double as the SA Long Course Triathlon Championships. This race was certain to keep you honest and test your ability.
Standing along the shoreline – the calm waters of Midmar Dam didn’t represent the mixed feeling I felt as I stood nervously waiting for our race to begin. The race motto of ‘Challenge Yourself to be Great’ ring in my ears. Triathlon is a sport where one cannot hide behind a teammate’s ability or lack thereof, but – one’s strengths and weaknesses are exposed for all to see, which is actually quite scary. We all strive to be Great – but most of us – sadly will not always get there, but moving towards that goal is the important objective. Yes, I suppose we as triathletes can fake an injury and abuse our equipment for poor performance but ultimately we are to blame most of the time for any good or even bad results. That extra chocolate, the sleep-in and the late night movie – yes, my own morning training group earlier this year forgot what I looked like after all the late work nights – are often to blame. Thoughts aside, race day was here, a few awkward minutes then into the water I would go, not turning back.
‘Five, four, three’ – into the water I went. Oh, the love of an open water swim, not for the faint hearted. A few arms and hands in my face just to remind me I was alive, the race was truly on. Being a current middle field contender I waited a bit for the others to start swimming as this helps me settle my nerves. I find it better to hang back for a few seconds which allows me to calm down better and helps me settle into a slower but steady swim pace.
The swim was a 1.9km loop – swam in a clockwise direction with two red buoys to swim round. No handles on the buoys to hold onto as this was a half Ironman distance event – the real thing. The surprisingly calm waters of Midmar Dam lead to one of my better open water swim times and I felt proud running up the slipway. Was this an indicator of my race ahead – I felt strong and was excited for the remainder of the race.
Into the transition area I ran – found my bike with not too much trouble unlike last year, this year’s race organisers cleverly numbered the bike rows. I’m not sure what happens to most of us when we run into the transition areas – our bikes 99% of the time purposely avoid us. As a supporter it is funny to watch this bike finding spectacle but not as an athlete – my brain goes dead most of the time and the questions start – ‘I know I left it in the middle of that row or did I?’.
With my wetsuit off, bike helmet went on, then socks (I’m no pro – comfort is King), snacks then into cycle jersey back pockets and off I ran with my bike, 90km here I come. The four cycle laps each of 22.5km was a great test of one’s stamina. The cycle route was a great – medium strength ride but the passing vehicles on the road – made the ride a little dangerous. Cars hooting at us to move over – the drivers had no time to enjoy the race atmosphere – the road is theirs and it seemed we were in the wrong. With leg muscles starting to make them self known I swooped back down the descent into the Midmar Dam resort and back into the transition area I went.
Helmet off, shoes changed – off I run. Legs – what legs? I asked myself – this is normally when I come alive. Running has generally been my strongest discipline and I believe the bike to run transition is one of the hardest things to master with triathlon races. From the start of the run – I knew this run leg was not going to be my best. The temperature had increased steadily throughout the morning and now just before midday – it must have been close to 33 degrees, not the easiest run conditions. The run route was a great mixture of cut grass track, district roads and resort tarred roads. Battling to run, I decided to save myself, which means finishing but getting there comfortably. On Sunday that was not totally true, I struggled even walking the two run laps to the finish.
What a welcome sight – as the finish arch finally came into view. I have always thought this so strange – we train so hard to race but sometime during the race we can’t wait for it to be finished. Feeling exhausted I crossed the finish line, only to hear the photographer say to someone next him, ’hey he does not look too good’. Sadly I felt relived hearing that – as I actually felt terrible.
I always thought – why do something if it is not a challenge. The Midlands Ultra was a Great Challenge and it certainty lived up to their race caption – ‘Challenge Yourself to be Great’.
To the organisers, thank you once again for a great race – well managed under difficult weather conditions. Certainly a medal I will treasure for a while longer than I normally would. I really worked hard to get myself from the run leg to the finish. Until next year – we leave the calm waters of Midmar Dam in peace.