Nobody, nobody has a perfect race build-up, especially not a veteran mom-of-three whose husband was working away in Europe during exam period at school. I had made one significant change to my training a few weeks back – communicating after each Tissink Training Peaks session. I noticed little adjustments in the week ahead, and was just responding so well to the mix of sessions that I almost didn’t want to start a taper. I was disappointed to learn there would be no professional wave at Durban 70.3, but on the up side, it was an opportunity for the top age groupers to get some attention, and as the pre-race pundits did not include me in their ‘who to watch’, I was on a mission to correct that. You’ll forgive my slightly superstitious anxiety, arriving on the start line feeling fit, strong and healthy, like a superhero, ready to smash.
2000+ rubber clad athletes squeezing into starting pens and awaiting the count down to the first swimmers in the rolling start. I’m looking for feet to follow, but everyone looks the same. I ask the guy next to me to check my zip is fastened; he yanks it, the zip pops right open. Thank HUUB for the ingenious quick release zip, but dammit not right now. I feel fingers fumbling at the base of my spine trying to reconnect the zip. Many people trying to help but nobody getting anywhere fast – the zip has jammed. Breathe. Stay calm. I step out of my wetsuit – getting it caked in sand – and somebody calls ‘Annah is here, give it to Annah Watkinson!’ My Team Tissink Team-mate and super-pro, here to support friends, calmly cleaned, eased the zip, helped me back into the suit; arms pulled up over my shoulders for flexibility that’s way better than before, and I’m back on the start line with 8 minutes to go.
Quick look around me to see who is racing in my wave, but as I stumble out of the start, I remind myself to put the blinkers on and push as hard as I can from gun to tape, regardless of the other athletes. I have a good, clear swim, feeling like I’m catching and overtaking more than being caught. Diesel engine takes a while to get going and the swim is over and back onto the sand. Transition is fun, a long long run and grab the bike on the way. I don’t mind pushing the pace as there is a 2k neutral zone in which to settle the heart rate, fasten shoes, eat, and get ready to time trial on the open road.
I quickly find my rhythm on the bike and enjoy the tail wind to the turn, riding to my power meter readings and easing myself up the hills. Thankfully there is space near the front end of the field and I don’t have to interrupt my pace as I pass or am passed by others. It looks hellish from the turn around, seeing a big fat snake of athletes and I’m briefly distracted wondering how it can be changed. I need to tuck in and deal with the headwind in front of me instead. As I reel in Lauren Dance, I think it’s all going so well, I’m invincible, and another female cruises past me and powers up a hill. We have 30k to go and I can’t believe Ive been overtaken by someone on a standard road bike with ordinary wheels. So when we’re back on the flat and descending terrain again, I hit the big gears and power past, thinking ’Tom Dumoulin Aero’. I hold this position around the mini loop and find myself joined by large groups as I merge with those on the first lap. I’m trying to ride to one side, hanging back, easing up, expecting a left filter or sign to get me to T2. There is nothing but confusion! No marshalls. I grind to a halt and ask spectators, who tell me to do a loop that I’ve already done. Eventually another athlete figures out the way and we head back to transition. The announcer recognises Jeannie Bomford-Dreyer as the super strong cyclist coming in just behind me, so I’m half relieved to be caught by a legend, but also thinking…’is she 40 yet?’ and ‘can she run?’
Legs feeling good on the run. Air temperature and humidity isn’t crazy either so my breathing is under control and I keep my cadence high. Even my notoriously sensitive stomach is happy taking in SiS gels on the move, so still no excuses to quit. I’m watching the other females on the course, only Jade up ahead but Gabriella and Natia seem to be closing. At the third turn-around I’m having a little mental head fight, seeing men cruising past me like I’m standing still, and I notice that Jeannie isn’t very far behind me. Is she my age group? I dig deep and increase my pace for a few kilometres, thinking ‘I have not come this far to finish second in my age-group without a fight’. It does the trick, and at the last turn my new mantra is ‘Do not let Natia or Gabriella run me down, as they are both looking fresh!’ I bury myself to the finish line, daren’t look behind me – the next two women finish within a minute of me – and none of us know where we started relative to each other. There is some confusion about over-all positions so we are all taken to the media tent for interviews!
In hindsight, I don’t think I could have asked much more of my body, though I have recovered quickly. I am really happy with 3rd female, especially enjoying the facial expressions from the other girls when I gave my age, ‘wow, you’re like, almost as old as my mom!!’ Priceless! Obviously I totally gave my age away at the awards ceremony – this old chick under-packed her travel bags so badly that I dressed like I was wearing the contents of a lost property box – my only saving was remembering the Team Tissink vest – and I pretty much fell asleep at the table and didn’t make it to the after party! I’ll leave the dancing to the pro’s (Annah!!) and the youngsters!
This just leaves the business of qualifying for 70.3 Worlds next year; I’ll be lining up on the start line at East London in January with at least 2 objectives: first and foremost, qualifying for Worlds. Due to my pending permanent residency application, I was not eligible for one of the SA athlete slots. I am happy for whoever benefitted! Rules are rules and that’s fine, I didn’t have cash to pay my deposit in any case. Objective number 2, pride at stake here…I want to run the entire course, if anybody sees me hesitate on Bunker’s Hill, please shame me into RUNNING, I am going to conquer this next year, right?
Huge thanks to Ray and Natalie for getting me to the start line, Isuzu Trucks, SiS South Africa, Tri Travel Hub and my husband Greg for the parts you played in taking some of the peripheral stresses out and making the racing possible.