23 October 2016 brought around 600 eager triathletes, including myself, to Breeland Wine Cellars in Slanghoek Valley, boasting postcard worthy backdrops, for the ever popular Slanghoek Triathlon. This year there was a different kind of excitement above the normal intense race nervousness, because Richard Murray, South Africa’s most loved professional triathlete was going to be racing this very day in this very same race!
But back to my own race. It is pretty rare that I wake up without any nerves. For this race my only concern was jumping off the jetty for the second loop of the swim which I had never done before as in previous years I had done the sprint distance of this race. The weather was beautiful. Having officiated the day before at the mountain bike event I was relieved that the weather had changed from cold, wet and windy to near perfect race conditions with only the beating sun to be concerned about heading into the off-road run later in the day. For now a slight breeze was cooling the air at this stage.
I like to get to any race early to rack and relax and proceeded with that plan. Upon arrival around 6:30am only a handful of athletes had already racked. Greeted by the ever friendly technical officials who check to make sure our bikes and helmets are safe, I was given the A-Okay to rack. I got the perfect spot just as I wanted – as close to the bike exit as possible. I love soaking up the vibe in the transition area with everyone focused on their own racking rituals and Chris Hitchcock snapping away as we joke around with each other! Chris observed my very athletic boots and caught the moment with true professionalism!
Racked and ready to race I made my way down to the swim start area and club gazebos. This location overlooks the entire swim course and part of the run course, keeping the vibe consistent as spectators do not have to walk far to support their friends, husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends. With my race only starting 9am it meant I got to watch the two male swim start waves before my start, as well a few friends heading out on the bike. Then it was time to ditch my bags at the club gazebo and head to the swim start area. The women had one wave, open + vets, all starting together.
After a good warm-up swim I was ready to go. I like to reduce the number of swimmers around me while I swim as much as possible so I plot and plan my swim line while I listen to the race briefing . After race briefing we were off. I found the start calm and not so much the washing machine starts I have experienced before. I got into a rhythm pretty quickly and first lap flew by as I had no swimming bully’s to fight. Today was not my day for a bloody nose.
Time for the dreaded jump. While most people attempt to get a great action shot and do all heroic jumps and dives, I opted for a sissy jump perfectly captured by an innocent bystander. Sinking quite low and not holding my goggles long enough meant the right side filled with water which I quickly emptied out while trying to move forward at the same time. Thankfully I did not lose too much valuable time as some others did lose their goggles completely.
Fast forward to transition. I love having “fans” rooting for me during a race. The triathlon fraternity are a supportive bunch, even if you only really mingle at races. On race day everyone is best friends.
Out of transition I pressed the lap button on my watch to forward it to the run leg. WHAT!!? Any athletes’ nightmare. I started the race in duathlon mode, and recorded my swim leg in cycling mode! (How that happened is another story. Remember that Ironman 70.3 swim leg that was cancelled? Don’t forget to add the swim again for your next triathlon) A few frantic minutes I sorted out the problem and started cycling in cycling mode. Now for 43 km of tar and some hill work. Two turn-around points later and I was on my way back.
The marshals and technical officials were superb. At no point was I ever doubtful of where to go or what I had to do. Although as an athlete you should know all the rules and regulations, often the race brain makes what you do feel like it is your first time, so kudos to all who helped us.
With my bike racked and running shoes on and a quick squirt of water over my head and in my mouth, I was ticking off 10 km to the finish. The run consisted of 2 loops of 5km. The run route has its challenges in that it is quite sandy and at times it felt like running on a beach, which of course can tire you out. At the water table just after the 2nd loop turnoff Richard Murray was standing spectating. What a great privilege it was seeing our own world class triathlete while you racing. Loop two was hot and with the sun beating down and I had to dig deep.
The beautiful ending around the dam wall is one of my favourite moments of the event. Here the tactic is to pass a few people and not show how buggered you really are, because from the other side of the dam spectators can already see you. “Keep composure Nicol” I told myself in the last 500 m of the race. From here you have a good view looking back over the dam to where the day began and where you will finish.
I crossed the finish line coming 8th lady in my category. A successful day out, and now it was time to celebrate with fellow athletes over a cider and to hear all the war stories of the day. As expected Richard Murry won the sprint race, with Vicky Van der Merwe taking the ladies title. In the standard distance we saw Kent Horner taking overall win and Mellusca Toovey taking the win for the ladies.
From me Nicol Muller, and on behalf of every other athlete, a big thanks to Pieter du Plessis and Iquela Events for a great day. See you all next year.