Just a little write up on my USA race.
So off to the States I go, I arrived at the airport on Fri 20th with a 17hr direct flight through to Atlanta where I would catch a connecting flight through to Florida. My worst nightmare came true though, I got stuck between 2 huge Americans which made 17hrs a nightmare. Landing in Atlanta also meant having to go through customs which left me waiting for 2hrs and unfortunately caused me to miss my connecting flight…ha ha,what a start to the trip! So was put onto the next flight out towards Florida where I was picked up after a total of 26hrs of travel.
The triathlon I was taking part in is the St Anthonys 5150, which is one of the biggest triathlons in the USA and draws a field of roughly 5000 participants and the streets are covered with over 40,000 spectators. I won the African 5150 last August and qualified to race internationally in these races now. The goal is to qualify for the international 5150 final to be held in Hy-vee in the States on September 2nd later this year. It’s a 1.5km swim, a 40km non draft bike and then a 10km run. You need to race as many 5150 races during the year in order to gain enough points to make the start list in September. They will take the top 30 ranked athletes in the world by the cut off in mid August.
OK, now back to Florida, its my first visit there and WOW, it will definitely not be my last! A city situated on the Southern coast of the USA and on the gulf of Mexico. It is certainly one on the most beautiful places I have been. Clear water, white sanded beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see, palm trees line the roads along the beach and a way of life that does not have the word ‘stress’ in the vocabulary. As a pro athlete I can apply for a homestay ,which is where one of the local triathlon families take you in and look after you. I prefer this to a hotel as I get to meet so many more people and really get to learn more about the areas I travel too.
So Jim (a local fire fighter), Mary (an air hostess for Delta Airlines) and their two young daughters looked after me for the 10 days. They had an amazing place on one of the canals linking onto the gulf of Mexico. So I was all settled in and the process of getting used to new sleeping patterns began, its important I adapt quickly so that my training for the week can get some quality into it instead of me being too tired.
I joined into one of the local swimming squads on the beach front. This is by far the best swimming facilities I have ever been able to be a part of and the guys I were swimming with were current and ex-Olympic swimmers. It was honestly a privilege just to be in the pool which such great athletes! So swimming for the week was sorted. I then met some Austrian guys which I cycled with and then the running I did on my own. The one day I was almost home when I saw the huge black dog hurtling towards me…. So I took the words from Top Gun the movie where Maverick says “If you think, you’re dead…” and so I did what I do best and I ran!!!!!!! It was about 300m of the fastest sprint I have ever done, honestly, I would have given Usain Bolt a good run for his money! The dog was within 1m of me the whole time and there was no option of stopping or slowing down until the dog gave up… and thank the pope he did eventually. So all in all a good speed work session for the day!
It was also my birthday on April 25th, a little different when you don’t have family and friends around but it was still a great day. I’m getting old…eish! A couple from my swim squad offered to take me along to the local baseball game for my birthday so I went to watch the Tampa Bay Rays play in their fully enclosed stadium, it was very impressive! They play in the MBL, which is the best league in the country so there were some great players on show. It’s a good atmosphere at the games but it’s a little too slow for my liking, I’m a soccer man.
OK, so leading up to the race now, I need to go to race briefings where the referee goes over all the rules and the course for the race. In the days leading up to the race I also go on the full race route to familiarize myself with everything and go through my pre-race routines. A lot of physical work gets done in triathlon but the mind is just as important for the race.
The race will be the strongest triathletes I have ever been up against, some absolute legends in the sport and these big races and definitely not for the faint hearted. Its rough, fast and there is no room for error!
I arrive at the race venue at 5:15am for the 6:50 start. Sort out everything in transition, make sure I go through everything I need to do in my head and then head down to the swim start. By the way, it’s pitch dark as the sun is not up yet. Our race starts at 6:50 which is sunrise for the day. I get a nice warm up swim in, it’s a bit chopping with the wind picking up which was not ideal. We then lined up where a young girl sang the US national Anthem… absolutely amazing, I had goose bumps from head to toe and was standing next to the guys I’m used to watching race on TV, it was brilliant!
BANG….we were off, I managed to hold onto the pack in the swim for roughly 600m until we made a left turn and it got really rough in the waves and swell. From then on it was rough going trying to spot the buoys and swim on the correct line, so I lost some valuable time on the swim from then. I headed out onto the bike where I knew I had to try make up some time, I got into a nice rhythm . The course was very flat and 40 of the 50 pros were riding a disk wheel and unfortunately for me I did not own such a fine piece of machinery. The top guys were pulling away from me and they seemed to be cycling like steam trains… they’re not the best in the world for nothing, so got a good lesson learnt from that bike leg.
I got to the run toward the back of the field but managed to pull off a decent run considering I have had a torn calf for the last 6 weeks. I headed out for the first 5km in 17min30 then felt the calf was going to hold out and ran the 5km back in 16:30. I placed 34th for the race and was pleased that I had given my best in the race.
Overall the lessons learnt and the experience from racing on such a big stage will put me in a great position for my future races and I can’t wait to race them all again, ’cause I know I can do better as well. So back to the training grind stone where I prepare to head back to the states and compete for a spot in the 5150 final in Sept.
I’m currently writing this piece on my flight back to Joburg where you will be happy to know I got a great seat with nobody next to me, what a relief! See you all soon.