A couple of hundred athletes gathered on the beach in Durban this past Sunday as they prepped themselves for the challenge that lay ahead. The headline act was the ULTRA event (1.9km swim/90km cycle/21km run) along with the big numbers race, the SPRINT (600m swim/20km cycle/5km run)
Unlike last year when the wind decided to stay away and left a duck-pond behind for the athletes to swim in, this year the beasterly easterly wind decided to whip up the surf on the Saturday prior to race day. The wind on Sunday was blowing westerly which is normally the favourable wind but some of the damage had been done already and swimmers were faced with a challenging swim.
A good call was made to cancel the SPRINT swim, judging by the level of competency amongst the general field – we reckon the right call was made to cancel the swim and include a 1km beach-run instead. Not something the good swimmers wanted to hear but a good call on the whole
Travis Johnston was outright favourite having retired from the PRO ranks recently to concentrate on coaching career. That did not mean has was letting his form and shape go by any means, perhaps just settling for the shorter races that require less time spent on the roads to prepare for. He was always going to be pushed hard by local Junior Ben De La Porte and visiting Limpopo athlete Asher Biggs. True to form it was these three athletes that lead from the start and finished the 1km run in this order that finally ended up on the podium steps come race end
The Ladies Sprint race was packed full of Junior’s with some of the “older” ladies trying to hold them at bay. Amber Schlebusch entered the transition zone after the 1km run in first place with Biddi Theunissen and Tegan Gore in hot pursuit. The only athlete to challenge Schlebusch on the 20km cycle was S’annara Grove who caught her as these 2 entered the transition together. Schlebusch took off like a house on fire with Grove trying to play catch-up in 2nd and Theunissen securing 3rd spot all for herself
The ULTRA race was next up. A decision was taken to swim but to shorten the distance. A good call in the sense that most of the Ultra athletes were experienced (most not all we might add) as this event also doubled as the SA Long Course TRI Champs. For those athletes who have swum in challenging surf before, they managed to get out past the break and complete the 1200m relatively un-scathed. The lesser experienced surf swimmer struggled and a good few opted to either cut short their swims or not even attempt to go into the water. At the end of the day, each athlete has to be in control of their own destiner and know whether they are biting off more than they can chew by swimming or rather playing safe, not swimming and rather completing the rest of the race as a non-official finisher.
Glen Gore with mounds of surf swim experience (definitely does help to know that particular beach well) managed to exit the water first with all the hot contenders close on his heels
It was not long before Bradley Weiss, reigning World Xterra Champs took the lead. With Matt Trautman not on the start line/Stuart Marais opting not to start and James Cunnama racing himself back into form, this was Weiss’ race to lose.
Weiss hammered the bike from start to finish and it was only Cunnama who was able to keep the distances between them at a respectable level over the 90km bike leg that had a nasty head wind on the way back into town x 2. Behind them, a host of the top age groupers were jostling for that all important 3rd spot behind the seasoned PRO’s in Weiss and Cunnama.
Once onto the run Weiss was opening up the taps and you could visibly see he was having a great race. Running a 1:15 for the 21km half marathon when you have possibly already secured the win during the early stages of the run, showed his good form and he was intent on clocking a fast time.
Cunnama was quite happy to secure the 2nd spot and use this as a solid brick training session. Behind him though the fight was on for that final spot on the podium. The likes of Gerhard De Bruin, Chis Bruckhausen, Ryan Schmitz and Phillip Sassie were all in contention. Sassie was to prove to be the fastest runner of the foursome on the day and he grabbed that sub 4hr finish time all to himself
The ladies race was always going to be a humdinger with perennial competitors, Annah Watkinson, Jade Nicol, Mariella Dierks and Magda Nieuwoudt all in the mix. With the shortened swim, the trio of Watkinson, Nicol and Nieuwoudt took charge of the race on the 2 lap bike course
Once onto the run, it was Watkinson that stormed away from the ladies in a fast 1:28 half marathon with Nicol playing second fiddle but well in control of that 2nd spot. Dierks had a good solid run and clawed her way into the 3rd spot overall
A fantastic days racing with all the drama you would expect from one of SA’s best Ultra events. Here is looking to 2019