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Big 5 Podium
Big 5 Podium

The Knysna Oyster Festival is about family, friends and excitement. Not to mention the option of pushing your body way past its abilities!

This year my boy, Luke, ventured down to Knysna to enjoy a week on the garden route. Together with Granny and Scuba, we all would partake in the sports and escapades surrounding the annual Oyster Festival.

True to form, my old man Scuba (59), would also be challenging himself at the Big 5 Challenge.

ScubaHe shared war stories with us every evening around a fire and still had energy to encourage me to go for the win. I was proud to have him on my wing throughout the event and drew extra motivation from his positive energy.

The Big 5 is the combination of the 5 major events at the Knysna Oyster Festival. I mean, who wants to go to a festival without any activities? The Big 5 allows all of us adventure junkies to experience the vibe of a fantastic festival and at the same time get an overdose of feel good endorphins throughout the week. It becomes the counterpoint of your suffer fest week.

Athletes competing in the Big 5 challenge had to complete the following events:

80km mountain bike
2km swim or 100km road bike or 22km paddle
15km trail run
Xterra (3km run; 22km mtb; 7km run)
42km / 21km road run

I use this event as a solid week of training to prepare for big races in the second half of my year. It allows me to shock my body into gear with some high intensity efforts and have some fun at the same time. It also gives you the chance to meet up with old friends, build relationships and meet new like-minded multisporters.

A little more detail on the days where I found myself hurting at the finish, yet still walking away with such fulfillment:

80km Mountain Bike

Knysna greeted us with an icy cold morning. Layered from top to bottom with base layers we set off to start the big 5.

I was hoping for a gentle role out, but the climb up from Knysna to the top of Simola has everyone in a panic, frantically scurrying for a wheel and a helping hand to the top.

Quickly the bunches formed, mine was with my Xterra rival and friend, Dan Hugo. We were set for a long chase as the pro mointain bikers dissapeared ip the road. We worked well together and made the catch at 50km. We caught them by surprise and split the group through the mud puddles in the valley.

I enjoyed the day and the hard ride to start the week, ending 5th overall.

2 km Lagoon swimUSN_SM-66

The second day I opted for the 2km swim. For no reason other than to avoid the annual crash fest on the road bike. The swim was a mad scurry in 11degC water. I got very disorientated by swimmers heading in opposite directions through the harbour. Needless to say I would relinquish my lead and would need a good trail run to get on top again.

The Featherbed trail run

15km of the most sublime trails around the heads of Knysna. It is without a doubt the most spectacular event of the week for me. The ferry trip across the lagoon to the Featherbed nature reserve and the run back across the old railway bridge is priceless and beautiful.

Featherbed podiumI was fortunate to have the current SA Trail running champ, Thabang Madiba, toe the line alongside me. Nothing I enjoy more than a battle…

I set off in front and extended a 30sec gap over the top of the climb. Thabang has a nack for fearless descending and quickly closed the gap to me. We were neck and neckbheading towards the final 3km stretch along the railway bridge. I had confidence in speed, so I entered the final single track ahead and got to the bridge in front. I surged along the bridge to sub 3min k’s and slowly opened a gap to Thabang. Crossing the line 20sec ahead of such a phenomenal athlete was special.  

Xterra day at Pezula

Legs were zero. Body dead and hoping my head would get me through. Dan, Brad and myself were racing for Xterra glory. I set off to look for a gap in the first 3km. This was never going to happen. My legs were hurt and I was set up for a long, hard day on the trails.big 5 bike

I was caught at the top of the first climb by Brad and Dan soon joined us. Nobody said a word and the attacks came fast. I followed Dan and Brad was forced to peddle back to us after a couple of desperate efforts. Soon it was Dan and I and then only Dan…he was too strong and opened up 2min heading into T2. I was finished, content with 2nd and cruised through the final 7km trail run.

Knysna Half Marathon

The final day. I was far in the lead on Big 5, so I was heading out for a gentle run to Knysna.

The early start to catch the taxi into the forest is always a highlight. The vibe is like no other and the long wait on the road prior the start has plenty of looney stories. As the 7300 athletes toed the line, we set off. I ran comfortably to finish 5th overall in 72min to win Big5 Challenge overall and end off a phenomenal week in Knysna.

Driving back to Stellenbosch with the two most important people in my life (and another on the way!), I realize how fortunate I am to be able to take part in such a challenge in the most beautiful are in South Africa. See you again next year Knysna!