The Oyster festival in Knysna is always a huge highlight for me in the middle of the year. 2013 would be no different.
My training in the build up to the Big 5 events was solid, the week before saw me bed ridden for 6 days with a throat infection. I was indecicive as to whether I would be healthy to race. The day prior to raceday was my first bike ride in 10 days and my heart rate hit the roof, so I slept on it… The Simola climb would be the deciding factor at the start of the Big 5 and the 80km mountain bike race.
The Big 5 consists of all the major events at the Oyster festival. Your time is compared to the winners time of the eventsand converted to points, with a max of 1000 points for the overall win. The events are: 80km mountain bike, 80km road bike or 22km paddle, 15km Trail run, Xterra Knysna and half or full marathon. This years Big 5 saw the entire pro multisport list join me on the startline. Amongst them Dan Hugo, Brad Weiss, Kent Horner, Lieuwe Boonstra & Matty Trautman. I was excited to test my mettle against them all.
MOUNTAIN BIKE 80KM: I arrived at the start in good spirits, amped to see and catch up with my fellow Big 5 competitors, only to discover that we were all starting together, with the individual mountain bikers. The racing would all of a sudden become alot harder.
On a descent at 30km, I lost my front wheel in a rut and came off really hard. After a couple of seconds, I mounted and attempted to chase down the likes of Bresler, Evans and all the best mountain bikers in SA. It was a long shot which turned into a 35km slog of hard effort. At 65km my lights went out and I could no longer chase. I now knew I would not catch Dan, but I should rather limit my losses. Was my Big 5 slipping away in the very first event?
ROAD BIKE 80KM: I was in a good head space today and felt confident that I would be able to race hard again. The race was coming together and a sprint finish was imminent. I stayed as far right as possible, staying out of trouble was my aim. The sprinters had ther fun and all the Big 5 contenders finished together in the front bunch for an equal share of good points. I was still 3rd overall, with my main events to follow.
FEATHERBED TRAIL RUN 15KM: This was a day I was really looking forward to. The Featherbed trail run is a bucket list event for any trail runner. It is raced over three time slots throughout the day, moring, afternoon and evening. Each consisting of a ferry trip across the Knysna lagoon to the start. I had chosen to run the morning event and was joined by Thabang Madiba, the current SA LD trail running champ. Needless to say, I would have my work cut out for me.
I started off fast, setteld into a rhythm and won the race in a new record time of 55min36sec. I thought I had done enough to secure the full 1000 points and take the Big 5 lead. Kane Reilly had other ideas. This lightie from Stellenbosch had the carrot in his sights and set off on the afternoon run, taking the win and obliterating my record by a full 60 seconds. I was dissapointed, but also impressed with the trail running talent on the rise in SA.
I took the lead overall in the Big 5, followed closely by Dan and Kent in 2nd and 3rd respectively.
XTERRA: Heading into Xterra day, tired legs and fatigue setting in after the events prior, I was on the defensive. I had decided to limit damage on this event, settle into the top 3 and leave everything for the half marathon. Kevin Evans was on the start line with fresh legs and the previous 2 days of rain would make conditions really tough out there. The day was cold and muggy to say the least. I trotted around on the Pezula estate trying to ease the spasms in my calf muscles.
I pushed hard on the first part of the bike, but my overconfidence was soon dampened by a muddy turn through the singletrack, causing me to go arse over kettle into the bushes yet again. I settled down and biked carefully on the descents. Kent was a short distance back and before I knew it, Kevin had bridged the gap. He passed as if I was standing still, a flash back of the previous year. I continued pushing and entered T2 with a 3min gap to Kev. The final climb saw me catch him and take the lead.
I was very excited to take the win and defend my title in Knysna. Very sorry that Dan had pulled out due to a groin injury. I was now comfortably in the overall lead of the Big 5 with just a half marathon left to run.
HALF MARATHON: This would be my very first half marathon. The taxi trip was exciting as we headed up to the start. I knew I would need to run a solid pace to consolidate and win overall. Kent had opted for the full marathon to try make a move for the overall, which turned out disasterous for him.
I set off at a good pace and quickly settled into 3:30min pace. I was sore and couldn’t find a comfortable speed. I picked up stragglers who had started too fast and ran negative splits to end 6th overall in a PB 72min and winner of the Big 5.
I feel tired after a heavy week and elated with the win. Time for a good rest, next goal: Otter Trail race!