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A challenge, a race, a duel, a war – are all phrases to describe what went down in EL on the 25th January 2015.

Unsure of my form, but confident in my ability, I toed the line with some of the best and most recognized IM 70.3 athletes from around the world.

The seaside town of EL in the eastern cape has become recognized as a hub for triathlon in South Africa and in the same sentence, has the reputation for one of the toughest 70.3 courses in the world.

The weather is always unpredictable, the sea has the ability to stand up in a matter of minutes… but all those factors aside, the rolling hills and iconic run course make this race a true reflection of “may the toughest man win!”

The horn sounded for an early start and we set off into the bumpy waters of the Indian Ocean. Right from the get go the pace was high. Kyle went off the front of the pack and Matt and I followed him closely. Kyle was navigating well in the rough water and I felt pretty comfy to follow him.

We exited the water with a 2min plus lead on the chasers, we had our work cut out for us.

The three of us worked well on the way out into a strong headwind. I was very confident in my running ability, so knew it would be up to Matt and Kyle to do the hard work if they wanted to win.

At the turn point, I looked across and noticed Bart and Cyril on the charge about 60sec back. The pace was high so I knew the uber bikers from Europe had to be working hard to catch us… but then…

IMG_2851993882961Matt ‘rocket’ Trautman had other ideas. 45km to go and it was like someone loosened the reins and whipped him on the ass. He hooked it so hard and I just tried to follow him. Unfortunately Kyle picked up a slow flat and had to change wheels. At that speed there would be no coming back. Bart and Cyril were losing time and it seemed to be a 2 horse race between myself and Matt.

I can’t say I wasn’t hurting. Every muscle in the legs were burning, my lungs felt like they were going to explode and my bike felt like it was about to launch into the air… the speed was high and I gathered what Matt had planned. Break me on the bike, hurt Stu’s run legs…

A plan with perfect execution. I rolled past Matt as we exited the N2 and started our final few climbs to the finish of the grueling bike. Immediately I knew I could be in trouble, but at the same time knew that Matt had to be hurting with the amount of work he had done on the bike. We had opened a 5-6min lead on the chasers in a matter of 40km… do the math.

I pushed quickly through transition to try get out ahead of Matt. I looked back as I exited T2 and guess who was there… Matt. It was an iron war, a battle to the end.

I surged as we ran through the screaming crowds. I opened up a 10m gap, but I felt my hammy twinge… my body was hurt.

I tried to settle into a rhythm as Matt and I ran shoulder to shoulder forth next 15km.

The iconic Bunkers Hill loomed yet again on lap 2 of the run. This is where a race is won/lost. As we approached the climb, Matt pushed the pace… 3:30, 3:25,3:20, 3:15… I thought it was impossible to be going any faster. I dug deep and hung in there on his shoulder. Bunkers Hill… again he surged and with that dislodged me. A 3m gap between myself and a trojan. I clawed my way back and he pushed again. Ok, I have had it, I’m off… I tried to regroup, but the man was too strong. He was on his way to victory.

IMG_1658Matt had beaten me. Not only that, he deserved to win. He had a plan and executed it to perfection. I was honored to have battled him. I had matched every step and answered every question, until the end, we were a team. I crossed the line some 90sec behind Matt and we embraced each other as brothers. Nothing needed to be said, we had a bond, the kind which can only be formed in an IRON WAR!

My good friend Jodie Swallow made history on the same day. The demolished the woman’s record and made a clean sweep, 5 for 5 at IM 70.3 SA. I salute the 2 heroes of Buffalo City and look forward to heading to Slummies in 2016 to try again at the elusive title of SA 70.3 Champion.