Have you ever found yourself in one of those conversations where someone asks if you want to join them in a running race? That was me in the beginning of 2023. In March 2023, I ran my farthest distance ever—the Weskus 10km road race. I celebrated this achievement as if I had just completed a marathon, even though, in reality, it was just a 10km run. Despite my involvement in professional-level sports, particularly sailing, I had never taken an interest in running. Fast forward to May, where I found myself at my usual Monday spin class at Virgin Active Point, led by none other than STeve Attwell. It was there that a friendly guy struck up a conversation with me, planting the first seed about triathlon in my mind. That evening, I followed Embark and Steve on Instagram, and as they say now, the rest is history!
Initially skeptical about attempting a 70.3, especially on the challenging Mossel Bay course, I found myself signing up for training in June 2023 after attending the Embark orientation evening. Daunting, challenging, and borderline crazy—it was hard to believe that, before this, I had never cycled a road bike or run more than 10km. Yet, in just five months, I would be undertaking a 1.9km swim (which turned out to be 2.2km on race day, thanks to the currents), a 91km bike ride, and a 21.1km run.
And so, with possibly one of the coldest winters Cape Town had ever experienced, training began. Our new, sizable group quickly formed bonds, and that's the beauty of Embark and group training—you never feel alone. The experience was welcoming and heartwarming. People who were strangers less than six months ago became some of my closest friends. Training was tough, funny, challenging, and thrilling all at the same time. Banter during early morning coffee rides kept minds and legs light, making us forget the biting cold. Certain phrases tend to stick, and Coach Garth’s running advice—“STAY HARD”—has become ingrained in my mind. Thursdays brought the session I feared the most: the dreaded hill running sessions. After Mossel Bay, I vowed never to skip another hills session for a sleep-in, ever again!
Now, let’s talk about race day—Sunday morning in Mossel Bay (my hometown, I might add!). We woke up to the most beautiful summer morning, and all pre-race nerves seemed to drift away. The day had come, I had put in all the work, and now it was time to enjoy it. After preparing my bike with nutrition and water bottles and meeting fellow Embarkers along the way, we walked down to the swim start. Self-seeding was daunting, but when I saw Gert standing in the already full 30-minute seeding section, I knew a plan was possible. After putting my best Afrikaans forward, I was quickly helped over the barrier and into the line to start. We watched the pro athletes go off, and before I knew it, I was running into the water. The water temperature was perfect, and I enjoyed the swim. Before I knew it, I was stripping off my wetsuit in the waves, running up to T1.
The bike—luckily, I had ridden the route in August, so I knew where the hills were waiting for me. But alas, they still caught me! The scenery was beautiful as I cycled past farms toward the halfway turnaround point. I had TT-bars on my road bike, and it was the best decision I had ever made. The cycle flew by for me; it was fast and fun, and the climbs were survivable.
But that run—thankful for STeve's repeated warnings to fuel adequately on the bike—I faced Mossel Bay's 80% hilly half marathon. It was the most challenging half marathon I had ever run, let alone after a swim and a cycle. After the first loop of three, I realized when to consume gels, throw water over my head, and smile at the thousands of people shouting my name to push on as I ran past. This is also the beauty of competing in your Embark kit; we all become each other’s family, and every time you were spotted by another Embarker’s friends or family, they would cheer for you like you were their own!
I entered this race with the goal of enjoying my first 70.3, but in the back of my mind, I aimed to complete it under 6 hours and 30 minutes. I crossed the finish line in a time of 6 hours and 28 minutes, and tears of joy flowed as my fellow Embarkers and family waited to give me a hug!
The triathlon bug has definitely bitten me, and I now have my eyes set on four 70.3 races next year! If you ever, even for a second, think that you would like to do something like this but are unsure whether you can, come and join the group and see for yourself what you are capable of.