I joined Embark in early 2022 without any knowledge of how to ride a bike, and had last swam (poorly and against my will) in a grade 5 swimming gala. Running is my first love but I wanted to diversify my training routine, and cycling looked like a fun way to drain my bank account. So I invested in a bike, kit, cleats and clip-in pedals before realising it was going to take more than sheer willpower to get this girl off the ground and onto the saddle. Cycling is a social sport, and I needed a community that welcomed beginners, trained consistently and, most importantly, stopped for coffee.
Cue Embark. My first shaky ride around Green Point left much to be desired by way of shifting gears correctly and not falling off my bike every time we came to a stop, but the vibes were good and the coffee was hot and I was hooked. Next step: get a wetsuit and enter a 70.3 Ironman, I guess.
The year’s training brought with it a flurry of personal growth, deep friendships, laughter and rewarding challenges. I had never been so consistent and dedicated to a training program; what kept me coming back was the people. When you find a group of like-minded lunatics, you hold each other accountable, push each other further, provide support and celebrate each other’s wins. When I encountered setbacks like Covid, Durban’s 70.3 cancellations and a minor injury, the outpouring of encouragement is what carried me through.
With Mossel Bay hosting their first ever Ironman 70.3, it seemed like the perfect initiation. In retrospect, perhaps a baptism of fire. Embark showed up in droves and a sea of red and black was all you could see as we descended upon Pizza e Vino to carbo load. These small-town locals had never seen such hungry, borderline rabid, triathletes.
The day before the race involved a short dip in the ocean, a leg loosener on the bike, more pizza and a lot of list-checking. Sunblock. Nutrition. 40 gels. 40 backup gels. Enough water to drown a fish. Socks or no socks? That’s gross, socks. But what about my T1 time? I wonder if I have enough gels. Time to get an early night and dream about nailing the Flying Mount.
Race day arrives and the ocean is as flat as the Pavillion pool. Pre-race nerves were channelled into excitement and the energy was palpable. From the moment the gun went off I was smiling from ear to ear, in disbelief that a year of training was finally coming to fruition. From the serene swim, to the rolling hills on the bike, to the headwind that humbled me in the final stretch of the ride, I grinned like a cheshire cat. Race entries aren’t cheap, and I’d be damned if I didn’t get my money’s worth having as much fun as I could.
We collectively got the fright of our lives when faced with the mammoth hills that awaited us on the run course. You’re telling me I need to run this loop how many times? It felt like a practical joke, but hills don’t care about your feelings. So I just stocked up on Maurten gels and put one foot in front of the other, only stopping briefly to bask in the spray of a local Oom’s garden hose as he religiously sprinkled every red-faced triathlete stampeding down his street. This was the baptism I’d been praying for.
Reborn, renewed, and dripping in holy water and perspiration, I neared the heavenly arch that is the IRONMAN finish line. “Remember what STeve said: Wait until after the camera clicks to stop your watch!” Click. Click. Medal. Hugs. Tears. Selfies. Feed me. Eina my bene.
As the sun set over the Mossel Bay coastline, my housemates and I compared battle scars, sunburns and war stories, the sound of crashing waves drowned out by our dramatic groans climbing stairs. “That was so rough.” “Yeah, everything hurts.” “So fun, though.” “When is the next one? Let’s enter a full.” - Rebecca Steyn