by Haldane van Horen


I entered a combination race in Cape Town, South Africa on 10 January. It was the second time the event was being held, and is called the Total Sports Challenge. The organisers modified the original distances of each leg, and the final distances were: a 12km surf ski canoe paddle, followed by a 1.5 km sea swim, a 37km road bike leg, a 34km mountain bike leg, a 12km road run leg, a 12km K1 lagoon canoe leg, and finally an 8km beach run.


I understand that there were 140 competitors supposed to finish each leg. There were 50 teams of 7, where each person would do one leg, there were 50 pairís teams, where each person had to do 3 of the first 6 legs, but they had to both run the last leg together. There were 40 crazy individuals, of which I was one, trying to compete in the whole event alone!


My preparation wasn't very good as I didn't have access to the particular boats required, plus I was in Europe, doing training in the wintry weather, as opposed to the mid-summer weather in which the race was to be held. I had the advantage that my brother had competed in the 2003 event, so there was plenty of advice available.


Logistically it was a bit of a nightmare, as kit had to be available at the transition points, and except for T1 and T2, all others were many kilometres apart! The organisers prepared for bad weather and planned changes in the water routes if needed, but the weather the week before was fine. I'd managed to obtain a surf ski boat, and I didn't have too much practise time, but was confident of completing the paddle legs if the water stayed flat. I'd borrowed a mountain bike, without suspension, and ran out of time to try it out off-road.


Race day came and the weather was calm and the sun promised to bake all the bodies on the route! There was a mass Le-Mans type start at 6 am. I'd kept my boat to the back of the others, knowing I'd be a bit slower. I also took the precaution of attaching a rubber leash to my ankle in case the wind came up.


10 minutes after the start, the South Easterly wind came up, soon blowing winds of between 70 - 100 kph! Needless to say, I capsized a few times, and after about 8 km I abandoned the return paddle into the wind, and beached, and made my way back to T1 along the beach. This meant that I would be out of the results, but could continue the event. Unfortunately my seconds were watching the sea, and not expecting me to come from the land side, and I wasted 10 minutes at least, trying to track them down to get my swim gear. The swim was uneventful, shielded from the wind by the mountains. The road bike was a little more difficult, peddling into the gale force head wind. The mountain bike took us behind a mountain, and into a valley sheltered from the wind, but it was extremely hot. My back gear-selector was not adjusted properly, and I couldn't keep the bike in gear. My brain was frazzled by this time, and a minute with a screwdriver would have adjusted it correctly! Instead I struggled through this stage, especially the middle third which was a 9 km hill climb! Even the pro's had problems on this stage! I was overtaken by many competitors on this leg, and was one of the last to finish. I started the road run at around midday, and after having struggled for almost 3 hours on the mountain bike stage, I was suffering from the heat. Those that know me, know that the running is my least fancied leg. Worse was the psychological factor of running past the turnoff to T5 for a few km, turning around on the road, and running back. During this leg I felt that I wasn't having fun any more, and knew that the lagoon would be whipped up by the wind, and considering my exhaustion, it would be dangerous for me to continue, so I decided to finish the run, and withdraw from the race. I had lots of time to reflect while running, and realised that I was nowhere near fully prepared for the race, and if I should compete again, I would have to do much more training with the correct equipment.


When I arrived at T5, the organisers told me that they had cancelled the 12 km K1 paddle, and instead we would just have to make our way directly across the lagoon mouth in the boat. I had a re-think, but decided to stop anyway. The Sea Rescue boat was picking experienced paddlers out of the water, and recovering boats which were tumbling alone the water in the wind.


An hour later I regretted having withdrawn, as is probably the case with anyone who has been in the same situation, but I'd endured 8 hours and 40 minutes, and would have finished within the 12 hour cut-off time, but promised myself that I'd be better prepared next time!


Overall results of the finishers:


50 7-man teams finished, the first coming in after 5:56 and the last after 10:32. There were 27 all male teams, 5 all women, 18 mixed teams. 50 pairs teams, first finisher 7:21 last 11:49 21 individuals, first finisher 8:14, last 11:00


Murphy's Lore dictated that the weather on the days before and after was perfect!


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