I arrived in S. Africa the Tuesday before the race. It had been about 30 hours of traveling door to door, definitely my longest trip ever. I hopped right on my bike that afternoon in hopes of shaking some of the jetlag out of me. The wind was blowing and I was struggling to stay upright and clinging to my handlebars for dear life. Lesson learned, exhaustion, jet lag and disc wheel with 30mph gusts of wind do not make a great combination.
After a good nights sleep I headed out again on Wednesday and was able to fully appreciate the beauty of the bike course. The roads are a bit rough but my Quintana Roo Illicito was doing a great job dampening the vibrations and I was just enjoying being outside. It was still winter back home so the warm windy air put a smile on my face.
I was feeling relatively calm in the days leading into the race. I was not involved in any of the pre-race press or press conferences so I was able to just focus on recovering from the travel and enjoy being in Africa. On Friday after a quick swim/bike I headed out to Addo Elephant park to get to know the local wildlife. We spent the day with Peter Joseph, a local tour guide and I learned so much in one afternoon about the history of S. Africa, culture, wildlife, and current issues. He was patient with my 1,001 and questions and even took us for a quick tour of a township on our way home.
Race morning came quickly. It was strange and a bit lonely to be navigating transition without any familiar faces of my QT2 teammates but I went through my usual routines and final race morning preparations. I headed down to the beach and lined up with a smile on my face. I kept getting waves of “I can’t believe I’m in Africa!” as I pictured the world map on the wall of our kitchen at home and thought about the ocean I was about to jump in to.
The water was rough, at least by my standards and I got nice and hydrated with some salty sea water along the way. I found myself swimming in a group of 4 and I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t on my own. I finished the first lap, ran the little beach section and started diving back into the waves. Wow, sprinting on sand mid swim is no easy task, I was gasping for air as I heard the announcer say “Now here comes Jessie Donavan, they say you can’t win a race on the swim but you can definitely loose it, Jessie is really far behind already”. As I swam the second loop I kept thinking in my head, I think I can win the race based on my swim. Last year I would have been another 5+ minutes back and this year I’m going to be close enough to make up the deficit. Before I knew it I was running up to transition and pulling on my bike helmet.
I was excited to be on my new Illicito, after a winter of riding indoors I had almost forgotten how fun it is to ride my bike. I was racing with power for the first time and my plan on the bike segment of the race was simple, a solo TT like effort, don’t pay any attention to where any one else is just ride a consistent steady effort at exactly the power output I knew I was capable of holding and running well off of. Turns out I loved racing with power. It’s a great motivator to keep pushing the efforts on the lonely parts of the course and it was also a great reminder to keep my ego in check and just ride my own race.
Even though I wasn’t feeling all of those bumps in the road my bike was. My watter bottle cage, screws and all went flying off around mile 10. That meant I would spend the next 100 miles having to basically stop through each aid station and drink as much as I could while going through. I usually drink 2+ bottles an hour in an IM so I knew I was way behind but tried to do some damage control by taking an extra Gel and all of the extra salt I had brought along “just in case”. All in all I was feeling good and comfortable at the planned wattage and I was moving up through the field.
As you can see by the smile on my face in the picture I was comfortable and having fun out there on my bike!
I started the run feeling really good. My legs felt fresh and I was excited to see what I could do. I moved into 2nd place right away and at that point I got my first split on Jodie Swallow, I was 23mins back. I remember thinking, “wow, that’s more then I thought it would be!”. I have been running really well in training, I was feeling good and thought I had a 3:00 marathon in me. Winning was possible and I was going to fight for it. I came around on the first lap of the 3 lap course in about :58min and I got my next check-in on Jodie, I think I had gained a couple of minutes at that point but I was still ~20mins back. In my pre-race call with my coach we had talked about this exact scenario. I knew that if I was going to win it was going to be in the back half of the marathon and here I was, it was time to really give it everything I had in me. Unfortunately at this same time the lack of calories and hydration on the bike was starting to take it’s toll. My head was pounding and I kept feeling as if my whole body was leaning to the left, it was hot out there. I knew I had to be smart and reel her in slowly, if I tried to push too hard I was afraid I’d end up lying down for a nap in one of the ice buckets at an aid station. I wasn’t getting any splits from anyone out on the course so the 2nd lap I just kept convincing myself that I was gaining on her and making up numbers in my head. After the next lap I could see that I’d made up another 13minutes, despite my pace having slowed a bit. At that point I knew I would catch her if I just continued to be smart. I was using the aid stations as a buffet, bag after bag of cold water, sports drink, coke, whatever they were offering except I drew the line at the marmite sandwiches and cold potatoes. With about 3 miles to go I made the pass and moved into 1st place. Those last 3 miles were tough, I was running on empty and picturing those people who end up crawling across the line. The last 1/2 mile under the bridge and to the end of the red carpet felt like it took forever. All of the amazing S. African fans were screaming and yelling for me and I remember looking at the hands that people were putting out for me to high five as I went by thinking if I do that I think they will knock me over. As soon as I hit the end of the red carpet it all went away. The cheerleaders, the crowds, confetti, they really know how to make you feel special!
This is a great shot of me right after the finish, pretty much sums up how I was feeling. It had been a tough month from traveling to Mexico for a DNF and then having to make the decision to be away from the family again to travel all the way to Africa. I have put so much of myself into triathlon over the past two years but it’s still hard for me to believe that moments like this are really happening.
I couldn’t be doing any of this without the support of my amazing husband and kids who let their Mom go all the way to Africa, I definitely hope to bring them all with me next year! Also a big thanks to my coach Jesse Kropelnicki who has guided me every step of the way.