Albert Falls. 9am. It’s 169 degrees. And here I am, along with several hundred other crazy nut jobs, on the banks of the dam about to begin the second installment of suicide.
Okay, that’s slightly dramatic. But you get the picture: It’s the start of the second Mudman Triathlon at Albert Falls Dam.
Staring out at the open water, I could already feel my lungs protesting at what lay ahead. Not only is it choppy, open water… but it’s fighting the masses for 750 metres in the dam… and that’s just the start. Then we get on the bike for 20 kilometres, and then run five kilometres.
“Is this your first one?” asked the gentleman alongside me, obviously noting the anxiousness on my face. “No,” I reply. “I just know what we’re in for. How about you?”
He chuckles. “I’ve also done it a few times,” he replied. “You’re the singer?”
“I’ve seen you on the stage a number of times.”
“Cool. Ryan’s my name.”
“Johan!” He gives me a firm handshake. We chat a bit more before the siren sounds and we dive off into the depths.
The first loop of the swim is the usual mosh pit – getting kicked in the head, scratched and punched, stopping and starting and stopping again because some idiot in front decides to do breastroke. And that’s only 100 metres in. After 350 metres, we’ve completed one loop, so we get out the water, run/stagger/crawl around the parked Land Rover, and repeat it all over again.
About 18 minutes on the swim… far too slow, but nonetheless, done. I surface from the swim and meet my trusty seconders and fan club for this installment: Tam and Rachel Grace. The latter’s perplexed, furrowed brow seems to say, “Why you doing that dad?”
Beats me. Still trying to figure it out.
I limp my oxygen-deprived frame to the transition and fumble around getting myself dressed for the bike. Everyone else is also huffing and puffing, and there’s not much banter going on in the blazing heat, which makes me wonder: if we’re not gunning for first place, why are we doing this again?
“Is anyone having fun yet?” I bellow across the bike pound. A few exhausted chuckles, then quiet again. “I didn’t think so!”
The bike leg starts by going up. And up. And up… all the way to the top of the Msinsi nature reserve. It’s a 10-kilometre loop, which means I, as a full-distance sucker, have to do it twice. I’m pacing myself against the rest of the mob… and there are all shapes and sizes. Going up the hill I pass three serious boeps, and can’t help but wonder how they got ahead of me in the swim. Possibly more buoyancy?
Too much to think about, as I try to keep up with the skinny dude in front of me. He seems to have a good tempo going, so I try and stay on his wheel as we ascend the hill…
We’re nearing the top when it suddenly dawns on me that I haven’t drunk anything yet. This skinny dude surely can’t maintain this tempo the whole way? We’re not even three kilometres in! Still, I knuckle down and keep him within my sights… although by now, the sun is blazing down, my vision is blurry, my thighs are about to split open and I’m ready to cough up a lung. Dehydration is something we’ve been warned about, and I can’t help but think that something cold and wet for the throat would be just the business right about now.
At the peak of the climb is a water table! With three girls cheering us all on! Problem is, they’re sitting. In front of a table of cups and an ice cold tank of water. What kind of sick joke is this, I wonder. “Would you like some?” they ask. But now the skinny guy is laughing and forging ahead.
“I’ll hopefully be coming around again,” I tell them, “Be ready!” And I haul after the skinny dude, who seems to have new-found strength going downhill.
When it comes to downhill, I have two problems. Firstly, no shocks. Secondly, no boep.
The shocks problem means my arms are getting more of a workout than my legs. The boep problem is that when you’re going downhill on a bike, it really helps to be fat. All the overweight contenders I thought I’d ditched on the way up were catching me on the way down. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
At the end of the first loop, some smart punk, beer in hand on the side of the trail, asks “Are you guys full distance?”
“Ya,” I reply, wheezing and huffing.
“I’m sure you’re going the wrong way.”
“Nice try,” I say. “Have another beer.”
Up we go again, this time with kiddies and a mob of half-distance athletes in tow as they start their first and only leg. We reach the top of the climb and the water is available this time, which makes everything seem mildly beautiful. And so begins the descent. Going downhill I realise that keeping my mouth open is a bad idea, because of the dust churned up from the riders. But being out of breath, there’s little option.
By the time the run comes, I must have swallowed a small anthill. What mud? They should call this the Dustman Triathlon.
I have no words to accurately describe the run. The course goes up a single trail through the forest and down again, on uneven ground. Impossible to get a rhythm going. In the February mid-morning heat, only Satan himself could have designed such a course.
One step at a time, with the odd drink… plod plod plod… and eventually, the finish line appeared, along with my support crew. And who else should I encounter there, but Johan. He unfortunately cut his foot on the slipway in the swim, and had to bail out. “Next time,” he says with grim determination. I admire that.
I revealed my medal to Rachel, who claimed it as her own. All that, just to give the prize away. Why do I do this again? No idea. But I feel like I’m getting closer to an answer. Maybe the next one will reveal it…