Losing My Triginity: My First Sprint Triathlon

author : barryoberholzer
comments : 4

All I caught was the last sentence from the marshall, "The most important rule of the race, ENJOY IT! If you are not going to enjoy it, why are you here?!"

Until recently, all I knew about triathlon was that it was a swim, bike and run event and that they have this ultra endurance competition called The IRONMAN.

The challenge in the name "Ironman" itself called upon me and I decided to get a bike, join the gym, join a swim squad and hit the road in August of 2012.

While on my 36 week Ironman training program, I decided to enter a sprint triathlon as part of the training.  

As I scrolled through the upcoming events, the Santos Western Province Trials hosted in Mossel Bay seemed to be the only one that would fit into my training regimen so I decided to give it a go.


As I live about a four hour drive away from Mossel Bay, I packed my gear on the Saturday morning and hit the road. 

I knew I forgot something important but couldn't really place my finger on what it was so I continued driving. As I was driving I went through a mental checklist of all my items, starting with the swim.

Swim cap...CHECK...goggles...CHECK...wetsuit...wetsuit....ahhh! I had forgotten the most important item for a triathlete on the swim leg. Luckily I was only 30 minutes out so I turned around and fetched it.

OK, so there I went again. Hopefully I had everything. I went through my mental checklist and was pretty sure I had it all, which turned out I did.

Upon arrival in Mossel Bay we checked into the hotel and went to race registration. On our way there I turned right and saw a massive hill on my left hand side. I turned to my wife and said, "They probably wont let us ride out THAT steep of a hill." How wrong was I...they made us do it...TWICE...more on that below. 

I was the first at race registration and the organizers were still setting up and probably wondering who this eager bugger was. So I got my number, bought a race belt (which I first had to workout how to use - being a novice and all) and politely asked the organiser if we will be doing THAT hill on Marsh Street to which she smiled and nodded slowly.

As I left registration the wind was pumping on the water which didn't do a lot for my already bruised ego after seeing that climb.



The race had a late start time of 11am and bike rack was from 6:30-7:30. So I loaded my bike at 7:00 and headed off to the race venue.  As I entered the transition area so that the the marshall could check my bike, I was politely asked where my helmet was...damn...its still in my bag at the hotel...so there I had to go back again, get the helmet and luckily got back with five minutes to spare. I racked my bike close to the entry point after the swim and decided to come back later to setup my transition station.

As I walked back to the car I was passed by the rest of the competitors. Geez, these guys were totally professional. TT Bikes, Aero helmets, team sponsored kit, you name it, they had it. As each one passed me I felt more and more intimidated and the pre-race nerves started building.

As I got back to my room my wife could see that I was nervous. I told her what I was up against. All she said was, "Well, we can go home, or you can do it and finish it."  Just like that, the thought of going home and feeling like a failure was not an option, so I put on my trisuit, grabbed my transition bag and off we went.

Setting up my transition station went pretty quick and I made sure I had it all in order: helmet, gloves, sunglasses, race belt, running shoes, cleats, socks, visor and my all important GU sachets.

As the watch crept closer to race time I fetched my wetsuit, goggles and swimcap and slipped into the wetsuit just before race briefing.  By this time I was extremely nervous and jittery.


The briefing was held on the beach. The marshalls informed us that they changed the swim course as they measured it and it was too long initially.  They went through the race rules but my focus was on the water, which was calmer than the day before, and I just stared blankly to the furthest buoy, trying to calm myself and set out my "swim plan."

All I caught was the last sentence from the marshall, "The most important rule of the race, ENJOY IT! If you are not going to enjoy it, why are you here?!"

Good question.


I lined up in front of the group with a good running angle towards the first buoy. As the whistle went I ran into the water, my breath almost immediately taken away by the 13C temperature hitting my feet. As I jumped over the first few breakers I dived into the water. As I came up for my first breath I swallowed about a liter of sea water...nice, now I had to battle coughing that out, get a breath in and focus on the next buoy. As I looked around me I could see I was third on the swim by the time we reached the second buoy. That soon changed as I felt someone literally swim OVER me, I moved to the side and let the pro's pass so that they can do their thing.

I was hyperventilating and could not get a proper breathing rhythm going which affected my whole swim strategy. As I turned towards the furthest buoy, swimming against the current, I felt as if I could just quit now. Why was I doing this? What was I thinking? I could never finish this race, not even to talk about the Ironman! I had to calm down and get my focus again. I stopped, took a breather, got my heart rate down as the field kept on passing me, and when I felt ready I started again. 

As I quickly got into my groove and the training started to kick in, I turned at the last buoy and started making up some places in the field. As the water started to get shallower I got to my feet and walked out of the water, just to get my breathing to normal again. I turned at the flags and gradually entered the water again for my second lap. This time it went much better. I immediately got into my rhythm and moved up the field a bit more.

Finally I got back to the shallow water, with my wife shouting encouragement as I started the run/walk through the thick sand, up the stairs and towards T1. I scanned through the transition area and at least there was still some bikes left so that meant I was not last!

I got out of my swim gear, put on my helmet, cleats, gloves and took my bike off the stand and ran towards the bike mount area. As I got onto my bike I realized I was in the wrong gear. I never check my gears! Almost falling off my bike I managed to switched to an easy gear and there I went....40km to go....


As I got onto the straight I had one competitor in front about 250m out which I made my goal to stick with until the end. Three km in we hit a steep climb, not the one mentioned earlier, and I pushed hard. Checking my heart-rate monitor I was at 183bpm when I reached the top. I took on some water and Hammer Perpetuem and continued down the straight into a right downhill and steep left turn and alas, here we are at the bottom of THAT climb, no turning back now. I focussed on the yellow line in front of me, got into an easy gear and found a cadence that would see me through.  I could feel my HR climbing quickly but I kept my head down, got out of the saddle and just pushed as hard as I could. After 960m I finally reached the top and managed to catch up with my competitor as I passed her on the straight.

Next challenge: the wind factor. As we headed out on the first lap, the wind was about 40km/h head-on through a lengthy false flat. The leading pack of the field was passing us on the right as they already turned for the back leg. Finally I reached our turning point and headed back. The wind was from behind and I was flying down the road at 42km/h for most of the back leg, topping out at 62km/h on the downhill then I braked sharply and turned for the second lap. The only thing on my mind was those two climbs laying ahead. My legs felt good as my heart rate dropped considerably on the downhill and I was ready for the two climbs ahead.

As I started the big hill my calves started to cramp and I got out of the saddle and just pushed through and pushing as hard as I could through the wind to reach the turning point and heading down back to T2.

As I headed to T2 on the downhill there were competitors only entering the second lap so at least I had some time on them and wouldn't end dead last.

I approached the bike dismount area and my front wheel was already over the red line when I dismounted so I was slapped with a 10s time penalty. I'm not sure that I knew the rules...remember...I was staring at the buoy when they did the race briefing.

I entered T2, my wife threw me a bottle of water, I washed it down my back and face, got into my running shoes, put on my peak cap and off I went on four laps of running.


The run was the most uneventful of the three disciplines and fairly basic: 4 x 2.5km laps. 

As I exited T2 down the stairs and onto the beach, the loose sand did not go well with my already tired and numb legs so I quickly got onto the harder sand as it was low tide. As we headed down the beach for about 1km we turned right, back up the loose sand, up some stairs, collecting our elastic arm band ( one of four to be collected to show you did all four laps) and onto the railway road for another 1km before turning right for the last 500m on the coastline but luckily on a paved walkway. 

I was on my own with no one in sight in front of me and only seeing one or two souls behind me, so the run part was mentally challenging. Finally when I collected my 4th elastic band I knew I was almost done and pushed the last 1.5km to finally reach the finishing line. As I ran over the timing mats I was greeted by my wife and some friends and collected my medal.

3 hours, 11 minutes on the clock...and no longer a triathlon virgin!

It's a day I will always remember, bring on Ironman 2013!


Age : 25-29
1.  DEAN HOPF                      02:37:50
2. BAREND OBERHOLZER       03:11:30
3. JOHANNES JORDAAN          03:30:12


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date: December 19, 2012