On my second-to-last day in South Africa, I raced the Totalsports Challenge Terra Firma. It’s so named because it’s based off the original Totalsports Challenge that runs concurrently, and has 7 events, and Dan Hugo has won it a hundred times, and those events are a mix of land and sea stages. The Terra Firma race skips the sea stages (two paddles and a swim) for those of us whose legs are faster than our arms.

So it went: 50k road bike, 13k road/dirt run, 25k mountain bike, 9k beach run. The race is point-to-point with three separate transitions, so at Christmas after a suitable amount of wine I successfully roped Dan’s uncle Michael into sherpa-ing me at the race! Except in South Africa they call this “seconding”.

Mass start...

The road bike was the most worrisome for me. It was a mass start, and by mass start I mean girls, boys, relays, Conrad Stoltz, everyone. Drafting was allowed, any type of bike was allowed, even headphones were allowed! So I lined up at the front and stayed out of trouble. Soon after the start, I noticed another individual girl (numbers indicated if people were on relays or not) who looked strong and marked her for the rest of the ride. I think she may have been annoyed with me but hey, in a draft-legal stage where I’m on a borrowed too-big 9-speed Santa Cruz from 2001, I’m more than happy to let you drag me and 30 guys around because you want to be in your aero bars. That is called “smart racing”.

So this girl and I went into the first transition together in the lead. I ran past her within the first kilometer of the 13k run. I felt great!

However, at the next transition as I got on my mountain bike, I suddenly realized I was going to have serious cramping problems. It was frustrating, here I was winning the race and I had to get off my bike and walk up the steepest hills! At least it was a good exercise in positive self-talk and perseverance, and I bombed those downhills with more guts than I’ve ever had on a mountain bike. As is always the case in a race, you never know what is going on in front of you or behind you. I’m happy to say that I came into the final transition still in the lead.

The beach run was an out-and-back. After the turnaround I saw that I had four or five minutes on second place, with 3rd out of contention unless I died, so I nursed my cramping legs on the way back to the finish. By “nurse” I mean I fell over, but I didn’t want to get victory photos with me looking all sandy, so I got in the water to rinse off and then resumed my victory trot.

Victory trot, sans sand! (subtract 1:45 from the clock though)

My lead shrunk to just one minute at the line, but a win is a win! I am proud of how I raced.

Also, this race was a huge confirmation for me of how important my race routine is. Early in the road bike, I was so uncomfortable on my bike that I knew it would haunt me later. I so wished I had my Kestrel! But I packed my mountain bike because the trails in South Africa are phenomenal, and I knew that 5 weeks of riding them would really boost my off-road skills. Besides the bike, I also had to change my nutrition routine. The only familiar nutrition I had was PreRace! I ran out of First Endurance EFS early in the trip, so I raced with a local product that had much fewer electrolytes. I used salt tabs as well, but they didn’t seem to do much. Finally, my legs were definitely feeling the wear and tear of my trip because I chose not to bring my Recovery Pump boots. Luggage space was precious and I figured 5 weeks without them would be a great chance to see whether my niggles and pains crept back. Next time I go on a long trip, I don’t care if it means I only have 2 outfits to wear, I’m packing the boots…

So, I’m not worried about the cramping in the long run, I have never had that happen before and when I am back on my regular bike and regular routine I’m confident that I’ll stay cramp-free.

It was really great to end my trip with a race. I saw a new part of the country, and got a taste for how athletic and welcoming the sports community is.

Winner!
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