The South African Adventure: 70.3 World Championships
The Journey to South Africa
In 2018, I had the honor of racing in the 2018 IronMan World Championships in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I chose t call the entire city Nelson Mandela Bay. I had never traveled so far from home and the travel was grueling. There was a sixteen (16) hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, an overnight stay in Johannesburg followed by an early morning flight to Port Elizabeth. I was traveling for thirty-six hours door to door.
I arrived in Port Elizabeth to a surprisingly TINY airport. I was happy that I chose to come early. It was more based on flight cost than anything but I couldn't imagine how the airport was going to manage the influx of people expected over the next 2 days.
My luggage and bike came quickly and safely. As I existed the "terminal", I was greeted by A LOT of taxi drivers and beautiful steel drum music. I chose to stay at an Airbnb about two (2) miles from the race venue. It was a VERY small guest house. The accommodations were modest but I did like the fact that it was "hidden" in a neighborhood away from all of the hustle of the event.
The plan when I arrived was to join a hosted training ride to preview the first section of the course. I checked in. Quickly got Tranquilo together, changed and I was off to the training ride. As I headed to the venue I saw the other athletes coming up the road (M9) so I happily joined in. We were riding nice an easy as expected for about 15 minutes and then ALL of a sudden everyone was OFF TO THE RACES. Five minutes late the police escort just disappeared! I decided I was going to loop back to then venue on the road that would be the final section of the race. It was only five miles. That would make a perfect 20, just as my plan prescribed. Four (4) other athletes decided they would ride with me. Several wrong turns, one car hood, 1500 feet of climbing and 36 miles later I made it back to my Airbnb.
The Daily Adventures
After resting a hours, I realized that I really need to pick up some groceries. The LARGE QUANTITY of snacks that I travel with were not sufficient for a meal. I walked to the local grocery store which was less than a 0.5 mile walk. I was happy to see so many fresh and healthy options. The store was much smaller than I am accustomed to in the United States and I was constantly doing math to understand how much I was spending. I was taking a long time in each aisle. As I was trying to decided if I was going to buy soup a man rudely said, "Move!" Not excuse me, just move. I looked at him and turned back to the shelf continuing with my "mental math". The man then, attracting attention at this point said, "I said MOVE Niggar!" I had a mixture of shock and surprise. I turned and said, "Excuse me?!?!?". His face immediately turned red. He realized that I wasn't a "local" and was probably here for the race and started to apologize, "...... I didn't mean...." I responded with, "No need to apologize. I'm a nigga now and you OBVIOUSLY meant it." Shoppers in the aisle pretended not to look and the woman at the register peered down the aisle with an almost childlike smile. I completed my shopping and went to the register. People in South Africa bring their own bags to shop or purchase them at the store. I let the Cashier know that I would have to purchase some. She smiled and said, "Sissy Wami YOU can HAVE mine." I later learn that Sissy Wami is a term of endearment used amongst South African Women. I went "home", cooked, rested, face-timed with Euleen and the Twins. I hadn't really thought much about the racial situation in South Africa. It wasn't much different than the situation in the United States. I think it bothered me even more because THIS is the continent of Africa.
She smiled and said, "Sissy Wami YOU can HAVE mine." I later learn that Sissy Wami is a term of endearment used amongst South African Women.
The plan for the next day was to meet Janice and Shana for the hosted practice swim and an easy run and some strides on the run course. The term "hosted" left me with questions after the "hosted" ride experience the previous day, but I showed faith and headed to the swim start location. There was a commercial port to the left and to the right a pier with flags of all the nations participating in the event, restaurants and beautiful beach. It wasn't Cuba for sure, but it WAS beautiful in its own right. The practice swim went well. I love the rough surf even though the water was VERY cold. We walked toward packet pick-up. Made a pit stop in the IronMan store. I wanted to make sure I got small gifts for those who had helped make the trip possible before the crowds arrived and then we breezed through packet pick-up. Janice and I were also instructed to visit the Why We Tri booth in the Expo. I was surprised to find that I was expected and the organization had a small gift for me. I knew the one women in the booth, Ameera, via social media and I grinned ear to ear. It exciting to finally meet people that you feel you have come to know virtually, in person. After a brief chat and few few pics, a quick run and we were done with business for the day! I walked along the path near the beach, enjoyed the entertainment and looked at some of the artwork.
Janice and I were also instructed to visit the Why We Tri booth in the Expo. I was surprised to find that I was expected and the organization had a small gift for me. I knew the one women in the booth, Ameera, via social media and I grinned ear to ear.
As usual Shana seemed to know EVERYONE. She knew all of the GREAT shopping spots and yet claimed she had never been to Port Elizabeth. We were even greeted like old friends and Shana called by name at the restaurant we went to for lunch. Later in the day we went to a "mall". I had two beautiful custom skirts with matching head wraps made. I've traveled with Janice and Shana to Dubai, Spain, Denmark..... I've learned to stop wondering how Shana does it and just enjoy the ease and spirit she brings to all our international race adventures.
The two days before the race, I took an easy spin on Tranquilo, making sure to NOT get lost and stay away from hills. I ran into a fellow hijabi athlete from Egypt whom I met from a race in Dubai. She was headed out on a "hosted". I let her know about my experience. She was grateful. We we were the only two hijabi's in the race. I also ran into a chatty South African man named Thulani. He openly admitted he was surprised to see me in Port Elizabeth racing. I told him about my grocery store experience. He just smiled. I think he knew words weren't necessary. He was clearly a highly educated man and I enjoyed hearing about some of the history of the area and the current "politics" of the day in South Africa. I left the conversation with a mix of pride, anger, confusion and hope for South Africans. As we chatted a large group of you cyclist rode by. I wanted to stop them but they sped by. It was the third time I had seen them since I arrived. I was determined to get their attention next time.
We we were the only two hijabi's in the race.
I was determined to get their attention next time.
Janice and Shana picked me up. We arrived right as transition opened. I was able to inflate my tires to race PSI check my bike back and load my nutrition in 15 minutes. Forty (40) ounces of F2c Glyco-durance and 4 well-traveled back-up gels. The same 4 gels I have had since Dubai. I have YET to use them this year. Race morning was COLD. I jogged a bit because I knew there would be no practice swim. We were allowed to wade in the water up to our ankles to get acclimated, if there is a way to get acclimated to 58-degree water! I was in the LAST wave and I was NOT happy about that. The waves moved quickly and finally my age group was up. I lined up on the out side and was in the LAST GROUP in the LAST wave to take off. I felt sick as usual…until the horn went off.
The only thing I remember was being FREEZING COLD until I reached the first buoy, then the water getting warm and all of a sudden cold again. I remember being scared at one buoy because I thought I saw a seal! It was a scuba diver. I also thought, “How nice it was that the kayakers were so attentive” That was until I realized it was because I was swimming ALL over Nelson Mandela Bay and was one of the last swimmers to exit the water….uuuugh. I stumbled out of the water and raced throughT1 like a mad woman and jumped on my bike like I was in a Sprint. Even though I was a bit panicked and for the first time in a race ever I was concerned about making the first cut off! I didn’t know where it was! I DID know I had to be to T2 in a total race time of 5:10. THAT I knew I could do, so I quickly got into my race plan. I pushed steady up the seven-plus mile hill on M9. People politely cheered. The weather was GREAT but there WAS a decent headwind, so I tucked in tight and kept pressure on those pedals and a steady cadence. Before I hit the top of the hill I passed 3 people…. YES!!! I was on rough road but it was flat and rolling for a bit so I pushed hard. The came the out and back hills……5 - 10 mph uphill for what seemed an eternity then handle bar vice grip downhills. I passed 22 people in the hills and @15 more on the final descent. As I passed one athlete she laughed and said, “You’re crazy!” No brakes, full aero…..I let Tranquilo do his thing. Through out the entire race I oscillated between 7.5 and hit a max speed of 42mph…. short lived but a THRILL!!! I averaged 20.7 for the last 16 mile but the damage was done, only 17 for the 10 before that and only about 15 for the first 30. No regrets… I had followed my plan and pushed as hard as I could. My only worry now was……I wasn’t sure I could run. Someone took my bike, I grabbed my bag and sat down. 10 seconds after I sat down Janice joined me. I took off easy I was targeting 9-9:30 miles but knew I didn’t have it in my legs, so I decided I was just going to push as hard as I could without getting my heart rate out of control until the bitter end. 10:07, 10:35
10:34, 10:24….come on Khadijah pull it together!!! 10:10, 10:40, 10:15, 10:07, 10:40 up the hill. My heart rate was out the roof but people were cheering everywhere and I just kept moving. 10:15 10:25 and two 10:05s and a sprint down the red carpet. It wasn’t the 2:05 I planned but was everything I had.
This was my slowest 70.3 but I have never been so proud of a finish. I didn’t let my panic stop me from biking to my ability. I ran my third fastest 13.1 off the bike after the hardest bike course I have ever done. I am so GRATEFUL for having had the opportunity to race and race the way I did. It has changed my perspective on many things.
THE RACE AFTER THE RACE