Big 5 Sport Challenge

This is one tough chick!

2011-07-09 08:57
Thamar and Amy
Thamar Houliston on the Due South Xterra duathlon

As part of my Nedcor Big5 Challenge, I’d done almost 13 hours of hard exercise in the previous four days and my body was shattered. I booked in at Pezula Spa for an hour’s treatment, lay down in the luxurious room and almost fell asleep. Almost … In all honesty, it was agony! I flinched when the therapist got to my calves and she said: “Jeepers your whole body is in knots, even your fingers!”

That was Wednesday. Standing on the line at the DueSouth Xterra waiting to start on Thursday and my mouth was dry and I had no idea how I was going to feel when that gun went off. Daunted perhaps? I was packed in liked a sardine between a couple of towering athletes who all looked flipping hardcore!

The Xterra in Knysna starts from Pezula’s Feld of Dreams, is a three-kilometre trail run followed by a 23-kilometre mountain bike and ends off with a seven-kilometre trail run. It sounds reasonable but believe me, I’ve done two full Xterra’s in Grabouw and I knew my body was in for a beating…

The Mud Bath Begins …

The countdown begins, mud sprays everywhere as people vie for the best positions. It’s uphill to begin. I try to sprint but my hamstrings feel like they’re going to snap and I steady the pace. We reach a single-track section and everyone halts to a walk. Not me. I bound through the thick brush without even thinking about snapping my angles. No walking for me. Nonetheless I’m stuck halfway down the field.

As I make the final sprint down the hill to where our bikes are waiting for us I’ve got stabbing pains in my quads. But that’s quickly forgotten as I try to find my bike amongst the masses. I’d put my bright red adidas cap next to it so I could indentify it and find it quickly. And then the struggle to get my gloves on – I knew I should have just worn them on the run. I’m losing time here. Finally the helmet and gloves are on and I’m running to the exit with my bike.

The first section on the bike has people jumping off already as it’s just thick mud and grass and is almost impassable. I manage to stay on and wind my way carefully through this tough section.

My worst nightmare quickly unfolds as the path turns even muddier and into a neck-breaking downhill with massive roots jutting out. Everything is happening so quickly I don’t have time to think. I try to get out the way so that nobody cycles into the back of me and I’m heading straight for a tree. My brakes are hardly working. The 75-kilometres in the cold and wet on Saturday must have killed them. I narrowly escape the tree but I’m seriously worried about these brakes…

The Nightmare Continues

The path just gets worse. Is this the race or a bad dream? How am I going to ride the next 22 kilometres with useless brakes. I’m wondering how long it will take me to run with the bike the whole way – if that’s what it comes down to, I’ll do it.

The terrain evens out a bit but it’s still as muddy as all hell. If I hadn’t ridden the 75-kilometre route the other day I’m not sure if I would have coped now. People around me seem so at ease but I can’t relax I’m riding through thick grass which is covering some hidden rocks and if I go too fast and hit one I’m bound to go flying through the air.

At least there are lots of hills. But every hill leads to a serious technical downhill. I can’t pull my brakes -  they’re really tight - and if I do I can’t hold on – death by not braking or death by slipping off the handlebars. It seems like a lose-lose situation here.  

I’m chanting to myself, “Just keep moving forward and you’ll get to the end”. Once I hit the run I know I’m going to be tired but at least I’ll be able to finish the race in one piece.

I ask a fellow Xterra Big5 Challenge ‘warrior’ how far we’ve gone. We’ve almost done 17 kilometres. That means there’s only six to go. Suddenly my mood improves. I keep moving; through the thick mud I keep churning the gears which I’m afraid are not going to hold out much longer. I swear I’ll run if I have to!

I see conditioned lawns. We’re at the end already? Hell, I should have pushed harder. I’m so happy I could cry. All I have left now is the run. I say a little prayer of thanks.

Happy As a Pig in Shit

I throw down my helmet, don my cap and I’m off, chasing the runner in front of me who’s walking up the impossible incline. I don’t care, I feel elation and elevation isn’t going to stop me. I get to the runner in front of me and he says “I’m over I just want to stop now”. I coax him on “Just run slowly and you’ll start to feel better”. Truth is, I know this feeling all too well, you come off the bike and your legs are mashed. You think there’s no way on earth that you can run, what you don’t realise is, your brain is telling you that you can’t. Never listen to it; it’ll lie to you every time. I think my brain has finally stopped telling me – I never listen…

 I reach the single track which is so mushy you’d be covered in wet dirt if you slipped. My instinct kicks in and I choose the highest ground to run on. The trick when you’re running on soft ground is to pretend you’re running on eggshells, find the least sticky section and don’t commit to it. If you do, you’ll slip.

People are seriously fading here and I bound past a few guys. Who else can I pass? There’s a girl up ahead who looks like she’s trying to run but doesn’t have the strength to negotiate the puddles. It makes me feel like a superstar. I’m as happy as a pig in shit.

The trail turns into a hobbits burrow with branches dropping low overhead. For a midget like me, this is heaven. I have no fear. Sunlight shows me the exit and I cruise back onto the tarred road and head for the finish.

This is the moment we live for - the rush of the finish line, the after affects of adrenaline, the pure blissful pain that will soon disappear but if you can push through makes you feel that you can be just a little bit superhuman after all…  

Thamar is currently in Knysna participating in the Nedgroup Big5 Challenge presented by Sport24 … She is the online editor for You can follow her on her Knysna Big5 adventure here

Read more on:    big 5 challenge  |  knysna  |  big5

What To Read Next


Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.
Live Video Streaming
Video Highlights
Sport Talk


Which of the Knysna Oyster Festival 'Big 5' events do you think you'd excel at?

Love 2 Meet
Sport24 on Twitter

Follow Sport24 news on Twitter

English Premiership flutter

Take Sport24's "expert" tips at your peril...


The 2017/18 Absa Premiership season is under way. Can Bidvest Wits defend their title? Will Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates emerge victorious? Or will the bookies' favourites, Mamelodi Sundowns, taste success for a record eighth time? Stay glued to Sport24 to find out!

Latest blogs

Twitter Follow Sport24 on Twitter

Facebook "Like" Sport24's Facebook page

WIN Enter and win with Sport24!

BlackBerry Stay in the loop on your BlackBerry

RSS Feeds Sport news delivered really simply.

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.