Wade Burmeister, the Varsity College School of Business Manager at the Cape Town campus was chosen to represent Triathlon South Africa at the 2013 Ottawa ITU Duathlon World Championships in Canada. The event is hosted in Ottawa over 3 days, with the opening ceremony and parade of nations taking place on the 8th of August. The main race took place on the 10th of August through the streets of Ottawa, Canada’s capital and comprised of a 10km run, followed by a 40km cycle and finished off with a 5km run. Qualified men and women from 40 countries laced up to compete in the Elite U23, Elite Junior, Age Group (18-70+) and Paraduathlon races for the World Championships.
See Wade’s diary of his experience below:
Saturday, 3 August 9am
The bags are packed, my bike is in its travel box and my race kit is in my hand luggage as I do not want that to go missing.
I’ve heard too many war stories of kit and race gear being lost with the luggage so I’m protecting this with my life. Honestly to see your name and country on your gear is an incredible feeling of validation that all the early mornings, sacrifices and weekends spent training has paid off.
It’s all worth it seeing BURMEISTER RSA printed in bold white proudly accompanied by Varsity College logo printed on the race kit.
It is so apt that my company’s logo appears on my race gear as VC has been with me through this journey. I took up this sport the same time as starting at Varsity College so my colleagues have supported and encouraged me through this and heard my race talk throughout the years. I’ve packed and travelled for races, what seems like a thousand times before, but the nerves for this race seem to be momentous. I can’t help but check and recheck my kit list which comprises of; a helmet, race suit, running shoes, cycling shoes, socks, cap, race belt, bike, racing tyres and my race day nutrition.
My lift has arrived to take me and my 53kgs of luggage, bike included, to the airport where I will commence the lengthy journey and catch a flight to Johannesburg, meet up with team RSA where we will all board SAA/Air Canada en route to Canada via London.
Arriving at the airport, with a bike box that is rather bulky and cumbersome to travel with I check in, JHB bound, and hand my bike over and I’m assured at the check in desk that it will be on the same flight as me and I have nothing to worry about. I’m reluctant to take to let these words appease me as I’ve heard this all before only for it to go all wrong.
I see my big blue bike box being wheeled away into the oversize luggage and at this point I can only trust that this particular airline won’t let me down. Boarding the plane I can’t help but look out, in vain, through the skywalk windows at the luggage trailers in an attempt to locate my bike.
Despite not being able to see it, I sit in my seat and watch as flight BA6406 leave’s Cape Town is the distance.
Saturday, 3 August 12pm
Touch down at JHB ORT.
Task, collect my luggage and navigate through the hordes of people to collect my bike. But first, as I know that I will be meeting up with other RSA athletes who have all flown in to JHB and as per the team manager’s instructions; I put on my Triathlon South Africa tracksuit. Although it would be easy to spot other athletes as we will be the ones pushing bikes. After collecting my luggage, I’m waiting rather anxiously at the oversize luggage collection point. A representative from the airline pushes my bike box out along with surfboards and golf clubs and I’m a little more relieved. I look around me and I see I’m not the only one in this situation. I recognise some friends of mine and fellow athletes from Gauteng and KZN who are also waiting to collect their bikes, which fortunately all arrived without a hitch.
Saturday, 3 August 12:00
Team RSA meeting time is 4pm at the SAA check in desk in Terminal B. 28 athletes, from around the country, but predominantly from Gauteng, our team manager, team physiotherapist and supporters conjugate at a designated area at the SAA check-in desks. It was only 3 months ago that this group last saw each other at the national championships and it’s always great seeing fellow athletes who share the same crazed drive and passion for this demanding sport in our national kit and looking forward to traveling to Canada to represent Triathlon South Africa. This clearly signalled team photograph time which was a proud moment to say the least as reality started to sink in that finally we all made it and we are off to the Duathlon World Championships which constitutes a 10km run, a 40km cycle followed by a 5km run.
With a combined weight of approximately 1700kgs we check our luggage in and hand our bikes over only to see our belongings again 26 hours later in Canada.
With the thought of the next few meals being provided by means of airline food, and with an hour or two to kill, we opt to have a good meal before we are faced with more than likely insalubrious ‘chicken or beef’ airline option. Something else to look forward to when race days draw nearer is I can eat a little more and opt for protein and a good steak here and there as opposed to watching the calorie intake.
Saturday, 3 August 18:00
Our gate number is flashing on the information display board and it’s time for team RSA to board flight SA234 to London. Fortunately we have priority boarding and we can skip the line. Once again I look out of the sky window in one last attempt to see whether my bike is loaded on the same flight, the only difference this time is that there are 27 other people all doing the same thing.
As we all make our way to our respective seats the other passengers are looking at us all dressed the same but more importantly we are looking around to spot anyone who is showing any remote signs of being sick as this would mean an 11 hour risk of contracting a cold and that would be game over for race day. Athletes are an interesting germaphobic bunch and our, and especially my, fear of germs are amplified in these situations. Fortunately we prepare ourselves by taking multivitamins which is an important part of our daily nutrition.
Half an hour later the plane is ready to roll and the Captain makes his usual ‘welcome aboard’ announcement and the cabin crew are doing the standard ‘what to do in an emergency’ display, which no one really pays attention to, as we are all too enthralled with paging through the inflight entertainment magazine.
Saturday, 3 August 21:15
The cabin crew are pushing their trolley down the aisle offering ‘chicken or beef’ options but I’m still full and too captivated by my movie to tempt the beef option and take this opportunity to settle in and relax.
Sunday, 4 August 01:43
The cabin lights have been switched off and as I look around I can see other passengers who have drifted off to sleep as their faces are illuminated by their TV screens.
Sunday, 4 August 04:00
Bright lights wake me up and the aroma of bread rolls and coffee waft through the cabin and I’m instantly reminded that I’m on an aeroplane as I was not awake for 30 seconds and I the cabin stewardess is asking me whether I was English or Continental. English looked good but way too much oil so Continental it is. Croissant, fruit and yoghurt accompanied by the coffee. We are all feeling a little cramped by now and looking forward to landing in 2 hours’ time.
Sunday, 4 August 05:40
Finally the Captain announces “cabin crew, 10 minutes to landing” and it cannot come sooner. I can see London from the sky and usual it’s raining but still a pretty awesome sight.
Sunday, 4 August 07:00
It’s good to be off the plane, although we have a rather lengthy 8 hour wait in Heathrow airport until we board our next flight to Canada which can be consumed my browsing duty free, having a decent cup of coffee and talking with team mates.
Sunday, 4 August 10:00
Starbucks coffee, lunch and a magazine to help pass the time.
Sunday, 4 August 14:00
8 hours of time wasting has come to an end and its time we all make our way to the boarding gate which as the sign indicates is a 15 minute walk. It appears as team RSA is not the only national team en route to Canada on board flight CA889 to Ottawa as the British Scout troops seem all geared up to fly too.
Sunday, 4 August 15:00
This time the Captain’s ‘welcome aboard’ speech sounds a little different and takes a little longer than normal as the heavy French Canadian accent is hard to make out over the clicking of seat belts as the passengers settle in. Looking around it seems as grabbing the inflight magazine is internationally common as even on the other side of the world people are not paying attention to the cabin steward informing us that the life vests are located under our seats etc. The flight time from London to Canada is in theory 8 hours but due to the time difference the clocks only move 2 hours. But by now we are all too tired so 10 minutes or so into the movie I just want to sleep.
Sunday, 4 August 17:15
Touch down in Ottawa!
It’s still Sunday but it’s nearly 1am Monday morning in SA. By now we are tired and hoping our bikes have not only been loaded on the same flight but have also made the lengthy journey unscathed. Looking around I can see athletes from New Zealand who have also come a long way and they too are trying to spot their bikes.
After a while we navigate our way through customs and load our equipment and luggage onto the team bus and head off to the hotel. Driving from the airport en route to the hotel, I can’t help but notice the stark contract of the buildings, architecture and wooden houses. Cliché I know, but the houses are typically North American with their front porch and what seems like wooden shiplap front and every house seems to have a large SUV parked in front of it. It still seems surreal that here I am in Canada for what is the biggest races of my ‘sporting career’. I am so grateful for the support that I have received from my family, friends and Varsity College without which I probably would not be on this bus right now making my way through Ottawa.
The hotel is situated in the heart of the CBD, and in the middle of the athlete’s village. All the surrounding hotels have busses parked outside carrying tired athletes from all over the globe and for the first time we have a brief opportunity to size up the competition.
Monday, 5 August 06:00
It’s a relatively early start to the day we wake up to go for our morning 2 hour training session which comprises of a slow run to get the legs working again followed by a ride to test if anything on our bikes are damaged. I headed out in the Varsity College multisport kit and did the first training session whilst waiving the proverbial VC flag. On the ride we met up with team New Zealand and headed out on the freeway which ran adjacent to the Ottawa river that separates Ottawa from its neighbouring province of Québec. The vibrant VC multisport kit stood out and contrasted against the sharp black team NZ kit.
Monday, 5 August 09:00
At the team meeting in the hotel conference room, our team manager informs us of the various nations that we are racing against which comprises of; Argentina, Australia, Canada, Cook Island, Denmark, Spain, France, Great Britain, Germany, Iraq, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Trinidad & Tobago, USA and Venezuela. Now the nerves start to really kick in.
Monday, 5 August 17:00
Race registration time. We gather in the hotel lobby and make our way down the road to the registration venue. When we arrive we encounter a sea of people as all the athletes are there and although this race is as big as it gets in this sport, there is a sense of camaraderie as the athletes sign in and find out who we are up against. 2 members of team USA had seen me riding in the morning and stopped me to enquire about my kit I trained in.
I explained Varsity College to them and that the kit is my company multisport gear. From an unbiased point of view the VC kit was a huge hit as it’s unique in its bright, vibrant colours and is exceptionally light and comfortable which is exactly want athletes want.
Tuesday, 6 August 06:15
Early morning run followed by a session on the bike before team meeting regarding tomorrow’s opening ceremony and plans for the day. At breakfast our team manager instructs us to ensure our opening parade tracksuits and attire is ironed as thousands of people will be looking at us as we hold the SA flag. We talk about race day strategy and find out some vital information about the race day rules, competitors and analyse the course which offers a technical bike course and rolling hills on the run leg with a climb 400 meters before the end that could prove to be very interesting should there be a close finish.
After the team meeting we made our appointments with the team physiotherapist to ensure that we are in the best form possible come race day. There after we had the day to relax and perhaps get some sights in.
Tuesday, 6 August 12:00
The city of Ottawa seems to have been taken over by athletes and there is vibe in the city that is contagious. A few team members met in the hotel lobby and decide to take a walk through the city in our free time. As our hotel was in the heart of things we did not have to walk very far to see Ottawa’s main sights.
The Parliament buildings, commercial centre, Byward market are all within a walking distance from one another and close to the hotel. The British influence is strongly present in Canada, despite Ottawa being heavily French, as the Parliament building has the same guards as those found outside Buckingham Palace. There are statues of Queen Elizabeth in several areas of the city which is also populated by several Irish pubs. The Changing of the Guard is a parade representing the changing of the guards posted at Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Canadian Monarch when in Ottawa, and her representative.
The athletes had now become tourists and it seems as if all the participants have taken some time off to see the city.
Wednesday, 7 August 07:30
Opening ceremony day and the games are officially opened. Dressed in my VC cycling kit we make our way to the bike course one last time before the course is officially closed off.
Wednesday, 7 August 17:00
Team RSA meets in the hotel lobby and we are all ready to make our way down the road to commence the opening ceremony and the parade of nations walk which began just outside our hotel where all the other participating nations were gathered. The race officials handed us our national flag and placed the various countries in alphabetical order.
We all walked down the nearly 800 meter long street which had been completely closed off for the parade of nations. The streets were lined with spectators and ex-pats that had come out to support team South Africa. We arrive at the starting point where the countries were being announced as they entered the main area. The announcer called out each country in English and then in French which was followed by a roar from the crowd. Our turn was up next and it was a surreal moment, one that will remain with me forever. The crowd was cheering and we heard SOUTH AFRICA / AFRIQUE DU SUD being announced as the usher indicated that we must start walking. There we were, a selection of South Africa’s triathletes/duathletes all of whom have qualified and been selected for the team, and for a brief period I got a glimpse of what it must be like to enter the stadium at the Olympic Games. It was at that point where I decided to put my camera down and absorb the moment rather than experience it through the view finder of my camera, which by now felt like an extension of my arm.
After the last country was announced the speeches commenced and the President of the International Triathlon Union declares the Duathlon World Championships officially opened.
Music from local indigenous tribes sounded out the closing of the ceremony which serves as a great opportunity for the athletes to take more photographs with other teams. Unsurprisingly enough team RSA was very popular. Members of the US and Australian team asked for group photographs and we quickly learnt that a significant portion of their teams comprise of ex South Africans.
Wednesday, 7 August 19:00
Opening Ceremony Pasta Party. All the athletes were invited to attend a dinner, which afforded us the opportunity to mingle and load up on the carbohydrates.
Thursday, 8 August 9:00
Race day is looming and so there is no training today as it is a day of complete rest. At the morning team meeting our manager informed us of the events for Friday and the setup of our transition in the race area. Tomorrow we have to take our bikes and leave them in the transition (race) area where we will only be allowed access again on race day morning so everything has to be in 100% perfect condition. We all had our bikes checked and rechecked and gave ourselves sufficient time to sort out any problems.
Thursday, 8 August 12:45
Rest day means just that, so a few of us headed down the road to have lunch and disengage from the nervous. Being the coffee fanatic that I am, after lunch we rounded the off the outing with a trip Tim Hortons, a local coffee franchise, where I was introduced to their French Vanilla roast coffee, which has become my bench mark to measure all coffee against!
Friday, 9 August 08:00
Despite being instructed to take it easy today I had to make my way to Tim Hortons and treat myself to another French Vanilla roast coffee and enjoy it at the morning team meeting. Upon arrival at the conference centre I clearly was not the only Tim Hortons coffees fan.
Friday, 9 August 14:00
Transition set up. These areas are used to store bicycles, performance apparel, and any other accessories needed for preparing for the next stage of the race. Each athlete is designated a very small area in which to set up their equipment in a manner which will allow for the fastest transition without intruding in the space next to yours.
The officials check that our helmets and not cracked and are race worthy and show us our assigned areas. I place my bike on the rack and make mental notes of how to easily locate my bike amongst the sea of other bikes. My area seems relatively simple to find, third railing, fourth block but previous race experience has taught me that when the race is on you can easily lose your place. All the countries flags from yesterday’s parade were now flying on the flag posts; it was an incredible sight as they waved in the wind. Once team RSA was finished set up we were ushered off to be body marked with our race numbers. I took a moment to look at the transition area and the thousands of bikes and other equipment was that set up and astounded by how much money was in the transition area in terms of the bike value.
Friday, 9 August 18:00
Early dinner for a big day tomorrow. Back at the hotel I switched my phone on and received my message wishing me good luck from friends, family, colleagues and even from people I don’t know. The nerves have really hit now and the thoughts of doubt begin to raise its ugly head. Have I trained enough, will I be fast enough, what if this happens etc? I just have to block it all out and remind myself I/ we have qualified to be here, I have trained hard through the unwelcoming cold and rainy Cape Town winter and we all deserved our spot on the starting line regardless of the outcome.
Saturday, August 10 05:30
I wake up way earlier that what I set my alarm for but I know I’m not the only one. I switch on the TV to a music channel and order some coffee. There is no formal team meeting this morning but we are all meeting at breakfast as we prepare our personal race day breakfast rituals. Our team manager is there to wish us luck and give us final words of encouragement. After my breakfast shake I made my way back to my hotel room and changed into my race kit. They race suit is tight but then again it’s meant to be as it is designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. BURMEISTER RSA is written across the chest and is placed just below the bold Varsity College logo. Race day is here and the culmination of thousands of training kilometres, early mornings, late evenings and social sacrifices have led me to this day and in 30 minutes time to the race I’ve been training for.
Saturday, August 10 07:40
Standing at the start line I am surrounded by athletes who all look fit and fast and I know that the race of my life lies ahead of me.
I do my last minute warm up stretches and my watch is ready and linked to the satellite, we are all good to go as the nervous kick in as and the pressure is on.
The faith of our coaches, support structure and corporate sponsors are weighing on us and none of us want to disappoint.
We are not only racing for ourselves but for them too; as a thank you for investing their time, money and energy in us and for allowing us to do what we love to do.
BANG! The start gun goes off and the official clock starts ticking. The first 10km run leg of the race has begun and within seconds the pace is relentless. My team mate is leading the pack and I can’t help but think that he is setting the pace too fast for himself. Despite this the defending American world champion and Olympic gold medallist, and the rest of the pack, is not letting him pull away too far too easily. I have to not let this play mind games with me and I’m must stick to my game plan. The crowds are cheering and calling out your name and country and it’s great! 5kms into the race and the pace is still exceptionally fast despite the strong head wind and this signifies half way through the first run leg which also means the pace gets a little faster. We are all relatively still bunched together in an effort to block off some of the wind. With 2kms I start going through my first transition action plan of changing form the run to my bike shoes putting on the helmet and getting back out on the course as quick as possible and hit the bike section of the race quickly in order to not create any gaps in the race pack. The bike section is non-drafting which means that you have to remain a certain distance behind the person in front of you as this prevents you as using them to shield you form the wind and therefore assisting you with your ride. The officials keep a strict eye and will quickly issue you with a time penalty should you not adhere to the rules which could potentially signify the end of the race as even a 1 minute delay at this speed and over this distance will result in a gap that is too significant to reduce.
The field automatically spreads out now, the rules also dictate that we must, but that doesn't by any means imply that the pace and pressure has relaxed. I get onto my bike and can feel that I have just had a hard and fast 10km run. I slide my gears into the small chain ring to give my legs some relief before entering the section where I know the wind will be head strong.
I settle down into an aerodynamic position and get as streamlined as possible but all I can see is team USA, stars and stripes. People are attacking to overtake and defending their positions, all being very tactful in their race strategy.
I played out my second transition plan in my head of how I would change from the bike back to the run and how swiftly I could rack my bike, unclip my helmet and change from my bike shoes into my running shoes and get back on the final 5km run leg of the race.
I navigated through transition in 40 seconds and I was back on the run course. I was just over 1.5kms into the last run which meant that I had 3.5kms to go and I saw the leaders in front. I knew there would be no world championship title for me but I was doing this for myself, for my coach, my family and Varsity College and I gave it my all. I managed to hold my position despite a Canadian athlete attacking on the run. I hit the last couple of hundred meters hard despite the tiresome hill climb that was near the end. The crowd were supporting, the announcer was calling out our names and countries and before I knew it the final meters were in front on me and this time it was my name the announcer was saying. I crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face and an overwhelming sense of pride. I had achieved a long time dream, I had raced at a world class level in a sport that I love and placed a respectable 24th.
Saturday, August 10 11:20
By now team RSA had all finished and there were high fives all around. We had shown the duathlon world that South Africa is a force to be reckoned with.
Saturday, August 10 20:30
Athlete after party. We were all issued delegate access cards in our race packs at registration. These cards allowed us food and drinks as well as entry into the various bars and clubs which hosted the athlete after party. The event was incredibly festive as all the athletes partied together and shared stories over several well deserved drinks. Members of team USA and Canada who had obviously seen me out and about in the VC kit told me they made an effort to find me as they wanted the kit as a race souvenir. I thought it was fitting that Varsity College helped get me to an international event and I would return the favour and take the VC brand to the US of A as well as leave my 'VC mark' in Canada so I made arrangements to meet them in the hotel lobby the following morning and hand them the VC Kit.
Sunday, August 11 9:00
As planned the VC kit was handed over to some very excited individuals who insisted on taking me to get a French Vanilla roast coffee as well as handing me some of their race apparel.
Fortunately we had the entire day free to ourselves to do some souvenir shopping. A few of us decided to hire a car and drive through Québec to Montreal where we spent the day wondering the streets of the old town and the waterfront. We stopped by the athletic stadium where the 1976 Summer Olympic Games here held. The stadium, nicknames "The Big O" due to its shape, although old it is impressive in its scale and design. Another highlight came when we were able to drive on the Canadian F1 Grand Prix circuit more commonly referred to as the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Our day was consumed with the sights of Montreal and Québec and it was nearing time to head back to Ottawa which is a casual 3 hour drive away.
Monday, August 12 11:00
The time has come to pack it all up, box the bikes as we start the long journey home. We all gathered in the conference room to begin the process of boxing our bikes and ensuring our prized possessions are protected against the knocks and bumps which the flight will throw at them.
What an amazing and motivating experience to represent my country. It takes a support ‘team’ to allow an athlete to do what they love to do. Our training impacts other people in the daily lives and our friends, family and colleagues make the sacrifices too. They tolerate our early mornings, late evenings, sore bodies and our antics leading up to race days.
Thank you to everyone who made it possible and helped me achieve my goal!