6 Aug ’18: Race Report 5150 Bela Bela

Ironman 5150 Bela, Bela

Sunday, 4 August 2018.
Bela Bela, Limpopo

By Amelia Sheperd-Smith

TIME:  03:00:19
POSITION:  3rd, 40-44

A few months ago, I entered an Ironman event I’d never finished before.  It’s called an Olympic distance and is a 1500m swim, 40 km cycle and 10 km run.

I read somewhere that a month or two out from the Big Event I should do something short to just iron out any last-minute creases, etc.  So I signed up, alongside 955 others, for the Bela Bela 5150, held yesterday in a place called Limpopo, three hours outside of Johannesburg.  I’d need a plane and a bus to get the bike there but, I figured, how hard could it be?

Well, the first crease would be that I didn’t realise that the host resort was on the edge of a game reserve and that my warm-up to the event, the evening beforehand, would involve me startling a warthog that ran away from me as fast as I ran away from it!  God, it was huge!  And not very handsome!

The swim leg was in a dam.  That’s fine except I’ve never swum in a dam before.  Well, not counting when my best friend, Britta and I snuck into the sports shed during the school holidays at The Armidale School in 1986 and ‘borrowed’ a kayak and then fell into a dam and scrambled to shore without it.

The swim start involved 43 of us wading into the water down a muddy bank and lining up, under a bunting line, in the fairly cool water!

On the second lap my goggles were leaking, and I was drinking mouthfuls of muddy water and was so grateful I had one spectator, my friend Adam, on the exit ramp... I couldn’t wait to get out, do a quick wave, get through transition and on the bike and then almost start the event again and pretend the swim leg never happened!

I’d been warned the bike ride was 50 % hills and hard work. But I had more immediate things to fuss over as I had a brain freeze after mounting the bike and forgetting that the loop at the back of my clipped-in-to-the-pedals bike shoes was designed to pull the shoes onto the feet like a shoe horn. I had become flustered after accidentally bumping my watch in transition and losing all its settings and just couldn’t think!

I’m not sure if there’s ever been a cyclist in the history of the event who has cycled through town with their feet still on top of their shoes 2 km into the race. Probably not. I eventually opted for a total reboot and just pedalled off the road into the rubble and started the mount all over again in manual.  And at that moment, like an angel, a lovely woman pedalled by and called out ‘you’re still in the race, you’ve got this!’ And I was so touched...

And so, I restarted the race. For the second time.

In all the hijinks I realised I’d forgotten when to take the energy gels. I knew I had two strapped to my bike and just looked down at them and realised I had to make things up.

Happy on the run course, just because it was the last leg, I smiled as we passed the Warmbaths Resort camping areas and a few of the holidaymakers started to cheer, a bit pissed, waving bottles of beer, while others sat comfortably in deckchairs looking at us all pass like we had two heads. And I get that, because the event had started at 12.30 pm - the heat of the day - and as I ran along, off into the bush, all I could hear was the crunch of the dirt road under my tired feet that were starting to skid as my legs grew heavier.

I could eventually see the faces of the other runners redden in the 29-degree heat and as the course markers blurred I was certain I’d bombed and just had to chalk the whole day up as a learning curve.

Adam and I piled in the car to Pretoria soon after bike collection was allowed, as we’d agreed to meet his wife, Nicky, and colleagues for drinks, and driving up the highway I get the text:

I got a podium finish!

After all that?!!

Murphy’s Law.

An empty spot on the podium, this time, it had to be.


This will be my last race before the full Ironman in Italy on September 22nd. I’m happy, grateful, and now, just a bit confused.