Race report – Sam White Memorial Aquathlon 2017 – ‘The Last Lap’

Boxing Day 2017 saw the 30th and final running of the Sam White Memorial Aquathlon – see this link for a bio of Sam White and the history of this event.

I had participated in this event once before, in 2015. It was my first multisport event and I managed to win my age group (admittedly not a huge field!)

I know what some of you are thinking.

“What the fudge is an aquathlon?”

Swimming and running, my friends. Swimming and running. Kind of like a triathlon without the cycle leg.

The format of this particular event was simple. First up were the Enduro aquathlons, consisting of 1, 2 or 3 reps of the following – 250m ocean swim and 1.7km run. After this was the Elite event,  1.7km run/500m swim/1.7km run/500m swim/1.7km run. I wasn’t able to stick around to see this event on this occasion but I do remember watching it 2 years ago. From the dead calm waters I’d swum in earlier that morning, the wind had picked up considerably by the time the Elites got out there! It was great to watch!

Anyway, back to 2017!

I entered the Medium course – 2 swims and 2 runs. In 2015 I went for the Small course, but given that this was the last event, I wanted to take it up a notch this time around! It would be my first time running and then going back into the drink!

Karen was there too, doing the Small course, and David was there again, going for the Large course! He told me before the race that he’d broken a toe last year when he kicked a rock! I asked him at what point in the race that had happened – he replied “Near the end!”

I had to figure out how to attach my race number – it was waterproof but I couldn’t imagine it would be that easy to swim with a race bib pinned to your front! Then I remembered my race belt in the car (probably about 1km away) – perfect! I could attach my number to my belt, put it in the transition area and just put it on when I went into the run leg.

Luckily I had arrived very early which gave me plenty of time to go back to the car. I was early because I had decided I also needed to do a ‘normal’ Tuesday morning run, I had gone out to run with the Semaphore running group at 7am, just a little way up the coast from where the aquathlon was held at Glenelg at 11am. Originally I’d planned on 10km because “I don’t get out of bed for less than 10km” (unless it’s a parkrun, a race or a hilly trail run) but quickly revised that to 8km.

As well as my race number I also had to get my age group written on the back of both of my legs, and pick up my swim cap. This time around I got a green cap – I really wanted a pink one but that would have meant I had to do the Large course. OK, I didn’t want a pink cap THAT badly!

And then I had to attach my timing band, taking extra special care to follow the instructions, because a lost timing band would cost me $55! I’d used bands like this before but never in a swimming event, so the possibility of losing one had never really been an issue!

Pre-race pic with Karen – timing bands firmly attached!

I decided to wear my tri suit because it would make transitions easier. Plus it would make me look kinda sorta professional (until I got into the water!)

It wasn’t long before race organiser Malcolm did the race briefing and summoned us all down to the water’s edge. It was a wave start, with the men setting off before the women in each of the distances (presumably because they’re meant to be faster so wouldn’t have to swim over the top of us!) The Small course went first, followed by us in the Medium course. Next behind our wave was the Large course men. I fully expected to be overtaken by some of them during the swim, even with a couple of minutes head start! (And I was!)

I was trying to do a sneaky peek at the back of the other ‘green caps’ legs to see if there was anyone else in my age group. I was looking for numbers starting with a ‘4’ but didn’t see any. I should also have been looking for ‘3’ numbers as my age group (for trophy purposes) was actually 35-49! (My age group in the Small course would have been 16-49!)

There were plenty of spectators – it was a beautiful morning!

The crowd were gathered on the jetty. To the left of the pic, part of the transition area.
The fancy Garmin ready to go! According to my watch, swimming is classified as “Other”!

Before long we were away! But not before I kicked a dirty big rock right before the start line, causing my toe to look like this:

Sorry – bit graphic! Hope no-one’s eating!

The swim was much the same as the one I’d done in the triathlon last month. Out, across and back. Like 3/4 of a square. The water wasn’t too choppy but there were some waves. I don’t have much experience in ocean swimming (although since this event I have had a very productive ocean swimming lesson where I learned about swimming under waves!) so I wasn’t expecting any great things from the swim. Like the triathlon, it was all about ‘just getting it done’.


That’s me under the arrow! Note the bunch of swimmers WAAAAY out in front of me! Thanks Daryl for this pic!

The ‘out’ part of the swim was the hardest, swimming against the waves. Then it was straight across, which wasn’t too bad, and then swimming back to shore WITH the waves. One thing I did know about open water swimming was that you keep swimming until your hands touch the sand. No sense running through water, wearing out your legs, when you could be swimming and predominantly using your arms!

Then it was into transition, where I had my race belt, cap, sunnies, running shoes (with elastic laces) and socks. I decided for the first run not to wear the socks, and then depending on how that went, I might decide to wear them for the second run. While giving my feet a quick dry off, I managed to get my goggles full of sand, but I figured I could always wash them off in the ocean as I ran in for the next swim!

I grabbed my shoes, ran up off the beach, dusted off the sand and slipped into the shoes. Some people had buckets of water ready to wash their feet but I didn’t bother with that and didn’t have any issues. Maybe for a longer run I would do that but not for 1.7km.

The run was good. I had no worries about the run. I always expected to pass people on the run, which I did.

Running past the Grand Hotel! Thanks Daryl for this pic!

We were directed down some stairs back onto the beach for a bit, where I re-entered transition. I left the shoes on until I got back to my towel. I’m not sure if it would have been any easier running barefoot (you’re allowed to run barefoot on the sand but have to put your shoes on when you get off the beach)

Experienced triathlete Neil, down as a spectator for this event, had told me at the start that I didn’t have to wear my swim cap for the second swim. Although there were a few guys in white caps (Large course) doing the whole thing with caps on! So all I had to do was ditch the shoes, race belt, cap and sunnies, grab the sandy gogs and head back to the water (preferably without kicking any rocks!)

The second swim was harder and subsequently slower – mostly because my legs were a bit cooked from the run, and of course the start of the swim involves more running, but this time through water and against the waves! At times I did do breaststroke kick with freestyle arms (mostly when I encountered waves and when going around corners). And I did get smacked in the head for the first time ever, on the approach to shore! The guy didn’t even seem to notice that he’d smacked me!

This time, I went through transition, grabbed my sunnies and shoes and was away! Didn’t even bother trying to dry off my feet this time. And opted to go sans socks again. I also opted to go sans race number, which the marshal at the jetty pointed out, so I had to go back and grab that, at which point I also grabbed my cap which I had also forgotten. Probably cost me about 20 seconds if that. In the overall scheme of things, it wasn’t a big issue and definitely a mistake I won’t make twice!

Back into the run! Kind of looks like the guy is grabbing my arm – he wasn’t really! Note the buckets of water the proper athletes were using to wash their feet! Thanks Daryl and/or Karen for this photo!

A slightly slower second run, still overtaking people along the way, and then back on the sand, this time to go through the finishing arch! I could hear someone behind me, I could tell it was a guy, so not someone I could potentially be competing with, but still, I didn’t want to be passed at the finish line – by anyone!

Finish line feels! 

I later found out that I won my age group! (I also finished last in my age group, go figure!)

Time is probably inconsequential, but I finished 4th female (out of 9) and 11th out of 22 overall, in a time of 31:12, ‘only’ about 5 minutes behind the 3rd placed female! (The top 3 females were all in the under 16 age group!) That’s why I said my transition error didn’t really cost me anything!

The splits were interesting but not really surprising.

After the first swim I was 8/9 females and 20/22 overall. It’s pretty obvious from this that as a swimmer I make a decent runner! (The second run probably included my transition error, which would explain why it is slower than the first!)

Overall I was pretty happy with how it went, it’s all a great learning experience!

Karen won her age group too!

Thanks to all of the many volunteers who made this event possible, to organiser Malcolm (whose timing company Event Strategies is very well known among trail and road running events in SA!) and to the White family! And well done to all who participated – what a great way to start Boxing Day!