Race the penguins on Robben Island

[Image] Tri-Rock participants have to dodge penguins and the southwester.
(Image: SafariNow.com)

Grant Kunneke
  Race organiser
  +27 82 564 5345.

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Lucille Davie

This is a triathlon race like no other – participants will have to take a boat to get to the venue, dodge penguins crossing the road, and hope that the southwester doesn’t blow them off their feet.

It’s the second Tri-Rock Robben Island race, consisting of a 400m swim, a 14km cycle and a 4km run, on Robben Island off Cape Town. And if those distances are not enough of a challenge, you can swim 800m, do a 28km cycle and run for 8km. The former is known as the 4:14:4 race, the latter the 8:28:8.

Architect and race organiser Grant Kunneke says that there are two criteria for a successful Tri-Rock: the safety of the participants; and the experience they take home with them.

“Last year we had participants saying ‘Wow, that was cool!’, and that’s what we want,” he says.

He marvels that the race was a success last year, with the huge logistics of getting people over to the island, together with their bikes, plus the race marshals, and other items, like refreshments, needed to make any race a success. Environmental and heritage concerns also have to be taken into account.

Historic setting

Last year around 120 people took part, some coming from the UK, Ireland and Belgium. This year families are entering, which pleases Kunneke.

“Sport is a unifier, and where better to get a reminder of where it all started than Robben Island.”

Besides getting a sense of the history made at the Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada and many others spent up to 18 years in prison, the race is a sociable event, where people can enjoy a meal and sundowners with magnificent views of Cape Town and Table Mountain.

To help people remember Robben Island’s painful past, participants can sleep in a cell: 70 beds in the former women’s jail are available the night before the race. Participants can also sign up for an evening prison tour conducted by an ex-prisoner and warden.

A cargo boat is being hired to take bikes the 8km across Table Bay to the island, and bikes will also be available for hire on Robben Island.

Kunneke reckons that the swim is the best part of the race – once around the perimeter of the harbour is 400m. But racers can enjoy other aspects of the island: they will run and cycle past the old church in the tiny village, or the lime pits where prisoners broke lime rocks up endlessly, or the lighthouse and the WW2 cannon.

In the evening after the race participants can enjoy music from a Khayelitsha jazz band, which, says Kunneke, will play “appropriate” songs – like Johnny Clegg‘s freedom songs.

Kunneke wants to use some of the entrance money for a sports upliftment programme on the island, an idea still at the discussion stage.

The race takes place on 12 October. Entry for the 4.14.4 is R650 (US$62); entry for the 8.28.8 is R850 ($81).