Tri on a Fri

Words & Images: Chris Hitchcock

There are a few events on the South African triathlon circuit that have achieved ‘must do’ status. These iconic mantles, if you will, are gained as much because the events are difficult, and triathletes thrive on adversity, than because of their location, the stunning views they offer, and the organisational prowess of the management teams behind these events.

Photo credit: Chris Hitchcock

The Prime Jailbreak Triathlon, held at The Brandvlei Correctional Services facility at Rawsonville in the Western Cape, manages to pull off all of these aspects, scoring an easy win in the ‘tick all the boxes bingo’. So there's no doubt that the Jailbreak Triathlon is a cracking event.

In 2013, the event team, Tri and Du Sport, was thrown a ball that curved so much it required a masterpiece of unconventional thinking. Brandvlei prison is a working institution and due to the logistical requirements of the prison, its authorities dictated that this year, Jailbreak could not be held on a weekend. No problem said the team, we will have it on a working day, a Friday, and as a result, the 'Tri on a Fri' concept was born.

So while most people were slaving away at their workplaces on Friday, 6 December, triathletes from around the country were sweating it out and having a blast competing in one of the top triathlon races in South Africa.

The 2013 Prime Jailbreak Triathlon offered two distances. The Maximum Escape option, a 2.2 km swim, 88 km bike, and 22 km run, as well as the Minimum Escape, where the distances are exactly half. These are not small numbers by any measure, and top athletes who are training for a podium at Ironman 70.3 in January 2014 traditionally use the Minimum Escape Jailbreak option as an early season ‘feeler’ to test their levels of fitness.

With the Maximum Escape starting at 7:00 a.m., an hour before the Minimum version, there were plenty of nervous Minimum racers sitting on the shore, watching the early starters battling to make their way into the increasingly choppy water. The wind was doing what it always does in the Cape in December. Howling and reminding everyone that it is not to be trifled with.

Put 450 swimmers into these churning waters, send them all in the same direction and ask them to race each other, and you have what in the tri community is known as ‘the washing machine’. A flailing melee of legs, arms and muffled/burbled swear words. Eventually sanity prevails, swimmers spread out and heart rates come down. But it’s still a 45-minute swim for the average Joe, and that’s a long swim.

As the wind speed cranked up to a solid ‘in your face’ level, so the heat seemed to increase in solidarity (the scientific phrase for this is ‘summer weather in the Cape’). This is the time in a race when those who start to suffer are going to either podium or come to terms with the fact that they still have a lot of early season training to do. The wind on the bike course didn’t seem so bad, but still it forced the riders to keep their heads down and battle on, always balancing the scale of using enough energy to keep going at a decent enough lick, while saving something, anything, for the run still to come.

Triathletes are a different breed. When the wind howls, the sun beats down and the finish line seems like hours away, that’s when the smiles come out, heads go down and tired legs continue to plod on to the finish line.

Photo credit: Chris Hitchcock

In the case of the Men’s Maximum winner, Dean Hopf, the finish line only came 4 hours and 46 minutes after starting. Being the Tri on a Fri, it may have been a solid day at the office, but it was infinitely better than working for a living. The Ladies Maximum winner was Tracy Markham, while Matt Trautman and Claire Horner took line honours in the Minimum events.

Although this may be a tough race, it is also a race with a heart. Title sponsor Prime Cleaning Suppliers and event organiser Tri and Du Sport partnered to support two organisations - the Haven Night Shelter and Velokhaya Cycling Academy. Their aim - to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness, and assist people in finding meaningful paths in life.

So, if you are looking to break away from the rat race and steal a few hours enjoying the great outdoors, then keep an eye out for next year's event.

For more information about the event, visit


Maximum Escape
1. Dean Hopf
2. Rudi Bester
3. Paul Hilliard

1. Tracy Markham
2. Riana de Lange
3. Tarryn Stanford

Minimum Escape
1. Matt Trautman
2. Kent Horner
3. Frederick Wagenvoorde

1. Claire Horner
2. Kelly van der Toorn
3. Jenny Nel