Three 5150 races in South Africa in 2018 and three wins for Annah Watkinson. The 36-year-old CFA (Certified Financial Analyst) was unstoppable in Bela Bela (4 August), Ekhurleni (21 October) and in Nelson Mandela Bay (25 November).
The win in Nelson Mandela Bay capped an eventful year for Annah. Over and above the three 5150 victories, Annah was also on the top rung of the podium at the Miway Life Durban Ultra in March and was 21st at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in Nelson Mandela Bay on 1 September.
Annah was a “late bloomer”, only starting running in 2008, before migrating to the triathlon in 2011. A year later she won the age group category at the East London 70.3 and finished top overall in the woman’s race which earned her a place in the 70.3 World Championships in the USA. In 2013 Annah won her age group category at the full Ironman in Port Elizabeth, earning her a place at the World Championships in Kona that year. She felt she was not quite ready for that level yet, and instead represented South Africa at the 2013 ITU World Long Distance Championships.
2014 started off well for Annah, winning her age category at Ironman South Africa, booking her place in Kona again. This time she was going. Her preparation included Ironman Roth in Germany where she finished 8th for her debut in Kona. Then tragedy struck as she fell on cycle in the Cradle and broke her collar bone three weeks before Kona. She still went to support her friends which was a bitter sweet experience. “Up until race day it was really hard, but on race day it was a lot of fun to see the top athletes in the world racing and to support my friends”.
Annah only turned pro in 2015 despite being a regular podium finisher in South Africa and needed a bit of nudge from her coach, Raynard Tissink on the eve of the 2015 full Ironman. Annah needed a bit of convincing though. “Let me get through tomorrow first and then we can talk.” Tissink’s logic was that she was already the best age grouper in SA and it was the next step for her. Again she won the age group race at the 2015 Ironman, again booking a place in Kona and she decided that if she won her age group category in Kona she would make the move. “I finished 3rd in my age group and 23rd overall, so I had to make hard decisions about work and life, and after a lot of talking, I decided to take myself out of my comfort zone and race in the pro division, but still keep the day job.”
Annah asked her coach, Raynard that, on her best day, would she able to win an Ironman and finish in the top 10 in Kona. His response was an emphatic yes. Annah knows full well that the lifespan of a pro athlete is a limited one and is willing to risk the potential failure, but is well aware of the potential successes. “I want to walk away feeling I left my greatest race out on the course. I haven’t done that yet.”