Race day came, I arrived at transition check-in and realized I forgot my water bottles in the hotel freezer. Luckily my number one supporter (aka husband) was able to go back and get it for me. Rule 2: Arrive at check-in early enough to make mistakes and fix them. The weather was overcast and drizzly but at least not cold as we lined ourselves up in the self-seeded time slots on the East London Orient beach. It felt like eternity waiting for the pros to finish and the participants ahead of me to start. Eventually my time came, I gave my two fellow friends on either side of me a hug, we reminded one another to get ready to start our watches and we stood amped and ready for the man-made gate to count us down to our start. And go! The swim started, it was very wavy at some point and I wondered how many people were getting sea sick in the water, but quickly put that thought out of my mind. When my feet first touched the ground I saw 40min on my Suunto watch – I was chuffed with that and thought I’d done well. Rule 3: Know exactly what time you start in self-seeded starts. I ran up the beach through the cheering crowd and I heard my family cheering for me – whistling and going wild it was inspiring, my dad shouted for me and I detoured to close enough to the sideline to give him a high-five. I had done 1 out of the 3 disciplines and I was feeling good. Up to the transition point I ran… Then walked, it was a steep hill after a long swim.
In T1 I grabbed my red Bike bag and changed – I had pre-packed my gels in my Trisuit before the swim to save time in transition but geesh I still had a lot to think about. Pain tabs check… Oats bar check… Tissues check... Slowmag’s check… PVM bars check… Have all my gels check… Helmet, gloves, cycle shoes check. Oh wait, put cycle shoes on before you leave transition. Rule 4: Don’t take so damn much into Transition. And onto my bike I went – my sisters had lined up a bunch of cheerleaders and they were all shouting my name as I rolled down the Esplanade road, I was having fun! Feeling strong I rode the first 45km but also taking heed of what so many had told me, “don’t push too hard in the beginning because you must save some for the last two hills” I pushed but also kept some back. I wouldn’t shout it out too loud but I actually didn’t find the first half as grueling as I expected. Granted we had good weather conditions with the sun only coming out about 2hrs into my ride, maybe it was all the training I did in the Garden Route over December or maybe I just didn’t push as hard as I should of, averaging about 17km p/hr for those first 45km’s. In any case at the half way point I realized if I did not pick up the tempo I was not going to make the cycle cut off so I pushed hard. It motivated me overtaking people – we were all friendly but at the end of the day I think we pushed each other by competing with one another. It’s a good thing I saved some for those two last hills, they were tough. I mounted off my bike and as I entered T2 a guy passed me and I heard him telling the other volunteers to close the gates, I was the last one in. Thank God I made it, 4hr22min according to Suunto.
In T2 one of the volunteers offered to help me, she must have seen I was a tad frazzled from the cycle. We threw out everything in my Run bag and then she started asking me questions, Pain tabs do you need these? Knee guards? Sunblock? Oats bar? Tissues? Chews? You do know they have Aid stations with gels right? Oh my word she confused me so much, now I had to try and think about what she was asking me whilst I’m trying to rush to decide whether I’m wearing socks or not with my trainers. Rule 5: Don’t let anyone distract you off your mission even if they have good intentions. As I exited the T2 transition tent a chirpy polite guy popped up from a bike, “Hi” he said, “I’ll be with you until you pass the person in front of you”… What?? I barely heard that as I was rushing by but I thought he said until I pass the person in front of me. I ignored it and started running towards the Pier. The next thing I know, here is this guy on his bike next to me with a big sign on the front of his bike with big bold red capital letters reading “The last finisher”. I nearly died of flush embarrassment right there and asked him to go away.
I struggled to the Pier, I was hot and tired and my cadence was so slow. One of my training buddies came up behind me just as I was about to reach Esplanade street, she must of seen I was struggling and encouraged me to “pull all the strength from the tips of my feet, from my finger nails, from my eyelashes – pull all that power and put it into the run”. I nodded and mustered up the strength to tell her I can’t talk while I’m running but what I was thinking was I’m going to make this, I’m just exhausted right now. I could barely run those first 2km’s. I watched my average reach 7,9km’s p/hr and in my delirious state I somehow managed to convince myself that I was going faster than the 9.5km p/hr run I had planned. I popped a High5 gel and a coke at the aid station and then tried running again. I couldn’t. I did what I had in training and aimed to run to a pole then walked to the next. And so it went until I saw my family cheering for me on the side of the road – I started jogging, my two sisters started to run alongside me but at this stage I was properly exhausted and angrily shooed them away, I was getting emotional having them around as I knew they’d see I was feeling weak.
I turned the corner and hello Bunkers Hill. I walked, and even though I had passed the guy who was in front of me and lost the guy on the bike it wasn’t long until he was with me again. By this time everyone else who was on their way back from the first loop of the run could clearly see the guys sign board and that he was “with me”. They shouted encouraging cheers of “you can do it” and all I remember thinking was, “I know I can do it, I am going to do it, I just want to damn well do it within the cut-off”. Suunto was reading about 7,2km p/hr I was still silly enough to think that was okay. Rule 6: Remember your race strategy. On Bunkers Hill, Allan (the guy on the bike) and I had enough time to get to know one another since I walked. I was wondering when he was going to fall off the mountain bike going as slowly as me but he was so sweet, telling me he’d make sure I would finish, he’d be with me till the end, stay hydrated, keep my body temperature down by using the sponges at the aid stations. Having Allan around was embarrassing but he was cool. A the top of Bunkers Hill I got some energy and I decided that downhills are my strength so I was going to push to make up some time, I did and by the time I got down the hill Allan wasn’t by my side anyone. Yes I wasn’t last. Woohoo I saw my mom on the side of the road and she was so excited. She ran with me for much longer than I knew she could handle but I loved her for it. Later my husband, Dad and sisters cheered me along – they were going wild, my one sister ran with me for a couple of hundred meters.
Shortly after this I realized I was going far too slow and I was not going to make cut-off if I didn’t go faster – Allan was back with me. I firmly told him that I needed to make cut-off and I need his help, he needs to not allow me to slow down. He agreed. I agreed to myself that I was going to finish the first loop to the Pier and then give it all I’ve got for the second. And I did, I was back on track with a 10km p/hr average and then when I looked again at my watch I was shocked. Battery dead. Shit. I felt like my wind had been knocked out, I had no way of tracking myself. Rule 7: Set your watch GPS settings to low accuracy to extend the battery life.
When I reached my family about 3km’s later I asked them to sms the tracker to see if they could help me figure out how much time I had to cut-off. Allan, I and now 2 other last finisher contenders made our way up Bunkers Hill. I was pushing, nothing was going to get in the way of me making the cut-off. The other participants started to get fewer and fewer on the road, always encouraging me along. The aid station volunteers were so jolly and encouraging, the drinks were mostly cold and the gels were always available. At the top of bunkers hill at my turnaround point a group of Sterling High School boys started to run with me, Allan stayed with the last finisher. Those Sterling boys did such a great job at motivating me, we were all clear on one thing, I had to make the cutoff and somehow we got word that I had 30min for the last 5km’s. I could do that, it was downhill for a large portion of that. So they chanted and shouted out motivations as we jogged down bunkers hill and along Esplanade street. We reached my family and I shouted out to my husband, “how much time do I have babe?” from the information he received I had 15minutes for the last 2km’s. I was tired but I was confident I could make that. For those last 2km’s we ran in unison, the Sterling boys, my husband, my sisters and I. Them shouting, “IronWoman, IronWoman, IronWoman, When I say Claire you say Bear, When I say Claire you say Bear”. It was great comradery, we were all running in unity and I was within our 15min cut-off, I was going to make it. I caught sight of the red carpet – I saw an athlete about 100m’s in front of me go through the finisher line and his time appeared on the screen above. He didn’t make cut-off. I’d know soon enough what my official time was, I started to sprint with everything I had and I left my comradery group behind – I sprinted up that final red carpet stretch and looked above to see my time as I crossed the finish line. I was ready to experience the relief and zeal of finishing IM70.3 Buffalo City within time. And then it happened – I looked up and like in a movie the world slowed down as I read my time on the screen, 08:35:43. I didn’t make it. I missed the cut-off. I missed the cut-off by 5min 43sec. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t make it.
Unfortunately the nature of the race is that if you don’t make cut-off you don’t receive a medal or a finisher t-shirt even if you finish the race. You walk away with the experience and a bouquet of flowers. I don’t even think it’s actually fair to say you an IronMan. Its heart wrenching but that’s the nature of it – I guess that’s why it’s so revered because it’s tough and not everyone can make the cut. In any case – reflecting back I can say I enjoyed my race thoroughly overall, the spectator supporters, the efficiency and excellence of the organisation of it all, the volunteers, my family’s support, the gruel of the race, the manner in which it makes you pull out the innermost strength to conquer. It was one of my most rewarding experiences and I will be back. In retrospect in the beginning I was not even confident I would be able to finish the race, I knew I wanted to complete it and make the cut-off but I was never sure I would in-fact be able to do it with my ailments. I put my trust in God to help pull me through and He did, I was blessed with good weather, no serious body aches and great support. I was able to complete the race and next time I’ll make the cut-off. Rule 8: Commit to your goals and conquer them.