I’ve been playing this game for a few years now and been following Ironman racing for a lot longer. After a few disappointments, and some time away I wanted a special last Ironman. My plan was to finish my career and have a race that I would be proud of. No expectations, no time, no place, no goals.
Our age group is insanely competitive. At least 5 top athletes from Trifactri alone, add a few sub-9 hour finishers, then half of Europe and the usual mix of strong Saffa’s, making a top 20 place is a great result. So no expectation or pressure to place well… just a plan to perform in my last race.
Now this made me a nervous wreck… All of a sudden, instead of competing against others or the clock, it felt like I was against myself. Despite a brief and near perfect build up with a very well managed training plan, I was now threatening to derail it all with sleeplessness, tight shoulders and wasting nervous energy.
Fortunately, the pre-race night glass of wine (or the second one maybe…) calmed me down, and I actually had a really good sleep. I was still a little tense on the morning, but it all calmed down as I approached the beach. I saw my wife and kids, my coach and then some of my best and longstanding friends from the sport. It all seemed to be going in the right direction for my last race.
I was into the water without a hitch, and had a quick jiggle to settle the wetsuit. This is where I like the rolling start, as you are not under pressure from hundreds of people, and can spend 15 seconds composing yourself. The downside of the rolling start is that you don’t have hundreds of people pressurizing you - so I bumbled along at a pace a little too easy.
Even though I felt a little slow, I had a (legal) drafter who kept slapping my feet for about 2km’s of the swim. I don’t mind drafting and the odd tap, but this was ridiculous. I eventually dragged him diagonally through the middle of another group, threw in a sharp turn and lost him…. Painful, irritating person – go away.
I exited the swim a little disappointed with my time, but considering tight shoulders and stress, not too bad. What I did realize is that I felt stronger than ever after a swim. Things were going to plan, so quickly through T1 and then hammer the bike.
Well not really. My biking was not as strong as previous Ironmen. I have usually tried to place myself nearer the front off the bike, and then hang on with a decent run. My plan and advice received was different this year. Get to the run as fresh as possible with an economical bike.
In the nervousness leading up to the race, coach Lucie and I had a slight discussion /disagreement around nutrition. I joked the night before that the best thing to happen was to lose all my nutrition… And it came true at 40km’s. Both of my primary sources of energy flew off into the Indian Ocean after hitting a bump too hard. Fortunately, I knew what was in each bottle, and what was on the course, and I managed to get a new plan working.
I’m a stubborn person, and generally that helps me stick to MY plan (I’m never wrong!!! ) So I resisted temptation to chase or stick with people on the bike. There was a lot of surging and bunching so a constant effort was difficult to maintain. However, at the end of the bike my power and splits were very stable and only fractionally less than planned. This was the gamble of the day – I was older and had less raw run speed than previous races, so I didn’t know if I had the run pace to claw my way back up the standings.
Now with a little bit more determination, I stubbornly I stuck to my plan. Off I went to try something new in my last race – run up through the field and finish with a flourish.
My first half marathon came past in 1:40, - spot on with plan, and I was still feeling like I had a lot more to give. It’s not often you get to that stage so strong, but I’ve been to this rodeo a few times…. And I know that things can go wrong.
Despite big and supportive crowds, I now shut them out, and was really focused on my run, my cadence, my posture, my pace, my foot strike, any twinge in a hamstring. I kept saying… 21km’s, 90 minutes, 15kms until I’m done with this. My last race. At 28km’s I was still strong and looking at flat or negative run splits… and then….
Too much coke, too fast, not enough air, too much air, not enough nutrition, too hot, too many sponges… I don’t know and I didn’t see it coming. What I do know about the next 6km’s is the following:
• I seem to have a favourite spot for vomiting on Marine Drive
• A side stitch is painful
• Two side stitches are unbearable.
• Rennies work for indigestion and are chewable
• Nurofen works for pain and ARE NOT CHEWABLE… Do not try this at home
• I survived.
I couldn’t run – every time I bounced, I halved in height and doubled over. New plan - I quickly learnt a straight leg shuffle – actually very effective if you have tight hamstrings and hip flexors like me!!! It’s a quite similar movement to some of our track warm-up drills!!
Frustratingly, I knew my legs were good, my head was good, and my heart was in it, but I needed this to pass. As horrible as this was, it was only 6km’s and 35-40 minutes (but along the entire length of the crowded beach front). As I came to fetch my last of four bands, I slowly felt human and got back into a stride.
At 8km to go as I turned and started downhill, I knew that my first sub - 10 hour Ironman would be in the bag if things held together reasonably well. I felt strong, the cramps had mostly gone and I started running with near perfect form. It was a bit like David Rudisha running the 800m (Actually, I’ve seen the photo’s and I wasn’t close).
This was the first time all day that I thought about racing against people. My goal of a good performance was secure, and now my competitive side came out. I could spot a few from my age group up the road. With the rolling start, I didn’t know when they started the swim, but I reckoned if I could get a minute or two on top of them, I would probably beat them.
I did manage to pass 3 or 4 of them, and ran down the finish line really strong and happy. My first sub 10 and a really pleasing performance with a flourish to finish. I was only slightly off my estimated and potential times, but with only 8 weeks of focused training – I will take that. Happy last race and the plan worked.
So why the heading, “Why do plans not always work out?”
As a kid, I fondly remember Friday nights with fish and chips watching Gillette World Sport special and learning about fringe sports being played out in exotic faraway destinations. Growing up in the 80’s in Port Elizabeth, you could only dream of playing cricket in the West Indies, skiing in Canada, Rugby 7’s in Hong Kong or an Ironman in Hawaii.
That dream has come true, and with it my plans of my last Ironman have been blown. I unexpectedly finished 12th in this very strong age group and took the last guaranteed slot. So my retirement plans are on hold, and the new plan is to stay fit and healthy for the next 6 months. I have my entry for the Ironman World Championships on 8 October 2016, in Kona, Hawaii