Sleepless nights in the days running up to Sunday 10 April were the order of the day, anxiety my starter, excitement the main course and just a hint of fear for dessert. This was it! I really wish there was an Ironman every week, even though my body may disagree.
Race day had arrived and after multiple hugs and good wishes from those supporting from the sidelines I was making my way down to the beach. Usually I am a complete nervous wreck before a race, unable to speak, close to tears and shaking. This time was different. Something about this race was different, yes of course I was still nervous and shaky and mumbled instead of speaking, but there was a strange calm deep inside me (very deep) which allowed me to fully experience and enjoy everything that was going on around me. Today was going to be a great day.
Standing on the beach I found my fellow Trifactri friends and we all huddled together waiting for the race to start. More hugs, more good wishes, more excitement. All of a sudden an explosion that shook me and almost caused an immediate drop in race weight. It was the awesome boom of the cannon, sending the Pro men out into the water. It was close now. A second boom and the lady Pro’s were off. 5 minutes and it was time for us.
Being a weak swimmer this is the part of the race that normally terrifies me the most. I normally feel that a race only starts after I return to the safe, dry shores of solid land. Today, however, was different. I had a good warm-up swim the previous day and I knew to ‘aim for the lonely crane’ after the first buoy. The water was ‘lumpy’ as Paul Kaye put it and the swells made sighting a problem. The rise and fall of the water meant you were either swimming uphill, or downhill. Sighting at the wrong time, such as in a valley between swells, meant you lost your momentum only to look up and see nothing but a mass of salty water heading your way. We trudged our way to the turn-around buoy’s and made our way back to the coast. Water still lumpy, and sighting still a problem. The famous pier jutting out into the ocean filled with spectators passed us on our right. We rounded the final buoy and headed towards shore. Drumming and sounds of cheering and shouting filled the air. We were heading back after a largely uneventful swim!
The water had truly lost its imposing fear and the bark was quickly becoming much, much worse than the bite. Running into transition I felt good, strong and excited. I was having the best time and couldn’t wait for the bike. Spectre was rearing to go and it was time to let him lose. I did however have to stop and laugh at myself while running through T1. According to my watch I had just swum my fastest ever open water swim with a pace of 1min40s per 100m, I was ecstatic. This excitement was marred only by the fact that I had decided to swim 4,350km!! An extra 500 odd meters. I chuckled as I ran towards Spectre: my training was definitely going in the right direction, even if I wasn’t!
Having lost my bike twice in two previous races in transition, I have become extremely diligent with walk-throughs and rehearsals when checking in the bike. I was rewarded for my diligence when I ran towards Spectre who, politely, had remained in the same place I left him that morning before the swim. We ran through transition and over the mount line. Spectre was heavily laden with a plethora of Gu’s taped to the cross bar, what felt like a kilogram of PowerBar wafers and two full Roctane bottles (one on-board and one on the wing). I was about to become the only athlete in Ironman history to put ON weight in a race.
The bike leg was awesome, we rode out along Marine Drive and then inland to Seaview Drive, after which we would drop back down to the coast for the turnaround point. Having driven the bike course on the Friday, I knew what to expect and when. I knew when to finish a bottle and exactly where then next aid station would be. My rotation of bottles and re-fueling the on-board hydration system was near perfect. Eating every 30 minutes and taking small sips constantly. Everything was going great. Nutrition was on point. Climbing away from the coast onto to Seaview drive my legs felt strong and I wanted to TT the stretch to the turnaround. Cooler heads prevailed as the advice I had received from nearly everyone echoed in my head, “don’t cook the bike”.
Lap 1 on the bike was done in an instant and I rode through and away from P.E in what felt like a second. Straight past special needs (which contained an emergency spare tube and two bombs). Thankfully lap 1 had been kind on me and Spectre. No dreaded punctures or mechanicals. Nutrition and energy levels on point. This was amazing.
When would be the best time to run your first ever marathon? I agree, just after a long ocean swim and a 180km cycle. Well, as it would turn out it wasn’t even the marathon that would stop me in my tracks on the day. It was something else. My body.
After a successful T2 and with yet another Gu in hand I took to the run course and ran away from transition toward P.E town. Full of confidence after a great swim and an even better bike I made my way along Beach Drive and collected my first band to signify the start of my first loop. There were going to be four of these loops, four of these bands, a long time on my legs, a lot of coke and a lot of patience. I continually watched my pace on the first loop, I slowed down at aid tables to take on fluids and actually swallow the coke, instead of throwing in my face like I normally do. Coach Lucie Zelenkova had filled me with confidence the previous week when she told me that running at approximately 5min per a km was well within my range. And she wasn’t wrong! As I strolled through the first loop I kept an eye on my watch and at most times had to force myself to slow down. Anything under 5 minutes was not required, this was going to be a long run, settle down, get a good rhythm and stick to the 5 minute mark. If the previous two disciplines where anything to go by this marathon hoopla was going to be downright lovely. Spectators either side of the road with words of encouragement, a gentle little jaunt around P.E and lots of snacks, treats and coolies along the way. What a fine way to end off a Sunday afternoon.
And then it happened, the one thing that makes me love triathlons as much as I do. The tables turned. I was about to be dumped on my ass in a few more steps. Triathlons don’t care who you are, or who you think you are. A bad swim could be rewarded with a great bike, only to have the rug pulled out from under you on the run. I love it. You never know. You do your best, but you just never know. At kilometre 12 things started to get a bit shaky, 5 minute pace got a little dicey. Not impossible, just required a little more effort. Maybe some coke, maybe a second coke at the same aid table. That should do it. Ok, maybe a Gu, ok, maybe half of that wafer I stuffed into the back my tri-suit in transition. A little more coke at the next aid station, and I’ll be right as rain. Some rain now would be lovely. Gosh it’s hot. Has it been this hot all day? Why are there no trees on this run? Who puts a run on a road with no trees, I mean really!? Gosh P.E plant some damn trees! More coke. Lots more coke….
Needless to say, the wheels had come off and the legs were seizing. Well before 21km, and well before the full force of a marathon even hit me, I was reduced to walking.
I spent the rest of the race walking and running in spurts. I would force a run between aid tables but even this become too much. These runs between tables become too far and walks had to be introduced in these short bursts. The lungs and heart felt fine, right up until the moment I walked. This made me happy as I knew next time round I could come back and do this so much better. I soaked up the atmosphere of the day and chatted to those around me. I enjoyed the cheering from the sidelines and waved and smiled to friends and family who kept clapping for me. It really was something special.
After a long, long, time I was heading down the last 2km stretch only to turn right and enter the final 100m chute to the red carpet! I managed to do the Ironman shuffle for this last stretch. Anyone who’s done an Ironman will tell you about the Ironman shuffle.
“You are an Ironman”!
A high-5 to my sister on the red carpet and over the line. I had done it! I had finally achieved that thing that I set out to do all those months ago! It felt amazing! I loved every second of it! I was greeted by friends and family in the finishers area. More hugs. More good wishes. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
As the dust settles on the amazing time I had, I’m forced to reflect and obsess about each minute of the race. Could I have gone faster on the bike? Was I really hurting that much on the run? Why the hell did I swim so skew? These questions will answer themselves over time, and as I take on more races and more events these questions will differ. All I can say with absolute certainty at this point is that this is my sport. I love it, I can’t get enough.
A huge thank you to my family for their unwavering support and understanding. I love you guys! To Lucie for her guidance, mentorship and coaching, not to mention a phone call or private chat when I felt really down and needed some extra help. And of course to all the people at Trifactri who make training for this sport so amazing and so much fun. All of you have helped me every single step of the way, but to mention a few: James Curtin, Desi Dickinson and Robyn Louw (the East crew), Alex Elliot, Desmond Reilly, Darian Wait, Gavin Payne (the big bad bikers) and Rob Heath (the thinker), I spent the most time with you guys in preparations and it was my absolute privilege! Most importantly I must thank Eugene Gerber! You pushed me in training, shared you knowledge of races and helped me through every session. From Emmarentia swims, to speed sets around track on Wednesdays and of course, towing me around that damn dam each week! Thank you buddy, I couldn’t have done it without you!