With less than 4 weeks to go until the 2016 Ironman African Championships, I thought it appropriate to write about my experience about taking part in my first full Ironman in 2015.
After previously being told by an ex that I would never be able to complete a full marathon, I naturally entered one, and then another and found myself quickly progressing to the 2Oceans Ultra Marathon.
After getting a bit bored of running I decided to set myself a new challenge and entered Ironman 70.3 in East London, which is a triathlon that consists of a 1.8km swim, 90km cycle and a 21.1km run. Not knowing where to start, I joined Embark, a triathlon training group run by head coach STeve Atwell, focused on getting beginners through their first triathlon.
Half way through the training program I thought what the hell, and entered the Ironman African Championships held in Port Elizabeth. It is a long distance triathlon consisting of a 3.8km swim, 180km bicycle ride and a marathon – 42.2 km run, raced in that order with no break. It is deemed one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.
Through training, I made many friends, but 3 (previous Ironman finishers) who are very close to my heart are Stephanie Smit, Daniel Appel and Darrin Hofmeyr, who without, I don’t think I would’ve managed. Balancing work and an intensive training schedule like this takes its toll, both mentally, physically and professionally, but to have companions like that to learn from and surround myself with made it easier. On looking back I can honestly confess that my work took a bit of a knock, but at the end of the day it’s 6 months of sacrifice to achieve a goal that not many can say they have achieved.
A typical training week would look as follows:
Monday – morning swim squad (approx. 2km) – evening 90min spin class
Tuesday – morning track (run sprints)
Wednesday – morning swim at Sea Point Pavilion of 2.5km – evening gym session
Thursday – morning hill repeats on the bike – evening long run between 10 – 20km
Friday – morning 2-3km canal swim in the waterfront canal
Saturday – brick session 100km cycle, 15km run, which increased as the weeks went by and our final brick session was a 180km cycle and 20km run
Sunday – rest day
What many people don’t know is that a few months before and 2 MRI’s later I discovered I was suffering from a stress fracture of my femur and a torn labrum, which had me on crutches from January up until Ironman. I was not allowed to run and aqua jogged to replace the running section in our program. I was advised by specialists not to partake because I stood the chance of shattering my femur. Taking to heart the concern of others and listening to the expert opinions (because everyone is a professional) I decided to do it, even if it meant I walked the whole 42.2km. Giving up after coming this far was definitely not an option.
After many months of training, some dark moments and a few ‘I’ve had enough’ tantrums, race day arrived.
The event has a strict time limit of 17 hours from start to finish including transition time between disciplines and typically starts at 7:00 a.m. The cut off for the 3.9 km swim is 9:20 a.m (2 hours 20 minutes), the bike cut off time is 5:30 p.m. (8 hours 10 minutes), and the marathon cut off is midnight (6 hours 30 minutes).
My aim was just to finish considering my circumstances, but deep down I had my personal time cut offs which were 1.5 hours for the swim, 8 hours for the bike and 6 hours for the run.
After almost vomiting on the beach due to pure nerves, being kicked and punched by the veteran men (I have no idea why they start with the girls), swimming about 200m off course before being redirected back, and almost raising my hand to get pulled out, the swim was over in 1:28.
Hearing my friends and mom shout for me as I ran out the water, and seeing the group of swimmers still behind me made me forget about the swim ordeal and allowed me to get excited and focused on the cycle.
There is no sugar coating this, it’s a long lonely time, and having the winner and cameramen pass you whilst you are about to start your second loop doesn’t give you much motivation. With about 20km to go I could feel I had not eaten properly and was starting to bonk. Soon I came up behind a friend of mine Craig Jacobs who offered me some of his food and provided a good chat, which turned out to be exactly what I needed to finish the ride in 7:50.
Transition between bike and run was longer than expected but bumping into my friend Lara, having a chat and prepping ourselves together for the run was just what we needed. I began the run and quickly figured out that it was less painful to run that it was to speed walk. So I ended up running 70% of the marathon and walking at each turn around point and the sneaky hill up to PE University.
The run is long, but fun and entertaining as the crowd support is phenomenal and the vibe is just electric. On my third lap I stopped for my special needs bag for pain killers as I was in excruciating pain, but that subsided when I bumped into another friend, Chantal Rall, who gave me her miracle spray that made my hip/leg go numb. Dillon Jearey offered me a good 5km chat and those two saw me through to the red carpet in 5:20 (40min quicker than planned) where everyone was screaming and shouting as we came in to cross the finish line and hear those desired words from Paul Kaye that: “You Are An Ironman.”
29 March 2015 goes down as being the best day of my life! As tough and emotional as it was, the experience and support and sense of accomplishment could never be replaced.
Only 0.01% of the population, that’s about 1 in 10,000 have successfully completed an Ironman.
So at the most, its approximately 700,000 out of 7.3 billion worldwide who can call themselves an Ironman. Let’s not quote me on this, for exact figures, I would assume one would need to remove the repeat finishers and look at different other variables, but it puts it into perspective.
What makes me quite emotional at this point, is that the two people who made a difference to my race that day, Craig and Chantal are fighting a battle bigger than Ironman right now. They are fighting a battle with Cancer. If for whatever reason they didn’t think that they made a difference in this world, I can promise you both, you did, because if it wasn’t for you, my race day would not have been the same. I am praying for you both everyday.
A big thank you must go to STeve from Embark for getting me there. If all goes well with my post op recovery, I plan to be back doing Ironman 2017.
To find out more about Embark visit. www.embark.co.za or follow them on twitter @EmbarkTri and Instagram @EmbarkTri
Image credit: Used with permission / IRONMAN South Africa