“If we can walk after the 5150 we will enter the Half Iron Man” these famous words were spoken in August 2011. To the uninitiated, the 5150 was the first of it’s kind in South Africa, the Olympic distance Triathlon hosted by the same guys that run the 70.3 Half Iron Man and Iron Man.
My friend, Tamsyn and I hit Bela Bela with a vengeance and yes, we could walk the next day.
So imagine my surprise when said friend sent me a message the day after to say she had entered the Half Iron Man Triathlon in East London for 2012.
Now please understand that before the 5150, I had never run anything longer than 10k before, so that was a huge achievement in itself, the Half Iron Man was more than double that for the run, after 1.9k swim in the ocean – (another first) and after a 90k cycle.
We set ourselves some tasks. The Sun City Triathlon and the 94.7 Cycle Challenge would be training for the 70.3, alongside a 6 day a week training schedule. Coming from two people who had never done this before August 2011, it was quite a task.
Some days we felt like the race would never come and other days we felt we had run out of training time. The biggest setback for both of us was getting flu. For me, I was battling a bout of flu every three weeks. We decided to listen to our bodies and rest at those times, but it must have been the year of antibiotics to try fight off any infections.
I have re-learnt a lot of things going through this process. The main learning has been about my own body. What makes it work, what it does not like, what fuels it, what slows it down. Listening to my body and ensuring it gets what it needs has been amazing.
My body has completely changed shape and I am leaner and stronger than I have been in the last 20 years. It is a really good space to be in.
Let me fast forward to the race. We decided to drive to East London. 2 Athletes, 2 bikes loads of food and luggage and one very patient supporter / driver.
We went a few days early to acclimatise to the conditions, get a sea swim in and soak up the atmosphere. East London sure does embrace the event and all the locals get into the mood and support the athletes.
My first proud moment was getting my bright orange Athletes wrist band. This was such an achievement. I had not even gotten wet yet and I had felt like a winner. Throughout the next few days, the bracelet identified the nutters from the supporters and it gave one a complete sense of pride to be part of something so insane.
The day of registration, I was so chuffed by the organisation and the volunteers that were so keen and eager to help. Getting all our race gear, numbers, timing chips etc was flawless. If you have never hosted an event, you don’t understand the hours and hours of work that goes into setting up goody bags, numbers, tags etc. So this really impressed me.
The sound and music guys were testing the system 2 days prior to the race to make sure they got it all right.
We almost left our packing of our transition bags a little late, but I am glad I did not have too much time to over think it. On regular holidays, I tend to pre-pack days before and then over-pack anyway. On this occasion, we still over packed, but once the bags were done, they were done.
Heading to town on bike check in day was amazing. We arrived a bit early for our sector. But we entered the transition zone without a hitch. Announcer Paul Kaye found it funny to pick on me leading into the transition zone, but unfortunately I did not have much of a choice but to smile. You don’t fuck with the man with the mike, ‘cause you will always lose. (Yes Paul, photo’s of the announcer IS allowed! )
My entry into triathlons has been very special coming across people that I have known for ages and assist you in ways that are completely invaluable. Something as little as having someone know your name and making a fuss is enough to crack the nerves off to the side and make you feel like family.
Getting used to the race nerves takes some practice. Luckily I have been an athlete for most of my life, so a healthy dinner, early night and a quarter (dodgy Indian OTC) sleeping tab just to get me to nod off was great. We woke on race day ready for it all. We had a good breakfast consisting of Future Life – My new staple diet and a boiled egg for the road.
Getting to transition to do final prep on our bikes and add the fresh food to our bags, we were the first athlete. It was still dark. It was an amazing site to see nearly 3000 bikes and bags racked and ready to go. We managed to walk the in and out gates and then headed to the boardwalk.
A few strategically placed photographs on the boardwalk while we watched the sun come up over a glassy bay, we were so blessed to see a pod of dolphins swim past the first buoy. This was the omen I needed to feel completely comfortable with the day and the race. While the bubblegum ice-cream coloured sky changed to clear blue skies, we took some great photographs of the Spec-Savers flags along the boardwalk.
It was here that our number one supporter decided to go grab his spot at the Wimpy and we meandered to the change room to start getting prepped.
Going for a quick warm up swim, we both felt strong and comfortable. There was a cool photo taken by a bystander of the two of us at the start which shows happy and chilled athletes.
I must say the swim was the least of my worries. We had attended an introduction course on Total Immersion, which I had been practicing for a few months. This linked in with the tips and tricks of getting into the water, holding your space, not being a victim of kicks or thumps, it was not long before I was at the first buoy.
I remember speaking myself though the swim, ensuring I was swimming straight to the markers to avoid additional distances. I am not a strong swimmer. I have never had formal lessons. So for the preceding months I had been focusing and teaching myself how to breathe on both sides, keep my head down and have a smoother stroke. The progress was so evident when I was half way through the 500m section with just the 200m to go to the end and I surprised myself by thinking I was not even tired or out of breath.
Running out of the sea with a 50 minute swim time was a great achievement. Heading into transition to get my bike gear on, I was completely comfortable.
Again the volunteers made such a difference to the athletes. Going out of their way to smother everyone in sunscreen and assist where they could. Before long I was running out of the transition area with my bike and hopping on and cruising down the street. The long ride had begun.
It was about five minutes of riding when I saw the back of my friend and I was so excited to see that we could be in the same vicinity as each other for the ride. The one aspect of these races that I battle with is the fact that you cannot chat to anyone on the ride. No entertainment is allowed in the form of music, ipods, mp3 players etc and you cannot be within 10m’s of another athlete. This drives me insane. I pride myself on being a social being and the solitary ride kills me and is the main motivating reason I have not entered the full Iron Man distance.
All the training we had done had not prepared us for the hard ride. There were pieces of advice and stories of pushing on the up and cruising on the down, but I did not experience any of this, I felt the ride was a constant uphill and I had to constantly remind myself to keep peddling. I was afraid if I stopped I would not get going again.
Along the ride I tried to eat some of my biltong and fruit cake which had worked for me on practice rides and to my absolute dismay it made me want to vomit, so I managed to offload it to a couple of kids on the side of the highway. So much for a huge bag of woollies moist biltong! The best nutrition I experienced on the bike were the baby potatoes that were packed neatly in my picnic basket on my crossbar of my bike.
I had one gripe on the bike ride. My friend and I were together by the half way mark and soon we caught up with a member of the development team. What was a bit annoying was the fact that she had her partner riding with her. He did not have a race number so clearly was not in the race, even though he was getting to do the full ride, experience the road closures etc. He was a lot stronger than she was on the bike and he used this to drag her up the hills. This became a problem for everyone around them, as he would swoop past you on the left hand side and then slow down to wait for her. On some occasions she also came past on the left which was quite disconcerting.
The non-drafting rules are very strict. You need to keep a 10m gap between riders, if you are overtaking, you overtake on the right and have 15 seconds to pass whereby the person now at the back needs to make the gap 10m’s again.
This is all good and well in theory, but a little harder when you have some dude passing you on the left and then slowing down to wait for his chick, thereby getting into your 10m zone and in turn getting me into trouble with the marshals. Even when I said to them that he was not in the race after I received a wagging finger, they just shrugged and zoomed off.
For the last few hills, the straggler cyclists at the back watched as the non-competitor dragged development chick up and eventually down the hills at pace, as she stuck on his wheel as he zoomed them both down to town.
Getting back into transition, I was super keen to get going and was feeling strong. My friend was not so sure, but this was a challenge that we started together and by hook or by crook we were going to finish it together.
The amazing supporters along the run route definitely made a radical difference. One person in particular made our day as we had just past the finish line going for our second round of the run when a good Samaritan handed us each an orange ice cream. It made the start of the second loop bearable.
With a whole lot of setting run / walk markers along the 21k route (Of which this was my first! Beer!) we were finally coming to the end. We could hear Paul Kaye over the speaker and as we ran down the red carpet and received a high 5 as we bounded over the finish line, I was so exhilarated and pumped full of adrenalin I could not stop to stand still for a second.
To the awesome supporters who sat or stood on the sidelines waiting for every last athlete who wanted to finish to come through and over the finish line, the announcers, the photographers and all the support staff and volunteers who had all started their mornings before daylight cracked the horizon, I thank you with my whole being. I know for a fact that we could not have done it without you.
So many of these guys are ex-triathletes who have given up their chance to do the Iron Man so they can organise one for us, and when you see how well they do it, the passion for this amazing sport shines through.
After we had collected our Finisher shirts, we ran into a 20 Veteran who had given us so much advice on our first race and I beamed that I had finished and earned that shirt. It was not the most expensive shirt as I had spent much more taking myself to the world champs in Skydiving a few years back, but damn, it was the shirt that I spent the most time training for and by far was the hardest shirt I had earned!
In closing, I have been blown away by the support that we both received from friends, family, work mates and strangers along the way. The friends we have made over this last 6 month expedition have been amazing and each piece of advice was used to piece together our race that we completed. The blood, sweat and tears over the months leading up to the event culminated in an achievement that not many can say they have done and for this I have to convey a massive thank you to all our sideline coaches and friends that offered so much of themselves.
I will definitely be back to East London in 2013 to line up with the masses of loons to do this phenomenal event again.