Last year in November my husband and I made the decision to enter IRONMAN. To ensure we didn’t back out of this decision (unless getting injured!) we went all in by booking our entries, flights and accommodation all in one go. For those looking to do IRONMAN for the first time this race is definitely not cheap not only in terms of financial commitment but also in terms of time and effort so this is definitely something that needs to be considered before taking this event on.
Now that we had entered this race, I was adamant to find a training coach and team that would be able to help motivate me and get me to a fitness level required to be able to take on such a big event. For my husband, IRONMAN wasn’t as big a deal as it was for me as he had already done comrades before. I had never done any race quite as significant as this so I was feeling very apprehensive as to what I was capable of and whether I could complete the race.
We joined the Exercise Solutions Triathlon Group which has become a huge part of my life today. I would definitely suggest that anyone looking to do a race like IRONMAN looks at joining a triathlon group as it really makes training a lot more fun; you also push yourself more and it definitely keeps you more motivated especially when you are having to do long weekend rides and runs.
As part of my training leading up to IRONMAN, I completed the IRONMAN 70.3 race in East London which takes place every year in late January. This year the race was particularly challenging as the water conditions were not ideal with a hectic swell and the water was only 14 degrees Celsius. The bike was also very tough as there was a headwind the whole ride making you work so much harder leaving your legs to feel tired and sluggish on the run. However, I was really happy with my race having taken off 34minutes from my previous years’ time finishing in 6:06:51.
After IRONMAN 70.3 I had to go to Germany for work for just over a week which gave me some time to recover from the race. I did however manage to fit in a run or two whilst I was there in the freezing cold/snowy conditions which was a great new experience for me. But once I got back home it was time to re-focus on upping my mileage across all three disciplines in preparation for IRONMAN.
In the 8 weeks leading up to IRONMAN I managed to tick off quite a few milestones that mentally helped me believe I could finish this big race. These milestones included cycling 180km with tri-bars on my road bike; a 4km open-water swim in Emmerentia Dam and a 35km run, all of which were the furthest I had ever gone in each sport. Every weekend would include either a long ride and short tempo run and/or a long run and shorter ride with a brick session. I believe this kind of structured training is definitely more effective than trying to do both a long run and ride on a weekend which would leave you with not enough recovery time leading up to a new week of training.
After the many hours of training it was finally time to head down to Port Elizabeth to take on the IRONMAN. We went down to PE on the Thursday to give us time to familiarise ourselves with the city and be part of the build up to the race. In hindsight, I think it may have been better to just arrive on Friday evening as I felt that being there from Thursday just made me more nervous and it also meant we had to eat out for another night (believe me you get over eating restaurant food especially as you are stressing about what to eat/not to eat before a big race).
On Friday morning we went for a practice swim on the beach and familiarized ourselves with the swim route.I could not believe how far away the buoys were laid out and that I would be swimming to each of them on Sunday. After a brief swim, we went to get ourselves registered and then we sorted out our bikes and did a short test ride to make sure our bikes were functioning smoothly. That night we joined our fellow Exercise Solutions team mates for a pre-race dinner at Primi which just added to the excitement/nerves of the weekend.
On the Saturday we joined our ES group for a light, easy jog along the promenade followed by a practice swim.
Everyone then dispersed off to their hotels to get their race packs ready in order to go and drop them off in the afternoon in the transition area. It is really amazing how much you have to think about and plan in terms of your race packs as if you miss anything vital it could throw your whole race. For IRONMAN you not only have a swim, bike and run bag but you also get an optional Special Needs bag that you can request on the bike and run so it is recommended you put some extra nutrition and/or a warm top for the run if you are running into the night in these bags just in case. Once we dropped all our bags off in transition we went to have an early pasta/pizza with my parents and some friends and had an early night.
Warrick and I woke up super early on race day both feeling nauseous, nervous and slightly overwhelmed by what we were taking on. After forcing down some futurelife and doing final preps, we made our way to the transition area to pump our tyres on our bikes and hand in our swim bags. It was now the countdown to the start of the biggest race of my life.
The atmosphere at the start of IRONMAN is pretty amazing as you watch the sunrise over the ocean. The professionals then go off first, followed by Warrick’s batch (Men between 20-45yrs) and then my batch – All women and men over 45+yrs.
The start of the race was as expected – super manic as everyone swims towards the first bouy. Once you get passed that first bouy everyone opens up and you are able to get into a rhythm. The swim ended up going very well for me as I finished it in exactly the time I had set out to do which was 01:10 hr and I felt pretty comfortable the whole way. It was then time to jump onto the bike.
My first 90km loop on the bike went surprisingly quicker than I expected and I felt I was keeping a good pace and not pushing too hard. However, the second lap on the bike was a lot tougher as the wind picked up especially in the last 45km. It was in this wind that I realised how tri-bikes are definitely more efficient in these conditions as the riders’ position is so much more aerodynamic than being on a road bike with tri-bars and hence I was getting passed by a lot of athletes on tri-bikes. The last 10km’s on the bike felt like forever and I must say by then I was so ready to get off my bike and start running.
The run course is 3 x 14km loops. The first part of the run loop is along the promenade and this is really fantastic as there is so much support. You then leave the promenade and run up to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University where there is minimal to almost no support and the water tables are less frequent. It is in this part of the run that you mentally have to be strong as once you through the University you head back to the promenade where all the support is again to lift the spirits. My parents came down to support Warrick and I and it really was so awesome to be able to see them frequently on the run (this definitely helped motivate me along the way and made this race that much more special). This was also my first ever marathon distance run and so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I definitely feel that I could have maybe pushed harder on the run but nevertheless I felt strong at the end running down the carpet with Paul K announcing that I am an IRONMAN!
Looking back on the journey I took to completing my first ever IRONMAN has taught me so much about myself and what I am able to achieve and accomplish. As our former President Nelson Mandela once said “It always seems impossible until it is done!” and this has become a saying that I now truly understand and live by each and every day.