Ironman South Africa, Port Elizabeth 2017

0:53:12 - Swim
0:03:53 - T1
5:18:47 - Bike
0:03:46 - T2
4:12:28 - Run
10:32:96 - TOTAL - 36th M45-49, 287th Overall

Race Preview
Race Review


I was feeling excited about this race and pretty calm. Despite this I still had my usual fitful nights sleep where I seem to manage to wake myself every 15 minutes. In fact, i had a record the night before this race. I nodded off having looked at my watch “xx:47” and woke thinking “great I’ve slept for ages. I wonder what time it is?” – “xx:52” – 5 minutes later ! By 2am this is getting frustrating as I feel really tired but I just keep waking up.

So 4am I’m in the breakfast buffet. 2 years ago they had the full buffet (i.e. sausage, egg, bacon) and this year they put a kind note in the room saying there was a full english buffet from 4am. So I was pretty disappointed when I found that there wasn’t any of the hot items – had to make do with hard boiled eggs and cold meats.

I wandered down to the transition – bike was all ok. So left transition to go to the loo. First time ever – wasn’t a single queue for the loos. I hung out with Tara before wandering to the start.

With these new rolling starts my nerves are completely gone. It was always the stress of making sure I was on the front line that got my nerves up. This time I knew that it wasn’t in my interests to start early. So I hung at the back of the sub 1hr pen and wondered at the number of people in the pen. Clearly a lot more than normally manage sub hour. After the Pros had started it was amazing how pushy people were to get in first. By the time I’d got to the front it was 5.5 minutes after the start.

swim-imsa17.jpgIt was a really choppy swim – I got through the surf and just focussed on swimming easy and maintaining my stroke length. Sighting every stroke most of the time to make sure i was going straight – with choppy seas it’s easy to get knocked off course. I was constantly swimming through people who were clearly no where near sub hour pace. In fact towards the end of the swim I was passing people that were no where near that pace who must have started right at the front. This year the buoys were much easier to sight but all around me people were going at 45 deg to my line and changing direction regularly. Many must have ended up swimming so much further.

I really enjoyed the swim, swam through to close to the front with a 53:12 split. I was very pleased with that, faster than the effort felt.

Transition was amazing – think I had four ladies helping me. One stripped my wetsuit whilst another put my cycle jersey on for me! Before I knew it was off and mounting my bike. Had my shoes on the bike – I’m impressed with Bont shoes other than the fact that after riding with feet flat on the top they are very hard to get your foot in to the shoe. I was close to stopping to sort it out but finally managed it. I then got on it and I think was a little enthusiastic early on which wasn’t helped by not being able to see my power numbers with my sunglasses on! As the sun rose higher in the sky I started to be able to see them.

Out to the far turnaround we had a tailwind and it was pretty fast getting there in just over 1:15. The hard work started on the way back. I must say this ride was the fairest I’ve ever been a part of. I didn’t see one thing thing I thought questionable and there were loads of refs. I think there must have been nearly a dozen occasions that I had a ref cruise by me. There was one point where a guy came by and dropped in front of me, sat up and stopped pedalling. I shouted something along the lines “sitting up and freewheeling, now thats helpful” – he started pedalling again so at least I didn’t have to hit my brakes. Seconds laters a ref cruises by me goes up to him and gives him a card.  The guy is clearly irate and argues and I see the ref demonstrating that he’d blocked me. Not long after this I was making the biggest descent down to the coast – as I hit my brakes ready for the turn I hear a “thop thop thop” on my front wheel. Gave me a bit of a shock until I spotted the big bit of gaffer taper thats stuck to my front tyre. I had to stop to remove it.

bike_imsa17The scenery on the course is superb, looking out at this lovely coastline. It’s certainly an improvement on the course 2 years ago. However, it’s deceptively tough. The road service is very rough (my mind had clearly blanked the memory) and it rolls a lot but there are only two climbs on each lap that really require you to come out of aero. This means it’s quite unrelenting.

As I came back to town in to the headwind I felt like I’d over-cooked it a bit. My normalised power at that point was 229 which is OK, low compared to when I’ve done my best bike splits but based on how I was feeling I decided I needed to back off going out with the tailwind so that I had something left for the return. I made the turn in 2:37 and my mood was very low. Luckily I kept my brain switched on and figured the low mood was probably due to one or both of a couple of reasons – low energy and going to hard. I spent the next 45k trying to correct this – I got energy from the aid stations, ate my energy bars and backed off the effort.

By the turn point of the second lap my normalised power was down to 221. It had felt harder than expected and when I turned I realised why. The wind had changed direction so it was now a tailwind home. I realised that some of the quicker guys may have timed it to perfection and got a tailwind both ways !! I started pushing the pace. I was holding 240-250w and felt so much better. It was also helped by not just passing a lot of guys but absolutely blowing by them. On the way back I got stung on my upper left arm. Not sure what it was but even now as I write this two days later theres what looks like an inch long scar that’s still red and sore.

In the final 10k we seemed to get a headwind again which was a little demoralising but I still managed a 5:18 split which was at the bottom end of what I’d hoped for but it was so much better than I’d thought I’d manage 45k before. My normalised power was back up to 225w which was still below what I’d hoped I could hold but it was clear that my hopes had probably been unrealistic.

Given how much more run training I’ve been doing the past 6 months I was quite excited to get out on the run. As I sat getting my Vibram Seeyas on I went to switch my Garmin 235 to run mode. Completely blank screen. Tried to power it up. Nothing. I thought it had run out of battery, no idea how. (turns out it’s crashed completely. Stopped working. Caput.) It crossed my mind to go grab my bike computer as now I had absolutely no way of getting splits – no time of day, no stop watch.

run-imsa17I set off having to run on feel and I’ll be honest the first few KMs I felt terrible. I knew from my many brick runs they often started like this. I was right after 2k I started to feel ok and focussed on running relaxed as I had no idea of what pace I was doing. I felt AOK and was quite enjoying it but boy oh boy did it feel hot. The forecast had said 26-27c but it felt so much hotter (the following day I found out at the start of the run it was 37!!). I needed to pee so at about 7k I was hunting the portoloos – it was like they were hidden about 20 feet behind an aid station behind a truck ! It was only after I’d been I started spotting the big signs saying “Toilets” ! I felt so much better after and through the first lap I was running well.

Starting the 2nd lap I suddenly didn’t feel so great. It wasn’t so comfortable running. I felt disappointment since I felt with the running I’d done I could at least get through to halfway before feeling it was such hard work. Some time around this point I over-heard a spectator telling this athlete he was in 18th and when he passed me I saw he was in my age group – so clearly I was way off the slots. I knew off the bike I must have had about 6:20 on the clock (couldn’t confirm as my garmin had crashed) … so I felt a 3:40 ish marathon would get me around 10hrs and a good shout for a slot. After the race I found that there were some really quick guys out there and quite a bit under 9:50 was what was required.

I found myself walking. So disappointing, not even sure why. Big negative thoughts. Concluding that I just don’t have it mentally anymore for Ironman. As I write this I’m still not sure whether I’m right or wrong about that. I’d pick landmarks to walk to and then start walking. I’d then say to myself I’ll run as soon as the next little kid high 5s me ! This always seemed to make them smile and there were so many on the course it didn’t take long to find one to get me running again. At one point I saw this guy ahead start to cramp massively in both carbs to the point he was going to fall over. No one was helping him so I stopped and gave him a hand to a barrier so he could stretch it. My timing chip was cutting in to my ankle so I stopped to sort. My shoe lace came undone – another stop. All excuses.

I’d spotted both Mark and Tara out on the course. Tara was running strong and I thought ” if you walk too much she’ll chase you down”. Mark was slowly closing in on me and we had a side bet of beer (s?) on who was fastest. Given my starting after 5 minutes I thought there was a chance he’d started before me. He was closing slowly and by the middle of the third lap (of four) I was sure he would pass me within KM. The turnaround towards the end of each lap is a drag uphill and then back down. Nothing massive but enough that you notice it. He’d still not caught me and as I came back down I saw him about a minute back at the same time that two guys ran by me. I decided to try and run properly down the hill. It crossed my mind that I might have self inflicted this poor running by never forcing myself in to a proper running form and I also thought it would be funny to give Mark a real surprise and the next turn around when I was miles ahead.

At this point I was just doing anything to keep going and this seemed like a bit of a ‘laugh’. I also thought I should see if I could force myself to run. For the next 5k I was running properly. at the time no idea of the splits (with hindsight I was sub 5 min ks) – it felt great and I was so much faster than any runners around me. Each time it crossed my mind to slow down I actually increased my effort. As I came back from the turnaround early in the last lap I was looking for Mark. I’d decided to try and look like I was suffering and as soon as we’d passed hit it again. I’d made it all the way back to the the aid station by the time I saw Mark and I thought he may even miss me (he didn’t) and I knew I must have put 6-7 minutes in to him in 5k. It made me smile and made me try to hit it again. This is when the all over cramps started. My quads, my hamstrings felt on the verge of cramp but worst were my forearms and triceps. I had to shake out my arms. I was certainly paying for my efforts and I had to periodically walk to sort myself out. I was knocking back gels to try and get some salt. I knew that if I was just cramping in the working muscle it was probably due to fatigue but this was alsorts of different muscles cramping so much more likely lack of salts.

finish-imsa17By the final turnaround Mark had closed back up a fair bit. I tried to hit it hard for the final few k. I managed a small increase in pace and crossed the line ahead of Mark. I waited for him and we had a laugh about the little game I’d played. Turned out he’d started 10 minutes after the start so had beaten me by 4 minutes ! We hung around for Tara who had had a great race finishing 2nd F25-29 in her first Ironman. She was actually only 2 minutes slower than me as though she’d stood with me in the pen she’d let loads of people go ahead of her so had started 15-20 mins after the start.

I felt pretty disappointed about my race but I had on the whole enjoyed it. It certainly helped to meet up with new friends so soon after the finish and share our races. Mark was so upbeat about us both detonating on the run and yet still having our little race that I couldn’t help but feel happier. Tara was completely stoked and buzzing.

This is a great race. I would do it again… just wish flights were cheaper.

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