Its 6am on Saturday, 11 October, 2008 and I am body marked, excited and relaxed, talking nonsense with Belinda Granger poolside before I have to get in the water to warm up to race the Ironman in Hawaii. I have spent a considerable amount of time, money and make difficult choices to be there. I am totally over the moon and a real calm has come over me in the last few days. I am excited to be in the best shape of my life. My family is ringside and there are so many people out there to help me today. This humbles me…
Lets go into the few days leading into the race to make sure I cover this entire process correctly, as I have to deal with number crunchers out there who want all the details.
The week leading into the race is always exciting for me. Resting up, relaxing and prepping my mind for a tough day out there. I know I can finish the race and that’s not a cause for concern for me. I got my Suunto replaced by the awesome guys from Suunto America. My bike is perfect; my packs are all ready to go. I am calm and on Thursday I got 9 hours of sleep, and the night before the race, I slept through without waking once. I find myself in a new place in my life.
I am worried about my knee, it never quite made the economy class trip without a hassle, but the massage this week has helped. I am confident it will play along.
I am concerned that I am not hungry. I have tried to eat healthy all week but the food here is different. Processed, even when you buy the good stuff and cook at home. My meals were smaller and smaller, and I put that down to taper week. It’s not a big concern, but nutrition is key for me.
Its 6am and I am about to embark on an amazing journey in an exquisite place, where undoubtedly I will have to dig deep in some way. A real juxtapose, this gorgeous landscape, with so many people suffering out there.
7am and the gun goes! 1800 souls each vying for a tight line in the water. I have never experienced a swim start like this. It’s laughable at best, and I swim under water for 5m to get a clear path and when I pop up I find a nice set of feet to settle on. At about 1km I go around the feet and swim at the head of a small pack to the turnaround. I stop and take a look around me. It’s incredible to be here. I adjust my swim cap and head back to Kailua Pier, now at the back of the small pack. I am not rushed at all and feel completely in the zone.
Before the start I was hoping for a 56-minute swim. I wasn’t sure how we were going but I was well within myself. I opted to swim a little easier than in PE, in lieu of the conditions out there for the rest of the day. 55:31 and I am back in transition
Its transition 1 before I can say wow! There are so many volunteers and guys in T1. Loads of quality swimmers out here. I get my bag, change and head for my steed waiting for a good day out. We head out onto Palani drive and I see my supporters and they have the biggest banner out there. It brings a rush of emotion over me and I know it’s going to be an amazing day out there.
Heart rate is good. Speed is great. Even more great cyclists out here. The Germans all come hammering by. I am now out on the Queen K highway and settling in well. Nutrition struggling to get in but I push on. By 20km into the bike and a nice group has formed where I am. We are all within the limits and a draft marshal was with us all the way, making sure there weren’t any cheaters on board. We are going well with a crosswind that’s helping us along a bit. I am really comfortable and we are cruising along.
By 40km I am concerned at the trouble with getting my gels in. I just can’t seem to even get my carb drink in either. I check my heart rate and I am well within the limit of the day, in fact, I am spot on. At the 50km mark I realize I am in trouble and need to start making a plan. I get half an energy bar in but the rest just wont go.
Its 40 degrees Celsius out there on the road and I am still going along nicely, our group are all doing turns and I am well within my limits, heart rate, effort and joy factors are all still well within my legal limit. I am quite excited about today and all the training is paying off. I just wish I could eat. Or drink.
At the 60km mark I need to make a decision. So often in life it’s a choice to make. I could keep going at this pace and risk walking on the run, as I am getting no calories in. At the turn up to Hawi I make the choice and drop my bottles in favor or a weak coke and water mix. It seems to be palatable.
Then the winds picked up. Cross winds like I have never seen. Cape Town has some catching up to do. I start the 30km climb (I kid you not) to Hawi and I am fighting with myself for this new race plan. I watch the group go into the distance as I drop my heart rate by 12 beats a minute in order to conserve some energy for later in the day. Who knows when I might eat again and I want to be able to run the whole way today. I am not here for a PB (even if I was on course) and I choose to relish in the experience of the day. Plan B is still a good plan, if you consider where I am at this point.
It feels as if every guy in my age group was right behind me at this point and came by. I swear – every guy who came by in the next 10 minutes had a 28 on his leg. A good indication of where this race is in terms of quality.
At the turn around I get my bottles at special needs and they are frozen and taste pretty good and I get most of them in on the downhill. Much valued calories at this point. I take 1 bite of an energy bar and spit it out, and the gels still aren’t happy. Oh well. As I’m contemplating all of this in a freak gust of wind the guy 20 meters ahead of me goes down hard on the tarmac. The wind simply picked him up and put him down, at 60km/h. I stop and check him out. He is crying as he knows his day is over and a lady comes running along shouting “I’ve called 911!” and I am so grateful she I there. She helps me calm the poor guy down and when he is looking ok, I get on my bike and keep going down the hill. I heard 10 people got blown off their bikes. Some into the railings, some into the tar, and the lucky few who ended up in the grass, clearly Madam Pele likes you.
I am going through copious amounts of coke and water now, and keep trying small bits of food but it just won’t go down. I am thankfully not throwing up; I just keep spitting it out.
The rest of the bike was a headwind for the last 60km back to town. I was finding a nice rhythm at this new designated race pace and had a smile on my dial. I meet some new people and keep going on nutrition plan B. I was in just a shade over 5:30 and realized I lost about 30 minutes on the time we were looking at when I got to 60km. This is based on what that group of guys actually rode, not some phantom Ironman calculation. I was bummed as I was in the shape to ride 5 hours on the day, but it just wasn’t meant to be today. I was indeed, paying my Kona dues, in some way or another.
The heat and the wind are all they are cracked up to be today, but you know, before its all too much, you are back in transition and the 10 000 people around there are cheering you on again. I take my time in T2 as I try getting to the loo in hopes that it might clear my ability to not eat. Alas, it was all for nothing and I was out of T2 with a smile, because this was still the Ironman World Champs and I was still in good spirits (must have been the sugar rush all day) and ticking along nicely. I wasn’t running to planned speed, but then again, I hadn’t planned on that from about 3 hours before that. I cruised and found solace in orange slices. Coke, water and orange slices. Nothing else would go down.
I was out on Alii Drive and loving it. Supporters, loads of other athletes, this was an amazing day. It was hot hot hot but the Volcanic Fog (aptly called Vog) was starting to roll in and would bring some respite once I was back out on the highway I thought. The plan was to continue 1 foot in front of another and keep the sugar coming baby!
As I turned the corner for the highway Craig Alexander came by and I high fived him as he was leading the race. I had 24km to go. I must admit that I was feeling on the edge by now and my run was based on aid station to aid station nutrition. I was bloated from all the coke and my head was feeling pretty dizzy. I plodded along the highway and coaxed a few people to plod with me as I passed a few of them. Into the Energy lab and the temperature was 35 degrees Celsius and I was feeling a little better with all the vibe out there. It’s a drag but I got through the Lab without walking and headed back to town.
It’s a steady 8km climb back to town and I could see on the Suunto I was slowing a little, but it was no surprise. I was running on an empty tank and needed to get there sooner than later. Potty stop! I let a rush of sugar and air out that made the walls shake in probably the longest fart you’ve every heard. I laughed out loud, clearly a little delirious by this point.
As you come into town you realize there are only 2km left and I eased up even more, I walked and high fived the people along Alii Drive and when I saw the Ironman banner at the hanging tree I stopped and walked the last 100 meters to the finish. I had no idea of my time, I saw my dad and I was so happy. I gave him a hug and grabbed a South African flag. I walked and high fived people, whistling and loving this finish. Then as I was going to start the ramp to the line, a guy wanted to come by, so I stopped and let him finish. I walked up and put my arms in the air and wham! Its over. Raoul de Jongh, you are an Ironman. Mike Reilly bellowed across the speakers as just row after row of athletes came in.
I later found out I came in around 10:10 in time, which honestly, was faster than I thought would be possible once I was on the run. I hung together a 3:30 marathon on an empty tank and I am quite chuffed about that. I was on the backburner most of the day and came out with a real sub par result, but a real above par experience.
What a grand day. If I can go 10:10 in those conditions with no calories then I know what’s in me for the future. I know that my goals were realistic and that indeed, I have been really honest with myself over the winter.
Processed foods, excitement and whatever it was that kept me from eating kept me hungry until the Monday morning after the race. I got in very little until then and I guess we’ll never know. I am happy to let it go, as my experience on the day far exceeded my lack of achieving the athletic goal on the day.
Kona is such an experience-based race and you should never look back and analyze your time unless you are in to win your age group. On track I would have just snuck in the top 10 in my age group, which is what I thought possible. That’s just that, a top 10. What’s the point of finishing in the medical tent, without remembering the last miles to finish 9th in your age group. I wouldn’t give my last 2km up for that!
I am satisfied with the results and ecstatic about the experience of the race. It has connected me with amazing people and I will go back in a few years time to race again. Right now, I want to enjoy the summer and spend time with my loved ones again and Ironman thoughts are a mile away.