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April 18, 2013

The Other Report: Ironman South Africa

It’s roughly 4pm and I am heading out the back of the university. I see one of my favourite people in the world ahead of me. He is running tall, proud and having a good day out.

I know I’ve had a good day out. Not a great day, but a solid, good day. I came into this race slightly underprepared, wanting to have the day I have just had and I am happy for the tailwind and the sight of my buddy Andy.

A day of attrition averted I am still running under 5min per km and taking my time at the aid stations rather than trying to push the pace.

I have no idea where I am placed in my age group, but I do know that I paced myself well on the day and that I am going to have a chafe spot in the unholiest of places tomorrow. The mild sting from my shorts a fresh reminder of how rough the coastal road has become in recent years.

I catch Andy and we have a brief chat. I keen pushing as slowing even a little would mean slowing a lot and I want to get to the finish line. As I round the bottom corner, a moment overwhelms me as another person says “Well done Ninja” ; it’s the moment where I am totally humbled, overwhelmed that someone else reads this blog along with the hundreds of other similar mentions I got all day, fueling me onwards. My bottom lip starts to shake a little and as the emotion overwhelms me, I have to wrap my head around it and focus it to strength to take me home.

I give a silent thanks to every person on the route, put my head down and drive towards the finish.

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I came to the race with no pressure, no stress. With Kyle Buckingham a year older and into our age group in his final year as an age grouper (well, the rest of the field hopes so but we’ll see) I knew it was game over for the win unless something tragic happened to him. He is the real deal and has put his head down, taken his opportunities and putting in the hours to be a PRO in 2014. I wish him all the luck – he certainly seems to have the mustard.

So my goals were to get through the race in one piece. Last year, I was smashed after the race to a degree I cannot express. This year, I have Joberg2C only 10 days after the Ironman day, so the goal was to race hard, but race smart and not have to “go to the well” as such.

I spoke with my local athletes and they advised a smart racing strategy mainly around the first lap of the ride, where riding too hard would be very easy, leaving many scratching their heads post-race as to where it went wrong…

The swim was uneventful and I got out the water in the front pack, where I wanted to be.

My legs deserted me on the first lap of the bike and I just waited for them to come around as I tried to stay low, pedal smoothly and get through the first lap in under 1:40 missing it with about 50seconds but happy as my legs started coming back and the wind started pushing.

I carried all my nutrition with me this year, mixing as I went, making sure I didn’t lose it or end up without it at any given time. Last year this was one of my key downfalls & once everything was settled on lap 2 of the ride, I was 1:37 and change into the third lap and made sure I held back a little on lap 3 so that I could run smooth.

That soon went out the window as I sat in T2 putting on my shoes when a group of 4 guys in my age group came through. I figured I was in 5th already, so heading out in 9th was just a little too much for me. The animal was woken and I thought to myself that I need to drop them early to show them they had possibly ridden too hard.

I ran the first 5km in 20min, leaving them all behind me and at 10km I went through in 42min, slowing just enough to get back on track. I wanted to run easy and give myself the space to walk the aid stations on lap 3 and keep running under 4:50 per km all the way home.

Again, that plan changed as I caught Bradley Venter at about 12km and he stuck to my feet like peanut butter to a mohair carpet and so we ran for the next 14km as I tried to set a decent pace with a few variations as I tried to let him go. At this point I felt I was still in 5th or 6th in my age group and knew I was on track for 9:15 comfortably without too much pain.

After ignoring it for ages, I had to have the chat with Brad. I needed to pee.

“Bud, I need to pee. How are you going?”

“I’ll pee too.”

And so, at 26km, we stood next to the side of the road and had a pee. I watched him walk about the bush and head back onto the road as my firetruck bladder was still only a third of its way to empty. After what felt like 5minutes I was back on the road and the break in rhythm seemed to affect Bradley as I passed him and never saw him again.

The last lap was my best last lap ever at Ironman South Africa. I was calm, in control and still running sub 5 minutes per km comfortably. I ate quite a few potatoes and avoided the coke. Up and through the varsity without ever walking is a huge success for me and from here; we head to the start of this blog post, to my moment out there.

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Thank you to all who were at the finish line when I arrived. Thank you for pretending you believed I would leave the red carpet if you didn’t cheer louder. You cheered.

Louder.

Across the finish line we went & time to get dressed so that I can spectate a little. My supporters are tired but they put up with my requests. I have no idea of my actual time or where I placed and only once I speak to my parents do I know I ended up 3rd in my age group and that I went 9:16 and change. Both elements are unimportant to me as I am beaming ear to ear with the race and the support and the vibe.

I cheers for about 2 hours until my wheels start coming off. I see friends finishing with smiles and others with grimaces but I cheer mercilessly for all who come by. They are heroes to me. Each has a story like mine, likely better. All I know is how to write it down. For every cheer I got on the day, I want to give out two and I cheer for everyone who comes by. It’s a magical end to my race experience before the wheels come off.

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I’m sitting at Bridge Street Brewery, talking smack with friends. We are about four draughts down, each. They started as athletes I coached over the period of months and years, but now, I call them friends. We are teasing each other, laughing at the highs and the lows & celebrating being done with another Ironman. The race doesn’t scare any of these guys any more.

They understand that it has to be a part of their lives, fit in with work, family, love, friends, hobbies & all the rest. They have kids, commitments, challenges and they deal with them with what I can only call panache.

My work here is done. My easiest Ironman ever, but the most rewarding in so many ways.

A big thank you to my sponsors who make it all possible & who support my dreams;

– Rehidrat Sport for the best nutrition out there & the big love over the years.
– Trek Bicycles for the fastest, smoothest bike I have ever ridden.
– Velocity Sports Lab for the continued support & belief in what I am trying to do here.
– Orca for the best kit to carry me from beach to brewery – No chafe is a win!
– 7th Element for the belief in my “system” and supporting our Songo Garden.
– Salomon for kit love. I run a lot of trail in the year and use their hydration packs through all seasons & race days.
– Stor-Age for making my house a little less cluttered, giving me headspace.
– Oakley for protecting my eyes and allowing me to hurt without showing competitors the pain.

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