At the weekend I participated in what was the most grueling but rewarding sporting event and challenge I’ve ever entered. East London played host to this, the eighth Standard Bank 70.3 Half Iron Man, in which some 3000 athletes participated. I was one of them, and I got the medal to prove it. The distances are anything but easy:
1,9km swim in the sea
So off my mom I went on Thursday down to “Slummies”. After a long drive, I decided I needed to stretch the legs so I headed to the Virgin Active for a short 5km run. What’s nice about this gym is that your run on the treadmill looks on to the sea. What’s not so nice and is that sea was choppy, rough and what I deemed unfit to swim in. I remember saying to my mom that there was actually no way we would be able to swim in that. It was way to rough and the race organizers said as much in the race briefing the next day. Luckily for us, the wind changed direction and so the conditions weren’t as bad on Friday. I’d say my strongest discipline is definitely swimming, but sea swimming is completely different to swimming in a pool or in a dam. The closest I’ve come to Sunday’s conditions was in 2013, when I participated in Midmar Mile and still it didn’t match up.
On Friday, everything became very real. I had to register early in the morning and then headed off for a practice swim. The process of getting registered is really quick. The volunteers know exactly what is going on and they’re very friendly too, which is great for someone who is an “Iron Virgin” and somewhat nervous *raises hand. As the day progressed and the city filled up with athletes, I got quieter and quieter. The race briefing that night was fantastic. I must say Paul Kaye, the MC at most of these events is on point. He’s funny, informative and entertaining. He also doesn’t beat around the bush. He made sure to tell everyone that this is one of two of the most difficult 70.3s in the world… Boy would I learn the hard way 😉 they showed us a highlights reel from last year’s event and I couldn’t help but feel quite emotional. The fact that I got to this point was big for me. Knowing that in less than 48 hours, I would become one of those athletes to have successfully completed the race was huge.
The next morning I did a longer swim and I really started to feel more comfortable with the water and what my game plan would be. We then killed some time before heading to transition, where it really really got really real. Goodness, the nerves! Bikes, bags, nutrition, making sure everything was in check… I did what I had to and then I moved on. Ain’t nobody got time for hanging around there 😉 As you can imagine, dinner and bed happened quite early, as the next day would be an early start and a long ass day. 1:30 and my dear body clock woke me up, thinking, panicky… The works. Luckily I dosed off for a bit, before my alarm went off at 4:15. I made my Futurelife High Protein smoothie, packed my bottled and headed off to the start. I felt a sense of calm knowing the weather looked good and that the initially worries of us not swimming had now faded, so one last bike check and final prep done, I headed down to the beach. I was clam and ready to go… Seven months of hard work had come down to this.
My swim was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever felt stronger in an open water swim like that. I made up a lot of time there, thank goodness because come the bike leg of the race I would definitely need it. To say the bike route was difficult is an understatement. It was brutal, horrible and for someone who isn’t fond of cycling at the best of times, I can honestly say I hated it. I won’t even try and sugarcoat this for you. It was kak. The wind wasn’t helping and I have never felt more uncomfortable than I did for those long, hilly 90kms. I also finished my two bottles by 45 kms, and I polished off another three bottles of water along the road. Thank goodness for those volunteers and thank goodness for the supporters too. When the going gets tough… Well you put you mental strength forward and you fucking put foot and go. That’s what I did. At 72kms I had no sense of humor and by 86 I was officially over that ride, but I persisted and once I got into transition, I regrouped, took a minute (9 more like it) and got ready for the run.
The run is usually pretty good for me, but I dropped twenty minutes on my usual time, which I guess is to be expected. I walked a fair amount, but when I ran, I ran hard. The last five kilometers were my best, in terms of timing partly because an elderly gentleman was pushing me to get it done with him. And we did just that. I was not comfortable and I was fucktardely exhausted but we did it and I thank him for that. It’s moments like this why I do this stuff… The camaraderie and motivation you get from people along the route is incredible and superb.
I finished the race in 6:33, which isn’t too bad for a first attempt. I lay down on the grass, with all my fellow ‘wounded’ soldiers… It honestly looked like a war zone, but the sense of achievement was just the best. I was extremely happy, but the reality of what I’d just done hadn’t and still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It’ll get there I’m sure.
It’s not like I won the race, but I’m still extremely grateful to so many people for all their love, support and encouragement in the last seven or so months. The amount of training I out in was a lot, but that was matched with an equal amount of patience and understanding from friends and family too. So thank you. You know who you are 😉 To my mom, my biggest supporter and number one fan, I can’t thank you enough. You drove the long drive with me, both to East London and to the point of me getting my medal and I love and thank you so much for that. It really means the world to me!
Things I learned during this experience:
– Be disciplined. If you’re entering, make sure you really want to do this and make sure you put in the hours in the water, on the road cycling and running. Don’t think it’s just an easy thing you can do with no training.
– Follow a training programme or get a coach. I trained mostly by myself, which isn’t great. You need the support of your fellow athletes and coach and this is something I would highly recommend. I’ll be doing this, as I embark on my next 70.3 chapter
– Do as many open water swims as you can, and try squeeze in some sea swimming too. It will put your mind at ease.
– if you’re doing the Buffalo City triathlon, get on your bikes and do a whole lot of hill training. It’ll help you… A lot! Bricks sessions too. I’m a strong runner, but clearly I didn’t do enough of those sessions because I was flat after the cycle.
– This may sound odd, but check your socks. Make sure they’re able to withstand the long cycle and run. If not, pack another pair into your run bag and change them when you’re putting your running shoes on. I had the biggest blister on my left foot and to say it was uncomfortable would be an understatement.
– I battled with my hydration on the course. Mostly because it was hot, but this is something I’m going to do some research on because I believe I wasn’t the only one who struggled with this. I’ll get back those interested in this aspect of racing.
– Closely linked to this, make sure you do your homework with regards to nutrition. You need to figure out what works for you in advance, so that come race day you’re ready to happy with what you need. My Nutritionist advised me to have provitas with bovril in my bike, run transition. I realized on Saturday evening that I’d left them at home, so salty cracks it was. Pity I only had two because these helped immensely and that’s because my body was craving salt.
– I would also suggest that you get your transitions right. I’m useless in this regard because I faff. If you’re reading this and you’re the opposite to me, please share your tips… Suggestions very welcome.
– Lastly, smile!!! It’s a tough day out, but when the supporters along the route cheer you on, smile and engage with them… They want you to get this incredible journey done, just as much as you do. You’ve done the hard work, you’ve earned the right to smile even when your legs are burning and you’ve lost your sense of humor. You’re awesome… Own it!