I think many of you know that my lifestyle has changed quite a bit in recent years. It’s not as a result of anything major or some massive shift, but rather just a choice I made. I decided to trade in the late nights for early mornings, opting for healthy nutrition instead of fatty midnight snacks, and swop my dancing shoes for running ones. I started with a few 5km runs and mini triathlons. Those quickly developed into half marathons, 70km cycles, and Olympic distance triathlons. I thrived, I got fitter, healthier. I completed a nutrition course through the Sports Science Institute of South Africa and I began my partnership with Futurelife. It’s been quite a journey. One that has lead me to this point… That being Ironman finisher.
I don’t know what it is that made me want to do triathlons, but I’m so grateful I started. I think for many years I’ve watched people crawl across the finish line at the Comrades Marathon. I’ve watched cycle races here and there, and I myself have completed nine Midmar Mile open water swims. So how did the thought of combining all three of these disciplines come to be? I think it’s because of that exact reason. You’re not ‘suffering’ the whole day, distance, duration, doing one discipline, but rather breaking it up into three. Your training is a mixture of the three. That with some strength training (I say some because let’s be honest, I don’t know many gym bunny triathletes).
Last year I put my mind to participating in the 70.3 Half Ironman in East London. If I’m honest, I went in blind i.e. doing what I thought was right from a training perspective, but not actually having the foggiest idea. I remember the overwhelming sense of terror and emotion when I arrived in East London. The weather was miserable, to say the least, and I was horrified at the thought of having to swim in the sea. I love swimming, but looking at those swells made me super nervous. I recall saying to my mom there is no way I’ll be able to make it out of the swim in conditions like that. Mother being a mother put my mind at ease and brought me back to earth by saying “yes darling. Nobody is going to swim in weather like that.” Lucky for me, the wind direction changed, the swells subsided and the weather was but magical. The race briefing was also quite an experience. Paul Kaye, a regular MC on the Ironman South Africa fixture told us all that the Buffalo City 70.3. was rated one of the most difficult in the world. There I was thinking mkay, it will be hard, but really that hard? He was right. Especially when it came to the cycle. It’s kak, it’s horrendous, grueling, brutal. It’s worse than a gory episode of Game of Thrones. Jokes, I’m being dramatic, but it’s really not pleasant. Especially when the wind isn’t at your back. Alas, I completed that leg and the entire course in under seven hours. Not bad for a novice. I knew what I’d done right (the swim) and I knew what needed to be improved… the bike, the run, the transitions, the nutrition. So I signed up with the Team Tissink, opting for their programme to get ready for the 5150 series, as well as East London’s race (for my sins).
The discipline one learns throughout a process like this is remarkable. I’ve heard many triathletes say the training is the most difficult, and that when it comes to race day, it’s all about bringing all those elements together. It’s true. Very, very true, but more on that later. Training through winter requires a lot too. Leaving the comforts of a warm bed to get up for a half marathon, a four-hour ride, or worse, a 2km swim isn’t the easiest, but when you’ve invested time, money and a lot of energy to this, you damn well get up and you go. So when August rolled around at the first of the 5150 races snuck up on me, I believed I was ready to go. I was for the most part, but for some reason at the end of the race, my time wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. Sure the conditions were challenging, to say the least, but I’d trained, how could I be slower? I put on my big boy pants, I stopped sulking and back to training I went. East London was approaching. I continued with my runs, my longer cycles and squeezed in my swims here and there. The next race was the 11 Global race in Sun City. I’d never done that one, but I was encouraged to attempt it. So I signed up and readied myself for the race. That one was tough too, if for no other reason than the heat and that dreaded hill up to the Palace. I thought I’d done relatively well. I congratulated my family friends, and then went back to my room to pack up and head out. On my way back to Jozi, my friends called to say I’d actually come third in my age group and that I’d missed my podium moment. The one bloody time I don’t stay. This was amazing and it showed the training was starting to come together.
GALLERY: BECOMING AN IRONMAN
Training continued into December and let me tell you, this is very hard. For one, you’re tired from the working year. Then everyone is going on holiday, eating and drinking up a storm and you’re not. You’re training and a lot. Why? Because come the new year, it means you’ve got some twenty days before 70.3. This year, I was done in KZN for a few days and the in the Eastern Cape. I decided I would use the two weeks to train long and hard, but what I didn’t expect was to get sick. The doctor booked me off for a week, put me on a course of antibiotics and told me not to exercise at all. Super frustrating, but perhaps the break did me the world of good! I managed to get back into it in Jeffreys Bay and that put my mind at ease. Also, training at sea level is amazing. Gosh, the air is so light and clean. Do I sound like a tree hugger? Haha.
I won’t bore you with the details around my race in East London, but what I will tell you is that it was just as hard as last year, but I managed to knock off a good twenty-seven minutes. So it worked, and I was happy. Done, thanks for coming… Said no one. Ever. My friends had planted the seed of full Ironman in my head at our year-end function, but I wasn’t keen. I mean really? They kept saying it’s the best race you will do. I think in the back of my mind there was a little voice encouraging me to enter. I chatted to the coach and after some (not much actually) convincing, I entered full Ironman. Are you actually joking, Von Berg? Have you seen the distances? Have you actually lost your mind? Those were some of the questions I asked myself, but hey, the entry was in and there was no time to chill.
And so began some of the most challenging times I’ve ever experienced. Double sessions in the week, a minimum of nine hours over the weekend. Lots of training, not so much sleep. A lot of eating, and not a lot of socialising. That was my existence in the build-up to the big race. And all of that on top of a demanding day job, including preparing for a conference, which almost ended me. Again, your mental strength is tested to no end, and I’m so happy I had that in retrospect. The excited nervousness mounted and when I boarded my plane to PE, along with some other very fit looking Ironmen, I realised how real shit had actually just become. I had two days to chill, acclimatise and ready myself for the biggest challenge I’d ever set myself. My uncle and I headed through to PE via the cycle route, which was great and really scenic. Maybe not the type of response you would expect for someone about to embark on an 180km cycle, but hey anything to take your mind off the task ahead 😉 Registration was a breeze, everything just seemed to go quite smoothly. The vibe was great too. Old mates catching up with one another, racers brought their families and I heard the accents of loads of international athletes. Simply put, there was a great energy in Port Elizabeth, which really helped alleviate the nerves somewhat.
On Saturday all, athletes get the opportunity to do a practice swim. For anyone who lives inland, or who doesn’t enjoy swimming that much, I would highly recommend this. You get a feel for the water, the temperature, your markers and the like. It really is a good idea. It’s also extremely well organised in that only athletes with timing chips are able to swim. If you don’t have your chip, you are not allowed into the water. Are they strict? Yip they are. So much so they didn’t let one of the delegates from the Prince of Bahrain participate in the swim because he didn’t have his tag. He tried to pull the “do you know who I am” card, but the officially wasn’t having any of it! After that, the day really just flew by. It was a matter of checking the bike, going for a ride, changing a flat tube (FML), packing bags, packing special needs bags, rushing to drop it off in transition, finding out where everything goes and then remembering where it all went. It’s a whirlwind, and your stomach really does start to do all kinds of acrobatic moves as the hours tick by and as the race approaches.
We went for a really chilled dinner at one fo the restaurants near to the place we were staying. It started out nicely but then my nervous energy really kicked in and unbeknown to me, my leg was twitching to the point that my mom pointed it out to me. It was time for bed. It was also just before 8pm, but you know. Ironman. So this was it, a good few hour’s rest before the race would be grand. Sadly I didn’t sleep much. I kept thinking about this, that, all them scenarios you can imagine popped into my head, but then it was time to get up and go! The calm before the storm really. The very last bit of your prep is to grab your bottles, nutrition and stick them in where they’re needed for the race. It was still dark, but the nervous energy was actually quite light and jovial. Even on the back where everyone waits for the buzzer to go off and the race to start. Honestly, it felt like I’d stood there for hours on end waiting. You heard such random conversations too. I quietly stood there with my goggles on and ready to roll, but I did enjoy a chuckle or two before we set off. When the anthem played I cried man tears. Shame, poor little emotional me haha. And like that, we were off.
Let me tell you, one of the most magical moments of the race happened in the water. We swam out towards the sunrise and for a brief ten seconds or so, I looked up, admired such beauty from 300metres or so off shore and realised that this was actually happening and that I was actually going to do it (goosebumps moment). Okay epiphany moment, okay, now swim son! That swim was long and rather rough, but I managed and in the time I’d set out to do it in. Good start. Look I took my sweet time in transition, which is a little silly, but perhaps it helped too because the 180km was going to take a while, to say the least. Again I won’t bore you with all the details of the cycle, but let’s put it this way, it’s long. Very, very long but it’s nice. The conditions were incredible and the vibe along the route was magical. For those of you who haven’t done the race, you might be interested in this ‘special needs’ bag story. So basically you’ll pack two bags for your cycle and run leg. You put whatever you absolutely need in there, be it more liquid, a proper meal (sandwich, baby potatoes, a shirt or top to keep you cool or suncream). On the cycle leg, you can collect your bag at the 92km mark. So that’s what I intended to do, but when you’re in a daze and you see what you want to see, I thought I’d missed it. And that would’ve been dire, as my bottles were in there. Luckily I calmed down to a mild panic and all was under control. If you’re looking to do the race next year, note that whatever you don’t use in that bag, you lose! So think carefully about what you put in there.
After another ‘tea party’ in transition, I decided it was time to head off on my maiden marathon run. How bad can it be? WELL…. I’m usually a decent runner, but off the bike I’m weak. So running into the sun, on tired legs and it being my first marathon didn’t make for a pleasant experience. Add four loops to the equation and my sense of humour was officially gone. But you make friends along the way, friends who become your bests but you’ll probably never see again. The support along the route is amazing. When you really need a push, these people do so with their words of encouragement. It was on this run that I felt like I’d really pushed my body to its limit. I was tired, physically, but my mental strength was what got me through this. I was in pain, but I smiled and I made it through. The moment I hit that red carpet, I was overwhelmed by an incredible sense of accomplishment. It was amazing, exhilarating. It was without a shadow of a doubt, the best moment of my life. I’d done the impossible and made me realise that is ANYTHING ACTUALLY IS POSSIBLE.
My friend, Cherry-Lee told me this is the most amazing race you’ll ever do, and boy was she right. It was and I while it was the most difficult day out, it was also the most amazing.
Here comes my Oscar winning speech:
I’d like to thank my number one supporter, my dear mom. Through thick and thin, erratic mood swings, countless breakfasts, brunches and the like, my mom has been so amazing. My family, my friends, and colleagues have all been so damn patient with me. It was a long journey, but without their patience and understanding, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get through this. My Futurelife fam, who kept me healthy, happy and content. The perfect pre-race food, post-training smoothies and during training bars, snacks etc. So honoured to be working with such a strong brand. Natalie and Raynard Tissink, I know I’ve been quiet, but without your training programme, I know I would never have made it through this race. I also know what to expect now and what I need to improve on, so I’m keen to work on next year. Yip, if it isn’t clear, I am definitely doing this again. I need to #ChaseTheSun and I’m officially hooked. Oh yes, and I have bragging rights for life. I am an Ironman!