I am an Ironman

My journey through tiredness, pain, disappointment, happiness and the ultimate elation of

hearing those words “You are…….”

By: David Mackenzie


My first full Ironman was in Austria in sunny/ rainy/ hailstone Klagenfurt. Let me give you some insights into me. I am a 51 year old ‘try harder’ age grouper with over 5 half IM races under my belt. I race for Team Angel Wolf, trained by Jan Gremmen/The Flying Dutchman Team and inspired and motivated by TriDubai and Hasan Itani.

It is probably best to start with the training. I really did put a lot of training in, on average 16 hours per week with most of the rides starting at 8.30pm and ending at 2am the next morning. The heat and humidity in Dubai is a killer. I had a great group of people who rode, ran and swam with me and that kept me focused.

Jan had me on a very strict plan and I followed it to the letter, well apart from the actual race; but that story is for later! I am a very average swimmer so Rory Buck did his best (and he is exceptional) to get me from drowning very slowly to the most important part of the swim... getting out of the water not broken! My running has always been a mixed bag but I can get round in a reasonable time.

So, this all seems the perfect ingredients to make me an Ironman. Well in a perfect world, yes, but on July the 7th in Klagenfurt, Austria it was not going to be an ordinary day.

D - Day


The Swim

4,000 people stood waiting in nervous anticipation in beautifully clear blue skies on the shores of Lake Worthersee. My training ‘other half’ Emma Holt waiting with me in the 120-130 time lane. The music was beating and Paul Kaye gave Team Angel Wolf and TriDubai a big shout out. He made us both feel super excited and very nervous at the same time but then we were there at the gate, ready to start. The swim was amazing, relatively calm and no real hassle in the water. I concentrated on everything Rory had told me and booom I felt great. The swim is a big loop of the lake in near perfect conditions followed by a 900 metre swim up the canal.

Disaster struck at the 3km mark, cramps in my left calf and then my right stopped me in my tracks. Luckily I have some help and after 10 minutes of agony managed to get back on my way up the canal. Defeatist doubts started to creep into my brain as I realised I was 10 mins behind already. I knew I had to make up time but this is where my planning (and Jan’s) started to unravel!

The Bike

This is my happy place. I love the bike and am reasonably quick. Jan knows this and has given me strict instructions to stick to the plan. I did exactly that... well for about 10k then did my usual and shot off like a scalded cat (note to self... always listen to your coach, they are ALWAYS right).

The ride was amazing, beautiful rolling hills with villages full of cheering spectators. It must be said that the support in Austria is unlike anywhere I have raced, they are enthusiastic to say the least and as the day (and the beer) wore on they got more excited. Fantastic. Dario (one of our teammates Stef’s husband) kept popping up and taking amazing photos and cheering me on. Life saver. I focused on keeping my heart rate low while pounding up the hills, not the easiest feat.

I stopped at the Bike needs section (91km into the ride) to grab my sandwich and drinks. Again, preparing a door wedge with peanut butter sandwich was not my brightest idea. I did offer some to a fellow rider but for some reason she was not keen? The weather was amazing and I was flying fast…


Then it struck, first the rain, then the torrential down pour followed by the hail stones. It was impossible to see and the hail was deafening. The marshals pulled people off the course (including Emma) and according to the IM it was very close to being black flagged (cancelled). At this point I did not care and just focused on getting to the end. The biggest hill was to come. I was starting to tire and the hills were beginning to get hard. To give you an example, I pushed out an average 213 watts for 180k (260W for 20min and 235W for 90 min) and my TSS was 538. I pushed too hard and ignored my plan, this combined with the bad swim was about to hit me in the arse!!

Coming into transition was a massive relief as I was cold, tired and almost deaf from the hailstones. As I came in I felt a massive surge of energy, the crowds were huge and cheered me on for the last 1km and finally I saw my wife, Elfty. She said four words that made me feel amazing – You are my Ironman (a bit early but it was what I needed)!

Transitioned looked like a casualty scene from a war, paramedics everywhere with people wrapped in space blankets. I did not realise at the time that the weather had beaten over 1,000 people who DNF’d (did not finish). I raced through and sat down only to be told by an old dude (even older and quicker than me!)to chill and take my time. Great advice and so I slowly got my sh%t together, both mentally and physically. This is when it dawns on you... I have to now run a marathon. My best advice was to do what I was told. It is a 5km run, then another then... I was tired and mentally starting to unravel.

The Run

Running out of transition was like a shot in the arm. Cheering crowds everywhere shouting my name. I started to feel all the emotions coming out. The first 5k was a dream and I started to see my teammates on the run course, Kevin Griffiths, literally sprinting the last part of his race hotly pursued by Inalize. The run course was good and my strategy was to run between all the aid stations. I kept an okay pace and aimed to finish the course in 5 hours. 21k came quickly and I felt good, no pain from my calf and stomach seemed good.


Running through the town square was a real treat. The charity bell in the middle surrounded by super enthusiastic (drunk) supporters was the highlight of the race. This is what keeps you going. The sheer numbers of supporters in Austria is outstanding. 30km appeared and things started to go wrong. I was drinking and eating all the way around but my hips and stomach were complaining. Being sick or not was a constant debate between my body and my brain!

At this point you just mentally have to harden up. It is extremely difficult but this is when your training and your real motivation starts to come through. I did not want to let people down and I had to beat 14 hours. Your head starts to argue with your heart at this point. Walk, run, stop, I need to take my cat to the Vet, sit down, vomit, don’t vomit, how is Trump still President and why does my race number keep flapping? You get the idea, a lot is happening and all I want to do is move forward. I stopped to chat to Emma and give Elf a massive kiss (not sure I was a very attractive sight covered in sweat, isowater and liberal amounts of peanut butter).

The last 4km was excruciating. My body was starting to literally fall apart and my mental strength was at an all time low. As I was nearing the finish line, feeling broken, I met an old lady with her dog. She said “David (name is on my Trisuit!), you are almost there and then you will be an Ironman. Your pain is temporary but your memory of finishing will be permanent, Schell, get a move on and stop walking” It was exactly what I needed!

The Finish

I was almost there, I felt amazing. for some reason I had a massive boost of energy and could hear the crowd and those immortal word ‘You Are An Ironman’ The crowds were shouting my name and I suddenly started running like a leopard rather than a broken donkey.

I ran up the carpet, high fiving everyone including my superfast teams and heard those words I so needed to hear,

David Mackenzie – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

13 hours and 30 minutes. I am happy!


The Feedback

Well what everyone says about an Ironman, it is bloody hard. The training, not the race, is the key. I trained very hard with some amazing people. I rode 1500km with Dee Boys and Stu ’Spicy McChicken’ Foster, I swam close to 4,000Km with Emma and ran, well just ran, ran and ran.

Being very critical, I messed my swim up and went out and killed the ride but this ultimately ruined my run. Always listen to your coach. Jan almost predicted what I would do on my ride and what the effect would be. Well, I did not disappoint him! I have learnt from this and have felt the pain.

Teammates are everything. I went to Austria with a great bunch of people that did nothing but encourage, motivate and support me.

I have too many people to thank but my wife has borne the brunt of all of this. Thank you, my lovely Elf.

My ever patient coach Jan Gremmen, swim coach Rory Buck and all my teammates at Team Angel Wolf, The Flying Dutchman Team and the whole TriDubai community. The messages and posts were truly amazing. Thank you! Ironman takes over your life but ultimately I loved it and I truly believe anyone can do it.




Ironman Cork 2019

I think it would be appropriate to start this little race report with a warning! Late night browsing of Ironman races is not always a good idea! I had decided to join Pia and do a repeat of IM Copenhagen and then got the bright idea to try and do two races in about a month, because......well why not.

Arriving in the Emerald Isle, for a sand monkey like me is always amazing, it is green, not just green but amazingly green. The people are awesome, but a lot more on that later.

All the triathlon bits went off without a glitch minus a bent from axle which is a tip for all my fellow Tri Travelers, DONT USE YOUR BIKE SKEWERS FOR THE BIKE BOX! Buy some cheap ones and use them, the fragile stickers on your bike box is just for decoration!

Youghal, which i was quickly taught is pronounced Y’all is beautiful, stunning coastline, beautifully historic buildings and a ton of stuff to see.

Ended up in a b&b very close to race village and the atmosphere in town was amazing, posters everywhere, every single shop from the grocer to the pharmacy, the church to the music school was supporting.

I was living the dream!!! And then came race morning! To say it’s cold would be to call Daniella Ryf a triathlete, yes it’s true but there is just so much more to it! It just seemed that no matter what I put on I just did not get warm. The night before we had already gotten an email saying that due to temperature difference between the water at that stage between 11 and 13 degrees and the outside also between 9 and 12 depending on who you asked as everyone had an opinion! At this point in time I was disappointed, I figured yes it’s cold but so what? I like the swim and spent two mornings putting my face in that water for practice swims, I am ready!!! I hope you are getting the picture and starting to feel that a big deflation is coming soon!

The call came from IM to cancel the swim, and to be fair, watching the lifeguards on paddle boards trying to stay on top of them it would have been a nightmare to make that swim safe, so it was the right call.

Anyway, moving on, now what? So the announcement would take us into transition tent one bike rack at a time and you got to change into cycling gear, for me this was the usual trisuit, a waterproof cycling jersey, some gloves and a dash of lipstick! To make a VERY long story short it took about another 40 min from that point to actually start. Isn’t this jersey supposed to waterproof?

The bike starts pretty well, but I realize very quickly that my lipstick is the wrong shade of blue!


It is freezing! The rain is being driven into your face and it actually feels like small stones, my sunglasses are misting up but I can’t take them off as I then can’t open my eyes.

Oh how I miss Al Qudra! The road surface is rough, I mean like hang onto the bike for dear life kinda rough! I now also have a new game to play which is dodge the bike bits, bottles, hydration systems, spares kits, tubes and even a Garmin.

The last quarter of the bike loop is tough, it it does what it said on the box and you just have to grind away at it, but the wind is still somehow always in your face and I come to the grand conclusion, this is going to be a long day!


Now I mentioned earlier about the people, at every driveway you pass there are people standing and cheering and supporting and as you get closer to town they just get more and louder! And then there it is, Windmill Hill or as the locals dubbed it Windmill Hell! 430m of 21% gradient lined with shouting cheering and clanging awesomeness! You take that in for all of 1 second and then you lungs start screaming, your legs want to collapse and your heart rate goes ballistic!

Finally at the top of WH and you immediately start thinking about how the hell you will get up there a second time! Start doing some meth, sorry typo, that meant to say math!

In loop one I didn’t manage to eat anything, as I could not get the wrappers on the protein bars open, so at the first aid station on loop two I do a quick stop and ask the nice lady there to open them for me and I eat a handful of them, this will be added later to the list of mistakes!

Without sounding like a stuck record, loop two is just more of the same on much more tired legs. This time I decided that Windmill He’ll is better done halfway and then walking the bike up, not so good for the ego but save the legs, not that there was much to save at this point.

T2!!! I am still alive!

I now get to one of the most interesting experiences of my life, I am in T2 and I can’t get my trisuit off, I am shaking, my hands are numb and I have bad enough brain fuzz that I don’t ask for help, so I basically just sit there. A few minutes pass and I finally manage to get moving again, everything off. More or less dry, dry clothes and start moving out of T2. But I am still shaking. I find heaven! A small tent with a heater in it, it’s a sauna!

I figure at this stage that I will not get far as I am shaking and it is bucketing down with rain. So 10 min in the tent and then let’s see what happens.

I stop shaking, and now I have to get my head sorted, I remember my trisuit, which is now a puddle of frozen water says “Always with Rio” on it. I kick open the front door and march out! New layer of blue lipstick is instantly applied and I am off! I very cheekily tell some dude there that this marathon is not going to run itself!

So much for dry clothes, it takes about 20 min and I am soaked again! New plan! I ask a volunteer and she helps me get a garbage bag, holes for a head and arms, strapped down with a race belt and I am moving again and warming up slowly.


To put it mildly, I am broken! First 10k was ok, second ten livable and the it all just went south. Stomach cramps, I warned you about the list of mistakes, my tummy was not happy at this point. Next was a strategy of walking the hills, run the downhills and walk/run the flat bits! Oh and Ironman, flat run? REALLY?

But now to tell you about the best part, the support! What awesome people, yes likely they are used to the weather but regardless, they had been out all day. All the supporters from Windmill Hell was now out in the run connected to some kind of a pub and the cheering both in volume and severity doubled on each lap! Ireland 🇮🇪 you are awesome!

Dewald Olivier from South Africa, you are an Ironman. Yes it gets better every time you hear it!

Thank you! Rio, little man you have no idea how many times the though of you kept me going, there were very very dark times and a lot of them it conquered telling myself I can’t let Rio down! Thank you! All the TAW pack! Somehow in my head I was reading all your messages long before I got to the finish line! You guys are epic! Thank you! Hassan and TriDubai its always amazing to see the support and the genuine interest!

Lessons learned, I could say a lot here about gear ratios, waterproof gear and blah blah blah, it all comes down to having a good reason to do it! On the day I only JUST managed to find that in a very special little boy and an amazing bunch of friends! Love you all! Thanks 🙏🏻


Dewald Olivier
June 25th , 2019



Cascais 70.3 September 30th 2018

Swim Bike Run and have some fun in the sun! What a wonderful location for a race. We are quite lucky to own a property in the Algarve region of Portugal which is on it Southern Coast but it was so nice to discover the charms and delights of Cascais, just west of Lisbon.


I think part of the fun of Triathlon is that it provides the opportunity to see the world and experience new and exciting places. Cascais must be on your bucket list of 70.3s


But if you think Triathlon is all about swim, bike and run then think again and think Nutrition and Hydration! Take a look at some of these great places for pre and post race fuelling. Portugal is famous for its sardines; sea bass; chicken piri piri; black pork and many other delights. The wine is not bad either!


One of the most important aspects of having a great race is to ensure that both before and during the race you have the correct fueling strategies. The day before race day it is important to keep hydrated with your chosen electrolyte drink, or if you are going with the on course race nutrition, then grab some of that from the race village. It’s important to have a strategy. Either decide you will be self sufficient, as far as possible, and use what you have trained and raced with before, or use the on course nutrition if you are familiar with it. Remember the old adage- never try anything new on race day. On the day before the race its important to eat some form of carbs to fully load your energy stores, such as chicken, or fish  with rice, but don’t eat a meal late in the evening before the race as it won’t have time to fully digest before the swim. Eat small amounts regularly but nothing new and avoid food where there is a high risk that it could be off!

Cascais has some amazing restaurants and there are no shortages of fine places to eat. But preferably after the race!­


The course is fabulous and the weather at this time of year is perfect. The swim is in a sheltered bay and was perfectly flat making for fast times.  On race morning, when I wake up,  I normally have some brown toast and honey and I have been known to take my own toaster with me. This is normally about two and a half hours before swim start. This is supplemented with some carb loaded drink, a banana about 45 mins before race start and  finally a gel 15 mins before the gun.   The water in Cascais is cold, 19 degrees, making it chilly for those of us from Dubai. It’s a rolling start and it always amazes me how so many people over estimate their swimming ability! A beautifully flat swim with a rising red sun! After the swim exit there is a 600m dash through the town to the bike transition zone, one of the unique features o f this race is the option to put on  a pair of trainers to complete the transition run.


I had been given some excellent nutrition advice from, Tim Lawson, the owner and founder of Secret Training. The goal was to try and consume 60-90grams of carbohydrates per hour to ensure that there was enough energy in the tank for the run. So this involved consuming a 500ml of training mix, containing 40 g of carbs before the swim and a fruit energy gel ( 22g of carbs); and then drinking another 500ml of energy/ hydrating mix in transition with another gel before getting out onto the bike.


The bike course is stunning. A flat fast 25km out towards Lisbon to the turnaround point and then back into town before heading up to the race circuit at Estoril. I picked up a drafting penalty on the bike after about 40km which I thought was slightly unfair given the amount of people on the course and the large groups that bunched up. Technically I was drafting behind another rider as we both passed a slower group but I wonder how the marshall failed to spot the cyclist who sucked my wheel for about 5km! All you can do is to carry on but it did affect the rest of the ride. Still 5 mins in the penalty tent is better that a DQ or a DNF! After the F1 circuit there is a couple of long climbs up into the hills behind the town of Cascais. The long climb at kilometer 80 was energy sapping but provided a long descent into town with a tail wind along the coast. Simply great views and a very fast finish. Nutrition on the bike comprised a gel (22g) or bar (18g) every 20 minutes, supplemented by easy to digest bananas from the aid stations and three 500ml bottles of hydration and energy mix. Aim 90g of carbs per hour, especially the last hour as it is far easier to consume food on the bike than on the run. Here is a tip- learn to pee on the bike!

The Run its Caffeine; Caffeine and more Caffeine. And coke and water. Not coke with rum. Every aid station its water, coke, sponge and a caffeine Gel every 5 km.


Another race, another medal for the collection. Nice T shirt and great medal! Enjoy the post- race nutrition as it makes all that training worthwhile.  Thank you for Cascais for a wonderful event and I am definitely signing up again for next year!




A 50-54 age-grouper’s 2018 Ironman World Championship build-up and race report, by Finn.

The qualification for and then build up to ‘Kona’ was almost routine. After securing another 4th place and getting the coveted Kona slot at Ironman South Africa in April, a great little holiday in Bhutan with Sam my wife followed. Strangely, despite not seeing anybody swimming, biking or running, Bhutan claims to be the happiest country in the world? We embraced the Buddhist spirit, although breaking the Strava record for the fastest trek up to the temple at Tiger’s Nest at 3,120m above sea level perhaps wasn’t quite the right mind set. I passed two monks who were taking about a week to make the 900m almost vertical climb, but their devotion had them crawling in prostration every mindful step of the way. Or perhaps they were on a low intensity training block.

What followed was, frankly, a long hard and depressing Dubai summer of training. While I had an intermediate goal of racing the 70.3 (half distance) World Championships in Port Elizabeth early September, this proved to be too far away to stay properly motivated. I got to level 20 on Zwift, the popular indoor bike and run trainer app, which meant spending hours grinding away on the Wahoo Kickr bike trainer and on the treadmill inside the ‘pain cave’. There is only so much music, Netflix, ITU coverage, Giro, Tour De France you can watch or listen to. Besides, during the hard parts I can’t really do anything else but concentrate on the effort. Up to a point this makes you mentally stronger, after that it just makes life miserable. Lesson learned; if there is another Dubai summer of training to be had I need to build in some sanity breaks by training outdoors elsewhere, somehow without breaking the bank or costing heaps of leave days.

Perhaps one advantage of the indoor training is that it was all very controlled and safe which may have helped staying injury free unlike the previous summer where I picked up a hamstring tear.

70.3 World Championships


At the end of August there was finally a break from the outdoor summer heat and indoor sweat when I landed in Port Elizabeth for a mini ‘Kona training camp’ with the half distance Championship race thrown in. What a joy to run and ride surrounded by the African bush with a view of the Ocean, to feel rain on your face and to pass (or be passed by) real people instead of virtual ones. And to brave the sharks, cold, waves and current of the Ocean rather than following a blue line at the bottom of the pool. You have to watch your back a little bit, but otherwise Port Elizabeth is a great little city and South Africa a wonderful country to race and travel in. Amazing food, super accommodation and cheap.

My race was OK, but nothing more than that, about what I expected considering my focus was more on the lead-up to Kona.

I must have slept through the swim as I can’t think what else I was doing after coming out in a very average 33 minutes or so.

On the bike I went out with nothing to lose pushing out 270 W normalised and 250 W average resulting in a time of around 2 hours and 32 minutes. That is quite typical for me, reasonably respectable power output translating into only average speeds. Carrying a 1.94M frame at 84KG doesn’t help, but there are many others with similar dimensions squeezing themselves through the air more efficiently and possibly having superior bike skills for faster results. There may be a lesson in there again in that indoor bike power does not directly translate into outdoor bike speed. Apparently the first person across the line wins, so speed is important…

Thankfully the race isn’t over until after the run and that went quite well when I ran the 21.1K in just over 1 hour and 29 minutes. The TriDubai kit I was wearing shaved minutes off my time as I always tried to look in control and fast whenever I heard shouts of support from the many other athletes and partners from the club and from Dubai who were at this race.

Who? me?

Who? me?

To Kona

Back in Dubai Kona suddenly wasn’t so far away. With most of the long endurance work done, the last few weeks were about keeping fitness up with shorter high intensity training, lots of stretching to prevent injuries and trying to sleep and eat well in order not to get sick. Flying via Narita and then direct to Kona proved much easier and faster than going via the USA mainland which is what I did last year.

Although it was my second time, disembarking in Kona the heat and humidity was still a bit of a shock. The islands of Hawaii are a tropical paradise, but racing an Ironman triathlon there at the end of summer has created a beast of a race (during the first decades the race used to take place in winter – February, still humid but less hot).

Arriving a week before the race there was plenty of time to get over the jetlag (14-hour time difference with Dubai), some time to acclimatise to the weather (after the Dubai summer it was the first sleep without air-conditioning for months!) and of course to soak up the atmosphere of the biggest race on the Ironman calendar.

Once again being part of it was an amazing experience. To witness how seamlessly the race is organised and to experience the way in which the town changes from normal to total Ironman circus and back again all in a few days. It’s always a buzz to run into Ironman legends at every corner. At the opening banquet where, spurred on by Ironman High Priest Mark Allen and more than a few Hawaiian gods and past Kings, where we all vowed our allegiance to ‘Church Ironman’, it’s easy to forget ironman is all just a money-making machine owned by a Chinese tycoon.

The legendary morning swims out to the coffee boat in the middle of the bay to sip espressos and take underwater pictures are unforgettable. We explored more of the island, this time with a trip to the northern valleys which are dark green and in contrast to the black barren lava surrounding Kona itself.  Other highlights include trying to get as many freebies as possible at the expo and breakfast and endless coffees at Lava Java café with all athletes and supporters from Dubai. And very special and most significant, spending time with my wife Sam and biggest fan who flew in from Auckland.[!!!! 😊]

My number One fan. Can't you tell?

My number One fan. Can't you tell?

Racing the beast

10HR 39MIN 07SEC

Race morning came and having done it all before certainly helped to control the nerves. Breakfast, stretch, walk to the start, body marking, load nutrition, pump up tires, calibrate power meter, interspersed with cueing for the loos.

The starting cannon for the men and women pros going off meant our race was not far away. I got into the water and swam to the start line with only a few minutes to spare. Boom! We were off!

SWIM: 3.8KM, 1HR 13MIN

Starting at the ‘soft’ left side of the course where the gentlemen swimmers hang out was a bit chaotic at the beginning but quite soon there was room available to get a decent stroke and rhythm going. Breathing to my left I had a nice view of the shore and the volcano in the background giving a sense of speed and progress. This and an outgoing current kept me going at a reasonable pace. I passed the turnaround buoys in just under 30 minutes. Great!
Then it became a loooong way home. Will my children achieve their dreams? Will house prices in Dubai go down further? How will the Americans vote in the midterm election? Will I make it out of my next embassy visit alive? And many other random thoughts went through my head. I tried to shake them by concentrating on drafting off other swimmers which, once I focused properly, went better than usual. Still, now without a coastline to look at, getting tired and swimming against the current my progress slowed significantly and the return leg was about 42 minutes or 40% slower than swimming out. Towards the end dolphins, who had started 15 minutes behind me, started over taking me. (Ok, possibly they were women, but they went too fast for me to see them clearly.)

T1: 6MIN 37SEC

I wiggled out of my swim speed suit and struggled to put the top of my wet tri-suit on. I was pretty nifty in putting on and rolling my arm sleeves up - a melanoma scare will make you take the time to get that kind of protection on. Socks, shoes and run to the bike. I noted that there weren’t that many bikes left in transition. Possibly the level of swimming is quite high at the World Championships, who would have guessed?

While running with the bike to the mount line, my bike bumped into another competitor and it fell to the ground. I picked the bike back up quickly, but the cover of my front bike bottle had gone inside it and it took a bit of time for me to fish it out and put it back in place. This ensured my place in history as I made the Ironman FB Live coverage: About 2:10 into the footage you’ll see an annoying presenter in the foreground distracting from your hero in the background making an expert recovery from his near disastrous bike crash.



The bike for me is a job to be done on the way to the run. Like last year I used BestBikeSplit and my Wahoo bike computer to give me my target power every step of the way. This time I fine-tuned the plan using the very latest weather and wind forecast, which was different from usual with a lot less wind overall and a bit of tailwind. Adding a drag factor of 10% over the predicted one based on my bike, wheels, tires, road surface I ended up biking a time within 1% of the BestBikeSplit plan. Geek race data at its best.

Watching out not to draft, eating every 15 minutes while sticking to my power targets I made my way up to Hawi, the halfway and highest elevation point. Going uphill I dropped my chain once...After mis-selecting gears several times last year and dropping my chain that way, this year the issue was mechanical. I had made the beginners mistake of one last small bike service in Dubai just before the race. During the service my bike chain was found to be stretched out of limits and replaced. Unfortunately once in Kona I discovered that my front chain rings had worn quite badly and the new chain did not co-operate well with the older rings. I had things tuned as well as possible in Kona, but clearly it wasn’t enough. I would drop the chain two more times during the race, each time taking a minute or so to put it back on.

The men and women pros passed us on their way down back to Kona. Ironman is unique in that way: In what other sport are you in the same race as your idols?

After the descent from Hawi it was still a pretty long way home, but the ‘do-not-draft-target-power-eat-repeat’ routine and worrying about chain drops kept me occupied. With some tailwind, partly overcast and even a bit of rain on the bike I was looking forward to the run. Sub-10 hours started to look possible. An injury free run-up period meant my run was solid. Great Expectations….

T2: 4MIN 21SEC

Bike catchers, what a luxury not having to rack your bike yourself. Shoes, hat, sunglasses and onto the run.

Lava Java Café Postrace breakfast with some of the Dubai crowd (clockwise starting left with age group and race time):


Mark Fourie (45-49) 10H31MIN. Best Kona debut. Mark was always a good swimmer and biker. He then lost 10KG and discovered he is a great runner too and deals well with the heat. Saves Royals and Airmen in his spare time.
Gamal Aboshabana (30-34) 11H16MIN. Gamal has a young family and a demanding off-shore job and not much time to train. He made sure that what he did counted and had a great race.
Who? ; ) David Labouchere (55-59) 10H13MIN. 10th in age group! All around legend David defied what is humanly possible as this was his fourth Ironman in 6 months. Showed us how it is done by being the eldest in the group and still beating almost all of us by a large margin. Great swim, superior bike, solid run.
Caroline Labouchere. Finally made it to Kona with David after supporting him from home on many previous occasions. Now a model she hardly landed in Kona when she swooned off to New York for a photoshoot. Made it back just before the race. How Jet Set is that!
Stine Mollebro (35-39) 10H24MIN. The talent. Supermom of 3 and Kona batch mate. Stine beat me big time, but she respectfully crossed the finish line just after me (the women having started 15 min after the men). I may keep her on the EK friend ticket list…
Lisa Hancox (40-44) 11H2MIN. Goes for every life experience in full and with a smile. She’ll probably climb Everest next.
Missing in photo:
Lucy Woollacott (40-44) 10H25MIN. The upcoming talent. Expect more from this girl.
Joao Marcela (35-39) 9H43MIN. Man or fish? Great work Joao. You’ll be back.

RUN: 42.2KM 3HRS 56MIN

I found my running legs soon on Ali Drive going out of town. This part of the marathon is quite shady, full of people and right next to the beautiful Ocean. “But, it is pretty hot. I better get some ice at the next aid station. That feels better. Get some more ice. Why are my legs so painful? Maybe walk the next aid station. Damn, my shoes are so heavy from all that water…” And it was downhill from there. Very soon it became walking every aid station to get ice and later on hats full of water to hose and cool myself down. Once out of town to the energy lab and back my run form dropped further and it became an Ironman shuffle.

Making my way out of the Energy Lab I passed Ken Glah the 55-59 year former pro who was announced at the opening banquet as being on his 35th consecutive Kona Ironman World championships. I said, “Are you the 35 Kona’s man? Keep it up!” He answered, “I am trying to be, if I manage to finish this one.” He got his 35th in 10Hr 55MIN, suffering through an almost 5 hour marathon after swimming and biking much faster than me.

Despite the controlled effort on the bike and being run fit, the run ended up being the same sufferfest as last year. The only difference being that the pain lasted 2 minutes shorter.

Passing my coach (and Podcaster-Supreme) near the finish line. I am smiling as I know it is nearly over.

Passing my coach (and Podcaster-Supreme) near the finish line. I am smiling as I know it is nearly over.


Rob was an Emirates colleague and fellow Ironman triathlete. I met Rob and his wife Kerry in Dubai when Rob had just qualified for Kona via the Legacy Program. This meant that Rob had completed over 14 Ironman races. Ironman had been a real lifestyle for him and Kerry, travelling to races all around the world. After Rob had booked his trip to Kona he was diagnosed with a fairly rare form of cancer. He had his first round of chemo therapy and doctors advised Rob against racing, but he still went to Kona as a fan expecting to get better and come back to compete.

Over the next few years treatment seemed to work quite well and I understood that the disease wouldn’t go away but was controllable.
I made one very small gesture last year after I came back with my Kona finisher’s medal by posting it to Rob as encouragement for him to get better. Besides, he deserved that medal more than me having qualified through sheer effort. But, the medal never made it to Rob as he passed away in the UK before ever getting to his mail in Dubai.

This year Kerry came to Kona with George, Rob’s young son, to witness the race Rob and Kerry had dreamed about being at together for many years. Kerry had taken a small part of Rob, a wisdom tooth, with her. I carried this tooth with me on the race allowing Rob to finally complete the Ironman he had wanted to finish most. I held ‘Rob’ up in the air passing the finish line.

Later, after the race, I left Rob’s tooth into the Ocean right at the swim start line where Rob now lives on. I wish Kerry and George all strength and happiness in life without Rob.

On the finish line holding Rob high in the air in my right hand (desperately trying not to drop him – Rob would have laughed at that story!)

On the finish line holding Rob high in the air in my right hand (desperately trying not to drop him – Rob would have laughed at that story!)

Last year I made Ironman plans and promises I didn’t stick to. I won’t make the same mistake this year. Clearly, I haven’t cracked this race yet. Perhaps the mental battle was lost on the bike when I created expectations of the good and ‘easier’ run I would have.
There is no such thing as ‘easy’ in Kona. Plenty of lessons were learned and experience gained. Improvement will be a mix of incremental gains balanced with change as doing the same thing over and over again tends to get the same result.

Of course this story is the ‘Facebook Glamour Version’ of an Ironman journey. In reality it takes a lot to qualify and then actually get to this race. Racing Kona well is on a whole next level for me.
I hope to be back one day sooner or later. If I do make it again I’ll remind myself just how fortunate I am to be there as I pass Rob at the swim start line.

Capt Finn Zwager

October, 2018



Race report Cascais 70.3 2018: The race that tried to beat me

This community (TriDubai) has inspired me to be the best I can be!!

As this is my first race and I am still on a high, please excuse me if this goes on and the blabbing seems to be endless

 I think I started triathlon because I wanted to lose weight; I have always been attracted to the sport but never had the chance to try it. So 3 month before my son was born I decided to buy a bike and start training. I could swim, bike and run or so I thought  :D

1.    Why Cascais 70.3

Well after quite a number of you questioned me about not doing Dubai 70.3 and why do I train like I do. I had to prove these guys wrong, yes you Sipke, that I am not a crazy training obsessed triathlete, the mocking had to stop J. So after Ironman SA, I was so pumped with seeing TriDubai conquer the race, I let it slip to Nathan that I wanted to do a 70.3 and I Cascais looks like a good one. 15 mn later he sends me a message that he has already signed in, booked a hotel and is looking for flights!!! So at that point I couldn’t back out.

2.    Preparation: 

I decided to go with a coach, and I think that was the best decision I made. 4 month before the race I thought that would be the best “upgrade” to help me reach my goals. I went with Barbara from Growings is amazing!!! For me she is the best fit for my personality. I got to the race extremely well prepared mentally and physically, and that I only realize after I have finished. For me that is why she is great, she knew that I was ready and how well I was prepared even when I thought that she was saying nonsense. I only had to trust her word for it, and I did. Thank you coach!

3.    Few days before the race:

I have to tell you a bit 2 days before the race, from when we landed in Lisbon. The plan was to have a swim on Friday and an easy bike/run on Saturday. I don’t really know how to explain what happened, but my luck just turned as soon as we hit the ground. I was already very nervous and restless, and then had problem:

a.     Rental company gave me a smaller car then agreed upon, which did not fit our luggage. So after an hour argument I had to give in and upgrade to the next class

b.     We arrive to the beautiful apartment we rented and we break a glass jar and one of the curtains

c.      I start putting my bike together on Friday, it goes well enough and I plan to ride it on Saturday to make sure everything is ok. (with the few issues already and the bike taking a bit longer than expected I didn’t have time for the swim)

d.     Saturday wake up nice and early, get on the bike, first 4 min are great and then the bars turn and the front wheel stays straight, going downhill. I manage to stop, go back and dismantle the cockpit. Everything looked fine. Put it on again, but that doesn’t solve the issue. Out of frustration I manage to look the cylinder inside the fork. So I go down to the expo, wait for an hour and they finally help me take it off. So feeling confident I could fix it, met with Nathan and got a great 15 min swim in.

e.     Back in the apartment; assemble the cockpit but still the same issue, so I tighten the spindle in the fork beyond repair to the point that I had to find a bike shop at 2 pm the day before the race. I go to the 1st one, closed, 2nd one closed, finally get to a 3rd one around 3:30 pm that was super helpful. Without David, I would have not been able to race.

f.      David starts working on the bike, puts in a new spindle, assembles the parts, and tests it and still the same issue. After 30 min of efforts we realize that he stem is not catching the fork, no matter how much we tighten it. We change the stem put it all back together and I finally have my bike race ready!!! At this point it was around 4:30 and bike check in closes at 7. So we rush back to transition rack the bike, and the bags and at 5:30 I go for a meal, tired from all the running around but relieved that I will race and hoping the bike will hold up the 900m of descents on Sunday.

Silver cylinder inside the fork

Silver cylinder inside the fork

4.    Race morning:

I thought after all of these issues, I will have a great race day, what else could go wrong? Put the water bottles on the bike, check and recheck that everything is there. Go down to the beach; put my wet suit on and Murphey’s law!! My watch strap breaks. So I had to borrow a hair tie from Christine and my wife ties it together and we hope it’s gonna hold!! It did and this has now become my lucky charm J

The rest of the morning went well; Nathan and I were waiting to start singing and dancing!! I am so luck and happy that he was with me for my first race!!  

5.    Finally the race:

a.     Swim – 2020m 36:27

The plan was the swim was to start with the sub 35 and try to draft and hold on as much as possible, the water was a nice 17C so wetsuit :D. It was in the Atlantic in a calm bay so water was not choppy. I really enjoyed it, I usually don’t. I did draft and actually swam straight for me; a 100m only extra is really a great improvement for me. And 36m is also a great achievement, I did want to go sub 35 but was really happy with my time. If we compare to my Olympic races, this would be a PB.

So it is a beach start and then we finish on a boat ramp, all went smooth except the fact that we had a 700 m run uphill to transition!! That took a while and then took my time to change and get on the bike so my 9m+ T1 definitely can be improved. 

b.     Bike – 91K 1,018m elevation gain 2:39:57

The plan was to keep FTP at 85% for the 1st 50K flat then hit the hills, around 17km, at 95% and finally relax down the mountain and the last 10K with a really good tailwind. I get on the bike, and my bike is my happy place, so I thought after a good swim it is the part I worry about the most, I am on for a great race. 200 m after the bike mount, my front water bottles fall down, I hadn’t put the strap on properly, so stop on the right, fix it and then off we go after 2 min of fiddling around, I was hoping that would be the end of it. Little side note on drafting, those who know me, know what I think about drafting, but I have to say now I understand that you can avoid it with these courses, when you get swallowed up in a group, there is really no getting out of it. The referees were all around us but they chose not to act as they understood that it was unavoidable. When it was obvious and blatant, I saw a couple of yellow card being handed out. Back to the race, around 35th Km I catch up with Nathan who had a great swim, and from that moment we raced the whole way together. It was great to have him next to me, made my race experience so much better. And between the beautiful scenery, the monster hills, small conversations with Nathan, the bike section was over… not so fast, as soon as I get out of the Estoril autodrome, my right extension decides that it has had enough, so it loosens up and nearly falls out. So I had to finish the last 30-40 K either on the base bar or with my arm extended under the extension bar. That was while going 60-70kph on the downhills or the last 10k flat doing over 40. I think I have probably lost 5 min there as I didn’t trust my bike to finish. But it did, it brought me home in a time that I thought was really good. And the plan worked perfectly, average power 194W, at around 90% FTP. Transition 2 was like T1, slow and easy with no mistake, again room for improvement especially that Nathan and I came in together but he beat me out of there by about 3 min

My new good luck charm

My new good luck charm

The water bottle that fell and the extension bar falling out

The water bottle that fell and the extension bar falling out

c.      Run – 21.04k 313m elevation gain 1:45:52

I had 2 options for the run depending how I felt of the bike, either run walk or if I felt good it was run moderate the first lap and then 1 k under 5m pace and 2 k moderate. The run consistent of 2 loops out and back of 10.5k. I get off the bike and the crowds were amazing, people lining the streets for the 1st 2 Km, cheering and clapping. I had never felt that before but they carried me. My 1st km was a 4:38 and then kept the pace under 5 until the 5th Km were I thought I should go back to a more sustainable pace. I finished the 1st loop and was still doing low 5m pace and I felt fresh enough to hammer the 1st K of the 2nd loop, then 2k easy and then another sub 5 1k, still feeling good. And then, I see Nathan again, so sprint to get to him and we run and chat for 2Km. he again was having a great run I thought. Then another fast kilometer until and relax until the last 2. I knew that when I come back, the crowds will push me so I held my pace until the last 2k and the hammered it, 4:46 and then 4:34!!! The crowds were still there, they cheered and cheered and I gave it everything!! I finished with nothing left in the tank; I collapsed on the finish line and had to lay there for 2 min to recap just as Nathan came in! it was awesome. I had just PB my half marathon time ever!!!

I just wanted to enjoy my 1st 70.3 so I would have been happy with anything under 5:30 looking at the course. Barbara said that I will do it in 5:15, I dismissed what she said because I thought it would be impossible. So I am happy that I proved her right and finished just below, actually I am ecstatic. With all the problems I had to go through this makes this race even better, it tried to kick my @$$ but I wouldn’t die!! I kept fighting. This was my B race for this season, my A race is Dubai where I make it no secret that I will go under the 5h mark!! And after Cascais, I am registering now as the Dubai has just opened on the 2nd of October :D. Project under 5 is alive and kicking!!! 

6.    Venue and the city:

Cascais is a beautiful city, the bike is amazing!! The views are insane; you really forget how tough it is and just enjoy the views. The run is on the beach road and even midday with temps reaching 27C you still won’t feel the heat as the Atlantic is very generous with a nice refreshing breeze. But for me the best things were the crowds, I have never had that in my life. The whole city came out to party with us. On the bike, people were getting out of their cars and cheering us. One guy was spraying us with water from his gardening hose, the city has embraced the race and it makes really great for the participants.

I would highly recommend this race, organization was ok, I didn’t notice any major issues. Also the area around the city is full of landmarks and great places to visit.

7.    Thank you:

Thank you coach, you knew how to get me to my limits, not only physically but also mentally!! Sebastian has been a great inspiration, he showed me that triathlon is about courage and will as much as about fitness and training; you gave me a reality check when I needed it. The Al Qudra cartel; especially Sipke who I have abandoned the last couple of month. And Rodrigo who kept me going the last month. And finally a huge Thank you to TriDubai, the quick athletes have pulled me and the slower ones have pushed me forward, I wouldn’t be here without you!

Gilles Ghoussoub

October, 2018


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Ultraman Canada (520km)

This summer I was lucky enough to participate in two major events, firstly IM Austria and then Ultra520K Canada. Last Year I met a now friend of mine, Rory Bass while undertaking Challenge Roth, a full distance Ironman event in Roth Germany. One morning during breakfast Rory was telling me about a race called Ultraman Canada 520K, a 3- day event that consisted of more than double the distance of an Ironman event; by that evening I had already signed up for this year.

My plan throughout the year was to use Ironman Austria (1st July 2018) as a warm up to Ultra520K Canada. IM Austria is held in Klagenfurt, Austria; it is a truly beautiful place.


IM Austria started with a slow swim followed by an “ok” bike leg. Only a few km in to the run I was already finding it hard. Within 15km, I was walking as much as I was running and the last 15km was barely at walking pace, stopping regularly to try and catch my breath; maybe the cause was nutrition, nerves, illness the week before or a combination of all three. However, after another hard day in the office I finished with a total time of 14:38, definitely no PB this time.

Training continued as we travelled through Europe. The water in the Adriatic Sea is amazing for swimming, great temperature and crystal clear. The scenery on the bike was just as impressive and the air so fresh and crisp.

After a week back at work it was time to head off to Canada for the Ultra520k. This is a 3-day endurance event that consists of:

race map.png

Athletes are supported by crews including a paddler for the swim, car support on the bike and a pacer on the run if you so desire.

The Ultra 520K Canada is held in Penticton, BC; an absolutely stunning part of Canada. When we arrived in Penticton the surrounding valleys were filled with smoke as a result of the current bush fires; along with the smoke, ash was falling from the sky and covering everything in sight. Over the coming 3 days the smoke got progressively worse and the visibility reduced each day, there were even discussions of changing the course due to the bush fires. We were extremely fortunate to receive some light rain and a change in wind direction the day before the race, this helped to clear up a lot of the smoke and ash.


In the week leading up to the race, we had a number of social events where both athletes and crews were able to get to know each other. It was great to meet other athletes and listen to their personal journeys; athletes ranged in ability from Pro’s, multiple Kona qualifiers, the current Ultraman World Champion, to those similar to myself.


August 3rd: with the car fully fueled and full of nutrition/hydration we set off for Skaha Lake. We arrived at the lake to get set up and ready for the swim start. The conditions looked amazing, I was very happy to see the lake as flat as a mirror. This is where Noah (my paddler), with the help of a compass would begin to navigate me the 10km down the lake, while supporting with nutrition and hydration.

After a welcoming from the Native Indian Syilx Chief we were on our way. About 2 km into the swim the wind picked up and so did the waves, at times it was hard to sight the canoe for the waves, albeit it was only 15m away.

However, thanks to Noah, this is by far the straightest that I have ever swam in my life, outside of a pool. After a quick handshake, I exited the water in 4hrs and 9 minutes, having swam around 10,300m.


My crew were waiting in transition with my bike and after something to eat I was on my way for the 150km ride. The ride made its way into the local countryside and ended in Okanagan Falls, with a total elevation of 1533m for the 150km. Throughout the bike course crews were expected to leapfrog athletes in order to pull over on the side of the road and provide nutrition/hydration. The support for athletes was amazing; every time any athlete passed a crew on the side of the road they were met with cheers and encouragement.

Day 2’s 275km ride started in Penticton, just around the corner from the swim start. It covered some of the same roads as Day 1, an out and back to Osoyoos and then off to Princeton. Day 2 consisted of more than 180km of climbing, 2215m of elevation and the aptly named “Wall”, a sharp climb of 15% at the 100km mark. The Wall had me wishing that I had brought a few more gears and different wheels with me! I finished the Day 2 bike leg in 9:58, just sneaking under the 10-hour mark. Being my first Ultraman, I was conscious not to push things too hard on either of the first two days in the hope that would leave me something for Day 3.


That evening all athletes and crews stayed in Princeton, a small town about 90Km from Penticton. Day 3 started 10km outside of Princeton, on the way to Penticton. The run consisted of a double marathon through what had been described as lovely countryside with a couple of hills.


My plan was to run the first half marathon before the heat of the day kicked in. From that point on I had a run walk strategy to get me across the line. I was conscious of not going out to hard and regretting it later on in the day. I passed the 21km mark in 2:15. As the run continued the last 2 days of cycling started to catch up with my legs. One of the organisers had mentioned the third half marathon is where the run really starts, and that it was full of long winding hills, some quite steep.

During the walk intervals Jodi (my wife) would walk with me, providing hydration and nutrition, while offering encouragement and ensuring that I stuck to the plan. She would then get back in the car and leapfrog me as I ran down the road, this process repeated for 60km. At around 25km the road turned to gravel, only to return to bitumen at the 75km mark. Over the last 20km I was starting to catch and pass people, so my strategy was working. The last 10km on our way down to the finish line outside of Penticton was a pleasant relief as it was largely downhill. My run ended with 85km and 900m of elevation all up for the day in a time of 10:17.


It was great to cross the finish line and be greeted by Jodi and Kathy (my crew), Steve Brown (event organiser) and Stephen King (announcer).

Having undertaken the Ultraman 520K Canada and joined the community of approx. 2500 athletes globally that have completed an Ultraman I can highly recommend this race if you are looking for a challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed this race; so much so, that I have signed up for Ultraman Australia in 2020, Noosa, QLD as well as looking to undertake additional challenges such as the Triple Anvil

The 520k Canada is an extremely well run race that caters for all types of athletes. The Ultraman athletes and crews are an amazing community, the banter between crews and continuous support of all athletes was definitely a highlight of the race.

I’ll leave you with a couple of sayings from the Ultraman community (in good fun).

“Anything less is just a qualifier”

“If it was easy it would be called an Ironman”


A huge thank you to my crew, my wife Jodi and my friend Kathy Pisupati; without you this would not have been possible and would definitely not have been so much fun!

Craig Lamshed
August, 2018

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Ironman Tallinn 2018

Chasing Kona Part 3

Before you start reading, a little warning…. I ask you to be entrepreneurial and to invest time and intellect with absolutely no guarantee that you will get any return.

So if you opened this only because you want to find out what Ironman Tallin is like and whether you should try it next year I will truncate the next few pages for you: Great Race. Cold swim, fast bike, interesting but more than averagely demanding run. Do it. If you now read on I take no responsibility. The value of your investment might go down as well as up.


On the second lap of the four laps of the Tallinn marathon I ran in a wonderful, almost monsoonish downpour as the Summer thunder rumbled overhead. The finisher-pics snappers were zapping with full flash in the middle of an August afternoon, in an ancient medieval town on the edge of the Gulf of Finland, opposite Helsinki. The rubble on the roadside directed the flood into the racetrack and I found that I was running not only steeply uphill but also against the current. You don’t get that in Dubai. I had 14 kilometres in the bag and a paltry 28 left. ‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning (Winston Churchill 1942).

Ironman racing is not about the 3.8 km swim, or the 180km bike - at least not directly. Many uber bikers and fish swimmers lose the race in the last ten kilometres of the day. Ironman racing is about how well you can race those ten. I think it’s a running race, with a long warmup. You must maintain pace in the last ten or the opposition will dance past, patting your bum in cheery, condescending encouragement (if they know you well) or with an anonymous internal, smug smile, behind the rictus of their own pain, if they are strangers. So it is the athlete who can preserve his energy until the last ten, the one who can repeatedly recover his stock of power through that long warmup who should almost always prevail. We have all heard of the great grinders on the bike, the Starykowicz’s, but are they consistent champions?


This is part three. Part one was a sorry tail of excuses, illness, confidence, and disappointment. If you haven’t read it trawl the TriDubai archives as there will be a dusty forgotten copy somewhere there. It is called IMSA 2018 PRR. Part two was a bucket list race that I entered on blind optimism and mindless hope. I loved it, but it did not deliver me to my goal: Kona Qualification and a ticket to the Big Island in October 2018. That report too will be in the TriDubai vault. Look for Lanzarote 2018 PRR.  There will be a part four. But I haven’t written it yet.

Swim, Bike, and Run

Tallinn was Plan C. I failed in South Africa in April, and in Lanzarote in May. After Lanza (cool shortening of the name - you have to have done it to use it) I went home on an absurd high from the experience and started testing. My old friend, sports genius (scientist doesn’t even nearly cover it) and principle coach for the last eight years, Nick Tipper, answered my call and prescribed an investigative phase to see if I could try just once more without permanently damaging myself. Unlike the received wisdom (which came from every other qualified source) he did not say don’t. He said let’s see where you are physically and then make a decision. So we tested and unsurprisingly, after two fairly demanding IM in five weeks and the preceding six months of training, I was ‘fatigued’.

We used short tests so as not to exacerbate any injury that I was carrying. Mentally, of course, I was in denial. I’ve been shot and blown up so this didn’t seem such a big deal. I surfed the Ironman home page to compare the merits and demerits of Ironman Whistler in Canada, Maastricht in Holland, Bolton, UK, and finally Tallinn in Estonia. All of them would allow me an eight week lead into Kona, should I prevail. Tipps meanwhile stripped 50% of the work out of my Training Peaks plan and quietly monitored me as I returned to training.  He analyzed the data and nudged me when I overdid it.  I don’t often underdo it - he wasn’t so concerned about that. And so over four weeks, I built back into big work. As he didn’t say ‘stop!’ I took it as tacit agreement that I should persevere. A watershed moment came when he diagnosed dehydration as the cause of my ‘decoupling’ (Decoupling: the separation over time of power or pace and heart rate. The two should track each other and if they do not this is an indicator that aerobic endurance is compromised. ) on long rides and runs. So, typically, I jumped on the diagnosis and completely reorganized my fluid intake and nutrition strategies. I’ve been peeing ever since. The result: massive improvements on endurance sets, no matter what the Dubai Summer threw at me. I entered Tallinn. Caroline sighed. I love my wife.

I trained almost sensibly. I knew that my swim has been ‘average’ forever so I engaged Brett Hallam to give me eight one-on-one lessons. My pace per hundred went from 1.45 to 1.27 in six weeks. Of course, I could not maintain that pace for 38 repeats, but the new style was clearly faster and with time might be reflected in my racing. Tipps’ knife paired six hours off my weekly training load too, so I had more time to recover and improve my sleep.


Ironman Tallinn is a new race on the calendar. The organization was therefore not quite as slick as IMSA or Lanzarote. The printed athlete pack was at best a guide and it paid to keep one’s ear to the ground and ask if in doubt.


The water was cold. ‘Bruce Lees’ (Hard nips) cold. Despite a record hot Summer and endless sunny days, even this far North, the water varied by the day.

It was up to the wind, the locals told me. It blows away the warm water. At 0640 on Raceday it was 15.1degC. The Monday before it had been 5degC. I was so lucky! So I donned Finn Zwager’s wetsuit (mine had got lost in the post) which, after all, saw him to a great qualification, and went in early with the hour swimmers. Given that I’d been working so hard on my swim it was a fair shout.

Race tactics.  One has two choices with the new safety-first Ironman policy of ‘rolling wave’ starts. You either go in early, get out early and ride a clear road, then run at least one lap before the course gets crowded. Or you go in late, enjoy the faster oxygenated water and bridge up throughout the swim gaining speed and time with every slower swimmer that you pass. Then you slingshot through the bike packs sticking firmly to the 25 second drafting rule but in fact drafting continuously as you pass bike after bike, again gaining speed in air that is all traveling in the right direction.  It’s all within the rules but it sounds like cheating to me.

I went in early. I wanted to lead this race and win it my way.

Transition was quick. There were three lanes, one to the boys tent, one to the girls tent and a third between the two with no tent for those who weren’t sure. There was no one in the middle lane so I ran down it whipping the wetsuit off on the move. It was quick and easy - (to fold carefully, wash out with clean water, do the zip up, pack with talcum powder and place gently in the bike bag - Thanks Finn, promised to look after it, didn’t pee in it) - and I really didn’t stop moving. Round the transition to the bike with carpet over cobbles. Cold toes. I had no idea of my time in the water or transition. I pressed the buttons on the watch but I don’t look at it. All the other frequent flyer bikes (AWA. The All World Athlete Programme is really a loyalty programme for those who race IM branded races) were still on the rack. They probably went in late…

I shot out of transition in 2mins something and onto a clear, barricaded, narrow labyrinth of early bike route. There are lots of technical turns in the first two kms as you get clear of the outskirts of greater Tallinn (which is only about the size of the Marina in Dubai) and I was glad not to have masses of bikes around me as I negotiated tram tracks and curbs. All this was beautifully marshalled by the locals.


The volunteers were fantastic, (if a little overfed. I got the impression that hot Summers are a novelty in Estonia. Pasty very white legs dropped down from shorts worn curiously Simon Cowell high. Boys and girls. And as age increased the legs got shorter and wider. Many people in Tallinn seem to exercise little, eat a lot and moderate their weight with cigarettes - model style. I do miss those days - I wasn’t a model but I did smoke. The young are all decorated, mostly with their own designs. You can spot a house where the builder had an idea and decided to go without the architect. The ink in Tallinn is similar. A little bit homemade, almost prison style. Get a tattoo but save money by avoiding an ‘artist’). I didn’t make these observations at the time, that came later.

But back to the race and I was now in my element. The roads widened and I started to pick off the quicker swimmers who were less confident on two wheels. This race was make or break. I had failed twice and there was no time before Kona (nor physical capacity) for a plan D so I put my head down - literally so as to be as aero as possible - and hit the numbers from my race plan.  I had decided to race at 74% of FTP and that meant no slacking. Push, pull, breathe, watch the HR and hold the power. An extra 10% overpowered on the uphills and 10% underpowered on the downhills. When the race is fast ride easy when the race is slow ride hard. Watching the numbers. Cycling in circles with feet pulling through the bottom of the pedal stroke - imagine trying to scrape dog poo off the bottom of your shoe - engaging the hamstrings to pull all the way up with heels in the cups and then pushing over the top into the natural quad-driven downstroke.

I practice this religiously with friends twice a week on the Al Qudra desert track. It works.

90kms (halfway) went by in 2 hours and 22 minutes. I was within my power window and fuelling well. I peed a lot. My fuel and hydration game was good. A thunderstorm threatened from the South. Winds under clouds are never predictable but so far this had not been a factor. I cruised good tarmac on fully-cleared, traffic-free roads. There were bikes ahead but on the turnarounds I could see that I was still picking them off one by one. The pros were not too far ahead either. No one overtook me. My legs hurt. I have never raced quite this hard for a full distance on the bike. The storm broke and I was in unfamiliar conditions. Fast roundabouts on well filled tyres and lots of standing water. No catseyes in this part of the world though. Long winters mean snowploughs and snowploughs scrape up catseyes.  So the surprises were few and I kept rubber between me and the road. But I slowed up in the latter half of the third hour and used the wind and rain to recover and refuel. Water shot up from the back wheel and my trisuit felt wet and gritty around my bum, and with my face between my hands and only six inches above the front wheel I was breathing force fed dirty water up my nose. With two laps completed I headed, worryingly with no one in view in front or behind, back to town. I asked questions by hand signal on route as I rode. The marshals pointed and shouted. I was not used to racing alone but as I charged into T2 I had enough Kms on the clock to know that I had ridden a fair race.


And then I ran. Except that someone had, as usual, stolen my legs and replaced them with wooden ones. Great big lumpy useless appendages. I walked through T2 always moving forward. Pulling socks and shoes on and depositing my bike kit in the bag drop. The stiffness slowly eased and I jogged into the bottom of A HILL! about 20m out of T2. It was a big long straight Palaniesque (for the Kona crowd) hill.  The sky was overcast and I was not overheated so I took a deep breath and increased my cadence. I thought of Chris Knight (the unstoppable Jedi with whom I have trained and raced for years); of Stine Mollebro whose staccato 90rpm cadence carried her to a 3:20 marathon and the top step of the African Championships; her qualification this year, and; of Finn, who always overtakes me on the run and also taps out a high cadence despite being five foot eighteen inches tall. Lucy Woollacott. Qualifiers. High cadence.  The hill passed.  I stretched my legs and headed down the far side with long easy strides. One km done.  Only 41 left. This is OK! The ten km lap passed and I amused myself with the route which was ‘varied’. Not what had been on the map. Because someone hadn’t told the organizers about the roadworks, or that the trams had to keep running. So they put in a metal bridge (uppety bloody up again) and a sluice run by volunteers that meant that you took a slightly different route each lap depending on whether the tram had passed, and whether it was a modern tram (hissssss) or an older one (rattle, rattle, clank). Interesting. I did maths too. Working out percentages passed and left to run. On getting to five km thinking ‘I only have to do that eight and a bit times - this is OK’ and then at 8kms ‘ I only have to do this five and a bit times’. If you keep doing that you soon get to 21.1 and say ‘that, just that, just once more’. Curbs and ramps, evil cobbles and extra hills (roadworks again), floods and rivers, and then the sun came out and dried up all the rain and I was back in familiar territory. Hot, miserable and facing the last ten kms.  All the while I have a mantra that I recite to keep my technique tight. I start from my toes and check in on my body with each stride. Looking for aches and pains and potential disasters. It all hurt evenly throughout. That’s good.  More intensely with each passing kilometer but in a nice, balanced, all over the way. I had planned short walks infeed stations to get the fuel in my mouth as eating and drinking while running tends to entail imbibing through nose and ears, and I kept them short. At one point I gave in to discomfort and took two paces of walk after I had finished a drink. I chastised myself that family and friends would see the slowdown and the Whatsapps would start: ‘I think he’s in trouble’, ‘what does the tracker say?’, ’why is he slowing?’, ‘wish we had someone there to report back” etc.

My energy comes from four sources. First physical: sleep, nutrition, training.

Second, mental: I had set a goal for this year. To do the double. To qualify for and race both the World Championships of 70.3 and Kona. Third, emotional. Caroline, my family, and my friends have supported me throughout this part of my journey. I cannot but give my best to do otherwise would be to let them/you down even more than myself. And fourth and finally, spirit. I get energy from trying to do the right thing. It means not drafting. Not obstructing. Not cutting a corner. It means saying please and thank you at the simplest level, even if you really want to curl up and die. The hot, bored, wet volunteer smiles. And so do I, inside.

So I entered the last 10 km (that hill and the steel bridge for the seventh time as both sit on an out and back section of the run FFS, i.e. Fitter Faster Stronger) with an enormous energy. I fuelled to the bitter end; although my body was threatening to reject the high octane diet of sugar and water - farting and burping. I used all the stored conditioning of a long, long season. I was nearly at muscular failure; think of an old tree with ivy wrapped around the trunk and you will have a fairly accurate view of my legs at this point. Coming off the flexible downhill of the steel bridge and hitting the harder ground of the muddy road at the bottom was like getting off a trampoline and trying to jump up and down! I had no bounce left.

On the mental approach, I thought of what I had said (to anyone who would listen) I would do. My goal: To win and go to Kona. I realized that if I kept up the pace I would complete in around ten hours, which would be competitive in the old man’s division. I thought too of Caroline, Max and Mimi and the optimalTRI guys and all my friends in TriDubai, at work and around the world. I knew that some of them would be following online and expending their time to be there for me. And that engaged my emotions and rocket-fuelled my legs to move a little faster. I pushed each knee forward by an extra half centimeter with each step. I lifted my head a little higher and targeted the next runner on the now crowded course.

So I didn’t slow much (of course I probably did but it felt like I kept it up) and after finishing I checked my watch to see that I’d come in at around ten hours and two minutes. I had to be in with a shout. I wandered about feeling a bit nauseous and wondering if I should sit or stand or lie but I failed to come up with an answer. About 20 minutes of mindless meandering in an area the size of a tennis court found me ten meters from the finish and an official with a phone. Most Tallinnians don’t speak English, but she got to a picture that said my name and ‘Category Position… 1’. I spent another thirty minutes aimlessly crisscrossing the now packed tennis court wondering if the ‘into the water late’ crowd would turn up and beat my time. Finally bored, I collected my bike and bags and rode back to the hotel none the wiser; to find 422 WhatsApp messages.


This was a better performance. Why? I have long said that you cannot overtrain but you can under-recover. My learned triathlete coach friends don’t all agree with me, but I think I am onto something. We need to plan our recovery, not our training. Get the recovery right and the body, regardless of miles on the clock, reacts beautifully. I see it all the time in optimal-THERAPY where the awesome clinicians - yes I have an interest - shun surgery and pharmacy wherever possible because they know that given the right rest and stimuli the body can repair the most dire injuries.

Nick Tipper’s intervention was vital. His dehydration diagnosis immediately felt right. I’m sponsored by Pure Sports Nutrition (NZ) and I guzzled their clean, plant-based products before during and after every training set. In the big block that means three times a day. I was less comfortable cutting down the work under his guidance, but he let me build that back again in an orderly fashion. I did nothing that I would not have suggested to another athlete, but sometimes you need someone you trust to tell you.

Coaches need coaches. I recommend anyone who is insane (Einstein defined this as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’) to engage a coach.

Sleep as a foundation. We often overvalue those who undervalue sleep. Stupid. I will target eight hours of sleep (a day!) between now and Port Elizabeth and then onto Kona. It’s Summer in Dubai so I will train at night, but not too often, and I will offset it with sleep wherever possible. It will be challenging.


You all contributed to this. I loved holding that trophy up, hoping that my kind random stranger would take a good photo that I could show off to all of you.

However, these races are not destinations. They are intermediate stations, large and small, on the mainline to my vision of a longer, happier, healthier, meaningful life. I have longer-term goals, big stations on the journey, some of which are a very long time in the future. I will be fit and strong for as long as I can, extending my health span as far as it will go. 106 seems like a good number, but only if I am healthy. I see no point in being kept alive festering in an old- peoples’ home with incontinence pants, a fading set of memories and a poor view.

Without you I would have no reason to do this, there would be no happiness, just short-term pleasure that we can get just as easily from sex, alcohol or chocolate. I’m not knocking them, pleasure is important, just saying that it doesn’t normally lead to happiness. That, the science tells us, comes from relationships, and good relationships underpin good health too.


So thank you for the Facebook posts, comments, and reactions - humbling but so motivating. And the WhatsApp messages - which I have finally read through, with a smile and an occasional lump in my throat. Thank you for the kind words, and for training with me.


And for the trust.

David Labouchere
August, 6th 2018



Ironman Lanzarote 2018 - Chasing Kona

Looking back at the following field from near to the top of Marador del Re. The most Northern point of the Lanzarote bike course.

Looking back at the following field from near to the top of Marador del Re. The most Northern point of the Lanzarote bike course.

I was acutely aware of the volcanic rock formation that made up the road boundary on my right. It was in the periphery of my vision, a blur of blackness almost shining with malevolence. I was terrified. The green P5 felt as controllable as a cigarette paper as the wind whipped up the valley and attempted to throw the bike and its inconsequential rider at the razor slivers that project like blades from the wall. I locked my knees to the top tube, glued my eyes on an imaginary center line on the smooth five-meter wide ribbon of tarmac and hung on tight as the descent got steeper. I couldn’t breathe. My knuckles were white on the tribars. It was too late to move my hands to the hoods, where the brakes are. That would have destabilized the machine even further. The Cervelo accelerated, it’s deep rim front wheel pulling both left and right. The wind was a torrent to which I reacted, always too late, and the bike jumped away from the wall and towards the precipice of tumbling jagged black lava in the valley to my left…


Swim, Bike, and Run

Lanzarote was Plan B. I am an optimist and went to South Africa in April convinced that my planning and preparation were the equal of any fifty-five year old’s and thus I would qualify for Kona 2018 by winning The African Championships. But in a robust rebuttal of my confidence, no, arrogance, fate dealt me a hand that reminded me of the most wonderful aspect of the sport, all good sport: Nothing is certain. I did not qualify in Africa and found myself with unforeseen decisions to take. I could rest, rebuild, peak and perform in mid-Summer by racing in Whistler, Bolton or Maastricht, or I could select a race much closer in time and try to carry the fitness that I had developed for IMSA. Lanzarote was just under five weeks from IMSA, and was a bucket list race that I knew I’d like to do one day. I entered.

Finn Zwager, multiple Kona Qualifier and mine of useful information and helpfulness, found me lodgings and ten days from the race I finally booked flights that would get me to the Canary Islands in about 20 hours from Dubai. Counter-intuitively I ended up flying to London Heathrow and then taking a National Express bus to Luton to catch an Easyjet flight to Arrecife, the capital town on the island of Lanzarote. It was a full day of waiting but proved relatively cost-effective and certainly less stressful than most of the alternatives. Lanzarote is not well served from the Middle East.

My accommodation was perfect. I was on the South side of the Island - forget Club La Santa, the title sponsor, it’s on the wrong, Atlantic side with the wind and the waves - and only ten minutes from the transition. All transport was graciously and efficiently provided by my totally triathlon-oriented hosts. Food was laid on in quantity when and where we needed it. There was a 25m pool at the villa, and a bike room equipped like Wolfi’s, and wise counsel from real local and international experts. Yvonne van Vlerken and two debutants were in the villa so I was in great company. There was even a proper category 1 cyclist who was doing pre-season training in the hills before joining his team in Australia for the winter months. Heaven. Perfect preparation. But I didn’t recce or ride the bike course.


Ironman Lanzarote is ‘old-school’. In a mad frantic mass, sprint starts nearly two thousand insanely fit or ruinously confident individuals dash down the beach and into the clear blue Atlantic ocean. On Saturday the professionals were given only a twenty-meter head start for the two-lap, Aussie-exit swim. They have to smash the first fifty meters or they get swamped by the rampaging age-group elites. This may be the last of the mass starts. I had forgotten just how intensely physical the washing machine can be. I went in with the gold-hatted AWA IM frequent flyers just behind the pros and just in front of the main field. Ouch.

The brawl at the second buoy involved about five hyper-stimulated age-groupers throwing punches and swearing in Irish, English, and Spanish, and about thirty marshals on boards and surf skis shouting liberally, mostly at each other. It was a bit of a muddle but eventually, those of us in the mid-pack emerged on the other side of the melee albeit with, in my case, a really unpleasant dose of gastroc (calf) cramp. I was better off than many. At least one poor sop retired from the race with a broken nose having completed only 170 meters.

The transition was on the beach so I carried some black sand onto the bike in my shoes and my shorts. And then one climbed. Against the wind. Up to something the locals call ‘the goat track’. You’ve got the idea. Going blind into the Ironman Lanzarote bike course was deliberate and a mistake. I knew that I didn’t have time to ride the course, and had I driven it as a recce I would have frightened myself, so I fell back on mindless optimism and the self-confidence of my reputation as a good cyclist. Ouch again. Yvonne had shown me a couple of videos of specific sections that she felt would be critical to her performance. She is probably the best female triathlon cyclist in the world and a voice worth listening to. But iPhone footage flattens and it looked benign enough to me. The roads are a combination of 4k-definition new tarmac interspersed with really poor reception black and white. There were occasional potholes, but most of the track is as good as any in Europe. It is the combination of fearsome wind and repeated inclines that sap one’s courage and legs and adds an hour to most ordinary triathletes bike times.

And it is beautiful. Stop and take a selfie beautiful. I didn’t, I promise, but only because I had no phone. Some of the climbs make you feel like a pro TDF rider. You weave a route to mountaintop clouds up winding narrow track with low walls and incredible drops on both sides, then descend hundreds of meters in terrifying wind blasted seconds. The route is so diverse that drafting would have been pointless and I saw none of it.

Lanzarote is clean, old-fashioned, blood sweat and tears racing

The run is out for ten kilometers, back to ten then twice out for five and back on the same track. By repeating the lumpy part of the run a total of three times they build a real difficulty into the marathon so it is not a fast course. The extra hour on the bike is also expended energy that one might normally have held in credit for the run. Not in Lanzarote.

The hardest Ironman in the World? Until I have done them all I can’t be sure and those who have raced IM Wales might argue, but it is the toughest that I have done, Kona included.


This was a bucket list race for me. I loved it. I can’t be disappointed with my result as I gave it my best shot. I know that I am there or thereabouts but on this day and at this race I was not good enough. I came 5/109.  With 40 slots and no roll down I didn’t qualify. Again. There was a German who swam fifteen minutes quicker than me, biked just as well and then ran 3:22 for the Marathon. 10:29 on this course is pretty unbeatable. A Belgian, a Frenchman and a Brit (clearly he didn’t read the brief) showed me my place too. The viagran age-group fields are getting bigger and bigger and faster and faster.

I spent the slow day after the race contemplating learning how to swim properly, wondering how to make my ornamental glutes actually work for me, boxing my bike and looking at Summer potential Kona qualifying races. Ironman Tallinn on August 4th looks interesting. I’ve never been to Estonia. Plan C?

Racing too often

I was advised by some experts not to race another IM so soon after IMSA. Had I been asked by an athlete whether or not he/she should do this I would also have counseled against. But I ignored my own advice and enjoyed the whole training and racing experience again. I don’t know how much chronic fatigue compromised my performance, but I doubt it was enough to catch the Hun. I raced lean at around 5% body fat. Think Marcus (Smith) without the muscle mass. Road maps of veins all on the outside were a result of attempting to carry fitness for longer than usual. On the negative side, I experienced an interesting if faintly worrying phenomenon when twice I found myself falling asleep at the wheel. Now that is strange. I metaphorically wound down the windows and turned up the stereo but narcolepsy when racing? Surely adrenaline should keep this at bay? Now I’m considering going again in less than eight weeks time. My 2018 quest for a slot at Kona is rapidly becoming a sports science experiment; I shall document my performance throughout. At my age, I must accept that there is a chance that I may become unwell or injured, and I will take this into account as I press ‘register’.

And thanks

I am hugely grateful for the support of my family, and also all my friends, old and new, who made this possible. Luke, Stine, and Chris from optimalTRI and Nick Tipper deserve very special mention but the wider TriDubai community has no equal globally too. We should never underestimate the emotional energy that our relationships provide us on race day. Knowing that those that you love and care about, and who love and care for you, are watching from around the world is the most powerful foundation when Ironman racing inevitably gets ‘uncomfortable’. In all, this was about great people, a great location and a race executed in such a way that I will always carry happy memories of the experience with me.

Thanks also to Pure Sports Nutrition (top nutrition for those who want all racing to be fair and natural), ON Running, Trisouq, Compressport, Oakley and Black Spade Racing for their generosity.

Finally, huge thanks to Debs and Darren Elliott and their bijou set up at Villa Paraiso. I can’t recommend @trisportslanzarote ( enough as a mature, immaculate, family owned and run venue for triathlon camps and Lanzarote races. They offer perfect accommodation; the facilities are faultless. Even Lucy Gossage, triumphant this year, called in post-race (sadly I was not the draw)!

Next stop, the Baltic. (?!!)

David Labouchere - 28 May 2018



Racing the plan to get the ‘double’


“Parts of the plan at times survive race day.”

 - Experienced Ironman Triathlete

[This report makes most sense after reading David’s report first]

Having taken six years in the sport to finally get my Kona finisher’s T-shirt last year, I initially thought I was done with chasing the ticket to the Big Island. And upon return I gave my finisher’s medal to a friend and colleague who was far more deserving, Rob Brown.
In 2014 Rob had raced over 12 Ironmans and qualified to go to Kona through the Ironman legacy program. He was booked to go when life took a different turn. A few months before the race he was diagnosed with cancer. Rob still went to Kona that year to watch the race, but he was advised against racing himself having just received the first round of treatment. The hope and expectation was that with Rob’s fighting spirit and wicked sense of humour he would beat this thing.

I put my medal in the company mail as an inspiration for Rob to get better and make it to ‘his race’ – the ultimate one in the ‘Ironman Lifestyle’ he and his wife Kerry and led for so many years.

Sadly, only a few weeks after me posting the medal, Rob passed away and he never knew about the medal. While the medal still served a purpose at Rob’s farewell together with all his other Ironman finishers medals, it had all been too little and too late from my side.

Now several reasons came together for me to decide to try and get another Kona slot by going back for a 5th Ironman South Africa (IMSA in Port Elizabeth) race this year.

1. Getting a finishers medal to keep.

2. Racing Kona properly after not being able to push the run there last year due to a soft tissue calf injury I’d picked up a few months prior - the run had been an ‘Ironman shuffle sufferfest’.

3. Really loving the race and the atmosphere on the Big Island. Clearly, I wasn’t ‘cured’ after my first Kona; quite the opposite, I wanted more.


As I hadn’t been able to push the run in Kona, suffering and running slowly still has less impact than running fast and, hence, I recovered quite quickly. I kept the Kona fitness going and managed to finish second at the Bahrain 70.3 in December, which was good enough to pick up a slot for the 70.3 Worlds in Port Elizabeth (PE) later this year.

Having not had a break from training for almost 2 years the trick now became to stay inspired and motivated all the way to IMSA. In coordination with my coach John Newsom we achieved that by doing less of the really long stuff and more short high intensity work and racing ‘for fun’ (it’s always fun, right…?).  I competed in several of the Giant Duathlons, some Olympic distances as well as Dubai 70.3.

All went well until I picked up another calf injury 2 weeks before IMSA. I had to cut back the running drastically and I was pretty concerned this would be the end of any Kona slot ambitions, or even just finishing. But, I also knew there was nothing much I could do about it now and you never know what happens on race day. I managed to let go of most of the worry and go with the flow.

Race planning

I won’t bore you with the pages of race plan details,  suffice to say I try to have a plan for every step of the way starting a day before the race to having coping strategies and alternatives for any eventuality. While I know race day reality will always be different, having a detailed written plan creates a lot of mental peace and confidence for me going into a race.

Out of our group sharing accommodation David’s plan was clearly completely out of the window even before the race. He came down with fever two days prior and hardly managed to rack his bike only 12 hours before the race. All of us were pretty concerned for David’s health, let alone him actually racing. And of course we all became paranoid about picking up his bug, so our support was preferably given from at least 5 meters away. Gracefully, he banned himself from the breakfast table as the rest of us frantically popped Vitamin C and any other legal preventative drugs we could think of.

The experience of doing the same race five times really helps to develop knowledge of its quirks, the course, the various weather patterns and the best places to get coffee and food. As such, my race was not exactly an adventure, but more a job to do or a plan to execute. And still execution wasn’t anywhere near perfect. As Stine wrote in her report, one reason the sport is so addictive is that there is always room for improvement.


Positioning myself a bit more to the front of the rolling swim start compared to last year I was off to a good start. The swim felt pretty good, dealing quite well with the slightly choppy conditions. I even managed to use my legs a bit by kicking like a real swimmer. Still, I also realized that the swim feeling good was perhaps not such a good sign, as it should probably feel harder. I also noticed I was at times quite far away from the guide buoys marking the straight lines between the turn buoys. Head down and try harder.

My suspicion became reality when I pressed stop on my watch at the swim exit. 1:10 – not according to plan! (I actually swam 4,140 meters instead of around 3,800, so my course sighting had been very poor indeed). But, a far bigger problem occurred when standing up to get through T1. My injured calf was stuffed. While I hadn’t noticed a thing during the swim itself, it was now very painful and totally cramped up. I only managed to limp and hobble my way through T1. How on earth was I even going to finish? Well, as the plan said, nothing you can do about it now, put it out of your mind, get on the bike and think about the run when you are actually running.

I had set up my Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer with a BestBikeSplit (BBS) plan for Westerly wind conditions giving me power targets every step of the way. I find this a great way to race as the power targets vary with every change in course gradient or wind angle providing  me with something to focus on at all times. I don’t use it continuously, as you also have to take into account actual weather conditions and of course other bikers to avoid a drafting penalty, but it is a good way to stay process orientated rather than getting distracted by the pain and suffering. Of course this plan didn’t work to perfection either, when GPS receiving failed on the ELEMNT and I no longer received targets. I reverted back to the backup plan of more generic power and the heart rate targets planned for the race.

Lucky escape

After about 60 kilometers I passed David on the bike and I could see he was suffering badly. Still, beating David on the bike never happens to me even when he is sick as a dog, so I was quite pleased with myself at the same time. The gods almost immediately took revenge for such evil thoughts when a fellow competitor shouted ‘water, water’ and pointed to the back of my bike. I felt behind me and realized my two-bottle cage was about to fall off. As following my nutrition plan is a crucial part of racing successfully, I decided to stop and try and sort it out as there was no way the bottles would stay put for the remainder 120 KM on the famously rough roads of PE.

When I stopped, David passed me a few seconds later and crucially a mechanic motorbike came up in the opposite direction at the same time. I flagged down the mechanic and using their Alan key and the elastic bands I had put around the bottles to prevent them from shaking out of the cage, we fixed the problem in under 2 minutes. How lucky was I that the attentive and considerate competitor pointed out the problem before my bottles were spread all over the road? How lucky was I that the mechanic passed by just as I stopped?

I was now back in my familiar position of chasing David on the bike. It took me 90 kilometers to catch up, with David looking more composed when I passed him the second time. That it took me so long to overtake David the second time illustrates that a large difference in effort on the bike doesn’t always mean a big difference in bike speed. Knowledge that is now well understood by David to his advantage: It can pay big dividends to race over and beyond the edge if you live to tell the tale.

I now also had Stine in my sights – as we both escaped another near disaster.

On the bike I’d spotted two snakes on the side of the road, dead or alive I wasn’t sure but I didn’t stop to find out, and several monkeys. I then noticed that Stine just ahead passed a group of cows that had wandered close to the course. Stine made it through safely, but another competitor behind her crashed into one of the cows while desperately trying to avoid it. Another competitor stopped to help and I was considering doing the same, when I saw one of the bike support motorbikes coming towards us. Again, how lucky was I not to have to deal with the moral dilemma of stopping or not stopping to make sure the competitor was taken care of?

Glad to have survived the bike in 5:22 at 228Watts NP with the race plan still intact it was now on to the run. Magically the calf felt OK in T2. It must have been the cold water and the calf being fixed in one position in the wetsuit that had made it play up so badly in T1. The bike had likely warmed it up and shaken it loose.

The marathon was planned using a 3K-45 seconds run-walk strategy. This worked well enough the first 25K, but then this plan failed partly as well and it became survival and just keep moving forward. I had to pull every mental trick in the plan to achieve that and not end up shuffling or giving up completely. What kept me going was the knowledge that most of the plan had worked and the result should be reasonable accordingly, the expectations that I felt rested on my shoulders from my family, supporters and coach and of course that my suffering was all rather relative compared to Rob’s.

I passed the finishing chute after a 3:28 run with Paul, the ‘Voice of Ironman’, announcer, who is an amateur pilot and aviation fan, making an embarrassingly big public deal of me being ‘an A380 captain’ as usual. I guess it is better to be talked about than not being talked about, as Trump would say. I politely declined the option of massages and the medical tent (‘are you sure you are ok Sir, you don’t look too well?’) and more or less kept walking straight back to our brilliantly located accommodation.

I had a shower first and a cup of tea reflecting on the race to make sure I wouldn’t completely judge it by its result, but rather by its execution. Finally opening the Ironman tracking app I found:

10:10:28, 4th in age-group, safe for a Kona slot. Job done!


Studying the results I figured that I was only 2 minutes from the number 3 spot. If only I had swum straighter, if only I had set-up my bottle cage better, if only I hadn’t had the calf issue, if only, if only… But, that is racing and I was able to put it all into perspective when later that evening I spoke to a competitor in my age group. He had been on course for a 5-hour bike and a 3:14 marathon, when his chain broke on his bike, which cost him 45 minutes. If he hadn’t been so unlucky, his finish time would have knocked me right back into fourth place even if I had executed my plan to perfection.

Doing the Double

Now back to the drawing board to get ready for the 70.3 World Championships early September (in PE again, but on a different bike course, much hillier – not my strength…) followed by Kona full distance World Championships in October. AKA, doing ‘the Double’.

But, perhaps the longer-term plan is an IMSA podium after finishing 4th there twice in a row… As you can see from this report, that will likely involve lots of planning, consistent training, and plenty of good fortune. Not to mention much patience and understanding from all of those sane people close to me that I love who are not afflicted by this sport.

Finn Zwager
April 2018



From almost zero to Ironman.. Ironman SA 2018

My race report is slightly different to the ones you may have already read – this was not a plan to get to win my AG or to get to Kona, no, this was simply someone who two years ago set out on a path to complete an Ironman. January 2016, the first Dubai 70.3 – I took part as a relay team, completing the bike leg. The event and atmosphere got me – it all seemed amazing, and I said to myself, I want to get involved in this… a couple of issues immediately presented themselves – I couldn’t swim, and hadn’t run since I was at school over 20 years ago. But I could ride a bike!

So the next year was spent learning to swim, building from 20 metres upwards, and in January 2017 I completed the Dubai 70.3. Well where to we go from here?! I entered IMSA2018 pretty much as soon as it opened.

Time flew by, and suddenly here we are flying DXB to CPT, hired a car and drove the garden route over 2 days to PE – thoroughly recommend it, as the scenery is stunning. Arrived in PE, built up the bike, couple of short rides, a sea swim with David and the guys – water cool, quite lively, but bearable; registration, athletes briefing and then bike racking. All the while trying to stay calm and not let the nerves get the better of me.

Saturday evening, early dinner, and early to bed. Alarm goes off at 4.15. Breakfast of porridge, then it is off to the start. Arrived with plenty of time – probably could have had a bit more sleep, but think it was better to be there and not be rushing.

Wet suit on, watching the sun rise over Hobie Bay – stunning.  6.15, time to get down onto the beach. Sand is wet but quite warm under foot. We are self selected by predicted time, and I put myself right at the back in the 1hr30 plus section. At least there is no pushing and shoving here, like there seems to be in the groups further up. Time for the Nation Anthem and then the pro’s are go. And then so are we – well the fast guys are! We slowly start moving forward and I can feel my heart beating in my chest, but it’s not too fast - yet! Just stay calm, like the sea thankfully is.


And soon enough, it’s my turn. We are released in groups of 10 every 10 seconds, and I jog down the beach and into the water, not too cold. Sight the first buoy – directly towards the sun, and start swimming. I hear the announcer state that that all the athletes are now in the water shortly after, but I focus on where I am going, and it feels like a reach the first turn in good time. Then the long haul to the next turn, and the half way point. The sea is choppiest along this section, and I kept feeling I was drifting away, but looking at Strava afterwards my course looked straight… looked my watch at the turn, and I had done 1984m @ 42min. This is going ok!

The return was easier, waves seemed easier to read and to sight the buoys. Out of the water, watch said 1hr29min and 3,886m – really pleased with that. U2 beautiful day playing…!!

Into T1 – nice and slow, catch my breath, eat, and walk up to my bike. Mine is the last bike in my row… oh well, let’s go catch some people! Started gently, get comfortable and warm up – I am shivering for the first 10km or so. Road surface is AWFUL, and this is the case for the whole route. The first pro’s head by in the opposite direction! Let’s see how long I stay away (I get to about 50km before being lapped!). What did upset/annoy me was the amount of blatant drafting going on at the front… and then the draft busters seemed to be picking on the guys at the back…

Start to warm up and speed up. I am passing people constantly for most of the first lap. Get to the turn and realise why it’s been so easy – tailwind turns into a headwind – for the next 45km. Oh well better just get on with it, stick to my power number and get on with it. Back to the start, into special needs for some more bars, and back out, enjoying the tailwind. If anything the wind was even stronger on the return.


And then into T2. What a relief to not be being bounced about anymore! Bike racked, grab run bag and sit down for a couple of minutes and compose myself. Listen to Lucy Charles winning the ladies race. Everything done, double and triple check – ok, here we go, my first marathon.

1st lap, feel good, sun shining, hit the 15k mark, still feeling strong, then slowly but surely legs start to give up! No particular pain, just not able to maintain the previous pace. Ok, we won’t stay at 6min k’s down to 6.30, then 7, but we are still moving forward, and that is the mantra for the rest of the run. I am still passing people, which helps the motivation.  This lasts until kilometre 39… when I just have to walk… too tired to chastise myself! 500m of walking, then we go again.


And there is the finish line – ‘James Thomas you are an Ironman!’


I would love to say I felt a huge sense of achievement but that didn’t arrive until a day or two afterwards – I just wanted to stop running! Stairs were hard work for a couple days, but that was about as much pain as I had. I finished with a time of 13hrs 14min & 9 seconds – a good friend asked why I didn’t wait another 6 seconds to finish the sequence! I would love to do another one, although where and when? Suggestions welcomed.

James Thomas
April 2018



WHATEVER IT TAKES, Ironman South Africa 2018

So, a bit of related history about myself. During my younger days, I had been a good swimmer and was very involved in swimming races. Thankfully, swimming techniques, like the front crawl, are still inherent. I can swim quite well, and am not afraid of choppy open water high waves, etc. While I was still 12 years old, I’d bought my first racing bicycle (it was a French Peugeot model) which was purchased with my own hard-earned cash, gained from delivering newspapers in Raalte township, Netherlands.


Nathalie, my wife, became a tri-athlete while she was still a student. She attained a level of National Students Champion and raced in France (including Nathalie taking part in the Paris Triathlon & swim in the Seine river) and also Uk – Spain - Mexico. Nathalie’s athletic ability probably stemmed from her own father participating in many Triathlons during the 1980s, including his racing efforts in one event in Oahu (later changed to Kona – Hawai), in 1982. Nathalie’s Dad (Joop van Zanten) was a founding member and chairman of the Dutch Triathlon Federation while becoming one of the organizers of the Almere Triathlon (Europe’s Oldest Triathlon). He is since 2017 in the Hall of Fame of the ITU.

When I met Nathalie in 1999, my wife-to-be even owned a ‘triathlon car’. ‘What might that be?’ some might ask. Well, it’s a car with a lot of associated junk in it... bottles, used towels, wetsuits, damp socks, running shoes, racing bike, and so on (what some normal people might call ‘junk’.) For me, being classed as a very well organized person... 20 years later, I’m the one driving a triathlon car around Dubai.

As you can understand from the above, swimming, cycling and running are all in my basic “DNA”.

However, one then grows up and other responsibilities take over in one’s adult life, including marriage and the need to earn a living. Kids came along soon after. And when my youngest daughter Isabelle reached 5 years of age, she wanted to become a member of AV Tempo (the Athletics team in Bussum, Netherlands), the same club my wife joined as members at the same age as our daughter Isabelle.

I became a new member of AV Tempo too, I commenced with a ‘start to run’ level, a very easy running program which allowed me to clock-up my athletic miles again. Of course, like many others, very eager to make progress (over speed & distance), I developed some minor associated injuries. During those recovery periods, I started back with cycling and in the process purchased a carbon-fiber race bike, a Bianchi.

When I moved to Dubai (in Summer of 2014, all I took with me was my Bianchi bicycle and joined up with Dubai Roadsters, Al Quadra, Nad Al Sheba, Cycling Clubs. I took part in my first Triathlons; the Roy Nasr in 2016, then ITU Abu Dhabi in 2017, and ½ Ironman Dubai in 2018.

So, I signed up for the Port Elizabeth Triathlon, as a result, as I’d heard that it was an excellent Triathlon in order to be able to prepare for Dubai racing. If I was to partake in a Triathlon in Europe I’d have to train mostly ‘indoors’ (in Dubai, because of the heat). Port Elizabeth’s Triathlon was to be my first such big event. Signing up the previous August offered me the option to withdraw (in the event of an injury).

Train, train, train, became the order for my new physical life. Training for a full Ironman consumes a lot of time for training. Pool swimming for me in the mornings. Then running or cycling in evenings. Such a schedule is a big challenge, particularly for a person with a full-time job and a family to consider.

Then my bike needed maintenance. I feared the worst, an expensive part maybe. Luckily the repair-shop

‘Revolution Cycles’ informed me it only a new bottom bracket bearing, that my bike needed.

I also had new tires fitted. Such tires would reduce the likelihood of getting a puncture during a race.

During preparations, I ordered a Sci Con (transit) bike bag from Wiggle, UK. I went to the Cycle Hub and got some good advice on fitting and removing and then utilizing the bag properly.

Travel to S.A. Day Arrives

The day for travel finally arrived, departing for Port Elizabeth (PE), South Africa. The excitement of what was about to take place was building up within me.


My flight to South Africa, was to be with Emirates Airlines, on 12 April, to Johannesburg (J’burg). There were no other Tri-Dubai members visible at the airport when I arrived to check-in, which surprised me. Seemingly, most of them had taken earlier flights. However, I met tri-athlete and USA journalist, Jackie Faye, who is based in Kabul, Afghanistan, and we chatted a bit. Jackie has taken part in Six Triathlons on Six Continents, to her credit. There was an item about the lady in one Triathlon newsletter I’d read.

On arrival at J’burg I collected my bike and brought it to an internal check-in point while waiting my connecting flight to PE. I met with fellow Tri Dubai athletes Wisam Al Ouch and Lorenz along the way. I knew Wassim from our last Sea Swim training (3 km distance) the Saturday before we planned to travel.

My training was actually done without any schedules or coaching. I’m a person who likes to do things my own way. Toughen myself up! I trained a lot with Nick Jacobs (my friend and fellow participant in PE’s Ironman).

Nick said to me, one week before race day; ‘You should do Tapering, Jaap.’ ‘What the heck is Tapering?’ I asked Nick. It’s doing no strenuous activity for a whole week before the Triathlon, I was then informed. ‘What was I going to do with all these spare hours during that week, then?’, I wondered.

But Wisam told me one should still should do a small bit of training. So that’s what I did, in final week.

Minor training; winding down; reading a newspaper at a Starbucks before work. I loved that schedule.

We had cycled a lot in Dubai and Hatta but never did more than 150k at a time. Is that enough pre-race distance? My running had been limited to 21 km max…as my knee became stiff and painful at times. I wondered if I had put in enough running distance, but decided two weeks before the PE Triathlon not to do any more. I would confine myself to swimming and cycling (to rest my knee). And tapering, or course

I arrived with bike via J’burg in PE - where Michael Coetzee, a friend of Nick, picked me up on the Thursday afternoon at the airport. I was treated to some wonderful hospitality by Michael and his wife Tanja - and also by their two pretty daughters, Michela and Simone.


They invited me to stay in their house, but as Nick (and his future wife Pamela and Nick’s parents) were already booked to stay there, I didn’t want to impose. I was happy to sleep in their caravan in the yard.

I slept very well in that caravan that night. The sound of silence. Fresh air. I am quite fond of camping.

Later in the afternoon, we went to the main area to erect our tent with the gazebo tents already there. Many PE citizens were already securing the best locations around the track and marking their private areas.


I met with some other local tri-athletes, who invited me to join them for a sea swim and some preparatory cycling, the following day (Friday).

So, I spent time that (Thursday) evening checking my bike to be ready for next day’s 7.00 am pick-up. My racing Bike was deemed to be in good condition. Reassembling the bike’s derailleur (gear sprockets) was relatively easy. I was all ready to go.

Pre-Race Preparations

My invitation to swim with Christo, MJ, Shawn and Paul took place in the morning and it was great. After our swim (in the sea) we went back, still in our wetsuits, and all jumped into MJ’s pool - to rinse the seawater from ourselves and our wetsuits. Then some clean dry towels, a nice cappuccino, and we all set out for an introductory bicycle ride.

Pictured left: Shawn, Richard (?), Jaap, Pam, Nick, MJ (aka Martin), Paul, and Christo

Pictured left: Shawn, Richard (?), Jaap, Pam, Nick, MJ (aka Martin), Paul, and Christo

What a great hospitality I received. It makes me proud to be part of the Triathlon community, who take the likes of me under their wings. One particular note, it amused me that the Afrikaans language has much in common with Dutch and Flemish. In the afternoon, Friday, my friends - Nick and Pam - arrived and together we went for our race registration.


That same evening, we all attended a pre-race briefing and then had a Pasta Party at the Boardwalk.

On Saturday we went out for another ride and some sightseeing, Nick had forgotten his cycle shoes so we visited a specialist sports shop. While there, I bought myself an Aero Sworks helmet (at a good price).

Then off for a relaxing spin, then had a nice lunch and went back to the bike check area. There were lots of nice racing bikes to be seen there (see picture right, below).


Sunday, and Triathlon Ironman Race Day Arrives

We had an early wake-up call at 4.15 am (but for those from Dubai, it was still quite late). Dawn had not yet broken. Breakfast was a dilemma for some of us; what, and how much should a race participant eat? Nervousness is starting to take over. However, this is what I have trained for. Today is the BIG day.

I head for the start area to make last minute preparations, to recheck my bike and transition bag. I don my wetsuit for the first event (the swim) and head for the start with the throng of tri-athletes.


As the South African Sun starts to rise, a canon shot went off and swimmers jump into the sea. Men took to the water before the ladies and we all caused a splash. I seeded myself in 1.0 – 1.5-hour section of the tri-athletes. Batches of seeded athletes were starting in groups, according to their selected time.

Jaap, Pam and Nick at the Ironman Start


No opportunity for pre-warming up in the water today, as Jaap had to go straight into his swimming stride. The swim went well. The water temp was tolerable. My swimming style is very ‘zig-zaggy’ and I realize this erratic style needs improvement. I swim well to reach the 1.8 km turn-around point. Then back along the 1.6 km section. We were blessed with little wind and no high waves.

I take a shower in Transition T1 zone. Put on my cycling gear and run to the bike, pushing it through the transition area to reach the start. However, my (new Garmin 935) watch information is looking strange as I jump on my bike and start cycling. What is wrong?’ I suddenly realize... I had pressed the incorrect button on the watch, it seems. That’s OK. 600 meters will not be measured on my Garmin 935 but it is still registered on my Garmin 1000 (alternative racing) watch, which is OK.

I quickly get into a cycling rhythm and take some food as I cycle along. One should eat as much as they can during this particular section, because when you feel hungry it’s too late. My meal is of gel food and some nutritious bars. I then drink some water and then get into the Aero position (to reduce wind-drag).

The road is narrow and bumpy, not the best surface for cycling. There are bends, some quite sharp. I then change to the lowest gear for a hill-climb. Finally I meet a wide road with a level, flat surface. I encounter a tail-wind and my speed rises above 50 km/hr.

Suddenly I hear the approaching sound of a BMW GS motorbike (a sound I am familiar with, as I own one). The referee on the motorbike shouts at me; ‘You are drafting!’ Well I guess I might well have been drafting, but at that moment I was finally developing a rhythm and a regular speed (So I was not thinking in terms of drafting/cheating). Anyhow, I was given a ‘blue card’ and the guy ‘penalized me 5 minutes’. I asked him, ‘Where is that penalty-tent I must report to?’ ‘At the turning point.’ he replied. After 45 km

I reach that turning point, I stopped and asked for the tent, and after several confusing detours I finally find the tent. I had to fill in a form with some details and then the guy started the stopwatch. I pleaded with him; ‘I like soft eggs. And having them boiled for 2.5 minutes…not 5 minutes. Please let me go without penalty. The guys were laughing at me, so I had 5 minutes time added to eat and drink.

After my penalizing period (jail time?) I return to the race. Another 45 km of cycling and turn over for the second lap of 90 km. I found the last 45 km cycling coming back was very though due to a strong head-wind. My neck was also feeling painful and I couldn’t take up the recommended Aero position.

At Transition T2 I take some food and drink. If I omit this important duty my Ironman race will be over. However, the sweetness of the fare gets to me. Not so appetizing for me.

On my return to Port Elizabeth (PE) I noticed many race supporters and well-wishers had gathered. Wonderful! Such support is excellent for encouraging us triathlon participants along our way.

At transition I put my bike in a rack, and then I run to my bag, to clothe myself in my running gear. A nice girl gave my exposed skin parts a quick coating with sun cream. I face into the final Triathlon section, the 40 km marathon. It was Four laps of a 10 km route. It’s a relief for me that the end is finally in sight.

The 4 laps are long, it’s an extended circular route through PE City but the support is amazing. The many people standing by the roadside, screaming and shouting out our names, gave many of us runners a really positive vibe. I had had enough to eat but all that terrible sweetness still remained in my mouth.

Lap after lap, I was receiving the colored wristbands at each checkpoint, counting down the kilometers.

As I said, my race-pacing watch was new so the screens were not properly set up. I couldn’t see my total time and I was counting and calculating. It all became somewhat confusing. My ultimate goal was to finish the full Triathlon, but then really doing the math during that final section of the Triathlon, I

thought to myself, ‘Under 14 hours can be do-able for you, Jaap’. So, during the run, I was calculating and believed I would be able to get towards the ‘below13-hour’ target time for the entire Triathlon.

The sun went down and it began to get dark. At around 6.30 pm, it became bit chilly with a breeze. I found the water sachets were very handy, keeping one always in hand during running for support.

And then I was given the last lap’s colored wristband. Only 10 km to go. I passed Hamid (our Algerian friend) along that last lap.

Arriving back to the finish I was overcome with emotion. Such a great feeling came over me in the run- in towards the finish line. I had done it!

I AM AN IRONMAN…I did the “dab” at the finish line. And finished just within the 13-hour mark! (12:58) Wow! What a sense of achievement when I was presented with my Medal and Finishers Tee-shirt.

Later, back at the caravan, I read the congratulatory messages on WhatsApp. There had apparently been an issue with my GPS tracker. At km 34 point it remained unmoving. My family members in Netherlands and Dubai had become worried about what might have happened to me at this particular juncture.

However, there was much relief when they saw the GPS device had started to move again. What is next for me? I am not sure, but I’m open to suggestions


Thanks for reading my Ironman Triathlon Race Report. I hope you enjoyed it!


Jaap de Groot,
A Dutchman, aged 51 years. Based in Dubai for the past 4 years, with wife Nathalie and 2 daughters - Isabelle (who is also a fine triathlete) and Annika.
April. 2018



Kona, here I come! Rocking Ironman South Africa 2018..


When all that I had thought about during these last few months was Ironman South Africa,
it feels like a pretty big triumph to cross that finish line as the first female in my AG.
I have been incredibly focused, dedicated and ambitious about my training for this race, all
the while totally paranoid about potential illness, especially when the children pick up the
inevitable snotty noses. The actual training is the easy part and rather it is a whole circus
making it fit into family life, with three very young kids, so that it won’t be at their expense,
which is hard. It is the planning, the early mornings when I am out training before most
others have even thought about getting up. Then all those evenings, where I have been
ready to go to bed at the same time as the children. I have been tired, I have been happy, I have had a crisis and I have been flying. During the tough moments, I have asked myself “why”.
This “free-time” project that I do for the fun of it, yet take so seriously, something my life
completely revolves around when preparing for this one performance. Why?
I know my “why”, and that is WHY I continue doing this. Because I like to push myself to
the limit and beyond; where some people quit, but I keep going. Where I don't know if I
feel like crying or laughing and where the majority of the work, lies in turning negative
thoughts into positive ones, winning the mind game. This goes for the training as well for
the competition, because often training is a mind game as well. It may sound weird, but I
like to push myself out where I'm peeing down my legs, pants, and shoes to save only
about 30 seconds in a competition that takes around 10 hours. Out where I'm covered in
lubricating gels, snot, and sticky cola, yet worry more about my average speed than about
how I look.
It's a sense of monumental satisfaction when I know I have performed at my very best,
while it´s actually just as addictive when it does not turn out according to plan though,
because then it drives me on to: how do I then prepare for the next race, to perform
And it has been just the same with the preparation for South Africa, as with all the other
Ironman races that I have done – there have been many ups and downs heading for South
Africa Ironman. I must say, however, that all the time I've believed in it! It's easy to say
afterward, but I had absolutely no doubt that if I hit the right day, I could do it. I am not
talking about crossing the finish line. I can do that! I am talking about crossing the finish
line as the AG winner.

I spent a lot of energy during my preparations worrying about the sharks hanging around
Nelson Mandela Bay. A waste of energy maybe, but I was really frightened, and it was
somewhat difficult to put that fear away as there are sharks around. On shark tracker,
which I very sensibly first downloaded after the race, I found that every tenth white shark is
followed; who by the way have been given excessively sweet names considering their
reputation!! Anyway, when the gun went off, I had no time to worry about either Cyndi nor
Sophia. They popped up in my mind at one point, but not enough to distract me, and I

reassured myself that considering there were 2000 triathletes swimming in the water, I
would call it a very bad day if one came by, and it came by for me!

One would think I might have swum a little faster, just to get out of the, in my opinion,
shark-infested waters, but my swimming was actually a little slow. Too slow! I also felt at
the time that I was going too slowly and that I wasn’t pushing it enough, but I continued for
some reason at the same pace. The water was choppy, which is normally to my
advantage, but apparently, it didn´t help me much this time. However, I completed the
swim, without seeing one single shark. Lucky me!
On the bike, I achieved the race plan, but again, I felt I was going a little slowly, and later it
transpired that it was actually a good plan. However, uneven asphalt, wind, hills and a suit
that made me miserable on the saddle, meant the bike was quite an uncomfortable
experience. There were several times during the 180 km where I was planning on selling
my bike once back in transition, and I was sure that this would be my last Ironman for a
long time - as I'm always sure, at some point during an Ironman. I always forget about it
again though...

That said, it's all a mind game, and again, it is all about turning negative thoughts into
positive. I was overtaken by two competitors on the bike 20 km before T2, and all I did was
watch as they rode by. I stuck to my own plan and hoped that they would burn out later,
have also noted that one did not exactly look like they would be a good runner. As such,
one tends to have a very specific build? However, I was right and overtook both of them
within the first 7 km of the race, grateful that I had made the right decision to hold back on
the bike, go a bit slowly, and save some power to push it on the run.
Since I now had a few competitors in front of me, I did not have the time for selling my bike
in transition, and at that moment, I already had the bike ride in mind, as pretty awesome,
with beautiful scenery. Also, I was very confident and positive, looking forward to a nice
little run.
So, therefore, when I arrived in T2, I put my running shoes on and ran. Just ran. As
mentioned, I forgot all the thoughts I’d had when I was sitting on the bike, in the headwind
and on my way up the hill. I had taken the right legs with me for running! Hawaii popped
into my head, and I was sure I could push it to the finish line, which was a little dangerous
to think, considering there was not only a few competitors in front of me, but also still 42
km of racing ahead of me, - in the hot weather, starting to feel fatigue, with a stomach filled
with sugar and where anything can happen from one moment to another. But there were
no problems at all, from either my legs or stomach and especially not my mind.
I was celebrating on that run. Celebrating all the hours of training that I´ve put into this
performance. I just ran! Well, I was a bit tired of course, after a nice little 3.8 km swim and
a 180 km bike ride, but despite it, I was flying. I enjoyed every, single, step. I enjoyed the

race, and I enjoyed the party around me. It turned out to be my absolute best Ironman
marathon so far, a PB by 3 minutes and 18 seconds. Time 3 hrs. 22 min, 57 sec.
When I realized how much the Brazilian age group competitor girl was pushing me from
behind, I was even able to increase the pace a little. It is a super cool feeling to be able to
race at the end of a marathon run, rather than just having to survive. And I had to push it,
because, in fact, the race became a little too exciting at some points, having her only a few
minutes behind me.
Crossing the finish line (10.12.59) was exactly as I wanted it to be! Exactly as I had
dreamed of. All those hours of training, and all that hard work I have put into this project,
was for me, fully repaid on the red carpet. It really was worth all the effort and I was so
relieved and so happy, I didn´t know whether to laugh or cry. So, I obviously chose, to cry
a little.
Huge thanks for an awesome week in Port Elizabeth, to the best OptimalTri and TriDubai
people. I had a blast, spending time with you. All very inspiring people.
However, there is one guy to whom I owe massive thanks. For giving me the opportunity to
do what I like, even though it doesn’t make us a living, – actually the total opposite! The
only thing it for sure does give us, is more laundry. Thanks for, again, dealing with all the
training I must do for an Ironman, over the last couple of months. I have talked a lot about
triathlon, and I have also been a bit tired, and maybe also a bit miserable at some points, I
know. But since I just won the African AG Championship and a Kona slot, I guess it will
continue, and it is much appreciated, that you keep dealing with me, and my passion for
triathlon. Thanks Christian.


Stine Mollebro
April 2018



Ironman South Africa 2018

Rough Racing

"Warning. This report describes irresponsible and reckless behaviours that are could cause lasting damage. I DO NOT recommend that anyone reading this report uses it as a template for success in Ironman Racing"



‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy’ - Army maxim.

I had the emergency escape seat by the wall. No window and face to face with the cabin crew for takeoff and landing. My neighbour was a middle aged woman from Northumbria (for those for whom UK geography is not a strong suite, that’s a place ‘up North’ where the men smell of work). She tried to be polite in response to my introducing myself - yes I do it on ‘planes as well as the AQ - but you could tell that she was struggling. Her son was in the Army Air Corps flying Apache helicopters. And she was quite unwell.
She stifled a cough with her hand and her skin had that nearly dead look. One sensed that she had a burning sensation behind her eyes. Sweat on her upper lip, an elevated temperature and uncommonly bad breath. Each time she coughed I turned away, trying not to seem too churlish.
I was on the Dubai Cape Town leg of my trip to PE and IMSA 2018. One of my key races this year and my ‘qualifier’ for Kona. I was fitter than I had ever been, and at the same time, as fragile as I had ever been. Preparing for IM is demanding and takes long hours and dietary discipline and this time I had delivered on both. I was at an insanely low body fat percentage; deliberately, unsustainably low. I wanted to run quickly and when it comes to the run, lighter is faster. My body was in a delicate state of balance that would carry me to the race finish line and probably no further. Post race week would be about putting weight back on.
I had taken some of my own advice on weight loss and reduced my intake of bread, pasta and rice. I’d done away with puddings and limited the amount of fruit that I ate. I did not snack between meals and welcomed hunger as the sensation one has when ones body is consuming its own fat stores; a mental trick that works well for me. I was not completely HFLC but more Normal Fat LC. I had trained predominantly fasted and long, eating only after exercise. I had an FTP of 340w and resting HR of 30. I weighed 83kgs hydrated.
Race week is a joy. As usual we were billeted at Lyn and Fred’s Hobie Beach Guest House (don’t even try, I have every room booked for the Ironman for the next five years!) and we settled into the routine of race week. Every morning we were up with the dawn and into the Southern Ocean at race time. Then back to a long hot shower and breakfast. We gently teased the phobians about whether Cyndi, Duke or Errol Finn - what an inspired name for a Great White shark! - had pinged in the bay that day. Modern technology is fantastic: you can track the big predators, or at least one in ten of them. It’s
a selfish week; no work, no kids, no strict timings, apart from the swim. A week of training but so lightly and specifically that one can feel the freshness building and the energy grow within you as the race approaches. Until, this year, Friday.
On Friday at four in the morning I was in trouble. I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was not right. A tickle in the chest, an ache in my bones, a warmth in my head, a no-reason headache and sweaty.  I decided to blow it out at the swim with a nice salt water gargle. That had worked before. I ached more in the swim. Perhaps pre-race mind games? My body regularly playfully suggests a phantom injury during race week. I ate a good breakfast. It didn’t work. By lunch time I was in bed with a temperature, and I was miserable. I ached all over and I had a nasty burning chesty cough. Breakfast reappeared. I slept. I went to the race briefing, and slept in that too. I ate the pasta.
The weather in PE is fantastic in the Autumn. Coolish nights and warm balmy days.
Only I could not get warm during that day nor cool that night. The pasta gave some substance to my kneeling moments. My core was sorest of all. Vomiting is serious pilates. I got up on the Saturday, briefly, and took a seat at breakfast in the far corner away from my healthy friends. Morten, ueber biker and the senior Dane in Dubai, Stine, top coach and 2014 overall European IM amateur Champion, Finn whose experience of South Africa is second only to mine and whose performance consistently defeats me, Ben, IM virgin who has trained from fat boy to athlete under Chris Knight, Wisam, the living embodiment of why TriDubai is a good thing, Helen from AD, here to qualify having missed out by one place a couple of years ago, and Mark, former French foreign legionnaire whose book would be a best-seller. Morten asked: ‘Have you thought of Plan B?’ Reality struck home. Racing, let alone qualifying was now highly unlikely.
Half a bowl of porridge. Back to bed. Pathetic.
But I wasn’t ready to admit defeat so I racked my bike. I turned down the trip out to the traditional Pizza place for the last meal. The team bought me one home. Now the SA caring, hosting, welcoming gene was triggered and the house staff were plying me with fresh lemon in hot water, toast and marmite, tea, olbas oil, all things natural and a staggering amount of attention. I was avoiding medication because if I won, and somehow I still planned to win, then I would go through doping control. Who was I fooling?
Race night. Not good, the opposite, worse. But I made a race plan. I would get up and play the hand I’d been dealt. Plan B was unpalatable and involved a European race later in the season; Maastricht or Bolton. And I knew that I couldn’t be quite so well prepared for them, and that the European competition is stiffer, and that there wouldn’t be eighty (yes eighty at IMSA!) slots for Kona at those races, so they were far from
guaranteed. In quarantine corner with a temperature I forced a bit of porridge and three cups of coffee down a throat that did not want to swallow. I went down to the bike and put my etap batteries back on, calibrated the Power Meter, decided the tyres looked fine and didn’t add air - rough roads, less pressure, less fatigue - put a bottle on the back with 15 gels in it and clipped my shoes in. Everything was slow motion. Autopilot.
Back in my room I took hours putting on my wetsuit. It was heavy and thick. And awkward. Heavier and thicker and more awkward than it should have been. I was now trying desperately not to think about something that I did not want to think about.
Failure. I had told everyone that I would win. You can’t win without starting. So I took my own advice and thought only about the next fifteen minutes. Like the proverbial elephant IM is best ingested in bite sized chunks and for me the next fifteen minutes is a mouthful.
Plan. The plan was simple. Normally one tops up ones muscle glycogen stores in the few days before a race. For two days I had done the opposite with my body under stress fighting a chest infection/bronchitis/tertiary syphilis or something. Lets just call it ManFlu; an affliction that would put any female into ICU, but which we, the stronger sex, stoically deal with without whinging and crying, too much. So I didn’t have the stores that I needed to fuel me for a ten plus hour endurance race. But I did have fat. Even at less than five percent body fat I had stores. I estimated about 4kgs of ultra-high-octane top quality fat fuel in my body. That would have to do it. So now it was about operating in the zone where the fuel of choice is fat vice carbs. If I flicked over to predominantly carb burning I would bonk (run out of carbs/muscle glycogen/energy) and when that happens you stop. There’s one thing worse than a Did Not Start (DNS) and that is a DNF.
Race. I entered the water and swam. Half way down the mile long main straight I
was too cold, fighting the cough reflex constantly. I was looking up to sight the next buoy but hoping for sanctuary on a RIB. I had to constantly pull myself back to the ‘now’ rather than thinking about how this experiment might pan out. I knew that if I coughed I would keep coughing and that my tummy was sore and that coughing meant doubling over and doubling over when swimming in a cold southern ocean might not be a very good idea.
Don’t cough. Would Errol hear my cough?
Half way. Next fifteen minutes, don’t cough. The devil on one shoulder was saying you’ve done enough. Honour is even. Get our of the water. My competitive instinct was saying that it’s all downhill from here, just keep turning those heavy arms over and you will have completed the swim. And so it was. Out of the water and on to the bike.
Warmer now.  HR ceiling set at 125bpm.  HR alert buzzing on my watch.  The wind was
behind and I rode the outleg on autopilot. Harder on the way back against a freshening
torrent and into the little ring to keep the HR under control. Then out again, the wind now strong and finally a slog of small gear minuscule progress back to T2 and the run. Less than 200w average. That is PZ1! Still going.  My gel bottle empty and three more gels taken on top. 18 gels inside me. Yum.  I didn’t look at the time at any point.  That was not part of the plan. Just HR.  Just 125bpm.  No more.  Running now.  I felt like giving up, but I reminded myself that I always feel like giving up as I head out onto the run. That is normal. I ran aid station to aid station, using the beep of my watch to keep me at 125. Maximal Aerobic Function for a 55 year old is 125 (Google Dr. Phil Mafetone) so I should be able to hold this all day. And I did. The kms passed slowly, I saw Ben and Helen as they were going my way, but no one else. Stine and Finn must have crossed me four times but I had no capacity for multitasking, waving or even recognition. I was fully occupied by moving forward, staying on HR and getting there. Oh, and I smiled - it always makes me faster.
Self belief is a funny thing. I finished and still thought I might have won. You never know in Ironman. But I hadn’t. I was a country mile off the lead and almost surprised that four other nearly viagrans had somehow come home before me. The first two in my AG set new course records. These old buggers are getting quicker.
Today, post race I have never felt less fatigued in the muscles nor more frail overall. No tightness, no cramp, no pain walking downstairs. After an IM that is unheard of in my experience. But I am weak. And riding at low/no power didn’t make a huge difference to time. Finn, an athlete of similar age, build and type rode about six minutes faster but used 300 plus Training Stress Scores - sorry, technical stuff - to my 200. Wow! Ride easy folks; those very few extra minutes are going to be expensive on the run. My swim time was at most 2mins down on expectation, and the run was 3:50 or about 23 minutes slower than my best. All in all, being unwell cost me about 20-30 mins on this race. So even healthy I might have been in with a shout but there would have been no guarantees. The competition is just too good.
Stine raced to first place AG. Kona. Finn was two minutes off the podium and three minutes in front of Stine. Kona. Ben executed his first IM and logged a benchmark PB well inside 13 hours. Morten slowed up on the run having ridden the fastest bike split of
all of us, and will live to fight another day. Wisam came home happily with his third full finish. Helen struggled on the run and was a little outside the Kona slots but looks fired up to make her assault on a Kona qualification soon. And Mark, struggling from an old calf injury (is that what you call a bullet wound from Sarajevo?) decided that discretion was the better part of valour and retired half-way through the bike.
Warning. Racing ill is NOT recommended. Vomiting dehydrates. Endurance racing dehydrates. The first casualty could be kidney function. If you have illness below the neck, do not race.
Would I do it again? It is so hard and takes more courage than I have to go back on a big promise, to let hours, days, weeks and months of training go. I wasn’t up to that.
But with hindsight, and having failed to qualify, I would not do it again. A wise man said that fools learn from their own mistakes, clever people learn from mistakes made by others. I know that most of my readers are clever people.

And next? That’s that unpalatable plan B…

David Labouchere
16 April 2018



Marathon des Sables (“MDS”) April 2018

What a week!

A week that I will remember for a long time, the pain, the jubilation, the agony, the elation. MDS asks for a lot, but gives back more in return, it is a journey of epic proportions and one I would highly recommend for those seeking a challenge. Ok, enough cliches.

Some members of TriDubai, all much faster and better runners than myself, have taken part in the MDS in the past. However, I have not seen a race report for MDS to date, so I thought I would share with anyone who may be interested in my experience. 


I will try to be brief and will write a separate “tips for MDS” if anyone is interested, please let me know.

  • What: A 250km self-sufficient race (except water and tent, which is provided) over 6 days,  in the 40c+ Moroccan Sahara, through dunes, over jebels and known as the “toughest footrace on earth”. (Photos attached). This means around a 10kg backpack which will be mainly food
  • How: Now in its 33rd year, Patrick Bauer started the race after traversing 350km of the Sahara on his own. He is the spirit and soul of this race, directs and starts the race every morning (with the same song!) and is there to greet you at the goal line when you finish with a huge bear hug, kiss optional.
  • When: Normally early April when the temperature starts to rise. Our race dates were from 8th to 14th April 2018.
  • Why: The decision to take part was made last July together with my good friend, Tyrone Sinnamon. We trained together, but unfortunately, he was unable to take part this year. He should be aiming to Race next year so good luck to him. I also asked James Rudolf, a good friend from University and he was able to join, through training in a much colder Wales. We shared a tent together throughout the race period.
  • Who: About 1000 participants from nearly 50 countries. You will share a tent (photo attached) with 7 others. The “Tent” becomes your team and support throughout the race, and beyond. Some decide upon the tent beforehand, some are thrown together. The tent is strictly speaking of the country you reside in, though exceptions are granted :) 

Training for MDS

The distance, logistics and the circumstances of this race make it a huge commitment. I believe my full Ironman training over the last five years have helped, both from the level of fitness and putting together a training plan by myself. I would say it is not a race to be lightly taken on board. This race took several times the focus, commitment and the time of training for a full Ironman, that’s just my personal opinion.

My training method was simple - run, run and run, all of it with weight (8-12kg). If tired, walk, walk and walk some more. If too tired then swim, cycle or hot yoga. The four months leading up to the race was v intense and I lost 18kg of fat and gained 5kg of muscle. Staying injury free, hydrated and healthy are also key aspects of success.

Nutrition and race gear

Since this is a self-sustained race, it is crucial to choose and test all your nutrition (minimum 2000kcal must be carried for each day)and race gear(shoes, socks, gaiters, backpack, sleeping mat and bag, cooking utensils if planning to cook, run wear and downtime wear). I was fortunate to come away without a single blister, but expect multiple blisters and more. I will not post any photos but google “MDS blisters” if you want to see what it the worst may be like (but not before eating!).

Footwear and foot care requires special mention since it is absolutely crucial to get this right. Trial and error, the test fails, repeat until you are comfortable and confident.

The first time I heard about MDS was about 20 years ago, the last few years so many friends from Dubai took part. My mind was ready and decided to do this made up a while ago, but it took me a solid 9 months+ for the physical and mental preparation.


Onwards to Morocco!

I and two other fellow Dubai runners, Mark Buley and Gary Turnbull traveled to Casablanca. From there an internal flight to Ouarzazate, where we are loaded onto buses for a six-hour journey into the Sahara.

We arrive at the first bivouac and are put into our tents. In our tent, we had 3 English (James, Dan, and Kuwait - but living in Wales, Hong Kong and Kuwait), 1 Welsh (Mark),  1 Scot (Gary),  Su the first ever Malaysian female entrant, Denise the only Chinese participant for the year and myself - Japanese based in Dubai :) a mixed crew!

What is unclear from the schedule and I was confused about was that we have two nights at the bivouac before we hand over our non-race excess stuff. So we arrived on Friday and the race itself would start Sunday morning. We took some extra clothes and provisions and savored our last ties to civilization with mobile connection and Facebook. I put my phone in my suitcase to hand in, completely detaching myself from the real/digital world. Quite pleasant I must say. 

Two days of camp life, acclimatizing to the weather and the tent, acquainting yourself with your tent mates who will become your lifelong friends and comrades. Everyone is itching to go. When Sunday comes and Patrick announces the start, it is a relief to stretch the legs whilst trying not to think about the 250km ahead.

The course changes every year, though I understand this year was the same as the last. Day 1, a gentle 30km intro some dunes and fantastic scenery. The cut off is generous for the whole race so some people even walk the whole race.

Day 1: 30km finished without incident, weather hot but bearable. Everyone’s spirits high. The good thing about coming back to your tent is that you exchange experiences, what worked what didn’t and as the week goes on share food, supplies and war stories which make for the whole experience. 7 in the tent chose to cook hot food buying the fuel cells from the organizers, James was on cold food for the week - with a diet of beef jerky, nuts, dried fruit, and granola. This is a personal choice and one you need to think deeply about and trial before the race. I was mainly relying on Expedition foods with a mix of Japanese freeze dried food thrown in. Again, this was all tested during the training period, often dining of Expedition Food spaghetti bolognese before going to bed. 


Day 2: 40km and this was when it really hit us. The excitement of the race start wore off and the course was brutal. The more beautiful the scenery became the harder the terrain was and hurt your body and mind.  After 30km on never-ending plains and dunes under the scorching sun, we turn into the mountain range we had run along next to and climb one of the tallest jebels. Having taken part in the Ultra Urban Hajar 50km, the climb was not as daunting - I would highly recommend the Ultra Urban races as warm up for MDS. From the top of the Jebel the view was stunning and the sharp 20-degree descent over the sand covering the other side of the mountain. So steep you need a rope to guide you down (photo attached). A final stretch of flat saw us back at camp, somewhat tired and frightened about what lay ahead, especially on Day 4.


The evenings had been calm so far, a strong occasional gust at sunset which was usual in the desert. You wore a buff all the time and covered your face every time you saw dust coming your way. The air is extremely dry so don’t forget your lip balm! This evening had been particularly quiet and both in the tiredness from the day and the familiarity now with camp life we went to sleep early, leaving our belongings scattered... 

When the storm hit us at 1130pm,  we were fast asleep, a strong gust of wind knocking down several of the poles and visibility was down to near zero. Those close to the pole held on for dear life and we could hear shouts and screams from the other tents. The wind was too strong and after ten or so minutes we came to the collective decision that we should drop all the wooden poles. Counter-intuitively but due to the design lying under the thick black tent gave us cover from the sandstorm and we all soon fell asleep.

The storm passed in a few hours and we woke up to collect our scattered belongings, our loss not being major. Lesson there, always tie things down. 

Day 3: 30km ... the morning after the storm, tired legs and with the long day on Day4/5 ahead Gary and I decided to hold back and fast walk. In terms of the course, this was my favorite, especially running on top off the ridge on the Jebel. The wind blew nicely and it was hard not to break into a trot, which felt like flying. But hold back, think of Day 4/5, we took some good photos that day (attached)

Day4/5: 86km. Some say this is what MDS is all about. To be fair that is an overstatement, but it is true this is the BIG challenge and extra planning is required for this stage.  The cut off time is a generous 35 hours and this stage itself is worthy of one serious race.  8 am, James and I started slow and as the heat rose our pace didn’t improve. I felt strong so James and I parted before checkpoint 4 and I ran on. 


Sunset just after CP4 as we hit the big dunes, I refueled with some rice I had prepared while running (just stuck it in my water bottle), shoveled it down with a piece of salami and faced the two hard stages over huge dunes. Nightfall brought strong gusts of wind with sand being blasted from all directions and hitting any exposed skin. Ouch. I labored on along with others under the night sky with our torchlight dotting the trail like a line of stars. Sometimes if I found someone with the same pace I would tuck in behind and tag along, partly to take the mind off the monotony and to ease your concentration from spotting the trail which was lined with luminescent markers.

This is surely the hardest part of the race 50km, 60km, 70km... 10 pm, midnight, 2 am... slow and grinding. Some stop, cook or rest at the checkpoints, but I was determined to push on. And when I finally saw the camp light, it was a relief and reminded me of the words of Lindbergh... “legs those are the lights of the end of this stage”. I reached my tent at 4 am, the guys who had arrived earlier were fast asleep. The two remaining members came in with a smile the next morning, the sunrise giving them extra strength to walk in. 

Day 5 is a rest day, we lie in our tent to avoid the heat, chat, cook food to recover and wait for emails from our family and friends, which are received centrally by the organizers via the website, who print out and deliver to our tents. Some of the messages are so touching and the encouragement it gives you during moments of self-doubt are unbelievable. I can’t thank the people who sent messages enough.

Day 6: 42km. The customary words said before this day is “it’s only a marathon”, in reference to the distance we have run so far. Yet it is no easy marathon, with blistering winds against us and some challenging dunes dotted along the way. I had decided to walk the first part with Sue who had major blisters to show she did MDS and to chat to all those I had run and walked with the last five days. Once Sue was warmed up and keeping a good pace, I picked up the pace and ran the rest of the 30km to the final goal.  

The goal appeared after we crossed the final hill and village, picking up speed with legs feeling strong I raced back for the completion of the day. Patrick was waiting with his infectious smile and a big hug, the sunglasses hiding my tears of joy and achievement, and the effort I had put in over the months. This also signified my last race being based in Dubai as I am due to leave at the end of May.

The evening is the awards ceremony as the final day is a charity run/walk which does not count towards the final times. Perversely it was very cold and I must say a little anti-climax due to the cold, but our tiredness brought another early and final night in our tents.

Day 7 and back to civilization. The last day is a 7.7km charity run, most walk with their tent mates before boarding the bus back to Ouarzazate for a shower and soft warm bed.

Final words

MDS is a journey of self-discovery, of support from friends and family, of preparation akin to military operation for those of us who haven’t seen trial and preparation to such extreme. It is also a test of the limits, physical and mental.


For this race, I supported the Maria Christina Foundation and raised funds for the charity. As the founder Maria Conceicao said in her message to me during the race:

“Your mind will keep telling the body to run, while the body will start to give up. They will keep fighting until neither have the energy to fight any longer. This is when your heart must step in and convince both your mind and your body to keep going”.  

Takamasa Makita
16 April 2018



Biking Man Oman Ultra Cycling Race 2018

What is BikingMan Oman?

Bikingman Oman is self-supported 1,000km cycling challenge around Oman.


Before the race

Arrived a few days earlier to Oman to go through compulsory equipment check and tried to install the route map. It was difficult to find ways to do it as I have never used any navigation devices or used navigation for my training. After a few panic attacks, BikingMan crew loaded the Middle East map on my Garmin and Jason Black (my hero!) have loaded the route. I wanted to have a back up on my mobile but by that time I was so exhausted from the panic that I skipped it. That was the only stress I had before the event.  At that point, I didn’t realize yet the importance of navigation system in this kind of events. This realization will come much later.

Day 1:

I packed and repacked my bag so many times. Surprisingly, the weather was warm, so all the warm clothes were not required, and they went into the bag for the next days. Wake up call at around 1:30 am to have breakfast and have enough time before the official start at 3 a.m. We started all together and it was flat for the first 60-70km which meant we stayed in small or larger groups for a while. This helped me to get comfortable with Garmin navigation and get into a rhythm. Once the sun was up, the views opened, and they were breathtaking! I stopped few times to take photos. Our path was going through the mountains with rolling hills. We have experienced some strong crosswinds, so strong – I found it difficult to keep the bike stable. But views were making up for all the discomfort! I didn’t realize how long it would take till the first coffee/ tea break. The first opportunity I had was at about 156km.  Typically, by that time I already have 3 stops. Thankfully, I had few bananas and some gels with me to keep me going for this distance. Following that coffee break was a long stretch to Ibri and then towards Jebel Shams for about 150km fighting the headwind. During the training, you have a choice to tailor your route, but here there was no choice – all of us had to go through that headwind.

Jebel Shams: I have been to Jebel Shams before but only hiking. I didn’t really experience the road to the top by car, so I had no idea what to expect. I heard from others it was tough and my plan was to tackle it on the second day after taking enough rest. As I was getting closer to Jebel Shams, I saw our fellow cyclist from Dubai Simon who was descending. I remembered him passing me at some point on the highway not too long ago, and I understood he already climbed Jebel Shams and was coming back. It gave me a lot of hope and encouragement to try to go up. It was about 5-6pm in the evening. Despite having a hotel booking at the bottom of the mountain, I decided to start the climb. On the go, I have also convinced some others, referring to Simon and we all went on concurring the “beast” with a lot of hope. Even thought of coming down on the same day! (ha-ha) From the bottom to the top it is about 50km with first 25km of easy and last 25km of some extreme 18-22 percent climbing roads and gravel section.  By the time first 25km was done, it became totally dark and I couldn’t see anything in front of me. As I entered the first serious climbing stretch, I almost had a heart attack – my heart rate was all over the roof, I struggled to breathe and felt like collapsing at any moment. I had to stop to collect myself and decided that I better of to walk to avoid the medical emergency. From now on, I walked most of the steep climb sections. As I hit the gravel section, I started to be hopeful its going to be over soon. All my Garmin devices and mobile died and I was in total darkness about time or distance left to the top. Gravel felt never ending with up and down segments. I couldn’t see much in front and was hitting rocks and bumpy sections left and right. I had no choice but keep moving. At some point I had a moment of madness as I saw the sign pointing to the right but there was no road on the right. I thought I was going mad at that moment. I must also admit, I have darkness phobia. This was something I suffered from childhood. When I was by myself not knowing how long to go, it was haunting me again. I screamed and freaked out several times seeing some creatures staring at me from the darkness. All fueled me to move forward without stopping. it sounds funny as I imagine myself now: freaking out in the middle of the road out of nothing and trying to run as fast as I can uphill, pushing the bike along.

I was delighted to find some fellow athletes catching up with me at some point. What a relief! Now I wasn’t alone anymore. However, there was almost a breaking point when I saw a sign stating it is 5km to go to Jebel Shams resort which meant another 1 to 1.5 hours or may be more. I had to accept immediately, there wasn’t any chance to stop. By that time adding another 1 or 2 hours didn’t seem a big deal.  A glimpse of hope emerged when I saw Andreas taking video of us. He informed it was only 3 km to go on asphalt before we reach the Jebel Shams Resort – our first checkpoint (CP1).  When I finally saw the lights of the resort, they seemed the most beautiful thing I have ever seen: so bright, so magnificent!

It was almost midnight, 20-21 hours past the start and about 6 hours on Jebel Shams itself. Watch the video I made in the morning:

Day 1 from Biking Man Perspective:

Day 2:

I slept only 4 hours and surprisingly was fresh and ok in the morning. Unlike the day 1, start of day 2 was lonely. Everyone was going out at their own time. I went off alone at about 6 a.m. – just before a sunrise. Seeing sunrise on Jebel Shams was amazing. Everything was so beautiful: mountains, canyon, trees, perfect weather.

Prank: As I was on Nizwa highway enjoying some straight easy road, I see biking man crew on the side of the road indicating me to make a full stop. I was a bit worried as I didn’t know if I have done something wrong. Axel comes in saying that I am in the wrong direction. What?! Wrong direction?! My heart skipped a beat. Where did I make a wrong exit? Next thing I hear was a “Happy Birthday” song. Aha-a-a!!! Today is my birthday!!! I totally forgot. Jebel Shams climb has knocked out everything. It was a nice surprise! Thank you for making it special! Watch it here:

The prank reminded me to keep a close eye on where I am going. From now on I kept close look at my Garmin and route. As the day was progressing, other riders started to catch up with me. I met Omani team and Fabian.

Day 2 from Biking Man Perspective:

Check Point 2 and day 3:

Unlike CP1, CP2 was busy with riders. Some arrived earlier, others arrived later. I was there at about 8 to 9pm and close to 10pm I decided that I will start at 12 midnight. What a madness!!! I informed others about my intention and Fabian agrees to leave at the same time. That meant sleeping for 2 hours only. Eventually, the adrenaline level was so high I couldn’t sleep even for one minute. Just laying down for 2 hours praying in my mind to give me some sleep. Cycling at night through small villages was interesting – we were chased by street dogs, harassed by some teenagers on the fast car, followed by someone who claimed they were a police officers, passed several police check points. Finally, we found ourselves on the road with no lights and beautiful endless sky with thousands of starts. It was beautiful! However, it didn’t last long. In few hours, I noticed patches of fog which was getting thicker and thicker and from around 3am till sunrise we hardly saw anything around us.

Sur and sea side: Coming from the mountains, the sound of waves felt surreal. Are we at the sea side already? How tempting it was to go and jump into water! After having breakfast in cafeteria along the way, Fabian gets a puncture, and it was a serious one.  At that point, Fabian tells me to continue my ride and he will try to catch up once puncture is fixed. I left with heavy heart and for a very long time was afraid I will have some mechanical problem as punishment. Hills started to roll as I was getting closer to Sur, but I still had some energy to go through them.

Coastal road: that stretch tested me physically and mentally. Its good 100+ km stretch and when it started I was already 200+km (about 10 hours) on my bike. I’ve been on that road before, and I knew there was one petrol station along the way. I went low on water before I found it, which was very dangerous. The only person I saw after Fabian was Marcus, who caught up with me at that petrol station. It was great to see a fellow participant and reinsure yourself you are on the right way. We exchanged few words and he reminded me there is another big hill coming. By that time, I already did almost 300km. It started to feel uneasy in my knees, wrists have been numb for a long time and I was experimenting with different positions on handlebar to get some stretch. With only 120km or so to go, there was no choice but to continue. Surprisingly, the hill we all were worried about was gentle. Nothing, compared with Jebel Shams. I called it a “baby hill”. As I was coming close to 350km I was finding it more and more difficult to move. With about 70km to go to the finish line, I found another cafeteria and decided to stop to rest and eat. I was a very demanding customer at that cafeteria, so much so, that passing by Omani paid my bill to calm me down. When you cycle 350km in one go with no sleep, your nervous system starts breaking down.  That gesture by the Omani passer by grounded me down. Surprisingly, after that break a new wave of energy hit me. It was mostly downhill from now on, and I started to push as much as I can to get over it fast. Garmin navigation was showing I was on and off route from time to time, so I was following the sign boards towards Muscat. At some point, Garmin alerted me on missing the exit again which I have disregarded and continued straight. Only after some time I realized I was in fact on the wrong route… But it was too late and since I was going towards Muscat any ways, I decided to keep going and find my way through the city. As I was getting closer to Muscat, roads started to get busier and busier. I had about 15-20 km to go to the finish line, so I collected all my courage and attention to keep an eye on the cars and trucks. I think this was the first time I started to feel really scared. I kept thinking of pre-race advises by the Biking Man crew “Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die”. I was thinking about my mother, about my promise to myself to stay safe at any point in time, not taking risks, not to do anything stupid. I was clearly going doing an opposite and heading into some sort of disaster. Since my Garmin GPS navigation wasn’t making any sense to me, I had to use google maps and heading towards “Lighthouse Muscat” (finish location name as per the map). My mobile had about 10% of battery and I was praying to have enough to get to the finish line. When I finally arrived at “Lighthouse Muscat”, I saw a shop in front of me called “Lighthouse Muscat” with no sign of race finish line. Wrong place! I think the entire race went in front of my eyes in one second... To go through those 3 brutal days, no sleep, struggle, pain and arrive at the wrong location….  How stupid! I was heading to a meltdown. At that moment, I see my phone wringing and May from Dubai is calling me. With just 6% battery left, I reply… What I hear next felt like God himself called me. She told me, she knows I am lost and she is tracking me. She gave me directions to the correct finish line. That was such a great gift and gave me the energy to keep going in a hope to finally finish the challenge. Crossing the finish line was an unbelievable moment. Couldn’t believe it was over. With about 21 hours on the bike, 420km in one go, meltdowns, hitting the wall, getting reborn, going down on water, getting lost, losing hope, stress attacks, experiencing miracle - it was finally over.


Day 3 from Biking Man Perspective:

Post-race summaries:

Thank you:

Thank you to everyone who supported me. Thank you, everyone, who believed in me and understood my aspirations to participate in this challenge. There are so many of you!

Thank you very much!

Nora Ismagilova
February 2018




Thailand Ironman 70.3 Phuket – 26th November 2017


It is not often on race day morning that you arrive at the race start on the back of a Honda Scoopy moped!! That’s just one of the many unique experiences of the Foremost Thailand Ironman 70.3 in Phuket. Not to mention having your pre-race training ride interrupted by a heard of water buffalo crossing the road or eating cat fish from a street vendor as part of the post-race relaxation. This was my third visit to this lush tropical island for what is a really great race experience and highlights all the reasons of why we do this sport. It is already in the race calendar for next year. The food is amazing and you can have a Thai massage virtually every day!


This race is renowned for its swim and bike courses. Back in the day of 2011/2012, the first part of the swim was in the ocean for about 1300 meters and then you would get out, run across the beach and dive into a freshwater lagoon for the final 600 meters. On the bike course, there was the famous footbridge crossing where you would have to dismount your bike and put it on your shoulder and carry it across the main road. Remount the bike and get back on the course. The well-known Naithon hills were at the end of the course in previous years. The course has now changed but still offers a great racing experience.

This must have been the first Ironman event that I have done where you were able to leave your gear next to your bike. No bag racks or changing tents- it was all very informal and laid back. Race brief was made interesting by the appearance of Ironman legend Belinda Grainger who has raced this event numerous time and Ironman coach Lance Watson. Both gave some excellent tips on race management and the importance of nutrition, especially on the run. Belinda’s big tips were to eat a large breakfast on the day before the race, graze for the rest of the day and have an early dinner to ensure it digests through your system. Make sure you get along and deep sleep on a penultimate night before the race. This was probably also the first race where, on the night before, I had dreamt about being late for the start and falling off the bike during one of the downhills.


It is not your typical race. The swim is a non-wet suit and what could be better than a beautifully calm crystal clear sea as the start of a race. So on with the speed suit and no need for the wetsuit. There were a few jellies around but nothing stingy. Had my best swim at this event. The bike course is challenging. At the ten km point, you encounter the Naithon national park with its steep inclines and treacherous descents. Rain the day before and on race morning made for a very wet road surface and there were no overtaking zones on the steepest parts. The marshalls did a great job but there were still a few spills. In places, the inclines reach 20% and there is no shame in walking up or even down some of the steepest sections of the course. Your heart is certainly maxing out at the top of those hills. The climbs go on for about 3-4 km but then flatten out and the rest of the course is gently rolling hills across and around Phuket island. I stuck to my nutrition plan of Stealth gels every 20 minutes and 1.5 liters of 4% hydration mix.


The most daunting part of this race for me is the run because you generally start around mid-morning just as the humidity is beginning to rise. At the race brief the weather forecast had been for 30 degrees but feels like 34 and rising to 34 feels like 38. Great!! Thankfully the clouds that brought rain during the bike course stayed and this kept the temperature down. I really paid attention to Belinda’s tips for nutrition on the run and my own plan which was to take three Stealth Gels with Caffeine and Betaine over the second half of the run, put ice down my pants at every aid station to keep my body temperature down, drink coke and keep hydrated. The first 10 km of the run was tough but at the halfway point I found my running legs and had a very strong finish to the race.


The post-race party was a legendary event in the past – dress shirts, bow ties and shorts for the guys. However, that tradition has gone by the way-side, and this year there was chocolate milk and Singa beers. Foremost, the event sponsors, manufacture chocolate milk and there were copious amounts at the finish line! Wonderfully welcome ice- baths to ease aching muscles and surprisingly free-flowing supply of super cold beers which didn’t touch the sides on the way down.

There was much excitement at the slot allocations for Kona and Ironman 70.3 worlds. Great news for Lisa Hancox who was second in her AG and got a Kona slot! Well done.

So I will be signing up for next year!


David Hunt
November 2017


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Kona - Ironman World Championships 2017

October 14th, 2017 – Men’s 40-44 AG

I wish I had the time and skills to put together a written masterpiece.  Sadly, this is not the case so I would recommend that you treat David Labouchere’s 2014 Kona race report, and perhaps also an article written recently by Pedro Gomez titled “dealing with frustration” as supplements to the below.  David, oh so eloquently, describes the build-up, the event and what it means to be there whilst Pedro does a great job of describing the frustration of failing to achieve a target when you have invested so much time and effort.  I will focus more on getting to Kona and my own suffer-fest on race day!

My 2016/17 quest for Kona and the changes that got me there

 I competed in three full-distance Ironman branded races (qualifiers) in the summer of 2016, Texas in May, Bolton (UK) in July and Taiwan in August.  Texas went OK, but 17th AG wasn’t even close to being enough, Bolton went better but 9th AG and 44th overall again wasn’t enough.  The less said about Taiwan the better but let’s just say it was ridiculous to think I could cope with that sort of heat after a summer of indoor training….  I pulled out of that one-half way into the bike when every muscle in my body started cramping...

  In January 2017 I switched coaches.  I’d done great under the first but sometimes you just need a change.  One of my new coach’s first comments after going through my previous buildup training was “you’ve done some great quality training but I do more cycling than you and I don’t race Ironman”.  So, pretty much ever since then I have been cycling….a lot…..   Not to say that I haven’t been doing the other important stuff.  I still do heavy strength work, a fair bit of swimming, and my running volume picks up significantly towards the end of a race preparation block but the bike leg is where races are won and lost over this distance. 

I qualified for Kona on a hot day in Port Elizabeth at Ironman South Africa.  A swim of 54 minutes, a bike of 5 hours 8 minutes, a run of 3 hours 22 minutes and a total race time of 9 hours 31 minutes.  Job was done!

Lessons learned:

1.     There are lots of phenomenal athletes racing full ironman distance racing.  Far more so than any other distance racing in my opinion, and every one of them pushing for a Kona slot……
2.     Unless you are hugely talented, the real challenge is in qualifying and I doubt there is anything more satisfying in triathlon that doing so in a large full distance race.
3.     Training indoors is fine but there is nothing like training outside, especially if you are going to race in the intense heat.  Doing so in the Dubai summer, however, is a challenge!
4.     Volume is key, not just intensity.  Whilst I was doing well up to 70.3 distance (several podiums and a decent performance at the 70.3 World Champs), I wasn’t where I needed to be at the full distance and this had been largely due to the fact I wasn’t putting in enough time.
5.     No need to over-think day-to-day diet but a solid tried and tested race nutrition and hydration plan is essential.  This also needs to take into consideration the conditions on race day.

Kona buildup:

The buildup for the race went really well despite the summer heat.  I did almost all training outside.  Most of my longer bike rides were done in the hills at Hatta (I was there almost every weekend) and I managed to do a great deal my running outside also.  Week-day rides were done on the indoor trainer and all swimming was done at the Hamdan aquatics center. I ran as much as I could outdoors which was hard going and I had to split some of the very long runs into two sessions….

I capped out at around 18 hours of quality training per week, around 10 hours of which was cycling.  Run volume picked up considerably toward the end and swim/strength training was pretty constant throughout.

The Course: 

Swim: A mass start, non-wetsuit, ~4km swim in crystal clear ocean.  Just awesome.

 Bike:   Similar to South Africa.  Around 1650m of ascent, mainly rolling but with one or two short steep climbs.  Windy with hard gusts in the open sections and hot!

Run: Far more undulating than the profile would suggest.  A couple of cheeky climbs in the town.  Hot and humid!

The race plan:

 Swim plan: Go out hard, find some feet and hold sub-1:30 pace for the duration. The target was simply to go sub 1 hour.

Bike plan: ~230 NP, pushing a little harder on the ascents and under AP on the flats and downhill.  Nutrition would be a combo of Hammer Perpetuem and Power Bars (4).  Plenty of water.  Best Bike Split estimated bike time was ~5:20, weather depending.

Run plan:  Start at 5m/km reducing to 4.30-4.40 pace once the legs got into gear.  Walk the aid stations if necessary, keep cool, stay properly hydrated and try to get one gel (SIS) down me every 5-6km.  Energy drinks as required.  Put everything into the last 5km.  Finish under 3h30. 

Swim (Actual time): 57 Minutes 42 Seconds

I started close to the front and as planned, found some feet and a good line quickly.  Feet were lost then found again repeatedly but I managed to hold a good line despite the congestion.  At one point (at the far turn) I had to stop and punch my way out of being used as an anchor for someone to get around the turn. 

After the turn at the half-way mark, things opened up and I found that holding a line and only drafting off the feet/hip of others when they hit that same line worked really well.  I kept checking my average pace on my watch and it was pretty consistent throughout at 1.28/100.

Finishing in under an hour meant I could chill a little in T1, get the HR down a little and make sure I was in good shape for the bike.

Very happy with the swim – so far, so good!

Bike (Actual time): 5 hours 17 minutes

Transition (which took just over 3 minutes) was pretty slick.  I wasn’t in a burning rush to get through as I would normally be.  I just wanted to play it safe and steady. 

It’s hard not to get carried away over the first 10-15km of the bike in any race, let alone Kona.  Aside from the excitement, there are lots of people on tight sections of road, all trying to get further up the field.  I normally find myself on open road after a swim but with so many great athletes, this wasn’t the case.  I would love to say I stuck with the plan but did find myself pushing way too much over the first Kona town stretch.


Once on the Queen K Highway after around 15km, I found it a little easier to stick with the plan.  The problem, however, was the number of people hitting roughly the same pace.  It is very hard to maintain a consistent power as you are constantly either overtaking or being overtaken.  For the first 75km of the race, I was vying for position whilst trying to stay within the rules.  It was almost impossible to avoid being in a draft zone as if you dropped back, someone just jumped in front, then another, then another….. 

There was a lot of drafting going on and lots of people were penalized.  Working 100% within the rules was impossible at times.  I wasn’t penalized but definitely got a draft advantage from being at the pointy end of the race.  At the 75km point though (pretty much the start of the long climb to Hawi), things started to open up.  There was a steady headwind but nothing too horrendous.  By the time we reached Hawi, it was starting to get pretty hot.

After the turn, there is a fantastic runout back down the hill with a solid back wind and occasional hard cross-win blasts.  This section favors the brave, stupid or heavier athlete.  Me being the latter two, I tucked in and hammered it down there.  It felt great to cover so much ground in such a short period of time.  It was however short lived as soon, the direction of travel and wind would change (as it does every year) and we would have a steady headwind all the way back through the lava-fields to T2.  Oh yeah, and it was HOT HOT HOT out there!

Bike done, slightly under NP target.  Feeling good.

Run (Actual time): 4 Hours 18 Minutes…. 

T2 was pretty slick (just over 3 mins).  Bike gear off, run gear on and off we go.

Out on to the run and I felt great.  There is a small climb out of transition and I felt really light on my feet.  It was really hot and humid though.  It had rained very heavily the night before and the result was clear open skies and intense sun over sodden ground.  Not quite a steam room, but very unpleasant.

I maintained around 5 minute average for the first 10km, high-fiving Jo, Claire (Andy Mac’s fiancée), Rory Buck and other supporters from Dubai on the course.  I was hot but I had been putting ice under my cap and down my top to keep my body temperature down and this seemed to be working fine.  My heart rate was low and everything was on track. 

At 11km, just after the turn at the bottom of Ali’I Drive however, things took a turn for the worse. 


My body felt fine, legs felt great, but I felt a stitch coming.  First one side, then the other, then the middle.  I’d faced this before in my first Ironman race on a hot, humid day in Texas in 2015 and knew that I was in trouble if it didn’t pass quickly.

I tried everything to shake off the stomach cramps and vomiting over the next 20km.  Water, electrolyte drinks, even that god-awful HotShot shit (which, by the way, should come with a warning label) but nothing worked.  All I could do was focus on running between 3 and 5 traffic cones then walking the pain off.

Coming out of the Energy Lab at around the 30km point I saw Andy Mac coming in the opposite direction.  I thought at the time he was a long way behind me having a hard time but he quickly caught me.  We had a chat and with his raceway off track (he had a bad swim and bike) we (he) agreed to run back in together. 

This was just the kick up the ass I needed.  3-5 cones became 8-10 and we even picked up the pace (and held it) for the last 2-3km through the town to finish on a high.  Andy, thanks again and sorry if I puked on you!

I went into this race hoping (even expecting) to finish well under the 10-hour mark and thought I had played it safe enough on the bike to do so.  An actual time of 10 hours 41 minutes was some way off this, but crossing that line in the sunshine, with all that support (including my wife and friends) felt fantastic anyway!



I think anyone reading this knows what it takes to get to Kona.  Racing it is exactly what you would expect.  The whole experience is just awesome, from arriving to leaving and everything that happens in between.  It is worth the time, effort and persistence to get there. 

Starting out in triathlon a few years back, I had Kona as a target and completely underestimated what it would take for me to get there.  The thing is though, it’s the fact it’s so hard to get there which makes doing the race such an experience, such an achievement.  I loved it, and not getting the time/place I wanted gives me an excuse to go back.  But not for a few years as Jo might divorce me!

Just a quick one on what went right and what went wrong:

I had a solid race plan which was tried and tested; I had prepared for the heat and was in the best shape of my life.  Sometimes, however, your body just doesn’t want to play.  That’s just Ironman racing for you….  I thought I did everything right, but if I had to change one thing it would be my nutrition plan.  I think, as a bigger guy, my body just struggles to cope with digestion whilst also trying to cool itself in the heat.  For hot full-distance races in the future, I will try some different, easier to digest products.  I just started trialing Stealth products so let’s see what happens with that.  

And back to the important stuff:

Jo, thanks for being patient with me.  Nick, Didge, Bondy – I’ve loved training with you this past year and am a better athlete as a result of doing so. Andy Mac, thanks for dragging me the last few km.

Well done to all the others who raced.  Great to see some familiar faces on the course!  Finn, Sam, Nick, it was great having you as house-mates for the week prior to the race although your love of peanut butter is borderline concerning!

To TriDubai and Tribe Racing Team, I would just like to say “thanks” for all the support prior to, during and after the race.  I am a very proud member of quite probably, the best Tri Club in the world.

Andy Edwards
November 2017

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Ironman 70.3 Miami 2017

The experience in a nutshell

I am not sure how it happened, but I ended up signing up for a race all the way in Miami (from Dubai). I hadn’t given it much thought, and the fact that it was hot, humid and flat was attractive because that is exactly how Dubai is… so, made sense.

The flight distance didn’t make as much sense as there are tons of nearby races all around Dubai and I found myself thinking whether it was a smart decision or not.

As we got closer to October 22nd, there was no turning back and I felt like I didn’t want to withdraw from the race. So I did everything I needed to do. I upped my training, got the time in, my coach was "comfortable", I was "comfortable", and it was all coming together quite nicely.

I made sure I didn’t tell anyone I was planning on going other than my coach, a few of my training buddies and immediate family. Why? Because I didn’t want the pressure of having people watching to see whether I made it or not. The race is for me, not for anyone else and I want to do what works for ME and not feel like I need to prove anything.

Although I love tracking my fellow triathletes, I was more comfortable in the knowledge that no one was watching me and my decisions were not skewed.

On October 18th, my bike was packed (thanks to the awesome guys at Wolfi’s bike shop in Dubai and my cycling guru, Monty!), lists were made, and I was ready to board my flight to Miami.

Arriving in Miami, a wheel on the bag was broken, so I was worried something happened to my bike. I had some issues putting it all together when I opened the bike, but luckily it all worked out in the end — I won’t get into that! I managed to go out for a long practice ride and explore Miami but also got the feeling for the course, the weather and that gave me a lot more confidence overall.


In true Helen style, I wanted to do everything early and be prepared, so I arrived in Miami, got my bike checked, went and registered, racked my bike, got my nutrition sorted, did everything well ahead of time. That always works best for me. I don’t like leaving things to the last minute and as my fantastic coach, Jan Gremmen, always says, no surprises.

What didn’t work as well was:

  1. It was going to be very windy
  2. The swim was looking extremely choppy
  3. They were talking about jellyfish (I don’t know if I would have finished if I had gotten stung!)

But, in my head, I had come this far, and I was going to make it happen.

The day before, I got a yummy meal in, rested my body, got an early nights sleep and although I was nervous about it, I set my nerves to one side of my brain and just let it go. I was also lucky that a friend got me a jellyfish repellent cream so even if it was just a placebo effect, it helped calm my nerves (thank you Farris B.)!


On October 22nd, 4 am, I woke up, put my music on, had my Clif bar for breakfast and started getting ready for race day.

Arriving at the venue

It had rained the night before, so I was grateful that I copied the people around me and covered the main parts of my bike with bags.

I sat, relaxed, organized my transition area and chatted with the people all around me to settle my nerves. Met an amazing Iraqi woman, Mais, who was doing her first 70.3 and was new to triathlon like I was. She and her husband became my family for the day and were amazingly supportive.


IronMan70.3 Miami is a little different in that they don’t give transition bags so you set up your transition like you would a smaller local race.

The Swim

It was not a legal "wetsuit swim", that was the first thing to catch me off guard. The swim was in waves, and the whole thing seemed to take forever. The pro’s went into the water at 7:20 am, and my wave was to start at 8:37 am. The good thing about that was it gave me the opportunity to relax and get acquainted with the setup, the negative part was I could see how choppy the water was, and I could see many people jump in, start, only to come out a few minutes later because they were seasick.


By the time it was my time to start, I had decided I would sing and dance to the music and forget everything around me. So I did and got a few of the women around me to do the same. We had fun. When we got to the pier, we had to jump in as it was a wet start. The water was very ‘dirty’ since it was a port so you couldn’t see anything — this wasn’t going to help my fear of jellyfish, but it was too late to worry about that now.

The swim is extremely well organized with a lot of markers, so it is difficult to swim off track and lots of guards and guides, which was amazing. The currents, however, were not. For a good 500m, I felt like I wasn’t moving. Every time I would look up it was as though I was back in the same spot. I got seasick and threw up in the water, and at one point I looked at my Garmin, and it said 4000m. Impossible. If I had swum 4000m, I would not have made the cut off time, and I might as well just get in a kayak and go home. So I stopped and checked the time, I was at 41mins. I was later told it is because of how much I was pushed back by the currents as I had swum buoy to buoy. My goal was to be under 45mins for the swim, so I knew I was already not going to make that. But I saw the yacht that signified that the end was near. I pushed through, and towards the last 100m, the currents are great because they push you to the finish line. The volunteers on the swim were amazing, they pulled us up, helped us out — really wonderful. A special thank you to a volunteer, Angel!


The transition area is not too far from the swim and well organized, as long as you had spent time the day before figuring out where you were going! I did, so I had a decent transition.

finisherpix_1962_025591 (1).JPG

The Bike

Oh, the bike!

Riding through the city meant that it was not that straightforward, the first bit was fine although slow because you were twisting and turning a lot. Then you get onto a beautiful high way stretch — visually, it is nothing special, but with a tailwind, it's a great fast ride. But everything that goes one way must go the other.


The headwinds were on the way back… not even funny!

They had changed the course this year, so it was out and back with a small loop in the middle. The winds were so rough that people were stopping, people were drafting, people got off their bikes and just stood on the side of the road, and a few people flew off the bike. I had two choices: Push through and burn my legs, or just let my goal time go and save my legs for the run. I decided to push with the tailwinds, relax with the headwinds, and just let it go. I finished the bike slower than my last 70.3 in Dubai, but I was happy just to have been able to finish it in one piece. The last 15km, I just relaxed, took my gloves off and moved my legs.

The bike was messy in general; the volunteers didn’t know what they were dealing with. They were giving out bottles that were sealed, coming out too far into the course, and going in front of the bikes (I had to yell at a few of them to move out of the way!) Volunteers need to be trained better as it can be hazardous. All in all, the bike course is nothing special.



Fast, smooth, perfect.

The Run

The run was three loops, not very scenic, extremely windy at parts but overall, nothing too terrible. It was extremely unorganized. Volunteers were blocking the paths; aid stations were running out of things as simple as Gatorade, aid stations were an absolute mess. It slowed me down a lot. A volunteer decided it would be a good idea to throw some ice on my back to cool me off. Not sure what she/he was thinking. I appreciate what they do, but again, volunteers need to be trained, especially when bringing in well-intentioned school children who don’t know any better.


The weather got extremely hot and humid, for us Dubai dwellers that isn’t much of an issue but I can imagine it being a real struggle for anyone not used to the heat. The course is flat and smooth so it would have been perfect if it was not that messy.



It was much tougher than I expected with the swim and the bike. It felt more like a local race than an Ironman race. Although the athletes' village was great, the people were amazing; they didn’t have the SWAG you’d get used to at Ironman races — no big backpack, no finisher T-shirt, no transition bags, no pasta party the night before, etc.

IMG_5680 (1).jpg

The post-race meals were OK but very limited with long lines and unorganized — after having been swimming, biking, running for 6+ hours, you want food, and you don’t want to wait!


In the end, I decided I was too tired and hungry to wait, I got the medal, picked up my bag and bike and headed home.

Would I recommend the race? If you’re already in the US, sure, go for it. Would I travel as far as I did it? No way. Not because its a bad race, but because the overall experience did not warrant the distance and expenses to go all the way to the US.

I am glad I did it, and my run was good — my time was 30mins faster than my race in Dubai in January, so I am pleased overall with how it went. I guess one step closer to the full distance Ironman. Let’s see how that goes!


Helen Al Uzaizi
November 2017


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Road to Kona 2017 - My first full distance @ Ironman World Championships


Summer 2016 I decided to set up new goals. I believe in visualization big time. So I set up a vision board, where I had 70.3 WC slot and picture of Chattanooga city pinned. But one once said that you should “Dream Big”, so I pinned another picture to the board - a picture of a cyclist riding on Queen K highway and it read “Conquering Kona”. Just few months later and 2 Chinese 70.3 races, I had the qualification slots to both Ironman 70.3 & Ironman WC in my pocket. Lucky me :))))

Training for Kona

The training started somewhere in March this year. We decided with the coach that Kona will be my first full distance. I previously registered for a full in Port Elizabeth. It was hard to withdraw from IMSA, but it was better for me.

We started building my endurance. Long rides, long runs - first I enjoyed them and couldn’t wait for the volume to increase until I was having enough - enough of long hours of riding & running at nights. I never had a company and was doing all trainings solo. I had several meltdowns during those months. It was hard but I never quit my sessions – I knew I was gaining mental strength. Hours and hours of cycling, swimming, running, strength training, sports massages, osteopath and physio sessions. I couldn’t wait to get to the Big Island.

Big Island of Hawaii

A magic place, you won’t find another one like this. Sooo unique - black lava fields, tropical fields, volcanos, blue clear ocean, mountains. Absolutely love it.

I arrived in Kona in the evening of 6th October, it “only” took 25 hours to get to the island. Kona met me with a warm tropical rain, completely dark roads and thick air. I couldn’t wait for the next day to see the island and ocean. And it didn’t disappoint – a beautiful sunrise, dramatic skies and dolphins. 


Pre-race days

Two weeks before the race Kona changes from a lazy chilled town into a sports central – athletes swimming, biking, running everywhere at any time of the day. You feel the urge to put some extra sessions in (don’t give in to that urge and stick to your plan).

I was lucky to have my own support team with me. We stayed at a nice condo about 3 kms from the race start. The days leading to the race we swam, biked and ran some parts of the course. On those training sessions I didn’t experience any strong winds, the island was gentle on me on those rides. The training run at the famous Energy Lab road - the first part I didn’t feel bad as we had a nice breeze accompanying us until we turned around to experience what felt like a frying pan with no air circulating the final 3 kms (my HR was skyrocketing). I made a note to myself – I might have to walk these hard 3 kms on the race day as the rest of the run I will have some breeze along the way. Alas, it was a completely different scenario on the race day (((.

Ocean swims - I couldn’t get enough of them. Water so beautiful and clear, you can see everything 20-30 meters down. And, of course, the famous coffee boat - I wish we had one in Dubai for the sea swims. I lost my beloved Roka swim skin a day before the race. I left it by the shower at “Dig Me” beach (((. I bought a new Roka, a model with sleeves that was specially released for Kona. As they say that you should never try anything new on the race day, I took a risk. I love the brand and the previous model fit me like a glove. I wasn’t disappointed with this one and it’s the fastest swim skin I ever tried. However, it did chafe my neck horribly as I made a rookie mistake and forgot to apply Body Glide.

Ocean swims - I couldn’t get enough of them. Water so beautiful and clear, you can see everything 20-30 meters down. And, of course, the famous coffee boat - I wish we had one in Dubai for the sea swims. I lost my beloved Roka swim skin a day before the race. I left it by the shower at Dig Me Beach (((. I bought a new Roka, a model with sleeves that was specially released for Kona. As they say that you should never try anything new on the race day, I took a risk. I love the brand and the previous model fitted me like a glove. I wasn’t disappointed with this one and it’s the fastest swim skin I ever tried.

Three days before the race were spent on briefing, parade of nations, shopping at the expo (another must!) and checking in the bike & gear. I was pleasantly surprised with the volunteers’ work - the best I ever experienced. Each athlete was taken individually through the bike & gear check-in and shown the way around the transition area. 

The nerves - I honestly had quite an emotional roller coaster the days leading to the race. But once I checked in the bike and gear, I became calm. I knew I have done all the work required. I didn’t have a goal time set and probably was one of the few athletes that didn’t pressure themselves with the race time. We agreed with my coach that I should be able to finish sub 12 hours. But finishing the race was my ultimate goal.

Race day

I woke up at 4 am. I woke up from a dream - I finished in 11 hours and 55 minutes because something went wrong on the run. 

Quick breakfast of oats, banana & PB and we set off to the race start. Athletes get their race number tattoos applied on the race morning. You don’t do it yourself, there is a dedicated team of volunteers that do all the work for you. Everyone gets weighted before stepping into the athletes’ pre-race zone.

I felt quiet and surprisingly not nervous at all. Dropped off my morning clothes bag, got sun lotion applied and sat down on the shore waiting for the start. First cannon went off at 6:30 am - the start of pro men, followed by pro women start in 5 minutes.


It was time for me to start dryland warm up. 7:05 and I made my way to the swim start. Age-group men were just sent off and pink caps started their way to the water. As I walked down the stairs, I suddenly lost my breath and started trembling (oh no the nerves started playing again!). But gladly the moment disappeared briefly. I decided to line up at the front with the strongest girls. I knew I could battle the first 200-300 meters and avoid most of the action in the water getting through other swimmers. Surprisingly, it wasn’t much of a washing machine (at least at the start), until the turn around when we caught most of the slower men. They didn’t want to let us through. I received few punches and elbows as I was making my way back to the pier. On the way out I found myself multiple times off course. The wave was strong enough to move me few meters away from the group I was swimming with. I decided to start sighting every 5th stroke and kept following the bubbles in front of me. My new swim skin started to chafe my neck horribly as I made a rookie mistake and forgot to apply Body Glide.

I was aiming for 1 hour swim time (sub 1 hour would be ideal, but following Rory’s advice “don’t kill yourself on the swim, it’s a long day and few minutes won’t make much difference”, I swam at a comfortable pace). 1 hour 4 minutes - I am happy with my result. As per Garmin I swam extra 500 meters (that’s a lot! We know that Garmin can be inaccurate and I did swim off course few times).

Running through the showers and grabbing my bag, quickly changing and off to my bike. I tried to move as quickly as possible (at least in my mind it was relevantly quick). Mount area and I’m on my bike to quickly realize I forgot to apply sun-screen. Mistake No 2.

First thoughts - how much would I sun burn? 6 hours on the bike will turn me into a tomato (I’m one of those who turns red when sunburnt). I was hoping for clouds to appear but the sky was clear. I shut down all the negative thoughts as I was making the way through the city. The first loop took us through Kona town and then onto the first climb on Palani road. It was my support team first spot - a quick thumb up, I saw the message written on the road for me “Go Olga No 2183”, smiled and turned to Queen K.

Queen K – a long stretch with black lava fields on both sides, I settled into a comfortable gear and started working the targeted power. Everything worked fine and I felt great, praying to the island’s gods to keep the wind this way. The wind was gentle until I reached around 50th kilometer - a massive headwind blew, a wind so strong I’ve never experienced before. I felt at times I was pushed back and was not making any progress. In Dubai winter months we have Shamal wind, I can absolutely state Shamal is a little brother of Kona winds.


I started talking to myself - stay in aero position, head down, this headwind would pass. And it did, once we took a turn towards Hawi, there was a less strong headwind mixed with side winds. I was able to stay in aero position most of the climb towards Hawi town.  

There was a lady in a cowboy hat standing on the side of the road that appeared as if she was standing naked covering her nudity with a banner that read “Ironmen are sexy”. She definitely turned some heads. 

The sun was high and sky was clear, I could see some clouds surrounding Mauna Kea Mountain. Oh, I begged the island to send them to Kona. I felt I was burning, but how badly I couldn’t understand. I felt heated and kept hydrating and taking water& Gatorade at each aid station (each 11 miles). Huge mistake, my mistake No 3.

I finally reached Hawi at km 96 and started riding downhill, expecting a nice tailwind (on the training day that was a fast decent). There was tailwind but together with strong side winds that felt like doubled in force since the climb to Hawi. I couldn’t stay in aero position, scared to be blown away from the course. I would suggest putting a low profile front wheel (mine was 5 and could feel how the winds were moving me sideways). On my way to Hawi I saw a cyclist going down who was blown off with his bike, he crashed at a very high speed. I was really scared. When I’m scared I have a bad habit of pushing breaks but I promised myself not to break (my heart dropped every time the wind blew me sideways). 


At one moment I saw a photographer, and said to myself no way I would appear looking scared on the photo - let me smile)))).

On that downhill from Hawi, I was overtaken by so many cyclists. At one moment I was overtaken by an older lady who had a cameraman following her. She almost caused me a crash as she cut me badly. Soon she started to lose speed and I passed her, asking “Are you some kind of celebrity? This cameraman is only following you!”. She smiled and answered “yes”. I tried to remember if I’ve seen her before but couldn’t recognize her face. I noted her race number to find out later she was Julie Moss (the most famous finish line crawl!). How come I didn’t recognize her! I’ve seen so many documentaries and “Tri Movie” with her. Next day I found out she didn’t finish the race and decided to withdraw after the bike leg.

I was counting kilometers to Queen K highway turn and once finally turned, there was another headwind waiting… yuppie )))) just keep positive. At one point I cried to the island - “Come on! Enough headwind and side winds! How about some tailwind for a change????”. I don’t know if any of the fellow cyclist heard that cry. 


Onto Queen K, passed the airport and I saw my support crew, they were shouting some encouragement but I couldn’t hear them - I wasn’t enjoying it anymore and counting last 10 kilometers to the T2. Turned to Palani and into T2. I had no power to undo my shoes, passed my bike to a volunteer and started to run or more likely to walk through the transition. Legs were hurt and jelly, I could feel the damage those winds done to them. In the changing tent I had an amazing volunteer assisting me. She put a cold towel on my shoulders, put my running shoes on, brought me water, put my gels into my pockets. I lifted my tri suit to see how badly I burnt (it looked very red), I started to cry but the lovely lady said “you didn’t sun burn, you got the most amazing tan”. She applied sun lotion on my skin and sent me off with positive words. I thanked her greatly.

The run - a loop through the city via Alii Drive, then up back to Queen K to the Energy Lab and back in town. The first few kilometers I felt ok, I passed Katey from Abu Dhabi Tri Belles who gave me some energy and smiles, ran down to Alii drive. The heat from the pavement was really strong, it was very hot like on a typical summer day in Dubai. My first thoughts were “I never do this again”, “Why did I sign up for another full?!”, “I hate running”.

The support of locals and volunteers along Alii drive was amazing. There were few spots with locals standing with the water hoses, giving cold showers to the runners. The turnaround came sooner than I expected. I bumped into Rory on the way back to the city, I didn’t recognize him as my mind was already cloudy.

Soon I started having tummy cramps. Oh no, it was hellish enough already to add tummy problems to this. I walked when the cramps were unbearable. I had few toilet stops and I felt better until I reached Palani’s climb. I walked it up and turned into the long stretch towards Energy Lab. I thought I could keep my strategy- running from one aid station to another, walking each station but had to adapt to my tummy. I was combining walk & run - running as much as I can until I couldn’t bear the pain in my tummy and had to walk. I kept taking water and Gatorade at each aid station. The heat and humidity were strong, the road was reflecting the heat and it felt like a frying pan. I was surprised to see how many men were walking. I saw 2 Andies on their way back to town - and judging by Andy E face expression he wasn’t having any good time. At one point I started talking to fellow competitors: “Hey, isn’t it a nice day today? Hot and humid - lovely! Blah blah blah.” Some were positive, some were not so much. I thought this way I could take my mind off the pain, it worked! I couldn’t wait to reach the turn to Energy Lab (somehow I felt it wouldn’t suck my energy but would give it back to me instead). And I was right - I ran most of it. I was expecting the Energy Lab road to be empty but it had one of the most amazing support and multiple aid stations. Energy lab road was the second best part of the run course. The sun was setting down and I could feel the temperature cooling. I was begging for my cramps to stop so I could carry on with the run. I was upset as the sun almost set down as I was exiting the Energy Lab road cause that meant I would be coming back into town in complete darkness.

My friend joked a few days earlier that I would be having a disco party on the run. Gosh, he was right – I was given glow sticks on my way back to town. The roads in Kona are not lit, there are no street lights on Queen K highway and only aid stations had some lights. I was waiting for my eyes to adjust to the complete darkness so I could see the road. I continued with my walk/run strategy from one loo to another ((((((. Something I hoped would never happen to me in a race, happened to me in Kona. I was hoping not to start throwing up as that would be a complete disaster. 


In the darkness my friend found me. He knew I wasn’t having any good time. He kept riding next to me and talking to me. He carried me through those last dark kilometers. As I almost bumped into a road cone, he switched on a flashlight on his phone. I know that personal support is not allowed at the race but I didn’t think about it at the time.

My head was completely empty, I had no positive thoughts left. But it never struck me that I would not finish, if required I would crawl to that finish line no matter what else might have happened to me on that run. 

My GPS was showing that I was very close to town and finishing the run, but the official marks were showing different numbers. After the race I realized that I ran an extra kilometer going from one toilet to another as they located a bit off course.

And finally there it was - the turn to Palani and last 2 kilometers through the city. Euphoria - I have completed one of the hardest races, I have “conquered” Kona and I could finally call myself an Ironman. As I stepped onto the red carpet I couldn’t hold my emotions any longer and tears started running down. Most of you have seen the finish line video, a gift from my coach who recorded the final seconds of my race (I still cry when I watch the video).

Two volunteers helped me to the medical tent, where I was weighted again. I gained 5 pounds. I had about 10 toilet stops. The nurse asked me how much did I drink? I did drink a lot. They laid me down waiting for the doctor to check on me. Turned out my upset tummy and cramps were caused by over-hydration - I drank too much and my liver couldn’t handle all the liquids causing the pain, bloating and cramps. Lesson learnt the hard way ((((.


Post race

I spent some time in athletes’ post-race area, I tried to get some food but couldn’t stand the taste and smell (I can never eat after a race). Massage was out of question as my skin badly hurt. All I wanted is a shower. My friend got his way through security and took me home. I was dreading of the shower, dreading my burns will hurt once I put shampoo on. I was applied an  aftersun treatment on the burnt areas, my neck was affected the worst, it hurt so bad I saw stars in my eyes, I thought I would faint as the pain was unbearable. I cried badly.  Neither could I sleep that night being high on GU and sugar.

Surprisingly, next day I felt ok, I could walk normally and stairs were not an issue. I was emotionally drained for the next 2 days. But on the third day it was “cry me a river”. It all the sudden came to me what happened and I couldn’t hold the tears.


The race was brutal - physically and mentally. It was the hardest day of my life but the experience was truly rewarding. The finish line and Mike Reilly’s words “Olga - young lady, you are an Ironman!” - worth it, worth all the training hours, all the struggles and battles, worth each penny and fil spent, worth all the sweat, tears and blood.

When I did the run and after finishing the race I said to myself “Never again”. But never say never. This race was an eye-opening experience. Racing against the world’s best athletes makes you realize how much work needs to be done to be close to their level (#rookieagainsttheworldsbest).

The mistakes were made and lessons learnt. As much as you prepare for the race you never know what battles you will be going through in Kona.

I consider myself very lucky to race Kona and have my first full ironman done in such an amazing place. I definitely want to come back to the magic island - maybe not as a competitor but as a spectator. The race week atmosphere is so unique and thrilling, I wish every athlete dreaming about Kona to experience it.

It is now time to set new goals and targets. I have decided not to race a full distance next year and transferred my entry from Ironman Frankfurt to Dubai 70.3. There will be a time when I will attempt another full Ironman. Now it’s time to work on my weaknesses.

P.S. A post of gratitude

I would like to thank everyone who was part of my “Road to Kona” – my coach Neil Flanagan and my InnerFight family (without your guidance, knowledge and support I wouldn’t have made it to Kona). My company The First Group, my boss and colleagues that helped my dream to become reality. My friend Volker who was with me in Kona, my girls (you finally have me back in the social scene), my personal trainer Steven Erwee (thank you for all the strength trainings that made me a better cyclist and runner).Thank you to Dubai Masters and Brett Hallam for the swimming sessions, Reiss Adams for the sports massages that helped me to stay injury-free. To all my friends triathletes – for endless support, encouragement and motivation. Mahalo xxx

Olga Matyushina
November 2017

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IRONMAN Italy Emilia-Romagna 2017

The Build Up

After Dubai 70.3 in January this year I was looking for another challenge. I had done one Ironman (UK) in 2015 and had sworn after that I would never do another. But I just couldn’t get excited about another 70.3 and realized I wanted to see what I could achieve over the full distance. I had qualified for Kona in Ironman UK but didn’t take the slot so that itch was there and I wanted to see if I could get there again.

I chose Italy for a number of reasons as well as the pre-race food and post-race wine.

It was at a time of year when the kids are in school so my absence is least disruptive. I am working full time now so arranged for the kids to go to the UK for 5 weeks in the summer and stay with my parents. I figured this would leave me plenty of time to commit to training with all the early mornings and exhaustion this would entail. My parents could also join me at the event which was great – my Dad is both the bike mechanic and chauffeur as well as good company.

I also purposely chose a flat bike course. Living and training in Dubai I just think it is very difficult to be competitive on a hilly course without going to Hatta every weekend and even then I think we are disadvantaged compared to the Europeans with hills on their doorstep.

I did realize it would be very tough to qualify for Kona in Italy as there would likely only be 1 slot for and I am also 39 this year so at the very top of my age category. However, if I did manage to sneek it I would be 40 for Kona the following year and this was appealing.

I really committed to training. I started using Luke Mathews as a coach back in September 2016 and for me having an excellent coach has made a huge difference. I don’t like to miss a session and see Training Peaks turn red and apart from in the swim (I only do Masters swim sessions) I generally do as I am told and try my best in every session. I trained hard and there were a number of 2am starts for 5 hour bike rides at Al Qudra. I only maxed at about 16 hours a week though – I often wondered if I was putting in enough volume but trusted in Coach.

I also took up pilates once a week to strengthen my core and engage my glutes. I believe this made a difference. I became a lot stronger on the bike – my zone 2 pace seemed to move from around 31 kph to 34 kph for long rides at some point and I knew I had managed to turn my cycling into more of a weapon. My running pace increased as the weight dropped off a bit (I didn’t really try to lose weight – it just came off in the process) and as the race got closer I was feeling excited to see what I could do.

Sadly Coach was taken sick in Africa about 3 weeks before the race. This was obviously very concerning and left me without my usual feedback for this period. I suspect I am quite demanding as an athlete as I do like feedback after the key sessions and I began to second guess myself a little without Coach there to help.

Then there was a small disaster when I woke on the Sunday before the race feeling terrible – very dizzy and sick. I called in sick and hoped it would pass. It didn’t and by Tuesday I was forced to go to the doctor and also to accept that there was a possibility I couldn’t race. The doctor diagnosed an inner ear problem and gave me drugs which could help with the symptoms but said it could be weeks until the vertigo passed. I took the drugs, crossed my fingers and set off to Italy feeling somewhat concerned and unable to walk in a straight line let alone complete an Ironman.

The Event

The event itself was brilliant. Cervia is a great little seaside town only an hour from Bologna airport (Emirates fly direct). It has loads of hotels and restaurants and without paying too much money we stayed in a hotel from which we could see the swim start from the balcony. Italy is a fantastic place for pre-race carb loading and the logistics were all so easy with the 1 (very long) transition. Highly recommended to everyone – particularly suiting us in Dubai with the flat and non technical bike course.

I arrived on Thursday with the race on Saturday so didn’t have too much time to spare but the time difference worked to my advantage and I didn’t feel rushed. My Dad put the bike together and I registered on Thursday.

On Friday I went for my pre-race training of very short ‘swim-bike-run’. All was good – the sea was calm, the weather was lovely and I was feeling ok. The drugs seemed to be working and while I wasn’t 100% I felt a lot better and was getting more confident I would be able to race.

The next problem was that my power meter wasn’t working. I thought the batteries just needed changing and set off to get new ones but after a lot of fiddling and wasting of energy we had to conclude we couldn’t get it to work. So I was to race without power. After training all summer to know exactly how many watts I could push on race day I felt a little alarmed at this but tried to relax and remind myself it was just riding a bike – I would be fine. Just don’t push it too hard on the first loop were everyone’s words.

So race day dawned and I woke up feeling excited, nervous and happily not dizzy any more.  I ate 3 wheatabix, a muesli bar and a banana and drunk some Italian coffee. Stomach wasn’t quite right and I vomited a bit back up but I put this down to nerves and hoped it would settle.

Swim (53 mins)

We gathered at the swim start and I ambitiously lined up in the sub 1 hour swim section. I am a strong swimmer and knew I wouldn’t be far off this and I also knew most people overestimate their ability so decided to get near the front. Rhonda managed to spot me and we caught up for a hug and good luck messages before we went off – it was great to be there with a friend.

Off we went and I quickly felt dreadful! I don’t often enjoy the swim (I mainly train in the pool) and within about 500m I had convinced myself my legs ache already and it wasn’t going to be my day. But obviously there wasn’t much choice but to carry on and I did manage to settle into a rhythm and relax. I overtook a lot of people even though I thought I had started near the front.

It was a 2 loop swim with an Australian exit. The sea in Cervia was so shallow that coming into shore and out again was exhausting and disrupted my rhythm. I settled back down and soon enough I was back in and running for transition. I didn’t wear my watch so had no idea of time.

Transition 1 (7 mins)

The transition zone was literally a mile long so we knew transitions would not be quick. Maybe because I knew this I didn’t hurry very much because looking at the results I did lose some time there.

I put on my Castelli stealth top to make me extra aero and protect me from the sun and off I went.

I have never managed (or really tried) to clip my shoes onto my bike and do them up as I go along so I had to run the whole transition zone in my cycling shoes. We were specifically told in the briefing that we were not allowed to carry the shoes down and put them on at our bikes and with the transition being so long this did cost me time.

Bike (5 hours 28 mins)

We had also been told in the briefing that the bike course was 185km – 5km extra for good measure! The course was 2 loops with 1 short (ish) but steep hill around half way of each loop. Otherwise it was flat.

I got going and felt ok. I let myself settle down and just drunk water to start with before having a mars bar after an hour. I enjoyed the mars bar and it seemed to go down smoothly.

On the first loop I was being overtaken by hundreds of extremely fast European men in packs. I know there were some drafting police out there as I saw plenty of people in the penalty tents but clearly there were not enough. I consider myself to be a strong cyclist these days – I can certainly get round Al Qudra pretty quickly but on the roads of Italy this seemed to have disappeared.


With no power meter to gauge how much effort I should be putting in it was rather demoralizing but I did know my speed was ok – I was still averaging around 34kph, the fast men must have been going about 40kph.

The hill passed on the first loop without too much trouble. It was steep but it didn’t go on too long so it was manageable. I began to feel very average towards the end of the first loop. I was tired, my back and neck were really hurting and my tummy wasn’t happy and I wasn’t even at 90km yet! I took a gel and vomited it back up – things were not looking good. I told myself ‘this is just a phase’ – just keep peddling. I was soon back in town where I knew I would see my parents and this gave me a boost. I smiled and waved and headed out for the second loop.


A strange thing happened on the start of the second loop and I began to find my cycling legs a bit. The fast men had stopped coming past me quite so much and I found myself with more similar level cyclists and then I even started catching some people.  My stomach settled, I kept fueling and I began to feel good again. The hill seemed to have become a mountain but after that it was back into town and I began to feel very happy and excited that I would soon be off the bike.  

Only a marathon left to go! 183km per my watch.


Transition 2 (6 mins)

I had an enormous smile on my face coming into T2. It is always a relief to get off the bike without any mechanicals. I didn’t rush too much through T2 and stopped to go to the loo. I changed my top and put my running hydration backpack on. This was something I had decided to do on advice from Brett Sutton at his training camp. It meant I knew I had everything I could possibly need with me on the run and all my own nutrition with me.

It did also mean I was carrying an extra 2kg – I am not sure I would do it again!

Run (3 hours 39 mins)

I set off on the run and realized there was to be no light and bouncy feeling in my legs. (Not sure there ever is in a full Ironman?) They felt heavy and I felt tired from the start. But I was running at a decent pace. I knew I should not go faster than 5 min kms – any faster than that is not sustainable for me. The first couple of km’s were 4.55 ish and then I slowed to around 5’s and just tried to keep going around that for as long as I possibly could.

I am not the world’s best runner but I do have a very efficient running style (more of a shuffle!) and it tends to be better suited to the long distance. I just kept shuffling along feeling very average but telling myself just to keep going. It was a lovely 4 loop course with a section off road in the park. There was great support out there and at times I almost enjoyed it.

By 15km my calves had started cramping. I was very concerned this was happening already. I do tend to have cramping problems with my calves and fortunately in my magic backpack I had lots of salt tabs (as well as everything else imaginable!) so I started taking them religiously. (I was thirsty for days afterwards!) First one calf would go and then the other and then both of them together. I had to stop and stretch them off a lot for the remainder of the marathon but somehow then managed to return to running at the same pace. I was terrified they would go completely and I would end up crawling to the finish but miraculously they just about held up.

By 20km I was feeling very low on energy and turned to the coke and redbull earlier than planned. The stuff is amazing! I really do feel the effect so quickly from the caffeine and the sugar. I then had it at every single aid station after that and I am sure that’s how I got through it. I should have got rid of my backpack to my parents but I wasn’t thinking straight and my salt tabs were in the bag so I decided to keep it on - they were my lifeline. I ran the whole marathon with it on and when I got to the end I realized it was still over half full.


As I got towards the end I began to feel very happy and emotional. I realized I was going to achieve a time I hadn’t thought was possible. My Dad had told me I was in 2nd at some point early on the run and then I was overtaken by another girl in my age group so I presumed I was 3rd but that didn’t make any difference to me. I had put in a performance I was so proud of and really dug so deep I knew I couldn’t have done any more.  Total time was 10 hours 14 mins and 44 seconds.



It turned out I was second in age group. Due to the rolling start the girl who overtook me was already in front of me – she had started the swim 8 minutes later than me. I was the 5th Age grouper home and also beat 4 of the professional women. But there was no automatic Kona slot as the female field was a small percentage of the total field and all female categories only got 1 slot.


This does seem a bit unfair but I know all the arguments and the mens fields are so much deeper. I also knew the score in advance so can’t complain. I went to the awards ceremony the next day to pick up my 2nd place trophy and for the Kona roll down but didn’t have high hopes.

I got very lucky and the winner didn’t take the slot. As Paul Kaye said her name 3 times I began to get excited and then I jumped out of my seat so quickly on the first mention of my name and paid the USD 1000(!!) to secure my Kona slot. This was the icing on the cake.

The Lessons

There were so many times I felt terrible and wanted to quit during this race.

You could look at the race result and conclude I had a great race and it must have all gone to plan. The truth is I am not sure it ever goes exactly to plan but I just kept believing and kept going.

I must have told myself 100 times ‘this is just a phase – it will pass’ and most of the time it did eventually pass and I felt vaguely ok again. It is a long day out and I reminded myself of all the training I had done, all those early mornings and sacrifices I had made. I thought of all the people tracking me and how much I didn’t want to let everyone down. I also thought of Coach and how much he would have loved to be racing – it will be a while until he is back on the start line (but he will be back!).

I must thank Luke and the other guys at Optimal Tri – you are clearly doing a great job. I must also thank my husband who is not remotely interested in Triathlon -  he thinks I am mad but supports me nonetheless.

The inaugural Ironman Italy was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to everyone – sign up now!


Lucy Woollacott
September 2017


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