*** many thanks to Andre Less for this race report ***
Leana and I arrived in Port Elizabeth on the Monday before the race and planned to have a few days of light training before the big day. Unfortunately, we arrived to some terrible weather conditions which didn’t help our nerves at all. Strong winds and rain were basically all we saw on Monday and Tuesday. We managed a bike ride on Wednesday of about 40kms but the wind was terrible and we were fighting our bikes all the way home. We had planned a swim for Thursday morning as part of the official swim session and when we woke up it was virtually the perfect day. No wind, lots of sun, it was fantastic. The weather can turn in an instant though so we didn’t get our hopes up too high. As I began to swim for the first buoy I was struggling to breathe. I have forgotten what 16C water feels like. Its way colder than Dubai that’s for sure. I swam with my TriDubai swim cap and red towel which brought a lot of attention from my fellow athletes, many of whom came to chat with me about Dubai, our group and so on. We (Team Less, Kenny Hubbard, Pedro Sanchez) attended the race briefing on Friday and there was discussions around possibly changing the event to a duathlon if the weather was really bad. If the nerves weren’t already there, they sure were after that. A few of us got together for a TriDubai dinner on Saturday evening to discuss our last minute plans and strategies. It is worth mentioning at this point that Andy Garrett was not happy with the name located at the entrance to the swim start (Shark Rock).
After an early breakfast we headed down to the transition area to put our nutrition and cycling shoes on our bikes as well as checking tyre pressures. We were delighted that there wasn't too much wind to speak of but we could hear the waves in the ocean before sunrise. The sea wasn't going to be flat that was for sure. Just before the Pro's started their race at 6h45am the sun came up over the sea. It was a spectacular sight. The South African National Anthem was played and then it was GO TIME!!! Everyone watched as the Pro's swam around the first buoy and then started disappearing and re-appearing in the swells. A new development this year was that there were rescue divers under every buoy in the ocean looking out for any swimmer who was in trouble. I have no doubt that the unfortunate events of the South African Ironman 70.3 in East London earlier this year brought this change about. It does make perfect sense from a safety perspective. Perhaps this is something Sarah Hawkins can consider for our Saturday sea swims in future (just kidding Sarah).
The 3.8km Swim
At exactly 7am the rest of the field was ready to get racing. The tradition at IMSA is that a cannon is fired to signal the start of the race. BOOOOOOOOM and we are all hurtling towards the ocean from our beach start. There were some waves to contend with before we could get swimming. Fortunately this is exactly what we do so often at our various swim sessions at TriDubai. So before long, I was through the waves and heading towards the first buoy. This was going to be a bun fight at the best of times. I had a quiet chuckle to myself as I fought (and I mean literally fought) my way around the first buoy imaging how much our swim Captain, Roy Nasr would have loved the chaos. I really cannot stress how much the Saturday swim sessions had prepared me for this. In the past I would have been overwhelmed by this but since most of my training consisted of Roy, Peter, Didge, Ian and the likes of Group 3 swimming over me around the buoys, I really wasn't phased. In fact I reminded myself to be aggressive around the buoys as Roy so often says. Sighting was particularly difficult in the swells but somehow the group I swam with did this really well and I managed to hang on to them around the course. Approaching the beach to complete the first lap I remembered Peter Hallet's advice to watch the ocean and take advantage of the waves and I did exactly that. I managed to have a great body surf all the way onto the beach, and then a short run on the beach and back into the water for the second lap. I was so happy with my 1h06 swim time. I have to mention Roy Nasr and Chrissy Harris here without whom I would never have had such a good swim. Whilst I appreciate that in this circle of friends this may not be a fantastic swim time, for me it was unbelievable. I am very happy South Africa doesn't have Starbucks because I could have gone to Starbucks for a coffee and muffin and been well pleased with myself. However, I decided to carry on and do the 180km bike ride instead.
T1 was reasonably uneventful. A quick change out of the wetsuit, I managed a few words with Andy Garrett ( I think I tapped him on his back and said "sir, you have been disqualified!" needless to say I got a filthy look before a big smile returned to his face) and then headed to the lovely young female volunteers who were rubbing sunscreen on the athletes. They did a great job and did I mention how lovely they were?
The 180km Bike
The bike course is a 60km loop that we do 3 times. The first 30kms consist of a long 12km steady climb to the highest point on the route and then you descend onto a fast part of the course with gentle rolling hills. You hit the turn around point and then make your way back to the transition area along the coast. Unfortunately, we had a headwind along the coast which wasn't too bad on the first two laps but it had picked up quite a bit by lap 3. Certainly enough to feel the quads burning on the final stretch of the final lap. I decided to maintain a simple race strategy of keeping my heart rate at an average of between 150 and 155 bpm for the entire event. With this in mind I backed off slightly in the last 20kms and saved my legs (as best I could) for the marathon to come. The crowds along the cycle route were less than what I have become accustomed to but there was still a fair amount of people shouting support from the sidelines. Many of them cooking bacon and eggs along the side of the road which didn’t exactly make me excited to eat my race bars and GU gels!!!!!!!!!! I also made use of the "Special Needs" bags along the cycle route. I like to eat some solid food on the bike leg so I made 3 hot crossed buns with lots of butter and left them for the 120km mark. The cycle route has some amazing scenery and if you were lucky you would have seen some mongoose, Impala, monkeys,cows and horses along the route not to mention the picturesque 25km stretch all along the coast with the smell of the sea to take you home.
Again, nothing major to report except for the lovely volunteer ladies who helped us in the change tent. Packed your bag for you whilst you got ready to start the run. A quick pitstop was in order and then another brief stop at the lovely sunscreen ladies and then it was time to hit the tar.
The 42.2km run
The run is basically flat with only one short climb (pull) along the route. It is a 14km loop which athletes do three times. The best part is the crowd lining the sea front road and shouting support. Many of them spend the entire day out there and there is a lot of beer, wine and bbq's to keep them going. I felt pretty good for most of the run but started to feel some discomfort towards the end of the marathon (no surprises there). My strategy was very simple………KEEP RUNNING and death before DNF!!!! I wish I could have had Facebook with me on the run because seeing all your messages and encouragement along the way would possibly have inspired me to go that little bit faster for longer. The last 6kms took their toll on my legs and fatigue was definitely setting in by this stage but I managed to run through to the finish enjoying the crowd support in the last 4kms for the last time. A short right turn towards the magic red carpet with the crowds cheering and screaming and the announcers shouting my name saying "You Sir, are without a doubt, an Ironman!!!" 10h42!!
It is such an amazing feeling crossing the finish line!! Especially after months of training and finally you have reached your goal!!! In hindsight, I was a little disappointed with my time but I can honestly say that I couldn't have gone much faster on the day. I was hoping for 10h30 but I suspect the wind on the final lap of the bike probably made that time slightly out of reach. All in all, I had a fantastic day with very few issues or problems. I enjoyed every moment of the race from start to finish. The final celebration and my proudest moment came with Mrs Less crossing the finish line too (her race report to follow)!! Team Less had achieved what they set out to do. Job Done!!