*** Many Thanks to Ben Corby for this great report ***
You will probably read a lot of reports from this race but here is my account of Ironman South Africa, April 2014
Where do I start? Well I decided to go for a full ironman event after coming back from the 70.3 Philippines in August 2013 and feeling a bit flat from the comedown of the event. So after talking to a few of the TRI Dubai guys and the timing of the competition it was decided (with a lot of pleading with the wife, as it was our first wedding anniversary same weekend) to go for IM South Africa in April 2014. I also knew that there were plenty of other athletes from Dubai heading that way too, so would make the task of trainings and while at the event less daunting.
Timing of the event meant we had pretty much the whole winter (good training time here) to put in some decent hours for the event. So as usual my core training was focused around TRI Dubai’s training sessions, with the infamous Tuesday swims with Guy and crew, weds night bricks with Johan and crew and the sat sea swims being my staple. I was also lucky enough to jump on a few of the "wings" sets which I much appreciated and with most of these sessions it really pushed me outside of my comfort zone but only made me realise the task ahead of me. I don't have a coach and like to fit in as much as I can when I can without effecting my other social events with the wife and friends, like brunches and snowboarding(except for trying to dodge the alcohol when I could). I’m lucky as I’m usually pretty good when I put my mind to something I always go through with it but I still had the attitude that the event was 6/7 months away so as the weeks ticked by I was doing the frequency but not the time/mileage required and with so many local events on which I pretty much entered them all, I knew time was ticking away slowly. So with a few months to go I knuckled down and put in a few longer 100kms in Hatta, a few 3/4 hour rides around NAS and a couple of 135kms around Al Qudra along side my shorter more regular stuff.
When I signed up I knew my swim would have to be worked on, my bike also having only done 100km before and obviously my run never running a competitive marathon before.
My swim was helped massively with the Tuesday (2.5/3km) and Saturday (3.5-4km) training swims, I did no pool sessions as this really bores me!!
Bike I did Sun or Mon nights NAS (60/100km), Weds autodrome brick sessions (40/50km) and some Thurs night al Qudra (100-135km)
Runs I usually did two a week around Zabeel from downtown (10/28km)
I really started to feel more comfortable with my swim and knew I had the stamina; I was only worried about conditions on the day! The bike with my maximum distance ever at 135km a couple of times I was slightly worried, especially with the wind and elevations predicted but I am pretty good on hills so I had a little confidence, it was purely the distance in the hills and time in the saddle(TITS, as I got told by Bondy) I was concerned about and this obviously linked into the run. Even though I would class myself as an ok runner over 5/10/21km, after never having done a competitive marathon before I never got my head around running 42km off that bike, especially after a couple of 5km leg loosener training sets off my longer rides.
I raced a lot of events through the season, absolutely loved the new Race ME events and also competed at 2xu Mamzar, Yas and ADIT short where I would say my 4hr 16min would have to go down as my personal favorite as it was a good test in race conditions over a slightly longer distance than usual events. The main thing for me was just being so happy to be on the start line fit and healthy week in week out and being able to be competing with some quality guys and i didn’t take this for granted. If you ever saw me out on the course I was never short of a smile and a shout out. This was hammered home when I got sick and missed the Dubai marathon weekend and knocked my training out for 2 weeks plus but I had the attitude rather now than April. My famous last words came back to haunt me as on the Tuesday before the Sundays race I started to feel sick and was struggling. I hate the doctors but my wife forced me to go, so after a reluctant trip to the doctors I was diagnosed with acute bronchitis so a course of antibiotics and rest was needed. Inside I thought great there goes my ironman chances, typical what a week to get sick but tried to remain positive.
People who know me know I’m one the most easy going laid back guys you'll meet but with this ironman looming over me I think it just sunk in what I was about to do and with also being sick I was so anxious all the rest of the week, it really got to me I couldn’t relax.
Then it was time to pack where I laid out all my kit, I went through it a million times just to make sure I didn't forget anything, packed the bike in the box with not many dramas apart from those dam pedals and we are ready to go. As my wife is a teacher we are usually dictated as to when we can go on holiday due to the school breaks but we were lucky this time that if fell in her holidays but didn't give us much time before the race but at least we could travel together. So we took the 03.50am flight from Dubai to Port Elizabeth via Cape Town Friday morning. We only had a 1hr 30min connection but this was a problem as we had hail, yes hail storms in Dubai in April as we left so the flight was delayed, it was a horrible flight time for us with not much sleep as had been up since the previous morning. When we got to Cape Town us and another couple of guys were on the same connecting flight so they were waiting with our names on the boards and I'm not lying when I say we had to run the whole way to domestic terminal and already being informed the next flights are full, we needed to get that plane. We just made it on but were informed our luggage wouldn't and would be on the next flight. When we arrived we did report the bags etc. and they said they would be dropped at hotel. Once in the hotel which was a great location and unbelievable view over the ocean and course.
I decided it would be best to go and register which was an easy enough process. As mentioned before it was our 1st anniversary that Friday, so I must apologise to my wife again as all we had done was sit on a plane all day, registered for an ironman and then proceeded to wait for our luggage which did eventually turn up at 7pm. I had already booked a restaurant so out for dinner was my priority which was an amazing meal, highly recommend Ginger restaurant. Saturday got up after another night of broken sleep and went for brekkie, saw so many friendly faces from Dubai (Radisson Blu was the official Dubai camp) this was a good feeling knowing I wasn't going through this alone. I then made up the bike with not too many dramas and went out with Alex just to test everything was ok. This was my first look at some of the bike course and just realised what we would be facing, think we only did 10km out and back but the road surface, elevations and wind were all there in full force. I was coughing and spluttering the whole way so took it really easy and when we got back to the hotel and I got off the bike I felt so weak and dizzy, this made me even more anxious. Ben how can you seriously swim that, bike that and run that tomorrow, feeling like this. This really added to my anxiety as I was thinking I couldn't do this and didn't want to let myself down, my wife who had came to support us, my company Desert Group who sponsored us, I was also raising for charity, my family the list goes on but I knew I was always going to give it a good go. I went and packed up all my swim/bike/run gear in respective bags, took my bike and headed off to a briefing which was mainly about the course and rules for the day. Then it was time to rack the bikes and bags, when I looked and saw transition it was huge with 2,500 athletes. I wasn't too worried though as I was armed with my day glow orange ‘you’ve been tangoed” machine, add that to the fact I got a good spot in the racks meant I could almost see my bike from the sea.
That evening Guy (National) had arranged a dinner for a lot of the Dubai guys, so again this was nice for everyone to meet up and chat about tomorrows happenings. I headed to bed around 9pm but struggled to sleep thinking race thoughts and I’m sure it was also down to unusual anxiety.
Plan was to wake up at 3.20am for hotel breakfast but after feeling as though I had a good sleep I found myself waking up at 1am,2am then 3am. I decided to stay up and made my way down to breakfast which is my favorite meal of the day but not today, was so nervous I had to really force it down. It was then time to go to the room and gear up in my kit, applied sun block/lubrications and put on my wetsuit to my waist and got the shuttle from hotel to transition. This opened at 5am, once there I checked over my bike again and again, pumped the tires to 110psi at rear and 100psi front and everything seemed good, loaded my nutrition and hydration and then went for another toilet break before a swim warm up. This was my first outing in the ocean since I'd arrived and it was pretty fresh, thank god for the wetsuit! There were smallish rolling waves which for Dubai where on the bigger side but couldn’t have been worse and the water was dark but checked my goggles fitted and everything was ok. Out of here it was time for my wave to make the short walk to enter the holding pen and now I know what it feels like to be cattle, it was quite claustrophobic. The music was pumping behind and this really helped settle my nerves, even one of my favs came on so had a little jig. It was quite a surreal moment when the national anthem was played and with only 500 or so international athletes most were singing loud. I must admit I did need the toilet again so I did have a little pee on the beach in my wetsuit. Then the pros went and it was time for our countdown which seemed to take an age. Then boom the cannon sounded and I started my watch and waded in somewhere in the middle of the pack to the left. As soon as I got to waist deep and big wave ploughed through us all and knocked my goggles around my neck and my nose clip only just stayed on(did have second clip up my wetsuit sleeve just in case but not needed)but this did lead to a problem. As I had put a load of Vaseline/body glide around my neck to stop the wetsuit rubbing but when I put the goggles back on and tried to swim I couldn't get a seal on the rubber part of my mask, so it continuously let in water. Even though the water was nowhere near as salty as Dubai so didn’t sting as much, it still became uncomfortable and this lead me having to stop around 7/8 times over the course to empty them. The start of the swim itself was the usual dunking and kicking as was only 300m to first buoy with around 1,000 people in the wave, so a massive bottle neck. After the first buoy I was surprised at how much clear water I had, I'm not the fastest of swimmers but do sight well and swim straight(that's why I'm not a fan of drafting toes) and I witnessed a lot people going left and right. There was a small swell which meant at certain points I couldn't see the main buoys let alone the guide ones but I managed to pick my sighting point off the large crane from the port in the background and this paid off as I hit both small yellow buoys on the way to the second red(which never seemed to come)from there it backed up again to turn left 200m or so where again it was a bit crazy, then another left turn back towards the pier where again I got a good sighting point off the hotel in the distance and again had clear water. I was very close to the small yellow buoys on the way back too, half way back I did have to relieve myself again so a little doggy paddle later I was on my way again before turning right and riding the waves back into the beach. I looked down at my watch to see 1hr 13min so was well happy with that but more importantly didn't feel the weak dizzy mess I was yesterday after just 20km on the bike, bonus! I stopped in the showers for a few seconds before stubbing my big toe on the exit stairs, a little blood but nothing major.
As I entered transition I found my bag easily enough but the tent was full as a lot of people were changing outside, so I sat down on the grass and whipped off my wetsuit, and put on my socks, bike shoes, race belt, helmet and sunglasses and packed my swim stuff in the bag and dropped it off. As I left I decided to get sun creamed up by the lovely volunteers, and coated my shoulders and wings. My calfs and arms were covered in my orange compression gear, which is also awesome for sun protection. Then made my way to my bike, found it easily surprise surprise and off out to the mount line which was on a slight incline but got lucky with my clip ins and away I went. At this point I was lucky enough to see my wife screaming and shouting with their banner that read “we don't do triathlons, we do triathletes, Tri Tri Tri Dubai” how could you miss that!
The support on the seafront road was amazing and I certainly took it all in. I hadn’t seen the course before and don’t work on heart rate or power meter, so down to pure feel. We then turned left and almost immediately it was straight uphill and this gradient seemed to keep going for quite a few kms, there were people all out their houses having braiis and beers already, clapping and cheering, they seem to love the orange so that certainly helped! I didn’t push too hard as didn’t really know what I had in the tank as was still coughing a bit but I did notice a lot of the super fast people in my wave and even the next wave start to come past me and this seemed to be constantly happening the whole way. On the first downhill decent we got up some speed, think I looked down and saw around 60kmh but this wasn't in the aero position. I could feel the front wheel(88mm deep) having a lot of wind wobble, so I was clenched to the handles with the big guys flying past me, Alex one of them! Then it was right onto a big uphill climb which then had a steep decent but almost straight away had another turn up hill. This seemed to be the order of the day (fast downhill’s followed by heavy breaking, turns and hills) so I mainly took my nutrition on the uphill’s. I had 8 of my own high calorie cereal bars which I planned one every hour minimum, with gu gels. On the downhills when I was hanging on for dear life I got my hydration through my front water bottle which was mix of gu brew and water. As I mentioned before the roads were pretty rough and bumpy and this led to my front mounted water bottle mount coming loose and dropping onto my front wheel at about 40km into ride, I had to constantly pull it back up which was annoying! When we hit the coast again there were some big inclines and bit of a breeze picking up, at this point I was surprised to see Johan as I know he’s a strong biker and I mentioned how many people had gone past us and I remember him saying "just race your own race, there’s a long way to go and this section on the second loop will be harder” he said he was having stomach cramps so felt for him but he was still managing a good pace . I took his advice and eased off slightly as I had been marching up the hills feeling strong even though I still had a little cough. It was very hard on the hills not just for me but everyone to keep the draft zone so I think they were being a bit more relaxed about it as long as you weren’t taking the mick. There were still plenty of officials on motorbikes warning about drafting and not moving over to the inside. I don’t really know why it wasn’t really going to affect my position but I also decided to try going for a pee on the bike for the 1st time as I was busting and mentally I didn't want to stop. I put my rain cover on my nutrition bag between my legs and really tried to go but couldn't sat down and it wasn't until I was coasting the next downhill that I stood up leant to the left and it happened(anyone drafting us got what they deserved!) I got my water bottle squeezed it between my nether regions, legs and my shoe, it was then I thought awesome it wasn’t that bad and this is real ironman stuff(had another 5 on the bike course) When we passed the crowds back on the seafront road I think I automatically got another 5kmh out my bike just from getting carried away with the buzz of people, music, partying. Even remember riding along giving high 5s, it was a nice change from the previous 40 odd km which was beautiful scenery but very lonely.
So time for the 2nd loop where I looked right at the sea and saw dolphins, cool!but once again I noticed my bottle was literally burning on the wheel.(the white plastic etched on my wheel) I remembered I had some elastic bands on my rear bottle cage, so when I reached the first flat I decided rather than pull over to try and do it on the move. I did swerve a bit and looked back and there was a fair few riders coming through so decided to just go onto the other side of the road as it was closed to traffic, finally freed them up and fixed them under my bottle and this seemed to be an immediate fix, so I muttered to myself yes! Until I hear number 288 you have a penalty, so look to my left and a marshal on the bike was showing me a card, then took my name and my photo and said I must stop at next tent otherwise I would be disqualified. This was for crossing the white line, not even a warning and I had heard so many warnings given out before but no penalty cards. I thought you old f******* hag, I only crossed for a minute and not even a warning, but kept them in my head and nodded as I just put it down to she must have been bored or didn’t like orange. So this spurred me on to put a bit more into my bike but all I kept thinking was penalty, penalty, penalty in my head, as it was at least 50km till the penalty tent and if I missed that then a DQ. At this point I saw National and Alex and think I gave them a few choice words about it. I was also in close distance and trading places a lot of the time with Mohammed al Muhairi and he also reminded us where the tent was and to be careful as it was positioned right at the bottom of a very fast downhill. So I locked up my brakes got off my bike and had to report what I had done, I signed the paper and waited for what felt like an eternity for them to confirm it. Then I was back on the bike all the time thinking all them vital minutes saved peeing on the bike were wasted but didn't let it get to me too much as I knew there was a long way to go and it was soon time for the real hard work to start. As Johan had predicted when we hit the sea road back the wind had picked right up and was noticeably harder, this was with 60km or so to go. The pace was definitely slower with my overall leg energy down, the hills and wind. Even the downhill’s I had to be slower as to not risk being blown off the bike, these were literally a white knuckle ride. We then hit this road which had an uphill gradient but it never seemed to end, the wind and hills knocked my speed back to around 20kmh, it felt as if there were a lot of athletes coming past but I did see plenty of friendly faces giving out encouragement. We took our final right at around 150km when I really felt the strong sea wind straight into our faces and also the final 20km was where the road surface went from bad to worse! My front bottle was standing up well to all the bumps with its new modification but that couldn't be said for me, I was in new territory here never cycling over 135km and I really started to feel it on the bike, something was hurting on the outside of my right foot, my undercarriage was sore(as to be expected) and I could really feel my leg muscles working and this was only to keep a speed of 16/19kmh. Id had enough and just wanted off the bike now, especially on this road. It wasn't until I picked my bike up after, that I realised that due to the road vibration that not only had my front bottle been affected but also my seat had shifted back 1 inch and a bolt had sheared off inside my rear bottle cage clamp(god knows when and how it stayed on) When I got a bit closer to civilization, I noticed the pros and super quick age groupers on the run course already (saw Paul Miles pounding it out at a great pace so gave him a big shout out to keep it up) Back on to the seafront road I was greeted by my wife again jumping up and down so this took my mind off things along with the rest of the support. Id messed up my garmin as per usual so relied on my bike computer which showed a time of around 6hrs 45mins, so realised it was tough course as over 30mins or so off my initial target and it certainly felt it. Then it was back into transition which was quite an easy affair, when we got off we handed our bike to a helper who took it away and I was glad to see the back of it. It was quite a funny feeling trying to jog and especially in cycling shoes but made it to my peg, got my run kit bag and proceeded to the change tent and put on my gear, trainers and visor then back to the sun creamers for more shoulder action before setting out on the run. I’m a massive heel striker but would still class myself as a good runner and my strongest of the 3 disciplines. In sprint and Olympics I can push out 4min kms but in training id been doing my longer stuff around 5/5.30min kms but that’s fresh. The first few hundred meters were fine and I actually found myself at sub 5min kms, which I quickly reigned back to 5.30min kms as knew even though I hadn’t run that distance competitively before it was still a marathon!
So the course basically was along the whole beachfront road and then a loop through the university and back again, this 3 times. What can you say the support on the road was amazing, the whole street lined with tents and BBQs and even dj equipment wired up to cars with mics and people shouting your name off your race number. I still had a noticeable cough but still felt fine and then made a plan to walk the aid stations which were I think around 2.5-3km apart, where I took on coke, water, and cold sponges as it was cooking out there.
They had this system where you collected a colour band every time you completed a loop, the sea front road must have accounted for about 8-9km of the 14km loop which was good as it took your mind off it and with others coming the other way I dished out some high 5s and words of encouragement. I finally reached back to the hotel where again my wife was again screaming and shouting, I even went over and gave her a big sweaty hug and kiss on the run which I'm sure she didn't appreciate as much as me. They said the course was flat but in my eyes when we turned right up to the uni there was certainly a noticeable incline. This section of the course was also pretty lonely; I did fit in another pee in the bushes and also saw a monkey run across the road which was pretty cool! It was at this point my pace had dropped to 6min kms so that was my new target to keep below that. This worked for the next loop till I hit around 18km where I really started to struggle, I picked up a niggle in my left knee I knew it wasn't causing any damage per say but more down to my muscle which was definitely effected by the tough bike course. This was effecting my run as it sent my pace to 6.30/7min kms now and my thoughts of a sub 4hour had totally gone. I kept seeing people running past us strong and must admit kept looking at their arm to see how many bands they had on, 1 band I wasn't worried about, if they had two or three it was frustrating! At around 19/20km I heard a voice behind shout my name and realised it was Lisa, she then proceeded to slap my ass as she passed me and gave me a few choice words that I'm to stick with her at a pace of 5.50min kms. On most of the sprints and Olympics I've done I've mostly manage to pass her on the run so I thought let’s stick with her as she was having a great race starting 20mins or so behind us in wave 3. This seemed to work and we did the same aid station routine, she was even generous enough to give us a pill and we kept together for another 10km or so where we passed Johan in a world of pain doubled over (we gave him some more words of encouragement) and trotted on. Along the beach road again I was still coughing but to be honest it didn't seem to be affecting me one bit. I think the relief of this and it being the last loop made me pick up the pace even if it was only a little or maybe Lisa just dropped a little as we parted ways. Lisa’s encouragement was much appreciated as without it my race would have been a lot longer and slower, thanks. I then picked up my final wristband and went for another pee behind some cars and was back to running 5.30min kms with around 10-12km to go and I remember seeing captain Carl in pain coming the opposite way so i tried to spur him on only to get the sternest face(later he apologized, i could understand why) My wife was still cheering her heart out on the side taking photos and then I saw national and told him to keep with us, he was also having a good race starting in wave 3. So we followed the same aid station rules of walking but we was laughing together saying “is it just me or are these aid stations getting further apart” and then when we was walking them they seemed to last about a second and was hard to get into a rhythm again. One of the saving graces at the aid stations was the boiled potatoes; they were essence to me at that point better than a dirty burger which I love! It was probably with around 4km to go I was starting to believe I could finish this but didn't want to get carried away yet with thoughts of my finisher medal; there was still 4km I thought. It was from here I found a new energy and my next 2kms where run at around 5min kms and the last 2km at 4min kms, all the time thinking I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this. I knew my time was over my original 12hour target but I was still over the moon with how the day had gone not knowing the day before if I could even complete it. Then it was time to turn right off the main road and down the famous finishers chute, even though it was dark there were still a lot of people down there and I gave the announcer a quick high 5 as he announced "Benjamin, you are an Ironman, look at him go" I then decided to try my little trademark cartwheel before the line just guessing I had the energy to pull it off and boom over the line an Ironman :-) After I crossed the finish line, I heard my wife again screaming through the fence “you did it, you did it and in a great time, awesome 12hrs 32mins”
Then it sunk in a little what I'd achieved and greatly received my finishers medal.
Went for a 5min massage and then to get some food(pizza, soup, choco milk, burger) and back to hotel for a well earned sleep and rest. All in all a long 21hour day and still couldn't sleep, maybe the buzz from the finish or just too much sugar in my system. Whatever I was ready for the rest of the holiday which was amazing! The country is unbelievable, the scenery, the people and value for money! Having spoken with a few guys who have done a few Ironmans before and the old course here in SA, they said it was tough course but I would highly recommend this event both for its organisation, course and the country it's in!
Will I do another? You’re probably asking the wrong person. I always said I'd tick the ironman box but with not being 100% and being on a tough course I guess I still would like to break the 12 hour mark one day! Here are my official placing’s, overall, category and gender:
Until that day I will enjoy every training session, sprint/Olympic and possible 70.3 competitions I enter :-)
A huge Thanks must go to my wife for not only allowing me to enter but putting up with all random training sessions and her support throughout even on our first wedding anniversary, hopefully the holiday after made up of it!
Also a massive thanks to my company (Desert Group) for sponsoring me a the event, I was proud to be wearing my branded gear, hope I did it justice!
Also to all my family and friends that said so many kind words and donated generously to a great charity. The Myton Hospice where all together we helped raise 3,700dhs (around 620 pounds) which was massively appreciated by them so thanks!
Also to Tri Dubai and all the other athletes for their support and training sessions throughout the year, you’re a great set of people and without the competition and sessions wouldn't be where I am fitness wise today.