/*** Many Thanks to Arturo for this race report ***/

Ironman South Africa, 6 April 2014

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I was not planning on doing a race report this time, since there were so many of us there, so many outstanding performances, including some Tri Dubai Kona qualifications and some Tri Dubai will power machines finishing even if being sick or injured. I did not see the point.

What made me change my mind? Well, it was all of you that were kind enough to congratulate me on finishing my first Ironman and that added that one day you wish to do it too or that you wish you could do it!

To all of you goes this report, so you see that becoming an IM is achievable, come race day it will be hard, don’t get me wrong, but if you wish to finish you most likely will.

14 month journey

Since my early twenties I knew I wanted to do an Ironman, even if I had not done any cycling before then and I only swam a bit in summertime. But I used to run often. I stopped running because of injuries and I started gaining weight, by my 35th birthday I was around 115kg. Then I decided that I needed to change my life style, so I started swimming with TriDubai, later cycling and by the end of January I did my first sprint triathlon. 3-4 months later I registered for IMSA. In September I raced a 70.3 in Aix (race report also available) as preparation for the big one.

What did I do during these 14 months?

I lost nearly 24kg to get closer to target weight, which helped me a lot in the running and for the cycling a bit as well. Target was to lose 34-38kg. Even I did not manage I am very happy with the results.

I will share with you the numbers of hours that I trained

 

Swim

Cycle

Run

Gym

Races

Total Hours

Feb.13

3.00

20.00

0.50

15.00

3.00

41.50

Mar.13

6.00

31.00

1.00

8.00

6.00

52.00

Apr.13

3.00

12.50

0.00

2.00

4.00

21.50

May.13

4.00

20.00

1.00

6.00

0.00

31.00

Jun.13

4.00

20.00

1.00

2.00

0.00

27.00

Jul.13

8.00

22.00

2.00

2.00

0.00

34.00

Aug.13

17.00

28.00

4.00

2.00

0.00

51.00

Sep.13

9.00

11.00

3.00

0.00

6.50

29.50

Oct.13

8.00

28.00

0.00

0.00

1.00

37.00

Nov.13

10.00

30.00

2.00

7.00

3.00

52.00

Dec.13

4.00

34.00

4.50

0.00

1.50

44.00

Jan.14

3.00

31.50

10.50

1.00

0.50

46.50

Feb.14

8.00

18.25

0.00

4.50

5.75

36.50

Mar.14

5.00

21.00

6.00

2.00

5.00

39.00

Total

92.00

327.25

35.50

51.50

36.25

542.50

Average

6.6

23.4

2.5

3.7

2.6

38.8

I wish I could have trained more and as you can see I was not very consistent or organized on my training, I would recommend you to be more organized than I was, it would really help.

My average weekly training was around 9 hours of which 70-80% was low heart rate and the rest intervals.

As IM was getting closer I reduced the number of sessions and increased the distances of the weekend sessions, some of the long session were used to experiment nutrition. I felt I was getting slower but my endurance was really improving.

In January and February I did my first 200km bike session and my first Marathon in order to know how it feels and to confirm that I can do it. It is not really necessary as physical training but I think it helped me on race day mentally to know that I had done it before and that it is achievable.

Pre-race days in South Africa

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I had learnt a lesson or two from the 70.3 I did back in September and I organized the trip accordingly, we arrived on Tuesday to Cape Town and I drove to Port Elizabeth, arriving there Wednesday night, 9h driving in 2 days plus all the hours in the plain, probably not a good option, to be improved next time, the weather was miserable and I was really panicking.

This time I just took my better half and my daughter to minimize the amount of distractions and I had made an activity plan for each day in order to keep them happy and entertained, which worked very well (thanks for the pointers Andre).

Every morning I was going to sleep as soon as possible and setting the alarm at 5am, most days I woke up earlier without the alarm clock, which was a good sign, I thought. Plus the weather was slowly improving. Thursday morning I put the bike together while the family enjoyed a lay in, Friday morning I drove the course and I joined one of the official swimming sessions and Saturday morning I went for a 25min bike -25min run around the course. Then after the early morning race oriented program, we would have the family activities and before and after that there would be time to register, race briefing, transition preparation and socializing with fellow UAE triathletes.

For a week or so before the race I ate more of what I felt like eating than the usual healthy diet I had got used to, I felt bloated for a couple of days but then I stabilized.

The night before the race I had a big, complex dinner, and then at 3:30am I had breakfast. Then I went to the transition area to prepare the nutrition and check the tire pressure and the content of the transition bags. In the morning it was a bit cloudy but the wind was ok.

For nutrition I had prepared:

For the bike, 15 gels - one every 30 minutes (Viper Active seems to work the best for me) and 1.5 liters of energetic drink + electrolytes, in 2 of the bottles I mixed 4 gels in each in order to minimize the amount of gels to carry and to ease intake, after that I would have to replace my bottles for new ones and take the gels ‘manually’.

In the special needs bag I had 2 sandwiches.

For the run, I had 5 gels and 5 chomps servings.

The race

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By 6:20 am the pros and the first wave were ready on the beach. To keep us company, there were African dancers and drums. Just before 6:30 the South African hymn was sung and then the pros started. I placed myself between the 60-90 minutes swim signs. We had 10 minutes to see the pros get away and wish our friends good luck. It was a special moment, the time I had waited for had come I was about to compete in a Full Ironman event.

Swim, target 65-70 minutes

6:30 the cannon went off and we jumped in the water. I kept to the left of the group since I breathe only on my right; the plan was to take it easy, no PB or much leg kicking to come fresh out of the water.

There were around 1200 swimmers in each wave, it was a bit congested on the first buoy but after that it slowly spread out, it was a bit hard sighting and I wasted a bit of time zigzagging, after turning half way sighting got easier by aiming for the Radisson Hotel.

I came out of the water a few seconds later than expected but I didn’t bother checking the splits, I only found out after the race, transition went ok, 5 minutes on the dot, got the wonderful volunteers to put sun cream on me but they were not as thorough as National’s, which I got to suffer later on.

Bike, target 6h30min without wind, 7h30min with wind

It always takes me a while to get the legs spinning properly after a swim, the start is flat but not for long, once the course turns perpendicular to the beach it slowly goes up for most of the next 45km or so. I am so spoiled by learning to cycle and always cycling in Dubai, and I don’t mean because of the hills, but the smoothness of the roads. In Port Elizabeth the roads are not bad, I guess, but it is not Al Quadra and for the entire cycling made me feel unstable and I got very unconformable on the seat, plus the arms and the back were getting sore with the passing kilometers. It was also starting to get hot, the clouds cleared up and the sun was worming us up more than most of us would have liked. The most enjoyable part was actually going uphill and the only time I was actually overtaking anyone (Hatta was paying off).

After the first loop everything was going according to plan, and I was feeling great, the second loop I drunk an extra liter of water compared to the first one as it was getting much warmer (1.5L in the first loop, 2.5L in the second). After 120km I started being bloated and I could not take any more gels without risking upsetting my tummy too far. So from then I had only water and electrolytes. Buy the last 48km I started getting cramps on the gracilis muscles and the wind had picked up (a lot), I just wanted to get out of the bike but I could not push without cramping so I just took it easy and kept the bike going as fast I could. On those last 48km I lost over 30 minutes.

I was so happy to give my bike away once I got to transition and I was actually looking forward to the run. Finally it took 7h35min. Considering the circumstances was not too bad. The transition was only 4min although to me it looked like I had a long break sitting in the changing tent.

Run; target 4h55 to 5h25

They say that you should expect at least 5% extra time to complete your Marathon time in an IM compared to the Marathon by itself, hence my target time.

I was so happy to be off the bike, so relieved I can’t even explain. I was bloated, hungry, sweeting a lot, I had a Marathon ahead of me but I was exultant.

My legs were responding very well, I started probably a bit faster that I should have but over all I was faster than what I thought I would be when I was running (if it wasn’t for the times I had to stop running because of the cramps it would had been an amazing result for me). I must say that the crowd supporting was great and that made the run so much easier.

At the first lap I could not eat and I was just having coke and electrolytes on the 2km spaced aid stations, some of the cokes where sadly not flat which did not help, so on the second and third lap I switched fully to electrolytes only.

On my first 3km I could not open properly my eyes due to salt/sweat getting on my eyes and I nearly took 2 competitors out on the first turn, on top of that I failed to see the band collection point which made me wonder for the next lap or so, where did everyone else get theirs from. Never mind next time around I got two of them and the volunteers were very understanding about it. I was relieved, as I could not imagine having to do an extra lap because of missing collecting a band…

To start every 5km or so I was getting cramps on the gracilis, I would stretch and then walk for a couple of minutes, the legs were ok running again after the breaks, passing the aid stations I would also fast walk them, after the first half marathon the cramps started getting worst and more frequent, every 2-3 kilometers, I just keep doing the same, stretch, walk, run again.

The end was getting closer and closer and euphoria was taking over, I was enjoying myself more and more despite everything and funnily enough I was not tired. Once the red carpet was on sight I started sprinting, so happy to have managed. It was time to remember those that are no longer with us, but made the journey possible.

14h 14min 30sec. Far from my dreamed time but so happy about it.

Thank you Tri Dubai for helping me realize my 15 years old dream, probably I would have never done it without your support.

Post-Race

Doing an IM is hard, going downstairs after an IM is even harder, also sitting graciously can became pretty challenging for a couple of days.

After the race I was starving all the time, which was kind of good, since there was so much South African cuisine that I wanted to try.

We had another 9 days holiday ahead and we thoroughly enjoyed it, beautiful country, beautiful people, great food and wines. One of our best holidays ever, if not the best.

Conclusion

If you want or would like to become an IM, do it! You can! And you will never regret!

In IM you can find 70+ years old competing with you, some are blind; others compete in a wheelchair or carry a loved one with them throughout the race. You do meet a lot of inspirational people on the way. If they can do it, you too! Go for it.