*** many thanks to Liz Verheyden for this race report ***

Our honeymoon race

It all started with our wedding day and the Ironman that followed – Ironman South Africa on March 29, 2015.

My second Ironman and Simon’s 9th! Hawaii as honeymoon destination seemed perfect to me! So I had my fingers crossed for Simon to qualify for Kona so that I could soak up the Kona World Championship atmosphere without the stress of racing.

We raced well, but not good enough and we didn’t qualify. So we decided on plan B, Ironman Los Cabos in Mexico, which also happens during the month of October (our honeymoon leave dates were already fixed)

This time I was going to prepare properly, and Nick Tipper was generous enough to also take me under his wing (Simon was already part of NTC since 2014)

I took 8 weeks off post IMSA to fully recover physically and mentally before starting this new venture.

June-September 2015

Dedicated training started in June, five months pre-race. New levels of dedication were discovered from week to week and life became training, working, sleeping, eating and preparing food and training kit bags. I slowly adjusted from 9-10 hours/week to 15hours of training per week. There weren’t many days off, unless really necessary. But Nick’s training was perfectly balanced and even though I felt continuously challenged, the scales didn’t tip to excessive fatigue or injury.

I made sure to keep track of little niggles by regular physio and chiro visits, and I tried as much as possible to do as I preach and do regular Pilates training and some triathlon specific strength training in the gym for those glutes!!

Simon’s superior skills in the kitchen also meant that our meals were very balanced and healthy. Which is a massive improvement from my cereal and milk twice a day approach that I had before (looking down in shame). Preparing lunch at home to take to work and not buying things on the go also meant that my weight and fat% dropped during these months (without actually eating less!!).

Thanyapura Training Week

After several months of increasing heat training and crazy early mornings, we were happy to have a little getaway to Thanyapura training facility in Phuket, Thailand.  We had a nice 20-hour training week in the Training Peaks schedule to give the body an extra little push. It is amazing how much training one can fit in a week without having to travel to training facilities, doing grocery shopping or spending time preparing food!

The non-chlorine 50m outdoor pool was an absolute pleasure to do 5km swim sets, a nice local group of cyclists to kill the time (and the legs!) on a few 100-170km rides and a 20km+ track session… yes ‘track’ session! Interesting approach of the Thanyapura triathlon head coach Sergio Borges (but he sure was very knowledgeable and interesting!). We went home well trained, satisfied, well fed and surprisingly not dog-tired.

October Race Month

We did a few more big weekends after Thanyapura and I have listened to every possible IMtalk podcast by now, twice. The pleasure of solo triathlon training!

We did not have any races since IMSA so to brush off the cobwebs we signed up for the first triathlon of the season – JLL Sprint Tri. The complete opposite of Ironman!

And the cobwebs were definitely there. I lost my bike in transition and lost my bottle & Garmin on the speed bumps. Oh dear! Lessons learned! But that’s what this practice race was for after all!

Few days pre race

We arrived in Los Cabos on Thursday late afternoon (race on Sunday). We didn’t go to the race area that day and just unpacked and did grocery shopping (spicy Mexican food with lots of beans did not seem like the right thing to eat 2 days pre-race!!).

Friday started with a 1km swim to check the water - warm, salty and some fierce waves at the shore but generally pleasant, and we finished with a short run. Then we picked up our numbers and checked out the one (!) shop at the expo.

Time to build our bikes! Cycling had to be done on the main highway so we avoided that late afternoon with peak traffic. Therefore we only tested our bikes just prior to checking them in Saturday AM – risky but it worked (besides that Simon managed to get his front wheel stuck in a cattle guard and went flying over the top…. I’m sure he will tell you more about that in his race report!)

It was nice to have the full Saturday afternoon to rest, relax and mentally prepare. We had a simple chicken and rice dinner and the alarm set for 3:45AM! (race start was only at 7:30am but with transition closing at 6:30 (due to 70.3 race happening) and no parking at the race start we had to start early)

Finally, Race Day!!

This crazy early start (3.5hrs pre-race start) was actually very nice. I felt much more relaxed and had stacks of time to check my bike, transition, check the sea conditions and go to the loo about 8 times! (and it worked! No loo stops for the whole race!)

The Swim - 58:02

It was a rolling start, which means you run in the water from a fairly narrow tunnel, and your time only starts once you cross the line. It’s meant to spread out the field slightly and have less panic and stress at the start. This was my first time to experience this and I expected it to be better to be fair. It still got rather congested the first 400-500m, no doubt due to athletes not seeding themselves properly. Or maybe I did not seed myself properly as I did not expect a sub 1hr time 

It was a non-wetsuit swim with water at 29C. The water felt a bit choppy but I think that was cause I swam in a perfect flat pool the whole summer! I therefore put in slightly more effort as I thought I was going rather slowly. I noticed that I started to pass the ladies who I spotted at the start line and I was swimming in clear water, and therefor without any feet to draft off, since the turn around point. The final 200-300m were tough – the waves approaching the shore were strong and I felt like I was swimming backwards.

I finally made it out of the swim and entered an empty transition tent (bar one lady who just ran in with me). I tried to get into my new Stealth jacket as smooth as possible – but this tight white jacket on wet skin needs some more practice (which I did do actually – coming out of the shower :P)

Ran the long way to my bike barefoot, only putting on my shoes once I reached my bike. Transition was on the beach and barely covered with a carpet so I ended up with very sandy feet in my bike shoes for the next 180km.

The Bike – 5:59

As I ran out of transition a guy shouted “first lady on the bike” I couldn’t believe it! That must have been a good swim (I didn’t wear a watch). Soon after a motor escort official showed up and left me to follow him in his dirty fumes. This didn’t last long – luckily?  - as the next lady passed me within the first 10km. 

Los Cabos is a hot and rolling course. 60km out and back on a rolling highway, then a 30km up and back stretch towards the airport, with a 5km non-stop climb  between the mountains where the temperature soars big time, followed by more up and down.

I had my power numbers set for the bike and read several race reports on the old bike course from 2013 (which they re-implemented this year) and read over and over again how you can cook yourself on the first lap and lots of athletes fade on lap no 2. So I stuck to my predetermined numbers and didn’t get bothered about the fact that I was now down to position 5 amongst the overall ladies (but no one in my 30-34 age group so that was comforting). I drank lots of water & Gatorade (as offered at the aid stations) but didn’t eat a whole lot (a bar and 3 GU’s). Lots of water got poured over my white top to keep me cool, which worked a treat.

Around 140km it did get a bit harder and I no longer had to hold back to not go over my power numbers. The last climb to the airport was proper Dubai summer temperature!

The time I set for this course was 6:08, which isn’t a fast time, but it sure isn’t a fast course either! My Garmin showed the course was a few km’s short so I think I was spot on pacing-wise. Let’s now see how that run goes…

I jumped off the bike and handed it to a volunteer and quickly got one of the water bottles from my bike – I couldn’t wait to get all that sand off my feet finally! Legs nor body felt too stiff or sore, so that’s good!

I changed into a dry running top – heaven – and put on my (well, Simon’s) Kona peak – hopefully a good luck charm!

The Run – 3:39

I started the run and immediately told myself – “don’t go out too fast!!” I was planning to do a run/walk with an average 5:10-5:15 pace. My first few km’s I was hitting 4:55 so I really had to be careful and hold back. One of the many mistakes I have made in my previous 2 Ironmans! 

But then I got my rhythm and heard from spectators that I was making nice ground on the ladies ahead of me. After the first lap (which passes literally 20-30m from the finish line) the announcer introduced me and said I had made up 7min on the leading lady and was now in 3rd place. Excellent! But don’t get too excited – anyone can run the first 15km well. So I kept taking in nutrition (Gu and bananas) and kept my pace and by the end of the 2nd lap I made it into 1st place – and she wasn’t looking great at that stage so all I had to do was hold my pace. I was passing loads of people now and tried to focus and not stumble on the bumpy Mexican road surface with the setting sun in my eyes.

And yes, I made it to the finish line, feeling great and with a huge smile! They had the banner ready for me when I was running down the finishing chute, but there was a male finisher just ahead of me, maybe 30m, who thought that the banner (which was still on the floor at that stage) was for him and bent to pick it up. By the time he realized it wasn’t for him I was right behind him and now I only have photos with him on the foreground pulling weird faces. 2nd problem was that one of the ladies didn’t let go of the banner so I nearly dislocated my shoulder as I walked with the banner. After this rather awkward finish, I was bombarded with photos, questions and interviews!

I’m glad I was actually feeling ok after finishing, as all this stuff did take quite a while with no chance to sit down or have a drink. But what a truly incredible experience!! All the hard work paid off – way more than I bargained for!

Honeymoon time now and then, KONA BABY!!

And it has to be said – none of this would ever have been possible without my amazingly inspiring & supportive husband!! He inspires me with his Kona stories, introduced me to the life of dedicated training and keeps us healthy with only the best food in our fridge (and lots of Haagen Dazs!!)