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.
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.
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
A GREAT DAY & GREAT RACE – I RECOMMEND PUTTING IT ON YOUR BUCKET-LIST.
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.