3.8k Swim 180k Bike 42k Run – Temperature 31oC
Swim 01:05:28 - T1 04:50 - Bike 05:36:38 - T2 03:54 - Run 03:14:41 Total Time 10:05:31
It was an early start to the season but I have a lot of racing planned so I needed to have a crack at bagging an Ironman world champs slot early. I did Ironman South Africa in 2009 and won my first age group title there so I have fond memories. The course had changed this year and the race was now the African continental championships. The course was tougher and the field bigger and deeper but it was my best shot outside of the later European season.Working away from home less this year meant I could have a more predictable build of fitness during the winter months but peaking so early in the year had meant a lot of long, wet and cold training sessions. I know what is required to compete at the highest level so I have no complaints, just get the work done and then express the hard earned fitness out on the race track.
A beach start always adds a bit of extra excitement and as the cannon boomed we hurtled towards the surf, diving head long into the waves as they poised to break. I had placed myself at the front and centre of the start, an aggressive plan probably beyond my swimming ability but I was here to compete. As we rounded the first turn buoy I had some open water to cleanly start to hit some rhythm (and no sign of the tiger sharks that had cleared us from the water earlier in the week!). The big swell made navigation problematic with sighting the next buoy only possible at the crest of each wave. Soon enough though, I had the 3.8k under my belt and I was exiting for the showers and to my bike.Within a kilometre of starting the bike ride I knew it was going to be a very challenging day. I ride to power wattage to measure out my effort over the day combined with my heart rate. The combination of the two means I know the numbers I can hit and still run a strong marathon at the end. The malfunctioning bike computer showed neither, I was riding blind, not knowing if I was riding too hard or too easy, I was fumbling my way through the 180km of bike racing. I latched on to the wheel of some of my competitors that came past me, figuring they would be pacing their output and if it felt manageable, then ride with it. By the end of the first 90k lap I felt exhausted, I let them go and at the time I felt I had let the race ride up the road away from me. Still a full 90k of riding left and then a marathon to complete, I was on the cusp of throwing the towel in and registering a DNF for the first time.
I pedalled out the next 90k at an easy pace whilst wrestling with the notion of quitting and the relentless head wind. I resolved to finish the bike, switch to my run kit and try a couple of ks before finally deciding to hand my timing chip in. I knew I needed to find a spark again and it came from an unexpected quarter. I took some coke at the first aid start, it was cool, the sugar gave me a little energy and the caffeine perked me up. The 2k mark was actually the lap turnaround point and they gave out a green wrist band to help tick off the three laps. Now I had one and only needed two more to be finish line bound. I convinced myself to jog through this one and if the wheels didn’t fall off, grab another. 14k later I picked up an orange wrist band, one more to go. On this lap I had started to pass one or two of the strong bikers who had left me standing on the first lap of the bike, the race was no longer up the road, it was coming back to me. I kept the pace going, firm enough to nail a competitive time. Lap 3 and the final yellow wrist band, full house and time to start racing for the line. We were competing in the height of the day’s heat but I was eating and drinking well and running confidently by now. I started to really believe I was in the race for a podium and a Kona slot so I kept pushing. Down the red carpet of the finishing chute, I crossed the line and the announcer declared me the age group champion. I had no idea, I was stunned. I had been in a very dark place physically and emotionally just a few hours earlier and I had turned it around to win. My place at the Ironman World Champs booked and I can start to dream a little.