The world's toughest triathlon.
3.8km Swim.....180.2km Bike....42.2km Run...
Its the convergence of 1800 athletes who enjoy the pain involved with exerting themselves beyond capacity. Its an occasion where, no matter what, your mind carries your body through its limits and weaknesses. Its a day where you define yourself. Its a day where you do not surrender, no matter how tough things go.
Its a day where you show the finger to your critics, nay sayers and non believers.
This is your day.
This.... is....... IRONMAN.
I headed out to the race venue on the Thursday as my wife was competing in the Iron Girl challenge and I also wanted to avoid the crowds at registration. Surprise surprise. When I got there, it was packed already! Got through registration pretty quickly as this event is extremely well organized.
Its easy to get distracted by some athletes doing training runs on the bike in full kit, seeing people run the course and those who are doing a warm up swim everyday. I chose to stay away from the pre race workouts/hype and just did a short bike ride on the run course on the Saturday. Had my Bike and Run bag all sorted on the Friday evening and double checked it before Bike Check in. The race area was packed daily. The nervous energy in the air was electric.
Pre Ironman events were hosted from the Friday, starting with the Iron Girl Challenge. (which my wife completed in 50minutes by the way, well done!). I attended the Saturday race briefing just before bike check in. As always, the briefing was informative and athletes were nervous. We headed down to bike rack and I was guided to my race number position. I checked and double checked again and left to rack my bike and run bags. As I headed out of transitionmy wife pointed to my hand and asked me why do I have my helmet in my hand! I guess all the nervousness led me to forget to put my helmet in my bike bag. So back I went into transition and slipped it into my bike bag. So now, all was done! I had an early dinner, got away from the crowds and put my feet up for the last remaining hours....
RACE DAY - 14 April 2013
04h30 -It is here. Race Day! My Blackberry Alarm buzzes to wake me up for the long day ahead. Not that it needed to, I hardly had any sleep.
All the training, kilometers, sunburns, flat tires, injuries, frustrations, tiredness, aches and pains, early mornings, cold bike rides, lap after lap after lap after lap staring at the black line in the pool, all of this is about to culminate in my first Ironman. Got up, had my breakfast smoothie, got my kit on and headed down to transition to access my bags and bike to add the nutrition for the day ahead. It was pretty chilly and dark outside. Took a 15min walk to get to transition. The fog rolled over the transition area and things looked a bit surreal for a short while. Athletes buzzing around their bags, tires being pumped and checked, some are running around probably looking for a spare while others share a nervous laugh.
Just after 6am I did what I needed to do and was out of transition and moved towards the swim warm up area as the sun started to rise over the Indian Ocean. I handed in my swim bag and put on my wetsuit for a short warm up swim. I got out just as the PRO's were about to start 15min before official race start time and I headed down to the holding area. Nervous as hell I barged my way through fellow athletes to get to far as possible to the front to try and avoid the human washing machine effect!
As the announcer started counting down the last 20 seconds, I started my watch and stared at the ocean in front of me. A long, long day ahead I thought and suddenly the canon went off...It was the start of an epic journey...
JUST KEEP SWIMMING....
So much for avoiding the human washing machine. I ended up in the middle of the 1800 athletes all fighting for their little piece of space in the water. People swam over me, under me, had a few hits in the face and legs being pulled down. All of this in the first 200m even before rounding the first buoy! Just keep swimming, just keep swimming I kept saying to myself. As we approached the first buoy everyone tried to get around the inside on the left hand tun, as that is the shortest route. However, it was heavily congested. Something like the first corner of a Formula 1 race, everyone fighting, literally, for position.
As we headed on the back straight of 700m, the field slowly started to spread out and you could actually get in a few strokes without hitting the guy next to you or kicking the one behind you.
I finally slowly started to get into my rhythm and kept my head down. To the next lap we go... The swim was pretty uneventful on the first lap as i got out of the water in 45minutes. Bearing in ming my 70.3 swim time was 29min, it just shows the chaos we had on the start....Nevertheless, I rounded the checkpoint on the beach and headed for my next round. The field was now really spread out and I could get some speed going but also wanted to keep my energy for the day ahead. So I decided to just swim it out slowly. I got out on 1h29m and had a run/walk to transition...
T1 was a rush, everyone wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible. One of the volunteers emptied my bike bag while I slipped out of my wetsuit. I had a banana and a NUUN drink before putting on my compressions, shoes, sunscreen, sunglasses, gloves and helmet. Off I went to the bike and mounted. Total T1 time, 9 minutes. ( I can probably shave this off to 3 minutes in the future)
As I headed out on the relatively flat bike course, I looked down onto my computer and saw 1.3km completed. Man oh man, another lovely 177.2km TO GO! So I started getting peddling and getting the cadence increased to get some blood flowing to my legs. About 2km into the course a nice, short climb was waiting for me. Why do they always do this so shortly after the start! That certainly got my HR up. The first lap went by pretty quickly as its all new to you. By the second lap, you know what is coming and know its still a looong way to go and that is mentally draining. However, I kept pacing myself at 25-28kph to try and save some legs for the marathon still coming up. On the second part of the second lap, I climbed a short hill and as I went to sit back down, my saddle came loose. Thinking its a small issue, I stopped, got out my multi tool and tried to tighten it. However, the multi tool did not have the right allan key for my saddle! So, i had to wait tor the tech assistance team to pass in order to give me the right tool. I decided not to panic, seeing that there is still a long way to go. I pulled to the side of the road at the aid station, grabbed a drink and banana and waited it out. 20 MINUTES later, finally I got the right tool and could tighten it properly and off I went!
The wind picked up to about 20kph on the final leg of the bike as I entered the third lap. With each passing lap, my wife would be at different places on the course and cheer me on which will give me inspiration to take on the next challenge. The support at an Ironman event like this is amazing. People carry you through.
On the final lap of the bike I started pushing from the 140km mark. At this stage your neck and shoulders are stiff from the tri-bars. Your ass is hurting and your legs feel numb and you just want to finish and get into another position than peddling! I picked up my special needs bag at the aid station, had my 2 sandwichesbanana, water to replace some of the calories my body is burning at lightning speed and the all important pain killer for the ITB. The rest of the lap was easier than the first two as I knew it was the last time I would pass each checkpoint. However my legs didnt really agree with me on the "easy" part.
As I entered T2, the first PRO's were already finishing and I still had a marathon to run! On the dismount line I had a quick look at my watch: 06h52.....I was hoping for a 6hr15 ride but with the tech stop and combining it with this being the furthest I have EVER ridden on a bike, I guess its not too bad!
T2 was a bit quicker. I was thinking of changing into my tri suit but decided to continue the run with my Assos bib and Ironman Race shirt. I quickly, or as quick as you can manage after 8h30min of exercise, Iput on my running shoes, cap & sunscreen and off I went. 5minutes....think I can get it down to about 2min in the future...
Now, the part out of transition after 180km on the bike and starting a 42km run is not fun. You struggle just to keep forward momentum! So I started lap 1 of 3 x 14km loops....On the upside, its the last discipline...just need to get through 3 laps with my ITB...
It took me about one lap just to get my running legs going and my average pace to about 6m40s/km. That only lasted for one lap as my average sagged to 7m48s over the full 42.2km. At this stage of the Ironman, everything hurts. Even if you are not carrying an injury, your body still feels the punishment of the day.
This is also the stage where your destructive thoughts starts filtering through your brain. You get tired, your legs feel numb, you just want to take a breather. But you also want to finish. You want to push through. The crowd shouts your name and encourages you. That helps getting you through. You hear the moans of athletes cramping, those who decided to start walking to just get through it. Those who start looking at their watches to calculate what their time must be on this lap just to make the cut off at midnight. Some are on their first lap, some are on their last and others are already hearing the sound of You. Are. An. Ironman. Everyone has their own story and motivation to keep pushing through.
As the sun started to set, I started my second lap. The easterly onshore wind cooled the air. I decided to stop at the Special Needs Aid Station to get my "dinner" consisting of 2 peanut butter and jam sandwiches2 banana's and a pain killer for the ITB, pain now already shooting into my hip. As I walked the aid station and another 500 or so meters, it was now already dark. There is a 5km stretch on the course through the University, which is mentally draining. Not so much challenging, but mentally its tough. There are no spectators, no cheerleading girls and no aid station. It just you.
With each step the only thing you hear is the other athletes shoe hitting the tarmac and a very far away noise of music at the finish line. However, each step I gave was a step closer to getting the final armsband for the final lap.
As I collected my white band, indicating my last lap, I had 10km to go. Quick calculation in my head and glance at my watch showed that at 6:00/km I can still break 14 hours. So I started pushing up the speed. As I headed through the crowds I managed a sub 6min.km pace and was well on track. However, I reached the "dark place" on the course and my average time started to increase. Every muscle was working overtime but as I tried to push harder my average time remained the same. However I kept on pushing.
As I neared the end of the "dark place" I saw the first lights of the final 1.2km straight to the finish. At this stage I knew I was going to complete my first Ironman. Breaking 14 hours was no longer important. I wanted to savor this moment. The lights started getting brighter and the music louder. I could hear the cheers of the crowds. I knew my moment on the magic red carpet was imminent....and I already started planning on my next Ironman event.
As I ran through the final 1km of cheering crowds, some well into their cases of beer by this time, the pain started to fade away as I started to smile. This was it. This was my moment.
I ran through the final timing matt before the finish line as my name poped up on the big screen. I rounded the final corner of the course as the spotlights on the magic carpet nearly blinded me. All you can see at that moment is a white flash. As I neared the carpet the white flash faded and the crowd cheered. For that moment everything was in slow motion. I did it. I smiled. Pointing both hands to the sky I ran to the Ironman arch. hearing my wife scream my name followed by the announcer's famous voice....
Barend Hendrik Oberholzer.........
YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN!
Completing an event like this is impossible without support. I would like to thank my wife for her unconditional support. Over the last 7 months, all conversations probably included some for of swimming, biking, supplements or running or the equipment that goes with it. The early mornings, the stiff body, the chronic hunger and empty fridge. All was worth it at the end.
And of course, without a proper coach, I would have never gone from an social gym goer to an Ironman Athlete. John Mcgrath, www.bodymindcoach.co.za, is arguably one of the best coaches in the world. Thanks to him I reached my goal of completing an Ironman, dropped 10% body fat and 9kg. This all in conjuction with the 36 week Ironman training program from Ben Greenfield www.bengreenfieldfitness.com
Bring on IRONMAN Laguna 70.3 Phuket in December. Goal time 05h30min....Anything is possible