1058 Paul Venn, GBR
Position in AG: TBC // Finish time: 13:40:32
Swim: 1:21:19 // T1: 6:40 // Bike: 6:21:48 // T2: 9:06 // Run: 5:41:39
Coach’s remarks: Grab a coffee… Below is the race report sent to me from Venny, I am sure he does not mind me sending this through. Another great tale and sums up the team well along with his dedication and support from his family. Venny, your an Ironman lad… Great report and was a pleasure training you mate!!
As I can’t walk and don’t want to eat I thought I’d write a long race report. It’s only fair – it’s a longer race!! Thanks for getting me through it!
For me the IMSA trip started the week after Abu Dhabi when we started riding as a team on Fridays. Up till then I knew some of the team that were going but did not know just who would be at the start line come April 10th. Even though I did not finish Abu Dhabi I took a lot of positives from it – I knew that I had the swim in me and that I could pull myself through the dark times. Still questioned whether I could finish the IM.
The first ride we did as the IMSA mob helped an enormous amount. Up till then I had pretty much given everything I had on the bike without thinking too much about what happens after. Doing that 180kms trying to average 30km/h and understanding why added to my belief that I could get round in SA.
I have to admit to being a little disappointed when coach predicted 14 hours for me. I thought I was good for 13 if the conditions were right – 1½ for the swim; 6½ for the bike and 5 for the run. I know I could have trained harder but then most people will say that but the run/walk strategy made sense. Turns out he was right!
We got to the airport on Wednesday morning and was glad that I was going to be getting to Port Elizabeth in plenty of time to get the bike looked at, drive the course, swim in sea and generally get acclimatised. We were on the same flight as Steve Morgan and his wife, Claire and it was great having another triathlete around.
We almost missed our connection in Capetown but had a pretty good flight all the way to PE – more than can be said for other people including a mate of Steve’s whose flight to Jo’burg was delayed so he missed his connection to PE. As all flights were booked till race day, he had to stay the night in Jo’burg, buy business class flights to East London, hire a car and drive 2 hours to PE – proper planes, trains and automobiles stuff!
We checked into the hotel – a beach front Fawlty Towers and I put the bike together. Luckily Clare was with me otherwise I would have had no-one to shout and swear at when I could not get the handlebars and back wheel on. Got it sorted though.
Thursday we went for a swim early in the morning and had the joy of meeting Ahmed and Lisa – who gave the impression that the water ought to have polar bears in. We were getting our wetties on when up strolled Chrissie Wellington.
Steve and I swam out to the first buoy – about 300m – and I was genuinely pleased that the water was no colder than JBR in December. My head was very cold but that passed quite quickly. The water was relatively clear and the waves were no worse than JBR. One of the SA volunteers on the beach gave us tips on how to navigate. Great session which filled me with confidence.
We registered. Had lunch and then went to drive the bike course. It was fairly easy to navigate. Out of transition. Turn right for about 3kms along the sea front then left up a hill till the turnaround point. There was a sharp climb to start then a steady climb for about 10kms. Nothing dramatic but it would be tough going on the 3rd lap. After the hill it was pretty much downhill till the turnaround then back up the hill and down to the sea front for the pull back to the transition point. We were told that the wind would either be a westerly – called locally ‘West is Best’ or from the East – a ‘Beasterly Easterly’. If it was the latter we were told to forget about times and just aim to finish. It would add at least an hour to the bike.
Steve and I decided to bike part of the course on Friday (sorry Coach – we ignored taper orders) and we got to experience the ‘Beasterly Easterly’ as we did 35kms into a 35mph wind. It was tough – doing 18km/h at times and I am so glad the wind was in our favour on race day.
By now the rest of the team had arrived. Most of us were in Fawlty Towers but Steve, Ed and David were elsewhere. We were trying to eat together where possible which really helped the sense of team spirits ahead of the race. I was remarkably calm all the way up the start which I put down to having people like Carl about to keep us sensible and Jay for someone to laugh at although he did his share of sleeping as always.
I took it very easy that day then we all headed down to the pasta party and race briefing. I thought Hitler was gay, or only had one ball or something like that but apparently none of that is true because his offspring are now running race briefings here in SA. The list of don’ts was pretty impressive – I suspect Carl has a new checklist! There were so many ways to get disqualified it was funny.
Saturday was a quiet day but the town was now full of athletes and the atmosphere was building. I had another quiet day – got some work done and kept my feet up (so we were listening to Coach some of the time). I was still pretty calm. Got my transition bags packed and the bike ready to take to the start.
Having prepared a checklist after Abu Dhabi I was good to go although I lost the checklist so I clearly need a checklist checklist!! I dropped my bags off. Racked my bike. I was ready to go. I had passed the point of no return. I fucked my early night up by having a late dinner but even that could not dampen my spirit. I was as ready as I could be and there was little point worrying about it now anyway. I had my fingers crossed for the wind though!
I tried to get the team together for breakfast but people have their own rituals, which is great but we got most of us for a bite and coffee about 4.30am. I was starting to get nervous but nothing to worry about, especially once I had a really good shit. I know there are lots of the team who share the same ‘fear’ of needing to take a dump in the middle of nowhere on the bike. I like my creature comforts and porcelain is one of them!!
So the day started well. The wind was in our favour. Good start part 2. I walked down to the start – about 10 minutes from the hotel. Nerves were building but I knew what I had to do. Put my bottles on the bike. Taped my GUs to the crossbar and put salt and Nuun tablets in my aero bag.
All of a sudden there was a loud bang and I thought it was a firework but everyone groaned and I realized it was a tyre popping. It was closely followed by 2 more so I thought against pumping my tyres.
We had a warm up swim. The water was fantastic – as well as we could have hoped for and the commentator informed us the wind was from the west and would be behind us for the 35kms back to transition – sorted.
It was not until I got onto the beach that the nerves started. 1740 people. All going off at once in front of thousands of people. Now I was shitting myself big time.
Swim. I had planned to start towards the back of the pack preferring to swim over others than get dunked. The beach was marked by 30 minute swim time intervals and I bumped into Jax and David near the 90-120 minute sign. That was good enough for me. The gun went off. I took a deep breath and went with the flow. I had 2 minutes on my watch before I started swimming. It is not until you’ve been with that many people that you can picture what it is like. It is simply awe-inspiring. The noise of the crowd and the commentator. Everywhere you looked there was a swimmer.
I had planned to stay right to avoid the mass but fucked that bit up. Once you are in a group there is only 1 way to go.
The first buoy was 300m off the beach so it was total chaos at the turn. You could not go left, right, back or forwards. It was incredible. 4 months ago I would have hated that but the rough beach swims off JBR have changed that. I love the rough sea and the rough and tumble of lots of people. It was a little bit scary because of the number of people but we literally queued up to get round, treading water and telling each other not to kick off too hard.
The 700m pull to buoy 2 was pretty uneventful. It was hard to get feet because there were so many people but by now I had my rhythm and my aggressive approach was paying off. I decided to go buoy to buoy. Fuck it. If I can do sprints with Sean and Guy playing the fool I can get round a buoy surrounded by Yarpies!
The next thing I knew we were round buoy 3 and heading back to the start point. I was enjoying myself but was still surrounded by people and getting pushed about but luckily I did not get ducked.
The noise as I hit the beach was incredible and I remembered the JBR swims where we swim up to the beach and run on the sand. Helped no end. I had done the first 1900m in 40 minutes which was slightly disappointing because I thought I was a better swimmer than that. Still I figured I could do 45mins for the second lap and still beat my 1hr30 target.
The second lap saw the field spread out so I focused on slow stroke with a long reach. The turns were still chaotic but uneventful. I saw the jetty for the last lap and it dawned on me that I was nearly done. 3.8kms. 2.4 miles. That felt good.
I hit the beach for the last time at 1hr 20 so the second lap was the same split which I was well pleased about. I got my bags from transition and deliberately took my time getting ready not wanting to make the same mistake as Abu Dhabi. It was still amazing to see how many people there were, literally hundreds. I had seen Suzi as I hit transition so I knew she had had a good swim. It also gave my belief that I could cycle with her like Coach had suggested.
Bike. I had planned to take the first two laps steady and push on the 3rd if I had it in my legs. I always get really nervous about punctures which was not helped by passing a guy fixing one still in transition and another immediately outside it but Clare’s Cornish good luck pixie that she bought for my bike before Antwerp last year did not let me down again. I suggest you all get one next time you are in Cornwall!!
The first 2 loops passed without incident. The hill was not easy but I climbed Hafeet twice so this was not going to phase me. It was very hot but another lesson from Abu Dhabi was sunscreen regularly. Steve passed me at the turn around point on the second lap. He always looks strong…big smile on his face and it was good to see him. I was on a plan and did not want to blow up so I let him go. I expected David at some point too. I still hadn’t caught Suzi.
The two Clare’s had positioned themselves at one end of the sea front while Noelene and Sarah were at the other end. I love passing people I know because it always gives a massive boost and they were all making so much noise.
David finally passed me and we rode a little together. Another boost. He had been carded for drafting and had a 6 minute penalty which explained why it was so long before he caught me – lap 3 I think it was.
The hill on the final lap was a struggle. It seemed to go on forever and I had to fight the urge to stop for a rest at the top. Luckily it’s pretty downhill from there so I just free-wheeled while my legs recovered.
It’s incredible how counting down the kilometres after 100kms seems to make the ride go quicker but it does. 100….110….120….130 and I was starting to think about the run. I was feeling pretty good. Plenty left in the legs.
I was still talking to the pixie asking for just another 30kms with no punctures when disaster struck. I am thinking about becoming an international stunt triathlete because I seem to be making a habit of spilling blood while on international duty!
I was passing through the drinks station at 150kms. I had a bottle of water in one hand and was pouring it over my head when I hit a cat’s eye in the road. Because I only had one hand on the tri bars and my hands were wet I lost control and went down.
Like in Phuket I did not have time to react so went straight down and in the split second I realized what was happening I relaxed, which I think saved my race because I hit my head hard enough on the road to crack my helmet – which is now in the bin. I tried to stand up but the birds were still tweeting so the volunteers helped me to a seat and poured water on me. Luckily the bike was intact but making a funny noise. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing and hides many pains so I was able to get back to T2 safely but without using the tri bars because it hurt my shoulder when I did.
T2. Again I took my time in transition – about 10 minutes I think. The guy next to me was cramping so I slipped him a couple of salt sticks. More sun screen and off I went, following a guy in flip flops. Not a word of a lie. He ran 42.2kms in flip flops. And he beat me too!!
Run. My plan was run 15 minutes, walk 5 until I couldn’t do it any more then change to 10/5. First one was fine. Coach – you will probably say too fast if you look at my splits by kilometre but I know just how hard a marathon can be so thought I was taking it easy.
The crowd was incredible. They line the street under tented canopies with a BBQ and beer. Your name is on your race number so everyone is calling your name, willing you on. It’s an unbelievable experience.
After two 15/5 intervals the pain started to set in so I went to 10/5. Did a couple of those. Passed Clare and was still in pretty good spirits but was struggling. I remember Coach talking about getting off the bike empty. His exact words were, ‘it’s a fucking long day at the office’. Here I was about 9-10kms in, an hour down and 4 to go. That is so demoralizing. And it was a long day at the office.
I quickly switched to 5 run/shuffle and 5 fast walk. I caught Steve up and we agreed to run together on that strategy. A finish time had quickly been replaced by survival and finish. I was doing the maths. I had wanted 13 hours. Was adamant that I would not hit 14 but it is so hard when your brain is sending signals your legs just can’t deliver on.
I saw Lisa coming off the bike and was so chuffed for her because she was worried about missing the cut off and was well over an hour safe. I passed Carl and he looked in all sorts of trouble. No-one likes to take encouragement from another man’s suffering but if the race was getting the better of Carl then who was I to complain? Who cares what time you hear ‘Paul Venn – you are an Ironman’ so long as you hear it?
There were lots of people in trouble. People vomiting. People sitting down. Hundreds walking. Chrissie Wellington passed me. Fastest time of the day and the biggest smile of the day on her face. Simply incredible. I saw Ed. I had a lot riding on him and he looked strong so it felt like Chewy might survive the day. David looked super strong as did Suzi. Ahmed passed me too and these were all massive moments – like bright lights in the darkness.
Luckily my body did not fail me this time like in Abu Dhabi. I was not suffering from cramps but every time I ran they threatened to come on – only this time in my groin. I asked Clare to go to the hotel to get me more salt sticks. Her response was a bag of salted crisps so she got a tongue lashing. Turns out she would have got me disqualified for helping me but when you are running with demons common sense and logic go out the window.
42.2 kms is a long way. By now I was hurting in places I did not know existed. Toes. Feet. Legs. Back. Neck. The crowd are still shouting your name…telling you that you are looking good but you know you are not. You are running past the finish line hearing them calling people into the finish but knowing you’ve got so far to go is hard.
I had told myself that I would run the last 4-5kms but I simply could not. I kept telling myself that’s what the training was for. That I had done 37kms and that if I ran to the finish I might break 13½ but it made no difference.
I went past a tent with church-going folk in (it appears the Lord sponsors a tri team in SA). They had written up a load of big posters with proverbs and sayings from the Bible in. As I passed it for the last time there were 2 kids holding a banner saying ‘Anything is possible with God on your side’. I found this most amusing and said to their Dad that I was not sure if I believed it right now. I thought I was being quite funny but his response was that it did not matter what I believed because they believed it. I can’t remember exactly what I said but it was not pretty. Cheeky bastard! Got me running though.
I don’t know whether other people imagine what the finish would be like. What it would feel like to have someone say ‘You are an Ironman’ but I had. Would I cry? I did in Abu Dhabi and I didn’t even finish!
I hate to say this but it was a massive anti-climax! Maybe I had over-engineered it. They start calling you in well short of the line. I knew there was no-one in front of me so I checked behind me to make sure I was going to get my time. I would have stopped if not. I had done the time – wanted the line. I think he may have said it twice – I really don’t remember. Clare was standing just before the line – that felt good.
Then the next thing it was done. Arms aloft on the line. Too tired even to smile. I was just glad it was finished. It was fantastic to catch up with the team. Ed and Carl had showered and come back – that says it all. All I wanted to do was lie down and die but they came to cheer the rest of us on or maybe they had just forgotten something – but I’ll take the former!
Post Race. Got back to the hotel. Room service and restaurant closed. Too late for food delivery. No beer. What the fu*k? Bath. A bag of peanuts then bed. Not quite as I had pictured it.
Breakfast today was indescribable. Unplanned but everyone was there sharing stories and re-living the moment. I am still in pain and strangely not hungry. We are meeting up for the awards ceremony – where I will enjoy a cold beer – and then everyone goes on their way.
That’s it. I am an Ironman. Simple as that. Enough said.
Will I do another? I am not sure. It takes a massive commitment. You have to make sacrifices. If you’re married it’s the family that makes the sacrifice. If you’re single then your social life makes the sacrifice. Glad I did it and would do the swim and bike again tomorrow. The run. That’s a different story. I am just not a runner. 90kgs is a lot to carry round.
I have to thank you Jason. This all started with the marathon 16 months ago and here I am with a finishers t-shirt at IMSA. Not bad in only a year. Here’s to another one.
I also have to thank the team for the new lease of life it has given me. It would be unfair to single people out but Guy C, Janahan, Johan, Simone Green amongst others – you have dragged me out to bike and swim and stuck with me on the long ones. Many thanks.
Perhaps the biggest thanks go to Clare, Jack, Ellie and Josie (and that’s not only because Clare is reading this). I’m not an easy person to live with at the best of times but the last 6 months have been tougher than always. I have either been training or sleeping and in a bad mood the entire time. Thanks to them.
Now can someone pass me the shears. I believe Chewy needs a haircut…..