Coach’s Remarks: Grab a coffee team! One of the stand out race reports, there all good in there own unique way but tell me how much emotion you can feel in this one from Piers.
IM SA 2012 is already being tagged the “hardest triathlon” to date. I was surprised it went ahead. The rival being that 2009 IM China when half the field melted in 43 degrees. This however, had unforgiving winds and strong strong swim currents. By the time these boys from our team hit the run, there would of been little left.
THIS IS WHERE I GET EMOTIONAL AS THEY ALL RAN INCREDIBLY WELL AFTER THAT SWIM AND BIKE AND THAT MEANS ONE THING…THEY WERE PREPARED MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY AND THAR IS A CREDIT TO THEM AND THEIR TRAINING PARTNERS AND TEAM MATES WHO BACKED ONE ANOTHER!!!
You can see how close these 4 men have become and the bond they will now form off this event. Brilliant report Piers and again, a huge effort mate. Bring on Roth yeah……
Hi Coach, my first race report for T2A. A proud moment.
Wow! Where on earth to start after a day like that? I’ll start at the end by saying that I finished 25 minutes slower than at IMSA two years ago, but my day was enormously more satisfying. For the first time in six Iron-distance races I am chuffed at the end result. I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of Gazza, Finn and Simon for jumping in feet first and taking on that as their Ironman debut. Yesterday was by far the toughest physical and mental challenge I have put myself through in my shortish and generally miserable Ironman career to date, and that includes Norseman and Embrunman which are widely regarded as the hardest Iron-distance races out there.
So rewind a few days and I arrive in Port Elizabeth with Wendy, Gazza and Helen on Thursday evening. Simon and Finn and their families have been out for a few days already. Training had gone well, although not perfectly. I had six weeks out in January and February with no running due to a calf injury, and I was generally under-biked having spent so much time travelling with work over the past few months. On the other hand, I was swimming as well as I ever have, and was not injured. Which was a major achievement given my sordid history with calf injuries, which had caused me to pull out of Sri Lanka 70.3 in February. My overriding feeling was one of joy at being on the start line – for someone with my competitive character it had been murder watching the rest of the team put together such fantastic results at Sri Lanka and more recently Yas.
Gazza and I and our wives were staying at a little guest house 15 minutes walk from the start. I always try and seek out places like this rather than staying at the race hotel, where I just end up getting stressed out because every one is super-skinny and it is wall-to-wall triathlon. So we had a relaxing two days before the start, with some nice family time, good food and even a beer or two for Gazza. The only hiccup was noticing that the thread on my handlebar stem had worn out – it was an easy decision to change it as with the bumpy roads that Port Elizabeth is renowned for, the last thing I wanted to risk was my bars coming loose mid-race. The weather was perfect on the Friday and Saturday, however the websites had been predicting 60-70kph winds and rain for race day. I don’t really get stressed about things like this, it is the same for everyone and I think it is good to see who embraces the added challenge and who starts to make excuses. So as far as I was concerned it was game on.
Race morning dawned to the predicted lashing rain in transition, but little wind. Gazza even noted it was good that it was raining as that would keep the wind away. Famous last words. The atmosphere was electric, the normal pre-race buzz complemented by the nervous energy the crappy weather was giving everyone. Thirty minutes before the start, the rain stopped and the sun started to come up. Gazza and I made our way down to the start, I was freezing cold already so dispensed with the swim warm up. I made sure I sought out Finn and Simon, I knew, as this was their first Ironman they would probably be more nervous than me and I wanted to tell them that given the weather in store, they should forget about times and just focus on finishing. I was convinced there would be a lot of DNFs, and I wanted to assure them it would not be them.
A wonderful tradition at IMSA is for them to play the national anthem before the start. I love this song anyway, with it’s rich mixture of Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English, and so I made sure I drew on the energy it gave me. What a privilege it was to be on a beach in Africa with the sun rising with such a positive vibe and a thousand crazy spectators cheering you on!
The cannon goes as soon as the anthem finishes, and we are off. I used to be intimidated by swim starts in the past, but the JBR Saturday swims have given me a huge amount of confidence and I love the fighting now. The first few hundred metres are crazy, with everyone swimming over the top of everyone else, and it doesn’t really start thinning out until well into the second km. The sea is rough but manageable – not helped by the helicopter down draft but I love the thought of being in the middle of an ocean with a chopper buzzing all the swimmers. The swim in SA is two loops with a short beach run in the middle, and I am surprised to see 40 minutes on the clock at the half way point as I thought I had been swimming well. Still, a quick look over my shoulder showed me at least half the field were still in the water, so I told myself to forget about times and just focus on putting in a strong stroke in the second leg.
As soon as we hit the water again you could sense a change in the sea. The current felt much stronger, the waves higher and I was swimming noticeably slower. It was a struggle to sight the buoys, you had to wait until you were on top of a wave, and when you did see them they just did not get any closer! But it felt I was swimming strongly, I wasn’t losing time on the others around me, so I reminded myself of a cool quote from Alice in Wonderland which has been a source of strength on previous races – when White Rabbit is asked by the King how much further there was to go, he replied, “You start at the beginning, then go on to the end, and then stop”.
The girls said afterward the announcer was claiming 67kph winds on the second half of the swim. Wendy counted more than 30 swimmers taken out of the water on kayaks, and many more hanging up their boots in T1. The first pro did the first loop in 22 minutes and the second in 33 which tells how the conditions changed at halfway. I was out in 1.28, but I felt strong, not too tired, and there were still the majority of bikes in transition. Job done (well a third done).
After a pretty quick T1, just stopping to put on shoes and socks (I had swum with a tshirt and arm warmers under my wetsuit) I was on the bike. Turn right out of transition and slam! The wind hits straight away, and immediately I am in the small chainring on the flat. This is going to be a long day. The bike course at SA is essentially an anti-clockwise loop, done three times, with about 400m of gradual climbing in the first 20km. Once past the turn around, it is 40km of rolling on poor quality but amazingly scenic roads along the coast line back to transition. There is a saying in PE that for the wind direction, west is best and an easterly is beasterly. Fortunately, we seemed to have a SWerly which was mainly in our favour, however this meant that the first 20km of climbing was straight into the wind. Two years ago I did the whole 180km in the big chainring, save for a couple of hundred metres out of town. This year I was straight into the small chainring where I stayed for the next 20km. But the first loop was not too bad, I averaged 25kph for the first 20km and then with the tailwind behind on the way back had pushed my average up to 33kph by the end of the first loop. On the second lap, things seemed noticeably harder, the wind was much stronger and I was struggling to maintain a 20kph average. But it was the same for everyone, I was overtaking dozens of people with only one or two going past me. I caught up with Wendy and Helen early on lap two at the side of the road, normally I would never stop but I wanted to hear what time Gazza had done on the swim to gauge how slow I truly had been. Helen told me he had swum 1.14 with most of the pros out in over an hour, which made me feel much better about my own effort. I was further buoyed by hearing Gazza was only 5 minutes ahead, which meant I had put about 10 minutes into him on the first lap – another sign I was doing ok. I caught up with Gazza at around 70km, had a nice chat for a minute or so and then pushed on ahead. Gazza said Finn was behind him, but I hadn’t remembered passing Finn which made me think he had swum slower than me, which would have been strange. As it turned out, this wasn’t the case and I must have passed Finn on lap one without noticing (sorry Finn if I ignored you!).
Lap two was all about consolidation for me, concentrating on staying aero as much as I could (not easy on the bumpy roads). But the wind had picked up considerably, and the section down to the coast had huge crosswind gusts that made staying on the bike a real challenge. I posted after Hafeet that the Saturday triathlon had been the most scared I had ever been on a bike in the winds. Well this section of the course was much, much worse. I was overtaking so many people who were braking all the way down and fighting their bikes like a bucking bronco. For me, it was better to put it in a big gear and pedal as hard as I could with no brakes – more stable but if I came off it was going to hurt. You had to really concentrate on the road around you, where there were hedges it wasn’t too bad but once the hedge row ended you would be greeted by a huge gust and you had to be ready.
At the end of the second loop I passed a client of mine who I knew was doing the race. He commented that the third loop was going to be hard work, and how right he was. The wind now was crazy, at least 70kph, and we were climbing straight into it. It took me 1h05m to do the 20km, for most of it I was hovering around the 15kph mark and there were stretches where I was in the granny ring on the flat doing 9kph. Some other athletes had got off and were walking, everyone was weaving about the road as the cross winds were hitting. I can only compare it to Hafeet a few weeks back – the 20km climb here at no more than 3-4% gradient was harder than climbing Hafeet for the third time with Suisse charging into the distance and me breathing out my behind. We heard later from a local that he had been riding in PE for 20 years and this was the worst conditions he had ridden in. By the time I got back to transition my average had fallen below the 30kph mark and I had clocked 6h01m. Yet I felt I had ridden strongly but conservatively, the legs were as fresh as could be expected and most importantly my mindset had been positive throughout.
As some of the team know, nutrition has been a huge problem for me in the past with countless toilet stops on all my previous Ironman races. So after speaking with coach and Crowie at the end of last year, I changed strategy and consumed only gels and water on the bike. I had 8 Gu gels plus a banana at halfway, leaving a good couple of hours for it to digest. I was very nervous about how this would play out on the run, even thinking that if I had problems it would be the end of my Ironman racing as I was getting crushed by putting in months of training only for me to throw away all the good work by spending so much time in the toilets.
I felt good straight away on the run, I had a goal of 3.30 in mind which meant 5 minute kms. I was bang on pace for the first 5km, despite most of this being into the wind. The run is three loops with about half in town where the support is amazing, and half out around the university where supporters are few and far between. There is a slight incline for 300m as you turn off up to the university at 6km, and this is where my legs started to feel heavy. Still, it was over quickly and soon you are rewarded with a long downhill section with the wind at your back into town again. First loop done bang on 3.30 pace and feeling ok. My mindset was that the Ironman doesn’t begin until half way on the run, so for the second loop I told myself it was going to be hard but to concentrate on good running form and keep reminding myself that the bad patches won’t last forever. Easier said than done as everyone knows. I had a few wobbly moments on the second loop, and by the end of this I was down to walking through aid stations but running everything else. I kept to coke and water, didn’t touch the gels in my pockets as I was so scared about having stomach problems. But as I neared 30km I was feeling ok, the legs were a bit tired but it seemed as though I would have my first ever toilet-free Ironman marathon. Fingers crossed.
I took a huge amount out of the crowd on the start of the third lap, there were so many standing at the roadside, tents up, BBQs smelling great, with beers in hand. I crossed Gazza, Finn and Simon a few times here and made the point of stopping to offer words of encouragement. I hoped this would help them but really this was for me, I wanted to draw some support from my team mates.
It did the trick, once over the university hill for the last time and only 7km to go, I got a surge of energy and picked up the pace. I was now running 4.45s, and everyone I passed shouted out “great running” which only made it easier. I had the wind at my back, the sun was setting over PE only 5km in the distance, and I was so thrilled to be alive and in this position. The 3.30 had long gone but I really wanted to run sub 3.45, and to do so I had to keep up this pace. It became increasingly hard as I neared town, I was breathing hard with a grimace on my face but I got so many shouts of encouragement and high fives as I ran through the crowds. I felt like a superstar. Turn right off the main road and into the finishing chute, Pom Pom girls dancing their stuff and the announcer calling my name as I ran through the finish in 11.22. I screamed as I did so, all that pain suffered on the previous 226km exorcised. What a feeling!
Wow, I got a bit carried away there. The thing is, I put a lot of pressure on myself coming into the race. Coach, you had predicted 10.30 for me which I thought I was better than. I didn’t tell anyone but I was gunning for 10.10, and I feel that bearing in mind the conditions I raced that sort of race. I am so stoked that after six attempts I can finally say that I am happy with my Ironman effort. Bring on Busselton in December and sub10. There, I’ve said it. No pressure now!
The story wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the effect that T2A has had on my life. As one of the older athletes, I have been around a bit, but I can honestly say I have never come across such a positive, inspirational group of people. My life has been enhanced considerably by joining up with you guys and my only wish is that I had done it earlier. But better late than never.
Coach, you have put together something amazing with the team. I followed your schedules and advice to the letter over the last six months and it has had an immediate positive effect. I know you were always looking ahead to Busselton rather than SA, but this race was important for me and I am thrilled with the result.
Finally, to Gazza, Helen, Finn, and Simon, thanks for your support over the past couple of days. It would not have been as much fun without you. And to Wendy, thanks as always for putting up with me. This would not have been possible without your support and encouragement. I know you think you come third behind triathlon and work, but you don’t (most of the time, anyway). I love you.