Ironman South Africa went pretty much as i expected it would. What surprised me was the fact that i was in the thick of the action deep into the run on Sunday afternoon. Like I said in my last blog, the event was very much a last minute opportunity to get a good solid day of swim, bike & run training into my body. Due the circumstances of how kona panned out & the sickness that followed, the team camp in December & then a busy start to the cycling season, i simply hadn't had a chance to do the running volume i need to do to have a solid marathon, especially the back half of a marathon. I'd not ridden my Triathlon bike since Kona so was a little intrigued to see how my hips & back would settle into that position. I usually like to do a 5-6hr ride on this bike weekly in the build up to an IM, just so it's familiar. Throw in the fact that I've been on 5 different continents in the past 5 weeks & i'd say i was more than justified in feeling some uncertainty on how the race would unfold for me. When travelling around the world like that Racing & training there's only so much you can stay ontop of. Unfortunately on this occasion, it was the running volume that was the casualty.
If I'm brutally honest it's the first time the day before the race i was actually afraid of the marathon in the race. Even back in 2021 & 2022 when i had terrible starts to the tri season in the Girona Full Distance event & St George IM, i still started both race thinking i could perform across all 3 disciplines. This was largely due to the fact that while in LA over the previous winters I'd accumulated 4-6 weeks of 100-120km running weeks back to back. This just lays a nice foundation that you can always draw upon during the season which i showed in Copenhagen and also last year in Kona. This year however I wasn't able to do the running block. Instead sine kona I've barely managed 500km in total, let alone in the month of January & February like I normally would. So suffice to say i was faced with a challenge I'd not faced before in an IM before, feeling completely unprepared for the run. I had some positive chats with myself to remind myself that this is merely a fully catered training day. I don't need to try and be a hero & hit it out of the park, just a good day across the board.
I knew the run would hurt my body the most so long as i stayed within myself the entire 42km. Without my usual resilience, the muscles would inevitably breakdown. I was excited to feel this pain as finishing kona feeling like I'd been for a walk in the park really annoyed me, i desperately wanted to hurt myself to remind my legs how they're meant to feel. To do this i knew it was important to measure my effort as best as possible as you do the most damage in that final hour. I didn't want to waste this lack of preparation by running hard early, blowing up, & simply walking most of the last 15km like i had in Girona & St George. I needed to really hurt my running muscles so at the very least from this Ironman I'd get a great training stimulus & improve my running strength as a result. Shock them into shape for the upcoming season if you like. With that all being said i rationalised the positives of going through this exercise, overcame the fear of the inevitable average overall result, & simply couldn't wait to get stuck into the big day of training on Sunday.
Once all assembled on the beach readying for the start some worrying lighting flashed over the ocean in front of us. Inevitably this forced the organisers to shorten the swim for safety reasons which ultimately had a much bigger outcome on the way the race was race than I would've anticipated. Being a erratic swimmer, in that sometimes i swim quite well & sometimes quite poorly, most would think this would suit me. I can categorically confirm it didn't as while I've done a lot of running, i have been consistent with getting into the pool 3-4 times per week & have felt great in the water. Even in the shortened 800m swim i could feel the benefits of this consistent time in the pool & comfortably sat on the feet of the faster swimmers. On the bright side i know I've made a good progression especially with my feel for the water & I'm excited to progress that as i work towards Lanzarote in May. We were back on beach pretty quickly & with a swim of this nature it was obviously a congested bunch of guys heading out on the bike together. I'm always fearful of drafting penalties due to a lack of concentration in traffic so ensured i got to the front ASAP.
Once at the front the race i felt immense satisfaction. Sure this wasn't kona but having felt so worthless the entire day there & not being a factor in the race at all, the feeling of being in front was far more gratifying than I've ever experienced in all my time in the sport. I was so happy with how i'd felt in the water & to be now on the bike feeling equally as comfortable just felt great. As you can expect once i stand on a starting line the idea of a training day quickly went out the window. I wanted to roll up my sleeves & get stuck into the race, get the front & then start figuring out how i can stay in that position all day. Being in lead much earlier than expected thanks to the shortened swim, it was also evident everyone felt much fresher resulting in a much more furious bike pace than normal. I was feeling fantastic however, the best i think I've ever felt on the bike & continued to twist the throttle to open up a gap. Once i had a few seconds on the chasers i was away & went about building a lead for myself. I wasn't getting any splits so had only one opportunity at the turnaround to see where everyone was at. After 40km i had around 1minute on the stronger cyclists & 4 minutes on the main pack. It'd indeed been a perfect start. Again what excited me the most was how good i felt. If I wanted to push i could & i was also able to recover maintaining a good speed. I felt completely in control which has honestly been a couple of years since I've had this feeling, it felt great. This feeling is how i always believed I'd be coming from a bike race. A sharpness in the legs & ease to apply whatever power you want to push. It just felt so good.
Onto the second half of the bike & I decided I'd try to give myself a chance to win this thing. I continued the manage the gap's as they where & start the run as fresh as possible. Feeling this good meant i was able to ride relatively quickly while feeling remarkably fresh, normally a huge advantage when you've got a marathon to still run. On this occasion i knew i didn't have the running legs so i needed save as much energy as possible & hope it'd be enough. Sure, I could've gone for broke on the bike & kept building a on the lead, an approach that would be seen me almost immediately blow up on the run. I was here first & foremost to a good consistent day of exercise & a reality check off where i was across all 3 disciplines. Still running at decent clip deep into the marathon was crucial to this objective. I felt great swimming, I knew my cycling legs where exactly where i wanted them to be, i was excited now to test my running legs against my rivals.
Onto the run i was quickly into a nice rhythm. Without a doubt i was the freshest i think I've ever felt starting a marathon in and Ironman & my optimism grew for a good result. Leon Chavelier had kept me in check on the bike & passed me in the first few km's. He'd go onto win the race & is really evolving in the sport as one of the hardest guys to beat after winning in Majorca in 2021 & was 7th in kona. Still, I didn't let him run away, which, may have been my ultimate undoing in the final 15km. I decided to try to match his pace as i felt great off the bike & in those early stages a 2;45 marathon pace felt very comfortable. After 15km of this i realised I'd bitten off way more than i could chew. 2:45 was my PB for the marathon in an Ironman & as I'd said before i was most definitely not conditioned to run faster than I'd ever run before. Classic case of how i often get my ambitions & capabilities mixed up. Sure enough after only 15km the fatigue really started to hit my unprepared legs. I managed to hold a modest pace until the 25km mark however from there it went downhill rather rapidly.
Bradley Weiss passed me with around 15km remaining dropping me to 3rd & it was here that i really started to fall apart. I tried every trick in the book, walking aid stations, a few stretches here & there, plenty of coke, cooling, ect ect. I've got enough experience to know taking a couple of minutes easy can save your race but on this occasion it was different. I wasn't hungry, I wasn't very thirsty, I wasn't feeling any cramping, I wasn't hot front he heat or humidity. My legs had simply broken down from the effort of the day & it was everything i had just to keep them ticking over. I remember thinking around 10km to go that i wish i could do a set of squats in the gym, i just needed some strength, my legs needed to be rebuilt from the damage i'd done to them. Still, i was actually quite content with myself as this was the exact feeling i wanted, I wanted to feel broken, I wanted my body to know it had to harden up, teach myself a lesson for neglecting my running the last 5 months. I realise i find interesting ways to punish myself but i had to get as much out of the day as i could. The biggest focus for me in the final 10km was to continue running & not give up to the dreaded walking. I knew to inflict the most damage on myself & force the most benefits in rebuilding post race, i had to find a way to continue running. It hurt so much every time my feet hit the ground & i tried to lift one up again. Fortunately my nutrition, hydration, heat stress, where all in good order so had energy to apply to keeping jogging, all be it very slowly, & not succumb to walking.
Inside the last 10km Mathias Pietersen breezed passed & i slipped off the podium into 4th. I'd slide one place further when Rasmus Svenningsson barrelled by a few kms later to demote me to my final finishing position of 5th. I tried so hard to react when both guys ran past me but I simply couldn't. The muscle damage was crippling & i only got slower and slower until i barely reached the finish line. Once across the line i'd normally be thinking what could've been when you've been leading most of the day, in a podium position until the final km's on the run but not on this occasion. I was incredibly satisfied as i could barely walk. I can't remember ever getting the line with so much muscle soreness, it felt absolutely amazing. Fitness wise I'd shown myself that was capable of carpeting at the front again. Run conditioning wise i knew going into the race i was extremely vulnerable & that proved to be the case. Despite managing myself as best as i could on the day & never starting a run feeling fresher, I simply didn't have the run legs. The good news is I know what needs the most amount of attention as i work towards Lanzarote.
The last couple of days have been as uncomfortable as I'd envisioned they'd be. I've absolutely dreaded having to sit down to do a poop each morning knowing that somehow I'll have to try and standup once I'm finished. I've never appreciated elevators & escalators so much, I'd normally pride myself on taking the stairs. I'm immensely satisfied with how the race panned out overall as my goal of inflicting maximum pain into my running legs was executed nicely. I was desperate to experience this for a couple of reasons, firstly, remind myself what it feels like to hurt in the marathon, & secondly, remind myself of how much it hurts when you don't do the required preparation, excellent motivation for my training for the remainder of the season to not feel like this again. In the future the only way i want to hurt like this is when i run really fast & to do that you need to be conditioned! Otherwise you hurt like hell & run slow, that's simply a lack of conditioning! I've honestly never felt more confident of my ability to get to the level i desire in triathlon than i do following my experience in Ironman South Africa. I feel like I've laid some excellent foundations & now i simply have to do the easy part, increase the volume, & work my backside off in training! It feels great to have my season underway on both the bike & in my swim, bike, & run sport!
As always, thanks for reading
P.s. for the number crunchers who follow me my data from South Africa
Ave Speed: 43:0
Power ave: 315 watts
Heart rate ave: 143
Elevation Gain: 1415m
Heart Rate Ave: 155