IRONMAN South Africa was a humbling one for me, not only as an athlete but also as a coach. I made rookie mistakes that will make you cringe and suffered at the back of the pack. BUT, I am writing this one up as an experience that will make me a better coach. Why you might ask? Well, how can I tell my athletes what to expect and what they might experience if I have not experienced it myself

  1. Never underestimate the race:

My first 140.6 in South Africa was amazing. The weather was perfect, the plan went well and I finished strong and well in time. In my mind I was hoping for the same. I have done this before and I know the course, so just keep going.

This year? Well, things went belly up really quickly. With my injury I was never aiming to beat my 5:30 marathon time (I fell three weeks before race day and injured some ligaments in my ankle). But I did think about it a lot. I had no pain and treated my foot better than my husband the last three weeks and it really felt good. My mantra was smash the swim and smash the bike and then handle the run. That did not go really well in the end…

  1. The swim:

The ocean was insane. It felt like swimming in a washing machine. I got sick, twice. They wanted to pull me out and I said no and forced myself to finish. When I looked at the clock on the beach the time was 1:53. A personal worst. The swell suddenly turned and I struggled the last 800m. Not only did the swell throw me around, the fumes from the jet ski’s and motorboats were overpowering and really did not help the nausea.

  1. Transition 1:

So the plan was to get my foot strapped in T1 so it had support on the bike. I could not swim with my brace and was saving it for the run. Being disoriented from the washing machine swim I had my bike bag in my hand, dumped the contents on the ground and just stared at the contents, trying to figure out what to do next. Finally got it together and got my stuff going. Went to the physio tent, got strapped and ran into a very empty bike park.

  1. Bike:

Checked my watch and boom…my HR monitor was not picking up my HR. I need to see my HR to know my zones and if I am pushing too hard or not hard enough. So 3km into the bike, I stopped my watch and had to start it again. Still no HR, so I decided to just go and see what happens. It did pick it up when I stopped at the first aid station for water.

This was the fun part. I just flew down the course. Couldn’t eat for about 30 min because I was still feeling nauseous, but I managed to stuff the gels and food that was in my transition bag into my trisuit, so at least I had more than enough food. At km 60 I started to feel very uncomfortable in the shoulders. Really a sharp pain in the right side. Couldn’t figure it out until I got up out of the saddle to pass an athlete and realized my knee bumped into my tri bar pad. It had loosened somehow on the bumpy road and dropped. I could not get it back in position and knew I had to stop. I kept going until I found the bike maintenance station where they took about 5-6 min to fix it. I wanted to go on without stopping but it would have been a very long and uncomfortable 120km and I knew the run was still coming. So 5 min is a small price to pay for much less pain on the ride. From there the bike went great and I managed to knock 30 min of my time.

  1. Transition 2

FINALLY!! I ran into a very full bike park… got my bag. Brace on and off I went. Mentally I knew this was going to be the tough one.

  1. The Run:

Boy, was it hard. 4 loops of 10.55km. First two went really well. Foot held up and I could keep up a relatively good pace. Plan was to run from aid station to aid station (about 2km apart) and then walk through the aid station and then running again. Last half of loop 3 my feet and body was so tired. After my injuries the past three months (yes, the fall was nr 3), I could not do much running, I basically ran my last long run in February this year before the proverbial poo hit the fan. So my body and feet were not used to running this long. The mind was willing but my body was not. So I walked. The strapping they gave me in transition was white plaster for which I am very allergic. Being stupid from the washing machine swim, it did not register with me and on the run my skin was on fire. (Horrible eczema to follow shortly). So while I walked I had company from a random drunkish dude running barefoot next to me for 4 km (yes, I was walking that fast). Athletes were less and less and we were about 20-30 people still out on the course.

Friend and family kept telling me to keep going. And I kept going. I trained too hard and long for this. I spent hours away from my husband, sacrificed dinners, parties, sleeping in on Saturday mornings and Sunday mornings. Okay, basically every morning.

Every athlete and spectator I passed told me to keep moving forward, I am doing good and I will make it. Then TV crew stopped me (that was pretty freaking cool, right? And then it was 200m for the finish and I broke into a run. The red carpet was ALL MINE!!!

This is all good and well, I am an IRONMAN again, but it means nothing to me if I did not learn from this. I need to share with you some thoughts I had on my swim, bike and run/walk, because you will probably have them too.

Swim thoughts:

  1. I want to stop
  2. I am going to die in the ocean
  3. Here comes breakfast
  4. Keep going. Don’t stop.
  5. I am never going to do this again
  6. One stroke, breathe. One stroke, breathe
  7. Screw the time. Just reach the beach.
  8. Well that sucked.

Bike thoughts

  1. Photographer, suck in stomach and smile
  2. Is my helmet skew
  3. What is my HR
  4. Screw my HR
  5. Calf, don’t you think about cramping you little bitch.
  6. I need to use the loo, will I have time?
  7. Last 15km, GO GO GO!

 Run thoughts:

  1. Just get to that light, just get to that pole.
  2. I am never doing this again.
  3. This was a bad idea.
  4. Keep going.
  5. My feet hurts.
  6. Live TV. Yikes? I hope I don’t have GU stains round my mouth, since my hair looks horrible anyway.
  7. 200m to go.
  8. RED CARPET!!!!
  9. YES, I made it.
  10. Daniela Ryf is so pretty in real life (Got my medal from her)
  11. When are entries opening next year?

The biggest lesson I learned was to never underestimate a race again. It does not matter how well you know the course. Weather and Lady Luck will make you humble again. Respect the course and it will give you the ride of your life. Underestimate it and it will bring you to your knees.