Moving to the United States of America at the beginning of February brought more challenges to my training than I thought. The biggest challenge that I faced was training on my own. I was not looking for a training partner/partners to train with on a daily basis, but for company when the going got tough… and boy did it get rough at stages emotionally!
Looking back at the past 6 months, it may have been a blessing that I trained every session solo. The build up to my race was not smooth. Searching for biking routes, running routes, training partners and events locally was challenging but that’s what makes this sport great, I went out and found a way. I had a great help from Sandy Arens (host mom in America) which I am so thankful for as she only had my best interests at heart leading up to the race.
Before I knew it, race weekend was upon me and I was feeling very confident and relaxed. I had no pressure going into this race and it felt great being the only South African in the field. I arrived at the race village for registration, checked in and went to race briefing which was an absolute joke. Once I had a look at transition and the expo, I headed off to my hotel to relax and sort my stuff out which was 30 miles away. Once arriving at the hotel, I spend a good part of an hour trying to decided where I should stick my race number on my bike… Sounds stupid but I did! There were no rules as to where is must be stuck or if you could alter your number. I decided to wait until I could check in to ask an official so that I had no chance of being disqualified. To my surprise, no one had a clue as to where you “should” stick the number. All that I was told is it must be visible for race referees. You can only imagine where some people put their numbers – handlebars, bottle cages, aero bottles etc. This was strange for me as all the other ironman races I have done were really strict with numbers/altering etc and such a small mistake could cost you your race. Body marking was also interesting as I was wearing a sleeved tri suit but the officials insisted I get my shoulders marked with my race number. They could not give me a reason other than its a rule even after I told them they will not see it in all three disciplines. Common sense is not so common I guess… Bike check in was optional and not controlled well at all. I walked into bike transition with no helmet and had no official check anything on my bike.
At this stage before the race, I had a good feel as to how the race would pan out from an organizational point of view and my biggest worry was drafting on the bike with no referees… If they can’t get something basic like bike check in done right, i could not expect to much out on the course. Anyway, I kept calm throughout the day and headed back to the hotel to relax and get ready for race day.
I woke up feeling great and was in high spirits before I headed off to transition to finalize everything. During my bike prep, the announcer broke the news, NO wetsuits allowed. Many people started to panic and there was plenty confusion. I did not have a speed suit with me and all I thought to myself was, most of us will be in the same boat, swimming in a tri suit. After my warm up I headed to the start line and waited as I was in wave 5. As I watched the first 4 waves take off, I quickly realized that this swim was going to be carnage as I had roughly 600/700 swimmer ahead of me. About 3 minutes before my wave took off, a referee came over to me and told me I may not be able to start as my tri suit is not “legal”. I told him it’s made by a reputable company and plenty of professionals wear it so he should leave me alone before he loses a few teeth. Seriously, not the time to approach any athlete especially when you have no clue what you talking about. Also, not smart of me to speak to a referee like that but I feel he could have taken my race number down and got the correct people to check my suit out after the race.
The horn went off and I took off like a rocket. As quickly as I took off, I met my first group of swimmers from the previous wave. Being hit, kicked, scratched, sworn at and swimming into various groups of social “tea parties” was not what I expected but none the less I ended up swimming just over 2.1km as I tried my best to avoid everyone. I swam 28 minutes which is a little slow for me but I didn’t let it bother me and I carried on into T1 with cramping legs. I had fairly good transition with my heart rate going through the roof. I got onto my bike, strapped my shoes, shifted my ball bag a few times and put the hammer down. The first 55 minutes of my bike leg was not pleasant. I struggled to get into a rhythm but I was pushing decent watts which was a positive. At about the hour mark my legs started to wake up and I flew past a good few guy/girls until I met the drafting queens of the race. When I say drafting queens, I mean it. 12 losers sucking each other’s wheels like they were in a team time trial. I was stuck with these losers for a while as they worked together every time I tried to break away. They would sling shot me on purpose and slow down which was very frustrating and that definitely affected my watts for a good 45min. Having seen just two referees on the bike leg, I had no option but to try drop these losers on my own as the last thing I wanted was to be carded for drafting. At 10 miles to go, I attempted one last shot to break away and I was successful. It felt good to finally be on my own and I got in the last of my nutrition as it was getting extremely hot. Into T2 I went and I was feeling pretty good at this stage.
My transition went smoothly and I was on the final leg of the race, my weakest discipline. I had no clue what the run course was like and boy was I in for surprise! My legs felt good coming off the bike but I could feel the heat and humidity was going to be a huge factor for the rest of the race. Just as I got into a good rhythm, we hit our first hill which was about a mile, followed by some flats, some more inclines, very few declines and a nasty hill the was about 200/300m long with a steep gradient which we had to run twice on the course. The run was extremely challenging in the blistering heat and humidity, with very few watering points which was a huge negative. I found myself searching for water stations which means I was dehydrating at a rapid rate. The last 2 miles of the run was the toughest, it was extremely hot and I had blown. I tried my best to keep it together and I fought right to the end. I crossed the line and headed straight to the medical tent. They sorted me out, cooled me down and then I checked my result. I was was happy that I had broken 4h30min and I had run a PB on that tough course in the heat.
Reflecting on the race, I definitely gave 100% and even though I missed a podium by 17 seconds, I learnt plenty about myself and I am looking forward to my next race. I am excited to work on my weaknesses which is not going to be easy, but it will be worth it when I stand on the podium one day. To the man who guides me, inspires me, motivates me and coaches me, Raynard you are a legend. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I look forward to many years of success and continuous guidance from you. To my Team Tissink teammates and others that have followed me, motivated me and kept in contact, thank you. It’s not easy being far but hopefully we will cross paths again soon. For now it’s back to the drawing board. Gareth