This is YOUR moment.

Here it is, the day before an Ironman. YOUR Ironman!  Literally hours to go before you find yourself on the beach, the journey to the red carpet stretched out in front of you. I am green with envy, I know exactly how you are feeling right now and I wish I was lining up on the start line tomorrow. But I’m not. YOU are!

So…I will be watching you. Make me proud. Tomorrow is YOUR day. It’s what you’ve trained for, sweated for, sacrificed for. It’s all come to this, this space in time. Realize what a wonderful privilege lies in front of you. Only a minuscule number of people ever get to do what you are about to. Feel the goosebumps, that ball of nerves in your stomach, the dry feeling in your mouth. The quickening heart beat, and the tension in your body.  This. is. it.

You are ready.

the Red Carpet, waiting for YOU!

the Red Carpet, waiting for YOU!

I wish you the day of your dreams tomorrow. May your goals be achieved, your aspirations reached. May you find courage, perseverance, and may your true character be revealed. Dig deep.

Above all else have fun, savour every moment, and do your best. Because your best is all you can expect from yourself. Rock it tomorrow, and don’t you dare give up! Seize the race by the balls!

Because…

YOU are about to become….AN IRONMAN!

Good Luck

Richard 🙂

medal1The year was 2011, and I had entered IronmanSouthAfrica with the hopes of winning my age category. Fate changed that. Fate also taught me about another Ironman, one I never knew existed.

4 Weeks before race day, I decided to scratch due to a foot injury. However, a chance phone call to my CEO’s PA changed that decision. You see, the CEO was competing in his first ever Ironman, and in passing conversation it emerged that she was very concerned about him finishing. The two of us decided upon a win/win solution. I would get to earn another Ironman medal without the pressure of competing on an injury, and Andrew would get a seasoned veteran of the race to hold his hand as it were, and make sure that we got to the finish line in one piece. A quick call to a very happy Andrew, and the deal was sealed. “It’s going to be slow, I’m very under-cooked” he said. “I’m counting on it” was my reply.

Let me say this; how an incredibly busy, hands-on CEO of an international Real Estate company, who is on and off planes,  in and out of meetings, who makes time for a busy family, and yet still manages to fit in any training for an Ironman event is beyond me. An average day that starts at 4am, and ends at 11pm is not the ideal format for success on an Ironman course. Particularly for a man who did none of the 3 disciplines before the 20 odd months prior to the race. Yet Andrew did, and still does it, and has the drive to match. Respect. I know we all struggle to fit in the required training, but I think that for some it is just WAY harder. Its no secret that Ironman success is predominately about how much time you have to train. Sure, talent plays a part, but many of the top age groupers are successful because they don’t have a full time job, or they have a job that allows them time to train. They also have time for the important discipline called rest.

0019_01287My run up to the race was extremely different to any other I have done. No worries about distance, speed work, taper, diet, nor anything else. No pressure at all. I was 4kg heavier than usual, and in much worse condition. It was pretty cool to listen to some of the serious athletes and giggle at their replies to the prediction question. There are not many who you speak to the week before who will admit they are going for a win or a podium. They are full of excuses before the race even starts, and they are ‘just doing it’ not actually ‘racing’. I learned some lessons there, because it sounded all too familiar. The registration was fun, I was smiling and joking and already experiencing a vibe unlike any I’d felt before. To anyone who asked for my predictions I said I was hoping to break 15 hours, knowing that they were looking at me through the same eyes I had looked at the above mentioned ‘tjops’  🙂

Bike racking was bliss. Very little to do. I planned to have one juice bottle on my bike and no other nutrition. I figured that for the first time in my triathlon career I would  make sole use of what was provided along the course.

The plan was to meet Andrew on the side of the swim start. Whose stupid idea was that anyway? 2000 Athletes all with caps and goggles on and wearing wet-suits. Errm, maybe I had been a little lackadaisical. The cannon boomed and the wave surged forward. Well actually at the back it’s more of a creep than a surge. I reckoned I would let all the athletes pass me as I turned and faced them, hoping to spot Andrew. No Andrew. New plan needed. I felt a little panic creep in.

I decided that I would sprint the first lap of the swim to attempt to gain ground (or is that water?), and then I would wait on the beach and hopefully see Andrew as he ran back into the water for the second lap. I wasn’t prepared for the solid wall of swimmers that I now needed to swim through. I was so accustomed to 3 or 4 deep around the bouys, and a resulting quick turn. What I had to negotiate around the bouys was a pack of swimmers 30 to 40 deep. I made the decision to swim right on the outside of the wave so as to avoid any resistance. I looked at my stopwatch as I ran out of the water onto the beach for the first time, 28 minutes. I had gained a lot of water, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be in front of me. When I reached the water’s edge again to re-enter, I stopped and turned around to see all the athletes coming past, waiting for Andrew. To say the reaction from the crowd on the beach was comical was an understatement. People screamed at me to go, as if I might not realize I still had another lap. Others were very concerned and asked if I was OK. Some who recognized me asked what the hell I was doing. I explained that I was looking for Andrew, and described his wet suit. Before long I had the crowd playing along. Shouting “is that Andrew?”, at every man in a black wet-suit who looked vaguely similar to my description of Andrew.  15 Minutes waiting felt like an age. I was incredibly relieved when I saw Andrew run towards me, and judging by the look on his face, so was he. But he was bang on target to his predictions. Good man!

We set off for the second lap. For the first time I got to feel what it’s like to be a part of a mass participation event as a part of the real race. And by ‘real’ I mean the average participant who makes up the race. This is what an Ironman is about. Nobody jostling for position, nobody pulling at my ankles, nobody trying to beat me to the bouy. Just a whole shoal of swimmers with a common goal. Move forward. Together.

Swimming backstroke, taking in the views, actually feeling the water and the sea swells, and concentrating on everybody else’s movement and not my own was an amazing experience. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was watching the race from within the race. What an incredible gift. I think I smiled the whole day.

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And just like that, 3.8km of swimming was over and we were walking through the showers and into the transition. Time to take it all in, fabulous. I seem to remember that we were in the transition for more than 15 minutes. Andrew had packed for any and all eventuality. He emerged after a bathroom break in a complete change of clothing, smothered in sunscreen, and with enough nutrition to feed a small triathlon team. I got to sit and watch, to engage with other athletes and feel their trepidation for the cycle leg. The camaraderie was truly something special. I marveled at how prepared Andrew was. He had left nothing to chance. A very good way to approach your novice Ironman. Time is not the objective.

We set off at a conservative pace, maybe still a little too fast. I had forsaken my ‘sperm’ helmet for my normal one, and felt more like a spectator in the race than an athlete. Conscious of drafting regulations and a penalty for Andrew, I spent the cycle moving around him and staying as close as I dared, making sure he gained no advantage from my slipstream on the odd occasion I found myself in front of him. I had decided that I would help as much as possible without aiding him physically at all. He was going to earn his medal all by himself. The way it should be.

For those who are not familiar with the front of the race, here is some insight:

The average top 100 competitor spends 8-10 Hours on the course without uttering a single word to another  athlete. No smiles, no acknowledgements. No thank you’s. Should you greet them, say hi, ask how they’re doing or give some encouragement, the result…you might as well not exist. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m just different,perhaps not competitive enough, but for me, engaging with others assists me. My Ironman PB is a 9:17 and 16th position overall. I engaged the whole time during that race, as much as I could. It makes the race go by faster, and the experience is shared.

What I experienced that day with Andrew was very very different. The back three quarters of the race is an antithesis to the first quarter. Its simply the best! Everyone engages, shares jokes, shares stories, regales ailments. Andrew frequently told me to get lost, “go and talk to that lady there” he’d say. He needed some alone time, time to focus and cope. And so I did. I made a lot of friends that day. And I had a lot of fun.

On the second lap I noticed I was no longer telling him to back off the pace. We stopped at water points and got off our bikes. I ate bananas, energy bars, gels, sarmies, whatever was offered to me. And the whole time Andrew cycled on, the pace rarely changing, a solid steady average.  Me yelling out “time to drink” every 30 minutes, and passing on some advice on cadence, pace, gear changes and bike position. But by 150km it was clear that Andrew was taking major strain. The talk subsided substantially, I backed off and made some more friends, all the while watching as he gritted his teeth and pushed on.

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Not a moment too soon, and we were sitting in T2. Andrew looked at me, his face ashen, and his voice subdued, “I can’t run” he said, “my legs are finished”.

“No problem” I answered, “then we will walk until they come back”. “No way they will, we are going to have to walk the marathon. Do you think we have enough time?” said Andrew. I just grinned and replied, “oh yes they will, sooner than you think”

We set off at a walk, and not a fast walk either. 10 Minutes later we tried the first slow jog. I suggested just a minute. Next came 2 minutes, then three. Andrew started smiling a little. For most of the run we averaged a 5-10 minute run with a 2-5 minute walk in between. A steady rhythm. I talked a lot to Andrew that day. We discussed many things (well actually I discussed and he grunted) It proved to be the longest job interview in history. I started a new position at the company the month after Ironman. I learned that day that if your CEO can’t physically talk back, your chances of getting what you want are far higher 😉

I had started the run with both a cap and sunglasses. It’s what I was used to. I dumped them after the first lap. Neither were needed. It was already getting dark. I was excited to use those glow-sticks I’d always seen but never been given. Andrew pushed on with the tenacity of a man determined to reach the red carpet no matter what. I saw Andrew delve deep, deep into that dark place. That place every Ironman athlete gets to know, and of which we speak little. That place that reveals character. And that day I witnessed the character that made it obvious to me how this man had achieved extraordinary successes in all facets of his life. With every step it became more and more of a privilege for me to be sharing this journey. This maiden Ironman voyage.

Each timing mat that we crossed became a small victory. A little signal to all those following our progress. We are getting closer. We are nearing our goal. I made sure Andrew crossed each one in front of me. This was his race, not mine.

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The last lap of the run was agony for Andrew. I admired his perseverance  We had said nothing about a projected time, and had decided to take the day as it unfolded. What would be, would be. But for the first time, and with 10km to go, we worked out splits and I said what was on both of our minds. “If we keep going at this pace we will definitely break 15 hours”. I saw Andrew’s jaw tighten, resolve accumulating, and he broke into a jog again. I was grateful I’d decided to run in normal training shoes. Not racing flats. My legs hurt. I ran on ahead from time to time, or back along the route to chat with athletes I knew. I needed to stretch my legs out a bit. But that was the only pain I felt on the day. I guess that’s what made it so enjoyable for me. Andrew was telling me how grateful he was to me for sacrificing my day for him. I tried to impress upon him how grateful I was to him for allowing me to share in his day. True synergy. I didn’t need to push him much, he pushed himself. All he needed was encouragement and some guidance.

The last lonely leg behind the university stretched before us. Even the ‘run one lamppost, walk two’, became a massive effort. At times the only sounds were our shoes on the tarred road. The crowds had thinned, but those who remained yelled encouragement. The friends we’d made had either fallen back or had surged ahead. The loud Canadian, Brent, who had given us many laughs and who had been with us for a big portion of the run had stopped a while back to recover. And then we saw the lights from the finish line….

0019_39568I looked at Andrew’s face. The pain that had been etched there had disappeared, his jawline softened, his eyes lit up. And the next moment we were running, yes running, down the red carpet. Andrew’s daughter running next to him. We were celebrating! He beat me, by a second. An important second.

I heard Paul Kaye on the mic, Welcoming Andrew by name…YOU…ARE…AN..IRONMAAAAAN!!! A high-five, a hug from Andrew, and eyes that said everything they needed to say.

And then Andrew’s wife was hugging me over the fence, her tears of relief and gratitude mixing with the sweat on my cheek. That is what an Ironman is about. It’s a shared journey.

Its not always about time, 14:43 with an average heart rate of 109 beats per minute for the race. No, it wasn’t about that, for once not about the numbers. The athletes that deserve the greatest amount of respect are those like Andrew, one of the 1500 or so athletes like him that day. It was a long day. A hard day. They overcame huge obstacles to cross the finish line.

It was about a finisher’s medal I count as one of my proudest memories. A friend who gave me a reciprocal gift.  A day nobody can ever take away. A mutual bond that is commonly understood. Respect for a man who dug as deep as any can. My CEO.

It is no secret that in helping another we receive. I was a blessed recipient that day.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, I hope you enjoyed the read. If so, please share it using the link below. Comment and engage with me. You can also find me on twitter @thewrightrich. Good luck and happy racing 🙂

Ironman, the shared experience.

How to race Ironman South Africa

gallery32Whether you are aiming for your first finisher’s medal, a PB (Personal Best), or an age-group podium place, I can guarantee that an ironman event will both test you and stretch you to your limits. The hardships that you face on race day will reveal your character, of that I have no doubt.

The objective is to try and make it as easy as possible and more importantly, as enjoyable as possible. If that appeals to you…read further.

The months of; hard work, sparrow’s-fart alarm calls, sacrifices, injuries, family disowning’s, enough supplements to fuel a Russian weightlifting team, and many many kilometers of training are over. You arrive in Port Elizabeth feeling bloated, heavy and Michelin-man-like due to at least a week’s worth of taper. Your stomach is a mess from nerves, and you feel on edge at best. Arriving at the expo and registration area is an exercise in fear all on it’s own. A glance in any and every direction leaves you feeling that there are literally hundreds of athletes who are in way better condition than you are, and with way better equipment than you have. Your personal predictions for the day disintegrate.

The most fearsome looking are the bling bling okes from Joburg, with their impressively even and orange spray-on tans, their bling bling botoxed wives, and their bling bling bikes on which they’ve dropped at least R70 kay (and that’s not even including their latest aero wheels, helmets and other kit).  They parade around in their compression socks, supplement bottles in hand, with Donald Trump-esk attitude. Let me tell you a secret, even the pro’s are envious of their kit. And then you see it…that same look in the eyes that you’ve seen in your mirror. That same fear and apprehension. And suddenly you realize right there that behind all the kit, each one of you is kit-less, and at the mercy of this thing called IRONMAN.  A fancy bike and a spray-tan won’t get you around the course.

The cannon fires!

Hobie Beach, ready to rock ‘n roll

So, try not to focus on everybody. I have trained and prepared for top 20 finishes in years gone by, and have arrived at registration, taken one look around, and convinced myself that I wont even make the top 100 athletes. Yet every time, as the race unfolds and the hours go by, there are fewer and fewer athletes in front of me. The race is about YOU, nobody else! Don’t let anybody psych you out. Race against yourself and your heart rate.

Don’t buy anything new at the expo that you intend to use on race day. Now is not the time for new, light, racing flats, new nutrition, or untried kit. Stick to your game plan. If you haven’t swum at Hobie beach before, attend one of the pre-race swim sessions. Use the opportunity to sight past the buoys. On race day its often hard to see them.  Find a landmark on the horizon that will help. I use a crane in the harbour, and a hotel on land.  The weather is the favored topic of conversation. You will be told how last year’s weather was the worst that any ironman in the history of ironman has ever experienced. Despite the fact that it might well be true, that’s not the point. The only way of knowing what the weather will dish up will be to open your curtains on race day.  And then notwithstanding your best endeavors, you cannot change it! In other words, those conversations are futile and will only make you nervous.

Friday is the night you want to get to bed early and get as much sleep as possible. On Saturday you will be lucky to sleep much at all (and that’s OK). Stay out of the sun, and keep your legs up. Drink lots to make sure you’re well hydrated. The bike check in is a great opportunity to practice the transitions and make sure you are well acquainted with the routes you will follow and where everything is situated.  Play out the race in your head and walk through the sequences imagining you are in the race. Eat light, easily digestible food on Saturday night. Nothing that is likely to upset your stomach nor leave you feeling heavy. Try to appreciate the support of those who have dedicated their lives over the past year to putting up with your; tiredness, hyperglycemic moods, expensive kit obsession, mountains of dirty, sweaty tri-clothing, and cupboards-full of bottles, lotions, potions, and every herbal remedy known to mankind. Oh, and then there’s your absence in their lives. So be nice, you will need them along the side of the road! Don’t forget to thank them when you cross the finish line. I have found that the sooner you reward their backing with expensive gifts, the more likely you will be allowed to start training for the next one.

Race day dawns. You feel wired, and amped, and petrified, and excited, and exhilarated all at once. Eat whatever you’ve practiced on. I like oats with honey, it works for me. Off to the start, and the pre-race ritual of putting the bottles on your bike, checking the transition bags, making sure your tyres are hard and the bike is in the right gear, and then make sure you’ve lubed under your wetsuit. Put your timing chip under the wetsuit to make sure that it doesn’t get yanked off, and your goggles under your cap for the same reason. I always go to the warm up beach, swim about a bit, and get lots of water in my wetsuit to make it fit properly. Sort out your goggles, a quick pee in your wetsuit, and then you’re ready to go! A hasty gel washed down with a carbo drink does the trick for me on the way into the start pen.

The very worst part of the race is the 10 minutes before the start; your stomach is in your throat, the drummers beat an emotional and nerve-shattering rhythm on the beach, the helicopters clatter above the sea, thousands of wetsuit-clad athletes push up close together, and the final prayer is delivered as if you are receiving your last rites. It is a short instant in your existence that is life-changing and one you’ll never forget. But the moment the cannon on the beach fires, your body jolts into action, the adrenalin powers through your veins and your thoughts focus on the task at hand. Get to the finish line.

20x30-PESA0065I start on the side of the wave, for me it’s always on the right, as I breathe to the left and like to sight over the swimmers. It keeps me straight. I break the race into segments. I swim as if I am only swimming one lap of the swim, it’s all I focus on. The race is far to long to see it as a whole. By breaking it down you are creating easier goals and milestones. If the swim is your nemesis, you might consider swimming from bouy to bouy. Just till the next one…just till the next one, and so on.

Expect to lose your breath in the 300m sprint for open water and the first bouy. It happens to the best athletes. As soon as you can, try to block out all the movement around you and focus on the length of your stroke, and on breathing comfortably. Its going to be a very long day. Start slowly! The swim is your warm up, in the greater scheme of the race it’s practically a non-event, approach it that way.

“Hold back until you see the red carpet.”

Out of the water and up onto the beach after the first lap. It’s your first opportunity to experience the crowds that PE is famous for. I have never experienced such support and encouragement in any race anywhere. Soak it up at any opportunity during the race. Smile lots, you’d be amazed how a smile makes your entire body relax. It takes the pressure off. Try it, you won’t regret it, I promise. Try also to acknowledge the helpers, the traffic officers, and the marshals. Firstly it feels good, and secondly you wouldn’t be racing if it were not for them.

The second lap is fabulous, the wonderful feeling of  ‘this is the last time I am swimming to that bouy’ etc. Before you know it, you’re onto the beach again and through the showers. Use them to get the salt water off your face, and use the water troughs to get the sand off your feet. The transition tent is a hive of frenetic activity, allow the helpers to help, and take your time to get it right. Loads of block out cream, and I even put on thin socks for the cycle. Comfort over speed, 180km is a long ride in any book. A race belt for the race number is a must.

Onto the bike, and the real race begins. The first lap is always pretty cool. The route is fresh for you, the road is reasonably clear of other athletes, and your legs are feeling good. And the inevitable happens, you start to push harder than you should. Places are jostled and the ego takes over. Bad mistake. How do I know, because I’ve done it! I will say it over and over, the race is about YOU! Nobody else. It doesn’t matter whom you pass or who passes you. An ironman is about how fresh your legs can feel after 180km of cycling. Fact! Break the bike segment into 3 laps of 60km, and try for a negative split. In other words, aim to make your last lap the fastest. Chances are it won’t happen, but it will ensure that you don’t cook too soon. I always race purely on heart-rate. I ignore my average speed, and set my cycling computer on time which I use for nutrition purposes. My whole day is controlled in 30 minutes sections.

20x30-PEBE1318Ride the first 10km easy, pour fresh water over your trisuit, get rid of the salt water and allow your heart-rate to come down a little.  If there is wind in the day, don’t fight it. Choose a gear at least two easier than you would normally use, and save your legs. Any time you lose you will more than make up with the wind behind you. Resist the urge to  power into the wind. Take it easy going up Walmer and into Buffelsfontein, it’s a steady grind. Over the top and the first opportunity to relax the legs a little. Change your position on the bike frequently. Most importantly, try to relax your body as much as possible.  I stretch out my legs on the bike often too.

Now, here’s the truth about an ironman, any ironman. There is no such thing as a perfect race and an event-less day. Something somewhere is going to go wrong. A cramp, nausea, mechanical issues, nutrition issues, muscle problems, blisters, the list is pretty long. And the race plays no favorites, it happens to the best of the pro’s and the slowest of the slow. How you finish the race will depend on how you approach these hiccups. The positive thing is that the race is long enough for you to recover from most ailments and setbacks. Back off, sort it out if you can, and start off slowly again. Walk if you need to. The human body’s ability and propensity to recover is truly remarkable. I have felt at my absolute worst three quarters of the way through an ironman, and 30 minutes later have felt my best, and have had the best finish.

Prepare yourself mentally for the middle lap of the ride, its the hardest. Your legs are starting to feel it a little and the race is beginning to feel like an ironman. Mentally its hard because you know you still have another lap to go. Do not get caught up in your position within the race, ride your own pace, and decide that pace based on how you are feeling. Above all else, stick to your nutrition plan. The conditions on the day will often dictate a certain amount of your intake. Be flexible, but only for a good reason. The last lap of the ride is bitter sweet. You’re celebrating the last time you pass each milestone, but you’ve also had enough of the bike, your ass is screaming at you, and you cannot wait to hit T2. 10 – 15 km before the transition of the third lap, back off completely, spin the legs out a bit but be careful not to cramp. Sit up and stretch your back. Mentally start to get ready for the last segment of the race. Picture the transition area and what you will need to take on the run with you.

Copy of IMSA.run

I like to put on fresh socks for the run, grab clean sunglasses, a peak, some nutrition, and off I go. Once again, break the run into segments, bite sized chunks. Start the first 3 to 4km very conservatively. You know your legs will feel like tree stumps, and because you can’t really feel them you inadvertently think you’re Mo Farah. Don’t do it, it’s a recipe for the ‘early walk syndrome’ or the, “it feels like a little man jumped out of the bushes and fired both barrels of his shotgun at me syndrome”. Neither are ideal, so give your legs time to  recover from the bike. If your plan is to walk early, stick to the plan. Very importantly, the earlier you can back off when you start to hit the wall (or one of the many that seem characteristic of an Ironman), the better, and the greater your chances of recovering again. Stick to your nutrition plan, and try to keep your heart rate as low as possible. Don’t forget to smile. Engage with the crowds (they tend to start thinning a little as the sun sets, so make use of them) and if you can, high five the kids. It takes your mind off the hurtbox you’re trapped in. The fact that your name is printed on your race number is a wonderful thing and allows for people to engage with you. I will admit to folding it over at times when I am too shattered to want to engage though.

Lap 2 of the run is hardest part of the race. Especially the long lonely section around the back of the university sports fields and back past Humewood Golf Course. Its dead quiet, horribly flat, and seems to last forever. Count lampposts if you have to. Walk one, run two. If your running shoes do not have drainage holes in the soles be careful not to pour too much water over your legs. A build up of water in your shoes is a recipe for blister hell.

Lap 3 is fantastic just because its the last section of the entire race. Everything hurts like hell however, your sense of humour has gone AWOL, and you feel like you will do anything to make the pain stop. But you knew it was coming, and you start chanting your personal mantra under your breath to take your mind off your present condition. Mine is, ‘I’m strong, feeling good’, repeated over and over again. And it truly works for me. I repeat it in rhythm to my breathing and cadence. Now the water points appear on the horizon like a distant oasis, each one taking longer to reach than the last, even sweating is an effort, and at times you feel you’ve run out of sweat. You’ve run out of pretty much everything. You cannot stomach the thought of another gel. You suddenly realize that the orange, broken looking bling bling dude you just passed only has 2 bands around his wrist, and you have 3. You resist the urge to say something only because it’s too much effort.

medal1Then, you see the lollipop! That godsend little lighthouse that signals the last 2.5km of the day. The smile is back, relief etched across your sweat stained face. The emotion starts welling up inside you, the pain subsides slightly, and your pace (even your stumble/drag/walk) increases fractionally. The music from the finish line beckons, getting louder and louder.

There are simply no words that can adequately describe the feeling of reaching the red carpet, hearing the voices on ironman; Paul Kaye and Mike Finch, booming through the speakers.

Its just you…and the finish line. Emotion overwhelms you. Your life’s single most important goal over the past months culminates in this moment, and a lifetime of bragging rites.

YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAAAAAN!!!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, I hope you found it helpful. If so, please share it using the link below. Comment and engage with me. You can also find me on twitter @thewrightrich. Good luck and happy racing 🙂

How to race 70.3 SouthAfrica (Buffalo City)

20x30-IBES0039 Just like any other major triathlon, Buffalo City 70.3 with its 3000 entrants will always make even the most seasoned triathlete weak at the knees early on race day. What follows is a take on how to approach the race to ensure not only your fastest possible time on the day, but also a race that will hopefully be one of the most enjoyable days you could experience.

So, race day dawns, you’ve swallowed down a breakfast two hours before the start of your wave, you’re well hydrated, and you make your way down to the beach. Everyone is worried about the weather, and you have been following hourly updates for the past 3 days. What you now realize is that there was absolutely no point in that exercise. All it did was get you uptight, and for what?  Here it is…whatever ‘it’ is…same for all, and not a thing you can do about it!

Don’t forget to apply anti-chafe on the places under your wetsuit where you tend to chafe, have a gel 20 mins before the start, and I always like to put my goggles on under my swim cap.  Losing your goggles in the bunfight that signals the start of the race is no fun at all.

I always start on the outside of the wave, and make sure that I am on the right (as I breathe predominately to the left, and like to look over the swimmers, which helps me to sight and swim straight). Starting in the middle of the pack is always going to be stressful and either athletes will be swimming over you, or you will be swimming over other athletes. Regular sighting to the front will make sure that you swim the straightest line possible.  East London seems to deliver cold water on race day (I have no idea why) but I always find that the less I think about it, and instead concentrate on my stroke, breathing and swimming on the feet of a slightly stronger swimmer who is swimming straight, the less I feel it.  It’s normally only cold for the first 200m anyway.

The swim is a great time to try to relax, the first 300m or so will always be an adrenalin frenzy and might take your breath away, so expect that.  Even the pros feel that on race day, it’s perfectly normal.  So the sooner you can consciously deepen your breathing, stretch out on your stroke and find a rhythm, the better.  Unless you are completing for a podium place, the swim is about pacing yourself to ensure you leave the wet stuff behind with plenty of gas in the tank!

I always like to wash my face off under the showers, and get the sand off my feet. Take your time to do so, it’s worth it. The pros will sprint up the steep little hill from the swim exit to the transition.  Resist that urge!  Walk up and catch your breath.  This particular half ironman is all about how fresh you can feel once you’ve completed the bike course.  The race is all about the run.  The more you have held back, and the more disciplined you can be about pacing yourself, the better your run will be, and ultimately, the more athletes you will pass on that last lap of the run.  Trust me on that one!

Because there are so many athletes, and so many waves, it is impossible to gauge how you are doing overall. (As an age grouper completing for the first 3 positions I found this hard, but have always successfully raced this triathlon by focusing on my own race, my own pace, and my own strategy.  It has worked for me.  My best result is 11th overall, finishing as the second age grouper across the line.  I raced myself, nobody else)

Find your bag, and take enough time in the transition to make sure you have everything you need.  I normally use socks for a half IM, favoring comfort over the 20secs I lose by putting them on.  Hopefully you will have practiced your transitions well before race day.  It is very important to use the first 10km on the bike to get your heart rate down.  Settle into a rhythm.  I like to take a bottle of water from the first water point to spray over my trisuit to wash off the salt, and will always carry whatever I need on the bike with me.  However, if your goal is a finish and not a win, make use of the aid stations. Take the time to say thanks, say hi to the athletes that pass you or that you pass.    Little things, but they tend to lift me, and help me to focus on positives.20x30-IBEC0191

Now, here’s the key to Buffalo City…. Set your cycle computer onto the time setting. NO average speed, NO current speed.

If you can set it on Heart rate, even better. It’s no secret that the bike course is hilly. I have seen so many really strong bikers think that they can hammer the bike, and that they will do well as a result. Al, of those athletes (bar none) have found out the hard way that that strategy doesn’t work! As a strong cyclist the aim is to use that strength to complete the course with lots of gas still in the tank. I will say it again…this race is about how good you can feel once you’ve climbed off your bike.  Therefore, I will always set my computer on the heart rate setting and will keep my HR between 150 and 155, my max on the bike is 171. I do this regardless of who passes me, how slow I am going, how much I need to slow down to keep the HR low.  And it always works.  I love to make a mental note of all the athletes that pass me, and there are always many. I cannot tell you how good it feels to pass them all again on the run, or towards the end of the bike.

So sit up on the longer climbs, breathe deeply, spend time in your small blade. Especially on the way out to the turnaround. It will all pay dividends. Spend a moment to savor how cool it is to be cycling on a National Freeway!

If you must, put down the hammer a little on the way back, you have been disciplined so enjoy the downs, but… The last climb back into town is the perfect time to sit up again, back off slightly and let your legs spin a little.  Try to recover a little so that when your legs touch the ground again they don’t want to buckle under you.

Transition 2 is the same as the first one.  Take the time you need without dilly dallying.  Take your time over the first 3-4 km of the run, ease into your running style, walk early if you need to.  Set small goals for yourself like 2min walk, 2 min jog. Your running legs will come back. Give them some time, and don’t stress.

Finishline 70.3

Finishline 70.3

There is only one big climb each lap, mentally prepare yourself to run slowly or walk up the hill.  I find that I always have a better overall run split if I take those hills slowly, and work the flats and downs hard, than if I attack the hills hard.

Before my first endurance race I was given some really awesome advice that I’ve never forgotten, ‘hold back until you see the finish line at the end of the red carpet’.  It’s all about your ability to pace yourself, not get swept up in the emotion of the day, and the competition with the other athletes on the course.  Aim to finish the race with something left.  What I can promise is that there won’t be…but you will look back at a really fantastic race, and you have the best opportunity to finish strong.Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!