Eat All Your Green Beans

Before I start on the race report, I thought it best to give a bit of my family background.

It was my dad’s 70th birthday on the 14th March and my 3 brothers and I each said a few words about the big guy. There are some great stories out there and we had the family and friends in stitches. One of the stories I told was pretty important to me, because it reveals a lot of my dad’s character and how he passed on key values to his boys. Here’s what I said:

“To this day you will note that all the Riccardi boys eat absolutely everything that’s on their plate. This isn’t an easy trait to instil in one’s offspring, especially with four testosterone fuelled boys in the home. My dad did it one evening at normal dinner with all the family present. I was about 8 years old at the time. When my mom asked if I wanted green beans or not with the main course, I politely indicated that I did not. My dad took the plate of green beans and turned its entire contents into my plate accompanied with the instruction that I had to finish the entire plate before I went to sleep. A valuable lesson that can be passed onto your kids in one easy move.”

And what followed from this is a well known family trait:- finish everything on your plate. And be polite to people who feed you.

Ironman South Africa
I’ve done this race twice. The first time was a week after my bachelor party and one week before my wedding. Since then my Natalie (my beautiful trophy wife) and I have produced two boys, Jake (3) & Ben (2 months). Ben was born on the 15th February this year 5 minutes before I was meant to do the Pick n Pay half marathon which I was required to miss. Here’s how the Ironman races compared:

Year/Race #/Swim/Cycle/Run/Total Time/Age Group Position
2005/294/01:02:19/06:15:45/04:12:53/11:41:22/60th out of 174
2009/794/00:59:19/05:50:34/03:59:18/10:58:41/26th out of 257
I have never been coached as a triathlete. Usually I’ve just read books and websites and that’s got me pretty far. When Keeto offered to coach me, I took a few days to think about it. Keeto knows my strengths and weaknesses so coaching via the internet would be easy as long as the lines of communication were always open. I had two big issues though:
(1) I would have to give in 100% to Keeto’s advice; and
(2) I would be responsible to another person.

I trust Keeto 100% but to say that out loud is like jumping off a cliff. There’s no going back. After a few weeks this was the least of my issues. Keeto did the good-cop bad-cop and took into account my thoughts on the training and session structure. In the end it felt more like a partnership which suited me perfectly. And we both agreed that with my limited availability of training hours because of the usual family, work and social engagements, quality was everything. Keeto always said,”Hours trained is not what gets results, it’s *WHAT* you do with those hours!!

As for being responsible to another person, this was hard. I can lie to myself pretty easily because I’m so busy, sooner or later I forget my own lies. But saying you’ll do something to Keeto meant that I had to be fully committed. The responsibility that placed on my shoulders was motivation in itself.

Keeto coaches really well. He mentors, reads all my training notes and adjusts around that, often advising me to up the vitamin C or add some sleep. A good balance. Only an uber-coach would allow his athlete time off for a bachelors and a long weekend wedding. ;o) This was the strongest I have ever felt on the bike and run. And my body was feeling very good just a few days after the race.

Towards the end of my training Keeto new that sleep deprivation from night feeds and an increased work load would take its toll, so he sent out an email to my wife and Blur (my super-second at IMSA) to take the weight off my shoulders. That, my friends, is foresight.

Pre-Planned Excuses
Excuse #1:- I impinged my right shoulder from feeding Ben and burping him on my left shoulder while typing with my right hand. This started to bug me on my swims, and I could hear creaking in my right shoulder when I did arm warm ups. The physio did her best to even out my skewed shoulders.

Excuse #2:- I was strapped for time due to work and fatherly duties. Despite Natalie's valiant efforts which do not go unnoticed, lack of sleep and the late night feeds were taking their toll on my state of mind and body. On some days I’d wake up at 3.15am, feed Ben until 4am, put him to sleep, have breakfast, then go biking from 4.45am until 6.30am. I’d get home have a second breakfast, take Jake to crèche and be at work at 9am. A few of those and you start to understand what prisoners of war experience under interrogation.

Excuse #3:- One week before race day, I played a dad’s soccer match at my niece’s school. On the very first move of the match, I accelerated away from a player wearing my Crocs which got jammed into the ground and I bruised my left toe. Yes – I know I shouldn’t play any other sport before a race, however my thoughts are that if I’m not strong enough to play soccer in my Crocs, how will I ever last 226 kilometres?

The excuses were amplified with the taper mind games and I kept reminding myself, I am one good nap away from being stronger. A positively charged mind does wonders. Aside from a niggling shoulder pain on the swim and bike, none of my pre-planned excuses got in the way of my race. ;o)
Elite Training buddies: Grant on the left (13.01), me in the middle (10.58), Albie (12.53) on the right.

My secret was the foil wrapped peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and dumping two loads of Infinit drinks from my front loading drinking bottle onto the tarmac. How I can I put it without offending anyone from Infinit? Well, it tasted like kissing a geriatric doctor who has been washing her mouth out with medical detergent extracted from poorly embalmed cadavers. Maybe I’m too harsh. Actually I’m not, really. The stuff was foul and my throat tightens at the thought that I managed to get about a litre of that down.

My antiquated goggles started leaking and my right eye burnt from the sea water. I stopped several times to try get a seal on the goggle, to no avail. Only once out of the water after lap 1 was I able to get the seal to stick. I need new goggles and am open to sponsorship. My services will be prostituted, with considerable glee, to the highest bidder.

Did I mention that the Infinit nutrition tastes like hospital detergent mixed with a homeless person’s private stash of blue train?

I dropped my last water bottle with 20k’s to go on the bike. I could have stopped but decided to leg it to the transition tent. This was risky as the heat took out a lot of people on the day.

At about the 12k mark of run, the heat was stagnant and bouncing between the tar and my melted brain. I dried up just after the 8k aid station on the dark side of the university. It took me 5 aid stations of dousing my head with cold water and drinking as much coke as I could to recover from that.

Mental Game
Having done this race before I was able to focus on areas where I had screwed up before:
On the first hill of the bike leaving T1; and
the dark side of the university.

I saw a lot of my comrades vomiting and being taken out by the heat both on the bike and run. I took the decision to shut it down and cool down before I overheated. My smaller size may have contributed to me being able to cool down easier than some of the big boys.
Loop one, laughing with Blur just out of the picture. Behind me is Doug Stott, a machine athlete and buddy, who succumbed to what he referred to in one word “Sniper!” as he fell off the pace on the 2nd loop of the run. The white tent in the background was ripped off its hinges later that evening by a freak tropical storm. Athletes in the medical tent had to be evacuated to the closest hospital.

The last 10k’s
I heard the last sub-10 hour athletes running over the finish line a few minutes before I reached the 10k’s to go sign. This meant that I had under 60 minutes to bring it home. 6 minute k’s – a piece of cake I thought, grimacing. The body was holding strong and I was mowing down the athletes ahead of me, the vast majority of which had been reduced to a walk. The Death March had begun.

Blur, who had been there for each of my loops, ran with me a few steps and shouted his encouragement. Not unlike what a staff sergeant might shout to his troops to get them out of the trenches. This fired me up to no end, and I picked up something that resembled a running pace.

I kept up to a female age grouper who was running really well, and held her just a few metres ahead of me. I picked up my special needs bag with my one Open-In-Case-of-Emergency-Red-Bull, and headed to the dark side of the University. Just before I reached the University gates, my right stomach muscle cramped to the extent that I was reduced to a walk. I took two cokes and dumped some water over my head and legs. I thought of the stitch as Infinit nutrition being expelled from my gut to my bladder which cheered me up to no end. I took a deep breath and started running again keeping an eye on the age grouper who was getting closer to my horison. The pain alleviated and I concentrated on running form. Relaxed jaw, relaxed shoulders, light fingers, palms open, slight forward lean, and feet light on the ground.

With 5k’s to go I drank the Red Bull, jettisoned my gels from my back pouch and as Keeto would say – unleashed all manner of hell! The Death March athletes, some still on their first lap, couldn’t care any less that they were unable to run, and yet they encouraged me to give it a go.

I missed the last few stations and shimmied past the sponges, cups and empty plastic water baggies. Keeto and my training partners, Grant and my brother, Alberto, and I had worked on the last section. Hold back the whole day until this point forward.

I looked at my watch and did my calculations. 4k’s left with 17 minutes to go under 11 hrs. That can’t be right an irritated voice screamed in my head. I checked my buttons and I calculated that I needed to do sub-4 minute 30 second k’s to make it. That can’t be right? Where did I screw this one up? For the first time on the day I was mad. The road markers were pretty accurate. Could I have my time wrong? And suddenly I remembered why I always set every time device that I own to 7 minutes fast. My time management is lousy and I realised that setting my watch 7 minutes fast was the only way I could ensure that I ever got to places and meetings on time. Oh joy of joys! The euphoria from realising that my calculation sucked was overwhelming and I picked it up as I heard the commentator’s echoing voice shouting:

The last few runners will just make the sub-11 hour cut-off. But they need to move it!”

People said later that the music was booming. I don’t recall hearing anything except seeing Blur pumping his arms in the air and revealing a big happy grin. I couldn’t see Natalie anywhere (I found out later she had been stuck in the crowds with Ben) as I wanted to bring Jake and Ben across the line. Someone handed me a space blanket and Blur handed Jake to me over the fence. I gave my grinning boy a big sweaty hug.

I made the cut-off with just over a minute to spare and am pretty stoked with the whole affair.

Run Loop (14k’s):- IM Western Australia (2007) / IM South Africa (2009)
Loop 1:- 1h08m (154HR) /1h15m (157ave)
Loop 2:- 1h18m (147HR) / 1h23m (147ave)
Loop 3:- 1h21m (158HR) / 1h19m (147ave)
Total:- 3h50m (including T2) / 3h59m (including T2)

I still have lots of stuff floating around in my head with stories that arose from an awesome weekend. Alberto’s virgin race needs a mention because it was a classic! Where I will find additional speed for that sub-10 requires a post. Also, a new rivalry has been formed which needs to be discussed:- The Blur v Riccardi brothers 2010 Ironman ShowDown has been planned.

All will be revealed in good time.

And remind me to tell you about the 56km Two Oceans ultra marathon that I *ran* the following weekend, which was the first time ever that I went against Keeto’s orders, thereby explaining why my body feels like it does .………

Eat all your greenbeans,

For you information geeks:

Lap 1 28m58s (136 ave; 171max)
Lap 2 30m50s (133 ave; 170max)

4m41s (139ave; 163max)

60k loop 1 - 1h50m (146ave; 160max)
60k loop 2 - 1h58m (150ave; 221max (?))
60k loop 3 - 2h05m (145ave; 210max (?))

4m15s (149ave; 158max)

14.07k’s loop 1- 1h15m (157ave)
14.07k’s loop 2- 1h23m (147ave)
14.07k’s loop 3- 1h19m (147ave)

10h58m41s (Ave HR 147)

Training hours:- Here’s a breakdown of training hours for the 12-weeks preceding my Ironman races.

Comparative results


  1. absolutely amazing - well done! a great read, nice to read a little of what you as well as your family go through.

  2. Thanks Terry! Hopefully some dad's (and mom's) out there with young kids and restless nights get to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can barely make out the tunnel's glimmer ;o)


  3. Having seen you after the 2 oceans I really do think not listening to Keeto should be a rare thing! Great blog rob - enjoyed it all!

  4. Good job Batman. Very proud of you guys

  5. Goose,

    I personally think you were holding back for the 2 Oceans...your smile never left your face during IM!!...definately some minutes in there? You were a superstar and breaking 11hrs in those conditions was awesome!

  6. Thank you my brothers. Remember I race on Love, not Hate, Mr Blur.

    As for your support and kind words, it warms my cockles, but I know you guys don't love me any more or less if I go faster or slower (so Natalie tells me).

    But there is lots of speed out there. The key is to find it without increasing training hours which Nats has recently capped ;o)

  7. China

    You have a rare talent that motivates and enthralls a reader to carry on. After reading your race reports I almost feel like I have been there with you.

    Your BF (Sydney)