Ironman Katrina

Ironman South Africa 2012. That's what they called it. That's not how it will be remembered.

5.30am Sunday morning, 90 minutes from the cannon.
My brother Alberto and I hid behind a white tent. A squall had hit and athletes and spectators had taken cover. Squeezing into a wetsuit in the rain was tricky. We worked quickly to ensure we didn't become stuck in neoprene. I thought of "Forrest Gump" with Gump and Lieutenant Dan on the boat deck during a hurricane:

Forrest Gump:   Now, me, I was scared, but Lieutenant Dan, he was mad.
Lt. Dan Taylor: [shouting to sky] Come on! You call this a storm? Blow, you son of a bitch! Blow! It's time for a showdown! You and me! I'm right here! Come and get me! You'll never sink this boat!
Now I'm no Lt. Dan, but after five months of monk warrior training, I was annoyed that Port Elizabeth and Mother Nature were doing a tango and turning Nelson Mandela Bay into a cauldron of water and waves. If this is what you have in store for me, I thought, then bring it to papa. I burned my ships. Retreat was removed from the options list a long time ago.

Albie and I took off 2011 because we had a baby. Actually my wife Natalie had a baby, but as training buddies you need to stick together so us brothers skipped Ironman 2011. We had a year to ponder improving our Ironman times. We planned to extract a chunk out of our previous times. For me this meant, 10.55 would become 9.55. Albie's time of 11.35 would become a sub-11. Easy. All things constant, and all that.

The plan whittled times down based on equipment selection, training specifics, nutritional precision and extra spoonfuls of cement in our morning coffee. My average weekly training time reduced from 13hrs (2010) to 11h40m (2012). Lower weekly numbers, higher training speeds. I was confident in the plan mainly due to die-hard coach Keeto who kept raising the bar and my training mates (The Peleton, The Cat, Warmonger, Jackie Chan, Justin Manfish, The Feet, Papsmear and AlbieRicc) who kept the pace honest. That together with the sage advice of my mate, Nikolai, meant all that I had to do was get stuck in.

The Day Before
Keith phoned me at 7.00am on the Saturday. "Get your wetsuit on, Get your butt to the pier for the Corporate Challenge!" He had blown his back and needed a replacement swimmer. About 45 minutes later I was out of the holding pen and into the ocean for a shortish few hundred metres. Gale force weather was predicted for later in the afternoon, but for now the water was perfect. I moved into the top 20 or so around the second buoy, dropped the hammer and beach landed in the top ten and was 4th overall after the run to the transition area. Instant mojo replenishment and an appetizer for the following day.

Race Day
I buried my race plan in the sand after my first loop of the swim. It wasn't the 32 minutes for loop 1 that was the issue, but rather the gathering wind and waves. At one point, I looked for the boats creating all these waves only to realise that there weren't any boats. Every breath of air was met with a swift slap in the face by the swells and salt. The conditions were getting bad. I took a tactical decision to push through. People behind me, I thought, would be experiencing exponentially worse conditions. I exited in 1.09, 9th in my age group.
That's me above heading back into round 2 with the waves. Below is me welcoming everyone to The Gun Show.
The bike course was a wind tunnel rollercoaster. The wind was impressively strong. It buffeted the bike from side to side. I held onto my bars for dear life. After my first 60k lap I overtook my first backmarker which told me that some of the novice racers would be in for one heck of a long and eventful day. Cresting down one of the hills, I saw a girl ahead of me being forced off the road by a gust of wind. One minute she was going straight, the next she was turned ninety degrees and road straight into the bushes. Thankfully, she managed to hold her nerves together and manouevred her way back onto the tar. If that had happened 50 metres further back, she'd have vaulted her way over a steel barrier and down a massive drop.
An interesting thing happened on the tail wind section of the beach road. I was experimenting on using my empty waterbottle as a pee-bottle (I don't know how these unplanned ideas come to me), and was coasting along, flowing freely, when all of a sudden a girl rode past me and said "Keep going Roberto!" I don't think she saw what I was doing, however I do believe in signs, and so after jettisoning the contents of the water bottle I decided to pace off her. It made sense. Women always tend to pace more evenly than us gung-ho men towards the back half of the course. So I kept her in my sights. Strategically it made sense as my 9.55 goal had been chucked out so early in the race, and all I wanted to do was run a decent marathon. As I passed the start of loop 3, the announcer went on about "Kathryn Du Buisson" who was some sort of famous local triathlete. "Excellent", I thought, proud of my choice of companion.

Although I dropped her in the last few k's of the bike (how do you spell testosterone?), she came by me soon after on the run and went on to win her age group, qualify for Kona and smashed out a 3.31 marathon in the process.

It's funny to me that she may be known in circles as Kona Kathryn or Kathryn the Great, but to me she'll always be the girl who bust me peeing on the bike and encouraged me to keep on going.

I eked out a 6.06 on the bike giving me a 38th in my age group.
The run was an interesting affair of slipstreaming other runners, being ankle tapped by gusts of wind, and avoiding icy sheet rain. A few things stood out for me:
(i) seeing Johan Stemmet gasping for breath on the run course as though he was breathing through a straw and not calling it quits;
(ii) watching Rob Kellock running with a split lip - after being blown off his bike into the sidewalk and having ridden the last bike loop with a broken derailleur (only one gear at the back);
(ii) novices busting their chops to fight their way through the various swim, bike and run cut-offs with the ever worsening weather.
Some guys will not lie down.

My aim was to even pace the run with 3 loops as close to 1.10 per loop as possible. Just under 5 mins per k pace. I walked every aid station for the first loop, then alternated for the next two loops. My loop times? 1.09, 1.14 and 1.17. All these at an average heart rate of 150, 148 and 147 respectively.

My gut feel on this one? Despite my efforts I went out too fast. However I was not disappointed with my marathon time of 3.42 and ran myself back into 13th place in my age group (40-44).

My total time was 11.03. Interestingly, in 2010 I managed a 10.55 which only gave me 42nd in my age group (35-39). A great sign that I am improving. Still much work to be done on the bike.

Albie was dented from his bike ride (caused due to lack of training resulting from self-inflicted bike crashes and an impressive social calendar) and finished in 13.25. Nonetheless a great result in tough conditions. One more year and he'll be ready for his sub-11 assault.
In 2010 I was 196th overall. This year I managed 84th making it to the front page of the results booklet. Yeeha. And thank goodness for small font!

The race took a fair amount of casualties. The average finish time was 13h43m. Lots of people missed the swim cut off. Jetskis were hauling swimmers in like fish. The wind ensured that athletes who would usually be safe missed the bike cut off. A mate told me the medical tent had 800 visitors. A few cases of hypothermia. The conditions never improved.

What next? Time to give the body some TLC and start the build up to Comrades. The legs hate me now, but soon they'll come around. They always do.
Forrest Gump: [voice over] And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd just run across Greenbow County. Now, thinking since I'd run this far, maybe I'd just run across the great state of Alabama. And that's what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. No particular reason. I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured since I'd gone this far, might as well turn around, just keep on going. And when I got to another ocean, I figured since I'd gone this far, I might as well just turn back and keep right on going. When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to know... I went.
Little by little,