The Victors and the Vanquished - Ironman South Africa 2015 Race Report

Monday morning- 12.05am

A few minutes after midnight, Westie and I walked to the racking area to collect our bikes. Westie – aka Craig West – is a seasoned triathlon veteran and a friend. His last Ironman was at Kona on the Big Island. He had a delicate day balancing his desire to cross the finish line and nursing a gammy hamstring.

“The thing is RobbyRicc, a few guys didn’t start, some didn’t finish, some of us had issues on the day, but you were lucky, at least you were able to pulverise yourself into oblivion.”

Keith "The Blur" Buhr and RobbyRicc
Around Seventeen Hours Earlier

The start of the Ironman swim is a tricky affair especially since it begins with a a 20 metre sprint into the ocean. In my last serious 100 metre event – a dad’s race at my kids’ school - I ripped apart my hamstring. The cannon goes through the body like an electric bolt igniting the carnage. It’s like Swan Lake meets cage fighting. Fists pile drive through my midriff as I dive under a wave as gracefully as I can muster and power kick my way out of trouble. I round the first buoy and see the first grupetto gapping the rest of the field. Too fast for me. I let the guy with the biggest shoulders swim round me and jumped onto his feet for the rest of the swim. We shared a few mouthfuls of sea water and zig-zagged our way around the turbulent course. 56 minutes later we were on the beach and life was pleasant. 

Me and my old school blue wetsuit 

The Stare

Like an errant drug addict, I fondled the packet of white powder at 45k’s per hour. My greasy fingers slipped past the packet. I gnawed at it with my teeth and saliva. My heart rate had been sky high for 135k’s and the watts in my bike were taking a dive. The gremlin in my chest was getting more eager at ravaging every valve in my heart and it was becoming annoying. I pulled over to the side of the road and worked the packet until I managed to open the smallest of holes. The powder trickled into my water bottle with the wind gently blowing most of it onto my knuckles. Cursing was replaced by a laugh. At first a little snigger, at how hard an easy task could be made so hard, followed by a guffaw. Like a veteran psychotic at a poorly-funded insane asylum.

I need this, to fight the hills on Maitland. The heart rate is maxed out. The body will soon fail. This powder is my salvation from the cramps that lurk in them thar hills.

I chugged on the lukewarm bottle of water, remounted my bike and turned circles. At almost the same spot on the road and in the same quad as last year, the cramp struck. Once again I smiled my broad grimace and chuckled uncontrollably.

Hello darkness, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again. Because a vision softly creeping. Left its seeds while I was sleeping. 

Lucy Gossage running a 3.06 marathon

The Inuits - formerly known as Eskimos - have, depending on who you speak to, almost 100 words for the word “snow”. The word’s usage varies depending on where it is situated in a sentence (blotla = blowing snow; hiryla = snow in beards; wa-ter = melted snow, etc) and reveals that these northerly people spend an inordinate amount of time surrounded by snow. It certainly makes sense to be able to differentiate snow quickly for survival purposes. Especially when your kids are playing on snow crusted on the surface of an icy lake (tlacringit).

Endurance athletes, like the Inuits with their snow, recognise many words for the idea of “pain”. A few come to mind: aerobic threshold; cramping; lactic acid; adrenal failure; The Wall; The Hurt Locker; The Cave; Going to the Well; The Hurtbox; Any Given Sunday; a surge. You’d think it was a secret code and clandestine speak to make triathletes look hardcore but you soon realise they are just words used to add depth and texture to the entire experience. And pain should be controlled by the mind, not by medication. Pain pills dull the senses. What’s the point? The senses and pain are all we have to remind us that we are alive revealing the joys of life with all its torment flowing through our veins and sinew. To numb it all would be denying the extent to which you are willing to push your body to the edge of limitation. And beyond.

Hitting the 12k mark  
I enjoy an ass whooping just like the next guy, but the one I began to endure was like a slow leak from my chest. The spark from my heart was fading. A regulator was placed on the quantity of effort that I would be allowed to expend for the rest of the day. On a normal day, when I run at a heart rate of 167, a pace which I can usually for about 5-8k’s, I’m clocking close to sub three and a half minutes per k. On this day, with my watch at 167 bpm, my pace was barely 5 minutes thirty seconds per k. It was a pace I could barely hold and the filament in my chest fused like a light bulb breathing its last.

My mate, Roxy, cruising past a fast fading has-been  
For the rest of the day - before the red carpet - it was an afternoon surrounded by victors and the vanquished. By loved ones and hard pavement. Some athletes were suffering more than others. But everyone seemed to be suffering in their own terms. I enjoyed the rest of the slow-motion afternoon looking out for Natalie and my friends at the Smile Foundation tent and the Proudfoots and my fellow Bedfordview athletes and the people shouting for The Cows and CHOC. 
The has-been is back! On his way to the finish
I soaked it up as much as I could repeating to my feet: keep turning boys, step by step, not long to go now.

Looking for my wife on the red carpet
I’ve looked at the results of my 10th Ironman using a variety of algorithms in order to give them a positive spin. After removing all 25 foreigners ahead of me in the 40-44 age group, that only places me in the top 10 South African men. Which sounds ok, however it’s not all that colourful from the vantage point of my prospective sponsors and potential groupies. After a little bit of an adjustment, it soon became apparent that I was second in the 40-44 age group for women. That - my friends - is something of which to be proud. Sing it to the mountains – Second Lady. An accolade for the centuries.

Total 11.05 (Swim 56 mins; Bike 6.07; Run 3.54)

40-44 age group
RR (potential 2nd lady 11.05), Kelly (1st lady - 10.58),
Kirsty (actual 2nd 40-44 age group lady - 11.16) and
good mate Patrick Devine (15.06) 
Anatomy of an Implosion
IMSA 2014 average heart rates:146bpm on bike (6.04); 143bpm on run (3h44m)
IMSA 2015 average heart rates: 149bpm on bike (6.07); 157bpm on run (3h54m)

In conclusion, to paraphrase my friend Westie, let us be thankful for the days where we are strong enough to start the race and are able to pulverise ourselves into oblivion.

Repeat to self:- technique, training and the will to win,

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