“Do you know, you would publish more stuff if you just wrote it without trying to be clever or funny?”
Sure. My biggest fan (and critic)! It is one of the many reasons that I love her.
Here are my thoughts on IronMan Brazil 2017. Why write, or as Del pointed out pontificate to write, after each race? I hope that, one day when I am old enough not to raise eyebrows when I walk into a meeting with the Bank, I can look back at the reports and see my evolution from aspirant athlete to Kona slot winner. Mostly I think that I may end up marginally embarrassed and hopefully amused.
“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed by who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.” Alain de Botton.
In the weeks leading up to the race I decided to enter the MiWay Ultra in Durban. My mates Rob and Justin had pointed out that it would be more expedient to drink toilet water than swim in the Vaal at Prestige, if I was going for a waterborne disease. Fear of gut parasites and the idea of a road trip and catch up with Rob was enough to convince me. The lead up to the race went well from a training point of view. Disciplined indoor trainer bike sessions, a few long runs and some remarkably effective pool sessions. I felt good and it was only March. I went for a run with Rob down the promenade on the Durban beachfront the day before the race and the conditions were idyllic. Slightly overcast and warm with a light breeze.
My plan was to swim 35min, bike 2h45 and with 5 min transitions this would put me onto a platform to run a 1h45 and come home in 5h15. Tidy. The heat on race day ended up being less than ideal. We should have suspected this when the race organisers notified the athletes that wetsuits were not allowed. The swim in the feared Durban surf was not as bumpy as in years past and I managed 33:04. I transitioned smoothly to the bike in 4min and I settled into a good pace. At this point I must, as ever when I reflect on it, admit that I lost the plot. Head down and grinding big blade I pushed for 2h30. My swim was faster than I expected so in my head I had something in the bank. I knew when I got off the bike that I had made a terrible mistake. 2:38:35 at a 33km/h average. A wave of humid, sticky Durban heat enveloped me as I ran onto the promenade. It sucked the energy out of me but mostly it just broke my spirit. I looked out for Justin and Rob. Rob did the sensible thing and went to find some shade. Justin, who I am convinced, is an alien, or at least has mutant DNA, was also feeling the heat. He would just bring it in on the 5-hour mark. There were thousand yard stares all around. 2:26:56 run. At the end there I was just moving fast enough to save myself the embarrassment of running longer than my bike split. 5:44:42total time – half an hour longer than planned. Lessons: Don’t overcook the bike. Hydrate more effectively. Don’t overcook the bike. Avoid Durban.
Florianopolis in Santa Caterina province of Brazil is an hour flight from Sao Paulo and has hosted IronMan for more than 10 years. It is the South American Championships and I was looking forward to the conditions, which if I were to believe the hype online would be perfect for breaking records. The town, much like Port Elizabeth, embraces the cult of the M-Dot for the duration of race week.
The weather apps predicted that there would be intermittent showers with 80% chance of rain on Saturday and race-day Sunday. I do not love riding or running in the rain. It is irritating, angry red chafe inducing and usually cold. I felt even worse for Del because she would have to stand in the rain all day to support me. We travelled with South African athletes (Ernst, Darius, Jamie and Dave) who were also racing and who Del adopted immediately. Race check in on Saturday was cold and wet. It became apparent that the venue was prepared for the rain because they had provided helpful bike bags to cover athlete’s bikes once they had been racked. Transition was all indoors and for the first (and logical) time the run and bike bags were on the same hook. Good omens.
The swim is laid out in an M shape heading out into the ocean for 1 km then back to the beach for a short turn and out again. I hoped to swim 1h05 given my training times in the pool during the months leading up to the race. Age group was used to seed the start, and the 35-39 group was manageable on the beach. As I dived into the surf my goggles were ripped off my face by the passing stroke of a terrified Uruguayan. I fortunately recovered my goggles but the securing clip was lost so I had to tie a knot in the rubber strap while treading water. The Brazilian triathletes are wonderful swimmers and I considered holding onto one of their feet for a while. I also glanced around underwater in an attempt to find a dolphin, or even a large fish. No luck. I would have to do it all myself. I landed on the beach after the first leg and saw Del. I high fived her like a gridiron star and then looked at my HR monitor. 37 min. I was off my 1:05 pace. So leg two was done with more purpose and less Uruguayan. I hit the beach at 1:04.
T1 was long. If any of you have done the Ultra at Sun City – it’s longer, with more lurching. I panted like a juvenile labrador as I ran from the beach, through a resort gardens and into the change tent. My bike was not where I had left it. This was somewhat disconcerting. We had been warned of the roving gangs of street urchins in Brazil and their tricky ways. After some sign language and what might have been the face of utter desperation one of the volunteers found it neatly parked under a tree. I headed out onto the ride having broken my second PB for the day, longest ever T1 at 6:01. My race plan was to ride a 5h30. Its an out and back, 2 loop route with the turn in Jurere Beach at T1, using mostly the main road between the north and south of the island. I had a nutrition plan that actually involved eating, which I highly recommend as opposed to that persistent light-headed feeling. At the 30km mark I checked in with myself and other than the rain, I felt good. The weather was perfect. There was no chance of overheating and the light shower meant that dehydrating would be difficult, even for someone like me who seems to make it an art form. I saw that I was 8 minutes faster than my race plan so I slowed down. It was very difficult because I felt strong and the route includes a long tunnel which riding through, being dry for even the briefest of moments, is an open invitation to overdo it. I maintained the 34km/h pace back to the turn around point. Time check at 90km = 2:35:33. Danger. I was going too fast. I knew that I had 42km to run and so I gave myself a stern warning. The voice in my head sounded exactly like Roberto Riccardi.
Del will attempt her first full IM next year so I have been trying to explain to her what being out on a bike for 180km feels like. For me at 150km I start hearing the voices. They tell me that I am still overweight. They tell me to keep concentrating or I will end up falling down like the Austrian fellow that saw the traffic cone too late, or the Spanish fellow with the road rash who wasn’t watching out for potholes. My 150km voice said: “Warmonger, my boy, you need to earn the right to ride a sub 5 hour bike in an IM”. True. This was very true. So I sat up in sections and made sure that I was eating and drinking and not getting involved in potholes, or Spaniards for that matter but that’s a subject for another blog. Many strong looking cyclists started to pass me. Many that I considered weaker looking cyclists did too. As it turned out on the day Tim Don biked a 4:01 and into the record books for the fastest ever IM finish time of 7h40. I got into T2 and glanced down at 5h17. I was 13 minutes faster than I planned and I was OK with that.
The run route is 21km out and back followed by a two 10,5km laps around Jurere Beach. I set out at 5:30 pace. The kilometers went by quickly to start and in no time I had run 6. I was feeling good and my plan to run a 4h00 marathon was intact at the turnaround of the 21km. Like the darkness in the Simon and Garfunkle song, my old friend “shuffle” climbed onto my back at 20 km. Given that it was raining and the roads were wet I could hear my feet skid on the tar. I registered my first plus 6:00 min kilometer. So this is it. After having done 6 of these I can tell you with certainty that you are not half way in an IM until you are past 21km into the run. It is where the daemons that are shy and whispering while you ride, are emboldened to stride into the forefront of your mind and begin their assault. If you are not a natural runner it might very well be worse. At 23 kilometers, having collected my first colored hairband and on my way onto the first of to 10.1km laps I heard her shout: “van Breda what are you doing? You are plodding! Shoulders back, chest out!” Words cannot describe how angry I was. “Just you wait lady!” I thought. IMSA 2018 is not that far away (evil laugh). She was right. Naturally. Wives usually always are. I rocked back onto the balls of my feet and got my legs to move under my hips. I saw Erns and Darius on the route and they were running well.
I collected my second band and looked out for Del as I ran past the 32km mark. She smiled this time: “10 km to go and you are going to smash your PB”. Again, she was right. As I turned at the 37km point with 5km to run into the town I flipped my HR monitor to total time from the run time 09:59:15. It would be tremendous to finish in this time on my next outing I thought to myself as I slogged out the final few kilometers. My lapse in concentration during the period around the halfway mark had cost me about 10 minutes and so my marathon time was 4:10:03. My total finish time was 10:42:22. Could I have gone faster on the bike leg? Perhaps. My lesson is to have a plan. Train to the plan and race to the plan. It seems so simple.