Ironman South Africa 70.3 – A humbling experience

Firstly I want to make mention of my two fellow triathletes’ that tragically lost their lives during the 70.3 event in East London and pass my condolences on to their families and friends. Many of us were oblivious to the tragic events unfolding on race day and the Ironman family mourns the passing of 2 young men taken from their loved ones too soon. May they both rest in peace.

Before I descend into recounting my day out at Ironman South Africa 70.3 I want to say how incredibly proud I am of my wife Bianca (@beanker). In her first ever crack at 70.3 and the half-ironman distance she put on a great performance that saw her execute her race plan perfectly. I felt so privileged to be able to share some of her Ironman experience on the day and it was by far the highlight of my entire 70.3. I look forward to hopefully sharing more of these with her in the future.

I am torn as I type this post by a range of feelings and I am admittedly still feeling mentally destroyed and quite empty. I hope that my experience won’t permanently scar me but I do feel that I got beat so badly by an event I had been looking forward to taking part in. Retrospectively I guess I should be thankful that I have been thoroughly tested to my absolute breaking point. Did I quit No Did I want to quit Yes! So what happened?

My morning started relatively well as I awoke with no back pain and was happy to be at least starting. B and I headed down to the start and had a practice swim and then watched the pros set off. Conditions looked great a little bit of swell with some obvious currents but it looked like a good swim day. I said my goodbyes to B and then headed off to my starting group that was over 400 of us according to the wave start list. I positioned myself on the inside as I always do and as the siren went I sprinted into the surf to start the 1 loop 1.9km swim. The first buoy turn went well with little congestion but shortly after that my goggles started taking on water on one side. I continued to swim, flip over, empty and readjust my goggles for the 2nd and 3rd buoy. I got so frustrated in doing this that I ended up swimming with half filled goggles. On the return straight the swell and current seemed to be running behind us and it went quickly. Though the 4th buoy had drifted in and was not on the ‘red crane’ line as it should have been and we caught many of the swimmers from the previous wave. I hit the beach with my garmin clicking over to 30 minutes I was pretty happy with my time despite my eye burning severely from the saltwater. I headed up alongside @alecriddle into transition thinking this could be a great start to my day after all.

Transition was smooth apart from a quick toilet break because I couldn’t pee during the swim. I picked up my bike with cleats already attached with elastics and jumped on getting into my shoes quickly and started peddling. I was ecstatic everything was going to plan until I hadn’t even gone 100m when my back wheel started skidding and I realised I picked up a puncture. Changing the puncture was the easy part but I still cannot explain what happened over the next 40 minutes. First I couldn’t get my rear wheel back on. Then my chain got jammed in my derailleur and broke, and then my gears wouldn’t shift. No matter what I did the harder I tried the worse it got. I was appreciative at first for the advice of supporters but after a while I got frustrated second guessing myself and listening to people that were offering contrary advice and opinion. I sat down eventually to recompose myself and stared at my bike trying to figure out what I wasn’t doing. After some time I heard Paul Kaye counting down the swim cut-off for my age group and started thinking even if I get this fixed will I be able to make the bike cut off. The numbers passing me on the bike out of transition were quickly thinning along with my spirit. Thankfully a young volunteer walked over at and then proceeded to chat to me about my bike problems. I didn’t get his name but he helped me to relax and forget about everything else going on around me and focus on my bike. I checked the bike by each component and then finally things started to fall into place, I sorted out my skewer, re-attached my chain, adjusted my derailleur and even disconnected my rear breaks that were ‘locked’ on my rim. After 40 minutes I was finally back on my bike and ready to re-start my 70.3. I high-fived the young guy that had cared to assist me and got a rousing cheer from the crowds on the side of the road when they saw me getting back on my bike.

I cycled along the esplanade that was almost empty of cyclists. I tried to relax and forget about the fact I had lost so much time but it was impossible as I was desperate to try and pull back time. I hit the first 30kms pretty hard flying past others on the hills a little too quickly. I felt fine though and my continual passing of people gave me belief I could keep my momentum going. I saw many familiar faces and even managed a quick chat to the bubbly @staceyrehbock. Several people asked me to look for friends or partners further up the road and pass messages to them which I did. It was at about the 35km mark that my old nemesis, my lower back started to give me problems. I tried to switch off and watched those on the opposite side of the freeway looking for familiar faces to cheer on. I spotted @traceymarkham who was flying and shouted some support. I kept pushing on hopeful that I would see Bianca but it wasn’t until the 40km mark that I eventually spotted her haring along on the other side of the road. I whistled and waved and she looked a little shocked that I was quite a bit behind her. I knew then that I would eventually catch her and thought about how amazing it would be to be able to finish the race together. I took on some water at the turnaround and poured water down my top and over my head as I was overheating badly. I pushed on into a now noticeable headwind and soon began to feel my energy levels starting to dip. I tried drinking from my second bottle but began to feel nauseous. I put my head down intent on catching up to Bianca and it was eventually climbing up to the final water table at 80km that I saw the familiar colours of @dinamiccoaching ahead of me. I was so happy to finally reign Bianca in and rode with her for a short while and chatted. I thought that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea for me to disrupt her flow and I worried that my increasing nausea may slow me down later on the run. I rode alongside her and said I was going to carry on to transition and would see her there. The next 10kms went by quickly although I will remember the last few climbs well. On the final climb to the freeway off ramp i shifted gears and my chain dropped off again forcing me to stop and attend to it. B caught me and continued on but I managed to get my chain on and eventually catch her again with us arriving in transition together.

We changed into our run gear and met up at the exit to T2 and headed out onto the run. I began imagining finishing 70.3 with Bianca and running down the Ironman red carpet together celebrating. I suddenly felt much happier about being in the position I now found myself. The run course was hot and unrelenting but I was in the happiest place I had been all day having my wife beside me sharing the experience. We ran together along the pier and then back along the Esplanade and up Bunkers Hill. We walked a little stretch while sipping on some water trying to cool off. We carried on and were making good time but it was close to the 8km mark when I started feeling overwhelming nausea and fatigue. I was determined not to falter and let Bianca or myself down but my will didn’t last long as shortly after the 9km mark I just couldn’t carry on and felt like I wanted to collapse. I asked Bianca how she was feeling and she replied she was good. I told her that that she was looking strong and running great and that no matter what happened that she must carry on. She asked what was wrong and I said I was sick and that I would have to stop, she replied and said that she was also feeling sick and that we could stop soon for a coke and some water. I was almost ready to fall over when I finally asked her to promise me that she would keep going and wouldn’t stop for me. I said I was sorry but that I would see her at the finish. I stopped and it was pretty disheartening having to watch her trot away into the distance but I was happy that she had carried on and not stopped.

The next 12km were a slog and the blistering heat began to take its toll. I don’t remember much about the stretch back from the beach front to Bunkers Hill apart from falling over on the corner before the climb up the hill thankfully near a water table. Someone helped me up and I had wet sponges put on my head and a coke thrust into my hand. I saw Bianca shortly after that and cheered her on as she cruised down Bunkers Hill on the final kms to the finish. I tried to run on several occasions but every time I was forced to stop. My legs were fine but my body just refused to move faster than a walk. I was feeling completely defeated and could no longer even bear looking at the supporters or hear them call my name out so I hid my race number in my shorts. A fellow triathlete from @mytrainingday Jackie woke me up from my state when she shouted “come on Scotty run” but I just shrugged and shook my head. I was feeling absolutely crushed and was happy to finally collect my 2nd band and take on the final 5kms to the finish. It was at this point though that I was stopped by a medic on a quad bike who pointed out that I was swaying quite badly and didn’t look well. I asked if he had any salt and then he asked me to stop so that he could check me. He asked if I had been sweating and I said I didn’t remember but that I was walking so probably not. He surveyed me gave a concerned look and then said that I was clearly dehydrated and possibly suffering from heatstroke. I started worrying when he asked me for my race number and if I wanted to continue. I looked at his bike and wanted to jump on the back and end my misery. The water table was a way off at the bottom of Bunkers Hill so he suggested that I take the energade on the back of his bike and take a big drink. He then said he was going to the next water table to tell them to keep a look out for me and would see me there. He rode off and I walked on, I spoke with some of the other people passing me by and it was nice to meet Anne Marie@annemiekie767 who stopped for a quit chat.

I stopped at the Bunkers Hill water table and acknowledged my friend on the quad bike and sipped on some coke and water and grabbed further sponges to cool down. I was still finding it hard to hold anything down at this point and although I appreciated the crowds urging myself and everyone else on. The seemingly incessant calls to “stop walking”, “run”, “suck it up”, “you can do it” got to me and I began feeling like a fraud for letting the race beat me. I felt so ashamed that I even stopped sitting down out of sight to turn my race top inside out. I just didn’t want anyone to know who I was anymore and wanted to get off the course. I put my head down and blanked out everything until I finally saw the red carpet walking along the side trying not to make eye contact with anyone. Unfortunately @paulkaye saw me coming and asked what happened, I couldn’t really talk at that point feeling inconsolable but he did finally make me smile by reminding me that my wife had beat me and that it was bound to be a twitter story of the weekend.

I crossed the line and reluctantly took my medal shoving it into my tri shorts. As I did so I nearly got knocked over as Bianca rushed over and gave me a hug. I was finally where I wanted to be and was ecstatic that my best friend was there to meet me.

It has been two days now since Ironman 70.3 and I have had plenty of time to reflect. Hell I even managed a 5km run relatively untroubled this evening. While out running I had plenty of time to reflect further and make the following observations of my day out.

– I finally have belief in my swim ability and am confident to start at the front of the pack

– I have got the hang of leaving my cleats on my bike with elastics

– I am comfortable cycling without socks on the cycle leg

– I can change a tyre quickly


– I do not know my bike as well as I should and need to be better equipped to handle any eventuality

– I need to have a plan B when plan A doesn’t work out

– My cycling ability is still my biggest weakness and I need to get proper coaching to turn it around

– I need to do more LSD running in the lead up to longer races

– My lower back is a problem and I need to get advice on where the weakness lies

– My nutrition plan for longer distance events is not working and I need to understand why and ultimately create one that does work

– I need to ensure that my goals are realistic according to my actual ability

– I need to realise what I am actually capable of

Hopefully in 2013 I will finally realise what I am capable of and not be afraid to fail while trying.

I will end this post with a tweet I saw today from 4 times Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington. Do yourself a favour and read her book “A life without limits”. It’s inspiring.

“Motivation tips! Have a goal, have mini goals too, listen to music break the session down mentally, train with buddies, race for a cause, celebrate small successes, recall times when you’ve overcome discomfort/lethargy, watch inspirational videos, focus on what you CAN do”


About scotttait

Cape Town guy living and loving life under the African Sun. I blog about my passions outside of work. These are Running (trail running particularly), Triathlon, Surfing, life in South Africa and the sporting challenges and races I take part in. If you want to learn more about me go to
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11 Responses to Ironman South Africa 70.3 – A humbling experience

  1. Miguel says:

    Well done on hanging in there on a tough day.


  2. Claire says:

    Everytime everything went wrong, my coach used to tell me: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”… This one for sure will make you VERY strong!! Well done for being so perseverant.


  3. hemingwayrun says:

    Well done for seeing it through to the end! That’s proper love right there, telling your other half to carry on without you.


  4. Patrick Thomas says:

    Well done Scotty … all the more so for keeping going and not giving up … which would have been a much easier option. It is always kak having these days … especially on race day!! But remember – we need to have the bad days to appreciate why the great ones are so awesome 🙂


  5. Sibusiso Zwane says:

    You are a true champ both yourself and Beanker inspire me so much. I did pass you on the cycling, clicked after couple of meters had plenty of my own problems too. Well done once more will see you soon. @Zwane09


  6. Kutlwano Makgwa says:

    Read this in the office…bad idea, i cried. All i have to say after reading this post….is i have respect for you on a whole different level.


  7. Ahh Scotty I had tears in my eyes when I read this post. So sorry to hear that you had such a traumatic experience. The Ironman is such a tough race and you a superstar for finishing despite everything. It seems as if you a taking this in your stride as a good learning experience. Well done!


  8. Moira Oliver says:

    Well done Scott for hanging in and finishing. A lesser athlete would have given up but you have taken the time to reflect and identify what went wrong and more importantly, what you plan to do about it. Keep on learning and growing and you will overcome the obstacles. You can do this.


  9. Great post Scott! Even though so much happened on the race, you never gave up and for that you have my utmost respect!
    Well done to you and the Mrs for finishing!!


  10. Sounds like you learned a TON on this race and luckily didn’t hurt yourself. Next time will definately be better!


  11. Fadeelah says:

    WOW Scotty you almost made me cry there! What a story of courage & perseverance, thanks for sharing. You finished!!!


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