This post is dedicated to my wife Bianca (@beanker) who completed her first Ironman on 14th April. It is incredible to think that this time last year she was only just starting to recover from a fractured cuboid bone (in the foot).This time last year she had only just started cycling completing her first Argus Cycle tour (110km), could hardly swim let alone enjoy it and as mentioned had just started to run again. She stated at that Ironman South Africa last year that she would never again be a spectator at an Ironman. I don’t think however that she ever gave any serious thought to doing an Ironman particularly one the following year!
So Bianca this post is dedicated to you for all that you have achieved since starting on your journey to becoming an Ironman. I have felt no greater pride than watching you overcome your fears and find the confidence to believe in yourself and your ability to do great things. You have inspired me and I am sure many others that know you also. Congratulations again and before i start my recount one last thing.
BIANCA YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!
As I write this recount of my experience as a spectator at Ironman South Africa the words from Coldplay’s song still ring in my ears. Nobody said it was easy…… Fitting words I would say to describe anyone undertaking Ironman.
My day started shortly after getting up at 4:30am I walked down to see Bianca off at transition after 6am and wished many friends and fellow triathletes all of the very best for the day ahead. It was such a wretch for me not being able to take part and I hoped that I would be able to last the day without shedding any tears or feeling despondent. Hell this is Ironman and who am I kidding tears at some point are guaranteed right?
I headed onto the promenade above the start where the gathered near 1800 age groupers were tightly packed together due to the high tide conditions. The sun was just coming up with a slight warm air but no hint of windy conditions on the way. The water temperature was about 17C with a small clean swell running through the Bay. It was a great day to be doing an Ironman and even better one to be racing. The dolphins did their annual swim by before the start, obviously curious about the flurry of activity in their playground by those warming up. Then N’kosi Sikelel iAfrica came out over the speakers and I belted out a few lines before I stopped overcome with emotion (gets me every time). The cannon fired and the pros were off with a 15 minute head start on the age group pack. https://www.youtube.com/edit?video_id=EnlCtczmkdQ&ns=1 The time went by quickly and then boom the age groupers were off. The 2013 Ironman South Africa was underway to the sound of “Chasing the sun” rather appropriate I thought.
I headed over to the Bluewater Cafe near the pier to meet with our friends Monique (@_Loxy) and Adele (@missymac). Monique had amazingly arranged a VIP pass for me during the day to be able to follow Bianca’s progress in comfort and from a different perspective. I headed over to the pier to watch the pros come in from the first loop of the 3.8km swim. The pro field was a strong one with close to 50 taking part and with names such as Faris Al-Sultan, Cyril Viennot, Horst Reichel in the mix and South Africa’s @jamescunnama and @kenthorner flying the South African flag. Let’s not forget about those fabulous ladies with @jodieswallow taking on her first Ironman distance and @luciezelenkova and @diannemckewen leading the local charge.
The first lap went by quickly and it was great to see Jodie was mixing it up with the top group of men. The first lap of the age groupers was led out by Wesley Wiehahn by a long way but this is Ironman and it was only the start of a very long day. The lead group of 7 pros were out of the swim with Basque Jon Unanue hitting the beach first in 49:16 followed by Bas Diederen, Dominic Berger and Jodie Swallow.
As the pro race unfolded on the beach so did the age groupers race unfold in the water. Wesley hit the beach first in an incredible swim time of 49:24 and top age groupers @kylebuckingham and @raouldejongh were in the leading pack to leave the water. I stayed on a while longer hoping to spot Bianca amidst the chaos and thankfully Monique did and moments she got dumped on by a set wave breaking close into the beach.
We headed over to transition and watched her come through and then head out onto the bike. Bianca had loaded Irontrak onto the Ipad so that I could follow her and several of our friends during the day. We headed to the nearby cafe to enjoy breakfast together and I managed to relax a little before smashing a breakfast and heading back to the start to wait for the pros to come in from the first 60km loop.
The pace on the bike for the pros was fast and Swiss Ronnie Schildknecht came flying past on the first loop with a big pack a couple of minutes behind. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgJSd7DCx5k There were so many races unfolding in the various age groups that it made for exciting viewing. I saw Bianca come past on her first lap on 2 hours flat and looking strong. The 2nd lap went by quite quickly as I was so wrapped up in cheering everybody on. I headed back to the hotel to recharge my phone and ipad and followed the race online with Irontrac. Thanks to that app. I was able to head back to transition with enough time to firstly spot Bianca heading out onto her 3rd lap and then get back to transition in time to see the pros heading out onto the run. Ronnie Schildknecht had put over a 10 minute lead into the chasing pros going out onto the run and with the rising temperature it was a question of had he gone too hard on the bike and could he maintain his lead on the run. It was the question of the day as the age group bike splits were showing some very fast times also. Kyle Buckingham was one man clearly on a mission to break records as he followed up a solid swim with a 4:38 bike split.
I headed into the VIP area at the yacht club inside transition to wait for Bianca’s arrival. I was getting concerned due to her and our good friend Miranda Symons bike splits on Irontrac not coming up at the 150km mark and I feared that a puncture or mechanical was to blame. Thankfully I soon saw Miranda exiting the transition tent and a while later spotted Bianca’s bike coming into transition (yay for white handlebar tape). She came out of the changing tent and was clearly not expecting a welcoming party as Monique, Adele and I clapped and gave her words of encouragement as she headed out onto the run. She informed us that her legs were heavy and tired but I told her to give it a bit of time as they would come back. She was quite a way ahead of her expected race time and I started doing the math for her finish time. It was looking like it was going to be close to 12 hours which for her first Ironman would be a phenomenal effort.
The easterly breeze had picked up after midday but it was still hot and many on the course were already carrying sponges in their tops to cool down. I headed down the road to our hotel opposite Hulmewood Beach to give Bianca as much encouragement as possible and to ensure that she knew to stay well hydrated and manage her effort in the conditions. She came back past me clearly still looking for her legs whilst telling me that “I am so sore I am never doing this race again”. I knew she was hurting but I had no doubt in her ability to manage the pain and recover as the day and race went on. As she headed off into the distance I looked at the Irontrac updates and headed back to the finish and the red carpet to see the first pro come home. I took up my position in the VIP area opposite the finishing arch and waited for Ronnie Schildknecht to complete a fantastic performance that saw many of the other pros blow out trying to run him down off the bike. Ronnie clinched the win in a time of 8:11 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INyxxVaz3Mw with Cyril Viennot taking 2nd in 8:19 closely followed 17 seconds later by an exhausted Bas Diederen. Both men running the 1st and 2nd fastest run split of 2:48 and some change.
I was heading back out from the finish when i saw Kent Horner round the bend into the finishing straight coming home 8th in the pro field. I was stoked for him to be South Africa’s first pro home also and that despite hurting earlier on he had hung tough to come through and finish the race on a high note. I admittedly missed the ladies finish that saw a patient Jessie Donovan eventually chase down Jodie Swallow on the run to finish 1st in 9:10 with Jodie 7 minutes behind. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHIaLarGwn0 (Jodie on the run) I have no doubt that Jodie will learn immensely from her first outing and come back much stronger and wiser. The ladies of Ironman have been warned! The age group race was a one man show with Kyle Buckingham blitzing the course in 8:34 missing his age group’s world record by 1 minute. His times are worth mentioning and were Swim 52:59 Bike 4:38:59 and Run 2:58:40. Ridiculous!
I ran back down to our hotel as I needed to charge the Ipad and my phone again so that I could continue to keep Bianca’s friends and family updated on her progress. I shouted and cheered like a man possessed, living vicariously through the many old and new friends from near and far that were doing either yet another Ironman or taking on their first. They were all heroes in my mind and I revelled in their race to finish this great sporting event. I watched captivated by top age groupers Raoul De Jongh (above) and Alec Riddle (below) as they put the hammer down on the run to get back into podium position and Kyle Buckingham, well what can you say except this guy is bloody incredible!
Before long I spotted Bianca coming down the road towards me clearly taking strain. I tried not to show my concern and clapped and shouted encouragement before she said that she wanted to walk a little. I walked a short 25m stretch with her before she again picked up her feet and ran off towards the turn-around spot for the 2nd loop. I headed up to our hotel room to recharge the Ipad and phone and looked out of the window at the Ocean. It was a magnificent day and I noticed across from the hotel that Hulmewood Beach had a nice right hander peeling off the pylons with only one surfer out. It was just too tempting to pass up and so I got my board and wetsuit ready and headed back down to see Bianca on the return leg. I got down to the road just in time as Bianca trotted by looking a different person now with a fresh determination. She headed off up the road and then I ran up to our room to grab my surfboard and hit the waves for 40 minutes of playtime in the surf before she returned for her final lap of the run. I surfed a little longer than planned and missed Bianca going out to the turnaround spot by a couple of minutes but would be there comfortably on the return lap. I spotted Kristian Fesel @krisfees approaching heading into his final lap and I was stoked to share a short walk and chat with him before wishing him well on the remainder of his race. Bianca trotted along shortly after and I headed up the road after her trying to film, photograph and chat to her. Trying to multi task was not going so well and I told her how great she was and that she was almost home and that I would see her at the finish.
I headed back to the finish and watched and waited patiently for Bianca as I cheered on the many others finishing Ironman. Amongst these were first timers David Webb @worldwidewebbd and Gareth Edwards @TheGMAT both finishing in great times of 11 hours. The bubbly Keri Delport @Kez_Delport and fellow @MyTrainingDay athlete Audrey Seale @AudreySeale pulled together after taking strain on the run and held it together right to the finish line to also finish in 11 hours and top 10 in their respective age groups. I cheered on Kris Fesel finishing his 9th consecutive Ironman South Africa and then as the 12 hour mark approached we waited completely oblivious to where on how Bianca was out on the course. We suddenly received a call from Adele a couple of kilometres from the finish line saying that she was surprised to see that Bianca had just ran past her clearly ahead of time and obviously running hard against the clock to get in under the 12 hour mark. It was at that moment that one of Bianca’s favourite songs Will I Am’s Hall of Fame rang out and it was perfectly scripted for her to come around the corner and onto the red carpet to the finish chute. We watched anxiously staring at the clock and looking down the finishing chute waiting to see Bianca any moment. The clock ticked over past 12 hours and no sign of Bianca I knew that she would be disappointed but I was so overwhelmed that she had put on such an amazing effort to even get close to that time at her first Ironman. It was only a minute and I heard Paul Kaye and his fellow announcer welcome her onto the Red Carpet. I was so overjoyed to see her and I asked Monique to hold the Ipad as I rushed alongside the finishing chute to cheer her on and congratulate her. She ran over to me and I hugged and kissed her and the second we shared felt like minutes.
Bianca had come so far in such a short time both before and on race day. I was so incredibly proud of her and absolutely ecstatic to be able to watch her fulfil her goal of becoming an Ironman. I was so glad that I had not raced that day and I would not have traded that day of watching her complete her first Ironman for anything.
After Bianca had enjoyed a short massage, collected her finisher’s shirt and medal we headed back to the finish to watch the Ironman clock countdown to 17 hours and welcomed many more Ironman across the finish line. Amongst these Hein Wagner the blind athlete who continues to inspire many with his feats of endurance. Then a moment that so many at Ironman South Africa had waited for for so long as Team Garwood aka Kevin and Nikki Garwood ran down the finishing chute to rapturous applause and amidst much emotion to cross the line and complete their first Ironman together after many previous attempts.
A truly heart-warming story and one that reaffirms the Ironman motto “Anything is Possible”
This is Ironman and it truly is!
See you all in 2014