BY CHARL VAN HEERDEN
I wasn't nearly as nervous going into IMSA'17 as I was for IMSA'16. I knew what to expect, my preparation with coach Magda Nieuwoudt from Trivium was solid, I had a very specific heart-rate based race-plan which I trusted to get me to the end, and I had no injuries. The weather prediction looked great (very little wind and a warm day, which suits me perfectly). Murphy had other plans though, as always.
Race morning, and I couldn't wait to start. I was so excited, that I forgot to take my goggles and race cap from my brother who held on to them while I was getting into my wetsuit; thankfully he somehow found me among the 2000+ participants. Disaster narrowly avoided.
The swim (3.8km). Race plan: 1h15m.
It started well. I was relaxed, well prepared and determined to improve on my rather average 2016 swim time of ~1h24m. At warm water weekend, two weeks earlier, I averaged 1m53s / 100m, which was right on track with Magda's training plan. Surely I could do the same (or better) in PE?
The sea was rough (big swells which made sighting difficult), but nothing too bad. Apart from an annoying old man touching my feet about 200 times, I thought I was doing OK. When I checked my watch at the second buoy (halfway) though, I was devastated to see that I was going even slower than in 2016! I tried to speed up, but eventually got out of the water in a disappointing 1h29m, averaging 2m18s / 100m.
The bike (180km): Race plan: cadence 80-90, heart rate 155-158.
I was determined to make up for "lost" time on the bike. Murphy decided to say hi, as soon as I activated the bike leg on my watch, as there was suddenly no HR reading! Carefully tailored HR-based race plan out the window, I tried to focus only on cadence and to never push too hard, and it seemed to work well. Apart from the seriously deteriorating road surface (my aero water bottle literally broke off from the constant vibration), the bike leg went really well, and I got into transition just as Ben Hoffman finished his marathon, winning in an incredible course record time of 7h58m40s! Bike time: 5h41m (5h44m in 2016).
The run (42.2km): Race plan: 3h52m, heart rate 160-165.
Getting out of transition, my legs felt incredible. Magda's double brick sessions really paid off, as the first couple of k's after the bike is usually quite difficult while one adjusts from the bike to the run. In fact, I felt so good that I ran right up to a motorcycle that passed transition just I was getting out. When I looked behind me, I saw a mountain bike with "1st lady" written on a card. And when I looked to the side, I was running next to Daniella Ryff! For people who don't follow triathlon, this is like running on a track and suddenly finding yourself next to Usain Bolt. Or doing Comrades and suddenly finding yourself running next to Caroline Wostmann. We were cruising along at just over 4min/km. After ~1km of running with the reigning world champion (Daniella was on her final lap), some sense finally kicked in and I slacked down to a more sensible 5+min/km.
The run turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable experience. I saw my new friend Arnold a couple of times on the route (it's always nice to see someone you know that you can talk to, and who shares in the pain), and the support in PE was incredible, as always. After 04h05m (4h24m in 2016), I finally ended another incredible ironman experience in 11h29m.
The weekend and build-up to ironman was really special. The people who sent messages of support probably have no idea how much it really means (to all of you, thank you!). To the supporters who went with to PE (Sandy, Nicolette, and PW and Lee-Ane who drove all the way from Pretoria to come support me), thank you SO much. Magda, for the interesting and well-designed training plans, thanks a lot! And last but not least, to everyone who trained with me (all my new swimming friends and cycle buddies): while race-day is the so-called cherry on the cake, the training and the corresponding camaraderie really is what makes the ironman experience so special.
This blog is written by the coach and athletes associated with Trivium.