by Donald Yates
20 January 2013
It is my experience that a truly great race starts with the national anthem. Such an event is the Ironman 70.3 in Buffalo City. I stood on the beach looking out at the waves and overcast skies as almost 3200 athletes listened to the anthem. This event is so much more than a Sunday morning event. It starts on the Thursday with registration and Ironman expo, Swim course training on the Friday morning, race briefing on the Friday evening, more swim course training on the Saturday, and finally the event on the Sunday morning. But, that’s not all….. on the Sunday evening everyone attends the awards dinner and has a jolly good celebration! As an athlete you feel like a rock-star from the moment the orange athletes bangle is attached to your wrist.
Little did any of us know at that stage that two of our fellow athletes would not come out of the water alive. Very sadly both young men had heart attacks during the swim and could not be resuscitated. One of the men had been on antibiotics and was recovering from flu. This should be a warning and severe reminder to all of us that ignoring our body’s warning signs can be deadly.
My age category was in wave 5, and when the mayor of Buffalo City sounded the horn, I hesitated a little to remain out of the main field in the water, and remained to the right of the course to avoid the bunching at the buoys. My 2012 swim time for the 1,9km course was 51 minutes. The sea was choppy and the swells kept slapping me in the face every time I sighted. Nevertheless when I rounded the last buoy I put my head down and sprinted the last 200m to the beach. Slightly dizzy, I peeked at my watch as I pulled the wetsuit off my arms, and was delighted to see 44 minutes. A personal best for me. I did a fist-pump as I ran past the cheering crowds and pom-pom girls.
A volunteer held my bike bag as I pulled the wetsuit off my calves, and quickly put on my cleats and helmet, making sure not to forget the sun-block at the Techni-block tents. The bike course is an out and back 90,1km on the N6 highway, yes, they close BOTH LANES on BOTH SIDES of the highway for most of the day. It is said to be the toughest Ironman 70,3 bike course in the world, and it is an undulating uphill route for 45km, and then exactly the opposite coming back. Going out I reflected on the many training rides with the Germiston Wheelers, and wish to extend my thanks to them all for not busting my chops too much about bringing a TT bike to a club ride for at least four months. Also special thanks to the members that rode with me on the long rides, and chased me up each and every hill! We did many hilly routes and a couple of 100km plus training rides. I was confident on the bike, and the goal with this type of event is to finish the bike course fresh enough to tackle the run with strength. I rode with one bottle of 32GI, and left the other two cages empty, and at the first water point I collected a water bottle and a bottle of energy drink. At this event the water points have bottles, and you just throw away your empty ones. (treated like a rock-star you see?) However, you may only litter in the litter zones, and transgression of this rule results in DQ.
The race referees were brutal, and imposed the no-drafting rule very well, at one stage I had quite a fright when the referee rode next to me on the motorbike for a little while, and then started shouting that he was issuing a yellow card for drafting, boy was I relieved when he called out someone else’s number! (drafting results in a 4 minute time penalty in the penalty tents on the course)
The hills are grueling and never ending, with a total ascent of 2705m recorded on my Polar. Even the route back home does not feel like it is actually downhill. Much like the Amashova!
I came back into transition in a disappointing time of 3:23, cutting 7 minutes off my 2012 performance, but far off my personal goal of 3 hours straight. However, I felt strong for the run, and nipped through the change and sun-block application as fast as I could.
The run was hot. My Polar recorded a max temperature of 34 degrees. The cold-water sponges were a lifesaver. The course is two laps and proceeds down the pier to a small light house and back down the promenade, then a brutal 3km hill called bunkers hill, at the top of which you collect a coloured elastic band and then do it all again. I hit 11km bang on 60 minutes and was exited to be looking at a sub 6:30 finish time, but the pace was taking it’s toll and the sun felt like it was blistering my skin right off my shoulders. I want to thank the Germiston Callies runners that I run with during the week, for getting me in a respectable yet slightly overweight condition for a strong half-marathon!
When I ran along the pier towards the lighthouse, I felt that I could just hop over the wall and plop into the azure blue sea; it looked so cool! On the second lap, after Bunkers hill, I hit the wall. On hindsight I did not fuel properly, and should have had some fruit and carbs at the end of the bike leg. There were Gu gels and Gu Chews on the route, but I can only stomach a few of those. The crowd support is fantastic on this event, and people line the streets and shout your name in encouragement as you pass. I literally dragged myself the last 5km’s to the red carpet, and was elated to be finished, with a personal best of 6:39.
Once again, I wish to thank everyone that I train with, and look forward to their continued support as we hurtle toward the real Ironman event in April.