East London 70.3 Race Report – A Virgin’s Story

Well, the race is done…wetsuit’s nearly dry, shoes are starting to eye me from the corner where I tossed them last night and the sunburn is really hurting!

Sunday saw a number of Bombers, most of them first timers, attempt and conquer the East London Ironman 70.3. For me, it all started a while ago when Matthew, my 7 year old, told me that his friend’s Dad was an Ironman, and “all” I could pull of was Comrades. You’d be amazed, but the way he said “comrades” it sounded just like “run round the block”. “Anyway, Dad, Comrades is only as hard as a half Ironman…” he continued, watching me with those innocent blue eyes as my self esteem slithered to the floor.

The seed was sown and was soon nurtured by Wynne and Terry’s tales of this thing called “cross training” (which I thought involved sprinting across a busy intersection) and Iano and Ro talking about “brick sessions” (which I assumed had something to do with a run so hard you cr@pped bricks)…my, my what little I knew!

Soon I convinced my unsuspecting better half to let me do “the half”. “It will be fun”, I said, “some swims and rides…much easier than a track sessions! And, not only will I stay injury free this year, I’ll get stronger, too!” To be fair, I really had no clue what I was talking about so technically can’t be accused of lying. Soon the credit card was recruited as first I had to get “the basics” (bike, shoes, tri shorts), then “the essentials” (wetsuit, tri bars, skimpy top 3 sizes too small) and then “the unavoidables” (physio, bio and bike transport). And that was all before I shelled out more than a few bob for the entry fee, flight to East London and some humble accommodation!

During the training (or rather, practicing, in my case) period I learned that cycling is bloody hard work and for me involved a disappointingly low number of cappuccino’s at the M&B as I desperately raced up Cedar Rd hill to ensure that the session didn’t consume the whole of my family’s weekend, and that swimming is actually not boring, just reserved for the “strong of mind”. I learned what an open water swim was all about – in Mexico with the fish and in the Vaal Dam with a big black snake – and that tri bars look very, very cool and actually work once you know how. I slowly picked up some of the lingo – 53 cogs (still not sure) and 70.3 (what you call the half Ironman so you can talk about it without admitting it’s only 50% of the REAL Ironman). I learned how to put on and take off a wetsuit (hint: use a packet) and how reach behind me on the bike to those cool looking bottle holders; “they go in the dead spot, man” said the guy at the tri shop. (I think he assumed I would be going fast enough for there to be a wind shadow behind my butt. Fool!)

Then came the race.

There are many arguments about whether Comrades or Ironman is harder, and what kind of personal commitment is required to get each of them done, blah, blah and so on. But what I can tell you for sure is that there is nothing as stressful or exhausting as the day before an Ironman event. For me, it went like this: wake up, trip on bikes being handed in, unwrapped, by the pretty blonde who you are pretty sure is going to kill you in the race tomorrow, catch flight, find your hotel, find your bike, rebuild your bike, check the tyres, register for race, check bike again on 15km ride, check tyres (twice), weave madly to avoid all glass on the road, check bike, check tyres, walk to beach for swim, crap bricks wondering how you will get to those bouys just over the horizon, pack swim bag, pack ride bag, pack and unpack and repack run bag, apply stickers to bike, bags and supporter, repack all three bags, stand in line to check bike in, return to hotel to fetch timing chip, reenter bike-check line, provide DNA sample to enter bike transition, find your unique ride and run bag hanger among 2 thousand others, attend briefing, crap yourself again, eat lunch then dinner (at once). Then you get to sleep, if you can. Compare to Comrades: arrive, register, eat, sleep, throw a few gels on top of your shoes, pin on your number, sleep. Easy peasy!

The morning dawned bright, calm and clear. In Cape Town. In East London it was dark, windy and foreboding, but at least the sea looked calm from the 6th floor of the hotel. Down to the transition for a last look at the bike (check tyres), put on wetsuit and enter the water for a “warm up”. This part was quite funny since the water was 16 degrees and my body a cosy 27 in the wetsuit, so the warm up didn’t go as planned in the warming sense, but at least I got wet and confirmed that I hadn’t lost my ability to float overnight. Don’t joke, that was a serious consideration!

Then something strange happened. All of a sudden the once distant buoys didn’t seem so far. The steely gaze in Terry’s eyes, and Iano’s firm handshake confirmed what we all knew: we could do this. And I started to look forward to it, starting with the swim. I stood at the front of the holding pen on the beach and, turning to the mob behind me, warned them not to think about swimming over me if they knew what was good for them. They just smiled. I even gave some advice to a nervous looking bloke standing beside me…me, the virgin, was dispensing advice in the manner of a grizzled veteran, and it felt right!

As so the race began, and I swam and didn’t panic or drown, then changed out of my suit and found in my transition bag everything I needed and in the transition tent a friendly smile from the bloke wrestling off his Orca wetsuit and also one from the friendly orca helping him. And I found my bike first time and didn’t forget to put on my helmet.

The ride was tough, but I expected that. Going out into the wind was a challenge; the low point came at the high point as I struggled up the offramp before crossing the bridge over the highway. The sign said “It’s ok to vomit a little”. Very funny! Not. Coming back into town was fun and fast and soon enough it was over.

In the run transition tent I was visited by an angel who said to me “sit back, breathe and change your shoes. I will do the rest.” If I saw her today I am ashamed to say that I wouldn’t recognize her, but she was amazing. Not only did she open the bag for me, help me find what I needed, pack away all my clobber (sopping wet from the rain and sweat) but she also put up with my pathetic blubbering about how grateful I was to her for doing this thankless task!

I am going to log only 11.1km for the run because I ran the first 10 on someone else’s legs. For those runners who scoff at our run times I invite you to try running after a 90km cycle. Not so funny anymore, hey? The run consisted of 2 loops with a turn point at each end, and volunteers dispensing wrist bands at the end of the far turn point. I briefly considered holding down a young lady who had one before I did so I could steal hers, but I knew that I could never catch her and that even if I did she would probably leave me crying in a heap with a black eye! So I lugged my frame around the course for a while, trying to catch Iano who shouted encouraging things like “looking strong, mate” and “wow, you’re really running well” as he sped off in the opposite direction, when all I wanted to hear was “Here’s my first wristband, Doug, you’ve earned it! And don’t stress, I’m going as fast as I can to pick up the second for you so you can proceed directly to the finish line. Sit yourself down under that tree over there and I’ll be along in a mo.”

And they’re cruel, those wristband guys, really cruel. The guys with the second wristband, the blue one, stand closer to you than the blokes with the first lap bands, so you have to run past the one you really want before having to run a full 10km before you see the beloved blue band boys! Sadists!

Okay, so now I had my two prized wristbands, one white and one blue, and off I trotted towards the finish. I had visions of cranking it up a bit to enjoy a couple of sub 4 15 kays – after all, I am a runner and it was time to show these lycra clad, carbon worshipping triathletes a thing or two about running – but no, it was not to be. So instead I smiled and I waved to the crowd at the bottom of Bunkers Hill but she only waved to her husband.

At that point I remembered my conviction on the beach: I could do this, I was strong enough to do the (half, 70 point…whatever) Ironman, and by gum I was going to show them some elation at the end! I used all the training techniques I knew to prepare for the big event – first I set a goal (some moderate fist clenching building to an above the shoulders V for Virgin as I crossed the line), visualized the action and the feeling of perfect execution and then did a few warmups (you can never be too careful, it would be a shame to pull a lat after 18km of the run) and then let go with a full rehearsal fist pump, “whoohoo” and a perfect arms up celebration…I was amped for the finish line! And the spectators averted their eyes in shame, thinking I had lost my mind. Pity I still had 2 miserable kays to run into the teeth of the westerly that had been tormenting me all day!

Then it happened: the path narrowed and the vuvu’s blasted, the kids put their hands up for a high (for them, very high for me) five and the announcer called my name. I lifted my gaze and stared down the finishing line, concentrating single mindedly on only one thought: how f#cking mad you would have to be to do the full Ironman! So focused was I on this that I nearly forgot my finishing celebration, and so I had to clench and pump the fists and raise the arms all in one jerky, uncoordinated instant. I think the announcer thought I had a cramp attack!

It seems that I am going to have to go back next year to get it right. I have some unfinished business with that finishing straight.


8 Responses

  1. Wow Doug that was fascinating. Thank God it wasn’t me being the hero of the piece. Sounds utterly inviting. Can’t wait to join you on the next one! Lots love


  2. Fabulous read and very very proud of you! From one of your biggest fans!

  3. Hi Doug

    Brilliant story. I forwarded it to a few friends of mine who also did the 70.3 and before you know it the Editor of Modern Athlete emailed me wanting to publish it in their March edition. If you are interested please email me your contact details (as they would like you permission to publish) and I will send them onto the editor.



  4. what a brilliant account Doug of the most unbelivable experience. one comment; you left out the bit bit about the smorgarsboard of food on our plated after the event……i think i ate more post race than i have the entire year 🙂

  5. I agree with Kate; a brilliant effort and outstanding success from all of you. I am in awe of what you all accomplished on Saturday. Well done and it will be some time before I am brave enough to consider a 70.3. Well done.

  6. Great story Doug, still didn’t convince me that I need to do it! I will stand on the side cheering you all on … one year maybe! Got news for you, next year you will have a little bambino to play with … and if Robyn lets you do this race then she really is a SUPER MOM! Or you will be training really early in the mornning 🙂

  7. Hey Doug

    What an awesome account of the race. You really were running well – made me feel like a hare being chased by a greyhound 🙂

    I just checked my Polar race file and saw the I had the swim temp logged at 13 degrees. I personally don’t think it was that cold, but Werner told me he had it logged at 14 degrees, so it must have been somewhere around there – brrrr

    Makes the effort of everyone just that little bit more special 🙂


  8. Oh how I cant wait to do this one day – one day…. well done! It does make Comrades sound like ‘just a run around the block’. Brilliant effort all of you…

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