Ironman Port Elizabeth 2006 by gyvwpsjkko


									                     Ironman Port Elizabeth 2006

For those that don‟t know, the Ironman consists of a 3,8km swim followed by a 180km cycle and then
by a 42km run, … all done in one day. The Ironman event was created by Commander John Collins of
the US Navy in 1978 in Hawaii and was designed as an event to find out who is the worlds fittest
athlete by combining the Waikiki rough water swim (2.4 miles), the Around Oahu Bike Ride (112
miles) and the Honolulu marathon(26.2 Miles). The first race in Hawaii in 1978 had 15 entrants who all
started with some trepidation and the words of Cmdr John Collins ringing in their ears.

                   “Swim 2.4, ride 112, run 26.2. Then brag for the rest of your life.”

Since the inaugural event, Ironman‟s fame has grown worldwide with presently some 30 Ironman races
held annually around the world. These events are sanctioned by the World Triathlon Corporation (who
own the rights to Ironman) and serve as qualifying events to the annual Ironman world championships.
The annual world champs event is held on the big island of Kona, Hawaii every year on the closest
weekend to full moon during October.

In order to be invited to race at Kona, athletes need to have placed top five in their age group at one of
the other Ironman events around the world in the previous year.

This year the South African event was held in Port Elizabeth on 19th March. PE has adopted Ironman
whole heartedly and the local people really go to town to make the day memorable for athletes and
spectators alike. Port Elizabeth has committed to holding the event annually for at least five years with
the principle sponsor Specsavers backing the race for the same period.

This article will proceed to give you a feeling of what it entails to live the Ironman race from my, a
participants view.
The build up to IM Port Elizabeth starts typically in December with a focussed training plan kicking in
to place about 13 weeks prior to the race day, ensuring that most athletes will have trained for between
10 and 18 hours per week consistently for about 10 weeks.. The professional athletes such as Raynard
Tissink (2005 IM SA champ) train for 30 to 40 hrs per week. Whether one is a weekend warrior or a
professional, the taper in the last two weeks is a welcome respite from fitting training in with work,
family, food and sleep. Just prior to tapering, most Ironman athletes think they are moving home each
day, because of the swimming/biking/running kit that seem to live in their cars.

After all the preparation, tapering and travelling the Ironpeople (men and women race together)
descended on PE. They are easily identified by the bikes and bags that they push and/or carry. There
seemed to be no reduction in the amount of equipment and kit one had to have.

In the week preceding the race PE lived up to its‟ reputation as the windy city. The wind blew almost
everyday and the major topics of conversation were speculation about the weather on race day
including interpretation of the 5 day weather forecast and how everyone‟s preparation had gone to plan
or not.

Race registration and the race expo opened on the Thursday morning. Athletes could be seen
wandering around the boardwalk centre carrying plastic bags with their race info and other bags with
last minute purchases from the expo exhibitors. Other athletes could be seen riding their bikes or
running along PE‟s beachfront with a few braving the Indian Ocean for a last swim before race day.

All this activity continued until Saturday afternoon with the stragglers arriving by car and plane until
the early evening. The final task was for athletes to check their bikes in to transition, in front of Shark
Pier, and hand in their transition bags containing changes of clothing and other items including food to
sustain them during the following day. Then there was a noticeable decline in activity as last minute
preparations and carbohydrate meals were consumed before an early night and an attempt at restless

For most, the night before Ironman is interminably long with the alarm ironically going off all too early
at about 4.30 am. A final meal of oats and a bit of fruit with coffee before getting dressed and we head
down to the start and transition area on the beachfront. At the start, athletes prepare for the 3,8km swim
and check that everything is still in order with their bicycles. A final check and pump of tyres and
filling of water bottles preceded donning of wetsuits.

The start time of 7.00am draws closer with a consummate increase in nerves as the athletes make their
way down to the marked off start area on the beach. The professionals stand in front of the age group
athletes with a gap of 10 meters. At this time the wind was still light on the beach but the flags on
Shark Pier were standing at right angles to the flag poles heralding what was to come.

The start was signalled by a gun shot on the beach and a broadside from the cannon on board the
Swedish East Indiaman Gotheborg cargo ship which was visiting in PE. And so it began, this day would
be filled with mixed emotions, experiences, ups‟ and downs‟ shouts of joy and cries of disappointment.
From the beach, the swimmers looked like a shoal of wetsuit clad marine creatures following a
mysterious route only they know with the fastest leading the way and the rest following in a wedge
thinning out to the stragglers. We were off on the first of two 1,9 km laps of the swim course. At the
end of the first lap we had to run up the beach around a mark and back in to the water. By this time the
field is spread out and the leading packs were taking shape. During the second lap the threatening
weather made its presence felt with the wind picking up to near gale force and whipping up a swell and
chop that made the swim more challenging and times somewhat slower than expected for many.

Approaching the end of the pier and the large marker buoy for the second time meant that there was
only about 300meters left to swim. This was the time to pick up the kicking tempo and get some blood
flowing in to the legs in anticipation of a 180km bike ride. Reaching the beach and running up towards
transition passed in a flash with the supporters shouting athletes‟ names and the sound of traditional
drums shepherding everyone towards their bicycles. It was a rush to strip off wetsuits, grab transition
bags and head for the changing tents which was buzzing with activity as athletes hurried to change into
their cycling kit including shoes, helmets, sunglasses and sunscreen. A stumbling run through transition
to the mount/dismount line is the final signal that the bike is about to start. Of course the Pros are long
gone and are already cranking out the kilometres managing their heart rates and checking their

It was at this point that the weather decided to show everyone what was in store.

An indiscriminate downpour soaked athletes and spectators alike. For those already on the bike, it felt
like hail on the body. For those still in the swim, visibility was cut almost to zero and what was already
difficult for many became almost impossible with the only option being steady movement towards
what looked like Shark Pier and the last marker buoy. This downpour sent spectators scuttling for
shelter and the wind started to crank the challenge up a further notch.

The cycle route was three laps of 60km with a climb from the 2km mark until 14km on each lap. The
gradient is not impossibly steep but it is steep enough to be a challenge. To compound it though, the
wind was straight in to the face of the athletes with cycling speed being cut from 25km/hr to 12km/hr.
After 14km there is a welcome swooping descent which one could in other conditions cover at 50 to 60
km/hr but on this day it was hard work to maintain 30 km/hr. It is at about this point that carbohydrate
stores need to be replenished. There are as many preferences as there are entrants but GU‟s which are
sachets of highly concentrated carbohydrate are convenient to carry, supplemented by slices of
fruitcake and boiled baby potatoes or marmite/peanut butter sandwiches. The latter are normally
carried in a moon bag around the waist or are collected in special needs bags at about 50km and 110km
on the bike.

After the swooping descent the road levels and a steady pace is required to move towards the
turnaround at about 25km. This section of the route continued directly in to the wind and even on lap 1
of 3 it was hard work and it seemed unfair that the other athletes who had already turned were whizzing
along with the wind behind them. After turning and riding with the wind for about 5 km the route
turned to the right and wound its way through smallholdings and small farms back to the coast road. In
places the respite from the wind was welcome but it was only a matter of time before the full force
would be experienced again. The coast road is a very fast section and is an opportunity to try and make
up some lost time but it is also along this section that old injuries and any lurking problems start to
show themselves such as backache, sore muscles and laboured breathing. But it‟s too early because
there is still 130km of cycling and 42 km of running left. It is a signal to cut back on the effort and
make sure that the intake of food and drink is adequate. The wisdom of multiple Ironman finishers and
winners is “if you feel like you are going too slowly-then slow down some more until you have
completed 150km of the bike. Then if you are feeling strong you can pick up the pace.”
After being cautious on the first lap and having reached the end of the coast road which has pockets of
spectators and aid stations with water and other drinks the PE beach front is seen again. Here the
spectator support is uplifting with athletes being encouraged by family and friends. The rain had abated
but the wind continued to remind everyone that they should not become complacent and reckless, there
were still 2 laps of 60km to go. At the sharp end of the race Raynard Tissink was trading places with
the reigning World champion Faris Al Sultan from Germany. It seemed that as the two pre race
favourites they were locked in a one on one dual and were managing to maintain an average speed of
close to 40km/hr. The ladies race was a one lady affair. Natasha Badmann the reigning woman‟s World
Champ took the lead on the bike and was never seriously challenged for the rest of the day.

Lap two was more of the same, uphill and in to the wind until 14km and then the descent to the turn
and the winding route to the coast. A noticeable difference from lap 1 is how spread out the field is
becoming, bearing in mind that Ironman is a non drafting event meaning that one may not slipstream
on the bike. Failure to obey this rule once results in a 6 min time penalty. Failure a second time results
in disqualification. Adherence to the rule is ensured by race referees who police the bike route on

By the end of lap 2 the body is feeling the effects of the day and on lap 3 the climb to 14km is
noticeably slower for all but the most well conditioned athletes. Also any nutritional shortcuts start to
take their toll with energy levels getting low and reserves becoming depleted. On lap three athletes that
have not eaten and drunk properly start to fade and are overtaken by others who normally would not be
able to maintain their pace.. At some point in lap three the thought of running a marathon is a pleasant
thought because that means that one can get off the bike, take pressure of the seat and relieve muscles
that have been working for about 6 hours on the bike. At the end of the lap the support in to transition
is again uplifting and new reservoirs of energy are found. The pedalling tempo increases and shoes are
loosened in anticipation of reaching the dismount line. The realisation dawns that the bike is over and
the wind no longer has to be faced up the hill to the 14km mark. It is amazing how attractive a 42km
run seems at this point.

In to transition and off the bike at the dismount line. The bike is taken away by helpers and an attempt
is made at running to fetch the bike to run transition bag. Muscles rebel and the legs shout defiance and
after a few attempts begrudgingly start to do what the brain commands. It is in to the change tent once
again. This time the atmosphere is more subdued with less urgency. Changing of shoes donning of a
cap and application of vaseline to prevent chaffing are a priority followed by a Red Bull for the
caffeine kick. Then it is back out on to the course again.

This time the route is on the PE beachfront for three laps of 14km. The first part towards the city for
about 2km and then a turn around back past transition and down towards the University. Just before the
University a right turn takes the run route up a slight hill in to a left turn on to the campus and then a
winding gentle descent through the campus back to the coast road. Upon reaching the coast road a left
turn directs athletes back towards the transition area and a lonely 5km later they are back amongst the
spectators and further 2km later at the 14km mark.

Lap 1 starts slowly with the body adjusting to a new motion and changed demands. Every 2 km helpers
man aid stations with various drinks and food including GU‟s , marmite sandwiches, power bars,
potatoes and jelly babies. During the run athletes are able to interact with spectators with conversations
being struck up and continued on each lap. The run is characterised by highs and lows as the body
responds to the demands being placed on it.

The first signals are muscles that are sore but not unbearable. If these signals are ignored and the pace
is not managed it is inevitable that cramp or a simple go slow is declared and no matter how hard one
tries the body simply refuses to comply. Again a strategy of caution is advised as it quite easy to be
swept along by the crowd‟s enthusiasm and the electrifying atmosphere. It is said that the half way
point of an Ironman is at 21km in the run and that the key on the run is not to be the fastest but to slow
down the least.

Going through the transition area the first time gave the age groupers the chance to see the Professional
athletes who by this stage are on the third lap of the run. The lead had again been exchanged between
Raynard Tissink and Faris Al Sultan but with about 10km to go Faris had faded and Raynard was
leading with a relatively unknown contender from Belgium, Gerhardus Schellens, moving very quickly
through the field. The last 10 km saw quite few changes amongst the pros with Schellens eventually
winning and Raynard finishing in Second. Faris fade to 5th with another South African Jan van Rooyen
of comrades fame finishing 6th. The ladies race was comfortably won by Natascha Badmann followed
some 12 mins later by Di Macpherson of South Africa.

While all this excitement was going on at the front of the field, age groupers were continuing at their
own pace. For most a simple finish and a medal within the cut off of 17 hours would be adequate
reward for six months of training and dedication. By about 5km in the run most of the kinks are ironed
out and the running pace is established and running along the beachfront seems quite straightforward.
This sense of well being is soon to be disturbed by the little climb up to the university campus. It is
amazing how such a small change in gradient can reduce one to walking quite slowly at this stage of
the race. In an attempt to pick up the pace a negotiating strategy of walk one lamppost run two
lampposts is attempted. Sometimes it results in walk one run one or even walk two run one. The main
objective is to keep moving. By keeping going the top is reached and the gentle flat and descent to the
coast road begins. An ambitious attempt to pick up the pace a little too much, results in cramp and a
forced halt to proceedings while calf and thigh muscles are cajoled back in to action. Continuous
drinking and eating is required to maintain reserves. There is still 30 km to go. The coast road is quiet
and runners and stragglers on the bike share the route back towards transition. Runners thinking “thank
goodness I have finished the bike” and bikers thinking “thank goodness I will be running soon.”

Once again the route through the transition area is lined with friends and family shouting
encouragement and greetings to all athletes and lap 2 is started. The stretch towards town has
supporters on every block and corner. Some of them enjoying a picnic, others indulging in their
favourite beverage others simply waiting for loved ones. The one thing they all had in common though,
was unstinting support and encouragement for every single athlete that moved past them.

Lap 2 is characterised by more frequent go slows by muscles and more frequent walks at aid stations
but overall a decent pace is maintained. Cramping at the university campus rears its head again and the
coast road is a quiet stretch again. This time however there are no cyclists to share it with and the
afternoon light is fading. Reaching the crowds again is a sign that there is only one more lap of 14km to
go. Really quite simple it is not even as far as we ran every Saturday morning in training. In fact we
used to sometimes run that distance on a Thursday night after work. No big deal except during training
we had not swum 3,8km biked 180km and run 28km beforehand. So what! We will ignore that for
today and just keep going, eventually the turn at the town end is reached and the final countdown
begins. 12km to go 11km to go, now passing through transition area, starting the small climb to the
campus, only 9km to go, moving through the campus and cramp strikes, this time in the toes of all
places, followed by the quads. This must be the gentle descent to the coast road, so stretch out and start
moving slowly. O.K the cramp is behaving. Now let‟s see if we can hold it until the coast road. We
have made the coast road and cramp strike again suddenly and violently. A fellow competitor stops and
says „take this it will help” – liquid salts of magnesium. Vile tasting but effective. Running or rather
shuffling is resumed with 5km to go.

The crowds are reached with 3km to go. New reserves of energy emerge and the pace picks up. The
crowds are shouting, the lights are blazing at the finish line and the drums of the traditional dancers
echo across the night sky. The glare of a giant TV screen can be seen and the commentator‟s voice can
be heard above the din of the crowds and the music and the dancers. Slowly finishing is a reality and
there is lightness in each step that only comes from reaching a goal that at one time seemed a long way

The final turn in to the finish is bathed in bright light between an avenue of supporters each shouting
wildly and calling your name. The blue carpet seems to be there just for you and the commentator calls
your name and announces “You are an Ironman”

With that climax, the words of Commander John Collins comes to mind-

“Swim 2.4, ride 112, run 26.2. Then brag for the rest of your life.”

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