Why I’m Left Feeling Bitterly Disappointed By Half Iron Man.

Three years ago I took part in, and completed my first ever Half Iron Man in East London. Upon crossing the finish line I burst into tears. I was elated, so proud and felt like I had achieved the impossible. (Turns out, it’s the 2nd hardest course in the world, so my feelings were justified I suppose). Fast-forward to 19 June 2016 when I crossed the finish line in Durban, and all I felt was a heavy heart and bitter disappointment.

It’s been a few days since finishing the race, and I’ve been trying to understand why I feel so ‘let down’ about the entire experience.

The weeks and month leading up to the race were not kind, and as mentioned here, the odds just seemed to be against me. When I did the race for the first time three years ago, I had a lot more time to train, people to train with and it was I Summer, which meant Winter with its debilitating cold, dark and sickness wasn’t an issue. Back to back bronchitis, chronic anemia, no sleep, shin splints, planning a first birthday party, a resignation from work and massive stress in my life left me feeling seriously fragile for most of my training.

We arrived in Durban on Thursday – to give us enough time to register, chill with the friends whose house we were staying at, and acclimatise for the race. The big rule before any event like this is easy; REST UP. Unfortunately, the Monday before, Carter had started with some severe gastro that was so bad we did what we have never done before and actually panicked enough to take him to the hospital. There, they declared a viral gastro infection and asked us to ‘wait it out’. On the Saturday before the race (having waited it out for 7 days) he was only getting worse; there was blood in his stools, he wasn’t sleeping, had a raging fever, was as miserable as sin and we were exhausted. We took him to the hospital in Durban and within twenty minutes he was admitted for dehydration and on a drip. Emotional doesn’t even begin to cut it, I was devastated for two reasons – one for my poor sick baby in hospital, with a now bacterial dysentery (the guilt!) and two, for the race in less than 15 hours time – which Barry and I had both trained so long and hard for, sacrificed family time for and had been planning for, for the better part of half a year. Barry insisted I still race – knowing that after this 70.3 I was probably going to give up triathlon for a bit and focus on finding some balance in my life. With a heavy heart I left the hospital to go and pack my transition bags and rack my bike. If it wasn’t for my friend Eryn who we were staying with – who had just completed the Full Iron Man – I probably would have given up there and then. Thankfully she got my mind right(ish), helped me pack my bags, nutrition and bike and helped me get to the race to set up. She also took me down to the race the next morning at 5 am and stood on the cooking hot pavements, with her hubby and son, and supported me the entire day.

On the same Saturday that Carter was admitted – before we took him to the hospital – we had the pre-race training swim. Normally the pre-swim is a free for all where athletes get to play in the water, get a feel for the waves, the current and the ocean. This year the ocean was not playing ball, and the race organisers seemed uneasy. They made it a swim where you had to queue up and head off 10 at a time, with the organisers checking people in and out using our timing chips. Alarm bells were ringing in my head, and as the queue got longer and longer and more and more swimmers were coming you the water looking less than happy, I was in full blown panic mode. After about an hour and a half of waiting to go in, they abruptly cancelled the pre-swim. The water was just too dangerous. My heart sunk a bit further into my chest. The swim was my Achilles heel and mentally I had been preparing myself for this single discipline the entire time. Distracted by a very unwell baby though, we left and took him to the hospital, as above.

After a last visit to see my baby and Barry in the paed ward, I went home to Eryn and Greg and slept surprisingly well (could be the red wine or Xanax..or both). Up to this pint I had also picked up a tiny bit of Carter’s gastro, which meant an upset tummy and zero appetite – also not great before a race).

Race morning arrived and I was up at 4 am. For those who take part or spectate in triathlons, you understand its not as simple as arriving and running in to the water. It’s a mammoth task of logistics, planning and time. Even though your bike and two transition bags are packed and racked the day before, you still have to get down to transition the morning of the race to pump tyres, stock nutrition and triple check you have everything you need in the relevant bag. I did this all and left the transition area to find Eryn. It was dark and fresh and a beautiful morning. My tummy was feeling better, Carter seemed to be on the mend, and I suddenly had a bit more optimism about the race. Then the race organisers made the announcement: The swim had just been cancelled.

3000 athletes went in to panic mode. This was the first time in 20 years that the swim had been cancelled – which meant that the ocean really wasn’t in a good mood. Many people were angry and quick to judge. I was gutted. The biggest challenge for me, and one that I finally felt ready for had been pulled form under me. Which meant we technically weren’t doing a triathlon – we were doing a duathlon. I, along with 2999 other athletes felt cheated.

The race, instead of a well oiled slick machine now turned into disorganised chaos. The pro athletes (only about 16 in total) still had to do the swim, and the rest of us plebs would start on the bike once they were done. We walked down to the swim, my mind now completely unraveled and watched them start. ‘The waves aren’t that high’ I thought to myself as I looked down. Then the gun went and the pros went off and the only thing I can liken it to was confetti being tossed into a gale force wind. Swimmers were everywhere. Some immediately got pushed several hundred meters to the left, others got pushed to shore and some just could not get past the surf. Two ladies had to be rescued and many of them (remember, all pro athletes) said they thought they were going to die. To give more context – take a look here.

It was while watching the pro swim that I realised the organisers had definitely made the right call. I can guarantee that several people would have lost their life that day should the swim not have been cancelled. However, that still didn’t stop the thoughts banging in my head. People just aren’t going to respect us now. People will say it wasn’t a real race.

Now, this is where I think I started feeling like a loser, and why the race has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The bike start – instead of happening as people came out of the water – ie a staggered approach – but still relatively in line with your age groupers happened with all 3000 athletes at the same time, but actually not at the same time at all. Which meant a 2 hour queue as they let people off, five at a time every 15 seconds. I happened to be one of the very last in the queue, which meant that by the time I eventually started my bike, other athletes had already been out there for almost 2 hours. That does a lot for ones psyche, and even though your time only officially started once you had got on your bike and started cycling, mentally it felt like you were already behind. As an example, if athlete A started at the front of the queue and cycled a 4 hour race, and athlete B started at the back of the queue and cycled a 3 hour race, athlete A would still finish the bike first and start the run while athlete B was still riding. This is what happened to me, and even though I feel I had an OK’ish bike time (for me anyways!) I came off the bike and started the run when pretty much everyone had already started. Because of my late start, and the mentality of the organisers and volunteer staff being that of a normal race (ie cutoff times after swim and bike), by the time I turned around at the 40 km mark, people had already started packing up cones and aid stations and cars were flying past me on the freeways. Not cool. That, coupled with a really bad stitch in my shoulders made me a glum chap.

I got off my bike in transition and looked around in dismay – it seemed as if 90% of the bikes had been racked – which made perfect sense when you thought about it logically, but totally threw me, because even though I was well within my cutoff time, it felt like I was coming stone last. I started the run when most people were on their second lap, and so by the time I started my second lap, I had marshals rushing me along – again forgetting that I was making decent time and that time on the clock wasn’t an indicator of athlete performance. “I started 2 hours after everyone else!” I wanted to scream.

The run was shitty, and I will never again underestimate a ‘quick 21km’ again. Because it was completely flat I assumed it would be the best and easiest part of the day. It wasn’t. Flat means no hard uphill, but it also means no lovely downhill to relieve your legs. It was also 1 pm by the time I started, and 36 degrees.

I just felt the spectators at that point were disinterested, and I felt lonely for most of the run. Even my parents, who had come all the way to see me race, looked bored. I think it had been a long day of waiting, and due to the slow start, there wasn’t much excitement in terms of masses of athletes all competing at the same time. I could see them thinking ‘really, is this it?’

About 8 kms in I started running with a girl Siobhan who I met along the route and who mentally helped me a lot. I left her after a few kms as I was feeling a bit stronger, and she needed to walk a bit more. (I hope she somehow stumbles across this blog and makes contact – I never caught her last name, but we did commit to having lunch in Joburg together to celebrate not dying). The last 10 kms were much better than the first, and I kept a very slow but steady pace (race day goal was a 6:45 and I was managing between 7:30 and 8. I was hurting and the tummy cramps of the previous few days had flared up.).

On those last 10 kms, again due to the lateness of the day and mentality of how it’s usually done, a lot of the aid stations had closed up, sponges and water had run out and the promenade had been opened properly to the public. I ran into 2 people, was hit by a wayward soccer ball and had to dodge more than one child running in and out the crowds. By then I was close to despair and started going in to a very dark place.

Eventually, I finished, in my slowest 21 km time ever of 2:44. I crossed the finish line happy, grabbed my medal and T-shirt and made my way back to the supporters area. It was completely empty. That kind of (un)welcome does a lot for this already battered ego, and I felt so sad and despondent.

The positive to the race was that my baby boy was discharged that afternoon so he and hubby at-least got to see me on the route, which was a beautiful sight when you are empty and broken inside.

Sadly, I don’t feel as if the organisers handled the delayed start well, and I’m bitterly disappointed by how I was made to feel like a B grade athlete out there – at no fault of my own. I think the organisers had been prepped for a 7:30 am start and a cutoff by 15:30 – so when the plans changed and the time got pushed out, they weren’t aware that it was OK and athletes competing were not a bunch of losers. I also definitely know that having had the swim portion cut out – which actually made the race harder for some reason, has made me feel like a 2/3 Iron Man.

Does that mean I have unfinished business, and will be coming back next year to see it through? Probably not. I’m feeling a massive sense of relief that this race is over, and that I can focus on some other aspects of my life right now. Nothing that looks or sounds like a swim, bike or run… although, that’s what I said straight after my very first Half Iron man in 2013…

CJ was less than thrilled as well
CJ was less than thrilled as well

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I took this photo when the pros went out on their swim. You can see the lifeguards rushing in to assist a swimmer

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Carter in hospital with bacterial dysentry
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Race registration with Eryn
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Finishing in a time of 6:26
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On the Friday we did a team swim. The water was harsh but not unmanageable.
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Half Iron Man 70.3 (and the uneven, pothole infested road that’s got me there).

*Disclaimer. You’re about to get knee deep into the biggest pity-party this side of 2016. Sorry.

In 13 days’ time I will be standing at the start line of 70.3 Durban, and hopefully finishing less than 8.5 hours later, with a second Half Iron Man medal under my belt.

I’m dreading it. I feel like the odds have been stacked against me from the very start of this race.

Firstly, the race is on 19 June, slap bang in the middle of Winter. Which means training has been happening leading up to, and in Winter – dark mornings, dark nights, freezing weather and less than ideal circumstances. Have you ever been swimming at 5:30 am on a Monday in -2 cold degree, in the dark? It’s super kuk.

When I last did the race I was kid and fancy free. I could train twice a day, and train with my now-husband and some friends. Now that we have a son we have to split our time – so one of us will do the morning run while the other trains, and visa versa in the evening. That means apart from a very lonely 5 months of exercising alone, I also never see my husband, and get to tuck my child in bed 50% of the time. We are like 3 ships in the night.

I’ve also had the worst year, health wise. I was recently diagnosed with severe anemia, which is a relief, because I genuinely thought I had caught a bad case of the stupid. I’ve given and received bronchitis several times and had more throat infections than Zumas has wives. I’ve pretty much trained through antibiotics, iron drips and the plague.

And then the broken sleep, and sick baby, and teething baby and baby in general. Holy hell. My one-year-old gives zero shits that mommy needs to be up at 5 for a spinning class, and then a full day of work afterwards. And it’s fine, because I have dragged this kid through the trenches with me. We wake him up at godforsaken hours on the weekend, bundle him in layers of clothing and trek him from race to race. He has been a champ, and I think when he gets fed up of having to attend one more training session or Club V class he decides to grow 18 molars in the space of a day. Just for payback.

So I’m really tired, and exhausted, and so looking forward to this day being done. I’m also really scared that I don’t finish in time because despite it all I’ve given it 100% and tried my absolute best from day 1. I’m so worried of what people will think or say if I fail – how silly am I?

Also, have I told you that despite training 7 days a week for the past 4 months I HAVENT EVEN LOST ONE KILOGRAM? Anyway.

My husband slash coach asked me yesterday what my next goal is after the race is done. My answer? Chill the fuck out. (Until the next family gathering when after one too many glasses of wine I agree to another race, like Comrades or something equally stupid).

Freezing morning rides
Freezing morning rides
Solo Wattbike classes
Solo Wattbike classes

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Early dark morning at Germiston Tri
Early dark morning at Germiston Tri

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Finishing Germiston Tri
Finishing Germiston Tri
Supporting mom at her race
Supporting mom at her race
Does an iron drip qualify me as an Iron Man?
Does an iron drip qualify me as an Iron Man?
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One, Two, Tri-Rock

After finishing the Half Iron Man in January last year, swore I would never do another triathlon, let alone a Half Iron Man distance.

“2014 will be about making babies and buying homes” I’d exclaimed.

Well, the jokes on me, because I’ve agreed to do another one in October this year. OCTOBER people. I’m the fattest and most unfit I’ve ever been (swear, I nearly lost my breath walking up the office stairs this morning) so this is going to be a challenge. Thank goodness I’ve roped in my friend Shannon who is up for anything, so I will have a training partner. There are also a few friends who are doing it as well, so its going to be vibey and enjoyable (I hope).

Tri Rock takes place in Durban on 10 October. 

Is anyone else taking part? 

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Comrades Marathon 2012

Along with Miss South Africa and Tellyfun Quiz, Watching the Comrades Marathon was a South African tradition I grew up with. There was never a year that passed by by in our house when the TV wasn’t turned on early on a Saturday morning and all throughout the day we would glance up and see brave souls crossing the finish line, and some who didn’t.

I didn’t grow up in a running family so watching that race on TV was the closes I ever got to the actual race, until last year when we drove to Durban to watch a mutual friend run it for the first time. The experience was exhausting and crazy, and for my boyfriend, a challenge

This year he ran it for the very first time, along with his dad who ran it for the 13 th time, his brother in law who has a few under the belt our friend from last year and 10 of our running club crew.

Waking up at 2:30 am to drive the runners to the start set the tone for the rest of the day. Hurry up and wait. I admire Comrades supporters who pour through Pietermaritzburg in their thousands, complete with camping chairs, refueling goodies, skottels blankets and snacks. The role of the supporter is to arrive at a designated spot a few hours before, set up a station and then watch for their runner to come through, screaming and shouting for all the other runners as we do so, then move onto the next spot If I was nervous waiting for Barry to come through the points, I can’t imagine how he must have been feeling. Luckily, armed with woollies snacks and a crew of dutiful watchers, we found Barry and Pierre at all the stops and then headed off to kings mead stadium for the finish.

I can’t begin to describe the noise, the crowd and the vibe when you arrive. Runners.are.everywhere all doing the trademark ‘Comrades shuffle’. To watch a poor runner try and tackle the stairs after running solidly for up to 12 hours is quite a thing. Luckily we managed to find a spot on the crowded grandstand and wait for the guys to arrive. Barry was hoping for a 9 hour time which qualified him for a Bill Rowan medal, and when he hadn’t come through the finish at 8:50 I was in a state. When he did run under the massive balloon arch at 8:58, high giving everyone and smiling from ear to ear I was ecstatic! Our friend Pierre came in under 11 hours and I am happy to report both of them, although quite ‘eina’ and sore today, can live to tell the tale.

You often hear people refer to all athletes as ‘winners’ but when it comes to the Comrades I couldn’t agree more. To see you challenge yourselves in a run which most people believe to be impossible, and to cross/sprint or crawl across that finish line is a privilege. To all 180000 runners who took part this year – you are amazing.

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