Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ironman South Africa 2013 - Report

Wow, I did it! I still remember the day I woke up in March 2010 and told my wife I was going to register for a triathlon to lose some weight, and now, three years later, I finished my first Ironman race!

A few days after we got home from the race my wife hugged me and asked me if I felt any different, if I felt anything had changed, and I asked her what she meant! She said, “Miguel, you have accomplished something not many people are able to accomplish. Many only dream about it or watch it on TV, but you did it… don’t you feel any different? How does it feel?” That was an interesting question from the person who has been affected the most by my training and dedication. Let's look at my experience in detail before I answer that question for you guys.

Thursday, April 11th
Our flight was planned for Thursday at 4pm and we got to the airport with plenty of time.  As we checked in there was an issue with my wife’s ticket, and they weren't going to allow her to board the plane.  This was going to be the worst start to what was supposed to be a great family weekend experience.  I was with the airline for close to one hour and they eventually fixed the issue with her ticket.  

As we all get on the bus to take us to our plane, my wife notices she had left the baby bag with her purse, all of the baby’s nappies and clothing by the airport x-ray scans.  I jumped out of the bus, ran up the escalators, got to the police x-ray scans and, luckily, the bag was there with everything still intact.  I ran back to the bus and off we were to the plane.  Those of you who follow my Instagram account will remember I had sprained my ankle three weeks before the race and I hadn’t ran since.  Well, this little exercise made my ankle hurt and I was starting to have second thoughts about my ability to do the run on the weekend.  I didn’t make a big deal out of it and I shook it off.

We landed in Port Elizabeth and there were massive Ironman posters on the airport and all around town.  We got our stuff and our transfer was waiting for us outside to take us to our Bed and Breakfast.   As we got to the BnB we met up with my Spanish friends, and I realized the BnB was a bit further away from the beach and race than I thought, so we decided I was going to head back to the airport and rent a car so we could get around.  I went to the airport, got a car, and went to get my bike from FOTFL.  I assembled the bike that night and then we went to dinner somewhere nearby. 

Friday, April 12th
Friday morning Guillermo, Toni, Pablo, Pedro and I woke up early and went out for a swim on the course.  We did an easy 1.9Km (1 lap) and then went back to the hotel for breakfast.  After breakfast Pedro and I went to register at the Expo quickly so we could meet up the guys at the BnB for our morning ride.  We got back on time,  jumped on the Argon18 bikes and headed out for a 60Km ride on the course.  It was fun going out with the Argon18 Mafia guys from Barcelona.  We all took our turns up front, Guillermo got away for a while then he slowed down, but it was a great opportunity to ride the course, feel the road, which was very rough, and have a feel for what the toughest parts would be out there on Sunday.  

After the ride I headed out to the beach with my wife, sister and children as both my wife and sister were running the IronGirl fun run with 1500 women.  It was a very, very colorful race with women of all ages, shapes and nationalities.  My wife finished the race in 12th position overall, 2nd in her AG, and my sister finished 48th overall and 8th in her AG.  I was very, very proud of both of them, and it was great seeing my daughters cheering their mummy and auntie on during the race!

Baby got BACK

Sonia coming in on 12th position
My IronGirls with their well deserved medals! And our parking attendant on the background

Saturday, April 13th
Saturday morning we headed out again for an early morning swim, but as we got to the beach we realized there was a sprint triathlon going on and the beach was swamped with triathletes.  We decided to head down to the beach anyway and we swam away from their course.  This time Pablo, myself and Pedro did a short 700m swim, basically an out and back to the first race buoy, but Tony and Guillermo did a few more and we headed back home.

No more training at this point, and since I hadn’t been to the race briefing before, I decided to go to the 11am briefing on Saturday.  Butterflies all over my stomach from the moment I stepped in the auditorium! Hundreds of people from all over the world were in that room, and that was just one of the many race briefs over the weekend. After the race briefing I went to the hotel, picked up the bike and racked it for the following day.

Race Day - Sunday, April 14th
Me and the boys got up and met by the pool at 5:30am.  We headed out to the transition area and we each went to our bikes for final check ups.  My wife and sister were going to meet up with us at 6:30am by transition.

As I go to my bike I placed all my nutrition in my nutrition bag, and then..FUCK!! I forgot my drink to put on my Speedfill! "Damn, damn... ok, ok calm down" ... "FUCK, FUCK.... calm down" I thought to myself. I remember seeing on the race briefing that the very first aid station was 1Km from the bike start, so all I had to do was remember to get my water at that station!  I placed my bike shoes on the bike and secured them to the bike with rubber bands, ready to fly onto it on T1.

I took a bit longer to get to the beach than planned as the mandatory toilet stop took a bit longer than expected due to a quite long line as you can imagine!  When I finished pooping I went looking for the guys but they were already by the beach, so I called my wife, met up with her, my children and sister and we said our goodbyes! As my wife was helping me put my wetsuit on and as I was pulling the left sleeve up...... "rrrriiiiiiippp" a big rip on the sleeve! I could not believe that! A ripped wetsuit 5 minutes before the swim start on my first Ironman! My wife looked at me, I looked at her and she told me "You'll be fine baby, you'll be fine, just don't think about it". I was scared shitless at this moment as swimming is my worst discipline, and I was imagining the rip extending down and up my suit creating drag and letting loads of water in!!! "Time to man up... time to man up!" I thought as I headed out to the beach to start my swim. "It is what it is, so just deal with it" I thought!

3.8 Km SWIM
I placed myself towards the left, about three quarters of the way back of the pack.  The first 300ms were a bit choppy as it was 1800 of us, but, to be honest, I felt quite comfortable and didn't feel a bad punch or kick at all.  As we got to the first buoy it must have taken us about 3 minutes to go around it because we were just so many swimmers out there. I took my time and after the first buoy I was off.  There was another buoy half way to the end of the first straight line, and I made sure I was in line with it all the time.  I went around the first lap in 42 mins, and as I exited the water I didn't see my family so I jumped back in for the second lap.

The second lap was fine with no problems at all, other than making sure I was in line and not swaying to the sides as I had done before at other races.  Sighting was not an issue as there were hundreds of swimmers around me, so I made sure I was always near someone. I chatted with a guy on the last 400m as we both stopped to sight, and we pumped each other up with a "C'mon, lets do this", and we were off!

I exited the water in 1h:28mins, which was 15 mins ahead of my planned time of 1h45mins. I was happy the rip on my wetsuit didnt make a difference and didn't extend any further, but not too happy about the fact I need to "invest" a substantial amount of money on another one!


As I exited the beach and went up the steps I was still feeling a bit dizzy, as you do, but managed to get my wetsuit out and get my bike bag from the rack.  I didn't rush out of transition and I actually took a bit of a breather before heading out on the bike, chilling a bit while I put my Quad and Calf compressions on. Transition 1 time was 05m:39s

180 Kms Bike
As I head out of transition and hear my family cheering for me on the sidelines my adrenaline levels shot right up to the roof.  it was great seeing and hearing them cheer from me!  I jumped on the bike on the move, placed my feet in the shoes, and made sure I grabbed a drink on my way past the first aid station.  

The way out of town is uphill and a bit of a challenge at this point given we were all still tired and dizzy from the swim.  Nonetheless, I kept on going, ramming those gears on my way up the hill.  I remember what Guillermo said when we went out on the course recognition ride on Friday,"This is the typical course where if you go too hard on the first lap, you reach the last lap completely dead", so I made sure I was going fast, but not too fast to ensure I still had something left in the tank for the last lap.

My pace was good and I was averaging 32Km/h, with a few stints over 70Km/h.  I was not looking at my wattage at this point as I was aiming for a 6h ride avaring 30Km/h, so I knew I was ahead of schedule with this average.  I passed hundreds of people, and I was only passed by two guys, who obviously had paid quite a lot of attention to their leg strength as they both had MASSIVE legs! Note to self, improve leg strength next season!

I was taking my Gu gels and my saltsticks every 30 minutes as per plan, and I was feeling fine, with no tummy issues, no cramps, and my ankle was not bothering me at this time.  On my second lap I starting taking some pain killers as I was expecting my ankle to start hurting on the run, and I wanted to delay it as much as possible.  I cramped a little on the last 50Kms but I was able to shake it off by standing on the bike and slowing down the pace a bit. 

Following my cramps, the 
unthinkable happened! 
I started having issues with my gears and Iwas not able to keep the rear derailleur on the little chain-ring to keep the speed up.  It slowed down my pace and two guys managed to pass me.  I couldn't believe it, mechanical problems on my first IM!! Everyone's nightmare!  I kept playing with the gears and I realized that it was my Di2 battery which was dying on me, so I tried different combinations between the front and rear rings to keep my speed up, but at this point I was riding at 27Km/h and I was not a happy man!  The last 30Kms were the longest, as I was expecting the worst to happen, but I managed to reach T2 in a time of 5h:29mins, half an hour ahead of schedule and with plenty of energy still left in the tank.


I was happy to be 45 minutes ahead of schedule (15' on swim and 30' on bike), but the hardest part was still to come.  As I got my run bag I went to the medical tent and told them about my ankle injury three weeks before the race.  They applied some cold spray, tapped me up gently, and sent me on my way in 07m:14s

42Kms Run
Before the race Guillermo told me that an Ironman doesn't really start until Km 28 of the marathon, and I remembered those words as I exited T2.  I was praying for my ankle to hold up, and really looking forward to that finish line... but I still had 42Kms to run!

I ran the first lap with no issues and very little pain, but I was still taking my pain killers, which ran out on me in the middle of lap 1 of the marathon.  as you can see from my GPS below (click for details), I managed to run the whole of the first lap without stopping once, BUT  I ran out of saltsticks on lap 1, and I knew cramps were about to kick in at any minute, but that was due to a dumb mistake by me, having placed my saltstick tube in my run bag with no pills inside it! Dumbass!!

I went around the first lap in 1h:24m, meaning an average pace of 6m/Km. From the second lap onwards it really was downhill, with lots of pain on my ankle.  I managed to hold on to the pain by walking the aid stations on the second lap, getting me around in a total run time of 3h:48m, lowering my average to 6m:48s/Km. But it was the last lap that killed me. At this time I was walking most of the way around, and my ankle was not having it any other way!  My total running time was 5h:20ms.

Post Race
When I crossed the line Paul Wolf, the race director, shook my hand and asked me if I wanted to give my son back to my family.  I handed Angelo back to Guillermo and Monica and asked them to find my wife, who was about 20 meters away from them on the stands.  I then headed out to the massage tent where I had a 10 minute leg and back massage which, at that moment, was the best thing I could wish for!  As I am getting ready to get up form the bed I hear my wife shouting my name at the entrance of the tent so I go towards her and she hugged me and kissed me with tears in her eyes! "You did it baby, you did it!" she said to me! I hugged her and thanked her for having been there and having put with all my training to be able to reach this goal!

Although it was not the sub12 time I was looking for, I am still happy with my time taking into account the fact that it was my first ever IM, and I raced it with a recently sprained ankle!  It was a bitter sweet feelinb, but as one of my Instagram and Tweeter followers said, "there will be other days to chase times, you are an Ironman Miguel".

I get emotional when I think about what I have achieved with my training and racing.  People who don't share this sport and lifestyle find it hard to understand, and many think we are crazy for doing what we do... putting our bodies through the long and tough hours of pain on our training and racing, but they don't have to understand it, as long as we do!  

So what did I tell my wife when she asked me what I felt like that morning a few days after the race?  I told her I didn't feel particularly different.  I told her I felt the same, apart from, obviously, still feeling a bit sore from the race! I told her I was now even more hungry for Kona because I had a taste of what racing IM was like.  Because of the bitter sweet feeling from having had to walk the best part of the last 14 Kms! Because I knew I was on pace to go sub11, but my ankle made me add an additional 90 minutes to my time!  I told her I felt the same, just a bit more hungry for the goal we all have, which is to go to Kona, at least once in our life!

Lessons Learned
  1. No more running in the dark on training days. That's how I sprained my ankle three weeks before the race.
  2. No matter what, always recharge my Di2 battery prior to race day!
  3. Make sure ALL my saltstick tubes have salt pills in them, specially my run tube!
  4. Pay more attention to strength/core training next season. Definitely not enough done this year!
  5. Continue working on my swim, as I need to get closer to 1h swim time