That deep haze that comes from a big effort is just the perfect place to reflect upon where you are and what you are doing. Joberg2c was perfect for this because I was pushed in so many ways while there. Physically, I rode out of my shell on one of the days and pedalled squares coming home. On another physical level, I got dreadfully sick and had to manage that and actually pushed myself to a point of breaking, thankfully stopping just before.
Mentally, I learned that sore legs are just sore legs and you can ignore them quite well with enough practise.
Emotionally, I learned to trust my own pacing and judgement again. Sometimes, the pack does not know best.
Technically, I benefitted immensely from watching the racing lines of an expert – my partner. I am looking forward to applying this new-found skill set to Sani2c in a week’s time.
All these things brought me to a pretty special place sometime on Saturday evening on a flight between Durban and Cape Town. Somewhere along the week a seed was planted and just there, it showed it’s first leaf. I watered it and it wanted to grow so beautifully that I couldn’t help but be lead down a path of creativity, inspiration and hope.
The idea was seeded with a manifesto that included words like integrity, trust, community, playfulness and simplicity. It expanded into excel sheets, rough drawings and a vision. In there somewhere is a business idea which is based on everything that drives me. Clarity ensued and everything seemed to make sense – the numbers, the ideas and even the collaborations that would come out of it.
“Ladies & Gentleman, we have begun out descent. Please switch off all electronic devices…”
Dreams followed and the following morning, I couldn’t shake this feeling. The days’ happenings merely served as confirmations that this was a good path to dream on, to reflect on and to contort the future with. A bounce in my step was visible even to own eyes as I gathered information about this venture. As steam built in the little engine.
Beautiful clarity that comes from fatigue when our only options are clear ones, when the fluff seems to fall away and we are left with fight and flight, yes or no.
Now the process to mould begins, to align the stars and build a sustainable way to bring this idea to light.
A very non-sporty post today, but it’s been a bit of a race report festival here, so in the coming weeks I wanted to talk about more about little lifestyle elements that bring another dimension to us, as athletes.
It’s roughly 4pm and I am heading out the back of the university. I see one of my favourite people in the world ahead of me. He is running tall, proud and having a good day out.
I know I’ve had a good day out. Not a great day, but a solid, good day. I came into this race slightly underprepared, wanting to have the day I have just had and I am happy for the tailwind and the sight of my buddy Andy.
A day of attrition averted I am still running under 5min per km and taking my time at the aid stations rather than trying to push the pace.
I have no idea where I am placed in my age group, but I do know that I paced myself well on the day and that I am going to have a chafe spot in the unholiest of places tomorrow. The mild sting from my shorts a fresh reminder of how rough the coastal road has become in recent years.
I catch Andy and we have a brief chat. I keen pushing as slowing even a little would mean slowing a lot and I want to get to the finish line. As I round the bottom corner, a moment overwhelms me as another person says “Well done Ninja” ; it’s the moment where I am totally humbled, overwhelmed that someone else reads this blog along with the hundreds of other similar mentions I got all day, fueling me onwards. My bottom lip starts to shake a little and as the emotion overwhelms me, I have to wrap my head around it and focus it to strength to take me home.
I give a silent thanks to every person on the route, put my head down and drive towards the finish.
I came to the race with no pressure, no stress. With Kyle Buckingham a year older and into our age group in his final year as an age grouper (well, the rest of the field hopes so but we’ll see) I knew it was game over for the win unless something tragic happened to him. He is the real deal and has put his head down, taken his opportunities and putting in the hours to be a PRO in 2014. I wish him all the luck – he certainly seems to have the mustard.
So my goals were to get through the race in one piece. Last year, I was smashed after the race to a degree I cannot express. This year, I have Joberg2C only 10 days after the Ironman day, so the goal was to race hard, but race smart and not have to “go to the well” as such.
I spoke with my local athletes and they advised a smart racing strategy mainly around the first lap of the ride, where riding too hard would be very easy, leaving many scratching their heads post-race as to where it went wrong…
The swim was uneventful and I got out the water in the front pack, where I wanted to be.
My legs deserted me on the first lap of the bike and I just waited for them to come around as I tried to stay low, pedal smoothly and get through the first lap in under 1:40 missing it with about 50seconds but happy as my legs started coming back and the wind started pushing.
I carried all my nutrition with me this year, mixing as I went, making sure I didn’t lose it or end up without it at any given time. Last year this was one of my key downfalls & once everything was settled on lap 2 of the ride, I was 1:37 and change into the third lap and made sure I held back a little on lap 3 so that I could run smooth.
That soon went out the window as I sat in T2 putting on my shoes when a group of 4 guys in my age group came through. I figured I was in 5th already, so heading out in 9th was just a little too much for me. The animal was woken and I thought to myself that I need to drop them early to show them they had possibly ridden too hard.
I ran the first 5km in 20min, leaving them all behind me and at 10km I went through in 42min, slowing just enough to get back on track. I wanted to run easy and give myself the space to walk the aid stations on lap 3 and keep running under 4:50 per km all the way home.
Again, that plan changed as I caught Bradley Venter at about 12km and he stuck to my feet like peanut butter to a mohair carpet and so we ran for the next 14km as I tried to set a decent pace with a few variations as I tried to let him go. At this point I felt I was still in 5th or 6th in my age group and knew I was on track for 9:15 comfortably without too much pain.
After ignoring it for ages, I had to have the chat with Brad. I needed to pee.
“Bud, I need to pee. How are you going?”
“I’ll pee too.”
And so, at 26km, we stood next to the side of the road and had a pee. I watched him walk about the bush and head back onto the road as my firetruck bladder was still only a third of its way to empty. After what felt like 5minutes I was back on the road and the break in rhythm seemed to affect Bradley as I passed him and never saw him again.
The last lap was my best last lap ever at Ironman South Africa. I was calm, in control and still running sub 5 minutes per km comfortably. I ate quite a few potatoes and avoided the coke. Up and through the varsity without ever walking is a huge success for me and from here; we head to the start of this blog post, to my moment out there.
Thank you to all who were at the finish line when I arrived. Thank you for pretending you believed I would leave the red carpet if you didn’t cheer louder. You cheered.
Across the finish line we went & time to get dressed so that I can spectate a little. My supporters are tired but they put up with my requests. I have no idea of my actual time or where I placed and only once I speak to my parents do I know I ended up 3rd in my age group and that I went 9:16 and change. Both elements are unimportant to me as I am beaming ear to ear with the race and the support and the vibe.
I cheers for about 2 hours until my wheels start coming off. I see friends finishing with smiles and others with grimaces but I cheer mercilessly for all who come by. They are heroes to me. Each has a story like mine, likely better. All I know is how to write it down. For every cheer I got on the day, I want to give out two and I cheer for everyone who comes by. It’s a magical end to my race experience before the wheels come off.
I’m sitting at Bridge Street Brewery, talking smack with friends. We are about four draughts down, each. They started as athletes I coached over the period of months and years, but now, I call them friends. We are teasing each other, laughing at the highs and the lows & celebrating being done with another Ironman. The race doesn’t scare any of these guys any more.
They understand that it has to be a part of their lives, fit in with work, family, love, friends, hobbies & all the rest. They have kids, commitments, challenges and they deal with them with what I can only call panache.
My work here is done. My easiest Ironman ever, but the most rewarding in so many ways.
A big thank you to my sponsors who make it all possible & who support my dreams;
- Rehidrat Sport for the best nutrition out there & the big love over the years.
- Trek Bicycles for the fastest, smoothest bike I have ever ridden.
- Velocity Sports Lab for the continued support & belief in what I am trying to do here.
- Orca for the best kit to carry me from beach to brewery – No chafe is a win!
- 7th Element for the belief in my “system” and supporting our Songo Garden.
- Salomon for kit love. I run a lot of trail in the year and use their hydration packs through all seasons & race days.
- Stor-Age for making my house a little less cluttered, giving me headspace.
- Oakley for protecting my eyes and allowing me to hurt without showing competitors the pain.
Found this online today… thought you would all appreciate.
Rise and shine, its 6am and your hand can’t make it to the alarm clock before the voices in your head start telling you that it’s too early, too dark, and too cold to get out of bed. Aching muscles lie still in rebellion pretending not to hear your brain commanding them to move, a legion of voices are shouting their unanimous permission for you to hit the snooze button and go back to dream land, but you didn’t ask their opinion. The voice you’ve chosen to listen too is one of defiance, a voice that says there was a reason that you set that alarm in the first place so sit up put your feet on the floor and don’t look back because we have work to do, welcome to the grind.
For what is each day but a series of conflicts between the right way and the easy way, 10,000 streams fan out like a river delta before you with each one promising the path of least resistance, the thing is your headed up stream and when you make that choice, when you decide to turn your back on what’s comfortable, what’s safe, and what would call common since, well that’s day one. From there it only gets tougher, so just make sure this is something that you want because the easy way out will always be there ready to wash you away, all you have to do is pick up your feet.
But you aren’t going to are you, with each step comes the decision to take another you’re on your way now, but this is no time to dwell on how far you have come. You’re in a fight against an opponent you can’t see but o you can feel them on your heels cant you, feel them breathing down your neck, you know what that is, that’s you. Your fears, your doubts, your insecurities all lined up like a firing squad ready to shoot you out of the sky, but don’t lose heart, though they are not easily defeated they are far from invincible.
Remember, this is the grind, the battle royal between you and your mind, your body, and the devil on your shoulder whose telling you that this is just a game, this is just a waste of time; your opponents are stronger than you. Drown out the voice of uncertainty with the sound of your own heart beat, burn away yourself doubt with a fire lit beneath you, remember what we’re fighting for and never forget that momentums a cruel mistress she can turn on a dime or the smallest mistake she is ever searching for a weak place in your armor, that one tiny thing that you forgot to prepare for.
So as long as the devil is hiding the details the question remains, is that all you got, are you sure? And when the answer is yes and when you have done all you can to prepare yourself for battle then it’s time to go forth and boldly face your enemy, the enemy within. Only now you must take that fight into the open, into hostile territory, you’re a lion in a field of lions all hunting the same elusive prey with a desperate starvation that says victory is the only thing that can keep you alive. So believe that voice that says you can run a little faster and you can throw a little harder and that for you the laws of physics are mealy a suggestion.
Luck is the last dying wish of those who wanna believe that winning can happen by accident, sweat on the other hand is for those who know it’s a choice, so decide now because destiny waits for no man. And when your time comes and a thousand different voices are trying to tell you you’re not ready for it, listen instead for that lone voice in decent the one that says you are ready, you are prepared, it’s all up to you now, so rise and shine.
Now that its in your head. watch this:
Now tell me your life is all it can be.
Now tell me there isn’t more you could be doing…
Welcome to the grind. Rise & Shine…
Cresting the hill that eats you out the saddle in the big ring with enough power to get aero at the pinnacle and work your way down the other side.
Finding that last bit of almond butter in the jar works perfectly for the sandwich you are making.
Mist rolling in after a stupidly hot day to make your morning run just perfect.
Seeing consistent 1:14′s in the pool again while stroking out easy 200′s after a big weekend of training.
Waking up next to someone who buys into your ideas to make the world a better place.
Getting a message from an athlete you are coaching, saying his average speed on rides is up 8km/h in the last 5 months.
Helping a friend conquer a fear.
Quiet time with a buddy in the middle of the day, talking about the health versus performance.
Getting your kit design back and it looks insane.
Signing that big deal at work.
Experiencing runners “high” while our riding your bike. Seriously!
Dont forget the little things out there. These have caught me in the last 5 days alone. In the haze of the final block of work for Ironman, it’s important to look around you and notice the little things. Some relate to training, some to friends, some to work but they are little moments that make life just a little more awesome.
When we stop seeing them it’s time to step out the ring and learn to appreciate our lives again.
Two nights ago I presented at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa to a group of newbies and experienced Ironman athletes. There was a coach and a dietician who spoke, instilling enough fear into the group of 150 or so athletes, so my goal was to inspire. The following is the text that accompanied the slides. You can download the slides HERE (6.5MB download).
Did someone die?
Looking at you lot, I would have said so. Let’s all have a quick smile.
A big thank you to the Sports Science Institute for putting together this evening filled with experts in their fields and well… me.
Now that the dietician and coach have scared the bejezuz out of you, it’s time for some fun.
I have been given the admirable task of inspiring a group of tired, weary and frankly quite obsessed athletes (that’s you) into the future towards this epic goal that is the IRONMAAAAAN!!!
The goal for tonight is to instill more awesome into your lives and for you realize that you are part of a beautiful process, not a life threatening soul destroying training regime.
How many first timers in the room?
A little thing I dislike about Ironman is how they treat the first timers. They make it out like you have a 99% chance of not finishing. If you toe the line, the chance of you not finishing is about 0.001%. Fact. You will finish. Oh, one more thing. Please don’t listen to Paul Kaye when he calls you an Iron Virgin – it sounds like a weapon Hitler used during Blitzkrieg in Poland.
Ironman is this mythical creature that you all want to throttle into submission so that you can get to the finish line where unicorns will fly into the air and sing your name in praise, 100% in tune with ACDC/s Thunderstruck as Paul & Mike scream your name into the heavens: “YOU ARE AN IRONMAAAAAAAAAN”
But alas, you get to the red carpet and you are so hyped up on coke and gels that you sprint down the finish line in 0.23487 nanoseconds, ignoring the unicorns, bashing Paul out the way and diving for the finish line, snot covering your face and chocolate gel covering the rest of your body. Your finish line photo resembles the apocalypse as volunteers dive out the way of the animal dressed in compression-everything who is hell-bent on getting to the pot of gold that waits just other side that finish line.
This, my friends, is where the KVA theory comes in. Currently your KVA (that’s kak versus awesome) chart may look something like this slide:
What we want is more awesome, less kak.
The whole point of Ironman is to be awesome? If the majority-experience of the entire preparation for an Ironman was kak, why are you here?
Count the awesome in your life and lets get cracking on working on flipping the chart.
It was on one of those epically stupid 17 hour brick sessions, somewhere between the 4th bike and 6th run of the day where it all came to me like a tennis ball rolling past the eyes of a relaxed Labrador puppy. Lights went off. Sirens were deafening. Cheerleaders everywhere.
There are some slides here around systems and its important to remember that training + training does not necessarily = awesomeness.
There are few more systems to take heed of – recovery , rest, food, endocrine systems, etc. these are all important. Do your homework.
It was in this moment that the KVA chart flipped in my mind. I was having an epic day out. My body was performing perfectly and I felt like Crowie must feel on Alii drive, heading out to the stone church where the cool air belies what awaits on the Queen K later in the run.
I realized that there was no finish line with unicorns; that my life will not make perfect sense when I hit the red carpet; that there is no finish line big enough. I realized that the inspiration lay in the small goals along the way. I realized that it was the training PB’s, the adventurous rides with crazy mates and the long runs where overcoming myself was where the magic lay. This was where the gold was. This is where the content feeling I like to call “The Ellipsis” came from.
I also came to realize that my days are a 24 hour brick comprising of many systems, actions and tasks. Exercise was merely a part of the total success package.
Relax a little, enjoy the things that make you happy. Consider why you are feeling overwhelmed and why the madness of Ironman appealed to you in the first place. It does not have to be this crazy trip that takes over everything in your life.
It’s no secret. I love beer. I love bacon. I love adventure. Combining them changed my life and improved my Ironman experience. I know some of you are hard on yourselves when you have a beer or eat something fatty. Stop that shit. Seriously.
Images from recent excursions.
So we went adventurisationeering (a real word) and found awesome places and spaces. Life improved. Fitness improved. The KVA chart flipped. I say we because really – I take the camera and I have a friend who is vain enough to like being photographed and together we find cool places to combine these skills. Also, we are both cycling geeks obsessed with beer and bacon. It’s a win-win situation for all.
I know this is a talk about Ironman but really, you entered this race for to find a better version of yourself, or possibly run away from other problems in your life, so really, we should be considering much more than just Ironman to get to both of those problems ie:
- The best version of yourself may be at Otter, at O till O, at Cent Cols Challenge. You have to consider that there are more races on the calendar than a race in April at Hobie Beach.
- If you want to run away from existing problems in your life, why not run away to Saipan, Brazil or Thailand?
So it was after this watershed moment that my time at Ironman dropped by about 90minutes and I qualified for Kona 3 times in the next 3 attempts in Port Elizabeth? I have also been free of injuries since then and have had time to focus on things like nutrition, recovery and economy rather than panic, attack and delusion. Good times. Coincidence?
I also found out that there is life beyond going 226 kilometers on a day. I did a 16 island crossing in the Swedish archipelago, ran the Otter trail and breathed life into a boys cycling trip that would both crush and devour you, but spit you out the other end a better man.
I co-founded a brand centered on pure exploring and adventure which hosts events that include 2 things as mandatory: bikes and beer.
I learned that getting lost is fun, that outside is free and that I have a fondness for the ability of mankind to dominate its environment (and so building me beautiful roads to cycle and run on).
This is my new life. It’s more awesome than kak. I am a balanced human being with more compassion for others problems than when problems dominated my life.
Do you want some of this?
These are all totally fictional, except the one about bar tape. I did that once. Laugh at yourselves a little, you obsessed freaks.
These are moments beyond any finish line. More awesome, less kak. More adventure, less brick workouts. More being inspired by you, less being inspired by 6min Youtube clips and Triathlete Magazine, compression socks and aero bikes.
But here is the deal – Ironman is beautiful. It’s insanely inspiring and just attempting to toe the line is monumental. Already, you are a hero when you dip your toes in the sand on Hobie Beach. Already, you are a legend for putting in the miles to get there, for the sacrifices you have made and the compromises you have persisted to endeavor on your journey to the start line. Ironman is one of the toughest things you will ever endure if you take the risk to put it all out there and leave nothing on the course.
This is the chance to discover the best version of you. That is the ultimate “me” in the purest form. If you can get even close to that, I don’t care about your time, your placing or your stories afterward.
That is the inspiration that I have come here to share with you. That is the moment where nothing else will matter as you face the greatest competitor you will ever have the honor of facing – you.
That is real. That is honest. That is awesome. Flip the KVA chart around to give yourself the opportunity of being in that moment. That is the only finish line worth aiming for in this beautiful continuous movement we call life.
Please enjoy this little video I put together for you. You rock.
Another beautiful video from Rapha. No surprise. Watch it and take in the faces at the end.
The last few weeks have been some of the most challenging that I have ever experienced. In every way, I was pushed, challenged and when there was no more to give, I had to find a little more for those around me who are important to me. I had to be hard when it counted, listen intuitively when I wanted to give advice, talk when I wanted to keep quiet and go out on a limb and disappoint when all I wanted was to keep my head down and stay out of conflict. It was harder than I wanted, but probably what I needed come end of the year. Time to man up and remember to be a superhuman.
Without going into details, we can just say that it’s been a time when I was searching for that Ellipsis – the pause – that pause – that brings it all together. Instead I found a pause that made me realise I had to keep pushing. That there had to be more.
When the pause came, it left me with bad news. News that I expected, but which I had an expectancy for which was always positive. It affected many around me. It gave me the chance to stop for a moment, and a deep fatigue set in that I cannot describe. I realised in one moment how much the last few weeks had taken out of me. And then I realised another thing, in that pause. It was very real, very raw and very powerful.
That it was far from over.
That I had to keep pushing. That more adversity was on the way, but that breakthroughs would make it all worth it. Because in the end, like that video, I will stand on the shore and look out at the sea and feel a deep content that I cannot define for you – it’s yours to go find yourself.
I made some tough decisions on races for 2013 and now, my calendar is complete, cutting out one of the bucket list items every endurance athlete dreams of to be able to prepare for another with absolute dedication. I paid race entries for Otter, Ironman SA, entered 3 x Xterra races, secured an entry to Joburg2c and paid my deposit on this, the only thing that currently scares me a little:
Here is my specific trip: Dolomites.
All in life is not worth it if we are only shooting for those material things. So next year, I am shooting again, for experiences, rather than finish lines or stuff. More big training sessions where I have to find that deep need to go beyond failure, more moments of overcoming, more switchback doping tours, more events without a winner, more interaction with you, my audience. More of the stuff which I take with me when the adversity strikes. More of what causes the pause to be permanent. This is complete maximimalism at it’s best and though I try to live as simply as possible and will continue to strive for that, I also strive for the most of certain things.
Am I having fun in all this?
I have had more fun this year, creating and contributing to things that improve the world, than in any other year. Athlete Manifestos, Ethical Food choices & being a leader in spreading those choices, Coaching more athletes, Inspirational new platforms like Free From & Privateer, sharing photographs I have taken of us exploring simple, and more than anything, living life with all the gusto I can muster and then some.
It’s only just begun, this journey.
Yesterday we spoke about race week and what to expect. There is a lot in there that people do not realise. The queues, the pressure, the euro-dudes in white speedos swimming into you and standing in line in the health store in the same white speedo, with compression socks, a headsweats visor and nothing else.
The thing about Kona is that it’s very hyped up. Just like everything in life – it’s very hyped up. But the experience of race week far surpasses anything I can write here or anything you will read anywhere. Kona is everything and more – a rare jewel in the landscape of overhyped events, products and sandwiches.
So let’s get back to race morning, shall we. You are standing on the beach and you put your goggles on and set off on your first few strokes into the water. The calm of the beach is done. There are bodies everywhere. Its 40min to go and people are lining up at the deep-water start. There are no gifts, so you warm up for 10minutes, long easy strokes with 2 short 15 second efforts to get the system going and you swim over to the start line. There is a Ford SUV floating on a plastic island and there are 20 guys on stand up paddle boards, holding the line. Its 30min to go and you realise for the first time that you are going to have to float for 30min to stay in the front. You don’t have a wetsuit on, so this is going to require energy, and effort.
With 20min to go, you are in a crowd of people already. You are all upright. Space is becoming tighter. With 10min to go you are between 8 other people. Your hands, arms, legs, feet all intertwine at times and there is no space to move. People start freaking out and every now and again someone bolts from the masses, claustrophobic and panicked. The life savers are shouting at you to stay put and the pressure keeps coming from behind to move forward.
It’s less than ideal.
3min to go and it’s mad. People are shouting. Life savers are freaking out. The Ford SUV is tilting as people hang on the plastic island.
1min to go and calm descends upon the madness. Inevitability sets in. Here we go…
The first 5min is chaos. 1500 bodies have gone from perpendicular to being horizontal and the chaos for space it causes is mad mad mad. Its desperate stuff to get out the front and I am forever grateful for the 10 000 hours I swam as a kid. I am out in the top 30 guys easily and I feel for the guys sitting in 300th in the biggest washing machine of all.
Kona is a non-wetsuit out and back swim. 1900m straight out into the ocean. You can’t see the turnaround until about 400m to go, so for 1500m you just swim, no idea of how far you are or how far there is to go. The little boats that mark the turnaround are one of the most welcome sights of the day and every time I have been, I have swum a few strokes of backstroke, enjoyed being out there, and smiled as I saluted by buddy Andy Gowans for suggesting I pause out there.
The swim back is faster. The current pushes you back and you are back at the pier unexpectedly – better get ready for the ride of your life buddy!
As your fingers touch the sand, the noise is deafening. From the quiet of the water you are thrown into the noise of Mike Reilly, 15 000 spectators and German house music. You grab your bag, run down to the far end of the pier (your bike can be as far as 200m away) and get your ass on the saddle. The first section of the bike is a short out and back up and down a hill. It’s SO fast. In 2010 I was going 34km/h up the drag, in the aero position, pedalling hard and guys were coming past me in droves. I opted to keep calm and sure enough, I saw a lot of the guys come back later in the day, but there are many age group guys who can ride sub 5 in Kona.
You come through Hot Corner where there are at least 5000 people and you climb up Palani, a steep little sucker. Guys come by out the saddle, full tilt. Groups of guys.
You hit the Queen K and its 10km down the drag to start. 50-60km/h you go by, trying to stay legal as the guys push the limit on drafting the whole way. Guys go all the way here. Marginal gains go a long way and if they can ride at 9m and be considered legal they do.
The marshals have 1500 strong guys to police, so they take no bull on race day. They make calls quickly and move on. It’s a dog eat dog world out there. You do your best to watch the wheel in front of you, but it takes masses of concentration to remember that when a guy passes your front wheel, you have to drop quickly or face the penalty. Just stopping pedalling is not enough, you have to hit the brakes as the effort to pass you has cost the other guy as you are all going fast and you are all trying your best. It’s not the time to get emotional.
You have a tailwind for the first 55km to Kawaehae (where they filmed Waterworld) where you make a left, then a 1km descent before you hit the climb to Hawi. It’s the first time you notice the wind as you hit the climb. The wind will be from the right, coming down the valleys. By now it’s hot and the landscape to Hawi changes from lunar to looking like the Highveld. They grow Proteas in Hawi.
The climb is close on 30km. I kid you not. It drags steeply then flattens, drags steeply then flattens but never down. It’s like riding 6 Chapman’s Peaks from Hout Bay side in a row, with a 30km/h side wind. You see the guys who went out too hard start struggling here – their day is certainly over.
The turn-around is frenetic. Its small and nothing like the NBC shows. As you get to the special needs area there is total pandemonium. I am there with about 20 other guys; I cannot imagine it being 200. It takes longer than you want to find your bag and your drinks are hot, not what you hoped for. You froze them overnight but hey, its mid-thirties already and they have been standing in the sun for 3 hours.
The road back to Kawaehae is the scariest piece of road I have ever ridden. The wind has picked up to 40-50km/h now and it blows you across the lane and almost into oncoming cyclists not once, but at least 10 times. Still, you ride at 50-60km/h because that is what everyone is doing. You have no option or you are going to lose serious time. Suddenly not having big mountain passes to train on seems like a massive disadvantage as the euro-dudes own the technical skills you dream you had. Their white speedos are distracting but they are flying.
You get to Kawaehae white-knuckled and a little distraught. It sapped more energy than you thought and your body is tight. 60km to go and the body needs to relax but wait… you are back onto the Queen K and the wind is now head-on, 40km/h and the heat coming off the tar is about 50 degrees Celsius. Your feet are hot. Not the kind of hot you get from running but like they are being burnt – which they are. Tomorrow morning you will wake with chipolata toes and gigantic ankles.
So you tuck into the aero position and start working your way back to town. Its 1km drags up, around 2-3% incline, then 1km down, same decline. Like 30 long, energy sucking intervals, 120km into the day. The bike course has almost 1600m of vertical in it and it’s not surprise. Ironman South Africa has 600m in total, for reference.
The heat is searing and it feels like your energy drink is burning your throat. It’s a real suffer festival out there. The landscape gives you nothing in return. There are no spectators, no trees, and no beauty. It’s barren. It’s raw. It’s the best place in the world to discover if you have it when it counts. When the chips are down, can you muster the awesome to get back to town through the sunburn, the heat, and the winds that relentlessly blow you to a near standstill at the top of every drag?
The answer is yes. You hit the airport, and the last 8km drag back to town seems to go better. The afternoon haze is setting in. Your carnival horse kicks in and you find something to get back home.
Hot corner is amazing. 8000 people welcome you home and you enter transition feeling like it’s time to smash out a marathon PB. Hope – it’s a beautiful thing.
Your first steps feel great. Hot corner does that to a man.
Alii drive is a special place. The slightly rolling hills and the crowds propel you. You cruise along. It’s the polar opposite to the vastness of the Queen K. Condos, girls in bikinis spraying you with garden hoses and every spectator yelling your name, telling you “GOOD JOB” make you feel great. You cruise along a little too fast, but who cares, this is Kona and you survived the bike through a place as dark as you have ever imagined, so let loose a little, right?
You get to the stone church and the turnaround is just ahead. The run back is good, even if the drags start to hurt a little. There are hundreds of people around. My first lap in PE, I see hardly 10 athletes running. Here, there are 10 people around me at any given time and I am in the top 100, despite having debilitating stomach explosions. The field is so strong.
You make the turn off Alii just after Lava Java and Huggos, where the party has been going all day. It’s like a carnival. You walk Palani. It’s where reality sets in and you know you have 24km to go. Sure, there is an 8km down the hill drag, but your quads are already sore and that means 8km drag back here, right at the end, right?
Palani has Hannes Tours’ crew on it. Couch, Beer stand and all. They perk you up, just at the right spot as you hit about ¾ ways up and you trot to the top. The vastness of the Queen K is all that is up there and you hit a left and work your way down the hill. It rolls down and the aid stations motivate you as you get further and further down the road. The top pro guys are coming back up the Queen K, in their own battle. You encourage them and their effortlessness spurs you on. You find some form and soon you can see the Energy Lab ahead of you.
The air is so thick you swear you could chew it. Its cooling down now, thankfully and there is a throw of broken bodies around you. The overbikers are walking, and it’s a long day ahead for them. You just keep moving, simply putting step by step aid station to aid station intervals together.
The Lab is a strange place. A nondescript entry leads you into a place that is a natural phenomenon. It’s hotter down there, for some reason. The road down is 1km down, right turn, 1km flat. Nothing to it as you enters, you think. But it’s like they suck the air out of that place. It’s like the tar has a shoe magnet in it. I have loved the challenge of that place, every time. You think to yourself going into it that you’re going to rock it. You get halfway and think WTF is going on here. You grab your special needs down there and make your way up the hill, crawling, feeling completely broken, but happy. Happy to have been witness to this place. Happy to have been able to travel 40 hours to get to this place where you are a broken man, surrounded by other broken men who are also broken, but smiling.
It’s quiet down there. Nobody talks. There is a unison that happens. I imagine it exists in war as the only other comparison, when the chips are that down.
And just like that, you are out of the Lab. Now what?
Looming in front of you is an 8km drag back to the top of Palani. Then the 600m down Palani, an achievement in itself, followed by 2km to get home.
The 8km goes by in a haze. I am not really sure what happens there. You aim for the aid station, then aim for the next. Everything is tired. If your ears could hurt, they would. It’s empty. You are empty. But you somehow drag your carcass up the hill. There are no spectators here to encourage you.
When you hit the top of Palani, you realise it’s almost all over. It sneaks up on you like a Russian superspy and stabs you with a blunt object in the heart. It’s been awesome. Now it’s about to be over. Palani brutally brings reality back as the worst quad pain you will ever experience finds you there. To run down hurts but because there are spectators for the first time in roughly 2 hours, you do. Otherwise it’s embarrassing. Who wants to be embarrassed this far into the World Freaking Championships of Ironman & Suffering, right?
The left turn leads to a nondescript road, before you turn right down to Alii, then right into Alii and 1.25km to the finish. It’s another strange place. Inevitably, the race is over. You are about to finish. People are cheering you on and you start rejoicing with your fellow athletes. They are all around you. Every few meters, an Ironman. 3-5seconds apart, you make your way to the finish.
Mike Reilly is there. Doing this thang. It’s big. 8000 people welcome you home, shouting “YOU ARE AN IRONMAAAAAAAN” but the queue to the finish is fast and before you know it, your feet feel the carpet. You see the clock. Time is not important. Place is not important. Despite the pop music, Mike Reilly & 8000 people cheering for you – it’s quiet. There is a massive calm.
Then, just like that, it’s over. You are asked if you are ok, given a space blanket, and ushered off to the war zone where you get pizza, water and your bag. Behind you, you leave a world behind. Just like that it’s severed. For many, you see them staring back at the finish line, severed like a daemon in The Golden Compass.
You share stories with strangers, laugh with a new friend and the memories of the day start rolling in.
What happened out there…?
Will we ever know…?
So you’ve watched the videos, seen the pictures being posted at Dig Me Beach and you`ve read about the famed Energy Lab. You’ve been living vicariously through thousands of others for this place you want to get to. You dedicate hours of time. No, screw that – you dedicate years of your life, to get to Kona.
Is it all it’s cracked out to be? Did you rub shoulders with Chris Lieto at Lava Java? Did you feel the energy at Hawi? Was the boat serving coffee in the sea filled with ripped euro-dudes-and-dudettes?
These are the questions that come to me. I wanted to talk about the typical race week at Kona to give those of you who want to go an idea of what it’s really about. What you don’t see in the videos. What you don’t see in the images of the pro guys at the front. You are getting but a glimpse of the real experience.
The real experience starts in July, when you are training in the rain, putting in five hour rides where you struggle to shift gears in the freezing rain and where it takes you the better part of the day to warm up before heading out for a run on smashed legs and a tired head. Oh, then you have to do it tomorrow again because there are no easy weekends when prepping for Kona.
Then you have to add the real financial cost of going to Kona. You will fret over new kit and you need to be there 9 days before the race. Its 12 time zones away. You`re looking at 50k before you`ve blinked.
But I would say the experience starts when you hit the airport. Nerves, logistics and the stress of trying to book emergency exit seats as you start the 40 hour trip to get to Kona. The plane ride into Kona is emotional. It’s all coming together. You are dressed in 18 items of compression gear and the plane is filled with people who look faster than you, who look stressed and tired. It feels crowded. But really, you have no idea what’s about to happen. If you are landing after lunch, you’ll notice how the plane rocks on the descent. It’s a little windier than landing at OR Tambo.
You step off the plane into the sauna. Its thick, the air – thicker than you would like. The afternoon haze has set it and the volcano spreads it like peanut butter on toast after a hard ride. The airport is a mess. Bike boxes everywhere, athletes freaking out for lost luggage and a hundred taxi drivers demanding to drive to you to your hotel. Your t-shirt is soaked by the time you get into an airport transfer van and as you drive down Alii to your condo, you see hundreds of ripped people sprinting down the road, doing intervals and looking like mean ass mofos. Your throat swells as you realise you have hit the big time.
You unpack and realise you are shattered. Time to shop for food and get a swim in perhaps, so you try and find a supermarket, but they are all filled with junk food, so you buy minimums and decide to ask for help at the pier with regards to healthy food options.
The pier is manic. 200 athletes are in the water. They are all fast. You suit up, put on your goggles and you dip your head into the water to be confronted by the most beautiful swim in the world. There are turtles, a plethora of colourful fish and the tide is not that bad. You feel fresh, fast and easy as you swim out until a euro-dude in a white speedo knocks you over the head as he swims straight into you from the front.
You finish your swim feeling fresh and head to the health store and get back to your condo to cook dinner, sit back and relax. You are amazed at the beauty of this place and there is energy in the air that is just incredible. At 10pm, you head to bed. At 11:30pm, you wake up and you are WIDE AWAKE, realising its 11:30am in South Africa and time to eat. You are wide awake till 3am, and then get to sleep and wake up feeling wrecked at 7am.
This repeats for 3 or 4 days. During the day, you see thousands of fit people everywhere. You see the sights – Lava Java, Dig Me Beach, you take a ride out on the Queen K, and where it feels like your skin will melt off at the end of the ride. You avoid doing anything but panting around midday as the heat sets in and by day 4, you are adapting a little. You can head outside at lunchtime. You ride an hour on less than two bottles of fluid. You realise that not everyone is fast as you start passing some fast looking people on Alii Drive.
You ride out on the Queen K and it seems easy going out. You are astounded by how stark it is out here. No trees. No grass. Just lava rock. The tar is super smooth and you feel utterly strong. Around Waikoloa you turn around and get your first taste of the winds and you are blown to shreds on the way back. The heat from the front and the wind from the sides blow the wind out of you sail and you crawl home. You try and run in the afternoon and it goes better. You realise that there are no gifts out here.
The morning swims are incredible. Kona is the best place to swim in the world, without any doubt in the world. The Coffees of Hawaii boat is awesome. Everywhere you go, there is a vibe. The queue at Lava Java is out the door by 8am and if you can get a table, you’ll see that everyone stares at everyone. There is a lot of ego around and a lot of nervous people.
You head to the underpants run and it’s a laugh. It’s the perfect break against the serious backdrop of imminent pain and suffering. You came here to suffer well and this thought sits in the back of your head at all times. You get your bike serviced and go out in your race gear, fine tuning the engine but all the time feeling the need to push hard. You try hold back but it’s a mind battle when 50 year old guys are whizzing by you all the time. Doubt creeps when you sit still, so you try and keep busy. It’s not ideal at all. Everyone asks you how you are doing and everyone is dressed in tri gear, everyone has a ridiculously good looking bike and slowly but surely the pressure builds like a time bomb. It’s very real in Kona, more than anywhere else I have ever been. It’s no bigger than Camps Bay. There is nowhere to hide.
You head down to the pier to check your bike in after triple fussing over getting everything right in your special needs bags. You try and memorise where your bike is and take in the energy around you. Your morning workout went smoothly and you feel adapted to the environment, the pressure and the weather is not really bothering you anymore. It is what it is.
Your evening dinner goes down slowly and you try getting a good nights’ sleep in but it’s just not on the cards. Nerves are at the forefront and you are imagining every scenario possible for race day. The alarm clock goes off too soon and you struggle with breakfast. The trip down to the pier is quick and into the madness you go, head first. Gear bags, warm-up and trying to find a quiet space go by in a flash and before you know it, you are toes in the sand on Dig Me, looking at the water ahead. Your heart wells up a little as you know this is going to happen. You are going to race in Kona. You feel alone on the tiniest beach in the world, despite there being at least a hundred people around you. You’ve made it. A special moment. A life changing experience waits in the next few hours.
Tomorrow we will get into the actual race as it deserves its own post. Till then…
The pursuit of excellence & the sense of control (even though, deep down, I know it’s a myth to be fully in control) are two things that drive me, daily.
These are both achieved best, and simplest, with a well executed plan and the time available to make mistakes. Simple, really.
Plans are best laid out with others. There are smarter people around you. Use them. Pay them for their time, not just their services.
Then simplify, and make time.
Create the space to try, to make the mistake or at least have the space to make the mistake. Repeat.
Excellence is not achieved overnight. Your version and definition of excellence will adapt, will mould around the person you become. It’s a moving target, achievable in small chunks but never eaten whole. Adapt your peergroup, change your role models and surround yourself with the people you want to become. Clear your life, house and office of the things that hold you back.
Learn to disappoint others to be true to yourself.
Bite off chunks that are chewable, but require thought process to get down to the belly. (methaphor)
Write down what you are eating. List the ingredients. Count the byproducts, additives and preservatives. Read this book.
Put a heart rate cap of 180 minus your age to your training. Do 3000 hours of this. That is an engine. What you have is possibly an eggbeater.
Inspire others. Look at your Twitter timeline and ask yourself if you would be inspired by what you put out to the world.
Spend time with yourself.
Count your success as return on investment.
Consider your personal freedom as wealth.