Ironman 70.3 World Champs – 2018

The Fiercest Race – The 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay

Making our way to the start line in Port Elizabeth – nearly 800km from Cape Town – was no quick affair. Rather than take any risks in traveling with our bicycles by plane, or put up with possible delays due to airports running on “African Time” (see my last post) we decided to drive.

The journey began early Wednesday morning, allowing for an arrival in PE just after 3pm. My home stay and very good friend Travis picked me up from the Boardwalk and we headed straight to an interview. But not for me unfortunately! Ben Kanute, the American triathlete who took second at last year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship, was also staying with us. Indeed, he was the one being interviewed!

There would be no better way to celebrate our first evening in town than with a lekker Saffa braai. Triathlon stars not being in short supply, we were stoked to have Ryan Fischer (an Australian triathlete who competed in the 2016 Olympic Games) join us for dinner. The next morning, Travis and I went out for a 60km spin on the race course, followed by a quaint breakfast and more interviews down at the Boardwalk. We continued with a moderate 3 km swim then finished the training day with a 25 min run as soon as we returned home.

Friday morning arrived with a bang and, with the reality of the weekend ahead setting in, it was time for race briefing and pro interviews. It would be a massive understatement to say it was very special to be present at this event and, moreover, to have the opportunity to take photos with my favourite professionals, including Javier Gomez, Alistair Brownlee and Lucy Charles.

After the interviews, Ben, Travis and I went down to King’s Beach to swim the entire race route. Unfortunately, the conditions were absolutely horrible; a gale force wind was pumping and it probed at a daunting truth: if this was any indication of race day conditions, we were in for an absolute ripper! Later that afternoon, we had a restorative massage then stopped by the bicycle shop with the ‘racing horses’ for a final checkover and some minor adjustments.

Saturday was scheduled as a sleep-in, meaning our wake-up call only came at 6:30am. Travis had risen earlier to take one of the female athletes staying with us to the start of the her race, while Ben and I took the opportunity to squeeze in a 30 min, race-specific bike set on the course before the women’s race had begun. As soon as we got home, we flicked on the TV to watch the women finish their swim and transition to the bike, and I must say, it was phenomenal to be able to witness Ms Lucy Charles live, ripping the field apart on the swim as she emerged from the water in a tenacious 23 minutes. Following this, we whipped through our 20 min “run activation” set with some strides before returning our attention to the women’s race.

After watching the leading ladies fly past the house about 20 km into the course, we returned our focus to our own preparations and began to make the traditional pre-race day breakfast: Pancakes with Nutella, accompanied by a couple of eggs, just to get that protein in 😉. As the morning continued, we tuned back into the women’s race and, more closely, the epic battle between Lucy and Daniela Ryf growing fiercer with each passing minute. Eventually, it was Ryf who took home the gold medal that day, although I think it’s pretty obvious who I was supporting 😂.

Race morning arrived right on time. We rose early at 4:30 am, started towards the ocean by 5 and arrived in transition as it opened at 6am. The sky was drizzling from early morning and this would persist throughout the day. In fact, a few of the competitors near the back of the pack would get caught in a full-blown storm! Before it was time for the age groupers to enter the water, we had the opportunity to watch the professionals start. The gun fired and the top athletes raced towards the water, and as I watched, I visualized myself waiting with that same starting gun next year in Nice, France.

Having over an hour before our age group would start, there was still time for last minute checks, as well as some activation drills to get the body firing on all cylinders. Our wave was to start at 9:19am. Being the fastest age group race in the field of 2500 men, this didn’t make sense to me at all! I can only describe the events that ensued as messy, especially on the swim and bike. Due to the congestion in the swim, I estimate I travelled an extra 300m to navigate around, through and over top of other athletes. As I ran out of the water and caught sight of my watch, I saw that I had executed a decent swim. It was definitely not my best, but it was good enough to finish the business for which I had come here.

The first 15 km of the bike course was a gradual drag uphill. My instincts from ITU racing started to take over and I really cranked up the power, looking down to realize I was averaging well over 400 W. Thankfully I remembered that this race was not going to be won in a sprint! If I were to sustain a strong average pace over 90 km, followed by a speedy half marathon, I would have to race smart.

Somewhere along the first couple kilometers on the course, my water bottle came loose and, from then, I really dialed it back. For the next 30 minutes, I held a conservative pace and took advantage of this time to take in as much nutrition as possible to ensure I’d be fueled for the duration of the race. Now, not to give away too many secrets, but I know some of you are asking: what for nutrition? Another surprise…😂

My race day fuel of choice? 8 Rennies (to prevent cramps), one Coke, a Red Bull and a Mars bar. This might be a shock, but it’s now a well-trialed and tested combination for me, and it really seems to work quite well! As the saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I’m not sure whether there’s any science behind the effectiveness of my nutrition strategy over a 2-4 hour race, and perhaps for a full Ironman (8-9hrs), I would experiment with a variety of fuel sources. When the time comes for me to finally race that distance, I will be sure to report back with some reviews on my theory and it’s application in a longer event!

So we’re racing! At about 40 km into the ride, as I was clocking a respectable pace (42km/h), someone came flying past me. Immediately, I snapped back into reality as I realized, “Oh,shit! This guy is my age group and I will have to turn things up a notch!” As I pushed for another 5 minutes, my power meter teetering in 440 W, I had closed the gap with this speedy, Danish, soon-to-be ally of mine. It wasn’t much longer before another 2 fierce okes were on our tails and as we approached the 2nd loop back towards town, we were a roaring pride of 4 guys drilling each other to the edge. The thought, I’m sure, permeated each of us: “Who will crumble first?”

The first to break was The American on the white Trek bicycle. To be honest, I was quite shocked the power with which I had to persist just to keep up with these guys. While the bike has infallibly been my strongest weapon where I’m able to anchor a leading position in a race, the incredibly strong field of World Championship athletes was testing my confidence! I took comfort in the words that Mannie Heymans, world-class, Namibian cyclist, gave me before the race: “Jy gaan moet slim skiet om met ‘n kettie ‘n streetfight te kan wen.” Translation? You will have to bike very smartly with a 2011 bike to keep up with the boys on the newest 2018 technology! On this prestigious race day, these words proved to be very true.

I raced into the final transition zone in 3rd position, a meager 12 seconds behind the leaders. If you’re interested in the data of my ride, the numbers were as follows:

Time= 2h14m
Average Speed: 40.8 km/h
Average Power: 328W
Np Power: 358W
Self-Doubt going into the run: 0

As I transitioned into my running gear, I reassured myself that I had prepared for this race and had plenty left inside me to dominate the final discipline. I was ready; I was fired up; and it was time to claim my race.

Thanks to years of experience in ITU racing, I managed a very fast transition 2, essentially dissolving the original 12 second handicap and hitting the run course in first position. The thought that hit me next was both terrifying and thrilling: I was now officially leading the World Championship! Nevertheless, I could feel the target on my back; the hunter had now become the hunted. Crunching the numbers ahead of the race, I had estimated that I could run a 1h13m on the half marathon, and that this would allow me to take the win. Somehow, with a minute of grace, I was able to win the race overall with a run time of 1h14m.

Running down the red carpet was indescribably special. With a comfortable buffer between myself and 2nd position, I was confident that I was leading as age group World Champion, making that moment stepping over the finish line that much sweeter. I had worked very hard for this moment and it was both a feeling of victory and relief to realize what I had just accomplished.

As always, doping control was waiting to greet me as enthusiastically as the paparazzi! Being a passionate advocate of keeping the sport clean myself, I’m always happy to see these okes doing their job at the races. As the afternoon pressed on, the rain continued to pour from the sky. In fact, the torrential conditions escalated to such a degree that we thought the gala dinner might have to be moved or postponed! Luckily this wasn’t the case, and the dinner and awards ceremony went forward as planned.

At the Gala Dinner, I was honored to sit at the same table with the two World Champions, Jan Frodeno and Daniela Ryf. Lucy Charles, Champion in my books, was also sitting at our table and I realized with humility that I couldn’t have asked for better, more inspiring company!

I have always idolized Jan Frodeno, so it was a true pleasure to get to you speak with him in the flesh. What I find quite interesting is the fact that we have very similar body types. We also share similar company, having worked with the same coaches at different times and on many of the same training grounds, most notably in Stellenbosch. Similarities aside, I’ve always maintained that I can achieve half of what Jan has done in this sport, I would have made a very meaningful contribution. Before the evening was over, Jan offered me some valuable tips and advise on how to approach my triathlon career going forward.

In conclusion, the World Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay was an unforgettable experience that I will reflect back on with good feelings for years to come. The even allowed me to reaffirm the reasons I’m so passionate about this sport and what I must do to elevate myself to a higher level. The fire is burning and I have no doubt that the best is yet to come!

But for now, it’s time to put my legs up and recover for another 70.3 distance event in a mere 6 days. See you again at the Miway Cape Ultra!

Jp out ✌️