Donovan's IM Race Report

Final lead up to race day

Two weeks prior to Ironman we decided to race SA Olympic Distance Tri Champs as it was hosted in Durban and it will be some nice Tri Specific practice. Only catch was that it was also at the end of what would be my biggest training week for Ironman, with a 214km bike day 2 days prior to race day and a brick run and a 2hour run planned for after the race, so it was never going to be easy, but there is always hope that the legs would magically arrive on race day and deliver.

So, was racing SA Champs a good idea?

During the race and shortly after, my answer was a definite no. Only small highlight was that I managed to find some running legs towards the end of the run and I was running comfortably, but the swim and bike was a horror show. I went home after the race pretty deflated, showered, ate and moped to the gym for 2hours of quietness on the treadmill, no TV, no earphones, just me and my thoughts at Ironman race pace which was 4:15 per km. It was during this session that I had time to reflect and I realized that im running pretty well on fairly roasted legs, coach kept reminding me leading up to the race that this is my C race, don’t expect much, use it for what it is and for my preparation for Ironman, I was very comfortable being uncomfortable and after the day and session I knew I was running well. Quietly Confident.

That brings me to 2 weeks of Taper

Monday post SA Champs and my biggest week leading into Ironman I was dead tired. Only a 4km swim planned for that day, but my feet dragged at the bottom of the pool the entire session and I felt like death. Tuesday was back to bike and run, but I didn’t feel any better. Constant messaging to coach and phone calls with plenty of moaning was gently rebounded with the words – ‘ stay the course and stick to the plan, it will get better ‘ . It was during this week I started doubting the big push, 4 x 100km+ running weeks, biking and swimming on top of that, but I soldiered on finishing a 19hour taper week feeling terrible every single day.

Final week leading into Ironman was started by the usual Monday morning big swim, which felt surprisingly OK. Tuesday morning was a bike final bike set, which was navigated with a recent best power/HR drift and an evening track set with some of my best 1km repeats I have ever done. This was also my last big day and I was starting to feel human again. Quietly Confident. The rest of the taper week we will keep as a secret, but every morning I woke up feeling more super human than the day before. I couldn’t believe the turnaround from week on week and day to day and with race day approaching, the confidence was building.


I woke up feeling very relaxed and fresh. My nutrition plan was worked out days in advance. From breakfast down to every 1g of the 900g of carbs I had during my race was documented and well known. All equipment was in great condition and I knew I did everything I could to prepare, it was now down to a strong mind game, which I was ready to face with the quote:

“ Most athletes today have energy drinks, fresh kicks and expensive gear, those things are easy to get, you can buy them.

Few have championship rings, all-time records and their competitions respect, those are difficult to get, you can only earn them”

Jonathan J Marcus


With rolling starts I always aim to start in the first 5 rows, swim hard to get to the front and from there dictate the race on the bike. The swim was shortened due to rough seas to 1.6km ( My watch read 2km ), so I knew I wouldn’t have my normal gap on the guys I know and are watching from behind and that it will be a much closer bike race. The swim was uneventful and not bad at all, I came out in a decent time and close to the front so I was happy.


Usually my strength, but with all the running miles, loss of 3kg’s in body weight, I really struggled to hit the really big numbers in training so I was a little vary of race day. Coached monitored my progress weekly and through my whining about struggling on the bike, he had to constantly remind me that this is a triathlon and that there is a run as well and that with the taper the cycling legs will come back. With this in mind, I was kind of hopeful, but still had my doubts, although I was Quietly Confident.

Early on in the bike ride a group of 5 of us was together and hunting the lonely solo rider upfront, the very well known Norseman Champion, Kona Age Group champion and very decorated Triathlete, Lars Peter Stormo. He was also the person I had to beat should I want to win my AG. In some ways this is the oak most AG’ers that knows Ironman look up to, he is unplayable and often wins races overall, smashing half the pro field. I never even thought of closing the gap to him, to me the race was between the 5 off us on the bike, which included Mark Prellew, Oliver Godart, Travis Johnstone and Andrew Botha. The first lap  was pretty un eventful, we were slowly chipping our way through the pro ladies and had a motorbike with us most of the way, this kept things honest with everyone doing their share of the work. At 110km, Mark Prellew decided to go solo on the fast tailwind section along the beachfront with the rest of us keeping things steady. At 125km, Travis was the first one to fall off the pace and at 135km Oliver Godart lost contact which left only me and Andrew Botha fighting towards the bike turnaround. I was climbing really well and feeling great and at the turnaround I timed that Stormo is 1:30 up ahead and Mark Prellew around 30seconds, I decided to use the few matches that coach gave me to close the gap to Mark at least before we hit the head wind section, which I managed to do fairly quickly and with me feeling well at that point I decided to ride at the top end of my power curve till the top of the climb and see I couldn’t maybe, just maybe close the gap to Stormo. As I started climbing from Grassroof I saw Stormo up ahead, I knew at this point that if I managed to close the 1:30 gap in only 15km into a headwind he must be tiring and as we crested the last hill I decided to push on hard and try and get a small gap going into the run.

I got to T2 with about a 45 second gap to Stormo and Prellew.


With a slow waltz out of transition, I quickly fell into my stride and race pace but unfortunately I had to do a quick pitstop 2km into the run, which eroded my entire 45 second gap I was so proud of. As I came out of the loo I merged with Stormo who was running with one of the pro men. They were running 3:50’s per km and I immediately knew it will be suicide for me to try going with them. At best I was on for a 3:04 marathon, never mind a 2:50, which was the pace they were setting. I stuck to coaches orders and slowly ticked off the km’s on 4:15’s. 10km in, the gap was 1min, 20km in the gap was 1-30min and by the third lap the gap was out to 2mins. Not once during the first 30km did I think I would even get close to the lead again, so I was purely running to get the best marathon I can possibly get on the day. The support on the run was insane, magical actually. I had MTD Coach, Richard Lawrie on the side lines shouting splits at me and being very complimentary together with all the other 100’s of people screaming my name, together with my Wife, kids and parents, every lap was awesome! As I started to head towards lap 4, someone shouted to me that the gap has now come down to 1minute again, this gave me an immediate adrenaline rush. It was a long push into a headwind, similar to the bike, and I thought to give it a nice big push for 2-3km to see if I can possibly get to the leader. At km 32 I was on his heals, not sure how things happended so quickly, but I was feeling awesome, body was good and here I was running side by side with one of the world best AG’ers potentially fighting for overall victory at Ironman African Champs, I had to cage the emotions, it was unreal. Me and Stormo exchanged a brief few words as we headed up to the climb by the University and as we descended down the hill I took the lead and started bargaining with myself. I had 20seconds on him as he started ahead of me, so if I could stay with him I can win, if I can leave him behind, it will be even better. I made up my mind that I would run off the front until the 40km mark and last turnaround point, if he is still with me, I would slow up and run behind him into the wind and just damage control and try not let him get a 20second gap. Could this possibly be a sprint at the back end of a marathon? Somehow I was looking forward to it, I was running like I just started the day and we were 35 km into the marathon, so I was feeling great. As I continued to push forward, not looking back but hearing his every footstep in my mind, someone shouted at me at the 38km mark that he is gone, I was too scared to look back or to slow down and continued to run as if he was there until the far turn around point, were I would have to run past him and could see if there was any gap. At this point, he was about 1min down and very kindly stuck his hand out to me in gesture saying he was done. I still didn’t want to believe that I can win, In my mind he was going to come back and make it difficult to the finish, so I ran the last 2km like a man possessed. My average HR was 148 till km 40, it went to 178 in the last 2km as angst, excitement, fear and every other emotion overwhelmed me. I refused to celebrate and believe what is happening until I literally turned onto the red carpet, which was my best 100m of running of my entire life, I had no pain, I wasn’t tired, I was overwhelmed by excitement. To me, it was better than winning ITU World Champs AG 35-39 and second overall in 2017, better than coming 2nd at 70.3 world champs in PE in 2018, to me this was like winning everything, difficult to describe.


Coach Kent, cannot thank you and your professionalism enough.

My wife, kids and family, you are my biggest inspiration.

My training partner, Darren Purtell, you push me when im tired and rain me in when im too cocky.

To everyone that shouted my name, believed in me and sent me messages of support, it means the world to me, and I thank you!



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