The quest for a Kona slot
Many of you that know me, are very aware that Kona has always and will always be a dream of mine until I actually get my slot and race on the big island! I have now done 7 full IronMan’s but as Claire and Kent have said, I have never given myself the best opportunity to race and get that slot – Doing every event in the calendar, crazy endurance challenges and thinking I knew best with training… So, in April this year, I sat with Claire and Kent, listened to what they had to say and gave them my 100% commitment to trying to qualify for Kona. We looked at the IronMan racing calendar and IronMan Argentina on 2 December was one that stood out as a good option. South American Championship and therefore 75 Kona slots, good time of year for me and hey… Who doesn’t want to go to South America ☺. We agreed this was the one!
I can honestly say that for 9 months leading up to race day, I committed everything and gave all of myself to this race and goal. For the first time in my “career” I listened and the results were starting to appear. Claire, I trusted you and I cannot explain how grateful I am. You were and still continue to be the best there is for me as an athlete. Thank you!
After many months of training, the hard work was done. Preparations could not have gone better. Leaving Cape Town for Argentina, I was without doubt, the fittest, strongest and most confident I had ever been going into any race, nevermind an IronMan!
They always say, that in IronMan racing, we must expect at least 3 things to go wrong before and on race-day, so that when it happens, you don’t freak out… Well, when you fly all the way to Argentina and everything goes very well with the travels, UNTIL the last hurdle – Bike didn’t arrive! Stay calm they say… Well, 2 days later and still no bike, really tests this theory ☺. After many taxis to the airport, phone calls in “Google translate” Spanish and English, the bike arrived at the front door where I was staying. When I saw the bag was upside down and had one of the bike bag wheels was broken off, I can’t say the feeling in my stomach was a good one, as I anticipated the worst for my bike inside. My fears were confirmed upon opening the bike bag – Di2 gears were not working at all. Mixed feelings as I had the bike but a bike that wasn’t working 100%. Long story short and hours spent with the Shimano mechanic at the expo, we managed to get the gears working but I would have to ride without a few on race day. To be honest, I was just so relieved to have a bike that works, so crisis averted!
The buildup to race-day was good and the body adapted within a few days. I was starting to feel that the dream was still on. When I entered IronMan Argentina in April, I pictured very hot, sunny, perfect beaches and great conditions, well I could not have been more wrong. Rain, strong winds, rough sea and freezing cold weather was what we had. The day before race-day I got a good ride and run done in the wind and ventured out for an open water swim in the cold, rough sea conditions. Very happy with the way the body felt. Bike racking time arrived and this for me is when the race really starts, as it’s the first time we really get to see the guys who will be lining up next to you the next day. All done and now, there was nothing left to do, other than put the feet up and start getting mentally prepared for the race in a few hours. Weather predictions unfortunately were not looking good for race-day, but this is out of mine and all participants control, so no point in worrying about it.
Race morning! Nerves were at a high but I was very excited to finally get started after 9 months of training! As predicted, the weather was what the locals referred to as “very strange”. The sun was out BUT it was 9 degrees and very strong winds. Add to this, that the water temperature was also freezing. It was at this point that Paul Kaye made the announcement that race organizers had no choice but to shorten the swim to 1 loop (instead of the 2 as planned), with the air temperature being too cold, combined with the freezing water conditions. The rest of the race would remain as is. I had mixed feelings about this, but no point in mulling over it, just needed to get final preparation done and keep focused.
It was an incredible feeling walking onto the beach, knowing that the time had finally arrived and I, for the first time, felt like I was 100% prepared and ready. The buzzer went off and I hit the freezing water. I reached the first buoy and I felt great and comfortable which continued for the entire swim. Before I knew it, I was round the last buoy and heading back to the beach. Exiting the water, apart from being freezing cold, I was very happy with how I felt and things were on track!
Out of T1 and onto the bike. I have been cold before on a bike, but this ranks right up there with one of the coldest, being wet as well! What was great, was the fact that my legs, seemed to have pitched up on the day and I got down to work on the bike. It was going to be a tough bike with the very strong winds blowing. The bike leg was 3 loops of 60km’s (out and back into town). Whilst one direction was cross / tail wind, the way back into town was brutal. Block head wind with even strong gusts of wind making it tough. The last 40km’s back into town, was seriously tough into the wind. I just focused on my numbers that I had been given and made sure I was looking after my run legs, as this is where I know I am strongest. The plan was a conservative 5h15 bike leg and I reached T1 in 5h14 (15th best bike split in my age cat) and still feeling okay. I was confident in my head that I was still in Kona slot contention going into the run where I am most confident.
Leaving T2, I honestly thought I was in about 15th place overall in my age but my wife, gave me the “real news” that I was actually in 23rd place. At this point, I would be lying if I said, this didn’t set me back mentally, but I honestly still felt that if I could run like I know how to and how I had trained, I could still run myself into some sort of contention, as conditions were just as tough on the run. Most of the run was into the wind and as we all know, a marathon is a long time and anything can happen. Instead of flying out the gates and trying to make up positions too quickly and decided to run just as I trained. I knew I could comfortably run at 4:20/km pace consistently and then see where I am with 5km’s to go. After 8km’s, I got another update, I was now 19th which again made me think, these guys are not coming back to me but I just needed to keep going and keep to the plan. The head wind was super tough but I was managing to hold my average pace at 4:20/km and despite the legs feeling a bit sore, I was really feeling strong. It was at 28km’s when I got another update I needed, I was down to 16th and the guys ahead of me were slowing down! Nothing different needed, just keep it consistent. I made the final turn at the furthest point of the course and started the long trek back into the wind, toward the final turn point. With 6km’s to go, my wife shouted to me – “You are playing Pacman with them! You are now 13th! 12th and 11th are only seconds ahead and 10th, 9th and 8th are going backwards fast. NOW RUN!” This was all I needed to hear at this point. It was now that I needed to put the hammer down and throw it all in. I picked up the pace and before I knew it 12th and 11th were behind me and I was into the top 10! Final turn point and 2km’s to go, I knew 9th was only a few seconds ahead of me, so I literally ran for my life and managed to get it down to sub 4 min/km but wow I was deep in the hurt locker! Up the ramp and sprinting towards to finish-line to a special greeting from a South African and good friend – Paul Kaye. It was confirmed, overall race time of 9:00:42. 10th place (only 21 seconds off 9th).
After a huge hug from Paul, a huge hug from Rozi (my wife) and a huge sense of relief and pride, my mind thoughts turned to whether this was enough to get me that Kona slot. I would have to wait 24 hours till slot allocation to find out!
To say it was an emotional 24 hours, is an understatement. We got the news that there were 7 slots in my age group, so I would need to hope on roll-down.
As I am sure most of you know already, unfortunately, the news was not good. The Kona slot allocation didn’t end the way I dreamed. I missed it by 1 slot. I finished 10th and 9th Place took the last of the allocated slots in my age category. I am absolutely gutted to come so close. Bitter pill to swallow!
Saying all of this, I am so proud of my race. I left absolutely everything of myself out on that course in brutal conditions! To run a 3:07 marathon and earn a top 10 in my very competitive age group and a 36th place overall in a time of 9 hours makes me so proud yet mixed feelings that this wasn’t even good enough for that Kona slot.
I will take some time to reflect on what was the race of my life. So many positives to take out! I ticked EVERY box that we planned, other than the Kona box.
What I can say without doubt is that I will remember this disappointing feeling because all it’s done is seriously fuel a fire within me to come back even stronger and get that Kona slot! I will line up at IronMan South Africa in April to try and claim my spot in Kona and I actually believe it will taste that much sweeter ☺
Thanks to everyone for your incredible support! Blown away by all the messages in the build, up on the day and post race day! I honestly have felt it immensely and I am humbled. To all the MTD crew that’s trained with me over the months, you are all legends. Could not do it without you all! Claire and Kent, no words! Thank you so much!
Upwards and onwards! See you all soon!