Richard’s Road to Kona

After qualifying with an Age group win at IMSA 2017 I managed to secure my slot for the Ironman World champs in Kona. Truth be told it was actually a tough decision as I was fully aware of the expenses involved and the hard months of training ahead during a cold’ish & lonely winter in PE. I spoke to a few people including my coach and decided it was time to accept my slot at the slot allocation and go experience the ‘Big Island’.

Post Ironman I took 1 month off from training to rest up the mind and body. IMSA was my first Ironman and although it was great day for me it was still a tough build up that required A LOT of mental and physical strength. There was a powerhouse field of International athletes this year that kept me under pressure the whole race but it was a great experience and I was very happy with the outcome of my race.  I felt confident with my performance and backed myself to go and have another good performance in Kona. I figured if I was able to put a similar race together then I may be able to sneak a top 10 or even top 5 in my age group at the big race on 14 October.

So 24 weeks out the training started. Fortunately it didn’t start too hard as I had lost a fair amount of fitness during my time off. More importantly my mind was in a better space though and I was ready to train again. I had a good chat with my coach Kent Horner and told him that it wasn’t all about winning for me and that I wanted to have a good balance during the build up to the race so that I could enjoy my journey to Kona as best as possible. He was great in doing just that and it was really a manageable training block that allowed me to still have a life. The block was going perfectly as planned until about 6 weeks out. I was doing a big ride with my squad one Saturday and was talking to an athlete next time me. Obviously me being the Loskop that I am I didn’t keep my eyes on the road and next thing I felt myself flying through the air at about 30km/h. I had hit a brick large brick that was lying directly in the middle of the shoulder we were riding in and came off hard. Turns out my bike had R45 000 worth of damage (Thank goodness for insurance) and I came away with no serious injuries but a few scratches. I took my bike in for repairs and continued to train on my road bike for the next 3 weeks. This was where it got a little nasty. One week after the crash I was doing a session and noticed my arm was very itchy and a little swollen. I looked down to notice that I had an infection that needed to be attended too. I went to the doctor and he gave me the worst possible news slap bang in the middle of my biggest training block for Kona. I was told to finish a course of strong antibiotics for 10 days. After the 10 days it was still not cleared up properly and I then had to take another course of 5 days. I hadn’t been on medication as strong as that for years and it felt like hell. Fortunately I was still able to train during those 2 weeks but I had to keep my intensity very low. It did worry me a little that I wasn’t able to bank my biggest 2 weeks as I had hoped but I stayed calm and just did what I could. From there on everything ran smoothly and I got back into consistent uninterrupted training for my last few weeks in SA.

It was then time to pack the bags and get ready for a nice long 38 hours of travelling. Fortunately I linked up with another SA athlete in Joburg, Mr Andre Piehl whom I was actually staying with in Kona and we actually stayed together in Kona. We arrived at 8pm in the evening  and the first thing I noticed was the tiny outdoor airport. We were quick to get settled in and I managed to get into a good sleep routine from night 1. The next day training started and it was time to put the final pieces of the puzzle together. Those two weeks prior to the race were very necessary but I still do not believe that it was enough. The heat and humidity were extreme and it was definitely something I knew it was going to make the going on race day very tough. Training was going great and perfectly as planned. I was feeling surprisingly strong during my 1st week there and was beginning to feel confident for the race as my body really responded well to the 12 hour time zone difference. Monday prior to the race I was out riding in the late and I had just finished my last race effort. I was having a great session and the legs were just there. I was riding in the wide shoulder of the Queen K highway with my head down (practicing aerodynamics) and my peripheral vision picked up a large SUV that had stopped and taken up the entire shoulder. I did not realise that the car was there until I was about 6m’s away and I was travelling at around 30km/km. I knew that impact was a definite so my instinct kicked in and I swerved towards the main highway and hit the bottom left bumper taking all the impact on my right leg. I flew off my bike and landed in the highway with my bike only to notice 3 cars coming straight for me. Fortunately they had seen the commotion and swerved around me. I immediately stood up and could not stand on my right leg. The owners of the car were there and told me to calm down and let the shock subside. I then picked my bike up and to my disbelief there was not even a scratch on it (I thought it was in half). Once I calmed down and realised that I was extremely blessed to still be alive and have a bike that was in working order I got back on and rode 1 hour to get home. They were also there for the race and there car was packed with family and a bike so I could not get a lift home. Riding home I could feel that there was serious bruising on my shin and I had damaged my Achilles tendon. I knew I had to do everything I possibly could during race week to get fixed up so I could still race and put in a good performance.  Tuesday I woke up and was forced to take the day off as I could barely walk on it. Wednesday I did a swim set and short 1 hour ride to test it out but was still unable to run. Thursday coach Kent Horner had arranged an appointment with SA born Chiropractor of James Cunnama, Mr Lawrence Van Lingen. He did great work on me and gave me the good news that nothing had been damaged to the point that I won’t be able to race. That afternoon I went out for a short 20 minute walk/run and it held out J

Now it was time to put the accident behind me completely and focus only on the race. I still felt confident that I could have a good performance and although my taper didn’t go as planned not being able to run in race week I knew I was still going to go out there and give it my best shot.

Race morning I woke up after a good night’s rest. I was feeling very relaxed and excited to get going. I got down to the race venue nice and early and finished up my final preparations. I then relaxed for a bit before starting a warm up. Entering the water and waiting for the cannon to fire I was feeling calm and very excited. I knew I had a very tough day of racing ahead of me and it was going to require a lot from me to perform at the level I was hoping too. I had a swim that I was happy with exiting the water feeling strong in 59:45min. Transition 1 went smooth and I was in and out fast. Onto the bike for 180km and the legs were feeling a bit sluggish early on. This is pretty normal though so I did not panic and kept the effort steady to give the legs some time to get going. Eventually they did and I started to find a good rhythm. I was making up loads of positions and was feeling comfortable in doing so. It was extremely hot and there was a decent wind blowing. I focused on staying hydrated and made use of each and every aid station on the 180km bike course. Coming back towards town there was a strong headwind blowing but my legs were still feeling great and I was plenty of athletes that had blown up which really motivated me. Coming into Transition 2 I was feeling good and confident for the run. Getting out onto the run my legs were feeling a bit fatigued from the bike but I tried not to panic as I know this feeling is normal at this stage of the race. My legs usually come around after 2 - 3km but this time it was unfortunately different. Getting onto Ali'i drive and about 3km into the run I noticed that I was not feeling any better and this is when the heat started to take its toll. The heat and humidity was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before and I was not prepared for it that early on the run. My aim was to run a 3 hr 20 min marathon and I thought this was very realistic as I ran a 3hr14:50 at IMSA and felt that my running was really in a good place going into the race. My focus was to try and run the first 16km stretch on Ali'i drive at around 4:42min/km but I didn't expect it to be as hot and humid here. There was not a breath of air and it was around 13:30pm. I began to panic a bit as I have never been in this position before. It was only my 2nd ever marathon and to think that I had another 39km to go was extremely daunting. My mind began to get filled with negativity and I could not tap into anything positive. I started doubting myself and began to wonder if I would finish the race. At this stage i definitely thought that even a sub 4 hour marathon was out of the question. I then remembered one on the Ironman Motto's that we hear so often, "just keep moving forward" and that is exactly what I did. My pace was dropping and I knew that I was in for the hardest experience of my life. I decided to focus on running between each aid station and to then walk the aid station focusing on getting in liquids and cooling my body down with sponges and ice blocks. I did this for the duration of the marathon and only at the 31km mark did I start to believe that I was going to finish and still manage a sub 4 marathon. Coming into town I was feeling absolutely shattered to the point where I was completely emotionless. To be honest I struggled to take in the finish line because I was so finished. I remember being passed by 4 athletes in the final 400m and I had absolutely no response as I just wanted to finish. Crossing the line and realizing it that the hardest event of my life is over was probably the most relieving feeling ever. It wasn't the race I had hoped for but it was still a result that I am happy with. What makes me happier is that I did not give up and I kept on pushing till the line. I finished my marathon in a time of 3 hr 41 minutes, the race in 9 hr 39 minutes & 18th position in my age group.

Yes, there were some challenges along the way but I do not regret a thing. As athletes preparing for events like this it is very seldom that we will have the perfect build up. Every once in a while you will have that perfect build up and race but I believe it’s these one’s that define us as athletes and individuals. You have to take the good and bad in life if you wish to achieve the goals that you once thought were impossible. I've taken more away from this experience than I ever could have imagined. It is a race that truly humbled me but I am really hoping to go back some day (Hopefully 2019) and be more prepared physically and mentally.

It has been a big year for me (3 x IM 70.3 races and my first 2 x Ironman events)  and I am extremely happy with my progress this season. For now it’s time for me to enjoy a very nice break from any form of structured training. As a coach I am a firm believer in taking time out to allow the body and mind to recover. The last 4 years have been pretty tough in terms of racing so I have decided to take a slightly longer break now. Next year I will be focusing on the shorter IM 70.3 distance events again. I would really like to focus on the Ironman 70.3 World championships in my home city (Nelson Mandela Bay).

Thanks for reading my story and happy training during the festive season.  Be safe out there 

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