Transformation station - James Cammel

After sending the above - before and after (fat vs thinner) photo to Rowland Visser (MTD Kzn inland coach). It was suggested that I share my IM 70.3 journey with this community. So here I go.

"Great ideas start with a thought" - In May 2015 we celebrated my father's 80th birthday with a small family bash in Magaliesburg. During his brief thank you speech, he wished us, his offspring an "as happy, healthy life”  he has had so far. I sat there looking at this slender and healthy 80 year young man and thought. Hmmmm a lesson maybe??

I weighed 106 kg's with a BMI of just over 30 (healthy is 23 -24) I was regarded as obese. With parents like mine I couldn't blame my genes. Later that night my two older brothers, younger sister and myself (our ages ranged between 47 & 53) discussed and celebrated the fact that dread disease hadn't nailed any of us and how we were a fortunate family still intact with both mother & father. The siblings and our 13 biological children - More proof that my genes were probably OK. Heck, even our spouses were healthy. In this moment my journey to re-set my health had begun.

The first 12 months would probably be regarded by MTD athletes as a non-event and nothing to be inspired by. The focus was mainly on a slow and progressive weight loss intervention.
Through diet -  "burn more than you eat", "eat less processed carbs", "hold back on sugar" a hand full of Park Runs, a few play-play sessions of mountain biking and some  virgin active visits, my weight went marginally down but I was still obese. Lets call this the half pregnant stage -  but at least it was a start.

June 2016.... “Goals are reached with the first action” - My life balance was complicated and serious change was adrift. I'd started a new job with a new career in Durban. I love my family deeply so commuting home to Jhb only on some weekends was extremely tough, my social life was under fire - new town = no friends. Financially running two homes is more expensive than one. However excess personal time became a luxury and I often found myself walking and playing in nature – this allowed me to often slip into meditative day dreaming... spiritually I was having conversations with my higher self and creator. The health part of my life wheel started to spike and I continued to carefully manage my intake of food and try to do some exercise. I started to see food as simply fuel?

19 June 2016 was a "trigger" day – I bumped into the Durban Ironman 70.3 - Inspiring to say the least with the cancelled swim, the rolling start for the fast ride and the heat on the run made me commit. I set up a notification and the same day the 2017 registration opened “Ka'ching I was in”!
For the rest of the year I kind of ignored the fact I had registered and convinced myself that 6 months was enough time to train. It meant that I could start in the middle of December and be ready by the 18th of June.... Important lesson - it's easy to sell yourself BS and even easier to believe!
By the end of 2016 my weight was at a constant 97kgs 9Kg’s down but still regarded as fat boy!
My training stats for the entire 2016 looked something like this -
•    7 Swim sessions -  couldn't finish 100m crawl non stop- breaststroke was cool!
•    51 running sessions the longest being 7.1km.  
•    258kms were completed during spin classes and few Mountain bike rides which were a very social occasion and it wasn't about the bike it was all about the cuppacino's at the end.
•    69 virgin Active sessions which included some of the above. That's less than a startling average of 6 sessions per month - Sorry Discovery.
Panic time - early January 2017.....made contact with MTD coach Rowland in Hillcrest Dbn. Lesson - find someone who knows more than you do and use their skills without shame!
When Rowland told me what “we” were going to do I didn't believe him, not possible! The 16th of January he had uploaded my first week of training onto training peaks and clearly  he was mad..... 05hrs05m in 7 days ja right. This was the first week. Boy was I in for a surprise. I eventually loved the challenge of my bigger weeks which were around 13hrs or so.   
His training programme was getting me to swim, ride, run and strengthen core in an accumulated, organised and structured manner. I started to love the cross training and found the plan manageable and at times was doing more in a week than I had ever done before.  In February whilst bashing out some steps during a workout I miss stepped and tore a calf muscle...... I got to meet Rowland’s wife Nicolette Visser who is an incredible physiotherapist who practices from Hillcrest in KZN. By the end of March I was back and slowly building up towards an hour of continuous running. My swimming had improved but I wasn't allowed to push off from the wall and my cycling was getting stronger.
Week in, week out training peaks was updated on a Sunday night and it was obvious the during the period of my injury there was some discussion between Coach & Physio Visser.
To reflect on support (3 people) - Sandy my wife was thrilled and supported me 100 percent from the get go. ... her words " if this HIM 70.3 is your midlife crisis it could be far worse. Never once was Sandy irritated with early nights, investment in equipment, absolute tunnel vision on bigger weeks and so on - Lesson get the complete support at home, I was lucky!
Jono Skews of Fourways, my lifelong mate had also registered for the race but sadly after having needed some light surgery put this goal on the back burner…. His constant interest and positive motivation was important, initially I was motivated to keep up with him (some testosterone)  but as things unravelled he become a motivator and sounding board.
Chantelle Webber of Amazimtoti became a constant source of relevant information eg up-coming events (Dolphin Mile Swims) and closer to the time keeping me focussed on Ironman Logistics (where to be when).
Over the 5 months of focussed training Rowland got me to Virgin Active 89 times, I spent 1677Km’s on the bike, ran 394Km’s (albeit some of it delayed because of the calf tear), swam 62Km’s, participated in a sprint triathlon, a Tin Man Triathlon, 105km Tour of Durban bike race and 3 Dolphin mile swims on Durban Beach.
I kept my measurements as a source of motivation and my improvement looked something like this…..



18 Dec

18 Jan

17 Feb

17 Mar

18 Apr

19 May

17 June

Weight (Kg)








Stomach (Cm)








Neck  (Cm)








Buttocks (Cm)








Chest     (Cm)








Rest Heart (bpm)








Ironman is an individual sport but MTD Academy makes an awesome team – The Hillcrest MTD team is a fantastic group. From learning new ‘stuff’ including sporting banter on our whatsapp training group, to bumping into MTD athletes at the pool and getting pointers to make one glide?, to discussing equipment and enjoying the rather interesting banter that took place after some of their 6 hour indoor rides gave an inexperienced triathlete like myself a sense of belonging and feeling I wasn’t in this alone.  Around Comrades time “Head Coach” Claire visited our City and worked with us on ocean swimming techniques and we enjoyed a running clinic. My glutes were activated!  With the ongoing team support, training was a far better place.
Got to start injury free to end injury free -  My calf was fully recovered and the week or so prior to the 70.3 I picked up a cold on a flight to Cape Town…. What the hell I was doing exposing myself to possible bugs at that time was risky but necessary from a work perspective. Self medicated I managed to stop infection and two days before the race I decided I was well enough to go for a just below seven hour finish…. With the worlds longest transition (first) I was hoping to finish the swim leg and T1 just under an hour. My training experience showed me that I should get through the 90km ride around 3 hours 15 mins plus 5 mins for T2. The 21.1km run was an unknown. I had not gone further than 90 mins and generally my pace was 6min/km. I anticipated the wheels may come off and expected about 2hrs 30mins for the half marathon.
The day – Perfect weather ensured a flat warm ocean and my swim was completed (breast stroke included, no wetsuit) in 39mins. 12 mins in T1 included a freshwater shower, a little stretch session and a loooooooong walk in cleats. Rowland and MTD team members warned me not to start off too fast on the bike and leave something for the legs so my 30km / hour was satisfactory and slightly faster than my plan. 8 mins in T2 was naughty but I did need to mix a new drink, visit the loo and change my socks. I loved the run and found the reason for doing this event – the achievement of feeling strong whilst running on “tired legs” and smashing my 7 hour plan by almost 50 mins was an incredible moment in my life, something this weekend warrior will remember for ever!
Hind sight is a perfect science – If I was starting this journey from scratch today I would do a number of things differently and that is expected – one thing for sure is my self belief has changed.

The future and what’s next – who knows?


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