Ironman 70.3 World Championships, Mooloolaba, Australia- Donovan Geldenhuys

34. International travelling Virgin. Started triathlon in 2012 with no goal other than keeping busy after studying for 10 years with no background in any sport. Started to love triathlon, but always feared the bike. Got knocked over by a car in December 2015, with no running or swimming for 8 weeks I started the quest to learn to love the bike. 7000 km’s on the indoor trainer in 6 months and changing of coaches and it was time for Ironman 70.3 Durban. Biking legs was awesome, run was good and I won my Age Group and 4th Age Grouper overall. Quick thinking and chat to my wife and World Champs slot was taken.
Race Build up
2016 thus far has been a year of trying to find the love for triathlon again. I always liked the sport a lot, but didn’t love it much anymore. Same thing week after week with slight improvement here and there quickly became ticking the boxes of doing 3 swims, 4 runs and 4 bikes a week and things will be OK. As noted in my intro, my goal was to change the leg I feared most into something I look forward to. In some ways breaking my collarbone and being sidelined from swimming and running and being forced onto the indoor trainer was a blessing in the skies. While being restricted from riding outdoors or doing anything else all I could do was ride indoors and soon the thing I dreaded most became my best friend. 1 hour rides became 2 and so on…
I wanted a rematch with Ironman Port Elizabeth badly as it kept on beating me down and I was already entered pre my accident, so a long came 28 January 2016 after being cleared by the Doctors to start training again and with 8 weeks to prep for a full Ironman I knew race day would be a tough one. I started talking to coach Neil at Dinamic to help me get me back into the pool and soon he accepted the challenge to get me to Ironman in some sort of shape. Ironman PE knocked me down again in 2016 and the rematch will happen AGAIN in 2017, but like every Ironman outing, no matter how hard the race beats you down, it reignites something inside that wants you to do it again, no matter how bad race day went.
Post Ironman it was time for a quick break and the build up to Durban 70.3. Hometown race for me and a great place to race! I have given coach Neil the go ahead to push me a little bit till I say no more and the build up to race day went pretty smooth with no real hiccups. During race prep, myself and coach decided I should plan an international race for the later part of the year to see how I stack up over there and seeing that I never travelled, a “racing holiday” seemed ideal. I looked at a few options but haven’t decided on one by the time Durban 70.3 came and after qualifying for World Champs it sounded ideal to take the slot.
For any triathlete I think KONA is the dream, it certainly is for me and I made myself the promise that I will only accept a slot if I earned it. I must either podium in my age group or beat a time I set myself before the race that is very competitive in my opinion. Now I know many people take slots for different reasons, im not saying taking your slot when you came 20th and the top 19 didn’t want it is wrong, I just made a personal note to myself that I will only accept my slot should I podium. With KONA being the ultimate goal, and me winning my age cat 35-39 at Durban 70.3, 70.3 World Champs seemed like a nice stepping stone to match up with the best in the World over the shorter distance.
Once again my race build up to World Champs went great, no hiccups at all. Coach was given the GREEN light to push me as hard as he seemed fit and in return I had to make a promise to take 2 weeks of post race. The request for a break that long seemed ludicrous, but I gave in and agreed. Me and my wife frantically started planning this daunting task of first time international travel while leaving our 2 kids behind and shipping Grandma from Cape Town to Durban for this period to take care of school runs and sport activities. The excitement was electrifying building up to our departure until emotions of leaving our kids behind struck the day before our flight and everyone was in tears, yet we soldiered on our first excursion with no kids for 10 days in a faraway place called Australia.
I love reading peoples tweets and messages when they arrive in KONA. Everyone feels under prepped and overwhelmed by the sight of fellow competitors. Everyone else always looks fitter and faster and I often wondered whether I will experience the same. Needless to say I did. First message to coach was that I landed safely, bike was built and rode well, legs are feeling awesome BUT my word these oaks looks strong. The master replied…… Focus on the process and let them fear you. Those words helped me immensely on race day and will ring true for many races to come!
Goal for race day – 25min swim, 2-15 bike, run for a 1-20 half and hope to survive for a 1-24. All in go for 4-05 to 4-10. And a sideline bet with the coach was that I wanted to beat my woman’s’ favourite Daniella Ryf. Coach laughed. He laughed both at the notion of me wanting to beat a girl and the fact that he thought that I was being a bit ambitious.
Race day actual – 26min swim, 2-17 bike and 1-24 run. All in 4-15. Transitions was slow and the run up from the swim was fairly long so I lost a few minutes there. Mrs Ryf’s overall time 4-14. Not only did I not make my goal time, I also lost the bet with coach and lost to Mrs’ Ryf by 1min.
The morning of the race I was calm and felt good. My lovely wife was up with me at 3-45am to force down some oats and Nutella and make sure I take everything down to the race venue I needed. I like being early and have everything sorted so came 4-40am I was queuing at transition. At 5am transition opened and it was time to click in the cleats, pump the wheels, duct tape some gels to the top tube and give the transition area a final run through.
My wave start was 6:35 am, immediately after the pro men and woman who started at 6-15am and 6-20am respectively. The problem with being early is that by 5-45am I was in my wetsuit roaring to go with an hour to wait so I decided to wonder down to the swim warm up area and splash around with my mates Mr. Kienle, Reed and as I like to call him “Crowie”. A few times a camera man aimed my way but I could see no one recognised this fella, and soon they moved onto the next pro.
The day prior to race day I did my usual sighting swim in the official swim area, had a nice long chat with the life guards about the currents and best lines to swim so I was very comfortable with what was ahead. Our swim start was a “wet start” and our wave group was the biggest of the day with about 250 odd athletes. I expected a chaotic affair but the race got underway very calmly and within few meters I was in my rhythm swimming my own line and on my own as per usual. I never expected to exit the water in the lead, but I knew swimming a 25min would be enough to be around the front. My wife counted me somewhere around 20 to 25th out of the water. I exited in 25min and 9 seconds with a swimming distance of 1908 meters. The run up to transition added a further minute or so. Coach did warn me that the Aussies can swim and I should remain calm once I figure out that there is a few guys upfront – focus on the process.
As per my massively long intro, this year for me is about the bike. The thing I feared most was now my weapon and I needed to make it count. Coach gave me 4 matches to burn during the bike ride and once we hit the Sun Coast highway I decided the light up 2 boxes straight away and find the front of the race. I wanted to be part of the action and try and influence the race as much as I can while holding around 310 to 320 watts for the ride. Luckily for me we were the leading age group batch so the road was clear and I could easily find and identify my competitors and at the turnaround point on the sun coast highway I caught the leading group of men and I could see 1 further guy up the road. By about the 30km mark we were 5 guys together and had a clear break from the rest of the group. The ride was uneventful from that point on, we worked well together and raced fairly. Never did I feel pressurised by the pace or at risk of being left behind. I knew my run was not where it should be to win and that a prayer for a 1:20 half but hoping for a 1:24 will be too slow to compete with the 4 guys around me. At 80km mark I made a conscious decision to light up my last few matches and made a break with 1 fellow competitor up the road. I felt great and managed to get a bit of a gap and hopefully caused my fellow AG’s some discomfort in the chase. A rookie mistake close to transition cost me a few seconds as I took my shoes off about 1km out from transition as I didn’t know where the T2 entry point was.
I entered T2 in 2nd place and came blasting out with Aussie competitor in joint 3rd place. The 2 of us ran together for a good 10km or so before I got left behind and was now running in 4th with one lap to go. I could see 2 guys tiring up front and me slowly reeling them in, but I wasn’t aware of the onslaught coming from behind. In hindsight I focused on slowly catching the tiring guys up front and forgot about what was coming from behind. I eventually passed the 2 upfront but was caught by 2 from behind and at the 18km mark I knew I was just outside the top 3 but within touching distance. The final hill was one step to much and concentration gave way and I got passed by 2 guys in the finishing shoot as you will see from the results.
I ended in 7th in my Age Group, 1min 29 seconds from 1st. It was a close race.
Although I lost my bet and missed my goal time of sub 4-10, I was in touching distance of the lead all day. Most importantly I proved to myself the focused work on the bike worked and I shouldn’t be scared to take some risk when racing.
The experience and privilege to race at a World Champs was invaluable and something I won’t forget.