Ironman South Africa, and a slot to Kona- Iain McGregor
Standard Bank Ironman African Champs – Port Elizabeth, 10 April 2016
I am not too sure when the dream to race Ironman started, but I recall during my early high school years picking up a triathlon magazine and reading of the Iron War between Mark Allen and Dave Scott. But I was a cricketer and I pursued my career in cricket and stayed fit in the off season by playing hockey and doing track and field. I continued to follow the sport of triathlon, and kept an eye on the big names like Allen, Tinley, Scott, Welch, McCormack, Reid and Alexander. The only name I am yet to see up there is Chuck Norris…
2015 was the realisation of my dream to compete in an Ironman when I completed the African Championship race in PE. My training was not too focused as I put together sessions from various programmes and trained when I could. A calf niggle for 6 weeks prior to the race left me uncertain of completing the race. But I came home in a very sore and tired 10h34. But that was just the start! I wanted more! There was more to my dream of racing an Ironman that I had never shared with anyone! I wanted to race on those lava fields like I had seen in the magazines so many years ago. I wanted a Kona slot.
A cycling accident in May 2015 left me with a fractured hand and a torn labrum in my left hip when a motorist did not see me and pulled out into the road in front of me. Once my hand had healed and I could use crutches, I had hip surgery in September 2015 and I told the surgeon he was under some pressure, as I wanted to race Ironman again. I spoke to a number of athletes with regards to coaches and what I wanted from them, and there was almost always the same reply of who to contact – Dinamic Coaching.
I first met with Neil and Diana at the beginning of December 2015. I presented them with my challenges of not having run since May, not being allowed to run until the middle of December and only being allowed to do short runs. After my meeting with them, I knew that their method of coaching was what I wanted. I remember the look on their faces when I told them my goal was to qualify to go to Kona. It was a look of “well, maybe he means in 2017?” But they said they would get me ready and after my initial tests, we set about reaching the goal.
My programme was designed around my running limitations, my work schedule and created just for me, based on my test data. On some of the long rides, my mind would start to wonder why I was doing what I was doing, but I kept telling myself that Diana has worked this out to get me race ready. I did all my sessions on my own, except for the odd Friday canal swim. I could feel every week I was getting stronger and faster. I knew the hard work was paying off when I was doing 182km training rides quicker than my bike time in Ironman last year, and at a much lower intensity. I started to want Saturday mornings to come around quicker so I could do my long rides and check my progress. And then, DISASTER.
3 weeks before Ironman, 190km into my 6,5 hour ride, a motorist turned across a solid, double white line in front of me, again, saying they did not see me. I braked as hard as I could but the next thing I was flying in the air and hit the tar with my head and right shoulder. My smashed Polar V800 showed my speed went from 35km/hr to 0km/hr in less than 3 seconds. I had my first ride in an ambulance and was in ER at Durbanville Mediclinic. Miraculously, nothing was broken or torn, but severe whiplash, tissue bruising and roasties were what I had to deal with. I thought that that was the end of Ironman 2016 as I lay in the hospital and the nurse wiped away the tears when I told her nobody would understand what I have sacrificed to race Ironman.
Unable to train for 2 weeks, I went to see Neil and Diana for a bike lactate test 10 days before Ironman. The numbers were up from the initial test, and I gained a lot of motivation that I could still race Ironman. “Just stick to your numbers” was the advice from the Dinamic team. A few more sessions with the physio and chiropractor, and before I knew it, I was in PE and registered to race. A few warm up sessions and my body and mind started to get into gear. I was lucky enough to attend a brunch hosted by Ironman All World Athlete (AWA) and the Queen of Kona, Paula Newby-Fraser on the Saturday before race day. Her talk centred around “don’t be greedy” – i.e. do what you do in training, don’t get caught up in the race and push your body too hard. As I sat quietly the night before doing some mental preparation for the race, I focused on these 2 pieces of advice I had been given.
The morning of race day produced another breath taking sunrise. The swim was not the easiest conditions, but I felt comfortable and I finished strong. I looked at my time and although it was slower than what I had wanted, I did not panic, as I looked ahead of me and there were not masses of athletes out the water already. A steady, practiced transition and onto the bike. This was the leg of the race that I had confidence going into. But there were so many athletes flying past me. The disc wheels making their distinctive sound as they hurried past. I kept looking at my watch, thinking I am going too slow. Why are people going past me so fast? But I kept repeating to myself – “stick to your numbers” and “don’t be greedy”. I knew it was going to be a hot day and proper nutrition and hydration would be critical. I stuck to the plan that I had used throughout my training and tried to keep my body as cool as possible. At 135km at the turn around point on the last lap of the bike, I noticed I had caught up to a lot of the guys who had flown past me earlier on the first lap. I carried on riding to my numbers and I started to really look forward to finishing the bike off strong as I continued to pass more and more cyclists.
I came out of transition 2 and I felt great as I started the run. There was some apprehension though as I had not done any long continuous runs. I looked at my watch and realised I was going too fast and needed to back off a bit and “not be greedy”. Towards the 25km mark, I started to feel tired and my legs were getting sore. But I had a friend (and Ironman 2015 finisher) back home suffering from cancer, and I kept telling myself that this was nothing close to the battle that Craig was fighting. And I just kept on pushing. The last lap of the run was probably one of the most enjoyable 10km runs I have had. The psychological advantage of passing people who had gone out too hard is incredibly powerful, as well as racing for a greater cause – and in my case it was for Craig. I had not looked at my overall time during the race, until the last 2km of the run as I had just been going according to “my numbers”.
Running down that red carpet and seeing my time and my name on the screen, is one of the proudest moments I have ever had, considering where I had been lying 3 weeks prior to the race. When Neil and Diana came over to me at the finish and asked me about the race, I told them that they had given me the best advice ever and I had stuck to it, along with “don’t be greedy” from the Queen of Kona. It was that advice, along with the personalised and structured training plan from Diana that got me an automatic qualification to race Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii on 8 October 2016.
My Ironman African Championship 2016 race and my Kona World Championships Qualification is dedicated to my friend Craig Jacobs who lost his battle to cancer in the early hours on race day. It was his fighting spirit that carried me through the toughest parts of the race. In the recovery area, it was the news of his passing that sank me to my knees.