Tom Barlow – The First Indoor Ironman



When I decided to do my own Home Ironman challenge, I checked out the original, pre-Covid-19 date of Ironman South Africa and realised it would have been on Sunday 29 March. With Covid-craziness gripping South African endurance athletes, I wondered whether any real triathletes would be undertaking a Home Ironman on the first weekend of lockdown. It turned out that two did. I was fortunate enough to chat to both – this is the story of the first indoor Ironman, Tom Barlow.

Tom Barlow’s world first

Tom is accomplished triathlete who already has eight full Ironmen under his lycra chaps. He had been training hard in the build up to 29 March and, after an excellent half Ironman in East London, was eyeing a 9h45 finish in Port Elizabeth to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

Whilst on his final pre-lockdown farewell run in nature, Tom’s mind drifted to the Frenchman who’d just run a marathon on his balcony. Not wanting many months of hard training to go to waste, Tom Barlow’s world wasn’t going to stop for Covid-19 and he decided that attempting the first ever indoor Ironman was the logical way to beat the lockdown blues – and raise money for a good cause at the same time.

The announcement of the Solidarity Fund during President Ramaphosa’s speech to the nation on 23 March resonated with Tom. He explained, “The word solidarity can be defined as unity of feeling among individuals with a common interest. Covid-19 has led us to bear witness to the world having a common interest for the first time in my lifetime.”

As the CEO of Ampersand Asset Management, Tom knows a worthwhile investment when he see one, saying that the Solidarity Fund and enabled him to “marry a worthy stated objective with great people to implement – the best chance to make a lasting positive contribution.”

Donate to the Solidarity Fund: Standard Bank, Solidarity Fund, Acc Nr: 023070021, Current Account.

On Sunday morning Tom followed his normal race routine, waking up two hours before the start for a big breakfast at his Cape Town home (which included pancakes courtesy of his wife Nicole). This allowed him to relax and mentally prepare for the day’s challenge and, trying to match race conditions as closely as possible, began his journey at exactly 7am to coincide with what should have been the official start of Ironman South Africa.

Waking up to pancakes on race morning (photo supplied).

He slipped into his wetsuit, strapped himself to a harness and listened to the national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, before jumping into the pool to get his journey underway. This was a far less turbulent, frenetic and chaotic start than he is accustomed to in Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth but said that the pool “was remarkably comparable to an ocean swim.”

Tom got his morning going with a 65 minute swim using a harness (photo supplied).

Tom quickly got into his rhythm and proceeded to smoothly stroke his way through a 65 minute swim (this duration was chosen since it was his “worst case scenario” for this year’s Ironman).

Swim done, Tom had a hot shower, got dressed into his cycling kit and proceeded to hammer out a 5h50 180 kilometre bike ride. During this leg, 50 riders from his triathlon club, Trifactri, joined him on the ride. His ride captain picked the Watopia route on Zwift which has a bit more climbing than the than the actual Port Elizabeth route.

Apart from his Trifactri training partners, Tom could also enjoy plenty of support from his fans. In addition to his wife and two step-daughters (who ensured that he was properly hydrated and catered to his culinary desires), he had installed a fan on either side to help keep himself cool over the six-hour bike ride.

Aside: Tom’s Tips for prospective Home Ironmen

When I chatted to Tom a few days before my own Home Ironman attempt, I had two motives:

1) Get the details on his achievement and story for a article and blog post, as well as

2) Ruthlessly interrogate him for as many last-minute triathlon tips as possible.

As someone who was completely ignorant to the ways of the cyclist, I bashfully broached the “kilt” question – “What does a cyclist wear under his tights? Commando or jocks?” “Definitely commando” was Tom’s reply. “And how does one prepare one’s soft and tender buttocks for six to eight hours on the bike?” “Vaseline* is your friend!” was the critical piece of advice I received, “But make sure you apply it everywhere. If you get that wrong it will end up nasty.”

* I took this sage piece of advice to heart and panic-bought all the Vaseline I could get my hands on the next morning.

Everything you need to ride 180 kilometres on a stationary bike (photo supplied).

He also stipulated that not any old Vaseline will do – it must be the unscented variety. Apparently, if you wear out your welcome mat, having scented Vaseline seep into an open wound is more painful than picking your nose after cutting habanero chilis.

The ears also override the eyes during a Home Ironman. Another tip was to listen to music rather than try to watch TV, with Tom stressing that you’ll find your cadence dropping whenever the plot gets slow. Tom’s musical accompaniment recommendations for a fast ride are 80s pop and trance, the latter genre which he was introduced to by his eldest daughter Callie*.

* Callie joined her dad for two 70.3 Ironman events last year which Tom says trumps the IHome Ironman as the proudest sporting moment of his life.

Tom also mentioned that the golden rule on the bike is to eat as much as you can – I had banked the 80s pop and trance advice, but this was the real music to my ears. If there is one thing that I do well, it’s eating! Tom emphasised that the first four hours on the bike were particularly important with a white ham roll being his preferred delicacy.

Tom settles into the bike ride (photo supplied).

Another shower characterised his transition from the bike, after which he set about running the marathon on the treadmill he had managed to scramble around and borrow from friends the day before lockdown. With no real experience running on a treadmill, Tom was concerned about this leg but managed to polish the marathon off in a very creditable 3h50.

Enjoying the novelty of a treadmill run (photo supplied).

This gave Tom a total active time (excluding transitions) of 10h45. However, it was much more about the experience and doing something special for the country rather than chasing a result. Whereas most Ironman finishers rattle off their detailed split and transition times, Tom had to look up his times when I chatted to him.

I know many ultra runners who’ve experimented with an Ironman or two but Tom was the first “real triathlete” I’d spoken to who’d dabbled with ultra running. After Tom mentioned that he’d run the 2016 “Down” Comrades, the obvious question that followed was, “How do they compare?”

According to Tom, “They are about the same in terms overall physical exhaustion.” However, his follow up statement was the one I cherished as he declared, “Comrades is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.” Having endured ten Comrades finishes, this was the confidence boost I needed ahead of my own Home Ironman attempt.

Heroes have the tendency to emerge during the darkest periods. Marvel might have trademarked Ironman superhero name – and Steve Rogers might be the first Avenger. However, in South Africa the stark truth is that you just need some spandex, good quality lubricant and a big heart to become a hero. Congratulations Tom Barlow – the world’s first Indoor Ironman.

READ MORE: Charlotte Raubenheimer – The First Home IronMom

READ MORE: The Home Ironman Experience (my first triathlon)

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2 Replies to “Tom Barlow – The First Indoor Ironman”

  1. A 3.50 marathon time as a finish is nothing short of incredible especially on a treadmill. They are so boring to run on.
    On another note, is Tom Barlow related in any way to Eddie Barlow, the former WP and SA cricket captain?

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