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 and 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 Home IronMom, Charlotte Raubenheimer.
Charlotte Raubenheimer: The First Home IronMom
Saturday the 28th of March was day two of the South Africa’s original 21-day lockdown period. Whilst many South Africans spent the day getting acclimatised to lockdown conditions (or figuring out where they were going to store all the food and toilet paper they’d needlessly stockpiled), for Charlotte Raubenheimer it was a day of speculation.
The following day should have been her first Ironman and Charlotte’s wandering mind couldn’t stop wondering what could have been if some bloke in Wuhan hadn’t fancied bat for dinner a few months earlier. No matter what she did to distract herself, the thought of an alternate reality where she ran down the red-carpet to complete her first Ironman kept drifting into her head and the universe kept flirting with her aspirations.
Charlotte runs a guest house just down the road from the official Ironman start in Summerstrand but, instead of swimming 3.9 kilometres around the Indian Ocean, the best she could do was smell the salty sea air from her doorstep (which is just 200 metres from the beach). The day was plagued by messages and photos from training partners on various WhatsApp groups who were reminiscing about past workouts. Charlotte had recorded her preparations in meticulous detail and found herself spending the afternoon paging through her training diary.
She tried to push the thoughts of becoming an Ironman out of her mind by declaring that she’d do a long home training session on Sunday. As the mom of two very energetic boys, she was used to making spur of the moment decisions and by evening this “long training session” had escalated to “Maybe I should just give the full Ironman a shot?”
For Charlotte, Ironman was never about a medal but about making a difference. She’d originally decided to do the Ironman to raise funds for a new wheelchair for Phillip Janse van Rensburg who suffers from cerebral palsy. Phillip lives at the nearby Cheshire Home which houses 54 physically disabled adults and he would often chat to Charlotte and her sons on their walks to the beach. When Charlotte noticed that they hadn’t seen Phillip in a while, she made enquiries and it turned out that Phillip’s motorised wheelchair (which he propels using his chin) was broken beyond repair and needed to be replaced.
Charlotte felt a sense of obligation to the people who’d generously donated to her Back-a-Buddy page and did not want Phillip to have to wait until November to get his new wheelchair (when the rescheduled Ironman is due to take place).
She was also concerned whether her ‘busy mom’ schedule would be able to sustain the Ironman training regime – and figured that there was no time like the present to ensure she honoured her commitments.
With ten finishes to his credit, Charlotte’s husband Jean is an accomplished Ironman athlete who, despite having very limited time to train as he is a medical doctor, usually finishes around the 10-hour mark. This year, Jean decided to take a year off and Charlotte grabbed to the opportunity to keep the family name flying high in the Windy City.
Jean coached his wife throughout the journey and made sure that Charlotte earned her Ironman finish. Sunday was a windy day which meant that conditions in the sea would have been choppy and difficult for swimming so, instead of the planned 1h15 harness swim, an extra 15 minutes of swimming was added “just to make sure that the full distance would have been covered.”
Having spent about 80% of her training time on the bike, the cycle leg was her strength. However, Jean wasn’t going to let his wife have it easy here either. He loaded a hilly 180 kilometre course onto Zwift. The nature of the last-minute decision meant that Charlotte had not even charged her iPad properly and 90 kilometres into the ride the battery died. However, she quickly recharged her batteries and kept on cycling the remaining distance at the same intensity.
Fortunately, marathons are hard enough, so Jean didn’t need to throw any curveballs into the running leg to give Charlotte the authentic Ironman experience. Charlotte spun her web around their Summerstrand property by running 316 laps on a 133 metre loop (which amounted to 1580 knee-jarring turns along the way).
Charlotte said she felt incredibly good at the start of the run. In fact, she’d been driven by an inner power throughout the day. She was running for Phillip and drew inspiration from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Part of her morning preparation includes reading the Bible, worship and prayer – and this was the passage that she received.
As the day wore on, she kept lapping her house at a steady pace and got to 28 kilometres before she entered her first dark period of the day. Incredibly, this was her first marathon and her legs had already gone further than ever before – with her furthest training run being 25 kilometres. Charlotte found the section between 28 and 35 kilometres to be by far the hardest but fortunately Jean joined her. He ran just behind the debut marathoner, giving her encouragement and support when needed.
This helped Charlotte to keep her head up and her heart strong. At 20:13, 13 hours and 13 minutes after she took her first stroke in the pool, Charlotte took her last few steps on the small pink hand towel that her sons had laid down to substitute for the traditional red-carpet finish – and Charlotte Raubenheimer became the world’s first Home IronMom!
Charlotte’s final splits were swim 1h30, cycle 6h15, run 5h08 but this is largely inconsequential. As news of her incredible achievement spread, the donations on her Back A Buddy page climbed past the R70,000 needed to pay for Philip’s new wheelchair. In fact, there is now a surplus of funds and the additional money will be used to create a trust to help cover Phillip’s future needs.
Charlotte’s already looking forward to tackling the rescheduled Ironman South Africa in November. There’ll be a lot more glitz and glamour at her next Ironman finish. However, no matter what races she completes in the future, the first Sunday of South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown is likely to remain the proudest sporting achievement of her life.
And no matter what medals the Raubenheimer family add to their collection, there’ll be one that’s cherished above all others – the specially constructed trophy Charlotte’s boys made from an ice cream container, a plastic water bottle and clippings from old Ironman magazines.
READ MORE: Tom Barlow – The First Indoor Ironman