The Home Ironman Experience (my first triathlon)

Share:
[Unofficial MARATHON #1 / Triathlon #1 / 4 April 2020]

It was a dark and stormy night.

It was a dark and stormy morning too.

In fact, the whole damn week had been dark and stormy.

Still, I had no one but myself (and some bat-eating bastard in Wuhan) to blame for the predicament I now faced. On the coldest, wettest and most miserable day of the year, I was the idiot who’d be attempting a Home Ironman as his first ever triathlon.

With ten Comrades and four Ironmen, Warren Porteous is an insightful source of help and inspiration (Note: only the last comment is actually relevant to race morning weather conditions).

For the uninitiated that’s:

  • A 3.86 kilometre swim (in an ice-cold pool with only a speedo and my hairy legs to protect me),
  • A 180.25 kilometre exercise bike ride (on a butt softer than a Super Rugby disciplinary panel on New Zealand players and more tender than the ten years of Zuma in the Gupta’s Saxonwold compound) and
  • A standard 42,2 kilometre marathon (up and down my ridiculously steep driveway).

This seemed like a good idea just after South Africa’s lockdown began a week earlier when I audaciously announced on social media, “Despite not owning a bike nor having swum lengths in 15 years*, I’ll attempt a full Home IronMan next Saturday in aid of Education.”

Damn you social media.

* For those unfamiliar with this blog, I have however run a few marathons so at least I had that bit covered.

 

The Cause

Just the One Foundation who provide full educational bursaries for high aptitude learners from currently underprivileged backgrounds through the Alexandra Education Committee

This enables high aptitude children, who would otherwise not have access to a decent education, to reach their potential. It’s a charity I have personally supported for 13 years. 100% of the money goes to the learner’s education and they also receive extra tutoring and support. They have achieved spectacular results (both of the learners I’ve sponsored through high school passed matric with an ‘A’ aggregate). For more information see the “Full details on the charities” section here.

To donate:

  • Option 1 – Once off donations anywhere in the world with card or transfer: https://simpletogive.org.za/just-the-one-foundation/
  • Option 2 – Bank transfer EFT: Just the One, FNB cheque account, Account #62374379793, Branch 250655, Reference “HIM + your name”Section 18a certificates for the tax man issued on request.

The Build-up

The previous week, life had been peachy. Warm conditions prevailed as I went for my first five kilometres of garden and driveway running, testing various route permutations as well as the accuracy of the assortment of GPS devices in our household.

I concluded my upper body strength work by lugging the exercise bike (which had been gathering dust in a backroom) to the patio and knocked out a six kilometre ride (the first action the bike has seen in close on a decade) and then finished up with a few lengths of the pool dodging dive-bombing daughters and the tentacles of the Kreepy Krauly.

The pool had been celebrating St. Patrick’s day a few weeks beforehand but I had managed to bring it back from luminescent green to a murky blue. It was still difficult to see the sides through the cloudy water so I focussed much of my pre-race attention on getting the water a clear as possible.

Such was my naivety at this point that I had got several things wrong. The originally announced start time was 6am (I figured an early start gave me a decent chance of finishing before my kids were asleep). However, my wife pointed out that the sun only rises around 6:30am in April so, not wanting to add a dark start to the equation, I moved the start time to 7am (which is also the traditional Ironman starting time).

I’d also got the distances slightly wrong. Garrin Lambley, editor of Sport24.co.za, gleefully told me I’d have to add a few lengths to my planned swim as the swimming distance was 3.86 kilometres and not 3.8 kilometres as I’d been led to believe. I’d also made a rounding error on the bike and would have to additional a further 250 metres onto the peddle.

With just a week to prepare for my first triathlon, I immediately entered a period of hard tapering. I hoped that the Fordyce mantra of “Rather start Comrades overweight and undertrained” would apply to endurance triathlons as well.

I was worried how many kilometres the bike would handle so, other than oiling a squeaky peddle, left it totally alone until the big day. My daughter pestered me into joining her for a few short driveway jogs and after one of them I finished off my swimming training with two more lengths of the pool (mainly to check just how cold the water temperature had become during the cold front).

I regularly do an alternate day pull-up and push-up regime but noticed that my shoulders became a little tired during my 20 length “long swim” and therefore dropped all strength and core body exercises five days before the event. I also tried to limit my intake of beer but was less successful on this score.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I manged to chat to Tom Barlow and Charlotte Raubenheimer who’d both completed a Home Ironman on the original Ironman South Africa date the previous Sunday. Both were amazingly supportive and gave me some great tips on how to approach my attempt.

Below video: The trailer that my eldest daughter put together for the event.

The Risky Assumption

Without fail, every ultra marathon runner you speak to who’s done Comrades and Ironman tells you, “Ironman is much harder to train for but Comrades is much tougher on the day.”

If you work in corporate, you can’t get away from talk of “disruptors.” These are companies like Uber and Airbnb that change a stable landscape radically by challenging conventional wisdom, thereby reinventing an existing market. If training for Ironman was truly the hardest aspect of the event and the Ironman was indeed much easier than Comrades, I figured that I would try to cause my own minor disruption by reinventing conventional stupidity and attempt a full Ironman without doing any training.

The sum total of my Home Ironman training consisted of 30 lengths of my 11 metre pool, six kilometres of stationary biking, 241 marathons and two shirts (I figured you can’t do an Ironman without having done any actual ironing).

In retrospect,  might not have got the training balance quite right for my first triathlon.

Race Morning

With the luxury of not having to battle traffic or worry about long toilet queues, I gave myself an hour to get ready and set the alarm for 6am – with the instruction to wake up the rest of the family (and bring my wife a cup of tea) at 6:30am.

I followed my normal marathon morning “Triple T” routine. This consists of tea (two cups), toast (peanut butter and honey) and toilet (as many trips as possible – especially on this occasion as I was lacking the added buoyancy of a wetsuit and wanted to avoid swimming with rocks in my pocket).

Race kit and nutrition for my first triathlon. You need a lot more equipment for triathlon than you do for running!‬ [There was a bit of conjecture on social media as to what the batteries were for – to set the record straight, they were a fresh pack for the exercise bike!]

The Swim

I got going just after 7am with a simple “Ready, steady, go!” from my wife and the firing of a Nerf gun from my youngest daughter. After a short trot over the lawn, I faced the pool. “1, 2, 3 bungee” went through my mind and I took the plunge.

As soon as my chest hit the frigid water I gasped for breath and tried to get my hyperventilating breathing under control over the first ten lengths. Swimming in the cold makes you feel a lot younger – I had already dropped several cup sizes and, suffering with a severe case of shrinkage, now had the body of a 10-year boy. I had no choice but to store all my eggs in the basket of my Speedo and my prized assets had lost more market share than the JSE’s all share index during the previous week’s stock crash.

I was facing 351 lengths of my 11 metre pool to make up the 3.86 kilometre Ironman distance and focussed on getting the first 40 lengths done – as this would be just over 10% complete. This was also more than the total amount of training I had done so, like a little clownfish called Nemo, I was now swimming beyond the reef and into the unknown.

I had tried to get my watch to count lengths and distance without luck so relied on my support team’s mathematical prowess – and my eldest daughter prepared a white board with the swim broken up into ten length chunks. After about 50 lengths I got into a good rhythm and would try knock off 20 lengths at a time – check that my count was inline with that of the official scorekeepers and push off again. I used to swim a lot a school and did try the odd tumble turn but gave up that idea after a few attempts, mainly because I was overhydrating with heavily chlorinated pool water though my nose.

I had planned to inject some fun into the traditional Ironman and therefore pre-placed an order for a poolside cup of tea after breaching 200 lengths. By this stage my face was so cold and numb that I could not control the sipping motion and had to spit out the first mouthful after taking too big a sip. The tea was fantastic though – it warmed me up and gave me renewed energy, providing credence to my clearwater revival.

Enjoying a cup of tea just over 200 lengths into the swim.

Conditions deteriorated towards the end of the swim and I could feel the rain pelting down against my back over the last 100 lengths. I was also starting to shiver uncontrollably whenever I had a brief stop, so I counteracted this by not stopping. 351 lengths (plus one for good luck to get back to the steps) and 1h10 later I emerged a little pinker, shivering uncontrollably and gratefully grabbed the towel.

One down two to go.

I am so cold in this photo that, even if i was completely naked, you would not be able to see anything.

Transition One

I celebrated the swim (as well as the fact that I did not live in Cape Town) with a prolonged, hot shower and swapped the Speedo for the (only slightly) more socially acceptable spandex cycling outfit.

Facing six to eight hours on the bike requires mental strength in the headquarters and physical strength in the hindquarters. After surviving the full-frontal assault of the pool, I now prepared my posterior for a brutal battle of the buttocks on an untested saddle.

I was worried that annus horribilis would turn into anus horribilis.

Tom Barlow advised me that the best way to enjoy a smooth ride was to apply as much Vaseline as possible. I took this sage piece of advice to heart and panic-bought all the Vaseline I could get my hands on. I applied so much lubricant that, with a fast enough run up at the Buccleuch interchange, I could have slid most of the way to Benoni (I still struggle to sit naked on a stool without sliding off).

I had promised to do some ironing in the transitions (so that I could become a real Iron Man) and set to work on my cotton race shirt from the Friendly City Marathon. My wife, Kathy, had explicitly forbidden me from applying my rudimentary ironing skills on any other family members’ clothing. I did what I thought was a pretty decent job. However, I received feedback shortly afterwards from my ironing coach that I should have turned the shirt inside out and avoided ironing on the print (the shirt in T2 was turned inside out for me ahead of time so I wouldn’t make the same mistake again).

My super wife and kids who supported me every stroke, peddle and step along the way (I am in debt for the rest of lockdown).

The Bike

Despite the hot shower, I was still shivering and my legs hit the bike at higher than planned velocity as my body tried to warm itself up again. My wife offered another cup of tea which I gratefully accepted.

A cup of tea and some high cadence legwork helped me to warm up again on the bike.

I decided that I should get into character and therefore wore a helmet and sunglasses (no helmet no ride) but had to remove the glasses a short while later as I couldn’t see anything in the gloomy conditions. I was worried that dressing like a cyclist would adversely affect my personality. Fortunately, I still managed to keep my cheerful amiable personality intact and enjoyed chatting away to the camera and answering some questions as they popped up on the live stream and were read to me by my daughters.

After 40 minutes of hard peddling my cadence was still around 35 kilometres per hour and the first drop of sweat finally formed on my forehead. I was quite enjoying myself now and looked forward to tucking into the salty potatoes Kathy had put on to boil.

Tom Barlow had also told me that the problem with most runners who attempt an Ironman is that they don’t get their nutrition right. His advice was “eat, eat, eat and eat” – especially on the first four hours on the bike. Eating is something I am particularly adept at, so I looked forward to tucking into my stockpile of snacks.

My daughters were equally keen to get the feeding scheme off the ground and had been jealously eyeing the jelly beans. A vital part of my supporter package coercion strategy was the promise that they could share in the spoils – and I did well to get a handful of jelly beans before all the sweets rapidly disappeared.

Snacks in the foreground, a snacking daughter in the background (on the right) and my other daughter diligently marking my progress on the whiteboard.

I was expecting the ride to take between six and eight hours – figuring that I’d do well to maintain an average of 30km/h. However, I was able to keep up a pace of around 35km/h fairly easily whilst chatting away to the live stream feed and munching through the snacks. It was also very comforting to enjoy the shelter of our patio whilst watching the rain beating down on the pool – I don’t plan on taking another swim until a really hot day in December!

I had planned to listen to music along the ride but found that I didn’t need to keep myself entertained between the eating, chatting to my support team (which included placing orders for more food), interacting with the live stream and reading messages on social media.

The neighbours in my street promised to collectively cover the marathon distance and I enjoyed seeing progress updates on the WhatsApp group. Likewise, several old school friends joined in with some endurance activities of their own. One of these was Galileo Risk founder, Hayden Simpson, who committed to doing a hilly 180 kilometre solidarity Zwift ride and generously donated R10,000 to Just The One Foundation. The only downside was that the post-ride photo of a scantily clad Hayden that his wife sent me interrupted my eating plan for several minutes.

A promise he makes is a promise he keeps: Galileo Risk founder, Hayden Simpson, delivers on his promise to ride 180 kilometres as well as a generous donation of R10,000 to Just The One Foundation.

Aside: Who are Galileo Risk?

Galileo Risk is a leading provider of insurance solutions who arrange insurance for sole traders, SMEs and multi-national organisations through to cover for private individuals. They operate throughout South Africa with branches located in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, staffed by over 85 friendly, professional and enthusiastic employees.

Galileo Risk has a long history of sponsoring sport in South Africa, over the last 5 years they have been heavily involved in both athlete and event sponsorship. Galileo have also been the impetus behind the sponsored and subsidised Comrades and Two Oceans entries that I’ve been able to offer over the last two years.

Clocking the bike: From 99.9 to 0.1 kilometres.

The bike’s timer had probably never gone past 60 minutes on a single ride and I clocked the timer when as it reset to 00:00 after 99:59 minutes of riding. I eventually also clocked the kilometre reading which also resets to 0 after 99.9 kilometres.

I had been holding out for the 100 kilometre milestone to go for a toilet break. I’ve heard that cyclists are prone to accidents and often pee in their pants, but I’ve had control of my bladder since I was 18 months old (and don’t plan to start peeing in my pants again until I’m at least 90) so I chose not to leave a puddle on the patio. However, getting to the toilet proved hard work, my legs had more jelly in them than the jelly beans I’d eaten earlier. I struggled to walk straight enough to get through the patio door and had to sit down to pee.

Although I did start to get a little uncomfortable towards the end of the ride, it was far less painful than I was expecting – perhaps the long hours of sitting and writing blog articles is the best way to get buns of steel before an Ironman.

Under the ruse of “getting me to speed up”, my daughters had hatched a plan to torture me with forced viewings of the “My Little Pony” movie and Justin Bieber music videos. Fortunately, they forgot about this evil plot in all the excitement of the day.

My youngest did however ask whether I could read her a chapter of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I said that I was willing to give it a go, warned the live stream about spoiler alerts and then set about reading a chapter. I did struggle to keep the cadence up whilst reading but Potter kept me distracted as I tackled the last quarter of the ride.

Story time.

My legs started to run out of steam over the last 15 kilometres and I worked hard to keep the average pace above 30km/h. In an effort to emulate the champagne sipping Champs-Élysées stage in the Tour de France, I had promised myself the reward of a beer towards the end of the ride. I scoffed a final ham roll and enjoyed the beer immensely (which was a Corona of course).

What’s better than sipping champagne during the Champs-Élysées stage of the Tour de France? Drinking lockdown beer at the end of the your Home Ironman bike ride.

I enjoyed the bike a lot more than I thought I would and the final time of 5h20 was a lot quicker than I had estimated. The day was going far better than I could ever have hoped for, maybe this Home Ironman challenge wasn’t going to be so tough after all?

Transition Two

I got busy ironing my second shirt of the day during transition two. It happened to be the shirt from Ottosdal Nite Marathon – which would prove to be prophetic. However, right now the day was still young and I fancied my chances of finishing in the daylight.

Ironing my Ottosdal Nite Marathon shirt during T2.

“At least now I know what I’m doing” was the thought that went through my mind whilst I changed into my running kit, plastered my nipples and swallowed the one energy gel that formed part of my race nutrition plan.

The Facebook live stream only lasts eight hours so I’d killed it once the T2 shirt had been ironed. After some technical difficulties, we got the live stream going again for the run and my legs looked forward to the freedom of the open driveway.

The Run

As I was winding up the cycle, many messages started coming through along the lines of “Just the easy part to come.”

A sample of “the easiest part is to come” messages.

Somehow, I knew that this would not be case. I could no longer rely on the novelty factor. Marathon running is hard, I knew what I was in for – and was expecting that 324 laps up and down the driveway to be physical and mental torture. I also felt a bit of performance anxiety – what if I got this far only to suffer the ironic ignominy of the marathon tripping me up?

However, the first five kilometres were fantastic. I’d been warned about the difficulty of running directly after getting off the bike but mitigated this risk with a 20 minute transition – and was already well into my stride by the time I had reached the gate on the first lap.

Getting some pacing assistance during the early stages of the run (I had to lag far enough behind so as not to hear my daughter’s taunts of, “I’m faster than The Running Mann!”).

It had stopped raining but I could hear the lightning alarms sounding from the golf course in the distance and knew it was just a matter of time before the weather made another onslaught. My plan was to run in roughly five kilometre segments until the half marathon mark, taking a short nutrition break after each ‘parkrun.’ This meant I’d break the back of the run without too much time wasting and stuffing around – and could then alleviate the inevitable fatigue with some walking, braaiing and beer drinking on the back half of the run.

The rain started bucketing down again but I ignored the elements and pushed out a six kilometre segment to take the distance past the 11 kilometre mark. I rewarded myself with a decent break, enjoying a well-balanced diet of Coke, jelly beans, Doritos, Marie biscuits and potatoes. I was starting to feel my stamina dipping but life was still good.

Kathy took the opportunity of a brief period of sunshine to escape the shelter of the garage and take this photo.

During a normal road marathon, you can zone out and knock off a couple of kilometres no matter how tired you are. There is no such luxury when running driveway loops. Therefore, I had been countering the monotony by counting off 20 laps (approximately 2.6 kilometres) in between looking at the distance on my phone*. This worked pretty well since fatigue forgetfulness meant I always deferred to the lowest lap count when I was unsure, resulting in it actually being 25 to 30 laps between distance checks.

* I found that the phone GPS was much more accurate than the watch GPS. The watch GPS gives you a distance discount of between 20-30% on short, twisty laps. I think the phone still cheats one out of mileage but the loss is significantly less.

I was now taking significantly more strain on the laps but looked forward to seeing my distance counter over the 14 kilometre mark. Imagine the horror when I switched my phone screen back on and saw that the distance counter had not moved from “11.5km”. A great deal of the run is a blur but that specific moment is frozen in time and still sends a chill down my spine just thinking about it.

Losing a minimum of 2.6 kilometres (and probably well over 3), resulted in a minor mental meltdown. I am not sure whether my body could have handled two additional kilometres but my brain definitely couldn’t. Luckily I was too tired to Kyrgios my phone into the ground and was still lucid enough to make the sensible call to run until my phone showed 40 kilometres. Whilst this would not make for as nice a screen cap after the event, it would ensure that I definitely covered the full marathon distance.

Up until this point I had really been enjoying myself. I was looking forward to lighting the braai and figured that if I got my timing right I might be able to sit down to eat, wallowing in the glory of a successful Home Ironman finish.

Before the event, Kathy was very sceptical about the practicalities and sensibilities of the braai plan. However, I was well ahead of schedule and she showed renewed faith in her husband – even jokingly asking whether I could, “Wash the dishes as well?” I replied that she “Shouldn’t push her luck” but for a fleeting moment did wonder whether I should add dishwashing into the Home Ironman mix.

Those who’ve done endurance events know all about the wall. I prefer to call it the trip switch. One minute you’re running along without a care in the world and the next all pleasure has turned to pain and your fun to another word starting with ‘fu’.

The teenage kilometres were tumultuous. I spent most of them locked away deep inside the pain cave. Whilst my driveway is a lot more attractive than Welkom, even tiny ultra marathons in this Free State town provide the opportunity for some interaction with other runners – and I typically distract myself over many kilometres by chatting to other runners on the road. There were no such distractions from the drudgery of my driveway.

Luckily my neighbour, Mike Fraser, chose this moment to pop his head over (and his beer on) the boundary wall and gave me some encouragement. This was exactly what I needed. It got my mind off the pain and I enjoyed the stilted conversation we had as I past him about two-thirds up the driveway over several laps.

My neighbour, Mike Fraser, popped his head over (and his beer on) the boundary well and gave me some much needed encouragement.

Aside: 4c Recruitment

Mike Fraser is also the founder of 4c Recruitment who very generously donated R5,000 to Just The One Foundation. 

4c Recruitment provide professional and ethical recruitment services to their clients’ businesses, enabling them to thrive. From this they support young South Africans to become future leaders and realise their potential.

Mike Fraser, founder of 4c Recruitment, checks up on my progress (looks like our wall is long overdue for a new coat of paint – pity the hardware stores are closed during lockdown).

On the live stream, I had been relegated to a supporting role with my youngest (and extremely extroverted) daughter taking over the starring role. She was performing all sorts of crazy tricks and dances for the live streaming audience.

The dances seemed to follow an animal theme and included the cat, dog, chicken and elephant dances under the expert choreography of Ian Hendry (himself a Comrades Green Number holder and multiple Ironman).

However, Sarah’s Sun Dance was particularly successful and the first rays of sunshine appeared shortly thereafter (unfortunately it was short-lived and the rain returned again a little later).

I was told that I needed to join her for the “Magic Dance”. I begrudgingly accepted the invitation but was grateful that I did. The distraction helped me forget about my own aching body for a while and, on the back of this sorcery, was able to push the distance into the 20s.

After a chapter of Harry Potter on the bike, the Magic Dance was the right kind of sorcery to get me into the second half of the marathon.
Critical acclaim for the Magic Dance.

I was starting to get my mojo back when disaster struck at 17h30. There was a loud bang in the distance and the entire neighbourhood lost power – and with the loss of power went my sense of humour. Further losses were incurred to my time as I tried to get the live streaming back online using a 3G card on my laptop with limited success.

This is what I look like without my sense of humour on.

Although I’d planned to light a braai, Kathy had made a unilateral executive decision to veto my dinner plans and was warming up the oven for supper when the power went. I don’t think I would have been too disappointed to drop the planned braai – I’d probably have feigned some resistance but would have been glad to have no further distractions and let her cook the dinner. However, Eskom removed the home-cooked meal option, Bheki Cele had removed take-way menu and the only option left for a hot meal was the braai.

With a neighbourhood power outage, there was no choice but to braai.

I set myself of target of getting to 28 kilometres before lighting the braai. I figured that I’d light the fire and then enjoy a change of scenery by walking laps around the perimeter of our property (which had a lot of uneven cobblestones and slippery steps and was therefore not suitable for running) to get to 30 kilometres.

I was really looking forward to this long walk but after a few laps I looked at the GPS and saw that the distance had hardly moved – I don’t use Strava much and assume that I was walking too slowly for the distance to count. At that stage my brain was too exhausted to try and adjust technical settings so the easiest option was to hit the driveway and start running again.

The next seven lonely kilometres seemed to take an age. As night fell my wife came to the rescue by getting out all the empty coffee jars we’d dutifully washed and stored in the cupboard over the years. I mentioned that the ironing of the Ottosdal Nite Marathon shirt in T2 was prophetic and Kathy created my very own Ottosdal Nite Marathon experience by lining the driveway with lanterns.

The coffee jars we’d saved over the years finally served a purpose as Kathy created my own Ottosdal Nite Marathon in the driveway.

As for my “braaiing whilst running a marathon” plan, I’m declaring it a partial success. I did manage to light the coals, get the potatoes on the braai (and turn them a couple of times) and got the meat onto the grid. However, seeing the pitiful pangs hunger in our children’s eyes, Kathy’s maternal instincts kicked in and she made another emasculating executive decision. I was banished from the braai area and told to “finish this damn thing” (my memory is hazy at this point, she may well have used stronger language).

Freed from the obligation to feed my wife and kids, I quite enjoyed my exile to the driveway and the last seven kilometres went surprisingly smoothly. I enjoyed a few over the wall conversations with the Frasers and the support they provided. At least the rain had stopped but the coldness of the night air did nothing for my aching joints.

Home IronMan last 4km

Posted by The Running Mann on Saturday, 4 April 2020

Knowing that the end was in sight, I was able to build a good momentum and knocked off laps at a decent pace. Tom Barlow, with eight Ironmen and one Comrades finish had told me, “They are about the same in terms overall physical exhaustion. However, Comrades is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.”

My view is that Comrades is still peerless when it comes to inflicting pain, anguish and mental torture upon one’s soul for extended periods of time but Home Ironman tips the scales on the physical exhaustion scorecard.

How do I come to this conclusion? During Comrades I look forward to a beer at the last Fourways support table on route (normally about 20 to 25 kilometres from the finish). I had originally planned to enjoy a beer somewhere in the mid-30s and slowly savour some medicinal mouthwash whilst walking out a few laps*. However, I was so tired that I could not even contemplate drinking a beer and had to stick to Coke and Crème Soda.

* Also factored into my beer deferral decision was the fact that walking was not recording as distance travelled on my GPS and I was afraid of spilling irreplaceable lockdown beer if I tried to run with a bottle in my hand.

Enjoying a beer at the last Fourways support table in Camperdown at the Comrades 2019 ‘Up’ run.

I was checking that the GPS was still recording my distance every two laps and over the last couple of kilometres this changed to every lap since it would randomly cheat me out of a few hundred metres every so often.

My family were ravenously feasting on their braai but I had no desire to eat anything other than the odd jelly baby. I would call out to them as each kilometre was ticked off. With just under two kilometres left they returned to the top of the driveway to encourage me to the finish (my daughters in particular were looking forward to going to bed). With renewed vigour in my legs and thoughts of a Triple B (explanation forthcoming) in my head, my pace picked up.

My youngest daughter joined me for the last two laps. She’d accompanied me for a few intermittent laps during the day and was still able to bounce ahead of me, pulling me through the last 250 metres. On the final return lap up the driveway, I felt an immense sense of relief and achievement and finished to the cheers of the Fraser family over the wall and the embrace of my wife and daughters in front of our garage.

At about 20h30, 13 hours and 28 minutes* after a Nerf gun fired on a dark and stormy morning, the Home Ironman was completed. This eclipsed my previous longest ever endurance event of a 10h40 personal worst at the 2017 Comrades “Up” run.

* Final splits: Swim 1h10; Cycle 5h20; Run 6h17; Ironing shirts and general stuffing around during transitions 41 minutes.

I was too exhausted to eat anything (but liberally tucked into the left-over braai meat the next morning) and made some cursory attempts to help with the clean-up job. I had started the morning with a Triple T and was now looking forward to concluding the day with a Triple B – beer, bath and bed*.

* To properly execute a Triple B: run a hot bath; get two beers (I recommend the ‘safety first’ option of long tom cans); get into the bath and drink your beers (there is something regal about drinking beer in the bathtub); once both beers are finished it’s time to get out and go to bed.

A perfectly executed Triple B.

I’ve run plenty of marathons but this was the first time I’ve warmed up with a 3.9 kilometre swim and 180 kilometre bike ride. My run split was 6h17 – I honestly don’t know where all the time went but this was by some way the longest, toughest and most rewarding marathon I’ve ever run.

Whilst enjoying a second beer in the bath I finally found my sense of humour again. I mustered up the strength and courage to announce, “Well that was a lot of fun! So what are we going to do next weekend?”.

Whilst actions might speak louder than words, one thunderous look from your wife can be the most powerful expression of all. As such, Kathy choose not to respond verbally. She didn’t need to. The contemptuous look my frivolous jest received told me that audacity would not be tolerated. If I wanted to survive the rest of lockdown, I knew that one crazy endurance event was more than enough.

However, that was before the lockdown was extended by two weeks.

Perhaps, just perhaps, that leaves the gap open for a sequel…

A very tired but happy family (over the wall and between the electric fence photo courtesy of Mike Fraser).

Afterword

I got asked several questions about the Home Ironman. Here are some answers to those I was not able to work into the story.

What nutrition did you use?

As you can see from the photos below, Charlotte Raubenheimer and Tom Barlow (the first two Home Ironmen), went with a more scientific approach for their event hydration and nutrition.

Tom Barlow (left) and Charlotte Raubenheimer (right) followed a more scientific approach to their Home Ironman nutrition plans.

I went with the “stick with what you know” traditional runners nutrition package consisting of Coke, Crème Soda, jelly beans, jelly babies, potatoes, bananas, Marie biscuits, white bread rolls and salty chips. This seemed to serve me pretty well but I did have a serious dip during the mid-section of the marathon. In retrospect I think I got my nutrition slightly wrong, I should have gone with the Cheese, rather than the Spicy BBQ, flavour of Doritos.

What is the recovery like?

I was quite stiff the next day but the post-race pain was a lot less than one experiences after Comrades. I did have a very restless night because every time I moved I would wake up from the discomfort (which did remind me a lot of my first Comrades) but the recovery is faster (I managed a few five kilometres trots during the week and a driveway half marathon on the weekend). The legs were however a little tender during the runs, I am not sure whether this was from the long bike ride, knee-jarring driveway turns or the ironing. Strange things happen when you activate muscles you’ve never used before so I think it might have been the ironing that caused the stiffness.

Do you plan to do a real Ironman?

I’d definitely like to do the Port Elizabeth Ironman sometime. My current mission is to run every marathon in South Africa so I guess the Ironman marathon needs to be included within that goal. I’ll need to buy a wetsuit and bike first (don’t plan on shaving my legs though) – if anyone does have a spare wetsuit or a BMX lying around gathering dust please let me know.

How does this compare to a real Ironman?

I have no idea since this was my first triathlon (or triathlone as some people have suggested). However, my feeling is that swimming lengths in the pool and riding “level 1” on a stationary bike is significantly easier than the real thing (I definitely wouldn’t attempt a 3.9k open water swim with no training). Tom Barlow (who has done 8 outdoor and 1 indoor Ironman) told me that his harness swim was quite comparable to open water, as was his fairly hilly Zwift ride but the treadmill marathon is more difficult than the open road. A driveway marathon is significantly more difficult than a normal road marathon (or treadmill running) – and with GPS inaccuracies it is likely one runs quite a bit further than the standard 42.2 kilometres.

How hard is it for a marathon runner to just rock up and do an Ironman?

For a Home Ironman see the the answer to the above question. As for a real Ironman, I used to swim a lot at school and am therefore fortunate enough to have decent form*. Runners who crossover to Ironman will tell you, “The training for Ironman is much harder than for Comrades but Comrades is much harder on the day.” However, I reckon that with the right saddle and/or a particularly durable set of buttocks, marathon runners can get away with a lot less cycling than traditional wisdom dictates to get through for a finish at Ironman.

* Swimming is a life skill. I was a breaststroker in my day, a skill which has definitely served me well into adult life.

Would you do anything similar again?

If someone puts up the right amount of money for charity I am will to give pretty much anything a go.

Can I still donate?

Yes, definitely:

  • Option 1 – Once off donations anywhere in the world with card or transfer: https://simpletogive.org.za/just-the-one-foundation/
  • Option 2 – Bank transfer EFT: Just the One, FNB cheque account, Account #62374379793, Branch 250655, Reference “HIM + your name”

Section 18a certificates for the tax man issued on request.

What does Strava say?

Below is the Strava heat map. The majority of the running was done on a 65 metre stretch of driveway. Walking the perimeter of my property did not seem to add to the distance and I did a few garden laps after lighting the braai.

 

As explained in the main article, I lost at least 2.6 kilometres of distance at 11.5km and therefore decided to get to 40 kilometres on the clock (i.e. as this would ensure I had definitely covered the marathon distance). The below data from Strava shows that I spent 100 minutes not moving (which seems a little excessive even with planned rest breaks, faffing around with the live stream, dealing with the power failure and tending to the braai).

The top of my driveway is 2-3 metres higher than the bottom so the elevation gain should also have been between 660 and 990 metres rather than the paltry 11 metres awarded.

I don’t use Strava much (I really just use it for marathons to get a route profile for the race report) but when clicking the “Distance (?)” link in the above figure, it give me the adjusted result below.

I assume that this is giving me credit for the walking I did (which was too slow to record on the normal calculations) but still does not account for what I estimate to be between 3 and 5 kilometres of missing running distance.

If anyone who is more familiar with Strava has a better explanation, please drop me a note!

Can I follow you on Strava?

I currently only use Strava to get route profiles for marathon race report articles. I already spend too much time on social media and don’t want to add another channel to my online vices.

I am mainly active on Twitter and Facebook on the handle @runningmann100 (and always follow back Tweeting runners).

Do you have a post mortem video?

Yes, here it is!

Home IronMan mission accomplished.

Posted by The Running Mann on Saturday, 4 April 2020

The Running Mann runs his marathons in shoes supplied by the Sweat Shop Broadacres and Asics South Africa. 

 

 

Follow Running Mann:
Share:

2 Replies to “The Home Ironman Experience (my first triathlon)”

  1. That was an incredible achievement of mind body and endurance. And you had wonderful support and encouragement from Kathy and the girls. I really do not how you did it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *