And so the time had finally arrived…we were heading off to Port Elizabeth to tackle my first Ironman! All those lonely early morning swim sessions, those long Saturday morning rides and those gruelling hill sessions (running) were about to be put to the test.
The 9hr drive went relatively quickly, probably helped by the fact I had the backseat to myself so I was able to lie down and sleep.
When we got to PE we headed straight to the Boardwalk so we could register and have a quick wander round the expo before heading to our accommodation. As we drove along Marine Drive it was scattered with wannabe pros spinning their legs out, or maybe just showing off their expensive tt bikes. But I knew I shouldn’t be intimidated by their bikes and cone helmets; they were more likely to be ‘all the gear and no idea’! And my entry level bike with clip on tri bars would do me just fine. If Chrissie Wellington could complete her first Ironman with clip on tri bars then why couldnt I?!
On Friday morning we headed down to Hobie Beach for a practice swim. With crystal clear calm warm (compared to the sea at Cape Town) water it was an absolute joy to swim – coming from a nervous non swimmer it must have been nice! I felt so much more relaxed now and the 3.8km swim seemed far less daunting. We cycled the run route and then had a short jog and then it was time for resting. I had fantastic pre race massage in the afternoon from Lauren (Velocity Sports Lab) just to make sure I had no tight muscles.
Saturday seemed like a loooong day. A short spin on the bike and a little run in the morning followed by getting my feet up and organising my bike and transition bags for the 10th time! I was very happy when the time finally arrived when we could go and rack our bikes on Saturday afternoon. A very swift process enabled our bikes to be racked and transition bags to be hung up within a couple of minutes. Although then follows the ‘I’d better just go and check I know exactly where my bike is’ yet again and the same with the bags, even though you know you know, but paranoia and nerves are setting in!
Race day finally arrived! I actually had a great sleep and when the alarm went off at 4am I was feeling refreshed and full of energy. A quick look out of the window and the trees looked pretty still so that was good, but there was mist…We were down at the transition area by 5am. We put our bottles on our bikes and nutrition in our bags, pumped up our tyres and headed to the beach to put on our wetsuits, after going to the toilet for the 3rd time! The air was filled with nerves and excitement. After a warm up swim it was a case of keeping calm and relaxed before the race started. I cant really remember the pros starting at 6.45am; I was too busy thinking about my own race and I couldn’t see past the hundreds of athletes on the beach. I was feeling quite relaxed as we stood behind the start line, although my heart rate was hovering at 110. I really didn’t know how my swim would go – I’d heard the stories of carnage in the water, being hit and kicked, cramping, sea sickness etc but all I could hope for was that I would swim the best I could and avoid other peoples feet and arms! The cannon was fired at 7am and we were off. Almost 1600 athletes ran off into the water with adrenaline pumping. I was at the first buoy before I knew it but as we turned, after getting a kick in the mouth, the crane/landmark to help us head in the right direction was hidden in the mist and the second buoy kept disappearing from view due to the swell so it was a case of follow everyone else and hope they are going in the right direction! I was very happy when I glimpsed at my watch as I came out the water after my first lap and it said 36 minutes. The crowds on the beach and the drums beating were amazing. I had a quick self check and yes I was feeling fine so I could push on during the second lap. My second lap was over before I knew it. My left calf muscle cramped as I started to run out of the water but apart from that I was feeling good. I was delighted with my 1.14 swim but I knew that that was just the warm up of this long day!
I ran to grab my bike bag and into the changing tent. The volunteers were very helpful at unpacking your bags, helping you with your kit, packing your wetsuit away and applying sun cream. A quick wave to Pierre and I was off on my bike. I kept telling myself not to start too fast as I had a long way to go!! The first 60km lap went well. With so many people you have to concentrate and make sure you don’t draft. I was trying to eat regularly but soon found I was eating too often. At the first waterpoint on the second lap I threw my finished bottle to the side and grabbed a bottle of water. I tried to shove it in to my bottle cage but there was no way it was going to fit! They had told us at the briefing that these Pump water bottles would fit. There was no point in panicking and I still had an almost full bottle of 32Gi so that would keep me going for another lap and I could grab water at the water points. I wanted to make sure I kept well hydrated so that I wouldn’t cramp. I stopped at a water table later and grabbed a Gu bottle but emptied the contents so I could fill it with water and a sachet of 32Gi. However on the 3rd lap I was feeling so bloated and had stomach cramps; I’d drunk too much! So the 3rd lap was a bit of a struggle; I couldn’t get comfortable, I couldn’t eat anything and I was just praying my stomach would be better by the time I had to run.
Fortunately as I came into T2 I was feeling much better. Everyone tells you to start the run slowly otherwise you will suffer later and that the race only starts after 21km so I tried to run the first few kms slowly but you feel so great after the bike and the crowds are there cheering you on that its hard to hold back. After about 8kms I knew it was going to be a tough run. I’ve never run a marathon and wasn’t sure how I’d feel at the 32km mark; whether I’d hit that brick wall or not…? I didn’t want to drink any coke or Gu brew til after 21km. I wanted to run the first half as well as I could and I’d use my regular nutrition of water and 32Gi tabs and chews and then I’d find whatever energy I had left over and whatever food or liquids I needed to get me home. The second loop was the hardest. I was singing 100 green bottles hanging on the wall! I got down to zero and then started over again! Anything to keep a rhythm and keep me going! I just kept aiming for the next water point. When I got to the 32km mark I actually started to feel stronger again. I think the thought of being less than an hour from the finish spurts you on and as I ran along Marine Drive for the final time with the crowds cheering I was on such a high. I was about to finish my first Ironman. I could remember back to days when I’d been training and I’d been thinking of this moment of crossing the finish line and imagining myself in tears. But on the day I was just so happy and maybe a little bit amazed that I’d actually done it that there were no tears. As I ran down onto the carpet I saw Pierre with our Scottish flag so I grabbed it and headed towards the finish line. I quickly looked behind but fortunately there was no one so I had the finish to myself. I saw Paul Kaye and the words began to flow from his mouth…. ‘JENNY CLOSE, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!’
I would like to thank Shout Factory Media, which I work for in Blouberg, for their sponsorship and support. Also thank you to Cape Auto Centre Tri/Multisports Team, of which I’m proud to be part of, and 32Gi for their continuous support. Also thank you to Raynard and Natalie Tissink (Velocity Sports Lab) for all their help with my Ironman training. I’m sure Natalie was very shocked to see me coming out of the water sub 1 hr 15mins having seen me swimming so badly only a couple of months ago!
So….will I do another Ironman?….definitely!! I’m already planning my next one!
Ladies position: 52nd
Age (35-39) position: 13th