My 10 weeks to Ironman SA and the amazing IronFran

First things first, Thank you my awesome HTC cheer squad and friends and colleagues at TJX at for all the support, every time I crossed a time mat I thought of you! Thought ‘I better keep moving, sure someone is tracking’.

I was thinking so much and long about this race, I had an eye on it since last summer really. In November I booked a flight to SA, for a holiday around the same time as the IM race, with the thought in mind to potentially do the IM. But why would I want to do such crazy thing I kept asking myself? Why? Well, there were a couple of Pros, for the first time I actually would have time to train, I have a new fair 9-5 job, no commute to work, which translates to 10 extra hours of time each week that could be transformed into training. Why not? Because It’s bloody crazy! But I love the sport and it would be a good objective to get out and be active trough the winter, a nice challenge and will give me something to focus on through cold and lonely Watford winter.

I talked to my friend Daniel Bingham (HTC head coach) to see what he thought. Could I do this with 2 months training? This is the article that have me the head turn btw.  Dan was super optimistic, as he is, he said to go for it, ‘it seems your mind is there already’ were his words. But still this was huge commitment. Then I tried to lure in my friends Tasha and Jonny to come, thought it would be nice to do it with someone, then decided it wasn’t a good idea after all.

A month on, late January, I went to Lanzarote and had a great week of tri sport training. One evening at the spots bar, I talked to my coach at the camp Tanja Slater about the idea of IM SA in 10 weeks, she thought I was crazy and challenged me with questions, like how good is your run and how did you think you can build up an injury fee marathon in 10 weeks? She then said it was possible, if we work with cross training sessions to build up the run, and with bi weekly massages. Tanja is a very booked up and in high demand coach with a waiting list, but agreed to coach me for the 10 weeks leading to the race for the fun and challenge of it. She trained me remotely over the trainingpeaks app. And this was my decision; I knew with Tanja on board I could do it. Now the decision was made, the day after I realised the race sold out. Wtf? You have got to be kidding? Tanja and I tried to pull all favours we could, friends of friends and uncles in the tri world but without any luck.

Very long story short I managed to get a charity slot. As if it isn’t enough training for and IM itself, now I bloody had to email the world asking for corporate sponsorship which was a bit of a stress add and not of any success. In the end it was a sneeze of a crowdfund with all of your help and support plus working amongst 100 something awesome accountants certainly helped. £1400 – well done us, that is ALOT of money for SA! Doing it for charity made a big difference. After all I’m glad it turned out that way, my mission felt much more worthwhile and having some of the charities on site during the race was a great support too. Done it for the kids! Go us!

OK back to the point

My training was well structured, 3 swims, 3 runs and 3 bikes a week, with some core and stretch work here and there – totaling 12-15hrs a week, very manageable. In the week I either ran to the office or swam in the mornings and went on the turbo trainer (stationary bike) in the evenings whist Masterchef Australia was on or did my core/ streching work whilst juggling the odd glass of wine. Saturday we did a long run with a cross trainer session added straight on and Sunday the long bike or vice versa weather depending. Friday night was my night off to allow for dating or dining with friends.

The earliest I had to get up was 6h30, not bad at all. Though I must say I was often in bed at 9pm due to cumulative fatigue. Rest is very important, and often I would sleep a good 8-9 hours, sometimes 10h even, or even do a Rodg (a Rodger Federer, I read somewhere that he sleeps 12hours, the power of the zzz’s). I did not give up wine through all this time but minimised to 4-5 days a week and kept it down to one small glass at a time, unless when I was at the pub with friends (obviously). Tanja was great at balancing around life actives and wine tastings, she said ‘the most important thing is that this preparation stays fun’ and ‘this is not your job’ so as long as I stayed hydrated she encouraged all the fun I wanted.

3 weeks in my knee got injured; due to continuous overuse, my research found, I had diagnosed a typical runners knee, so bad I was limping. What? Seriously I did not train that hard. I panicked, we haven’t got time for injuries. Tanja stayed calm and put cycling and running off schedule for a week+ and swimming on for 8 of 9 days until knee got better. 14kms of Swimming that was in one week. After all the rest the knee did not get much better until I saw magic Brit, a physicist. She did some stress tests, and indeed it was a runners knee, she said it was going to be fine with some Physio work. I did the exercises she gave me daily and soon was back on easy cycling and running.

Time passed quickly and in no time I was out on a flight to SA

I had a good 3 days out here before the race to fix bike and potter round acclimatising. En route to Port Elizabeth I met my new friends, IronFran and James when transitioning flights in Jo Burg. We immediately got on; Fran is a really cool dude! She basically travels with James, her super keen and fit triathlete husband, the Daniel Bingham/ Francois Barou caliber, well maybe a tit crazier even – he does have his own endless pool (a tiny pool with a current) in his home gym. Anyway rather than just coming along to support James, Fran (a decent cyclist) thinks as she travelled all the way to x location, it would be quite boring just to stick around waiting for James all day, so she’s might as well participate in the race! YES, an Ironman! And so she does almost every time, she doesn’t always make it to the finish line due to cut offs, punctures and so on, mind you she doesn’t exactly train for the events either, but it doesn’t matter, she’s always in good spirit. What an awesome wife, right? Now I have to tell you their love story quickly, we all know I like a good love story ;). Fran and James (both very attractive, he’s a tall and fit plastic surgent and she’s just a bundle of joy) met in Lanzarote (#loveisland), went out on a bike ride together (where he showed up on his airplane bike for a little stroll and she thought wtf 45 miles?) well anyway they got on and a year later got married in Hawaii, where he was supposed to race the world championships in Kona, but due to injury had to defer. Since they had the plane tickets already they went anyway and just got married there instead 😉

Hanging out with my new friends going for swims and rides, I must say I wasn’t getting nervous at all, maybe just a bit excited. The days leading up to the race everyone gets so excited for you and keeps asking if you are nervous, but none of that, I thought I’d rock up and do one thing after the other just as in any other triathlon, my biggest worries were, what if my goggles snap or what if I get a puncture? I trained properly this time; I mean 10 weeks in total incl taper, yes anything is possible! I had thrown everything at it, a new swanky turbotrainer, a week in Lanzarote and long weekend in Mallorca, an actual coach with a tailored training plan, tonns of Physio (due to the injury) and massage, a gym member ship to build up a save injury free run quickly, a new special pull buoy (arena pull kick) and what not else… and I had a race strategy!

Race day

Swim

Race morning was calm (ish) running around finding a pump. Soon after we’re all at the beach with the cannon going of for the pro athletes and minutess later we’re all queued up for a rolling start, off in the choppy water, left right left, pull pull pull, think about a clean stroke and try to relax, and just as you get in the zone someone bloody touches your toes. Why? ‘Touch your own toes mate’, I’m thinking, get back in the zone and keep swimming until we’re there. Out the water; the volunteers strip my wetsuit off (what a service) and I trot on to find my T1 bag with my cycle necessities. All seats are taken so I take the floor, and this gentleman (staff? Someone?) approaches me with help. Is this legal? Anyway whilst I put on gloves and shirt, he straps on my belt, puts gels in pockets, puts my shoes on and takes away my bag for me. Nice!

Bike

And we’re on our 2x 90kms laps of bike, it’s awesome leaving the busy and loud Marina and the IM campus behind, pumping music and cheer squads, just awesome! We roll onto beautiful sea strips and naked nature passing some villages with families having IM BBQ parties in their yards giving us support! One of them offered free beers on the 3rd lap, I wonder if anyone went? It was a joy, I saw a giant python snake on the side of the street, it was a big fat mother. 2 monkeys crossing the road and a bloody heard of cows on the side of the road? WTF? Who let the cows out? Scary! Complimentary safari when you do IM SA.

The two loops went out of PE along the coast mostly and same way back. After the first loop I pulled into special needs area where you can store extra nutrition you might need. I had 2 extra bottles with my magic cocktail (OTE carbo boost mix with added electrolytes) waiting to be swapped out. As I rolled into the special needs area, shit, my kleats got stuck (probably from walking through the sand earlier when going to the loo at 45kms by the beach) and I fall/slid on my left side, oops. I get up, no scratches thanks to my taped knees 😉 and bike is ok too! We swap out the bottles quickly and off I go on to round two! It was hard coming back each time with the wind getting stronger as the day went. So we were mostly sat on our bikes head down paddling on, looking at the tarmac on the way back. I took this time to do some Math’s and realized I wouldn’t make my intended sub 7 bike time, which meant I needed extra food. I followed the plan and had my 7 + one gels (one extra for the wind and the extra time), one gel every 45-55 mins on the bike and drank 3.5 bottles of OTE carbo boost. 4 scoops per bottle gives you 470 calories per bottle (I know what a waste of cals…), to set up for a good run. I had some extra water each time I passed a feed station to cleanse my pallet. I also had a banana half and some of their energy drink too.

I felt on good energy pulling into transition, just couldn’t walk right, stiff legs and hips, but knees seemed fine. I was taking my time, I mean I had a right faff, 12 mins, I sat down and cleaned the sand of my feet, I was worried the sand might have given me blisters, but all good, happy feet! Then went to the female changing tent to change my shorts (It’s not like in Germany where you just do quick shorts off/ shots on and no one cares). I put on my Vaseline, take my 2 double shot espresso gels and I’m off for the run. I’m usually always happy to set off on the run, as it’s my strongest, but not this time, this time it’s all back to front, 10 weeks isn’t enough to prep for a good marathon and due to that knee injury I had even less prep.

Run

Tanja trained me for a slow and steady run, we trained for 6:30mins per km, and this was usually the speed Tanja asked me to run in training, very slow, I rarely actually managed to stick to it and got told off. When all the actual training was done and we checked HR and speed, Tanja said ‘you have two options 1) stick to 6:45 mins per km pace (slower than I’ve ever ran ever) and hold that to the end to preserve HR and finish the marathon in 4h45 or run off too quick and walk the second half of the marathon with due to too highly HR and finish in 5h30. I decided for option one obviously, and actually delivered 4:45:42 with one toilet stop, it’s like German clock work! However as I set off for the 4x 10.55km run I think, shit, this is hard. I could barely move, it was painful, very painful, not even 200 meters in I thought about my options, option 3 I could actually walk the hole thing in sub 6hrs and still finish the race 1hrs before cut off (cut off was 16h45 total time). I keep on going slowly looking at people walking and think, ‘Olga you’re better than this, you know how this works, you’ve done this before, break the first 3kms and your running legs will wake up’. I run on; left right left, thinking stick to the plan! Thinking ‘your friends raised £1400’ don’t you bloody dare and walk, and I run, 5km in the music is pumping the kids are cheering and high 5ing, I feel the joy and run off too quick then slow myself down to keep HR low.

10kms in it seems that walking has become the trend, I hardly can get through the heard of walkers, I swivel though and pass, I take my first caffeine double espresso gel to keep the spirit up and run on… and run…think £1400… and run… pass a timing mat, tap myself on the shoulder and run. 2h20 my watch dies, I couldn’t care less, I know how to run, and I run on… then hear someone in the crowed cheering me on

whilst I pass 6 walking fit men ‘Go Olga! Go Lady, Show the men how to run!’ LOVED IT!… and I run… it is long dark by now, 19h30 it must have been. Approaching 30kms I am talking to myself, saying ‘now we’re not going to do any of that hitting the wall nonsense, It’s all a myth!’ … last 10k, I know how to run 10k’s, done it so many times before, I run on with a quick stop to the ladies and take my second double espresso gel. I’m at 36kms, almost done, I have my 4 lap bands, it’s a home run now, my spirit lifts as I smell the finish, I keep passing everyone walking, telling them that I’m heading towards the finish! A walking dude talks to me ‘well done, you can walk the last 500m it’s ok you’re almost there’… what? No way! I speed up, turn off right to the finish and pull off my Olga famous final sprint! YES! There its is, as my friend Erin says, the f*** awesome feeling crossing the finish line! I ask someone for the time, it’s 21h09 I do the maths, I knew I started at somewhere around 7h12, sub 14hrs! Sweet! I’m happy considering the wind.

Now How about my new friend the amazing Ironfran? We touch base in the morning and I find out that Ironfran became a minor celebrity in Port Elizabeth that night by being the last athlete (she laughs when people call her athlete). Fran struggled on the bike, with the swanky wheels she had borrowed from James. With a full disk on the back and a deep rim front wheel the windy ride was a 8h50 struggle and as she always walks the marathon she came in last at midnight with a whole camera team squad, 10 mins after the cut off sadly, no medal. But she’s having a good laugh about it, a 17h day and she’s taking it as if it was nothing, she’s bloody awesome like that, my hero the amazing Ironfran! James finished in10hrs or so if anyone is interested.

Will I do it again, probably! Sub 13

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