Monday, April 22, 2013

An Ironman From A Different Perspective - You Gotta Hear His Story!

Some races go great and some don't go as planned.  You read my recap from my Ironman where I had a PR now hear another perspective. 

Iron Man South Africa – Race Recap by Michael Ratner

Iron Man South Africa has been a “bucket list” race for me since South Africa became part of the Iron Man race circuit nine years ago. Since completing Iron Man Texas in May last year and feeling great about my accomplishment and time, I thought the timing was perfect to sign up for the IM SA in April this year.

Johannesburg South Africa is a 17-hour flight from DC and DC is 5 hours from Vegas, so do the math…many hours on a plane!! IM SA has always been staged in Port Elizabeth on the Eastern coast of South Africa so when we arrived in Johannesburg we weren’t done traveling yet; we still had a 1-½ hour flight down to PE. We arrived a few days before the race to acclimate somewhat and to swim, ride and run parts of the course. We also had to register, to check our bikes in the day before and do the usual running around getting last minute items for the race. All to quickly race day arrived so I followed all the usual pre-race preparations I have been doing for sometime now so going into the race, I felt good about how things were going.

The Swim Start
On the morning of the race we arrived early so we were assured of a relaxed and calm race preparation; loading nutrition on the bikes, last minute rechecks of the transition bags and to suit up in our wet suits. Standing on the beach with 1700 other athletes, watching the sunrise and listening to my countries national anthem was a keepsake memory that I will remember for a long time. A real cannon is fired to start the race and BOOM! it sent 1700 A-Type personality individuals running into the ocean surf, everybody was hell bent on rounding  the first buoy and as a result, rush hour traffic caused everyone to stop swimming and ease their way around the buoy but once past this first turn, we started to space out and I managed to get into a rhythm. The ocean was quite calm but swells sometimes caused sighting to be a bit of a problem but the “follow the Champaign bubbles” rule helped in these instances. The swim was a 2 loop circuit so a surf exit was soon upon me and wading through the surf and running onto the beach was something I hadn’t done in a full IM event. The run along the beach wasn’t very far but it was through thick sand and a bit slow going but soon it was back into the surf for lap 2. I felt good and wasn’t worried about time or place…this is just the first of 3 legs so “keep clam and carry on” was the mantra!
Lap 2 was uneventful and soon I was running up the stairs headed to T2, crossed the matt at 1:14:38 and onto grab the bike bag and onto the tent to change. The tent was very full so we were all stripping on the lawn and doing the transition thing. I did forget to use some of my special “seat” goop to make the ride more comfortable, but not catastrophic although after 100 miles you do want some comfort and anti rubbing going on down there.

Onto the bike leg! 3 loops of a relatively flat course through farmland, suburbia and beachfront made for a scenic ride but the wind was an unknown since PE is notorious for unpredictable weather conditions. Luckily it wasn’t very windy and I was budgeting about 5 ½  - 6 hours for bike leg. My budget for nutrition was about 250-300 calories per hour, I had to consume anything between 1400 and 1800 calories while on the bike. I was carrying my aero bottle and 2 bottles in my cages, each with 300 calories; my bento box had 4 gels and 3 cliff bars for a total of 700 calories. All said and done I had 1600 calories on my bike. My special needs bag had a frozen bottle with 300 calories and a frozen Muscle Milk at 230 calories so I confident I had sufficient calories for my bike adventure.
I knew Cyndee was ahead of me since she’s a stronger swimmer than I am so I was keeping a sharp look out for her on the way to the first turn around and sure enough there she was, about 5 minutes ahead of me. Things were going well…for a while. Slowly but surely I was starting to feel weak and although I was drinking and eating on a regular basis, in fact I had stayed on track to consume a bottle and a gel every hour. By the 3rd loop I had fallen back off Cyndee’s pace by 11 minutes and I was feeling faint, intermittent cramping in my quads and generally feeling like crap. My special needs bag had a cold muscle milk that I was hoping would revive me but even though I chugged it, I didn’t feel any better. Oh well, it was looking like it was going to be a long day at the office. Finally made it to T2 and crossed the timing matt at 5:50:20 and wasn’t looking forward to the run!

Cyndee had described an Iron Man she did where she suffered extreme emotional swings throughout the event and unless you actually experience it, it’s hard to imagine what she was describing. Throughout the run I experienced such big swings at such short intervals I was beginning to think I was bipolar! When I was running I was running a decent pace but then I had to shut it down and walk…ugh!  Cyndee and I passed each other on the run on 2 occasions, each time we stopped briefly and hugged and each time I told her I didn’t think I was going to make it and each time she told me to keep going, be strong and stay tough.  I nearly quit on one occasion when an official race vehicle pulled up to pick up a runner who was bailing…so close to stepping off the course but something kept me going. My marathon time for Texas was 4:21:23; I finally crossed the finish line with a 5:08:58 run and an overall time of 12:23:07. My next stop was the medical tent where everything checked out ok but jeeeze I felt terrible

Iron Man South Africa was a great experience and I don’t regret racing this race but I was disappointed that I travelled so far and spent so much money to race the race and didn’t PR. On reflection, I’m extremely grateful I was even able to accomplish something like this and had the resources to do it. I am also grateful to have a girlfriend that trained me so well and made sure I was ready to race. Things go awry for reasons we sometimes cant explain, and its times like this that we are faced with finishing what we set out to do no matter what. I’m glad I didn’t quit, I’m glad I crossed the finish line, collected the bling and shirt..  A few days later I was wright as rain but mentally I’m still reeling.

See you at Iron Man Coeur d’Alene June 23rd…Maybe!!

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