Word was circulating that a storm was coming in to Port Elizabeth and that there would be some heavy wind. I heard the howls as I fell asleep. Somehow I managed to sleep about 8 hours before the race and woke up at 4:00 am. My long training days taught me that I don't like to start on an empty stomach. I need real food. So my wife made me a spinach omlette with a 3 oz piece of grilled salmon, some oatmeal and some mixed fresh fruit.
It was raining when We left the chalet at 4:45 am. Transition opened at 5:00 am and they closed the road at that time too, so we had to get there before then. Our chalet at the Pine Lodge Resort is actually on the bike and run course and less than 10 minutes from the race start/finish. Once there, I went to check my transition bags, fill my water bottles, put air in my tires . . . all in a a light rain. At 6:45 am, wetsuit, cap and goggles on, I was ready to go. I was surprisingly a lot less nervous than I am for other races, probably because I knew it would be a long day and was more like an adventure than a race.
Since it was a mass start, my plan was to start at the front, swim moderate and try to hang with some of the pros. I had been feeling great at my swim training sessions at this same beach the last few days, and my 28:44 easy one loop swim a few days before gave me confidence that I could swim under one hour pretty easily.
The pros were allowed to start in the water about 15 yards ahead, and I was in the very front row of the age groupers. When the gun went off, I ran moderately, navigated the waves well, and started swimming. I had caught some of the slower female pros by the first buoy at 300 meters and settled into my stroke. At this point, I kept saying to myself, "Man, this is awesome!" I didn't feel like I was racing, I felt like I was "experiencing". I swam in a pack of about 50 swimmers during the first loop, and stroke for stroke with a female green-cap (the pros had green caps, age groupers had orange). I just kept telling myself, "Stay with her and have fun." And I did.
It was still pretty crowded at the first turn at the far end, but I was happy that I managed to swim a straight line and knew I wasn't very far behind the leaders. I could just barely see them. Coming to the end of the first loop, I had not expended myself and knew I would still be good for the second loop. Coming up to the beach I heard the announcer say, "And here comes our first age groupers" so I knew I was doing well. My legs were a little heavy running on the beach, but the massive crowd was energizing. I rounded the corner and headed back into the water for my second loop. I had to ease back the first 300 meters to the first buoy so as to stay within myself and get back to my rhythm. Then, something happened. On the 700 meter stretch to the far buoy, all of a sudden the current picked up (the wrong way) and big waves started rolling in. I was bobbing like a cork. The swim pack had thinned out so at this point, I was swimming by myself. No one near me for at least 15 to 20 yards. Sighting a straight line was up to me now. And with the waves tossing me about, it wasn't easy to see 5 feet in front on me. This didn't discourage me, however. I grew up swimming in every kind of pool, lake, and ocean, and spent two summers surfing in California. For me, this added to the fun, and I knew that relative to the competition, this was an advantage for me being such a strong swimmer and comfortable in wavey conditions. So I pressed on happy as can be, using a construction crane at the far end of the bayfor sighting. By the time I got to the far buoy, I only saw a few swimmers and wondered what had happend. Here, the waves were at their worst. It was ridiculous, going up and down! I rounded the buoy and headed for home feeling great, knowing I was having a good swim, and amazed that the swim was almost over already! There is a pier at the swim start/finish and there is about 300 meters left once you get to the pier. I had some trouble sighting to get there, but I managed. Around the last buoy, all of a sudden I saw a whole heap of swimmers out of nowhere. Apparently, we had all taken different "lines" but were coming back together heading into the beach. I came up out of the water and ran into transition totally satisfied and totally focused.
[caption id="attachment_2134" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Siphiwe out of the water in 41st place."][/caption]
I did not check my swim split but learned after the race that I was 1:06:30 ....Ouch! Those currents and waves made me about 10 minutes slower than I had hoped, but so was everyone else. I was 41st overall, and 4th in my age group at that point. I was 32:29 for the first loop and 34:01 for the second loop (with the waves and current), so it was a well paced swim and exactly what my race plan called for. Of the male pro swimmers that finished, only four swam under one hour, with most between 1:00 and 1:05. Of the female pros, only two swm faster than I did. :) Six time world Ironman Champion Natascha Badman, winner of the woman's race, in her post-race interview, described the swim as "cruel" and which made her feel as if she had never trained.
I took my time in T1 to make sure I had everything I needed. No sense rushing through and getting on the bike for six hours missing something. The volunteers in the changing tent were awesome. She stripped my wetsuit, emptied my bag and laid out my stuff, and handed me my things in perfect order without me saying a word! My biggest decision was how much clothing to wear since the weather conditions were unsteady. I opted for both my leg and arm warmers and my EFRT long sleeve jersey and gloves. I stuffed two 1st Endurance EFS Tart Lemon-Lime single packets and about twelve Gatorade G Series Fit 01 Prime Pre Workout Energy Bites into the back pockets of my jersey, along with 5 Gu Pineapple gels in my carry box. My plan was to mix and drink one packet in my Profile Design Aerodrink Bottle, drink another water bottle, eat four G Series 01 Bites, and two gels for each of three loops. I like the G Series 01 Bites because I need solid food on the bike and I can eat and digest them all day easily without any gastrointestinal issues. Helmet, glasses, and race belt on, I headed out of T1 7:01 later. I went from 41 to 61 in those seven minutes. Wow!
Having rode the bike loop once already, I knew the uphill sections and that the front half of the course was much harder than the back half. What I did not know was the wind. From T1 and the start of the bike loop through the turnaround (15.5 miles), there was a brutal headwind that reached up to 35 mph! In the first nine miles, there is 601 feet of elevation into that wind. On the first loop, I managed 13.1 mph for those first nine miles into the wind and 22.3 mph from the turnaround to finish the loop in 185th place. On the second loop, I averaged 12.3 mph for the first nine miles and 21.6 for the back half to finish the loop in 219th place. On the third loop, I averaged 10.0 mph on the first nine miles and 20.9 for the back half to finish the bike in 298th place.
For me, the brutal wind made me stay focused. I had to stay in the present moment for the entire bike in order to avoid making mistakes like working to hard, getting blown of the road, forgetting nutrition, monitoring my legs, etc. Although I was not happy about the wind, I did not get discouraged. Instead, it was like, "Are you kidding me? An Ironman and this to boot?!" I embraced the extra challenge, knowing that everyone else was facing it too. The difference was going to be the mental attitude. I could curse the wind and suffer the whole way with a negative attitude, or I could enjoy the challenge. And thats what I did. I knew once I got to the trunaround, it was smooth, sailing, litterally! I think I stayed within myself on the first loop. The first three hours went by kinda quickly without me feeling sore in the saddle. I was following my nutrition plan and I was just over two hours for the first loop, not far behind my race goal of two hours per loop for a six hour bike split. Unfortunetely, the wind kept picking up. It was a good choice to put on the long sleeve jersy over the arm warmers. I was perfectly dressed, not too cold, not too warm. Just right! :)
At the turnaround I started checking to see where Hanson and Wonga and some of the other TriBlackAletes were. I expected them to catch me and pass me at some point, but after the first loop, I noticed I had a good ten to fifteen minutes on the next TriBlackAlete. During the second loop, I slogged up the hill like everyone else in 1st gear, and made sure to take mmy nutrition which was pretty easy. Before the first aid station I would dump my EFS mix into my Aerodrink, then grab a bottle of water at the aid station and speed fill my Aerodrink. At each aid station, I would just grab water or powerade and refill on the fly!
[caption id="attachment_2136" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Filling my Aerodrink bottle on the bike"][/caption]
After the 2nd loop, I still had not seen Hanson or Wonga, and no other TriBlackAlete had passed me, so I started thinking that I could be the first Black athlete to cross the finish line which is a pretty big deal for an Ironman race in Africa. That gave me some motivation. By the 3rd loop, the wind had become downright awful, and I as well as everyone slowed down. I saw some age groupers on their first or second loop walking their bikes up the hill. All the pros commented on the wind after the race, with Diana Reisler saying that it was "the hardest cycling of my life."
At the end of each loop I was able to see my family, which gave me such a good feeling. By the end of the third loop, I definitely felt my legs, especially my quads which I used more than usual. Before the race, I just didn't know what to expect on the bike, especially since my three 100+ mile training rides were all done on the trainer. I did not get uncomfortable like I usually do and I enjoyed being a part of all these people out there on the course "doing it". I finished the bike
When I came into T2 I had a little trouble, dismounting at the first line about 15 yards from the actual dismount. People were shouting at me and I got confused, tried to get back on the bike and ride, then fell at the dismount. It was quite funny and Im glad my family didnt get it on video! My Newton Distance running shoes on, I still had to make a tactical decision. Though the sun was out, it wasnt hot, and the wind brough a slight chill. I knew i'd be running after sunset, too, but i didnt want to overheat on the first run loop. My delimna: do i keep the long sleeve jersey? Ultimately I decided to ditch the jersey and leg warmers and run with my arm warmers. I left T2 in 3:02, the 94th fasted T2 split and in 288th position overall.
Ah, the run! I've read and heard so much about the run, and here I was, starting my first ever marathon. I told myself that a four hour marathon was reasonable, but I was really hoping to run about 3:40 or so. I usually run very well off the bike, especially since I started training with the powercranks. As I ran out of T2, however, I knew this wasn't going to be a normal day. I ran the first two miles right on the edge of cramps on my inner thighs, no doubt from having to use them so much on the windy bike. I ran the first mile in 7:13, 7:33, 7:43 and 7:54 for the first four miles. Then I hit some hill and wind and slowed a little. However, I was feeling pretty good and having a great race. From mile six through twelve I ran between 7:49 and 8:33. For the next four miles I ran right at 9:00... In training, the furthest I ever ran was 19 miles. At mile 17, I hit the proverbial wall. It happened quick, and fast, and I felt all the energy leave me like a scorned woman. For the first time I had to walk, screaming fans cheering me on be damned! For the first time in the race, an ounce of doubt crept in. Fortunately, I knew that I could overcome this if I didn't panic. So while walking I started to consume everything I could get my hands on: Coke, Powerade, bananas, sandwishes, Powerbars ... I just grabbed whatever the aid station handed out and shoved it into my mouth. I started running again but that lasted about 15 secodns. Not ready yet. That 17th mile took me 11:16. The next four miles were 10:29, 10:55, 10:12,10:12 and 10:48. By this time, the sun was setting, it started raining, I was wet, cold, and had severe chaffing on both latismus dorsi from my trisuit. For fifteen minutes, I was downright miserable. I just managed to keep going and around mile 23 I realized I could make it under twelve hours if I could run a nine minute mile pace. It was then that I found the last piece of strength and determination that people always talk about, and I ran 8:47, 8:53 and 8:51 to the finish. My run split was 4:00:36, 183rd fastes run overall, 28th fastest split in my age group.
I came under the pagoda and onto the red carpet with thousands of crazy spectators, feeling relieved. I had done it. I was seconds away from being pronounced an Ironman. Not only had I done it, I executed a race plan built on a training plan that was over six months in the making. For me, it was the self satisfaction of doing damn near exactly what I said I would do. With the finish line in sight, I saw my sister, but I didn't see my wife. I ran across in 11:59:14 and I heard, "Siphiwe Baleka, you are an Ironman." I clenched my fist in the air and looked up the the sky and affirmed myself! Once across the line, a volunteer helped me move forward several feet and then I finally saw Chadonicka holding TaNihisi, and collapsed in her arms. She was so proud of me despite her disappointment of not being able to hand me our son to cross the finish line with. Nevertheless, she knew what it took for me, for us, to do this, and that moment with her was priceless!
[caption id="attachment_2137" align="aligncenter" width="682" caption=""Siphiwe Baleka, You Are An Ironman!""][/caption]
My condition post-finish deteriorated rapidly. It was cold and I was cold, and I now realized how hurt my ankles were. I was shivering and could barely walk, and Chadonicka had to hold me up as I moved from one tent to the next to the next doing all the post Ironman stuff you have to do. I got a quick massage, put on a jacket, sat down to warm up as Chadonicka, and now my sister, went to get me some coffee. It was the greatest hurt I ever felt.