Ironman 70.3 Buffalo City 2015

28 December 2017
By: Michelle Mortimer (aka Morts)

Since starting my journey to a healthier, happier me in 2011 I have tried to do a new ‘Challenge’ each year. The goal, to try something new each year. Find new ways to test the limits of my abilities. Do something that nudges you out of your comfort zone. It keeps things interesting, never a dull moment when you’re planning for the next adventure.

2015 was the year to take on my first Ironman 70.3 in East London. After putting the thought out there into the universe, it was time to put the plan into action. First step, enter the race. Amazing how that can be almost as anxious a moment as the actual race itself. The moment you hit pay, there is a mild panic attack, but then the nausea passes and you start looking at what needs to be done.

It was round about this time that I was fortunate to run across the path of a certain, Dr Sally Waterworth. She agreed to put a training program together to help me to the elusive red carpet. Since then of course, she has gone one to help me reach many a Finish Line in a variety of adventures.

So entry done, and training program set out…training began. With the help of a bunch of wonderful training friends, we set about getting me ready to face the challenge that is East London. Training went well, and even though I didn’t quite think I was ready, those around me were an ever present source of encouragement.

20 weeks of training felt like they flew by and all of a sudden it is race week. I found myself floating between moments of excitement and absolute terror. A roller coaster of emotions as I checked equipment for the last time and make packing lists. Checked and double checked everything was in order and ready to go.

It’s amazing just how much one can pack for their first race away, you put in everything you may need. Absolutely everything, kitchen sink included. Over the years, one does learn to scale down and perfect the process, but not that first trip.

So car loaded up with everything you can imagine, I headed off to East London.

Upon arriving at my destination, the first thing I noticed was how hot it was. It was going to be a long hot sticky weekend. No time to think too much about it though, off to register, fly though the expo and then get ready for the race briefing.

Registration went nice and quickly. The Expo, was ok, nothing overly exciting… same old same old. A little time to rest, then off to the race briefing. It was hot and crowded in the hall as the race director went over every aspect of the race that lay ahead. I made the rookie mistake of not taking any liquid with me, a mistake I’m thankful to say I have never had the misfortune of repeating. Rule 1: Always carry a drink with you on race weekend.

Then it was off for a bit of dinner and early to bed.

Saturday started early with a final bike check ride, short and sweet, just to check gears and everything were all in order. Then off to the beach for a siting swim with some training friends.

While nervously pulling on my wetsuit though, I manage to rip a whole of note in the leg. No time to panic though, these things happen. The ocean was a little rough and oh so cold, I was not quite prepared for the 16’C we went into, but thankfully nothing that months of training hadn’t prepared me for. After finishing a short swim I ran off back to the expo, need to get some wetsuit cement. Then home to make emergency repairs.

Time to pack transition bags. Rule 2: Have a list. This is not the time to be thinking of what you want to pack. Do not deviate from the list.

Bags packed I set about mending the dried wetsuit.

As things would have it, while repairing the suit, I managed to damage a tooth quite badly. Fabulous, two rather epic fails in less than 12hrs. I run through to the kitchen, grab the coldest water I can find and throw it back over the tooth. Brace for pain and agony…. nothing, thank goodness that can wait until the return home to fix.

No time to think too much about it though, wetsuit is nicely fixed and it’s time to go drop of bags and bike at transition.

On arriving the incredibly friendly marshals and volunteers quickly help me find my place in the chaos. My small space in the transition world. I’m nicely under a little tree, great landmark to find my little bike in this sea of mean machines.

Hang my bags, walk the transition route. Take a deep breath, smile confident in the knowledge that I shall find everything when I need it in the morning. With that I say hello to those I recognise and head on home to put my legs up and zone out of the afternoon.

Sleep pre-race is sort of non-existent, you sort of just dose and lie and run through everything 50 million times in your head and then before you know it the alarm is going off and it’s time to rise and Shine! Hello Race day.

To be honest, pre-race is still a bit of a blur. I tend to zone out to ignore the Drama that seems to be unfolding around me. I do remember making sure I had all my nutrition, wetsuit and swim stuff and heading back off to transition for final checks. Tyres pumped, bits and bobs attached to bike, nutrition in bags, it’s time to head to the beach and get into my newly mended wetsuit. So far so good, all going to plan.

On the beach we start hearing rumours that the swim might be cancelled, The swell is somewhat impressive I have to admit, but having swum in worse, I am still confident. ‘It will just be an adventure swim’, I tell myself and set about preparing. It is then that I realise how many of the people around me may not have had that much experience in open water swimming. The anticipation on their faces is something to behold. I’m reminded of how large my eyes must have looked the first time I encountered the ocean.

The organisers thankfully decide the swim will go ahead, but they do start mentioning at this point that anyone who has doubts, should seriously consider possibly sitting this one out. Off to stand in the waiting area, with the other ladies in my group. While standing there and most amazing feeling of calm came over me. I decided at that moment that I shall just keep moving until either I reached the red carpet or they told my I didn’t make a cut off. Either way I was going to have fun. I move to the back of the bunch, assuming everyone looks more athletic and thus must be faster swimmers than myself. I didn’t feel like getting swum over. Rule 3: Never underestimate you swimming ability. I still remember the song that was playing as I was standing on the beach waiting to go. To this day it brings a smile to my face.

Bang, and we’re off. It is at this point that I realise I am in the wrong place for the swim. As we go in and the first big wave comes, I prepare to dive under. Unfortunately the 2 ladies in front of me, having slightly less experiencing get mauled by the wave and take me back to the shore with them. I stand up, check they are okay, re-adjust my goggles and head back into the large rolling ocean.

Once past the break, the swim was rather fun. There was a large rolling swell, which gave you the feeling of swimming up and down hills, but such fun. Finding the buoys was a little challenging as you could only see when on the crest of a larger wave. On rounding the 3rd buoy and heading back to shore you could ride the runs all the  way back. Such Fun. At one point, I looked down a particularly large wave while at the top, and there were 4 people beneath me on the same wave. Amazing! Then head back in the game, time to get back through the break and onto dry land.

There’s a very special feeling that comes over you the moment your toes touch sand. You feel alive. I can’t help but grin from ear to ear. And up the beach I go to transition. It’s probably best to mention at this point that, although I had trained hard, I was still very new to triathlon and the fitness required. So to get my heart rate down after that adventurous swim, I walked the hill to transition. Straight through, Bag found and off to get bike ready. Rule 4: Your race number is on your wrist. Check it against your bag number. Less haste more speed.

Grab my bike, and head out to the epic ride that lays ahead. The bike ride was tough, really tough. It was incredibly hot and it just kept going up. Up and up all the way to Berlin. As luck would have it with a lovely headwind as well. At the first water point I swapped out my first bottle and carried on going. Just keep going to someone tells you to stop or you reach the red carpet after all. Eye on the prize.

At the halfway mark, time was getting a little tight. I’d have to make up a little time on the way back. It was at this point that another obstacle was placed in my path to the finish line. The water points had started to run out of liquid… Completely unheard of I know, but it happened. I decided to take the melted ice that had kept the drinks cold for the multitude of athletes that had come before me, dirty water is better than no water right. It was hot as hell out there, heat stroke and dehydration were a real threat. Not to worry, I’ll get from the water point on the way back. So back on the road and heading back to transition I’m greeted with the realisation that the wind has turned. I’m apparently really going to have to work for this medal.

Time to dig deep and suck it up buttercup.

Upon reaching the last water point on the bike they are completely out of everything. So much so that they had packed up and gone home. I notice a pile of discarded, half finished bottles and make a move for them. The other girls around me look just as confused and worried as I am. I mention to the one that penicillin should sort out any minor bugs we may pick up, but we need water. I load up to boiling hot half bottles and prepare for the final stage home.

5km from home and 30min to go, I get excited. I’m going to make it. On the last climb back into East London, my bottle bracket starts making a terrible noise, but I have a friendly word with my trusty stead and tell him to hang in there. We’ve been through a lot together.

I make it into transition with 5min to spare. Oodles of time. As I dismount and head towards my run bag I find a volunteer with a lovely 2l bottle of water. I politely ask him to walk with me, while I down what liquid he has to offer me.

A moment to rest in the chair. Takkies on. And it’s off to my first half marathon ever. Repeat my mantra, ‘Keep going til I reach the finish line or someone tells me to stop.’. A quick stop past the medic for a little re-hydrate, that did not go down well. I thank them kindly, manager to get the rather salty beverage down without vomiting and head in search of the magic liquid that is ‘Coke’ on the run course. Coke in system and feeling a lot better it’s off to run.

The spectators are amazing. It takes a while to realise how everyone knows your name, but you don’t care. All the cheers move you one step closer to that beautiful red carpet. Best piece of pre-race advice I got was, ‘Walk Bunkers!’ I took the time to get my GU in and a bit more water. Dodge the sprinklers and hoses, I don’t want blisters after all. The you have you first band, an amazing feeling. You head back to complete lap one, running down bunkers and back past the amazing support.

When getting close to the carpet, having a lap still to complete, you longingly look at those finishing and smile knowing that will be you in 10 more short kms. Very careful not to touch the carpet, it’s not your time yet, you head back up the pier and onto lap 2. Back up Bunkers… Band 2 Yay! We’re heading home. So happy that no one has told me to stop yet. I might be one of only 15 people still on the course, but the finish is now firmly in my site. I hit the beach front and mist has rolled in, visibility is a little dodgy and spectators are few and far between, but I’m going to make it.

With 1km to go the emotion is too much, I take a brief moment to shed a tear as I compose myself for the red carpet I’ve been dreaming about all day. Then they’re yelling my name. Me, I made it! I beat the odds of what was an incredibly rough day. I rolled with the punches and kept moving forward. The most amazing sense of achievement that to this day still gives me goosebumps thinking about it.

It is at this point though that I realise I have no idea what I am supposed to do next. I chuckle to myself and figure I might as well head to transition and fetch my bike before they sell it. I hear someone screaming my name and see my friend Margie running across the quad at me to give me the biggest hug I have ever had. She’s emotional, I’m emotional. The perfect end to a less that perfect, yet none the less amazing day. Will I do it again. Definitely!

Rule 5: Always believe in yourself, and when in doubt keep moving forward.

Challenge 2015 Complete!