April 2009

Ironman At Last

It’s now three days since IronMan South Africa 2009 and time for my final diary entry. I could write at least 10 stories about the 5 days we spent in Port Elizabeth, but I need to bring it to a close. Yet strangely enough, after a year of training, hard work and not inconsiderable expense I can’t find it in myself to write about my personal race experience.

The end of the journey turned out to be much bigger than me and the small part I played on the day. I feel almost humbled and in awe of the experience and can’t quite grasp the enormity of what I have undoubtedly achieved.

The playing of the National Anthem just before the start was very emotional for me, because despite my strange English accent I am a truly patriotic South African. The feeling of pride I felt at being part of ‘my’ local IronMan stayed with me the whole day and lingers still. It was a special moment that I know was shared by most other people at the start.

I could bore you with tales of how it was hot, because it was VERY hot, or I could write about how tired I was when I got off the bike. I could tell you how I got blisters on my soggy feet from soaking myself in water trying to bring my core temperature down and yet I would simply be telling you the story of exactly what happened to a thousand other age group athletes who were suffering and enjoying the event as much as I was.

Surely it is better to celebrate the event itself and the inspiration that fellow competitors give to us other athletes. People like my training buddy Linda Els who as a single mother manages to raise two alarmingly well mannered and adjusted sons while keeping a house together, training 6 days a week and competing in Triathlon at National level. I can’t even train my dog properly yet Linda does stuff like that.

How about blind athlete Francois Jacobs who has completed numerous IronMan events and sees nothing special in what he does. You can point a finger at Francois and you will be pointing at a humble man indeed. Then there is Francois’ guide, training buddy and friend Jurie Krige who has a far more challenging role than any other athlete at IronMan, being ultimately responsible for another human beings life. These guys are tethered together in the water for goodness sakes. Yet Jurie would rather help another person achieve their otherwise impossible dream than set a personal best time of his own. Jurie to me embodies the true spirit of IronMan.

Like me, I am sure you will marvel at the fact that there are as many volunteers helping to make the race a success as there are athletes that actually compete in it. Guys and girls, old and young stayed out there in weather that saw temperatures hit 37 degrees in the shade at midday then abruptly change to an early evening downpour with howling gales and a massive thunderstorm. They worked from before 5:00am till the early hours of the following morning to make the race possible, and I didn’t see one of them who wasn’t encouraging or cheering for an athlete.

What can you say about Port Elizabeth, a place that combines rural African charm with a modern city and has an infrastructure advanced enough to stage a world class and truly special event. A city that pulls together year after year to keep itself on the International stage. And the people of Port Elizabeth clearly appreciate the massive cash inflow that IronMan brings to them and go out of their way to say thank you. It’s a good thing they don’t have Table Mountain as well or there would be no stopping them.

Do you want to see brilliant organisation. Go and watch how an IronMan event is run. Our Government (in fact any Government) could profit from studying how this event is put together. Even in the face of a near disaster, when the fierce evening storm destroyed the massive 2500 seater marquee and turned it into a shipping hazard, the organisation kept ticking over, no one panicked and contingency plans kicked in. It is an awesome show to watch. It’s on at the same time and same place next year.

Best of all from a cost perspective is the value for money that the event offers. At R1840.00 for your entry fee (and you can thank Specsavers for sponsoring athletes to the tune of over R1300 each to make it so low), you get every one of your hard earned cents worth.

As an example, how many events have you ever done where there are numerous bike mechanics roaming the cycling route in well equipped vans, fixing broken bikes, chains and punctures, and still dispensing inner tubes and CO2 cartridges to those in need of them. At no extra charge. Seriously, they give the stuff to you.

All you need to do as a competitor is arrange your accommodation and food. Everything else is taken care of for you. You are given athlete instruction booklets with idiot proof directions instructing you in the smallest detail about what happens how, when and where. You literally don’t have to think for yourself, and let me tell you, after 14 hours on the road that alone is a good investment.

Finally there was the long anticipated and often visualised trip up the red carpet to become an IronMan.

My wife, who has sacrificed a lot to make my IronMan dream come true, was standing waiting all alone in the middle of the run route outside the finish venue, soaking wet and shivering with cold yet determined to welcome me to the end of my IronMan road for 2009. We crossed the line together to the sound of Paul Kaye announcing to the world….

‘Chris Hitchcock, you are an IronMan’

Yeah, it feels good!!

Wish You Were Here

Dear Readers

I am in Port Elizabeth. The weather is great. Wish you were here.

Lots of love

Chris

XXXX

A drive of seven hours has brought me to the place where my journey of the past eleven Months will end. Traveling with my wife who doubles up as supporter in chief, we took a very casual drive up to Port Elizabeth the race City. The only drama we had en route was a stone that flicked up from a trucks wheel and cracked the windscreen which for some reason had us giggling like kids as the crack slowly spread across the glass.

But the journey is just the means to an end, and while the garden route is a beautiful place, the closer we got to Port Elizabeth the more excited I became, and the less I noticed the scenery. I’m feeling like a cross between a little kid on Christmas eve and a person who is about to have root canal. On all of his teeth.

Port Elizabeth is cooking, and IronMan fever has taken over the City. Cape Town during Argus time has a special atmosphere, but PE is a lot smaller and IronMan just seems to be everywhere that you look. The atmosphere is palpable. There are branding banners everywhere, the beachfront has been taken over by the start finish area and there are IM athletes everywhere you look. I don’t think I’ve seen an overweight or unfit person on the streets since we arrived. It’s like Baywatch without The Hoff.

This morning at 8:00am the www.mytrainingday.com family are going for a group swim on Hobie Beach followed by breakfast and a 10km ride to shake down the bikes and make sure everything is OK. Then it’s off to registration and the IM expo where I have no doubt that I will buy lots of stuff that I ‘really need’. It will then be time to relax and explore a bit.

I’m loving every minute of it.