Raynard Tissink Triathlon Coach
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Ironman South Africa 2006

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Competing at IM SA this year was a strange feeling for me, there was none of the usual pre race excitement, no traveling etc, and it was just like any other day in PE. Living about 20km from all the action down at Hobie beach, I was quite isolated from the race events and excitement, and just carried on with my usual day to day activities. Saturday afternoon Natalie and I moved into the Courtyard Hotel right across from the start line, and then things started to warm up.

Checking in all your equipment is always an anxious time. You know that race time is here, your mind starts racing at a 100mph, and the butterflies start fluttering. Have you forgotten something? Did you pack all your nutrition? So many thoughts swirling in your head that you probably only get to sleep an hour or 2 before you need to wake up again the next morning.

Race morning, things looked calm on the water which was a great relief after the rough conditions of the day before, but I could see by the Spec-Savers flags on the pier that the wind was strong. Luckily the westerly is a far easier wind on this course that an easterly, so I was sure we were all in for fast times again this year.

The Gotheborg cargo ship was an exciting touch as the race starter. It was an impressive sight standing offshore in front of the 1100+ athletes, but unfortunately, it was a very successful start signal. Not one of the pro’s with their usual 10 meter head start heard or saw anything, and next thing we knew the hoard of athletes from behind were charging through us.

After the initial chaos, I found myself on Glen Gore and Carl Storm’s feet. They did a great job of getting us away from the pack, but after about 800m, it felt as if everything stopped. I don’t know if everyone was waiting for the world champ Al-Sultan to come through and take the lead, or if this was the normal way of racing an ironman, you see, this was the first time I’d ever been with the leaders during the swim. Even though the pace seemed slow and I was a bit worried that too many of the slower swimmers would be able to keep up, I was happy to be at the front and with the world champion next to me (he put 5minutes into me in Hawaii in the swim).

Exiting the swim in 4th place, my day had started in the best possible manner. Normally I’d have to chase down 2 to 3 minutes, now I was in the lead by 2km on the bike. Heading up Walmer drive, the only real hill on the route, was extremely taxing and to top it off the rain started coming down, not something I was looking forward to slicks on my wheels. I kept my new Scott Plasma bike in the small chain ring to minimize the damage the strong headwind would make. I felt comfortable and strong and pulled away from the early swim leaders. By the turn around at 20km I had a 1 minute lead over the 2 German bike aces, Faris Al-Sultan and Andreas Neidrig, so I put my head down and continued to work hard to see if I could distance myself from them and put them under pressure early. It didn’t last, at 50km Faris came past me like I was looking for parking.

The pace he was setting was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I tried as best as I could to stay close. At the top of the long steady climb back out of town on the second lap, his gap had grown to 45 seconds. I followed Neidrig up the hill, but could see he was starting to struggle, and at the top made my move passed him. From then on the pattern seemed to remain constant for the rest of the bike leg, on the flats Faris would put time into me, on the ups I would pull some time back. At the start of the last lap he had a 1 minute gap. I wasn’t feeling great, dizzy, cold, and extremely weak going up the hill for the final time. But I knew I just had to make it to the top and the ride would basically be over. The last 40km with the tailwind would be easy, but Faris lead had grown to 2 and a half minutes. And then, just like every Ironman race, after a bad patch I started feeling strong again. In the distance I could still see the flashing lights from the lead vehicles and the helicopter flying low over the leader. I started pushing again, hard the hills, recover on the downs, and to my amazement, I entered the transition 30 seconds back. The race was on again.

Faris was first out of the tent after changing into his running gear, but when I went out onto the road I found myself in the lead. Faris had made a pit stop in transition, and it didn’t take him long to catch up and surge past me. I’m always happy to run at the back, so as long as I kept the gap to a manageable distance, I was comfortable in 2nd place. The first 10km were covered in 39:40, not great pace, but steady enough for a 2:55 marathon. At 17km I pulled up next to Faris and told him that we only had about 9 minutes on the bunch in 3rd place, that Gerrit Schellens was an awesome runner, and that we’d better get a move on or we’d be caught. His reply was "I don’t have anything more to give ", so I tried to push on alone.

Through 21km my pace had slowed to 1hr26, far to slow to hold of a man that’s capable of a 2:45 marathon of the bike. I knew that he would catch me, but there was nothing I could do about it. I continued to forge ahead steadily, just waiting for the pass to come. With 7km to go, Schellens came passed at great speed, I didn’t even think of trying to go with. Now it was a matter of holding it together, and not letting the rest of the bunch catch me. There were still 4 other guys on my tail, so there was no relaxing just yet. 4km from the finish, the leader had about 45seconds on me, and I figured I would give one last effort to try catch up. Each step felt like being hit in the Quads with a sledge hammer, but it was so close to the finish, I had to try. At 40km the gap had come down to 20 seconds, the leader was looking over his shoulder frequently, a sign that he was worried, but that was where my challenge ended. My body was exhausted, my mind was fried. It had been a titanic battle with the world champion, but at the end of the day an outsider came from behind to pick up the pieces.

Annah Watkinson - Race Report IM Brazil 2017

After a great first year racing in the professional category in 2016, I was amped for the 2017 season. Feeling stronger and fitter and more in the "right head space" - I had done some great training over December spending many many many (and many more) hours on the bike - I loved it. My swim was starting to click, I was starting to understand the phrase "feel the water", and my running was strong

READ ONAnnah Watkinson - Race Report IM Brazil 2017
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