Raynard Tissink Triathlon Coach
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Ironman Korea 2007

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"The Toughest Day In Sport”. This was the caption above our heads as we finished the 2007 Standard Chartered Ironman Korea, and that day it had been truer than any other Ironman day that I had ever felt.

Race morning dawned with near perfect conditions, 30degreesC, hardly any wind and best of all, clear skies. Our biggest fear was that it might rain and cause rough seas and cancellation of the swim section of the race, as in the case the previous year. But all seemed perfect for this year’s event, as the excitement started to build with all the usual pre race rituals of checking in, getting body marked, making final adjustments to your bike in the transition area, and finally heading off to the beach for the swim warm up.

I guess we should have seen something out of the ordinary coming when for the first time in the event’s 7 year history they had to disallow the use of wetsuits because of unseasonably high water temperatures, and there would be a serious risk of dehydration in the swim. I had traveled to Korea with another South African Ironman standout, Lawrence van Lingen, and with both of us being in good swim shape, this news suited us perfectly. Our only real concern was Aussie swim specialist, Pete Jacobs, who has a habit of destroying most people in the swim leg. But our worries were short lived, as the race got under way at 7am, a group of 6 got away from the rest almost instantly. Pete Jacobs trying his best to get off the front with several surges which all failed, and after about 1000m the pace settled down to what turned out to be an easy, comfortable swim, which Lawrence led for much of the second lap on the 2 lap swim course.

There is a short, steep climb after exiting the swim, which really woke the legs up quite rudely as we ran up to transition 1, donned our helmets, and set of on the 180km bike ride. The roads were in great condition, the tar very smooth, and the course very fast for the first 100km. I had company for the first 60km in Tim Marr, from Hawaii, and as I’d never competed against him before, I wasn’t sure of his strengths or weaknesses, but we worked together to build up an early lead. At about 60km I could see he was struggling to keep up whenever the road turned up, and with the temperature starting to climb too, I decided to try and shake my tail on the climbs. It took about 20km, but eventually, Tim was out of sight, and now I would settle down into a fast but comfortable tempo, and try to build a significant lead before the start of the run.

My training for this event had focused quite a bit on the cycling portion due to my running injury after Ironman SA, and with my running being untested for 5 months, I knew had to push my advantage home on the bike. Every climb was an opportunity to put a little more space between myself and the other challengers. And there were many opportunities. The most significant climb came at 108km, about 10% gradient for 2km. It hurt! But on I forged, determined to gain every second I could, constantly looking behind for any sign of a rival, but there was none.

Nearing the end of the bike section, the few climbs that remained were becoming increasingly difficult, not due to the severity of their slopes, but due to the exhaustion being caused by the tremendous heat searing from the road surface. I was trying to push my helmet back on my head as far as possible in a vain attempt to get some cooler air onto my head, as by now the heat was causing a major headache, literally. But being in the lead and having the police sirens blaring as you pass through intersections gives you strength to push on, feeling invincible. Transition 2 approached 4hours, 44minutes after leaving T1, a new bike course record. Job done! But now the dreaded run laid ahead, a hilly course, but the biggest concern was the heat. I had a 13 minute lead, but at no stage was I confident that it would be enough. I had been injured. Would my injury hold out over 42,2km of running? Could my body cope with the 40 degree heat coming from a cold, wet PE winter? All these doubts were swirling around my throbbing head.

My leg felt fine starting the 3 lap, out and back run course. There would be many occasions to see the chasers at every turn around point. My plan was to push as hard as I dared to keep the 13 minute lead in tact as long as possible, but after 4km of unbearable heat, it became quite obvious that there wasn’t going to be much running done during this marathon, it was going to be all about survival. My goal quickly went from pushing hard, to just getting from one aid station to the next, 1,5km away.

After 15km, even though I was suffering a thousand deaths, and thoughts of pulling off the road to find some shelter from the sun, the gap had grown to 15 minutes, and I took heart in the fact that everyone was dying out there. At 21km, half way, it seemed impossible to do another 21km in these conditions. Every uphill felt as though it would be as fast to walk at the same pace as I was "running”. But I didn’t dare walk, because once you start, it’s hard to get running again. So I forced my weary body on, pins and needles started prickling through my arms and fingers, the skin on my shoulders felt as though someone was burning it, like a little boy burning ants with a magnifying glass. But each 1,5km brought relief, if for only 30 seconds to have buckets of water poured over your burning body, it was all that kept us going.

1km from the end, the final aid station, I knew I couldn’t lose the race as I still had around 10 minutes of my lead in tact, so I took a little extra time to cool my body down, to make 100% sure that I wouldn’t falter in those final 1000m. And as I turned off the road into the finishers chute, the relief of not winning the race, but of being able to sit down in the shade beyond the finish line poured down my body like all those gallons of water on the course. 9 hours and 8 minutes of hellishly hot torment had come to an end. It had undoubtedly been the toughest day in sport. But if it had been easy, it wouldn’t be an Ironman.

Once again a special THANK YOU has to go to everyone that supports me through these ordeals, my wife and children – Natalie, Kade and Jordi and especially my sponsors (ATLAS SECURITY; GU ENERGY GELS; SCOTT BICYCLES; PUMA RUNNING SHOES; OAKLEY SUNGLASSES), who make it financially possible for me to work as a professional athlete and become one of the most successful Ironmen of all time. Even though we come from tiny little South Africa, with support such as theirs, we can compete against, even beat, the best in the World.

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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