Everyone knows that when it comes to Ironman, it’s the night before the night before the race that is the important one to bank sleep. It’s probably the one bit of solid advice I have to offer when it comes to Ironman planning. Yet here I sit, bolt upright and wide-awake in my hotel bed in Tenby at 3:30am on the 12th of September 2015, rain lashing the window. I’ve got a lump in my throat and my eyes are welling up. I turn on the light and reach for a marker pen. So much for sleep.
Late in the afternoon on Sunday 29 March, I crossed the IMSA finish line in a flood of emotion. Ten hours earlier, I’d stood on the beach, knowing that today I was going all in. Why – because that’s what getting to Kona takes.
There’s no secret formula. Kona qualification is dependent on physical and mental ability, obvs, but in an arena where everyone has these abilities in equal abundance, it’s how you go about applying them, that gets the ticket to the big island stamped. This is how I went about it. If you have the same dreams, I hope my roadmap to Kona helps a little in achieving them.
1. When you’re with your mates, the rain doesn’t matter.
2. You spend a lot more time than you think going downhill.
3. Once you try one of Alechia van Wyk’s Death By Oreo cupcakes prepare for any other baked goods to feel pathetically substandard for the rest of your life.
A photo posted by Aléchia van Wyk (@alechiavanwyk) on
4. Roger Barr must have been bored out his mind doing 73 reps when Everesting Box Hill.
5. It’s easy to lose count.
Photo: Carel Du Plessis
Did you know we just designed and made a new Black Line London cycle jersey? Of course you did, because we haven’t shut up about it.
But the reason we haven’t shut up about it isn’t to try and sell you one (although actually you’d look great in it, what with your stunning athletic physique) but because the whole process of making and doing is something we really love, and we’re quite proud and deeply satisfied to have produced something that people actually want to wear.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about group riding since completing the Mallorca 312 last Saturday. It’s something most of us long distance triathletes never do and the view from inside the peleton was a new experience.
Once out of the mountains when it got on to the flatter stuff past Palma at about 170k it got particularly interesting because it was the first time I had experienced riding in a really big peloton among some fairly well drilled riders.
The 3 of us from Black Line who were riding the event (Me, Mel Wasley and Al Maher) ended up in a big group being led by a Mallorcan team from Manacor -who were all in smart matching kit and riding very disciplined. You hear about being sucked along by a peloton but in all honesty until Saturday I thought this was a bit of an exaggeration, however sure enough, once we were in this group we were scooting along at over 40k per hour by just soft tapping and freewheeling. It was an amazing experience but also pretty stressful as you have to concentrate 100% on not getting too close to the wheel in front, touching wheels and causing a massive pile up….making you the most unpopular person in Mallorca.
“Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”
That’s one of the cringeworthy ‘inspirational quotes’ that obsessed athletes wheel out to defend their mindset and what they do. It’s a load of rubbish. I’ve been utterly obsessed. I think everyone who puts themselves through endurance sport training with the aim of being as good as they can be is obsessed. Obsession is good for performance or else you wouldn’t put yourself through what it takes to get there. It can also be highly damaging if not kept in check to make sure some form of balance is maintained. But anyone doing this silly sport of ours who claims they’re not obsessed is most likely lying. Ask their families…
Mud, mud, glorious mud.
Apparently there’s ‘nothing quite like it for cooling the blood’ – if you’re a hippopotamus that is, but if you’re a runner taking part in the Pilgrim Challenge North Downs Multistage Ultra (31Jan/1Feb) then it almost stopped you in your tracks.
It seemed to me that the whole of the North Downs is built on Surrey clay which feels like running in glue. It made the 66-mile, two-day event even more of a challenge.
But now it’s done and I’ve passed another vital staging post in my psychological progress towards coping in these grueling endurance events and going beyond the inner hurdles and demons, I have created in 2014, with many DNFs.
It’s impossible to really capture what Black Line London means to our family members, but we’ll give it a go.
As 2014 draws to a close, here are some of our best bits – it might be a great photo, an important moment or just something that made us laugh.
We hope you had a great year…..see you in 2015.
January: Paul Deen, Paul Smernicki & Nico van der Westhuizen winter train under big skies in Andalucia.
February: No Wokingham Half? No problem! We arranged our own in Richmond Park.
April: First big event of the year as a delegation head to Ironman South Africa, motherland to several of the gang. Looking good on a bike course recce.
April: IMSA – James Peet finishes in spectacular style.
May: Ironman Mallorca 70.3 – Jane Hansom wins her age group. The Universe remains stable.
May: Ironman Mallorca 70.3 – Ashley, Paul and Team Freespeed’s Matt Molloy spend the last 5k of the run discussing the 4th discipline: How to execute the perfect photo finish.
May: It’s not all Ironman. Captured by husband Carel, Alecia makes final adjustments before the North Downs Way ultra marathon.
July: The self-proclaimed ‘handsomest team in tri’ dominate at Bananaman. They told me to write that.
August: Epitomising the BLL ethos 2 grown men, one of them looking like Malibu Ken, hold hands as Paul and Sam narrowly miss the podium in The Outlaw team relay. It should be noted they were a team of 2.
August: By far the hardest thing anyone at BLL did this year was Mel Wasley’s epic adventure at Norseman. It’s insanely hard and she smashed it.
August: Looks fast? Is fast. James Peet at Zell am See 70.3
August: Paul Smernicki completely gubbed after Ironman Copenhagen. “I said many times on the run “never again” but was front of the que to enter for 2015 the next day.”
September: Great shot of Nico at IM Wales, sporting our new Fusion Sport kit on his his way to 3rd in AG and Kona ’15 qualification….a great day for him and us.
September: South African Wildebeest trample all over the New Forrest. Wildebeest win.
September: Dark horse Al Maher rocked up at IM Louisville without telling us, and powered to a PB. More importantly, he met Colonel Sanders who asked for a BLL T-Shirt. We told him to fuck off.
October: The big show! We were so proud to have 3 of our gang at Kona. Here, Jen gives Deenzy pure evils as they get ready for check in.
October: BLL at Kona. Jen Hill, Mary Collins, Michael Collins and Paul Deen. Envy and pride in equal measure.
October: Young Team at Park Run. Next gen, yeah?
November: Troy does a 100km run. Respect, but THAT’S JUST FUCKING NUTS BRO!!
December: There is only one pic we could finish with. The world will soon be one person faster. Congrats Michael and Mary Collins for helping Black Line London grow……
Because Black Friday and Cyber Monday aren’t enough, we at Black Line London wanted to bring you the obligatory ‘Christmas Gifts I would Like For Myself’ post.
Vulpine Harrington Jacket suggested by Paul Burton (above)
“Because I bought my sister one for Christmas last year and she absolutely adores it. As good off the bike as on the bike. Be an endurance sport hero without looking like a chopper all the time”
Tenspeed Hero Socks suggested by Mel Wasley
“Hang on hear me out. Socks are definitely a bad idea unless they are Tenspeed Hero socks in which case the more the merrier. RULE #28 states: “Socks can be any damn colour you like” and TSH socks come in every damn colour and pattern you could possibly want for a sporty loved one. Hoping some will find their way under my tree this year.”
Neil Stevens Print suggested by Troy Squires
“Neil’s poster illustrations cover a variety of subjects – football, cities, music, and shipping forecasts to mention a few, but it’s his cycling prints that resonate with my inner design geek. I’d love to have a few of these grace my walls. I’ve had the joy of working with Neil in a professional capacity for work projects and his work is top class.”
Fusion Tri PWR Tight suggested by Paul Smernicki
“Quite simply the best running and tri short available. The gel pocket on each leg is perfect iPhone size and these are totally bombproof. I now do almost all my running in these – comfy as f*@k”.
AeroPress Coffee Maker suggested by Alan Grove
“An Aeropress is now on my list. Why? Because people I know who are obsessed by coffee swear by it.”
Mahabi Slippers suggested by Jane Hansom
“Perfect after a hard day in bike shoes.”
October 2004. London. I’m about to step out the door for a 5km run and I’m not sure I’ll make it.
October 2014. Cape Town. I’m about to step out the door for a 100km run and I’m not sure I’ll make it.
The driving factor to get my arse out the door in these two situations was remarkably different, but ultimately, it boils down to one common thread.
The Comfort Zone.
Following that run in 2004, I’ve been extremely privileged to be able to complete many races. Half marathons, marathons, triathlons and a handful of Ironman events. I say privileged because not only is competing in these races expensive; the act of movement is not something everybody gets to enjoy. I’ll stop there before I go too deep.
So why 100km? Over mountains. With a 15 hour time limit? Because that’s exactly what the Ultra Trail Cape Town involves.
That common thread is why. To move outside of my comfort zone. My focus over the last few years has been on Ironman triathlon. The goal of simply finishing my first one quickly moved to finishing the next, and the next, and the next, as fast as possible. Chasing a time. Or a Kona slot (more on this in a future post). Admittedly, there were other, superficial, influencing factors. A first for Cape Town – my ‘hometown’. On ‘The Mountain’. Trail running. A route I’ve invested much time exploring, in awe.
(For the record, Cape Town is trail running heaven. If you don’t believe me, check out my Instagram feed.
Hovering the cursor over the enter button, my mind was clear. It said, “You’re biting off more than you can chew here dude. 100km is a LONG way. I don’t think you can do it.”
I’m a socially motivated athlete. I obviously compete for ‘myself’ and any pressure to perform comes from within, but I find sharing goals with friends and family massively motivating. That’s why I tend to make a campaign out of it. I guess it’s a poor excuse to rally up support. Or, a way in which I help apply pressure on myself to do something. Ask anyone who’s done a race where they’re able to be tracked and they’ll tell you – it helps to know people are following you online. It keeps you going. Each time you cross a timing matt – they’ll know I’m still going.
Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s where #keepgoing came into it. My campaign mantra. My driving force. It’s what I trained my brain to say every time the thought of “This is too hard, just stop” entered my head.
If you asked me to write a report on what I did during my fourteen and a half hours of racing, I couldn’t. Some parts are vivid, others a blur. Even days after, I’m getting flashbacks to experiences of the race. Some that make me smile, others wince. So here’s a short summary…
Making my way to the start line, I bumped into Raynard Tissink doing his final race pack checks. It was good to see Ray as we’d done a route recce together a few weeks before and had agreed to not shave until after the 100km. We wanted to look like ‘proper’ trail runners. The mood at the start was jovial. Still pitch dark, with the nervous flashes of headtorches darting about. Soon we were ambling through the streets of Cape Town, with Ray complaining about the slow pace. Slowly, slowy catch the monkey Ray-man.
Lion’s Head (not the top), Platteklip Gorge (the almost 1 hour climb that gets you to the top on Table Mountain), MacClears Beacon. Not that I could see the beacon. The top of Table Mountain was covered in thick cloud. Thankfully I’d enjoyed the view on other occasions so no view meant I could focus on moving forward.
A few kilometres from the Constantia Nek check point, a friend, Kevin Flanagan, caught up to me, meaning I had some welcome company from the check point, pretty much all the way to Hout Bay (halfway). Running across Llandudno and Sandy Bay beaches was beautiful. The Atlantic Ocean looked massively inviting.
“The first real bit of suffering was soon to follow”
The section off the beach, over Karbonkelberg and down to Hout Bay was painful. Kev started dropping back on the climb. Eventually he’d find a rock, sit down and have a few words with himself. I wanted to do the same. It’s when the doubt set in. Running downhill became excruciatingly painful. And Hout Bay was only halfway. Feeling that sore, with 50km still to go, had me stressed. Keep going. Keep going. KEEP going. I made the 50km check point and with fresh reserves (in my Camelbak), I shuffled out of Hout Bay.
Constantia Nek, the Constantia winelands, the Contour, the University of CT (UCT). By this point, it was a simple matter of moving from check point to check point. On average, about 8km apart. Coke and water being my saviour. It really is the best sports drink in the world.
Leaving the final check point at UCT was a huge confidence boost. It’s when the belief came back. I wasn’t going to come this far and not finish! The final mountain to climb is the aptly (on this occasion) named Devil’s Peak. I felt like I was in the Devil’s cave. That familiar, dark place. I’d been here before, only this time it was pitch dark. Keep going.
As I ran around the Devil’s Peak contour, the city once again revealed itself. I actually let out a massive WOOOOOOOOHOOOOOO, and proceeded to run off course. Shit. I’d run (downhill) 600m in the wrong direction. It was at this exact point that I learned that the body (and mind) always have more. From struggling to move my legs, the adrenaline kicked in and I started running back, uphill! It felt effortless. I was floating. If I didn’t run, I wouldn’t make the 15 hour cut-off.
As I found my way onto the correct path, I saw a familiar face. KEV! Without a word, we knew the task at hand. 10km to go, less than an hour and a half to make cut-off. I ran that final 10km in absolute fear. Fear of failure. Fear I’d celebrated too early. What a fool.
Only when I turned the final corner onto the finishing field did the fear fade away. 14 hours and 38 minutes. I crossed the line, thanked Kev for the company and doubled over. I stayed like this for a minute or two. Time became irrelevant. I’d done it. Then came the tears. I’ve never been ashamed to admit I’m an emotional being. I wear my heart on my sleeve. Someone in the crowd thought I was retching, when in fact I was sobbing.
I sat down, pulled my phone out for the first time since I’d put it away on the start line, called my parents, and allowed tears of joy to stream down my face as I let them know their son was safely home.
I made it.
These incredible photo’s were taken by Andrew King.