Ironman is inherently painful. Race pain is hard to replicate in training, so it is easy to forget just how much it hurts, yet I have the same thought on every long distance race I do – about halfway through the bike.
“I had forgotten how painful this is.”
How the human body can forget pain so readily is a mystery to me. Literally a few hours after finishing a race I am wondering if I could have gone harder/faster/longer – and when I can start training for the next one.
All athletes get these emotions, the “never again” phenomenon is very common. However most forget the pain quickly and sign up for more punishment. Ironman South Africa was my 8th Iron-distance race – proof that I just can’t stop going back for more. This time I was racing in the professional ranks and that brought a completely new dimension.
The mental battles we have with pain during races intrigue me. Chris McCormack said in his book that he welcomes the pain, gives it a name, and thinks of it as an old friend. I have a slightly different strategy.
I do have “devils” who come along for the ride during races and training, but I am well versed in dealing with them. The “You don’t have to finish” devil, and the “You can slow down” devil make such regular appearances in training that mostly I just laugh at them.
Instead – in an Ironman race my battle is with the “pain-override switch”. That battle can start at any time during a race – and I just have to hope that it is a good way into the run. It is the point where you have to make a decision about how much you want to finish; how hard you want to push; how much suffering you are willing to absorb.
During an Ironman race the central nervous system gets so fatigued that it can be overwhelming. Our instinctive protection mechanism sends powerful signals to stop. The brain tries to protect us from permanent physical damage long before it occurs. Overriding those mental signals is not easy and can be virtually impossible if you are not motivated and prepared. So it takes a certain kind of person to compete in long distance triathlon – those without access to the override switch don’t get a look in.
Ironman SA was special for so many reasons. I was fitter, stronger and more used to the pain, but I was also motivated in other ways which helped with the override.
Ironman 4 the Kidz is a fabulous charity which helps children in need in South Africa, many of whom would be on the streets without the charity’s support. I am lucky to be supporting the charity this year, raising funds and awareness. I could write here about the work they do for the children who are most in need in SA – but it is put in far better words on their website. What the website doesn’t say is how difficult the fundraising is and how much pressure the small charity team are under.
I managed to spend time with some of the children while I was in Port Elizabeth. I also met some of the amazing, selfless people who freely give hours of their own time and effort, determined to maximise fundraising and to give these children a better life. I played a small part in this year’s fundraising efforts, but for this I was rewarded with a warm South African welcome from the community in Port Elizabeth, from the wonderful family I stayed with, and from the fabulous IM4TKidz team.
I was truly touched by the spirit and ethos of the charity and I will be continuing to help them in the future. Every donated rand goes straight to the beneficiaries, and has a direct impact on those who need it most. The IM4TKidz team make it possible without complaint, year-on-year, tirelessly striving to be better and raise more money. I was shocked to learn that this was the first year any professional athlete has helped them with fundraising. Till Schramm (fellow PRO) was also involved this year and I hope in the future other professionals will see that at IMSA, aside from fundraising, they have a platform to help provide publicity and awareness for this local charity. Re-tweets cost nothing.
Distraction is crucial during Ironman events, especially on the run. That is why athletes particularly like well supported races. The marathon route in Port Elizabeth was just bursting with spectators who exuded the South African energy. Running through the crowds, seeing the children from IM4TKidz, and hearing their cheers was fantastic motivation. I was able focus on reasons other than my own for finishing the race strongly.
Racing as a professional was a big step up for me; a step right outside my comfort zone. At times during race week I was asking myself why I was there and what I was doing lining up with such incredible athletes. Being surrounded by the positivity of the IM4TKidz team, and the attitudes of the children they help left little room to be self-absorbed. I was just humbled by the support and generosity of the team and all the locals I befriended during race week. On race day I wanted to make them all proud and perhaps even try to inspire some of the kids in the same way they inspired me.
I hope I did.
But I do know this – I learnt a great deal from the race, the professional experience is so different from the age group one.
Now –pain a distant memory- where do I sign up for number 9?
Watching the race unfold ahead of me was hugely gratifying as the GB girls took all three podium spots. Their utter commitment was etched on each of their faces when I saw them on the run course. I came away from SA with renewed passion for a sport I already loved.
Thank you to my sponsors and supporters for making this all possible and for their kind donations to Ironman 4 the Kidz:
I was lucky to have the most amazing homestay in PE with the Daniels family. Their generosity and hospitality was five star and I cannot thank them enough for welcoming me into their family for the week. Making such great new friends was an unexpected bonus on what was a really memorable trip.
Here is the: Ironman 4 the Kidz thank you letter