An unforgettable road to IRONMAN 70.3 by Leozette Roode

Laughing… crying… with hands fist-pumping the sky as I cross my first 70.3 Ironman finish line with a sub-5 hour time. This is not the picture I imagined when I joined the Embark Triathlon Squad just a little over a year ago. With my pavement-special bicycle I rocked up at training, thinking I’ll add just some diversity to my running regime. The fun and friendly fitness aspect of Embark is what lured me in, and it is honestly what has made this journey such an incredible one.

I had virtually no cycling and swimming experience when I joined the Embark Triathlon Squad in early 2021. On every cycle with the group, something went wrong - either I jumped out of my chain, rode with my brakes clinched on tight, or I struggled with a puncture and felt very behind. But the disasters just added to the laughs I had with some of the other newbies who had started around the same time (like Meagan, Jess, Katherine, Crystal, Andrew, LeeAnne), besides the ever helpful coach STeve , there was always someone volunteering to help me when I needed, like Leigh who introduced me to Embark in the first place, Hanni who helped me when my first ever sea swim got a little scary, and Donovan who bore witness to the scars of my first attempt using cleats.
On my third ever cycle to Chappies, and just as I thought I’m getting the hang of cleats, I waved at a teammate (hi Jannie) and hit the parking lot pavement, fell off my bike and broke my arm. But a little fracture couldn’t keep me down. The tri-bug bit me and Embark FOMO is real, so at the first opportunity coach STeve presented an indoor group cycle session at the Rollercade park, I joined in with broken arm in a sling and all.

Come 2022 and 70.3 Ironman Nelson Mandela Bay is announced and with a little persuasion from friends, I entered with the aim just to finish and have fun. To avoid complete agony during the race, I decided to train a little more consistently and push a bit harder at every session. I never missed Monday indoor rides, Tuesday track sessions, our weekly canal swims and the long ride and run over weekends. I gave strength and hill sessions a naughty skip - sorry coach. Slowly I started seeing progress: first it was faster Suikerbossie segments on Strava, then two Cape Town Cycle Tours, followed by a 5km PB during time trial, and finally a 10km PB just before race day. Another big win was buying a brand new Bianchi bike with a special deposit from my ouma and oupa who recently passed (thanks Henrico for helping me find her!). I named her Bella and decided that her and I would make magic at Ironman.
So, the big race weekend arrived and the vibe meeting up in Gqeberha with all the Embarkies doing half and full is incredible. We registered and held each other’s IM gear as we signed off our names on the participant walls, we compared the kit we bought at the expo, got very excited when we saw our names on the official race T-shirt, and of course we took group selfies at every given opportunity. As a team, we did a final test run, cycle and swim to familiarise ourselves with the route, which meant the world to us newbies.

Our spirits were high when we turned off the lights and laid our heads down for a final night’s rest, but little did we know what awaits. We woke up with the worst weather conditions imaginable for a race - waves so high, they had to cancel the swim, and rain coming down in buckets. I was terribly disappointed that my first IM had to start this way, but there was no way a storm was getting me down on race day - and we were all in it together. We got on our bikes absolutely soaked and paddled through the puddles. From the moment I clipped my cleats in, I couldn’t stop smiling. I knew I had my mom, dad, best friend and a few Embarkies who weren’t racing out on the route waiting to cheer me on as I rode and run my heart out. I got down on those tribars (which I only starting training with two weeks before the race - thanks Don for insisting I use them and to Abdul for lending me his set) and moved my little legs as fast as they could go. Despite the stormy conditions, I was flying on the bike and completed the 90km ride in 3 hours 8 minutes - which is super fast for me! No falls, no slips, no punctures. The weather had cleared up during the ride, and the sun even came out by the time I started the the half marathon - which I was so excited about since running is my favourite and strongest out of the three legs. I told myself to stick to the plan and run 5:40mins per km for the first half and if I feel up to it, do 5:30 or 5:20 mins per km for the second half.
But I felt strong, super strong, and ran an average of 5:03mins per km for the whole race. I even passed coach STeve with 6km left on the run and almost got my half marathon PB, with 2 minutes to spare! My legs were incredibly sore, but I was so very happy and proud and wanted to see it through till the end. Finally, I turned that last corner onto the red carpet laid out in front of me and as I heard my name being called by the announcer, I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my cheeks and over my massive grin. I finished the run in 1 hour 46 minutes, and completed 70.3 Ironman (sans swim) in 4hours 58 minutes. I can’t describe the ecstasy you feel when you cross that finish line, knowing that you gave it your all. I loved every bit of my 2/3rds of a half Ironman, especially the journey leading up to it with the support from the red & black Embark army. I can’t wait to do it all over again!

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