Ironman 70.3 Rwanda - an unexpected dream, by Leo Roode

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’ll fly to the middle of Africa to complete in one of the most beautiful but challenging half Ironman races, representing Embark, South Africa with my best friend, podiuming and qualifying for world champs. It was the most spontaneous and incredible adventure I’ve had the privilege to experience to date.


Thank you IRONMAN Rwanda for providing us athletes with another beautiful race, and massive kudos to the IRONMAN South Africa team for the organising and managing impeccable logistics in a different country. All the gratitude to Simon from Global Event Africa and ultimately the raddest coach Steve for this incredible “date”, and for the encouragement, motivation and last-minute training tips. Not to mention Becs and Gert for making the best team to share this race with! Finally, thank you mom and dad for helping to make this unexpected dream a reality and for all the love and joy you shared with me during this trip.

Ironman Rwanda is most definitely a bucket-list item for any triathlete. Next year’s event is on 4 Aug 2024, I suggest you add it to your calendar!

A description of the course follows in the captions…

The swim: Lake Kivu was a lovely 23 degrees warm, and as flat as we could possibly want it. I’m not the most enthusiastic swimmer, but I actually excited for this one. However, the altitude on Rwanda was over 1500 which made it extremely difficult for us South Africans to breathe. Also, it is a fresh water lake which means less buoyancy - my bum sank like a ship. Luckily coach Steve warned us and suggested we don’t panic and breaststroke or backstroke if we need to. For the first 400meters, I absolutely had to! Thereafter I got I to a nice (slow) rhythm and just enjoyed swimming in the warm, clear water.

The bike: 4x breathtaking loops around the lake, through small villages and over banana-plantation hills… 12 hills within each loop to be exact! Although there were a lot of hills, they weren’t ridiculously long - just steep. I counted my lucky stars for being a good climber! The decents are super fast and winding, so I sat on my breaks a lot. But if you’re confident on the downhills, you’ll have a jol. There was also so much local support from community members, chanting something in Kinyarwanda to cheer us on.

The run: I’ve done a lot of half marathons in my life, but nothing compares to the challenge presented during this race. After that insanely hilly ride, we had to run 3 loops of max 1568 elevation gain on extremely tired legs. I was expecting rolling hills, but I was wrong. There is one hill - and it went up and up and up and up… Luckily running is my strongest discipline and I have been training for Knysna, Gun Run and Cape Town Marathon, so I still managed a sub-2 hour run.


Crossing the finish line was incredibly heartfelt. Once you emerge from underneath that big IRONMAN banner, there were mamas embracing you from all sides. The local volunteers would not leave your side until you were seated in the race village with your medal, t-shirt and post-race meal.

The gala dinner vibe was the out of this world, the biggest spread of delicious local cuisine, Rwandan dancers, bon fires on the beach, and of course, four Embark podium wins!

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