“Paul Harker, you are an Ironman”

Initial musings. I didn’t really comprehend how much it takes to train for and race a full Ironman. In short - a lot. But it’s an experience like no other, one that tests you, breaks you, rebuilds you and, most of all, improves you. How can you do all of the incredible highs and painful lows justice in a few written words? You can’t… but I’ll try to give you a little flavour.
The journey. Ok, so let’s enter the Ironman African Championship. After 4 years of racing triathlons, and having done a few 70.3s already, it’s time. Some version of a swim (3.8kms in the ocean or maybe just 3.8 hours standing in the rain waiting for the rolling bike start), 180kms bouncing along the road on a bike and a marathon. How tough could it be?
Carve out half your salary for the race entry - check. Carve out half your salary for flights and accommodation - check. Carve out half your salary for food and nutrition - check. Three halves make a whole, right STeve?
Now for the hard part…
Train. Eat. Work. Eat. Train. Eat. Sleep. Repeat x 20. Reverse double brick - is Mike Redington letting Jack onto his Trainingpeaks? 
Race week. Monday - Friday: carefully manage increasing bundle of nerves while pretending to be useful at work. Make a list of your gear. Make a list of your nutrition. Make a list of your lists.
Fly to PE. Register. Rush to expo before all the good stuff is sold out - don’t look at the finisher’s memorabilia! Only actually buy socks. Smart. Friday dinner. Avoid AB pouring buckets of wine.
Saturday morning short run and swim to start. Why did that feel so hard? Take bike out for a spin… that’s better! Stay off feet. Eat early. Try to sleep. Not possible.  
3:30am alarm. Panic. Why did I decide to do this? Oh well, too late… it’s race morning!
The race. Canceled swim. Avoid cataclysmic Gordon meltdown. Pouring rain. Wind. Ideal. At least the forecast lightning and thunder has stayed away! Watch pros get rinsed in choppy swell. Begrudgingly acknowledge some rationale for the swim decision.
Rolling bike start. Cue a queue, standing in the rain - I think that could be a song. Think about what’s coming… freak out a bit… stop thinking about it. And we’re off! So many cyclists on the road. Ride around, through, under - just don’t draft. Pouring rain - can’t really see. Pass Gert - objective 1 achieved. Pass Roy - objective 2 achieved. This is going well. Remember to eat. Remember to drink. Remember to pedal. Lap one done - that wasn’t so bad! Realise I need to do the whole thing again… skid into Special Needs.
[2 hours later]: Please, please, let me off my bike!
T2 - finally! Let the shuffling begin! Run legs seem good, let’s push a bit. Wait, bad idea. Settle into a steady trot. Don’t look at all the km markers for all the km’s you still have left. Shout encouragement to all Embarkers - receive some back (not from Sergé though, remember to fine him later). Last lap! Cramp - really?! I’ll crawl if I have to… almost there! Can smell the red carpet…
“Paul Harker, you are an Ironman” - gentle fist pump, energy conservation mode fully engaged. Should I jump? Will likely tear everything. Settle for dazed look. What now? Do I really just stop?
Space blanket. Try to not collapse. I’m never doing that again… glass of wine… set reminder for opening of the 2023 entries.
Final thoughts. What an unforgettable journey! The shared suffering of the training bonds your training group into a family, which might just be the best part of the whole Ironman experience. All the challenges, suffering, pain, early mornings and (not quite) Strava PRs you share with the members of your training group is truly unique (who else can really appreciate what you’re putting yourself through) and the range of personalities will keep you smiling even when riding through 30 degree midday heat in the Joostenberg vlakte battling sadistic cross winds! A shout out to the incredible bunch of human beings who collectively refer to themselves as the Masochists - you are, each of you, incredibly special people!

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