The time has come when the training is over, but the event is yet to start. The lull before the storm. The waiting, wondering what is going to happen …
The journey to South Africa was a smooth one, made all the better by a coffee and a catch up with our friends Keith and Claire at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, before a swift transfer on to Port Elizabeth. The friendly service we received from everyone at South African Airlines was exemplified by one of the porters at Joburg, who was happy to pose with my bike box and promise to guard it with his life. All very tongue in cheek, but the sort of lively and engaging service you couldn’t imagine receiving at Heathrow.
Flying in to PE was magnificent, approaching low over Summerstrand and the Ironman swim / bike / run route, though the strong wind made the landing interesting and started the butterflies in my stomach. Driving to our guesthouse along Marine Drive, the gusting winds were making the palm trees sway, and the sea was rough and choppy.
Not the kind of weather you’d want to swim or cycle in. But still eight days to go to the off, with plenty of time for things to change.
As you might have read elsewhere on this blog, we lived here in PE for six months in 2012, and arriving here on Saturday really did feel like coming home. There isn’t an Ironman anywhere else in the world I’d want to choose to be my first than this one.
With the clock starting to tick down to Sunday, so the mind games have also begun. I’ve had advice from plenty of people, the best of which is probably from 11-time Ironman Richard, a top gent who kindly lent me his bike box. “When you get there, there’ll be loads of theories, opinions and hype”, he opined, “but best ignore it and focus on yourself.” Sage advice from a man who’s been there and done it already.
That said, I’m hearing tales about how people have had to be “fished out of the sea” in previous years because they couldn’t cope with the choppy conditions brought on from the easterly wind (better hope we don’t get that this year), a painful reminder that I shouldn’t have given up on bilateral breathing training as early as I did. The wind has dropped and sea conditions are calmer today, but the sea swim has started to play on my mind.
Then there’s the ‘expert’ Ironmen who are increasingly everywhere to be seen. Finely honed, sinewy, tanned guys who have all the right equipment wearing all the right clothes, striding around confidently like every one of them is going to win. Stories, stories, stories of course – just my mind trying to trick me into submission before I’ve begun. A fact brought home to me nicely on the beach today when one of those finely honed, sinewy, tanned guys put his wetsuit on back-to-front, but hoped no one had seen him. We’re all in this together.
I’ve rebuilt my bike and am taking it in for a service tomorrow, after which point I should have all my kit in order for a dress rehearsal of sorts as the week progresses.
Getting in the water is a must. If I fail this challenge I suspect it will be because of one of two things: I can’t manage the sea swim; or I can’t cycle quickly enough to beat the cut-off. For now, there’s still something I can do to help me avoid the former.