Having been bitten by the Ironman bug it’s wasn’t long before we had signed up for another Ironman. Realizing we needed time for our bodies to recover, not just from the race but also from the intense training we had endured leading up to the race, we chose a race 14 months away.

The goal was now Ironman Malaysia, 27 February 2010. Still being pretty naïve triathletes, we did not research the location, race routes and profiles, temperature, past reports, we were Ironmen and having achieved fairly good results we could conquer anything! Little did I realize how much this notion was going to be my downfall.

The training was intense, our coach almost doubled the training. Bike rides moved from 120km to 130 – 150km and then a 12km -16km run off the bike. We were training in mid Summer in Dubai and we were suffering. The shine and memories of those magical words “Julie, you are an Ironman” started to fade and it was a mental struggle to keep going. Thankfully we joined in sessions with other Dubai Triathletes. We lived from one training session to another. Friends who did not train with us saw less and less of us. Family members thought we looked gaunt and thin, we were lean triathlete machines. Going out was not an option, as we needed the sleep in order to get up in the morning to face another run, bike or swim. We lived in a bubble, but thought it would all be worth while; we were going to go to Malaysia a lot fitter and more experienced, so we should nail this one.

In June 2009 we had a break in training to climb Kilimanjaro. A well earned rest at this stage of the training!

Everything went according to plan, we arrived in Malaysia in peak condition. And then things slowly began to unravel……

It was unbelievably hot and humid, a small car accident the day before had us waiting around in the midday heat with no water.

Race day arrived, the water in the harbor was warm so no chance of a wetsuit. The swim was very slow, but I got out of the water feeling good, jumped onto the bike and raced off. I had 2 water bottles on my bike and salt tablets. I had never taken salt tablets before and this was to my downfall. I also had gone out on the bike a lot faster than I was used to, rookie mistake number 2. I paid no heed to the amount of fluid I was taking on board, mistake number 3. Unfortunately the water had run out at the water stations by the time I had reached the 70km mark, which meant I had no water for the next 110km’s. The combination of my mistakes and lack of water meant that when I got off the bike I was in trouble. The signs were all there; I could hardly walk, let alone run. I put on my running shoes and staggered out of the transition. I managed to get myself to 20km before the nausea and lightheadedness prevented me from moving forward. I sat down at the nearest aid station and they called for an ambulance. The next few hours were pretty scary, but I was finally released from the hospital and allowed to return to the hotel with Noel and my misery. A DNF (did not finish) is every athlete’s worst nightmare.

Over the next couple of days I did not want to accept responsibility for the mistakes I had made, it was obvious to everyone else but me! As the weeks passed I was forced to re-evaluate my race and assess the choices I had made pre and during the race. Some of my choices were due to my naivety and the notion that I was infallible; the others were quite simply bad decisions.
Thankfully I had the support of Noel, who never rubbed in my mistakes. The DNF was enough! My belief in my abilities took a huge knock and this time round, I had the ironman blues, no medal or “Julie, you are an Ironman” to help me through. I needed something to boost my moral and help me get some self-confidence back. Luckily we had entered one of the greatest Ultra Marathons, in South Africa, the Comrades Marathon, to be held on 31 May 2010. It was time to pick myself up, brush myself off and get training. A 90km road race on some pretty big hills was going to take some serious focus. Hatta Hills are the best training ground and over the next few months we spent every weekend pounding the hills. The bad memories were fading. The Comrades experience is one of the most amazing feelings. The camaraderie amongst the runners, the beautiful countryside, the abundance of refreshment stations and the amazing crowd support makes this a very special race. Noel chose to give up his race and run with me, I think he was still a bit worried about my state of mind. To be honest there were a few flashes of DNF before the race! Race day arrived and it was as amazing as I had anticipated. We finished in 9 hours 23 min and felt terrific.

Confidence duly restored it was back to the drawing board.

One of the reasons we really enjoy competing in the Ironman races is that it provides us with amazing opportunities to visit different parts of the world, so one of the criteria for choosing the next event is to find a new destination. Ironman China caught my eye, after a bit of research on the route and conditions correcting the mistakes made in Malaysia it seemed like a good choice. The race was schedule for the end of May 2011. Training went well, however 2 weeks before the race it was sadly cancelled and we were given a few options to transfer our entry to another race. We decided on South Korea, where the race was to be held on the island of Jeju. It was paradise. Although I did not have a very good run on the day, I did enjoy the swim and the bike. I had finally got the monkey off my back and had the biggest grin on my face as I heard “Julie, you are an Ironman” for the second time!

In 2012 we entered Ironman New Zealand, but due to a weather bomb, the race was cancelled the day before. Are we jinxed or what! We heard the announcement on television, as we relaxed in our hotel room. We were told to collect our bikes in case they were damaged when the storm hit. We were very disappointed however, fortunately the organizers managed to change the event to a 70.3 (Half Ironman) for the following day.

Over the next few months we decided that the 70.3 Ironman distance made a lot more sense to us. (much to your friends relief! ) The training still remains pretty much the same during the week, but the weekends are not as intense as the cycle distance is only 90km and the run 21.1km. We began looking for 70.3 races and because the races are not as long, the recovery is quicker we find we are able to do more races in a year.

In 2013 we competed in four 70.3 races. The highlight was the 70.3 in Japan. It was a long journey to get to Tokename City, but we raced well and both Noel and I qualified for 70.3 Ironman World Championships in Las Vegas. The 70.3 World Championships are held at a different venue each year and in order to take part you have to qualify at one of the Ironman races. The allocation of slots is per category and as I am in a fairly small category there is only one slot per race. Taking part in the World Championships is the pinnacle of our sporting career. I see myself as an average triathlete in my age category and to race against the best in the world is a brilliant experience.

In 2014 we were privileged, to qualify once again for the World Championships in Mont Tremblant, Canada at the 70.3 Ironman in Luxembourg, in June 2014.

After a 2 year break from the full distance Ironman we decided that in 2015 we would head to our home country, South Africa, to do the Ironman in Port Elizabeth. It is not called the Windy City for nothing. And on race day it was true to form, the beastly eastly blew a gale. We both agreed after the race that we definitely preferred the half distance.

We headed from Ironman South Africa straight to the Boston marathon 2 weeks later. That was one of the most emotional experiences I have encountered. It was the year after the bombings and the streets were lined with supporters. The motto `Boston Strong` was alive!

Back in Dubai we needed find another race. We had still not qualified in for the 70.3 World Champs to be held in the beautiful town of Zell am Zee, Austria. Forgetting my problem with hot and humid conditions we signed up for 70.3 Cebu, in the Philippines. The venue was amazing; I was the first out the water in my age category and set off on the bike. With the rough roads I lost both my water and my rehydration bottles. Making a bad decision not to stop and pick it up, by the time I finished the bike I was in trouble. I was still first in my category, but in a bad way, I could not get the legs to move. I sat in the transition area and gathered my thoughts. I drank some water and swallowed a gel. Time to get going, I was not going to DNF again! It was the longest 21.1km of my life. I have run faster with shin splints and a broken toe! Walking that distance takes a long time. Finally I arrived at the finish line and was taken straight to medical tent to be monitored. I was nauseas and light headed, but I was not a DNF.

After an hour I was okay to try and find Noel and collect our bikes and transition bags. We wandered over to watch the prize giving and we were very happy to get a podium finish. My decision to keep going was rewarded. And the biggest surprise was that we both qualified for Zell am Zee.

Having qualified for three 70.3 World Championships in a row, Noel and I thought we may take a break in 2016. We have our son’s wedding in Costa Rica in July and a few other commitments. But then we entered Dubai 70.3, and oh no we both qualified 

Our lives are all about the choices we make. Our choices have consequences; some good and some not so good.

Triathlon and running are some of our life style choices. We like to keep fit and healthy. We have realized that we have to make some compromises and it is important to balance all the different parts of our lives. Choosing to focus on the 70.3 Ironman events, for now, makes sense for us. Triathlon to the exclusion of all else is not an option, but I am not writing off another full distance ironman, the magic may fade but the spark never dies, it just needs a slight nudge or a suggestion to fuel the fire.

So the focus now is 70.3 Ironman World champs in Mooloolaba, Australia on 4 September 2016. We have a two week holiday to rest the body and mind in March and then it’s back into training. We have one race in South Africa, Durban 70.3 in June, to keep us race ready and focused.


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