So it’s the start of 2018 and it’s been 3.5 years since I did my first triathlon. It’s also 2 weeks away from my biggest sporting challenge yet. On 28 January 2018, I will line up at Orient Beach in East London for the start of the Ironman 70.3 triathlon, otherwise also known as the Half Ironman. It involves a 1.9km swim, a 90km cycle, and a 21km run.
I’ve always said that endurance sport changes one. The person that starts their first marathon is not the same person that finishes it for example. What you go through when you complete such a tough physical challenge changes you, because you have to dig so deep within yourself that you cannot help but transform. And this was so true for me when I started tri-ing. This post that I wrote in 2014 outlines the journey that I went through before stepping into Fisantekraal Dam, and while at the start of the race I didn’t even know if I will survive the swim because 6 months before I literally couldn’t swim a single stroke, after finishing it… even though I was the slowest finisher in the entire race, thoughts of one day doing a half-Ironman started trickling into my head. #roggiethetriathlete was born.
I joined ATC Multisport in 2014, after myself and my friend Jacques researched clubs that would suit our needs. It just so happens that we couldn’t have chosen a better club. ATC is by far the best triathlon club around. I also went for some swim coaching, which helped tremendously, and I worked by butt off on improving my swim. I started going to canal swims regularly to get the open water practice too.
I faced another challenge early on, in that I was a muslim female that chooses to wear hijab. And finding gear that was suitable, comfortable and functional to race in was a problem. I also still wanted to wear the branded club gear, and wanted to find a way that I could work around what was available. I searched, but couldn’t find anyone whom I could emulate in this regard. There wasn’t a trail, so I had no other choice but to blaze my own. I eventually figured out a solution that works for me, and a Media24 women’s lifestyle tabloid – Modest Muse – took note. They published an article that covers a lot of it in one of their editions during 2016, and the article can be seen here.
Being with ATC meant that I was also exposed to Embark, the professional group coaching wing of the club. While I wasn’t part of Embark (yet), seeing athletes move through and go on to complete various Ironman races was an eye-opener and inspiration. But I was still too afraid to take that step. The main reason was that, although I was fine with running, and now feeling comfortable in the water in the swim (but still slow), I was scared sh!tless of the cycle leg. The East London cycle leg is graded as the 2nd toughest half-Ironman bike course in the world. The first half is pretty much only climbing, with a total elevation of 1,177m across the 90km. Being on a bike was torture for me because I had no cycling skills, and being slow meant the cut-off time of just over 4hrs to cycle 90km was a mammoth ask. But during mid-2017 I decided that I had procrastinated enough. I knew what this journey to Ironman 70.3 was going to ask of me, and I was finally ready to EMBARK on it. #roggiesroadto703 had begun!
And what a journey it has been. I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by the most amazing, supportive people…not all of whom have even been directly involved with my training. The training programme has taken over my entire life, because it has demanded 15 – 18 hours of training every week for the past 6 months. Thank goodness we have a napping pod at the office, because that thing has been a lifesaver!
For the weekday sessions I often train on my own because of my schedule and commuting or work traveling. While I try to do the weekend sessions with the group, I’ve sometimes had to do them on my own as well due to scheduling issues. I did a solo 100km ride one Saturday because I had to travel to Jhb for work on the Sunday and would not be able to do the race the others did. We’ve done some build-up triathlons and those were so much fun, although somehow we always seemed to have the most difficult courses and super hot conditions. Just being able to hang out with the Embark team made them amazing experiences.
With regards to those brick sessions…when you’ve just finished a super tough 90km cycle followed immediately by a 16km run (quite possibly the hardest run of my life), it helps to offload with someone that’s been through the same over a drink at Vida. We spend so much time together that we are pretty much family now. The coaches – Pat (our Southern Suburbs 70.3 coach) as well as STeve and Gareth – are all the ideal mix of scary, strict, and supportive. The athletes – Amanda, Amy, Andrew, Carmen, Christoff, Dani, Gary, Jess, Kate, Kyle, Kyle, Linda, Nicolas, Robin, Ryan – I could not have done this without all of you. Much love! I have so much respect for the athletes that you are and for the support that everyone gives each other. We make a really amazing team, one that I am honoured to be a part of.
My cycling journey has been the most tumultuous.
I expected it to be that way, but I didn’t expect the transformation that came. On my first ride, I didn’t even know the proper gear to be in, and I carried so much tension in my body that after even a short ride my shoulders were excruciatingly sore. My shoulders were once sore for an entire week after a long ride. I hated downhills because I was terrified of losing my balance at speed and falling, and so I did them even slower than the flats. I held on to my brakes for dear life for the entire downhill section so much that my forearms were sore. I also had to stop the bike to drink because I couldn’t take my hands off the handlebars while the bike was moving.
I’ve had rides that went so well that they gave me a tremendous confidence boost, and I’ve had ones that were so torturous that I doubted whether I will ever be ready in time. We’ve cycled in every condition imaginable (except stormy rain because that would be too dangerous). We’ve done heat, wind, cold, rain…we’ve done it all.
On one ride Coach Pat showed me how to ride rolling hills. They are the bank account of cycling, where – just as in life – you can make withdrawals during the tough sections as long as you’ve made deposits during the easier times. It’s a skill I’ve been practising since then whenever the opportunity arises. The first time we cycled The Glen I swore if I never did it again it would be too soon. It’s a short section of constant climbing at 5% gradient from Clifton (sea level) to the top of Kloof Nek (pretty much a mountain). But I have done it a few times since and I’ve embraced it as the secret weapon in your arsenal of sharpening hill climbing skills. It’s amazing how what once felt super hard feels easy after doing that.
I’ve also had another stroke of luck in a person that started at our company in August who is a keen cyclist, actually more of a MTB’er. We have since become very good friends and he’s helped me so much with my cycling. He taught me how to ride on my drops to be more aerodynamic, told me what to focus on in my pedal stroke to be more efficient, convinced me to race with only the bare essentials in my saddle bag, gave me all sorts of little tips, and taught me a trick of how to get my bottle out of the cage and drink without losing balance on the bike (a skill that I seriously never thought I would have before race day). The stern talking to I got early on about how I need to just stop complaining, that I have no reason to be slow and I just need to be fast, was shocking at the time but it was just what I needed to change focus. Thanks for being cruel to be kind to me Wickaum!
My friends, family, and work colleagues (some of which are also friends) have been so supportive. To anyone reading this that has ever asked about how my training is going, or lent an ear when I need to talk about it (which was pretty much always, LOL), or shared a training session with me…I really appreciate you putting up with me for the past 6 months. Thanks a million. And to everyone who’s given me tips and allowed me to leverage your experience of the race, thank you so much. I could never have done this on my own steam…it takes a village.
A good friend that I spoke to when I had doubts shortly after a particularly tough session told me that I should remember that the program is designed for me to peak on race day and not before. I guess I knew that, but it took someone to remind me, and it actually made me think about it every time I doubted myself after that. And that bears true right now because I now feel ready. Just a week ago, it was as if everything suddenly came together and it ALL fell into place. My cycling has taken a quantum leap in what seems like a matter of only days, and I now am a much stronger hill climber, I’m not as afraid of the downhills, my pedal stroke is more efficient, I’m faster and more comfortable on the bike, even when I have to navigate a bit of traffic. I’m still not as fast as most of the athletes in my group, but that was never the aim so it’s not an issue.
I am so excited for race day. I simply cannot wait. Let’s tame that buffalo, it’s not going to know what hit it!
The easiest way to track me on race day is to download the IronmanTRACK app. You can download it now, but athletes will only be loaded shortly before race day. You’ll get notifications about when I (or any athletes you’re tracking) cross the various timing mats on the course.
PS: I’m not going to elaborate on this, but I am putting it out there that this is not the longest race I plan to do 😉