Race Report: Ironman South Africa 2013

Build up to the race

I trained more for this Ironman than I have for any previous Ironman. Most weeks in the final block were between 17 and 21 hours of training with long rides of up to 205km, long runs of 30km and swims of 5+km. I was training to try to break the 10hr barrier however I had a few problems during this build.

A recurring problem with Sciatica meant that at some stages I couldn’t run and I did miss some of my core long runs due to pain and the fear of doing further damage.

I also had a few bouts of illness which interfered with training and generally left me feeling really tired. I mean really tired. So tired it was painful and my head was in a haze.

Results were as follows:

Overall Position Name Country Bib Number Age Group Overall Swim Bike Run
239 Graham Toms South Africa 719 M35-39 10:57:51 00:59:34 05:20:01 04:27:49

Race Summary

I was happy with my swim and transitions. The rest of the race left something to be desired. Given the amount of training I have done things should have gone better.

What went well

– My new Coral wetsuit was comfy and not as restrictive as my previous suit felt. I think this and the increased level of intensity in swim training let me cruise the swim at a better pace than previous races. The swim felt very comfortable.

– Racing off the start line meant there were fewer people at the first turnaround buoy which reduced the washing machine effect.

– Lap 2 of the bike felt fine, in fact after 120k on the bike I felt good. It would have been great to start the run then!

– Transitions were around the time expected (5 mins each) although I didn’t get help from volunteers.

What didn’t go so well

– Nutrition on the bike (see below)

– Pacing on the bike (see below)

– My legs felt terrible on the first lap of the bike. Everything was more effort than it should have been.

– My sciatica meant that my left leg was in a rather large amount of pain through the first lap of the bike with a numb, dull pain running all the way down the outside of the leg. I had experienced this in training and know it goes away after a couple of hours so I just dealt with it.

– The tape holding down my disc cover came loose on lap 2 and had to be removed.

– I sheared a bolt on my elbow pad on lap 2. I stopped at the beginning of lap 3 to try to fix this but couldn’t meaning I was out of balance for lap 3 and couldn’t rest on the bars as much as I should have been able to.

– Running off the bike was close to impossible. Everything felt terrible and the heat felt oppressive – although I’m not sure how hot it really was.

– Trying to use flat coke for nutrition didn’t work well. Coke make me feel nauseous and I had to tighten my waist  belt to keep the coke bottles from moving which put extra pressure on my stomach.

– I bonked on lap 1 of the run but mostly recovered after taking in a gel.

– My run pacing was all over the place. When I was running it was mostly at around the 5min/km pace which was the pace I trained at and therefore the pace I felt efficient at, however I kept having to walk which slowed down my overall pace. It’s hard to say whether this was just nutrition or whether I should do my long runs slightly slower. I will need to chat to Claire about this.

Swim Analysis

The swim went well. I started pretty much at the front of the group and sprinted into the water then pushed for the first bit of the swim. There was a bit of argy-bargy but not as bad as previous years although I could feel my heart rate going through the roof. I settled in after the first buoy and sighted off other swimmers. I do think I swam in a fairly straight line, there was some room for improvement but it was better than previous years. Leaving the swim I took it easy as I had jelly legs.

Bike Analysis

Bike Analysis Distance  Total Duration  Stopped Time  Moving Duration Speed Avg Power Normalised Power Variability Index Average HR 180k Pace
Lap 1 60 01:41:05 00:00:00 01:41:05 35.61 226 245 1.08 140 05:03:15
Lap 2 60 01:43:53 00:02:30 01:41:23 35.51 219 239 1.09 142 05:04:09
Lap 3 60 01:54:38 00:02:30 01:52:08 32.10 182 205 1.13 137 05:36:24
Total 180 05:19:36 00:05:00 05:14:36 34.33 208 231 1.11 139

On lap 1 I just wanted to ensure I was on pace but ended up being over pace.

On lap 2 I tapped off slightly as I knew I was on pace.

On lap 3 I tapped off further as I wanted to try to save my legs. My aerobars elbow pad had snapped at this point so I struggled to use the bars properly.

Clearly I went out too fast on the bike and slowed down over the course of the bike leg, although a lot of this slowing was caused by me realizing I didn’t need to go faster and the impact of not being comfortable on my broken aerobar. This, together with nutrition issues and a potential power meter over reading in training may have caused my problems (my IM pace training sessions were at about 250w and a variability index of 1.05 or thereabouts and felt comfortable).

Run Analysis

The plan was to run the first lap at just below 5min/k pace and then slow to around 5:10/k pace towards the end of the run. This lasted about 1km. I then had to switch to a run walk mode, running for 100steps then walking for 50. I kept this up most of the run, switching to a higher proportion of running for the final lap as I wanted to break 11hrs.

Throughout the run I felt quite uncomfortable and sometimes nauseous. I tried to use Coke for nutrition but this didn’t seem to give me the kick I needed so I switched to gels after bonking on Lap 1 (I knew I was bonking as I couldn’t count my steps anymore!). Once I switched to gels I felt a bit more energy but also felt quite bloated and generally not that well.

The final lap was a real push, although I worked with a couple of other athletes throughout the lap who were also aiming at 11hrs and eventually made it!


  Actual Guidelines Surplus / Deficit
Nutrition Description Calories CHO g Calories CHO g Calories CHO g
Swim Bottle 270 47 360 90 -90 -43
Bike Bottles / Perpetuem / Coke 1187 197 1980 495 -793 -298
Run Gels and Coke ??? ??? 1260 315 ??? ???

Lessons tom implement before Ironman Canada:

– Sort out bike pacing

– Do 20 minute FTP tests every Tuesday. Watch the upward trend 🙂

– Re-calibrate power meter before every ride.

– Less spinning more race pace riding (minimum 220w average per ride)

– Sort out nutrition

– Use the “never-bonk” formula as a basis.

– Use gels on the run.

– Top up on calories before the swim and straight after the swim.

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