Ironman South Africa 2013 - An Experience of a Lifetime!

Words: Janine de Gouveia ǀ Photos: Dale Bannantyne & Danielle de Gouveia

It's 7 a.m. on Saturday, 14 April 2013, and the start of what I imagined would be one of my toughest challenges yet! I stood on the beach anxious, yet excited as I had no idea of what to expect or what this day would hold. All I knew was that I had put in the hours, planned everything perfectly, made it to the start line and now it was time to enjoy the race.



Ironman South Africa became a reality for me in August last year when I took a bold (some may call it crazy) leap and pressed the enter button. From that day, I changed my lifestyle and it became all about the swim – bike – run! And as the months became less, I began to prepare more and more for the big day.


Ironman SA is not your average one-day event. It is a journey that has ups and downs, highs and lows. It is incredible. It is about entering into a world of open-minded, enthusiastic, great people. In fact, it's the people I met along the way that made this race so memorable for me. I was also very fortunate to have two dynamic friends, Dale and Gary, who entered the race with me and without their help, guidance and support, training would have been less bearable.


The race has a 17-hour time limit, but it is the six months before that defines who you are, how strong your mind will be and how you deal with the hiccups along the way. I had never swum 3.8 km, nor had I cycled 180 km or run a 42.2 km - but there's a first time for everything.


Port Elizabeth was transformed that weekend, with a number of events taking place. On the Friday night, we watched a friend, Sarah, do the Iron Girl, a 10 km run that kicked off the Ironman weekend. Now into its third year, this women’s-only event has become an annual fixture amongst the ladies and looked like great fun! The race briefing also took place that night and the vibe was amazing.


On the Saturday, Dale, Gary and myself, as well as my phenomenal support team (my mom, sister and good friend Sarah), headed to the beach for a pre-wetsuit swim. The water was a lovely temperature and helped to soothe raw nerves. At 3 p.m., it felt like I was handing my life over as I gave in my bike and athletic possessions, knowing that when I saw them again, it would be the big day.


I had a great night’s sleep and woke up on race day feeling positive. After an early breakfast, we made our way to the start, where I topped up my transition bags with nutrition and gave my tyres a last pump. Trading my warm clothes for a wetsuit, things started to feel very real. I waved goodbye to my support team and teammates, and headed to the water feeling inspired. I was inspired by the commitment and dedication I had put into my training and nutrition. I was inspired by athletes like Kevin Garwood, who was attempting to do the Ironman with his CP child Nicholas, as well as athletes like Hein Wagner and his partner Alwyn de Kock, who have one good eye between them.


I sang the national anthem with pride, said my last prayers and put a smile back on my face. "I train my mind, so my body will follow," were the words going through my mind as the cannon went off and about 1,750 athletes entered the water. It was the most athletes I'd ever swum with and I felt like a duck amongst seals. The first 400 m were tough and getting to the first buoy was a nightmare. As I got through my first lap I looked at my watch; 36:19 and I felt good. Returning to the water, I found the second lap to be a lot more enjoyable and was soon in a good rhythm. As I approached the last 800 m of the swim, I looked at the packed pier and could hear the announcers and crowd screaming. I had completed the first leg of the Ironman - a 3.8 km swim in a time of 01:16:59.


I headed into the transition beaming and began the transformation into my cycling gear, ready for the bike. As always, the volunteers were incredible and helped all the way. Cycling along the Marine Parade, I felt like a celebrity as I waved to the crowds that lined the road. Cycling has always been my strongest discipline and as I started the first of three 60 km loops, I couldn’t have asked for better conditions!


The first 10km included a gradual climb, but we had help from the wind as it pushed us up the hill.



The next stretch was along the highway before turning onto the coastal road. The wind blew lightly and the views took my breath away. Having such incredible water points made keeping hydrated and eating properly on the bike very easy. Heading back along the beach was sensational; the crowds roared just as hard for the amateurs as they did for the pros, and the music pumped me up. The second lap was great and I got into a good rhythm, enjoying the beautiful scenery and gentle breeze. Every time I passed a 'marker', I said to myself that would be the last time I saw it and this helped to keep me motivated. The route seemed quieter and there weren’t as many people coming past. After 170 km I was in my element and went all out for the last ten. I arrived at transition after 6 hours and 32 minutes on the bike, a total of 8 hours and 1 minute since the start of the race.


The running leg was the tough part for me and I knew shooting out of transition would not help. So I topped up on my 32Gi, put on my running shoes and hat and set off on the long road home.


It was about 3 p.m. and had cooled down nicely. The route consisted of three loops of 14 km each. The run was slow and hard, and my body ached everywhere. I only had one resource left – my mind. After battling through the first 16 km, I decided to give myself a pep talk, as I needed to focus and get my head strong.


I ran past Dale and Gary, who were going in the opposite direction and moving well. It had been a lonely day for me, even though I had great conversations with strangers, and I was so jealous that they were running together. I kept moving forward, using friends, water points and anything else I could find as a marker to count down the kilometres. The sun had begun to set and the sky turned salmon pink as I collected my white band in the dark, the last of the three. Even though I still had four hours to go, I knew I was going to break 14 hours and earn myself the title of Ironman.


I got goosebumps from the support of the crowd, family, friends and volunteers, as well as the other athletes as I finished my last loop. I’m not sure where my energy came from, but I ran the last 4 km without stopping. The crowds kept me going and as I drew closer, I heard the announcer welcoming the athletes home and I could barely contain the joy within me.


I crossed the finish line in 13 hours and 50 minutes! As the announcer called my name, I couldn’t believe it. “Janine de Gouveia - you are an IRONMAN.” I had achieved my goal. My hard work, sacrifices and dedication had paid off. I cried at the finish line – tears of exhaustion and joy! Gary and Dale had done tremendously and finished in 12 hours and 30 minutes.


I'd had a perfect race; I had no injury or pain, no technical difficulties or malfunctions. I had smiled and enjoyed every minute. I respected the race from start to finish, knowing it would be a challenge. I had tested my mind and body to its maximum and come out on tops. Ironman is a real thing. It requires physical and mental strength that come from the hours of commitment.


As I lay on the grass with my medal around my neck, I took a moment to appreciate the day. The organisation of Ironman left me speechless, as did the inspiring athletes who competed. I read messages from friends, family and loved ones that humbled me. I remembered athletes less fortunate than me and unable to participate in events like these. I thought about the amazing athletes who shared the day with me, each one of them with their own story, their own personal goal.


One pull in the swim, one push on the bike and one step on the run got me to the finish line. I'll never forget 14 April 2013 – a tough day, but the day I became an IRONMAN!


Related articles:

Ironman Inspiration (Issue 3, p. 100)
The Ironman (Issue 1, p. 48)



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