Words: Andre Bekker, Coach | Photo: Finisherpix & Julie Bekker
Backdrop to race rankings - I have been first twice this year in my age category (50 - 54) the 70.3 IRONMAN (half IRONMAN distance) and to secure a number one ranking you have to be first three times. Should someone win the 70.3 World Champs and two other races, they would then be ranked number one. However, few people race that much to achieve this. So the question was, "How much effort do I put into this year's IRONMAN 70.3 Calgary race and at what price for the World Champs?"
Photo: Finisherpix & Julie Bekker
Held in late July, the entry list was only published two weeks prior to the race, at which time I found out that Alex Begg (without a shadow of a doubt one of the top two guys in the business) had entered. As a result, my stomach was in a knot for the entire two weeks preceding the event. I mean, how was it possible that he chose the same race as me?
this was my dilemma: he beats me and is likely to win the 70.3 World Champs, while I get nothing. If I put all my eggs in one basket and race as hard as I can, I might not only lose the Calgary race but my confidence will take a big hit.
The facts are: he swims two- to three-minutes faster than I do on a good day. His bike is the same as mine and stronger, depending on the terrain. We are pretty similar when it comes to running. Therefore, I will be three-minutes down by the time we get to the run. How was I ever going to make it up and pass him? I had to win at all costs; it was the placing that counted, nothing else.
On the Saturday prior to race day, as we were checking my bike in and dealing with cut tyres (courtesy of TSA), the main man arrived. I was glad and shocked to see that Alex was much bigger than me. Glad because how can a big guy like that run; shocked because this is what a swimmer looks like. And since the bike terrain was fairly flat, he would be stronger than me on the bike. There was no way I was going to beat this guy.
Swim as hard as possible. Lose as little time as possible. Catch Alex on the bike at all costs. Hang on for dear life and see if I have anything left in the last 5 km of the run. Plan B: be behind all day and hope to make it back up on the run.
The start of the race was unlike any of the usual USA races; there was no national anthem, no paying homage to the military, the start gun just went off.
I ran into the water hell bent on swimming as fast as I could. Julie, my wife, was waiting at T1 to tell me how far I was behind. When she shouted, "He’s not in yet," I was very surprised. But as I left T1, Alex came in. I thought he would catch me pretty soon on the bike, but he didn’t and after 40, maybe 50km, I reckoned he must be having a really bad day or taking it easy and saving himself for World Champs.But not a second later he came past, pacing with a teammate. They came past so fast that it was going to be difficult to stay with him. I couldn't let go though, as it would mean the end of the race and the end of the gift I got; that gift being we were actually on the same road, at the same time and my swim was exceptional. For 40 km I suffered, and I suffered some more at the prospect of still having to run 21 km.
All I could hear in my head was Ian Wright’s comment to me some time ago, "You are a fantastic bike rider, but lack confidence. How can you build confidence if you can't hang on? Giving up is not an option." Fortunately, I became friends with the suffering and hung on for dear life until the end of the bike ride. I was quicker than Alex into transition, as I needed a little bit of time to start the run on my terms so I could settle in.
Less than 1 km later he passed me and I knew the next 20 km would be out of my frame of reference. He was running at a pace slightly faster than what I could handle. I always tell people not to run fast down downhill, as you will lose time going up the uphill. Not Alex. We had one long downhill, which he ran away from me. I had to work really hard to get back on his heel before the next big uphill. I thought "Let’s see how you run up this hill?" He ran up the hill faster than me. Alex is a big guy, at least 3 to 4 kg heavier than me. I was firmly planted in hell, with no way out. I couldn't give up, but I also couldn't hang on anymore. All I could see was a Darren de Reuck programme, lying flat on my back in ICU and staring at the ceiling. By this point I started having blackouts and losing my balance. I didn't stop for water at the water points because Alex just kept running, he was going to break me. So I focused on his feet, always one step behind.
We had to turn back on the route; one long downhill, 500 m flat and 500 m uphill. I knew he was going to run away from me on the downhill, which he did. One of the things I constantly preach when coaching is to pay attention to your environment and gather as much information as possible. Alex could run away from me on the downhill, he was stronger than me on the uphill, however his pacing on the flats was within my frame of reference and that would be his weakness. I worked real hard to catch him before the climb. Again he ran up this very steep climb as if he was 5 kg lighter than me. I kept thinking, "How strong is this guy? This is not possible."
Photo: Finisherpix & Julie Bekker
With 3 km to the finish, Alex looked as strong as ever, pacing while I was hanging. At the 2 km mark we passed Julie. I didn't want to disappoint her by coming second and kept thinking, "You have only one chance to get this number one ranking. It will not come again, ever. This is right here, right now." Beside the fairly regular blackouts, I now wanted to vomit. But I was never going to give up unless I passed out. I was thirsty and running on fumes. I was taking the running-dehydrated theory to the next level! I did not have it in me to attack early and run away from him. I would have to rely on a sprint, as no one has ever beaten me in a sprint to the line. Thoughts of, "How hungry are you? How badly do you want this? How much effort have both Julie and I put into this? You have one shot only!" consumed me.
At this point I had more doubt than belief, and then he gave one huge sign; signalling he was done. As the life left him, the life came into me and I attacked, running as hard as I could. I only looked back once to see if he was still there, but he disappeared. I ran 13 seconds into him in less than 1 km to beat him fair and square.
The commentator went ballistic at the finish line because throughout the whole day we were always together and had put in a performance that was far superior to most of the younger age categories. To put this in perspective, we were 25th and 26th overall and the third-placed runner in our age category was more than 20 minutes behind.
At the finish we spoke to each other for the first time, with Alex saying it was an awesome race. I did not agree. This was way out of my frame of reference and I paid a massive price: physically, mentally and my World Champ race was done. I heard Chris Fuller say, "You can only do this once every year; your year is done, it’s over." But my prize is I'm the undisputed ranked number one.
A big thank you to everyone who supported and followed me. I could not disappoint you either.
If you have any questions or need a coach, please email Andre Bekker, a Training Peaks Certified Coach (USA), on or visit http://5thdimensioncoaching.co.za