Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brett Johnston Ironman South Africa Race Report

By Brett
So, I figured that if I end up only doing 1 Ironman, then I might as well make it Ironman South Africa, so that I have an excuse to go home, seeing as though I had not been home in 5 years.
The race is held in Port Elizabeth, which is a costal city on the east coast of South Africa.
We left Boston on Tuesday night, and flew via Amsterdam (dodging the volcano ash) and then on to Cape Town, where we arrived on Wednesday night, tired after a total of 19 hours of flying time.

We then flew up to Port Elizabeth (1hr) on Friday morning, and got our hotel sorted and registration all done, bike re-assembled and tested. I then went down to the swim start and took in a quick swim to test out my wetsuit and open water swimming, seeing as though this was the first time I was able to get into open water since last year. Nerves had started to set in now, but were short lived as the excitement had started to set in with the entire city being abuzz with athletes from all over the world. On Saturday, they hosted the IronKids event, which is a 100m swim and 2km run, which Nicole, my 12 year old competed in, which was a great event, and well organized and a lot of fun for the kids.

Bike and transition bag check-in was staggered throughout the afternoon, and was pretty painless. The weather was in the low 70’s, but the wind was starting to pick up, and you could see the effects it was having in the ocean, with the waves starting to pick up and become very choppy.

Sunday morning, I was up at 5 am, and off to the staging area. The weather was great again, with temps expected to be in the 70’s but the wind was still around which did not make the outlook for the swim look good. The “buzz” down at the start was amazing, and already people were starting to line the streets of the run course with their gazebos and BBQ’s getting set up for the day. Music blaring, zulu dancers doing their war dance’s and cheerleaders kept racers entertained from 5am.

7am rolled in, and time to start. I have watched Ironman starts on TV before, but never seen it live, nor been part of it, but it was a truly amazing experience to run down the beach, into the waves and start the swim with 1700 other athletes.

The swim was a 2 loop course, and right from the start I could sense it was going to be a tough swim with strong currents, strong waves and a lot of choppiness. About ¼ way through the 1st loop, I gave up… gave up trying to fight the swim and just started to swim how I felt and told myself to just enjoy it. I ended up having an amazing swim, and was actually disappointed in some kind of sick way I suppose that it was over.

Transition was a new experience for me, as all my previous events, transition is set up at your bike, but with Ironman events, all your gear is set up in bags ,and you utilize tents to change in. Transition went smoothly, and I was off on the bike.

As part of my race day nutrition plan, and all of my training, I was using Powerbar Endurance/Gatorade Endurance as my drink, but the race was using Powerade. Instead of screwing with what worked for me, I decided to carry my own Gatorade Endurance powder mix with me, and opted to fill my own bottles during the cycle part of the race.

The bike course is a 3-loop course, which has you leaving transition, heading along the beach front, and then heading in land. When you start heading inland, you start a climb for +/- 6 miles, and then go through rolling hills, heading back down to the coast and then along the coast back to the start. I took it relatively easy on the bike, and really enjoyed the beautiful scenery, especially on the first loop.

Here is the way I saw the 3 loops:
Loop 1: Ok this is nice, not such a bad climb, rolling hills, some nice long down hills, beautiful coast ride and wow…great scenery.
Loop 2: I am sure there were some downhills on this course…not the coast again…its windy…ok I have seen enough.
Loop 3: Who was I kidding…its all uphill…both ways…screw the coast …get me to the run.
All-in all though it was a great ride, even though I had to stop every hour at an aid station to get water so I could make my own drinks up, which took a couple minutes each time, but probably did me good.

T2 was good and I felt strong on the run. The run is also a 3 loop course, mostly around the beach front, and mostly flat, except for 1 section of the run with quite a climb heading into and through the university. This was also the 1 area that became the toughest part of the race, as there is hardly any support and could be very lonely especially at night…and referenced by the eventual winner as “the Lonely University Loop”.

For me, one of the psychological benefits on the run was that all the distance markers were in kilometers, which worked out great at the end because as I started counting down the kilometers to go, I was telling myself that it was miles, and they would come by so quickly, which made me feel good (Ok …maybe at this stage I was getting a bit delusional…and I guess I was willing to try anything). The last few miles of the run were great, and I was actually able to finish strong and feeling good (12:15:44). It was an amazing feeling running down the chute and having my family there to greet me at the end….and supply me beer of course!

Quick synopsis:
- The organization, support and overall handling of the event from start to finish was the best that I had ever seen of all previous races. (However I cannot compare to other IM events)…
- Free beer afterwards…what more could you want.
- Roads were in good condition, but they are rough.
- Run is pretty flat except for the 1 hill, but it is a 3-loop course so, it quickly becomes 3 hills J
- Support is awesome (but that might have just been me, because of that “Bahstan” accent I have J)
- Would I do this event again…You Betcha!

Below is a link to my bike and run portion from my Garmin for those interested.

Anyone looking at doing this race I would love to be your chaperone…or maybe join you!


  1. Well done Brett! Congrats again!

  2. Bret, amazing finish time, and it sounds like you had fun doing it. I'm impressed. Fedor

  3. You are so much more positive than I was! Awesome, awesome job!! You deserved every one of those beers (even the ones you didn't drink!). As with the movie ... Ironman 2? :-)

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