My first ½ Ironman9 min read

A complete idiot’s guide to Ironman 70.3

Ironman is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. But that’s exactly it — it is only one day. More precisely, just a quarter of one day for most. Let’s see what happened in Durban.

A couple of years back I have read that Springbok prop Ollie le Roux completed an Ironman. He weighs a around 130kg. Naturally one thinks ‘if he can do it then so can I’, but then again, national rugby players are fitter than most.

I find it mildly annoying when someone uses the term Ironman after having only completed a 70.3 — that is the total distance, in miles, for a Half Ironman. If you’ve only done a half, don’t claim a full. Difference below.

  • Swim — 1.9 vs 3.8 km
  • Bike — 90 vs 180 km
  • Run — 21.1 vs 42.2 km
  • Total — 70.3 vs 140.6 mi

South Africa hosts two 70.3 events in East Londen and Durban, plus the full Ironman in Port Elizabeth each year.

Rewind to January when Eugene and myself took bicycles to Buffalo City. While patiently waiting for the athletes to complete all three disciplines, I couldn’t help but notice they came an all shapes and sizes and the tail-enders seemed to really enjoy themselves. After all, I started #movemybicycle to capitalize and part-take on a couple of events, so entered for Durban right away.

Reader beware — before these events most athletes usually complain about something, mostly variants of not being 100% ready. I honestly couldn’t be more ill prepared if I tried to. There were no excuses or grand ambitions, I just wanted to complete the thing.

The last time I was on a bike was Sani2c, 5 weeks prior. The last time I ran was during varsity rugby, 14 years ago. And I can’t even remember when last I swam, but I do like it. My plan was to make up a bit of time during the swim & bike so I can walk the 21kms.

Truth be told, I uncertain whether I’d finish, especially after seeing the infamous crawl clip on the internet. These girls looked closer to the end of life than the end of the race. Great respect at any rate, as I certainly won’t match their time.

A couple of weeks before the race, I called Frederik for a couple of pointers. He said most important was the transition from bike to run and suggested I do a couple of bicycle rides with a short run or even just a walk afterwards, to get the feeling. But it never happened.

I thought about getting time trial bars for my bike, but then again I might never use it again, so didn’t bother. Gym tekkies doubled up as running shoes, and it dawned on me that I should probably do the laces all the way up to avoid them slipping off.

The swim was the least of my worries and I considered going in a speedo. After all, the water in Durban  was warm, even in winter. Then I learned that the organisers may call on everyone to wear wet-suits. Sounds like an opportunity for them to flog more merchandise.

Either way, enter my pièce de résistance. Fellow Randonneur Franci called me a couple of weeks before the event and we joked about using our old our high school body-boarding wet-suits. In hind-sight, I’m not quite sure whether he was kidding, but I was dead serious.

Eugene and I arrived in Durban two days prior to race day. It was a long haul up from Cape Town with those precious bicycles. We met up with Joggie & Andrew and mates for a braai and I promptly downed 15 beers for re-hydration. Dutch courage. If only I could perform like this on the course.

The day prior to the race was spent wandering around between Moses Mabhida stadium and Suncoast casino. The place was a hive of activity and admin, with athletes everywhere. More rugby players, Butch James and mates. Garth Wright and his mate Gary Stephenson also booked their bikes with us and while chatting to him I learned they started the Ironman 4 the kids trust. Well done.

There was ample faffing around with so much packing & racking & sorting, to the extent that I suspected admin time could exceed race time. But it’s all part of the experience and you get to see old friends. I bumped into Pieter Murray at the expo — we went to primary school in Clanwilliam and I haven’t seen him in ages. Good times.

One thing has to be said, Ironman® has an amazing brand. Which other event has so many athletes proudly displaying its logo in the form of a tattoo. With around 150 half plus 50 full events across the globe each year, it’s a serious business.

Late afternoon, I cycled the 200 meters to go and rack my bike. The Iron-gatekeeper threatened with a disqualification when I arrived without wearing a helmet. I can grasp their reasoning, but not the way the message was conveyed.

Race day

The first point of order was to wriggle into that bright blue Reef wet-suit from high school. I could hear the logo’s crack on the outside. It was like trying to push a tennis ball into a sock. Certainly not made for long distance swimming.

We parked at Ushaka Marine World and after Eugene took pics to make fun of on the family group, I popped into the surf club to ‘read the morning paper’. Upon my return to the parking area it was vacant. Not a soul in sight. Until I spotted nearly 3000 athletes down by die pier.

The swim start was a self-seeded and I fell in line with the bunch expecting to finish the swim in 45 minutes. I felt so relaxed I could fall asleep and yawned as small groups were being sent off into the water, ten at a time. Our turn came.

The gun went off and I strolled into the warm water. The start was very relaxed, compared to the frenzy of the Midmar Mile, where you have to set off with clenched fists unless you want to dislocate all ten fingers.


It was great. The temperature was perfect. Visibility was better than expected. It wasn’t overcrowded. And the massive buoys couldn’t be missed.

All being said,when I hit the water for the first time, it took a couple of strides before I could breathe properly. The wet-suit was so tight it felt like I couldn’t properly expand my lungs. And the top of the zip scratched the back of my neck, but nothing that sea water couldn’t fix.

I had no clue what time to expect and only looked on my watch only once. It was on the last stretch out to the beach and I was very happy to see only 30-something minutes had passed. A little bit of time in the bank then.

Transition was new and relaxed. I strolled onto the beach and grabbed my cycling kit. A wicked old lady blew a whistle into my left eardrum and insisted ‘No Shoes!”, even though I was carrying mine at the time. My right ear was still functional and I heard the name of our colleague, Marc Kourie, being announced as their team came out of the water.


Oh, how I was looking forward to this. As far as I could remember the road to Umhlanga and beyond was silky smooth and no hills in sight. I immediately started passing others one by one and loved the feeling, even though it was probably short-lived because I knew they would all lap come run time.

The tar on the far side of Umhlanga, towards the turn, wasn’t in such great nick. Even thought the patches with missing tar was clearly marked, we still passed a crash.

I thought there was going to be generous water point like on most cycling events, but the only sustenance en route came just before the end, in the form of a banana. So I grabbed two.

A comfortable 30km/h average on the bike bagged some more time. T2 saw me changing into my favorite WP rugby jersey to make an appearance on the beach front.


There was ample time to walk the 21kms. On a couple of occasions, I tried doing to Madiba shuffle, but immediately noticed that it was only my arms that were moving faster. So back I went to a relaxed stroll down the beach front.

The run was very spectator friendly as it went up and down the promenade, with a kink under the bridge towards the stadium and back. While doing laps you saw the same faces over and over. And there was ample opportunity to grab a cup of coke or half a banana.

If you stripped away all the Ironman branding, anyone who stumbled onto the beachfront would think it was the Zombie Apocalypse, as the remaining athletes looked a little worse for wear.

There was a chap in close proximity, roughly my size, who had already done 18 of these. His strategy was to use the lamp posts and alternate between walking and jogging between them. It seemed simple enough. Mental note for next time.

Towards the end, my run/walk partner’s hamstring was giving in. There was less than 5kms to go and I stayed with him for some moral support. All good things come to an end and we approached the last turn and then the finish line.


Walking down the red carpet was something new. There was another hour in hand I felt great, if not a bit guilty in that I should probably have made an effort with the run. Swim 42mins. Bike 3hrs. Walk 3hrs18min. Plus half and hour in transitions, for an leisurely 7½ hours total.

Moral of the story — if you just want to go and have fun then you don’t need all the fancy gear; you don’t need to overdo the training and you certainly don’t need to overthink it. Just enter and have a good time. Port Elizabeth, here we come?

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