Jessica Taylor: My first Ironman experience: IMSA 2016

img_3617-3Never in my right mind would I have thought that I would be doing Ironman 2016. The thought of enjoying a long wavy sea swim to only get out of the water and on a bike (my favourite thing). Not just any bike, to cycle 180km and then decide it would be great to go for a run, a marathon of sorts. And yet, I stood on the beach in Port Elizabeth, on 10 April 2016 at 5.30am, and looked up at my coach, Mike Moriarty, and said “I don’t even feel nervous”, and he replied, “It’s because you’re ready”.

My partner in crime, Riccardo Opeka, (or Skinny Ferrari as the MAD Team like to call him), got me into the sport of Triathlon and after my first sprint distance I swore I would never do anything longer. But yes, as the triathlon community says, lycra makes you stupid and before I knew it, sprints became Olympics, Olympics became Ultras. Then that day came where all sanity went out the window and Ric and I entered Ironman 2016. To be honest, when I saw my laptop saying, thank you for your payment and entry, my first thought was; can I do this…
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We were not going to play around with this one and decided to search for a coach immediately. We didn’t look too far before we came across MAD Multisport and Mike. Little did we know of the training programme coming our way.

Coming from a swimming background has its pros and cons; pro- the smile on my face when wetsuits aren’t allowed, con- having to do a 6km dam swim when everyone else gets 4/5km, irony- reminding your coach that I need a different swim route to everyone else in the dam to achieve this 6km milestone and he laughs and says “6km shame, get yourself another coach”. Needless to say, having extra swimming training only made me stronger and the sea swim on the day of IM was tough for some but I enjoyed every wavy moment of those 3.8km.

The bike, that dreaded bike…. So it’s not my best and to be honest before I started training with Mike I could probably run faster than I rode. Having never done more than 90km in my life and then to enter double this was really working on my mind-set. Coach sorted this out right away though, working from a 90km ride to 142km (this broke me but the bar-one and coke helped coachie!), then to a somewhat unbelievable 200km. I might not be the fastest cyclist but I damn well knew I could do 180km!

The bike on the day was full of emotion as I counted down the km’s with every passing water point anticipating the transition to the run (and the chocolate super M I had in my special needs bag… yum!). The instant I racked my bike, I stood back for a moment and told myself that really wasn’t all bad and was quite impressed with myself.

Running 21km at the end of an Ultra isn’t easy, I knew this, but never running further than this distance was a bit frightening. Not to worry says coach, the 32km sunrise monster run and 3-hour training runs will solve all and it did! When it came to the run at IM, I had a few athletes staring at me with some strange looks on their faces and then I realised that I completed the entire 42km smiling and I loved every minute of it.

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And then finally the red carpet… but the truth is I don’t really remember that part. My first experience of IM 2016 wasn’t the ending; it was the journey to get there. From the days the MAD team cheered me on cycling to get me to the end of my training sessions, or those days when Ric ran back along our training route to make sure the hills hadn’t conquered me, or that moment when I visited my folks and their house was full of motivational notes left for me, it was those days that kept me going. And then on race day itself, the support from family, friends, MADletes, coach and the whole of PE was outstanding. Whether it was the bartering of sarmies for glow sticks while running in the dark, or the high-fives from supporters with occasional water guns cooling you off, or your MAD team all waiting for that last MADlete (me) to finish. These are the moments you’ll never forget and these are the reasons we get up every day and work towards a goal we first asked ourselves “can we do this” and now we say “we did”.

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