Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ironman South Africa Advice

It is not often or in my case never that a TV Personality and a famous person ask me to give some advice, but I guess there is always a first.

Chris Schauble is the TV News Anchor for KNBC in Los Angeles and is coming to South Africa to do the Ironman in 2010. Chris has asked me the give some advice on what to expect and what to look out for. You can check out his profile at and see for yourself all the achievements Chris has accomplished, awesome!

We met through Twitter thanks to Nina Jack who connected the two of us. I must say I am really chuffed, honoured and nervous giving advice to Chris.

Port Elizabeth has been the host city of Iroman South Africa or as we refer to as IMSA for the past five years of which I have done three. As I said in the past the advice I am giving is based on my perspective and experiences so don't hold it against me if you don't experience it the same way but this is my honest advice to you and maybe to some other US and Canadian friends who may wonder what IMSA is like and may come and visit soon (hint hint Bryan, John, Nina and Dana).

This is a picture of the swim start and for two out of the three years the sea was this calm. The swim takes place in a bay and it is only at turning buoy nr 2 where the sea can be a bit rough. The swim consist of two, 1.9km (1.2mi) loops with a short run across a timing mat after the first lap. On your way back from buoy number 3 to 4 the swell can be high but not that bad. My only problem is I can only breath to one side and going out is no problem but coming back I tend to get the sodium levels up with all the breathing into the direction of the swell and swallowing water.

The water temperature this year was 19c(66F), but with the 2010 date being three weeks later and closer to winter I can't see that the water will be 19c, and guess it will be closer to 17-18c(62-64F). Wetsuits will therefore be definitely allowed.

The bike course is not that bad depends on the direction of the wind. It is a three loop 60km(37miles) course which is very spectator friendly.

For the first 13km you will be climbing all the way but not that steep. It is a gentle climb with two hills with a gradient of 5-6 degrees. The first hill is after about two kilometers from the start and is about 300 meters long. The second one is just before the highest point at 13km and is about 600 meters long.

For the next 27km (16.8 miles) it is rolling hills with one or two rolling hills that can be a bit tough but mostly it is flat or downhill. During this section you will do a turn around come back on the same route for about five kilometers and turn right towards the coast line.

The last 20km (12.4 miles) is fast and flat depending on the wind. And Port Elizabeth is not known as the "windy city" for nothing. If it is a Southwester you will fly on the last section (photo above) but if the wind is coming from the east this can be the longest 12 miles ever.

A lot of guys used disc wheels but I will only recommend it if you are a really strong cyclist. For two years I have used Zipp 808 wheels and last year Zipp 1080 but then it becomes tricky if you are not big and don't have excellent handling skills. The road is not very smooth with only a few kilometers of smooth road surface, so be careful if you pump your tyres too hard, it can become a bumpy ride.

The special needs station is about one kilometer before the start/finish line and you will have three opportunities to call for your bag. The run is also a three lap affair of 14 km (8.7mi) per lap and is flat. You will have a slight hill of about 200 meters on each lap but it is not really a hill so nothing to worry about.

The run course is fast but can become boring during the University section with 5km (3.1 mi) to the finish line. There is not any supporters on that section and it is about 3km (1.9 mi) long and is basically on the outskirts of the town. The best way to handle that section is to count to 100 steps with the left foot and then 100 steps again with right foot and keep on repeating. This way you will soon be back in town and have PLENTY supporters next to the road.

Just as you entered town after the University section you will have the opportunity to call for your special needs run bag and will also have three changes but as it is only one kilometer or so before the finish line you won't need it on lap three.

The nice thing about the run leg is that for about 10km of each lap you will have more than enough people that will support you. You will get tired of people shouting your name, as it is printed on your race bib above your number. The run is the most awesome part of the race with people just shouting your name and cheering you on.

In general the race is very well organised and they do an magnificent job from registration to the awards ceremony. The Finish line section is brilliant and it is better than the finish in Kona. I am not talking about all the emotional things you experience in Hawaii but the logistical stuff and things like the stage with the red carpet you run onto, the announcers and the finishers tent is all world class.

This is my advice and hopefully it will help. Please leave comments if you are unsure about something or want more technical stuff. I didn't want to make it to technical but if you need I can give you gradient and time split info per lap as this is the best way to cope. Pace yourself per lap and not for the entire bike or run section.

If there is other people that have done IMSA and can help with some more tips please feel free to post comments


  1. Well, you have made it sound like such a great race and experience, I suppose I will have to participate one day(once I have completed the my first IM) What a cool opportunity to have the chance to help out a US guy as he comes to visit! hope your headache is gone and you are enjoying the rest! Cheers

  2. Great report. We'll see how my winter training goes for China. If it's not too bad, you never know, I may show up one day on your door steps with my luggage in hand and ring your doorbell.

  3. John
    It is really an awesome race and all the things to do and see in South Africa after the race is even better.

  4. B
    Any day, you're welcome. Good luck with winter training. more challenging on the mind than on body, ask me. Enjoy

  5. You are such a great ambassador for the sport of triathlon! Thanks so much for taking the time to detail IMSA! Your blog will undoubtedly make my journey to your beautiful country even more enjoyable! I look forward to meeting you and taking a picture together with us both holding up Finisher's Medals :)

    -Chris Schauble

  6. Chris
    Only a pleasure, just shout if you need more info. Looking forwatd to meet you

  7. J, I know your right. I'm a little worried and intrigued about how indoor training is going to feel. Your my inspiration. When it gets tough I'm going to think tr-stemmet did it. It's possible. Keep going.


  8. Thanks for your detailed info. I am from Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and discovered your blog. It`s really helpful and i am going to use the info for my race strategie on IMSA 2010. Can you give me also information about the hotel you stayed. The hotel opposite the start was completely booked. So i am looking for an other one.
    Kind regards, Jason

  9. Jason
    here is a link below off most of the hotels close to the start.
    I also stayed at the Courtyard(opposite the start finish area) but haven't book my hotel yet.

  10. Its difficult to sleep in hostels if there's an occasions, but it's your chance to meet some other guests.

    Rio Pousadas