Updated: Aug 9, 2021
The race of a lifetime, and it may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We couldn't turn it down. So glad we didn't!
On our first full day in Port Elizabeth we soaked it all in. The Ironman energy was electric. Seeing athletes from around the world was inspiring. Our swim in the Indian Ocean was quite a beautiful experience - every swim in the ocean was among our favorite moments of the entire trip.
The second day in South Africa, we reacquainted ourselves with our bikes for the first time in 14 days, joining at least 1,000 fellow competitors for a 22K ride. Followed that up with a 5K run and the official Welcome Banquet to wrap up another glorious day.
Race day arrived, and as so many of our family and friends were asleep halfway around the world, we were taking in the incredible sights of this spectacular country.
The only appropriate way to describe the 70.3 mile journey is with one word:
As was during our practices, the swim was the best part of the race. Crystal clear (albeit cold - 56 degree) water greeted us at the start of the day. For the most part, the swim was smooth. There was a pocket of warm water offshore when we made the left turn parallel to the shore. It was so warm for a bit, it seemed like the long sleeved wetsuit may be a little too much at that point. But then the cool water returned and remained for the final stretch.
For Tif, she got caught in a breaker near shore. And it was a big one. She tumbled a bit and lost her (brand new $75) Speedo goggles. The impact of the wave also led to a calf cramp and a slow finish in the last 100 yards. But there was no removing the smile from her face. You can even see it in the official race video posted here.
Cait was also smiling at the end of the swim - and how far has she come from her first days in the pool...just going 25 yards before needing a breather. She'll even admit, she's enjoying swimming.
From the ocean to the land - which, to our surprise, had a lot more climbing on the bike than we thought. From the get go, it was a gradual incline, and we both felt it. That was strange on race day because neither one of us seemed to notice on the practice ride a couple days before.
However, the climb out of Port Elizabeth was nothing compared to the climbs in the Maitlands. Although breathtakingly scenic, we had to work hard to enjoy the view. The climbing seemed endless.
Fortunately, on the return from the Maitlands, most of the course was flat or downhill. That was likely beneficial for both of us during the run. We also enjoyed the turquoise blue water as we hugged the coast back toward T2. The pictures definitely showcase how beautiful it really was.
By the time we made it to the run, the temperatures were warming up. It ended up being about 10 degrees warmer than initial forecasts indicated. So we were near 70 degrees during our final 13.1 mile trek. It was warm, but thankfully not hot.
All along the course, spectators from around the world, locals, and our amazing moms, joined in to cheer the women along during their day. We felt like rock stars! Most of the course was flat with the exception of the turnaround on the east side of the route. We had to tackle that hill twice, but it was certainly not insurmountable.
One spectator was cheering outside her apartment, and her cheers of encouragement still ring true: "Keep going. No walking. You're amazing." She repeated that mantra all day long. It was endearing to be supported by all of the locals all week long. They truly thought we were all superstars, regardless of how fast we were on race day.
The energy carried us through. We both crossed the finish line with a huge sense of accomplishment. It was worth everything it took to get there. It was beautiful.
It was a long day. A challenging day. But we earned the finish we dreamed of. Maybe not the times we wanted, but counting all our blessings knowing we were with the world's elite, and seeing so much beautiful countryside by swimming, biking and running.
We wrapped up the day with an ice bath and some much needed sleep - not setting an alarm for the first time in months!
Through it all, we were given so much love and encouragement by friends and family both near and far. This event was even more special to share with our moms, who made the trip with us. They cheered and sherpa'd every step of the way. We are grateful.