Ironman: The Wars We Wage on Ourselves

Before we jump into my IRONMAN® race day experience: wars can be waged both due to action and/or inaction. Out of approximately 1020 athletes that began on race day, only 685 completed the event. There were many physical, mental, emotional & spiritual battles fought on race day – I suppose we should call it Ironman Warfare to get people mentally preppared since ‘Iron’+Man doesn’t seem to encourage some people to prepare.
(PS. This is also my “Training Sessions of the Month” post – all from one day.)


  • The 10% that didn’t start OR weren’t able to participate – these peeps probably had a tougher time seeing their friends they’d trained with cross the finish-line. You have to be happy & proud of them but at the back of your mind you’re thinking “I should also be there!”
  • The other 23% or so that didn’t finish – although probably a good call to prevent serious injury or death, this must be devastating. I wonder how many people DNF’ed during the swim. Those waters were crazy even if you prepared well to swim 3.8km. The winds howled on the bike so I’m sure many people dropped-out here. I repeat: this must be DEVASTATING!
  • The 67% that came home a first or another time IRONMAN® Finisher – everyone that crossed the finish-line that day celebrated victory loops in their mind (unfortunately they probably didn’t have the physical legs to do it… haha). This doesn’t mean the mental & physical wars didn’t happen. Keep reading to get a taste of what I experienced!
  • The 500% of spectators that shouldn’t have been there – my wife, my coach, fellow tribe-supporters & every other human that lined those streets for 10hrs+ – you ALL rode the rollercoaster with the athletes. You faced your own battles of sunburn, dehydration & tens-of-thousands of steps! This was a war in itself & every athlete needed all of you there.


I’d looove to write a whole short story about this race… I actually started doing that but barely made it to the start-line after writing for a week. Haha – I wish I was joking.

So here’s the long & short of the day:
If you had to imagine yourself as a soldier going into a battle you’ve prepared for but since it’s your first time, you really have no idea what to expect beyond the preparation you’ve done for both fitness & skill.

Me, obviously 🙂

Signing-up for something like this is probably crazy.
Most people I know are all saying “well done!” but also “I’ll never do that!”
I’ve seen what people are capable of & this is possible for everyone!
If you sign-up, make sure you gain as much hard & soft skills as possible.



As I walked out onto the beach that morning, I knew they’d shortened the swim from 3.8km down to 700m down to 380m for age-groupers. Being a fairly seasoned swimmer, I knew this was a wise call. I also knew it was going to be a tough swim. Anyone that thought otherwise was merely faking themselves out. (Oh, & people still complained…)

Side note: in a sport like this, you have to keep your chin up, stay motivated AND be fully aware of the real challenges you may face. Here’s where preparation is key. I spent the time outside, I learned to handle various weather conditions & the impact it has in general, as well as on my body. Therefore, I was able to prepare for things like cramps with adequate electrolytes or stretches & sore muscles with K-Tape in my special needs bags.

Carrying on from there, as we hit the water, I saw the carnage before me. It was time to get under those massive swells & execute what I thought I wouldn’t have to experience: dodge the guys going nowhere, avoid kicks & arms, shout at people cutting me off. It was the first battle of the war. Advance or die… well, not die, but you get what I’m saying. I swallowed at least 2L of water.

For reference, the team of people moving the ocean buoys into position couldn’t even move the second one to the right place so we just had to swim around 1 buoy for the race. See diagram below:

Ironman Swim Route – Red Arrows = Actual Route (approx. 500m)


It was a quick swim. 11min30sec or so. The critical thing getting out of this water was timing! Being aware of where the waves were behind me & holding my ground after each wave boosted me quite substantially.

In hindsight, I should have gotten out in the front of the starting pen, but I can’t change the past, only the future.

I came out of the water feeling fresh but I realize now my adrenaline was pumping way too much. I took the transition easy so I was ready for the bike, but honestly 12 minutes or 5 minutes wouldn’t have made a difference.



I headed out on the bike feeling fresh – the first 5km or so was a strongish headwind, the next 40km was a whirling 35-40km/hr tailwind. This was AMAZING! Oh & the scenery was to die for. (I didn’t realize how much I’d “to die for” would become a real-feel later on when cycling head-on into the same tailwind.)

As I flew over the first speed-bump, my new 32Gi bottle & hydration mix flew out of the cage. This was the starting point of a day of crisis management – #EmergencyBattlePlan = EXECUTE! Basically, every aid station I went through I grabbed some extra nutrition & Gatorade – NOT part of the plan, but crucial for ‘survival’. (PS. After one station I missed the litter zone & thought I might get a DQ or time penalty by ‘dropping’ my nutrition but thankfully God worked His grace.

Coming back, I knew I had done some tough training in the wind so was confident powering-through… maybe a little over confident though. It was helpful having the officials give a time penalty to someone drafting off me – this is illegal in a race like this. You have 20 seconds to overtake, otherwise you have to drop back to a 12m following distance. However, after about 80km my right ITB started niggling from the extra power needed on the windy climbs – time for that ‘Special Needs Bag’ at 90km & some tape just above the right knee.

While I was busy here, I heard “JARRYD!” My wife was just behind me. Oh my soul, I wanted to cry, jump for joy, & just STOP… but also, finish the race set before me to make her proud. This was the kick-starter I needed, thank you for all your support in both training & racing <3 !

The second loop was great going out – energy levels high, legs feeling better with the K-tape, gaining some positions & flying faster than before… probably because of the wind pumping up to around 45km/hr. The turning point at 135km was where the paw-paw hit the fan & the second battle of the war was coming with a mighty headwind for almost 45km.


My inner thighs began spasming – not cramping, but threatening to cramp. Basically, they were like “Hey buddy, you’ve done great. We’ve been working hard here all day & now you can just get off your bike, catch a lift home, & damn well rest!” If you’ve seen any Awkward Yeti posts, you’ll see an image of my brain responding, “Damnit legs, you just have to spin it out & we’ll get to the finish!”

I tried that… It made it worse so I got off the bike & stretched out. Feeling better I climbed on, got to the aid station – last refuel & off I went. It was time for the looong drag (again) with sprinkles of headwind. Here was the best I felt in this last 45km: get out of the saddle > 10 pedals per leg (power) > sit down > 10 pedals per leg (spinning) > repeat. I did this until we caught a break – yay! no cramping… until I hit the next climb.

At this point I was so done with the bike. I just wanted to be on the run… Oh I didn’t even know if I could run at this stage. I had to stop & restart a couple of times in the last 20km. The mental struggle of seeing people fly by me that I encouraged as I saw them on the drag really was tough. Stretching on the side of the road, then the bladder called. Eish. (Probably the best South African term at this stage.)



I think I’ve spoken enough about the bike. I changed my tri-top in T2 to a lightweight running top. #BESTdecision
I enjoyed chilling in transition a bit, getting my mind ready to run. It felt so good AND no niggles. I just put a Reparil ice-wrap around my left leg – I don’t actually know why at that stage but later on I had to get my other K-tape around that leg…

The first 20km was magic. I felt light as a feather. Smooth running up a massive hill in the first 2km, then strong into the 4km of head wind. I thought – “hey I might even hit a sub-4hr marathon!!” After 23km, I just had to survive. My body was just finished. Nutrition & energy was fine but heavy fatigue set into the legs & some spasms on the outside of my left knee where my ITB, hamstring & calf meet. Damnit!

BUT every lap I got to see my wife, San-Marí cheering me on I was happy.

The hardest mental struggle here was to jog as much as possible & walk where necessary. I was still fueling but I was so tired of consuming anything – even water wasn’t refreshing. After 10-11hrs of consuming around 80g of Carbs per hour & 1.2L of fluids, I was just tired. Sarah, my nutritionist was helping me prepare for this. Get the gut ready & the mouth used to taking in so much. I didn’t want ANYTHING.

Over the last few years I have been so grateful for everything I receive. Knowing that being able to eat a sufficient amount of wholesome & nutritious food each day is more than what most of the global population experiences. How can I not appreciate being in such a position? Right?!

Anyway, by the grace of God, I managed to work through all of these thoughts. They motivated me in some way. “10 steps jog, 10 steps walk, repeat. Just keep going. Be grateful for this opportunity. Enjoy the suffer-fest.”

Everyone at that stage was struggling, keeping their chins up with heavy hearts & heavy legs. I prayed. This wasn’t the first time in the race, nor would it be the last. I came to a point where chatting & encouraging people en-route was all I could do. I had the energy but not the legs. Thanks be to God!

Here’s a list of people I met & got me through the last 20km or so – thank you all!

  • Billy Mans – whom I’ve known & met throughout the weekend & on the run course
  • Kyle Piears or van Niekerk (not sure who it was… haha) – what a machine! Just kept moving forward & got to chat with him on some jogs
  • Jason Townsend – tribe-mate & fellow coach that I started with
  • Makkie Serfontein – we had some great chats & shared experiences (at some stage I was able to do high knees & butt kicks, but not jog… stupid legs)
  • Marc Theron – also fellow tribe-mate. Seeing him on the opposite side of the road with the biggest smile made it worthwhile!

Also, shoutout to the guy I chatted with that was so negative & complacent, it shifted my gears for the last 1.5km to be able to jog 20 steps at a time just to escape the depressing conversation. How weird is that? 🙂


What an experience! Thank you to the IRONMAN® Team for all of the help & support on the day.
Jacky, tribee, met me around the corner of the finish-line “They’re waiting around the corner for you!” I was saving-up my legs for a sucky jog over the red carpet as Gordon Graham, from East Coast Radio, declared: “Jarryd Irvine, You. Are. An. IRONMAN®!” (We met this star in the airport on the way home!)

I don’t know how I didn’t cry then, but I sobbed afterwards as my wonderful wife got a jacket on me (oh did I mention the wind…?). This all brings tears to me again as I relive the moment. I can’t wait to do this again!

Stay tuned for the next chapter in this Trimaster’s journey.
PS. I’m in the pursuit of Trimastery – I’m nowhere close. Most triathletes are on this pursuit. If you are, hit the subscribe button, complete the Athlete Health Survey & get stuck into some of our events coming in 2022!

All things Trimaster
Subscribe To Newsletter

Receive training tips, mental health seminars, training sessions, reviews and more!

Invalid email address
Join our community of athletes doing sports for well-being. You can unsubscribe at any time.


  1. Sumara Bothma

    Oh wow Jarryd. Only read this today. Got a lump in my throat now.
    I also (and also not!) want to experience this, just don’t know if I have it within me.
    What an inspirational story!!
    Well, well done!!!
    Like the saying goes:
    Dream big, start small, butmost of all… START!

    • Thanks for taking a read, Sumara!

      Haha, I also did (& not) want to experience this. The blessing is in the journey. These things (whether big or small) grows us into more of who we’re meant to be… if we allow it to!

      Can’t wait to see/hear about your journey!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *