He’s an iron man

A bunch of brave Cayman based athletes made the intrepid trip to Orlando last week to tackle the formidable Orlando 70.3 Ford Ironman.

Held at one of Disney’s theme parks on 24 May, it was anything but a fairy tale experience for many. Cayman was well represented with 18 triathletes preparing for this gruelling event since December.

Six months of painful preparation for an even tougher experience. Somehow they got some fun and a lot of satisfaction out of doing the gruelling course.

This is no small endurance event with around 2,000 competitors, which included former world champion Spencer Smith who won the Turtle Triathlon here in December.

Cayman’s charge was led by South African banker Marius Acker who has consistently done well in such events since arriving here four years ago.

‘The day started well with lots of cloud cover, which was welcomed by all participants because Orlando is normally hot and humid,’ Acker said.

‘Two fellow athletes and spouses travelled to the start with me and I left them as soon as we arrived at the transition area. Prior to a race I try to focus on the event and imagine doing the disciplines. I avoid familiar faces before racing as I find it distracting.’

The swim is a ‘mere’ 1.9 km and started at Clementine Beach in Fort Wilderness. It is a wave start of age groups with three minutes between each age group.

‘The lake’s water is clear with a dark bottom giving it a tea like look which can be depressing if you are spoiled with Cayman’s crystal clear waters.’

Finishing the swim leg 59th out of the whole field, with more than half of the athletes in other age groups (1,000 athletes) starting ahead of him, proved challenging for Acker.

‘Anyone swimming slower is simply an obstacle to be avoided or negotiated without losing momentum. My swim split was 29.36 minutes, exactly what I aimed to finish in.

‘The swim to bike transition went smoothly and here I opted to race without socks in cycling shoes. I planned to put my socks on for the cycle but I had to run on gravel before mounting my bike so I ran
barefoot to avoid having gravel on my socks.’

The 90km bike course travels through western Orange County, with three aid stations spread fairly evenly on the course. There is local traffic sharing the roadway in few cases, but otherwise the course was well patrolled by local law enforcement.

The bike route was more hilly than Acker, 36, anticipated and he followed the advice of fellow triathlete, Brendon Touhey from Cayman who raced there before. Touhey advised him not to attack the hills in the first half of the race as it could tire him and cost him doing a slower pace later on the flatter sections.

‘Cloud cover while on the bike was great to keep us cool. I managed to pick up water bottles at two of the aid stations on the course.

‘Hydrate or die’ is the phrase that Acker reminded himself when on the bike and run.

‘Previous long distance triathlons I raced in, severely dehydrated me to the point where I was in the ER tent afterwards with a drip to replace fluids.’ He was in no mood to repeat that experience.

It started to rain about six miles before the bike finish which was a welcome.

His overall bike time was 2 hours 29 minutes. ‘I aimed for a 2hr 30mins bike so the race went exactly as planned up to that point.

‘When I racked my bike, I reached for my socks but my hamstrings cramped so much I could not reach my feet. I barely managed to get into my shoes and then started the run. Subconsciously I knew blisters were a given, running without socks but I did not want to waste time in struggling to put my
socks on.’

His transition time was only 98 seconds. The 21.1km run is a three-loop course on bike paths and grass trials and canal roads of Fort Wilderness. Aid stations are provided approximately every mile.

‘This was the part of the race I looked forward to the most and I was relieved to finally start my strongest discipline.

‘My first 10km I was on top of the world and I had time to appreciate the forests and the supporters. My race went as planned up to the half way point of the run and I ran 38 minutes.’

But this is the point where things started to go a little pear shaped for Acker. Blisters were forming on his feet and fatigue started to set in combined with the heat.

‘I briefly stopped to tighten my laces with the hope of minimising more blisters, without success.

‘Slower athletes that started ahead of me in the swim waves were walking three aside on the narrow paths which made running on the narrow path a challenge. Cloud cover was gone and the heat was more severe than what I was used to preparing in Cayman.’

The next 10km took him 48 minutes, 10 minutes longer than his first 10km as his stride shortened and the blisters multiplied.

‘I eventually finished the run in 1hr 30.55mins which was 10 minutes slower than what I hoped for.’

There is a fourth discipline in triathlon, which goes unnoticed for the novice and that is nutrition during the race. Lost fluids must be replaced and several athletes take in solid foods.

Acker admitted: ‘Fatigue in the last 10km might have been prevented or delayed if I replaced more calories during the event with solid food. I opted for liquids only and might in future add some gels to my race menu.’

After finishing he kept his shoes on for the rest of the day knowing blisters might be broken if he took his shoes off.

‘Six blisters formed during my run, two on both arches of my feet and large blisters at the back of each ankle.’ And he does this for pleasure!

‘In my age group where 351 athletes competed I finished seventh, overall I finished 49th in 4hrs 34mins. My goal of 4hr 30mins was not achieved so I might return in 2009 to achieve this.’

The race was won by Brit Paul Amey in 3hrs 52.51secs, second was Santiago Ascenco and Smith was third.

Jasper Mikkelsen was second Cayman-based athlete home, followed by Dean Gaffigan, then TJ Olivier. All the other Caymanians finished and should definitely get a mention. They were Johan Heath, Juliaan La Valette, Touhey, Tony Watts, Simon Phillips, Ivan Lee, Alistair Walters, Johan Prinsloo, Denise Gower, Terence Petyt, Murray Harris, Graham Hampson, Brent Buckner and TV journalist James Bebarfald.

Acker waited for Cayman triathletes at the finish and enjoyed celebrating with them.

‘Feedback from Cayman triathletes was positive. A lot struggled with the severe heat and stomach cramps and were forced to walk big sections of the run.

‘As my come back long distance triathlon after an eight year absence, I’m satisfied with the outcome. I started running again three days after the event. A break from training is not anticipated and I will be surfing in Costa Rica for a break in July.’

Next on the race calendar is the Flowers Sea swim and the Stroke and
Stride events before preparing for the 21Km run and the Turtle Tri on island in November.

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