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22 November 2017

After losing more than 35kg and running three Comrades Marathons, Shandene van der Walt is now taking on her next big dream: Ironman 2019. With no triathlon experience at all, this determined young woman is slowly making the jump from pure running to triathlons. Run24 will be following Shandene’s journey right through to Ironman 2019. This is her first experience of the world of triathlon, as told in her own words.
It’s race day. I’m so nervous but excited too, that’s a good thing right? I have an entire entourage supporting me today. My biggest fan, Mom, is there as well as the friends who have helped and supported me on my very short triathlon journey so far. One friend is an Ironman 70.3 finisher who has signed up for the full Monty (Ironman 2018) and another is an Ironman World Champ finisher, no pressure! With this kind of support at my side how can I fail?

Early bird catches the worm
Mom and I travel to the venue. It’s early. I mean…very early. Coming from a road running background I’m used to being at race venues an hour or two before the start. Why? You get better parking, the roads are still open, you have time to get into the zone and prepare for the race ahead. So I adapt the same habit for my first triathlon and – mmm - I’m the first person here, as in the very first person…

Getting race ready
I don’t have a bike rack so Valerie, my bike, is in two pieces and I need to assemble her. I check my tyres, grab all my things and make my way to the start area. After a while I see a few people I know and it makes me feel at ease. A gazebo is set up for us and I get ready to drop my bike and all my wardrobe changes at the transition area. There are so many rules I am trying to remember. I pop Valerie on the rack and unpack. I have gone over everything in my head a thousand times and I am sure it’s all there. I take a transition Selfie and sit and look around at all the other athletes preparing, taking in the vibe. It’s like electric energy all round me. There is a girl opposite me and she is also a newbie. I share some handy advice with her while she sets up. Priceless tips I received from my coach and triathlete friends.

Pre-race briefing
It’s a very long wait till pre-race briefing and then my start. The wind has picked up terribly and it’s cold. I start to feel uneasy as I wait to hear if it’s a wetsuit legal race. I’m scared because I don’t have a wetsuit, I don’t know how to use one but my friend has brought hers just in case. It would be a shame to come all this way and not race over something like that. They announce it is wetsuit legal, which means optional. Yay! The water temperature is 23 degrees, its warmer in the water than the air outside.

We watch the Standard distance athletes start their race and I feel ill, the swim is far, its choppy, how am I going to survive this? I see the swim as my biggest hurdle. All I have to do is survive, but this water looks mean! I see other athletes already running, how? My friends advise they are the duathletes. Why didn’t I sign up for that? No swim, no worries! I’m really starting to get myself into a state now.

Swim Shandene Swim
It isn’t long till we are in the water and the gun goes off! My friend turns to me and says: ‘Well, I guess this is us then”. A switch turned on in my head, and I was on my way. I remember chanting in my head: “Relax, breathe, and don’t panic. Find a rhythm”. The first marker comes quickly and I’m on my way to the next one. I get into such a zone that I forget to check where I’m going. I pop up for a peek and I’m way off, actually heading for the lifeguard boat! Oops. He points me in the right direction and I apologise, as I speak a wave of water splashes in my face, which was probably a good thing because I’m sure I was red from embarrassment.
I spot a lady swimming backstroke next to me. I never see her look to see where she is going, it’s like she is using the sun and the starts for navigation! She is so calm and relaxed and it relaxes me too. However my competitive streak rears its head and this has now become my mission on the swim. “Whatever you do Shandene make sure the lady swimming backstroke doesn’t beat you!” It wasn’t long after that and I’m on the shore, exiting the swim. My entourage is screaming and shouting and I wave a small shy wave.
Helmet on. Let’s go.
I’m running to my bike, I sit down, put my helmet on, socks, shoes, sunglasses, race belt and GO! I mount after the line and take it easy out the gate. One think I have learnt is wind is not your friend on a bike unless it’s at your back. There are parts I feel like I’m cycling through chewing gum. There are parts I’m speeding down a hill only to feel like I’m being blown back up again! It’s tough. The cycle route loops, so it’s awesome seeing fellow team mates and cheering them on along the way. I finish my cycle and dismount perfectly, and by that I mean I didn’t fall on my face and I did it before the dismount line. Bike is racked back and it time to do the run.
Running is my thing
I have got this! Running is my thing, but running after a cycle is a whole different ball game. My legs turn to bricks and I go out too fast. I also now have a stitch on my side. I try and slow down and calm my breathing. Two little laps and my run is over. My entourage once again scream and photograph me along the way to the finish. I feel like an absolute champion!
I fell deeply in love with the sport of triathlon that weekend and yes, I have already signed up for the next one.
The PS Episode
So I am now a triathlete, officially! Mom is on support duty again for my second one, which is exactly a week later. I wanted to experience both events by the different organisers so I signed up for both. Today the sun is shining and it is calm. The start line is out of this world, red carpet paving the way to the end and I can’t wait to travel down it later. It’s also a shorter swim today so I feel more confident. Today’s swim is also self-seeding and a rolling start, which is definitely a benefit. As quickly as I am in the water, I’m out again. A 400m swim is a bit short I found, but nonetheless I’m done and off to my bike.
Let’s go Valerie
Valerie and I take to the road and it’s not too bad. A friend’s words of a “tough hill at the end” echo in my head, so now all I can think about is this terrible hill. The wind has also picked up, which I have now learnt is very common for this area. Every time without fail there will be wind on the bike. I am struggling and it’s also really hot. I survive the hills and refuse to use the “granny gear”. People are watching, I don’t want them to think I’m a baby and taking the easy way out. I get to transition and I’m a bit disappointed with my cycle, it was 15min slower than last weekend but it was a different route and the wind was definitely a factor.
Running shoes on!
I’m off way to fast again, but do feel better than last week. The run route is great but there are some trail parts so you have to seriously watch your step. The volunteers are great and the vibe is contagious. I check my watch and I’m actually faster than last weekend on the run, I’m very happy about that.
I get to the last few metres and the excitement of stepping on that red carpet is overwhelming. I try savour the moment, taking in the feeling because one day in the near future, this will be for an Ironman medal! The MC on the carpet says my name and welcomes me to the finish. I throw my arms up and smile, its phenomenal! Mom is at the end smiling back at me. A medal gets placed around my neck, and it’s massive. I feel like I don’t deserve such a big medal for the distance I just did, but hey, I’ll take it!
With a bit more open water training and some more bike sessions I will definitely be ready to take on my first Olympic distance in January – that’s for sure. 

Article Keywordsshandene van der walt

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