Ironman South Africa race tips

Top-finishing GB age-grouper Duncan Bullock shares his course-conquering tips for Ironman South Africa


Ironman was first introduced to Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth as a half-Ironman test event in 2004. A year later, the first full-distance race took place and since then the event has grown to become Africa’s premier triathlon.


Its 10th anniversary in 2014 saw a record entry as 2,380 athletes signed up to take on the course. The following year saw the World Triathlon Corporation elevate Ironman South Africa to regional championship status.

We named Ironman South Africa 16th must-do triathlon in the world

At 2016’s race, GB’s Duncan Bullock posted a time of 9:26:33 to finish second in his age-group (30-34), seventh age-grouper overall. Here are his top tips:

1. Training

If you’re based in the UK, there’s no escaping the fact that you’ll be heading out for long runs and rides on cold mornings and dark evenings. On the plus side, you’ll have a serious goal to help you stick to those New Year resolutions. Using the turbo trainer will be a huge help to your bike fitness during this time – put in some intense interval training and you’ll be thankful when
you face the headwinds of Port Elizabeth!

2. Run

The run in Port Elizabeth is made for setting PBs, it’s where I posted my fastest Ironman marathon split. It’s not quite flat, but with only two hills book-ending each lap, you can easily measure your effort and use the long flat seafront to recover and keep your splits steady. There’ll be support all along the seafront to spur you on for the short, sharp climbs, but there’s little or no shade to protect you from the sun, so cover up! A cap or visor is a must, as is lathering on the sun cream before you head out of transition.

3. Bike

The two-lap course takes you out of the city within minutes and along a stunning coastline. But the road surfaces are poor, and the winds are notoriously unforgiving. The wind will swing around during the day, bringing both strong crosswinds and energy-sapping headwinds; make sure you’re comfortable staying in the aero position for as long as possible to avoid wasting watts by sitting upright when the wind picks up. Practising staying aero on the turbo will really pay dividends on a windy day here.

4. Swim

Try to arrive in Port Elizabeth at least a couple of days before the event to get some sea-swimming practice. The swell and the currents make this a tough opening leg if, like me, the swim is your weakest discipline. You may end up swimming further than the 3.8km race line, so don’t lose heart if you come out of the water down on your target time. And don’t let names spook you; the beach start may be at Shark Point, but the locals assure me there’s nothing to fear!

5. Nutrition

Make sure you have plenty to eat on the bike, as you may struggle to digest more on the run, especially if it’s very hot. On the run, the race’s support staff hand out iced-water pouches, which is a great idea – you can bite off the corner of the pouch, drink half and squirt the remainder over your head to cool down. The smell of supporters’ BBQs on the seafront will make you long for a burger at the finish, though!


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Chris McCormack’s 12 top tips for the travelling triathlete

Mirinda Carfrae on coping with the heat in long-distance triathlons


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