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Considered one of the most challenging endurance events in the world, an Ironman triathlon consists of a 3.86km swim, a 180km cycle, followed by a 42km marathon. Not for the faint of heart, training for an Ironman event is critical. 

We chatted to Shereen Rimmell, Portfolio Manager for the Omni-channel strategy at Vodacom, who completed her first Ironman in Port Elizabeth on 10 April.

Why Ironman? What made you decide to take on such an extreme challenge?

The human body is really incredible and it’s amazing to me how we can get our bodies to do more and more.

Ironman has been the culmination of many events over many years. I started out cycling and one day a friend asked me to join him for a sprint triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run).

The distances seemed doable and I had done swimming at school so I thought it would be a piece of cake. It was not! I almost died during the swim. It took me over 45 minutes to cover 750m and I was the second last person out of the water. 

The cycle was okay but running after swimming and cycling was tough. Even though I sucked, I enjoyed myself and was determined to never struggle like that in a race again – the bug had bitten! Last year, I did two Ironman 70.3 challenges (half the full Ironman distance) and decided to go for the big one this year. Two halves make a whole, right?

What does your typical weekly training schedule look like? Has it impacted your life in any way?

My training schedule looks mostly like this:

  • Monday – 3km swim
  • Tuesday – 1.5 hour ride in the morning and a run in the evening
  • Wednesday – 3km swim in the morning and a run in the evening
  • Thursday – 1.5 hour ride in the morning and a run in the evening
  • Friday – 3km swim in the morning
  • Saturday – 5/6 hour ride at The Cradle followed immediately by a run
  • Sunday – 20 or 30km run (either all at once or broken up throughout the day)

In addition, I also try to do two strength sessions per week plus loads of stretching.

To fit training into my daily life, I wake up at 04h00 from Monday to Saturday (on Sundays, I sleep in until 06h00). Subsequently, I am shattered by 21h30 and usually pass out as my head hits the pillow. This means dinners with friends and family are not really an option as I am about as interesting as a wet carrot in the evenings. Socialising has definitely taken a back seat in the last two months unless it’s a daytime event.

My husband is also doing Ironman so we were very worried about the kids, as a huge chunk of our weekends is taken up by training. We discussed it with them and they said they’re happy for us to do Ironman as long as they can go with us to Port Elizabeth.

Waking up early to train has also lessened the impact on the kids, and, although there’s been some grumbling, my children are very supportive and encouraging. It’s quite cute to hear them say things like 'You are stronger than you think'.

What were you most excited about before the race?

Hearing the words, 'Shereen. You. Are. An. IRONMAN!'

What were you the most nervous about?

The swim is always a bit nerve-racking because we swim in the sea, which is very different to swimming laps in the Virgin Active pool, so it always scares me.

What have you learned while training for the event?

  • The human body is really incredible and it’s amazing to me how we can get our bodies to do more and more. There were days when I was so tired from the training that I was certain I would be a zombie the next day but, sure enough, I woke up feeling good and my body had recovered overnight.
  • Signing up for Ironman was the key to my motivation. I doubt I would’ve been able to do all this training if I did not have such a big goal to work towards.  
  • What we put into our bodies has a huge impact on performance, so nutrition has been very important.
  • And, if I am struggling with an interesting problem, a good run is great for generating ideas and solutions.

What tech tools do you use?

I use the Garmin Fenix 3 to record my running and swimming sessions, and the Garmin Edge 520 for cycling. On the day of the Ironman, I used the Fenix 3 as it can record triathlons – it recorded the swim, bike, run as well as the time it took me to transition between the three disciplines.

Both devices automatically sync via Bluetooth to my smartphone and upload to the Garmin Connect app. I am then immediately able to see my session. Once it has been uploaded to Garmin, it automatically gets uploaded to Strava. I really love Strava because it gives feedback on segments within the ride and allows me to compare it to previous rides and to other Strava users.

I use a Wahoo Kickr for my weekday rides. My bike attaches to The Kickr and I am then able to do my cycling indoors. This is obviously very convenient and can provide a very controlled and intense training session as there is no 'coasting'.

I love listening to music on my longer runs. I usually put a playlist on my Apple watch and use my Powerbeats in-ear wireless headphones to power through the most boring run. I’ve also listened to some audio books but I find music is far better.

I generally always have my phone on me when I cycle and this gets kept in the back pocket of my cycling or tri-shirt. I seal it in a plastic cellphone bag to prevent it from getting wet. If I do take my phone on a run, I use a cellphone armband.

What is the first thing you did after the event?

Hugged my husband and kids and asked them to help me hobble over to the massage tent.

Then I went on the hunt for the biggest, tastiest burger with chips and a chocolate milkshake!

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