23 Oct: JD Neill - Kona

A Tale of Six Races

How did I end up completing six Ironman races? Such a bizarre and unique journey it is for every Ironman athlete. No matter what, it is a journey that has a way of teaching you about yourself.  I can say that there are only a handful of times in my life where I have been overwhelmed with emotion.
My wedding.  The birth of my daughter.  Family funerals.  And Ironman.  Maybe that is part of the appeal, and why so many people put themselves through the trauma and ecstasy that is an Ironman.
Those that know me will find it surprising that I decided to do this little write up.  I am not known for my sentimentality J.  This is mainly a journal entry for myself to snap-shot my frame of mind after a lifetime experience that was the culmination of achieving a goal, which required more dedication and discipline than anything else I have ever done.  Secondly, it may have some usefulness for someone who is at a point on a similar journey.




AG pos







Apr 2011









Apr 2012









May 2013









Mar 2015









Apr 2016









Oct 2016









*Each race has its own story, but remember ‘there is no comments column’
I went into my first Ironman with blissful ignorance and that is how it should be.  No expectations.   That said, I could have avoided some rookie pitfalls with proper guidance.  I was hopelessly undertrained (I only know that in hindsight), my equipment (read ‘bike’) was not properly prepared, I did not have a nutrition plan and I had ITBS from bad running shoes.  All-in-all it was a big learning curve.  As I crossed the finish line knowing I would be back.  I had unfinished business.
The following year I was back.  With a coach, an ‘aero’ bike and a game plan.  The weather was brutal but it was my first taste of what I was capable of.  I knew I still had a better race in me.  I was in a great training group in JHB (which included my wife-to-be) and decided to enter IM Brazil.
I moved to CPT, started a new job and got married.  I focused on the training in my newfound activity grounds.  Brazil was a great race for me.  Not perfect pacing but I got my goal of a sub 10-hour, albeit with a 10 min drafting penalty.
Enough was enough and the culmination of all the life changing activities preceding IM Brazil meant that I needed a break.  I honestly thought I was done with IM.  My wife however, was not, and she did the Ironman Port Elizabeth 2014.  I had zero FOMO watching her.  She had, however, mentioned how cool her new swimming squad was.  Intriguing…
I joined the squad for a few sessions to try and get some fitness back.  This inadvertently put me back into exposure with a group of rock star triathletes who had a way of inspiring anyone to get a goal.  It did not take too long for one of my new training partners to plant the Ironman seed, again!  This time it was for another reason though.  I had my sights on Kona.  My dad did it in 2000 and it felt like an ambitious enough goal to get me out of the comfort zone.
It would prove to be a two-year challenge.  The time off after Brazil had dented the base fitness too much for me to get into the slots for Kona at PE in 2015.  Once again I had unfinished business.  It was time to get serious.
I stayed consistent, got technical, got focused and controlled all of that could be controlled.  It paid off and I had the race of my life in PE.  It was a magical experience.  I was at a fitness level where I felt untouchable.  I had a plan that Dave (my coach) had helped me with.  Most of the day was spent holding back and sticking to the plan.  Believing in the plan.  IM is a long day (even if you are doing it in 8hrs).
Crossing the finish line in 09h30 was beyond my greatest expectations.  It was enough to get me to Kona.  Second time lucky.  I qualified 5th out of 9 available slots in my age group.  One of 13 South Africans.  The best overall position in my career.
My race in Kona felt a lot like my first Ironman.  I was heavily undertrained for various reasons.  I did, however, have a much bigger base and more experience.  All I can say is that Kona is everything it is made out to be.  The vibe on the island is electric.  As an athlete in the lead up, you feel like a rock star.  It is beautiful and magical.  An experience of a lifetime.  I was lucky to experience it with my parents, wife and daughter.  So cool to be back with my dad after he had raced it 16 years earlier.
Here are some of my lessons learnt:
Number 1 – don’t commit to an Ironman without getting your wife / girlfriend on board (and don’t under sell it – they will take as much strain as you in the training).  You WILL need their support.
There is no substitute for base fitness – every additional hour of training makes you a better athlete. (Remember 10 000 hours).
Get a coach – I did not know what proper training was until I got a coach.  It is difficult enough doing the training.  Don’t force yourself to come up with it as well.  Knowing there is someone watching is a big motivator to get out and do the second session of the day.  She / he is the person when you need a kick or a shoulder.
Get a training group / buddy – They should be better than you.  My training buddy is a much better triathlete than me.  Chasing him around has made me a better athlete.  It is also ten times easier to get out of bed in the dark when you know someone is waiting for you.  (Seriously, trust me, I am not a morning person).
Sort out your equipment – New tyres, slime in tubes, clean drive train, proper bike setup (get help), anti-fog in goggles, running shoes less than a year old (but older than a month).  If you want to be competitive, a power meter is a game changer.
Have a realistic race plan – even if it is just to have a good time.
Nutrition is key – don’t forget this in your race plan and the training.
During the training and the race you will have good times and bad times.  Always.  Remember in the good times to prepare for the bad times and in the bad times, rejoice in the fact that it will get better.
The race is the reward for all the training.  Enjoy it.  All the crowds and aid stations are there to get you to the finish line. Appreciate them.  A smile makes the pain go away for a moment.
Say thanks to your supporters at the end. It is as emotionally tough supporting an Ironman as it is doing one. (I have been on both sides of the fence).
Remember it is all for fun. Don’t lose that.
JD Neill