Friday, July 23, 2010

Raynard's Return [published in June TRIATHLETESA Magazine]

How do you win an Ironman? Is there a magic formula [as there is for the Tour de France?] I asked South Africa’s toughest athlete, 2010 Ironman winner Raynard Tissink to shed some light on what it means to be an Ironman Champion again, and again – by Nick van der Leek.

“No,” Raynard says, “there unfortunately is NO magic formula. If there was, I probably would not have finished 2nd for 3 consecutive years. It all comes down to proper preparation and more importantly putting everything together on race day. I went into the last 4 IMSA events, confident that I was in excellent shape and that I would be in a position to win. Punctures, pure nutrition, illness and other outside factors played a part in how those races turned out.”

So luck is a factor. You can improve your chances with preparation, and even push yourself into being a virtual certainty, but Lady Luck also comes into play, especially during a race as epic and filled with possibilities as the Ironman.

“So you can never be guaranteed going into a race that things will work in your favour. I think every IM athlete goes into the event hoping for a perfect day, hoping that his nutrition, his mechanics, his health, his energy will be good on that day. The only thing you can guarantee is putting in the work before hand.”

Tell us about the lowest point you were at before this win. You had a few injuries and so on. When was your motivation at rock bottom and what did you do?

“I think the lowest part was last year when I had to withdraw at 7km into the marathon of IMSA. I didn't know that it was asthma, and thought the chest pain was maybe related to heart problems. I thought that this was maybe the end of my career. But, after visiting specialists, discovered that it was asthma and that it was treatable.
Of course, everyone thought that it was an excuse and that my days were numbered. What more motivation do you need - other than to prove everyone wrong!”

How confident were you of your chances going into this one?

“Hey, every race I enter, I enter to win. So, of course I was confident of my abilities. I think my injury to my ankle which forced me out of the 70.3, and forced me to rest was a blessing in disguise. I had 2 complete rest months and only started training in January. Honestly, I wasn't sure whether I had enough training in me, because I know everyone else had been training since Sep/Oct last year already. BUT, the training I had put in had gone really well, so I was hoping for a good performance.”
And why was that?
“I had put in some really big bike weeks prior to the race in AbuDahbi and my biking in that race had gone really well. I had also focused more on my running, and with the help of Alec Riddle (who has coached many of SA's top marathon runners), I was confident of my running abilities as well.”

Please talk us through this race. Did everything go according to plan?

“No, nothing went according to plan. My plan had been to swim with the leaders, sit back on the bike and run really well. As it turned out, I had a bad swim, and came out 3 minutes behind the leaders. This changed my plan completely. So, I decided to still hang back on the bike, but at 100km we were just on 7mins behind and I couldn't hold back any longer. I felt the guys around me were getting too weak and decided to put in a burst of speed to break things up.

At 160km the gap to the front was about 4min, but after 60km of hard riding it was time to back off again to recover for the run. Even so, my legs were still a little tender coming home but the body and mind were ready to hammer. I also managed to pick up Anton Storm in the last 5km which meant I was up into 4th position off the bike. After a leisurely transition, I set off on my marathon. [Mathias] Hecht was leading @5,5min. Anton Storm @3,5min and Daniel Fontana @2min. James [Cunama] was 4,5min back, so by no means out of the picture. I tried to start slow for the first 2km, trying to let the legs loosen up a little, but 3:49 and 3:56k's didn't help that cause. So, I decided to just go for it. I felt fantastic, so just kept going, and luckily for me - it paid off.”

When Lance broke his collarbone last year during the Tour of Italy people thought that was it, and yet within a remarkably short time he came back. There was a study done with university students where they showed if they were forced to lie down for 2 weeks they could lose up to 10 years of physical conditioning. So after that injury, to your ankle I believe, what were you doing? Do you head to the gym in a cast and strengthen arms, how does it work?

“As I mentioned above, I had a complete rest for 2 months. It was great to actually have 1 Christmas with the family where they didn't have to fit everything in around my training.”

Are you on Twitter?

“Yes, raytissink”

On Facebook you describe what you do as: 'Wake up early, sweat blood all day, finish work late, go to sleep, repeat 7 days per week.' When do you rest? What happens the day after an Ironman win? How long does it take before you're training again?

“I've taken 2 weeks slowly now. Rested for 2 complete days, then started swimming again. Only ran and cycled again a bit in the 2nd week. This is now the 3rd week after the race, and training is back into full swing now for the races ahead.”

Okay a few very specific questions: what was your resting heart rate, average heart rate on the 25th/and maximum? What's your current body fat %? How did these compare to other Ironman races and is it something you try to stick to?

“I have no idea what my HR was as I don't race with a HR monitor. My current body fat is 6%.”

What do you have a background in? And do you think you can go faster than a 2:52 [Raynard ran a 2:52 in the March 25 Ironman?

“I used to run cross country at school and then got into canoe triathlon originally. Yes, Natalie helped with my swimming. It was by far my weakest discipline when I started. I have run a 2.49 marathon in an IM before - at IM Austria in 2005. I definitely think I can still go faster than that.”

Do you still use Moducare for your immunity? What about Vitamin B complex?

“I believe 100% in Moducare. I also take Vit B, C, Iron, Zinc and magnesium.”

You're going to Hawaii - what's your 'handicap' there, and what are you aiming for?

“I'm hoping to go to Hawaii. Yes, I've taken the slot, but unless we can come up with R150 000, we won't be going. Any South African travelling to Hawaii has a huge handicap competing in Kona. The time change is 12 hrs, the travelling time is 36hrs, the heat and humidity is extreme. So, a South African training alone over here, and then hoping to go over a couple of weeks in advance is wasting their time. You need to base your self in the same conditions and train with and race against the World's best if you want to realistically compete with them.”

Will you be doing any specific races before Hawaii, even smaller cycle or run events?

“I am racing a 70.3 event in Germany on June 5th. Then I am doing the Challenge France race on June 13th. I will also be racing the ITU World Long Distance Championships on Aug 2nd. If I can raise the money for Hawaii, I will race 2 more 70.3 events in the States before Kona.”

I have trained with Ryk Neethling who is about 8 years younger, and I've raced with you a long time ago and seen you race - it seems strange that you haven't shared, or seemed to want to pursue the sort of public exposure Ryk has. Is that intentional? Ryk did win Olympic medals, though none of them individual - did you never think of going on that sports-celebrity path? Endorsements based on looks? Because it's tough making money in sport in South Africa, especially triathlon, and you seem to maintain quite a low profile. Is this because you're training so much that you're not really finding time [or wanting] to market yourself?

“Hey, I think Ryk had the right contacts at the right time and I'm sure he's made a lot of money from it. It does take a lot of your time away from actual training and racing though. Luckily, I have fantastic sponsors that support me, like TRI SPORTS, GU, PUMA,CERVELO, MODUCARE and ACTION CYCLES. They have enabled me to get to where I am today. If it wasn't for their support, I probably would have been forced to retire a long time ago.

Is triathlon - as a career - getting any easier?

“No, as mentioned above, if it wasn’t for outside sponsors, it would be impossible to make a living as a professional Ironman triathlete. Federations are making it harder to earn prize money, and prize money has even dropped in some events.”

You're 36 now, Dave Scott was 40 when he came 2nd in Hawaii's World Champs, and 5th as a 42 year old. Is Raynard thinking of retiring?

"I’m only 36, so NO - No thoughts about retiring yet. I think I’m in the best shape of my life right now, and I know I can still improve even more.” 

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