Honouring a Great Friend

A Man of Steel


Crossing the finish line as the winner of Ironman 2010 was one of his greatest achievements. Although he has never doubted that he was capable of it, many people wrote him off, saying he would never win again after finishing second three times and failing to complete the race last year. So when Raynard crossed the finish line as the 2010 Ironman winner he proved to everyone that he still has what it takes and that his racing career is by no means over!

“I knew that I was capable of winning. I kept a low profile and on the day just got on with it,” says Raynard. He has raced Ironman every year from 2006 until 2009 and finished second three times, which is by no means a bad accomplishment! After failing to complete the race last year due to asthma, nobody really expected him to be up there with the best this year, nobody but Raynard who believed in himself and showed the world why he has won seven Ironman and two Ironman 70.3 titles. He also has a host of top ten finishes all over the globe. This total includes two top ten finishes at the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, an event Raynard has set his heart on winning in October this year. He is currently in Europe preparing for this race, regarded by most as the ultimate in triathlons.

Raynard was a cross-country runner at school; he loved athletics and also played soccer. At the age of 16 he got his first bike and competed in his first duathlon, finishing second. “From that day on I was addicted to the sport!” A young Raynard participated in many duathlons and canoe triathlons before moving to an actual swim triathlon. “My swimming was always my weakest and most challenging discipline, but I seem to have mastered it over the years.”

Once he found a special connection with swim triathlons, he started specialising in them, winning multiple South African titles in Olympic and long distance triathlons, as well as numerous Olympic distance races in Europe. In 2000 he switched to Ironman.

Raynard loves triathlon because of the challenge it holds and of course, because he is good at it! “I sometimes wish I had golfing, tennis or rugby talent as I would be a far wealthier man right now, but I guess you can’t choose where your talents lie; you can only be grateful that you have them.”

Training for a race such as Ironman takes dedication and the ability to train skillfully. Raynard was forced to rest for two months in November and December due to injury. “I think that was a blessing in disguise as I had not had a rest for a long time and had been racing like crazy.”

After his injury healed he put in some quality training for Ironman SA 2010, including a big bike week of 1 000km. Alec Riddle, who has coached some of SA’s top marathon runners, helped Raynard with his running. “My run training wasn’t so much about mileage, but about specific types of sessions which helped my running speed and speed endurance.” Most of his swimming was done on his own, with daily 5km sessions at a gym. “On average my weekly mileages were around 600km of cycling, 100km of running, 30km of swimming and three gym sessions.” Training for the run is his favourite pastime because it takes the least amount of time, but when it comes to racing, the bike wins!

Though he looks like a man of steel, Raynard has off days like all of us where training is the last thing he wants to do! “The training is the hard part,” Raynard explains, “It is the racing that is fun. When you do well at the races, it motivates you to get out there and train. So when I am feeling lazy and not wanting to train, I remember what it feels like to win, and that always gets me out there. The hardest time is over holidays and weekends, when everyone is relaxing. Luckily my family is very supportive and this always helps when motivation is down.”

When you miss a training session there’s no time to make it up. “And it’s similar in daily life; there’s no time to make things up that should be done now.”

Raynard has raced all over the world and has won many races including Ironman South Africa (2005/2010), Ironman Wisconsin (2009) and Ironman Austria (2005). In his first ever finish at the 2005 World Championships in Hawaii, he became the first ever South African to finish in the top ten, with a seventh place.

“All my Ironman victories have been special, but winning in Canada was extra special because of the history of the event and all the big names in the sport who had won the race before me.”

To make it to the top takes an incredible amount of hard work, discipline, self-belief and of course, the ability to perform well at big races, Raynard explains. He tries to mentally prepare by visualising the race beforehand. “An Ironman is so long and so many things can affect your race; you just have to be mentally prepared for any misfortunes. You need the patience to push through bad patches. At Ironman Wisconsin it took about four hours to get through a bad patch, but I eventually did and went on to win the race!”

It is this mental strength that has helped Raynard achieve the extraordinary: he has recorded the fastest time ever for an Ironman race by a South African. He has also recorded one of the fastest bike splits ever in an Ironman, and that was on his way to victory at Ironman South Africa in 2005. In spite of this, Raynard stays humble and says, “Times don’t really mean much in Ironman races because the courses vary so much, but it is nice to know that I have been close to the exclusive eight-hour mark.”

Winning is always an awesome feeling but when you cross the finish line it is a relief to get there and hold off whoever is behind you. “The last 10km hurts a lot, so it is always a relief to finish. Getting off my feet is all I’m thinking about at that point. But after the finish the feeling of satisfaction and elation hits you.”

Raynard has raced against many great competitors. At Ironman the first person to ever break the eight-hour barrier was Lothar Leder from Germany. “He seemed to be at every race I did in my first few years. He always had my number until I beat him convincingly at the half Ironman in SA in 2004!”

Raynard’s goals are to win an Ironman event on every continent. He only has South America and Australasia left to conquer. “The problem with this goal is that the only Ironman in South America is in Brazil, and it’s only four weeks after SA’s Ironman. So to achieve it I’ll have to skip Ironman SA one year – tough decision. Another short-term goal is to do well at the ITU World Long Distance Champs. Raynard’s ultimate long-term goal is to successfully coach youngsters in the sport. “We also want to get our coaching centre in PE up and running and I’d like to get more involved with Velocity Sports Lab.”

Raynard turns 37 in November but has no plans of retiring soon. “I am still racing well. After Hawaii, I will take a bit of a break and then plan the new season.” He believes he has managed a long-lasting career by listening to his body and resting accordingly. “Also, just the drive and the excitement of racing and winning keeps me going. A big win is always enough to get the motivation back up.”

“Sport has been everything from the day I left school. It has led to everything I have in my life today, from my wife who coached me in the beginning, to the house we own. Without triathlon
I wouldn’t have any of that right now.”

Speak to any hardcore Ironman and he or she will tell you the ultimate Ironman race is in Hawaii. Raynard’s biggest dream is to win the World Championships in October. He is currently staying in Europe focusing on training and preparing for this event. “Hawaii is the holy grail of triathlon; every triathlete dreams of winning the most famous race in the sport. To win there, you need everything to be perfect for you and hope the other
100 guys that are there to win don’t have the perfect day!”

There are many new faces to look out for in the sport of triathlon. “In South Africa, James Cunnama has a great future ahead of him, if he doesn’t over train and race too much. There are always new youngsters popping up at various races who show huge potential. It’s what they do with that potential that defines them as athletes.”

Family plays a big part in Raynard’s life and he says that, without their support, he would not have been half the athlete he is today. He met his wife, Natalie, when he first started triathlon. Natalie managed a big swim school in Johannesburg and helped Raynard get his swimming on track.

“She also used to race triathlons competitively, so the two of us spent many years racing internationally together. I think that is why our marriage is so strong, because she understands my training and racing commitments and helps keep me motivated. She’s actively involved in all aspects of my career, from sponsors, to website, massage therapist and nutritionist!” Their two kids, Kade and Jordan, definitely have their parents’ genes and are both particularly good at swimming.

Raynard admits to it being difficult travelling worldwide with a family. “When the trip is over three weeks, we try to all go. This involves taking the kids out of school, arranging their schoolwork, getting someone to look after our house and dogs, and just trying to get settled elsewhere. Remember it’s not like we go away on an extended holiday; it’s work for me, so it’s not all fun and games. Obviously we do explore and we have been extremely lucky to have travelled the world together. These are all life experiences, which we will never forget. The kids have seen and learnt things that they can never experience at school and they love the travelling!”

Raynard advises novices to start slowly, especially those wanting to get into Ironman racing. Also, first try your hand at sprint distance triathlons before trying to race an Ironman. “And if at any point it’s not fun for you anymore, then you should stop. Enjoyment is vital in this sport.”

For those runners wanting to convert to triathlon, Raynard has the following advice: “The running part of an Ironman is probably the hardest discipline of all three, so for a runner to convert to Ironman is relatively easy. Generally a runner can pick up cycling quite easily. But sometimes, if they have no swimming background, this becomes the biggest challenge. This is where it is vital to get a coach and ensure proper technique and sessions from the outset.”

If you are able to complete a half Ironman, you are usually able to finish an Ironman event as well. Remember, if you’re a novice, it’s not about the time it takes to complete the event but about actually enjoying being out there. “Don’t get too competitive too soon. Obviously strive to do your best, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself that you start to hate it.”

When considering a coach to help you with any aspect of your training it is vital to get someone with experience and knowledge of the sport. “Just make sure you shop around first. Nowadays it seems that everyone who has completed a triathlon is a coach. You want someone you can trust and who has achieved in the sport or as a coach.”

The biggest mistake most novices make is to splash out on the most expensive equipment with the hope that it will make them faster or make it easier, says Raynard. He advises to rather start slowly and gradually upgrade your equipment.

Ironman 8:09
Half Ironman 3:54
Olympic Triathlon 1:49
5km Run 15:46
Marathon 2:39

Favourite food/drink: A good red wine and a braai
Favourite place in the world: Port Elizabeth (home sweet home)
What no one knows about you: I’m quite shy and like my privacy
Best holiday spot: Disneyland
Proudest moment: The birth of my kids
Best bike in the world: Cervelo P4

Raynard is very grateful to all his sponsors. “They have allowed me to be a professional in South Africa and focus on my training and racing. My current title sponsor is PBS Consulting, an IT company in Johannesburg.” Raynard says Velocity Sports Lab is probably the main reason that his ‘Hawaii Dream’ is possible. “Trevor McLean-Anderson heard that we were trying to raise funds to cover the cost of the trip to Hawaii and he asked how they could help.”  He has been with many of his other sponsors such as GU, PUMA, Moducare, Cervelo, Action Cycles, Oakley, Online Innovations and Orca for many years. “They have stuck with me through all my ups and downs.”

To win or excel in triathlon you need to be prepared to sacrifice. And you need the support of your family and friends. “Training for a triathlon takes up a lot more time than training for a single sport, so if you’re not prepared to commit to putting in the work, don’t bother. There are no easy steps or miracle programmes or coaches.”