Super Heroes or Fitness Freaks?

Ironman Uncovered

James Cunama firm favourite for IRONMAN 2013

Every year they make the journey from around South Africa and all corners of the globe to gather at the starting line in the Ironman City of Africa, Nelson Mandela Bay.

Athletes are required to complete a 3.8 kilometre sea swim, followed by a 180.2 kilometre cycle and finish with a 42.2 kilometre run – all in under 17 hours! The very first Ironman race held in January 1978 was completed by only 12 men.  In 1979, 13 men and one woman crossed the finish line. Last year 1 744 people entered SA Ironman - a total of 38 nationalities were represented. The sport has certainly progressed and athletes have taken it to levels thought impossible, breaking the nine hour barrier became breaking the eight hour mark.

For some it’s a truly inspirational life changing experience, for others it’s a case of madman rather than Ironman. But in the end it’s a 17 hour celebration of human determination and strength, supported by thousands of spectators.

It’s the world’s most gruelling one-day race and perhaps the greatest test in human endurance.

A 2013 Race Favourite fills us in...

Endurance triathlete, JAMES CUNNAMA (29), has completed four IRONMAN South Africa races ranking third in 2011. He is a firm favourite for the upcoming race in April.

 Describe the pressure, nerves and excitement on race day?

Race day is always a heady mix of emotions, from very low lows to very high highs and everything in between. Sharing this emotional rollercoaster with all the people around you is what makes it such a special event.

Can you train too hard before race day?

Definitely! In fact most people probably do, especially for their first Ironman race. It’s an extremely tough day and the more training and preparation you do, the better. But the body can only adapt to a certain amount, at a certain speed. Expecting it to adapt to too much, or too fast is how people over-train.

Where do you personally expend the most energy through the different disciplines?

Every discipline is different and the energy cost changes. Racing at the front end you have to be aware of your competition and expend your energy at the points where it’s most advantageous. But the later you can use your reserves the better - the run is always run on or near empty!

Have you competed in any Ironman races of other countries?

Many, all over the world - Germany, France, Florida, Hawaii, Mexico, and many others. 

What makes Ironman the race of all races?

I think it’s the way Ironman requires 100% from you in everything - physically, mentally, emotionally - you need to be excellently prepared. And even then, the race will expose your weaknesses.

What is the most intimidating aspect of the race?

Most people say the swim start, and in a mass-start it’s always intimidating. But really it’s the sheer time that is hardest to deal with - even going at a pace well within yourself, the amount of time you are out there be it eight hours or 15 hours, will test you to the maximum. Wrapping your head around such a long event is very intimidating.

What goes through your mind at the height of your most challenging parts?

Normally the most challenging parts are simply a lot of self-talk and focus. You need to remind yourself why you started this journey in the first place, when your entire being is screaming at you to stop.

Describe the feeling of crossing the finish line?

Normally, and perhaps surprisingly for people who haven't experienced it, the overwhelming emotion on the finish line is relief. But that is always mixed with strong feelings of joy, accomplishment and satisfaction. 


  • The Ironman Race is made up of 3.8 km swim, 180.2 km cycle and 42.2 km run raced in that order without a break.
  • Official start time is 07h00 and the cut-off, 17 hours later, at 24h00 (midnight).
  • The IRONMAN South Africa race limit is set at 2 000 entrants.
  • Just finishing an Ironman race is often the highlight of many triathletes' careers.
  • There are 28 Ironman Triathlon races held throughout the world.
  • The Ironman World Championship is held annually in Hawaii.
  • In 2005, the Ironman 70.3 race or ‘Half Ironman’ series was introduced. The shorter course consists of a 1.9 km swim, 90.1 km bike and 21.1 km run.
  • Last year’s SA Ironman winner was Clemente Alonso-McKernan (Spain) in a time of 08:34:36.
  • One of the greatest ever female Ironman athletes, six-time IRONMAN World Champion, Natascha Badmann (Switzerland) won IRONMAN South Africa four times, her last win being in 2012 at the age of 45.
  • The SA race record is held by Raynard Tissink (RSA) who completed the 2011 race in 08:05:37.
  • This year’s SA Ironman will be held on 14 April 2013 in Nelson Mandela Bay.