This weekend, thousands of athletes, professional and recreational, will descend on East London to line up at the start of the Ironman 70.3 East London. Amongst the professionals will be Eastern Cape born and bred Kyle Buckingham.
Trained as an electrician, Kyle got into athletics later than most professionals, picking up running and cycling when he was 24. He fell in love with the world of triathlons, and since then, he’s won multiple Ironman events, as well as being a two-time Ironman World Champion in his age-group and has qualified 7 times for the World Championships in Kona.
In the lead up to Sunday’s race, we chatted with Kyle about the world of triathlons, ironman, his training, becoming professional, racing tips, and the athletes to watch for this Sunday.
What made you want to start doing triathlons?
While I was living in London, working as an electrician. I was living in a house-share with 5 other guys. One of them was training and doing Ironman triathlons. He gave me a book to read about Ironman and that got me hooked. I bought the equipment soon after that, and I started training every single day and have loved it ever since.
What’s been the favourite Ironman you’ve done?
I would have to say Ironman South Africa. I’ve competed at Ironman SA 11 times in a row. It’s also home to my most memorable Ironman victories in 2018, which is also Ironman African Champs.
How did you make the transition from regular athlete to professional?
This transition wasn’t easy. While working a full-time job as an electrician in London, I used to train 3-4hrs every single evening, because my dream was to one day be a professional. I put in so much hard work and dedication into my training and preparation, but in order to go professional I needed the backing of some sort of sponsorship so I could train full time. This is when it all changed! In 2012, after competing at Ironman South Africa and finishing 12th overall, including the professionals, I was given the most incredible opportunity to contact this person after the race. This person changed my life forever and still supports me to this day. Thanks Trevor and Velocity Sports Lab in Hout Bay for believing in my potential from the beginning and your amazing support over all these years. Special credit also goes out to Jendamark Automation, a local company from Port Elizabeth that has backed me on my journey as a professional since 2018.
What advice would you give to those athletes looking to become professional?
Work hard every single day and do what others aren’t doing in their preparations. Believe in yourself and be confident to reach out for support, because they aren’t going to come looking for you. This has been a game changer for me since day one, always finding the upper edge and reaching out to those that want to walk the path with me.
Do you divide training equally between all three disciplines?
Typically, the cycling takes up most of the time, because it’s the longest leg when we are racing. On average, in a big week of training, my hours would look something like:
16-20 hours on the bike
6-8 hours running
5-7 hours in the pool or open water.
What’s your favourite and worst discipline?
That is a tough one and often asked. The best for me are cycling and running, and then swimming. If you said what’s the most favourite you look forward to in a race, it’s my running, because over the last 2 years this has been my strongest discipline and something I’ve worked extremely hard to get better at.
What’s the best way to ensure smooth transitioning during racing?
Go through the whole race in your head from start to finish a few times in the days leading up to the race. Don’t try anything new on race day that you are not used to, e.g. Nutrition on race day, new shoes you’ve never tried, the night before dinner meal, and race day morning breakfast. Don’t copy your buddies and think that what they are doing is right, stick to your own plan. Be in the moment with yourself before the race, and make sure you check over everything on your bike and equipment.
What’s the one thing no one tells you about doing an Ironman?
How tough mentally and physically the last 10-15km of the marathon is!
What’s your fuelling strategy during Ironman?
I stick to around 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight per hour. Most of it comes from liquids and the rest through some bars or gels. I always practice my race day nutrition when I have race specific training to do.
What athletes will you be watching out for come Sunday?
I think Henri Schoeman (Bronze Olympic Medalist) will be one to watch as the hilly course will suit him quite well. However, it’s his first half Ironman so anything can happen. Bradley Weiss, who won last year, and Matt Trautman, are also top contenders. It’s going to be a strong field on Sunday.
Why do you think triathlons have grown so much in recent years?
I think it’s so addictive, that’s why I got so hooked 😉 Also it’s a very social sport and the challenge of it also inspires people.
What advice do you have for the person doing Ironman for the first time this year?
Be very patient all day. Do your own race and no one else’s. Do what your body is capable of, be in the moment all day, and most of all, just enjoy it.
What are the best training resources for those starting out?
Finding a training group and coach around your area [will make it] a lot more enjoyable and a lot of fun. Also, it’s great to push yourself and be motivated by all the others doing it too. If you don’t have anything like that, then finding motivational videos and music will also do the trick. That’s what I did back in London training indoors.