Up close with Kyle Buckingham

South African Kyle Buckingham was the top age grouper at the 2013 GoPro Ironman World Championships in 8:37:26 and that allowed him to be 16th overall. We had a chat with him about his race and moving on to the next step.

Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time.

Kyle Buckingham: No problem, thank you for having me.

ST: That was a monster performance you had in Kona, and we assume you are generally happy.

Kyle: I’m truly over the moon with my result in Kona, I worked extremely hard for it and my dreams came true.

ST: You were a likely candidate for age group honors, but was there anyone else that was on your radar that you were seeing as a danger?

Kyle: No not really, I knew I was very fit and confident with my training I had done. Once I was on the bike, which is a strength of mine, I knew I was in a good place.

ST: I believe Raynard Tissink is coaching you and what his advice for you going into Kona?

Kyle: Stick to my own plan and don’t worry about anyone else just race my own race, and gun it on the run. Raynard knew that I was capable of running close to 2:55 hours on the run after all the training I’ve done and the times I’ve produced. He gave me a set wattage to follow on the bike - which I stuck to for a while.

ST: Did he give you grief for not sticking to the wattage he had set for you? Or did the end result eliminate that topic?

Kyle: He did mention that I was only meant to go that wattage up Hawi and not the whole way, wahaha. Maybe we got mixed up a little! I trained at the wattage a lot so I knew how my body could react especially running off the bike. But he was so happy with the end result and trusts me not to be too stupid and blow tons of matches.

ST: A 56-minute swim was not terrible, but it wasn't fast either. Did you have any idea as to who was in front of you at that time?

Kyle: No, actually funny enough I thought I was in the main pack apart from a few guys. It felt fast but obviously the other pack was way ahead. When I exited the water I thought it was quick and when I looked at my watch I got quite a shock. I didn’t let it stress me but took it out on the bike.

ST: No watch check at the swim turn around?

Kyle: No, but next time I will definitely.

ST: How did you and Raynard connect in the first place?

Kyle: The first time we met was in Port Elizabeth when I joined them for a swim coaching session a few weeks before the Ironman in 2009. Since then they have been setting my programs when I lived in London and I even asked them to sponsor programs for me and so they kindly did. Now they run a very successful coaching academy from the Velocity Sports Lab performance centre here in Hout Bay/Cape Town.

ST: We saw your bike power file in a recent feature. Did that all go as you had in mind?

Kyle: Not really, I was leading the race and in no man’s land doing all the work on my own until about 120k mark just after Kawaihae then a bunch of 5 guys had reeled me in like a pack of wolfs. Then I just relaxed and stayed with them until town. As you can see I averaged about 294w until 120k but I think it was a little bit too much and a big effort on my own.

ST: When you started the run did you feel the hard bike effort?

Kyle: No not really, I guess when that bunch of 4-5 guys came past I got to stay with them and conserve some energy. I have been working on my run a lot so running at that speed was something we practiced in training plenty of times.

ST: You were the first age grouper into the Energy Lab and also coming out I believe, so did that give you some confidence?

Kyle: Yes it most definitely did, I knew I had about a 3-4min lead on the next age grouper at the turnaround point in the energy lab. Going out was really tough everything was hurting. I had stopped and walked through the last aid station going out and tried to get in lots of fluid and energy drink. As soon as I got on the Queen K I started feeling good again. It seemed like the whole day was a roller coaster but that last 10k on the Queen K I was still running strong and feeling great. When I got to the top of Palani I started celebrating and let the legs flow to the finish line.

ST: You actually looked fine when you came past me at the exit of the Energy Lab road.

Kyle: Oh I did? Well, I just tried to enjoy it but deep down I was hurting quite a lot inside.

ST: You passed a few legendary Pros during the run who had started 30 minutes ahead of you. Was that a bit like a dream?

Kyle: Yes it was a dream, I felt super happy but at the same time felt bad for the Pros who didn't have the race they wanted. Even Chrissie Wellington passed me on her bike and said 'go buddy.' I remember getting to the finish line and had Pete Jacobs & Luke Bell come in behind me, so I couldn’t celebrate too long.

ST: Once you crossed the line, who was first to congratulate you?

Kyle: Pete Jacobs.

ST: Did he have any words for you?

Kyle: No he just said well done, he might have said something else, but I can't remember cause at that stage I was getting my ass dragged to drug testing straight after crossing the line and couldn’t enjoy some food first.

ST: The whole season seemed to have gone well for you. Was there any race result that you are particularly fond of?

Kyle: My Ironman South Africa time earlier this year in April I went 8:34 and 7th overall being the 1st South African. That was a really good day too, and so I knew I was capable of doing similar in Kona.

ST: So what will be your first race with a Pro card?

Kyle: Ironman South Africa 70.3

ST: How much work do you think you still have ahead of you?

Kyle: There is always room for improvement and I have a few things up my sleeve that I want to do better while training. I’m always up for hard work & very motivated to train and try new things. I just want to do the best I can for myself for the next 10 years.

ST: You were riding a Specialized Shiv in Kona. Did anyone help you with the fit and setup?

Kyle: Yes wow what a great bike to ride, Specialized are an amazing company and have a wonderful team of professionals. I even got invited to a lunch with the top Pros and they even popped in to my place where I was staying to give me some parts for my bike including the new FuelCell, which worked like a dream. I’m a certified Retul fitter as well, so I set myself up on the bike after having done the course with the measurements.

ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Kyle: Yes, I only started triathlon at the age of 25 with no endurance background at all. I started running and cycling when I was 24 and my first triathlon or any race of any kind was Ironman South Africa in 2009 (10:29 hours). I was a surfer back in the day starting at the Age of 14-20 years old before moving to London to work as an electrician. After my first year in London I traveled the world on my own surfing the best waves I could find including driving around Australia for 3 months and sleeping in my camper van. I wanted to become a pro surfer but I knew I just didn’t have it, I still surf sometimes when I go back home to Port Elizabeth. My first years of training were really tough in London especially with the weather being so miserable in the UK and after a hard days graft doing manual labor as a sparky chasing walls and climbing in ceilings I wasn’t really in any good condition to do any kind of session but battled it out anyway with lots of moaning. I only started training at around 6pm till 10pm and only got to eat a healthy meal at around 11pm every night. I only trained on an indoor trainer and a treadmill and only getting on the bike on a Saturday outside. I remember training for Ironman Hawaii 2012 with a heater blowing on me to try get used to some heat but that wasn’t the best idea after nearly fainting a few times.

ST: Oh my. Were you able to catch any waves while in Hawaii this time?

Kyle: No. I wish I could but am quite scared of the locals there. They seem pretty intense, plus there wasn’t much swell this year like last year.

ST: Final words?

Kyle: I just want to say thank you to my wonderful sponsors:
Velocity Sports Lab & Axis House
GU Energy

Plus my coach Raynard Tissink for his support in helping me reach my dreams.