A Half Ironman & Never Giving Up

Race Report Ironman 70.3 Philippines

August 23, 2010

Tuesday, 8:00 pm

Beginning of the race I was scared of the cut-off. It’s one thing to do a 1.9k swim, 90k bike, and then a 21k run. It’s another to finish that swim in 1 hour 10 minutes, finish the bike 6 hours from the start and finish the run within 8 hours from the starting gun. I knew I could do the distances in training within the cut-offs but I had very little margin for the unexpected. I wanted to come in at just below 7 hours — I thought that would honestly capture my skill level.

By the time I got to CWC in Camsur my mind was messed up. As the hours ticked away, I was getting overwhelmed by the largeness of the Ironman 70.3 event and how small my meager skills were.

Luckily two things helped me get focused. Lance Watson, a pro-triathlete coach, talked about how Lisa Bentley, who was suffering from cystic fibrosis, came and won last year’s race with a strong sense of gratitude. She could’ve complained about the raw deal life gave her, but she was grateful for the Filipinos who invited her and welcomed her to race her last race. My roommate Jody talked about how he walked the last 12k last year while all his muscles, from his abs to his feet, were cramping. He made it to the finish but needed medical attention – he couldn’t eat or drink and the guys who were with him said he couldn’t answer their questions coherently. These stories helped me reconnect with why I was there that day: I wanted to be part of the Ironman mythology … to take part in something larger than myself… to honor and continue the stories of great human effort by taking part in an event, that says in it’s own rules, that you can “run, walk, or crawl to the finish line.”

Our wave was sent off at 6:37 am. We were a large age-group but the lake at CWC was big enough. I just concentrated on getting my form and making sure I was relaxed. The visibility in the water was bad: when you put your arm in you won’t see your hands. So now and then I’d bump into people or see a pair or feet right in front of my eyes. I zigzagged through the big lake and felt good. I ran to the next lake and realized I lost my contacts in one eye because some water entered my goggles. I couldn’t put it back after two tries so that was that. I jumped into the small lake and had to make a big u-turn to get to the end of the course. I got out at 49:35.

I started the bike too fast. I don’t know if it was the adrenalin but I couldn’t get my heart rate down from 90% to below 85%. By 10k, my left calf was sore and my left hamstring was tight. Not a good sign. That never happened in training and I was worried what that would mean for the rest of the 80k.

The course was fast but I wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Close to the half way point, my nutrition seemed to kick in and I got my second wind. The ride back from the turnaround seemed harder. By this time I was tired and sore and finishing 90k seemed like it was taking forever. I was getting disheartened because I probably passed 3 or 4 riders but maybe 20 to 30 riders passed me. 60k in I could hear some of the guys cheering us on say I looked tired or asked “Kaya pa ba?” (Can you still go on?) In my mind my answer was, “Kahit po gumapang, makakaabot po.” (Even if I have to crawl I’ll get there). When I got off the bike, I was sore and I was spent. It was also scorching hot that our feet would burn in the transition area. Again that wasn’t a good sign.

I ran out of transition and hoped that the soreness in my legs would go away. I felt my heart rate settle down so I thought I was doing ok. When I looked at my Garmin I was doing 6/k pace and my heart rate was at 90%! The ideal plan was to start at 6:30-7 min/k at 80-85% of my max heart rate. So 2k into the run, I walked. When I started running again I could feel the soreness and the the threat of cramps setting in. I knew it was going to be a long day, so I did run-walks to make sure I had enough to get to the finish.

By about 5k I started to feel the heat. Every water station I’d pass, I’d get 2 bottles of water: 1 to drink and 1 to pour over my body. I paid attention to how I felt – I wasn’t thirsty & felt like I had some strength in me; but I couldn’t run. My legs were sore and every time I’d try to run, my calves would threaten to cramp. I was lucky I knew myself enough not to over-hydrate. I took 3 sips from one bottle and poured it over my head. The other bottle I poured over my legs – if they could cool down, maybe I could run. This seemed to keep me going. But the day just got longer and longer and the distances between aid stations seemed to get longer too.

By the end of the first loop, I caught up with Jody and he was walking. He told me to go ahead and not wait for him. In the last loop I didn’t see him anymore. He took a DNF (did not finish) and suffered from dehydration.

Nearing the turnaround of the last loop, about 13k into the race, Gabby from Team Timex and Packy from Team Fitness First both told me to run walk and make it to the finish. That pushed me because I knew I was collapsing- my shoulders were hunched, my hands would go to my waist, I’d be looking at the ground, and my pace would get slower. The course had thinned out by then and there were very few of us left out there. That seemed to make the heat hotter, lonelier, and harder.

By the time I got to the turnaround, with 7k to go I was worried I wouldn’t make the cut-off. I was walking at 10 min/k pace and it was 2:20 pm. I did the math and knew I wouldn’t make the 3 pm cut off. I was telling myself I didn’t come all this way not to make it. But I also imagined the horror scenario of needing to run the final stretch to the finish with cramps and seeing the clock run out of time. I needed to run but I couldn’t. There was this sense of dread that started to creep into my consciousness and I didn’t like it – because at a certain point I couldn’t fight it.

Then it hit me:

This is a test of character and it’s happening right now, what am I going to do?

I wish I had better words for it but this is what was going through my head, “It’s time to show my character.” Part of it was telling myself to just give my best and leave it all on the course – knowing that if I do that and I still don’t make it, then there will be no regrets. And part of it was choosing to define myself in this moment. So I ran and when I’d cramp, I’d walk. And then I’d run again until I’d cramp again.

And then it rained. A glorious-big-dropped-nothing-dry-curtains-of-rain rain. It cooled the course and it cooled my body. I found myself running longer and faster: 8 min/k, 7 min/k, 6:30 min/k. So I ran and as I got closer to the finish line I kept on thinking “I’ll make it. I’ll make it. I can’t believe I’ll make it.”

At 7 hours 50 mins from the start, I crossed the finish line. My Garmin heart rate monitor said that I was at 100% when I finished.

Scott Tinley, one of the first pro triathletes, was asked once what quality do triathletes honor most among other triathletes. He said it was heart.

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