There’s a time in our lives when we want to go back to a part of our personal history and wish that something better have happened. It isn’t regret, but rather, an answer to a “what if”, a question we only ask ourselves after going through a memorable ordeal.
In last year’s edition of the Philippine Ironman 70.3, I asked myself a lot of “what if” questions a few days after I crossed the finish line. What if I was better prepared for the swim? What if I gave it all in the run? What if I pushed too hard on the bike? What if…? These were questions I wanted to answer in this year’s offering of the event.
I focused my training on my swimming skills this year. I have done more mileage in the pool compared to last year, and only competed in SuBit 2010 and Tri-King triathlons to boost my open water swimming confidence. Last year, Lago Del Rey of CWC intimidated me, to the point of almost not starting the race. This year, I have overcome that open water fear and came into Camsur 70.3 a better swimmer.
I have also solicited the help of some friends who were willing to help me improve my time. Programs and drills were sent thru emails and like a good student, I followed this to a “T”. I’ve done the work. I was ready.
RACE PROPER: The SWIM
I woke up at 3:30 a.m. on race day. I had a good sleep, enough for me to not feel woozy upon leaving the bed to do my pre-race routines. Breakfast was served at 4:00 a.m. I had a sumptuous breakfast, which unfortunately, worked against me during the race. More of that later.
This year’s race started earlier and in waves. The 18-39 age groups were to start in a different wave than the 40 and up age groupers, the ladies were not bunched up with the guys as well. The pros and elites were started off at 6:30 a.m., followed by the 18-39 age group 2 minutes later. We, the 40 and up male athletes, would start 5 minutes after.
At 6:37 a.m. our start gun went off. More than 200 of us ran to the lake. As usual, I was at the back of the pack but not as far back as last year. With the murky water of Lago Del Rey, all I could see in front of me were the feet of the swimmers ahead. I followed a difficult line and was constantly looking up to check if there were clearer lines near me. I was about 2.5 meters away from the buoy line which I thought was a better place than being really close to it.
100 meters into the swim and I saw a clearing very near the buoy line. Great! I swam towards it but in the process banged bodies with someone to my right. I kicked frantically to avoid being swam over…then, suddenly, a sharp pain hit my right calf, cramps!
My right calf had a motion induced cramp, brought about by sudden muscle contraction. I held on to the ropes and stretched my right leg to let the cramp fade. Swam back into the race and around 200 meters into the swim, it happened again. This time, I held on to the platform the lifeguards were standing on.
“Are you okay sir?”
“Yes! Just cramping a bit.”
“Are you okay sir?” He repeated
“Yes!” I answered again
“Do you want to be pulled out?”
I lost my temper at that question. Though I know they were just looking after my safety, I was annoyed with the series of questioning. There was no way I’d DNF. I’d finish even if I had to crawl my way to the finish line.
“NO!” I said then swam back into the race.
The ladies’ race already started at that point. I could see pink caps splashing through the lake. I was swimming slowly and was feeling my right calf. I didn’t want to cramp again. I placed myself about 2 meters away from the buoy and gave enough space for the ladies to pass should they swim past me.
At about 300 meters into the swim, I got kicked on the arm. Nice! I thought, a breast stroker. When I looked under the water to my right, I realized that the breaststroking swimmer only had one leg. It was Rudy Fernandez, the one leg athlete who joined this year. He was missing a leg, but man, he could breaststroke!
We were at about the same pace for 5 minutes. I was nursing a cramp, he was swimming with one leg.
Making it to the turn around 675 meters from the starting point without cramping anymore, I swam my usual pace and completed the first part of the 1.9K swim in 44 minutes, 4 minutes faster than my time last year. My throat was dry and I was feeling some stabbing pains in the stomach when I ran towards the smaller lake to complete the 1.9K swim. A day earlier, it only took me 18 minutes to swim the outer perimeter of the smaller lake swim course, this time, I was going to swim the inner perimeter which would be around 50 meters less than doing the outer. I expected to complete the whole swim course in less than one hour when I got out of the water. Upon checking my watch, I was already at 1:05, it took me 21 minutes on the small lake!
I wasn’t feeling good running towards the transition area to start the bike. My stomach was rumbling and I was on the verge of throwing up. I was trying to control it though. I needed whatever food was inside me to get me through the rest of the day. By then I realized I had taken too much food during breakfast.
I mounted my bike at 1:10 of the race already. I needed to do a 2:50 bike split to be at transition 2 in four hours of the race. I thought it wasn’t a problem.
I didn’t drink nor eat anything on the first 15K of the bike. I was racing nicely and was able to catch around 20-25 athletes on the way to the first water station. I was doing 33-35kph and was able to hold that pace comfortably.
Upon reaching the first water station, I asked for a bottle of Gatorade. I needed to replenish so as not to dehydrate. However, upon sipping from the bottle, I felt my stomach churning and all the liquid I gulped came out as fast as I took it in. Oh no! I couldn’t take in anything. Houston, we have a problem!
I relaxed on the bike, maintaining an average speed of 30kph. I took an energy gel at the 27k mark slowly and was able to get it inside me. Got a water bottle at the 30K water station to wash the gel off my mouth and take in some hydration. I only took a sip for fear of throwing up and poured the rest of the bottle’s contents on my head to cool me down. The heat was getting oppressive at that point.
I reached the 45K turn around in less than 1:30, around 2:38 of the race. I asked for another water bottle. I still had energy gels on the bike so I was pretty well covered in nutrition.
At around the 50K mark, I opened another gel and suck the contents in. Took a big sip of Gatorade after.
Around the 55K, I threw up again. That time, I knew I was in trouble.
The bike course of Camsur 70.3 was harder on the last 45K. I saw my speed go down drastically. From an average of 32kph, I went down to 29kph in a span of 3kms. I was slowing down big time. My legs weren’t strong anymore and my head started feeling light. I needed to hydrate and eat fast!
Between km60-65, I was doing around a pathetic 23-25kph. It was all I could muster because of the slightly elevated roads and with dehydration setting in. I took advantage of the short descents to speed up a bit and not drag down my average speed further.
At around the 67th km, I tried taking in a gel and succeeded. I took a sip of Gatorade and didn’t throw up. I slowly fed myself until I emptied two energy gels and a bottle of Gatorade. I then started feeling better, and some of my strength came back. On the 70th km, I tried drinking another half bottle of Gatorade, it stayed in.
From km 75 to 85, I got back 2 kms on my average speed. I was already down to 28kph average on the first 75kms of the bike course, and was back to 30.5kph after the 85th. I maintained an average of 30kph on the last 5kms enroute to transition 2. I wanted good legs for the run.
Reached T2 after 2 hours 58 minutes on the bike. Faster by 8 minutes compared to my time last year. Was at 4:08 of the race. Donned my running wear and was out on the run course at 4:14 of the race. I was still on track in going sub-7 hours provided I run the half marathon in less than 2 hours and 46 minutes.
THE RUN: Hell on earth
If there’s anything I would remember this race by, it was the scorching heat and humidity of the run course. God, it was terrible! I expected it to be hot like the last time but this year it was worse. I was a constant customer in all water stations, getting Gatorades, banana, cola and whatever they may have.
My run started out slowly on the first 500 meters. Completed the first kilometer with an average of 7mins/km, then slower and slower until I completed the first 10.5km loop in 1 hour 15 minutes. I said to myself that if I could run the 2nd half of the run course with the same time, I would be done with the complete course in 6 hours 44 minutes.
I tried not to walk, but after 12kms, I had to. I was out of gas. I shuffled, running for one minute and walking for 30 seconds. It somehow worked.
I caught several runners on the course, most of them melted on the heat already. I didn’t want to melt and not beat my target time, I really wanted to go sub-7 hours this year. Whenever I pass a water station, I would get two cups of Gatorade and two water bottles, one to pour on myself and the other for hydration until I reached the next station. I pulled out a pain killer tucked under my shorts and took it in, I was hurting already.
At 6:30 of the race, I was at km 17 of the run, with 4 kms left. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. I needed to average 7:30mins/km to be at exactly 7 hours crossing the finish line. By then I was doing a pace of 8mins/km. I had to speed up and somehow, was able to.
I was already at 6:44 of the race on the last 2kms. It was the part when I needed to make a crucial decision: speed up and run the risk of cramping OR run steady and hope that 16 minutes were enough for me to beat 7 hours. I chose the former.
I increased my pace to around 6:30mins/km. I felt the wind blowing stronger on my face, proof that I was running faster. At 1.5kms, my right calf cramped up again. I slowed down but did not stop. I passed a water station but didn’t get water nor Gatorade anymore, I didn’t want to stop. I shut my brain down from any pain.
Last kilometer and I had 8 minutes left. It was a “now or never” situation. I gritted my teeth for probably the most painful one kilometer of my sporting life. When I passed the 20K marker, the real painfest started.
800 meters to go and my left calf also cramped up. Now I have two legs in peril. I still ran.
600 meters to go and the cramping worsened but not yet at the point of my legs locking up. I could still lift both and could still kick. I was praying to God to give me one last push. “Please Lord, don’t let my legs lock up!”
400 meters to go and I could feel the finish line, the cramps started going up my hamstrings. I continued running. No matter how I shut my brain to the pain of the cramps, it hurt like hell!
200 meters and I turned left to see the finishing chute. “Man up Deo, this is it!”.
100 meters and my quads started cramping up as well. “God, please, not now. I’m almost there.” Tears welled at the corners of my eyes.
50 meters to go and I heard the announcer say ” Go for it Ironman! Way to go! ”
20 meters and my left leg, both quads and calf cramped up totally. All I could feel was pain, I hardly felt my leg. “Aaaahhhhhh, SHIIIIITTTTTTT!!!!” were all I could say.
Pumping my fist as I crossed the finish line. Legs locking up big time. Photo courtesy of Doc Marvin Opulencia.
I pumped my fist when I broke the tape. It was over.
When I stopped, I fell down, I couldn’t stand. Both my legs were stiff as a wood due to cramps. Two volunteers carried me to the medical tent where ice and cold water were poured on it.
I fell down at the finish line and couldn't stand due to severe cramping. Volunteers needed to carry me to the medical tent to fix me up. Photo courtesy of Doc Marvin Opulencia.
My time: 6:58:27
I am an IRONMAN.
As I’m writing this, I cannot help but wonder how many Ironman 70.3s are still left in me. I embraced the sport two years ago and have enjoyed the ride, sometimes so much that I put it above everything else. The two 70.3s under my belt are a proof that a person can change his life overnight. I turned from a couch potato to an Ironman in a year, and have tanned considerably in the last 24 months of my life. I am turning 42 this year, I hope I still have enough skin to burn under the sun during trainings and races.
Ironman is not only a race. It is more of a lifestyle. Its the discipline you instill in yourself once you’ve made up your mind to register for the race.
Its hard work, that’s why the rewards are cherished.
Its pain, that’s why there is anger when you suffer.
Its JOY, that’s why there are tears at the finish line.
Thank you to all who gave their utmost support. There are too many of you to mention and I’m afraid I might offend some of you should I list everyone’s name down and miss a few. You know who you are, because you were there during my training and during the race itself.
I need to mention my wife and family though, as they were the ones who were there when everyone else were gone.
Thanks to God whom I kept calling in the last few kilometers of the race. The Lord is my shepherd, He always will be.
See you guys in races!