Ironman 70.3 Victoria 2016
Sunday June 12, 2016. Swim 1.9Km, Bike 90Km, and Run 21.1Km
It was dark when my mom and I pulled into our parking space at the Subaru Ironman 70.3 Victoria. I thought the 70.3 distance would be my best—I was hopeful—how wrong I would be.
I arrived to transition and was excited by the number of participants; over 1,700 athletes would partake. To the chagrin of many athletes, the swim course got shortened by 400 metres. Does a 70.1 triathlon exist, I wondered.
After a brief warm-up the athletes were crammed five or six abreast in the starting chute—it was tight! The self-seeded, rolling start meant that the competitors were grouped together by their predicted swim time. My prediction was conservative—thirty-five minutes—it was a five and half hour race and a slow start would be beneficial. I focused on my breathing as I allowed the positive energy of the race to envelop me.
At 6am the race started and the Pros took off like torpedoes! The Age Group Athletes eagerly waited for their turn to enter the water, like energetic shoppers waiting to enter the mall on Boxing Day. Several hundred Ironman 70.3 hopefuls entered the bath-like water before I was able to start. Beep!, went the timing mat as I strode into the tepid water. Finally, I thought, as I started swimming.
The hundreds of swimmers ahead of me created a current that I was able to use to my advantage. By using the slipstream of others, I was able to bridge the gap between groups of swimmers that were ahead of me. I could pause and rest on occasion, and then continue my forward progress. My arms felt amazing and the swim was near effortless. As I glanced behind me I could see the sun rising over the mountains—wow this a beautiful sport—the sky was bright blue and the day promised to be memorable.
Approaching halfway I noticed a slight stitch in my stomach. Crap! Not again! I irritably thought. My nutrition prior to the race was clearly off, as once again I had eaten too much. Hopefully my stomach would settle during the ninety kilometre bike ride.
I reached the slippery swim exit ramp and vainly dug my hands into the grooves, searching for any sort of purchase. Thankfully, as I was fumbling, a hand extended and pulled me to my feet. I thanked the volunteer as I trotted to my bike. I began to peel off my wetsuit, which proved to be difficult, later I would discover that four of the teeth on the zipper had broken. Despite the issue I was still able to to shimmy my wetsuit off and get to my bike.
The swim had gone well and I was invigorated to start my strongest of the three sports: cycling. I saw others ahead of me, so spurred on by competition, I shot forward like a rock flying from a slingshot. However, this turned out to be a huge mistake.
I come from a road and track cycling background where the race pace constantly fluctuates. Whereas the goal in triathlon cycling is to go as steady as possible, keeping in mind that there is a 21.1Km run at the end. There is no drafting in triathlons, and since everyone has their own start time, it becomes impossible to “race” others. I was riding the bike course like a race. I would attack the climbs until my legs were burning and ease off on the downhills. After seventy kilometres of sporadic cycling, I was done. I got passed by the seasoned racers who had kept an even pace; I thought I had left these cyclist behind hours ago. School was in session, and boy was I getting taught. Sporadic cycling with constant bursts weakens the legs, while steady, consistent cycling perseveres them.
I was relieved to get off the bike, but my content was about to be revoked. As I slid on my runners I could feel bloating in my stomach and cramps in my legs. I started running, but my body wanted to reject the half marathon it was about to do. Running with cramps is like driving a vehicle when the steering wheel and the wheels are not on the same page. At times the wheels will involuntarily do something unpredictable, completely unbeknownst to the steering wheel. My only course of action was to quit or run slow. I refused to give up, apprehensively I settled in for a very long and painful 21.1Km run.
Nutrition is often called the fourth discipline of triathlon, and it can make or break a race. Since I had eaten too much prior to the race, I had struggled to consume food and water during the bike section. Although my mind wanted to go fast, my body was not responding. I was frustrated as other runners flew by: I was envious of their apparent ease. I am competitive and do not like getting passed.
I let go of my ego. I stopped thinking externally, and instead turned my attention inward. I breathed deeply to soothe my mind. This was my situation, and I needed to run my race. I broke it down. I would try to run five kilometres without stopping, which was roughly the distance to the second aid station. My legs were spasming and my stomach felt like an over inflated balloon—five kilometres seemed impossible, but I kept plodding along. I was moving slow, but I was still moving. Gradually five kilometres turned into ten, as I approached the start of lap two. I caught a glimpse of the time at the finishing line and calculated if I could beat my goal time. I was racing old school: no bike computer and no GPS watch. Based off the time, I guessed that maybe, just maybe, I could make it.
After more than an hour of running, I was acclimatizing to the pain in my legs and stomach. Ignoring pain requires too much energy—energy that could be used in moving forward. I kept going. I thought of my family and friends who were waiting at the finish line. Having a positive mental image was a big source of strength for me. Only five kilometres remained and soon I would equal my longest run ever. Embrace the pain. Keep running. You can do this Jason! Just keep moving forward!
I reached the final kilometre and I saw my cousins. I beamed, and kept chugging along. I rounded a corner and entered the finishing corridor. What a welcome relief. I resolutely raised my hands, even though this caused more pain in my stomach—I did not care, the race was over. I received my finishers medal, promptly found my family, and then unceremoniously plopped my butt on the ground. Bliss…I would not move for a further fifteen minutes.
I had finished in 5:00:02, a thirty minute battering of my goal time. Even with the shortened swim I was still well under. I was happy with the time, but I was more pleased with myself. In reality, the race went poorly, but I carried on despite the horrid condition I found myself in. I persevered. Knowing I could face a horrible day and still finish, was even a greater victory than beating my goal time. Champions are born on bad days. Today I had championed myself. It was time to celebrate!
Swim: 24:19, 1:37/100m
Bike: 2:34:32, 35.0Kph
Run: 1:55:53, 5:32/Km
Visit Ironman Victoria 70.3 2017 for more information and to register!