IronWill (First of Two Parts)

Friday, August 27, 2010


Arms that glide
Wheels that spin
Run with pride

With pure heart
and IronWill


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The Lord is my Pacer; I shall not want


Two days before the race I arrived in Camsur anxious to try the much talked about lake. Everyone in my group said we should take it easy, but all set their watches to chrono mode. I emerged from the big lake 1,350 meters and 47 minutes later weighed down by doubt. I came out last, 3 full minutes behind the next swimmer. I was even outswam by a less-assured swimmer and a newbie. Normally I do not mind being last, so long as I stick to my planned comfortable pace. But that practice swim did not give me comfort. The water was heavy; I felt sluggish; my legs seemed to drag, and my hips seemed to be cramping. First time I had that kind of feeling. Yes I could still make it with that time, but the room for error then seemed smaller.


Knowing that the swim leg is usually just a warm-up, I trained for a even-paced, 60-minute 2km swim, or 3 minutes per 100m. On practice swims I hit 55 minutes at best aerobically with normal swim, and did not exceed 1:05 even with front sighting in dark pool water. Almost always, I would swim with negative split – the second 1km faster than the first.


Why the hell am I having doubts this late in the game? Because I dreamed about this for years, and now after 8 months of training, I am just days away. Because my personal quest has become a group aspiration now, with six of my friends putting in time and resources to cheer me and other friends. I could not let them down. I did not want to let myself down.


I spent the night anxious and woke up antsy. I wanted to get our bike recon by vehicle done asap so I could try the small lake next. It did not help that we made a wrong turn to the boundary of Albay in our recon and wasted precious practice or resting time. A few minutes before the practice cut off time in the small lake, I dove into the water determined to fish out my confidence. Counter-clockwise swim was hard as I am a right side breather, but I pushed myself hard to get a good time. I did it in 15 minutes – enough to salvage my confidence. Forty-seven minutes in the big lake, a minute of run/walk, 15 minutes in the small lake, and 2 minutes extension for water chaos should give me 1:05. The last five minutes are for the uncertain.


I was still anxious night before the race. I simply could not “Not Make It” to swim cut off time. I did not train this hard and waited this long simply to be stopped on my tracks because the bell has sounded off. There was too much invested and too much at stake. I could swim a wee bit faster for greater time allowance, but I would be risking my race strategy of even effort all through-out. I decided it was worth a try, but how much faster I should go I did not know exactly. Underwater, there was no Garmin to tell me how fast I would be going.


The pressure was threatening to get the best of me so I threw it all up to Him. The Lord shall be my Pacer. I shall not want nor need anything else.


I woke up race day with a tight ball of a cramp on my right calf. What the ??? Was it because I swam hard after driving long and walking frequently the day before? I do get those occasional wake up cramps from sleeping on the wrong side, but why now!? The cramp ball hurt so badly it took 10 minutes for me to be able to stand, another 5 to be able to walk to the washroom, and that one hour after the muscle still faintly throbbed. Please God, not on a lake where more than 600 of us would swim, and where someone died last year.


As I walked towards the lake for a practice swim, I saw a low-flying chopper pass over. Seconds later, a 2' X 2' signage stand moved about and came hurtling through the walkway squarely towards me. In a split second the cramping and semi-limping me managed to jump vertically to let speeding structure go pass me, but the metal frame edges of the sign still hit both of my calves. Oh God, no, please. I had enough pressure, and my calf was still recovering, the last thing I needed was another bad omen. Please tell me You were just testing me.

Photo courtesy of RJ

After two swim dips, it was time for the race. I found myself starting alongside a friend and we agreed to pace each other, but several meters ahead I would get bumped by my left-veering friend. I decided to let him pass and go to his right instead. I didn't see him after that but results would show later he did just fine. Better than me actually. Well-done!
 

Let us try to pace together


For the whole duration of the big lake swim I relied mainly on right side sighting to conserve energy and go faster. Wary of my legs, I used my upper body to propel myself forward, and consciously paddled stronger on my weaker leftside. Long, smooth strokes. Glide. Those were my mantras. Water visibility was not as bad as told in stories for I could actually make out the trisuits of those on my breathing side. Unlike my dreaded practice swim days ago, I actually enjoyed the swim in the big lake. The faster above-40 males and the female athletes caught up with me on the return, but commotion was really nothing compared to those served to me by my helpfully bad teammates during practice swims. Or maybe I simply felt invincible and protected. It was calm, joy and grace that brought me to a 41-minute big lake swim – 6 minutes better than my previous one! I was ecstatic. God was pacing me indeed!


I was all smiles coming out of the big lake. Running on the mat to the small wakeboard lake I could hear familiar voices cheering me on. Marga, Ellen, Carina, RJ, Marvin and Emil, I could not thank you enough.

Out of the big lake, running to the small lake
Photo courtesy of Cherry of Vibram Five Fingers


The smaller lake was a more difficult challenge because of the counter-clockwise direction, but the difficult part already passed. I could relax just a bit. I front-sighted going to one end, breastroked to navigate the curved turn at the far side, and then veered to the right buoys for regular side sighting.


I was done in 1:00:23. Just within training expectations! I was a third already of a half-ironman. Just make my way to the bike and sulit na ang pagod at bayad! Thanks be to God!


God be with Me

Bike safe, have fun. That was all I wanted during the bike leg. I simply must survive the bike leg so I could proceed to the run. I am a slow rider and runner, but I have enough run experience to actually fare better there. Conserve during the bike so I could sprint to the finish line. That was the plan.



I might have conserved too much. The first 10kms I was cycling too conservatively at 25-8kph that a lady biker joked from behind: “You can do better than that, Rico! C'mon!” I just smiled. How does one tell a lady that I was actually having crotch issues at that time? Something seemed to be scraping against my nether regions. On race week I discovered belatedly that my Adamo saddle was too far back, way beyond the allowed maximum. The mistake was hidden by my huge Deuter saddle bag, now replaced by the sleek Xlab. Comfort vs safety? It was only on race day that I discovered that a centimeter could make a lot of difference on riding comfort.


I finally eased up on the saddle about 20kms into the ride. I was raring to catch up but that stretch was marked with road pockmarks. The fast biker is the one who manages to stay on the bike and ride flat-free, I told myself. So I diligently watched the road instead. God be with me was my constant prayer. I prayed harder when I saw athletes on the road with bike issues; more so when I saw directly a woman on a stretcher apparently hit by a bike. God be with me.


I was fast being overtaken by others so I decided to amuse myself instead. I took in the majestic views of the paddies and mountains, and interacted with the cheering crowd on the road. I rocked my body to the tempo of the children's “Go, go, Ironman”. I grinned liked a celebrity. Just like Terenzo Bozzone, I felt like a rock star. I was even called moviestar names: Sam, John Lloyd, Coco, Piolo, etc. It was all good until some nasty kids broke my delusion: “Taba, taba!” Shucks, I wanted to be trim for this Ironman, but I should not have insisted on a medium size for my tri-top. The suit felt like a compression shirt all this time and emphasized my round belly. I unzipped it a bit so I could relieve some of the pressure on my diaphragm!


My long bike ride was a continuous nutrition and hydration exercise. Eng Bee Tin ube pastillas Hopia, CDO cashew nuts and honey gel on my bento box, plus Gatorade and water on my plastic bottles. It felt like a picnic, with food as reward for kilometers passed, but I was careful about hydration to eliminate the mild bloat I was feeling. I might have drank too much pre-swim and during transition.


I shall remember this Half-ironman ride for the “Go, go Ironman” cheers and the rare opportunity to ride on aero position for long stretches. In Subit out of fear I probably used my aero bars for a maximum of 500m in toto, but here in Camsur I was cruising on the bars for up to 2-3kms in certain stretches. I felt like a kid let loose on a carnival. Finally, finally, I was crouched on the bike aerobars like the rest of the triathlon community. I would feel the newbie pain on my shoulders and back the next day, but what the heck, on those precious moments, I felt like an Ironman.


I tried playing catch up on the way back from the 45km turnaround. It was hard not because I was losing steam, but because the locals have begun to use their tricycles, motorbikes and pedicabs on the supposedly closed road. At one point I had to stop and dismount for a moving tricycle and a pedicab were blocking the course lane, and motorbikes were going the opposite direction on the other lane. That it had to happen on an uphill and that I had to walk my bike a few meters ahead for better angling was a bit of a downer. I wasted precious time. I was hesitant to use the aerobars more frequently for fear that some kid would suddenly cross the road and I wouldn't be quick enough to shift to the breaks. I still loved their cheers, but my constant prayer was: Please do not stay too close to the road. God, watch over all of us.


On the last 10kms I would catch up with a few bikers, but it was a bit late. I erred on the side of caution and would end the ride minutes behind my 3:30 target. But it was alright. I pretty much had even speed all throughout the 90kms. I had fun. I was safe. I was heading home to the finish. That's all that matters.


1 comments:

Lydia November 30, 2010 at 8:01 PM  

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