IronWill (Second of Two Parts)

Friday, August 27, 2010

God Rained on My Parade!

Then came the run. Ah, I had been waiting for this part for hours. I have always dreamed that I would finish my first half-ironman with a sprint worthy of the race reputation. Even pace with strong finish. That was the divine script.

Out to run
Photo courtesy of RJ

I exited transition 2 a bit tired but in very high spirits. I was glad to see support group Marga cheering me on. Camera-toting Marvin would shout, “Go Rico, you can still do it” as I exited the transition area. I had about 3 hrs and 3 minutes to spare. That was it. Just run like you have always done and everything will come to a glorious end.

It was blazing hot starting my run on noontime, but I surged on. Thankfully, although I had signs of fatigue, my legs were not dead weights at the start of the run. I was so happy to be back in the race and see familiar faces. Way behind, I hoped to catch up in the run. The weather condition was tough, but I knew in my heart that running in the heat and running tired are two of my relative strengths.

It was a lot tougher than I expected. I saw people dazed, melting and chugging along like zombies in the blazing heat. Being conservative on the bike, I knew I was in better condition than some of them, but the heat and fatigue did get into me. I would run and walk. For the first time in my running career I would willingly pour water on my head and not avoid the water showers. I was confident my K-Swiss Kona shoes could handle the water. Those showers, I actually looked forward to them.

On the steep descents and ascents I would walk. On aid stations I would walk. But I pretty much run, err jogged, the rest of it. I finished the first 10.5kms a little over 1.5hrs. I could still make it. Jonas would see me and shout, “Negative split, Rico”. I gave back a half-hearted smile: negative split in this heat and fatigue? It was a long shot but I would try.

It was not only the heat and the progressive fatigue that were bothering me. I also felt bloated. The heat made me want to drink a lot, but I knew I had to take just sips. I contented myself to pouring more water on the head. Time was fast ticking. Just run below 8min/km, Rico, and you would make it to cut off time. Think half-iron dreams. Technique under fatigure. Dig deep. Remember how you ran long with Noelle for Milo marathon despite you being tired and race spent. Remember that piece of note from Marga that you grabbed from an envelop of well-wishes and how it remained safe and dry, enclosed in micro plastic bag deep inside your Zoot side pocket. Remember the inspirational video your friends made and how all of them were all waiting for you at the finish line. The race was no longer yours alone; it was also theirs. Now go out there and give it your best run!

The Lord was with me till the end. After my first 12km, He commanded the skies to turn overcast. It was a sign I was looking for and I soldiered on. I remembered the first time I did a 36km long run preparatory to my marathon. It was a solo run and way past lunchtime. I was hungry, tired and about to give up when suddenly the sky turned overcast and blew a most soothing cool breeze that stayed with me till the finish. Moments like those I feel God's love.

At kilometer 16 in Camsur it rained. At that precise moment, my heart wept with joy. You really want me to finish this strong, don't You? I could not thank You enough.

I remembered my TriKing simulation in Subic. It was searing hot from swim till the first 5k of the run, I was melting during the run, when suddenly heavy rain poured down from the sky. Just like that I got refreshed and finished the run exhilirated.

On my Timex watch and Garmin I had 30 minutes to complete the last 3kms. Wow, I could actually finish the half-marathon with a negative split. I could walk the difficult parts and run the rest, and still make it to cut-off. I was running merrily when suddenly the rain stopped. Holy God! You knew what I was thinking! You cooled me with the rain, and now you commanded it to stop so I could have my photo taken at the finish! I am awed and humbled by your Grace.

I was running my heart out towards the big lake when I stumbled upon a friend by the road ditch. The lady I was pacing with reached my friend sooner. My friend was on his knees trying his best to vomit out the liquid and solids he had taken. This friend is built like an athlete but has troubles with nutrition and hydration strategy. I lingered for a while to check on him, wary about the ticking clock and the safety of my friend. Memories of 2009 Subic Marathon raced back to my mind. Am I being asked again to cut short my race and help a friend? I was in the midst of an internal debate when my friend replied, “Go ahead, bro.” Seeing that my friend remained coherent, I went back to the race, praying that the few finishers retracing back the run route would also check on my friend.

Enroute to the big lake I saw race director Eric Imperio on motorbike. I was glad he was there so he could check on my friend, but his calm, concerned words of “You have to pick up the pace” went straight to the jugular. I could hear the announcer shouting the names of the finishers. Could I still make it?

I willed myself to run in the vicinity of 7:30min/km around the big lake for as long as I could. I limited my occasional resting walks to a few seconds just to catch my breath and to about two instances around the lake. I thought I got the time and distance right, but I might have miscalculated. My Garmin distance was supposed to be about 350m ahead of the race kilometer markers, but my Garmin was already close to 21.5kms and I was still running around the lake. On the way down from the lake I finally ran on a descent. I shall deal with the pain later. Finally I was out of the lake and on my last 500-700 meters.

On the second to the last turn I looked at my watch and saw I still have about 3 minutes. Could I run a sub-6 pace? How long was the remaining distance to the finish? I did not wait for an answer and simply decided to accelerate. Half-iron dreams. I was so near yet so far. Run. Think fast. Run fast. Half-iron dreams.

Almost there.
Photo by RJ

I made my final turn and the finish line arc came into sight. I never wanted anything so badly. I was running with eyes transfixed on the clock. My Garmin would later reveal that my pace was falling sharply from 7:30min/km to 6mpk to a race best of 5mpk in that last stretch. Within the last 150-200m I finally read the clock details. Twenty seconds remaining. What was the world record for a hundred/two hundred meter dash? I did not know, but I knew in those last few seconds I zoned out and ran my heart out.

When I crossed the finish line I did not know if I made it on time. Everything suddenly came into a halt and time shifted to slow-motion. Only when the announcer blurted out: “Enrico Villanueva, you are an Ironman” did I snap back to reality. I had a finisher medal on my neck and ribbon lei from my support group. I got a tight hug from Marga and a “You've got guts there” congratulations from Ernie Lopez who welcomed the last of us finishers.

When I crossed the finish line I did not know if I would make it on time. What I did know then was that every great adventure deserves a strong finish. What I have always known is that Ironmen come in different forms. Some possess lightning speed; others will themselves to finish. On rare occasions, a lucky few witness awesome displays of God's grace. In 2010 Cobra 70.3 Ironman, the Lord was my Pacer, Marshal and Cheerleader. He gave me sun, rain and clear skies. I could not ask for anything more. 

Thank you to all who have been part of my journey. 


Personal results from


1:00:23 3:42:35 3:03:48 8:00:21 556 103

TOTAL SWIM 1.9 km (1:00:23) 3:10/100m 552100

BIKE SPLIT 1 45 km (1:48:58) 24.78 km/h
BIKE SPLIT 2 45 km (1:53:37) 23.76 km/h
TOTAL BIKE 90 km (3:42:35) 24.26 km/h

RUN SPLIT 1: 10 km 10 km (1:27:58) 8:47/km
RUN SPLIT 2: 21.1 km 11.1 km (1:35:50) 8:38/km
TOTAL RUN 21.1 km (3:03:48) 8:42/km 556103
T2: BIKE-TO-RUN 6:45


daytripper1021 August 27, 2010 at 5:33 PM  

this was a great read! thanks Rico for sharing your ironman experience with us! ang galing!

congrats pre!!!

Jinoe August 27, 2010 at 8:32 PM  

Congrats commissioner. Please buy me a tri bike. :D

Knight Runner August 28, 2010 at 9:32 PM  

Congratulations Rico! It was indeed a tough run course. It was an amazing experience. Had I seen you i would have approached you.


runpinayrun August 29, 2010 at 3:40 PM  

CONGRATULATIONS Rico!!! I'm so proud of you. I'm inspired to consider doing one in the future. Pero mag mini sprint muna ako ehehe :)

Good joooob!

Marga August 29, 2010 at 5:21 PM  

I was so proud of myself for not crying (right, Jinoe? lol) at any part of the race, even when I hugged each and every one of you at the Finish. All I felt was pride that my friends are all IRONMEN!

My heart was in my throat the whole time though--from your swim, to your bike leg, to the literal photo-finish run. You made the race really exciting for us. hahaha.

But I did cry---As I gave you my second bear hug after your beautiful finish---because you showed me the zip locked note card I gave you the night before.

You continue to inspire.... :)

ian August 30, 2010 at 11:30 AM  

Congratulations Ironman!!! much sweeter conquest given the tough conditions!!

OutdoorsyRoxy August 30, 2010 at 1:53 PM  

Congratulations Rico! :)

Nice story! You had me hanging on to every word of this post. Saw you in Cam Sur and I wanted to wish you good luck, but I got shy that one moment I had the opportunity to. (I was with Migs and the rest of the SecondWind gang).

Good job! :)


sprintingswine August 31, 2010 at 6:14 PM  

wow! congrats sir! isa ka na sa mga idol kong ironman!

Bro J September 1, 2010 at 10:09 AM  

Congratulations Rico, You made it! God is truly wonderful! Praise God for the victory!

Now, i'm inspired to try triathlon. Great story bro!

Bing September 1, 2010 at 9:37 PM  

Congrats, Rico. Nice recount of your ironman experience.

Anonymous September 2, 2010 at 10:56 AM  

Congratulations Rico.

From Mark & Tiffin

kathy September 2, 2010 at 2:28 PM  

I ran into your blog as recommended by a running friend and I was deeply moved by the story of your Ironman journey. I was hooked into reading it paragraph per paragraph. Congratulations Ironman Enrico Villanueva!

[I initially thought the Ex-Ateneo Basketball player] :)

:) September 6, 2010 at 2:42 PM  

Congratulations Rico! I have never doubted that you'll make it.
It was such a sweet victory!

Hotlegs Runner September 9, 2010 at 1:43 AM  

you badass rico! congrats =) someday, me din. I hope I don't get lost this time hehe ;p

RUNNING DIVA September 13, 2010 at 5:08 PM  

You are not truly an Ironman. A dream come true. Congratulations, Sheer Will!

kelcy September 17, 2010 at 11:47 AM  

hi crush rico. naluha ako...

you're really an inspiration to us all. :)

Mar Marilag September 27, 2010 at 11:08 PM  

I'm amazed.

God indeed works in wonders.

Congratulations for the strong finish.

I could relate somehow. :)

thesolemates October 10, 2010 at 5:55 AM  

Hi Rico, great account of your race. Greater still is the Lord's grace bestowed on you that day. Big Big congratulations to you (albeit late)! - Jun & Mariel

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