Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ironman 70.3 South Africa

Who is with me?

I have spoken to a few of you about joining me in 2015 for the so called best organized and biggest 70.3 in the world!!! I need to go back and do it again and here is why....

Jan 22, 2012, East Londen South Africa. Ironman 70.3, first ironman competition for me....

I was in SA for 8 months last year and returned in April to the Philippines. I decided while being in SA I will dare to do the ironman 70.3 SA. Everything was counting in my favor. Weather was great, approximately 20 degrees celsius for that time of the year. Water is cold so perfect to wear a wetsuit that gives you so much buoyancy (will get to that later). Cycling course is on the national highway, perfect road, which is a out and back course. They close the national highway just for the event. Run will be alongside the ocean with beautiful scenery and a two loop course which is great for spectators and love ones to take photos.

My only non pool swim leading to the event

Weeks leading up to the event, I was training hard, most days twice a day. You all know by now I struggled with swimming but after my total immersion and help from a swimming coach (two to be exact :)), I was ready, or so I thought, for the swim leg. My running was as usual the leg of the event I would fall back on to make up loss time on the bike and swim even though my bike was not to bad. This was my plan of action for race day. Just make the swim, IF I make it, then push a little bit on the bike and then kill it on the run. The Philippines heat and humidity trained me well for the run and I should be able to go out hard in this great weather conditions in South Africa, little did I know :=)

The bike I was going to use during the race
I got my bike a couple of weeks only before the big event so did not have a lot of time training on it. I did however realized two weeks before that there seems to be a bit of a problem with the drop out at the wheel. It seems that the back wheel is catching a bit on the fork but nothing to bad. I was however able to "sort that out" by realigning the wheel and then tightening the bolt that turns into the dropout. If you don't understand what I just said, I thought I fixed the problem is what I am trying to say.

We drove up a couple days before the event by car. We stayed in Johannesburg so it was approximately a 900km drive. It is a beautiful drive down to the coast so we did not mind at all. We arrived at our hotel which is walking distance away from the start line but a couple of minutes walk away from registration. Registration went smooth. It was well organized and there were a lot of people that took you through the process. There was also a bike company fixing bikes and doing last minute adjustments, the same set up as the one that was at the 70.3 Philippines. I decided to take my bike and ask them to look at the wheel problem just for peace of mind. They checked it out and with a bit of work on the drop outs, they declared the bike as road worthy, even put their sticker on the bike.

Coming broken after my failed practice swim
The Friday morning I went in the morning for a scheduled swim where we could swim a bit of the course just to see what the ocean is like. Vina had a 10km ladies race. They organize this for the women that comes to the 70.3. It is only for women and they even wear pink shirts. This was super cool.  A race for Vina and the run course is the same as the next day for the 70.3. This is a way for them to test all the stations. The plan was first the practice swim in the ocean then Vina's race. Did I mention I never had an open water swim until now?

Vina getting ready for her ironladies race
I put on my wetsuit, second time ever. First time was at our pool in our gym in Johannesburg (yeah most gyms in SA have swimming pools). I was amazed after jumping in the water. It felt like I was wearing swim aids around my arms. It brought back memories of my childhood. This gave me confidence. I along with hundreds of other people waited for the mist to clear and then we started the practice swim. Two of the buoy were out so the plan is to swim out around both buoy and then back, approximately 600m. From the moment I put my toes in the cold water, under 16 celsius, I struggled to breath. I went through the first couple of waves (there are bigger waves in SA than in Philippines) and started my swim. I could not get my stroke. I was so tense. There were to many elements involved. Cold water, waves hitting me around, people kicking me and no visibility. I ended up doing breast stroke the whole way.
Vina's race about to start

The nervous me two days before the race :)
I was so scared after that swim. I was even thinking of quitting. It was so hard for me to try and hide my fear from Vina as she still had a race to do the Saturday morning. I could not sleep the Friday night neither the Saturday night. So many things went through my mind!!! Maybe I should just give up, but then what will the people think. Maybe I should just go and try but I could not even make 600m how about 1.9 km? These were all questions going through my mind. To make matters worse, the Saturday morning with Vina's race, all the buoy were out and we could see the course. It seemed so far away as it is not a loop swim but out and back. It looked even more scary as the big buoy were so far out they were not big anymore.

Sunday morning, race day, I was awake really early as I struggled to sleep. I took my last things to attach to the bike (half heartedly as I thought by myself, I will never do the bike leg anyway). I put on my wetsuit, said goodbye (not sure maybe forever) to Vina and went to the holding area. We were over 3000 athletes. I told you it was the biggest 70.3 in the world. I took my position at the back of the group behind a building as the pros went off. It was our turn. I could not hear myself breathing. I was so scared. I was caught between giving up and taking the next step closer to the start line on the beach. This continued until we reached the start line.

Before the race
I was standing right at the back. I decided to look for someone to chat to while waiting to calm the nerves. What a mistake. The guy (quite a big fellow), asked me if I am scared... duh!?!. My answer was quick and loud and without hesitation... yeah! I told him especially for the swim. He asked me why so I told him I never had an open water swim before, I did not even share with him my horrified experience with the training swim, when he looked at me and with disgust say to me, "really?". This was not good. I decided not to speak to him anymore. As if that was not enough, the announcer was interviewing a pro that was not competing, asking him to give us that are waiting to start a couple of tips for the swim. He stated that by now we should have done a couple of open water swims... what? Did he just say a couple of open water swims ?!? That was it, no more listening to anyone. I noticed a group of guys praying together so I decided to rather join them, after all that is the only place where I can get help from.

The gun shot went and everyone storm the water except for one :). I took a stroll and slowly entered the water. I thought by myself that is it. I will try but most probably after 600m will put my hand in the air, except help and let them bring me out on a canoe. I even told Vina that IF, and a big IF I make it, then it will be close to the cut off time of 1hour and 15minutes. I went through the first couple of big waves and got to a spot where I thought that it is calm enough that I can start swimming, meaning that I don't have to dive under anymore waves to get through them. I put my head down and thought I will just calm down and except defeat. Then it happened. I started swimming and I found my stroke and before I knew it I was at the first buoy. This is the buoy I was out of breath already on the Friday morning. I kept swimming and could hear that little blue fish in Nemo saying, just keep swimming, just keep swimming. I all of a sudden felt kicks coming again from all sides. As I tread water to see what was happening I realized I was at the half way buoy. I was amazed. I made my way back and before I knew it I felt the waves started breaking on me from behind. I kept swimming and not long after saw people in front of me standing up. I MADE IT!!!! In a time of 43 minutes!!!! I stopped a bit outside the water as I was sea sick because of the waves (first time I heard that you could get seasick while swimming but it is normal apparently, lots of people get seasick when they swim in high swell waters). I remember running up a slope towards T1 seeing Vina. She looked shocked, as she did not expect me to exit at this time. She could not even grab the camera fast enough to take a picture.

T1 went smoothly. I was een joking to everyone while getting ready for the bike. I thought that now is my time to shine. I will catch up on all these slower guys on the bike and then kill most of them on the run. I jumped on the bike and off I went. The bike course is an out and back course. The first half is mainly uphill and then the 45km back is downhill. The road is smooth with not pot holes or bad spots. I kept concentrating on not to litter as they are strict with the 70.3 SA. If you are caught dropping just a small peace of paper, it is immediate disqualification. They had spots along the cycle and run route where you could dump your empty bottles and gel wrappers.

They have this cool system in SA whereby you or your support team for a small fee can register your race number by sending a text to a number. Once you are registered you will receive a text every time your athlete passes the mat that register your time. It was super cool as your friends and supporters even in another province can track your progress. Before I knew it I could see the turn around point of the bike leg. It is a downhill to the turn point, one of the few steep downhills on the out part of te leg. As I went downhill and changed my bike gears, I heard a funny noise. All of a sudden the back wheel just stopped. I almost fell of the bike. What in the world is happening, why now? I was on such a high after the swim and now this? The Lord knew better to humble me again:) He gave me the victory in the swim but as soon as I got pride full, He changed things for me. I looked at the back wheel and two spokes were broken as well as the back derailleur was bent over. That was it, my race came to a halt. It was unrepairable. I made my way down the road where some marshals were standing. I explained to them what happened and they offered me a ride back to the start line.
The swim course

I remember sitting in the back of the vehicle with a total peace. Even though this just happened, I had a sense of achievement and a peace about it. I knew deep inside why this happened. I knew I was getting more and more cocky as the race went on thinking how I am going to overtake the people especially on the run. I was looking at the athletes we passed on the way back. I was so excited still about my swim that just finishing that swim was not only like finishing the ironman but the feeling of winning it. Even though I had a DNF I was still over the moon.

I enjoyed the last couple of days in East Londen doing tourist things before we head back to Johannesburg. I am so glad I have my faith as this was the only thing that could pull me through. Even in such a way that I could testify to all my friends the reason why it happened and still be happy.

Lesson learned, never be cocky, stay humble and thank the Lord for everything He ALLOWS me to do as He can stop everything in a second.

Now my question. As I started this post. Wh is with me? I need to go back and do it again and this time finish it. I managed to finish my first one here in Cebu in the Philippines but would love to be able to finish the 70.3 SA. We are planning on going back to SA in 2015 and I will Lord willing enter the January 2016 ironman 70.3 South Africa. Lets see if we can get a group together here from the Philippines and do it together. After all, I don't have many SA athlete friends, most of my athlete buddies are here in the Philippines! If you are interested, give me a shout and lets plan for it. I can give you all the details you need on how to get there and where to stay. I will even do the arrangements of our stay as I will be a couple of months in SA before the event.

ARE YOU GAME? Lets do it!!!!

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