After my failed attempt at my first 100-mile ultramarathon, I was hit hard by disappointment – disappointment in myself, and frustration at failing after all that preparation. Words of encouragement from fellow ultramarathoners, family, and friends didn’t seem to appease my shattered ego. I knew this was something I can do, and that I expected myself to complete!
So, how does someone as passionate as me get through a failure? How does someone who always puts everything into what he does return from a major setback? Get back it, finish it, and look for a bigger challenge!
It was then that I made the decision to get into triathlons!
With a running background, I had to start planning on working on my cycling skills (and of course a bike!), and my swim.
Bike in a hay stack
First step for me was to get a bike… Since it was a new sport, I did not want to splurge, at the same time, I wanted a bike with components that I can use for the long term. With the help of the very (yes… VERY!) patient Gingerbreadman – Luis, we went to Cartimar and started to build my Bike… that’s when “K” came to life! It was a Kinesis 415 Aero Road Frame, with Shimano Ultegra groupset, and 2nd hand C50 wheelset (c/o Luis as well!).
Nothing too fancy, but it was something that I knew I could keep for awhile.
At first I raced with no cleats since there was that fear of panicking, and being unable to un-cleat. A lot of experienced cyclists were convincing me to start learning, but I first had to start getting comfortable on the bike. A bad scooter accident as a kid left me traumatized with any 2-wheeled mode of transportation.
I started cross training after that set back. And what better way to do it, than to start swimming? With the help of Jeff, I was able to meet my current coach Kevin. Fortunately, he had enough patience with my progress… more patience than I had with myself! I formally started seriously training to swim sometime May 2011. It was definitely a great way to take my mind off that terrible failure.
I used to join aquathlons in the years prior (c/o “Mr. Sheerwill “ Rico Villanueva). Obviously, did not do too well. I would stop once or twice in the middle of a 25m lap! Not good at all. And then the month following my 1st BDM 160 attempt, I got in the pool again. To no surprise, my swim abilities were nowhere close to where they should be. I would do a 50m lap, rest for 5 minutes, and then start again. That would give me a time of over 30 minutes to cover 500m. After that, I would call it a day and leave the pool. It was obviously a mutually hate relationship between me and the water.
After about 4 weeks of training under the guidance of Kevin, it was time to put what I’ve learned to the test. Yes, after only 4 weeks, a total of 8 sessions, I gave it a shot, and did my first triathlon!
My first official triathlon was the Animo Triathlon, Mini-Sprint event. Being my first, I was extremely nervous, excited, and totally clueless! I knew I had a running background, so I knew I could easily do the 2.5k run at the end. Being a runner, I assumed that the 7.6km bike would be easy. The 300m swim though was a different story. I was still nervous having only 8 training session under my belt.
Gun start! Then our wave was off! I stayed at the back, allowing my fellow participants go ahead of me since I knew I’d probably be among the last here. So 300m was 6 laps in the Olympic-size pool. My poor swim definitely showed, having to stop every 15-20 meters. I was among the last to complete the swim. Getting out of the water never felt so good. Finally, land! Ran to my bike and biked my legs out. I felt good all throughout and mashed my legs out. Then it was time for the run… My sport, my element! I blazed through the run part, overtaking those that started walking. 2.5kms never felt as good as this.
A strong finish, and finally done! I got through it, but knew I had to work on my swim. With a less than ideal swim, we left the event only to find out I got 3rd place!!! My one and only chance to go up the stage and receive a medal… lost. Oh well, hopefully someday, it’ll happen again.
And with that… I knew I was hooked! Right after the results came out, I started analyzing my splits. If I did a little better here or there, I would’ve had an even better result. That made me realize one of the fun aspects of the sport. There are so many variables to consider and tweak, that minor adjustments can have a huge impact.
Defining the goal
With my first triathlon done, I can now target doing my first 70.3.
First order of business was to address my most obvious weakness… The swim. I increased my weekly mileage and number of sessions and really put a lot into my swim. Having only done my first triathlon in May, I knew that 2011 would not be the year for my first shot at a half Ironman.
For the rest of 2011, my main focus was my swim and run. My initial approach was to bring my sub-par skillset, and bring as close as I can to at least mediocre. After that, I would increase my base sport and try to be at the top tier.
Having a running base, I felt that it was enough to get me through the bike leg. I mean, both required leg power, right? In my first road race, and with my first duathlon, I realized that this was not the case. I saw other participants with a slower run than me overtake me on the bike leg to a point that I could not catch up to them anymore even if I had a fairly good run.
My poor bike fitness did not only reflect on my slow bike split, but it showed that my legs would be so trashed after the bike trying to keep up with the strong cyclist, that my running muscles would suddenly disappear and barely have any use!
Again, this is the beauty of multisport. A tweak here, and a tweak there would make a huge difference and significantly impact my overall time.
3 to 1
With all the cross training I’ve been doing, I was hoping that would be enough to help me deal with some unfinished business. My triathlon training took a bit of a backseat so I can finally avenge my 1st and only DNF.
It was a tough challenge, but based on my first attempt, I learned that it was a race of attrition, more than speed. So I paced myself, tried to enjoy the experience and the view. In my 2nd attempt, I was pacing with Ultramarathon veteran and expert, Mr. Frontrunner himself, Jonel! We were enjoying the pace so much that our support crew thought that we were going so slow and might not make it to the cut off times at 102k and at the finish line!
Our patience paid off! In a little under 30 hours (which was the cutoff) we were able to avenge our DNF’s.
After reading about triathlon, and with a target race in mind, I looked for a coach to help me with my bike and running off the bike. That’s when I met the highly recommended coach Ige. He helped prepare a training program leading up to Ironman 70.3 Philippines. It was the first time ever that I was going to follow a strict training plan.
Just to show how well I was coached, I was told that I had to make a slight change in the way I pedal, and with that change, I instantly gained a bit of speed! Not even having any training mileage yet, and with a slight change in form, I instantly gained some kph! I was amazed!
The training plan was overwhelming… 2 workouts per day, 1 for a different sport, and longs during the weekend (long rides and long runs).
Walking the tightrope
Now comes the basic problem of a typical age-grouper (non-professional triathlete)… Time management. With all the sessions, lined up, I had to be able to balance everything with my job and more importantly with my wife. I knew the physical demands would be tough, but I never anticipated that balancing time across 3 aspects in my life would be an even greater challenge!
This challenge now became one of my advocacies (I’ll talk about the other in a bit). I now wanted to show that it’s possible to not only stay fit, but go beyond fit and participate in something as challenging as an Ironman 70.3 while being able to balance it with a very erratic work schedule, and giving my wife the time she deserves.
My line of work is not exactly the most conducive for training for a triathlon. I not only worked the night shift, but my schedule varied extremely! Working the night shift one day, the morning on another, then an afternoon shift as well. It was part of what I had to do as part of my job, I never do things halfheartedly, and always with a passion, which is why I’ve also given so much of myself to my work. There would be times that I would go straight from a night shift to do a morning run, sleep for 2-3 hours, then go back to work then train again in the afternoon, then back to work.
I also tried my best to make sure that I made time to be with my wife, cook for her, attend family functions, and go out on movie dates and vacations. Sometimes with barely any sleep, but again… I make sure to give every aspect of my life everything I’ve got.
What helped me get through is listening and watching Eric Thomas (a.k.a The HipHop Preacher). His words kept ringing on my mind whenever things got tough…
“You’ll only be successful if you want it as bad as you want to breathe!”
I wanted this so bad. I wanted to make this balancing act work. I even sacrificed sleep at times. I’ve stayed up 24-36 hours on some occasions.
Now lack of sleep and rest is not ideal at all for optimal performance, but this is something I knew I had to work through. More words from ET from his motivational speeches…
“You will not out work me!”
I may not be as talented, have as much time and resources, not naturally gifted, but I will not let anyone outwork me. It’s this mentality that kept me going whenever I felt like giving up my goal, whenever I felt like skipping training, whenever I felt like I could no longer do one more interval, whenever I felt so tired that I can’t go to work anymore, whenever I felt like I couldn’t stay up for my wife… I will not be out worked, I want this so bad, I will do this and be successful!
An advice for those who would like to venture in triathlons… make sure that you’re ready to make the commitment. Make sure people around you know what you’re doing, what you’re trying to achieve. You will miss your friends – but make a lot of new ones. You will miss your family – while making it bigger as you join a new one. You will sacrifice parties and late nights – but with the new lifestyle, you’ll no longer look for it as much.
Venturing into the sport is a total change in lifestyle. I thought running made the biggest change, but this definitely flipped everything upside down! I’ve learned to respect the sport even more. The dedication, time, and effort that this sport demands in not a joke. If training for a 70.3 is this tough, I find it hard to imagine the effort put into training for the full Ironman distance!
Lone no more
During the training sessions under Coach Ige, I had the privilege to train with a group of very motivated and strong athletes. They were inspiring since they too had to balance their new triathlon-based lifestyle with their day-jobs. They were strong as well as I always struggled to keep up with them during our training sessions.
Being around these guys pushed me to train harder and be more dedicated in getting better. I was also lucky that their training area was very near where I lived. So near that I could do a warm up run to our regular meeting place. This made getting to the training sessions easy, which kept me motivated. I was also fortunate that the guys I trained with were very friendly, accommodating and warm. It was easy to fit in with the group that made me feel so welcomed.
After some time of training with the team, I was very fortunate to be invited to the team. Being part of a team was new to me. I was so used to racing on my own. Although I’m part of a couple of running groups, we didn’t train together as much as we did with the triathletes I was with. And with that invitation, I became part of Team Gotta Tri. All very motivated, determined triathletes who were dedicated to getting better. A group that went beyond wanting to finish, but to finish with impressive times! In short, it was a relatively competitive bunch that took training very seriously. (Maybe to a point of being an addiction? J)
It’s great to be part of such an awesome team with a common goal, training mentality, dedication, discipline, and same level of competitive spirit.
Months of training passed… After several swim sessions, bike and run intervals, long runs, tempo runs, epic long rides it was time to take things to the next level. From sprint races, it was time to move up to standard or Olympic distance events. This is roughly half of a 70.3. It consists of a 1.5km swim, 40km bike, and 10km run. The same distance used in the Olympics (hence the term Olympic distance).
The first one I joined was the ITU (International Triathlon Union) sanctioned event (which is also a qualifier for some for the 2012 summer Olympics). It was dubbed SubIT (Subic International Triathlon).
The open water swim was my first time to swim out to the abyss! Literally, it came to a point where we no longer saw the sea bed and just gazed into nothingness… it was us and the deep blue. I tried to stay calm and get through the required 2 loops.
Next was the challenging hill of Subic on the bike. I was glad that I got to ride out and train with Kevin and Team TriAvant on the mountains of Bugarin and Mabitac. That helped prepare me for it.
The run was a flat course with several loops to complete 10kms.
Got a good result for my first standard distance triathlon… now onto the next!
The 2nd one was more of the same. It was organized though by the same organizers as IM70.3 Philippines. It was the 5i50 (also an Ironman brand affiliate), which was held also in Subic. It was quite similar to my first one… swim in the abyss, ride the hilly route (actually, the gradient was a bit more challenging, and had more climbs), and a rolling terrain for the run. The unique experiences I had with this event though is the point to point swim, and the swim start. We actually had to jump off a dock, into the abyss, tread water while waiting for the gun to go off! I’m glad I did the race, which prepared me for the type of swim start in the 70.3 I was preparing for.
I was a bit disappointed with my time, but very grateful for the lessons learned.