2019 IRONMAN Western Australia

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results‘ (Alfred Einstein).

That’s not a knife … THAT’s a knife

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Ever since I can recall I have always had the country of Australia as a go-to / to-do destination; or more in particular … ever since I watched ‘Crocodile Dundee’ as a kid, or the episode of ‘The Simpsons’ where toilet flush apparently swirls the other way around in Australia. Kangaroos, Koalas, geographical distance, the outback, knives! … It has always been this one mysterious place; one you could dig a huge-arse whole in the ground and come out from at the other side of the world.

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But I guess first things first. Back when I was 23 years old, fresh out of university, I could count the number of countries I had been to in my lifetime with one single hand (5), one of them being the country I was born in (the one country everyone has on their list), and another one being a little island in the Caribbean (Aruba) with a tiny 50,000 population and much closer to my hometown than the actual capital city of my own country (half the distance). To put it into context: I had visited 0.22 new countries per living year. Definitely not much resume to have a travel vlog. Even less authority (or experience) to suddenly just pop-up in an island on the other side of the world, where toilet flush swirls the other way around. I was young and naive. And even though I consider myself to always have been very good at geography … I didn’t even know where Singapore was.

This last phrase was extremely embarrassing to type … I think it took me like 5 minutes to fully type without typos … ‘I didn’t even know where Singapore was’. Ouch. I almost felt like these people Jimmy Kimmel interviews on the street of LA asking them where countries are on a globe but using changed country names, to highlight the peoples’ ignorance.

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So acknowledging I had to fix this shameful situation, during the next 13 years I managed to visit 49 more countries (now at a rate of 3.77 new countries per year). Which left me now in a much improved position (Updated Self) with an average of 1.5 new countries per year over my lifetime.

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Therefore, after fixing my credibility, in the Summer of 2017 I finally signed up for the legendary, the one and only ‘IRONMAN Australia’ in Port Macquarie, to take place in May 2018. I could not believe I was going to do an IRONMAN on the other side of the world.

Singapore was by then one of my 5 favourite cities in the world, and even a crazy/rich/Asian place I would love to live in someday (actually, a place I ALMOST moved to … thanks to a complex spreadsheet algorithm … before coming to London … I have told this story personally to a many few, but that is content for another blog). It was also the place that saw me get my third marathon bling bling (Singapore-island shaped).

But back to our story … life got in the way, and 2018 had other plans for me, so I deferred the race to the following year, to the May 2019 edition (e.g. asked IRONMAN to move my race slot to the next year). But then again … 2018 still had many other plans for me, and I arrived back home in January 2019 from a 3-week round-the-world pig-like-eating trip where I ended up looking like the Michelin Guide mascot (a.k.a. ‘Bibendum’). You could say ‘definitely NOT ready’ to take on a 140.6-mile-race in just 4 months’ time.

Unfortunately, I could not defer the IRONMAN Australia race any longer (you only have this wild card to be used once), and therefore the World Triathlon Corporation (the holding company for the IRONMAN brand) had just made about 800 USD from me without having to spend a single dime to give me anything at all. In plain financial accounting terms, 800 USD in pure bottom line results (e.g. no direct costs associated to it). Easy money. Almost like printing cash … like the guys from the Netflix show ‘Money Heist’.

Anyway … I still was determined to personally flush the toilet and test the direction of the water in the ‘Land Down Under’, and after having a look at the annual racing calendar, my answer was there. There are 3 calendar-classic full-distance IRONMAN races in Australia, but there was one of them, a very late season one, which could still perfectly fit in for 2019: IRONMAN Western Australia in Busselton, WA on December 1st.

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And so another 800 USD went into IRONMAN’s bank account, however this time it would be 800 USD in top line results only, as it should always be (e.g. give me my ‘free’ banana and backpack, bitchezz).

No triathlete said ever ‘I just want to finish this race’.

Being the last race of the season, and having done already 3 full distance races, I couldn’t have an objective of just ‘finishing the race’.

Actually, there is a joke in the triathlon community that no triathlete ever has ever said such a thing. If there is a place where I have met the most concentrated number of ‘ALPHA’ people in my life it was not during my time at business school … but actually it was on this sport. As in OMG / WTF. It seems to be a place where the lines between amateurs and professionals just simply blurry away. I think I didn’t get the memo when I first started, but triathlon seems not to be the kind of sport you do just as a casual ‘hobby’, or just as a way to ‘disconnect from work’, or just as a ‘way to keep fit’.

It can get so competitive at times, that athletes may stop listening to their bodies during a race in pursuit of glory, and sometimes need to be carried on someone else’s shoulders all the way to the finish line.

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One of the things that clearly reflects the ‘ALPHA’ nature of this sport is the infamous ‘AWA’ concept: Finish the year on the top 1%, 2% or 5% of your age group and become awesome; become an ‘All World Athlete’.

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And then there’s me usually on race morning before jumping into the water …

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But just like I couldn’t only aim for ‘finishing the race’, at the same time I couldn’t just go and say ‘Let’s get a Kona slot!!! Yeah, baby, yeeaaahh!!’. As I have said before, I really admire people who accomplish this task organically.

And here we touch another important topic of the ‘ALPHA’ nature of this sport: qualifying for the ‘IRONMAN World Championship in Kona’. The race of the year. One you can only go to if you qualify for it. Usually within reach only of the ‘AWA’ bloke. To give you an idea of how hard qualifying for Kona is (at least organically), let’s look at it from two angles.

ONE (in general): On one hand, a typical IRONMAN race can have about 2,000 non-professional athletes (AG, or Age Group Athletes) … and on the other hand, it offers only maybe 40 Kona slots … this means only the top 2% get a chance to go to the Big Island in October. 2%. For every hundred athletes, 98 will not punch the ticket.

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TWO (for someone like me): The last non-professional athlete in a typical IRONMAN race in the age group from 35 to 39 years old that qualifies for Kona roughly finishes the race in about 9 hours and 15 minutes. On the other hand, I (me … this blog’s author) usually finish an IRONMAN race in 14 hours … this means that I would have, somehow, by divine power of Euclidean Gods of the Olympus, to reduce my finish time by 4 hours and 45 minutes, or which is the same, to cut my time by a THIRD. ‘Hide the Pain’ Harold moment. Right there.

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At times I do wonder if qualifying for Kona has to do more with:

  • An X-Men-like genetic advantage
  • The number of years of experience in the sport
  • The net number of weekly hours of training leading up to race day
  • Las Vegas style pure divine luck on race day
  • OR … a combination of the above

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I was never a sporty person in my youth (as I’ve explained in a previous post). I’ve been in the sport for 3 years now (2017, 2018 and 2019). And from experience I can only manage to rack up a maximum of 17 hours of weekly training on my peak weeks for an IRONMAN race. I honestly don’t know if I can do more than that without simply mentally breaking down or without jeopardising other areas of my life (e.g. work, sleep, relationships, others, etc.). And I DO NEED and respect my Mondays OFF (#YesRestDays), so the 17 hours need to be distributed across the other 6 days of the week (3 hours per day on average vs. 8 hours in the office without commute without overtime).

And these are 17 hours of actual training … of actual sweating on the street, or on the turbo at home, on a treadmill, in the gym, in the pool, etc. It doesn’t include all the additional admin time, such as commuting to/from the gym/pool, commuting to a park if I do an outdoors ride, preparing the fuel for long sessions, preparing the pain cave for an indoors turbo session (fuel, towel, water, fan, turbo, Zwift, AirPods, YouTube playlist or music … bluetooth INSANITY), additional showering post training, looking at my TrainingPeaks, etc.

And it doesn’t include either an additional weekly hour (one that I have now included in my sets after having to cancel a 70.3 race earlier this year due to back injury) that I need for proper stretching to increase my flexibility in my grandpa body. Trucks below not included.

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So, after acknowledging I am LIGHT YEARS away from a Kona qualification, and after having completed three (3) full 140.6-miler IRONMAN races, I knew exactly where I was and I knew exactly there were four (4) very very concrete things I wanted to accomplish for this particular race, and with which I would be extremely happy:

  1. Maximise the amount of time I swim front crawl (vs. breast stroke)
  2. Manage to go down the psychological 7-hour mark on the bike leg
  3. Manage to run the entire 42.2 Km run segment without getting another stomach breakdown which forces me to walk a long segment of the run leg
  4. Standard reduction of my transition times to around 5min each (T1 and T2)

Ultra long haul flights & Ultra cool swimming pools. Ultra stuff.

One of the most exciting bits of racing IM Western Australia, for an ‘avgeek’ like myself,  was actually getting there. I would be taking the third longest commercial flight in the world, flying with the Australian carrier Qantas Airways, between London Heathrow and Perth, in Western Australia (just over 9,000 miles). It is the longest commercial flight on a Dreamliner 787. It is the longest commercial flight operating in/out of LHR. And it is the only direct commercial flight between Europe and Australia. It takes about 16 hours (on the Australia-bound direction), and somewhat over 17 hours on the way back.

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If you look at the route it takes, it is impressive the amount of countries, land and sea it flies over to get to the other side of the world in one single jump.

From London it goes into continental Europe, flying over central and then eastern Europe until it comes out on the Black Sea, bordering the northern coast of Turkey, then jumping slightly into the Caspian Sea, then into Iran, Pakistan and then flying along the west coast of India, and then over Sri Lanka, until it starts a very long and final stretch over water (no land to be seen), flying parallel to Indonesia (Sumatra island), and all the way until Perth.

Once in Australia, and as part of my de-jetlagging exercises and tuning up for the race, I had the surprise and pleasure to find a swimming pool in Perth like very few in this world. Outdoors olympic-sized pool (50m) with 10 lanes, plus 4 additional lanes at 25m. All of this next to the actual Indian Ocean. A backdrop you won’t forget in your lifetime. Also the taste of the water is somewhat salty, so maybe it has pre-treated water straight from the ocean. But with the 23C temperature, full sun out with no clouds, at 6:45AM when I got there, it was an even more special experience. It felt really good.

Here comes the sun … and Tim Don.

So … RACE DAY! … and so war begins …

One of the things I loved about this race is the gap between the sun coming up and the actual start of the race. Even though I am a morning person I appreciate the power of sunlight in getting the body and mind ready for any day. And getting things ready in transition zone before the race with full sunlight does help A LOT.

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And, as it has become a tradition, I had to leave on my lucky ‘stache‘ for the last race of the season; this time inspired by the great British triathlete Tim Don.

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The most amazing race swim I have ever done.

The swim would be a 3.8 Km ocean swim, heading first into the water, then turning left and swimming under the iconic Busselton Jetty, and from that point on it would be two (2) laps before turning right back into shore.

Swim course map IM Western Australia

The swim was really stunning. You could feel like inside a natural swimming pool, with crystal clear views all around. The water was minimally choppy, but you could definitely feel the current pulling you back at times. It reminded me of my 2017 IRONMAN Barcelona swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

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The start of the swim always tends to be a ‘washing machine’ due to the number of people trying to occupy the same space, so during this time I naturally tend to swim mostly in breast stroke (slower stroke but easier to both breathe and sight) in order to find my space and get ready to settle into proper race rhythm.

My only objective in Busso for the swim was to try to get a PB (Personal Best) by minimising the time I spend on breast stroke and therefore maximising the time on front crawl (a much faster stroke but requiring more effort and better sighting technique, pretty much giving up to some extent a sense of control). Simple change. Not expecting a massive PB, but it should surely be worth SOMETHING, right?

Once I passed under the jetty I think I held the front crawl during 95% of the time, which is something I have never done before (vs. 45% of the time on previous occasions). I was feeling great. Sometimes drafting behind other swimmers, and sometimes fighting for space against other swimmers. But I was continuously swimming forward, one stroke at a time, genuinely enjoying the swim.

This is the first time I do a 2-lap swim, and my main concern with this was having to deal with the faster AWA swimmers coming from behind me when they would be on their second lap and I would be on my first lap. Surprisingly though, I didn’t find much of these people … but I did find them. They tend to be quite ruthless. They just cut across from behind without much concern or manners. And the thing that makes it a worse experience is seeing them with the classic ‘AWA’ swim cap, as in saying ‘excuse me grandpa, elite AWA swimmer coming through, move over!’. You could see behind my googles my ‘eyeroll’ every time a ‘friendly’ AWA swimmer came through.

There were long stretches of the swim where we were so close to the shore that you could stand on the ground, take a breather, and continue swimming. But no! Not me! I swear!

And then suddenly … goal # 1 achieved! IRONMAN Swim PB by almost 2 mins, with a total swim time of 01:23:57 (down from 01:25:51 from IRONMAN Norway). A 2.3% reduction in swim time. Considering this was an ocean swim with current and Norway being a static lake swim (with an Australian exit, ironically), the taste of this PB is that much nicer.

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Sub-7-f-ing hours.

9:00AM and time for 180Km of super duper flat roads in WA. It was a 2-lap course with a crazy number of U-turns (11 in total), and a total elevation gain of 340m. I have never seen that many U-turns, nor that flatness in a bike course.

Bike course map IM Western Australia

It just deserves to see a comparison with previous races to understand how flat this course is. The chart below shows a comparison based on accumulated elevation for each race in meters (sorry US & UK folks, nobody else in the world cares about feet :)).

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Even IRONMAN 70.3 Switzerland, which is half the length of Busso, still has almost 4 times the accumulated elevation of Busso. Pending the unexpected headwinds, this course should be FAST.

The course was so flat that I only had to move ONCE the lever of the small gear cog because I felt some headwinds (in comparison, during IRONMAN Norway with 2,000m elevation gain, I had to move the levers so many times, that I felt like a phone operator from the 1950s, switching here and there ALL the time).

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My goal for the bike in Busso was pretty darn simple. Other than enjoying the ocean and forest views, it was trying to beat the evil 7-hour mark that I had always exceeded on my previous IRONMAN races.

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You can see how in IRONMAN Boulder I already managed to reduce the bike leg time but still above the evil 7-hour mark. Other than the classic training, there are two things that I did especially for this race to help me achieve this goal.

First, I stepped away from my ‘gordito’ (fatty) mentality. I have always thought that since I do SO much exercise when training for an IRONMAN that I f-ing DESERVE to eat whatever daf*q I want and whenever daf*q I want. Classic entitlement mentality. It’s the part of our brains controlled by a needy monkey, who only cares about your short term satisfaction. There is no mañana.

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However, I decided this time to experiment with this, and took very good care of my food intake in the 2 months leading up to race day. I figured that being lighter can have a significant impact on a 180 Km bike ride. And I arrived to Busso in the lightest form I have been in a LONG time (if not ever): 79 Kg (under the psychological 80 Kg mark). I honestly can’t remember when was the last time I was under 80 Kg. This is 25Kg under my heaviest moment ever, back in 2001 during uni, after eating 12 straight weeks every Tuesday in Domino’s Pizza, taking advantage of the ‘2-for-Tuesdays’ promotion. Horrid times. God bless digital pictures and social media were not that big back then.

And second, I decided to leverage the power of my new bike computer (Wahoo Element Bolt) to keep me on my toes DURING the race. For this I made a simple back of the envelope calculation on bike split times vs. average speed.

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I knew that I had to hit at least 26 Km/h average speed to get under the 7-hour mark; so I configured the screen of the Wahoo to show during the race as seen on the picture below.

Your ‘Watts’ is always the most important number to keep in sight, hence the largest and topmost on the screen. However, I made sure to also include side by side on the second line the ‘KPH’ and the ‘Average KPH’ figure. This was a perfect way to not only see what speed I was getting at every moment but also to ensure I kept the average speed around 26 KPH or higher (as per my calculation shown above). If you studied well your basic maths (and if you remember), you know that during a bike ride in order to increase the average KPH you need to input a KPH higher than the current average for a sustained period of time. And you also should know that the longer you’ve been cycling the more difficult it is to move the average KPH, unless you drastically change your speed at the end, which is not usually the recommended approach. I also included on the third line the ‘average Watts’ to see how well I stuck to the ‘cruise wattage’ recommended by my coach.

The first 90 Km lap I kept going straight, without real stops at aid stations. One of the cool things of the first lap was to see the soon-to-be champion and soon-to-be course record breaker Alistair Brownlee swift by and making it look so effortless. Once I got to the ‘Special Needs’ section (at the end of the first lap), for my excitement I noticed I had averaged 28 KPH on this first half, which was quite above the 26 KPH required to break the 7-hour mark. If I kept like this for the rest of the race I could do under 6 hours and a half!!! … However, I still needed to go for another 90 Km, and those would be much harder due to the obvious fatigue onset. My neck, my back and my feet were hurting as hell, which doesn’t really help. Over the second lap I stopped at every aid station to stretch my back, stretch my legs, have a proper gulp of cold water and get a proper cold water shower. Luckily I didn’t have to go to the toilet, so my stops were not too long either. However, these stops ultimately had an effect on my average speed for the second half, for sure (e.g. speed = 0 while time is still ticking).

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Usually my arrival into T2 is my favourite moment of the race. And this time … it was no different. My body usually is longing that T2 moment for the last 60 Km of the bike leg. I think during this race my body was asking for T2 ever since I finished the first lap (90 Km mark). LOL. Not LOL.

At the end of the bike leg, I had managed to keep an average speed of 27.25 KPH!!! … which also meant goal # 2 achieved! IRONMAN Bike PB by a massive 36 mins, with a total bike time of 6:36:18 (down from 07:12:12 from IRONMAN Boulder). A 8.3% reduction in bike time. You could still claim that the super flat course helped me get to under 7 hours, but the PB is nonetheless very sweet.

Fact is, I made it to T2 completely destroyed. As I ALWAYS do. Both mentally and physically. And I think this is part of the reason I could not achieve my goal # 4. I always feel I need some time to slap myself to get back into race mode for an entire upcoming marathon. At the same time, during both T1 and T2, I need to ensure I get SPF 50 sunscreen even under my tongue. Earlier this year I got two carcinomas removed (benign form of skin cancer) from my skin, so taking care of my skin has now become EXTREMELY important; especially during events like this, where the norm is to be under the sun.

This is also the reason why you see on my bike picture I was wearing long white protective sleeves.

I need you tonight. Chan chan chan … chararararararan! (Australia pun intended)

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And here we go! The last leg of the race, and my favourite discipline.

The run course in Busso is an IRONMAN-race-classic 10.5 Km x 4 laps course. Coming from the running world I’ve never been a fan of the repetitive nature of the run courses for IRONMAN races, especially as you pass via the finish line a ridiculous number of times before it is actually time for you. But in Busselton you can’t complain with the Indian Ocean backdrop views, especially at the late afternoon / early evening times during which I ran. Wish I had a camera back then. Seriously, Instagram look-at-my-life-how-awesome-it-is proper material.

Run course map IM Western Australia

My goal for the run in Busso was rather more complicated than the previous two goals. My history of run legs during IRONMAN races has not been satisfactory at all, as I have described on previous posts. My body always reacts in ‘funny ways’ during the run that force me to walk a LONG part of the run leg. In Norway I had severe nauseas and had to walk an important part of the course until I felt recovered and started to run again, and to this day it is my best run leg time in an IRONMAN (4:20:39). In Taiwan I had a stomach shutdown and some crazy / scaryAF hyperventilation that almost made me abandon the race altogether, but I kept going walking the entire second half of the marathon. And then in Boulder earlier this year I had a stomach shutdown that also forced me to walk half the marathon (as I couldn’t refuel anymore), and never managed to recover from it.

Being the run my favourite and best discipline it is very frustrating not being able to perform well during an IRONMAN race, and therefore my goal was to try to avoid ‘fingers crossed’ this situation on this fourth time (fourth time lucky?) … just to avoid it, and try to run straight without bonking.

My working theory is that I need to be more kind to my stomach in order to let it do its job better. Based on this theory, I kept my bike nutrition more based on gels than on solids, as I usually do. I prepared the by now classic two (2) nuclear warheads as nutrition for the bike leg. But unlike in Boulder earlier this year, this time I came prepared and made sure all gels were the same flavour (pineapple), plus I only mixed with water, not an isotonic sweet drink. So in a way, the ‘uranium’ content of these warheads was less intense than that of Boulder.

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I also included some salted nuts to balance out the stomach from all the usual sweet content (e.g. to kill the flavour fatigue). I also kept solid gels for the run leg, which have a much nicer flavour and a different texture for a change. And very importantly, I practiced the use of all of these things during my training as well (e.g. training the stomach). The big problem I see is that one never gets to simulate the whole race nutrition until actual race day (e.g. you never do an IRONMAN on your own as a training session for an IRONMAN), so surprises are easily expected during the race.

Just like I did with the bike leg, I did some quick back-of-the-envelope numbers to see what ‘average pace’ I had to hold to get specific times (in green below the average paces that would give me a PB on an IRONMAN run leg). This was a secondary objective though (to get a run leg PB) but I still kept it in mind, in case things went well with my body.

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And just like with the bike leg, I set up my Garmin Forerunner 945 watch (also part of the new gear set) to show me the current pace and the average pace (the same math principle explained before). No rocket science. Wink wink.

Anyhow … from T2 is was just beautiful weather, 3:50pm, and the body is feeling like it wants to RUN! All good signs. And definitely nice to be back in civilisation, surrounded by many other athletes, supporters and the gorgeous Busselton Jetty in the background. Usually the bike leg is long and very lonely. On this course, you catch a quick glimpse of human life during the 90 Km mark, but that’s it. As a comparison, during IRONMAN Norway, where I had a 1-loop course and only 650 athletes, it was 180 Km of pure loneliness. Perfect for meditation and making important life decisions.

Being from the tropics, I am very familiar with two kinds of insects: mosquitoes and flies. The first group are just mercenary bitches who go after your blood at every chance they have, when you least expect it. You are quite afraid of them not only because of that, but also because the diseases you can get from them (the same way as a used needle). The second group however are more of an inoffensive group of creatures, who just co-exist with humans (we are here and they are there), and with whom you only get pissed off because they stand on your food and/or drink, and therefore you may proceed to kill out of anger.

A few weeks before going to Australia, a friend of mine warned me about the flies during the race. And I was like ‘what? flies? … bitchez pluh-eeeeeze’ (talk to the hand pose).

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Well, during the run leg of the race, I finally managed to understand what my friend meant with his warning. So let’s talk about the ‘Australian Fly’. I’m still unsure of whether the flies in Australia are uniquely the way they are, or it is rather the Venezuelan flies that are just lazy motherf***rs.

There are two (2) main characteristics that distinguish Australian flies from their Venezuelan lazy motherf***r counterparts:

  1. Their sheer abundance
    • Is not like you just spot one or two in the street
    • In Australia there are possibly hundreds or thousands of them hanging out together in tandem at any given time
  2. Their annoying ASSASSIN nature
    • Even though they know they have no sting to suck blood with they just throw themselves DIRECTLY at you
    • I’m unsure what is the purpose of this aggressive attack (e.g. lick the salt out of you, maybe?)
    • All I know is that they are EXTREMELY annoying
    • They usually show up in the run leg, while it is still warm outside and you are not too fast for the flies
    • Imagine being on the run but instead of swinging both arms back and forth to help you with the momentum (as you normally do), you need to use one of the arms to constantly battle those sons of bitches out of your face
    • More than once as I passed other runners I could see their backs absolutely covered with a whole kingdom of flies … whilst absolutely disgusting to watch, even worse was the realisation feeling that I had in the moment that most likely my back was in the same state … clearly I didn’t minimally bother to check or to touch … out of sight, out of mind …

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Yup, nasty. Back now back to the run. As you can see, you could clearly notice from my kit which country I was representing.

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And the other only Venezuelan counterpart on the race found me during the run. We ran together for like 10 minutes while chatting, but he was clearly on a different gear (I was putting an effort to keep up) so we quickly lost contact.

And then … just like a very slow degenerative disease … it started to happen again.

I only had one bar of gel blocks during the run, and suddenly I started to reject the idea of it. I tried to satisfy my stomach as much as possible when I noticed the start of the downfall again. Watermelons tasted like GOLD! And so did pretzels. But sooner rather than later my stomach closed its gates to those as well. I really didn’t feel like eating anymore, any longer. Soon enough liquids were also out of the equation. Not coke. And not even water. I did feel thirsty, but when I had a sip of water I felt I was very close to throw it up.

And so then I accepted defeat again … goal # 3 NOT achieved! … And this happened earlier than usual. It happened after only 17 Km into the marathon. So, as you correctly guessed, I had to walk for 25.2 Km … 25.2 Km walking … that’s roughly 3 hours and 45 minutes of walking at very fast pace (9 min / Km). I mean, I felt I could have kept running but my biggest fear was fully bonking and being unable to finish the race (since I was not fuelling anymore). So I kept the medal in mind, and I quickly shifted objective from getting a PB to avoiding a DNF, and so I took the painful decision to walk on cruise speed until the end. A DNF would be absolutely terrible, both for your triathlete ego and also for your road to the ‘Kona Legacy Program’.

During this ‘walk of doom’ as I call it, there were good things, as well as darker things. I enjoyed the change in colours from afternoon, to dusk, to evening; which next to the ocean and the Jetty is absolutely Instagram-worthy. I also had time to meditate and to think about my non-sport goals for 2020, especially about my need to reboot my career and getting my head around that. I also felt blessed for being walking on a nice beach in Australia (out of all places!) as opposed to tied down to a desk in a gloomy office building. I kept myself entertained as well with ensuring I put in a 9:00 min / Km pace as a minimum by constantly looking at my Garmin watch.

At the same time, I had my classic dark moment where I ditched all my future attempts at continuing on the sport. I called myself a failure (classic soap opera moment). How was it possible to keep having the same problem after FOUR (4) IRONMAN attempts already? … I started thinking how to sell my bike, my turbo trainer, etc. I was also perfectly fine to ditch all my flights and races I had already purchased for 2020. I called those ‘sunk costs’. And started to think about what other hobby I could pursue. I felt lucky that my Instagram account doesn’t have the word ‘tri’ on it, so I didn’t have to change it. One positive thing! … Yup. Yup. 3 hours is a LONG time to get yourself caught up in darkness and thunderstorms. It was like being ‘Kimchi Slapped’ during the episode of a heart-wrenching Korean soap opera.

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Anyhow … after 13 hours, 52 minutes and 6 seconds … my second to worst 140.6 time (after Boulder) … I made it to another highly emotional finish line … ‘YOU ARE AN IRONMAN’ …

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It is amazing how quickly I went from being excited about how my race was going, to then ditching all my racing forever, to then again being even more excited for my 2020 season. BipolarAF.

The morning after.

The next day I did three very important things.

Take my classic #MedalMonday picture from an iconic setting …

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The thing that doesn’t show above is how hard it was to take this picture without having an empty hand with which to scare away the assassin Australian flies …

Also, the ritual I try to do as much as possible: the first big meal after an IRONMAN race …

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#YumChaIsLife …

And finally, I had to update the new version of my ‘IRONMAN Five-Continent Thanos Challenge’ …

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Just one more infinity stone …

Aftermath.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results‘ (Alfred Einstein).

As I reflect on my completed three seasons in the sport, I wonder what is next. Below I did a laundry list of all the things I’m getting and the things I’m NOT getting yet from this rollercoaster ‘aerobics-like casual jogger hobby’.

Good stuff:

  • I enjoy this sport; both the journeys (all the training) plus the several destinations (all the races)
  • I appreciate the lifestyle that keeps me focused, fit, and with clear motivational objectives that I still can’t find in the workplace (after a number of years in the workplace) … you will rarely see me post something on Instagram (or even LinkedIn) about work, including the now trendy picture on a stage with a big screen behind with hands in the air and a head microphone (everyone seems to be a TED talker nowadays) … I will spam you with expensive finish line pics instead
  • I enjoy the gamification around it, by trying to achieve the ‘IRONMAN Five-Continent Thanos Challenge’ (one IM race on each continent), or the ‘Kona Legacy Program’ eligibility (to complete 12 full distance races to be eligible to attend the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona one day some day), or the 6-Abbott World Major Marathons Challenge & Medal, plus of course getting mathematical PBs (Personal Bests) on race time, leg time, transition time, etc, etc, etc … they all sound like children games … but maybe, yeah 🙂
  • I am grateful of the number and quality of new friends all over the world I have made in this sport (or the re-strengthening of old friendships due to our newly found common love) … triathlon is like a hooded brotherhood cult … triathlon is like a Tinder for friendships, but with the exception that here you usually swipe to the right (99% of times, lol)

Not so good stuff:

  • Your classics of this sport: TIME and MONEY … this item is just about achieving efficiencies, but nothing much else I can do … this sport is EXPENSIVE and absorbs LOTS OF TIME from your schedule …
  • The IRONMAN swim leg … how do you guys swim WELL under 2:00m / 100m over the entire distance of an IRONMAN swim leg? … fish food? … performance-enhancing drugs? … your mother is actually from Atlantis (like Aquaman)? … hours and hours and hours in the pool? …
  • The IRONMAN bike leg … can I escape the bike laggards category one day? … can I achieve that doing 95% indoor riding? … do I need to get an aero helmet? (to get 2 minutes extra) … do I need to shave my legs (to get 15 seconds more)? … do I need to break my 17-hour weekly training ceiling on a consistent basis? … do I need to erase the ‘gordito’ mentality from my brain (can I control the evil monkey)? … do I need to forget about rest Mondays? #NoRestDays ? …
  • The IRONMAN run leg … until when will I have to suffer this stomach defeat? … Is it more brick sessions required? … Is it a more meticulous nutrition strategy required? … do I need to consume the same amount of calories as I burn? (if this is the case, I might as well put in a whole BBQ in my bike pocket) … if not, how many more? or how many less? …

All of these things to be researched, consulted with the pillow, and discussed with the coach.

Anyway .. since you have been reading all the way through, I can share with you my 2020 Season Calendar (in case you haven’t seen it already on Insta). Many people in this sport, I have observed, don’t like to share their plans nor their objectives ahead of time, but only until like 2 weeks before the actual race. Unsure if it is because many feel scared of being left in ridicule if for whatever reason they can’t achieve their objectives, or if it is just a superstition thing, or if it is actually more a German-like data privacy thing where ‘I would NEVER want others to know where will I be in the near future’.

Screen Shot 2019-12-15 at 12.22.54Since I don’t care about any of the above 🙂 … here is my 2020 Season Racing Calendar:

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It is defo the most ambitious season so far …

First thing to observe is given my recent frustration with the run legs of all my IRONMAN races to date, I decided to bring back the 26.2 format this year; and I had the crazy luck to be selected on the ballot for 2 of the 6 Abbott World Marathon Majors for 2020. When this happens to you, you just CANNOT say no. It’s like Michael Corleone asking you to run the race. Can’t refuse. No matter what. So coldAF Tokyo (4th favourite city in the world) in March, and then windyAF & flatAF Chicago as the season finale in October (back in town after a long 11 years, after almost going to prison for illegally launching fireworks in the vicinity of the actual police during Mexican Independence festivities … but that is also material for another blog).

Next thing is that I will be doing two (2) more IRONMAN races, as it has been a classic for the past 2 years, and is the distance I enjoy the most. With the first one in Port Elizabeth in March I intend to complete my ‘IRONMAN 5-continent Thanos Challenge’, and in Germany in early July I will manage to tick the box of this big classic of the world triathlon calendar: Challenge Roth. It will be a full distance race that will not count towards my ‘Kona Legacy Program’ but I don’t mind delaying the Kona dream just yet in order to do this iconic event.

Also, after being thoroughly convinced by my coach, I will return to the beautiful Big Island in May to do the famous ‘Honu’ race.

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And finally, you will notice some timing issues. Not only Tokyo is super early in the season, but also South Africa is only 4 weeks after Tokyo. So it will be interesting to see how I train for both types of events in tandem. I can’t just start training for South Africa AFTER Tokyo. Due to this early season double-challenge, my coach already told me I can’t have a ‘Maracaibo-like’ Christmas time (e.g. food- and drink-wise). Then after a little 2-month break, I have Hawaii and only 5 weeks after that another full distance in Roth. So a very very packed first half of the year. And then we have Chicago in a very comfortable lonely position, poised for great things this one …

I am still in the process of figuring out what I want to achieve (and can realistically aim for) on each race. But one thing I can tell you now, I think both Hawaii and Chicago will be my ‘A’ races of the season. Let’s say, I will go for a stretch 😉

Beyond this …

I always ask myself: for how long will I continue doing this? Next Year? Next Decade? Until I die? Why so much torture? Why so much money? Why so much time? What’s wrong with Aerobics?

I’m a heavy planner, and I also wonder ‘what would happen if I lose my job tomorrow?’. Will I ditch the entire 2020 Season planning / investment? Or will I splurge my savings on the season with the mental stress of not having a job?

Do I want to re-focus my scarce spare time in my career? In my Korean?

Do I really want to do 12 IRONMAN races to qualify to Kona via the Legacy Program?

Or do I want to go bananas and try to qualify to Kona organically? Or even to the 70.3 Worlds?

How do I fix my run leg IRONMAN problem? Bloody question. LOL.

Time will tell.

For now, thanks for reading all the way here. It took me ages to complete.

Peace, love and tri. See you in Tokyo!

2019 IRONMAN Boulder

When you think you have your season all beautifully planned …

After coming back home from a long holiday break in late December / early January (where my level of eating was quite unparalleled) I realised that my physical shape looked more like the typical Shopping Mall Santa Claus than the average triathlete.

Because I saw this coming I planned to have my first 2019 season race in late July, so as to give me enough time to get ‘back on track’. I enrolled into one of my top bucket list races: IRONMAN Canada. It takes place in Whistler, British Columbia … as part of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics set of venues. It has a swim in a crystal clear lake, a beautiful but challenging bike course, and a stunning marathon in the middle of nowhere next to pine trees, mountains, squirrels and the aforementioned lake.

When I saw the banner below, I couldn’t stop myself: the classic pulling out of the credit card like a cowboy in front of the active.com shopping basket … if you have raced an IRONMAN-branded race you know the drill. I’m not sure if the marketing department at IRONMAN is really good, or if it is actually very easy to be in the marketing department at IRONMAN as the product sells itself with little effort.

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I mean, pure triathlon pornography.

So the first thing you might be asking yourselves is ‘why is this guy talking about IRONMAN Canada when the title of the blog post is ‘2019 IRONMAN Boulder’???

Well, this is where my friend … let’s call him Mr. D … comes in.

I forgot exactly when, but my friend Mr. D told me one day (obviously AFTER I had already planned for IRONMAN Canada AND my other two important races of the year) that he was getting married in 2019!! … Yay! Congrats!! Celebration!! … hmmm hold on … actually … I have a whole racing season planned … a lot of mental F-words followed …

The ‘best’ about this unexpected announcement were the wedding details: ‘sometime, somewhere’. Brilliant!

So there was a dark period between this announcement and the actual final confirmation of the wedding details. A period where in multiple occasions (during a meeting at work, in the shower, while in the swimming pool, or even in my dreams) I thought about the undated and unlocated wedding … every time with cold sweat on my forehead and my eyes lost in the horizon with fully dilated pupils, as if I was on a high dose of cocaine.

Anyway, the confirmation finally came for a wedding in a nice Caribbean country where I haven’t been yet (yasssssssss) … but it was only TWO weeks before IRONMAN Canada. And honestly the idea of going to a Latin American wedding, where there is definitely no end time on the invite, only two weeks before race day, sounded quite dangerous and jeopardising for my race success odds.

With a heavy heart I said goodbye to my bucket list race and started looking for an alternative. IRONMAN allows you on most full distance races (140.6 miles) to do one of three things when your personal plans change. Firstly, you can get a refund. But the refund is honestly quite miserable, and to be fair I think I’m a converted customer so I’m sure I’ll be racing for sometime still. Secondly, you can defer your race (at no cost) to the same event but in the next year. But to be fair … 2020 IRONMAN Canada??? … They may cancel the race, or I might not even make it to 2020, so my motto is #YOLO. Therefore I had only one other choice, which is to transfer to another race on the same year and the same region (North America), for a reasonable fee.

It had to be a race not too early season for a Santa-Claus-body person and not too close to my already booked late season races. The only race that matched this profile was IRONMAN Boulder, in Colorado. As an uber-logical engineer I am, time came to analyse this option:

  1. The race had a very similar nature to IRONMAN Canada: you would swim on some sort of reservoir (like a small man-made lake), cycle with the view of snow-peaked mountains (just not on top of them, so it was a much flatter course than Canada), and a marathon that would go through a creek and end in downtown Boulder.
  2. Boulder is known as another mecca in the sport. For some ‘strange’ reason many known professional triathletes live and train there. And since my experience in Kona last year was amazing (another triathlon mecca), then I started to get my interest spiked.
  3. Mike Reilly, who is a celebrity in the world of triathlon, also known as the ‘voice of IRONMAN’, was going to be the race announcer at Boulder, and it was on my bucket list to be called an IRONMAN by Mike Reilly someday.
  4. London is connected to Denver via DIRECT flights (as seen below) with not one, nor two, but THREE airlines: BA, United and Norwegian. AND the ticket price was very attractive. I was almost convinced, but just almost …
  5. However, the drop that spilled the glass: Colorado is home to over 200 craft breweries AND has legalised recreational use of Cannabis.

SOLD! APPROVED! STAMPED! … Race TRANSFERRED! … when are we going? … can we go now? … is it time yet?

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Besides, my coach (or like Spanish football players call their respective coaches: ‘El Mister’), the one and only David Diaz, came to Boulder to race as well. And that made it quite an awesomER experience! (and of course we took it very corporate, as seen below).

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When you think you’ve made the right choice …

A couple of weeks later while talking to my coach and planning for race # 1, he mentions the word ‘altitude’. But at the moment I was all like – ‘yeah, yeah, of course, we’ll deal with all of this’. It took me just a couple of hours to realise what that tiny word meant.

First shock comes after doing the classic Google search.

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Second shock came after trying to understand what that meant.

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17.3% effective oxygen in Boulder vs. 20.9% at sea level = 20% less oxygen up there. Bollocks! … more mental F-words …

Third shock came after digging out a bit more information.

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Avoidance response?

Oxygen at a premium?

Ill?

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)!

WTF!!!!

Typical AMS symptoms include …

The only cool AMS I know is AMSterdam. But F**K this AMS!!!

This was actually the ‘strange’ reason of professional triathletes living and training in Boulder, CO. If you get your body used to training at altitude where oxygen is at a premium, then you are able to perform at a higher level when racing at sea level. Smart.

Forth and final shock came after my hard drive rescued a memory from my childhood, stored deep in a hidden sector somewhere in the back of my brain.

I remember going once with my family on a road trip to Merida, Venezuela, which sits also at quite an altitude and I didn’t particularly have a good time. I remember a specific moment when I was feeling extremely nauseous while being on a tiny lift in our hotel whilst telling my mom (who I had right in my face) – ‘I think I am going to …’. Needless to explain the disgusting aftermath.

So in a nutshell: I ended up signing up for a full IRONMAN race (140.6 miles) at a place over 5,000 feet of altitude, where I would have 20% less oxygen in the air, having a history of not dealing well with altitude, and knowing from experience the TREMENDOUS effort it took me in two previous occasions to complete an IRONMAN race at very very innocent sea levels (IRONMAN Norway and IRONMAN Taiwan).

Lovely.

I was doing the very opposite to professional triathletes: let’s train at sea level and then let’s race at altitude.

Smart. #smartAF

When you think like Bob Marley – ‘baby don’t worry, about a thing, ’cause every little thing is gonna be alright’ …

Sunday June 9th, 2019: Race day.

I honestly don’t know who this ‘Murphy’ person is, but his famous law tends to apply like clockwork on race days in some way or another. It never fails to deliver.

Let’s take a look at real historic weather figures for Boulder, CO.

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As you can see, beautiful sunny weather with highs of 28-29 Celsius. Constantly day after day. From Tuesday June 4th all the way to … Saturday June 8th.

Race day (Sunday June 9th) was the only day of the week, thank you Murphy, with overcast clouds and temperatures between 6 and 17 Celsius. And as the cherry on top, on Monday 10th it went back to normal sunny 26 Celsius again.

Needless to say, race morning was coldAF. And the exact moment when I had to finally strip to my trisuit and leave my dry clothes behind (right before queuing to get in the water) … I cried like a baby on the inside. But … always keeping a ruthless assassin look on the outside, of course, to keep your opponents intimidated at all times.

Regardless of … we were ready … it was time to kick-off the 2019 IRONMAN Boulder! (the last ever edition of IRONMAN Boulder).

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When you think you are going to die in the freezing water …

Mike Reilly (voice of IRONMAN) was keeping the atmosphere pumped up while we waited on the looong queue to get into the water. He kept calling out race stats of nationalities, ages, specific people who came with specific challenges, and some words of hope and encouragement.

Everyone on the queue (almost) was on a wetsuit, swimming cap on and goggles on the forehead. Luckily the wetsuit provided great protection from the evil cold air. I did see one utterly insane person WITHOUT a wetsuit. I still haven’t seen any official announcement of anyone dying on the race, but my prayers are still with him.

Walking on the queue was very painful as the road was asphalt and filled everywhere with tiny rocks that get into your soles like devastating small lego pieces. I was clearly suffering, but the rest seemed very calm like Hobbits (with a natural thick protection layer on their soles).

Finally, after 45 minutes or so queuing, I get into the water and start my 2019 IRONMAN Boulder!

As expected, the water was very very still. As it was a closed reservoir, with not much wind, and not much boat traffic, it felt like an outdoors swimming pool. So that was great.

However, my first surprise came after realising that the temperature of the water was not really that cold. It was actually more comfortable to be inside the reservoir than in the super cold air. Another ‘thumbs up’ for the water!

And the second surprise came after realising that I was not feeling the expected ‘pajara’ (or shortness of breath) due to altitude swimming. So there seemed there wouldn’t be any surprises ‘knock on wood’.

As you can see from the below chart (my real swim GPS data), the swim course was composed of three straight lines forming a sort of triangle, with only two left turns. Very simple to follow.

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There were only two things that made my swim less than ideal.

Firstly, my goggles got fully foggy after only 100m into the swim. And unlike in IRONMAN Norway, this didn’t seem to solve by itself. So I had to stop at the first turn buoy (the upper right corner of the swim course above), took off my goggles, rinsed them off, and continued the swim. From this point on, I had no further problems with the goggles.

And secondly, I still made the mistake of combining front crawl style with breast stroke. Ideally I would hold on to front crawl style all the way, as it is faster. But I am still getting used to swimming in open water where you need to make sure you don’t move away from the course or you don’t crush too many people along the way. Swimming breast stroke gives you the sensation of having more control, as you can see where you are going and you can also keep a distance from other swimmers. This is something I defo need to fix if I want to improve my race swim times.

I did look at my swim exit picture (below) and now I feel I was maybe slightly overweight? LOL. I’m obviously super self critical of every aspect of my performance. I was theoretically at 82Kg (4Kg under my post holidays weight). The only thing I can say with certainty from this picture is that the three people on it are showing the exact same feet position (left foot flat on the ground while right foot swinging from back to forth).

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Overall, if compared with IRONMAN Norway (also a 3.8Km lake swim), I had a worse performance. It looks more similar to my earlier rookie 2017 70.3 races, which involved a lot of breast stroke as well. Self tsk tsk tsk. I was so good at Mallorca last year though. LOL.

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When you think you can fix something at the very last minute …

Time for the bike!

Overall, it was theoretically speaking a course on the ‘easy’ side, as you can see below.

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It has a total accumulated elevation of roughly 1,200m, which for an IRONMAN course is quite normal. It was a 2-lap course, so we had to do twice the course you see on the above map. It was a very interesting experience to do such a straight-lined course, filled with loooong straight roads, which seems to be the norm in races on the North American circuit. Clearly very different from the crazy shapes bike courses tend to have in European and Asian circuits (the ones I had done so far).

This is the ideal course to stay on your aerobars for as long as you’d like.

As you can also notice, the mountains are on the west side of the course, so anytime we went westbound you would expect some hilly sections (and false flats). But when we went eastbound it was a speed party. If I had had the legendary DeLorean’s ‘Flux Capacitor’ from the movie ‘Back to the Future’ on my bike, I think I would’ve had enough speed on any eastbound road to create lightning bolts all around and disappear into 1885. Nelson Rd, baby!

So .. let’s go back to the race.

I’m unsure whether this was due to the cold, but after exiting the water and going into T1, I felt I wanted to go to the loo, however I also wanted to avoid wasting further time on a diversion into the loo, so I just mounted my bike (Shaqueesha) and left T1. Shortly after, at approximately Km 10, I felt I may have made a mistake regarding my loo decision. But also, at this very point, a classic image from supporters at previous races came to mind …

IRONMAN-sign

You shouldn’t judge an IRONMAN competitor unless you have been one before. And is sort of liberating too. All you need to do is stop pedalling (but keep going, coasting), then stand on one pedal and lift your bum from the saddle to unlock the pipes (I quickly discovered nothing would happen if you kept pedalling and sitting on the saddle … sorry I never took Anatomy 101). You may experience some uncomfortable feeling of a rather warm liquid filling up your trunks (I can imagine your face expression right now), and also you will actually see it dripping down the seat post and into the chain itself. But hey, it is liberating and time saving.

It is very interesting how something as simple as that could be seen as catastrophic to go through if it happens to you while sitting on your desk at work (not to mention how shocking for the colleague sitting right next to you) … but out there, in a time-constrained triathlon race, on the bike, with very little other human presence, and in deep need … it is a true blessing.

Talking about human presence … I thought I was alone while at it, but I managed to spot a very silent cyclist who decided to pass me right at that point, and could also see him with a big smile on his face. Is what it is, folks.

Approximately at Km 85 (almost finishing my first lap) I feel someone who passed me super fast on my left and yelled me: ‘Carlooooos Cabeeeeza! Cabeeeezaaa!’ (the mind! the mind!). It was my coach who was trying to give me encouragement. But he was already headed rapidly into T2 while there was the whole second lap still waiting for me, so not too sure the encouragement worked. LOL.

Anyway … 180 Km on the bike, is a looot of cycling. And this is the longest part of the race out of the three disciplines. So obviously, anything you do on this leg of the race has a significant effect on your finish time.

I was lucky to have attended one of the two sold out BTS (the ultra famous K-Pop band) shows at Wembley Stadium just the weekend before. Which means that I had been practicing all BTS hits for weeks on my daily commute on the Tube prior to this. Which therefore means that I had a full repertoire of BTS tunes to sing to myself, as I usually do on the bike leg, over the course of lonely 180 Kms.

This is also my third year in the sport, and back when I started I had no idea how good or bad I was at each of the three disciplines. So I had to get a couple of races in to understand this bit. And with the help of available timing data from all competitors on my races I was able to perform some quick analysis to get a grasp of where I stood in comparison to my fellow age groupers (M35-39).

Turns out I’m a slightly below average swimmer. Turns out I’m usually an above average runner (this is what I’ve done for the longest, so it makes sense). But I was shocked to find out how awful I am at the bike. I don’t want to say under average because that would be an understatement. I am usually amongst the bottom 10%-5% slowest cyclists on any given race.

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So with being so bad at the bike, and the bike having such a great impact on your finish time, my coach and I decided to place an important focus on the bike on this training block ahead of IRONMAN Boulder. LOTS of hours on the saddle. And numbers-wise I think I managed to get my highest ever FTP (Functional Threshold Power), which is a measurement of your cycling fitness, pretty much. And that’s a very positive message for your self confidence ahead of a new full distance triathlon.

However, there were four things that I believe had a significant impact on my bike performance in Boulder.

Weather: As explained before, it was a very cold day. And even though this temperature is very similar to what I’m used to training in back home in the UK, I was not mentally or even materially prepared for this unexpected weather condition. I managed to put on a base merino wool long sleeve shirt (that I took to Boulder juuuuust in case) and a cycling maillot on top, including double socks on very open triathlon cycling shoes. Still my hands felt freezing at times, when I was on the fastest segments and the wind was obviously more heavily felt.

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Altitude: This is more of a theoretical assumption I am making. For some reason I did feel the bike effort was harder than usual on a course that was not precisely hilly (in contrast, IRONMAN Norway had 2,000m of accumulated elevation, for example). So maybe the concept of ‘racing at altitude while training at sea level’ was having its effects after all? (20% less oxygen in the air, anyone?).

Power Meter: Once you become a more seasoned triathlete you normally want to be able to control your performance a bit more, especially when you have to run a bloody marathon after 180Km on the bike. So you start training and racing based on the famous ‘Watts’ concept, which is the actual output of your efforts pedalling (your power output). Is a way to measure more precisely how much intensity you are putting on your cycling. The ‘FTP’ value I mentioned before is very much related to this. Once you have your current FTP value (obtained after a gruelling ‘FTP Test’), you can plan to race at a specific power range (e.g. between 160 and 175W, or similar to saying 60% to 80% of your own FTP, for example). This ensures you make the most of your training during race day but also you don’t overdo it and then run out of leg-energy for the ensuing marathon. So … firstly, apologies for the long boring explanation of Watt-based cycling. Secondly, the point I want to make here. To make sure you know you are in the power range you need to be, you need a … drum roll … power meter. And during this race I had to navigate in the dark, since my power meter didn’t work for the entire duration of the bike. I had to race based solely on heart rate, which is a not-so-bad way to do it, but MUCH less accurate than the power output. Did I waste my training because I was not putting enough Watts? Or on the contrary, did I overdid it and killed my legs ahead of the run? Good question.

Nutrition/Hydration: This point hurts. To put it simple. To minimally function; to survive and live life everyday we need to drink a minimum of water and eat a minimum of food per day. And during your whole life you are taught to eat about three times a day and drink water or liquid at some points as well. Your body is used to a nutrition / hydration rhythm. Likewise, to be able to perform in a super long race as a full distance triathlon, which in my case has lasted in the past anywhere between 13 and 15 hours, you need to EAT and DRINK. Lots. During exercise your body is constantly consuming your energy stores (glycogen in muscles and stored fats … those stored fats that have been hiding my six pack abs my entire life). And again it is very tricky to keep a proper balance. How can you fuel enough to make it until the end but at the same time not upset your stomach with so much eating? I have to admit this is a point I have barely looked at during my time as a triathlete, and this is something that must be practiced, practiced, and re-practiced. Just like your ‘living’ nutrition / hydration rhythm, you need to get your body used to the kind of heavy binging on a race with the kind of foods of your choice (e.g. your race nutrition / hydration rhythm). Reality is that I tried to get last minute tips from my coach on this regard but it was a bit too late to put into execution successfully for IRONMAN Boulder.

I took my usual CLIF bars on the bike, however this time I added something new to the mix: two bottles filled with a combination of fruit punch Gatorade and LOTS of performance energy gels … authentic nuclear radioactive material.

One of the bottles I brought with me straight from T1, while the other I put into the famous ‘Special Needs Bike Bag’. This is the first time I use this on an IRONMAN race. Is a bag where you can put anything you want to have access at halfway the bike. There will be a ‘Special Needs’ station once you reach the 90 Km mark where you can get it.

Whilst the first bottle passed down alright, the second nuclear device was VERY hard to swallow. That thick texture. That uber sweet sugary taste. That disgusting combination of different flavours all into one nuclear warhead (fruit punch, orange, strawberry, lime, coffee, watermelon, etc.). But I know I needed the calories and I clearly hadn’t practiced my race nutrition with this weapon of mass destruction, so I forced myself to finish it. My stomach was slightly starting to shut down, as it usually does at the end of the bike.

Anyway … this was slightly the fastest IRONMAN bike leg I’ve done. Yay!

However, I still can’t seem to manage to get below the 7-hour mark. How to get better? Do I need to lose weight? Do I need performance enhancing drugs? Or maybe do I need to have an agent of the HMRC (UK taxes authority) chasing me behind for 180 Kms? … I was again bottom 5% of finishers on the bike in my age group (e.g. only 5 finishers did a worse bike time than me).

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When you think pizza is a game changer and saved the day …

I arrived turned into dust into T2. Not only my legs were hurting, but my neck and lower back were a mess. These had been nagging me for over 100Km on the bike. So I sat down with my red bag (my bag containing my run gear) very calmly to try to get my mojo back for the run.

Then I hear an angelical (with harps and all) voice who asks me: ‘excuse me … would you like some pizza?’. It took me about 3-5 seconds to process the information. I laughed and replied shameful smile: ‘sorry, I must be exhausted, I even thought you asked me if I wanted PIZZA, you know? … as in dough with tomato and cheese? … my bad!’. The voice came back saying: ‘sir, you might be tired but you heard right, would you like some PI-ZZA?’.

I have never been offered PIZZA on T2 … like EVER. But it was the most amazing thing. Finally, I was having calories with pleasure again. Calories my body was pleasantly digesting. And of course, I had not one but TWO full slices of mushroom pizza. I thought ‘this is going to help me finish the marathon like a bull!’. Vale. Venga. Vamosssssss.

Praise The Lord. A-men, brodas’.

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The run course … the 42.2Km marathon course is not the easiest out there (sarcasm included). It is defo not flat. But it is not crazy hilly either. And most of the way is on concrete which was not good for my left knee. However, I appreciated the fact that it was not your IRONMAN classic boring 3-4 looper. In fact, as mentioned earlier, speaking of the devil, this course is called the ‘Flux Capacitor’ since it has the shape of the bloody damn thing from ‘Back to the Future’ (photo below course map for comparison).

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The course has also some human presence along the way, with almost everyone using the same encouragement phrase which I found a bit disturbing: ‘Great Work!’ … what do you mean ‘great WORK’?? … is this an 8-day worked PowerPoint deck I’m showing you and you are my boss? … Please, America! … This is a triathlon. A hobby! … drop the corporate / work life speech at least outside the office. LOL.

I had been stopping quickly at every aid station and getting some water, FINALLY some salty items like pretzels and chips, and the lovely coke, of course. My stomach still could get in something, especially all salty things.

But at the aid station at mile 4 though, something incredible and just as new for me as the pizza at T2, was about to happen. I saw on the table that unmistakeable ice cold yellow nectar. The guy at the aid station was offering BEER. He offered. I didn’t think about it for a millisecond. And the guy was actually gladly surprised I accepted, so I don’t know for long had he been offering this, which technically makes me a monster? … All I know is I can’t describe the pleasure of IRONMAN run aid station beer … and I had 22 miles to go still.

This was also the first time I used the ‘Special Needs Running Bag’, which I used only for my usual Venezuela flag, so I didn’t have to carry it the entire 26.2 miles as in Norway and Taiwan.

So I was there again trying to unlock the secret to successfully finishing an IRONMAN marathon; a feat at which I had miserably failed back at Haugesund and Penghu. At Haugesund I had a complete stomach shutdown (with nausea) at around Km 30 which forced me to walk quite a bit, plus some left knee pain as the course had some quite steep sections and on concrete. At Penghu I had the same nauseous stomach shutdown at halfway PLUS a severe contraction of my respiratory capacity with extreme hyperventilation, and this forced me to painfully walk the entire second half of the marathon.

This time I managed to improve slightly my situation, I believe via better nutrition? … maybe the nuclear radioactive gel drinks? … maybe the T2 pizza? … maybe the bloody beer? … the main improvement was that I had no nauseous stomach shutdown and no hyperventilation issues at Boulder … however, at some point near Km 10 my stomach said ‘I don’t want to eat anything else’. Like a 7-year-old kid who doesn’t want to eat the vegetables on the plate. So my pace quickly started going down down down until Km 20 where I had to start walking. Somehow my legs said it had been enough.

‘Another failed marathon’, I quickly said to myself. At least I tried to power-walk like a Korean Ajumma at a park in Seoul (e.g. Korean lady in her 50s+ wearing a super sporty and colourful outfit, a strong perm that makes her hair look like a microphone head, and a cap with a VERY long visor), to try have a decent pace.

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This way I managed roughly a 9:00min / Km pace, at which pace I calculated that it would take me 3 bloody hours to get to the finish line. On top of that, as the ‘cherry on top’, I started having severe pain on my left knee again from Km 35 or so (even only power walking!). At times, I tried to start running again but between the leg muscles and the painful knee I had to stop immediately again.

An understatement to say it was not a good picture. It was mentally very hard to do. Several dark thoughts started populating my head. You could see a mini dark cloud with mini thunders just above my head and following me throughout the course. I thought about leaving triathlon completely. I thought three consecutive failures was enough. So many hours of training and so many things put aside to make time for training. I thought I was not made for this. I thought that I needed the time for other things I had been neglecting in my life anyway. I would be refunding all pending races and booked flights, as much as possible. I said I was just going for a final push and walk the 3 hours to finish the race and get my sport farewell medal. It all sounded perfectly backed with ‘logical / practical’ reasons, and very well scheduled too. It seemed blatantly obvious that I had to do it.

However, all American spectators (AND nearby athletes) kept all three hours with the same ‘Good Work!’ thing … which by now started to feel like daggers. I didn’t even have the moral strength to strike a BTS tune anymore.

Finish line was now just meters away from me, and I started sprinting like a horse that wants to get back to the stable after a long day of work. However, I had to limp as my left knee was not making it easy. And because I was like a mindless horse, I couldn’t prevent not to run to the finish line right behind not one but TWO ladies. And you might ask yourself ‘what is the problem with that?’. Well, please take a look.

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Yup, the finish line glory is robbed.

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And it gets worse … her VERY fat elbow right on my face. And I paid for those two finish line pictures. Thank you very much, FinisherPIX.

However, what I had been waiting for … the celebrity Mike Reilly did say: ‘From Venezuela … Carlos Galan … YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!’ :O (with a nicer, now fully individual, finish line picture … still, for the price of three).

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You can see my face expression after three hours of walking with a dark cloud on top. Didn’t seem very happy, did I?. LOL.

Regardless of anything that had happened on this long day … the third IRONMAN was now in the books!!!!

I got my North American circuit badge, my Northern Hemisphere badge (North America + Europe + Asia), and was also 9 IRONMAN races away from a legacy slot for the World Championships in Kailua-Kona.

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I have to acknowledge that this was the first time my stomach allows me to eat something other than ice cream at the finish line. I managed to have a proper hot dog and ate it with pleasure.

Oh … one more thing.

Right before leaving the finish line athlete area, I was offered to get a picture taken with my medal … and since I’m paying for the picture package anyway, then why not?

Photographer sees my VENEZUELAN flag and says ‘oh, but let’s take a picture with the flag but making sure we show … the Mexican Eagle’.

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Yup … Mexican Eagle.

I looked away in this picture both in an attempt to look artsy, but also not to appear pissed off by his comment. LOL.

Mexican Eagle. WTFFF??!!!?!?

I thought about three possible options with this fella (individual or in combination).

  1. He is a white supremacist, that thinks all Latin Americans are Mexicans and should be kept south of the border at El Paso.
  2. He was quite stoned with all the available legal cannabis around.
  3. He surely has never traveled outside the borders of the state of Colorado in his entire life, and is therefore #ignorantAF.

When you think you are badass for being an IRONMAN finisher …

After waking up the next day, I posted this delightful story on Instagram.

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But did you know that sweat and pee are almost the same thing? … whereas pee has a stronger concentration of urea. So it is just strong sweat. That’s all.

Anyway, this was my first time attending an awards ceremony, as I usually flee the race scene straight to an airport early morning the day after the race.

Two main reasons for me to come this time around.

First, the breakfast was included. Another opportunity to maximise the consumption of all athlete entitlements behind the hefty price tag of an IRONMAN race. And they had BREAKFAST BURRITOS! … An amazing American invention to breakfast. How didn’t society think about this much earlier?

Second, and most importantly, ‘El Mister’ believed to have accomplished his mission in Boulder. We just needed the official confirmation.

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And official it was. David qualified for the FIFTH year in a row to the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, and couldn’t lose the opportunity for a pic with the highly coveted coin. EPIC. #ElPutoAmo #WeAreTheChampions #MyFriend #WellKeepOnFighting #TillTheEnd

Regarding the ceremony itself, all award winners across all age groups were presented on the podium. First, they are given the awards for placing on the podium on their corresponding age group. And then the very top ones are offered a slot to Kona. If a person is already qualified to Kona via a previous race, or simply doesn’t want to go, then the slot goes to the next person in line. Very much like British Royalty.

I was particularly surprised to see the older age groups (over 60s). They closely resembled the famous ‘hipster grandpa’ you see on the internet memes. White long hair with tattoos and flip flops (or sockless leather shoes). Long perfectly trimmed white beards. Only missing a surf board.

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I mean. I can see it. ‘I’m 75 years old. I just completed an IRONMAN in a state where cannabis is legal. And I managed to get into the podium. Of course I’ll be the #hipsterGrandpa.’

During the ceremony, I have to admit I felt both puzzled and slightly envious. Well … super envious … I wanted to start stabbing everyone with a knife out of envy. OK. No. Not like that. Maybe not. Maybe? 🙂

To be fair I questioned myself: ‘How is it possible to be this competitive in the sport when we are not professionals?’. Isn’t this supposed to be just a ‘hobby’?

I am definitely not questioning the dedication into training of all of those in the podium. But I am comparing the fact that I think I personally already dedicate quite a lot of my available time to training, and these people are just MILLIONS of MILES away from me in terms of performance. Is not like I finished 5th and there were only 4 Kona slots for my age group. Is that I finished 92nd! … Meaning I needed 87 people to decline their Kona slot in order for me to qualify for Kona. It’s a HUGE gap.

If you deconstruct this (again, I’m an engineer, so forgive me in advance), you need to look at two things, essentially.

  1. Required Time
  2. Available Time

And answer a simple question: do you have enough available time to train for the required time you need to put in according to your ambitions?

In terms of required time, the first thing you look at is race distance. It is not the same the time you need to train to complete an Olympic distance triathlon (swim 1.5K + bike 40K + run 10K), than that for a 70.3 Half distance triathlon (swim 1.9K + bike 90K + run 21.1K), or even less than that for a IRONMAN Full distance triathlon (swim 3.8K + bike 180K + run 42.2K). You would expect to see a significant increase from one to the other (as seen below).

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The next thing you look at is expected competitiveness within the chosen race distance. It is obviously not the same the time needed to finish an IRONMAN, vs. the time needed to qualify for Kona at an IRONMAN (as seen below).

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So this people who were given Kona slots at this IRONMAN Boulder ceremony chose to maximise the time required for training (on the red bar). They were being aggressive. Ambitious.

On the other hand, you have to look then at the available time. And there are a number of components to this.

From the 24 hours a day has, you need to roughly divide it amongst the following competing categories: work, sleep, family/social, other commitments, commute, eat/cook, etc. Only after you have allocated enough time for ALL of those items above is that you have your available time for training. How does that compare against the required time to train to qualify for Kona at an IRONMAN race? (please see below).

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After doing all this deconstruction, and as I was seeing these people being awarded Kona slots under the sharp alpine sun, I started to ask myself (category per category) …

  • ‘Don’t they have a full-time job? … Or are they all daughters and sons of papa and mama and live from the ever-flowing dividends of a multi-billion dollar self-running corporation? … Or did they win the lottery? … Maybe they go through a life of celibacy where they only spend on what they strictly need, live in a remote part of the world, and therefore don’t need much money, and therefore don’t need to work that much? … How do they finance this expensive sport? … Are they that good at it that they get all gear sponsorship in exchange of being an Instagram influencer? … Do they only do races within 100Km from home so they minimise travel and arrive at the venue hitchhiking on the road? … Do they couchsurf at every race? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • ‘Don’t they sleep? … Are they actually vampires? … Do they run on just 4 hours of sleep a day? … Do they go through life with uber red eyes from lack of sleep? … Do they sleep only on the commute to work? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • ‘Don’t they have a family? Parents? A partner? Kids? … Don’t they spend some quality time with them? … Don’t they call them? … Don’t they go to the movies together? … Don’t they watch Netflix together? Game of Thrones, anyone??? … Don’t they go on Tinder dates? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • ‘Aren’t they trying to achieve something else in life? … Aren’t they learning another language? … Aren’t they sharpening their professional skills in any way? … Don’t they attend religious services? … Don’t they watch the UEFA Champions League? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • ‘Do they live next to work? … Do they work from home? … Do they not work at all and therefore don’t need to commute? … Don’t they need time to go to the Swimming Pool, time to go to some running track, and more time to get to some decent area where they can cycle uninterruptedly without traffic lights, walking grandmas, senseless truck drivers, etc.??? … Or do they live in the woods with direct access to cycling roads, have a treadmill at home, AND an endless pool in their garage … so they never lose time getting to training? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • Don’t they have to eat? Take a leak? Drop a deuce? Cook? … Do they always get cooked for? … Do they always order Deliveroo? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • ‘Maybe they are genetically advanced or taking performance enhancing drugs, so they don’t really need as much time as I would need to qualify for Kona … or … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’

Lots of questions, for sure.

Also, something else comes to mind, but maybe … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?

I have NEVER been a sporty person. And I blame my school for it. LOL.

Firstly, I was born and raised in a city called Maracaibo, which has a steady mid 30s / low 40s degrees CELSIUS at peak times every single day of the year (as it is located quite close to the Equator, almost Singapore style), and with TONS of humidity. Secondly, my school had this thing called ‘Sports Club’ where you would practice sports after classes, and this thing started at 1:30PM, where you can imagine the nasty inhuman weather conditions at that time (didn’t fancy be a left fielder for 2 hours under that scorching weather). And on top of that, this Sports Club was mainly focused on team sports, which I suck at. Plus we had two abandoned tennis courts. Finally something I think I might enjoy. I was like WTFFFF?!?!?

Aaaaanyway … 20 years in the future (LOL) … I started now this sport with the aim to disconnect from the rest of the world, keep fit, and have fun. Very simple. A healthy hobby, in a few words. Individual sport and on top of that it has three disciplines, so I don’t get bored easily.

However, I have never seen such amount of ‘Alpha People’ in triathlon. People that see this less as a ‘hobby’ and more as a second job (if not the main priority in life). Flabbergasted. Astonished. And therefore it makes you feel somehow you aren’t doing enough.

But that’s triathlon. So embrace it!

So … next steps … did I really decide to quit triathlon for good and refund everything everything? …

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I started to plan already for my time allocated to training blocks for the rest of 2019 season races, and I have also started the high-level planning of my 2020 season (St. George, Florianopolis, Subic Bay, Tempe, Mar de Plata, Cozumel …. hard choices).

And I need to work on:

  • Open Water Swimming (can I go straight on front crawl?)
  • Bike Watts (can I make it sub-7 hours?)
  • Nutrition / Hydration (can I finish a Marathon actually running? do I need to drink nuclear warheads for this?)
  • Strength Training (can I minimise my grandpa pains on neck and lower back?)

We will see what the future holds.

For now … Vale. Venga. Vamos.

2018 IRONMAN Norway Haugesund #ColdKona

Sunday July 1st, 2018 – Haugesund, Norway (IM Norway Haugesund) – 7:12am

With my tight wetsuit on, green swim cap on, and racing goggles on, I am standing in front of a lady with her right arm extended in front of me, as if blocking my way. I was super nervous thinking ‘Where is my mummy?’. Then, 5 seconds later this lady lowers her arm and I start running towards a dark lake (Skeisvatnet), together with other 4 crazy looking people in similar outfits on my right-hand side. We all looked like the poster of the latest X-Men movie.

Sunday August 7th, 2016 – London, UK (London Triathlon) – 8:30am

With my tight wetsuit on, green swim cap on, and racing googles on, I am already floating in the Royal Victoria Docks (a fresh open water area next to London City Airport) waiting for the signal to start my first ever triathlon competition. This was my also first ever open water swim (who needs to prepare?). Only 60 seconds into the swim I have a sudden feeling of desperation, I feel I can’t breathe properly (is it the tight wetsuit?), and on top of that I see nothing under water (I was desperately asking myself ‘where is the black line at the bottom, like a freaking normal swimming pool?’), whilst simultaneously dozens of feet kicking my face, as well as lotta arms constantly landing over my back. As you can imagine, not the nicest of experiences. So, my immediate thought was to quickly raise my hand, as instructed during the race briefing, to have a race marshall rescue me from that HELL. Which luckily, back then, I didn’t.

Sunday July 1st, 2018 – Haugesund, Norway – 7:14am

That Tony-Stark-like confident feeling stemming from having swum already 3 lake-based triathlon races and 2 ocean-based races, vanished as quick as the Summer-like weather every year in the UK. After only 2 minutes into the swim I was feeling the exact same thing I felt in the London Triathlon 2 years ago, and immediately my mind filled itself with the kindest of thoughts … ‘oooh, what a failure I am, all these training for nothing, end of the world, I’ll start learning how to knit instead …’.

Saturday 12th May, 2018 – Mallorca, Spain (IM 70.3 Mallorca) – 9:26am

‘Yasssss. F-Yeah, bitchez!!!’ … I was so proud of myself. Not only I came out of an ocean swim, having managed to swim all the way in front crawl stroke, but also finished the 1.9 Km swim in only 38 mins (2:01min / 100m), a HUGE personal win in the sport.

Sunday July 1st, 2018 – Haugesund, Norway – 7:19am

This situation was extremely unexpected for me. After 5 minutes of stupid suffering, I then did a quick ‘self bitch slap’, and told myself ‘enough with your pussy-ness!’. At this time I switched to swimming breast stroke. Imagine that! After my perfect streak in Mallorca almost 2 months before … This was really hurting my self esteem, but it was an emergency move in an attempt to turn around the situation.

Things didn’t get any easier for some time. First, my goggles went almost completely foggy. Not only everything under water was super black, and was still wrestling with neighbouring swimmers, but now I couldn’t almost see a thing above water either. Awesomeness. And secondly, this swim course was very particular. I had previously done only the classic rectangular-shaped swim courses. But this was my first time, and surely the first time of EVERYONE in the race, doing an ‘onion-shaped‘ swim course. You had to swim through an outer roundish curved shape, then turning 180 degrees into an inner layer, and do the same over and over until the onion was finished at the end of the last innermost layer. This definitely added more fuel to the fire, as I had to constantly see where I was, be ready to curve and curve around, and especially be ready for those sudden 180 degree turns.

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Luckily, this swim course included the famous ‘Australian Exit‘, in which athletes exit the water at some point, and then come back inside again for a second pass. And right after the Australian Exit, things started to improve for me. Goggles were fine again, I started swimming front crawl again (like a real triathlete), breathing went back to normal, and even managed to do something I had never been able to do before: find a swimmer with a similar pace as myself and do the famous ‘drafting’, which is to swim behind someone as to take advantage of his/her doing the ‘water-cutting work’, and then you can use less effort to swim faster. Magic stuff. #winning #FTW

At 8:38am I came out of the water with a split of 1 hour and 25 min, which was not too shabby. It was still 21 minutes better than my hideous IM Barcelona swim split, 9 months before.

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As I started to run into T1, I saw a small sign ‘IRONMAN Wetsuit Strippers’. In reality these are volunteers ready to help you get the wetsuit off as quick as possible so you can hop on the bike ASAP. And even though it looks like this …

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… when I saw that sign, somehow, my mind actually was picturing something more like this …

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Saturday September 30th, 2017 – Calella, Spain (IM Barcelona) – 6:02pm

Finally, after 179 Km of riding on my bike ‘Shaqueesha‘, and experimenting all these new types of pain on my bum, lower back and especially my neck, I’m excited that I’m about to get off the bike in no time, and will move to the run. One step closer to becoming an IRONMAN! And yet, little I know what is waiting for me around the corner.

As I get to the dismount line, I obviously dismount, and I am immediately told by a race marshall with a Nazi look: ‘sorry, you are over the cut-off time!’. I was so dizzy from my neck pain that I was having trouble processing the information I was just given. Thirty seconds later an Irish athlete also arrives, dismounts and gets told the same thing, by the same ‘Race Nazi’. He immediately starts complaining, and that’s when I start coming out of my hypnosis. The marshall didn’t seem bothered or altered by the Irish guy’s challenge. He was just replying ‘sorry … sorry … sorry’. And he was looking to the horizon. Not even looking at us in the eye to give us this awful piece of news. I knew the cut-off time ‘swim+T1+bike‘ was 9 hours and 10 minutes. So I quickly looked at my Garmin, and it was marking ‘9 hours and 14 minutes’ since I started the race. I was barely 0.7% above the cut-off time. I couldn’t believe how strict the system was. I was definitely pissed, but more importantly, I was still in such pain from the bike that I actually felt some relief from not having to start a marathon right there right then. On top of that, the Irish guy started crying on the spot. Drama. Living a telenovela. And the marshall still looking to the horizon and expressionless … like a goddamn Nazi. Disaster. And that was my first ‘DNF‘ (Did Not Finish).

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Sunday July 1st, 2018 – Haugesund, Norway – 12:45pm

After 4 hours on the saddle I had already been on over half of my bike journey for the day. The weather was just fantastic! Not a cloud in the sky, and temperature around 19-20 degrees Celsius. Up until this day I wasn’t exactly sure what the IRONMAN organisation meant when they said this bike course was a ‘rolling hills course’; but by this time of the day it was VERY VERY clear. It was a CONSTANT and NON-STOP source of hills and declines, with very very very few flat stretches. I remember self-complaining (including lots of out loud ‘F-word’ usage) every time I turned a corner and suddenly seeing yet ANOTHER upcoming seemingly massive climb. This included plenty of ‘eye-roll emoji expressions’ as well. Every single time.

My feelings towards these hills were not so much due to the hard work required to overcome them, but rather a dark reminder of what had happened in Barcelona the year before. I was pressured NOT to have the same ‘Nazi Issue’ in Norway again. I had to become a frigging IRONMAN that day. No way I was not going to hear the famous four words that day.

My feelings towards these hills came from the great pressure I was feeling that day. Even though the cut-off time ‘swim+T1+bike’ was slightly longer this time (10 hours), there was still an important issue: whereas the IM Barcelona course had a total elevation of 800m, the IM Norway course had a total elevation of 2,000m … more than TWICE Barcelona’s. So every hill felt like an average speed reducer. Every hill could add up to yet another sad and pathetic DNF.

Sunday June 11th, 2017 – Rapperswil-Jona, Switzerland (IM 70.3 Switzerland) – 11:30am

After an initial couple of BRUTAL hill climbs on the bike course, we started a long descent where two things happened. First, the descent was so long and steep that I decided I was just going to coast (e.g. to not pedal) as a reward for my earlier climbs. ‘I f-ing deserved it’, I thought to myself with a huge grin. And secondly, as I was rolling down this descent my eyes were suddenly fixed on my right-hand side, and my mouth was wide open, like that of the cartoon coyote every time he discovered the roadrunner was still alive after trying to kill him.

Green hills, blue skies, white sheep, colourful cottages. The first word that came to my head was as usual the famous F-word. I was convinced that that had to be the place where Heidi and her grandfather lived. It was simply the most beautiful bike course I had ever seen.

Sunday July 1st, 2018 – Haugesund, Norway – 12:45pm

After 4 hours on the saddle, not only had I been already on over half of my bike journey for the day, not only was the weather fantastic, and not only I knew what the term ‘rolling hills’ actually meant and the pressure it brought with it.

There were three particular moments during the bike course (Km 33, Km 62, and Km 98) where three consecutive F-words came out again, each time. Loud and clear.

Wide rocky mountains, calm blue sea/lake waters next to steep cliffs, small red boats docked to a small wooden pier in the middle of the sea/lake … and even a modernAF-looking house with two full-crystal walls overlooking the cliff. After verbally and strongly insulting the owner of that house (which you could see standing inside the house next to that crystal wall overlooking the scenery), I came to the realisation that I was now looking at officially the most beautiful bike course I had ever seen. So long Switzerland!

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Saturday September 30th, 2017 – Calella, Spain – 4:23pm

7 hours is a long long time to be riding a bicycle. In comparison, more often than not, I only get to sleep 5-6 hours per night. It is especially long as well when it seems that it is only you and the wind in sight.

I usually use this ‘me-time’ to meditate about life. But I also usually sing to myself. Either in my head or out loud. During long training sessions I can always use real music for entertainment. But it is obviously forbidden to use music players during actual races. So, in order to sing to myself during a race I need to spend some good 3-4 weeks listening to a specific playlist. Sometimes combined artists and genres. Sometimes the long career’s work of a single artist. The final result is an almost perfect jukebox in my head. And this gives me strength during tough times where you need to dig deeper to get through (people who have done an IRONMAN race know what I’m talking about).

Even though I had my playlist rolling, at this point I notice the next road sign, and apparently I come across a town called ‘Mataro’. And don’t ask me why. Maybe the extreme neck pain. Or maybe the overwhelm of my first time trying to ride 180Km in one go. Or maybe even the crazy headwind that kept pushing me back. I decided to change the lyrics of a 20-year-old forgotten song: ‘Bailamos’ by Enrique Iglesias. A song from an artist I am not fond of at all. To this date, I still don’t comprehend what happened here. But I do remember, in a split second after reading that road sign, singing very out loud ‘Matarooooooo … let them rhythm take you over, Matarooooooo … te quiero, amor mio … Mataroooooooooo’.

Perhaps, the most embarrassing moment of my life. Even worse, to admit over a blog post.

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Sunday July 1st, 2018 – Haugesund, Norway – 2:45pm

After 6 hours on the saddle over a 1-lap huge loop, I discovered it gets lonely. LonelyAF. Nature and yourself. Not even birds chirping. Therefore I was certainly using my mental jukebox at its best. In the past, I had used once an 80s playlist, other time the whole Linkin Park collection, and another time I was on a 90s playlist including Alanis Morrissette, Sheryl Crow, Backstreet Boys and Oasis. This time was again different. I spent 4 weeks listening to a long list of hit songs of the Mexican rock band ‘Mana’. Often on the bike course you would find me going: ‘Aaaaaaangel … angel angeeeeel de amoooooor … tu-cu-tu-cu-pa! tu-cu-tu-cu-pa! … no te abandones, no te derrumbes aaaaaamoooooor’.

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However, this time something very unexpected happened. Throughout the course you would come across groups of 5-6 people sitting in front of their home, under the perfect sun, having beer, and enjoying ‘court-side seats’ to the race. Every time a cyclist came across they would cheer him/her with a word that I had never heard before. They would raise their hands and scream at you over and over: ‘hei-a hei-a hei-a hei-a’.

Even though it always feels nice to be cheered on, those words acted on me like the sound of a bell to a Pavlov’s Dog. Every time I heard this ‘hei-a’ code word from spectators my mind would shut down whatever song from the Mana playlist it was on. It would go from: ‘Quien detendra la lluvia en mi? … no no no … se me ha inun … (silence)’; or from: ‘Aqui me tieeeenes bien clavaaaaado, llorando de ra … (silence)’ … to one of my biggest guilty pleasure songs of all time; from 2004: Hey Ya! by Outkast.

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Sometime. A long long time ago. Circa 1995. – Machiques, Venezuela – Afternoon

When I lived in my hometown (Maracaibo, Venezuela) I used to go to this nice country house with barbecue, swimming pool, and all amenities to spend a weekend or an Easter week. It even had a landing strip with a small twin-prop airplane. It also had horses, and that is where I ‘learnt’ how to ride a horse. Once I was with my brother, we were both riding a horse each, and we made the terrible mistake to go at the end of a hot sunny afternoon to the landing strip. This landing strip was between the country house main building and the stable, where horses ate, drank, took shadow from the sun, and slept. Therefore, once we entered the landing strip, the horses quickly noticed the stable at the end of the strip. At this point they were hungry, thirsty, dizzy from a long, hot and steamy day of carrying a chubby kid like me. And the immediate reaction of both horses was to run, run, run with no destination other than the stable. Neither my brother or I could stop the horses, which were not responding at the leash command. So I had to hold super tight not to fall from the horse. My brother, who was riding in front of me, did fall down, like butter sliding on a knife. My horse stepped on him and left him a horseshoe marked on his tummy. Crazy times.

Saturday 12th May, 2018 – Mallorca, Spain (IM 70.3 Mallorca) – 1:00pm

After 3 hours and 26 minutes on the bike, I was finally approaching T2.

For those who haven’t done a triathlon race before, in order to continue to the run, I had to find my bike rack, rack Shaqueesha on it, find my transition bags, get the red bag, drop all the run gear onto the ground, take off all the bike gear, put the bike gear into the red bag, hang the red bag back in its specific hook, put on the run gear, and finally off you go. On top of that, since I consider myself #whiteAF, I always make sure to shower myself in 50SPF sunscreen at some point in this T2 process. Unfortunately, the time you spend in transition zone is counted towards your finish time. So speed is of essence. I always take about 7 minutes per transition. And I will never understand however, how is it possible for some crazy people to do transitions in the space of only 2 mins.

In case you didn’t know, this was the largest IM 70.3 race in the world: about 3,800 athletes. And transition zone had only two lanes of bikes, therefore it was LOOONG. #longAF … I was so excited to see transition zone again. But between the heat and the hilly bike course, I was feeling a bit dizzy. Slightly dizzy. As I storm into T2, I was feeling like that thirsty horse back in Machiques. So I ran, ran, ran, with no destination in mind, looking for a stable maybe. Suddenly I realise I got to end of that #longAF transition zone, still with my bike Shaqueesha in my hand, and asking myself where is my rack? … I had to run ALL the way back and turned out my bike rack was just at the very beginning. So obviously, lost A LOT of time.

Sunday July 1st, 2018 – Haugesund, Norway – 4:12pm

As I roll into T2, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The volunteer receives me with a big smile, another ‘hei-a hei-a’ and takes my bike from me. Volunteers were actually taking your bike as you got to T2 and then racked it for you back where it belonged. Premium AAA VIP service. To this date I’m still not sure if this is because of Norwegian hospitality, or a nice gesture to us for being the Guinea Pigs of the first ever edition of IM Norway, or if it’s because that is just a 140.6 race standard. If so, I was so used to the sad self service mode of the 70.3 races. No more running like a crazy horse to a stable. No time wasting. Scandinavian style.

I finished the bike in 7 hours and 27 minutes. So far my race time predictions were scaringly accurate.

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To the point I was feeling a bit like Walter Mercado, a famous Puerto Rican astrologist and TV personality from my childhood.

Sunday July 1st, 2018 – Haugesund, Norway – 7:20pm

By this time I have been running for 3 solid hours, and I’m feeling happy for the following reasons: firstly, I managed to beat the dreaded ‘swim+T1+bike’ cutoff nightmare from IM Barcelona, secondly, I was loving the run course, and last but not least, I was performing much better than expected. Even though I was originally aiming for 13 hours and 44 minutes finish time, I was already beyond Km 30, and actually convincing myself that I could do a ‘sub-13’ (under 13 hours). I had run marathons in the past, but this was the very first time I had started to run a marathon after a 3.8Km swim and a 180Km bike (with 2,000m elevation climb), and I was feeling … in … da … zone …

But … of course a ‘but’ was coming … two things happened quickly one after the other: first, the famous left knee pain I used to have while running long distances started to come back; and secondly, I had sudden feeling of wanting to vomit, whilst my abdomen felt a bit bloated. So this forced me to start walking. Yikes, I said it … ‘walking’. And of course that made me say goodbye to my very short-lived ‘sub-13’ dream.

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Sunday July 1st, 2018 – Haugesund, Norway – 8:44pm

With only 200m left to reach the finish line, it was still very much #brightAF out there. It seemed to be 4:30pm still. This was the northernmost point I had been in my life, and combined with it being July 1st (only 10 days after the summer solstice) it was meant to be a bright bright race … which was actually one of the reasons I chose this race.

An athlete caught up in my way, had stopped to hug his wife and little daughter, who were helping him to stretch his Brazilian flag for the finish line. Whilst that is usually a nice image, who other people would stop and say ‘awwwwwww’. I was coming running from behind, like the Machiques horses, with my Venezuelan flag (wide open up and on my back) and thinking very very selfishly ‘get out of my way, Brazilian f…’. If he had been Croatian or Taiwanese, I would’ve been kinder … but the latino rivalry is always the latino rivalry … poor Brazilian in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least I didn’t actually SAY IT.

At about 50m from the finish line, I was approaching the race announcer, who regardless of not being neither of the two famous IRONMAN voices out there (Paul Kaye or Mike Reilly) he was still great, and most importantly, the IRONMAN reverend who baptised me.

As he high-fived my right hand (while still holding the flag up high), and as I was running to the finish line, his words: ‘Congratulations … CARLOS … all the way through, all the way through, all the way through’ … and here came the 4 famous words … ‘YOU … ARE … AN … IRONMAN’.

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Afterword

I still feel bad about being stomach-sick when I got to the finish line, and seeing all that welcoming barbecue and tons of beer untouched by these lips.

I think I have come a long way in this sport. I am finally an IRONMAN. Which is one of the main things I wanted to achieve from triathlon. I need to think when, how and where I want to get my RED DOT M tattoo. This was the product of many many many 5am early morning alarms. Many tough track sessions after work. Hours on indoors cycling. Brick sessions, where I had to run at top performance right after a long bike ride. Power swim sessions at 6:30am. Doing a number of P90X sessions at home in front of the computer screen. And many conversations and reaffirmations by my coach, David, during times when I thought I was not going to make it … and who also has been instrumental in helping me achieve this milestone in life.

Gracias, Mr.!

It may sound strange, politically incorrect, or too open maybe; but I can’t recall a professional milestone during my lifetime that has made me feel as proud as crossing that finish line in Haugesund.

At the same time, I still have a LONG way to go. Performance-wise, when I compare myself to my age group fellow triathletes, I think I am close to reach ‘average’ swimmer, I am a great ‘comfortably above average’ runner … but I really really suck at the bike … Out of 65 athletes in my age group only 9 did more than 7 hours on the bike. And I was the last one. I was the longest bike time of my age group, by far. I still feel like a 70-year-old grandpa with a supermarket shopping basket on my bike while racing. Hence why bike courses tend to be quite lonely for me. Especially if they are one-loop only, like Mallorca and Norway.

Triathlon has taught me the art and science of pushing your limits, both mental and physical, to grow. Is not about obsessing over being the best, but rather about pursuing excellence. About competing against yourself, and trying to be better and better every  time. And this applies to ANYTHING in life as well. And this applies to ANYONE as well.

Later this October I’m doing it again. This will be my A-race of the season. This time in a ocean swim without wetsuit, flatter bike but with much much wind, and an overall HOT as HELL race.

85 days and counting to prepare for Penghu …