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