Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ironman New Zealand

I had an approximate 3 months serious training for my first attempt of the Ironman New Zealand on 01 March 2014, but that was hardly enough. Many people attempting the race for the first time would train anything for 9 months up to a year. I think I would have been OK if I had 6 months of serious training because I have had sufficient foundation in running marathons. But I was seriously lacking in cycling and swimming. On hindsight, I should have focused my training totally on the Ironman instead of joining other non-triathlon races during the earlier part of 2013.

Cycling just once a week on a Saturday, even if it's a long ride, is hardly enough for the Ironman. I started cycling long, i.e. over 100km, in January this year. Before that, although I cycled once a week, I did not go up to 100km. My longest ride before the race was for a distance of 165km, and that was the only one time that I reached that distance. I'm thinking if I have had a few more rides of say 150km, that would have helped me a great deal. By the time I boarded the plane for New Zealand, I was quite worried that I was facing 180km in the race.

Then there was the swimming leg of 3.8km I had to reckon with. The trouble with swimming was that I'm not even a good swimmer to start with, so "training" in this case included learning how to swim too! I'm only an average swimmer in the breaststrokes, but my freestyle sucks big time. Each time I get into the pool, I would struggle after only a few laps. The longest swim I had before the race was just 1km, and it's the swim that I dreaded the most in the actual race. Furthermore, I had no open water training at all. It seemed like almost an impossible task. The only consolation was that I had the breaststrokes that I could fall back to.

Well, on the morning of the race, I felt a little awkward in my wetsuit, and as I stepped into the lake, I could feel the cold water seeping into my suit. I stayed clear of the crowd. I was perhaps about 50m from the starting line. At the start it was so chaotic; everybody was climbing on to of each other. Arms and legs were all over the place—I received a few blows to my body and legs. It was just awful. But I kept my cool. I started my swim very slowly and tried to ignore everybody else. Within a few minutes the faster swimmers were already building up the gap. The rest of us novice swimmers were struggling at the back, and it was rather amusing that I wasn't the only lousy swimmer after all. I had intended to swim with the freestyle all the way even if it would take me almost the entire 2:20 cutoff time, but after a few hundred metres, I realised that I could hardly swim in a straight line. Even after 20 to 30 strokes, I would go off course by quite a distance, and I had to use a lot of energy for course correction. I guess I should have spent more efforts learning how to sight!

That went on for a long time until I lost my patience. In the end I had to fall back to Plan B. I alternated between freestyle and breaststrokes every few strokes so that although I can't swim straight with the freestyle, I could mitigate with the breaststrokes by sighting that way. In the end it took me 1:43 minutes, an embarrassingly long time, but I wasn't expecting to finish with the elites anyway! I emerged from the lake still feeling OK, but that was just the warming up part of the race. 

Now I had to worry about the 180km bike leg. But first I had to run approximately 400m uphill to the transition area. As I was running up the hill, I tried to work my way out of my wetsuit. At that point, I was at the verge of suffocation—wetsuits are extremely tight outfit, you see. I took my time at the transition though, spending up to 10 minutes, and by the time I got onto my bike, 2hours had already elapsed.

The air was cold that morning and I started gaining momentum on my bike. It was a pleasant ride at first, and I was actually enjoying the ride.

But not for very long. Just a few minutes after I left the transition area, I had to climb a hill; a ridiculous hill and within no time I could feel my quads burning. As I was struggling up the hill, I had to remind myself that I have to do 180km of this!
I had a bad feeling about the bike leg. My main concern before the race was that I would have some sort of mechanical problem that I couldn't fix. Maybe the chain would snap; or perhaps I would crash into another participant. But now that I was already in the race, I was beginning to wonder if I could even survive the bike leg. From that early in the race, I decided to change my game plan. This race will be a mission to finish, not trying to be a hero racing for time! I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I fail to finish, but more importantly I knew that my friend Teo Chen Lung would tease me for a long, long time to come!

I had expected a rough time on the bike, but I did not expect what I went through that day. The hills, the headwind, the cold. Each time I felt a little tired, I would slow down. I had to make sure that I won't get any cramps, because if I got it that early, that would be the end.

By about 100km, I was already feeling exhausted, and it was a matter of survival from that point onwards. It was mentally challenging knowing that I still had 80km to go, and beyond that I had to run a full marathon. It seemed such an uphill task, and of course it was! What I did was to focus on a block of 10km each, because focusing on the entire distance would just break me mentally! I took my time and stopped at almost every aid station to visit the toilet.

It was late afternoon when I finally reached the transition area again. And again I took my time to change into my running shoes. By then both my legs were gone. Starting a marathon on a empty tank was quite a new experience for me. I have never tried it before; I have never even attempted a half Ironman. All the time I was worried that if I pushed myself, I would get a cramp. I had to run and walk alternately. Even after I had reached the half way point, I was still careful not to push it, as there's still 21km to run! The day became night, and the temperature dropped quickly. As I endured the pain in both legs, and braved the cold, I started running strong again about 10km to the finish. My confidence grew as I knew that even if I got a cramp, I could walk those few km with time to spare.

The final homestretch was the most exciting moment in the entire race. About 50m from the finish line, while I made the last dash, it was announced loudly through the speakers—Cornelius, YOU-ARE-AN-IRONMAN!

I still think almost anybody can finish an Ironman, but the most challenging part is the training. I just don't have that much time to train. Training for a marathon would be just nice; training for a duathlon a little more challenging; but training for the Ironman would take up almost all the time you have away from the office!

Although I felt a little stupid for doing the Ironman during the race, at the end of it all, I guess it was worth it when I get this medal in my collection.

I took 15:33 to finish, such a slow Ironman, but I wasn't gonna take chances of failing to finish—not after all the trouble I went through! I said to myself that I wanted to finish an Ironman before I'm 50, and then I can scale down to just a normal marathon or duathlon, or maybe just a half Ironman. But dammit, I'm gonna be 49 this July. That is still not 50 yet—maybe there is still time to pursue a sub-14hrs finish, I wonder...


RaYzeef said...

Inspiring! Congrats Cornelius.

Amazing feat only 3 months training, wahh...

One day when i have the gut to do IM i will PM you for advice :)

Cornelius said...

Thanks, Ray, but please don't get the wrong idea ah. I've been keeping up with my running routine prior to those 3 months of serious Ironman training. It's not like I didn't do anything at all, and then suddenly became active 3 months before the Ironman! That would have been nice though!...hehe

But anyway, I was still lacking in the cycling and swim. Just didn't have the time to train mornings and evenings. And even if I had the time to train, I'm not sure if my body could handle that much stress for such a long time!

RaYzeef said...

Great. sound you ready for another round of IM :)