Friday, November 1, 2013

Guest Post: Miami 70.3 Race Recap

Last week, my friend Long shared his journey to his first half Ironman. Here is his race experience from this past weekend!

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A perfect moment – it’s rare to the degree that we often forget how completely uplifting and inspiring it feels to have one. At precisely 6:33:15 after the 9 am wetsuit wave of the Miami 70.3 Ironman, I experienced a perfect moment. It was a moment of unimaginable triumph as I crossed the finish line, bowed my head, and donned the medal that signified my graduation to a new world of multisport endurance racing. My body was worn and exhausted from the field of battle but my spirit was full as I struggled to hold tears back while slowly walking through the finishers chute. The only thought crossing my mind at that very moment was ‘you did it – you did THIS.’ I met with my parents and my brother-in-law (an experienced full Ironman Triathlete) to quickly get pictures at the risk of completely losing my legs in the meager minutes to come. I had trouble ingesting any food or liquids, my legs and body were screaming, and none of it mattered because of the medal I had around my neck. I walked to the athlete’s tent and stood for a moment to savor my accomplishment; I gazed upon the course I had conquered… 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run – never thought I would see the day.

As I savored my victory, it was made only sweeter by my vivid memory of every challenge, pain, sweat, and tear I shed in crossing the finish. The swim was cool at a mild 76 degree water temperature and my wetsuit did well to help protect me from the large patches of floating seaweed as I rounded the buoys. With every stroke in this deeply green tinted water, I would look up to make sure I was always pointing myself towards the next buoy. Mentally, it was key to never look at what was left of my swim, only look to the next buoy and focus on my technique. A quarter-mile from the end of the swim, the dock was in sight and my wetsuit had begun to chafe into the back of my neck and the right side of my shoulders. Salt water stung the wound and the suit rubbed more with every stroke but pain be damned, there was more to come! Transition 1 (swim-to-bike) was quick with the only minor hiccup of my having trouble placing my shot blocks into the back pouch of my tri-suit after squeezing out of the wetsuit.

The bike ride began smoothly with mild hills, a few train tracks, and only a crosswind from my right. For almost 20 miles, I proceeded with minimal problems aside from a mildly sore bum. Nearing mile 20, the road curved off to the right and I braced head first into a 13-14 mph wind and my bike slowed from a blazing 18+ mph average to a 14-16 mph average for the next 8 miles. I finally reached the turn-around point and knowing the wind will be at my back afterwards, I quickly refilled my water bottle at the water station and hauled off. After I turned into the curve which had originally put me into the headwind, I expected another crosswind which I had when cycling the opposite direction. Unfortunately, for the final 20 miles the crosswind turned into another headwind. I pushed and struggled to put out the best effort I could while remembering to race smart so as to not completely burn out my legs. A competitor from Chile found me and we spent those 20 miles passing one another every couple of miles, keeping careful not to cycle within 5 bike lengths of one another or risk a 4 minute penalty. I came into the bike finish with my parents to my right side and nearby the mount-dismount line. Transition 2 (bike-to-run) was a tad more challenging as I was mentally dazed and exhausted. I stumbled around to find my spot to rack my bike and change into my running gear. As I started out of the transition zone for the final time, my brother-in-law yelled to me to take it easy.

Rightfully, I eased into the run as 56 miles on a bike exhausted my body. In the first 5 miles, I struggled to breathe normally with my chest already feeling heavy from struggling through all the miles of headwind. The run course was 2 laps, which included a long and steep causeway; runners would need to engage the uphill of this causeway at least 4 times. Though I had driven the causeway, the drive never gives a true perspective on the steep angle. I battled upwards with relatively little struggle and enjoyed a brisk downhill pace while admiring a beautiful panoramic view of Miami.

Water stations efficiently handed out water, Gatorade, Coke, and various gels to keep everyone sufficiently nourished. Some water stations offered a ‘shower’ service where a gallon of water was poured over your head. Around mile 10, I came to appreciate this ‘shower,’ especially as the salt crystals had begun to solidify around the end of my tri-suit and skin, which made for a strong sandpaper-like effect on my sleeves. Though it stung to have liquid salt enter my already chafed skin, the water washed away most of the grainy salt to minimize further discomfort. About 1.5 miles from the finish, my left calf started to cramp while I was taking my last GU for the final push. I hit the final water station to wash down the gel, grab a ‘shower,’ and let someone pour ice down the back of my tri-suit to keep me cool (yes there was a lump and I’m sure it looked all kinds of wrong!).

I ran hard for the last 1.25 miles with a dorsiflexed left foot, and soon my right foot followed suit. In what I thought was the final stretch, I passed another competitor; to my surprise, the finish line was still another 100 meters away, and yet I had already started my sprint. There was nothing else to do but continue pushing myself and grab my victory!

Throughout the entire course, especially the bike, it became challenging at times to put the thoughts of doubt at bay. Knowing that entertaining any of those thoughts of self-doubt or pity could shatter me, I simply said doubt be damned – I made it this far and I will not quit now. Should I push past my true physical limit, I will trust in the security and medical teams of this established event that someone would do their job to help me. Until that moment, my job is to finish this race! Every stroke, pedal, and step would eventually become a conscious decision and thought. It was exhausting and it’s a wonder how anyone could find enough motivation to continue with such mental, physical, and emotional strain.

Astoundingly enough, from a motivational and inspirational point of view, the race in itself is self-sustaining. Each person I passed or was passed by had a unique story. Perhaps the most unique of all was a man who pulled his son with cerebral palsy on a raft, on a bike carriage, and pushed him in a running stroller for the entire triathlon. Every time someone passed him or he passed another, he heard the triumphant and supportive sounds of people cheering for him. Whether a competitor or spectator, all cheered for the spirit and love this man had for his son. I recall passing him on one of my uphill running causeway climbs; I was exhausted, nearly out of breathe, and barely able to keep myself upright, but I cheered with all the strength I had for this man. This is but one of the many stories found scattered among the 3,188 competitors at this incredible event.

This race is more than a test of physical endurance, technique, and mental gumption. This race is a tribute to the power of the human spirit. For those willing to log the long hours of training through the early mornings and late evenings, I promise it is worth every drop of blood, sweat, and tears. Start a journey of your own and write your own story, it’s easier than you think. Like everyone else, your journey to the 70.3 world begins with a single step and ends with a memory no one can ever take from you.

Thank you to my family, friends, and co-workers who supported me through training to reach this milestone. Each of you have touched my life and helped guide me with your motivation and knowledge to obtain this goal, and I could not have done it without you. I may have trained alone for a great majority of the time but to reach the end was truly a team effort. I only hope to someday be able to repay each and everyone one of you with the same support and kindness you gifted to me. Part of this victory belongs to you!

QOTD: What is your next fitness milestone?

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