It’s All Mental, They Say.

author : packetron
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An Ironman 70.3, also known as a half Ironman, is one of a series of middle-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). The “70.3″ refers to the total distance in miles (113.0 km) covered in the race, consisting of a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim, a 56-mile (90 km) bike ride, and a 13.1-mile (21.1 km) run. - Wikipedia

As I woke up in the morning at 4am on a cool Sunday morning, the mixed feelings started to overwhelm me. The feeling of excitement, fear, uncertainty and the adrenaline rush of competing in one of the world’s greatest race made my legs wobble just by thinking about it. It’s all mental they say, keep calm and carry on. I know, harder to do it, I say.

Having competed in a couple of olympic-sized triathlons before, I know this time around it’s going to be my hardest push. As I looked at my race packs laid out on the floor near the door of my hotel, I begin to wonder if I will ever finish the race that I set out for. Fear and anxiety hits hard when you’re near the end. I ran my race routine over and over in my mind:

  • How I start
  • What to eat
  • What to wear
  • Remember my race bib
  • I must remember to swim using arm power and not with my legs, I need to survive the entire duration of the race.
  • Not to get myself flat out in any segment. That’s perhaps the most important part of a triathlon, to plan for survival and time.
  • What about my bike? I don’t have a pretty good bike to start with and it’s a heavy one but nevertheless, one that I think I can still struggle with. 90 km, that’s a lot of leg power to cycle that far.
  • And do not forget, there’s a 21.1 km stretch of run to complete after the bike.
As I drove to the venue, the thought of race completion with my hands high up in the air crossing the finishing line flashes before me. I smiled to myself and now the day has come and it’s up to me and no one else to make it happen. They say it’s all about determination, passion and the willingness to struggle on that will make the difference. I want to believe them now.

I wasn’t an athlete for more than half of my life to start with but came to love running due to my many wonderful colleagues who organized our occasional lunch-time runs. The many runs that we had set me off in the right direction and I saw my weight dropped from a high of 98kg and close to being diagnosed a diabetic, to 78kg and the rest is history.

I took up my first race and decided that there’s many more to come by. I simply loved the time alone during my runs and the ability to de-stress after a long week at work. I used to call my runs 'thinking time.' As I progressed through my half-marathons, I decided to take up the challenge into multi-discipline sports for the love of having not only runs, but to swim and to cycle as well. I bought my first bike and the start of a new love awaited me. This, to me, is the ultimate challenge in both physical and a mental state of my mind.

My first half Ironman attempt in 2009 wasn’t a good one. My brother was diagnosed with cancer in the advanced stage and I wanted to complete the race for him. The eagerness of winning the medal got into my head. I wasn’t prepared for the grueling eight hour race. My fear got the better of me during my bike leg and I bailed out of the race. I couldn’t carry on; my body just wasn’t in shape enough for the bashing. I had cramps all the way after my second bike leg and I was totally afraid of even continuing with the third leg of the race. I stopped my bike, earned a DNF and carried on running the rest of the half-marathon. I failed the first time. This time, I know I have to come back stronger and better.

As I reached the race venue with three hours to go before my race start, I set about to prepare my gear needed for transition. Swim gear – checked, bike gear – checked. And lastly, my running gear is laid out before me just before my bike. Race discipline is an important component to manage every race. The last thing you will need is to find a critical component of your race missing during transition.

Off I went to take a quick dip in the waters to settle the vibes. I swam a couple of quick successive laps at the edge of the beach and greeted my fellow competitors who huddle close while awaiting their start. The water is nice in the morning and the sun is beginning to rise in the distance. Wave 1 consisting of the pro athletes, is starting soon at 7am. I went close to support and cheer for them as they prepare to start their race. Boy, were they fast! The first competitor completed his swim in just over 25 minutes! I waited eagerly as wave after wave were called to the starting point. Mine’s wave 5.

At 7:50, the announcer started to call out to all wave five participants to gather before the starting line and my heart rate started to increase tremendously from anxiety. Two km of swimming out in the open sea is a daunting task at least to me. The eight hours of total race time clouded my mind but I decided to take things as it comes. At the sound of the horn at 7:55am, we’re off. I raced towards the beach and looked out into the sea before making my dive into the cold waters.

It’s all mental, they say.

The swim was nice after all, surprisingly; there weren’t a lot of things to fear once you started as focusing became your utmost important task at hand. In 20 minutes, I’m out of the water and going into my 2nd swim leg to complete the rest of the 1.9km swim. Surprisingly, I did not suffer from many kicks from other swimmers while swimming. Everyone swam within their own space and if someone comes into contact with you out at sea, they will swim away as fast as possible. Things got a bit rough with the water current but it came out alright. Everything was going as planned. I came out of the water looking cheerful and started running to my transition point to change into my biking gears.

It’s all mental, they say.

With my helmet, gloves and shoes on, I wheeled out my bike to the start point and off I went into the 90km bike route. The scenic route offers a lot of thought-provoking moments especially when after 40km, exhaustion started to sip in. I started mumbling to myself and asking myself why am I here in the first place, what am I suffering this for and should I just give up and go home? My back was killing me and my thigh muscles were starting to give way. There was another 30km to go after the 2nd loop. Will I make it before the penalty time? Can I still run after my 90km on the bike? I reminded myself who and why am I racing for. To complete the race for a reason is the best motivation of all. To do it for a reason is your best bet towards race completion.

It’s all mental, they say.

With the last 10 km to go, another half Ironman-to-be came up close and started to ride along. We were both exhausted and very near to our breaking point. Complete strangers we were, we started motivating each other to go on. It’s the camaraderie that makes the race even more meaningful. How many times have you smiled and started chatting with a complete stranger out of nowhere? I did, far more times during that half Ironman race than at any other given time. We pushed, we shouted at each other, we kept talking about the race, our preparations and who we were doing it for. With 1km to go we hi-fived and wished each other well into the running leg and parted ways to rack our bike.

I changed into my running gears and dashed out into the track in no time. My legs are screaming at me and I cannot stop for fear of having my muscles cramping up and tightening when relaxed. I had to go on. The end is near; it’s another 21km to go! I run, I hop, I jog and I walked. Five km into 10 km and onto 15 km. It started to rain and I was left running wet, cold and hungry! It’s already past 3pm and I’m heading onto my last loop with another five km to go. I had already been racing for seven hours and I had to push on. My toes started to cramp and my thigh muscles were going to give up soon. I started this race for my family and I have to complete it for them.

It’s all mental, they say.

Strangers started to cheer me on towards the end and with every step, more cheers came by telling me not to stop and the end is near. I know they meant well when every one of them kept shouting at me to focus on the finish line around the bend. After a number of bends, I finally could see the podium in front of me. As I approached the end of the race, I smiled knowingly that I had completed the race that I had set out to do: not to prove to anyone but myself that when I set my sight towards accomplishing anything, it’s only a heartbeat away from completing it.

At the end of the race, I am very proud of one thing: that I had once crossed both the start and finish line of an Ironman 70.3. I did it and will I ever do it again? Yes I will!

Ron (http://packetron.wordpress.com)

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date: March 28, 2012

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