Thursday, August 09, 2012

Ironman 70.3 Philippines 2012

I collapsed onto the rubber mat, staring at the slow rotating blades of the ceiling fan, anticipating to pass out in the next second.  The woman disturbed me and asked me to turn my backside to her, damn it! Even a simple task such as that required her assistance to accomplished. She has already helped me to strip off my smelly tri top, to take out the heart rate monitor and the finisher's medal.  That might be a bit too much to ask from a free massageur but I was certain that she would be understanding of my situation. The massage area was filled with a few dozens other people just like me, it could be easily mistaken as a war hospital.  She stretched my back diagonally, I let out a soft moan. Tears streamed from my eyes, I am not sure if I should call that tear for joy or relief, it was just an emotional moment that it is finally over. By pure chance it is not the first time which the Shangri-La Mactan Resort has claimed my tears.

5 Hours 58 Mins Since Race Start

"Yea Ha!......Yea Ha!.....Yea Ha!" I shouted in agony in every step I took just to keep me going. I have passed the sign that says "1.55km to go" with a dead straight arrow almost a century ago, but there was still no sight to the finishing arch. Instead I ran left, forked right, left and left and right again in the final stretch of the run leg that circumferenced the resort building as if it was a cruel joke.  I hear my name being called by the MC at the finishing line but I still couldn't see it. A crowd of expat wives picked up my "Yea Ha" chant as a mocking kind of encouragement, it was at this point I realised I must have been sounding like someone on a maternity bed . Then I saw the white arch and the clock above it said "6:00:22". I just missed my target time of sub 6 hours by a notch, but I knew I have given it everything. There would be no need for a retrospective analysis and where I could have gained another half a minute.

I took one last sure step across the line and then immediately found something to hold onto in case my legs would go into spasms.  A race official offered to take me to the Med Tent and a local athlete gave his shoulder for me to lean on.  But rising to the occasion, I summoned the reserve in me to carried myself to the opposite side of the Med Tent --- the free Massage Pavilion. Why settle for the small 'M' when I have got this far?

5 Hours 40 Mins Since Race Start

"Get into the shade!" an female athlete shouted as she ran passed.

"If I can move, I will be running." I said silently.  I was on all four limbs getting grilled by the sun like a Lechon, that is the local specialty roast suckling pig. This is already the second time I dropped to the floor as my thighs went into spasms in the last 10 mins. I have 20 mins left to meet my target time with only 3km to go. If I am fully charged, I can probably run backward with time spared, but now I am pegged to the ground with the clock ticking. I was offered a full bottle of energy drink, which I down in one, then, I rubbed both of my thighs furiously with the bones of my forearm to pump away the lactic. That would do for now, I promised to get you guys a proper massage when this is all over. My legs somehow co-operated, I got up and ran, never dared to stop for a break again.

3 Hours 36 Mins Since Race Start

I was at the T2, which means the bike-to-run transition for the unenlightened ones among my readers. I took off my one piece tri suit to reveal another set of 2 piece tri suit beneath. Very strange thing to do at T2, I must be the only one among the 1400 athletes who rode through the 90km bike ride in double layer garment. The body definitely cooled off a lot and the pressure in the groin released. I felt born again and strolled out to the run leg in earnest. with 2 hours and 20 minute left to complete a half marathon in order to meet my target time this should be a doodle, so I thought.

The run takes you into the village areas at the eastern tip of the Mactan Island.  The main road is mostly shaded, but every one of the 3 side track spurs were naked to the bone even from the satellite pictures. We had to expose ourselves to an incinerating sun which sucked every drop of water out of the spores on our skin like a demon.

The aid stations were like oasis in a desert and I indulged myself with a bucket of shower whenever there is one. The icy cold water washed from head to toe made me shout out in comfort like a shower gel commercial.

Another element to rely on was the spectators, the school kids lined up on both side of the road in hundreds, when we athletes gave them a simple gesture like a thumbs up it would send them off to a frenzy of flag waving and drum rolling. I gave one kid a high five, all 20 other kids down the row stuck their hands out and I brushed their palms as I ran along like a champion. I knew it might get painful later, for now I was having fun.

2 Hours 40 Mins Since Race Start

I sucked the last few sips of energy drinks to empty the bottle and handed the bottle to a spectator, he grabbed it so firmly that I barely had time to pull my right hand off. I frantically regained the balance of my bike by the time I had both hands are back on the handlebar. It was a close shave and was an unnecessary affair.

The truth is the crowd had been amazing all along the bike course, I had been drawn closer and closer to them as their cheering and my rallying created a positive feedback loop.  It built to that moment when I have almost lost my guard. I decided to keep a safer distance from this point. All the hard work had been done as I turned from head wind to tail wind for the 2nd time at the 60km mark the rest is just plain sailing home.  Let's just focus on my task.

It was a flat race course with a strong wind which we had to battle head on twice. The wind was mild early in the day but by the 2nd loop, it has picked up furiously. We nicknamed this course the Kona of Asia for the wind.  But the crowds gave it also a Tour de France feel, when we rode back to the busy part of town, the locals have flooded the street so much that the road narrowed nearly to a single bike passage.

30 Mins Since Race Start

My feet carefully navigated across the coral, trying to avoid any cut in the early stage of the race, I landed on the beach and checked my watch.  Only 30 mins to complete 1.9km of swim, you got to be kidding me! This just justified my last minute call to wear a one piece pocket less trisuit on top of the more comfortable 2 piece suit to minimise the drag. Subsequently I found out that I was not alone to enjoy a fast swim.  I ran across the beach, up the ramp and got into the transition area.  It was a super smooth swim-to-bike transition by my standard.  I got on the bike and start pedaling away from the resort, pick up some speed as soon as the roads straightened out.  Then I realised my school boy error, duh! I have forgotten to take out my one piece trisuit in T1 and it is making it more difficult lift my knee as I pedaled.

At Race Start

We were floating about in the deep water area beneath us was a coral reef with colourful tropical fishes.  The gun ran off and we swung our arms in unison and churned up the washing machine, I found this to be the most beautiful part of triathlon.  The athletes would soon spread out but now we were a school of fish setting out for a common challenge for the day.  The swim was one big loop which started from the beach of Shangri-La Mactan resort, ran in parallel to the shoreline toward the Movenpick Resort then turned 180 degree to bring us back in the opposite direction for a long stretch of swim that spanned across 3 different resorts.

There were a long rope with buoys marking the swim course and hence many people preferred to swim close to the line for a sense of security.  This makes the field staying close together over an unusually long distance.  I got tangled up with other athletes all the time, one even curled his arm around my neck at one point and he only let go when we both started to sink.

We turned around again once we hit the area outside the private beach of Crimson Resort.  By this point, we have spreaded out and were swimming along the direction of the current. I was gliding longer and longer with each stroke and the sensation of executing what I had trained so hard for was so satisfying.  I feel privileged to take up triathlon as a sport, in a big race like this you experience such rich emotions in a day, the joy of executing a perfect swim stroke, the anxiety before a race, the pain of not being able to go further, the kinship you feel toward another athlete without knowing their name, the solitude of fighting the elements on your own, the frustration of a bad fortune, or simply the pleasure of wind blowing on your face.  It is a lifetime of experiences condensed into a handful of hours.

As I took a breath on my left side, I looked up the cliff of Shangri-La and saw the ocean facing chapel where our wedding was held 5 years ago, I was hearing the wedding march music in my head on again.  Then a bit further was the wooden bridge where my wife Martina and her bridesmaids had their beautiful photos taken.  As I swam toward the beach, I saw a blue starfish on the sea floor.  Few years before the wedding I had also come to this resort the first time with my sis, my mum and my dad who are no longer with us today.  On that holiday he had dived to the bottom of the sea to collect these blue starfishes and put it on his nipples as a bra to pose for a hilarious photo.  In the wedding reception on the resort beach, I shed tears of joy for my new bride and tears for remembrance for my Dad.  That was the other time this resort has claimed my tear.  So with two of the most memorable days experienced in this place, I was on my way to add a third one to my life.