On Finishing What You’ve Started: My Ironman Experience and Road to Marathon

It felt like someone stabbed me on my left shoulder and then twisted the knife clockwise. It was March 2011 when I had a terrible accident that prevented me from training the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon scheduled in August in Cam Sur. I got my shoulder dislocated. The pain was excruciating. I was sent to the ER and placed it back. After a week, I contemplated having surgery because if not, with the torn ligaments on my shoulder, there’s a big chance it will recur. I had to do it soon so I can keep up with my training.

Fortunately, I have a friend doctor who can do the Labral tear surgery in Baguio at half the price. The big day came, I drove for 6 hours and checked-in the day before. The next morning, I walked in the operation room, observing nervously. The doctor asked me to countdown from 100, then when I woke up after a four-hour surgery, it felt like there’s a huge dagger pinned on my shoulder. The operation was a success.

While recuperating, I was also suffering from a major heartbreak. Though I still feel a powerful urge and belief that I can again resume my training and finish the tri. I attended a weekly shoulder therapy for a while, and by May, I went back to swimming without yet gaining my full range of motion. My conditioning was horrible. My shoulder was weak, and my heart rate went back to zero. For two and a half months I stayed resilient and persevered. Both physical and emotional. But for strange reasons, those pain were my motivator.

The Ironman Experience

The big day came. Gun start for “30-34” age grouper, was 6:20am. It was 5 minutes after the pros. But before that, I sat down on the sand and did my dynamic stretch. I felt the anxiety and excitement of the participants and the audience around us. Some athletes were dipping in the water and doing some kind of prayer. There were several pro athletes that I noticed like Noy Jopson and Monica Torres and celebrities like Drew Arellano and Pia Cayetano.

The swim course was really intimidating. Looking at it, it seemed like from Guadalupe in EDSA to Megamall, back and forth. I was really nervous because I am worried about my left shoulder having it repaired five months before the event. I was thinking where to position myself, and then I decided to place myself at the rightmost corner so I can have a good view of the trail.

Swim – 1.9km
People started the countdown from 10 to 1 then on the 6th, bang!!! Take-off began, I plunged in the water and started my swim gradual. But then, as expected, I had elbows, kicks, and collision with the participants both left and right, front and back. I checked my heart rate, and to my surprise, it elevated above my maximum. Sadly, I remember the guy who died in the first-ever tri in the Philippines while swimming and then realized why. I slowed down to make it drop. At the 20min. mark, I found myself gliding smoothly and people have already spread around. I felt the confidence of finishing strong. I did it in 50min.

Bike – 90km
I got out of the water, put on my bike shoes and ran to the bike, I noticed that I don’t have the bib number with me, so I went back to the changing area. I started strong and maintained a 30-35kph so I can meet the 2.5-hour target.

During my training, I already knew that the bike course is my weakness. I bought my bike just 3 months before the event and what I got was just an entry level road bike. I didn’t even have the time to fit it with my height and length. My training was even poor because of the rainy season in the months of June and July.

About an hour during the bike course, the rain poured. I was worried about the air friction, and yes, I started to slow down. From 30kph, down to 25kph. I was confused with where to put my gear, and I experimented. I reached half-way for 1:30. I stopped to drink, and that was the biggest mistake. When I took off, my upper legs started to cramp. I didn’t know what to do. Participants were already taking a pass over me, and I was on a 15-20kph, and then about 10kph on steep roads.

I was on the verge of giving up when I started talking to myself. “I am strong, I am a fighter, I am going to show you how great I am.” were the words coming out from my mouth. I finished the bike leg in 3:30.

Run – 21km
Yes, I trained the transitions, but in the actual event, I couldn’t explain the feeling on the bike to run transition. I was limping exaggeratedly because of thigh cramps, but then I heard encouraging words from the marshalls and told me it will only last a few minutes.

I ran for just about 75 strides per minute which is below my target of 90spm while maintaining a 75% heart rate. My shoes were wet because of the rain, but the sun began to shine. I was worried about the “rice cooker”, the term they use to describe the hottest run course in the country. I ran stable until I reached halfway, they handed me the rubber band marker and put it on my wrist.

I stopped again to take a piss, and when I ran back, this time, my calves began to cramp. I alternate running and walking so I can make it go away, and it did. But after several minutes, it came back again. My only objective was to finish the race while I think of ways how to survive the heat, deal with the cramps and endure everything until the finish line and before the 8:30 cut-off. To me, that’s the actual playing of the game.

Water stations were available every 1.5km, and I poured water from my head to toe on each and every station. One of the runners saw me and advised me not to wet my shoes because I may get abrasions, but I didn’t care because I cared more about not to get dehydration. And I did get abrasions.

I reached the 20.5km mark, about an hour remaining before the cut-off and 500m left. I couldn’t run anymore because my legs were really painful. It was like there’s a big bear trap clamped into my calves. Then after a few moments, I could already see the finish line. I finished my first-ever Ironman 70.3 triathlon in about 7:30.

This by far is at the top 5 of my happiest moments in life.

The Road to Marathon.
A few years after the triathlon, I contemplated finishing a full 42k marathon. I already checked Ironman in my bucket list and so the urge to check marathon this time. When I was in NYC January of last year, I dreamed of running at Central Park. It was a snowy night, but I didn’t care. I ran full clothes and jacket on, started on a walk and had that runner high moment. That was a go signal to start the marathon training.

Similar to Ironman, I downloaded a free program online. I bought a new pair of Nike shoes and strictly followed the plan. Sundays were the long runs. I had to wake up at 4am again, and I had been consistent for about three months until I reached my 25km mileage. I got bored and trained on and off. Imagine running for 2 hours or more. I ran out of podcasts and audiobooks to listen to. I still persevered, but June and July were the worst times to train because of the non-stop rain. I looked for marathon events that I can register to. The only schedule left was Milo marathon but in Cebu and Lucena and that discouraged me from continuing. I failed, and then I gave up. I tried rationalizing the urge, but I couldn’t come up with a good reason to persevere.

The thing is, the thought of finishing a marathon doesn’t go away. The logic says no but the heart says go. I tried connecting the dots and relate it to work, in relationships and life in general. Your intuition, gut feel, or whatever you wanna name it, is your guide to success. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, follow your heart. It’s a cliche, but it’s true.

I’ll try to walk you through the experience and my road to marathon in the coming months. I may fail again yes, but I trust that my heart will tell me the right thing. The obstacle is the way.

Just recently, I registered to Run Rio trilogy marathon. The leg 1, 21km, is on April 7. It’s funny that I wrote this in the middle of the night around 3:30am. It’s just another manifestation of my passion for finishing what I started in life, in business, and in dreams.