My First Ironman Race

“Ironman sucks. Don’t do it,” my swim coach Tabitha Bond often said to me and other triathletes at the pool, some of whom have already finished the race for more than once.

She went on to explain how time consuming, intense and boring the training could be, how the long hours on the bike could ruin your social life, let alone your personal life.

“But you guys won’t listen to me and do it, anyway,” Tab said admittedly.

As an amateur triathlete who picked up the sport two years ago, I knew on the back of my mind that one day I wanted do an Ironman race, probably as a once-in-a-lifetime thing. The question was… how would I be able to pull it off?

3.8k swim – 180k bike – 42.2k run sounds far-fetched and impossible for a mediocre triathlon hobbyist like me to achieve, given that I had to re-learn how to swim and didn’t know how to operate a road bike even after my triathlon debut.

Lucky me. I found a good tri coach who trains a bunch of tri enthusiasts after the working hours in Bangkok.

 

Vinicius Santana is an accomplished triathlete, Ironman finisher and now a tri coach at Ironguides, where I met new friends with the same passion for triathlon. Vinnie has comprehensive understanding of the sport and delivers it to his athletes in the very best way possible. Oh, he also takes great action shots during the races for his website Asiatri.com, too!

And later, through the help of my good triathlete pro Carole Fuchs, I got a slot on the swimming lessons with the Bond sisters–Tabitha and Rebecca–who slowly (my fault) but surely turned me into a swimmer, albeit a stupid one who wanted to do an Ironman.

(The Bonds also founded a grassroots tri races in Bangkok called the Tri Dash, which was my first triathlon race ever. I was lured into it by a group of fixed gear bike friends from NGO bike cycling club, who eventually deserted me on the tri road to pursue other sport interests. Tsk, tsk, tsk.)

With the stellar coaching and constant training, I began to build up my tri portfolio competing in short-distance local races, sometimes even getting the prizes when other great athletes couldn’t join. Haha.

From feeling like dying after 400m swim at the Dash, I felt quite comfortable when finishing 1.9k swim during my first Ironman 70.3 race last year in Phuket. I biked and ran with Ironguides two days a week, improving my skills and performance throughout the years.

Until it’s time to sign up for the big one, … which is totally a different ball game.

 

The only way to make sure I’d get to the finish line was to train, train and train even harder.

In order to be able to endure the pain that the body has to go through for more than 10 hours, I needed to build up my physical stamina and that required not only determination, but also commitment.

As a journalist whose job also covers breaking news, I found that it wasn’t that easy. With some overseas and domestic traveling, as well as unpredictable working hours, I found it difficult to train the three disciplines with the group. That’s where another coach comes in.

Champ Ingkanont, a rising tri star and Thailand’s current top male triathlete, gave me a helping hand by writing my personalized training plans, allowing me to be more flexible with the training hours and location.

Given much warning from Tabitha, I told Buay, my family and my non-tri friends that I would be disappearing a lot from their lives. No dinners together, no parties, no trips, except for some races.

You have to sacrifice a lot of things along the way, most of them invaluable. Your time with your loved ones. Your time with yourself. While your physical fitness is improving, you’re not doing so much on the intelligence and social fronts.

When the training loads got really tough, it was hard for me to keep motivated as well. Century rides or 100k bike sessions became the new norm. Long runs and endurance swims were my best friends.

But I had to do it because I know that’s the only way to finish the race.

The only pillar of Ironman training that I wasn’t really paying attention, which would later come back to bite me in the race, was strength training. Dang, with swim, bike and run every day of the week, who would want to lift weights or do squats in their free time?!?

In the end, given other things in life, I think I must’ve completed about 70% of Champ’s training plans before race day but que sera, sera.

On race day, I executed the race according to plans, both the sport disciplines and nutrition. I fought the big waves in the swim, battled the hills and gusty headwind on the bike, and kept shuffling my feet till I reached the finishing chute to become an Ironman within 13:49:50 hrs.

Since 2015, triathlon has become my passion. It taught me to be more disciplined, that you get what you give. Luck may get you through sprint or Olympic races, but not in the Ironman. You have to work hard to get to where you want to be. You’re fighting against yourself for yourself. The most important thing is you don’t quit until you finish.

Along the way, people would ask you why you were doing it and you can’t really tell them why. Not until you crossed the finish line, and that’s when you say to them “Because why not?”