North American Ironman 70.3 Championships

On a cold wintery night back in December 2015, I sat in front of my laptop staring at the homepage of the Ironman 70.3 North American Championships. I had gone through the registration process and all that was remaining was for me to click on the “Register” button to secure my place in the race.

I was equally excited and hesitant to sign up. Obviously excited as it is one of the biggest races in the tri calendar in the USA but on the other hand I felt the goal was too far away for me to feel the ‘pump’. That same evening my close friend and peer at business school, Ricardo Mazzini, was also facing the same dilemma. We had a quick chat over Skype and Ric said, “that’s it. The longer I think about it the worse it gets. I’m signing up!”. I guess he left me no choice but to sign up and begin prepping for this big race!

For both Ric and I, this race would have served as a milestone in our training. We both have our main races in September and this race in May would have served as a checkpoint to assess our progress in training.

Shortly after signing up, we had finished our first semester at B-School and I went to India for a short 3 week break to visit my extended family. With no access to a pool and good roads, I was limited with my swim and bike training but I took full advantage to focus on my run. I participated in a 12hr Adidas Run (of which I ran only 2hrs as part of a team) and also raced in a Half Marathon in Ahmedabad.

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Coming back to San Fran in early January meant I had to hit the pool and the roads on my bike. My training plan fitted very well around my school schedule. Many thanks to my coach, Joseph Spindler, from Tri Sutto who was able to find the right balance of training volume and intensity in an already occupied and busy student life!

I had a few ups and downs along the way but I had to savour every moment. I went through a ‘dip’ in my swim training and during one of my swim sessions I gave up and broke out into tears. My splits just weren’t the same despite me relentlessly making the sacrifice of getting to the pool most mornings at 0530.

Whatever happened, happened! It was time for me to race and put all the pieces of the jig-saw puzzle together. I flew out from SF to Vegas and then drove to St. George. In the process I visited the famous ‘Strip’ and behaved like a tourist 😉

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Arriving at St. George I immediately realised I was close to a desert! I could feel the hot, dry wind in my face and was expecting the race to be warm. However, I seem to attract the rain whenever I go to race in the USA. My last race in early April at Napa was also a wet one. Surprise, surprise… It also rained in St. George after approx. 15 years of drought! I bet the locals were lucky to have me at St. George to encourage the heavy rainfall :-p

I woke up on race day with a severe headache. I don’t know why but it felt like I was being stabbed at the back of my head. I was on the verge of not racing but Ric gave me a pep talk and I got myself going. I knew I had spent many months preparing for this race and that turning back was not an option. But there was that voice at the back of my mind telling me to give up. With a few slices of peanut butter toast and a coffee, I was on my way to the start line!

It was FREEZING at the start line and the skies were dark grey.  We all knew we were pretty much going to be “swimming” through the entire course! I got myself in the water to try and warm up and overcome the cold shock. The horn blew and I didn’t get off to a good start. The waves were coming head on and I swallowed a lot of water. I had never felt so anxious in a race before! I had to slow down and let my heart rate settle before I could pick up the pace again. I swam slowly to get my breathing into a nice rhythm and eventually I was back at top speed! I made my way through several swimmers and eventually got out of the water in just over 30mins. Luckily in transition, we had volunteers to help us remove our wetsuits! So I just lay on the ground and had my wetsuit removed for me 😉

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I quickly hopped on the bike and set out into the wilderness. All I could see ahead of me were some mountains and some dark clouds on top of them. I knew I would soon be ‘swimming’ again on the bike course! To get an idea of what I mean, look at the pic below :-s I was able to get my head down and settle into a solid pace early on. My power meter had failed on me so I had no reference on my effort other than my natural instinct. I had to pay close attention to my legs and mind. My legs wanted to push harder but my mind was constantly advising me to be conservative in order to not burn out too soon. I got overtaken by many triathletes which is normal for me. I just kept to my plan and rode at my pace. It was a tough course with many hills but the gradients were steady which is fine by me! I hate courses that have constantly changing gradients! I can never get into a rhythm on such courses which annoys me! After 90km of hills, heavy rainfall and chilly wind, I made it back to the transition zone. Getting off the bike was a relief but my legs weren’t feeling so good. They were still cold and my body was shivering. Getting my cycling shoes off and my running shoes on was a nightmare! Cold, numb hands are useless!

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I began running with half my feet in the shoes as I didn’t want to waste time. I thought I’d properly insert my feet into the shoes when my body warms up on the run. The first few kilometres were pretty flat but then I was confronted by another hill! I knew from this moment forth; I’d either be going up or down – no flats! But again to my favour, the gradients were constant. As long as I paced myself correctly, I knew I’d be fine. It was one of the toughest run courses I raced next to the UK Ironman 70.3 run course. I began burning out with about 8km to go but thankfully it was all downhill with the final stretch on the flat. I had overtaken many triathletes as the run course is always a hunting ground for me. On the last flat section, I could see a triathlete wearing a Salt Lake City Tri suit and I had my eyes on him. He was also pushing over these final kilometres but I was pushing harder! Step by step, metre by metre I managed to catch him. The next challenge was to overtake and gain a lead. Although he wasn’t in my age group, it is always good to have someone to push you out of your comfort zone! I sprinted to finish line but as always, I savoured the final steps on the red carpet. That is the moment when you look back on the hours spent training to get to this finish line. And thanks to the triathlete from Salt Lake City who I chased on the final stretch, I managed to finish a few mins ahead of my targeted finish time!

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