My First Triathlon: Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells / La Quinta - Sunday, December 9, 2018
My first triathlon! Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells / La Quinta took place this past, Sunday, December 9, 2018. 1.2 mile swim / 56 mile bike / 13.1 mile run. A long time goal that tested me like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
Before I get into my race summary, I wanted to take this opportunity to say that I am so filled with gratitude and an overwhelming feeling of care, love, support and outpouring positivity coming from my family, friends and my social media friends. Thank you so much for all the messages of encouragement, positivity, love, support, tips, suggestions, motivation and for truly caring. I am in awe of how many of you have taken the time to message me to ask me how my race went and to congratulate me. I wanted to make a video, but I don’t have enough footage so I will be writing my summary instead.
Saturday was check-in day and even though I read the 46 page athlete guide 3 times during the week, I was somewhat clueless. The process was very different from a cycling event or a marathon. In those events, we go check-in, get our packets and go home to get ready for the race. In a triathlon, we have to check-in, get our wristband, our packets, go to another line and get our swim caps, then our swag bag and t-shirt, then our timing chip. There were about 4 different stations. From there, we spent some time at the expo and bought some t-shirts and memorabilia.
But we were not done yet. Next we had to go to the different transition areas and check-in our running gear, bikes, decontaminate our wetsuit, and leave everything at the transition areas. Honestly, I was nervous about leaving my bike outside overnight. I don’t have the most expensive bike out there, it’s not even a triathlon bike, it’s a regular road bike, but that’s my baby. Anyways, it was a long day. My little ones were tired and they were starting to get fussy. My wife was so supportive throughout this whole process and we tried to make it as fun as possible for Gianna and Vianney.
Finally, we got to have dinner and went back to the condo we rented out for the weekend, (very nice place btw). My mom, aunt and brother arrived about the same time we got back. I prepared my nutrition, water bottles and final details. I ate a final carb loaded snack and went to bed around 8:30 pm.
I didn’t sleep too well. But I guess the practice of not sleeping well the last 8 months because of my little angel keeping us up most of the nights helped.
I got up at 3 am, jumped in the shower, (yes I shower before my events). My wife always asks why I shower before a race or event since I’m going to get all sweaty anyways. I just feel refreshed after a shower. Anyways, I got dressed, had a green shake with some beet juice, my vitamins, and protein. My wife drove me to the venue at 4:15 am. Once we got there, I had no more phone or camera, so I wasn’t able to take any pictures or video. I went to the T2 (transition 2 area) and put my water bottles and nutrition I was going to need for the run in my bag. From the venue we were shuttled in school buses to the start line, which was at Lake Cahuilla.
When we arrived to Lake Cahuilla I just followed the crowd. They marked both our arms with our numbers and our left calf with our age. Through this whole process, it was pretty quiet. Most people were still half asleep and cold. I only talked to one person and that was back at the main venue and she was a spectator. She was nice. Her husband was there and she went on to tell me that he had quite a few Ironmans under his belt. I always get amazed with stories like this.
So I got marked and I went straight to my bike. It was wet from being out all night. I checked the tires, gears, chain and just made sure it was good. I put my bottles in the cages, and put the bike back on the rack.
Next I had to go to the bathroom really bad. The lines were super long. Luckily the day before I saw some port-o-potties that nobody had been using, so I went to the back and to my luck there was nobody there. It was super dark though and I didn’t have my phone for a light, so I opened the door a little to get a little bit of the light from outside. Talk about relief. Phew… lol… TMI? Sorry… lol!
I went into the changing tents, put my nutrition in my bag and picked up my wetsuit. I wasn’t sure of when I should start putting on my wetsuit, because by that time it was only like 5:15 am. I had 1 hour and 55 minutes to start time. We started at 7:10 am. So I picked a nice spot in the bike area and just started looking around, seeing what others were doing, I chatted with a few people and this is when I started asking myself all kinds of questions. I felt too relaxed. There were a lot of people running back and forth, huge lines to the bathrooms, huge lines to get a pump to pump up their tires, people forgot their goggles, one person forgot their wetsuit, which was strange because wetsuits had to be decontaminated and checked in the day before and there was a lot going on. I was just waiting for the moment to start putting on my wetsuit. So finally around 5:45 am, the announcer recommended we should start putting on our wetsuits and start putting our extra items in the white take home bag. So I did. I put on my wetsuit and a fellow athlete helped me zip it up. A nice couple that was there to see their son compete were giving me tips on the swimming while all this was going on. I was really nervous. Mostly because I didn’t know if I was forgetting something. Like I mentioned before, there were a lot of people scrambling for things. I guess reading the athlete guide 3 times and following directions really works.
After I put on my wetsuit I started moving around in it and I started stretching. When the sunrise came, they announced for everyone to exit the transition area and head on over to the beach area. They allowed us to go in the water and warm up. So I followed the tips people gave me. “Go slow into the water, lie on it for a few minutes and get your face wet. Try to get a small swim so that you can get used to the cold temperature. Get your heart rate up before you start swimming.” So I did all that. But oh my… the water was so cold. It was 57 degrees. I was freezing. When I put my face in the water it burned so bad. When I tried to swim in it, I couldn’t keep my head down in the water. It felt so cold.
I only got a few minutes in the water before they told us we had to get out of the water. It was a rolling start an it was self seeding. I lined up with the time 35-40 minute swim. Finally, time arrived. The cannon goes off and there go the men’s pros. Five minutes later the second cannon goes off and there go the women’s pros. All us age groupers applauded and saw as the pros went off into that cold lake. They were flying. Time passed and the age groupers started their swim. As we stood there in the beach area watching the swimmers go, we got to see a few people struggling in the beginning. Some people were hanging on to the kayaks with the life guards and the buoys that lined up the swim course. Personally, that made me really nervous.
As I waited in line, I saw my brother walking around looking for me. Somehow, he managed to get to the lake without a shuttle. He had to walk over a mile in order for him to get there. It was really not a spectator friendly course. But thanks to him I have some pictures of the swim.
I started at around 7:50 am. As I stood there at the start line waiting to be given the green light, I asked God to help me get through this swim, I did my sign of the cross three times and the alarm for me to go went off. So there I go, I stepped into the water and it felt colder than it did when I went in to warm up earlier.
I started swimming like I practiced for the past year and I noticed I couldn’t control my breathing. I was hyperventilating and I was having trouble breathing. So I kept swimming with my head out of the water. I tried to slowly put my face in the water so that I could start swimming normal, but I just couldn’t control my breathing. With only a few minutes in the water I felt my throat close up and I literally couldn’t breathe. I stopped swimming to keep my head above water and was fighting to get air in my lungs. I couldn’t breathe. I started to panic. I had never felt like this before. I’m trying to breathe through my nose and mouth and no air would come in or out. I thought I was going to drown. What was seconds felt like minutes. Somehow I had to compose myself and the first thing that came to mind was to turn on my back and float. So I did. I turned on my back and floated until I was able to breathe again. I kept looking to both sides and people were swimming by me by the bunches. But in those bunches I saw other people panicking, gasping for air and looking for something to hold on to.
I don’t know how much time I spent floating on my back. All of these crazy thoughts and the one fear I had, the one thing that kept me from doing this event my whole life was facing me at that very moment. I had always been afraid of the swim. Thoughts of quitting came in my head many times in those minutes that felt like eternity. I was afraid of drowning. What if, what if, what if? So I just waited there. Once I felt like I could breathe again, I turned around and started swimming again. But it happened again, my throat closed up two more times for a total of three times. For some reason I was able to get my breath quickly on the last two. But after the third time I looked for a kayak and swam to it and held on. I wanted to quit. I don’t even think I had swam 100 or 200 meters when all of this happened. I asked the lifeguard on the kayak how much time we had to finish the swim and she answered back with a question, “do you need to finish the swim?” I smiled and said, “yes!” So she told me to take the time I needed. In case you’re wondering, we get 1 hour and 10 minutes to complete the 1.2 mile swim before we’re pulled out of the race.
During this time, I focused on controlling my breathing and I kept wetting my face. So I thought to myself, “ok, I need a plan.” I looked around and told myself, “I’m allowed to hold on to the kayaks and buoys (course markers) as long as I don’t have forward progress, so I’ll swim from buoy to buoy. Before I let go of the kayak I dipped my whole head in the water to make sure I wasn’t going to hyperventilate again and I took off to the next buoy. When I got there I stopped for a couple of seconds and kept going. As I was swimming, little by little, I was putting my face in the water and as I got to the next buoy I felt better so I kept going to the next one without stopping. When I got to the third one I was finally swimming normal. I think all of this happened in the first 300-400 meters of the swim. I don’t know how much time had passed by, I just wanted to get out of that cold water. So I put my head down and to my surprise I was actually passing a few people and staying on pace with a few others.
On my way I got hit a few times and one poor woman literally held on to me. I stopped swimming and looked back and asked if she was ok. She said sorry, but she couldn’t really talk. She looked like she was done. Luckily there was a kayak right there and she swam right over to the kayak and I continued my swim. After this, things started going as I had trained. I had a smooth stroke, I was keeping up with the other swimmers and passing a few swimmers.
I finished my swim in 52 minutes 27 seconds. Super slow compared to how I’ve been training. But I was just happy to get out of the water. Once I started getting up and taking my first few steps, I go straight down. I fell over. I stand up again and I fall over to the other side. My brother took the quick pictures where you can see me slowly disappearing from the shot. He said I fell three times before someone helped me up.
At the transition area as I reached down to get my bag, I fell over again. One of the volunteers had seen me outside and told me to stay down. As I lay there, he pulled off my wetsuit and he told me to just sit for a few minutes. So as I sat there, I dried myself off with the towel and started changing on the floor. I spent almost 14 minutes at the transition area because I couldn’t walk straight.
Finally, I can walk straight, so he let me go get my bike. When I walked out to the bike area, it was nearly empty. Put it this way, out of the 2,199 finishers I came out of the water in 1,853rd place. There were 3,125 registered, but 2,199 crossed the finish line. I was so close to last place. I felt like, man where did everyone go? Any longer and I was going to be part of the clean up crew.
I got my bike, ran out of the transition area, jumped on my bike and started hammering. It didn’t take long before I started passing people. My legs burned in the first few minutes as they warmed up but they felt great. I made sure I kept to my plan so that when I got off the bike I still had something in me to run. I was averaging about 21 mph for the first hour of the ride. I was pumped on the bike. I wasn’t the fastest, but I had a great pace and managed to finish the bike ride in 2:58:30 with an average speed of 19 mph. There was a lot of headwind on the way back to T2 so in order for me not to burn out, I put my ego aside and focused on my power and cadence and not on my speed. When I got to T2, my legs were tired, but I felt good. I was able to keep up with my nutrition plan on the bike and that kept me from cramping or having any digestive issues.
As I ran out of T2 there were so many spectators cheering us on and there I saw my wife and my little ones. I wanted to go give them a high five, but they were on the other side of the course so I just waved.
I kept an easy stride and to my surprise, I was still passing competitors. Most of the run was on a golf course so there was a lot of up and down. Most people were walking up the little rolling hills and would run the down side and the somewhat flat parts. I slowed down a lot the second loop, but I didn’t walk. The run was all mental. I was tired but after my experience in the water I really enjoyed it. I finished my run in 1:57:55. Not my fastest time running 13.1 miles, but all I really cared about was finishing my first triathlon.
That swim challenged everything about me. I came out of that water a different person. I’m seeing life and things with a different perspective now. I still want to keep challenging myself and for all of you who have asked if I would do it again. My answer is “yes”. My goal is to do a full Ironman and one day qualify to Kona.
After having that feeling of not being able to control the one thing that we do every second of our lives unconsciously and that keeps us alive, which is to breathe, there are many lessons I have internalized that I believe have changed me. It may be too soon to see it in me, but I feel different.
Would I recommend that other people do an Ironman? Of course! What I really recommend is that people challenge themselves physically and mentally. Some might even say, emotionally and spiritually too. But keeping to the subject of the sport, I would say put your body to the test. Even if it means walking down the block, hiking, running a 5K, marathon, playing soccer, baseball, basketball, football, tennis, weight lifting, snowboarding, swimming, skating, surfing, moving your arm, or leg or fingers, etc., etc. Challenging myself physically has been part of my life since I was a kid. It makes me feel alive and I’ve learned many valuable lessons about me and about life.
I want to finish off by giving a special thanks to my brothers, my sister-in-law, my aunt, nieces and nephew for driving out to my race to cheer me on. And a very special thanks to my two little angels and my loving wife, who has been there through the toughest of times and doesn’t give up on me. Thank you so much!
Thank you for reading, for following and again for your love and support. Here's a short video of my finish.