On Sunday, March 30, 2014, I raced in the Ironman Los Cabos, the single hardest, hottest triathlon event of my athletic career. I wanted to race in the Ironman Texas to achieve professional qualification and thus compete as a ‘pro’ for the rest of the year. But the race sold out before I had the chance to register, so I accepted an offer to participate in Los Cabos, which turned out to be a very humbling experience. Lots of things went wrong but the most important one worked out just right. This is how it went.
An Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). It consists of a 3.86 km swim, 180.25 km bike ride and a marathon 42.2 km run, raced in that order, one after the next. Los Cabos, like most Ironman events, had a strict cut off time of 17 hours to complete the race. The start time was 7 a.m. with a mandatory cut off time for the swim at 9:20 a.m., the bike at 5:30 p.m., and the run at midnight. If a participant completed the triathlon within these limits, he or she would become an ironman. Ironman events are known for their grueling length, harsh racing conditions and for being the toughest long distance races in the world.
Ironman Los Cabos was no exception. The race course offered one of the toughest of the WTC series with a climb of more than 1800 meters on the bike, a run course without any shade or a breeze and temperatures fluctuating between 30 and 40 degrees Celsius (not including humidity).
|Morning of the race|
When my family and I left Kingston, Ontario on the Tuesday before the race, the temperature was -10 degrees Celsius. The travel to Cabos was what you would call, eventful. The drive was nice, but once we arrived at the Ottawa Airport the trouble began. Our first flight was cancelled, so we had to find a place to stay in Ottawa to fly out first thing the next morning. When we finally got to our destination, my bike box (the protective case with my triathlon bicycle in it) did not make it. I started getting really nervous. I could see bike boxes coming out for all the other arriving athletes, but not mine. By the time we got through customs, someone from the airport was waiting to tell me that my bike was missing. I will spare you the details, but I believe TSA may have had a party with it, or something like that.
Shortly after, we got our rental car and drove to the hotel. We got unpacked and had a quick lunch, then I went for a short run to fight the jet leg and have a first feel of the heat. Although it was hot, I felt very good. My legs felt light and full of energy. And fortunately, my bike arrived the next evening. Things were looking good.
In the following few days, the athletes had multiple conferences and timings to meet. I did at least one workout per day, managing to run and bike the race course at least once and to swim at the start and finish of the swim course as well.
|Day before the race in T1|
On the day of the race, I was ready. I had had a great sleep. I was stress free. And breakfast went down very well. The only thing I needed to do was to get to the race site. There wouldn't be parking so we jumped in a taxi and off we went. When we arrived at the starting line, the sun was just rising and the temperature had started to climb. By the beginning of the race, it was already 40 degrees. I would be lying if I said that it hadn't worried me. But on the sound of the horn, I dove in.
The swim was great! I had found the perfect group of guys to swim with. They were working very hard and I was sheltered from the high-tide waves by swimming behind them. I managed to achieve my best time ever out of the water without spending much energy. In 54 minutes and 51 seconds, I completed the 3.86 km swim and moved to the transition.
The first transition, T1, was quick as I had everything set up and the volunteers were so helpful. They made it easy for all of us. Bike shoes on, helmet on, while a generous volunteer applied sun block to my shoulders (though I still burned) and I was off again.
The first climb was right off the transition. My bike shoes weren't even clipped in yet and I was climbing. It wasn't a surprise, but it was challenging.
Within minutes, I had passed most of the competitors in my age group who had come out of the water before me, and within an hour I caught sight of the lead group of ‘pros.’ We spent most of the bike course climbing. On the descent, where athletes can usually catch a break, we had to maneuver around weird speed bumps, or what cyclists call ‘wheel crushers.’
|Coming out of T1|
After 5 hours, 25 minutes and 31 seconds, I completed the 180 km bike course. In the second transition, T2, I was relaxed, a little hungry and thirsty, but still good to go. I took a couple of minutes to change out of my bike shoes and into my runners and to eat something. Then I got up for the final portion of the race.
The first 8 km were great. I had a good pace, my legs felt good and I had plenty of energy. But that was when I started feeling discomfort, and I started feeling nauseous. A few hundred meters further my head started spinning. And if that wasn't enough, near the end of the first loop of three (about 14 km in) my heart had started a race of its own. I had to walk. Those who know me will understand that I hate being the guy in a race who has to walk, but I had no choice. I didn't want to quit.
By the end of the second loop, my condition was much worse. I couldn't even walk fast; walking slowly was my only option. There even came a point where I quit. I convinced myself that it was stupid to carry on this way. So I took a break in the trees away from the view of the spectators. But then, I started thinking with my heart, about my role models and friends, Jody Mitic and Bjarne Nielsen, who had suffered severe injuries and kept moving forward with their lives. What kind of person would I be if I stopped? I wasn't injured. I was just suffering from the heat. I still had 7 hours to complete the last loop, the last 14 km, plenty of time. So I got up, brushed myself off and resumed the grueling race.
|Sun burn post-race|
I completed Ironman Los Cabos in 12 hours, 1 minute and 50 seconds. It is, officially, the toughest thing I have ever done in my life. The heat was the most important factor in this race and we all suffered from it in our own way. Nine ‘pro’ athletes out of 40 didn't complete the race and one eighth of all the age group triathletes couldn't finish it. So, I guess, even if I am not 100 percent proud of my result, I can say that I have pushed myself further than I ever have before, and I had the will power to carry on.
I can say that the Never Quit movement from the Never Quit Foundation has a meaning for everyone, not just injured soldiers, but everyone who is going through a tough time in life, work, socially or even in sports. I have to thank my two friends, Jody and Bjarne, for their strength through adversity. You helped me make it to, and through, the finish line. I didn't achieve the ‘pro’ standard I wanted, but it doesn't matter anymore. I am so proud to have completed the race.
I don’t think I will ever forget Ironman Los Cabos. The pain, the heat, the climbs… Oh and did I mention HEAT?!