How I DID NOT Finish The IRONMAN

How I DID NOT Finish The IRONMAN

There are a thousand and one articles on how to finish an IRONMAN; here’s one on how you can’t. With less 23k km’s to go and almost four hours of racing left, numbers which any relatively trained athlete can finish any given day of the week, I tapped out of IRONMAN Taiwan and DNF’d for the first time in my racing career.


Frankly? I deserved it.

This article has been in pending status for months now. For some reason, I just couldn’t finish it. I’ll make futile attempts, but end up just browsing around into the nothingness of the internet.

It’s not because I didn’t want to share what happened to me during the race, but because this piece meant a whole lot more.

I told my Ironman Taiwan 2016 batch mates that I wouldn’t share this story to anyone else. But I needed an out.

I lost my Dad last October 8, 2016. Yes, just a few days after I got back from Ironman Taiwan.

It was the saddest day of my life.

But that’s just one part of the story.

THE DNF

Calling the attention of the race marshal to inform them about my decision to DNF was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever done in my life. Yes, some may dismiss this as nothing compared to other life changing decisions, but I’ve never DNF’d before. I’ve always taken pride in the fact that no matter what the triathlon gods threw at me, I always found a way to dig deep and finish the race. And I have over 50+ races finishes to prove that.

My family has a funny gauge as to whether I’m really sick or not. If the point comes that I personally bring myself to the hospital, that’s their cue that I’m REALLY sick.

There were also a lot of times during the race when I played mind games such as the “lamp post to lamp post” trick. The way it works, to get your mind off the hurt locker, you make yourself run from one lamp post to another and after that, you walk until the next one. It’s basically like the run / walk method, but what it does in an IRONMAN, it breaks the monotony of the run and “resets” your form. If done correctly, it’s actually faster than running all the way with tired legs.

But that was truly it for me in that moment. I gave it everything. The tank was empty and all my matches were burned. I got close, but it simply wasn’t enough to last the entire race.

I had no more power left. My vision was getting blurry and I can feel whatever little energy I have left in my body, get pounded away with every step.

It felt surreal. I wasn’t cramping or anything. But I was toast.

“You still look OK, Sir!” said the marshal on the scooter when I asked her to take me back to the finish line. Little did she know that I already threw up 2x.

I proceeded straight to the recovery tent as soon as I got back, asked for two bags of I.V., gathered myself, and called it a day.

What’s funny is when I was talking to fellow Pinoy’s and athletes in the recovery tent and they were all congratulating me. Until the awkwardness of me telling them that I DNF’d kicks in. =)

“Oh, sorry to hear about that”. they said.

But I was completely fine with my decision. I made the best decision for my safety.

But that’s just one part of the story.

THE BLISS OF IGNORANCE, THE MENTAL WAR, AND THE GAME PLAN

It is in the waning moments of an IRONMAN when you’ll really get to ponder about your priorities in life. As the seconds tick by, and the minutes fade, thoughts on “why are you doing this?” will really creep in.

Inside your head, your mind is telling you all the reasons in the world why you should stop, then all of a sudden, gives you all the reasons in the universe to continue.

It was a battle. And that, for me, was the problem. Because I came into this race already defeated.

They say ignorance is bliss, but having finished 4 iron-distance races in the past, I knew EXACTLY what it will take to finish the race. And I knew I didn’t have enough.

To finish an IRONMAN, you must be 100% committed and locked in. There must not be any second thoughts and I approached this race like a soldier going into war with a gun without bullets.

I was severely undertrained, I raced half-hearted, and I knew that I had only close to 50% chance of finishing the race. That is, if everything works according to plan.

I was 35lbs off my racing weight too and all that I could rely on was my experience. Which ALMOST worked.

Close, but no cigar.

But that’s just one part of the story.

TRIBUTE TO POPS

Going into this race, I already knew my Dad wasn’t in the best of health. He’s been in and out of the hospital and his condition worsened every single day.

I went into this race with the hope of inspiring my Dad to fight. I thought that maybe if he knew I was doing an IRONMAN for him without any semblance of training, he’d get inspired.

And so I raced. But I raced for my own selfish reasons as well.

Adding a 5th IRONMAN finish to my resume really didn’t matter that much. I’ve accomplished everything in sports that any teenage couch potato could ever hope for.

I’ve raced enough to last me a lifetime.

But I wanted to suffer for him. I wanted to experience his pain in my own little way. I wanted to sacrifice myself to the triathlon gods with the hope that maybe, just maybe, he’d get a little break and get better. And what better event to do that than in an IRONMAN.

I had no idea about the pain and torment that he’s feeling inside his body. His body was slowly shutting down. We can see it, the doctors know it, and he knew it. But I couldn’t see past the fact that just a few months ago, we went out, had a massage, and did our usual thing together. If there’s one thing about my Dad, it’s that he never let his sickness get in the way of having the opportunity to go out with me or with any member of our family. Everyday, we can see that he was getting weaker. But he never acknowledged it. Part of us decided to shrug it off as well as you hope against hope that the medicines will work and that he’ll eventually get better.

Maybe he’d be well enough to be with me on my birthday for one last time? until Christmas? for one last massage together? Or the ultimate, until my wedding?

Being in constant contact with my family about my Dad,  I never stopped thinking about him throughout the entire trip.

Having the best group one could ever ask for in an IRONMAN trip surely helped, but there were a lot times during the vacation when I would zone out and secretly teleport myself back to the hospital.

You do your best to be happy and be the funny guy.

But that’s just one part of the story.

THE RACE

It wasn’t until I reached the 2nd loop of the 180k bike that I experienced the most bizarre thing.

While on the downhill portion, I was on my aero bars trying to get as much free speed as possible. Then out comes a butterfly from out of nowhere and hit my helmet.

I just shook it off and continued to ride. But the butterfly stayed with me for a bit and hovered over my head.

It was at that point, when it dawned on me that maybe that was my Dad. But butterflies only show up when someone passes away right? So this couldn’t be it. He just got a break and got out of the hospital.

But from then on, I started to get worried and just wanted to finish the race as fast as possible.

There were times on the hilly part of the the bike leg when the headwind and the heat got tougher and tougher, and I just rode thinking that, “My Dad is suffering so much more than this”. So I savored every minute of the pain. I was mashing my pedals, I could feel the tension in my quads, I was gripping the aerobars tighter. I was getting my wish.

Inspired, I kept riding when another butterfly hit me again on my 3rd loop at the exact same portion of the bike leg.

Like before, the butterfly hovered and cruised with me for about 10-15 seconds.

I was stunned.

Coincidence?

But that’s just one part of the story.

THE MISSED CALLS

It wasn’t until I was on my way back to the hotel when the wife of one of the athletes who I’m racing with, approached me and asked me if there was something to be concerned about at home.

I got speechless immediately and the only thing I could say was, “Oh no”.

She asked why and I told her about the butterfly incident on the bike and how it bothered me. It turns out my sister has been frantically trying to call me non-stop. She called some of my friends who then called the friends and wives of the athletes who they knew were racing with me. She was the first one to talk to me about it and offered her phone so I could call home. But it wasn’t connecting.

It was at that point, that I really began to worry. Now, everything started to make sense. The butterflies, maybe it wasn’t a coincidence anymore. Some athletes and supporters knew about it and saw me along the course but didn’t want to inform me as they were thinking that maybe I wanted to finish the race.

I would have quit right there and then had I known. But I’m not blaming them.

I found out that the doctors already informed my sister that my Dad wouldn’t be with us for much longer and if anyone wants to talk to him, while he’s still relatively responsive, now’s the time to do it.

They were calling me so I could say my goodbye, but I couldn’t be reached as I was racing.

I immediately went back to the hotel and ran towards my cellphone as soon as I entered our room.

I saw 30+ missed calls, and with roughly around 2 hours to go until the cut off time of IRONMAN Taiwan, as the participants were crossing the finish line, I got to spend some of those precious hours talking to my family and my Dad.

Had I finished the race, I would’ve gotten that 5th medal but that would have been the most meaningless medal of all.

Medals gathers dust, but what I got because of my DNF was two more hours of meaningful conversation with my Dad.

He wasn’t that responsive, he can only nod but in our own mano-y-mano way, we got to talk and say our goodbyes.

I asked him to wait for me ’till I get back. Which he did.

He was put on an artificial ventilator a few minutes after we talked.

And he passed away just a few days after I got back.

I will never forget that moment.

And the missed calls? It was the exact same time when the 2 butterflies hit me in the head and rode alongside me. The calls continued until the batteries of my cell ran out.

Coincidence?

And that’s my IRONMAN Taiwan story.

CLOSING

You will never, ever, be ready for an IRONMAN, but you can surely prepare for it. So, to someone out there who’s racing for the first time, maybe you could learn a thing or two about my experience. I like looking at glasses half full, and what better way to take a little positive out of a negative than to share this with everyone. Just train enough, respect the distance, and you can finish it.

I’ve kept this private for so long, but we’re moving on. I’m moving on.

This post is dedicated to my #TraGuzman Family, the PAINHU Boys, the IRONMAN Taiwan Suckling Pigs, Aleta, and to strongest Ironman I’ve ever known.

I love you, Pops.

This is my out.

Thanks for reading.

-CDG-

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