The Road to the North American Championship
4 am wake up call at the house. Cobi Sensei was already awake and eating breakfast. I did my usual ritual of a bowl of Muesli cereal, with a banana and almond milk. Little by little the house was getting louder as everyone was waking up. Cobi Sensei shared with us the unheard Ironman song, which prepared us to battle with the surrounding sounds of military drums. Cleaned the pipes accordingly and started to finalize preparations. Put all the items I would need in the morning bag, which included gels, 2 bottles for the bike that were frozen (one with electrolytes and another with Tailwind), another bottle with electrolytes to nurse during the time we leave the house until race start, all the swim gear (goggles, swim cap, ear plugs, speed suit), 2 Powerbars and my cycling shoes.
We left the house and headed to T1, where the race start was. Once there, we walked to transition, where we headed to prepare our bikes and any last details. I pumped the tires, placed my 2 bottles on the bike frame, loaded the bento box with the 2 Powerbars and 3 gels, and clipped the bike shoes on the bike. I found Cobi Sensei in the middle of chaos and later on we found Kikin. So the 3 of us hang out together and later we went for a warm up run outside transition. Once back Kikin and myself went for a last round of “pipe cleaning” at the portables. The lines we long for the portables and while waiting the Pro Men and Women had their race start already, and then the Star Spangled Banner was choired by a melodic female voice. After finally using the restroom, Kikin and I walked together to the swim start, we helped each other close our skinsuits and went thru the timing mat. We wished good luck at the same time and started swimming. The race started.
Smoke on the water
The morning was overcast and sometimes it looked foggy. The water was cool and dark. You couldn’t see anything beyond your hand’s reach. The swim start was a self seeded start, where you just jump in and start swimming with the masses. I took me a while to get my rhythm in the water, I estimate maybe 10 minutes, at least until the mass of people spread out. I reached my swim tempo and just swam relax but strong. No pressure of anything. I was impressed by the amount of people I was passing in the water, and started to think that a lot of these people doesn’t really have access to open water swims and they just swim in close environments, like pools and nothing else. Although wetsuits were not allowed, the organizers still had a wave that people could use a wetsuit, the only deal was that those people weren’t allowed to win awards (is unfair after all.) I reached the half way point of the swim and my watch marked around 35 min. I was right on time to do 1:10. But I remember that there was a current on the way back, that would slow me down. So on the way back I raised the pace to see if I could target that goal time. Cobi Sensei told us to break down the race in little pieces, so I decided to do that. On the swim, the first piece was the first 1.2 mile, the second would be the rest of the swim.
So I increased the pace to that of a half ironman. I could maintain it and compensate the current with it. On the distance I started seeing the bridge that was next to the swim finish. I saw my time and decided to start swimming at Olympic distance pace. It was foggy and it seems that I wasn’t getting closer to the bridge at all, while I was putting the effort. I think during the whole swim only 2 people passed me, but for the most time I was dropping people left and right. There were even some that tried drafting me but without any good results for them. The closer I saw the bridge the faster I started swimming. Last buoys and started sprinting to the swim finish. While people were kind of lethargic on getting out of the water, I was on my feet sprinting to get the bike gear bag and getting to the changing tent as soon as possible.
I stripped my speedsuit and sat on a chair. Took out my cycling jersey that had already gels in the pockets, and had one gel in transition. Put bike socks and my helmet. While trying to put the helmet the visor fell off, and because of the hurry that I was in, it got hard to put the visor back into the helmet. Finally, I had success in putting my helmet on and went out of the changing tent to look for my bike. There were volunteers putting sunblock on but I skipped them, I made the choice to wear a bike jersey on the bike for that reason, more sun protection and to be able to have additional pockets for gel or bottles while on the bike.
The first 30 min I couldn't get my heart rate down. It was all the way into zone 4 and I was getting scared that it wouldn’t reach zone 2. I tried to relax the best I could. I noticed that deep breaths would relax my heart and eventually I reach the desired zone 2 as planned. My cadence sensor was not working properly, so I had to switch to feeling and ride as I have been doing before. The day was still overcast, but soon enough the sun came out and it became a different story.
It became really hot, and although my helmet had vents I could feel that it was hot inside the helmet. Even though I was wearing a bike jersey I could feel the heat scorching my skin. Luckily on every aid station, they had cold water which I would pick and basically shower with it in order to cool down.
For this race I had a motto. Remember Kona. There was no way this race would be harder than Hawaii, and although the heat was really similar to the one in Kona, still this race didn’t have the hurricane winds, the climbs, the unbalancing gusts, and the lava fields. So every time the race became hard I would always say to myself “Remember Kona,” as a statement that nothing would be more difficult than the hardest race on the planet.
I rearranged my nutrition plan with the help of Cobi Sensei and Coach Thor. So I stayed with full electrolytes for the first part of the bike, together with solids (the Powerbars). Half way thru I would have finished my bottle of electrolytes and switch to the calories bottle and started having gels. On the aid station I was grabbing fresh cold bottles of water and I had a banana. Once my both bottles were done, I stopped at an aid station and refilled one of my bottles with water, and started using Gatorade Endurance. I stayed that way until the very end of the bike.
The heat was so high that I couldn't drop the heart rate to zone 2, and most of the time it stayed in zone 3.5. I was stressing a lot about it, because my coach has been very hard with me about keeping my zones on check, but I just couldn’t bring it down. The only way was to stop pedaling, or I would stay behind a slower cyclist within legal range in order to pace myself. The last worked very well for a little bit, as I stayed with a 40 year old chick (which was very hot) for a bit, and we encouraged each other.
I stopped again, this time to pee. It was a good indicator that I was hydrated and that the systems were ok. On another moment I saw my buddy Esi stopped on the road, I asked if he was ok and he replied "Yes!," I was worried and just hoped everything was fine. I was watching the time and noticed that it was possible to do a 5:00 on the bike. The last miles we had a nice down hill where I just speed up and skyrocketed my heart rate to zone 4+. For the first time in the bike course I started passing people which always feel good. I finally got to T2, but miscalculated the time and I didn’t reach my goal. But in a certain way I was happy to be done with the bike. I dismounted and gave my bike to volunteer. I felt super fresh on my legs and ran to grab my run gear bag. A lot of people where walking through transition and I was yelling “Excuse me, coming thru!!!.” Grabbed the run gear bag and went straight to the changing tent.
The changing tent felt like a microwave. I couldn’t find a chair so I sat on the floor to grab my run gear from the bag. I noticed that the socks I was wearing had a big ass hole on the forefront of the foot, for all the barefoot foot running in transition. Luckily I had another pair of socks in the run gear bag and changed the socks. Put my running shoes on and took out my bike jersey to put on the triathlon top. My top had 4 gels in the pockets and I took one extra in transition. A volunteer hand me water and I just poured on top of me, it was scorching hot. I put ice on my cap, grabbed my sunglasses and gave the bag to a volunteer and left the changing tent. It was time to run 26.2 miles (42km).
As soon as I got into the run I saw Telsys and Norgato cheering, I saw a friend, little Mikey, going into his second loop but very slow. It was weird since he is a strong athlete. There were so many people cheering that it was amazing! So far everything was under control, heart rate on check, and cooling down on every aid station. Coach Thor said that I needed to walk every aid station in order to hydrate and eat. During the whole training he basically yelled at me saying that every time I was dehydrated during my run workouts. This time I listened and I’m glad I did. It was a living hell with temperatures of 90F+ degrees (32C +.) Without my cycling jersey I could feel the burning sensation on my shoulders now. On the aid station I would hydrate with Gatorade, took a gel every 30 mins and grabbed ice and put it in my cap and inside my top. Eventually they were giving sponges too.
I would notice the level of heat when I saw professional athletes walking. Shit, a PRO walking, meant that everyone was breaking down. I caught up to little Mikey and he was walking. Would I die in the second loop as well? My deep down objective was not to walk the marathon (only on the aid stations), I would run to each aid station and break down the race in pieces. The first loop of the run felt like forever. The nicest part was when you return to where the loop interconnects. There's a lot of restaurants and people cheering. I have to say that the people in The Woodlands are great supporters like I have never seen before. That part of the race will re-energize you with the people cheering for you, y’all!
I started the second loop, and I was doing the best to cool down but the heat was taking the best of me. Even if I needed to jog and go slow AF, I didn’t want to stop. I knew that every time I stopped it would become harder to start running again. I was only allowed to walk the aid stations. I crossed a little cheering path full of crazy Mexicans. My name in my bib, Alberto, would give in my latiness to the spectators that would offer me a Corona. I smiled. A Mexican athlete, Memo, started talking to me and we started to encourage each other. From that point we stayed together most of the time. In our slowness, we would test who was the fastest between both of us. Each time I would tell him “Vamos Memo,” and we will try to pace each other.
Around half way thru the marathon (13 miles / 21km), at the distance I would see a huge cloud coming. It was dark and full of electrical charges. I could hear tremors in the sky. To my happiness, it started to rain. That would mean that we could take a break from the scorching heat, and I love to run in the rain. Is simply the best. What I didn’t know was that it was the beginning of the Texaspocalypse.
It started pouring… like A LOT. The streets started flooding, and storm type winds of 20mph (32kph) started to get everything on it’s path together with hail. It was unavoidable to keep your shoes dry. After not so long, you were soaking wet and there was anywhere to hide. The rain hit you like small bullets because of the wind. The lighting would make everything look like it was the end of everything. I noticed it was bad when aid stations where taken away by the storm. While passing by the now, non-existent aid station a volunteer was shouting something we couldn’t understand. When I got to aid station #6 they were stopping everyone. The reason? The race clock was stopped and we were advised to seek shelter. In a certain way it was a “run for your lives” moment. Although most people stopped, there were other that didn’t followed instructions and continued running. There was a small building next to the aid station where everyone, around 90 athletes, were standing under the small roof of the structure. Everyone was soaking wet and shaking because it was getting cold. The volunteers were nice to give us trash bags to put on top of us in order to keep warm. As everyone was standing next to each other like sardines, I decided to make use of the time to start stretching. I ate a banana, drank some Gatorade, and sat & raised my legs in order to be off my feet. I needed to take advantage of the down time after all.
After a while, the storm started to pass. I started some chit-chat with fellow Ecuadorians and Memo. All of the sudden, we were given green light to continue the race. The sight was like a start of a 5k. The mass of people started running and little by little everyone dissipated. I lost sight of my fellow Latinos and I continued with the plan of slow but steady. It was kinda hard to restart the run already cold, but continued anyways. I kept telling myself, “Remember Kona.” It was still raining on and off, but it was nice that a lot of people were still cheering and volunteering, regardless of being soaking wet, everyone had a great spirit with their “Y’all doin’ great!.” For me it seemed that it took forever, but I was finally done the second loop. I was so happy to start the final loop!
San Bai Kaioken
I noticed that my heart rate couldn’t go up to zone 2, and it was steady zone 1. Was it because of my cooled down body or was I actually cold? I started drinking Coke instead of Gatorade and for a while I was starting to use the gels from the course. Cobi Sensei thought me the following: “The whole race you must be at zone 2, but when the final miles come, you have saved so much energy that you need to push out all that saved energy!!!” It was true, I was going so slow and steady that I could go on for a while. So I did a quick systems check and decided that when I hit mile 20 (32 km) I will start racing like if I was running an Olympic distance triathlon (a 6.2 mile / 10km run), which was the distance I was exactly pending on the race. I hit mile 20… and I actually said “San bai Kaioken” (3x Kaioken!)
As my ki was rising, I was impressed with energy I had. I actually was thinking I was running a 10k. I felt GOOD. I started passing a lot of walking dead on the course and I even passed my fellow latinos that left me a while back in the run. On aid stations would just drink my new favorite drink ever, COCA COLA. As I was checking my watch I could see the effort when up to zone 4. When I hit mile 23 (37 km), it was time to leave everything out there. Even if my body would break, I needed to try it… Kaioken x10!!!
Absolutely nobody could react to my kaioken! I passed thru everyone like The Fastest Man Alive, The Flash. Supporters were going ballistic as they were seeing the uncanny effort. I was breathing really heavy and I could feel that I couldn’t stand the effort for long. I was saying in my mind “You can do this Son-kun, believe in yourself!” I never had that amazing experience of passing people on the run, since I’m slow as fack, and people always passed me in races… the run is my weakness, but for those final miles it finally wasn’t. I passed the final marker that indicates when you have to make another loop or you go to the finish line. Rushed to the final mile.
I was holding everything together as much as I could. The road to the finish was a small hill and even there I was passing people. I could hear the voice of Mike Reilly, the music, and the people cheering. As I entered the finishing chute, I noticed Norgato with the Ecuadorian flag holding it for me. After everything that has happened in my country, it was the correct thing to do and proud of holding it. I grabbed the flag and opened it with my arms as I was running. I was giving hi fives to most people I could. My kaioken vanished and I transformed into a Super Saiyajin. People started chanting “Ecuador, Ecuador, Ecuador!” and I reached the finishing mat. “Alberto Navarro from Ecuador, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” and took a final push to Panda Kick the finish line. I became a 3x Ironman finisher.
I got my finisher medal and goodies. I was wrap in those aluminum sheets to keep me warm. It was still raining and I was starting to get cold. I couldn’t eat. I needed to settle as my stomach was shut down. Finishing an Ironman leaves you in an incredible emotional state. I didn’t have anyone to share my accomplishment, and I was starting to get this feeling I don’t get very often… and I cried. I wanted to hug someone but I was in a corner crying by myself and hiding from people sight. I never thought that after doing 3 of these I will still be getting this emotional. My stomach settle down and the only warm thing that they have in the food tent was burritos. I wanted pizza! (don’t get me wrong, I love burritos, but at the moment I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle! Cowabunga!). I ate half of it and then went to look for my morning bag and then to look for my friends outside the athlete only area. At the end, everyone finished, we went to pick up our bikes, drop them over Bolkos and finally went to the house to eat (PIZZA!!!!) and crash.
Oficial Race Video!
The Road to Texas (Road2TX) has finally come to an end. It has been fun to share for 20 weeks the ups and downs of Ironman training. It has been a while since I updated weekly the blog and it was a way to hold myself accountable to do the training required for this kind of race.
On January I started a new process and I was glad I did. Not only changed coaching philosophies, but hired a nutritionist, started going to the gym a little more often (I held accountable on this one since I didn’t go as much as I wished), and tried to be most prepared to tackle an Ironman again. I wanted to PR, and I accomplish my mission. You may say that the ironman course was cut short, but even with that and making the calculation, I know I would have still broke a PR. Although the dilemma of the bike course gives you a bitter sweet accomplishment, the race threw at us scorching heat and an apocalyptic storm that made the race organizers actually stop the race time. 2761 athletes started the race and 611 didn't finish. That says a lot.
I would like to thank Cobi Sensei for being a mentor to me. His 10x Ironmans says a lot of him and his commitment to the sport, and I learned a lot from his long distance triathlon experience. I believed since the beginning in the new program that he was putting together in November for the New iRun Triathlon Team. To Coach Thor, God of Coaching, to be part of this program and his tough love towards our small group training to race Texas (I finally switch to Powerbaaaars Coachhh!!!.) To my nutritionist Monika, that although told me to leave the cookies, pizza and ice cream to the side, taught me how to eat better. To the small group that trained for Texas: Kikin, Che Vicky and Esi, it was great to share the weekend in Texas. I’m really proud of you because all of you are first timers and now YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!. And of course the cheering squad over the weekend, Telsys and Norgato, is really difficult to cheer for an Ironman. To Darth Bernie for being the big brother I never had and dragging me along his crazy adventures (and for liking Star Wars as much as I do… It’s a Trap! #tagmeee). The usual suspects of Darkside Miami, for being passionate about triathlon and talking a lot of shit in the chat. To my mom, because she still believes I will stop doing triathlons, in order to get a girlfriend, get married and give her a granddaughter (the order actually doesn’t matter, she just wants a granddaughter!); but still loves me and never loses hope :).
To you the reader, I don’t know how many of you actually read this, but I hope you enjoyed reading all this bunch of crap full of grammatical horrors for the past 20 weeks LOL. Now for realz: I’m always get happy when I meet someone that actually read this. The video below always put me on that emotional "Ironman" state and gives me the "feelz." But wherever type of physical activity you do (not necessarily swim, bike or run), always do something… be on your feet, be thankful that you have gifts that many people cannot take for granted, face your fears, gift a smile, fill yourself with experiences, create happiness, and enjoy your only life.
So long everyone! Until we meet again!