My Ironman Journey

Le Grande Finale

akhilvizby akhilvizSep 10th 2013
After all those months of training it was finally time to fit all the jig-saw pieces together. Sunday 1st September 2013 will be a day to remember for several reasons. The day started off terribly but improved tremendously as the day progressed.

As described in my previous blog, the day before the race I had checked-in my bike and had all my gear prepared for the following day. That evening I prepared my energy gels and bars that I had planned to consume during the race, after which my family and I had an early dinner in order to get some rest for the early start on race day. I fully charged my phone on Saturday as I always use it to set my alarm. The race was scheduled to start at 7am. Therefore working backwards, I knew I had to wake up at about 4:30am in order to have plenty of time to have breakfast and make my way to the ┬'Centre Omnisports┬'. I therefore set my alarm for 4:30am and dozed off into an extremely deep sleep. I woke up several times during the night as a result of anticipation and fear of sleeping through my alarm. I remember waking up at about 1:30am and checking my phone to see if the battery was fully charged and that the alarm was indeed set for 4:30am. I guess you know why I┬'m describing this scenario in detail. Yup, you guessed it! For some bizarre reason my alarm did not ring at 4:30am! Instead, my mum woke up at 5:30am and screamed ┬'AKHIL; LOOK AT THE TIME!┬' Upon hearing my mum┬'s loudspeaker style announcement, I jumped out of bed and picked up my phone to find it lying ┬'dead┬' on my bedside table! Out of all the days my phone had to commit suicide, it chose to do so on the 1st of September. ARGHHH!!

I began panicking and was almost on the verge of crying. My mum began consoling me and reassuring me that we still had plenty of time to arrive at the Centre Omnisports as it was only a 15min drive away. I feared that I would miss the race considering all those months of preparation and sacrifices I had made. My parents and sister began sorting themselves out whilst I scoffed a couple of slices of toast and sulked over missing my pre-race coffee. To my surprise we were all ready to leave by 5:50am. Whilst my dad went down to start the car, my mum and I ran around the apartment to ensure that I hadn┬'t forgotten anything. Our start to race day was not the greatest and therefore did not want to make it any worse by leaving something important in the apartment.

After a speedy drive to the Centre Omnisports (I won┬'t reveal how quickly we got there!) I ran into the transition zone to fill up my water bottle on my bike and performed a thorough check of my bike. My shoes were clipped onto the pedals, my tyres were adequately inflated and my helmet and sunglasses were positioned appropriately for a smooth and fast transition from swim to bike. I even had time to pose for a photo ;-)
Le Grande Finale
I was now able to catch my breath and begin focusing on getting myself into race mode. Hundreds of athletes were scattered around the transition zone and when the final announcement was made for athletes to make their way to the start line, I hugged my parents and sister. They wished me good luck and I was then lost in a crowd where everyone looked identical. All athletes were zipped into their wetsuits (which are externally coloured in black) and had their red swim caps on. Slowly but surely, approximately 1400 triathletes waded into the lake and swam to the start line. For many, this would their first attempt in a long distance triathlon. For others, it would be the satisfaction of increasing the tally and hopefully finishing the race under their predicted times.

The Swim (2.4miles / 3.8km)

The water temperature was 19 deg C and was therefore in my opinion; perfect! After swimming around the start line for about 10mins, my arms were loose and ready to be swung around to propel my body across 3.8km. Off went the horn and a few seconds later, I found myself doggy paddling due to the traffic in front of me. I had to swim over a field of swimmers until I found some clear water. It took about 100 metres of paddling and avoiding being smacked across the head by other swimmers before I broke free and actually began swimming. I let my heart rate settle and ensured I swam with good technique in order to not waste energy. I managed to catch up to a group of fast swimmers ahead of me and drafted behind them until we reached the 1km mark. I then made a move and pushed through the group and was feeling strong and confident during the 1st loop. After completing the 1st loop, we had to exit the water and run 50m to another ramp which led to the 2nd loop. The procedure of exiting the water and entering again is known as an ┬'Australian Exit┬' in triathlon lingo. As I ran towards the ramp for the 2nd loop, I was trying to figure out what my position was by looking across the lake to see the number of swimmers on the 2nd loop. I couldn┬'t really estimate my performance as it was difficult to see afar with water dripping down the lens of my goggles. I did however spot my family and shouted at them to cheer me on! I jumped into the lake for the 2nd loop and found myself leading a group of swimmers who were drafting behind me. I kept feeling my toes being grabbed and upon every breath from the corner of my eye, I could see a few arms behind me. I knew that I had to control my own pace and not burn out by trying to race against these swimmers. I continued swimming and at the 2.5km point my neck and shoulders started to fatigue. This was slightly demoralising as I knew I still had over a kilometre to swim. I was used to the pain in training and knew that it was part of the game. I kept my composure both physically and mentally. Before I knew it, I could see the pier marking the end of the swim. Instead of trying to swim faster, I remained calm and maintained my swimming rhythm in order to save any extra energy for the run. A lot of novice triatheltes forget that after the swim remains the bike and run stages. It is therefore crucial to control your pace and finish with a strong run rather than walking through the marathon. I followed my positive intitiative and exited the water after 64mins. I was extremely happy with my swim time but I knew I still had a long way to go. I made my way through the transition zone where I removed my wetsuit, and ran to my bike. I knew where my bike was located as I had previously identified a sponsor┬'s flag which was aligned to the row where my bike was located. Got to my bike and quickly strapped my race number, put on my helmet and sunglasses and took off with my bike on to the course.

The Bike (112miles / 180km)

The start of the course led to the beginning of the 2 lap route. Initially I was feeling cold having just got out of the water but thankfully the one and only 'major' hill came very early in the ride which made me build some sweat. I had ridden the course a few days prior to the race so I knew what to expect. I was aware that there were only a few hills and strong headwinds to watch out for. The sun started to rise and shine, as I rode my 1st lap faster than my intended race pace. During the lap I inevitably got overtaken by stronger riders and the headwind was fairly strong. It was important for me to keep hydrated and fuelled in order to not burn out on the run. I drank plenty of coke and consumed a small amount of energy bar every 20 minutes. I tried alternating between the flavours of energy bars I consumed in order to not get ┬'sick┬' of the same taste! My second lap went just as well except for the fact that I faced a few moments where I began arguing with myself. During long distance events the mind tends to wander and you very easily start doubting your capabilities. You feel like giving up and throwing in the towel even though you are fully capable of getting to the finish line. I went through these phases when I was riding by myself on some long stretches of road and especially as the headwind was getting stronger by the minute. Being overtaken by other cyclists didn┬'t make my situation any better but I just had to keep calm and cycle on. Seeing the photographer made me smile and I even posed with a 'thumbs up'!
Le Grande Finale
I cycled the 180km in 5hrs and 30mins which was much faster than I expected! I got off my bike and hobbled to the tent where I changed my cycling shoes for running shoes and got rid of my helmet. My family were at the transition zone and I knew that all I had to do was run a marathon to get to the finish line.

The Run (26miles / 42km)

A few months ago I participated in the UK Half Ironman which is known as one of the toughest races in the world. It was tough indeed and I remember walking majority of the run course because I cycled too hard. This time I stuck to my plan and began my run very strong. I felt as if I could run faster but I held back as I had learnt from my mistakes during previous events. A marathon is a long run and it can become extremely miserable if you run out of juice too early! My aim was to run the marathon in 4hrs and to not walk at all. If I ran slower but managed to RUN the entire marathon, then that in itself would be a major achievement for me. I decided to not monitor my pace on my watch because if I did, I would probably start chasing numbers on my watch and get demoralised if I see myself not being able to achieve my intended 4hr target. Instead I ran by ┬'feel┬'. I simply listened to my legs and ran at a pace that ┬'felt┬' comfortable. The course was 4 laps around Lac d┬'Allier and there were plenty of aid stations along the way. It was my first time consuming energy gels on a run! Previously I had only consumed coke and bananas during the run but thought I┬'d take some energy gels as I found them to have a positive effect on my cycling whilst training and racing. My strategy was to keep well hydrated by drinking coke (whilst running) at every aid station and consuming 2 energy gels on each lap. I monitored how I felt on each lap and could therefore make any nutritional adjustments on the subsequent lap. I found that my stomach was coping with the coke and energy gel concoction and that I was maintaining a steady, constant running pace. During the run stage you will get overtaken by many runners but you will also overtake other runners. Since the run consisted of 4 laps, on completion of a lap each athlete was given a coloured wrist band which signifies how many laps they had completed. So whenever I overtook or got overtaken, I would try and see the wristband on the runner that I am overtaking or being overtaken by. I agree that it┬'s silly for me to that and I should just focus on my own race but when you┬'re running for so long, you need something to keep your mind busy! I find that searching for other runners┬' wristbands and figuring what lap they are on keeps me entertained! I must say that the spectators are entertaining and supportive but once you┬'ve seen them on the 1st and 2nd laps, it┬'s not so special on the 3rd lap. On the 4th lap however, you know you┬'ll be seeing them for the last time and that for me is a morale booster! I confess that this is a selfish act but if it gets me to the finish line, then so be it! The run course was flat with only 2 minor inclines. There was also a set of stairs to climb which was very amusing for spectators. The majority of the runners struggled to climb those stairs including me. It was harder getting back into my running stride having climbed the stairs than climbing the stairs themselves! My family were around the course to cheer me on and my sister was taking plenty of photos with her DSLR camera which I gifted her with last year. It┬'s good to see that she┬'s putting it to some good use ;-)
Le Grande Finale
On the 4th lap I began asking myself if I could pick up the pace and finish strong. My legs answered back saying that they were fine but suggested I start pushing at the 38km mark. I consumed my last energy gel and picked up the pace slightly. I did not want to go too hard too soon as I feared burning out on the last kilometre. With approximately 2km to go, I looked at my watch to see my time. With great disbelief I saw a total time of 10:35! I just could not believe that I was going to finish in under 11hrs when I had expected to finish in 11hrs and 30mins. It was then when I started pushing even harder to try and finish in 10hrs 45mins. I knew it would be tough but not impossible. I tried increasing my stride but I could feel the fatigue in my hamstrings. I tried increasing my cadence and could feel the ┬'crunch┬' in my quads. My ankles and knees had taken enough of a beating but I was only requesting my legs to take me through the final few kilometres as quickly as possible! As I approached the finish line, my family were there to hand over my Gibraltar/Great Britain flag. I looked at my watch and saw 10:48. I was close but yet so far in achieving a sub 10hr 45min completion time. At that point, I began walking and savoured the moment where I proudly walked across the finish line, flying the colours and posed for the camera!
Le Grande Finale

The Results

So you know what time I completed the race in but below is a breakdown of my results:

Swim: 1hour 4mins
Bike: 5hrs 30mins
Run: 4hrs 6mins

My results positioned me in 6th place within my age-group of 25-29 despite being 24 years old! Overall, I finished 189th out of a total of approximately 750 participants.

According to the national records in Gibraltar, I am now placed as the 4th fastest Gibraltarian!

Pretty chuffed with the results :-D

The Celebrations

The celebrations began just beyond the finish line in the sports hall of the Centre Omnisports. I hobbled my way to the food table and piled my plate with as much chocolate, cake and biscuits in order to avoid having to crawl back to the table for more helpings! Whilst having my mouth full of chocolate, I congratulated the other GBR finishers who were also celebrating. We shared our ups and downs of the race and were all happy for achieving our personal goals. This is when you realise that every triathlete shares the same goal of breaking their personal targets. You compare your performance with yourself and nobody else. It is your moment for reflection of the sacrifices and hard-work that you've put in over the past months and noticing that they have paid off. The ┬'feel good┬' factor within you encourages you to sign up for another event and try and beat your own target once again! There are no words to describe this feeling of accomplishment and can only experience it once you have crossed the finish line.

Having eaten half my body weight in chocolate, I made my way to the massage tent where they thankfully provided chairs for finishers to sit down and patiently wait their turn. A sports massage is always painful but pleasing.

I then hobbled out of the sports hall and met my family who were waiting outside to hug me after which we made our way home. After dinner, we returned to the Centre Omnisports for the post-race party and as we arrived, the last participant was on his way to crossing the finish line. The fireworks went off and the music was pumping. I couldn't really perform any energetic or aggressive dance moves but I managed to shake around with the rhythm!

After a great week in Vichy, my family and I spent a couple of days in Paris where we visited the major tourist attractions and of course spent a day at Disney Land!

Life is now returning to some sort of normality. I'm getting back into my previous routine and keeping away from triathlon! I need to take some time away from the sport and recover both physically and mentally. Training will resume in the near future, but for now I'm eager to put my feet up and enjoy being lazy!

What Next?

There are a few lifetime goals that I would like to pursue over the next couple of years which include running 100miles and swimming 10km. When will I pursue them? I do not know, but those targets are there at the back of my mind. I will definitely do another Half and full Ironman next summer but have yet to decide on which races. There is a lot for me to think about and I have to reset and refocus on my priorities.

In the long term, I would love to represent Gibraltar at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The qualifying standards are high but I am up for the challenge!

Now that I'm taking some time off intense training, I can use the available time to sit down and think about my upcoming targets and aspirations. There is plenty on my mind to think about as described above and the issue for me will be to prioritise the events in which I wish to participate in.

The Final Word

My journey so far has been a roller coaster ride and by no means will it stop here. I have reached this far due to many unsung heroes who have supported me throughout this madness!

First of all, I would like to thank the Almighty for providing his blessings in my ventures.

Secondly, my family deserve the majority of the credit as they have supported me morally and financially throughout my entire life. Mum, Dad and Meenal; I will never be able to repay you for your efforts and I will never be able to 'thank you' enough to illustrate my appreciation.

My close friends and training buddies; Rob Ford, Dawn Ridden, Chris Gardner, Mike Jones, Lee Howarth and Mark Salamonsen for accompanying me on training sessions over the past eight months. Those early morning rides at 5.30am with Mark definitely shaped me up and added extra mileage to my bike training. The long rides with Rob, Dawn, Chris and Mike encouraged me to get out of bed on Saturday morning to start our 5-7hr rides at 6am! Thank you for your support and I also want to congratulate you on completing your first Ironman triathlons this year. There's nothing stopping you now, so keep going and we will resume business very shortly ;-)

I cannot forget my lifelong friend; Alfred Morro and his dad Curro who introduced me to the world of rowing which was the foundation on which I grew on to become the athlete that I am today. Thank you for all those years at the Calpe Rowing Club and I will never forget my 1st rowing session!

I also have to thank the triathletes and cyclists back home in Gibraltar who introduced and guided me into triathlon. I owe you a lifetime supply of 'tostada y cafe'!

The list of names is never ending and will continue to grow over the coming years. If I have not mentioned your name I apologise.

Finally, thank you for taking the time to read my blogs. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Le Grande Finale
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