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Braving the Ironman Dream…Secretly. By Hygeia Chi

When I finished my first IRONMAN 70.3 in 2016, I became more determined to see more of the Philippines by doing race-cation to other provinces. It was a personal advocacy that while I’m in a triathlon, I also get to see other provinces and at the same time, meet other triathletes who share the same passion in the sport. But it was far from my short-term plan as an age group triathlete who has been in the sport for nearly three years to race in Europe and more so, in a full distance IRONMAN event.

In November 2017, my Mom told me that she would like us to visit our family based in the Netherlands and its neighboring countries. While the thought of visiting Europe sounds very exciting, I then thought randomly,” Would it also be nice to race in an IRONMAN event in The Netherlands so that my Mom can finally watch me race for the first time as well as my family who is based there?”

While doing my initial research, I learned that there is only a full distance IRONMAN event in the Netherlands around the same time that we will be there. And so, after weeks of thinking about it coupled with the experiences that I’ve had so far as an athlete, I decided to finally sign up for IRONMAN Maastricht-Limburg. A whirlwind of emotions overwhelmed me the moment I saw that my registration has been confirmed. I felt anxious, scared, and at the same time, happy and excited with my decision.  I then asked myself after, how am I going to train for this and make it to the finish line?

Right from the start, I wanted to use a different approach, in terms of my training, nutrition, and strategy in preparation for my first IRONMAN. I wanted to keep it private, simple, and on a tight budget. I wanted to focus on the essentials: invest on the right bike fitting, proper nutrition, and most importantly, fueling my determination to train smart throughout the six-month preparation time.  As a matter of fact, which I think was the unique component of this experience was that, I kept my participation in this race as a secret to most people, including my own triathlon team. I wanted to surprise them. At first, I did not want to be pressured and succumb to people’s expectations. At the back of my mind, I was not sure if I can really go through the rigors of training for a full distance IRONMAN. Eventually, I realized that this approach helped me stay focused and consistent with my training. Training days then became my alone time where I meditate and get rid of negative thoughts. There is only one focus: becoming an IRONMAN.

Keeping my participation in the race a secret was a challenge, but I was able to keep it that way with the help of: my family, my swimming coach, my boss, and a select few at work, pool attendants who would sometimes extend pool hours so I could finish my long work out sessions and lastly, staff of Tri Temple.

I didn’t intend to tell the secret to just these people – but looking back, they provided the right amount of encouragement in those times I truly doubted myself if I can really finish IRONMAN. Of course, it helped that they would check the progress every now and then, and gave me tips on proper nutrition, race day essentials, and swimming techniques.

Knowing my weaknesses from the beginning made me more motivated and determined to work on all of them to finish strong in Europe. I did everything mostly by myself and indoor: indoor bike training sessions at Tri Temple and at home, long runs on the treadmill, and doing swim laps in the building where I live. Though, I also joined group runs hosted by Nike Running Club, as well as strengthening sessions hosted by Nike Training Club, a couple of 200 km Audax Randonneur bike rides, and running sessions with our Philippine Marines.

I now realize that all these experiences have really taught me to persevere, to be patient, and to trust the process of this journey. I have a full-time job so it was quite challenging to balance that side of my life while going through a tedious physical and mental training.

GAME TIME

When I arrived in Maastricht, The Netherlands, that was when I realized that I will be the only Filipino triathlete in this event. Every so often, I would constantly remind myself to finish this race for my family and to finally place the Philippines in the list of countries that have successfully participated in IRONMAN Maastricht-Limburg. Due to immense heat in Europe during that time, we were informed during the race briefing that on race day, there would be a couple of changes and surprises compared to the previous years. One of the things that I trained for in this event was swimming wearing a wetsuit but an hour before gun start, the organizers have decided that the swim leg would be a no-wetsuit legal event. I would like to believe that I was the happiest participant that time because up to this day, I would still prefer wearing swimsuit over wetsuit when doing triathlon. But the challenging part was to actually swim in a river for the first time where it was less buoyant compared to what I was used to. For the most part of the swim course, I realized that it was harder to swim in a river yet it was so refreshing. There was a slight current on our way back to the transition area but overall, the swim leg was manageable.

The next part of the game was where I was so worried about right from the start- the bike leg. Knowing that I am not a strong cyclist to begin with, I put in a lot of work and mileage on this one. I would normally train for 20 hours weekly inside an airconditioned room because I was told that normally the average temperature at that time in the Netherlands would be around 15-18 degrees but to my surprise, race day’s temperature reached 36 degrees. Whenever I see the temperature changes  in my speedometer, I just psyched myself that this is like racing in Subic except that, I have to do this for 7 hours or more and to brave whatever challenges that will come my way as I go through the race.  But during the first loop of the bike course when strong winds was getting on my way to maintain my target pace, I started to doubt myself if I can really finish this and remember telling myself: “Hilaw ka pa kasi, bakit kasi full IRONMAN agad”. But I was quick to shrug it off and said:” Nandito ka na, sasayangin mo pa ba? Pumedal ka nalang pwede? When doing long distance bike ride like this one in IRONMAN, it is important to stay mentally focused and always remember why you started this journey anyway, then you will know why you have to continue fighting. And since their bike course was situated in two countries: Belgium and the Netherlands, I remember talking to myself to pedal it all out and be back to the Netherlands before the cut off times for both 90 and 180km mark. But it was only during the last 30km when I decided to pedal moderately and conserve my energy since I still have to do a full marathon after this leg. The bike course of Maastricht-Limburg has an amazing view: from the vast fields, riverbanks, rolling hills terrain, to quaint towns in between. But alongside with these views were strong cross winds and dry heat all throughout the course which made it more challenging.

After finishing the entire bike course before the cut-off time, I felt so relieved and excited to be finally doing the last part: the run leg. But before hitting the run course, I stretched for a little bit and took a sip of energy drink and off I went to the run course. I was really entertained all throughout the run course because everyone in Maastricht, both in commercial and residential areas went all out to support and party with the participants of IRONMAN. Some supporters would cheer: MABUHAY Philippines and Manny Pacquiao whenever they see me but I think seeing my family cheer for me and waving their PH flaglets truly helped me to stay motivated and enjoy every moment of the event. I was so happy that I did not feel any discomfort during the run course because the fun environment coupled with loud music in the City of Maastricht distracted me in a good way. But when it was time to enter the finish line area, I immediately pulled my Philippine flag from the back of my tri suit and said a little prayer of thanks to GOD before I sat foot on the red IM carpet. I was then reminded of all the hard work, months of training and everything that I have to go through just to reach this moment was indeed truly worth it specially when I heard the announcer say: From the PHILIPPINES, Bib no.317, Hygeia Chi, “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”

So, to everyone who wants to be an IRONMAN, it really takes a lot of determination and grit to do this but once you believe that you can, there is no doubt that you will eventually make this dream a reality.

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