Invaluable Ironman 70.3 lessons to incorporate into your race plan, no matter your level or experience
Photos courtesy of subjects
Memories flood me now as I look back at my experiences from my first Ironman 70.3 in Cebu last year. How I was able to miraculously allocate time for my family, work, and triathlon training for about seven months. I surprised myself at what I was able to accomplish.
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the body will achieve,” said American author Napoleon Hill. In fact (and the irony of it all), I felt I was most efficient with my time management during the peak of my training season. The most important gem I took from my maiden Ironman 70.3 experience was pursuing something I thought I wouldn’t be able to do: to cross the finish line as I saw the faces of the two most important people in my life–my husband Wowie and my daughter Angelica.
From someone who had no athletic experience of any kind, I’m certain that if I can cross that finish line, you can do it too. Determination, more than distance, is your fuel and drive. You may not be as brave in the swim, as strong in the bike, or as fast in the run, but what you have is inner strength. And that will bring you to that coveted finish line.
During my training, I had a lot of missteps and mistakes, but I reminded myself that my imperfection is a gift and to always aim for “perfect” is boring. I pressed on with all my imperfections, and I gained so many lessons in the process.
The most challenging part was indeed the swim leg. I remember seeing coach Kaye Lopez waiting for us, her students, as we approached the shore to start the swim leg. I suddenly cried and embraced her. All my tension just came out as we hugged each other and how she reminded me that I got this.
The swim part was the toughest swim I have ever experienced. At first, the water seemed calm and inviting as we looked out from the shore, but what seemed peaceful from the shore turned panicky and chaotic in the actual swim. I was kicked in the face three times and had to put on my goggles back several times. I was praying constantly. There were swimmers who panicked because of the strong current below and the strong waves above. It felt like, for a time, there was a stampede in the water, and swimmers were in survival mode.
At that moment, I had two options: to swim and fight or to slow down and give up. I held on to my prayer time and God’s promise that no matter what happens, He will bring me safely to the finish line—and He did!
My personal reminder for you in the swim: Just keep swimming. We all learned this from Dory. You trained your arms and legs for this, so trust that training you did for months and give your best shot. Don’t be surprised anymore how tough the swim part would be. Expect the worst and pray for the best.
I’m excited to share with you more tips, stories, and techniques as you prepare for your first Ironman 70.3. I invited four people who, in their own unique way, have positively influenced me in achieving my triathlon goals for the past three years.
I am proud of you. Press on, my friend. See you in the finish line one day.
The turning points in Ironman 70.3
What made you realize that you wanted to focus on triathlon?
Ten years of ballet training, spending most of my afternoons and weekends in a ballet studio, forcing my thighs to turn out and the arches of my feet to magically transform from flat to high-arched, I finally realized that I had no future as a ballerina. My two closest cousins at that time were very much into sports (both competitive swimmers when they were younger) and our fathers had this great idea of getting us into triathlon to keep us from trouble during our freshmen year in high school. Since we were already doing almost everything together and eventually moved to the same school (PISAY), doing the same extracurricular activities (swim, bike, run) was a natural progression.
Triathlon was a relatively new sport then and a lot of teenagers and females were not into it yet so the field wasn’t as competitive as it is now. Racing was an experience I was not accustomed to so I told everyone that I would only train to lose my baby fat and join this sprint triathlon in Ateneo in December 1997.
But as we’ve all experienced, once that triathlon bug bites you, you really get hooked. In my case, it’s pretty much the only constant part of my life that has stayed with me for the past 21 years. From a newbie triathlete in 1997, we were drafted into the triathlon national team in 1999 and in the same year, I got to join my first international race in Sokcho, South Korea for an ITU race, and many other local and international races followed after that. All of those positive experiences gave me the drive I needed to race competitively. After my long hiatus, the idea of coming back and allowing myself until this year to race at relatively the same level of competitiveness helps me focus on my goal I’ve set for myself and doing whatever I can to see it through.
How long have you been a coach for aspiring and seasoned triathletes, and what are the first three things you constantly remind your students?
I have been a triathlon coach for nine years. I remind my students the “FFF.” First, faith. Trust the process. Fitness is not achieved overnight. You reap what you sow. Second, focus. Focus on what you can control but learn to be flexible when the need arises. Third, fun. Without the element of enjoyment, the drudgery of training day in and day out will be quite exhausting, both for the mind and body. Sharing the experience with friends and loved ones is a great way to stay motivated and keep your eyes on the prize.
What is your coaching philosophy?
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Technically speaking, everything you need to know about triathlon training and racing is available in books or online. Coaching and mentoring, on the other hand, is all about interpersonal relationships. Coaching is truly about the following:
- Building trust and rapport with your student/apprentice
- Adjusting your approach to accommodate differences in personalities
- Being able to speak their language
- Being able to dissect science-based concepts into bite-sized layman’s terms that athletes of all levels can understand and appreciate
- Taking raw talent and connecting with them in a positive way to help turn unrealized potential into optimal performance
- Bringing out the best in them, not just when they are out on the race course but also taking the lessons the sport has taught them and being able to apply them in everyday life
With the Regent Aguila Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship coming up, what should first-timers remember?
Nothing new on race day, safety first, trust your training, cheaters never win, enjoy the journey, and savor the moment. You only get to your first Ironman 70.3 once.
What to do during the actual swim
How long should you train for the swim before your first Ironman 70.3?
Here are the suggested average duration and frequency depending on your swim level:
Duration: Six months
Frequency: Three to four times a week
For intermediate and advance athletes:
Duration: Three to four months
Frequency: Twice to thrice a week
I presume that the triathlete has gone through a standard distance before they planned to race a 70.3. The good news in transitioning from a standard distance to a 70.3 is that the swim distance isn’t doubled; in fact, it’s just 400 meters longer than the standard race. So, loading up with the needed mileages won’t be much of a concern.
If in case you were not able to train for your swim long enough, what are the top three techniques to remember?
Swimming is a highly kinesthetic discipline, which means you have to do it in order for you to get it. So, in cases when you don’t have time to train, remember these three:
- Form: Do a lot swim drills for form building
- Pace: Learn to know your threshold pace (functional threshold pace)
- Sighting: Learn how to navigate well
I have four things you need to be aware in the swim course:
- How the course is laid out (especially the start and finish)
- Which part of the course is with or against the current (including the possibility of strong waves)
- Swim hazards
- Rescue marshals (in case of emergency)
What specific techniques should you remember to ensure a good swim finish?
There are three specific techniques to prioritize: Develop a strong kick and pull to prepare for strong current and waves, gain enough training mileage, and practice sighting skill.
How to overcome struggles (and actually fall in love with) the bike leg
What is your philosophy in riding a bike?
Want to get better, faster, and stronger? It’s all about saddle time. Ride your bike every weekend. Bond with your bike even during rainy days by being on your bike trainer. It’s all about saddle time.
What should be your mindset if you’re aspiring to race an Ironman 70.3, especially in the bike leg?
Again, it should be all about saddle time. My former coach Ige Lopez would always remind me to push hard to hit the required training distance. Make time for it. You must have the discipline to wake up in the wee hours of the morning, travel north, south, east to do your 100K distances.
I remember doing exactly this during my first year in triathlon. I was training for Cobra Ironman 70.3 then, and it was my first half Ironman race. Imagine, I signed up not owning a road bike. I barely knew how to swim. I got myself a secondhand bike, which turned out to be too big for me. I joined my teammates every weekend to ride either in Nuvali or Camp Aguinaldo. I rode my bike at home while on the trainer to practice putting on and taking off my cleats. I rode with a filled Camelbak hydration pack as I didn’t know how to stop and dismount correctly. I rode my bike until there was no water left in my bladder bag. I would signal to my husband to go back to the parking area where he would wait for me to catch me and help me get off my bike. I fell so many times during training. But I never gave up. If coach Ige said 100K, I pushed hard to finish that 100K. It’s all about your will to get it done.
What are the things to watch out for when hurdling a 90-kilometer bike ride?
Pace yourself. Remember, you still need to run 21 kilometers off the bike! Hydrate and make sure to feed yourself while on your bike. Remind yourself to eat something substantial every 5K, 7K, depending on your nutrition plan. Same with hydration. If you feel you’ll have trouble feeding yourself while on your bike, don’t be ashamed to stop (carefully) on the shoulder, eat, hydrate then go back again. Sure, it will take a longer time but that’s better than falling.
How to use your thoughts to propel you to finish strong
What should you remember when hurdling the last leg of the race? How can you finish strong?
Always remember that you trained for it, and your family and friends are waiting for you. That should be enough for you to finish happy and strong.
I got really stressed out in the swim leg. They said it was Cebu’s hardest swim leg. I thought I would get cut off.
How did you finish strong?
During the run leg, I was running my heart out. Flashbacks came out—the training I have done and the hardships I went through. I decided to do it, so I might as well do my best.
The following are my personal ways in running:
- Negative split running: Since I am a negative split runner, I run a bit slower for the first third of a run, pick up the pace in the middle, and finish with strength and speed.
- Mind over matter: When the going gets tough, I use my willpower to overcome my tiredness. It is mind over matter on repeat.
- Happy thoughts: To finish strong, I think happy thoughts. It pushes me to run to the finish line knowing that I have my family and friends waiting for me.
What is the most fulfilling thing for you when joining an Ironman 70.3?
It’s all about knowing that I can do it. It’s a matter of putting your mind and body, and sometimes mind over matter.
Joy Wong is the president and CEO of People Ignite Organizational Development and Training, Inc. She started triathlon in 2015 and competes in the W40-44 age group.