My Way of Living + training

All For The Glory: Staring Down History At Timex 226

Editor's Note : This is a work of semi non-fiction. However, the names of the protagonists have been modified for purposes of confidentiality and artistic license. Or rather, because it would make it hella awkward to refer to myself in the 3rd person. Enjoy.

The View From Within. 3 days to go.

Elvis woke up in a cold sweat, the uber firm mattress of his ramshackle hut shooting a distressed signal to his lower back - a signal currently shared by his uber throbbing head. Am I really doing this? The requisite round of self-doubt that comes at the fortnight of every major milestone haunts him continually. In the world of brash, semi-competitive sports replete with fancy coaches and six-figure equipment, weakness is a word that is often regarded with general disdain. Like an unwritten code. The figures who move around the transcendental discipline of triathlon are considered by some to be the fittest people on the planet, an elite fraternity who have mastered the operational synergy of competing in three consecutive yet radically differing sports.
If triathletes comprise less than 1% of the population, then probably just 1% of that number would ever do a full iron-distance race. And as much as popular culture would continually lionize the annual Ironman branded event held somewhere in the Bicol (and soon to be Visayas) region, multisport habitues don't skip a beat in pointing out that the distance covered there only amounts to 70.3 miles - or half of the seemingly insurmountable 3.8k swim, 180k bike and 42k challenge that is staring down Elvis in the face. And he's the one blinking.

Was he in over his head? After all, this was only his second season in the multisport arena, his first full one if one was to be technical about it. Unbeknownst to many, he hadn't even swam an open water race until April, and here he was just several months later rubbing elbows with battle-scarred veterans at one of the highest levels of the sport. There was no room for failure, no cushion to soften a misstep. In Camsur, there were thousands of triathletes who made it easy to get lost in the throng of anonymity. At Timex 226 in Bohol, the first full iron-distance race in the country in nine years - there were only 66 official participants. The spotlight was on, and there was no turning back now.

The Race Director was in a heated discussion with his deputies, on the verge of making a decision that could forever alter the destiny of the one man that was still on the swim course. "Should we let him go through? There's no way he'll make it to cutoff. It's nearly 9:30 and he is still so far out on the course." "Boss, maybe it's time to pull the plug" intimated one deputy. Unwittingly enough, The Girlfriend was right beside them, privy to the conversation. "Oh come on guys. He'll come through. I know he will. Please. Just wait a bit more. He'll... .. he'll make it. " The Race Director knew very well of the pain of fallen comrades missing swim cutoffs in competitions past. The heartbreak of losing all those long months in training at the very first leg is not one that goes away easily. After a long sigh, a pained gasp had him looking at his concerned deputy. "Let's see what this guy is made of".

History In The Shadows. 1 day to go.

The water was clear. Crystal, even. The astounding coral formations were virtually within one's grasp. The serene setting that greeted their traditional pre-race "swim out" resembled more of a picturesque diving site than the usual murky contact sport battlefield that they had been accustomed to. Elvis wondered if it would pose some semblance of a distraction come race day. "Water's terrific. That was probably my best swim ever. What fun." chided PK, his team's top gun and one of the race's seeded favorites. But as PK was having a season for the ages, Elvis was quietly engrossed in his own quest for history, albeit shrouded in relative anonymity.
Over the course of the thirty eight kilometer mini bike recon they performed immediately after, Elvis found his thoughts drifting to delusions of grandeur as they passed by the sleepy countryside. In the world of triathlon, to the upper tier he was a relative nobody. Swims just above mediocrity at best.Underachieves on the bike. Usually too gassed to make anything sensible happen on the run. His naturally competitive ego had been squashed time and time again like an annoying critter over a season that began with so much promise, yet went down in flames due to injuries and a demanding new job that ate up his training hours. The instant success that had met him in the running community was nowhere to be found in multisport. Improvement was slow, expectations high. Victories were sparse - even those of the moral kind. Some made the transition effortlessly. He was just plain lost in the muck. Elvis was conspiratorially holding on to one last ace up his sleeve though, much akin to a rounder betting the house on a river straight with a junk hand. It provides cool comfort to his tortured athletic soul, a veritable salve that enjoins him to soldier on when he has nothing more to give. Conjures up confidence where there is none to be found.

None of these guys have ran a hundred miles. He mutters to himself furtively as he downs his fancy salad at the welcome dinner that night. The participants have all converged at the swankiest resort this side of town, and the hearty plate of spaghetti seems like easy pickings for the voracious horde. As the rest of the athletes listen to the welcome remarks of the affable congressman, his mind wanders off once more as he scans the crowd of tanned faces. Yes. I'm the only one who's done it. No one here has lasted as long as the 29 hours I spent running from Bataan to Tarlac. This is my race. My time. And if I just manage to finish this in one piece, I could be the first Filipino in history to have done both endurance events in the same season. I want it. I want it bad. I'll get there. I know I will. And as much as his notion of "history" is generally unverifiable and borderline trivial, it gave him at the very least that intrinsic swagger such a herculean task necessitates. He needed it. It was the only way to stack up amidst a sea of excellence."More pasta babe? This is way too much for me." Elvis was jarred out of the daydream by his girlfriend AJ holding up the oversized plate to his face. A wildly successful bag designer, she forever links two epic endurance events mostly obscured from the general public - one was when she outraced him running 102 kilometers two years ago, one that he once thought he could never live down but now carries around like a badge of honor. The second was when she paced him, with little training, for the last 60 kilometers of his 29 hour bout with insanity. She was a big part of those happy, painful memories. It was only fitting that she would be here to share this with him. "Babe? Are you getting the pasta or not?" He willingly obliged, knowing that with an anticipated 10,000 calories to be burnt the following day he needed every single kilojoule of energy that he could get.

Wishful thinking as the crowd listens in

The Congressman looked shocked as the withered husk of the final swimmer came through the makeshift barge, some two hours and twenty three minutes after the race had started. "What happened to you? Are you okay?" The swimmer replied, "I'm okay Sir. I think I swam an extra lap. Bites. Lots of bites." The Congressman was aghast. "An extra lap?? What does that mean??" The swimmer blurted out, "I don't know as well sir. No idea. " as he proceeded to stagger across the deserted, powder-white shore.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. 9:17 am.

What's.. what's going on? Where am I? What... just happened? Just as a boxer would lay sprawled on the canvas in the aftermath of a well-placed liver shot he never saw coming, at this point Elvis was at a loss. Dazed and confused was a relative understatement. The long, confidence-building hours at the pool seemed like a distant memory at this point . Did those 4k sessions just go to waste? He was pressing to reconstruct the events that had just unfolded that led to him to suffer through the ignominy of being the only person remaining on the swim course. Chugging along with the flow at the onset of the washing machine... . there was nothing otherwise remarkable compared to the brutal wars in terrible weather he had been in. The same could not be said about the otherwordly scene unfolding underneath though. It's so peaceful and beautiful here,like I'm swimming through a real life painting. The serenity evaporated as soon as the bites came in. What are these things??Jellyfish? Disgruntled plankton?Whatever it was, they were perturbing enough to make him lose focus and ingest heaping servings of salt water. More bites. Face. Mouth. Back. Dammit, I want to puke. And in one fell swoop, time stopped. And everyone was gone.

I must have been lost. He didn't know exactly how it happened. But at around the 1:40 mark, some of his friends in the field had noticed his disoriented shape near the lap turnaround and were motioning him to go back with them towards the shore en route to T1. "Let's go Elvis! Let's go man! We're done!" The Pocari Sweat-toting support boatman was less patronizing. "Sir, turn left! Turn left! You're done! What's wrong with you? You were with them the whole time! What are you doing???" He wasn't thinking right. Or was he? Was he really done? His brain has been inundated with salt water. How could he second guess?
1:40. Hmm. That was just in line with his "usual" times if they were to be extrapolated, and were right along his time trial times in training. While far from being the fastest swimmer out there, he had never sunk to the depths of being last on the course. He swam a decent 47 minute 2k at the extremely choppy Matabunkgay Triathlon, and hit 50 minutes on the murky lake at Camsur IM 70.3. He had an accurate gauge of his modest capabilities, but something didn't feel right about this one. A dozen permutations were racing through his head. What if I missed a loop? He'd be disqualified for sure, his hopes for history sullied even before they began. What if... . I get away with it? A hollow victory is no victory at all , he'd never live it down. What if it's legit? What if these people were right all along? What if... .

"Sir? Sir! Turn left! You're done! " He was at a loss. Faced with the the single- most momentous decision of his triathlon career, Elvis blinked. "No. I got one more loop. One more to go." The road to perdition was not a kind one. In life, there are moments that define you. Test your character. He took great pride in what he did, reveling in the spirit of competition and discipline of training. Out of sorts and with chafe marks burning from each unmerciful saltwater swell, he had to take a stand that would painfully define the succeeding hours to come for him. Embarrassment on the grandest scale was looming on the now deserted horizon, the race an absolute disaster just hours in. But at the precise moment in time, it was the right decision. The only decision. Time was not on his side, and the water which had been his friend for the longest time morphed into his greatest foe. Everything was a slow-moving blur seemingly encapsulated in unforgiving amber. But he had to move forward, had to make that cut-off.
Minutes later a wobbly figure emerged to check in at 2:23 on the makeshift barge, beating the 2:30 cutoff with barely anything to spare. AJ was a wreck, bewildered at what had just transpired as the current last placer jogged to T1. A sprinkling of tepid applause met him, the sympathetic type reserved for the marginal competitor. Sordid comments from bored children sprinkled the air. But at this point he could care any less.He was still in the game. And he still had time to turn it all around.

The last of the Mohicans coming through.

The Doctor was getting increasingly agitated. More than twenty minutes have passed, and still no word from the lonesome rider. She had been at the same table during the welcome dinner, exchanged niceties with his girl, heard the grand stories of exploits past. The guy may have even been minutely endearing to say the least. In a Hippocratic foray peppered with sun-dried faces, he was actually a notch below that of a complete stranger. But her worst fears were slowly being actualized as he was holed up in the bathroom of some random house not too far from T1. Twenty five minutes. Several knocks on the door brought back nothing. The terse silence was finally broken as the lonesome rider emerged, much to the relief of what seemed like the entire neighborhood tuning in to the live spectacle. A feeble "I'm okay doc. I'm good to go" was blurted out before banging his time trial helmet on the base of the low staircase. She thought to herself, when it rains, boy it sure pours. And it sure was pouring on for the lonesome rider as he wobbled back onto the well-paved highway, 170 kilometers away from the next step in his seemingly impossible journey.

Minutes and Seconds. 4:35 pm

Guindulman. Jagna. Guindulman. Candijay. Repeat. Somehow, Elvis was able to soak in the majestic coastal view amidst the painful drudgery of traversing all the major municipalities of Bohol's third district. Thrice. Mentally, one had to take it up another notch at this juncture, lest you be swallowed whole in the moment. The mind could not wander too far from the end-line goal, imperative that all forms of rationalization be tucked away in the far recesses of the psyche. Things like God, I'm cycling the equivalent of Manila to Pangasinan or You have got to be kidding me, my butt's been stuck to this saddle for six hours already do not help one's cause at all. Specially if one is waging a lonely war against the clock, a losing one at that. Each precious second that ticked away meant one step closer to his dream slipping away forever. The pressure was on, and this was his moment of truth. The series of unfortunate events that marred his comeback attempt on the bike leg saw him sinking deeper and deeper into what seemed like an inescapable rut. The chafe marks that were burning his skin at T1. The severe stomach cramps and lightheadedness that had him dangerously veering sideways on the road, an involuntary dismount a very much abject reality. The thirty minutes he spent throwing up and collapsing on the bathroom of the quaint rural home that took him in seemed like the coup de grĂ¢ce of a race destined to be forgotten. He was doing the math in his head. There's no way I'll make it. I'm done. Droplets of tears began to form as the onset of his discombobulation was mercifully obscured by his weary sunglasses.

Fighting a losing battle.

Fight or Flight. The seminal decision that had faced man since the Neolithic was rearing its dual-sided mug on Elvis, the chosen path bearing two radically differing implications not just on his future in the sport but towards the extent of his own internal constitution as well. He was running on empty, each powerless stroke drawing air as he trudged along the seemingly endless rolling terrain. Pancake flat my ass. The challenging route did nothing to help his downtrodden cause, sending more pain when the body could take no more. He saw his comrades riding briskly along the other side of the looped course, split-second well-wishes conveyed through weary nods and pained smiles. If they only knew I was hours behind them. But they had their own battles to fight, their own demons to exorcise. He had to focus like never before, the prized date with destiny resting squarely in his swollen, calloused hands. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul. While hardly a fan of Henley's quoted-to-death lyrical stylings, at this point he willing to latch on to just about anything. The minutes were ticking away. If he was going down, he decided that he was going to go down swinging. Just get me to the goddamn run, I'll do the freaking rest. False bravado was a lot better than having none at all.And in a race wanting of the slightest positives, he finally caught a break.

They call it second wind. Every athlete's final, primal scream for glory was the last stop at Desperation City, and Elvis very well knew that basking in its glow way too early would have its dreadful ramifications. But it was win- or- go- home time. Put up or shut up. No tomorrows. 28k kph. 30. 32. 36. 38. His speeds were climbing, the holy ghosts of Bugarin aiding and abetting him on one last ride towards the sunset. Or rather in this case, before the sunset. He was back in business, riding with renewed power and purpose so much to the point that the lap checkers swore that he was a loop ahead. The hills that had taunted him earlier fell prey to his raw, testosterone-fueled charge. The usual impish grin that had been missing all race long was making a long overdue appearance. But he wasn't out of the woods. Not just yet. He was so far behind the cutoff that even averaging 29kph over the final 60k had him doing calculations to the nanosecond. A van pulled up from behind, much to his surprise and chagrin. What in tarnation could it be this time? "You're doing great Elvis. Hang in there. One last push. 25 minutes to cover 10k. Lots of time." The race director was upbeat in his concession, the response garnered overwhelmingly in the affirmative. Everyone's on the run now. Please just let me make it. Furiously pedaling through the tough, final rolling stretch as the rest of the field slogged through the initial motions of their marathon, he pleaded with every last drop of his long depleted glycogen deposits to take him home. Please... let me make it. Just a bit more... .. And seven hours, twenty two minutes and fifty seven seconds after he departed the same beachside plaza a hopelessly broken man, he entered with a flourish reserved only for those who had twice averted disaster, this time with ten minutes to spare. AJ was grinning from ear to ear, her drawn out smile ten parts happiness and ninety parts relief. Adrenaline was pumping in his veins as he prepped for his pet discipline.
Let's get this show on the ground.

Red lining on empty

The Major had finally reached the pinnacle of his epic journey, the much coveted finish line he had been training on for months and slaving on for hours but inches from reach. As the crowd burst into raucous applause in anticipation of his grand moment , one could practically hear the snap of jaws dropping collectively as the unthinkable just happened. The Major stopped dead in his tracks. He turned around. Frantic discussions between him, The Race Director and The Host initially brought confusion. Then clarity. Before long, a singular, defining mantra emanated from the surreal scene that just unfolded into the bewildered crowd. A relieved hush came over as the significance was settling in, four simple words that would serve as an inspiration to all those who had the pleasure of witnessing history in the making.

No. Man. Left. Behind.

Peace By Inches. 10:40 pm

I started too fast. I... . can't do it. Elvis seemed to be resigned to his fate as his bodily functions were shutting down one after the other on the near-pitch black looped course. Much of his training has been concentrated on the run segment, and was secretly hoping a powerful split would elevate his finish time to respectable levels. He had done it before, each runner he overtook providing snowballing adrenalin as he marched towards the line. The problem was that he sort of forgotten, amidst all the ruckus that went down, that This is a marathon I'm actually running. After all that crap. Marathons are... hard. Despite his best efforts at making up time, the same body which had already given out so much was balking at his one last request for glory . The remaining vestiges of his warrior pride were driven by the motivation not to finish dead last, a dubious honor that has thankfully escaped his clutches over his four-year athletic career. The first half went down breezily in two hours and twenty minutes, a sub-5 performance and eternal retribution pretty much on the horizon. As much as AJ was incessantly worrying that his protracted rest breaks at the end of each loop would have some sort of detrimental effect, Elvis brushed her concerns off with uncharacteristic candor. I got this. I'm good. We're doing great. He was in his element, the party atmosphere that met him at each loop seemingly empowering the closet competitive nut. We're going to shock the world.

Alas, the real battle was being fought out there, in the trenches of darkness. The out and back loop's first five kilometers were a rolling segment that he would have cinched on fresh legs, but currently seemed like an endless mountain even Sisyphus would have balked at. He saw his Quest 825 teammates interspersed at various points in the course, all fighting their own personal demons. PK was staggering along in a halting sprint with his gaze to the floor, fighting to keep up with his powerful elite rivals. Long distance barefoot specialist RR was once again defying the odds with his unique craft, and Mcdap was harnessing mind over matter in what was his first marathon attempt. Kap, Tars, and Elti were sandwiched together in a methodical Galloway approach , looking worse for wear but nonetheless soldiering on. All were proven, powerful athletes humbly submitting to the might of the 226 kilometers that they have traversed. Who was he to think he could do any differently?

Bonk, meet Elvis. He was utterly, absolutely spent at this point. Aid stations were conspicuously being closed one after the other, the sleepy provincial avenue plunged into a pitch black abyss as the clock was nearing the the 11th hour. The eerie silence was punctuated by the occasional dog barking, accentuated by the neighborhood toughies talking shop as they grabbed the requisite nighttime drink. The only thing that kept him going was his trusty Energizer headlamp, providing the much needed ray of light that was much more than a cheesy metaphor at that point. He has used the same lamps at his 100-mile conquest, invoking the spirit of the bunny that kept going on going when his mind was slowly losing its lucidness. Right now, with five kilometers to go, he could have sworn he saw the Energizer bunny in front of him. Mocking him, cajoling him. Dude, can't you keep going... and going... like me? Wimp. He was running with his eyes closed in blatant exhaustion as he reflected upon the situation he was mired in. Having already walked the last ten kilometers, his dream of vindication was in tatters. Dammit. I threw it all away. But Elvis could hardly protest. For all it was worth, he was just thankful to even be in this spot. Attempts to chase down his comrades proved futile, his body and spirit in full lockdown. He was roused from his zombie-like state by an unknown competitor, the same guy who had been giving him the thumbs up each time they bumped into each other on the course. I'll wait for you at the finish line my friend. Just a bit more. Nice guy. That's what they all say though. He thought nothing of it as he was rationalizing his fate, inch by painstaking inch.

If I keep up with this pace I'll probably be the marginal finisher, if I even make it at all. 16:59 best case. The only guy from his team not to make it. The guy who wasn't even supposed to be here to begin with. He's not one of us. Dark thoughts flashed through the side of his brain that was still working. As he passed the final aid station, the newfound friends who manned it had vowed to stick with him until he finished, no matter how late.With one quick glance at his watch, Elvis heaved one final emotional sigh. Guys, I'm going to run this. And they were going to run it with him, a parade of motley fools chasing one last shot at glory. One last attempt at respectability. One last stab at joining the pantheon of warriors who had shared the experience with him.

Elvis shot out at an unthinkable 5:20 pace, harnessing every single last ounce of strength that remained on his sunburnt carcass. The aid station guys were struggling to keep up, weirded out as he was audibly muttering what seemed like a Gregorian chant, eyes wide shut. But in reality he was digging back into the time that he was but kilometers away on his 100-miler and wanted to collapse on the unforgiving pavement. AJ was hollering something, but he couldn't quite make sense of it. It was all coming back now.

Finish strong. Stop whining. No tomorrows. Make history. The final turn beckoned, and he shot out with everything he got. Once could almost feel the electricity in the air as the line that had eluded him for 16 hours and twenty minutes finally beckoned. He sprinted to the line ready to take his moment in the sun... when the entire congregation suddenly yelled STOP!!!!. What was going on this time??? What the?This is my moment!! The momentary disorientation that pervaded was replaced by an indescribable level of gratitude. It was the guy. The guy who told him he would wait for him at the line, and he wasn't bluffing. Major had finished way ahead of him, but had told the organizers about the impromptu pact that he had made. The pact that he had kept his rock-solid word on. Before Elvis could even react, Major emerged from the woodwork as the two finally crossed the finish line with arms raised , fireworks punctuating a fitting end to an improbable race for the ages. AJ was there choked up in emotion, her day-long rollercoaster ride with the fates finally over as her man went through to his own date with history.

Not so fast Elvis.

Triumph in solidarity
Elvis looked around with a sigh of relief, the gravity of his achievement failing to sink in. The deafening cheers. The warm smiles and congratulatory hugs. He may have come in last, but he achieved his goal of not putting in a marginal finish. His body was absolutely wasted, but he made it through with his head held up high. Spirit beaming, competitors and teammates swarmed him as the astute realization finally set in. Triathlon connotes different things to many different people. Some compete to win, some to finish. Some are out there just to test their limits and some to extend them. Amidst the mad rush for personal records and knockout splits, the essence of the game was emanating from the crowd of unique individuals who congregated around him in that one spectacular moment. Individuals who all the know the true meaning of perseverance, sacrifice, and overcoming the seemingly insurmountable. A select group who keeps the tradition burning for the future, even as they revel in the spoils of the present.

And at least, on this night alone, Elvis felt good. Great even. He finally made it. He was finally home.

He was finally one of them.

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All For The Glory: Staring Down History At Timex 226 + training