Cairns Ironman Race Report by Coach Nestor

On the request of many Davey Black Triathlon teammates that I raced with on the day and who were watching from home, I’ll write my Ironman Cairns race report. This is a race that went beyond the realm of the physical fitness and transcended into the mental and spiritual areas of life.

For those who know me as a coach and as an athlete, you have seen how I love running through the wind, facing the kilometres one at a time, and feeling each race like an epic challenge to be beaten. My life has revolved around finding the perfect race, the perfect balance and the optimal combination to perform at the very best, understanding the perfect race as the combination between the healthy body and the healthy mind. But this Ironman came to have a different meaning.

My dream of completing an Ironman came from the desire of understanding from my position as a Triathlon coach as well as the one from the mental health and counselling perspective.

One of the biggest questions that most athletes ask when referring to the big athletic events is “why?”. Why would someone choose to push their bodies, minds, and spirits to the absolute limit? But most important, what pushes them to keep going despite everything telling them to stop? What brings people to challenge themselves in such way.

The final motivator that I needed was seeing many Davey Black athletes as well as close friends signing up for the challenge. My friends had very strong reasons to be there, and I felt it was the push I needed to face that event with my triathlon training club Melbourne teammates and finally, get my answer.

Training for an Ironman means changing a whole from your mindset. You need to balance many aspects from your life, and even then, allow your mind to become obsessed, or more to the point, disciplined, about the event. You can read more about that mindset here – Training Your Emotions | Davey Black Triathlon. Embrace the long sessions, understand your limits and challenge yourself to go beyond. Your “why” needs to be there pushing you when things seem too long or too hard. Your why needs to take you to the end of the long swims, the endless rides and the painful runs. It needs to get you up early in the morning and take you late to bed.

In terms of the performance aspect, there is not much to say. I had a fantastic swim of 1 hour and 5 minutes, exiting the water with some of the best swimmers. I started the ride well too, with  a fantastic first 100 km, but it was then when an old medical condition that has been with me throughout the years played out. Some weak discs in my spine locked in, putting me in a position of maddening pain. The pain was so disturbing that it blinded my thoughts and of course, my capacity of correctly following the nutrition and hydration plan. That all ended in a completely depleted body attempting to run the full 42.2Km marathon.

Despite it all, I managed to move 30 kms, the grand episode came in the last 10 kms. The body began to shut down, the back was locked and in full pain, the system out of water, electrolytes or glucose, any rational human being would have stopped there. I was ready to stop when the cavalry arrived. The reason I am telling this story with a medal in my hand is none other than the friends and squads supporting me. First it came in the form of the Davey Black squad, supporting chanting and cheering, it was a complete festival even when I was desperate, a reminder of my native home in Colombia where life can be a carnival. Then a few of them offered to walk by my side but were sadly moved away by the Technical Officials. That was followed by the Technical Official team, a few Victorian TO’s had travelled and recognised me in my pain. After that I realised how many friends I had, athletes from the many other triathlon squads and even a top French runner who just happened to be there were there keeping an eye on me. All of them whom I had spoken with at some point in the past were helping me move, with nice words, cheering, chants. I want to express my deepest gratitude towards all of them, your support means more than you might imagine, and I look forward to one day being able to repay you this.

“It is ironic how at your weakest moment your real inner strength emerges.  But not only my spirit was there for me, also my family and squad mates were there for me.” – Juan Torres fellow triathlete, wrote in his blog after racing the Hawaiian Ironman.

But what happened after that, I think no one would have seen it coming. The run course had a small portion that was in complete darkness. Life with its weird sense of humour decided that I had to collapse right there and then. We have all seen it in videos, the point where the body simply shuts down and the collapse occurs.  (57) The Crawl – Sian Welch & Wendy Ingraham (1997) – YouTube

Incapable of moving, complete nausea and a generalised cramp throughout my body. These were symptoms of rhabdomyolysis which was explained to me by the Ultra-Athlete and nurse Erica Riley time later. With three kilometres to go, I was only thinking that I had gone too far to give up, but that would be it apparently. It was then that a random stranger came to my rescue, it was not a medic, not a volunteer or another athlete. Just a person riding her bike in the dark with no real connection to Triathlon at all.

That’s when my inner strength came to me right there. Talking with that unknown hero helped me get moving, and we spoke about something important; mental health. This is obviously a topic that I love and understood in depth. Every step came with words of understanding and care, of healing and purpose. Every kilometre brought a sense of self-compassion and insight that I had been searching for very long.

In each step towards the light of the finish, we found the freedom and control coming back to our lives. We allowed our past to go. We understood the pain others may go through, and so we had a better chance of understanding their anguish. I feel it is my duty to those who are now suffering to help. I can do little, but I will do what I can. I found my “why”.

To move despite the pain, you need to have your “Why”. The mere desire of being fit and healthy in most cases won’t be enough. Your why comes from the roots of your inner self. It lies silently within waiting for a chance to come out and shine. Your why is the reason you wake up every morning and the reason you go to your work, do your training and face the different challenge that life throws at you. Your reason is unique, it can’t be shared with anyone else.

No human being is purely made of glory, and no human has got to the point of chaos where there is no return. The glory and the pain come hand in hand. I can be the top runner, flying with the wind and breaking record after record, standing on the podiums. And I can be the human barely walking in pain to the finish line. Every human is both, every human can stand on the light and every human has gone to a low point at some stage of their life.

The glory shows strength, discipline, and dedication. It allows us to inspire the humans around, being them athletes or not. The pain shows humility, humanity, and the absence of the ego. This reminds us of the values in life and helps to connect with those who are going through a difficult time in their lives. Both need to be present in your existence.

Allow yourself to be both, only then you will understand what makes you valuable, what is important and what is your reason to keep moving as an athlete, as a human, as a person. I can tell you all that right now, I am 10 times a better athlete than I was at the start line, because I found my light amid chaos and despair.

That is my Ironman race report.

Side notes:

Note1: I have no idea about my time, my Garmin was on Auto-pause. So it stopped when I fainted. I finished it and that’s all that matters to me.

Note2: The mentioned hero has no social media, I only know a few details about the person, I’ve been trying to get in contact to send a gift of appreciation, but it has not been possible. Those who carefully read this blog, will figure out what the gift will be.

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