The Ironman: most people know this to be the name of a popular Marvel superhero, while a select group of driven individuals recognize this to be the one of the toughest races they’ll ever join.
Last August, Cebu played host to Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines, which was a 1.9km swim, a 90km bike, and 21km run affair. Legions of participants from around the world joined in this one-of-a-kind event to test their physical and mental toughness.
Such an event is not for the faint at heart, and preparing for and joining Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines takes plenty of training, drive, and dedication. To learn more about what it takes to brave such a race, we spoke to passionate triathlete and Ironman-finisher Charles Custodio.
Charles, 31, took up triathlon training back in 2011, when it was introduced to him by a former girlfriend, and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s now a member of Team XYCOS, one of the more established triathlon teams around, and has taken part in several events including the Tri United 2 (Batangas), the 2013 The North Face 100 (Benguet), and the 2012 TNF 100km trail ultramarathon.
Charles took part in the recent Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines in Mactan, Cebu, and this was the first time he joined such an event. He finished the race with a time of 6 hours and 52 minutes.
Check out what Charles had to say about what it takes to be an Ironman:
So Charles, when did you start training specifically for the recent Ironman competition?
[Laughs] Oh no… It wasn’t until April 2013 that I started with my Ironman 70.3-specific training. Leading up to April 2013, I was focused on training for TNF100. While I had a pretty solid Ironman 70.3 training program that I downloaded from the Internet, I wasn’t able to follow it religiously. Like any typical age-grouper, I had to juggle work, family, and everything else with training. While I did occasionally miss out on weekday training, I made sure that I nailed my long-distance workouts during the weekends.
What made you decide to join the event?
It’s the biggest triathlon event in the country! And like any serious age-grouper, I wanted to know if I have what it takes to finish the distance.
Can you tell us about your training regimen?
During weekdays, I opt for shorter but more intense workouts. Long , steady bike and run sessions are reserved for the weekend. My Ironman 70.3 training program is divided into training blocks, where training volume increases gradually for three weeks, and then tapers during the fourth week for recovery. During the off-season, I go back to base building and try to maintain general fitness. This is also a great time to work on areas for improvement, like my swim.
How about diet. What does an ironman competitor eat or drink?
Oh man, I love to eat! I just TRY to keep the portions sensible. Having said that, going loco on fruits and vegetables is great because nothing beats natural stuff.
Do you drink alcohol or smoke, or are these no-no’s for Triathletes?
I only drink socially. But I do know some triathletes that regularly drink and smoke, AND they still can go bloody fast during races. It’s really unfair! [Laughs]
Is it difficult balancing work with training and other obligations?
Difficult is an understatement. My parents and officemates would ask why do I spend a good chunk of my time training for triathlons. I tell them it’s a cheaper form of healthcare. [laughs] But there were times where I just want to sit on the couch and watch movies the whole day instead of training for hours outdoors. What keeps me going is the belief that when you put in the hard work during training, you’ll reap huge benefits come race day.
Do you have a training philosophy?
My training philosophy is to finish strong and stay safe. I put a huge emphasis on safety that I also look for the well-being of my fellow triathletes. I’d sacrifice a potential PR (personal record) anytime in order to help someone during a race.
Who are some of your heroes or the people you aspire to be like when it comes to sports/Triathlons?
While I don’t have someone in particular, I salute age-groupers who manage to juggle work, family, and training AND still manage to win races or at least end up on the winner’s podium.
Can you tell us about what it’s like to complete the Ironman?
What goes through your mind as you soldier through every kilometer? Like most people, I find the swim as the trickiest part of an Ironman 70.3 race. If you haven’t swam in open water during your training, you’ll be facing a lot of difficulty come race day. Compared to pool swimming, swimming in open water requires a different set of skills like sighting. While you have black lane markers in a pool, you just have buoys bobbing on the water. Expect to get punched, slapped, scratched, pulled, pushed, or even swam over during the swim. Once the swim is done, the bike is up next. I love the bike leg and it’s where I’m currently strongest. The bike leg is also where you take in a lot of calories. For Cobra Ironman 70.3 and other long races, it’s important to fuel regularly. Getting too excited on the bike is bad, as you need to carefully pace yourself to set up a good run split. The first kilometer of the run is quite challenging because your legs feel funny. This is why you should incorporate bike-run “brick” workouts to get used to this. Keep your pace steady and save some kick for the last few kilometers of the run. When the finish line is in sight, sprint!
Is there any point in the race where you’ve felt unbearable exhaustion that you just wanted to give up/ stop?
Yes. During the Cobra Ironman 70.3, my quad muscles were twitching. Rather than suffer massive cramps and stop, I had to power walk.
What keeps you going in a race when these happen?
Reach the finish line no matter. Keep moving damn it!
What do you love so much about these challenging events?
When I’m much older, I want to look back and say that I’ve swam, biked, and ran really far! [laughs]
What is your ultimate goal/ dream as an athlete?
My dream is to race the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii!
When’s your next event/ race and will you be preparing for that differently? How?
My next big race would be the 2014 Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3. I’ll be working to improve all three disciplines, most especially the swim.
What words of advice would you give people who are 1) looking to become triathletes and 2) looking to join the Ironman?
Start with the short-distance triathlons, like a local sprint race. Don’t burden yourself with an ambitious finish time. Enjoy the experience first! Everything else will follow. For those planning to race their first Ironman 70.3, put in the work during training. While you can wing it at your local sprint race, a 1.9km swim – 90km bike – 21km run is no joke. Train well and you’ll arrive at the finish line smiling!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I hope what I shared would encourage people to give triathlon a TRI. A big shout-out to my team XYCOS for the support and love! I would also like to thank the race organizers for cooking up more and more races for us to participate in!
You can follow Charles via Twitter @grandphage
About the writer: Gabriel Pangalangan is the Editor-in-chief of DojoDrifter.com and is a contributor for Project Lifestyle Manila, Solar Sports Desk, and CLAVEL Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @gabpangalangan or Instagram @gabdojodrifter.