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Danang Half Iron Man 2017

The concept of an Ironman originated on a night back in 1978. John Collins, a naval officer who was stationed out in Hawaii, began playing around with the idea of combining three of the toughest races that were held out on the island. Together with his wife Judy, he came up with the idea for the Ironman triathlon, and issued the challenge to the toughest runners, cyclists and swimmers they knew.

On February 18, 1978, 15 competitors took on the three discipline challenge, and John Collins declared that "whoever finishes first, we shall call him the Ironman".

  • BISHCMC Athelete Chris La Grange in the Danang IRONMAN-min 2

IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam only covered half of the 140 miles expected from a full race, but competitors were faced with an additional and unpredictable challenge - the energy sapping Vietnamese heat.

Don’t be duped, even at half the distance, this is one of the hardest one-day endurance races that anyone could possibly put themselves through. Nonetheless, a number of our determined school community took it on.

On 7th May 2017 in the beautiful coastal city of Danang, well known for its pristine beaches, UNESCO world heritage sites and numerous tourist attractions, 1398 participants lined up on the starting line for the 3rd annual 70.3 IRONMAN Vietnam. Some decided to participate in teams, dividing the events between themselves, others took on the massive challenge as individuals. Amongst the individual competitors was our very own Mary McAloon, Deputy Headteacher at Tu Xuong Campus, Stephanie Webb, Head of Year 10 at An Phu Secondary and Mark Spalton, Head of House at An Phu Secondary.

Starters were first treated to a fast and scenic course that began with a 1.9–km ocean swim in front of the Hyatt Regency Danang Resort & Spa, host hotel and race central. From there, athletes enjoyed a scenic two–loop 90km bike course across smooth, well paved roads that run along Danang´s pristine coastline and past some of the city's key landmarks. The final leg was a 21km out–and–back running course that passed by many of Danang´s famous beach resorts before returning to the Hyatt for a stunning beach front finish.

As with any IRONMAN event there is a time limit for all competitors. In Danang, if you could not complete all three stages of the race in under 8.5 hours you are not classed as a finisher.

Some, myself included, might initially look at such a feat as unachievable. Completely outside the realms of possibility. However, as is the way at BIS HCMC, there is no limit to what you can achieve. With the right mindset, and the right preparation, everything is possible. Curious to find out what inspires people to compete in such challenging competitions, I asked some of the competitors from our school community:

“A bit like Edmund Hillary said: because it’s there. Many humans are driven to achieve ‘extremes’ when the right combination of factors come together. The extremes invariably involve mind over matter. It’s not because you have to, but because you want to, maybe driven to by yourself.”

And what motivates you to keep going when it gets tough?

“In Danang, my swim and bike were good, but I really struggled on the run  – we all did. Not about giving up, no - I suppose you could say, and pardon the cliché, failure just did not enter mind - nothing was broken, I was still whole in mind, so just get on with it. I actually reminded myself of what Chris Mc Cormack, multiple Ironman World Champion said: ‘Your body is not that smart. It will begin to do anything your mind tells it to do, so make sure you continue to treat the entire experience like something that you control. Never lose control of your mind when things get really tough. Endorphins will kick in after a while and suddenly you’re back in the game’. I can still hear the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh (on each peddle stroke) as the leaders went past me (on the multi-loop circuit) on their bikes with full disc rear wheels – each whoosh was like a transfusion of endorphins – loved it.” Chris La Grange, Parent

How did your training prepare you?

“Before planning on doing the half ironman, I’d ridden and ran a fair amount but I’d never been a swimmer, so in order to prepare for the 1.9km of swimming, I had to try and drag myself down to the BIS HCMC pool 3 times a week.  We were mostly working on trying to improve our swimming technique so that we could be as efficient as possible and have enough left in our legs for the cycle and run that follows.  

Having never done a triathlon before we signed up for one practice event in Bangsaen, Thailand to practice swimming in the sea, whilst getting clubbed by other swimmers’ arms and legs, and the mad panic of transitioning between the swim, bike and run making sure you haven’t forgotten anything important like your shoes.  

With the half ironman in Da Nang we had a pretty good idea that it was going to be a hot and sweaty race, which it proved to be with a ‘feels like’ temperature of 42C, so we headed outside for our running and cycling training as much as possible to try and get used to the heat.  We started training after the Christmas holidays which gave us about 16/17 weeks to slowly build up our training to the distances that we were doing on the day,  but I don’t think I was fully prepared for how brutal it would be combining it all together on the day.  After giving over 10 hours a week to training with lots of early morning starts before school and at the weekend, the idea of that going to waste definitely helped me pull through the run at the end.” Mark Spalton, Learning Support Assistant/Head of House

What was the most surprising thing about the race?

“That I made it around the course! I am actually quite thankful that nothing was too surprising. Whilst you can always train more and better, sticking to a training plan definitely gave me confidence going into the race and ensured I was prepared as much as possible. Having done practice runs I was able to set some realistic targets for the race, which helped keep me focussed and motivated on the day.

One thing that is quite surprising is the impact one person cheering you on can do. It’s a long race and can be quite lonely at times, so one person just acknowledging what you are doing and telling you ‘you can do it’, goes a long way. The cheering at the end is an awesome feeling, even if you can’t feel your body anymore!” Stephanie Webb, PE Teacher/Head of Year 10

As a seasoned triathlete what’s next for you?

“Ironman 70.3 Vietnam was fantastic preparation after months of training for my A race of the season, The Challenge Championships in Samorin, Slovakia.  The course conditions, with the immense head wind and super high temperatures, left Ironman Vietnam being no mean feat.  It was certainly one of the most demanding races I have ever experienced in the years that I have been competing as a triathlete.  With this, I would like to congratulate all triathletes who competed demonstrating such ambition and passion in the Ironman 70.3 Vietnam last Sunday!  Next stop for me, The Challenge Championships on June 3rd 2017.  Remember, “Be Ambitious!”” Mary McAloon, Deputy Head of Tu Xuong Campus

If you, or your children, are interested in learning more about what sort of mental and physical preparation is involved in becoming an IRONMAN athlete, look out for a follow on article next week - ‘How to become an IRONMAN’.

Lucy Glynn, Online Marketing Officer

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