*** many thanks to Andre Abreu for this race report ***
For those who don’t know me, my name’s Andre Abreu, I come from Portugal, my dad was a football player, my mom played basketball in high school and they got my sister and I in the pool when we were 3 years old. Swimming has always been a part of my life. My swimming career was pretty common, considering all the kids who’s parents put them in the pool when they were very young; I started swimming competitively since a very young age for a local team back in Evora, Portugal called Aminata. The goal would always be to get faster and faster so that at the end of the season we would have fast enough times to represent our team at the National Swimming Championships. I worked my ass off but was never one of the fastest kids. Yeah I won some local races and have a pretty vast collection of swimming medals, but I was never fast enough for the National Championships’ qualifying times. That was until 2010 when I was 15 years old and had decided to dedicate myself to one single race to make things a little easier, that race was the 100m backstroke. A couple of months before the National Championships I was racing in Spain with the goal of achieving the qualifying time of 1 minute and 5 seconds. I went just under it and once I saw it on the board I started slapping the water with happiness. Time went by and I had a great time at Nationals but afterwards I felt like I had spent way too much time on the pool for such a “small” achievement…
One of my friends from the swim team, Filipe Azevedo, was doing some triathlons at the time and a local one was coming up. Since he liked it so much I decided to give it a shot. I got out of the water comfortably in first wearing my speedo and while I was putting clothes on in the transition area, everyone else ran by on their tri-suits. I ended up having a very painful and slow race ending up in something like 3rd to last… It really sucked but right away I started looking for more races, I was super excited to start training for something so complex and demanding and completely forgot about swimming. I still did some swimming races here and there but from then on I was completely focused on triathlon.
After racing the Portuguese National Series of triathlon twice for my local team Kainagua, with a best time of 1 hour and 9 minutes (sprint-distance), I moved to Japan by myself as an exchange student and decided to bring my road bike with me. While I was there I raced once and it was awful. The one thing I got from that was something I never again forgot to include in my training: consistency. At that time I was basically training whenever I felt like it–definitely not a good idea if you’re trying to get some results… When that year was over I moved to Dubai where my family had moved to. This was mid-2013 and I joined TriDubai right away. I went to some rides and runs and met some great and inspiring people. I started learning about this mythical Ironman thingie that everyone was doing. Apparently everyone over there loves doing these 8-sprint-triathlons-in-a-row thing. At that time I had just turned 18 and decided to create a bucket-list item: since you have to be 18 years old to do an Ironman I figured it’d a pretty cool achievement if I could do one While I was 18. I started looking for races that would be right before my 19th birthday and decided to go for Ironman Texas in 2014. this was a big decisions and from that moment on I knew what I needed to do: consistent training. I had my friend Filipe help me with the training and bit by bit I was slowly being able to bike and run for longer periods of time. In March 2014 I finally convinced my dad, through my training, to pay for an Ironman registration so I went on Ironman Texas and my heart almost stopped when I read “Sold Out”. My first thought was “please let there be another race before I turn 19…”, and so I searched but the next race available was Ironman Cairns in the beginning of June (my birthday’s May 18th). Since I’m a person who doesn’t like to waste time with bad thoughts I went to the bucket list in my head and crossed “Finish an Ironman while 18 years old”, writing over “Finish an Ironman before 20 years old”. And so it was. I trained, was scared as hell, had found enough sponsors to help pay a new tri-bike and the trips and on my way I was. I get to the airport and there was no flight to Melbourne. I check my ticket. It said (10:30), it was 10:30Pm at the time. I got a new ticket and a few hours later I was on my way. Tip: there’s no AM or PM in flight tickets. A few long hours after I was in the beautiful Cairns, Australia, all by myself with a huge bike case and a t-shirt my dad had made with the race’s name on the front and mine and all the sponsors’ on the back. From here on it was pretty much butterflies and unicorns. I swam quickly in an hour, biked in a constant pace in 6 hours and run/ walked the marathon in just under 5 hours reaching the finish line in 12 hours and 8 minutes. One of the best tips I ever got (from the great Johan Moolman): walk on the aid stations and drink/ eat constantly (which to me meant gummy bears and coke). The day after I woke up and “ran” (on a taxi) to a tattoo parlor and got the “M” we all dream about on the outer side of my left calf.
I went to Dubai to finish high school next to my family. Once that was done I moved to the US for University where I’m attending Arizona State University. I joined the school’s triathlon team right away and started training for the olympic distance which is how long the collegiate races are. I trained and tried improving but never really did throughout that year. I would always swim under my potential, my bike would improve throughout the year and the run would always end earlier due to stomach cramps.
By the end of my first college year I was doing great in school but my triathlon career hadn’t improved and I wasn’t really enjoying that… So, once I got to Dubai in the summer to visit my family, I got a triathlon coach: Tony Hchaime. I told him about my goals and we started training for the next collegiate season. Now I had a training plan, was doing things I didn’t even know had anything to do with triathlon and slowly noticed my bike and run improving significantly.
The 70.3 thing:
At the end of the summer of 2015, Ironman 70.3 Arizona was announced for the first time. Since it is right out of my door I decided to register for it. I registered and in the weeks following I investigated the whole 70.3 thing. With my coach’s help I noticed that I had a real chance in this “new sport” and I told him that I wanted to focus on 70.3 because I really thought I could qualify for the World Championships the following year in Gold Coast, Australia and do well. I think he was a little more happy than me at the time. When I made this decision I decided to grow a mustache until I qualified for Worlds. We had only been training for a few months together and he already knew me well enough to know that that’s what I was meant to focus on. We changed my training right away. He noticed that on my longer runs I was getting GI (gastrointestinal) problems that where significantly slowing me down. Then I told him about all the races that had been ruined for me because of that. Immediately after he made me change my diet and had me seeing a nutritionist. I started cooking all my meals and since although I like cooking, I’m not a huge fan of it, my meals became very identical; In the morning before practice/ school I’ll have an yogurt parfait with granola and fruits or some eggs with sausage and vegetables, always accompanied by home brewed coffee. Then I’ll bring to school a lunch box, half-filled with white rice, half-filled with chicken and salad. After all the training’s done I’ll have some kind of steak with potatoes and salad. Beyond that I heat fruits and cereal bars throughout the day (tons of water too!) and my training/ race nutrition is based on GU’s (preferably the salted-watermelon ones). Thankfully this has almost completely healed my stomach already and shows a very promising future. Around this time I had the pleasure of being one of the first athletes to be a part of the Slash/ BR triathlon team which meant great support and a bit more pressure for better results.
All the training was done. I have basically improved as much as I ever could and was as ready as I could be for the race. A week before the race I started having trouble sleeping because of all the nerves… I prayed for help and thankfully by race day I was nervous free and all ready to go. One thing’s for sure, all the training was done and I was completely rested after a week of tampering so it was Go time! The night before the race I got my things ready and slept a solid 7 hours after skipping my coach for some last minute advice. I woke up, went for a 10min run, did some warm up exercises and had my pre-race oatmeal breakfast. The morning of the race all the roads around my house were closed (I live right in front of the course) and so my roommate (who also raced) and I had some trouble getting to the race… We still got there with around 30min to spare so I got my transition ready: bike hanging, shoes open, filled with baby powder hanging from the bike, aero helmet upside down hanging from the tri-bars, 2 water bottles filled and cold on the bike, hat and big number on the floor with running shoes and socks in front. Now thing like you were me staring at the bike… Where the hell are the GU’s?? I thought about it… yap, they were home. So much for a gel every 20-30min, I’m just gonna grab one in each aid station (Tip: instead of freaking out, think of a solution ASAP). This didn’t end up so bad, instead of having 5 gels like I had planned, I had 3 but they were pretty spaced and it still worked.
6:55AM: I had just put my race goggles on, followed by the UAE flagged cap and then the race cap when we heard “Male 18 to 29! Get in the water.”. It’s go time.
As some of you might know the World Championship slot is given to the finisher of each age-group and then rolled down in case the winner doesn’t accept it or was already qualified. My plan on the swim, being my strongest suit, was to lead. And so I did. I sprinted to the lead, found what I thought was my plan, and led the first 1800m. After fighting through so many waves who had started before us, followed by two other guys, with 100m to go they both sprint past me and leave me to get out of the water in third. My wave was composed of my age-group and the one after so I figured they were both part of the older age-group, little did I know that they weren’t. In my mind I was in first. 30 minutes marked my watch when I climbed the lake’s stairs “that’s a few minutes over my goal… damn it.” I flew past transition in just over a minute (Tip: practice transitions beforehand, there’s no need wasting time/ energy on basic things like putting your helmet on…).
The plan here was to hold a pace as close to 37km/h as possible. This meant mid-Z3, high Z-3 on the hills (never Z-4. Tip: you can only go to Z-4 so many times, don’t waste them). About 15 minutes in my legs were in pace and my heart rate had calmed down from the swim, it was time to start getting some water in the system and go for it. I picked up the pace a little bit, once I got back to mid-Z3 I held it there. The whole way I was looking at people’s calves (which had they’re ages written on) to figure out in what position I was. Remember I thought I was in first place but was actually in third. The bike was composed of three laps and on the first one I was on pace to finish in the lo 2:20s and did not look out for any calves so far because I hadn’t been passed by anyone (I had no idea that at some point I was in first of my age-group). This got me a little too excited so I tried to hold that pace… In the middle of the second lap a guy with a calf saying “24” flew past me, this meant I was in second (in my mind I was in first and had just been passed by the guy in second). He was going way to fast for me to follow him. My thought from then on was “he could still roll down his Worlds’ spot” so I kept grinding. The third lap was extremely painful. My back was hurting from all the time I had spend in aero position and my legs were burning like hell. I did that last lap in low Z-3 but kept grinding finishing the bike in just over 2 hours and 30mins. This meant I had 3 hours on the clock. In my mind I was second and had to run under 1:50min to hold that place, which meant finishing below 4:50h (that was the original goal).
I flew right out of transitions in a minute and tried to use to watch to find my under-5m/km-pace. I held it. For about 1km… Both my quads started cramping then “yap, definitely went too hard on the bike”. I looked ahead and aimed to walk at the next aid station. The cramps were getting worse which meant that I had to slow down even more, at this point I was running over 6m/km. I got to the aid station, through some water on my self and filled my tri-suit with ice (it was so hot!!). I went back to running and although my quads were a little better, a little stomach cramp came by to say hi, “great”–I thought. Not long after, another aid station showed up, it was time for my first gel (the plan was for a gel every 30min and only water & coke on the second hour). I filled my hat with ice and went on. I slowly picked up the pace close to 5m/km. Just when I was getting to the next aid station, my left calf got a huge cramp, so big that I almost fell. I was getting pretty frustrated because my heart rate was at mid-Z2 and it should’ve been at high Z-3 so I knew I had a lot to give but my legs weren’t allowing me. From then on I ran slowly and walked on the aid stations while I refilled. The run course was composed of two 11km laps (yes, it was 22km). Towards the end of the first lap I see a calf running by with the number 22, I looked up and it was one of my closest friends and training buddy, Daniel Murphy. He was doing great so I gave him a shout-out “you’re in second, go for it!”. At this point 2nd or 3rd were the same for me as long as I was on the podium and has a World Championship slot to fight for so I was legitimately happy that my friend was doing so well. In my mind I was in third (which was actually accurate), so all I wanted now was to hold that place. This meant looking at a lot of calves… About 500m from the finish line, a “24” ran by at a pretty slow pace, my thought at that moment was “I’d rather pass out than lose this podium” and so I started picking it up as fast as I could. I passed him and started running under 5m/km. My legs were burning like hell, several muscles were cramping, I was having trouble breathing and was very dizzy. Although I could see the Ironman village in the horizon it felt like it took me a whole hour to get there. I closed my eyes, put my head down and just ran, as fast as I could, without ever looking back. I was so out of it I didn’t even think of the fact that I was crossing a 70.3 finish line in 3rd place. I played down on the floor for almost 15min without being able to move at all. Later I saw that the guy in fourth finished 2 seconds after me.
It took a while to be back to earth but after a nice massage, some cooling down and refueling, I was back. I realized I got third because my friend, Bekah, who had been carrying my stuff and tracking me the whole way, had told me. This just confirmed my assumption and gave me great relief. I wanted for my roommate to finish his first half-ironman ever and the three of us (DJ, me and Travis) went for some celebratory ice cream before the awards. Awards went by and the medals ceremony almost went unnoticed for me because all I wanted was to know if I had qualified. After awards, it was time for the World Championship roll-down. The announcer started “Male 18 to 24. One slot available. None taken. In second place: Daniel Murphy.” My friend told me he was going to Medical School and left. Let’s just say I shaved my mustache.
I want to thank all my family, friends and sponsors (Team Slash/ BR, Compressport, Catlike, ON running, Adventure HQ) for their great support. Without them I couldn’t have accomplished this.
Thank you for reading my story and follow me on all social media for close details on my journey to the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championships. In three weeks I will be racing Ironman 70.3 Austin which also is the U.S.A. Collegiate Ironman 70.3 National Championships, that outta be another nice read!