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Tales of an age grouper: Challenges of a Heavyweight triathlete

By Marcel Ewals

Heavyweight Triathletes, the underground battle not many know about.

Like many who have tried the triathlon experience, I have become addicted to the sport. But I race in a different league, an underground league of some sort, as it is a battle among a few selected athletes.  We all know who we are, we glace and nod at each other and do a quick evaluation of their strength and weaknesses in our heads.  Can I beat him/her is the questions in our mind.  We ask this because we battle with a handicap, the handicap of being fat.  We race in a league among us that has no formal recognition, but requires equal or more efforts.  We are the athletes that are 100KG and more.

Do not underestimate us however, as we are no wussies in the game of triathlon.  We have no handicaps when it comes to swimming and on the flats we can lead on the bike.  But our battle is often lost on the run or in case the bike course has major elevations. Few good runners live among us.  There is even a legend among us by the name of David Alexander, who completed close to 300 triathlons since 1983 and is 136 KG (300 pounds) and is only 163cm (5’3) tall.

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But we have our secret joys as well.  For me, I love it when I see muscled young guys with state-of-the-art bikes getting prepped for their races. And when I come out of the water and see them struggling behind me, a small sarcastic grin appears on my face. I know the playing field is even to a certain extend among all of us and once we hit the bikes, I am in my element, my joy and highlight of the race, aside from crossing the finish line.

Only starting a few years ago, I can bike for hours, and have the power to keep up with the fast riders of my Sunday Peleton group. This has become my strength and during the Tri I like to kick ass when I can, especially on the Olympic distance, as for the 70.3 distance, self-control prevails over brute force.   After a year of racing on my road bike my wife rewarded my efforts with a wonderful TT bike, a Cervelo  P3, the most popular choice among triathletes.  A marvel of a design which at 7kg, carries my 103KG gram to T2 in great speed and moderate effort.  Its like having a elephant on a kids bike to see my wide body on an aerodynamic thin fiber sheet zap by.

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In a recent training race, a biker whom I was passing by heard me approach from behind as my wheels made this familiar buzz. He looked over his shoulder and said; “gee, your bike sound like a freight train in stealth mode”….. and I proudly agreed as a shifted down a gear and increased the watts on the pedals just to show him what kind of freight train he had to reckon with.

When I transition to the run I take a stead pace of just 7min/km which leads me over the final 21km in good shape over the finish line.  Here, the lightweights pass me bye but often the slow-but-steady brings me right on their heels with few signs of cramps or exhaustion.

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I fit in 6 to 8 hours of training a week that keeps me sane.  My work requires me to travel a lot but I try to find hotels with a good running area, or a decent size pool so I can fit in my weekly training needs.  My coach had given up trying to give me a more standard regular training package because I cannot stick to it anyway.  So we go by destination.  This week I will be in Hong Kong; therefore the training will be to get up in the mountains and do uphill sprints, which are definitely not my favorite routes.

But somehow, people like me struggle with our weight.  The BMI controversies show that I am considered “obese” but further tests show that the excess weight is 75% muscle.  That still means I need to carry that weight around which makes it harder for my joints and knees to support.  Despite the 6-8,000 calories a week burned training I have not lost weight in the last 5 years.  I easily gain and lose 3KG in 2 days but breaking the 100KG barrier seems to be impossible.  At 46 this doesn’t get easier.   My recent participation in the Cebu Cobra Ironman 70.3  upon checking in the Shangri-la, the receptionist asked if I was here for the Ironman.  With pride and a smile I replied yes to her.  To my surprise she followed up with another question; “are you an athlete?”  And this is then the hard truth of being a heavyweight triathlete.

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Being part of this secret brotherhood has its advantages.  It has motivated many people around me to start again with taking on sports and I constantly egg people that if I can make it, it will be easy for them. For me, I will be doing races for as long as my body will take it. I enjoy the need to keep training and staying in shape and love the moment we dive in the water and feel the rush of the game through my veins.

About the writer:  Marcel Ewals (marcelewals@gmail.com) is a traveling executive in the Events Industry and only entered his first Tri Dash (sprint) in 2013.  He has now completed 5 ironman 70.3 and is working towards his first full. At 102KG he competes in his age group and manages to stay in the top 30%

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