IRONMAN World Championship 2016

The human body is a beautiful machine. We, as athletes, are all imbalanced. Triathlon is a very demanding sport and is quite hard to develop and strengthening every muscle of our body at the same rate. But the beauty of our body is that it creates balance within the unbalanced muscles. I messed with that imbalance, on the worst week possible, and paid for it.

Every year in October, the best of the best toe the line at the Ironman World Championship in Kona. If qualifying as an age-group is hard (you only get so many opportunities), to qualify as a Pro is, in my honest opinion, even harder not only because only 50 top ranked male professionals in the World make it and because getting the points necessary to be within that Top 50 requires you to race well, consistently, over a period of 10-12 months leading up to the race. As far as my preparation for this race went, I got to race week without many complains: I felt fit, I have been healthy since March and the qualification process was quite smooth with a 5th place at Ironman Brazil and 2nd place at Ironman Canada.

I do believe beyond the challenge it represents – heat, humidity, course, competition at their top – Kona is a very emotional and mental race. It’s the race where most put all their eggs on, where all your sponsors and media are watching, when you expect luck to be on your side and hope your body is able to deliver your fitness. For this reason, I also feel like most professional athletes either have a total hit or a total miss on this race, there’s very few that can have a “medium” performance and stick with it until the end.

Going back to how I started this report. Early in the year (Feb/March), I had a somewhat limiting inflammation on my piriformis. Fortunately, I crossed paths with a spine/pelvis guru in Scottsdale, AZ, Rick Little at Ascend Performance Institute, who immediately identified the causes of my inflamed piriformis. After a few weeks off running, limited cycling and PT sessions, I was still able to get back rolling in time for the races I had planned. I was able to get a solid base leading up to Texas (fitness that later was transported to Brazil) and even more to Canada. But every since I got healthy in late March, I did not think again about the issue I had on my pelvis stability beyond doing some strengthening and stretching exercises regularly. I did not see Rick again because, well, I felt fine. Athletes are like the elderly, we hate doctors because they tell us what we don’t want to hear. I had a massage here and there but nothing to assess the skeleton/spine/pelvis and follow up on that.

Fast forwarding to race week in Kona. I scheduled a deep tissue massage with Tiffany (QT2’s therapist) for Tuesday before the race. Tiffany did identify that one of my psoas/hip flexor/pelvis was again tight/tilted. In my head, I was going to race the World Championship later that week, I needed my body to be fully functional, not tight and certainly not with a tilted pelvis, something that probably had happened after all the pounding and training between March and October and was like that for a few months already. Between that session on Tuesday and the race in Kona, I had one hardish ride, where I did feel things sore but assumed it was just from the work done, and again insisted to try and get this fixed before the race, Friday to be precise, the day before. Again, in my head I was panicking, I wanted to make sure I had my pelvis in place while ignoring the number #1 rule of racing: do NOT work/move/mess with anything on race week, specially on the day before. I remember saying “don’t worry, I will be fine, I just need this in place”. Long story short tho, my body had created a balance within the imbalance between March and October and once we got to race week, I messed it up. So it created an imbalance, within the balance it had created.. within the first imbalance. Confused?

Race day came as fast as it ended. Out of the watekona-1297r, I was along some of the main contenders but immediately out of the gate, and while trying to sustain a best effort pace for the initial stages of the race, I felt my piriformis getting tighter by the minute and by the time I got to the end of the Queen K, I could barely apply any pressure to my left leg. Ironically, that was where Tiffany was, along with my coach Jesse, watching the race. I stepped off the side of the road and she worked on it, trying to release the tightness and get me some pain relief. I also said to one of the referees I was dropping out and thought there was no way I could pedal back. After a solid 5-10 minutes, Tiffany got me back standing and I was actually able to get back riding. The race was over for me tho.

Anyways, the outcome of the race is an inevitable disappointment and I allowed a good 24 hours to be very frustrated with myself and, above all, sad. Luckily, I get to try again this race in the near future. This was a very harsh lesson to learn and it’s unfortunate it happen in Kona but life goes on. This also shows how important it is to see a physical therapist frequently to assess your body, even if nothing hurts. We spend so much money on this sport, that a PT is actually an investment on performance that will pay it’s dues. Just don’t leave it for race week..

To end this report with good news it was a truly amazing trip to Kona. I’m overwhelmed with the messages of those that follow my career and continue to encourage my journey even on the bad days. More important that having those cheers on the good days, is to feel the “net” when things go wrong. If anything, Kona revealed how many are part of that safety net I have. Onwards.

Pedro Gomes

Pedro Gomes is a professional triathlete made in Portugal, currently based in Dubai, UAE. He's also a certified Ironman triathlon coach and a self proclaimed donut connoisseur.