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Cuenca expats take on ‘Ironman’ 70.3 Ecuador

Cuenca Ironman competitors Bob Cox, Paul Amos and Daniel Cañez.

By Paul Amos

The Ironman 70.3 Ecuador began in Manta in 2015 and every year since has drawn over 1,200 athletes from all over the world. Despite the 7.8 magnitude earthquake near Manta in April, 2016, the race went on as scheduled. The Ironman Foundation, which supports communities in which Ironman events are held worldwide, set up a relief fund after the 2016 earthquake and placed a donation of $10,000 directly with the Manta community.

The fifth edition of the race took place on July 7, 2019 and saw 1,323 athletes registered for the race. Three Cuenca expats, Bob Cox, Daniel Cañez and I travelled together to Manta for the second year in a row to compete in the Ironman 70.3 Ecuador.

Bob Cox heads for the finish line.

Ironman races are simply a tough sounding term for a long-distance triathlon that began in Kona, Hawaii in 1978. The triathlons have spread all over the world and athletes can participate in a full Ironman (2.4 miles swim, 112 miles bike ride, and a 26.2 miles run) or an Ironman 70.3, which is half the distances of a full Ironman. The full Ironman World Championship is held annually in Kona, Hawaii.

The Ironman 70.3 triathlon course in Manta consists of athletes swimming 1.2 miles (1.9 km) in the Pacific Ocean. The water temperature on the morning of the race was approximately 78 degrees Fahrenheit under overcast skies, which was quite comfortable. The transition between swim and bike took place on the beach at Playa Murciélago. Athletes then do a one-loop 56-mile (90 km) bike ride that begins in Manta and follows the Ruta de Spondylus to the town of Crucita and returns to Manta. The ride is challenging and fast ride with moderate hills. Finally, the running course directs athletes to run two loops, totaling 13.1 miles (21 km) along the coastline of Manta. The course is scenic, flat and features an energetic finish line right by the beach.

Paul in the run.

I have participated in five Ironman 70.3 events and two full Ironmans since I began competing in triathlons seven years ago. After getting pretty sick a month before last year’s race, which threw off my race preparations, I was ready to go full speed this year. I felt like I had a pretty good swim and passed many swimmers from the earlier waves, but then I saw my time of 40:10 and I thought something was off as my goal was to swim 35 minutes (which I had done the previous year).

Fortunately, there must have been something with the tide that morning as most other athlete swim times were slower and I was the fifth fastest swimmer in my age group. I got through the transition quickly and headed out on my bike to Crucita. I was cruising along and hitting my goal times on the bike. I was able to complete the bike portion in 2:43:09, ahead of my goal of 2:45:00 and was the sixth fastest in my age group.

Daniel Cañez fights through his leg pain in the cycling competition.

As I was finishing my bike ride, the sun broke through the clouds and the temperature and humidity began to rise quickly. As I started out on my run, my legs were pretty tight from the long bike ride and my thighs began to cramp from the heat in the second mile. After stopping to massage out the cramp, I was able to push through the rest of the run but felt my legs felt like they were ready to cramp again at almost any moment, so I had to be cautious while running, especially with the heat from the full sun. I completed the half-marathon in 1:48:53 and headed straight to the massage tent after the race. My total time of 5:16:59 was good enough for a fourth place finish within the 50-54 year old age group and in the top 10% of all finishers of the race so I was pleased with my result.

Daniel Cañez competed in his first ever Ironman 70.3 event the previous year in Manta and placed third in his age group that year. Unfortunately for Daniel, he developed IT Band syndrome in his right leg a few weeks before the race this year, which is a common injury for runners and is very painful.

Paul on the medal podium.

Daniel still gave it a go and completed his swim in 1:01:16 which was the second fastest swim time in his age group. He was also able to complete the 56 mile bike ride in 3:54:04. After completing the ride, his leg was bothering him, along with the heat and humidity at that time of the day, and he felt it was best to call it a day rather than risk possibly injuring his leg further on the run course. He was not alone as there were close to 90 participants that were unable to finish the race.

Bob Cox has the unique distinction of participating in Ironman 70.3 Ecuador every year since it first began in 2015. Bob’s strengths are swimming and biking in triathlon races. Bob was the first swimmer out of the ocean in his age group in a time of 47:16 and held a 14 minute advantage over Daniel in their age group. Bob’s bike time of 3:36:53 was also near the top of his age group and he was still in first place in his age group after completing his bike ride. Bob’s weakness is his running but he persevered through the heat and humidity during the worst part of the day for running the half-marathon. Bob’s run time of 3:46:13 earned him a second place finish in the 65-69 year old age group with a total time of 8:22:20.

The Federación Ecuatoriana de Triatlón also hosts triathlon events throughout the year in different parts of the country. The Ecuadorian national duathlon championship, which is a run-bike-run race, will be held in Cuenca in December. Ironman 70.3 Ecuador will take place in Manta again in 2020 for those who might be interested in participating or spectating.

As the Ironman motto goes, “Anything is Possible.”