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The Long Road to IRONMAN

Posted by on 13. March 2018

Triathlon came late for Chang but several years after she started, she raced her dream race in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.  

Chang Hitalia

The first time I saw Chang race, I became a fan!  Minutes away from the leading runner of her age group on the 3 loop run course, Chang pursued the lead runner like a hungry predator, catching up by the second loop and leading by a mile in the last loop.  She’s definitely a winner.  That was year’s ago and just last year at the age of 52 years old, Hitalia finished strong at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. It is by no means an easy feat. After all she only started doing triathlons at the age of 46. Hitalia may have a tiny physique but she’s powered by a strong desire to achieve her fitness goals—a must for anyone who wishes to be an IRONMAN.

Let’s follow her Road to Kona and get ready as the Philippine gets to hold the first full IRONMAN race on July 3, 2018 at Subic Bay.  Century Tuna, a title sponsor of the IRONMAN 70.3 since 2015 is bringing triathlon’s toughest race to Subic Bay.  The IRONMAN entails for triathletes to accomplish the following: Swim 3.86 km, ride a bike for 180.25 km, and run 42.2 km. It’s so tough that only 1 out of 10,000 people actually finish it.

Road To Kona

While it means logging in many hours of training and loads of self-discipline, an athlete who’s determined to put in the hard work can eventually cross the IRONMAN finish line. One example: Celma “Chang” Hitalia.  Hitalia was like most people wanting to be a better version of themselves. Her journey began eight years ago when she joined a running group with the goal of shedding a few pounds. Regular running gave her a high and soon, she joined races. In 2010, she started yearning for a tougher challenge. She added swimming and biking to her routine and soon, Hitalia was a full-fledged triathlete.

Unlike her running pursuits, Triathlon is much more demanding in terms of training time, cost, and motivation. Hitalia needed to make major adjustments to her daily routine to ensure she gets to train for all three sports and still have ample time for other things. Soon, Hitalia aimed at loftier goals in the sport and in 2014, she finished strong in the Langkawi IRONMAN, bagging second place for her age group despite it being her first crack at an IRONMAN race.

Hitalia continued on the swim, bike, run mantra, competing in two Ironman 70.3 races in Hefei and Xiamen, China in 2016. The latter earned her a coveted slot to compete in the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

“It was always a goal to qualify since I embraced triathlon as part of my life,” Hitalia shares. After qualifying, she knew the sacrifices she needed to make in order to finish strong in Kona.

Hitalia spent seven months building her strength, and conditioning to endure the IRONMAN’s swim, bike, and run leg. In between, she joined a number of races to check her progress. With the help of her teammates at Century Tuna Tri-Hard, she also trained in different conditions—hot weather, strong winds, and uphill routes—essentially what the Kona race was known for.

Despite being prepared, Hitalia says that “you have to come in and fight” as far as IRONMAN races go. During the swim leg of her race in Kona, water conditions were not ideal to swim in.

“Starting off with more than 600 female age groupers was really a struggle. I kept my calm and stuck with my rhythm,” she recalls.

The bike part was equally brutal, too. “The hills were punishing, the heat and humidity were harsh, and it was crazy windy,” she describes.

Hitalia made up for lost time during the 42.2 km run. However, as with the tough nature of IRONMAN races, fatigue soon set in. Thoughts of giving-up creeped up in her mind.

With her dream almost within reach, Hitalia decided to soldier on. As she crossed the finish line, she describes the experience as nothing but amazing.

“The cheers from the crowd, the festive mood, and the red carpet made it an overwhelming experience. Suddenly all the pain subsided and all my hard work became reality. The happiness when you finally hear your name being called out is surreal,” Hitalia shares.

Having accomplished her goal of crossing the finish line in Kona, Hitalia’s next target is to finish strong on home soil. She’s focused to achieve this in June at the Century Tuna IRONMAN Philippines.

Knowing what it takes to finish the grueling race and the elation that takes over, Hitalia wishes for her fellow Pinoy triathletes to experience this. Her advice for those looking to join: Respect the distance.

“Train right, work with a certified coach, and come in adequately prepared. When race day comes, enjoy the experience,” Hitalia says.

With the Century Tuna IRONMAN Philippines posing a challenge for Filipino triathletes in June, the brand sponsor also hopes to inspire more Pinoys to pursue fitness and be part of making the Philippines a healthier and fitter nation.

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