HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
The Maryland Ironman was almost over before it began for Gatineau’s Eric Roy. But he persisted, overcame external and internal challenges of the gruelling, three-sport endurance test and scored an emotional victory.
Being an Ironman athlete means you train as a swimmer, a cyclist and a marathon runner. While the equipment required for swimming and running is minimal, the cycling aspect requires careful, box packaging of the extremely expensive and finely tuned bicycle for transportation.
When Roy landed at the Washington Dulles International Airport last week, he was shocked, after opening his bike box. There was significant damage during the flight to his sleek machine.
“The airline company did not handle my bike with care. At that point, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to race,” Roy explained in an email interview. “I had to wait until I put the bike together and assess the damage.”
The tri-bars at the front of his bike were cracked and the bar end shifting was broken. So, Roy the athlete transformed into Roy the mechanic and temporarily fixed the tri-bar with multiple layers of tape. For him to shift gears on the flat 180-kilometre Maryland Ironman course, he had to use the lower part of the tri bars.
“In the end, it did not affect my ride too much,” added Roy, who completed the long-distance cycle in four hours, 38 minutes, three seconds and put him in second place overall.
Before Roy transitioned to the bike race, he started with a 3.8-kilometre swim in the waters of Cambridge, Maryland. He posted a strong swim of 57:19, despite the presence of thousands of jelly fish. He was so focused and his freestyle strokes were so quick “I didn’t really notice them.”
After his bike ride, he jumped right into a full 42.195-kilometre marathon, which is hard enough to accomplish without having to endure a 184-kilometre warmup and go through two transition zones.
“One guy really pulled away in the initial stages of the marathon. I let him go and kept to my pace,” Roy wrote. “He was about eight minutes ahead at about the half marathon. Then he started fading and I caught him by 32 kilometres and led the last 10 kilometres.”
With the temperatures approaching 30C and having a sizeable lead in the overall race, Roy enjoyed the final 50 metres of race. He walked down the carpeted finishing chute and spoke with spectators. When he reached the finish line, he picked up the tape and lifted it high over his head.
There are only 18 Ironman competitions in Canada, the United States and Mexico each year.
“It was a very emotional finish with tears of joy crossing the finish line; all the hard work and years of sacrifice really paid off,” said Roy, who achieved his goal of placing in the top three, but narrowly missed going under nine hours with a winning time of 9:04:44.
Roy, 47, is extremely fit and probably would have dipped under nine hours, if the swim wasn’t approximately 200 metres longer than advertised and if he didn’t need a two-minute bathroom break during the marathon.
He also was happy that he was 19 minutes faster than his time at the 2019 Maryland Ironman, when he placed 18th overall. That was his first Ironman, after an eight-year break from the challenge. In both Maryland Ironman races, he was first in the men’s 45-49 age class.
With many North American races of all distances and challenges cancelled or postponed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maryland Ironman was the opening race of the 2021 season for Roy. He was scheduled to compete in the World Ironman Championships in October in Hawaii, but it has been postponed until February, 2022.
“I train about 15-20 hours a week. I typically swim three to four times a week, run three to four times and bike five to six times,” said Roy, who plans to compete in Ironman Florida in November.
“I follow a strict program with a coach and every workout is basically planned six months in advance. It helps being focused and disciplined.”
Time management is critical as Roy must balance his life as a husband and father to two children, a financial businessman and a high-performance athlete.
“My son has started triathlon as well and has been doing lots of training with me,” Roy continued. “He is incredibly fit and pushed me to be faster. He is only 12 and already showing great endurance.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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