October 4, 2013
While riding in the middle of the Nevada desert, Paul Asay felt his bike seat jolt loose. With a mixture of disbelief and frustration, he stood on the side of the road, and watched cyclists he had passed continue on.
The Indiana State University staff member had envisioned a different finish to his first Ironman 70.3 World Championships race.
An avid runner, Asay's involvement in triathlons began 25 years ago when he suffered a stress fracture and could not run for six weeks. He began swimming with a friend and soon was preparing for his first triathlon. Although Asay has competed in virtually every type of competitive race, a TV special about the Ironman Championships in Hawaii inspired him to compete in the 70.3 mile endurance test.
"It captured my imagination like nothing else ever has," said the systems administrator for Indiana State's Cunningham Memorial Library. "I was like, ‘That is awesome. I don't know if I can do it, but that just seems completely awesome.'"
Asay said that there is no such thing as an easy day when it comes to training for an Ironman race. His training schedule featured two-hour workouts of swimming, cycling and running during the week, a 45-mile bike ride on Saturdays and an eight- or nine- mile run on Sundays.
"It's a lifestyle sport and not something you can do well by just training for it on occasion," Asay said. "I usually plan out my season a year in advance and have a pretty good idea of when I need to be in peak form."
All of his hard work paid off on Aug. 4, when he qualified for the Ironman 70.3 Championships at the Steelhead 70.3 Ironman race in Benton Harbor, Mich. Also known as a "half Ironman," Ironman 70.3 races are half the distance of an Ironman race, with all three legs of the race totaling 70.3 miles. With the encouragement of his wife and training partner Ethan Page, who also qualified for the Las Vegas race, he decided to accept the challenge.
"I thought ‘Oh my gosh, what have I just done?," Asay said. "But I'm not one to really turn down adventure."
Although he enjoyed this summer's cooler temperatures in Indiana, Asay had concerns about how he would handle the dry desert heat on race day. When his plane landed in Las Vegas at midnight, the pilot announced it was 91 degrees. The weather on race day? Rain.
"It was the strangest thing," Asay said. "They never get pouring down rain for hours on end, but that's what happened."
Asay said that the rain made the 1.2-mile swim in Lake Las Vegas "uninviting" because of the rainfall and murky waters. Out of the murky waters, Asay changed into his cycling gear and began the 56-mile bike ride through the dry and hilly desert of Lake Meade National Recreation Area.
Then 22 miles into his bike ride, his seat popped loose and he came to a stop on the side of the road.
"I was totally focused just the second before on riding the best I possibly could, and then an instant later I knew my competitive day was done," Asay said. "It became a total effort at that very moment just to find a way to finish."
With this mindset, Asay got to work to find a way to repair his bike. Remembering that he passed a photographer one-quarter mile back, Asay ran back and asked the photographer if he had any tools he could use to fix his seat. Fortunately for Asay, he did.
"He happened to have a little pocket tool that had a pair of pliers and a screwdriver," Asay said. "I grabbed it and said ‘Thank you so much, you are a lifesaver.'"
Asay thought the bike seat simply had a loose bolt that needed to be tightened. However, the bike that he has used in races for 10 years had bigger issues than that and the seat fell off.
"My only fix was to slide the seat all the way back and bend it so that it would just hang on," Asay said. "I'm going up and down these hills at 40 miles per hour, but I'm thinking ‘This is the world championships and I am not going to sit out in the desert.'"
Despite the difficulty and level of discomfort Asay felt riding on the rickety bike seat, Asay kept thinking about the family, friends and co-workers who had given "so much positive" encouragement and support to him throughout his training. He thought of his wife who flew out to Las Vegas with him to watch the race. He thought of his co-workers who threw him a donut party the day before he left for the Ironman race. And he thought about Page, who was also competing in the race, and his training partners from Indiana State's Student Recreation Center.
"I felt like I was representing my community, co-workers and friends as much as I was myself," Asay said. "I didn't want to tell anyone I came here to race the best and didn't finish."
Asay continued on, counting down the miles left in the bike portion of the race when he could leave his bike troubles behind, slip on his running shoes and run the final leg of the race-the half-marathon through the streets of downtown Henderson.
"To get to the bike transition and hand the bike off to the volunteer, I knew at that point I could finish," Asay said. "I was both blessed and elated."
How does one feel physically when completing an Ironman 70.3 race? "Totally spent." Emotionally? "Awesome."
Asay finished the race in six hours and 30 minutes. Considering his bike seat difficulties, he said finishing the race "an incredible blessing."
"With all of the adversity of the day I was a very gratified customer crossing the finish line," Asay said.
Asay said he "absolutely" plans on competing in another Ironman race. He said he is "still in search of a perfectly trained and raced 70.3" triathlon.
"Being 55 years old, I'm obviously slowing down, there is no two-ways about that," he said. "But my determination has not moved."
Paul Asay shows his broken seat post . Courtesy photo
Paul Asay and his training partner Ethan Page (left) Courtesy photo
Paul Asay runs in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Courtesy photo
Asay transitions to the bike phase of the race. Courtesy photo
Writer: Emily Sturgess, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Paul Asay encountered an obstacle during his competition, he thought of his wife, his training partners and co-workers at Indiana State.