For a race that’s 140.6 miles long, you couldn’t have expected anything shorter than a novel for a race report, am I right?
So I tried to organize it a little bit for those of you who think they might pass out halfway through. And, if all you really wanted were the numbers, here’s the quick and dirty right up front:
The blistered, sunburnt skin has almost all peeled and the weird tan lines have mostly faded, which means I’ve had ample time to reflect on what was easily one of the most challenging and epic days of my life.
You only get to do your first IRONMAN once, and while I originally began writing this with the intention of satisfying the curiosity of others, I soon realized I was really writing this for me (sorry, I’m a selfish blogger); it’s been my way of preserving the feelings I had about simply achieving the dream of IRONMAN, of finally proving to myself that I could finish it after having wondered for so long. For that reason, I don’t think any other IRONMAN finish I may have in my future will ever be as fulfilling and satisfying as this one, if only because it was my first…and because it was so bloody hard…
I’d wanted to become an IRONMAN for as long as I could remember, and up until last October I’d always assumed it would be one of those things I would do later. So while I’d had the serious IRONMAN itch for the past several years, I’d sort of mentally filed it away in that place where dreams go to marinate before they eventually fizzle out and die, right alongside my hopes of one day returning to my college weight and traveling to every continent before my 30th birthday (I still have four months to book that trip to Antarctica…okay yeah, not happening).
After all, at that point in my life I had a three year old, an eight month old and an impending 6,000 mile move to China in my near future.
It just wasn’t the right time. Maybe I could revisit the idea in another several years…or decades…or never.
All that being said I decided I’d start training anyway…just in case…
But that itch became more incessant and virtually impossible not to scratch, so come that next April I did something totally NIKE and just did it. I registered for IRONMAN Taiwan, October 2, 2016. I committed. I paid that practically non-refundable insanely expensive entry fee so that I would have no choice but to do it (you can read my exact thoughts from the day I registered here).
But what had I done?
I had just registered for a race distance I’d never even come close to attempting, that would take place in a country I’d never been to.
Ballsy. Or stupid. A little of both, perhaps.
Now I didn’t tell many people this before the race (considering the few people that I did tell blatantly ridiculed my prospects of even finishing):
But at the time I registered for IRONMAN Taiwan, I’d only ever done one (1) triathlon…
A sprint distance (the shortest there is and less than 1/10th the IRONMAN distance).
In 2011 B.C. (as in five years ago, Before Children).
Yes. I realize how crazy that sounds. I completely concede that point.
But I love to train and was actually looking forward to some seriously long training sessions. And I wasn’t a total rookie, at least in two of the three events anyway; I swam competitively for 10 years and had been a collegiate distance runner. But that bike. Ohhhhhh man that bike…I was a total noob at cycling, and didn’t even buy a road bike until April, meaning I only had six months to train for a 112 mile bike ride (which was sandwiched between a 2.4 mile swim and a 26.2 mile run) from scratch. I also didn’t know what aero bars or time trial bikes were, how to change out a flat tube, and I’d never heard the word derailleur before, so there’s that…
Training in Shanghai (where we live) threw a few logistical wrenches into my training plan, but overall it was actually 很 方便 (really convenient). The cycling community is pretty amazing here (think long, organized group rides every weekend), and we have the most wonderful Chinese grandma who nannies our one year old in the morning, which gave me two solid hours to train before I had to pick up my son from preschool.
A two month return trip back to the US during the heaviest load of training made things somewhat difficult, but thanks to amazing grandparents and relatives they all helped make it work (you can read more about the challenges of that here).
However, after two months of nonstop traveling and gorging on American deliciousness, coupled with a 14.5 hour pan-Pacific solo flight with two kids followed by a week of horrendous jet lag, my final prep for IRONMAN was less than ideal. We arrived back to Shanghai September 14th, and left for Taiwan exactly two weeks later.
The trip to Taiwan and the days leading up to race day were of course also hectic. We opted to turn the trip into a race-cation and hang out in Taiwan for another week after the race to visit some friends from college, so we’d end up spending a night in Taibei, about six days in Penghu and another four days back in Taibei. Suffice it to say, packing for a 10 day trip for two kids and two adults and an IRONMAN was insane: clothes, diapers, swim diapers, wipes, swim suits, snacks, toys, running shoes, cycling shoes, spare tubes, half a dozen water bottles, all of my nutrition for the race, tri-suit, swim suit, wetsuit, bike pump, helmet, the bike…
It was cray cray. Taiwan was also in the middle of being pummeled by a typhoon the day we flew out, which naturally caused a delay or two.
Race week is also just ridiculously busy, which I failed to realize, as you’re having to run around to different locations each day for everything from athlete check-in to bike check-in to transition area tours to race briefings.
I struggled to eat enough those final few days before the race, partly due to nerves, partly due to busyness, partly due to struggling to find agreeable pre-race food in a foreign country.
But the fact that it was a family trip kept me grounded, and I loved that the kids helped me forget about the race every once in awhile. We did lots of swimming, hanging out at the expo, and our hotel even had an indoor playground.
But let’s talk about the heat for a minute, because that became one of my biggest sources of anxiety.
The race took place in Penghu, which is a gorgeous archipelago of islands off the western coast of mainland Taiwan.
I knew it was going to be hot, I did. But having spent a bulk of my summer training in the dryness of Boise and the coolness of Michigan, I wasn’t at all prepared for what it was going to feel like to race in a place that was hotter than Satan’s toenails.
It was so so so hot.
And not just hot, but humid. Like 90% humidity.
I prayed that we would at least get some cloud cover on race day, as the three days leading up to the race were overcast and rainy.
No such luck. The forecast said “real feel” would be about 95 degrees F with 90% humidity and absolutely no cloud cover the entire day.
But I made up my mind that I wouldn’t allow anything beyond my control to stress me out, because honestly, I was having a bit of a hard time even keeping my confidence together at all.
As race day drew nearer I couldn’t help but think of all the niggling little fears that I’d managed to keep repressed for the past several weeks. I’d missed a decent amount of my longest cycling and brick sessions. While I’d hit a lot of them, I’d only ever ridden 100 miles on my bike once (on an indoor trainer), with most of my rides being only around the 65 mile mark, had only topped out at 18 miles during my IRONMAN run build up, and had never done more than a 40 mile bike ride/6 mile run brick workout.
While I was most confident with my ability to cover the swim distance, I’d only ever open water swam about four times in my entire life, all of which were in fresh water; not only that, but I have a sort of debilitating fear of the ocean as well as the Loch Ness Monster (Great White shark diving in South Africa several years ago didn’t help…).
My nutrition plan was basically put together after doing a few Google searches on “What to Eat During An Ironman,” most of which just told you to eat what you ate during training, but I’d never trained for 12 hours before…How would I know what my body could handle and how much it could handle over that period of time?
I realized I was in trouble when every article praised the many benefits and total necessity of salt tablets, which I’d of course never trained with, which then raised the dilemma of whether I should violate rule #1 and only eat foods I’d trained with or rule #2 that stated I MUST eat salt tablets…
Long story not so short, the night before the race, as I finished packing all of my gear bags and imagining what the next day would entail, I seriously began to doubt my ability to even complete the bike leg, let alone the entire race
At that point I began to think about how much time and money I had invested in this thing, possibly for nothing. I started thinking about how much my family had sacrificed for me so that I could even be there.
But then, it hit me that at the end of the day, it was just a silly little race; how truly sad would it be for me to have put so much into this massive undertaking, and then not enjoy it once it was finally here?
So I set my alarm that night a little more at peace, and was ready to be up and at ‘em at 3:15 a.m. to make the race shuttle at 4:00 a.m.
Of course I woke up at 1:00 a.m. and couldn’t fall back asleep, but I was grateful that my insomnia gave me the time to check my social media pages which had blown up with the most amazing outpouring of love and support I could have imagined. I know I have good friends, but this was a whole ‘nother level; it genuinely gave me the courage I needed to get myself out the door that morning.
So, considering I’d now only done two triathlons, one of which was an Olympic distance tri two months prior, I knew my race was going to be a bit amateur-hour and that I was guaranteed to make some (a lot of) mistakes.
MISTAKE #1 of the race was not prepping T1 properly, which caused me serious anxiety in the final hour before the race. I’d forgotten to attach my nutrition to my bike the day before when I’d ridden my bike the 10km to T1 for bike check-in. This meant that I had to find some way to attach about 6 gels, 6 packs of energy chews and 3 Lara bars to my bike race morning. My inexperience became evident when I saw people with these little bags attached to their top tubes designed for shoving all your food in. I later discovered these are called bento boxes (again, rookie colors shining through), and while I had tape, my bike was too slick with condensation for it to stick properly. I managed to secure a few gels and chews with hair ties, and shoved everything else in my tri-suit pockets. I also didn’t take my phone and thus didn’t have a flashlight (yes it’s pitch black at 5:30 a.m., duh Kelly…), but I managed to borrow a light so I could pump my tires.
I was actually far less afraid of the prospect of ocean swimming once I got to the start line. I took about 10 minutes to warm up around 5:45 and was pleased the water was warm and crystal clear. I also took courage from the 1,500 other competitors who would be in the water with me (and hopefully be the shark bait if one decided to get nippy). As I stood on the beach in a huge mass of other IRONMAN hopefuls, the gravity of what I was about to do hit me. I realized that my body was not just going to propel me through 140.6 miles, but that I was on the verge of fulfilling a life-long dream and of doing something that would be quite a feat to even accomplish.
I’ll admit I got a little emotional and had to dump the tears out of my goggles; call me a softy.
MISTAKE #2 was trusting that everyone was going to seed themselves properly for the rolling swim start. The pros started about 10 minutes ahead of us, and age-group athletes were to seed themselves based on their projected swim finish times. I hoped to swim around 1 hour 20 minutes, so I put myself in the 1:10-1:40 group. As I should have predicted, about 600 of the people in front of me were actually more qualified for the 1:40+ group in the back, meaning the first half of the swim was simply about passing people and not getting kicked in the face. The most important part of the swim for me was to use as little energy as possible, and to finish feeling like I hadn’t exerted any energy.
The swim was a two loop course that required us to exit onto the beach at the half way point, run 15m, and then head back into the water for the second loop. As I finished my first go-round the pack had thinned considerably, and the only issues I had were the chaffing on my neck from my wet suit (despite having applied copious amounts of Body Glide), about three jelly fish stings (which horrified me every time), and my throat feeling caked in salt. As I hit the waves for my last loop, I felt really strong physically and gained a lot of confidence about having passed a good deal of the field and how effortless it felt.
When I hit the beach at the end of the swim I checked my Garmin and was shocked at my swim time: 1:04…
I had never imagined I’d be anywhere under 1:15! I unzipped my wetsuit and calmly ran the 300m uphill (which would be the first of many uphills, I would later find out) to T1. I found my bike transition bag no problem, lathered some Vaseline onto my nether regions in the change tent, and then promptly made MISTAKE #3, which would haunt me for two weeks following the race:
I didn’t put on sunscreen.
Mind you I’m half black and have only had a minor sunburn maybe once in my life (except for the time I burnt my eyelids so badly in Colorado they blistered…), but still…WHAT WAS I THINKING???!!!
Anyway, at the time this didn’t seem like a big deal, and I made my way out of T1 no muss no fuss.
The first 30 miles on the bike felt amazing. It was still cool and breezy outside and there was plenty of shade on the course. I was drinking in the beautiful scenery of Penghu, eating and throwing down energy drink at regular intervals and just enjoying being in the middle part of my IRONMAN.
But then, almost without warning, the clouds were gone, that gentle breeze turned into an ever-present head-wind, and the sun blazed relentlessly. From that point on, the sun would suck the life out of me drop by painful drop for the next 9 hours. At around mile 40, MIKESTAKE #4, or rather, NON-MISTAKE #4 happened:
IRONMAN is a non-drafting competition, meaning your front wheel has to be at least 12 meters from the rider in front of you’s front wheel, unless you’re passing. If you’re passing, you have 25 seconds to make the pass, and conversely if you’re overtaken by another rider, it’s your responsibility to drop back and make sure the 12m margin is reached.
Well I was riding along, minding my own business, when I realized I was going to pass a guy on an uphill. I put in a little surge so that I could get around him quickly, and when my back wheel passed his front wheel, I kept riding and didn’t think much of it. I soon realized though that he never fell off more than a couple meters off my back wheel, and about 10 seconds after I passed him, he decided he was going to pass me, which wasn’t legal. As he passed me, a guy on a scooter pulled up next to me, screamed my bib number and told me to pull over. I screamed to find out why and he incorrectly told me I’d been drafting and that I was going to have to sit there and serve a time penalty. This was also wrong as we’d been told time penalties would be served after the bike leg in T2. I told him this, at which point he sat there for about 15 seconds and then said, “Are you sure? Well…just sit here 30 more seconds.” At this point I was furious and kept telling him he was wrong, and I could tell he didn’t understand what I was saying.
This was one of the drawbacks of doing a brand new IRONMAN (it was the first ever held in Penghu) and of doing an IRONMAN in a country where your native language isn’t spoken; many of the volunteers were inexperienced and few of the volunteers spoke any English.
While I’d probably only wasted a couple minutes with that whole fiasco, I was most frustrated that it totally threw off my rhythm. I’d gotten so riled up I had a hard time relaxing, and instead of focusing on my ride, I kept replaying the situation over and over again in my head, what I could have done different, how unfair it was. I also wasn’t sure exactly how long the time penalty would be.
The one good thing about the ridiculously long amount of time you’re on the bike is that I eventually grew so uncomfortable and hot and tired I quit worrying about the stupid drafting violation. At around mile 90, my lower back was so sore (I should have gotten that professional bike fitting…), my crotch was so crushed, and my mental state was so low I could have cared less what my time was going to be or how I was going to place.
The bike course consisted of three out-and-back loops on a relatively straight section of road, and by my sixth traverse I was totally over Penghu’s spectacular scenery.
For about the last hour of that ride, my mind would uncontrollably play on repeat: “GET OFF THIS DAMN BIKE. GET OFF THIS DAMN BIKE. GET OFF THIS DAMN BIKE.”
When I finally finished the looped section and made it to the last stretch toward T2, I was so relieved. There was still a long 12 miles to go, but at least I was seeing some new road. Another brutal thing about IRONMAN Taiwan being a new race, especially in a country where triathlon still isn’t a huge sport, was that the course was virtually deserted the entire race. They did a great job having lots of volunteer personnel to control traffic and guide athletes, but as far as fan support, it was piddly sparse and quite lonely.
T2 was set up in a track and field stadium, and my husband and kids were waiting there for me.
When I finally arrived, it gave me so much energy to see them, and Tom yelled that I might be first in my age group.
How was that even possible? I’d never really even considered that possibility, and with how much I’d been passed I assumed I’d be toward the middle or back of the pack.
I got off my bike and as I made it to my run bag, I heard the MC announce that I was the first woman in my age group to reach T2.
How did that happen?!
Lost quite a bit of ground on the bike leg. Apparently a girl in my age group dropped out and her timing chip crossed the mat before I got to T2
I got myself ready to run in about two minutes and with a new sense of purpose, but soon discovered I’d have to spend 5 minutes in the penalty tent. I explained what had actually happened and how I hadn’t drafted, but they of course told me there was nothing they could do about it. I became angry, realizing that that penalty might cost me a precious slot to the World Championships in Kona, which was now somehow a possibility.
I thought I’d been hot on the bike, but it wasn’t until I sat in that tent that I realized just how hot it really was outside. While I’d been cursing that head-wind on the bike, at least the moving air kept me feeling somewhat comfortable. It was around 2:00 p.m., and I soon realized that the heat was totally oppressive. It was thick. It was stagnant. And the sun was somehow only getting more intense.
I got to running five long minutes later, and my legs and back were so stiff. One of the biggest mistakes of my training was cutting too many of my brick workouts (a run immediately following a bike ride) short, meaning my legs felt totally weird and unstable after the swim and bike. I also had no clue what kind of pace I might be able to hold, but was hoping to run around 4 hours for the marathon (around 9:00 min/mi pace). I started out really conservatively until I got my legs back, but was still hitting slightly over 9:00 min/mi for the first few miles.
But when I got to the first aid station at 2 km I was on fire. There were buckets of ice water and ice, but I didn’t want to get soaking wet so I just took a few ice cubes.
MISTAKE #5, I should have cooled down better at that first aid station, because as I left and started running again we came to our first of what would be about 6,000 huge hills on the run course. I was completely shocked, because everyone had mentioned that it was supposed to be a relatively flat course, but in actuality it was closer to mountain climbing. The last course map I’d seen published didn’t have the elevation gain posted on it, post-race I noticed it had been added: 291 meters (about 950 FEET of total climbing)…
By the time I got to aid station 2 at 4 km, I totally doused myself in buckets full of ice water, and filled my hat and sports bra with as much ice as they could hold.
Now I’ll tell you just one way that an IRONMAN is similar to child birth (because the stages you go through during both are in fact very similar). I had to pee for about the last 20 miles of the bike ride, and I was faced with a dilemma. There weren’t any porta-potties along the course, although there were a few public restrooms, which you could smell any time you got about 400m away from one (if you’ve never used a public toilet in Asia…don’t). Thing is, 1. I didn’t want to stop while on the bike; I just couldn’t handle the idea of having to get off and waste minutes finding and using a toilet if I could help it, and 2. I’d read that a lot of people will just pee through their clothes while on the bike.
I actually tried to do this several times but physically couldn’t, partly because it was just really challenging being able to relax enough while riding, but also because I was too self-conscious to do it. Labor is kind of the same way. In the early stages, your body is doing all of these crazy things but you’re still really inhibited and embarrassed about your bodily functions.
Fast forward to aid station 2 on the run. As it goes in labor, the longer the process continues and the more fatigued you get and “into yourself” you go, the fewer eff’s you give about what anyone else thinks of you and your bodily functions. So realizing that I wasn’t going to hold my pee for the next 4+ hours and that I wasn’t going to find and use a smelly, filthy squatter toilet on the side of the road, I did what I’m assuming (hoping?) other people did and dumped a ton of ice water all over myself and then just peed while walking.
Yes. I peed my pants. In public. In the street.
I poured another bucket of water on me, filled my hat and bra with ice, and started running.
And I thought nothing of it.
I did it a couple more time throughout the run, and Tom has since told me I need to burn those shoes.
But I digress.
Around mile four my Garmin died, meaning I had no splits or pace feedback for the rest of the race (there were no clocks or splits given anywhere throughout the entire 140.6 miles).
At this point I was kind of glad because it was also when the wheels really started falling off.
Physically I was as hot as I’d ever been in my life. There was no escaping the sun or the humidity, and my energy was so low. I was having a hard time forcing myself to eat, and was clearly sodium deficient as I started dipping banana chunks into bowls of salt at every aid station. Equally as discouraging were the never-ending hills, which reduced me to little more than a slog. I was shuffling so slowly I really didn’t even want to know what my pace was, nor did I care. I walked every aid station, and always stopped to drench myself with water and ice.
The run course was two out-and-back loops, one-way out being about six miles. When I started making my way back what should have been downhill, I was disappointed that the way down didn’t feel as easy as I thought it would. I started making small talk with a guy from the Philippines who I’d been playing cat and mouse with for a while (I’d pass him and then he’d pass me), but I eventually got so winded I couldn’t even speak; every time I tried I’d get horrible cramps right under my rib cage, so I was eventually forced to just run in silence.
The lowest point for me was when I finally made it down to the turn-around to begin loop #2. I was almost 13 miles into (halfway done with) the marathon, and the sun was at its zenith. It must have been close to 4 p.m., and I’d already been out on that hellish course for 10 hours.
The turn-around was only 1 km from the stadium where the finish line was, and as I looped around and started running away from it I started crying. I cried because I was tired. I was hot. I cried because I knew what lay ahead and really wondered if I had enough gas in the tank for the scorching 6 mile uphill death march that was in front of me. I cried because I’d come so far but all I really wanted to do was quit, financial and time investments be damned.
But as I walked (because I’d given up on running at that moment), I saw a good number of people who were still on the bike course, who were just making their way down to T2. While I only had 13 miles to go, there were some people who still had 26.2+ miles to go.
It was going to be far, and it was going to be hard, but I was going to keep going.
While my mind said “no,” my body made that turn and simply didn’t give my brain the option to quit.
My mantra for the run became “TAKE ONE MORE STEP. TAKE ONE MORE STEP. TAKE ONE MORE STEP.”
I’d been given the advice by my dear friend Melissa (who is training to swim the English Channel mind you…) that the best thing I could do was to just chop that race up into little bits. To just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. To just make it to that next aid station. And that eventually all those little bits would take me to the finish. So that’s what I did.
And then, somehow, everything turned around at mile 17. The sun began to shift and pockets of shade started popping up here and there. Before I knew it the day turned into dusk, the temperature seemed to have dropped about a million degrees, and I found renewed energy. My pace picked up and I no longer felt the need to walk. As I made my final turn, I realized I was heading downhill toward home.
When I hit mile 20 I knew I was reaching the home stretch, and I thought back to how many six mile runs I had done throughout my life. It would be a piece of cake, and I picked up the pace again.
The last six miles of any marathon are excruciatingly deceptive however; you feel so close, yet you’re still so far.
Of course, six miles translated to about an hour of actual run time, which in reality isn’t so short, and my excitement soon fizzled out. I was having a really hard time eating anything at the aid stations, and after 11 and a half hours of eating almost nothing but energy gels and blocks and sports drink, my body wouldn’t allow me to eat anymore sugar; the idea of anything sweet made me sick to my stomach. The aid stations at that point now had fried noodles and chicken broth, but I couldn’t stomach the idea of that either, so for the last hour or so I decided I could get by without eating anything, which was MISTAKE #6. After having already burnt probably around 6,000 calories, I couldn’t afford to not take in sodium and carbs for that long.
By the time I hit the last two miles it was full-on night time, and I’d mentally and physically hit the wall. In those final miles, I was passed by about four girls, all of whom looked like they were in my age group.
As I saw my chances for Kona slip away in that final 20 minutes of what would be a 12 and a half hour day, I was surprisingly okay with it. In some ways, it felt like a relief that I’d never have to do another IRONMAN again. At that moment, I had no energy left to care; it was only pure momentum that kept me going. By that point I knew I was going to finish the race, but there was no enthusiasm about the prospect. I would keep moving out of sheer inertia, but there was no hope for a surge or even for excitement.
While there were hardly any spectators to cheer us on, what kept me moving more than once was seeing the people who were just beginning or barely into their second loop as I was finishing mine. While I was approaching the finish line, there were tons of people who would have to finish their last 13 miles in the dark, whose day would be several hours longer than mine.
And what almost brought me to tears that last 1 km, as I reached the stretch for home, was seeing the people who were walking the last half of that marathon with no prospect of even making the 17 hour race cutoff.
There were people out there who knew they weren’t going to be able to finish that race but were still trucking regardless, and who would keep trucking until someone came and literally pulled them off the course.
That is why I love IRONMAN. That is what makes it such an incredible community to be a part of.
As I made my way up the final hill, I rounded the corner and came in view of the stadium. The end was in sight. That excitement I’d long thought had died inside of me suddenly came back full-force. I made my way down the six steps and onto the track, hopped onto the grass infield and made my final turn toward the finish line.
The finish chute was lined with people cheering, and instead of speeding up, I slowed down.
I just soaked in that moment.
That feeling is exactly why people get addicted to endurance racing.
The lows may be so low, but the high is off the friggin’ charts.
Ironically, I now didn’t want the race to end. As I crossed the finish line, I don’t remember hearing much of what was being said over the loud speaker. All I wanted to hear were those five words I’d dreamed of hearing since I was 10 years old:
“Kelly…You. Are. An. IRONMAN!”
Words can’t describe the emotions I felt. I didn’t cry.
It was only joy. Joy at being done. Joy at having done it.
I was dumbfounded when I crossed the finish line and the MC put his arm around my shoulder and said:
“Kelly…Did you know you won your age group? It looks like someone’s going to KONA!”
I was in complete shock. Like total shock. I had been completely surprised earlier that day when Kona was even presented as being possible, but was now even more surprised to have achieved it after I’d given up on the idea entirely!
As I walked out of the Finisher’s Area and hugged my family, I felt so incredibly blessed to have had their love and support. They’re the most important people in my life.
So word on the street the next morning at the post-race Kona Roll Down and celebration was that IRONMAN Taiwan might be the toughest course in the history of IRONMAN. The heat. The humidity. The hills. Even the pros were saying that Kona would be a cake walk after the blood bath that took place the day prior.
Well that made me feel a little better. I knew I was relatively under-trained, but I barely survived that thing.
A lot of people have asked what it feels like after an IRONMAN, and while everyone’s experience is different depending on how well they prepared themselves (and how masochistic the course planner was), for me…
It was pretty brutal.
When we made it back to the hotel that night I went straight to the shower (yes, I told you what happened during the run…), only I could hardly even get in the water because I had so many horrible chafe burns on my body—it burned something awful. I’d forgotten about the neck rub from my wetsuit, and I’d also gotten chafing on my chest and stomach from where I’d pulled my tri-suit down during the run, and on my ankle from my timing chip.
I tried to eat something a bit later but wasn’t hungry at all, so Tom went out to get me some noodles. I managed to sip some of the broth, but couldn’t really manage much more.
Now remember MISTAKE #3? Failing to put on sunscreen was by far the dumbest thing I’d done that entire day. My back and shoulders were such a deep red it looked like I was wearing body paint. As I went to bed that night, I bundled up in sweatpants and a sweat shirt; I was feverish and had chills. A few days later, I’d develop blisters, have massive peeling, and a nasty rash.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: WEAR SUNSCREEN!
I’m really disappointed we didn’t take pictures to be honest.
I woke up the next morning with quads so sore I could hardly sit on the toilet and could barely make it down stairs. The soreness got worse over the next several days, and finally subsided about a week after the race.
I also did some soft tissue damage to my right foot, which I initially worried was a stress fracture. I wore a walking boot the rest of the time we were in Taiwan so that I could actually get around, but after visiting my doctor and taking some prescribed hardcore anti-inflammatories, it’s gotten much better.
I think my Kona slot experience has been dramatically different than many people’s. Kona is the biggest stage in the sport of IRONMAN, and qualifying for the World Championships is most IRONMAN athletes’ life-long dream.
If you don’t know, qualifying for Kona is a bit wonky. Certain IRONMANs are Kona qualifiers, but each race only has a certain number of Kona slots to be divided amongst all participants. Taiwan had 27 slots for about 1,500 athletes. Each age group was guaranteed one slot, but the athletes wouldn’t know how the rest would be allocated until the day after the race at the Kona Roll Down ceremony. Some age groups might get an extra two or three, depending on how deep/competitive they were.
By virtue of winning my age group, I was guaranteed a slot.
My Filipino friend from the race told me that Taiwan was his 7th IRONMAN, and that he would be competing in his 8th the following month in order to reach his goal of completing 12 FULL IRONMANs in order to qualify for the Kona Legacy Program; he said that would be the only way he’d ever fulfill his dream of getting to Kona.
That’s hardcore, folks.
And here I was, debating whether or not I was even going to accept my slot.
You see I had never anticipated qualifying for Kona. It was my first IRONMAN. My third triathlon. I didn’t have a time trial bike or an aero helmet. I hadn’t even had a wetsuit until two months prior. I knew next to nothing about IRONMAN or even triathlon for that matter. These facts, combined with the fact that my age group was one of the weakest of all the women’s (which I know was the only reason I was able to qualify in the first place), made me feel completely unworthy of accepting that slot. To see all of the incredibly talented, hardworking, veteran athletes who wouldn’t get to go because they’d been in far more competitive age groups made me feel like a phony. And then, I felt an immense amount of guilt because in all honesty, I wasn’t even sure if Kona was something I wanted.
I feel horrible saying that, but it’s true.
Immediately after I finished the race, I decided I never wanted to do another IRONMAN; granted I said the same thing after my first marathon…before I ended up doing three more, but still. Training for IRONMAN is an entirely different beast, and the financial commitment is out of control.
And logistically speaking, the trip alone would be crazy. Living in China, we’d spend an easy arm and a leg on plane tickets, hotel accommodations, and would have to brave a 10+ hour flight to Hawaii. This would be after our trip back to the States in June for my brother’s wedding.
But when Kona was put on the table, I had a mere 12 hours to decided if I was going to invest another year of time and money and sweat and tears into IRONMAN.
The Roll Down process the morning following the race requires all Kona qualifiers to physically be present to accept their slot, and then to pay the even more insanely expensive registration fee on the spot.
That night, after the race, as my husband and I discussed the Kona option, I’d all but made up my mind not to go. I’d achieved my dream of racing IRONMAN, that was good enough for me.
But of course, after sleeping on it, it really wasn’t, because how can one say “no” to the holy grail of long-distance triathlon?
So I said yes, and I’m glad I did.
As I reflect back on my first IRONMAN, I can honestly say there were so many times throughout that day when I genuinely didn’t believe I was going to finish. I realized that nothing can prepare you for what a challenge like that will look or feel like. There’s nothing that can prepare you for the mental and physical ups and downs, or the debilitating self-doubt you will surely feel at some point throughout that very long day. But I learned so much that day about persevering, about seeing something through to the end even when I didn’t want to or feel like I was able to. I learned that all things, even sucky things, eventually do end, and that making the choice to keep going is far more important than winning a medal or hitting a PR.
Looking back I know I was decidedly under-prepared for IRONMAN, at least the kind of IRONMAN I wanted to have. While the training I did got me to the finish line in one piece, I know I’ve got a lot of room for improvement (that’s certainly an understatement). For that reason, I’m going to make an investment of sorts in myself this year; I’m giving myself 12 months to see where I can take this triathlon gig, and will be a hiring a coach to help me gain some much needed experience and wisdom and guidance.
But still, despite all of that, I’m glad I didn’t continue to put my IRONMAN dreams off; IRONMAN Taiwan may have been trial by fire, but it made for quite a learning curve.
So I say, with all sincerity, IRONMAN was worth every penny, every minute, and every step.
And I’m thrilled that while IRONMAN Taiwan may have been my first, it won’t be my last 🙂