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Archive for August, 2009

the Swiss track marathon championships

Monday, August 31st, 2009

The end of August and thus the end of Swiss training camp approaches.  All of my roommates–Bean, LC, and recently Manny–have abandoned me to clean out the Swiss penthouse to Swiss standards.  A very daunting task and I’m not sure if I am up to it!  I tossed out the half jar of Nutella one of them left as I am learning to think more like a champion, a nice side effect from hanging out with Coco.  Which means I need to eat more like a champion.  And champions don’t eat Nutella.  Or chocolate croissants.  Or chocolate cereal.  Or chocolate cookies.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a guy or one of them skinny-ass vegetarian girls!

I land in Korea for our September training camp on Friday, and with just 2 weeks out from my next ironman race, the GreatMan in central Korea, learned that the race has been cancelled.  The official reason is the H1N1 flu hype–my initial reaction was “but I’ve already had swine flu and it wasn’t that bad!”  But now rumors have been circulating that my competition (both the pro women AND men) heard I was racing and were totally scared off.  Apparently I was ready to whack the living daylights out of them after training and racing for 6 weeks in the Swiss and French Alps.  Who knew the Wongstar was so damn intimidating?

Well, I like nothing better to vent out my disappointment than a monster marathon run on the track.  No teammates and no Coach would be there; just me, my Avias, the two Camelbaks, a fully-charged ipod, and the Swiss Alps surrounding me.  I decided that this would be my own championship race.  The Swiss track marathon championships!  Nobody to whack the living crap out of except for myself.  Because it is what you do when nobody is watching that makes the difference.

where champions are made

where champions are made

My support crew consisted of Fall Out Boy, Linkin Park, Katy Perry, Good Charlotte, ATB, the Killers, Kelly Clarkson and even some Avril and Britney.  This new playlist was only 3hr 37min long, so of course I had to finish before the last song ended.  3:39 was my fastest track marathon over 4 months ago in Subic, and 3:33 was my best marathon ever at Embrun 2 weeks ago.  Maybe now I could go under 3.5 hours!

The night before I made the dinner of champions:  a big liver and onion salad.  Most people find eating liver to be really gross but being Chinese I don’t find it unusual and actually…like it.  I finally figured out how to cook it myself after Bean left.  It is also chock full of all kinds of magical nutritional goodness, and bonus, it’s also the cheapest meat here ;)  Don’t tell my competition, but eating liver is going to make me faster than them!

food for champions, bon appetit!

food for champions, bon appetit!

I also filled up my Camelbaks and put them in the fridge so I could roll out of bed and get an early start.  Below is a picture from my Jeju race; see, I really did use Starbucks!  I couldn’t find a Starbucks or even bottled Starbucks here in Leysin, so I used the local iced coffee: 3 servings with 80mg of caffeine in each.  Is that a lot?  I also threw in 3 tabs of Kona Cola Nuun for electrolytes, before realizing each tab also has 20mg of caffeine.  So 300mg of caffeine for someone who rarely has any…now that’s rocket fuel.

There is a reason they look like IV bags...they provide a constant drip of hydration and electrolytes!  and caffeine in the 2nd one!

There is a reason they look like IV bags...they provide a constant drip of hydration and electrolytes! and caffeine in the 2nd one!

Well I biked down to the track Sunday morning, an early start meant brr was it cold.  Not yet September and already getting cold in Switzerland!  I wore my Scody one-piece racing kit, it’s always good to practice training in what you race in.  At least the sun was out and I would warm up soon enough.  Off I went; it always takes me a couple miles to settle in and soon I was comfortably shuffling along.  A few guys were out for their regular Sunday stroll around the track.  One of them was speedwalking in Lane 1, but always moved aside when I approached and would call out “Bravo!” to me.  His technique reminded me to go heel-toe, heel-toe.  My legs and feet are finally starting to cooperate after Coach said this was the only way to get under 3:20.  No more silly toe-running, I want to go under 3:20!

The miles began to fly by almost effortlessly and my legs seemed to go into auto-pilot.  Is this “the zone?” because I think I’m “in the zone!”  Track marathons are not for the mentally weak.  Before I knew it, I had hit halfway and switched to the iced coffee rocket fuel.  Delicious!  Cappuccino flavor.  Not sure if anybody else drinks coffee during their marathons, but you are all missing out.  :)  I went back to holding pace and soon the legs told me they wanted to go faster.  Well, ok legs, but don’t go crazy, keep it under control, ok?!

With 10k to go I granted full permission to flog myself and brought the mile splits down further…7:20…7:16…  Nothing like a good negative split to finish off a track marathon!  Wow that seemed to go by a lot quicker than the last time…  oh, because I did actually go a lot quicker than last time…faster than I ever have before!  I didn’t see my final marathon time until I hit “stop”:

a little bit salty despite my electrolyte drips

a little bit salty despite my electrolyte drips

3:26:04, a new marathon PR!

I relaxed, rehydrated, and refueled, then headed back up the mountain on Blue Steel.  The hardest part about biking home was actually swinging my leg over the top tube…a little bit sore!  I don’t see why anybody would pay 13 francs to take the train up when you have a perfectly working bike with a full set of gears.  ;)

Champions don’t take the easy way home.

Chinese women = marathon superstars

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

As I mentioned in my forum thread, I was very excited (and totally but pleasantly surprised!) to flip on the TV and catch the end of the women’s marathon at the Track & Field World Championships in Berlin last weekend.

The women’s champion, Xue Bai of China, is only 20 years old and did her first marathon when she was 14.  When I was 20 years old, I did my first marathon…during my first Ironman.  It took me over 2 more hours than Xue’s 2:25.

So China took 1st, 4th and 5th, winning the team title as well.  Japan took 2nd, and Ethiopa took 3rd.  WOW, 4 Asian women in the top 5, and 3 of them were Chinese!  What happened to the Kenyans?  They were 6th in the team ranking.  The Americans didn’t do so good either…our top girl went 10th and I think ended up in the medical tent.

Now when I go running, I try to identify more with my Chinese side.  ;)  Coach does the same thing here–whenever I do or say something dumb, he grumbles something about stupid Americans…but if I do something like race well, he’ll say it’s because I’m Chinese and I’m tough!  :)

I even have the matching shorts, remember?

this was from 3 months ago, my butt may have shrinken more since then :)

this was taken 3 months ago...my butt may have shrinken more since then :)

They are actually the only casual shorts I have here.  (Yeah, I’m so proud of myself for packing light…my casual bottoms consist of one pair of jeans, a jean skirt, and these shorts.)

I just really hope none of these Chinese runners are taking any illegal “turtle juice,” as Bek would say.  I was SO disappointed when I found out Marion Jones had been taking performance-enhancing drugs.  She was winning everything when I was a geeky and impressionable little high school runner.  I even bought a copy of her autobiography.  Stupid American.

At the track today, Coach even told me I actually looked like I was running!  Yes, that’s what we call a backhanded compliment, but I’ll take it!  Clearly I have been inspired and am starting to embrace my Chinese marathoning blood.  It’s in there somewhere.  Maybe I will even get under 3 hours someday, I mean if all these Chinese girls can go under 2.5 hours, surely I can go under 3!  It may take a few years…or more… but I am a patient little Jedi.  Just keep training hard and consistently, and work on my heel-strike to perfect the Wongstar Shuffle.

Also makes me wonder how fast I can run an open marathon.  I have never done one, I just race them when they are preceded by a 3.8k swim and at least a 180k bike ride.  ;)  Otherwise I do them in training without the swim and bike warm-up.  I don’t really have any desire to race a marathon by itself though, I kind of think I would go just as fast as I do in an ironman…speaking of which, my friend Amy pointed out that I qualified for the Boston Marathon at Embrun!  Haha, well if I keep cutting down my marathon splits by over 20mins at a time, soon I will get the men’s qualifying time…that’s a 3:10!

happy running,
an inspired and very Chinese Wongstar

Eating a Pain Sandwich

Monday, August 24th, 2009

How to Become an Asian Triathlon Superstar, Step #25: Learn to deal with pain (the good kind).

Over a year ago, my motto going into the Vineman 70.3 was “I eat pain for breakfast.” I made myself hurt during the race and had a big PR, breaking 5 hours for the first time. That was before I started attending training camps with Coach and teamTBB, and now I’ve been learning to eat pain for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Just to clarify, this pain I speak of is not the “oh I’m injuring myself” kind of hurt. This is the good kind of pain, the extreme discomfort that comes from pushing your body harder than it wants to go, but is necessary to get yourself to go faster than you think is possible. (So Mom, stop freaking out whenever my Facebook status says something about how my legs are hurting…it’s a good kind of hurt… otherwise I will block you from seeing my status messages, I really will.)

So it amuses me to no end that here on the French side of Switzerland and all over France, there are shops you can go to where you can buy pain. You can even buy pain sandwiches! How about that. The Frenchies are a masochistic bunch.

shopping for pain, what kind would you like today?

shopping for pain, what kind would you like today?

Over in Embrun, Blue Steel and I went to one of these pain shops. If I was going to be experiencing the pain that was Embrunman, I wanted to be prepared. I figured I should eat a pain sandwich the day before the race.

good race preparation, visiting the pain shop!

good race preparation, visiting the pain shop!

Inside the pain shop, the pain sandwiches stared me in the face…and SMILED.

a little creepy but cute, huh?

a little creepy but cute, huh?

What was this?! Pain should be eaten with a smile!

eat your pain with a smile!

eat your pain with a smile!

Blue Steel and I enjoyed eating our pain sandwich, and the next day at Embrun we were ready to hurt. We embraced the pain…we learned to hurt. Coco once told me to not fear the pain, because when you learn to deal with it while training, you can really push through it on race day.

Coach says dealing with the pain is different in the three disciplines. Obviously I’m still learning to hurt in the swim. Swimming pain is the hardest for me to embrace, but every morning I try to hurt a little more in the pool. I can make myself hurt most on the bike, but this has yet to manifest itself in my racing. On the run I don’t ever appear to be hurting…I take the pain with a big smile! Just like the pain sandwich at the pain shop. Smiling has been shown to have an analgesic effect on pain. But maybe I have yet to go hard enough in the run to make it really hurt. I am sure there are deeper levels of pain that I have yet to experience and embrace. But when I do…my times should drop to much lower!

At the moment I am merely a student of pain. I have much to learn.

in case you havent figured out what pain is in French...

in case you haven't figured out what "pain" is in French...

the agony and the ecstasy that is the Embrunman

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Embrunman was my third ironman race of 2009 and just 5 weeks after my last one.  Before this year I had only done one ironman per year, if I did one at all.  I never thought I would see the day when I could start doing an ironman every month (yep the next one is in 3.5 weeks!) and do really well at them too!  It is no longer so bizarre for me to wrap my mind around this concept because as a member of teamTBB, every day I’m learning that you can always do more than you think you can.

I got to drive in a foreign country for the first time too.  The Hungarian and Kiwis gave me lessons on how to properly navigate a roundabout...

I got to drive in a foreign country for the first time too. The Hungarian and Kiwis gave me lessons on how to properly navigate a roundabout...

I actually volunteered to this masochistic race as Coach asked us all if we wanted to do it.  This time last year, actually from July 2008 (Vineman 70.3) until March 2009 (Singapore 70.3), Coach had put me on “race probation”–I wasn’t allowed to race at all for 8 months until I got faster.  He didn’t want me wasting money on entry fees and travel expenses, and the patience has paid off.  So now that I am allowed to race again, of course I want to race as much as I can!  Coach had also told me before I even booked my plane tickets that none of these European races would suit me–much too hilly and there was no way I would make any prize money at them.  So I didn’t even expect to be racing this summer, and I figured Embrunman would be a great training day that would make me both stronger and tougher after over 13 hours on this epic race course.

the bike profile is deceptive; its the last little peak that is the biggest hill in the whole race!

the bike profile is deceptive; it's the last little peak that is the biggest hill in the whole race!

“Epic” was the description of Embrunman I kept hearing from everybody.  In addition to the standard 3.8k ironman swim and 42k marathon run, the bike course was a little bit longer than the usual 180k–anywhere from 185k to 192k depending on who you asked, with over 5000 meters of climbing.  This includes a climb up Col d’Izoard, one of the famous Tour de France mountains, around the halfway point of the bike.  I looked at last year’s results, and none of the women had broken 7 hours on the bike, so I figured it might very well be an 8-hour day in the saddle for me.  Bean had also told me a sub-4 marathon might be unlikely for me after such a tough bike, but I thought I’d shoot for it anyway.  Once you go sub-4 you don’t go back!  Depending on how disastrous my swim could be, I estimated that I would have a very good day if I could beat my very first ironman time of 13 hours and 10 minutes.

The journey to Embrunman was epic as well, there would be 6 of us from teamTBB racing and I travelled in the Hungarian Red Bull Wagon with Coco and the Kiwi couple, Keegan and Tracy.  The Baylisses and James went a more direct route than we did, and Coach would be joining us on race morning.  The Red Bull Wagon took a pit stop in Geneva, then into France, then dipped into Italy for a 33-euro trip through a very long clastrophobia-inducing tunnel complete with a traffic jam towards the end, then back into France, with no shortage of crazy twisty roads.  The GPS told us it would take 5 hours but we didn’t get to our hotel until at least 10 hours later…ha!!

Well, onto race morning…I dug up some pics from the official photographer.  Please try to ignore the big green “tintinphoto” watermark.  :)

thats me in the BlueSeventy Helix with my head right above the p

that's me in the BlueSeventy Helix with my head right above the "p"

The women got to start the two-lap swim 10 minutes before the men at 5:50am.  This race is also special in that not only is it held over one of the toughest ironman courses in the world, they don’t give you until midnight to finish.  You only get until 10:30pm!  The Frenchies are hard-core for sure.  The awards ceremony was scheduled for 8:30pm and I remember thinking, “if the start time is at 7am, am I even going to be done by then?!”  So luckily we started an hour earlier than most ironman races…in the dark too.  For the first lap of the swim, it was pitch black and we girls followed the bright blinking lantern on the back of the lead boat.

I wish I could tell you Im in this picture of fast aggressive girls with Bella and Erika...

I wish I could tell you I'm in this picture of fast aggressive girls with Bella and Erika...

...but Im really in this more timid second group, eh heh!!

...but I'm really in this more timid second group, eh heh!!

I lost the front pack pretty quick, nothing unusual, but found myself a nice pair of feet to follow for quite a while.  The lake water was completely flat, the temperature was perfect, and there was no chaos or getting beat up.  The first men didn’t catch up until after I started the second lap; I was thinking this was a very good thing!  The woman I was swimming with seemed to be fading and I remembered Coach’s words, “YOU should NEVER hold back in the swim!”  Ok, ok, so when the first men started passing, I picked up the pace and ended up swimming the second lap primarily by myself, catching a short draft every so often when passed by one of the men.  The first big pack of men didn’t even come by until after I founded the final turn buoy, hmm I must be having a good swim, I thought, because the Euro guys are known to be stronger swimmers than the Asian guys.

I dont think I saw my swim time yet, otherwise Id look WAY more happy!

I don't think I saw my swim time yet, otherwise I'd look WAY more happy!

I swam hard to the shore and found myself actually keeping pace with some guys on the last 400 meters.  When I popped out and looked at my watch, I was stoked to see 1:05!!  Definitely my best ironman swim ever and over 20mins faster than my three previous ironman swim splits.  I got into transition with a huge smile on my face and threw my new Scody bike jersey over my race kit.  I had packed a good assortment of chocolate cookies in my jersey pockets…I mean if I was going to spend 8 hours on the bike, I wanted to make sure I didn’t bonk.

this was taken in the morning in the dark, but you can see my cool new Scody bike jersey

this was taken in the morning in the dark, but you can see my cool new Scody bike jersey

Yes, I had a very simple game plan for this race:

  1. DON’T BONK!
  2. DON’T BLOW UP!
  3. DON’T CRASH!
  4. DON’T VOMIT!
  5. DON’T PASS OUT!

In other words,

  1. eat enough.
  2. pace well…don’t go too hard too early.
  3. careful on the descents.
  4. don’t eat TOO much…especially don’t eat too much and go too hard at the same time.
  5. drink enough and don’t get dehydrated.

To ensure I wouldn’t be a victim of rule #1, here is a picture of all the food I ate on the bike.

no, I didnt really eat all of it.

no, I didn't really eat all of it.

Haha, just kidding!!  I think I ended up eating only 10-20% of it.  At most. I shared a hotel room with Miss Coco and when she saw this spread, her eyes went all big and she exclaimed “You can’t eat all that!  That’s like 10,000 calories!!”

Back to the race.  I mounted my new old horse Blue Steel, and off we went.  We passed by Coach on our way out of transition and he looked surprised and ecstatic, telling me I was only 10 minutes behind the leaders.  WOW!  Now that’s a new feeling.  The other new feeling was having a bike with more than one gear option for the first time in 2.5 weeks.  Yep, other than a short pre-race spin, this would be the first full real ride on a REAL bike after all my “fixed gear” work.

It was NICE.  Even though the course was crazy hilly, every time the road went up, all I had to do was shift down.  Gosh, I couldn’t get over how nice that was.  I had a 27, a 25, a 23, AND a 21 that I wasn’t allowed to use for over 2 weeks.  Like Coach’s advice/orders during le teamTBB Tour de France, I used the 27 “early and often.”  Because I COULD.  If my legs wanted to protest at all, all I had to think was “I climbed up the hill from Le Sepey.  Ten times.  In a much harder gear.” (Le Sepey is the town outside of Leysin during our one-hour climb home that is about 5k from the village, at which point the hill pitches the steepest.)

Of course there was another voice in my head that kept screaming “TOP FIVE: TWO THOUSAND EUROS!  TOP 5!  2000 EUROS!!”  Because the prize money at this race is really quite nice.  I actually wrote down the prize money distribution on my race bracelet (which they unfortunately clipped off of me post-race before I could take a photo). I wasn’t sure how close I would be to top 5, but it was good motivation as I’d recently had some unexpected financial expenses crop up–new bike parts at Swiss retail prices (OUCH) and an estimate of 571 Swiss francs (about $530 USD) to change a plane ticket!!! So I was VERY FIRED UP to win some money.

And so if you really want to know what goes on in my head during most of the 7+ hours on the bike, the uphill part went something like this: “DON’T BLOW UP!  LE SEPEY!  10X!  IN A MUCH HARDER GEAR!  TOP 5! 2000 EUROS!  DON’T BONK!  DON’T VOMIT!  TOP 5! 2000 EUROS!  LE SEPEY!  10X!  IN A MUCH HARDER GEAR!!!  DON’T BONK!”

I got to the top of the biggest climb, Col d’Izoard at 100km and my watch said it had only been 4 hours and 18 minutes.  Whoa, I actually thought it would take 5 to 5.5 hours to get there.  Then it was time to go down.  Now I was thinking “DON’T CRASH!  DON’T CRASH!  DON’T CRASH!” which was in conflict with “TOP 5–2000 EUROS!  TOP 5–2000 EUROS!”  Logic won out, I couldn’t finish the race and get any money if I had a bad crash going over the side of the mountain.  There were no guardrails on some parts!!  So I was pretty careful.  Stick to the plan, Wongstar!!

Most of the bike was uneventful, I was following the plan pretty well, although I ended up eating and drinking less than I intended.  I got tired of all the chocolate cookies I had put in my jersey pockets and ate maybe a third of what I carried up the mountain…ahaha.  Some of the aid stations were not strategically located (either at the end of a flat section or on a downhill when you are racing by pretty quickly).  I was surprised to return into the village of Embrun well under the 7-hour mark.  What’s going on, I thought no girls broke 7 hours last year?  Am I just that awesome today?

I was a bit confused, kept looking at my watch and thinking, there must be more hills somewhere…there must be.  Then I saw the “10k to go” sign and thought “ok, one more hill, but just 10k to go, how bad can it be?  Obviously I must just be really awesome today.”  HOW BAD CAN IT BE!!! FAMOUS LAST WORDS!!!

OMFG.  That last hill was a BITCH.  I had to say many words that my mom wouldn’t approve of, but DAMN IT SUCKED MONKEY BALLS!!!  It just kept going up and up and up, every time you turned the corner and thought “surely we start descending,” NO, IT KEPT GOING UP!!  By now I was cursing like a sailor, my Le Sepey mantra wasn’t working, I had skipped the aid station at the bottom of the hill and I wanted to shoot myself.  I was so obviously distressed and cursing and groaning that even my male competitors who I had passed earlier started to repass me back, but all with words of encouragement.  ”allez allez!” 5k to go, surely we start descending…NO!!!  4k to go, surely we start descending…NO!!!  MOTHEREFFER WHEN IS IT GOING TO END?!?!

Finally, I think 3k to go, there was an aid station at the top and I stopped and UNCLIPPED.  ”Coca?” asked a volunteer.  …And that is why the Bean calls Coca-Cola the “red ambulance.”  Usually I wait until halfway through the marathon, but a red ambulance was definitely in order.  A couple of volunteers threw water over me, bloody hell I needed it.  I regrouped, got back on the bike and wondered how I was now going to run a $#!*&@#$ marathon after this craziness.  But the bike didn’t end there.  I had wondered how we could possibly keep climbing with less than 10k to go…oh, it’s because the last 3k’s downhill are SUPER STEEP AND TWISTY ON BUMPY UNEVEN ROAD.

After a lot more of “DON’T CRASH!  DON’T CRASH!  DON’T CRASH!” (oh how bad would it suck to crash so close to the finish) I made it back to transition.

I took my time, stripped off the bike jersey, ate a banana, drank the rest of my sports drink and strapped on the Camelbak.  Ok.  Let’s do this.

Smiling is a positive feedback cycle = smile big  the crowds cheer for you more  you smile bigger  they cheer even more...

Smiling is a positive feedback cycle = smile big > the crowds cheer for you more > you smile bigger > they cheer even more...

Well, the crowd support was just incredible!  I was so happy to be done with that stupid bike ride that I had the biggest grin on my face, and well, because running the marathon in an ironman is one of my most favorite things.  You are done with the swim (my least favorite part), and done with the bike (the longest part, especially at Embrunman), so gosh you are practically done and everybody cheers for you like you are a big triathlon superstar!  In France, they yell “Allez allez allez!  Bravo!  Supa supa!”  My favorite is when they tell me “Supa!”  clearly they know I’m a supastar!  The weird annoying part though was people kept looking up my name from my bib #47 on the participants list handout…which had me listed as “Marina Wong.”  #48 was Jocelyn Something Else.  So unfortunately I kept hearing “Marina!  Marina!  allez Marina!  bravo Marina!!”  It was only funny the first two times.  :(

I went out at a controlled comfortable pace, and at the 2km mark looked at my watch.  Just under 10mins.  Ok, maybe I went out a little too fast.  Or I might have punched the lap button a little late leaving transition.

4k.  Just under 20mins.  6k.  Just under 30mins.  UM.  Well my legs feel fine, and I’m holding 5-min km’s, which is the same as 8-min miles, which is…a 3:30 marathon.  Yeah, I have studied Coach’s marathon speed chart while brushing my teeth (3:30 is the slowest time at the bottom).  3:30 is a lot faster than my PR though, the 3:55′s I ran in the last two ironmans.  Am I going to blow up?  I can’t blow up, rule #2, that’s not part of the plan.

Being a very logical person, I got logical (which is different from realistic).  Coach always says I overthink things, but I think sometimes it’s a good thing…see, I reasoned out in my brain why I should be able to run a 3:30 marathon…then I went about executing what was completely logical:

1.  Of course I can break 4 hours in a marathon.

  • I did it two times running on the track in Subic.
  • I did it at altitude at Alpe d’Huez.
  • I did it two times during ironmans in very humid conditions, in China and Korea.
  • China was also extremely hot in addition to being humid.

2.  The marathon at Embrun is in easier conditions than those other crazy marathons I did.

  • Embrun was hot but not hot like China.
  • Embrun wasn’t humid like China or Korea or Subic.
  • Embrun wasn’t at altitude like Alpe d’Huez.
  • It’s prettier here, not the monotony of going around the track over a hundred times.
  • Crowd support always makes me go faster.

3. Well, the course was a little hilly…BUT…

  • so was Alpe d’Huez and Korea.
  • hills don’t bother me, a hilly course just means it is half downhill.
  • the Wongstar can smash down the hills pretty fast with her monster quads.
  • going up the hills doesn’t slow me down too much either.

Therefore, quite obviously I should be able to go a lot faster, right?!  Right!

But wait!

4. what about that crazy bike ride?  Why weren’t my legs so smashed I couldn’t run fast?

  • Well… I had learned something about myself during the previous two weeks on the “fixed gear.”  I learned that I could smash the crap out of my legs biking up and down the hill and show up at a track session the next day and run a lot faster than I thought I could.
  • Thus I learned that my running legs are different than my biking legs.
  • This might not actually be true for everybody (too bad, haha!) but the one blessed with the Wongstar shuffle I would soon learn was blessed indeed.

I counted down by 7k at a time; I found this was a good way to break up a marathon like in Korea (a 3-lap run, so each 7k was half a lap) and at Alpe d’Huez, where I ran 6 laps of 7k.  Besides, when I was in 3rd grade and we got to multiplication, I never learned my 7′s times table because I thought it was stupid they were rewarding us with these little plastic medals for each times table we memorized.  I only got to my 5′s, so I still get stuck on 6×7, 7×8, and 6×8 sometimes (9′s are easy if you know the trick).

But see now it’s easy to remember 6x7km = 42km.

Right, back to the race.

I was holding my pace up through the entire first half, when I hit special needs at around 21km, my watch said 1:44.  Oh boy maybe I’ll even break 3:30 today if the legs hold up, I thought, as I refilled my Camelbak with defizzed Cherry Coke (there was no Starbucks in Embrun).  I bet that’ll shock the hell out of Coach!  It was hot, but I managed it with sponges and throwing water on myself, plus I was pretty hydrated with the magical Camelbak.

Someone later told me I was 15th woman off the bike, but I don’t remember passing that many women on the run.  Maybe they were losing time at the aid stations because they didn’t have Camelbaks and that’s when I passed them.  ;)  Some of the timing ladies held up 7 fingers towards the end of my first lap of the run, so I think I was in 7th at that point, but who really knows when they are all speaking in French???  Well, I was excited because 7th place on my race bracelet told me that was 1000 euros!  Oh boy!

During the second lap, it was hard to tell which women I passed were on their second lap or just starting their first lap.  My legs were starting to feel just a little sore in the quads, and I lost a minute here, a minute there on one of the bigger hills and with the Camelbak refill.  So then I was 2 minutes off a 3:30 goal time, but strangely enough kept holding the 5-min/km pace.  ”You are bombproof,” I reminded myself.  ”The Wongstar shuffle will never break down.”  That is what Coach says, and he is always right, so c’mon, legs, keep going!

I passed someone else, maybe? so then I was in 6th, maybe?  At 7k to go (35km = 5×7) I got a minor abdominal cramp that threatened to slow me down before the finish.  Just keep breathing…I lost a little bit of time ducking into aid stations for some sports drink, thinking maybe more electrolytes would help.  The cramp eased up and with 3k to go, I passed another woman, who I figured was on her first lap.  I ducked into an aid station again…but as I returned to the run course, I saw that this woman had not only passed me back, but kept glancing over her shoulder rather nervously…at ME.

OH SHIT IT’S ANOTHER PRO WOMAN!!

I’m not sure this has ever happened to me in a race before.  Usually I am so far back in the swim I don’t catch anybody.  And if I do it’s because they are walking.  This one may have some fight in her yet!! Well, what do I do?  Stay with her?  Throw in a surge? Wait til we’re closer to the finish?  I was not sure what place I was in, but my race bracelet told me the difference between 5th, 6th, and 7th was in increments of 500 euros.  So when I saw her pass me back all I could think was

THAT’S 500 EUROS! GIVE ME MY MONEY BACK!!!

I caught her again quickly and worked my logic: if I could catch her twice in such a short amount of time, obviously I was going much faster.  So I knew exactly what I would do…  We exchanged a LOOK and then I PASSED DECISIVELY.  I bolted!  I wasn’t giving her the 500 euros back, it was mine, and I was going to run away with it!  Catch me if you can!

Never in my life did I think I could run the last 3km of an ironman so fast, but logic or not, I was so freaked out that she would come back and snatch me at the finish line (this happened to me in high school all the time) that I picked up the pace, and dug in deep.  ”You can always go faster and harder than you think you can.  There is always more,” I told myself.  ”HTFU!  JUST GO!!”  I didn’t even slow down to give high fives to the cute little Frenchie kids yelling “Bravo, madam!  Bravo, madamoiselle!” which I had done during my first lap.  I felt bad, but not as bad as I would have felt losing 500 euros in the final minutes of a 12-hour race.  Much later I learned that I had overtaken 5th place (2000 euros!!) and had actually put 2 minutes into her over those last 2km.

oh yeah I am a superstar!

oh yeah I am a superstar!

The agony of the horrid and heinous bike ride long forgotten, I was all smiles going into the finish chute.  Holy crap, I made it, and I actually swam a 1:05 and ran a 3:33 marathon?!  And I’m about to win my biggest triathlon paycheck?  BEST DAY EVER!!!

everyone yell TOP 5, 2000 EUROS!!!

everyone yell "TOP 5! 2000 EUROS!!!"

A very shocked and proud Coach caught me at the finish line. I mean really, I don’t think anyone expected me to come in before the 13-hour mark, myself included!!  It was so great to travel with the team, and I learned that Bella and Erika had a big duel and ended up going 1-2 in the race.  I also enjoyed seeing the boys on course, yelled for Stephen a couple times, and got a high five from James as he finished early (3rd place!) and saw me heading out for the 2nd half of the run.  Our sheepherder finished strong as well and it was great to share such an epic experience with my teammates, and contribute to the phenomenon that is teamTBB.  It was also Coach’s first time seeing the Wongstar in action so I did not disappoint!!

with my teammates and two of the best ironwomen in the world!!

with my teammates and two of the best ironwomen in the world!!

At awards, some of the other pro girls were surprised that I came all the way from the USA to do Embrunman, but I would point to the top 2 girls standing in front of us on the podium and say “oh I’m training in Switzerland with those two.”  ”YOU train with THEM?”  ”Yes, yes I do.” It’s true…we are just that awesome!  Thanks Coach for showing us the way!

with the best coach in the world too!

with the best coach in the world too!

WOW EMBRUNMAN IS THE BEST!!

I AM TOTALLY COMING BACK NEXT YEAR!!!

a REAL bike just in time for Embrunman–a real team effort!

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Before I go into detail on my incredible race yesterday at Embrunman, which is now classified as my new “best day of my life,” I want to acknowledge everybody that helped me get a fully functional, fully geared bike JUST in time for the race!

As Khan had his aneurysm just 2.5 weeks ago, my quickest option for getting an intact Cervelo frameset was to retrieve my old friend Blue Steel from Ria in the Philippines.  He was happily hanging out in her apartment enjoying his retirement, getting cheap massages every day and eating lumpia and mangos, but was ready to go back into battle at a moment’s notice.  Ria happened to be going on a business trip to London, so he hitched a free ride with her on the plane.  Once in London, my travel sponsor Mark Cathcart (with his UK connections) contacted his good friend John Levison of Tri247.com.  (Yes…a true Asian Triathlon Superstar has friends and friends of friends everywhere around the world.)  Mark helped cover shipping costs while John arranged the pickup of Blue Steel from Ria and sent him on his way to Switzerland.  So thank you Ria, Mark, and John!

Blue Steel then got caught up in customs in Geneva from the Friday through the Monday right before the race.  Coach’s better half Fiona was on the phone and email with customs for two days to make sure Blue Steel would get to Leysin not just before we left on Thursday, but in time to get all the components switched out and built up.  Thanks to her tenacity the bike frame arrived Tuesday afternoon!  So thank you Fiona and Brett!

he's really really ridiculously good looking, isn't he?

he's really really ridiculously good looking, isn't he?

The final step was taken care of by our resident bike doctor, Abi’s Steve.  He had less than 24 hours to turn Blue Steel back into a real bike, and Nicola and Rebekah helped donate some money to cover the costs.  By Thursday morning I had a real bike again with 20 gear options!  19 more than the previous two weeks…so thank you Steve, Nicola, and Bek!!

we made it to Embrun!

we made it to Embrun!

A sincerely huge thank you to everybody for making it possible to actually get to the starting line of Embrunman with a real bike (and not a “fixed gear” bike).  It means so much to me to have all of you on my side.  I really am the luckiest girl in the world, as Coach keeps telling me.  I am just grateful beyond words and have dedicated my race to you.  Obviously I couldn’t have done so well without your help!  Race report coming next!

yeah I thought this racking system was a bit odd too!

yeah I thought this racking system was a bit odd too!

Adventures in Fixed Gear Riding

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Rumor has it that a bike monster in the making, code name Wongstar, has been going up and down the mountains of Switzerland on a fixed gear bike.  Well technically this is not true as on a true fixed gear bike, you can’t coast; if the wheels are spinning, the pedals are spinning.  Oh boy would that suck going down these hills.  It is true that Khan the Somewhat Revived Warrior Horse has been locked into a single speed configuration.  39-19 which I’m told is the same as 53-25.  This morning was Khan’s last ride, I went up the mountain (or more a hill by now) for the tenth time in the faux fixed gear.

And true that by the fifth time I went up, the big hill going home was less of a mountain.  For the past 2 weeks this is the only biking I’ve done.  What will it be today, Coach?  Will I go up the hill once, twice, or three times today?  Because this gear ratio is really only good for going up and down steep hills–it is when the road flattens out that I get stuck, spinning out of gears quickly.

This weekend is Embrunman, what I like to call a “bonus ironman” because the bike is 188km instead of 180km, with over 5000 meters of climbing.  They tell me this is where boys become men and girls become women.  Just in time I got my new old frameset back, and really I am grateful to finally have more than one gear option!  I won’t be picky.  Two would be nice…how about the 53-19 and 39-19?

After the type of biking I’ve done over the last 2 weeks I’m thinking that going up any mountain with a full set of gears on my bike is going to feel…well…simply AMAZING!

As for our dear friend Khan, if I ever go back to track racing on the velodrome, you may see him as a true fixie without any brakes.  Here are some old photos of me in my track cycling days back in 2006.  The “Superdrome” in Frisco, Texas was a true velodrome with the steep 44-degree banked corners.  Not like some of those wussy shallow velodromes.  My track cycling career was short-lived as this was just a minor distraction from Ironman racing:

Superfun at the Superdrome

getting chicked is hard for the male ego to handle

getting chicked is tough for the male ego. bwahaha

whatever you do, don't stop pedaling or you'll fall

look Ma no brakes!

from supernerd to superstar

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Last weekend I missed my high school’s 10-year reunion in favor of training with a pretty good triathlon team and a pretty okay triathlon coach here in Switzerland.  ;)

To commemorate this momentous occasion for the Westmoor High School class of 1999, I had my dad scan some photos from the old high school track scrapbook.

this awesome photo is circa 1995

this awesome photo is circa 1995

as you can see…long before the Wongstar was a superstar, she was a supernerd.  I had the glasses and braces my first two years, got straight A’s and always had my hand up in the air in class.  I was worse than Hermione in Harry Potter; sometimes I would correct my math teachers if I caught any mistakes on the chalkboard.  School and homework came easily to me, which was good because I had the stereotypical Chinese parents who would get very upset if any of us ever got a B+.  Actually, getting an A- was only barely acceptable.

look Coach Im heel-striking!!  Im heel-striking!

look Coach I'm heel-striking!! I'm heel-striking!

What I absolutely loved was running on the cross country and track team.  Running didn’t come so easily, maybe that’s what drew me to it–the challenge.  My older sister was the one who wanted to be a runner, I ended up joining as well because she was my childhood hero.  I wanted to be just like her!  Even though by high school, we pretended we didn’t know each other in the hallways.  During one of my first summer practices my freshman year, I totally puked after we did hill repeats on the Fort Funston sand dunes in San Francisco.  Coach DiMaggio gave me a big pep talk because he thought I was going to quit the team after that incident.  Quitting had never occurred to me, and wow was my big sister mortified!  It was great!

I think Im still prepubescent here.

I think I'm still prepubescent here.

Being on the track team taught me to work hard and be disciplined.  (I didn’t get that from school and homework because like I said…it came easily to a nerd like me.)  Even though I wasn’t the most talented distance girl on the team, I had more passion and a stronger work ethic than my teammates who were naturally faster, and I would find myself catching them in the second half of each season.  I ended up being a top varsity runner during my four years of high school, but this was the big fish/small pond syndrome and I have no big delusions of grandeur.  I was decent in our league, but I was well aware that California was and is a hotbed of top-notch prep runners.  I never made it to any of the state meets, and I knew my running talent wasn’t good enough to get me a college scholarship.

running a sub-six-minute mile

running a sub-six-minute mile

So back to the supernerd part.  I went on to become co-valedictorian with an SAT score over 1500, and got accepted into every college I applied to with plenty of offers for academic scholarships.  I knew what the college admissions people were looking for: someone smart and “well-rounded.”  So in addition to being a runner, I was also in the Symphonic Band (I played the flute but no, I never made it to band camp, got chickenpox that summer instead), twirled rifles in the color guard, and was an officer in both the Science Club and Chinese Club.  Maybe that is how I ended up becoming so good at marketing myself as a future superstar…

I was such an overachiever, but hey…fast forward 10 years or so and at my first TBB camp in Subic, Mat tells me quite matter-of-factly, “Our team is full of overachievers.”  And here I am again, not one of the most talented athletes on the team, but I have the passion and a strong work ethic.  Some things never change.  But at least I look a little cooler now.

Le TBB Tour de France ala Le Lanterne Rouge

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

Soon upon landing in Switzerland, I learned that I would be participating in our team’s own little version of le Tour de France, departing a week after my arrival.  Although I had completely missed the stage that went through our little village of Leysin, I had already done a couple rides on our Swiss Alp roads covered in Tour de France graffiti cheering for the bike racers.

departing for Stage 1...or the Prologue...or whatever

departing for Stage 1...or the Prologue...or whatever

Never one to be left out, I was excited as usual.  6 days of big bike miles over the mountains into France, and I would get to race in the famous Alpe d’Huez Triathlon too?  I didn’t mind that Coach had warned me (and continues to remind me) that I was not/am not ready for the bike riding here.  We would have two SAG vehicles and he did say we could only go as fast as the slowest rider…  And altitude, bah!  I’ll adapt.

the lovely and very cheerful SAG girls

the lovely and very cheerful SAG girls

I had never been to France before!  I made a list of things I want to do in France…

  1. eat French fries (freedom fries?)
  2. climb le Alpe d’Huez
  3. eat chocolate croissants every day…ok  just the epic days ;)
  4. try the crepes
  5. French kiss
  6. practice saying “voulez vous coucher avec moi?”
gorgeous mountains and cute little villages

gorgeous mountains and cute little villages

Indeed I was fueled by chocolate croissants–one of the cheapest and most abundant and oh yeah best tasting foods in France–which helped prevent bonking on those big rides over the mountain.  During Stage 2 they even saved me from being le lanterne rouge for the day…

the battle for Lanterne Rouge status

the battle for Lanterne Rouge status

LC held back a bit so that with our little German Christine, we had a good group of three riding more or less together.  Both of them are tiny so I considered myself an honorary member of the Smurfette squad.  Hobbits, whatever.  We climbed big mountains.

trying to blend in with the hobbits

trying to blend in with the hobbits

Apparently it is not mandatory to wear helmets when racing up and down steep mountains in France.

Instructions for the race helmet sticker:  ”Please place one sticker on your cycle helmet facing forward, or if you are not wearing a helmet, on the front of your shirt. Please place the other on your handlebars, facing forward.  Enjoy the ride.”

Especially enjoy the part of the ride where you crash going down the mountain and smash your brains to pieces because you weren’t wearing a helmet.

race poster with the real Alps and real superstar reflected

race poster with the real Alps... and real superstar... reflected in the window

For the conclusion of stage 2, we took the back route and only climbed the last 6 (of the 21) switchbacks of the famous Alpe d’Huez mountain featured in the race.  Little did I know that this would be the extent of my completion of #2 on my to-do list.  I soon also learned firsthand why Coach always wishes us “best mechanical luck!”  Sometimes there are things you have no control over–on Wednesday, race morning as we were descending to the lake for the swim start, Khan the Warrior Horse died a very sudden and untimely death.

the demise of my beloved warrior horse

the demise of my beloved warrior horse

Diagnosis?  An aneurysm to his rear derailleur hanger.  I cried a few tears as Coach threw the dying horse into the back of Coco’s red Red Bull Wagon.   I never thought I would have to endure two broken hearts in the space of a single week.  ”We may have to put the old horse down,” said a somber Coach.  I would have cried more if I hadn’t already wasted most of my tears on that douchebag loser who never deserved any of my affections…or come to think of it, if I had any idea what Coach had in store for the dead horse in the following weeks…

Khan has an aneurysm

autopsy results: Khan had an aneurysm

So I wouldn’t get to do Stage 4: the triathlon, after all.  But I am a professional triathlete, and we pros must carry on through hell, heartbreak, and bad mechanical luck.  Even though I couldn’t do the bike leg of the race, I could still swim and run.  I pondered if this would count as my first DNF; if I started the race and finished the race, but just skipped that little biking part in between?  I like to think of it as more of a DQ.

The water was cold but tolerable once I got moving.  It was calm and flat, much preferred to the seasick-inducing waves of my last race in Korea!  pretty uneventful.  I got out without the usual hurry-hurry of getting through transition because my second event would be hitching a ride back to the T2/finish area.  Easily enough with the signature Wongstar charm and smile.

The run portion of the race was a half marathon consisting of 3 hilly laps through the village of Alpe d’Huez, altitude 1850 meters.  I met up with Felipe (who was too young at 17 for the long course race) and we cheered for all our teammates, who were all kicking butt in their TBB race kits.

the young Brazilian and I will be back next year with a vengeance!

the young Brazilian and I will return with a vengeance!

I waited until all our girls got through T2, so it wouldn’t look like I was winning the race or something awesome like that!  During my first lap, I saw Coach, who told me to run for 2 or 3 hours.  On the next lap I asked “Can I run a marathon today?”  I felt I had to make up for missing the fantastically challenging bike leg.  His reply: “if it makes you feel better.”  He knew I was upset with more than just the demise of my beloved warrior horse.  Besides, I needed to burn off the chocolate croissant I had for breakfast.  And the one I had for lunch.

I ended up doing 6 laps of the run…which confused some of the volunteers and officials, but I did have an official bib number, so they couldn’t kick me off course.  I really enjoyed the aid stations–they had watermelon and dark chocolate!  The official photographers even took several snaps:

oh, the altitudes not too bad

oh, the altitude's not too bad

I got many cheers because I was pretty fired up and holding a steady clip, or maybe because I’m such a hottie in my Scody team sports bra, but hey, I had relatively fresh legs from skipping the bike up the mountains.  Each lap took me just under 40 minutes, so I ended up running a sub-4 hour marathon.  Later I found out that it was a marathon-plus…the run course was actually 22km so I ended up running a very hilly 44k… at altitude… in under 4 hours!  yeah!

my favorite part was the chocolate at the aid stations

show me the chocolate!

So yes, I did actually feel much better after the run…thanks for asking.  ;)

The next day was our flat stage going halfway home…under Coach’s orders, Steve resurrected the warrior horse as a single speed bike in the big ring.

Dr. Steve operates on the warrior horse

Dr. Steve operates on the warrior horse

In the days after our tour I would learn that this is all part of Coach’s master plan to transform me into a bike monster…Wongstar the bike monster.  It has a nice ring to it.  While the Stage 5 route going home was mostly flat, I still found myself doing a fair share of standing on the pedals to get through what hills we had.  Oh, Khan.  This is not the last you will hear of him.

the resurrection of Khan.  like Gandalf the White if you are into that LOTR stuff ;)

the resurrection of Khan. like Gandalf the White if you are into that LOTR stuff ;)

As for the to-do list?  Well obviously not everything has been crossed off.  But assuming Khan’s replacement comes in time, I’ll be returning to France next weekend for Embrunman…

the Korea Triathlon Jeju ironman champion’s race report

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009
best day ever.  with better days to come!

best day ever. with better days to come!

How to Become an Asian Triathlon Superstar, Step #24:  Never apologize or make excuses for your successes.

Apparently there is more to being an Asian Triathlon Superstar than just winning an ironman.  :)  As soon as I arrived in Switzerland, Coach made it clear that he didn’t approve of the apologetic tone of my prize money blog.  So I will not apologize for this coming an entire 3 weeks after the race…hey it has been the most eventful July of my entire life and I haven’t even blogged about the latest drama.  Let’s just say the Alpe d’Huez race report will be a little different.  And I will also not apologize for how incredibly long this race report is either.  :)  The short version is called “just scroll through all the fabulous pictures!”  Photo credits go to my friend Michael Wright, Ahn (a local ultramarathoner), Kim H.S. of Geocycle, and the official photo crew at sportshot.co.kr.

My journey to Jeju began by successfully tricking the jetlag fairy.  I pulled an all-nighter on Tuesday nightpacking for my 3-month trip, flew out Wednesday after lunch and slept nearly the entire flight, which arrived in Seoul on Thursday night.  I was tired enough to fall asleep when I got in, and promptly woke up around 5am each morning leading up to Sunday.  Getting up before 4:30am on race morning was actually less painful than usual.  This race would be ironman #7 for me.

Jan and Dan picked me and Cam up at the BlueHill House–they were running late as Jan was doing a 7k warm-up run on the treadmill (!!!).  After the usual transition set-up, I waited at Jungmun Beach in my BlueSeventy wetsuit, surrounded mostly by Korean triathletes with directions being called out in Korean.  The ocean was looking anything but calm and flat like I had hoped and prayed for…but then again this race is notorious for having a very tough swim with big waves.  The swim has actually been cancelled twice in the last 5 years, I was just in denial.  Cam gave me a 2-minute lesson on how to negotiate the waves and it was fun to practice, kind of like playing at the beach.

happy to be in Korea!

setting up Khan the Warrior Horse

setting up Khan the Warrior Horse

As it grew closer to 7am, I stood by Korean triathlon superstar Park Byun Hoon and asked “so how do I know when we’re about to start?  Are they going to say anything in English?”  He just laughed and within a minute, the start gun fired, off we went…only it was more like a bunch of us ran into water and stared at the wall of water that was about come crashing down on us.  I dived under the waves again and again, trying to go like Cam had taught me, and I would have to say after the third time, it was NOT fun like playing at the beach.  When I finally got past enough of the big waves, I found myself swimming with a rather large pack of age group men.  And by “swimming with,” I mean water polo wrestling with.  I was smacked on both sides, had my ankles grabbed constantly, and was put in a headlock once or twice.  I tried to do a place-press-push but it would get interupted by contact with various guys.  It was more like place-press-SMACK GRAB place-WHACK, kind of like those old Batman TV episodes.

Wheres Wongstar?

Where's Wongstar?

Apparently Asian triathletes are notorious for being bad swimmers so I had a lot of company.  I got out of the first lap and my watch said “10:24″ WOW a 10-minute first lap!  that donut must be working!  Ok, not so much, guess the watch got a good smacking too, I switched over to the time and it was 7:37am, so 37mins at the most for the first half–a big improvement at least over Ironman China, where I got lapped by Tereza :(  I was feeling pretty good starting off the second loop and actually pulled away from the main group, but halfway to the first turn buoy, the sea became even choppier and I found myself fighting off waves of nausea.  I stopped swimming multiple times because I was very close to vomiting, and I very much knew that the last thing you want to do in an ironman is lose all the calories you have stocked up on for the rest of the day.  A calorie deficit from hurling your breakfast is the worst way to start off a 180k bike ride.

A bad swim for me (and yes my last 3 ironmans now) is always the lowest point of my race day, and there were moments in the water where I wasn’t quite sure I would even finish that damn swim.  Ridiculous as that sounds, that was how bad my stomach was feeling and it was all I could do to keep my head together.  I made a deal with myself, “it’s ok to swim slow, just don’t throw up, ok?”  I visualized swimming in calmer waters, remembered ocean swimming with my friend Virginia at the Santa Cruz pier back before she had her baby.

Finally it was over and a final wave hurled me onto shore without me hurling the contents of my stomach, or a “reversal of fortune” as they call it in the competitive eating world.  I had a pretty sad face coming out of the ocean and a rather slow transition as I tried to regroup.  The 1:28 I swam was faster than my China swim by maybe half a minute, but I am NOT a 90-minute swimmer in reasonable swim conditions…  In the end I was very grateful to be on solid land again, and Khan the Warrior Horse was happy to see me too.

I gave my stomach some time to regroup as well.  I couldn’t shove down as many Hello Pandas down my throat as I wanted, there were a few moments on the bike where I kind of vomited in my mouth a little (too much information?  hahahahahahaha) which was my body’s way of telling me to ease up on the Hello Pandas, and I listened.  :)  I knew the first half of the bike was relatively flat with the hills cropping up from around 90k to 130k.  So my plan was to hold back that first half and crank it up over the hills.  Turns out it was an extremely windy day; the first one-third of the bike (up to 60k) I think we even had a nice tailwind and I was easily averaging a 5:15 pace, moving steadily through the field.  I had looked at race results from previous years (those with a full pro women’s field) and knew that a bike split under 6 hours would be pretty good for me on such a hilly course.

Once we hit the turn-around at about 60k, I felt the massive headwinds which also became crosswinds as we started climbing up and through the fog.  There were more exposed sections of the course where I felt some very large gusts of wind hit me sideways, but nothing so bad that I had to get out of my Oval aerobars.  After the race, the pro boys told me it was windier than Kona and they were definitely getting blown around pretty strongly!  We realized that I didn’t have it as bad because I was on my trusty old training wheels–no race wheels for me until I demonstrate a bike split worthy of race wheels, as Coach says, and it didn’t occur to me that this would actually be an advantage for me on such a windy day!  It seems that some of the guys had to get out of their bars and ride the brakes quite a bit.  ;)

foggy like home!

foggy like home!

It was also very foggy with low visibility as we got closer to the top of the volcano; actually this felt familiar to me, like being at home in Pacifica!  In grade school we would play “hide-and-seek” in the fog at recess.  :D  The only difference is that when training in the fog, you aren’t going balls-out…so I did slow down here and there as it was hard to anticipate when you were going to hit a steep up- or downhill, a sharp corner, or an intersection with potential cross traffic.

My pace definitely slowed once we hit the hills, but I also noticed that there were less and less age group men around me, and by 90k there were long stretches where I was completely alone.  I would have to say it was a pretty clean race drafting wise for the women’s pro field ;)  I would catch up to some groups of age group men riding together and felt like asking sarcastically, “Oh, is drafting legal in Korea?” but was pretty sure they wouldn’t understand.  And obviously if I was catching them, they were too slow for me to ride with legally or not.

At 130k the hills had slowed my average speed back down to about 6:00 pace, but this was the end of most of the climbing.  After a bit more of the up and down all the way to the finish, I was relieved to return on the main road to the World Cup Stadium.  I actually overshot the dismount line and was told to back up so I wouldn’t get DQ’d!  I ran to the women’s change tent.  My friend Michael Wright, who is a fellow California brother that has been living in Korea about the past 10 years, and very involved with the Seoul Synergy triathlon team, was also the English race announcer.  He asked if he could come inside to take pictures and since I wasn’t actually changing, why not!  No one else was in the tent, and he told me I had ridden up to 15th overall.  Awesome!  Funny since I was also bib #15.  I threw on my Camelbak and Avia Avi-Rhythms, grabbed the magic running sticks and off I went!

lets go running!

let's go running!

ironman is fun!

ironman is fun!

heading out with a smile :)

heading out with a BIG smile :)

As soon as I got onto the run course, there was a mountain bike escort waiting, with a sign that said “Female 1st” in both Korean and English.  WOW!  I get a lead bike!  It was cool having someone to run with, except that he didn’t speak any English and went way too far ahead of me.  He was going a bit faster than I was and would sometimes have to stop and wait.  Still it was cool having him to chase down, but eventually I felt sorry for him for having to bike so slow for almost 4 hours.  He had to have been bored.  But it was cool that having him alerted a lot of spectators on the road, and in cars, and volunteers, that I was winning the race and I got a lot of Korean cheers!  I have no idea what they said, but it sounded encouraging :D

with my new best friend for the next 42km

with my new best friend for the next 42km

The run course is what I would call “undulating,” all up and down on the same stretch of road, out-and-back for 3 laps.  Much hillier than I expected, I guess I wasn’t paying attention all the times Cam and I hailed a crazy taxi ride to the stadium for pre-race stuff.  I think we were usually fearing for our lives and making sure we had our seat belts strapped on.  The cool part was there were two “grandfather” statues, one at each turnaround point for the run.

shuffling my way to my first win

Every kilometer was marked on the ground, and since each of the 3 laps were 14km each, I counted down my km’s 7k or half a lap at a time.  During the first lap, I saw there was one other woman already out on the course…on a relay team!  She looked pretty strong but by the 2nd lap I decided I had to catch her.  Relay team or not, I wanted to be the first woman across the finish line!  There were also a lot of cameras taking photos of me, and a videographer would come by on the back of a motor scooter to get some video coverage.  Totally cool.  I smiled a lot but I was also pushing myself pretty hard so I alternated between the serious very focused look and the Wongstar smile.

do I make it look easy or what?

In my mind, most of the run kind of blurs together, other than more competitors getting onto the course.  Since it was a 3-lap course, the special needs station was not at halfway but at the beginning of each lap, so I decided to do my Camelbak switchover at the beginning of lap 3 (28km).  I finished my enhanced Gatorade in the first Camelbak bladder right on schedule, around 21km/halfway through the run, so I made sure to drink some Gatorade at those 7km’s of aid stations until I got my rocket fuel refill.  I even grabbed a slice of watermelon at one of these aid stations, it was the only solid thing I ate on the entire run and it was great!  My bike escort almost lost me as I was enjoying myself.

whew baby get me some water!

I was very happy to hit 28km and switched out my Camelbak bladders.  The Wongstar Special Rocket Fuel (3 bottles of Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino slightly diluted with water and some bonus electrolytes for good measure) was actually still cold at that point.  Freezing it overnight worked well!  Yum.  I made sure to sip some of my “iced coffee” every time I hit a km marking and definitely felt a boost.  At one point I was passed by a woman who blew by me pretty strongly.  But my lead biker didn’t go with her, and I didn’t remember seeing her the first two laps.  She seemed to be going faster than I was, and I was pretty sure I was one or two laps ahead of her.  But at that point your brain doesn’t work so well, and I couldn’t quite shake the illogical feeling that this age group woman had caught up to me and passed me, even though I hadn’t seen her all day.  Maybe the lead bike stayed with me because I was the only pro woman?  Well I certainly couldn’t let an age grouper beat me!

focused and fierce!

I felt my pace quickening and managed to catch this woman, who was in fact either one or two laps behind, and soon enough, there were only 9k to go, then 8, then 7… I hit the last turnaround and started to get really excited!  My legs were toast at that point but thinking about winning my first race put a bounce back into my step.  My fellow competitors and my lead biker really started cheering me in at that point, I tried to give a smile and thumbs up.  I ended up picking up the pace through the final km’s and even caught a few more guys.  By then I was absolutely beaming and cheered for the guys I chicked with the biggest smile, which I’m told was heartbreaking.  Ah, always better to be the heartbreaker than the heartbroken.  I found out later that I had moved up to 9th individual!

I think Avia would like this shot!  thank you Avia :)

I think Avia would like this shot! thank you Avia :)

The best part was the finish line celebration!  I got to give high fives and break the tape as Korea Triathlon Jeju women’s ironman champion!  The silly videographer was on a coffee break and totally missed my finish, so instead you can enjoy this photo montage:

high fives for everyone!

high five's for everyone!

here I come!

the win is in the bag!

first time I broke the tape like this, thats how the champions do it!

this is how the champions break the tape! I studied all the pictures to prepare for this moment.

hooray hooray hooray!

hooray hooray hooray! (the volunteer lady wouldn't let go.)

gosh I am one happy Asian Triathlon Superstar

one happy Asian Triathlon Superstar

my finishers medal

my finisher's medal

sweet I get a magic towel too?  best day ever!

sweet I get a magic towel too? best day ever!

Then they hosed me down, which was fun for the first five seconds.  But it really wasn’t that hot!  Well nothing compared to China is hot any more, I think my sense of temperature is permanently warped.

number 1!

number 1!

ok guys thats enough!  really!

ok guys that's enough! really!

I had to take a photo with my bike escort.  We spent almost 4 hours together!  He actually bitched out the traffic controllers for me at one intersection when they weren’t doing their job and let a car cut in front of me.

hes got my back!  well literally he was in front of me.

he's got my back! well literally he was in front of me.

The next day I got to give out my first victory speech.  Everyone said I won first place for best smile!  :D

#1 for best smile :D

#1 for best smile

Ariel translated for me in Korean!

Ariel translated for me in Korean!

They gave me a bouquet of flowers, a winner’s certificate that looks like a restaurant menu, and a phallic trophy of one of the grandfathers.  Someone told me that he’s a fertility god.   ;)

with my special trophy and Mr. Lee, president of the race organizing committee

with that trophy and Mr. Lee, president of the race organizing committee

Winning is the best!  I can’t wait to do it again.