As I left Florida, Hurricane Ida was heading towards the Gulf coast right to PCB. Two mornings after the race I stood on the 20th floor balcony watching the sizeable waves in the water and was really happy I didn’t have to swim in those conditions! That said, the swim on race morning was supposedly a bit choppier than normal due to this hurricane heading here. If I had known that, maybe I wouldn’t have freaked out so much over how slow I was swimming?
P is for pro!
So I had a few benchmark time goals for my American pro debut at Ironman Florida. I wanted to go under 10:13 for sure. That’s the IMFL course record of the ex-boyfriend who once told me I was too fat to be a pro triathlete. 10:01 was when the sun set. I had finished in the daylight at all my ironmans this year and didn’t want to break the streak. (This is also the first year I have ever finished in the daylight.) Sub-10 again would be sweet. And anything under 9:55 would be a PR!
As for what place I wanted, top 10 seemed attainable. Top 8 got prize money. Top 5 gets on the TV coverage (unless you are the human interest story like I was in China). And top 3, well that’s a podium. But I’ve been told I’m not allowed to even think about prize money until I can swim under an hour. So top 10 it was.
Ok let’s begin the race report.
the girls are in hot pink except Bella in purple!
I stood on the beach with the other pros for my first pro swim start. I think there were 50-60 of us. Bella grabbed my hand and gave me The Look. She didn’t say anything but I knew exactly what she was saying…we are fit, we are strong, and we are ready for battle! No use wishing good luck because we don’t need luck when we have worked so hard in training.
I lined up in the back and figured I am not the only bad swimmer in the pro ranks, there will be other girls I can swim with. The gun went off and the faster pros took off immediately…there were two other women in hot pink caps right by me and I was pretty excited I had other people to swim with. As we got further out, the water was choppier, very up and down like a mini roller coaster and many times I couldn’t see where the buoys were over the top of the waves. Heading back in on the first loop, I realized the woman leading our group was not great at sighting and was swimming a lot of extra distance, and we were also going too slow and comfortable for my liking. Coach said I should never hold back on the swim and it was not a good sign that I wasn’t going very hard. I tried to break out on my own which I did for about 10 minutes, but the two women worked together and caught back up to me.
Then the age groupers descended upon us. We got out onto the sand after the first lap and I saw the clock say 37 minutes. This was when I started mentally flipping out. WTF was I doing?? How could I be swimming so slow?!?
at least I can go fast when my feet touch land...aha...
Now if I had kept my cool, the proper thing to do was to regroup and think “fantastic now I have all these age groupers who are going to pull me through the second lap.” However, I did not keep my cool. They kept going by and going by and I am pretty sure I was passed by at least a couple hundred of age groupers during the second lap. I was really losing it mentally–imagine being a so-called pro and seeing firsthand hundreds of age groupers who can swim so much faster than you? It wasn’t that easy to latch onto their feet because with my 10-minute head start, the swimmers catching me after half of the swim would be the ones that could swim 20 minutes or more faster.
And I was extremely disturbed by this.
The mental meltdown lasted through that second loop, as I battled the choppy water and got smacked by the age group swimmers kicking my ass. The clock read 1:18 as I finally made it out of the swim and I couldn’t believe my second lap took over 40 minutes.
Wongstar was PISSED.
Luckily the warrior in my body knew what to do even if the warrior in my head went on a breakfast break (probably to Waffle House). I sped through transition, fighting back tears, sprinting along the carpeted parking lot through the change tent, and dodging the age groupers. I saw and heard sherpa Amy and the DeFilippises (DeFilippi?) cheering for me. I could manage a weak smile but I think the expression on my face had “FML” written all over it. (Come to think of it, “IMFL” is almost but not quite “FML”.) The only (very minor) consolation was that I actually beat one other pro out of the water… The volunteers in the change tent who dumped out my bag were slightly alarmed, asking “Where are your bike shoes?!” I had to laugh because clearly I had swam so slow that nobody else around me had their bike shoes clipped onto their pedals…
if you swim slow, you should learn to transition really really fast.
look at that ripped forearm! it should be swimming way faster!
I got out onto the bike and began passing the hoards of age groupers that had outswam me. Pretty early into the ride a group of 3 men passed me while quite obviously drafting. I yelled at them “10 meters guys!” and one of them yelled back “it’s 7 meters!” Oh that’s right. The age groupers have different drafting rules. And they don’t actually know what 7 meters looks like. The last time I checked, there is quite a big difference between 7 inches and 7 meters. Then again most men think 7 inches is a lot bigger than it really is. ;)
I would soon find that this little pack of 3 was nothing compared to the huge pelotons and packs of 20+ riders on their $550 Saturday morning group ride along the Ironman Florida course.
Now I am under no delusion that IM Florida is a fair bike course and that I would be able to ride 5 hours flat completely on my own (YET). But I will say two things: I am very against cheating and am scared to death of getting any drafting penalties. That said I will say two more things: I studied all the drafting rules very carefully and there is a definite advantage to legally drafting 10 or more meters behind someone else. This is an even bigger advantage when you are 10 meters behind a giant pack of age groupers who don’t follow the rules as well as you do.
So if I got passed, I would drop back my 10 meters. If they then slowed down, I would wait the 10 seconds before I could re-pass. If there was a big group I was trying to overtake I would pass all of them and look for an opening bigger than 10 meters to get back into. Once I started to pass someone I had to complete the pass even if they decided to pick up the pace when they saw me passing. (I wasn’t afraid to yell “Let me pass!” if a guy started doing this.) And I stayed to the right when I was not passing so I wasn’t blocking the road.
Back in Subic, Coco told me I have bike legs and that I must set them free!
Now the frustrating part is when hardly anyone else follows the rules. I had another almost-cry moment when only 90mins into the ride, a rather large and disorganized pack of riders swallowed me up. I dropped back 10 meters. They then slowed down and the ones in the back would actually sit up and eat. Riders kept invading my 10-meter space so my options were to either keep dropping back 10 meters or HTFU and pass the whole pack. I had not planned on biking so hard so early in the race, and the problem was that most of these age groupers were probably going too hard the first 2 hours of the bike.
Well off I went. I would charge really hard and get to the front, and try to keep charging, but someone would jump on my wheel and I would inevitably get swallowed up. Then I would drop back the 10 meters…recover from the effort…and try again. This happened over and over again. I yelled “this is bullsh!t!” quite a few times and one guy said “It wouldn’t be a problem if you were riding faster.” No actually it wouldn’t be a problem if I were swimming faster! His comment flipped a switch in me and I thought to myself, “this is your own damn fault for swimming so damn slow, so just HTFU, bike your a$$ off, and get out of this trainwreck!”
The last straw came when I was riding to the right of a pack going by. All the disc wheels and aero helmets in the world cannot buy you bike handling skills and one guy swerved for no apparent reason. He managed to save himself, but not before causing another guy to swerve into two others and I heard some crashing behind me as I surged away. I felt a bit heartless but I did not want to be anywhere near crash-prone riders who disregard the drafting rules. It was dangerous in there!
I ran out of action shots, so here is me modeling my new $12 Walmart jeans with Blue Steel.
I would find later into the ride that as you moved up the field, the packs were more much more organized into these nice neat pacelines rather than big messy packs. It was almost beautiful… if it weren’t for the fact that it was CHEATING!!!
I went through the first 60k in 1:44 and was pleased to be on pace to break 5:15. It was windy heading out and I couldn’t wait to hit the tailwind sections. Finally after 2 to 3 hours into the ride I was able to fight my way through some big packs and the road was clearing up. I kept moving up through the field and catching small groups here and there. Obviously if I could catch them, it meant I was going faster and I should be able to pass them. Of course there were always some guys who didn’t like being passed and passed right back, so I would drop back 10m and spend 20-30 seconds behind them sipping Gatorade or eat Hello Panda cookies before I was allowed to pass him again.
I was very happy to hit halfway because now I could bump up the effort as planned, and there was a nice tailwind too. I threw the bike into my biggest gear and mashed my way past guys that were getting tired and really made up some good time. After the swim I had felt like I should give my pro card back to the federation, but during the second half of the bike I was feeling strong and decided to take back my pro card and OWN IT. I really freaked out one guy while passing him at 29mph…sorry!! I raced bikes in college so I thought I had given him plenty of room, but I forget that many triathletes are not so comfortable riding close together…
Somehow getting myself out of the packs put me back into the fighting mindset. I told myself I couldn’t stop fighting even if I had a bad swim. Bella once told me she had a really bad swim and still won the race. So stay positive, Wongstar!! I was surprised to hit the 90-mile mark at 4:04 and thought all I had to do was average 22mph this last hour and I would go 5:04! I put my head down and really hammered this last hour, almost vomit-level, breathing rather audibly, biking like I didn’t have to run a marathon afterwards. I actually caught a couple pro women and thought hmm…maybe I’m not doing so bad after all. There was a tailwind for most of the way back until the final turn onto the shore road, so I was really able to pick up the speed, and then battled it out with the headwind for the final stretch. I was pretty shocked that I rolled into T2 just as my bike computer clicked from 4:59 to 5:00. But more than anything my legs felt completely shot from killing it on the second half of the ride. As I handed off the bike to a volunteer and stumbled through transition I wasn’t sure if I could actually run.
Oh but the legs can always run! I was happy to see Amy and Scott’s family yelling for me and taking pictures as I headed out on the marathon with my Camelbak. Jimmy yelled something about the Wongstar being mentioned on the Ironman.com live updates. He was really excited. I was excited to be out running! Maybe too excited, the first mile was just under 7 minutes. Oops.
I totally chicked him.
Like a good nerd, I had been doing math in my head and figured if I was 20+ minutes behind the leaders out of the swim, but didn’t lose much time on the bike, that still put me over 7 miles back. UGH. By then I figured there would be no way I could go top 10, so I just did not stress myself out about the competition. I was able to make up enough time on the bike that I would definitely go under 10:13 (my “only goal” after the disastrous swim) and then my new “only goal” after the bike was to finish before it got dark–right at 10 hours. Heck, let’s make it sub-10 now.
and him too.
I just kept turning the legs over and stayed pretty focused. The first two miles were packed with spectators; the rest of the course, not so much. I didn’t really see the lead women until about mile 5. I was too tired to do math in my head but by then I was more concerned with my own race than the competition. I assumed top 10 was out of reach so just focused on getting in a fast marathon! When I can put together a faster swim then I will worry more about the other women. The funny thing is that I haven’t done an Ironman with mile markers in over 3 or 4 years, so it was almost weird to keep mile splits on my watch. I knew 8:06 was 3:30 pace, and I was clicking away at about 7:45′s the first lap.
Wongstar + Camelbak = more hydrated than YOU
I saw the 2nd pro woman with her lead bike suddenly stop and start walking. I raised an eyebrow. Did she think it was really hot? I hoped so. Now that’s funny. Heck maybe everyone thinks it’s really hot! Because I certainly didn’t think it was. There were definitely warmer areas on the run course and I would splash a cup of water on my chest at some of the aid stations in these hot spots, but otherwise I thought the temperature was pretty mild. I saw Bella chasing down the lead girls and yelled for her, it was really great to see her out there! We had only raced Embrunman together this year but she was way ahead of me and I never saw her there. She has been a really great mentor to me this season and so seeing her helped keep me motivated during the marathon!
I'll be running as fast as Bella one day!
When I hit halfway at about 1:41 (!!!), in absolutely broad daylight, my watch said 8:08 total time and for whatever reason I got super emotional. I think at that point I knew I was capable of breaking 10 hours again for the 2nd time in 2 weeks, even if I limped the second lap in at 1:52. Even though I didn’t realize it then, maybe my body remembered how awful I felt at this same point in this race 6 years ago, when it was completely pitch dark and I was walking and wanted to quit…and a total “crybaby” as my Mom likes to remind me.
But wait, stop now Wongstar. Keep the emotions in check. It’s Ironman and anything can happen! You are not done yet! I pulled myself together and saw sherpa Amy at Special Needs. Yay! Big smile, halfway done with the run! She was doing live updates on Twitter for me and taking pictures. Such a great sherpa! She gave me a boost as well because you can never have a bad race if your friend flies all the way from California to Florida to be your sherpa! I swapped out the Camelbaks and the volunteer who helped me remarked “COOL!” and off I went, now fueled by Starbucks!!
The second lap really hurt and I just took it mile by mile. I kept telling myself all I needed to do was hold 8-minute miles..c’mon…you can do 7-minute miles in training! 8 minutes is pedestrian! I got a really nice surprise when I hit the state park at the turnaround and saw my friend Kristen for the first time in over 5 years!! We went to college together and were the only two girls on the Claremont Colleges cycling team. She is now getting her Ph.D. at the University of Florida in Gainesville and drove 5 hours just to see me race. We were very close in college and she was actually supposed to come to my first Ironman when I was 19 years old. I never actually made it to that starting line so her first time seeing me race a triathlon would be 8 years later as a pro triathlete!
archived photo of college cycling days circa 2001 (!!!)
Throughout the race there were also people racing who read my blog. Thanks for even more motivational boosts! One guy said “I read your blog, you inspire me!” Well certainly I couldn’t race bad with so many people rooting for me. I had the visual in my head of people following me on the internet at home and everyone letting out a big groan when they saw my swim split. I know, atrocious! The only way to make up for it would be a solid bike and solid run!
I really struggled the last few miles to keep the pace going. There wasn’t a single BONK moment, it just seemed that my legs were slowly slowing down. Just yesterday my friend Soda asked me what I think about when I race. Honestly by the end here, my mind was pretty much blanked out and all I could think was keep going, almost there, just get to the finish line, don’t stop moving, don’t slow down!
Even when I saw the mile 25 sign, my legs felt dead. Although the smile on my face did come back, I really could not get the legs to move any faster until I saw the finish line.
even though it's blurry you can see the Cheshire Cat smile!
Wow…so I slowed down a bit–my second half marathon clocked in at 1:46 (actually the same as my second half at GreatMan), but that’s still a new marathon PR at 3:27 and my first time running under 3.5 hours in an Ironman! It’s also an overall PR by a minute at 9:54!
YEAH! 7 minutes before sunset!
Best day ever, part 7 (? I lost count for this year)!! I was pretty ecstatic to go under 10 hours again, and PR nonetheless! It was an incredible feeling and I couldn’t stop smiling. I really had no idea what place I got until after I finished and got a massage. (Wow when you finish fast there’s no line for a massage!) I grabbed some pizza and saw sherpa Amy, the DeFilippi, and Kristen. That’s when I found out I got 10th place. Best day ever got better! I can’t believe I got 10th with such a bad swim. But I won’t complain. And I will hold onto my pro card. I just have to redeem myself at the next one (10 days from now in Cozumel).
I want to thank everyone who made my race in Florida possible!
- Mark Cathcart, my travel sponsor, for the flight to Florida
- Scottie’s family for adopting me as one of their own for the week
Thanks Mr. & Mrs. D and Heather & Jimmy for adopting me for the weekend! poor Scottie looks dead and sunburnt.
- Amy and Kristen who flew and drove long distances just to watch me race!
thanks for everything sherpa Amy!!!
- The Bike Boutique & teamTBB: Especially Brett & Alex for guiding me and believing in me, and Bella for helping me get a race entry and giving me special encouragement!
fastest training wheels on the entire pro rack. and the entire race?!
- all our team sponsors, including Cervelo, Avia, BlueSeventy, Jeju, Oval, Scody, and ISM
- I have also been meaning to thank my friend Amit AKA “the Amitinator” from Austin, who donated some frequent flier miles to help me get home from Korea. Obviously I couldn’t have raced Florida if I was stuck in Korea!
- Thanks to my family and friends for being so supportive, especially Mom & Pop Wongstar
- Thanks to Mike, Robert, and George of the Gulf Winds Tri Club in Tallahassee and also Ryan from Naples who helped give me rides between the Tallahassee airport and PCB! Southern hospitality at its finest
- and of course, thanks to all my fans! An Asian Triathlon Superstar without any fans is merely…an Asian triathlete. Or something.
One last adventure in Cozumel and then we can all celebrate the end of the 2009 season! Mojitos for everyone! Best year of my life! ;)