5th woman across the line at the Toughest Show on Earth
The “Toughest Show On Earth”–that’s what was written on all the banners and race materials for Ironman Malaysia. Crossing the line as 5th woman at an M-Dot Ironman is something that I had never fathomed when I watched my first Ironman as a volunteer and spectator almost 10 years ago. My 18-year-old self just wondered if she could finish one. Before midnight. I was mostly worried about making the 2hr 20min swim cut-off.
Even a year ago, I’m not sure I imagined I could do this well. And leading up to this race, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Not to say that I have no goals or expectations…it is just very different to hope and dream and wish certain things and then to have them actually happen in real life. Or maybe it’s more that I have been told to be very patient, so I thought I would have to wait a little bit longer. Either way, Coach says this is part of why I do well. Apparently my expectations (or lack thereof) keep me from getting a big head and blowing up from overconfidence. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The swim was an out-and-back straight line into the salty sea. Swim out 1900m and then turn around and come back. I was fighting in the pack the first 15 seconds and then found myself with Miranda Aldritt, just the two of us together. We smacked each other at first and then she went ahead and I stayed on her feet, though she slowly crept ahead. I’ve been working on yet another new swim technique but Coach said to just “swim hard” however which way I wanted. When we got to the turnaround, I looked at my watch for the first time and yuck…46 minutes!!!! Oh sweet baby Jesus. No way am I finishing the swim in over 90minutes! Newly inspired (or rather, horrified at myself), I swam as hard as I could all the way back. Apparently there was a current against us going out, as my second half only took 32 minutes. Swimming 3.8km on your own is much harder than in the giant washing machine of age groupers–heading back the water suddenly became more turbulent from the masses of amateurs swimming the other way; I really thought there were extra boats out there or something. Swimming in the Krabi pool with no lane lines proved to be good practice for open water swimming.
Dear God, if I can't have world peace, how about a little bit of swimming ability? Just a little?
I jumped out of the water as last place female pro, slightly less horrified that my watch said 1:18 and not 1:28 or worse. I launched straight into the “Damage Control” game, also known as the Denial Game, where you tell yourself everyone must have swam slow today. By like 10 minutes. Thus you don’t get freaked out or panicked or depressed and ruin the rest of your race. I am getting really good at this game.
hustle!!! 23mins down!
I got on White Tiger and stuck to Coach’s race plan for me: swim as hard as you can, hold back on the bike by 15-20 minutes, and then run them all down. Race smart and beat the people who you weren’t meant to beat. Patience, patience. I focused on getting the nutrition down–Gatorade at the aid stations and Hello Panda cookies in my bento box. The bike course was hillier than I expected, and some of the road surface wasn’t very smooth or fast. I just rode solid, holding my pace steady and increasing the effort as the ride went on, but never going balls-out, and passed the first pro woman around the 3-hour mark.
the coolest bike pic in the world, as mentioned before.
Then something weird happened. Towards the end of that third hour, I passed 3 more pro women, all in a row. Maybe everyone really did swim bad. Maybe they were already blowing up from the heat? It wasn’t too hot, if you were biking fast enough it was almost breezy… Strangely enough our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, started playing in my head…I think because Coach had always said that at hot races, those who went out too hard would start to detonate. But if I paced myself well, I would be bomb-proof. “The rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof to the night…that our flag was still there…” I think subconsciously I was bitter that I missed most of the Winter Olympics.
The fourth and last lap of the bike, that last hour, the aid stations ran out of EVERYTHING. No Gatorade, no water. I forced myself to keep eating my Hello Panda cookies…you need this nutrition, eat it!! And 2 or 3 aid stations later finally got a small bottle of water to wash it down my dry throat. Everyone else was in the same situation, I figured I would rehydrate on the run…Camelbak time! I rolled over the timing mat with a 5:20 bike split, hey not too bad for holding back 15-20mins eh? It ended up being the 3rd fastest bike split too, rockin’!
grunting my way up the big hill with Maki yelling "SUGOI!!!"
Got into transition and asked the volunteers in the change tent how many women had come through. “only 5. you are number 6!” NO FREAKING WAY.
The run was 5 laps, about 8km out-and-back each. Now as much as I like to perpetuate the urban legend that the Wongstar does not feel heat, I could tell it was hot. Someone later said 39*C, someone else said 41*C (that’s 102 to 106*F), but I wasn’t worried. I was thrilled. In a very twisted way, I find that racing in the heat is much easier than training in the heat–there are aid stations every kilometer giving out cold drinks, ice, and cold wet sponges. When do you get that in training? Umm, how about NEVER.
I had my two Camelbaks ready (one in T2, one at Special Needs) and would take in 1.5 liters of Gatorade the first 2 laps and then 2 liters of thawing frozen coffee the last 3 laps. I had even debated on filling them up all the way but was glad I did, I actually finished everything I carried and needed extra Coke at the aid stations when the Camelbaks went empty.
So how did I feel? I FELT AMAZING. I am not going to lie and you can hate me all you want, but I will be honest: I felt ridiculously good, crazy strong, and just SUPER. Photographic proof of how I felt:
World peace! SUPER!!! Lap #3
I would run through the aid stations and grab a couple cold sponges at each one, squeezing them over my head, sipped on my Camelbak and plodded along, nothing spectacularly fast. Just holding about 5-minute k pace (about 8-minute miles). 3:30 marathon pace. Which I guess is somewhat fast in hot conditions?
I was confused at who was leading the women’s race…I thought it was Edith, who was right behind me–I’d see her behind me at every turnaround and apparently I wasn’t going much slower than her as she didn’t catch me and lap me until my 4th lap. And then I saw Belinda out there, with Hillary behind her, which confused me because I was thinking that Edith was winning, Belinda was in 2nd, and Hillary was catching Belinda. (Turns out it was Belinda winning, she had lapped Hillary who was in 3rd, and Edith was running 2nd.)
ok, maybe feeling less super but still very strong! Lap #4
So I was 6th woman and just held steady. Heading out on the run loop seemed warmer, and then coming back there was a bit of a breeze–so I enjoyed coming back more, plus it meant going back towards all the cheering spectators. One Asian spectator was wearing an American flag T-shirt and yelled “Japanese!” to me as I went by the first lap. “NO, American!!” I yelled back. From then on, he and his friends would chant “USA!” for me every time I ran by.
There were also many people I had met through training and racing around the world that cheered for me, both on the race course and on the sidelines. The support was overwhelming, lots of cheers for both Wongstar and Jocelyn…even the Korean athletes who I had competed with in Jeju or GreatMan would yell “hwai-ting!” as I passed them. The Asian female spectators were especially enthusiastic and I was hoping maybe they’d catch a little bit of inspiration seeing an Asian girl at the front of a race…I do my best to represent!
up and over the overpass--the one "hill" on the course. Lap #4
I had this song in my head…the DJ Tiesto version of Maroon 5′s “Not Falling Apart.” Coach has taught me to develop a bomb-proof marathon shuffle, so that’s what kept going through my mind, “…I’m not falling apart…” Turns out my 3:37 marathon was 3rd fastest among the pro women–only 6mins slower than champion Belinda and within 11mins of Edith’s run split (the fastest for the day)…huh…since when does that happen? Brilliant race plan, Coach, and good execution by the Wongstar!
When I switched out the Camelbaks after 2 run laps, I was super happy that freezing the coffee had worked amazingly. I too, was still feeling amazing and not really affected by the heat much until the 4th lap–that’s when I started filling my sports bra with ice. I think the humidity actually picked up, rather than the temperature.
heel-striking, Coach would be proud! Lap #1, yes I went out of order.
Somewhere along the way I had slipped into 5th position, and I was starting to run down 4th and 3rd…but ran out of time and distance. By Lap 5 I really just wanted to be DONE! I was feeling decidedly less SUPER. Finally went by our hotel one last time, but then there was another 2km to the finish line back at the jetty, and it was THE. LONGEST. TWO. KILOMETERS. EVER.
I did the winner's pose. I felt like a winner.
And finally, there it was. I was so happy, I felt so strong the whole day–if I had to choose just one word to describe how I felt for the race, that would be it. STRONG. (I thought this during the race too.) Ok, maybe not in the swim but the other 90% of my day… I am still amazed I only ran 10mins slower than my best Ironman marathon, and in much tougher conditions… STRONG!!!
I’d like to thank all the sponsors that helped get me to where I am today. From just wanting to finish an Ironman before midnight to somehow finishing as 5th pro woman and actually feeling STRONG the whole day:
- TeamTBB & the Bike Boutique: thank you to my teammates who inspire me and push me every day, Alex our team manager for this fantastic opportunity, and Brett for showing me the way and demanding more of me than I thought possible. You asked me nearly 3 years ago if I was ready for my life to change; everything I’ve achieved these past months has already been more than I ever thought possible and we can still say “this is only the beginning.” Thank you so much for everything!! I really am living the age group triathlon fairy tale
- All our equipment sponsors: Cervelo, Avia, BlueSeventy, 3T, Scody & ISM Saddles for the gear that helps me go faster. I still scratch my head and think “really? we get new stuff every year?” But I’m not complaining!
- My travel sponsor, Mark Cathcart, for help funding the travel expenses. You’ve known me since I was a delusional age grouper with dreams of becoming a triathlon superstar. Thanks for always believing in me and fueling these dreams!
- My newest sponsor, Haamonii Smooth Shochu, for the post-race celebratory beverages. Thanks for your support and the good times had and to be had in sharing harmony around the world!
Photos courtesy of ASI Photo, Maki Nishiuchi, Pee Kay Pixz, Makoy Almanzor–thanks!!