Posted on March 15 2018
For months you train for the distances: 1.2 mile open water swim, 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run. You eat right, train well and sleep like a teenager. You are certain you’re going to finish with a time of 6:05.
All those notions of a glorious finish of my first half-ironman flew out the window as we lined up on the edge of the beach- all 1800 of us. It went from a 6:05 finish to a ‘will I even make it to the finish line’ in a matter of seconds.
As we watched the pros leave the beach for their start, a rush of emotions run through my body. The adrenaline caused me to rip my race-issue swim cap, starting the doubts to bleed into my system. I had minutes to decide where to position myself for the start--closer to the ‘life-savers’ positioned along the shortest part of the triangle swim course, or start at the far end of the beach to avoid the huge mass of swimmers cornering the same two buoys.
I chose the former, thinking I was strong enough to handle the kicks and pulls from the other competitors.
In the first five minutes I was kicked in the thigh, which would later leave me a mark to remember, and my goggles ripped off my face. I found the first surfboard and jumped on to save energy by not having to tread water to affix them back on face. I took a glance at the first buoy when the second initial shock took over and sent my mind on a tailspin.
I’m going to get dragged under, with no swim cap and a black tri suit on, and those jet skis are not going to be able to find me. Those were my exact thoughts. “Keep pushing, Migz!” I told myself and continued on the treacherous journey of turning the two buoys unscathed.
1 done, then 2.
As I approached the beach to finish the first of two runs of the swim, I could hear sirens and competitors being pulled from the water, raising the white flag in defeat. “I have to do another round of this?” I asked myself. All that training and sacrifice and I won’t even make the cut-off for the swim? Not happening.
The pack started to thin out and the second pass was more manageable. I wasn’t tired, but my mind was showing signs of fatigue as I thought of the bike and run I was yet to endure. I narrowly finished the swim, beating the cut-off by less than a minute.
Step 1 done.
On to the bike phase. This is going to be the easy part. Nope. Forget about the transition training you practiced for months on early mornings, even late at night.
“Where’s my bike!?”
The mental fatigue left me disoriented as I fought the chaffing I now had to deal with for the rest of the race. Left shoe on, then the right. Screw the powder to keep my feet dry. Helmet buckled. First hill right as I exited the transition area. For the next 3:52 minutes (2:00 longer than I anticipated), I will be on my ass sucking water and downing gels while taking in the scenic views the south of Taiwan offered.
If you ask me now, I would not be able to describe anything I saw that resembled the beauty for which that part of Taiwan is known. Instead, I remember the whirling sounds the wheels of the pros made as they zipped by, or the cheering pack of volunteers at different parts of the course.
The first mental challenge came on the downhill straightaway on round one of three of the bike phase. I trained for it and expected it, but gauging the speed I wanted to attain to gain precious seconds, and the speed at which I needed to be, to not wipe out at the bottom of the hill, became the first battle my mind faced. My bike computer read between 37- 40 mph as I plowed down the hill in full aero position, knowing I would soon need to be at a speed safe enough to make the sharp left turn at the bottom. The adrenaline raced as the turn approached. I remembered hearing a steady stream of brake noises and seeing a handful of volunteers waving their arms right as the left turn drew closer.
"Do Not Wipe Out," I told myself.
It was not long after that when the first call to nature came. Of course I did not expect to hold it in for over 7 hours of competing, I just didn’t know what part of the race it would come and how I would answer the call. I heard stories of how the pros did on the bike phase. They’d pee right there on their bikes and wash it off with water. Makes total sense right? That’s at least 10 seconds one could save, right? It was 10 seconds I didn’t need, so I jumped off my bike and ran behind a wooded area to relieve myself. Now I could focus.
It was on the third round that fatigue started to set in, cramps creeping bottom up. So on the last steep uphill I was faced with the decision to give in to the cramps and fall with my bike or get off, shake off the legs and walk it partially uphill. I chose to walk. If I didn’t I knew I’d succumb to the full onset of cramps and risk not finishing the race.
The bike phase finally came to an end and as I was pulling into the last transition area and started lacing up my shoes. The thought, let alone feel, of running a half marathon in my state was enough to make me want to puke. Sucking down another GU gel and chowing down a banana helped set the feelings of defeat aside, at least for the moment.
I set off on the final phase, full of mixed emotions of whether I could muster up enough energy and courage to get myself to the finish line or would I raise the white flag, like I saw the dozens in the swim and bike phase do, leading up to the run.
I chose to attack. Attack the course in sections, a combination of run, jog and walk. And do this for 13.1 miles.
I saw middle-aged men and women zip past me. Even seemingly overweight men and women overtook me, looking fresh and hasten in full stride. I was not in good shape.
Along the way, volunteers held out full plates of solid salt. I used up my salt capsules on the bike so each time I passed one I would grab a handful, like you would a handful of sand on the beach, in an effort to keep the cramps at bay, just a little longer. By this time the sun was at its peak and beating down on the remaining competitors, reminding us to finish or risk feeling its full wrath.
As the seventh hour passed, the crowds were thin and the pressure was off. Running/walking through the little village and hearing the remaining chanting volunteers was heartening and gave me the final push I needed to cross the finish line.
After a painful 7 hours and 48 minutes, I raised my hands in disbelief that I actually pulled it off. My first half ironman. Mind and body exhausted, I downed a bottle of coke and proudly slipped on the coveted finisher shirt.
Think your mind’s ready?