My First Ironman 70.3: 7(.3?) Things I Learned
Every now and then, Samurai Sports staff and friends write about their experiences.
On August 20th, 2017, I completed my first Ironman 70.3 race on the small island of Bintan, Indonesia. It was my birthday and I was determined to not just finish, but also cross the finish line in the 5:30s. Predictably, it was a hot day with temperatures rising to the mid 30s/mid 90s. The swim went well, but I was unprepared for the rolling hills on the bike, and struggled through the run. I was disappointed to finish with a 5:43 but I learned a lot of important lessons on the way.
* For context, I started triathlon towards the tail end of January 2017. Between February and June, I completed 2 aquathlons, 2 duathlons, 2 sprint triathlons, 1 Olympic distance triathlon, and 1 open water swim competition. I was a runner convert and had ran more than a handful of half-marathons so while triathlon was not a crazy leap, the transition was certainly not a walk in the park!
Train Hard, Race Easy
Okay, let's be honest, the race won't ever be easy but with the right amount of training* you'll feel less like crying.
* Consult your coach, or pick an appropriate training plan
My biggest weakness is the swim and in the three months leading up to the 70.3, I spent a lot more time in both the pool and in the open waters, individually and as part of a group. As a result, I genuinely felt a lot more comfortable in the water, followed the bubbles, sighted well, and it was the first time I was able to swim free style the entire distance. I knew I hadn't spent nearly enough time on the bike however, and I certainly paid for it. The undulating rolling hills on the bike made my quads very sore starting from the 60KM mark, and I would be in a world of pain during the remainder of the race. The run is usually my strength, and I can usually find my second wind during this last leg. This time, I struggled to keep my legs moving at all. I have no doubt that had I trained harder on the bike, I would have raced easier on the run.
Respect the Distance, But Don't Fear It
Sprints and Olympic/Standard distance races will make for good training days when you're training for a half Ironman. That's a slightly scary thought but it's true. The 70.3 distance is a different animal altogether. More than likely, you'll need to up your training intensity and duration as a part of your preparation. Personally, I think it's a good idea to be aware of your abilities and frame goals based on that understanding. Ultimately, you want to feel confident at the race, knowing that you put 100% in you training. For me, I tend to get wrapped up in anxiety and start thinking about all the training I could have pushed a little more on, or *gasp* that all of my training could go down the drain in one quick moment. I would be the first to admit that I must work on being less wound up before races, but as my coach always tells me, it's okay to be a little nervous.
It Will Hurt
All things considered, you probably know any race is going to hurt to varying degrees. Whether it's a 5K, a half Ironman, or a Spartan Race, you need to mentally prepare yourself to be tested. Throughout the race, you might feel your joints grinding, muscles cramping, and internal organs expressing intense displeasure. Honestly, during my first 70.3, parts of my body hurt in ways that I was not expecting. It takes some level of mental fortitude to work through and past everything that is thrown at you. Embrace the hurt. Love the pain.
Plan for Things to Go Wrong
Operating on Murphy's Law is a good idea. Have a check list and go through it multiple times. When possible, have spares of just about everything. Most importantly, if something does go wrong (as it inevitably will), keep calm and find a solution. Don't be afraid to ask people for help! During just this one race, I can think of so many people that showed grit and determination despite their circumstances. In particular, I remember two ladies who didn't let their situation stop them from kicking butt.
Nevertheless, She Persisted
One of my teammates, Nat discovered she had a flat upon checking her bike on the morning of the race. As our bikes had been left overnight in T1, anything could have happened. To be honest, in the heat of the moment, I'm not completely sure what was going on but she, her husband, and daughter were running around for some time trying to find the best solution. Considering the amount of hoopla, I assume there was a bit more to it than locating a spare tube. Regardless, Nat was able to race on her own bike, placed first in her age group, and booked her slot to the 2018 Worlds (as did her husband and daughter).
One woman had to give up on her trisuit just an hour before the race. The seams had ripped apart on the sides and it was beyond repair. But on the spot and without hesitation, one of our teammates (who was not racing) took off her tri top and lent it to this complete stranger. With some help, our new teammate put together a new outfit on the spur and she crossed the finish line just a smidge over six hours.
You Are Not Alone
I'll keep this one short. When you're out there on the race course, everyone is breathing a little hard, adjusting awkwardly out of discomfort, or wishing it would end already. I am fairly certain no one is out there thinking this is a walk in the park. Everyone is hurting a little but it's up to you to decide how you manage the world of suck.
Find Your Wolf Pack
I'm very fortunate to have the support of the Tri Edge team based in Singapore. With the help of Coach Michael Lyons and Coach Scott Larsen, I went from not knowing what T1/T2 are to completing a sub-6 70.3 in Bintan. Both Mike and Scott spent a lot of time coaching me from the very basics that I was able to bring to the table and developing my knowledge base. I tested their patience every day and thanks to Whatsapp, I am able to bother them from Japan. Texting usually works out better for us anyway, as I am still working on figuring out their Kiwi accents.
In addition, having teammates to train with, joke with, and ask stupid questions helped spur my growth further. It wouldn't have been the same without Constance "2 Pants" and the one other age-grouper to keep me grounded and sane. There's no way that I would have been able to come this far without each and every one of them. Women are few in this sport, so I was especially thankful to have a handful of model ladies who had been doing this triathlon thing for a while. I can still remember Nat yelling at me to stop drafting and to keep left during a race - both important lessons that at the time, hadn't quite formed instinctively just yet. Tough love.
Finally, personal circumstances meant I had to uproot from Singapore and move to Tokyo three months before the race. I managed to find Triathlon in Tokyo and Coach Keren Miers was tremendously helpful as I tried to find my bearings in a new city. Compared to Singapore, Tokyo and Japan generally have been markedly more challenging for triathlon pursuits but I'm determined to figure it out - with some help from my new wolf pack.
Understand Your Privilege
This might sound silly, but we are so incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to train and be a part of this sport. Yes, your wallet may feel lighter after investing in that new Canyon bike and you might regret that brick session when you can barely crawl out of bed the next morning. But every now and then, it doesn't hurt to think how fortunate we are to have the time, energy, and resources for all of our triathlon pursuits. In the same vein, we pay for the experience but we're also absolutely privileged to have the support of hundreds of volunteers, family members, friends, and team mates when we race.
There is no denying that training and racing can sometimes feel like a total grind and a chore that just must be done. For me, part of the appeal of triathlon is the pressure I can place upon myself to try harder, be better, and win (or lose) bigger. To that end, I'll wrap it up here with a Billie Jean King quote - "Pressure is a privilege - it only comes to those who earn it." #foodforthought
Preparation is key
Respect the distance
It won't be easy
Plan for things to go wrong
Know that you are not alone
Train with a team, if possible
Have the right attitude
About Bintan Island
Bintan is one of a series of small islands located in northern Indonesia. A one hour ferry ride from Singapore, Bintan is home to a number of resorts and golf courses catering primarily to Singaporeans seeking a nearby rest and recreation getaway. The island is sparsely populated, boasts lush forests, and welcomes nesting sea turtles to its beaches. In recent years, Bintan has played host to a variety of sporting events and races, including the Tour de Bintan, the Bintan Triathlon, the Ironman 70.3, and the Spartan Race.