Ironman 70.3 Xiamen – The race with unexpected results

The morning of the race, I had the usual crazy nerves. My heart rate was reaching over 100bpm just standing still! I had spent my life winging races and had mostly always done quite well, considering. This time though, I had followed a strict 4 month training plan, finally invested in a tri bike, a coach and a triathlon club membership. I could actually do really well if all went to plan.

Everything was where it should be in transition. Maybe you get used to the red bag, blue bag, white bag scenario when you have raced many Ironmans but I still had to go over what order to do what over and over in my head. I am naturally quite clumsy and struggle with composure in stressful scenarios so transitions are a whole discipline in themselves for me.

I took a smiling group photo with my tri club and Richard (boyfriend/coach) then it was time to head down to the beach where we organised ourselves into swim speeds. I said goodbye and good luck to Rich as he headed closer to the start line (he is a much stronger swimmer than me). I tried to take deep breaths as my HR was sky high in anticipation. Before long, the horn blared and off went the pros. As the age groupers followed, a big group of swimmers immediately went the wrong way due to the choppy water and glare of the sun. They had also changed the course from the previous year where you swam with the current to swimming against the current. One of the reasons I had chosen Xiamen was for the easy swim but today’s swim course was going to be far from that. I really hoped that Rich was not in this first pack with navigation issues. As we shuffled forward,  I let out a wee in my wetsuit (honesty is the best policy) so I had less to worry about during the swim. I was a bit paranoid people might be able to tell but I am pretty sure many others were doing the same. Before I knew it, my turn was up and I was charging down the beach and diving into the water. The water was GRIM! It was choppy, murky, the visibility awful and it tasted of diesel. I already couldn’t wait to get out but also couldn’t really see where I was going. I felt like I was swimming slowly with all the sighting but I also didn’t want to make any major navigation mistakes (like so many around me seemed to be doing then have to turn around and get back on course). The current was strong, I never really got into a rhythm or found anyone to draft off so I came out of the water and felt SO disappointed with my 40 minute swim. I had broken the wrong record of my slowest EVER swim…and after I had trained for 4 months to improve my speed and technique. There was nothing I could do but put it behind me and try to stay positive for the race ahead.

Diesel all round my mouth (hence the black and white photo)

Transition was long and I had tucked my hat and goggles in my wetsuit sleeve as I peeled off my wetsuit mid run (meant to be a handy time-saving trick) but then realised they had fallen out. In a split second I had to decide whether to go back for them. I chose to waste 20 seconds doing so. Now, I’m not sure I would do the same as I would have been gutted if someone had beaten me by that amount of time. Even at this distance, every second counts. Ironically, Rich also later told me that he dropped his too but didn’t go back. Small lesson learnt.

Out on the bike I became frustrated that other cyclists were not making it easy for me to overtake….until I realised it was me being the idiot. In China, we were on the other side of the road so actually I had been the one in the wrong and undertaking everyone. Soon I reached the bridge and short incline where I caught sight of Rich coming back the other way. I powered on but couldn’t keep my watts at the number I wanted. I felt like I was failing and started feeling disappointed in myself. It was a mental battle as I tried to focus and stay positive and ignore the negative thoughts. Meanwhile, a marshall on a motorbike would not leave me alone so I kept slowing down as I really didn’t want to be red-carded for drafting. I just wanted her to go away so I could pedal full throttle without worrying about being penalized as I approached and overtook other cyclists.

I think I must have started to lose the plot because I came up with a crazy notion that she just WANTED to give me a penalty. I convinced myself that perhaps she was helping a friend competing in my age group, and she was just waiting for her chance to penalise me. This was not the case! It was just a long time struggling with my own thoughts. I definitely enjoyed some parts of the bike, when I wasn’t coming up with conspiracy theories or feeling disappointed with my watts. Rich had taken speed off my garmin to make me focus on power instead. However, I kept cheating and trying to do the maths in my head to work out my average speed. I still didn’t feel that I was doing particularly well even though I was giving it my all.  I managed to pull off a flying dismount and ran into an empty female transition tent. Where was everyone?

My bike time turned out to be strong

Running has always been my weakness but, as I emerged from the tent, I didn’t feel too bad. I began to think that maybe I wasn’t doing too badly after all. I had overtaken a lot of women on the bike and the possibility dawned on me for the first time that the race might be going well. I got into a steady rhythm and kept my eye on my run pace, aiming to always keep it below 5 minute kilometres. I felt quite calm and steady with no niggles or injuries. There was no drama for once and everything was going to plan. I still had no clue how well I was doing compared to the rest of the field. 

The 2 lap out and back course meant that I got to pass Rich again which definitely gave me a boost even if I only managed a passing grimace. It was hard to gauge how well his race was going as he had his usual pain face on and I wasn’t sure if he was on lap 1 or 2. Next, I realised I had reached the 5km turnaround point. It boosted me again as I felt the run seemed manageable chunking it into 4 x 5 (plus a finale 1km). All I had to do was run back to the start, back here and then it was just knuckle down to the finish line. It seemed doable.  I kept munching on my chew gels and slowed down at the aid stations to get water and electrolytes. It was a balmy 25 degrees with a coastal wind and such a relief not to be running in sticky humidity as usual. I was soon approaching the 15km mark when I had my WOW race moment. I spotted an elite triathlete who I knew had been to Kona/70.3 World champs many times and won our age group at Xiamen every year. She was up ahead and I was about to overtake her. The possibility that I was actually doing well was now even likelier. Running is usually my weakness but it seemed to be going well. I kept going strong and maintained a faster than 5 minute km pace throughout. With just over 1km to go, I began to run faster until the adrenaline helped me sprint to the finish. I gave it everything I had left in the tank and jumped over the finish line in delight. I didn’t hear what the commentator said and there was nobody to greet me at the finish line so it was a bit of an anticlimax. I was happy with my race though and just wanted to find Rich to see how he got on.

My run went exactly to plan with no drama! First time for everything!

We sat in the finish area drinking some coke and chatting about the race as a couple of friends began to finish and join us. One friend asked how I had done and I realised that I hadn’t checked. I thought I would have been desperate to know but I was just tired. He checked the app and dropped the bombshell that I had WON my age group! I was gobsmacked, speechless and couldn’t really process the information. It also meant that I would be given the choice between Kona World Championship (full Ironman) and New Zealand 70.3 World Championship at the rolldown ceremony that evening…

This was meant to be an impressive finish line pose. I panicked and did a weird leap in the air. Who cares? I was happy 🙂

Suddenly, I had a difficult choice to make. I had never considered I would be in this position so hadn’t thought it through. I had hoped I would qualify for New Zealand but….who turns down Kona? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I could potentially never get to Kona again but there would be other chances to qualify for Taupo. In the end, I decided that New Zealand had a special place in my heart and 70.3 distance was my current goal. I turned down Kona, much to many peoples’ surprise, but was ecstatic to get my New Zealand token.

Eventually I chose to collect my Taupo token

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