Gurye is a picturesque farming town in the province of Jeollanam-do in South Korea. Last year, I was there for the first time to support a teammate who did (and finished) his first full Ironman.
The IRONMAN Triathlon (tri) race is a 3.8 KM swim, a 180 KM bike ride, and a 42 KM run with only 17 hours to complete all three legs of the race.
What I remembered most of the event was the swim leg. While watching the athletes lining up and seeding themselves for their predicted swim time, it was in that moment I knew I would be ready to do my first full distance (226 KMS) with more or less a year of preparation.
And so I signed up for 2018 IRONMAN Gurye. My goal was to make it at the finish line, except I didn’t.
As part of my tri training and in order to build endurance, I registered for Cebu Marathon, Tigasin Triathlon in Pangasinan (standard distance), and two stand-alone cycling events of Tour de Bintan in Indonesia: the 17 KM Individual Time Trial and Classic 144 KM races (this will be another blog story soon).
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Gran Fondo World Series is a series of UCI-sanctioned races held all over the world. Tour de Bintan is one of those.
To top it off, it was indeed helpful to have a tri coach for my Gurye race. The online tri training via Training Peaks app was offered pro bono by tri coach and cycling aficionado Coach Andy. Training sessions commenced in October 2017.
I wore a tri kit under my wetsuit for the swim. The beauty of wearing a tri-specific race suit is that you can wear it throughout the entire event. Most tri kits are designed to be worn during the swim, bike, and run. Well, ideally. It’s a whole other story in cold weather.
On race morning, race officials and volunteers directed all participants to self-seed based on their projected swim time. The weather that day affected water temperature and a blanket of fog covered the lake. While waiting for the gun start, we danced to these perfect upbeat tempos to warm up.
Not being used to cold water swimming (even after having the test swim the day before), I struggled to find my breath within moments of entering the lake and stopped swimming for a minute or two to blow bubbles. The water was way too cold even with a wetsuit. Endured intermittent painful calf cramps on the course. I tried to relax my cramped leg and kept moving forward. As I was on my way back after a U-turn point, a fellow participant accidentally hit the side of my head, just above my ear with his hand as I was rolling my head to breathe. I tried not to feel panicky while trying to reach for the lane rope to pull myself together. After swimming the last 500 meters using only my arms because both of my legs cramped already, what a relief it was to be out of the water, finally! I was thrilled to bits hearing my name announced by the host while on my way to T1 or the swim-to-bike transition area.
Transitioning from cold water to cycling was a huge challenge. The air was chilly while moving out from T1. Not having fully recovered from the swim, yet there I was faced with significant climbs in the next kilometers. Quads cramped. First time it happened. Then I saw a lady participant who got off her bike and walked the hill. Me! No way!
Was in luck to build up some speed on the way down and saved some energy by maintaining a good tempo while coasting some of the kilometers leading to the main Y-shaped bike course.
The three-lap Y-shaped bike course took participants to a scenic route passing through rice fields, rivers, waterways, hills, tree-lined streets, and mountain ranges.
On the course, aid stations provided muscle cramp relief spray and sunscreen. They were also well stocked with a variety of snacks, bananas, energy gels, and half-full bottles filled either with cold water or energy drink prepared by awesome volunteers. Toilet stop is not a problem since it is equipped with tissue and water. What more could I ask for?
I was almost done with my second lap, on a path under a shady canopy of trees, when I saw this lady rider ahead of me wobbled, fell off her bike on the right side of the road, and accidentally slammed her head on the highway guardrail. Her feet were still attached to the pedals when I stopped to check if she had injuries. I was figuring out a way to break the language barrier and continued to speak proper English telling her not to move. She may have simply not caught everything I said while waiting for her teammate to make a turn on the road and park his bike so he can assist her before I continued to roll on.
Done with two laps and was about to do my third when I noticed volunteers have left the road intersection, with the U-turn signage for third lap gone and replaced with a straight-on directional sign. With his right arm waving in the air, one race official shouted inaudible words to all bikers and pointed his other arm to the road straight ahead. I followed, and then hesitated. Realized I’m not finished yet. One more loop. But, it was in this leg where my race that day ended. I had to talk to a race official and surrendered my timing chip because I really didn’t think I was going to make the race cutoff. It was so close. Difficult as it was, but I made the decision.
The last stretch of the course leading up to T2 is a 20-kilometer highway with a low-gradient climb as a ruler’s edge. With no shade and as straight as it was, it was the last mental test in the bike course. Heavy-hearted, there I was pedaling slowly back to transition, reliving the moment, and thinking of what had just happened. This: A DNF (did not finish) at my first full IRONMAN race. I was devastated.
Choose to be positive and have a grateful attitude.
The support I got from friends, family, siblings, and relatives was overwhelming.
My nephew who’s based in Hawaii messaged me, “It’s OK Auntie there are still many races.” Or, my niece’s message, “Proud niece here!” Or, to my coach who said, “You did better than many other people out there. Just showing up and doing what you could despite all the challenges was brave and already an achievement. Congratulations nonetheless and keep your chin up. You’ll get there one day.” Or, my sister who sent me extra money for whatever stuff I needed to buy. Or, my supervisor who wished me well and asked me to come back in one piece after the race. Or, friends and teammates who gave their time to send me (and another teammate) off at the airport and supported this endeavor in whatever they could.
Sometimes you win. Sometimes you make it. Sometimes you LEARN.
Every athlete, no matter how ready or well trained, will one day have a race that is disappointing, or not perfect. I may have missed hearing these words “You are an Ironman!” or receiving the finisher’s medal, but again, it is only a race. There are still plenty of races out there, but there’s only one life.
Sportsmanship goes beyond the game. Accept the outcome of the game.
I have swum (3.8KMS) and biked (over 100KMS) the race by its rules. “Finished or not finished, pass your papers!” That’s part of sportsmanship. Sportsmanship or the golden rule in sports and competition means handling both victory and defeat graciously and taking it all in stride by following the rules of the game, respecting the officials, and treating fellow participants with respect. Win or lose (or not being able to finish), it is all part of sportsmanship.
Let it go. Then, move on.
Dreaming big, or shooting for the star. Setting goals and trying to achieve them the best way possible.
Rising to challenges and managing personal and work-related stressors. Spending a huge chunk of time (aside from having to work eight hours a day) training at night and on weekends—rain or shine—with dedication for that goal. Believing in “me” and having that can-do attitude.
Showing up on race day at the starting line ready to battle what’s ahead (in spite of dealing with ongoing pain).
Well, these things I considered as huge accomplishments already.
It’s OK to be sad for a while. But don’t beat yourself up. The most important part is to figure out what’s needed to be done. In time, pick up your plan where you left off and come back strong. Stronger and better than ever before.