Ironman Korea was the only Asian Ironman that I had yet to experience and was said to have the potential to be the most epic sufferfest of them all. After three years without a WTC race on Jeju Island, Ironman Korea was back this year and thus I could not resist the challenge.
We were fortunate to be able to start the race with a full 3.8-kilometer (2.4-mile) swim, as the conditions have caused for swim cancellations here in the past and race morning brought thick fog that made the swim turnaround invisible from the race start. My swim was lackluster. On the way home during the first of the two loops, some dude in a sleeveless ORCA wetsuit found it necessary to beat the heck out of me. It was one of those times that I wished for a pink cap to distinguish myself as a chick! Anyhow, in spite of a very uncrowded swim, this guy did not like me trying to get around him and was violent to the point that I ended up on the verge of a panic attack. I decided to just settle down and swim on his feet rather than waster energy fighting it out, but unfortunately this resulted in exactly what I was afraid would happen if I sat back, and this was that we got dropped off the front group. I tried to bridge the gap during the second loop but couldn’t do it; I wasn’t pleased with the situation, but instead kept trying to focus on the fact that we were lucky to be swimming at all on this day.
I came out of the water in second and headed out onto the cycling hillfest. The bike began with a few miles of climbing out of the beach and I was pleasantly surprised that my legs didn’t feel tired and the climb wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked. The two-loop bike course was about 2/3 all up and down and 1/3 flat-ish, but it seemed that we had a decent headwind through most of the flat-ish section. It was a tough ride, but could have been a lot tougher had the sun come out. We had cloud cover for essentially the entire ride, so humidity and hills were “all” we had to deal with.
For me the other challenge was mental as I found this ride very lonely. Aside from passing the transition zone during the bike and run, there were no spectators on this course. Thankfully, I had also learned from racing elsewhere in Asia to treat the course, especially the bike, as if I am riding on the open road. I never assume that traffic will be directed away from us or that cars will do as instructed anyways. I guess in these respects the bike was a bit like Ultraman! And I was disappointed in my ride just like I was at Ultraman as well, unfortunately. As I said, my legs felt fine and should have been ready to go, but whether it was a lack of strength or mental focus, I did not ride well, period.
The blue sky was emerging just in time for me to jump off my bike . . . aaah the epic heat I had anticipated! Turns out it was a whole lot more uncomfortable and the prospect of 26.2 miles in this sauna a whole lot more daunting when I was just a mile and a half into it, staring at the face of a hill that seemed to have no end. OUCH. This was the moment when I could fully appreciate why everyone says this event is not a “race,” but a contest of suffering and survival. I realized that all I could control was, at best, getting myself to the finish line without walking.
Thankfully, probably because I rode like a donkey, my legs were not tired or heavy coming off of the bike. They just felt like wet noodles, threatening to collapse under me with any given step. This feeling was not unfamiliar, however, as I distinctly remembered this very feeling from the marathons that I ran at Ironman Malaysia. Thus I knew that I would likely not actually collapse; it just felt like I would. So I convinced myself that all I had to do was to persist in making a running motion for a couple hours.
Besides a grand total of approximately 800 meters of flat road during each of the two run loops, we had the added challenge of “stop and serve yourself” aid stations and no porta potties (just signs pointing to random gas stations that had bathrooms we could use, but that meant running off course and I didn’t have time for that!). As if our run splits weren’t going to be slow enough. . . .
Still, somewhere about 4-5 miles into the run (I don’t know exactly because there weren’t mile markers, for which I was actually thankful, as I am pretty sure the miles were going by very slowly.), the wet-noodle effect went away and I just started feeling strong. On top of that, I had my first positive feedback of the day (yes, after about 8 hours) after the first run turnaroud when kilometers passed before I saw Emi Shiono, a Japanese quick-runner who had been two minutes behind me at the last bike turnaround. I had come off the bike in third, so the podium was still within reach!
I felt great for about another 11 miles or so and then about the last 10 miles of the race were marked by massive ups-and-downs that correlated with the appearance of aid stations. By my own mistake—relying on my second EFS gel flask in a special needs bag that never appeared—I was without fuel besides as much gatorade and coke as I could pound at each aid station. This would make me feel sick for a minute, then give me some energy and I’d fele like a running machine, and then be bonking by the next aid station, about 1.5 miles or more down the road. And repeat. The pattern became apparent, so I just rode it out, milked the highs for all they were worth, and appreciated that I was about to complete this epic Ironman Korea journey.
This was my 49th iron-distance finish and certainly not one that I will take for granted. I was able to cross the line in third place, my 16th top-3 finish at this distance. I still have a lot of work to do, but five weeks after a 4th-place at Ironman Brasil, I think this five-week effort means that I am getting back on the right track.
I am looking forward to a couple months of solid work, with 6 weeks at altitude, this summer. Rev3 Cedar Point will be my next big fitness test and I need to put some serious work in the bank so I can be ready to take the performance to the next level there.
Thanks so much to all of my fantastic sponsors for their support: Trakkers-Rev3, Skirt Sports, TYR, Durata Training, Zipp, Avia, Kestrel, First Endurance, Recovery Pump, CycleOps, Vega, FSA, FuelBelt, and ISM.
And right now I am especially thankful for my post-race/ mid-season vacation, courtesy of the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows!!