The trip started on a very upbeat note with a business class flight courtesy of Skyward miles to Seoul with connecting flight to prehistoric Jeju island.
The following morning we woke up to torrential rain. All the plans to do an afternoon bike ride and run brick were quickly shelved and forgotten and instead the Tri2Aspire crew headed out for a sea swim close to the hotel. The coastline there was unprotected and there were lots of waves. Later that same day, I went for a short 4km run around the hilly town, which, instead of taking care of my nerves made me feel little uncomfortable and even a tad insecure: I woke up the next morning and could feel my shins. Most of you know that I have had plenty of ankle and general foot issues in the last six months, and now my legs hurt…..”from a 4km run”!?. Bugger. Together with the swim the previous day my confidence was now fading fast.
Milan, my partner then arrived and he persuaded me to come out to the official swim course for a practice swim on Saturday morning instead of the ‘standard’ 15, 15, 15 at the hotel. I guess he knew what he was doing, since I told him how I felt about the wavy swim the other day and when we got to the race venue, the sea was pancake flat, and we went for a lovely 1km swim around the first set of main buoys. Thanks God, I could see the swim was in a sheltered bay and apart from the unbelievably soupy, thick fog (visibility maybe 100m, at times much less), the water was flat :), and I consequently happy. We went back to our accommodation with the bus transfer, had breakfast and relaxed until it was time to check in the bikes and the transition bags in the afternoon at the swim venue (T1). After an early pre race pasta dinner in the hotel, we all went back to our rooms and went to bed early to get some sleep despite the butterflies.
Next morning we were up early, and we caught one of the first busses and had breakfast on the way to T1.
Standing on the start line, third line of a field 25 deep, all I could feel was my heart beating, and I felt sick. I hate and love this feeling at the same time. Somehow it only always comes just before the big races, for me meaning long distance and IM races, the races I really care about and those that are important to me. I knew I had put in the dedication and hours in training, sometimes 20 per week, and I had done everything ‘right’ to be in shape. I was here to qualify for Kona. Still, the pressure I put on myself kept me on my toes and made me feel sick with anxiety at the same time…. anyway, 30 seconds to race start, one last kiss from Milan, we wished each other good luck, the horn went, and the race was on.
Oh dear, I could not believe the fights, fists, pulling, and punching that pursued. I felt like I had to fight for my life the first 300 metres or so. The Asian competitors were extremely physical and just had no respect for any notion of personal space. Instead of concentrating on their own strokes and progress, they simply pulled your leg, arm, pushed your head, punched….they were ‘big fighters’, simple as that. Milan later noted this was the most physical IM swim he could remember, and he has done a few, so that must mean something!
I finally found my rhythm, and at the end of the first lap of the two lap course, I was back on the beach to cross the timing mats (in little over 31 minutes), and headed back out again.
Running up toT1 I was trying to visualise all the things I needed to do as smoothly and as fast as possible. I made a mental note to check on the bike of ‘my’ adversary, the top contender in my age group, who was racked just a few bikes down. As predicted, being Australian and hence a good swimmer, she (my competition) was long gone, but instead of being disappointed, I was very clear with myself: either I am getting that Kona slot or I will simply collapse trying: I will be giving this race EVERYTHING!
I found the first long hill on the bike after just a few hundred metres very difficult. It always takes me a while to warm up and I am definitely no short course athlete… I finally found a good rhythm, and realised that I was passing quite a lot of people, mostly men. At the first turnaround point I of course paid close attention to where ‘my competition’ was, i.e. Katy! Way ahead so I was just putting the pedal down! I later thought I probably got too excited, eventually passing her after about 85th km on the bike and shortly thereafter passing another pack containing Carl. Carl!? This really made me think and my mind was telling me: “girl, slow down, otherwise you are really going to blow up…!”. So I pulled back a bit and stayed at the back of ‘Carl’s pack’. After about an hour they started to increase the speed but I told myself to ride steady, to let them go, as there is one really hilly marathon coming, and “Katy is a runner, she is gonna come after you”.
While spinning the last metres into the T2, I was preparing myself mentally for the fastest possible transition into my running shoes, fuel belt and.
.. that’s it: off I go! The first 1 km running was at around a 4:40 pkm pace on a steep downhill, but I knew that there was a sizeable hilly section right after this. Once again, the only thing my mind was shouting: “slow down, slow down, a marathon is long way!” I half listened and settled into a steady pace, which of course was slower, particularly on the steep uphill sections, but I felt strong and kept pushing myself, just not as much. I was surprised to see apparently fit male competitors, at times with amazing muscle definition, walk up the inclines, and I was very much concerned that I was passing them. Why were they walking? Should I too walk to conserve energy and to save my shins, calves, etc.? What is the best game plan? I did not linger to find out, as I simply try to never walk!!
I think I was quite good with nutrition during this race, and I ate every 30 minutes, had a salt tablet every hour. It kept me going and I felt strong throughout the day. However, at the 8th km mark I started having my usual unbearable tummy cramps, which in the past already made their appearance during the bike portion of a race. Oh dear, I told myself, I will have to just run through the pain, as I had done during some training sessions instead of quitting, simply to learn how this felt: so, I will now simply race in pain! End of story. No time to feel sorry for myself! At that stage I saw Milan coming back from the u-turn. He did not look to be enjoying himself but he did give me an encouraging smile nonetheless.
Following my own turnaround at the 10.5 km mark, I finally saw my main competition and realised that I was increasing my lead :).
I wished for the conditions to be as hot as possible: ‘just bring on the heat’ I thought, and after 20th km on the run it was indeed very hot, sticky and humid. Painful but I liked it. I decided to dip my head into the iced water buckets at each aid stations which cooled my core temperature down nicely but kept my shoes dry at the same time (avoiding blisters!). At the 30th km mark I started to hurt (but wasn’t everybody!?), and what took my pain away was the realisation that ‘the girl’ now was behind me quite a bit and for the first time I started imagining and slowly believing: if I am just able to keep this pace to the finish, I am going to KOOOOOOOOOOOOOONA!
Running to the finish line smiling I see the clock showing 10:49 hrs, and I could hear the commentator call out my name and hear it associated with it being the 3rd age group female competitor overall. Really? Is it really me? Is he not mistaken ???? Nope, after I talked to my friends at the finish line who confirmed all that plus that I won my age group, and I then learned I was 8th female overall including the Pros, I was in heaven. I was in my own little world and can’t really describe how great that felt. All sacrifices during the race and leading up to it in training were suddenly worth it! No more doubts.
It really was my day, and I was either very lucky or the hard training and sacrifices were working for me this time :), or possibly even both! What I achieved in Korea nobody can take away from me: “I won the race, I got my Kona slot, I realised my dream!” With hindsight, I beat second girl by about 30 minutes, so it was not even close, and in future I will focus more on what I KNOW I can do, instead of what ‘they’ have done in the past at some other race. That must be the mental way forward.
I could not have achieved all this if without the T2A crew and Jason’s coaching. The group consists of some amazing training partners who are incredibly motivating. Of course, through Jason I also met Milan, who is my biggest supporter, and also a training partner from time to time :), when he gets round to it. However, he has been next to me throughout this journey, and he came to Korea for me and to be with me there, despite his work commitments, and he even completed this bloody hard race so truly share the experience and we did it together (and whilst he keeps telling me he did not enjoy any of it, I know that deep down he loved it, and he is probably already planning his next IM…!). Thank you Milanko.xxx
I would also like to thank to my ex coach Jason Metters, swim coach Seth Chappels, my parents and the entire T2A crew, my training buddies: Carl Luitingh, Adrian Hayes, Stefan Spies and lots more, …..as Jason always says “you know who you are” 🙂 Thanks Team, you are awesome!