With the purchase of Ironman by the Wanda group based in China, a few pro races were added in China. After a little research on China I decided it could be a worthwhile trip to take. There were a few hoops to jump through to get a Chinese Visa, including a letter from the entity that invited you to China, receipts for your flight and hotel stay and a new passport photo, so plan in advance if you ever want to go!
I didn’t have a ton of time off left at work so it would be a short trip, I left early Wednesday morning flying Minneapolis to LA to Shanghai to Hefei. I splurged and used all my sky miles to get a first class ticket for the trip making it a lot more comfortable for 30+ hours of travel (the cheapest I’ve ever seen a First Class Ticket with miles). My flight from Shanghai to Hefei was delayed a couple hours and the drive from the Hefei airport to the hotel was about 90 minutes. I finally got checked into my hotel around 3am Friday morning. I tried not to sleep too late, setup my bike, got workouts in, checked in to race and got to bed early. Saturday was busy with our pro meeting and getting my bike to the race site, which was about a 2 hour round trip by bus. Sunday morning I was up really early, I struggled to sleep well after 2am.
I was on a bus to the race site by 5:30am. I was surprisingly one of the earliest athletes there at 6am, the Chinese athletes were late risers and much more casual than what I typically see at Ironman races. The part I was most nervous about was using the porta potty’s. They were not like anything I’ve seen, they were squat holes and BYOTP which you disposed of in a small basket. I packed plenty of TP for backup although they did have a small amount available on site. This is apparently the norm in some parts of the region but it was definitely an extra challenge for those of us not used to squatting over a hole. While people say this is a more “natural” position I also felt it was a lot less sanitary. It is something that will impact my decision on racing there again. Enough about the porta potty’s how about the race…
- The swim was in a man-made lake which they had supposedly completely emptied and refilled just for the race, and we’re not talking about a small lake! The ladies took off two minutes after the men, along with members of some high profile relay teams including people like Craig Alexander and Chinese Olympians. I made a break from the pack early on and maintained it throughout, exiting first, about 20 seconds in front of the next athlete.
- It was a long run through transition to grab our bikes. I headed out of transition with another female and a couple pro men.
- The first few miles had a bunch of turns and the course was wet from an overnight rain so I took it easy heading out. The entire 56 miles of the bike and run course were lined with 15,000 volunteers placed approximately every 10 yards along the course. It was unreal, I have never seen a more secured course. Unfortunately, many of those security guards/volunteers were also smoking while monitoring the course so you’d catch a nice fresh puff of smoke.
- Basically from the start of leaving transition we had an official riding near the front of the women’s race. I felt I kept my distance very well but thought the athlete in front of me was riding way too close to the male athlete in front of them. It appeared to me that the official had given the athlete a yellow card. Knowing that she’d have to pull over at the penalty tent around 20 miles I decided to hang back and not pull her to the tent and then make my move after that.
- By the time we arrived to the penalty tent the next couple female athletes had caught up and a couple men as well. When we passed the tent and the athlete didn’t pull over – I was pretty shocked. Apparently she wasn’t given a penalty. I was more than frustrated with the race dynamics going on so tried to just hang in (at a legal distance), take in my nutrition and not overdo it on the bike in hopes of a decent run.
- Heading into T2 I felt like I was in good shape to run. I transitioned quickly within reach of the three girls in front of me.
- Things went downhill pretty fast. Maybe it was all the negativity in my head that just got to me but my body was fighting me. I trudged along but around the 7k mark I was getting a horrible chest stitch and it was piercing with every step I took. Once again I was walking along the race course, more than frustrated. I tried to jog a block here and there but ended walking around 4k till the cramp subsided. Around 11k I started shuffling along and got my head back in the game after another pro female cheered me on as she ran by.
- Around 15K my stomach wasn’t feeling it so I jumped into a porta potty aka squat hole closet. After exiting the porta potty a few minutes later I saw that Andrew Messick, Ironman CEO, had just ran by. I couldn’t let him run faster than me so he was a carrot for me to chase and I got a nice cheer from him as I passed.
- I finally trotted into the finish line in 5th place, relieved to be done.
- Post-race I chatted with a ton of athletes about our race day. I tried to not be upset about my race, let it go and enjoy the people around me. At this point I knew something needed to change with my training and nothing was going to change my result so move on and prepare for what’s ahead.
Monday I was able to take the bullet train to Shanghai, about a two hour ride and spent the day exploring Shanghai. By the end of the day my head hurt from all the smog and smoke I inhaled throughout the day. This experience made me very thankful to live in a place where it’s safe to breathe the outdoor air, something we all take for granted. Thanks for reading, I’m hoping to write about my whole season soon, stay tuned!