At the end of September, I competed in an Olympic triathlon at the Force Triathlon in Hualien. This was the first triathlon I’ve competed in since my Ironman in 2017. When I registered for this race back in February, I had hoped that it would be my triumphant return to triathlons—that I’d come out of “retirement” with a bang riding my fine new stallion of a bicycle. Based on my recent performance, I’d have to say it was something more like a tepid wimper.
I missed quite a few workouts during training. Feeling burnt out returning to Taiwan, it took awhile for me to get back into a rhythm with training, and then it was tough to keeping the momentum up. Much of my training I did do felt half-hearted at best—not an arena to challenge myself or get my heart rate up, but more like one more thing I wanted to begrudgingly check off my todo list.
All of this culminated in race day. I think this is the first race I’ve ever dreaded, and I’m a bit ashamed to admit that a not small part of me was tempted to just… not do it. Standing in the crowd, getting ready for the race itself, I wasn’t my usual self. Instead of warming up or stretching, I just stood there with a pit in my stomach wondering why, oh why I was subjecting myself to this.
These are unfamiliar feelings for me. Being an athlete has been a part of my identity for a long time. In my pre-nomadic days, I used to race pretty often. I used to feel excited, if a bit nervous, for races. I loved the competitive environment and the opportunity to beat myself. I always used to be pleasantly surprised by my race times, and I’d leave feeling like I gave my all.
I felt like anything but an athlete that morning.
Fortunately, whatever funk had claimed me washed away quickly during the swim, the first event of three. I kept a steady rhythm, and When I got out of the water I sprinted to my bike, the only participant excited enough to be out of the water to do more than walk. I gave a strong showing on my bike. I maintained something close to a 20 mph average speed, and definitely hit speeds much faster than that on flats and downhills.
It felt like I spent most of the bike ride passing people, typical for me since I tend to fall behind during the swim and make up time on the bike. I made a good showing in the last few segments of the bike course, and passed another 5-10 competitors.
Things fell apart during the run, though. Maybe I pushed too hard during the bike ride. Probably I just didn’t take the training my running seriously enough. Whatever it was, at the end of the first loop, my knees started to cramp, and I was forced to walk long stretches of the course. It hurt my pride to walk, especially knowing that running used to be my strongest discipline. At the same time, I was relieved not to have to run the full 10k—I’m not sure I had the willpower for it. Whatever bravado I had worked up during the bike ride quickly left me as people passed me in a steady stream.
Still, I did my best to finish strong. I started running the walking the uphills but running the downhills. I tried to pick up the pace in the last mile, and I gave it my all when the finish line was in sight, passing a few last rivals.
My finishing time of 3:42:39 was nothing to write home about. I placed 13th out of 34 in my age group, and 132nd out of 476 overall. I took much longer on the swim than I had realized, clocking in at 45:09 for 1.5k (just under a mile) of swimming—much slower than I thought I had been in training, though I had been lazily avoiding the pool for a few weeks leading up to the event. My cycling performance of 1:32:35 for 40k (just under 25 miles) was less impressive than I had hoped, only netting me 14th out of 34 in my age group. My run time was predictably unimpressive at 1:18:34 for 10k (6.2 miles). Hilariously, the only standout performance I had was the first transition from swimming to cycling, where I placed 1st in my age group and 6th overall. I guess nobody else hates swimming quite enough to sprint to their bike.
The last time I remember racing Olympic distance was in 2016, when I was still preparing for my first Ironman. It was my first official triathlon, though I had been training for a little while. Back then I was on a significantly worse bike (I think the road bike I road around in college), and was still recovering from tendinitis in my foot. I remember long transitions redoing the athletic tape on my foot and lower leg so the pain wouldn’t keep me from finishing the race. Despite the handicaps, younger me finished the race in 3:00:04, over 40 minutes faster than present me. I placed 3rd in my age group during that race and won a medal—they put me on a pedestal and everything.
I’m glad I didn’t back out of this race. I am also glad I finished the race. I know I should be proud, but I can’t quite get myself to honestly feel that. I’m honestly a bit disappointed overall. It’s a shock to me to have fallen so far from my former self in this regard. I used to feel like I always gave it my all, and the results spoke for themselves. This time, I can’t help but feel like I left something on the table. I can’t help but feel a little like I’ve lost my edge because of it. I can’t help but wonder where else in my life I may be leaving something on the table. It scares me a little to feel this way with my 30th birthday fast approaching.
I know my expectations for myself are too high—I had ample time during the running leg of this race to contemplate how the double-edge of my high expectations is simultaneously one of my greatest strengths and one of my greatest weaknesses. I clearly haven’t learned to wield that sword without cutting myself, sometimes deeply.
To my credit, though, while I feel disappointed, I’m anything but discouraged after this race. Now that I have a benchmark to work against, I actually feel more motivated than ever to redouble my training efforts. I’d like to get back to a level of fitness where I can reclaim my identity as an athlete and an Ironman, and where I feel healthy and confident.