I went into the race knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy, but I never imagined it to be this painful.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I tried to tell myself that all the training I’ve put in would be sufficient to bring my through, although some training volume was sacrificed for school work over the last few weeks.
The swim conditions were rough, and for the first time ever, I started having calf cramps 5 minutes into the swim, was left with no choice but to continue swimming with only my upper body, hoping that the cramps would subside. Battling the currents was the easy part of the swim, the hard part was trying to continue swimming after being whacked in the face by a canoe paddle. Needless to say, my swim time was less than stellar.
Naturally, I couldn’t wait to end the swim and get on to the bike leg. Narrowly avoided crashing twice, and watched three athletes in front of me going down hard, with one of the girls breaking her nose. The first half of the bike ride was relatively uneventful, except for a few encounters with male cyclists with huge inflated egos who cannot bear the thought of being passed by a girl. Thanks to them, I was threatened with a red card for drafting simply because the guy in front of me refused to slow down and allow me to pass. 50km into the ride and I felt my speed dropping; it wasn’t till the 60km mark when I realized my rear wheel was flat. With no spare, I simply had ride a flat for the remaining 30km. By this point, my hip injury was acting up, and the proverbial voices in the head were making themselves heard. The pain dominated the rest of the ride, and I thought that maybe I should stop after the ride. Running has never been my strength, and for the first time, I was afraid. Afraid of the half-marathon awaiting me, which had to be ran with the excruciating pain of an inflammed hip bursa. I told myself that there was always next time, and stopping would be wise because I wouldn’t want to worsen the injury. But I never believed in living for the next time, why should I, when I can live in the moment? The stubborn part of me wanted to finish what I started – I have never gotten a DNF, and I don’t want to get one today.
I spent one full minute in transition just standing there, telling myself that the cramps would subside, and that the pain will go away. The first 7km of the run was simply painful, the hip snapped with each step and I told myself to keep chipping away at the distance, to keep going at a steady pace – I simply had to finish this. Friends and team mates yelled to me to say that I was looking good, I wanted to say: you have no idea. The cramps subsided, but the pain continued to haunt me. The next 10km went by in a blur, with me telling myself in my head, to just keep going, to just keep putting one foot in front of another. I thought about the many times that people have asked me why I choose to torture my body this way, my parents not understanding why I was up each morning at 5am, pedaling on my trainer while going through readings for school. Some athletes will tell you that they do it because they want to push their limits, because they want to see what they’re capable of, and about the overwhelming the sense of achievement they feel at the finish line. Perhaps I’ve given those answers before, but deep down I knew that none of those reasons truly explained why I did this sport. There was a certain drive and motivation, but I couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. At the 17km mark, the cramps returned to haunt me. I was close to stopping to walk, when I saw my swim coach whom I haven’t seen in a few years. He was the one who taught me to swim since I was 4 years old, who watched me grow up all these years. He called out to me to keep going, and I greeted him the same I always did since I was a kid. He could see that I was hurting, but somehow seeing him made me want to push on and finish this. It was painful, no doubt, but at least I finished what I started.
70.3 miles down, and I still didn’t have an answer to why I choose to race triathlons. Perhaps all the training and racing is part of the journey to find this answer, to find out what motivates us as a person, to discover the limits of oneself. 70.3 miles of pain, but somehow after all of it, I love the sport even more.