Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Race Report: Winja's IRONMAN ARIZONA (November 20, 2016)

"Far better it is to dare mighty things: to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." - Teddy Roosevelt


Never in my life have I wanted something more than I've wanted this. Where do I even begin?

(Warning: this is going to be a huge wall of text. I thought about splitting it up, but if I ever want to come back, I want to know that I can find everything in one place!)


I took Thursday off from work so I could decompress and pack. In the weeks leading up to the race, I had so many thoughts running through my head. I was stressed beyond belief. My fingers were peeling and I was developing a rash on my hip that was slightly raised and spreading as the race neared. I was a hot mess.

I spent most of the days leading up to the race writing a detailed list of things to pack. I checked and cross-checked everything I needed, and I even compared my list to Patrick's. I didn't want to over-pack, but ended up over-packing anyway. I mean, who doesn't want to bring their whole house with them when they go for a race in another state?

I left for Arizona at 5am on Friday - AZ is an hour ahead, so despite leaving early, I felt like I arrived late. I checked into the hotel (one I wasn't allergic to this time!) and left for the expo at Tempe Beach Park.  Signed my life away, listened to an athlete briefing, and met up with my college friend Alex at the True Rest booth!

Later that evening, I met up with a few athletes from Cal Tri to get a course walk-through (Thank you, Darrell!) and then headed out to a neighboring city to meet up with one of my favorite people in this world: My grade school teacher, Mrs. M. It's hard to explain how much I love this woman, but she has been such a pivotal part of my life. She nurtured my love for reading and writing and has always been so supportive of all of my endeavors. I'm so glad I got to spend a bit of time with her on this trip.

Saturday morning, Patrick and I had planned to test the waters at Tempe Beach Park, but when we arrived, there were so many people and a mandated 700 yard swim that we kind of looked at each other, shrugged, and went to get our gear to check in.

We dropped our bikes and gear bags off, and met up with fellow Disney team members for a group picture before race day!

Glendale and Steve were so instrumental in helping us prep for IMAZ! They answered all of our questions and walked us through every scenario possible when it came to the race and prepping for it. Thank you again, Steve and Glendale! You guys are the best.

The rest of Saturday involved picking up boyface from the hotel, lunch at the Original ChopShop (so good!), life-sized chess, Jenga by the pool, prickly pear sorbet, and a hearty italian dinner before packing my special needs bags, watching the first few minutes of the USC/UCLA game, and heading to bed.


We got up before the sun rose, and made our way to Tempe Beach park in the morning. Traffic was much worse than when I did the half - probably because we left much later this time, and probably because there were more athletes. Jesus dropped me off and I walked over with Patrick to the transition area. We put our nutrition into their correct bags, and then met up with everyone again for pre-race pictures :)

(Thanks to Joyce, Alice, and Veronica for the pictures below!)

By this time, I've asked Patrick maybe 2 or 3 times what we got ourselves into. My adrenaline is pumping, and I'm telling myself that if I'm already at the park, I may as well start the race and see how far I go.

We say our goodbyes to everyone and I realize immediately after I get into the chute that I've forgotten to take my pre-race pills. :( What if I get tired during the swim?! What if not taking my vitamins in the morning leaves me at a deficit?! Patrick leaves me to go into the faster swim corral (his goal was a 1:20 and my goal was a 1:30) and I'm left in a sea of strangers, wringing my hands together as the cannon blows for the first wave of pro men at 6:40. I see puddles on the floor and my first thought is that people are peeing in their wetsuits. Gross.

The cannon bellows two more times: once for the pro women, and once more for the start of our age group waves. 15 minutes pass and the line slowly moves so we can get into the bleachers and from there, into the water. I make my way down the stairs and jump.

My face is immediately met with a cold splash of water. MUCH colder than I anticipated. IT'S REAL. We're in this! I keep my arms at a steady pace and let them carry me out. At one point, I'm kicked in the face. My goggles are fine but my cheek stings a little. I look at my watch 10 minutes in and IT'S IN TRANSITION MODE. Somewhere along the way, another person must have hit me and triggered my Garmin to move to the next step. I spent the next few hundred meters wondering whether or not to stop and re-start my watch or suck it up and leave it in transition mode so I could salvage the rest of my workout (I'm a little obsessive compulsive) - In the end, I leave it.

The swim overall wasn't too bad - it was faster than I thought it would be, and there were so many people in the water that I didn't have to worry about getting lost. The only downfall was that some slower people seeded themselves in faster corrals, so I had to swim around them or navigate to avoid them. The yellow buoys turned to red on the way out (red meant there was a turn), and red turned into orange to mark the return trip back. The final red buoy signaled another turn toward the bleachers, and the neon orange shirts that the volunteers were wearing were a sight for sore eyes. An hour and 25 minutes after I started the swim, a volunteer held out a hand, told me to grab it, and yanked me out of the water.

Slightly disoriented, I was directed to the wetsuit peelers, who unzipped me and had me sit on the floor as they pulled my wetsuit off. I ran to get my gear bag, and then headed into the warm change tent.

Without a doubt, the volunteers are the best part about this race. They're nice and accommodating and are willing to deal with problem people (like me)! I had to remind myself to slow it down and remember that I was in for the long haul. I pull on my sleeved jersey, but then ask the volunteer how hot it is outside. She tells me that it's ok but that it will warm up. She also tells me that everyone else is wearing sleeveless, so I peel off (key word 'peel' because I am still soaking wet) my jersey and attempt to pull on my racing top.

I get stuck. My volunteer (bless her) helps me pull my top down, and packs my pockets with everything I need. She takes the extra stuff, jams it back in my bag, and wishes me good luck! I run out for my bike.

At this point, all I can think about is how tired my arms are from the swim. How the hell am I going to make it 112 miles on the bike? I mount at the line and start to ride out. I see so many smiling faces, and for the first time, I catch my favorite people in the world: Joyce, Veronica, Alice, and Jesus. They're calling my name and their familiar faces are all I need. I stick my tongue out, the tired arms are suddenly fine again, and I'm ready.

The bike portion is 3 loops. The first loop is great - I'm averaging 16 - 17 mph and I feel good. As I climb up beeline, I see a guy wearing a lumberjack jersey. It reminds me of the one that Jesus wore when we first started dating (go ahead, insert heart eyes here), so I speed up to tell the guy I like it. When I catch up, I realize it's John! - John and I had ridden to San Diego together in May, so it was great being able to connect with him, even though it was only for a minute or so. He had my bib number written on his wrist so he wouldn't forget to look for me on the course. He told me to have fun, slow it down, and pretend I was on a beach cruiser in Newport.

Me and John!

When I turn for lap 2, I hear someone call my name and I felt like lap 2 is going to be just as easy as the first lap was. But the climb 10 miles into the lap drains me. The winds were blowing sideways, and at times they were head-on. I start to feel unmotivated and just keep reminding myself to drink water and aim for the person in front of me. I stop for special needs around mile 60 and the nice volunteer who helps me makes a joke about how much food I had packed and how indecisive I was because I couldn't choose what I wanted to take with me. He held my bike while I stretched, and the stretching made a HUGE difference.

By the time the third lap rolls around, I am drained. I wasn't looking forward to the slight uphill on Beeline Highway, but I was definitely looking forward to being off the bike. When I got to the top of Beeline, 18 miles into the lap, I knew it would only get easier. 96 miles turned into 100, and 100 turned into 112, thus concluding the first century I had done since July. I was SO happy to be off the bike.

When I got to the dismount line, a bike catcher took my bike from me and I went to grab my bags.

I'm all smiles in the picture above, but I'm suffering on the inside. The first thing I said after the above picture was taken was "My ass hurts and I'm so fucking tired." By now I'm 114.4 miles into the 140.6 mile journey. A marathon sits between me and the finish line. Alice, Joyce, Veronica, and Jesus were at the transition watching me make my way into the change tent. I'm rude and I think I'm on the verge of cussing someone out at this point:

IRONMAN changes you. I love these people with all my heart but they are the last people I want to see in that moment. If words could caption what this picture says, I'd say there's an F-word in it somewhere. (Sorry guys. I wasn't myself in that moment.)

In the tent, I meet Heather the volunteer. Heather is the shining beacon of light who brings me back to... well, me. She coaxes me to sit down as she pulls my running shoes out of my bag and offers me Carmex. Guys. It's like she speaks Winnie or something. She asks me how I feel and if I'm cold or hungry. She's exactly what I need in that moment, and she gives me a hug before I head out.

When I run out of the change tent, I feel like a new person. I'm so excited to run!

The cheer squad is out in full force, and it feels so good to feel my legs again. My first mile clocks in at 9:07. Oops. I'm too pumped. My second mile slows down to a 10 minute pace, and I feel good. I think to myself, 26 miles? Cake.

Fast forward 2 miles, and I take back my earlier thoughts. As I make my way along the water, my pace slows down significantly. I keep looking out for my friends. They're my motivation to keep running. I see Mike Pajaro and he runs alongside me for a minute or so. I see Patrick and I call out his name! He's in the zone and says a quick hello as he continues. The sun sets quickly and I'm becoming demoralized again. It becomes a slow trot. I stop at all the aid stations and I chomp on some grapes and pretzels as I see them.

By mile 15 my stomach is in so much pain. Too many grapes. Too many pretzels. WAY too much coke. I stop it all and stick to water. I keep looking out for my friends. I need something to look forward to. I run by a few cheer tents and Glendale is smiling at me! He runs with me for a little bit and tells me that I'm sooo close. He's with me until I see my support crew again and we're at mile 17. 9 more miles to go.

I pull the cards I had my friends write from my back pocket and hold them in my hand. I tell myself that I'll read them when I need motivation. My eyes are blurry and I can't focus though, so I read a few here and there... One from Kevin, one from Chris, one from Andrew, one from Anna, a few from Betty, from Diane... they're all so motivational. I tear up as I read them because I feel like I'm not just doing this race for myself. So many notes from so many people.

At mile 19, I see Mike again. His smile is so bright that I can't help but smile back. I tell him that I'm tired. He tells me to keep trucking on. I tell him I'm delusional. He tells me to keep moving. I'm so close to being done! The number of miles dwindle down and I have 6 left. I tell myself that I do 6 all the time! 6 turns into 3 and I tell myself that I can do 5ks in my sleep. 3 turns into 1 and the road is empty. Where is the finish line?! I'm waiting to see people and the streets are bare.

I hear noise. It's soft at first, but it gets louder and louder. I see bright lights and the M-Dots on the carpet. I see Jesus. I see Alice. I see Veronica. I see Joyce. I see a finish line. I slow down to let the woman ahead of me get her moment, and then I'm beaming. I raise my hands up and I hear Mike Reilly say, "Winnie Jaing, from Rosemead, California.... YOU'RE AN IRONMAN, WINNIE! BEAUTIFUL SMILE."

... And I'm done. A volunteer catches me and asks me how I feel. I tell her I'm so happy. I tear up.

At this point, I still haven't processed what I've accomplished, but I know that I'm done.

Soooo attractive. 

 I'm hungry. Patrick and I head to the medical area and I scarf down 4 slices of pizza. We get massages and we come back out to meet everyone. Pictures. SO many pictures.


I can't even begin to thank everyone who played such a pivotal role in my Ironman training: From the weekend practices to the Q & A sessions, the race spectating, and the bitch-fests that you all had to endure...

Thanks to all of my training buddies, in big and little ways: Bryant, Jarrett, Kevin, Letty, Fernando, Brandon, Robert, Mike, Colette, Kien, Emmanuel, Jared, Bree, John, Ruth and Peter, Alisa, Karla and Marshall, Alfie and Jack, Laurie (can't forget my Soulcycle buddies), and Marcos

To my Marvel team, for being SO supportive at all times, especially: Diane, Chelsie, Kathryn, Natalia, and Stef

My friends, who listened to me whine about waking up at 4:45 in the morning and train until 9:30 at night: Jaime, Jonathan & the RHS crew, Stephane, George, Diane, my Ladies of the List (especially you, Kenni!)

My amazing swim coach, Mike Lucero of Golden Road Aquatics - thank you for always believing in me! Disney Tri Team, for giving me something to focus on and something to fight for.

Steve and Glendale, for shedding light on the race itself and answering all of the questions I threw at you!

Mike Pajaro, for chasing after me and running with me and cheering for me when I was delusional and thought no one was around. 

Alice, for so much more than a caption can handle, but most importantly for training with me and for being there on the big day. For waking up super early with me and racing with me and encouraging me to be more than I am. 

Joyce! For being there for my first EVERYTHING: my first tri, my first half, my first full! For making signs for me three weeks in advance, for taking care of me and anticipating my next steps before I even know what they are, and for being so supportive of everything that I do. 

Veronica, for being the best friend that a girl can ask for. For schlepping it out all the way to Arizona just so you could watch the sun rise and hear that I am tired ONE MORE TIME, even though you hear it from me every morning. Think about where we were two years ago and where we are now. I have so much love for you. And! I'm taller than you in this picture! 

Patrick, for agreeing to sign up for this with me in the first place. What started out as a stupid idea actually came into fruition, and before we knew it, it was too late (and too expensive!) to turn back. Thanks for meeting me at 6am for bike rides and for running into the sunsets at Griffith Park with me. Thanks for freaking out with me and pushing me to work out more. Thanks for driving out to Oceanside to watch me run for 10 minutes and for creating a sign where the letters fell off. And for racing Vineman with me. And IMAZ 70.3. This season wouldn't have been as fun without you. 

Jesus. I don't even know where to begin thanking you. Thanks for ALWAYS challenging me. For reminding me that I am racing for no one but myself. Thanks for believing in me, for waking up at 3am in the mornings with me, and for coming to my big races with me. Thanks for going on training rides with me and guilting (ok, "motivating") me to work out. You put a smile on my face and you have a hold on my heart. 

And a big thank you to people who wrote me the notes to get me through the latter half of my marathon: Robert, E, Baggies, Henry, Ashleigh, Katy, Chris, Kathryn, Alisa, Jared, Boy, Anna, Andrew, Patrick's Parents!!!, Coach Mike, Marcos, Mama Hong, Isabelle, Natalia, Norris, Sharktato, Bettay, Jax, Pi gu, Anthony, Amanda, Annabear and Ginnybear, My favorite Floridia Jillian, Kevin, Vee, Twin Pop, Patrick, Amanda, Alice, Jaimebug, Kendyl, Boyface, Bob, Leland, and Cindy.

All my love and all my thanks. Completing this IRONMAN means that I can handle just about anything. xoxo

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