Monthly Archives: September, 2013
We are officially over a week out from last week’s IRONMAN Wisconsin, which was to be my second, having completed the race in 2012.
Most know, but if you don’t, I did not know how to swim when I signed up for last year’s race way back in September of 2011. I had just watched the race the day before and was inspired and motivated to do it.
Back then, races didn’t sell out within hours, let alone MINUTES like they tend to do nowadays. So, once registration opened to the general public around noon on that Monday, I teetered on whether I should register. Most said I shouldn’t because I couldn’t swim and recommended I ease into it, doing a half IRONMAN at most.
During all that teetering, I secretly hoped it would sell out so my decision could be made for me. When that didn’t happen, I figured it WOULD happen while registering via my phone’s browser. It was like filling out an application instead of just registering–where you answer a bunch of questions about, what seems like, your entire life story and what got you into triathlon and/or wanting to do an IRONMAN. It felt like it took forEVER!
Once I would hit submit, I assumed it would 1. have sold out during my inefficient use of a phone browser or 2. It would reject my cell phone browser and ALL my information would be erased AND I would not want to bother filling everying out again.
NOPE – that mobile browser was certainly compatible and it sucked up my $675 like a rebellious, bratty ATM machine!!!
So, then I was stuck and HAD to do it because all I could get back at that point if I changed my mind was $150.
Swim lesson number one resulted in me not being able to completely float, due to what I called at the time “dead leg syndrome,” where my legs were too heavy and just kept falling to the bottom of the pool. We found that if I tried to make progress and not try to just float in the pool, my legs would actually come up… So, we started to do that… Then, when I started to do “freestyle,” I started to go BACKWARDS.
Yup, I was off to a WONDERFUL start.
And, I could not tell you how many times I just wanted to QUIT because there was obviously NO way I would be able to cover 2.4 miles if I was having so much trouble in the pool. In fact, the time when this almost actually happened was in May of 2012, when I was going to do my first sprint triathlon. But, it was my first open water swim EVER. So, I actually freaked out, put my hand up, and got pulled out. Yup — I was done!
I had two weeks until an Olympic distance race I had signed up for. So, I ignored all of my prescribed swim workouts and just went to Lake Michigan as much as possible to try to get comfortable in the open water. And, as seasoned open water swimmers know, it’s getting use to not having a lane line or wall to grab in case of panic or to take a break. Oh, you can stand in a pool too (typically in at least half of the lane), so not being able to see the bottom and not having that option is a huge adjustment as well.
Goal for the Olympic distance: get through the swim and then figure out the rest. THAT, I DID! And, I remember my best friend staying true to his word – he promised me ice cream from DQ as a reward – and that kept me moving forward!!!
Four weeks later, I got through a half IRONMAN; a month later, a full 2.4 mile open water swim in the “host lake” of IRONMAN Wisconsin, Lake Monona; and, then the full IRONMAN three weeks after that. My half IRONMAN swim was just under an hour. And, the 2.4 mile swim was just under two hours and, supposedly, that distance was long by 0.3. IRONMAN Wisconsin actual swim time last year, though, was 2:05. The cutoff is 2:20, so I was perfectly fine with that.
Finish the race, get the medal, have the worst aching legs ever that night, wait in line for over an hour to drop over $100 on a finisher jacket, and get the tattoo a few weeks later.
OUCH! DONE! NO! MORE! Just a HALF!
But, I ended up being chosen to be a member of the inaugural IRONMAN Foundation – Newton Running Ambassador Triathlon Team (aka #TriTeamForGood), and one of the requirements was to be scheduled to do a 70.3 (half) and 140.6 (full) in 2013. So, I was back in.
BUT, the reason was to fundraise for the IRONMAN Foundation and bring awareness to how much they give back to the communities that host IRONMAN races. So, it was NOT about me — my training and participating in races were just vehicles to get the message out. My goals were COMPLETELY secondary and, frankly, I didn’t really have any goals except to have a better training season; a better time in any event would just be icing on the cake.
The Hawaiian word KOKUA represents the team and translates as “extending loving, sacrificial help to others for their benefit, not for personal gain…”
Yes, my training was not stellar, but it definitely was NOT horrible. IT WAS BETTER! I had great long distance rides and runs. Just the fact that I got 95% of the “long stuff” in was huge for me! I have my local training group, Chicago Endurance Sports, to thank for that! With the group, I also felt like my swimming got better. BROWNIE POINTS ALL AROUND!!!
So, the start to IRONMAN Wisconsin weekend was not as nerve wracking as I thought it would be, even though I had some anxiety issues about mid-week before. It was because I had done it before and I just had to execute and represent the #TriTeamForGood in our awesome #KOKUA kit!
Race morning started at 3:45am with the typical pre-race routine of breakfast, blessing the toilet, and then heading out to transition for body marking, final bag drop-offs, pumping up my bike tires, and putting my nutrition on my bike – all complete by about 6am. I then meandered down to the lower level of the Monona Terrace with my swim stuff, sat for a tiny bit, and then started to get (wet)suited and lubed (MAJORLY) up – chafing control for those of you that don’t understand.
I noticed that the water was not glass and had some “activity” going on. But, I thought to myself that it wouldn’t be a problem because I had conquered open water swims at IRONMAN Steelhead 70.3 about six weeks earlier in tough conditions and swam regularly in Lake Michigan where it can get REALLY bad based on the weather, or even just from the boats coming in and out of the area in which we train. Lake Monona could NEVER get as bad as those swims…
That’s what I thought at least…
It was a tough swim… very choppy… thrown around… sighting often difficult. I got to the halfway point in 1:05. Ok – that wasn’t great, but given the conditions it made sense and matched my 70.3 time at Steelhead. That halfway point was part of the LONGEST stretch of the course, which had a diagonal current coming at us from the right, coupled with the choppiness. It often felt as if I wasn’t moving and that I was working VERY hard. I even had thoughts of throwing my hand up to get pulled out because I had several breaths in a row where I got smacked in the face with water and ended up unwillingly hydrating instead of breathing AND, as I said, I felt I wasn’t moving.
So, I told myself, “An IRONMAN isn’t suppose to be easy, Ken! This is the truest test of your strength. Don’t give up and fight through. You’ll make it before the cutoff. You sure as heck are NOT going to quit because this isn’t about you! You are doing this to bring awareness to the #TriTeamForGood. You raised over $3,000 and you will make your donors proud because they knew you fought hard!”
I didn’t look at my watch again after the halfway point because I knew I was working fairly hard already and thought that if I looked at it and saw something that I didn’t like, I would panic and become even MORE inefficient than I already was from the anxiety and tension that I would create.
Maybe, I still should have? This, among many other things, went through my head throughout the week that followed.
The only sense of time I had after that halfway point was a guy on a surfboard or SUP coming up right next to me and yelling, “YOU HAVE FOUR MINUTES! GO! FIGHT! THIS HAS TO BE YOUR HARDEST EFFORT EVER!!!”
TALK! ABOUT! PANIC!
I picked up my stroke by what felt like 100 times faster than what I was doing and that finish arch looked SO FAR AWAY! I breathe to the right naturally and did so every second stroke. I thought I was going to hyperventilate and drown. But, I figured I was safe with the guy in my sight the entire time yelling, yelling, and yelling…
O! M! G!
There was a point where he started to yell for me to stand up. And, I did!!!
I started to run and saw the clock showing 2:20 and about 10ish seconds. So, I thought immediately that maybe it’s like Boston cutoffs, so it MUST be 2:20:59!
This girl in a wetsuit helped pull me forward and toward the finish arch and continued to stabilize me.
Then, this guy with an accent and in a black “walkie talkie vest” stopped me. I had no idea what he was saying. I was just repeatedly yelling, “It’s 2:20:59, right?!?”
Everything started to move in slow motion at that point.
He slowly looked toward the clock as time continued to pass. I noticed a blur of TONS of spectators watching, in addition to tons of blue volunteer shirts. The blasting music was simply deafening noise causing anxious pressure in my head at that point.
Then, he slowly turned back to say something to me. For a second there, I thought he was messing with me and was going to let me through just before the clock hit a full on 2:21:00.
But, all I can remember is his lips saying something like, “…sorry…cutoff at exactly 2:20:00…”
I turned around and looked at “wetsuit girl” in disbelief. I vaguely recall her saying something about rough conditions and there still being people out there.
Then, I collapsed to the ground, sitting with my head cradled in my hands, and I immediately broke down in tears and cried.
I cried HARD. I was crying as if somebody close to me had died.
I was devastated. My friend Lore was oen of the volunteers there and immediately came over to console me as I cried so hard into her shoulder. I remember saying, “…this wasn’t even for me this year…it wasn’t about me…”
During this time, I noticed “walkie talkie vest guy” trying to take my chip off my ankle. And, I remember laughing way back in my head because he seemed annoyed that I safety pinned it to keep it secure and from coming off. He was the bad guy in this specific moment and him taking that off felt as if he was taking me off life support.
It sealed the deal. And, it hurt.
I felt like I was in one of the old IRONMAN videos, where they capture that heartbreaking moment when folks just miss the swim or bike cutoff. The camera is focused on their face, the tears, the sadness and disbelief. We as the viewers can’t help but cry as well and feel sorry for them because of the effort put forth on that day and the MONTHS spent training to get to that day…
…just to be stopped so abruptly.
I was the first one to be cutoff for the day — never did I think that would EVER be me.
Realizing that I had an audience of what felt like hundreds, I started to get embarrassed. Lore helped me up and I turned around to face all those people.
And, as I started to walk forward, they all gave me a huge round of applause, I believe at the urging of Mike Reilly, the “voice” of IRONMAN who told me, “KEN CHIN OF CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” just a year earlier.
I was embarrassed because I was quite sure my crying face was not pretty, but I appreciated the support. I called this the “rubbernecking” in IRONMAN. They didn’t want to watch, but they did anyhow. They just had both hands available to clap for me and didn’t have to worry about driving off the road.
Lore continued to walk me forward and I thought I would be making the embarrassing walk alone up the helix. Then, I suddenly saw my CES teammates that I trained with this year, who were up to cheer for the day.
As I got closer, I noticed most of their faces being red… full of tears as well.
Yes, I started to cry again.
And, when Coach Craig gave me a hug, I again broke down hard into his shoulder. And, I remembered mumbling that I tried so hard. Then, I saw Coach Daphne was crying for me.
EVERYONE WAS CRYING FOR ME! And, I felt bad for putting them through that!
There were tons of hugs coming my way. Now, being further removed, I think about how those hugs were so AWESOME! And, the tears were my team further expressing my emotion and, in many ways, a sense of kinship and love for me. It was comforting. And, I am so lucky to call them my family.
They told me to be proud of my solid effort. They reminded me not to be sorry for making them cry. And, they told me to be mad and take all the time I needed to be mad.
I later learned that they had witnessed everything that was happening to me on a jumbotron, but they didn’t know it was me; they only knew I hadn’t come by yet. They saw a swimmer fighting to come in. They heard Mike Reilly telling the crowd to cheer me on as I fought to make it. Then, they heard him yell at the guy next to me to tell me to stand up and run in, and then they saw the interaction I had with “walkie talkie guy” and my collapse.
I remember being “handed off” to my best friend Matt and he walked me up the helix, supporting my one side. (Maybe, I appeared as if I was going to collapse?) He stayed with me until I settled down after I made a difficult, tearful phone call to my partner, telling him not to bother coming up from Chicago to cheer for me because my day was done. (He still did and it was great to have him there for support! Love you, Anthony!)
When I finally got all my transition bags and changed into dry clothes, I sat alone for a bit reflecting on everything. During that time, several folks – complete strangers – that watched what happened to me, came over to give me a pat on the back or shake my hand, and told me how I should be proud of my fight.
That felt good and helped me do my best to develop the strength to move on and support everyone else that was still conquering the day.
Although difficult, my strength started with this social media post located here (https://www.facebook.com/kennethchin/posts/10201609976627975) but also pasted here for your convenience:
I’ve finally calmed down after being extremely distraught, having missed the swim cutoff by 20 seconds at #IMWI. The water was very choppy. But, I did the best I could. And, I fought hard and didn’t want to give up no matter how hard it felt because I wasn’t doing this for me this time–it was for the IRONMAN Foundation and the #TriTeamForGood. I reminded myself many times that an IRONMAN wasn’t suppose to be easy and this swim was the truest test of my strength and commitment to make it happen.
Words cannot do justice of how thankful I am to you ALL for your support along my journey this year. Whether you donated, were one of my biggest cheerleaders, or both, YOU ROCK. Many of you were there to witness me at my weakest this morning and I thank you for doing your best to lift me up. A special shout out to my local training group teammates and coaches of Chicago Endurance Sports and my best friend Matt for being among them. THANK! YOU! XOXO
I won’t be that Debbie Downer and sulk all day – – because I already had an audience of hundreds when I broke down right when I got out of the water. So, everyone knows already!
That chapter is finished…
I am now headed back to the hotel to freshen up, so I can go cheer on the other athletes on their journey to become an IRONMAN!
I did just that and it was great to keep my mind busy, cheering everyone on. It was even funny to see the reaction on the faces of folks I knew, wondering why I was showered and cheering for them on the course. Maybe, they thought I won? 😉
The remainder of the day was great, particularly because I wasn’t alone with my thoughts and was feeding off the energy of everyone conquering an IRONMAN. And, I got to help give them fuel with my loud screams of support! I was happy for all that finished, particularly those that came close to the 17:00:00 cutoff, and those that I didn’t even know didn’t finish because they were cutoff earlier. Honest effort was being put out there in one way or another and everyone should be proud!
The next morning was a little rough, as I woke up and found myself tearing up as I started to re-live the previous morning moment-by-moment, just as I did above. But, I probably got more emotional when I was reading all the supportive messages I got from everyone via comments, emails, private messages, text messages, tweets etc. They were all reminders of the awesome family I have in person and virtually. You know who you are and I THANK YOU! =)
What awesomely comes out of all this?
I came across a blog post by “wetsuit girl”, who I mentioned above, on Runner’s World Online. She talked about me and it was fascinating seeing this all from her perspective.
I stumbled upon Elisabeth’s write up on Runner’s World’s blog about volunteering at the Ironman Wisconsin swim this past Sunday. As I was reading, I didn’t expect to see that I actually made my way into her recap. Have a read and then scroll through the comments, where you will actually see that I reached out to her and we’ve since connected. It’s pretty great to turn what happened to me on Sunday into something AWESOME!