By Greg Hugh, Staff Writer
Amy Xu competed in the Ironman World Triathlon Championship Triathlon in Kailua-Kona,Hawaii in October. She described her experience in a Q&A session.
Did you do anything different to prepare for the completion of the race?
Knowing the race course is one of the toughest courses in the Ironman world, I put in more mental preparation time to visualize each part of the tri race -- to feel the swell in the ocean, the gust on the bike, and the baking heat from the lava field on the run.
Can you describe your participation from the time you arrived to the actual race?
Some racers devote their entire training season to get ready for this race–training on the courses, acclimating the elements of heat, humidity, wind, etc.–, while most of the racers could only afford the time to devote their race preparationduring the week of the race.
By choice or not, I’m one of the latter ones.
I arrived in Kona late Tuesday night (Oct 7, 2008). It felt cooler than I had anticipated. My coach and training partner who had raced here 5 times before warned me that it would be a different story during the day. I took the advantage of that cooler night and slept well.
Wednesday was a prep war time, and our condo was in a war zone: Clothes, bike parts, food, everywhere. We assembled our bikes that we brought along and tested them out. Naturally, I felt things were just not 100 percent ready. I had to calm myself and completed my pre-race checklist.
Since I knew the race course well, I focused my energy in getting things in place –doing race registration, visiting the Expo village, soaking all the energy out there from the natural elements or human anxieties. Rest and proper fueling for such an endurance event seems essential to me -- I ate a lot, and I hydrated a ton.
Thursday went by faster than I can remember, and before I knew it (after a short swimand spinning the wheels), I was sitting down with my buddy and the other 1,800+athletes (1,200+ qualified racers and a few hundreds lucky lottery slot winners from all over the world) to celebrate the 30th anniversary. We ate again at the dinner banquet and attended a mandatory athletes' pre-race meeting. Guess what, we were fed and had more energy than waa-zoo.
A sexpected, Friday came in tense. I sensed the tension from miles away – it seemed that all of the racers were packed at the beach swim start, or were cycling up and down the hills, or sprinting on the run course. I did my share of routine drills – I felt great and also shed a few extra pounds. In the afternoon on Friday (the day beforethe race, Oct. 11, 2008), I turned my race gears in the transition areas – my bike/shoes/helmet, transition gear bags, etc. I religiously said good-night to all my gears at the transition.
After I walked out of the transition, my nerves got me – I forgot which row number I hung my gear bags – normally this was a must-know factor – a mental thing for me… I finally sat down by the ocean bank, with my buddy friend. We watched many other panic racers to perform their gear bag check-in duties. We smiled at each other, solemnly watched the sunset…soon we soaked in the sound of ocean tides hitting the bank and walked back in the dark.
Finally, the race day (Sat. Oct. 11, 2008) was here. The race day morning was all business. We did all we needed to do early in the morning. Then, it was time to go…we slowly stepped in the salt water, along with the drum beats, the rhythm of the Big Island ofHawaii, the Polynesian Goddess’ prayers, followed by the Navy Seal’s heroic sky jumps. The race officially started at 7a.m.
Is it what you expected and how were the conditions?
I had always expected the worst condition, but the conditions were worse than Iexpected. As reported, the high point of the race day temp went up to 108? F. But comparing to the wind/gust during my last 25 miles on bike, the wind gust of 30-40 head-to-cross wind got the heat beat. My mental training helped me get through that tough point, there after everything seemed a lot better.
I love the last part of the race, the marathon run – it was my turn to chase. The Hawaii sun did not wait for me, and the darkness greeted many runners whom we saw each other by following our glowing sticks. Soon, an almost-full moon peekedout of the clouds with a smiley bright face, soon I realized that I had only a mile to go. I felt every ounce of my body was flying. While I enjoyed everymoment of this race…I was asking myself for more to go and blaming for little left to finish – yes, soon it would be all over.
My coach and training partner and friends thought that I would look better if I wore a colorful, wild Halloween wig at the finish line. So, flying with the wig -- I dashed towards the finish line while holding the wild Halloween wig with my both hands. Lights, flash lights, blanket, leis, medal,volunteers, stopped my forward motion…they told me YOU DID IT, YOU FINISHED IT,CONGRATULATIONS – I gutted it out to the two volunteers holding me, “THANK YOU SO MUCH”. THANKS TO ALL MY FRIENDS AND FAMILIES -- I LOVE YOU ALL.
How large were the crowds and what sense of support did you experience along the route?
Crowds of friends, families, volunteers were everywhere in the town of Kona and in the village of Hawi which was the bike turn around point. Otherwise, I was pretty much focusing within myself and experiencing all the elements put upon me. Aids/feeds stations were provided to the racers along the bike and run course. I ate and hydrated a lot, as usual.
What was the level of competitiveness you experienced from some of the other athletes?
Every racer had his or her own race plan, own race goal – it was one against this particular race course in a particular race day. Competition was reflected in ourself-awareness and self-control. The well-known race day tip was racing your own body, controlling your own pace,being patient with the others around you. I did just that.
Do you have any statistics or can you direct me where to find?
Sure,www.ironman.com. My race number is1331. I admit that I did not go in thisrace to try to win or place, particularly after being briefed with the PersonalRecord (PR) time of the other racers in my division. My goal has always been to finish my firstKona World Championship and enjoy the experience, and if it happened that myrace time was better than anyone in my division, it would be icing on the cake. With that in mind, I found myself passing afew people on the bike and on the run. Ireassured myself, “Anything is Possible”.
Howsatisfied are you and did you learn anything from the race?
I’m very happy that I finished the race in 14 hours, 15 minutes, and 13 seconds. I’m much happier that I finished the race with my best friend, coach/training partner who ran an incredibly strongmarathon after a 2-month setback from her knee surgery prior to the race day. Most importantly, I learned the meaning of, “It is the journey, not the result matters.” My journey to Kona is not to prove that I’m an amazing athlete, but is to have the quality of setting a goal, working hard, pushing beyond the limits, getting through the difficult time, and appreciating the people who helped me and supported me along the way.
What kind of personal support did you receive?
The personal support I received is beyond the words I can express. I’m very grateful to have my best friend/coach/veteran IM Worlds racer (Melinda Silbernick) and her family (Mary Gerber, Melody Nietfeld, and Cheryl) be my race support team; to my beloved husband (Mike Schumann), relatives (Doug and Linda Schumann) and my parents(Yiping Xu and Xuefeng Yu) who had come and supported me at my qualifying raceat Ironman China; my sister who just had a new born baby girl, Team Strong Heart cyclists, Life Time Fitness runners, colleagues, and friends.
Any personal thoughts or comments?
When I was asked after the race, “Now, what next?” – my answer is simple, “Triathlon isnot just a sport, it is a passion; passion never dies.”
Amy Xu was also featured in the article “Local Attorney to compete in Ironman WorldChampionship” by Greg Hugh in the October 2008 issue of China Insight. The article can be viewed at www.chinainsight.info.