Thanks BT! Novice Triathlete Finishes Hualien Cup, Taiwan

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I started the Beginner Triathlete training program in earnest after Chinese New Year. I viewed the distances in the peak week with trepidation - how on earth would I manage it?

Thanks BT! Novice triathlete finishes Hualien Cup, Taiwan

Name - Dave, age - 44, sporting background - never excelled at anything in particular but have always stayed active: hiking in the mountains, surfing on and off since the age of 15, ran my first marathon, the Korea Open, in Seoul in 2003 (4hrs, 16mins).

I thought it would be good to try a triathlon while working here in Taiwan, so late last year I dropped in at the office of the Chinese Taipei Triathlon Association and introduced myself. After discussing triathlon in Taiwan, the guy I spoke to suggested the Hualien Cup, May 21, 2005 - an easy course with beautiful scenery. Also, in typically friendly Taiwanese fashion, he invited me to go there with him and his mates.

The first thing I had to do was buy a bike. I picked up a nice little Japanese Fuji road bike for the equivalent of about £90 ($160) - certainly a bargain. This was going to be my most difficult discipline - I had done some cycle touring around Europe, but that was back in my university days, twenty years ago! Up until Christmas I tried to ride twice a week for an hour to toughen up my wrists and my bum.

I started the Beginner Triathlete training program in earnest after Chinese New Year. Five days a week: short run, long run, long swim, long bike and short swim-bike. I viewed the distances in the peak week with trepidation - how on earth would I manage it?

I work afternoons and evenings so I could train in the mornings, and I was very focused - I knew exactly what I wanted to get out of it - so to my very pleasant surprise I found myself able to stay the course. Indeed, I can personally vouch for the program, it really does work. When you find yourself flagging, fix your mind on how you're going to spend your rest days; the idea of an easy week at the end of each month is also highly motivating. My social life wasn't very exciting during this period, but that was a price well worth paying. On reflection, I find it amazing to think that I swam 2700m and I rode 57km BEFORE a full day's work, but that was what the program enabled me to do.

The day before race day, my new-found Taiwanese friends and I drove down to Hualien, a small city on the beautiful east coast of Taiwan. It turned out that my roommates that night were Taiwan's foremost Ironman, a member of their national triathlon team and a former member of their national swimming team! They were all very modest and friendly, and perfect gentlemen - they even let me have a bed to myself.

The next morning dawned, and uppermost in my mind was the weather... perfect! A windless day, with full cloud cover and occasional light showers. The Chinese breakfast was... well…unusual by Western standards, but we won't go into that now.

The swim was to take place at Liyu Lake, a large lake surrounded by forest, about 10km out of town. It certainly was beautiful, but to my eyes, having trained only in a pool, it looked much further than 1,500m! We entered the water according to age, with swimming caps provided and color-coded for age group. The first ten minutes it was war out there, with people swimming over, under and across each other - a mass of flailing limbs. My goggles steamed up and I couldn't see, but having turned the halfway stage I tried to focus on the landing stage, way off in the distance. Wow, I was relieved to get out of the water...guys were pulling competitors out and I cracked my knee, but it wasn't serious.

I ran over to the bike, pulled on my shirt, pants, shoes and socks and helmet and away I went. Whooaa!!! I was being overtaken on the inside, the outside, everywhere! I was used to training on a flat, riverside cycle track in the dry, and here I was hammering down the hilly, open road in the rain - terrifying! We had to do three circuits, I soon got used to it and did the second and third circuits hell-for-leather, in top gear, down hill and with my heart in my mouth! I knew if I was going to qualify for a finisher's medal (within 50 mins. - 100 mins. - 70 mins.) I would have to push this leg hard. People in the Aboriginal villages along the way really helped by cheering us on - especially the few foreigners amongst us: "go, go, go!"

After hanging up the bike, I decided I would do the run in my cycling pants since it was raining and cool, thus saving a bit of transition time. Chugging some Pocari and chewing on a bit of bread I embarked on the weary run around the lake. Actually I was feeling good; I knew my marathon experience would give me the strength of mind to carry me round. In fact, for the first time I started to pass other people. The atmosphere was really positive, with competitors calling "jai you, jai you - come on, come on" to each other. Suddenly, to my astonishment, I saw a sign saying 9 km. I realized then that I was within just a few meters of being a triathlete, and reaping the reward of all those lonely hours spent in the pool, in the saddle and on the road.

I sprinted the last 100 m, crossed the line with a smile on my face, and an almond-eyed beauty put a medal round my neck and a commemorative towel over my shoulders - I'd done it! What a wonderful day - as I'd found during the marathon, the training is the hard work and the event itself is purely to be relished and enjoyed. My other observation is that sporting people, wherever they may be from - Britain, Korea, America, Taiwan - are really good people and have a connection not experienced by others.

If you're in Taiwan and you want to do a triathlon I strongly suggest the Hualien event. Thank you Beginner Triathlete for your excellent training program - I probably won't do another (at least not Olympic distance) but you have rekindled an interest in cycling, which I plan to explore more.

My times, an age group field of 69 competitors:
swim - 39.38 (45th)
bike - 1.30.59 (56th)
run - 1.04.11 (25th)
total - 3.16.06 (41st)

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date: January 29, 2006

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