IM Busso, Perth, Australa

By Lisa Tong

Posted on Sunday 1st December 2019

It takes MY village. And I LOVE MY village.

It all started with a casual joke on the couch of our airbnb in Busselton in 2017 after my first (partially completed) 70.3 half ironman race. I joked that I would never do that again and my sister, Tracy, laughed and dared me to do the full Ironman and she would do the half. Now what fun is this dare if we couldn't suffer together? Therefore, I accepted.


In actuality, the planning had been happening for more than a year. In November 2018, I registered for my first full marathon and got accepted to the Women's Nagoya's Marathon in March 2019. Then, come December 2018, I paid and committed to the full Ironman, returning to the race that started it all.

With my OCD planning, I began to roll a lot of things in motion. I booked flights. I booked the car. I booked partial accommodations. And most importantly, I secured a real coach. I knew that I would be juggling so many balls as I was transitioning to a new career, building my own business, working on personal projects, on top of spending quality time with the family, and my corporate day job, that I wanted to be training efficiently and not just throwing hours against a wall. Every minute had to be purposeful. Having a coach changed my approach to races. For starters, I always like to know far, far ahead what's going to happen, but my coach would only share the plans the weekend before. For the first few weeks, the control freak inside me was freaking out, but a growth opportunity appeared and I just accepted to roll with the punches. Trust the process, right? Secondly, I worried and fretted that I wasn't putting in the volumes needed. The most I ran for my full marathon was 23.4K before plunging into the 42.2K. The most I rode for my full ironman was 135K, while everyone else was doing their double centuries! In the end, it didn't matter. Somehow, somewhere, everything fell together perfectly and I overshot all my personal goals.

In some ways, committing and executing a full Ironman is a selfish act. I'm basically investing 12+ hours a week training towards it and there will be trade offs. This is what I mean by MY village. Part of the village that helped me pull it altogether is my family. They supported my long Saturday and Sunday sessions, waiting for me to come home and have lunch together. They "highly encouraged" me to "invest" in the sport, egging me to buy a TT bike and an aero helmet and "omigosh, you might as well upgrade to carbon rims since you're at it!". They tolerated my gradual increased occupancy of the house with all my racing gear and even organized a shelf for all my water bottles. They showed their selflessness by allowing me to be selfish guilt free. It's a very powerful and incredibly meaningful position to have this moral support behind me, especially Dennis. I would not be here otherwise.

Nothing makes for funner conversation than a visualization and talk through of race day. I had been practicing visualization for awhile (crazy imagination and planner combined can permutate a lot of possible scenarios!). The night before, for Tracy as a first timer (and as good practice for Damo and I), we bantered and quizzed each other on how the race would flow. We challenged Tracy's wardrobe choices, asking how she would go to the washroom. We debated whether you take off the wetsuit first or your goggles and swim cap. We checked and double checked each other's special needs, asking if we had band-aids, painkillers, extra socks, what else is missing? Why do you need that? It helped ease the anxiety, but also allowed for those detail oriented control freaks an outlet!

Race Day

I woke accidentally at 3:00 am and it was surprisingly nice to have the dark, quiet house to myself as I got leisurely ready. In my head, I knew everything I needed to do. I'd visualized it a million times. I felt calm. I felt composed. I felt ready. It could be because I knew Tracy was in more of a panicked state than I was, so it didn't make sense to have two headless chickens running circles around Laurent that morning. I followed Tracy into transition amongst the hustle and bustle of the 70.3 racers setting up, talking her through the prep. I watched as she nervously spied the course, ate her gel, and finally waved as she ran to the water. It was amazing to be able to watch her finish the swim (still smiling) and start the bike (also still smiling) as I started my own race. And still, calm and cool as a cookie standing in line and listening to those around me. The start was funny because someone watched the pros go and one of them ran and ran and ran all the way down the beach right to the jetty and then into the water versus starting earlier in the water! So we all ran and ran and ran down the beach as well!

“Oh! This ain’t so bad… I’ve got it. How beautiful, these fishies! Oh crap, my goggle is taking in water. Oh crap, it’s loose! Oh oh oh, just got plowed over, losing my composure, quick, to the nearest kayak. Yes yes, I’m just regrouping, thank you. Shall we carry on before it gets dark? Oooow, there’s a diver down there! I wonder if it’s for our safety in case someone drowns? Next buoy is where? Damn, I can’t even see the end of the course from here! Did I just feel a jellyfish? Yup, another jelly fish blob. Too many bodies around me, swimming out a little away from people sounds like a good idea. I can’t believe I made it to the turnaround! Hello 2nd kayak, I’m just regrouping again because I got plowed over on the tight turn, but I’m fine! I can’t believe I swam 2K, seems a bit early to buzz, definitely over swimming. Oooow, baby stingray (doo doo doo doo), how cool! Second lap turn, crap, need kayak again, same girl probably thinks I’m crazy, but she’s so nice. That’s a giant stingray, and I’m so close to it… hope it doesn’t do a Steve Irwin and stab me in the heart! So silly! It’s probably deeper than you think, but HR spiking, calm…. just calm. Good thing I swam wide, now I’m on the side of the next turn home! Crap, watch buzzed 4K. Oh look, passed my one person on this swim, proud moment. Last turn, I feel so freaky amazing, let’s sprint it home, shall we? I hear them calling names, let’s run this out of water, shall we? Oow, camera! Boy am I glad to see you! Why are people spending so much time showering? Just run! Where is all this energy coming from? What’s my swim time? Damn, forgot to ask Lolo. I’m so thirsty! Oow, water!”

Never did I think I would survive the swim in the condition that I did! While in the moment, it felt like the buoys were an eternity away, I blew all personal expectations out of the water (literally!). My biggest win is that I overcame my fears and just got on with swimming. And the most liberating thing about it all is that it’s allowed me to open a world of opportunity to explore potential!

Riding is my favourite of the three and I was so excited to get on the bike that I’d forgotten to clip my helmet. A nice gentleman reminded me before I exited the mount line. I guess I was lucky I didn’t DQ!

“Oooow, this is going to be so much fun! OK, hold power steady as promised, you don’t want to blow up! Hi cameraman! OK, getting a bit windy now… teammates said to expect headwind, so that’s cool. Why is there still a headwind? Only 30K? I don’t like this bumpy road so much. Great, now a crosswind! Why am I going so slow? Must still be a headwind. Pop. Pop. Eww, bugs smashing into my helmet. I might need a toilet. Keep eating. Keep chewing. Finally a tailwind, let’s capitalize this and push power up. Thank all the traffic controllers. I don’t want to go back out there… I don’t like the wind! Hey family!! I’ll just stop here and give my children a little pat on their heads for some power up. OK, feeling renewed! Going to find some treats in my special needs! Oh… just more powder and bars. Ewww. No gels, thank you, but do you have French fries? Too many people at the toilet, next one. What?! Headwind again? Pop, pop. Oh, saw the cameraman on the opposite side, which pose now? WOOHOO! Damn, a guy beside me on this shot, but at least he smiled, so guess it wasn’t wasted. Let’s follow him for a bit! Wow, passing quite a few people… maybe they are burning out. Still no tailwind. Oh, oh, pros coming by soon! Zip! Zip! They are soooooo fast! Do I want to do a toilet stop? Nope, still occupied. Uh oh, I see smoke. Is it a bush fire? They better not close the course, that would suck. Let’s follow this Korean dude. Not bad, able to keep up with him. I think I prefer slightly hillier courses. Goseong? Now why did that pop into my head? Toes cramping, loosening shoes. Popping 2 electrolyte tabs just in case. I can feel my arms burning. Home stretch now! What? The wind’s changed direction!!! Headwind again!!! Nooooooo!!! Finally back. Let’s take off the shoes first, why not? Might face plant this though, so just gingerly jumping off is still acceptable. Wow! Bike catcher! OK, that was a crappier ride than I expected. I’m going to milk this transition.”

I was disappointed with the ride. I was hoping for a higher average speed and didn’t enjoy many parts of it, although I was surprised how good I was feeling when I got off the bike. I was expecting all parts of my body to be screaming at me (similar to my training rides), but surprised I could walk!

And finally…

“This is going to hurt, but let me drink lots of water first. What’s my swim time? 1:25? OK, I'll take it! Now… hold technique. HR still good. Stay conservative, I can push HR on second half. Hi Damo! Hi Fed! This first lap is taking foreeeeever. Crap, the tape is flopping around and falling off, might as well take it off. Holy, I look like I've just emerged from a salt mine! Ice? Ice? Ooow, knees. Time to pop the painkillers and anti-inflammatory. This guy has 3 bracelets! Lucky him! Wow, lots of people walking already. Keep holding form. HK guy, jia you! Haha, those walking ladies on the other side said I still look fresh! Just keep smiling and waving. I hope my family doesn't hang out for the whole 6 hours, they'll be hungry. OH! They're still there... maybe I'll cry a little. It doesn't hurt that badly. I don't see my teammates anymore. It's that 3 bracelet guy again, how'd he pass me? Why is he walking when he's so close (like 2K left)? Let me ask. No hoses, else you'll have squishy shoes. What a beautiful sunset! I need another power up. Love that sign the kids made! Wow, everyone is so nice and friendly. Right, Lolo, no walking. Time to have another gel, but I can't! Maybe I'll take half. I just want coke. OK, more coke. This consistent running is better than the walk-runners, so I'll just keep at it. Look how many flies are on that guy's hat! Watermelon looks good! Oh! A banana! I can't have any more gels. Can't think of anything I want from special needs, except more yucky gels. Oh, here comes the glow sticks. I should have asked for a pink one. These little kids are so cute, asking for high 5's. Third lap! WAHOO! These people must think I'm coming home to the finisher's chute... *evil laugh* little do they know they're going to see me two more times! YES! Oh Canada! French fries? So proud I'm still running now. So proud my legs are still working. Hey, a girl named Liza! Can we push up the pace a little? Is she following me? Hey Liza! Let's burn rubber home? Time to dig a little. My legs are feeling good.... so strange. Ooow, under 6 hours, that's good. Do I look weird with arms full of bracelets? I'll let that guy go ahead, oh, he's still lapping. My turn! Look, high 5's hands all sticking out! Wow, these lights are super bright, I can't see a thing except octopus high 5 tentacles. So grateful, so grateful, so grateful. Hiccup. Sniffles. What just happened? Oh, I hear my family off in the distance. Forgot to greet them. There's a camera in my face. Hiccup. Bridgette, my finisher support lady, she's so nice! I just want a coke. Sniffles. What's my overall time? Forgot to check. Huh, where's the hurt? Let's go home, Iron(wo)man."

My Village Thanks

@DVV: No words to fully explain my gratitude and love for all the support you guys have given me. You guys are my rocks in every way. Solid. Foundational. Unconditional. Forever.

@LoloTTCTMD: Still would not trade you guys over French Fries. I’m so blessed to have you guys. I’m so lucky. I’m so grateful. I suspect we may have more of these to go through, and that’s what makes family stick. You are part of my foundational village. I’m so lucky x 10n.

@CoachM&F: Best coaches - ever ever ever! Your belief in me astonishes me, even when I’m doubting myself. Your never ending encouragement and push is part of this success equation and I would not be where I am today without you guys, personally, professionally, and athletically. You guys have managed to turn a non-athlete into a believer. You bring out the best in me when I didn’t know she existed.

@WalshGang: So glad you guys were there as part of this journey. All the little monkies, the overflow of food, the (strong) pact, the camadarie, the planning, was perfect. Could not have asked for better housemates and I will forever remember this experience with you guys! I’m also feeling more to come! What happened to our waterproof pact?

@Tritons: This crazy clan is so unique. The level of crazy we call fun is what makes what we do achievable. What is crazy when we are all the same? Thank you for all the support and encouragement (and peer pressure). I have so much respect for you guys and am still in awe of the amazing times you guys push out! Truly inspiring and it’s what keeps me going at this sport!

@Friends: My cheerleaders all the way. No matter what it is I do, I’ve got you guys there egging me on. Always. When I step back, I even think I’m crazy, but you guys cheer anyways! I am so grateful for your thoughts and looking forward to whatever next chapters are yet to be written!

And that, ladies and gentleman, is a close to this chapter. A real close for now. While I’m still revelling in its high, reflecting how insufficiently sore I am and how I could have pushed more, I’m ready to focus my time and efforts on other things. This journey. This life. Is still. Simply amazing.