IM Penghu, Taiwan

by Cae Tolman

Posted on Sunday 29th September 2019

This was the fifth year of Taiwan IM, 17 people have raced all 5... one of them is Mandy. This is number 2 for me. I love Penghu.

I know its (probably) not always windy in Penghu, but it had been on a 3 out of 3 hit rate up until now. And 2019... 35kmh winds again, like real bad. On the plus side, the swim is on south of island so protected from the worst of it, but on the downside this means the bike route has changed so we cross the Penghu Great Bridge (AKA windy f*cking bridge) three times.

5:30 am at Shihli beach; while I have my third bathroom stop (in a primary school toilet) a Taiwanese auntie tells Mandy she’ll win; the rain falls. Sun rises, not raining. We’re waiting to swim, 6am passes, 6:05 goes by, they’re trying to keep us primed. The officials are looking out to the water (binoculars on the beach usually mean something bad in Sydney), a group of boats are circling... “men in grey suits?” I wonder, “do they live here?” No fins, or whatever they were looking for, so we can start. For the first time in Taiwan, wetsuit.illegal; some people, who need the support, choose to wear them (no podium, Kona or AWA for these guys and girls). A three loop course, by loop three I’m climbing over buoyant breaststrokers... ask myself “am I bad?”, nah! No mercy.

Onto the bike, windy, green, gusty, rolling, really windy, picturesque, crazy windy. I fly past the statue of the smiling bull with big testicles. Loving it for about 15 minutes before a sound like a smashing wine bottle and a wobbly emergency stop. Puncture. Fix it. Mandy, a pink leaf in the wind, asking “is there anything I can dooooooooooo?”, I call “No” as she flies past, with a face that says “please don’t say yes”. Another 100m. Smashhhhh! Another puncture. Curse myself for leaving my second tube in Special Needs bag, 65 km from here. Wait for mechanic. Watching hundreds pass me. Mechanic gives me a new wheel and a bent skewer... focus on the wheel not the skewer. Spend next 170 km passing as many of those hundreds as I can... this keeps me going. I think of the word grit, I push up hills, standing on the pedals; I tuck (supertuck). 50kmh one way across Penghu Great Bridge, like a hero; 15kmh in the other direction, like a zero. Oh yeah, three times, harder every time. Need to learn how to hate? Ride this bridge. Three times. All that training carrying Mandy up Ladder Street is paying off!

Helmet off, sneakers on. Flat, winding, repetitive run,  4 loops through the harbour, with 8 lengths of a single 400m wharf per lap; traffic cones, in seemingly senseless array, somehow making sense and channeling us like cattle toward the end. Passing finish line 3 times... that hurts. Magong harbour is being beautified; but right now it looks like a construction site, post apocalyptic.

The finish comes; its still daylight, a victory in itself. Victory too for Mandy. KONA SLOT IN POCKET!

See you in 2020 Penghu. Because I do love Penghu.