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Journey To Ironman - Every Road Starts In A Different Place

This is the journey of Givin_It_A_Tri community athlete Jason Wong an his journey to Ironman Maryland in 2021, written by Jason Wong himself.

Coming from a background of playing soccer and just overall health and fitness training, I have been longing to do an Ironman. In 2020 gyms were closed throughout the pandemic, so I would just do regular calisthenics at home and go on occasional runs. During one of my runs I was thinking to myself, “If there was a time to do an Ironman, it would be now since that's pretty much all I can do.” Bought my ticket to IRONMAN Maryland in November and now the journey begins.

I would run maybe 3 miles a day obviously exhausted and then work my way up to 7 miles for a couple of months. I bought a Co-op Bike from REI around February, which I thought would be the fastest bike and fly on the road. That changed real quick after my first time riding at Cedar Creek. I mean everyone was zooming passed me. At that point I was thinking, “I can’t be that bad at this.” Once I researched more about bikes, I was amazed at how fast some of these bikes were. This prompted me to speak with a close friend and he allowed me to borrow his road bike to see if it would increase my speed.

I had a good feeling this bike was going to at least let me stay with the other cyclist and not get zoomed passed every time. It did help increase my speed from 12 mph to 17/18 mph. It’s safe to say my REI bike stayed in the garage gathering cobwebs and dust while I used his bike for the race. So at this point I have been biking and running, increasing my mileage frequently.

The swim; that was really what I needed to start working on, but I did not know where to begin. Thankfully, the gyms started opening up and LA fitness has 2 swimming lanes with a 30 minute slots allowed. Bought my swimming cap and found some old goggles and went for my first swim at 7am. They were already full at that time so I waited until 730am and watched these swimmers in awe as they completed lap after lap without stopping. Once it was my turn I had to stop every 50 yards and was like, “Are you kidding me?” I had my doubts, but after a couple of weeks I eventually got to 500 yards then 1000 yards without stopping. At this point I’m bragging to my coworkers about training for the IRONMAN race and my manager

overheard and recommended me to join a Tri team because he knew I was not doing enough to finish a race that I have absolutely no experience in. He linked me up with Tara from the Merrick Bicycle Triathlon Team and it is the best thing my manager ever gave me(besides my job of course…). The MBTT has so many athletes ranging from novices to absolute animals and all they do is help each other be the best they can be. After a couple of days on the team this guy Ken DM’d me letting me know that if I need help or have any questions to just ask. Looking at his profile picture with his weird shaped helmet and crazy sick looking bike I was definitely intimated, but soon enough he became the guy I would always go to with questions.

My first time attending a team workout was the swim at Tobay. Everyone was so welcoming and gave me advice on swimming in the open water. After that I started attending more Monday night swims at Tobay and even attending track/hill workouts. Honestly, it is great to have people working out with you because not only is there support, but you know you are not the only one suffering. Several weeks later I signed up for my first triathlon which was a sprint in Jamesport. I admit I was a little nervous and excited to see what this was all about. The race was very fast and really fun because several members of the team were doing it and the atmosphere was great. I gained a lot from this experience and now know what I need to work on for the IRONMAN in September. As the race is drawing near, Ken took the time to teach me all I needed to know on how to repair/replace a bike tire as well as giving me advice for my nutrition during the race. Unfortunately as you continue reading, shit will hit the fan.

Finally here in Cambridge, Maryland on Thursday September 16, 2021 and on my way to registration, I found fellow MBTT members Dani and Amy; who are always full of high spirits and motivation. They are veterans of the game and I am truly glad to know we will be doing this together. Attending the welcoming ceremony was an awesome sight to see with all the flags of people from different countries participating in this race. After the ceremony, I went to get some pizza with my fiancé, but of course it ain’t as good as New York pizza. Friday comes and as I put my bike on the rack, all I see is an ocean of bikes. Luckily, my number was right by the entrance/exit for the bike/run transition so it was easy to find. My friends arrived later that day. We got a quick dinner, made signs for the race, my fiancé massage gunned my legs and then I tried to get in some good sleep.

Race day is here Saturday, September 18, 2021. It is 3:30am. Ate my hard boiled eggs and a nice peanut butter sandwich (super chunky) and I am ready. Pulled up to my bike around 5am to pump the tire and make sure everything was all set. Couple minutes after I was inspecting my bike, I noticed I forgot my bike kit and the whole storage bag. As I was freaking out I was thinking maybe my friend could go back to the hotel and come back in time, but it would take 40 minutes to even get to the hotel and I would already be in the water. In my head I’m saying damn Ken is going to kill me since he spent some good time teaching me how to change and fix everything. But then I was just like fuck it, I just gotta focus on my swim and hope for the perfect ride on the bike.

As 2500+ lined up for the swim, we were all so thankful for it to be wetsuit legal because of the enormous amount of jellyfish in the water. As I get to the start line, nervousness and excitement fill up from head to toe, but this is it; time to get this shit done. As I start swimming and hitting into people left and right, my adrenaline starts to kick in and now I know I got to get in the zone. Trying to avoid people and making sure I’m going the right direction, I totally forgot about the jellyfish. A nice sting on my lips and few minutes later, I had numbing/tingling sensation on my lips that lasted for about the next 8 hours. As I made it through the swim I felt great, a little off balance walking, but great. Now it is time for the bike.

During transition I was praying to the bike gods asking “no flats, please, no flats”. About 3 miles into the bike I see a woman who is repairing her flat and now I am really nervous and looking for any pot holes or bumps. Traveling around 20mph the first 40 miles I felt great; I’m looking around, head is up, people passing me and I am passing others. Along the side of the road there are ridges for when you starting drifting while driving a car and luckily they painted it orange so we can all see. Past the halfway point I start getting tired and put my head down for couple seconds and BOOM, my bike starts to shake and I steer right. I looked and it was those damn ridges! I’m riding/checking my bike, talking to it saying “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry! I promise I won’t put my head down again and I’ll look for everything, just don’t get a flat please!” Maybe I’m starting to get a little crazy, but those 112 miles by yourself can do that to you. So I guess what kept me sane was having a conversation with my bike and seeing my fiancé and friends wait for me at the high school holding up signs. Too my surprise I finished the bike at a good time and with plenty of hours to spare on the run.

After I put my shoes on and my headband, I started hammering down water and off I go. During the first 4 miles, I felt good around an 8:10 pace and really thought to myself “I can actually do this.” During mile 5/6 I started to slow down a lot and I mean A LOT. Cramps in both calves, VMOs, groins, forearms and left toes quenching which left me walking. Now I know why people bring salt with them. So the rest of the race I would just walk till I didn’t cramp and then run till I cramped. I had no other choice and wanted to give it my best PR for this race. Every aid station at every mile I engulfed water, pretzels, chips, whatever salt I can get my hands on. I knew it was gonna be a long day, but the only nice thing about walking was meeting/talking to new people and really taking in Cambridge, the crowd, and the atmosphere. As I was walking I saw this older woman who is probably in her 70’s drop something on the floor and was having trouble picking it up. I told her don’t worry I’ll get it for you and well, I think she made a remark saying I was in worse shape than her. Along the run the most inspirational sight for me was seeing a woman who was both blind and deaf participating in this race. I was in awe as she was running passed me and everyone clapping for her as she kept going. Truly an inspiration. Now as it is getting closer to the end, the last 4 miles I owed it to myself that I have to finish strong and no matter what kind of cramping I get, don’t stop for nothing; just keep moving. Hitting my last 1/4 mile I’m hearing the guy announcing the names of all the finishers, seeing the lights, hearing the fans and now I’m just pushing the pace. I see the red carpet and I’m just remembering what Amy told me right before the race, “When you see the finish, look for your loved ones in the crowd and hug them because not only is this for you, but they know how much work and sacrifice was done to get to this point”. As I hugged my fiancé and friends I knew that this is the moment. Everything was so loud with music and cheers and when the announcer called my name and said, “Jason You Are A IRONMAN!” It felt surreal crossing that finish line. This race has it all, it was mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging and this was proof to myself that I can endure all of it.

Without the help of the Merrick Bicycle Triathlon Team, I could not have done this race. I am indebted to them, especially Ken who in my eyes is a pro triathlete who has been doing this since 2017, but also who has become my training partner, mentor, coach, and friend. To me the symbol and being called an IRONMAN isn’t just about finishing the most gruesome race, but it’s about the drive, discipline and hard work that came with it. The early morning and late night trainings, the sacrifices of time spent away from family and friends. I believe the training and preparation for an IRONMAN shows what kind of persona you have. You can achieve anything in life as long as you are willing to put in the work. Finally, I can say I earned the title, I am an IRONMAN.

Exert by Givin_It_A_Tri creator Ken Junior

"When I first met Jason after he joined Merrick Bicycle Tri Team I was happy to see another athlete join the team and was looking forward to meeting him. It was either the first or second time I met him that I found out he was training for Ironman Maryland. I was excited because I figured he was a seasoned triathlete, when I found out he was had jus started with triathlon I thought he was nuts. LOL. But, after getting to know Jason I knew he was about to do something special. I was training for my first Ironman, which was set to be a week after his. It was a pleasure and honor to help Jason along the way the best I could with the knowledge I had. Although the only one to thank is himself, You Jason, put in the work and understood the basic philosophies of the training plan and put the work in, you my friend are and always will be an Ironman!"

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