70.3 Xiamen Race Report - Athlete Insight with JP Palmer!

Believe it or not, this will be the first race report I’ve ever written!  Not sure why; I do enjoy talking about races after the fact, so I’ll just blame it on the fact that a large percentage of my life is spent writing research papers and textbooks and it feels like work to write.

So, the backstory to this race is important (to me anyway); in 2014 after I did Ironman Brazil and came back home, Pete (my late husband, who couldn’t go at the last minute because of his cancer protocol) said I should do Ironman South Africa next because they speak English there (I had a few difficulties along the way since I don’t know Portuguese) and he also always wanted to do a safari.  So, our plans were for me to do South Africa while I was on sabbatical and he would come along and we’d do a safari afterwards.

Obviously that didn’t happen, but after delaying my sabbatical a year (should have had it right after he passed away which I thought was a bad idea) I decided to do South Africa in 2016 because I was intrigued by it, and a bit of it was that it was honoring his memory in some weird way.  And I fell in love with the people there……I absolutely loved them.  So when Ironman announced that World’s 70.3 2018 would be in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the same town as where the Ironman was, I decided I would try and qualify for a spot.  I had read where the Wanda Company (who bought Ironman) had put together four new races, all 70.3’s, all in China and all offering both Kona slots and World’s 70.3 slots.  So my sneaky little mind thought hey!  I could try and get into great shape in the summer/fall, go do a late season race, and try for a World’s slot to go back to South Africa, figuring that the fastest people in my age group would be vying for Kona, and that perhaps World’s slots would roll down to me, also figuring that people might decline them (as they typically do it when it is in a completely different country….remember what happened at Florida 70.3 when slots rolled down to 28th place).  So, that was my thinking behind picking the race.

I almost settled on 70.3 Heifei, which was in October at the end of fall break, so the timing was perfect.  But when I talked to Wei Wei about the race, she suggested that Xiamen 70.3 would be “better” as it is a larger city/much better destination place/etc and oh, by the way, she can’t do the October race. So Xiamen it was!  And all this happened a year before the race, but it gives a little context to the why this race…….


The planning piece isn’t all that pertinent here and would take way too long; however, a couple of things are funny/ironic enough to mention.  One of Wei Wei’s good friends from Lifetime Fitness, an awesome athlete herself, Beth Sanborn, decided to try and qualify for Kona and was to be my roommate, and Wei Wei had a friend from England that she talked into the race and was to be Wei Wei’s roommate, so we’d be a fearsome foursome.  First, thank the LORD for Wei Wei and her ability to speak the language.  Not only did race registration not even open until August (and hello, who is going to buy a ticket to Asia unless they are actually signed up and paid for the race) but since we were doing the “travel package” (race entry and hotel rooms and transportation from the airport/etc), that link wasn’t live……and we waited……and emailed…..and called….and emailed…..for weeks.  Kept being promised “tomorrow”…..and “next week”……meanwhile I’m super nervous that they now only want Chinese to do the race.  Why else would this be happening?  Finally we were sent a form to fill out, and were instructed to email my credit card info and security code.  That was crazy….but whatever.  Then the wait to have them indicate that they received the form and charged my card began.  And by now it is the second week of September.  Finally heard back that they won’t accept a credit card and want a wire transfer.  Whatever.  Did it on September 18.  Got the link to register on September 29th (after a mess on their end saying they didn’t receive the money; well, Bank of America said differently) and BAM!  We were in!!  Whew!  

Next…..tickets to Xiamen, not straightforward as we had decided to fly in and out of Beijing using American Airlines/Orbitz, and the three legs within China (Beijing to Xiamen, Xiamen to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Beijing) using a Chinese version of orbitz, as the Hong Kong and Beijing part at the end were part of the sightseeing we were planning for after the race.

A page written and nothing about the race….maybe this is why I don’t write race reports!  So let’s get to the race.  We leave at 6 am on November 7th and get to Beijing at 11:30 pm on November 8th.  Wei Wei won’t be there till Friday night so Beth and I are on our own for 2 days.  No race stuff till Friday so we decide to go walk to the “beach” to see where the swim is.  Unbeknownst to us, it is one of the lowest tide days in months, so we see 150 meters of mud, no water coming up to the beach (hard to call it a beach, seemed like all just mud).  Hmmmmm.  Then we walked to the Bank of China so she could exchange $100 for yuan and it took over an hour and four forms.  This isn’t going to be easy………

A couple of things about the days leading up to the race.  I’d worked to drop 14 lbs and also operate best on a plain, vanilla-bland diet (this means simple simple carbs, low fat, nothing fancy, and I do better with non-restaurant food, to be honest) so for a couple of meals, I ate sandwiches I brought.  Yes I was in China, but no I didn’t want to eat stuff and have my system out of wack.  And Samantha suggested doing this for all the pre-race meals.  So I spent a couple of meals watching others eat and going back to the room and eating turkey and cheese sandwiches or bagels and peanut butter and a protein drink; I also carried a ton of fruit with me (just ask the girls how heavy my backpack was) as I knew getting to a normal store wasn’t in the cards before the race (no car, etc).  

The night before the race I did a dinner with Wei Wei and Beth, but ate plain noodles.  And a bagel and peanut butter before bed (again, all normal).

Finally, we are at race morning.  Up at 3:45, felt like a happy machine in that I wasn’t worried nervous, just excited nervous.  Machine in the sense that I was in the best shape I’ve been in in years and was pretty excited to see what I could do.  Walked to transition; this was the longest transition I’ve ever experienced in a race.  Ever.  The sign proudly said “Transition = 520 meters” which bragged how long it was.  Two bikes racks wide.  Added a hat to the run bag just in case; Wei Wei forgot all her Gu in the hotel and I talked her into going back for it.  What they had on the course was CPT and it’s not the same sugar as Powergel/Gu or Gatorade Endurance.  Waited for her to come back and watched the pros get announced one by one, and the Wanda Sports group CMO gave a little talk (the holding company that bought ironman).  Still felt pretty calm and excited.

Started in the 35-38 minute wave, which was a stretch goal, but I could tell the wind was going to be in our favor, and by 7 am it was up to over 20 mph.  Enough that the buoys kept floating out of place as we watched the pros swim…….so I figured I’d swim faster than “normal”.  It was tough getting out to the first turn buoy, as we were swimming diagonal to the wind/waves, but after 300 meters it was game on……you could feel yourself being pushed along like crazy.  Swimming 30 minutes is not in my wheelhouse but that is what I did…..wetsuit helped, of course, as does the salt water, but I was thanking the wind. I looked at my watch when I got out and felt like a real swimmer!!  Rode that high for about 30 seconds until I saw how crazy the palm trees were swaying and thought Damn!  It’s going to be a hard bike…….

So onto the bike.  Packed Gatorade endurance in baggies as I sweat 46 ounces an hour and couldn’t carry enough to drink, so I planned on mixing on the fly, which worked.  A little messy but whatever.  First 7 miles was straight into the wind and my heart rate was 160; promised Sam to keep it in the 135-145 zone, so I thought once I settle in I’ll back off a little, my heart rate is always high to start.  And I was committed to racing by the numbers for once in my life.  Then we turned back and had a sweet tailwind, and on the little add-on it was a head-wind again so I really worked on backing off a bit and only watching heart rate and not speed (because watching speed on a windy day can be depressing!).  

So, the amazing things about the bike course……besides passing a lot of guys (the race was approximately 12-1 men to woman, lol) were the “guards” or whatever you call them (Chinese military) standing along the fenced off bike course every 20 feet.  I kid you not.  And 8 million video cameras…..well, ok, not that many.  But I’d guess 800.  It is just the way it is in China.  On the beach boardwalk at any given place, look up.  You’ll see two video cameras.  Or more…..the comforting thing is that you know if something happens to you, someone will be there.  Course you won’t know where they are taking you if you are doing something that they don’t like……☺

Saw Wei Wei on my second loop; unfortunately, when I saw her there was a motorcycle riding beside her.  Couldn’t hear her arguing with the guy but it looked like she was; they were all over the course.  Easy to pick out a cute thing in bright green and blue; seemed like everyone was red and black.

The last 6 miles on the second loop were straight back into the wind; course was short by .5 (thanks Xiamen!)  Running into transition meant running though the football-length transition area, then you get to the bag area, and of course, porta-lou (they aren’t porta potties here) stop…..and if you’ve seen my facebook posts, their kind of porta-lous are in ground, so a stop requires a good workout on the quads….they felt ok, not as fatigued as I thought they would be.  Honestly, the bike time just flew by……water on the femoral artery and head at all four aid stations, tried to drink at least 40 ounces an hour.  Seemed to work as I had to pee like a racehorse after the bike.

So the plan was to run fairly conservatively the first 6 miles.  I had 500 calories of Gu on the bike and another 200 calories of Gu on the first 5 miles of the run, and carried a water bottle with concentrated Gatorade Endurance…….drank half, then filled it up so the next go-around wouldn’t be so concentrated.  So yes, a lot of calories early on, but I wanted to push it the second half and the last three miles, well, I was planning on running fast and so my gut wouldn’t be absorbing anything, typically your gut doesn’t when  your heart rate is so high.  Got up to 81 degrees that day, so I don’t know what the temperature was when I finished, but the second loop was brutal.  Stopped for ice in my sports bra 6 or 7 times and since it was a 3 loop course (actually out and backs) you see the same volunteers a bunch of times, and apparently I was an anomaly as the volunteers kind of freaked out when I put it there.  And after a while they had it ready when I got close, which made me laugh but I was too out of breath for that.  ☺


Started slowing down a little at mile 9-10; felt my heart rate creeping up so I started using water on my head (even grabbed a couple bottles sitting on top of trash cans and just prayed no one would tackle me and yell “outside assistance, she goes to jail!”)….mile 11 had a little downhill and I thought hey!  I still have a lot left in these legs and I’m going to try and really run hard these last two miles (I can honestly say it has been FOREVER since I’ve been able to do this) and I was so excited just by that.  Didn’t care what my time was, didn’t care who was in front of me, just was happy. I’m racing in Xiamen, I’m racing healthy, I’m racing fast, I get to DO THIS!!!  I was feeling super lucky, and super happy……and knowing my peeps were tracking me online kept me pretty honest too…..and I kept imagining Sam checking the tracker again…..and again…..and that made me smile inside.   

Had a fleeting moment of thinking “I wonder what Pete would think about this?” and immediately put it out of my mind; I was not going to get emotional and have my throat close and slow down because I couldn’t breathe.  Figured I could think about that later; like Coach Teresa (and my BFF) always says, and I believe also…..he is up there as proud of me now as he always was, and smiling his big smile, just wished I could see him at the finish line again like I always used to.

So here’s the best part of the race.  When you are on your last “loop” you have both the yellow and red armbands.  I had spent some time during the race looking at calves (for my age group numbers) and armbands to see if I could figure out where people in my age group were.  Easy to pick out women, obviously, because we were so outnumbered, and I was patting myself on the back once for running down two in my age group, however, when I passed them I saw one armband.  So good job, JP, they are an hour behind you so that wasn’t helpful.  

So I’m pushing the pace here, running above what I thought I could hold, but I kept thinking about the intervals Sam had me do, and some workouts my pace just kept getting faster the longer I ran.  And I thought I could do this for two miles and just thought about how hard some of those training runs were, and they were for this.  Then at mile 12ish, we began the lonely part…..off the boardwalk and no one at all along the way until the finish line.  One guy I picked it up a bit to catch was a guy from the hotel going for a Kona slot (much older than me, lol) and in front of him was someone with 51 on her calf.  Shit!!!  So I figured she started way behind me on the swim and was coming in at a faster time, which makes no sense now because I was not passed by a single women on the bike.  But whatever.  Race mode thinking.  I figured what the hell, my ego would like to just cross the finish line ahead of her.  So I hung onto her heels for a minute and then passed her.  Keep in mind I’m running about an 8:30 pace here, which is a stretch to think about holding at the end of a race.  And then she freaking passed me back.  And as any good self-centered competitive triathlete knows, you gotta try and pass ‘em back.  And I did, thinking “Oh no, this isn’t happening with 100 yards to go without me giving it my all”.  So I’m not sure where that 7:50 pace came from but for 100 yards, my legs held up.  ☺  Thanks legs.  And lungs.  And all those Damn Sam intervals.

That’s not even the best part.  She comes over to me in a few minutes and wants to know if I’m there for a Kona slot.  I said no, I’m there for a slot for South Africa, but that I don’t know if I was even close.  Then she wants to know my time.  Showed her, and asked what hers was.  Holy shit!  I beat her by over 2 minutes….so I guess I didn’t have to give myself a heart attack trying to run her down, huh!  She asks again about Kona, and I’m starting to get annoyed, and want to go find Beth and see how she did.  Was a bit worried about her, as I was gaining on her on the run and she is a faster running than me.  

So we found each other, went in for food and it was a freaking spam sandwich.  Smelled like a dead rat.  Right behind the finish line they had our morning clothes bags, so I grabbed it and yup, you’d be proud of me, mixed up my recovery drink (no choice, eh, between that and a delightful spam sandwich).  We grabbed a seat on the bleachers and waited for Wei Wei; so my fuzzy recollection is seeing a bunch of texts on my phone from Samantha that she had written during the race that went something like “I’m holding my breath” and “Just keep doing what you are doing” and “Mother fucking fuck!!”  I knew she would be tracking me and because of the time difference (14 hours) it would make for a late night for her…… so shortly she said she thought the tracker indicated second, freaking second, but it was not official as the tracker had paused!  That’s a podium, baby!!  She said I’d get a slot almost certainly to South Africa, and that the first place girl in my age group was from Turkey and the first place gal in Beth’s age group was from Thailand (the China 70.3’s are the only ones that have both Kona and World’s 70.3 slots) so we had people from all over the world.  

We saw Wei Wei finish, and then we all three waited for Laura, (she did a relay and we had to wait quite a while).  My legs do better moving afterwards so I paced the finish line chute for about 90 minutes……still couldn’t see results on the tracker, no timing tent, so I figured we’d find out when we got back to the room.  Which wasn’t until 430; by then my phone had died…..when I plugged it in I saw this:   “You did it….Kona…..I’m in tears……Fuuuuuuck……Text me when you get this” and “Holy Fuck Holy Fuck” from Samantha. Yup, just what I could hear her saying if she had been there ☺

I stared at the phone, felt like I was going into shock and then called her.  It was only 2:30 am Saint Louis time, lol.  She had texted that she was wide awake and I figured what the hell.   I had some tears on the phone with Samantha so that was awesome, it didn’t sink in then and it’s has not sunk in yet either.  But there will be time enough for that stuff when I get back and go give Samantha the biggest hug ever and see my Evolve friends.  The only downer of the day was that Beth didn’t win her age group and so she didn’t get a Kona slot, which I feel horrible about. So the next couple hours were surreal; going to the awards banquet (with crazy food like ox brisket, duck, fish balls---I was dying for a piece of pizza or a sub sandwich but whatever.  And then the awards ceremony, I usually just watch them, not be in them!

So probably the best non-race story happened on the podium.  The girl I ran down at the end….the same girl that asked me my finishing time and was I going for a Kona slot, that I told I was aiming for South Africa, .turns out she is an All-World Athlete from Turkey.  And so we get up there on the podium and she is next to me and says “Are you taking the Kona slot?” and I say I say what Samantha would have probably said.  “Fuck yes!!”  And she looks at me funny and said “But you said you were going for South Africa” and I just look at her and shrug.  Then she points to her shirt (she is proudly wearing her Kona Finisher 2016 shirt) and says “Do you have any idea what Kona is all about?” at which point I am not even sure what I said.  WTF!  She kept talking and it was like she was moving her mouth and I couldn’t hear anything, I was just trying to process what she just said to me.  Now I can think of better retorts, but at the time, I just finally said ‘You know, I did ok there in 2013” and turned away.  Who says that to someone, but whatever.  

She tried one more time, after we got off the stage, and asked if I was taking the slot. What did I just say? Felt like slugging her.  But with all the video cameras everywhere it would be my luck to end up in jail over something like that.  So I just smiled and said yes.

So, a little wordy, but it is what it is.  Would have to say that I credit trusting Samantha in 99% of the training plan (I still balk at the two hour ride the week out but that’s just me).  You guys know how it feels when someone has your back, and I always feel like she has mine, and only wants the best for me.  Sometimes I would look at a week’s workouts ahead of time; sometimes I could only do it one day at a time, especially on the harder run days.  But this year I logged everything and swam every interval and if for nothing else, it taught me even more about structure and consistency and following a plan instead of winging it. I can also say that focusing on nutrition both while training and while just living has made a huge difference.  I tightened up my eating habits and made some changes along the edges starting back in July/August (like putting food in smaller bowls, never eating standing up, buying baby bagels instead of the monster ones, and eating even more fruits and veggies than before) which helped a ton, as did simply being more mindful of the equation calories in < calories out.  Pretty simple.  I also know how my weight hinders my running pace, and wanted to give it a go to see if I could finish a race that I traveled half-way around the world in a manner like I have in the past (NOT dying at the end and shuffling, lol) with a combination of solid training, high fitness and solid race weight.  

So now I’m looking forward to 2018!  Love ya guys and gal, I just love my Evolve family.  I may not see all of you all the time, but I keep up with your training/etc. on Facebook and via Sam, and carried your energy with me. Love you Teresa, you would have loved this trip and thanks for all you do for me.  And Samantha, I’m out of words.  You know how I feel about you.  I couldn’t have done this without you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart