(Or why I’m going cray cray all the way to Challenge Taiwan!)
I’m a sucker for spontaneous ideas. In fact, they’re the driving force behind half the decisions in my life. One part of my personality is a hard-core planner–she gets itchy and twitchy and mighty uncomfortable when she doesn’t know what’s coming next. But the other part? She grabs ahold of impulses, unwilling to let go until she’s transformed her wild urges into actions. That’s the part of me that decided, just last week, that in five weeks time I’ll toe the line at the full iron-distance Challenge Taiwan.
Why, you might ask? Spontaneous Holly counters: Why not? Sure, there are some logical reasons why this is a cockamamie idea–namely the fact that I’ll be doing so on minimal training. But that’s also the exact reason I’ve chosen to race. I want to test a theory. Throughout my triathlon tenure, I’ve heard many friends proclaim, “You can fake your way through a half, but definitely not a full.” But how do they know? Have they ever tried? I doubt it. Most athletes approach an iron-distance race with the preparation it demands–and rightly so. But I’m game to be a guinea pig to prove–or hopefully disprove–their steadfast statement.
I’m not exactly saying I want to “fake” my way through the race. Of course I want to do as well as I can, and I’d even love for it to hurt as little as possible. But pragmatically–between a swamped schedule and a scant number of days–I won’t have much prep time. Honestly though, I’m not all that focused on the physical part. I’ll get in some training, and I have enough basic fitness and endurance racing experience that I’m fairly confident I can go the distance, even if it takes me a really really long time. So I more or less know I can pull it off. What I’m more interested in is the mental/emotional aspect of long-course racing–that intangible ingredient that undeniably factors into any iron-distance finish. What can I do–just how far can I go and how hard can I push myself–powered mostly by mental strength and heart? That question is far more fascinating to me than what a power meter might tell me. Plus, it supports my wanton, if slightly whackadoo desire to go the distance, pretty darn soon.
There are other reasons as well that I’m targeting Challenge Taiwan in particular. I covered the inaugural event last year, and I was fortunate to race the swim and run portions of the half-distance on a relay team. I fell in love with the run course–the scenery a mix of tropical forest, rice paddies, boardwalk rail trail, artsy café-lined pathways and authentic Asian back alleys. I’ll gladly run that half marathon loop twice. The bike course–which I only saw by scooter–is equally beautiful, peppered with pineapple plantations and sweeping ocean vistas. It called to me–though at the time (until last week, in fact) I never imagined I’d enjoy those views for 112 miles.
When I competed in Taiwan last year, I did so as a part of a personal challenge I set to race every single month throughout 2013. Planner Holly crafted the idea and followed through with precision, a rewarding year of regularly scheduled racing. Since then, several friends have asked what project I will tackle in 2014. I had no idea–until last week. That’s when the 11th-hour idea of doing Challenge Taiwan came to me–and immediately the voice in my head shouted, “Yes!” Spontaneous Holly was already set on the notion when I reached out to a few friends to gauge their response. A couple of my pro triathlete girlfriends–Linsey Corbin, Hillary Biscay and Alyssa Godesky–gave me the voice-of-experience support I was hoping for: Go for it! Think of it as a massive training day–no pressure, no expectations! The mental fortitude is there–and you’ll be fit enough to enjoy it, too! But it was my friend Julia Polloreno (Triathlete’s editor-in-chief) who put any lingering doubts to rest. I asked her whether she thought the idea was totally crazy, or just Holly crazy (Holly crazy meaning yeah, crazy, but why the heck not?). Her response: #hollycrazy and I love it!
As you’re reading this column I’m starting to pack for the first step in this undertaking. I leave on Monday for Vietnam, where I’ll cover and race the Laguna Lang Co Triathlon on March 29–another spontaneous decision, this one a slightly longer than Olympic-distance race which will serve as a perfect dust-off-the-cobwebs precursor to going all the way. In all likelihood, it will also be my one and only training speed session. Boo-yah! A few weeks later I’ll land in Taiwan, to cover the race-week action and gear up for 140.6 magnificent miles of Challenge Taiwan on April 19.
I’m at a point in my life where I want my racing to be as much about adventure as possible. The more unique, uncertain and slightly cray cray the challenge, the better. I’m not saying spontaneous racing is the right avenue for everyone–for sure, strategic training is probably the best approach, more often than not. But for me, it feels right. I like to see Spontaneous Holly stand her ground, and Planner Holly more than willing to back down, tuck away her itchy-twitchy hyper-organized tendencies and let her shoot-from-the-hip sister rule. That’s what I want my 2014 to be about. A year of impromptu experiences. A year of saying yes!