And then I quit.

There were eight of us: six well-trained, competitive, game-face-wearing future triathletes; the boyfriend of one of the triathletes; and me.

We rode the train from Hsinchu, up to Taipei, around to Yilan, then south along the east coast to Hualien. One way was just over four hours.

I didn’t train. I didn’t monitor my nutrition or buy essential gear or mentally prepare for the sports and the transitions. I knew I wouldn’t drown, I could keep from falling off a bike, and I can walk with some stability. Who needs to train for an Olympic triathlon?

Hannah and Catherine waiting on the platform. 8 people, 5 bikes, overnight gear: we had a lot of stuff.

We boarded the train at around 6:20pm. It got dark pretty quickly.

All the bikes go into car 12. Since only three of us had seats on the way there, the rest of us rode in the bike car. (Sarah, Hannah, Amber, Catherine)

The good thing about Taiwan is they don’t really enforce the rules.

Sarah attempting to sleep while surrounded by bikes.

The farther we went around Taiwan, especially when we went through Taipei, the more bikes that were stuffed into the car. Here’s Christy reading in one of the open spots.

Catherine and Hannah were cold.

It wasn’t until three hours before the start of the tri that I got a bike. I rented it from a surprised Giant employee; as he spoke with Catherine, I’m sure he asked more than once, “Really? She showed up to a triathlon without a bike?” I didn’t ride it before the start of the race. I grabbed a poop-colored helmet from the rental grab bag, wheeled the bike to my transition area, and decided to do more than just the swim and the run. I was going to do all three and finish! Woo!

The view from our hostel’s balcony. Hualien is definitely one of the prettiest places in Taiwan.

The amount of water consumed while we were in Hualien could fill a swimming pool.

I proceeded to set up my transition area for maximum speed and efficiency.

Actually, no I didn’t. I plunked my blue bag with all my stuff on the ground, shrugged, and figured I’d be fine.

How many taxis does it take to transport eight people and five bikes?

Three. And then the taxis drive like rollercoaster cars and have all the riders fearing for their lives.

All of us blue-swim-capped triathbeasts were led to the water. 1.5km swim? I knew I could do it. 47:55 minutes later I crawled out of the lake, scowling as I was pushed, shoved, and grabbed. It had been a brutally aggressive swim. One guy, when passing me, kicked me so hard in the chest I wanted to grab his leg and drown him. I couldn’t because I had to locate my missing body part that he’d kicked off.

We arrived alive!

As we looked around, we all realized the tri was going to have great scenery.

Now it’s real. Game faces.

The weather was perfect. The location was gorgeous. The people were great (aside from the swim). The Mandy was completely unprepared.

Fine. Whatever. The swim was done. I headed to transition, looked in my bag… and forgot what I needed. Once I wrapped my head around the transition, I put the helmet on and realized it didn’t fit properly. Too late. With the helmet threatening to slide off my head, I walked to the bike start line.

It wasn’t difficult for them to find our race packets. Out of over 2,000 participants, there were perhaps a dozen foreigners.

As we stood in a cluster at the registration desk, these girls took a bunch of pictures of us. I returned the favor. They were sweethearts.

At triathlons, you get race numbers for your arms, your shirt, your helmet and your bike. You also get a swim cap and a timing chip.

The finish line. We never became acquainted.

That, friends, was the beginning of my three-hour, two-wheeled, sore-butted, cramping-thigh-muscled, bruised-ego adventure. I was in misery for 45 kilometers. How many times did I ride a bike before this race? Once. On a flat course. Even the volunteers holding the SLOW DOWN signs at the sharp turns of the course would yell, “JIA YO! JIA YO!” Hurry up. Faster. Thanks, guys.

We all had interesting names.

JP, the fantastical photographer and Number One fan of Denise, and Denise, soon to be a rockstar triathlete.

I know it was three hours because I watched the minutes tick upward on my stopwatch. Children in elementary school when I started were graduating college when I limped back into the transition area. I shamefully walked the bike up the final hills. I was so frustrated I fought back tears and considered signaling frequently-passing scooter cops and race volunteers to pick me up. On the second loop, a group of twenty-something Taiwanese cheering on the competitors noticed my exhaustion, surrounded me when I shook my head at “Jia yo!”, and took pictures with me. I obliged because it meant I could stand still.

Numbers are on! I have a bike! I’m totally going to finish!

These numbers are now outlined in a sunburn on my arm. It’s like a semipermanent reminder of my ego being demolished.

I wanted to at least try the run. But as my watch ticked closer and closer to the three-hour mark, my body went to my mental flagpole and raised a dirty, ripped, lake-water-rank white flag. After the final leg of the bike ride, emotionally and physically beaten, I walked my bike back into the transition area, flipped the kickstand down, fought back tears,

and then I quit.

This is before the race. I refused to be in pictures after.

Amber came up to me, her medal hanging triumphantly and heavily from her neck. “You finished?” she asked, a smile growing on her face. “No. I quit. I can’t,” I responded, and my body finally gave up and I cried. I turned away as she and Catherine talked and took happy pictures in front of the finish line. They let me be disappointed for a few moments and gave me space, which I was thankful for.

My friends, the triumphant triathletes, were encouraging. They chided me for being so hard on myself. But as each woman finished and were awarded a medal, as they glowed and laughed and exulted in their accomplishment, they recalled their training and what they were looking forward to eating now that they had finished. And I felt like a world-class jerk*.

(*substitute a rated R word here)

I didn’t do that. I didn’t sacrifice time and energy and devote myself to this tri. I didn’t push through the obstacles and make it a priority. In my defense, for the entire month of May, I couldn’t, really. But how unfair would it have been for these women, for all these athletes, to train so hard, and for my lazy butt to have the same success and not train at all?

I hate quitting, but I quit. It was the right decision, even though it hurt my ego. My ego deserved it, though, for thinking it was going to be a cakewalk and all these people who trained for months were great, but I was going to do it, too, with no training.

First place went to someone who finished in around three hours. I finished just the bike in around three hours. Take that, Mr Elite Athlete.

The train ride back to Hsinchu. I sat on the floor next to the doors.

I took this out the small window as the train was chugging north along the east coast.

There’s no mistaking the east coast and the west coast of Taiwan. The east looks like Jurassic Park. The west looks like the apocalypse came early.

This gave us permission to sit right next to the door… right?

For a long while Christy and I sat and talked. After Taipei Main Station, the train was packed for about twenty minutes. There was so little space that I had trouble checking the time on my watch.

If you could fit, you could sit. Even if you’re between the last row of seats and the wall.

This was not meant to be my race. As I sat with my friends on the train back to Hsinchu, eyeing each enviously and kicking myself, I vowed to do it again. Next time, I’m going to do an Olympic tri, and it’s going to whimper and call for its mommy.

No prisoners.

Until that day, congratulations to all my friends who beat this tri with grace and style. You’re all inspirational. Trust me on that one.

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