I don’t know if I’m a lazy person trapped in an active person’s body or if I’m an active person trapped in a lazy person’s body. Because I always sign up for things thinking: hey I should do this thing, but then when time comes to actually do it, I just want to lay in bed and binge-watch Netflix. A while ago I listened to an interview with filmmaker/author/artist Miranda July*, and she and the interviewer agreed that a lot of the stuff they do is just a way to avoid doing nothing because they would probably do nothing if they don’t do the stuff they push themselves to do.
So anyway, I tossed and turned Saturday night in preparation for the sprint triathlon I had signed up for more than a month before, thinking: why do I sign up for this sh*t?
Friday night I flew to Kinmen, an island a part of Taiwan, but much closer to mainland China.
Stepping off the plane in Kinmen, I immediately felt relieved I had come. Yes, I could’ve spent another weekend in Taipei doing fun things, but signing up for this triathlon gave me an excuse to see a new place. There was a nice sea breeze coming off the ocean as I made my way from the plane to the airport terminal. The B&B host picked me up from the airport, took me to get some beef noodles, and then brought me to Shang Her Yuan B&B.
That first night I slept comfortably. Saturday, I hoped to adventure around the island on an electric scooter (I have no Taiwanese nor international driver’s license so a motor scooter would be illegal). But it’s a Chinese holiday, so there were many tourists that had rented out the whole stock. So I got a free bike at the bus station (they rent out free bikes!) and biked around Jincheng Township.
It was fun. At first. But I was a little over ambitious and ended up biking for hours. Exhausted and hungry, I went to pick up my race packet. Then went by the scooter rental place and rented a bike because after using the free bus station bike all day, I knew it would not be satisfactory in a race. But he didn’t even have a bike helmet. I biked back to the B&B and realized I hadn’t bought anything for breakfast. I would have to leave the B&B at six, before the hostess would have breakfast prepared. Luckily I had bought some peanut M&Ms, so I guess that would be my breakfast.
What I’m trying to illustrate here is how totally out of my element I was. I had a bike, but not even a proper bike helmet (I would have to use a scooter helmet). I had no swim suit, just spandex and a sports bra. I had no breakfast, just peanut M&Ms. So Saturday night, I’m just thinking: why am I doing this?
The next morning, I took a taxi to the start line. I realized how much more out of my element I was. People had some really nice looking bikes. I was just happy the race organizers had air pumps so I could add air to my flat tires.
I really had no idea what I was doing. I know how to swim, and bike, and run. But all the additional stuff, like staging areas and where to put all the stickers and all that stuff, I had no clue. Luckily there were some staff that spoke English and explained some things to me.
The Olympic triathlon distance racers began first. We – the sprinters – watched as they battled some pretty big looking waves. I ate a few peanut M&Ms. A burly Western man was the first out of the water. He was one of three Western foreigners I saw. There was also a pretty large contingent of Xiamen (Chinese island near Kinmen) residents in the race. They wore Xiamen Triathlon racing onesies.
The sprinters were all standing on the beach waiting for one of the race organizers to do a countdown for us when all of a sudden we heard an air horn from up the beach and assumed that was our go.
I resolved to push the swim portion because lord knows I don’t know how to bike or run fast, but I do know how to swim fast. The water was incredibly murky; I could not see anything, not even my hands pulling past my body. And the swells were huge. I’m not sure, but I think I was around the third person out of the water, behind a duo from Hong Kong. I was sure I was the first woman out of the water. My lungs were burning. My legs felt weird. And I thought: great, just another 25 kilometers to go!
On the bike, I prepared to get passed. In fact, I exclusively got passed. I passed no one during the bike portion of the race. Multiple choice question: 10 kilometers into the bike race, what hurts the most? A) Erisa’s legs. B) Erisa’s lungs. C) Erisa’s back. D) Erisa’s butt. Yep, just the butt. I tried to just enjoy the ride, and for the most part I did. But my butt hurt so much. One woman passed me. Then another. Then another. I had hoped maybe I would place amongst the women, but seeing them fly past and knowing that I was not a good runner, I figured it was over. I decided to keep pushing, mostly because I wanted to be done biking as soon as possible. But I also decided to chill. I thought about many things, including: there should be an extreme triathlon race where you hike up a mountain, camp overnight, then do a swim in a high mountain lake, mountain bike around and down a mountain, then run back up to the start point. That would be intense right. Someone should do that. Perhaps that already exists. If so, let me know.
Finally, the bike section is over. I hop off my bike and quickly transfer to running. My legs feel like they’ve just been attached to my body. My lungs aren’t burning. My legs aren’t burning. It’s just my legs feel so weird that they can’t move properly. This eventually wears off and I start jiving. Then I see one of the women who passed me on the bike portion. Then I see another. They both seem to be running a slower pace than me. This gets me going faster, fueled by my competitive nature, knowing that I can pass them and perhaps get second place.
I do pass them. With about 1.5 kilometers to go, I’m pretty sure I’m second amongst the group of women in the sprint category. Now I feel even more anxious. It would be one thing if I were solidly in fourth place, no pressure. But I didn’t want to lose it now. I began singing “Loser” by Penny Machine in my head. With the finish line in sight, I said to myself: “Come on bitch.”
I finished. I got my obligatory finishers metal and lunch, and sat down to eat and relax. Then I took my obligatory hey, look it’s a black person, can we get a picture with her? picture with some of my fellow racers.
I thought I might’ve gotten second place, but I wasn’t sure. And I also didn’t know if second place got anything, so I didn’t know if I wanted to hang around. When I went to get my bike and check out of the final staging area, I struck up conversation with one of the few Westerns at the race. He said him and his friends were sticking around to see if they had won anything so I figured I ought to as well. I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.
It felt super weird to just hang around awkwardly waiting to see if I got a prize. But I’m glad I did. What did Einstein say? Luck is 90% just showing up?**
*A longer version of the quote, in a New York Times review: “Everything I do in my life, the furious amount of activity I propel myself into, is because at heart I feel completely inert like Cheryl, like I’m 100 miles from any human contact and totally alone and kind of comfortable and righteous in that place, but of course, that’s sort of a kind of depression,” she said. “I need really high stakes to get out of that place. Hence, my entire career.”
**Actually I know this is a Woody Allen quote (“Eighty percent of success is showing up”), but I don’t care much for Woody Allen, so let’s change the quote and attribute it to Einstein instead. He seems like he’s a little better.