At the race on Hainan Island, Li was 30 minutes behind other contenders at the bike segment due to a flat tire. The only thing on her mind was to make up for lost time during the marathon segment, as Li recalls.
“I never thought of giving up. I just kept running, thinking I must catch up with the fastest one and win,” she says.
After years of preparation, Li decided to turn professional in her career as a triathlete last October. She has since won first place at the Ironman Japan in Hokkaido, one of the qualifying races required to enter next year’s Ironman World Championship, which takes place in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii every October.
So far, the iron woman’s best result for the Ironman 70.3, which refers to the total distance in miles (113.0 km) covered in the race, is four hours and 29 minutes, and it is nine hours and 59 minutes for the Ironman Triathlon, rendering Li the first Taiwanese triathlete who completes the race within the 10-hour mark.
Li says that contrary to common belief, a triathlete’s best time doesn’t come in his or her twenties but between mid-thirties and early forties, as the triathlon requires a mature athlete excelling not only in physical strength and strategies but willpower.
To the athlete, the dedication required by the sport feels almost like a spiritual experience. In the training camp for professional triathletes she went this year in Thailand, for example, Lin says the daily routine consisted of a 5000m swim workout in the morning, followed by 90km to 150km of cycling and a two-hour long run in the afternoon. One didn’t have strength left to do much else except eating and sleeping, and some of her camp mates have led a lifestyle mostly like this for 20 years.
“You need to be very focused to be able to undergo the training… Being immersed in a sport is like meditating. Monks chant prayers. We pedal,” she muses.
As the country’s first and only female triathlete, Li is destined to walk a rough, lonely path where government funding is next to nothing, and corporate sponsorship is scarce. To support her Ironman triathlon races, Li works as an instructor for indoor cycling at gyms and sometimes races four marathons a month to earn funding. But the difficulties don’t stop the athlete.
“I will give it a try, hoping more and more people will notice [the sport],” Li says.
TRAGEDY STRIKES AGAIN
Shortly after our interview, Li was again hit by a motorbike during bicycle training last Saturday. The professional triathlete suffered a serious neck injury and will require at least three months to recover. Her agent Trisha Chen (陳惠君) says it is common for athletes to get injured in car accidents when training in Taiwan, calling on drivers to respect cyclists’ and pedestrians’ rights to use the road.