Holy crap. That was One. Long. Race. That’s all I need to say about that. The End.
Okay, okay, here’s the play-by-play…
It was a tough training season for me:
- I shopped for a house (using Wes Hobson, a world-renowned triathlete, as a realtor – he is also an actual realtor)
- I bought a house
- I moved into the house
- I had about a hundred job interviews
- I switched jobs
- I went to Mexico for 4 days to lay on a beach, drink cocktails with umbrellas in them, and eat some very yummy food between jobs
- I had a cyst on my knee drained
- I had knee surgery to remove the remaining scar tissue from the cyst
- I had a weird pain in my shoulder that lasted for almost a week
In short, I could have trained with a little more… focus… and discipline.
Sleep and Waking
Of course, I got absolutely no sleep the night before the race. First of all, I had to get up at about 4:45 in order to get to the course and have everything set up by 6:20. I went to bed about 10pm and woke up every hour from 12am to 4am wondering if it was time to get up and start moving. Second, I was very well hydrated so I got up to use the restroom every hour, on the hour, all night. It was ridiculous.
4:45am came way to fast. I stumbled down the stairs in the dark, pulled on my tri suit picked up my bag and headed out into the cool pre-dawn air. I rode my bike to the triathlon course, you know, because it felt weird to have only a 56 mile ride planned later and I figured it only made sense to make it an even 60-mile day.
On my way to the course a cab and another car both pulled over and offered to give me a ride, but I actually felt like being on the bike was a good warm up. I also noticed, just as I rounded the next corner, that cars were backed up about a mile and a half to get into the reservoir parking lot. I cruised right by them, pausing just outside of transition to let someone write my number on my arms with a big Sharpie: 1448, and my age on my calf: 30.
There is some strategy around choosing your space in the transition area. You can set up your bike, shoes, food, and other supplies by someone who looks nervous, someone who looks friendly, or someone who looks like this is not their first triathlon. I opted for a veteran and racked my bike next to a guy who obviously knew what he was doing. I asked him questions and organized my space just like his. Towel on the ground, gear sorted by discipline. Running stuff together, biking stuff together, swimming stuff in plastic bag to take to the beach, food and liquid everywhere.
Once my transition area was set up I headed down to the shore to find someone to talk to. Chatting with other athletes and spectators helped me get my mind off of the 70.3 miles that stood between me, a shower, a nap, and a decent breakfast… or dinner… actually. I tried to eat a cliff bar but gave up a little over half way through. I was so nervous and excited I could barely choke it down.
I was sitting on the ground, with one foot in a plastic bag and pushed through the first leg of the wetsuit (see my guide for putting on a wetsuit) when someone started singing the national anthem. I paused in my struggling to listen and contemplated the ridiculousness of the whole event. I couldn’t help but smile. I was a little surprised that, despite the fact that 4 months ago, I struggled to swim 10 laps in a pool, I was at the start line of a half Ironman.
Once the wetsuit was on I went down to the water to watch the pros start, get water inside my suit and check out the course. The buoys looked really far away. Seriously, very far. I asked a girl next to me if it looked far. “Yeah, it looks really far.” She agreed. Here’s the map of the swim. That little triangle is much bigger in person.
My wave (women 30-34) started at 7:30. I wadded into the water with the other athletes. We wished each other luck and I heard several, “oh no, you go first, I’m slow,” and “please, don’t kick me in the face or swim on top of me”s. So polite!
Finally, the gun went off and I wadded out until I couldn’t touch the bottom anymore. My wetsuit helped me stay on the top of the water and I started my stroke on the outside of the group. It was about the time I reached the first buoy (going clockwise) that I realized that I was kind of tired. I took stock of my body and found out that I wasn’t actually physically tired, I just realized that all my training in a pool prepared me to get a break every 50 yards when you turn around and go the other direction. I started trying to get into a rhythm where I would take 20 strokes and then take a few side-strokes or flip onto my back and count to 10 before flipping back over for another 20 strokes. This gave me a rhythm to get into and worked until the second buoy where the wave of men who started behind us began to catch me.
I was keeping up with them while I was doing the crawl, but would drop behind when I started side-stroking. The water got super choppy, which made it hard to breathe without also inhaling reservoir water. I decided to let the front row of them past me and tried to ignore the headache that was developing due to the fact that my goggles were on so tight to prevent getting water in my eyes or being kicked off.
There were smaller buoys in between the big buoys which kept us on track and gave me little milestones to go between. There were about seven from the last turn buoy to shore. About three buoys away from shore was the low point of the swim for me. I felt like I was so close to being done but I didn’t feel like I was making any progress. I started to swim in little zigzags and tried to focus on just making forward progress.
About that time, I saw Jason standing on the beach and could tell he was looking for me. He waved when he recognized me – still not sure how he did that – about one buoy away from shore. I finally felt my feet touch the ground and stumbled up onto the beach. Jason was able to get right up next the the chute into transition, “That was so fast!” he called, “53 minutes! You are doing great!” I had hoped to finish the swim in less than an hour so I was pretty happy. I meant to thank him for coming. I meant to be excited at this positive news. Instead, I’m pretty sure all I said was, “That swim was really $%&*@ long!” and headed through a little shower and into the transition area.
It took me a good 5 miles before I realized that I was on a bike. My stomach was a little upset and I had a headache. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I tried to force myself to eat a granola bar that I taped to the top tub of my bike and tried not to tip over. “This is the fun part,” I told myself. It took 10 miles before I believed it. I finally started to relax.
One of the many downsides to starting in such a late wave was the pros and early waves had an hour head start on me so they were on their second lap of the bike course as I was just starting out. It made me grumpy to think that they were so far along and I had so far to go, but I tried to keep a good attitude and eventually found it kind of fun to watch them whiz by me. On the second loop, I was all by myself on the course and was kind of lonely.
The volunteers were fantastic. Not only had they mastered the art of handing open bottles of Gatorade and water to moving cyclists, but as the day continued to get warmer, they would spray us with Super Soakers and other misting bottles as we passed through their aid stations. I focused on hydrating, staying relaxed and getting some more food in me. Here is a map of the course and the elevation changes:
When I was about 5 miles away from the finish of the bike leg, the wind started picking up. I was going directly into it and up a false flat. This means that the ground looks flat, but you have to work a lot harder because it’s really a slow ascent. I was tired and wanted to cry just thinking about the fact that I still had to do a half marathon. I considered crying but I felt like I was getting a little dehydrated and didn’t want to waste water – or salt – on tears so I told myself to suck it up, take it one pedal stroke at a time and finish this ride out.
I started the run a little before 12pm. The wind had continued to pick up and the air was hot and dry. I focused on going slow and steady, taking small steps to shake out my bike muscles, and tried to get into a running grove. “Restart.” I told myself. “Forget that you have already been moving about 4.5 hours.”
I saw Jason and my friends Wylie and Mike leaving transition. Jason jogged up to the road and said that they missed me on the bike. They arrived at the course long after I had passed and they had been looking for me ever since. Jason announced that I was, “killing it.” I had forecasted about 4 hours for the bike and I finished in about 3.5. At this point in the race, I was about 30 minutes ahead of my self-projected finishing time. I wanted to pick up the pace, but I knew it was going to be a long, hot run so I kept it nice and steady.
There were aid stations every mile on the run stocked with water, ice water, flat Coke, GU shots, energy bars, and sponges soaking in ice water. Oh, the sponges. I will smile at every sponge I see for years. They saved my life!
My sweat was just evaporating off of me, leaving my skin hot, dry, and salty. I couldn’t keep myself cool. The first time a volunteer handed me a sponge I almost hugged her, but that would have been very, very gross for her so I restrained myself. How you carried your sponge became a funny form of self expression that kept me amused for a mile or two. Some people had their sponges tucked in the back of their hats. Others used them to wipe their sweat off.
For several miles I just shoved one right down my top. The water would run out and soak my shirt and the top of my shorts. Unfortunately, the water warmed up and I couldn’t feel it so I found it worked best to grab two sponges and shove them under the straps of my top near my shoulders.
My stomach started cramping near mile 7 so I started walking once in a while and jogging when I got fresh sponges. I tried to eat my Honey Stingers, but I couldn’t stomach any more gooey sugars and carbs. At mile 11 I spotted something that made me happy. Pretzels. I wanted solid food. And salt. I wanted salt so much that I picked up a handful, shoved it in my mouth grabbed another handful to go and a cup of water. This did not leave me a hand to get my sponges out so I stopped at the end of the aid station, where a volunteer (God bless her) took my sponges out from my top, dunked them in ice water and bravely put them back in my top. She then removed my visor, dunked it in the ice water and put it back on my head. As I started trotting away, she followed me, running a sponge over my back. This woman was a saint.
About the same time, I started feeling blisters on my pinky toes. I wasn’t able to get all the sand off my feet after the swim and still had some in my socks. My toes hurt when I ran, but my hamstrings hurt when I walked so I switched awkwardly from one gait to another before finally settling back on running. “I would get there faster,” I figured. But not by much.
The last mile was miserable. The wind was blowing 25-30mph and it was about 97 degrees. I jogged it in, but I felt like I had to steal every breath I took from the wind that was trying to pull it out of my lungs before I could use it for fuel. Finally, the finish line, and my friends, were in sight. I don’t know how I picked up the pace through the chute, but I finished. 7 hours and 33 minutes after I started. (The clock in the picture says 8:33, but I started an hour after the first gun went off)
It was the slowest half marathon I ever ran, but I had never swam and biked that far before starting a half marathon. I’m usually done with half marathons when restaurants are still serving breakfasts.
My friends, M.E., Seth, Wylie, Mike, and of course, Jason were there at the finish, supportive and amazing. I didn’t really know what to say to them except for, “wow, that was a really long race, thank you for being at the end of it.”
And now, I am half an Ironman.