This is the story of my first Ironman 70.3 (Half Ironman). Race distance: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run.
Actually, this is about 25% of the story. There is no way to fully verbalize in a blog all the agony and ecstasy of everything leading up to this experience.
In the 18 months preceding this race, I had two planned surgeries, then a third emergency surgery to repair an artery that burst 11 days after the second surgery; a rare but possible complication. I lost nearly two liters of blood in that incident, couldn’t walk on my own for, I’m guessing 7 days, but I’m not really sure. It’s all fuzzy. I was totally out of training for over two months then slowly came back. A few months later I managed to end up with rhabdomyolysis. After I recovered I signed up for this race. A few months after that recovery, I started limping. A lot. An MRI revealed a stress fracture in my left foot cuboid bone.
Geez, I sound like a maniac when I write that. Maybe I am. But really, I’m trying to explain so it’s understood that this race was truly my “fight song”. And fight I did. It was also my declaration to myself and to the universe that I hereby refuse further injuries, so don’t even think about it!
July 15-16, 2015
Packing. I really thought this would be a more stressful project than it was, but evidently I’ve done enough racing now that I don’t have much to say about it. The Definitive Ironman Packing List was hugely helpful and saved me ridiculous amounts of time. I highly recommend it.
July 17, 2015 (Friday–Two Days Pre-Race)
My husband and I loaded our bags and bikes and set on the road from Waukee, IA to Racine, WI. We hit the road at 7:30 am with our youngest daughter and took a detour to drop her off at her grandparents’ house in Illinois. Aside from checking to make sure our bikes were secure on the rack, oh–I don’t know–1042 times, it was uneventful. We wore our compression leg sleeves proudly into every gas station along the way. (I think this embarrassed “the tween”–but she refrained from saying too much and was supportive.) There were a lot of gas stations. After all, we were hydrating.
Hotel arrival at Harbourwalk Hotel Racine was somewhere around 4 pm Friday. This place is less than a mile from the race venue, so if you can get a room there, it is ideal. We went to packet pickup and visited Ironman Village on Friday evening rather than Saturday, which was probably my favorite decision of the entire weekend. We got through the process without a huge crowd, went to the athlete briefing with no stress, and were able be deer-in-headlights-newbies with fewer witnesses. And I’m sure I wouldn’t have walked out with the ridiculous bargains that I did had we waited until Saturday. The clearance rack surely would have been picked through by then. And lord knows this girl loves a hot $5 t-shirt!
We had an especially great dinner that night. Per Coach’s orders, this was carb night. We went to Mike and Angelo’s with a super fun and supportive group of athletes, spouses, and sherpas. Food was good and reasonably priced. Good choice if you head up there to race. Some of our dinner companions we had met and trained with previously, some are new friends, but I’m just glad to have shared pasta night with them all!
I was winding down by 9 pm and asleep before 10 pm. This was the night for sleep.
July 18, 2015 (Saturday–One Day Pre-Race)
To the end of getting extra sleep Friday night, this was a no-alarm morning. I still woke up at 6 am. Of course. Totally ok with how that worked out, because my very good friend and training partner for the last few months was racing a different race back home in Iowa that day, and it killed me not to be there for her, so the least I could do is be awake in time to wish her well. I did, however, manage to go back to sleep for an hour or so after that.
A short swim-bike-run workout on the race course was on the plan for Saturday. Lake Michigan is COLD. Even in a wetsuit, it was shocking. Day before race it was 64 degrees, and those who have swam this course before will tell you–that was a very warm day in that water. Be prepared.
There’s a hill right out of T1 on the bike, so you’ve got to be in granny gear to deal with that effectively. We practiced riding that, rode a few miles of the course and left our bikes in that easy gear at bike check-in. Seriously folks–there were big dudes falling over in front of me on race day on this hill. Don’t forget to get in your small chain before you even start.
Ran a bit, felt good, stopped, saving it for race day.
This course is gorgeous:
At bike check-in, we were lucky enough to have a friend and fellow athlete offer us straps for our bikes to tie them down. There was a storm rolling in. We got that done and got back to the hotel just before the tornado sirens started. Thankfully, it was a lot of rain and wind but the tornadoes didn’t hit Racine directly. Can’t even imagine the bike carnage there would have been.
Saturday late afternoon/night was feet up, compression socks, movies, reading, a gentle dinner of chicken and vegetables, hydrating, (yes, a glass of wine too–don’t change anything on race day; it’s the rule!) and early to bed.
July 19, 2015–(SUNDAY–RACE DAY!)
I slept well, and didn’t have to wake up until 5 am because of the close proximity of our hotel. I will always try to repeat that scenario!
I had my usual race/training day breakfast (quinoa/steel cut oats combo mixed with nut butter and fruit) that I had brought with me. Don’t screw with your nutrition on race day. Period.
All set up in transition by 6:15 and ready for the mile walk down to the swim start. Take throw away flip flops for that, by the way. Glad I was told to do that. I drank a bottle of my usual electrolyte supplement (EFS) between transition setup and swim warmup.
Here I am before the race. Don’t look nervous, do I???
The water temperature dropped from the storm and was 60 degrees race morning. I used a trick from my coach and slathered Vaseline all over my face and tops of hands and feet to stay warmer. I also and two swim caps–one for cold water, and then my race cap over it. It was very cold, but after about 500 yards I was used to it. The swim felt really good. The water is clear and I moved along just fine. Not record setting, but I met my goal. I was staying on course really well until the final turn and somehow I think the current pushed me out after the turn buoy. Not sure how much I added, but anyway, grrrrrr. Unnecessary. I stood up a little too early because my hand hit sand but I was still farther out than I realized. Still within my goal time, but there was opportunity to cut some time for sure.
Holy long run from swim exit up to transition! I didn’t know there were wetsuit strippers at a 70.3, but there are! I didn’t exactly need them; I could have gotten the thing off myself, but I was caught up in the experience and let the nice volunteer help me. I didn’t rush, just wanted to have a good start on the bike and not forget anything.
Granny gear was successful on the hill out of T1! Thanks, Coach.
My stomach cramped almost immediately on the bike and lasted for 30 miles. I still don’t know why, but this was the key to how difficult the rest of the day was. I didn’t get enough water or nutrition in on the bike by any stretch of the imagination, so by the time I got to the run it was just too late.
Seven miles in my bike chain fell off so I had to pull over. I think I figured out why that happened—I need to be more careful about how I go from small to large chain. Lesson learned quickly and didn’t make the same mistake the rest of the bike. Cost me some time though, so I started pushing to make up for it.
Ironman promotes this as a flat course. I am here to tell you it is NOT flat. I’m sure some of that is perspective, and it may be flat compared to other courses, but from where I sat, it’s hilly. And wow—those rough roads! I was warned about those, but no amount of warning could have prepared me for the pounding that bike route gives you. There was some construction going on too which made for an interesting narrow stretch of the course. I started getting pretty verbally aggressive with the rule-breakers. Yelling at people passing on the right, or in groups, or being way too close. Don’t scare me on my bike!
Somewhere around mile 30, I heard a loud “I looooove myyyy wiiiiiiiife!” flying past me. Eric had a later swim start than I did, and he was catching me here. That. Was. Amazing. I needed it about then.
I was three miles from the finish and I felt my seat give way, tipping downward. It kept getting looser and looser so I finally pulled over (AGAIN!) to be sure it wasn’t going to completely fall off. It didn’t seem like it would, so the last three miles were just a slow balancing act to get back. It was like riding a see-saw on my bike. Interesting, but I made it in. Did I mention the roads are ROUGH??? Take your lube, folks. Your girl/boy parts will thank you.
Felt really good about this, and fast, but my official time says over 8 minutes to transition. Guessing I didn’t know the right place to hit the button on my watch. I didn’t see timing mats like I am used to. The only issue was racking my bike with the loose seat but I managed that pretty quickly and moved right out of there.
Just brutal, brutal, brutal. I couldn’t catch up on hydration and nutrition. There were good moments where I found my pace but it was difficult to maintain for long. The really good news is my body held up structurally. By Mile 8 I had to stop at the porta potty, but wished there had been one available sooner. By Mile 9 I had a little internal celebration because that was the farthest I had ever run–EVER EVER! And in the past several months since before the stress fracture in March, I had not run more than 5 miles. Not even once. It had been aqua running and bike intervals to get ready.
Miles 6-10 were probably the “best” for me if there was a best. At mile 10 I had 40 minutes left to make my personal “secret” 7:30 goal. On a normal day, no problem. On that day, I knew it was going to be close. I tried to maintain a steady 12-13 min pace but couldn’t quite get there. My feet were absolutely screaming at me with every single step and I had to dig about as deep as I ever have for anything. My last mile was my fastest of the entire 13.1, but I chose to enjoy the finish line and miss my goal by two minutes rather than push harder and vomit in the finish chute. I preferred to delay the vomiting to when the cameras weren’t rolling!
I hate this picture; I really really do. But I’m growing to appreciate it. The emotion it captures is as real as it gets. My body was heavy, I was in pain, and the finish line was just steps in front of me.
A sweet little girl put a medal around my neck, and an adult woman gave me my finisher’s hat. I hugged her and bawled on her shoulder like a baby. She was very sweet. Never met the woman! It was incredible. Found my people, hugged and cried more and puked on the grass. Glorious.
I love this man, who by the way crushed the goal for what was also his first half iron distance and finished in 6:15! Photo credit: Doug Staudt. Great shot!
I nibbled on food, but couldn’t keep down my margarita or dinner—booo! My visions of celebration that night were foiled. I had some really disgusting and scary things happen to my body Sunday night that I’m not even going to talk about, but I did research and found out they are normal-ish for my circumstances. My gut was just not right on any level.
But one must still suck it up for a Bite-The-Medal-Selfie.
I finally got a good meal in me by Monday noon on the long drive home. Tuesday I tried to go to work and again started vomiting before I got into my office. I went home, drank a lot of water and Nuun, and slept for 4 hours straight in the middle of the day.
By Wednesday I felt pretty normal and did a recovery open water swim that night.
I haven’t done much as far as training for the last two weeks. I’ve stayed active but nothing on a schedule as I recovered. I’ll be getting ready for my end of season Olympic distance over the next 4 weeks.
In September, I, along with my husband and a slew of local athletes and friends, will be volunteering at Ironman Wisconsin (full Iron distance). The day after, I plan to sign up to race Ironman Wisconsin 2016. Gulp.