Sorry, periodic table joke.
It’s been just about 2 months since I completed my first Half Ironman. I hadn’t really intended on writing a race report at all….because it didn’t exactly go as I had planned…but what in life does? So, for posterity’s sake (okay, maybe just mine when I go after #2 in 2019), here it is. Why it was great, why it was awful and why I would ever entertain doing it again.
Race day. I got there before the sun came up to rack my bike and set up my transition area. I took with me my beautiful bike, Barracuda, and what felt like every single sport related thing I owned, and I had to jam it in this little teeny tiny “spot”. Note to self- need a better transition bag. Duffle + wheeling bike = not ideal.
My training buddy, Cate, helped me wriggle into the wetsuit I had borrowed from her (and tried for the first time several days before). I was extremely nervous, but at least knew I’d be warm in the water. I bid her adieu and walked down to the water to wait for my wave to start.
The swim was an interesting beast. I don’t think I really understood what it would be. The only other open water race swim I have done was a straight shot down the river and I had the good sense to start towards the beginning of that group. This one, however, I shyly hid towards the back. I am not by any means the fastest swimmer in the world, but I could feasibly have sat in the top 30ish percent of swimmers in that wave. With that information, I’ll let you take a wild guess what starting at the back of the wave was like. I kept running into swimmers and having to stop and had to sight way more than I should’ve to make sure I was swimming around and not on top of people. That ate up a lot of time, but I still finished in exactly what my “doing this time would make me happy” time was. There even was a section at the end of the swim that was way too shallow to swim so I had time to remove the top half of my wetsuit while I was trudging towards shore. So I left the water after a 1.2 mile swim feeling like a million dollars and ultimately had a pretty quick transition time.
The bike. The bike has always been the section that is the most difficult for me, but I went into this one feeling very positive- I had a great swim, the sun was out, and it was gorgeous. On the course, I was passed by tons of cyclists. Being my weakest discipline, I was neither surprised nor upset. Although, I could’ve done without the backhanded compliment a gentleman paid me as he sped past- “you must be a very fast swimmer!”. Guess so, hah! Around mile 30 (out of 58, mind you), I started to reach my limit of cycling. My butt hurt and I was tired of pedaling. But, I still had so much to do. So I tried to distract myself with the beautiful scenery around me. It really was a gorgeous race course and I have never ridden on the road with so many courteous drivers. There was one woman in a red SUV who tried to clip me with her sideview mirror who I had a few choice words for, but I can’t remember a single other car who passed too close. And over that kind of distance- that felt nice. Around mile 40 my knee started nagging a bit. So I stopped at mile 41 because I had to pee anyway and stomped around a bit hoping to kind of “shake it off”. It was somewhat okay for the next four miles, but after that it progressively got worse and worse. It got to the point that by mile 55 I was literally pedaling with one leg and telling myself “if you finish this half ironman, you aren’t ‘obligated’ to do this ever again. JUST DO IT.” My knee was throbbing and I couldn’t wait to get off the bike. I was trying not to freak out because I just *knew* that once I started the run I could shake it off.
I think what’s most frustrating about what happened next is I felt great. Like, my hydration and nutrition up to this point had been stellar and I literally felt like I could run for miles. So I racked Barracuda, took off my helmet, got on my running shoes, and started to run. Only, I had to stop after not even a mile because my knee did not feel better…it felt so much worse. In that mile, the pain in my knee felt like it kept winding tighter and tighter until I absolutely had to stop and walk for fear that it would snap. I kept telling myself that after a little shakeout, I would be able to run. So, after the pain calmed a bit, I started running again- and then just over a quarter mile later had to walk again. And so I continued, my stress level raising higher and higher as the 15 minute miles ticked by. I felt awful for my family, who was waiting, unsuspecting, at mile 4, and was greeted with tears and the only thing I was thinking – “I’M GOING TO DNF!!!!” as I stumbled by. DNF means did not finish. It can mean not making the swim cutoff, wrecking, needing medical attention- or for where I was heading- not making the race time cutoff of 8 hours.
I kept going, though, because I was not ready to quit. I had a good cushion from my swim and bike, but still was fighting to be under the 8 hours averaging just shy of 15 minutes/mile. I no longer was looking at my watch for the time that had elapsed in the run; I was looking at it for the time of day. I knew at 3:06pm my time was up.
The race course was beautiful, lots of nice soft non-technical trails. The sun was shining and the temperature wasn’t too bad. I was trying to stay positive, but I left so many tears on that course. I kept trying to run farther and faster, but kept having to take breaks. I was passed by SO many people, but I didn’t even care- I just wanted to get it done and with a “legal” time. I think the people around me could sense my angst; I have never been offered so many encouraging words- by people doing the same thing as me. We were all there together and whether those people realize it or not, they helped feed my strength and will to continue and not be defeated. I shaved minutes off miles- but only in the last two miles managed to go below a 13 minute mile.
I rounded the corner and headed towards the finish line and some random guy ran like 50 feet with me- cheering, telling me how awesome he thought I was, and how little I had left to run. I saw him do it to the girl in front of me too, but it was such a special thing to do for everyone…it was so needed at that point. Then I saw my family again- and my training buddy, Cate. At that point I had been on the race course for about 7 hours and 44ish minutes. To say I was overwhelmed is just not enough. I was tired, I was hurting, I was kind of upset at the direction my race had taken….but I was so happy in that very minute to see them. I had nearly done it.
The announcer said my name and the entire race volunteer team cheered so loudly. It was incredible and so exhilarating. I had done it. It was grueling and at times I didn’t want to anymore, but I had done it. 7 hours, 45 minutes and 48 seconds. Almost 15 minutes below the cut-off time.
Am I proud of that time in spite of everything? Absolutely. It didn’t end up being the test of my ability, but instead a test of my fortitude and I pulled myself together to accomplish it. I had every opportunity to fall apart- and don’t get me wrong, I did at times- but I clawed my way to a finish. So now, I don’t *have* to do another one to accomplish that goal- I’ve done it. When I do another one, it will be because I want to.
Above that, I am so grateful for my family and friends. They stood at the hot finish line, in the bright sun waiting for me. Excited for me, worried for me- but *there* for me. And I’ll tell you- the people that will stand around for HOURS just to watch you accomplish something insane….those are definitely people to keep around. (These people definitely fall in that category as well, in spite of not witnessing the half iron crazy)
So there it is. Adventures in racing for longer than I work most days.