My First Half Ironman Adventure: Part 2, RACE DAY!
In case you missed it, here’s Part 1: TRAINING!
I will be forever grateful to endurance sports for teaching me the power of positivity. You can train your body physically as much as you want, but training the mind is so much more important. I firmly believe that being kind in thoughts and actions, not just toward others, but toward ourselves is the key to happiness. I’m sharing this here because being conscious of the type of thoughts I accept and embrace has had a profound effect on my athletic endeavors (and life in general) over the past year and a half. My attitude towards racing has changed a lot since getting into triathlon. It’s the work you put in before race day that is most important. All of those quiet hours you spend at the lake, on the roads, trails, in the gym or wherever, getting to know yourself, becoming the person you want to become, strengthening your body and your mind — those are what count. Of course we all want to have a good race, but race day is just the cherry on top of the whole journey. In the week leading up to yesterday, people kept asking me how I was feeling. Honestly, I don’t know that I ever gave a coherant answer because it’s not really a feeling I could describe. After spending months of ups and downs working so hard, I just wanted to see what I could do. I wanted to be out there with all the other athletes who love the same sport. I wanted to experience the feeling of sprinting down that finisher’s chute, knowing I poured my heart into it. I’m so grateful I got to do just that.
So, details! The night before the race, I laid out all my gear on the living room floor and walked through my transition/nutrition plan. While doing so, I realized I was out of Gu — d’oh!!! Fortunately, a local sports store was still open and they had plenty. Yea, I know I should use whole foods for fuel, but shhhh. I’m lazy and I trained with Gu and Cliff Bars, ok? We all have our vices. I also discovered a few weeks ago that my wet suit was way too big, but I really didn’t feel like spending $300 to replace it, so I just went with it. It wasn’t ideal, but it ended up okay. After my usual pre-race ritual of eating pasta w/ chickpeas and watching an episode of Gilmore Girls, it was time for bed!
3 a.m. rolled around and I got up feeling chipper and excited. I loaded up the car, ate a slice of bread with some jelly, and double checked my lists. I had the idea to write a few positive words on my arm in sharpie, and I am SO glad that I did. If I could share one tip with everyone gearing up for a big race, it’d be to do this. I must have looked at my arm 87,000 times throughout the race, and every time I did it gave me a happy boost. I decided on one word for each discipline:
1.) Courage for the swim.
2.) Strength for the bike.
I also wrote the words Dream Catcher on my arm because it’s the name of a “Set It Off” song, and I wanted it in my head. There’s a line that says, “Does it seem out of reach? Hit the ground and run with both your feet.” and I knew it would help get me through. Have I mentioned that endurance sports are riddled with ridiculous mind games? We all have our tricks.
The car ride to the venue was filled with fun songs and obviously lots of car dancing. It was still pitch black when I got there, but cars were steadily trickling in. I set up my transition area, then headed down to look at the water and breathe. Despite being nervous and excited, this was the most peaceful I have ever felt before a race. I was just SO happy to be there and even happier to feel like I deserved to be there. No matter how the day went, it had been an incredible experience getting to that start line.
I headed back to the transition area to put on my wetsuit and choke down a few dates before the pre-swim meeting. As I looked up, I ended up locking eyes with one of my high school boyfriends who was standing on the other side of the fence– how random! We both cocked our heads to the side at the same time, gave each other a “what?? Huh??” look, and laughed. Turns out he was there to cheer on his girlfriend who was also competing. After a quick chat, I waved him goodbye and headed down the hill to get in a quick warm up swim, and wait for the start.
As I mentioned, endurance sports are all about playing mind games with yourself. Whenever I started getting nervous, I closed my eyes and pictured people I care about. It’s a weird trick, but picturing the smiles of wonderful people in my life always helps me stay calm. Finally, it was time to start! A girl started singing the national anthem, but then she forgot the words… so all of the athletes started singing with her. (This is why I love the triathlon community.) My brother and LB ran over 5 minutes before my swim wave started, with huge smiles and giant hugs. It was such a boost getting to see them at the start line!!!
We all piled into the corral, heard the “GO! GO! GO!” and jumped in. Unfortunately, this course was a loop swim, so right as we were starting, all the swim waves before us were looping around in the same spot, so everything was chaos. The most important thing in open water swimming is to stay calm, but I was definitely struggling with panic for the first 5 minutes. Arms and legs were flying on all sides, you couldn’t see anything with all the splashing, seaweed was getting wrapped around our bodies, it was insane. I just told myself to keep my heart rate down and sight every two strokes until I could push past people. I swam hard and finally broke free of the crowd and was able to get up a steady rhythm. I was so incredibly impressed with the course organizers for supplying us with adequate sight buoys. I was able to swim straight the entire time because they were so well placed. Thank you, race directors!!
I remember feeling so much joy during the swim. It was the discipline I was most confident about, and I kind of didn’t want to get out. But after no time at all, we were rounding the last turn buoy and heading for shore! A quick run up the big hill to the transition area, and it was time for some quality time with my bike 🙂
The bike course was challenging, but it wasn’t really as bad as I anticipated. There were plenty of good hills, but no super, super steep climbs. I’m a mediocre biker, so it’s always the hardest part, but I ended up averaging about 16 mph, which is quite good for me. Not going to lie, the bike course was a mind-EFF because you bike 30 miles (yay!!) and then realize you have to do another loop (no!!). My quads started yelling around that point, so I knew I needed to find a way to distract myself. I’m about to enter the TMI portion of this post –sorry, not sorry! Anyone who knows me knows that I have the tiniest little bird bladder on the planet. I had to pee the ENTIRE ride (which feels terrible every time you go over a bump, by the way), which spawned a very long, humorous commentary in my head about what to do about it that kept me laughing. People probably thought I was nuts. I also forgot I put my phone in my camelbak, so of course I got two text messages in the middle of the ride. Whoops! You’re not supposed to have any electronic devices, but it’s not like I was playing music, so I think it’s ok. Mile 40 was about the time I started going crazy, so I decided to start belting out some songs (Re-reading this is making me realize that I’m the most obnoxious athlete ever.). Most notable were “White Dress” by Parachute (“IIIIIIIIII wanna looooooveee youuuuu mooooooorrreeee!”), and “Crazy About You” by Artist Vs. Poet. Honestly, when you’re biking for over 3 hours, you have to find ways to entertain yourself. I spent a lot of time just appreciating the scenery, saying hi to the horses I rode past, and genuinely feeling happy to be there. I tried to compartmentalize each discipline, and not think about running 13.1 miles after. You really just have to focus on the task at hand and know that you’ll handle each piece as it comes.
Finally, I crested the last hill and was ready to start the run! After racking my bike, I grabbed my other camelback, race bib, and sneakers, collected solid high fives from my bro and LB, and raced out of the chute feeling super strong and full of smiles. I was averaging a 9 min/mile pace, and I knew I needed to slow it down because it was getting really, really hot out — PLUS, I still had to pee! Finally, at mile 4, at the very top of a big hill I saw a porta-potty, and I swear it had a brilliant glow and angels singing around it. Anyway, that was the only minute during the whole thing that I wasn’t running. I had made a race plan with myself that if I was really hurting, I’d do a 3 minute run, 1 minute walk strategy, but I always hate doing stuff like that because all the lactic acid builds up in your legs and it makes everything so much harder. Fortunately, I didn’t need to! I was so surprised how strong I felt throughout this entire race. I ended up running the whole thing, and felt really good on all the hills. I also really liked the run course because since it was a loop, you were always surrounded by other athletes. There were a ton of people who were very clearly hurting and walking, so it gave me a chance to yell words of encouragement and smile or clap for them. And you know, every time I did that, they beamed giant smiles at me. I’ve never felt so inspired like that before. All these incredible athletes just pushing with everything they have to finish. It was amazing to experience. The volunteers were phenomenal too. There was a turnaround where they had set up a boombox, so naturally I started dancing and singing, and the volunteers all joined in! Love it when that happens!
Around the 5/10 mile markers they had a long line of motivating signs that kept me laughing. Stuff like, “Your butt looks fantastic!” and “You’re smart…….” *10 feet later* “……And pretty!”. I should also mention that they offered sponges soaked in ice cold water, and they were such a life saver. There was barely any shade towards the end, and lots and lots of hills, so the heat was a concern. My calves started cramping around mile 11.5, but I knew if I took another Gu and kept drinking water I would be able to stay fairly steady. Because of the heat, I didn’t bother shooting for a pace time, I just focused on keeping my heart rate down and my breathing calm. Looking at the words on my arm reminded me just how much I love this sport, and how much I truly was running every step from the heart.
Finally, I could hear the cheers of the crowd, and I could see the venue in the distance. But the last .5 miles were up a giant hill. AGH! That was the only part of the race I was frustrated with. My calves hurt and I was sooo close. But before I knew it, I was rounding the corner and sprinting down that finishers chute, hearing the announcer call my name, seeing Nicholas and LB yelling for me, and feeling that whoosh of overwheming emotion. I did it!
All in all, the whole day was amazing. I feel a huge amount of gratitude for my family who came to support me with hugs and love, and to my friends who tracked my race or texted me well wishes. 900 miles, 5-6 months, endless hours of training. It’s been an incredible journey.
Thanks for reading my story! It was a day I will never, ever forget. ❤
P.s. If you didn’t see it, here’s Part 1, TRAINING
And as always, Remember to breathe.