You guys. I still can’t believe I’m even writing this right now. I can’t believe I am a Half Ironman. Okay, so I know that it’s not “technically” a half “ironman” because it wasn’t an Ironman race, but that’s how I intend to refer to it from now on, so that’s that. 😉
Okay, this is quite the long story so feel free to jump around, or grab a warm cup of coffee and settle in.
On Thursday night / Friday morning around midnight, I was “surprised” when my friend Heather crawled into my bed and announced that she bought a plane ticket (she lives in Seattle) way back in September when I registered for the race to come out and cheer me on. Steve kind of sucks at surprises so I use the word surprise loosely haha, but this is honestly one of the most incredible and nicest things anyone has ever done for me. I lived with Heather when I began my healthy living journey, so she’s been there for me through all of the highs and lows of this process. There is something I can’t quite put into words about the support of the people who have known me since before any of this started. The people that knew me when I ate fast food twice a day and when I didn’t even know where our free super nice university gym was located, or how to work a single machine inside. Most of the people I see on a daily basis these days have only ever known me as being an endorphin junkie, and I’m not sure if they truly grasp what it means for me to get to this point. But Heather does, and having her support…well, I don’t know if I would have gotten to the finish line without her. And yes, I’m already crying and I haven’t even gotten to the start of the race.
Okay, race day. I woke up around 4, got all my things together and headed to the park. This is a really small race with only around 600 people in the half and full combined, so it was easy to get in, get my things together, and before I knew it, it was time to put on the dreaded wetsuit. Well, I totally PRed in my wetsuit time, and I think it only took me, like, 20 minutes to get it on this time. 😉 I said goodbye to Heather and Steve, and headed over to the water to try to get acclimated. I put my face in, swam a few strokes (definitely not enough) and tried to calm my nerves. The swim is by far my weakest/scariest/least enjoyable sport, and I’ve only done a total of 3 open water swims prior to this race. If I could change one thing about my training, that would have been it. I had full on panicked in my first open water swim prior to Esprit de She, but somehow managed to stay calm, and even enjoyed the swim once I finally got to that race. I had been nervous during my practice swim this time around, but handled it much better, and I truly thought I was getting past my fears about the water.
When the race started, I stood and I waited. I tried to let people go first, and I hung back to avoid the crowded pack, but eventually everyone else around me was just standing there too, and I started to feel anxious to get going, so I jumped in. I tried to take things slowly and make sure I kept my breathing under control, but before I knew it, I was completely panicked. My heart rate was out of control, and I couldn’t catch my breath. I flipped over onto my back over, and over, and over, and I just couldn’t calm down, which only made me start to panic more. I started to wonder if I got out, if they would still let me complete the bike and the run because I was so certain I could not finish this swim. My mind immediately went into this horrible place about how I was a failure, and I couldn’t do this, and how I would be letting everyone down, and I wasn’t even 10 minutes into the race! Although, it felt like I had been “swimming” for hours. Finally, I remembered that the first half of the loop is on the shallow end, so I swam a little closer to shore and stood up. I took a minute to try to calm my breathing. I got myself under control enough to make it through the first loop, but it was so rough. I feel like I spent about half of it on my back, I was wheezing from the tightness in my chest, and I was just miserable.
Finally I got out to start my second loop, and I was dizzy and disoriented. I saw Heather and I tried to find a way to tell her I was struggling, but she just kept cheering and saying that I could do it. I took a few minutes (or at least it felt like a few minutes?) to stand and breathe, and finally my heart rate started to come down closer to normal. The crowds had thinned–I didn’t realize it in the moment, but I know the crowd was what put me into hyperdrive. In Esprit de She we had a much larger lake, and a floating start where I started in the back and had my own space immediately. This lake was so small, and I experienced the kicking/grabbing/almost being swum over for the first time, and I flipped the F out. Finally, I got back in for my second loop, and just like that, I was mostly fine. I remembered that I do actually enjoy swimming, and was able to swim the entire second loop with zero issues. The mind is so powerful, and it’s amazing that no matter how well I train my body, my mind can still get me on race day. By the time I saw the last buoy, I could’t believe I was already there. I had expected a horrible time based on the time I took to stand and calm down, and spending the majority of the first loop on my back, but I was shocked when I looked at my watch and it said something like 50 minutes. I think my official swim time was 51 minutes, and I still don’t know how that happened.
When I got out I saw Steve, Heather, my step dad and my brother, and I was ecstatic. The worst was behind me, I knew I could do it from here. I got my wetsuit stripped off, and made my way to my transition area. I was mostly walking there because I still felt dizzy and disoriented, so I gave myself a moment to gain composure, and took my time. I got out onto my bike, and I seriously couldn’t wait to start riding. I had driven the course the day before and it was perfectly flat, and I had really high hopes for this part of the course.
The first loop was FANTASTIC. This race is way more laid back, and there was so much room out on the road, that when my new friend Jonathan rode next to me for about 25 miles of the first 28, not one person called him out on it. I figured that if I was on the right where I was supposed to be, there was no way I was going to turn down the company! The course has you ride basically in the middle of nowhere which could get really boring over the course of 3.5 hours, so I was happy to have someone to talk to. The first half of the first loop went by in no time! We had a little bit of a tailwind, a lot of adrenaline, and fresh legs. At the turnaround my average pace was around 18.2, then we turned around and the second half was much slower going into the wind, but it hadn’t really picked up yet, so I ended the first loop in 1:40 with an average pace of 17.1, and I knew I had the energy to give the same effort to the second loop. I was so stoked, and I felt strong about the bike. I worked really hard on my cycling this training cycle, and I was ready to see it pay off!
Then I turned around and it seemed like my tailwind was gone. I was still riding faster than the second half of my first loop, but I couldn’t get my pace back to where it had been. I just thought maybe the winds had shifted, and the ride back would be a little easier this time? Then I turned around and rode the longest 15 miles of my entire life. For most of the ride back, I couldn’t get my pace over 11-12 mph! Any time I would stop pedaling for even a second, it seemed like the wind would push me into a complete stop. I even pulled over at one point to check my bike and make sure nothing was wrong. I have never in my life experienced such an extreme shift in a bike ride, and as I watched all the people pass me on their aero bars (the only time I’ve ever been sad not to have a tri bike), I got into an other bad mental place. I had expected the bike to be my strongest section, and I was just so disappointed in myself that no matter how hard I tried, I could not pick things up. I watched other cyclist coming the other way riding in groups and DRAFTING! But instead of being annoyed that they weren’t following the rules, all I could do was wish for someone to draft off myself. I ended up finishing the bike in 3:34 which is right where I originally expected myself to be realistically, but I had secretly thought I had around a 3:25 in me, and I was having a hard time letting go of that disappointment.
By the time I got to the run, I felt totally exhausted, and I half expected to just walk the entire thing. I’d already been moving for 4.5 hours, and a half marathon felt totally unachievable. I took my time in transition, stopped at the porta potty on my way out, then just slowly started to do my thing. Heather and Steve were at transition cheering, and that gave me a little push to get on my way. My plan was to run for 3:30, then walk 30 seconds. I let myself run as slow as I needed to as long as I stuck to that plan. The beginning had a nice little downhill, so I tried to ride it out and skipped walking to make the most out of it, but then I got into my rhythm, and it became like I was on autopilot. I certainly wasn’t running fast…like, at all, but I kept surprising myself every time I had the energy and mental game left to start running again. I felt like I had given up at the end of the bike, but I was surprising myself by finding a second wind. When I got to the first turn around, I realized that the course was short…like, very short…like an entire mile short! How does that even happen? Although, at the time, I can’t say that I was too disappointed, but I did at least consider running an extra mile after the finish. I’ll let you figure out for yourself whether or not that actually happened. 😉
On my way back on my first loop, I ran into Steve on his mountain bike. He brought it to ride the course so he could yell at me as I went. His words, not mine. I thought I would need him there to force me to keep going when I wanted to quit, but actually he just ended up being enjoyable company. He reminded me to stick to my plan, and not try to speed up just because he was there. Right when I caught him the first time, all of the aid stations had run out of water, and I was starting to panic. It was pushing 80 degrees with no cloud cover, and I had gotten off the bike already feeling a little dehydrated. He rode down to a bike aid station, filled up his jersey with water bottles and started handing them out to everyone along the course! It was amazing! That was when I met my friend Martha. Steve handed her a bottle and we were running around the same pace, so we got to talking and stayed together, pushing each other all the way to the turnaround where I saw Heather. She ran with me for about a mile out of the park, then told me I’d see her at the end.
Before I knew it, I’d found Martha again, and we stayed together for the entire rest of the course. Sometimes one of us would pull ahead, but then stop to walk, and we always ended up right back next to each other. Steve rode along side us for most of this loop, and we all just chatted and kept at it. Around mile 8-9 I could feel myself starting to get tired, but I just kept trying to stick with Martha, and she reminded me that now was the time to push, not to give up. Steve started telling me how proud he was of me, and how I was such an inspiration to him, and I told him it was too soon to make me cry. Before I knew it, we were heading back into the park, and Steve took off and told me he would see me at the finish line. Something inside of me turned on as I got that final push, stopped taking walking breaks, and picked up my pace. All of the sudden I was at the spot where I had turned around before, and on my way into the finish line. Once I could see it I picked up everything I had left and headed in with the biggest sprint I could muster. The announcer even comment and said “Now that’s a finish!”
I crossed the finish line and immediately started crying. I did it. There were so many highs and lows over those 6 hours, 55 minutes and 31 seconds I was out there racing, but I made it. I accomplished something I never dreamed I could do, and there at the end, were 4 of the most special people in my life cheering for me, proud of my accomplishment, and ready to start celebrating.
To put the icing on the cake, I ended up placing second in the Athena class. This was probably the first time in my life I have ever been happy not to be skinny haha! A medal and a plaque–not too shabby for my first 70.3 if you ask me! My first, but definitely not my last!