All I can say is WOW
For starters, let me describe what this race is for anyone unfamiliar. A 70.3 is a Half Ironman, or HIM as it is sometimes referred. What does this race look like?
1.2 mile swim
56 mile bike
13.1 mile run
I got into triathlons almost exactly 2 years prior to this race. In fact, Facebook reminded me with the first photo I took of the goggles and swim cap I bought to start swimming. It took a long time before I could swim even 20 minutes without stopping and I was SO slow! Not that I'm fast now, but SO SLOW. I had completed a few sprint and olympic distance triathlons prior to this race so I at least had my feet wet on what to expect.
Is that ideal? NO. But I also wasn't trying to break records.
As a first timer, I didn't see any reason to set a goal beyond just finishing within the time constraints. Luckily I set my expectations just right because I hit a LOT of hurdles in fitting in any amount of training!
Being a full time military dietitian, plus grad school, plus keeping up with volunteering with Team RWB means.. I'm busy. Training for a HIM takes time. I was able to get by with high intensity interval training during the week (Thanks Hawaii Triathlon Center for the workouts!) and endurance workouts over the weekends.
For a while there I was doing really well with a swim, bike,run brick workouts every Wednesday and a solid swim/run workout on every Monday. Right up until I became sick with pneumonia. Leading up to having pneumonia, I was in charge of planning an M16 range for my unit, which also took a lot of time - worth it- but a lot of time. So training during that time was more of just barely holding on to the fitness I had built rather than improving it. -- This was April, less than 2 months before race day.
May was a little kinder to me. I travelled to Texas for a week and as able to fit in a gorgeous long bike ride one day, and a medium length run the next. That was perhaps the best training bout I had my entire train up. Training was going well until the move across town happened. Moving is a workout on its own. The move took place the last weekend before the race and my fear was that I wouldn't fit in those much needed last workouts.
Set up for T1 (transition from swim to bike) was scheduled for the day before the race. That meant riding my bike 7 miles to the beach to drop it off. My gears have historically been a little... crunchy -- for lack of a better word. The shifting from the small ring to the large ring in the front is always off. I've learned to adjust it some myself, and I HAD THOUGHT I did good job except the chain fell off on that ride when I switched from small to large-- after several times of shifting back and forth beautifully, so that was frustrating. The bike tech's were back at the resort, so it seemed like I was SOL during the race and doomed to be in my large ring the whole time.
Race day morning, I brought all my gear to set up T1 and found that bike techs are available on site. Fortunately we were able to get my bike adjusted-- especially since the bike course started on a hill!
I started in the very last wave. I had the opportunity to watch every other age group start, and even some exit the water before I had to line up for the start.
Nutrition is so important for these endurance races... for any sport really, but I find this to be make or break for all athletes, well trained included. Since I'm studying to take the Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics exam in July, I'll explain my nutrition plan along with the narrative, labeled with the plan in green and what actually happened in red:
2.5 hours pre race: bagel- followed, though I could only eat half.
1 hour before race: take Hammer pre workout, 8 ounces of water - followed
30 min before race: 16 ounces water - followed
15 min before race: gel and salt tab + water - had trouble stomaching the gel due to nerves, ran out of water and wasn't any available in the corral for racers , lesson learned, take salt tab with the 16 ounces of water 30 min before the race. Resulted in some pretty bad heartburn which lasted the entire race and 2 days afterward.
-I'm waiting in my corral and the nerves start getting the best of me, nerves likes I've never felt before a race! I start putting myself through some deep breathing exercises and talking myself through it. "its just a swim, just like you've practiced. You're just going for a 1.2 mile swim, you've done this before, this is nothing" It worked...a little. I'm normally very good at controlling fear and pain. I can recognize that I'm feeling those things but compartmentalize them so they don't affect me. This is one reason I love challenging myself physically, because it makes these skills even stronger, and, I believe, makes my mental toughness stronger.
- This year the race organizers tried something different to reduce congestion and improve safety. Instead of all age groupers starting at the same time, they had a rolling start. We lined up by age group (mine was 25-29) according to when we thought we would finish the swim and they let 4 people go every 5 seconds. This worked out really well. I didn't have any swimmers around me.... though, being in the 25-29 age group, I was sure I was the oldest amongst all 25 year olds by the looks of it, and they all left me in the dust once we hit the water.
- I had a lot of trouble seeing the next buoy in the swim which severely slowed me down. My goggles also leaked a little on the second half of the swim, causing me to have to stop and drain one of my goggles. The water was so clear I could see the bottom of the ocean floor and even some fish! Which was horribly distracting! I got out of the water feeling great but realized I was a little slow on my swim. I finished the swim in 57 minutes and the cut off was 1 hour and 10 min, so I was still safe there. I think by this point adrenaline had kicked in because even running up the sandy hill of the beach felt easy.
Seeing how salt sort of sucks for chaffing I took the time to rinse off when i found the beach showers. Standing there by the shower was a man with an Ironman Staff shirt holding a big push broom.... I was very confused and a little afraid. I didn't make eye contact and rinsed very quickly, ran up the remainder of the hill, grabbed my transition bag on my way up the hill and found my bike.
Right out of the swim: gel, begin drinking with a goal of 28-32 ounces of water (plus electrolytes if using water), 60 grams of carb per hour . - followed. kept both gatorade and water with me on the bike at all times. Actually took in more fluid than planned in the first two hours (with electrolytes to avoid hyponatremia), also took 3 gels in the first two hours, then a gel and a gatorade on the third and fourth hour washed down with water. Ended up taking another salt tab during the bike.
On the bike I went! My longest training ride was 37 miles on a hilly route and 40 miles in the trainer. Knowing I had 56 ahead of me seemed daunting but within reason for my training. I felt GREAT. I've learned to become very comfortable letting loose on the downhills and just flying! My gears disappointed me AGAIN, but they did the job and got me up the first hill before getting stuck on the big ring. Given my monster thighs It wasn't so bad. I recover quickly from hard bouts of high intensity in my legs so hill climbs are my jam! Not much to report from the bike except it was gorgeous, I had a blast and I yelled "WEEEEEEEEEE!" when I got up to 37 MPH on the downhill. I did have to deal with the heart burn with every sip of gatorade and gel, but it was manageable and I got through it. Around mile 45 I started to really feel it but hadn't lost my grit yet. Finished strong and felt ready for the run.
Take a gel right before the end of the bike to prep to the run followed
Fatigue was just starting to set in my this point and I was not thinking clearly when I got to T2. I was moving slow. During the bike I realized I never reapplied sunscreen out of the water and it had all washed off. I could FEEL my skin burning. My Portuguese skin does NOT burn easily! I'm very fortunate to get away with the small sun burn that I did! ( I have a few small blisters on my hands and mid back for the record) I was able to find some sunscreen at the transition, put on my Ironman hat- feeling badass- and hit the pavement. I was very surprised at myself and how good I felt. All those brick runs really paid off even though they were short! The run was the part I was most nervous about because of the time of day, the heat, and the lack of long runs in the weeks leading up to the race (thanks pneumonia)
Stop at every aid station (approx 1 mile apart) and take both water and gatorade, as well as ice. - I followed this as if my life depended on it! Even more so, I carried a cooling cloth with me and dumped water over my head at every aid station ( it was 84 degrees by the time I started running), I also dumped ice into my bra, the front and back of my top, and in my hat.
I was not lady like through these transitions
When I was running (rather than walking), my pace was much faster than I thought was possible. I planned 10-11 min paces while running and an overall 12 min pace average with walking, but was running 8:40-9:30 when I was running. I took walk breaks, probably more than I needed but I played it conservative.
I had heard SO many stories about how hot it was. I'm someone who HATES training in the heat so my head was filled with images of me, sluggishly putting one foot in front of the other, feeling dizzy, heart rate higher than it should be, and dehydrated. I didn't have any of those problems. I hydrated so well on the bike and stuck to my hydration/fueling/cooling plan on the run and felt great the entire time. At no point did I feel that exasperated "OMG ITS SO HOT!". I also trained appropriately in heat to acclimate, that makes a big difference.
Ice and water over the head did wonders. At one point I actually took too much nutrition at an aid station and ended up irritating the heartburn from the beginning of the race. I had to walk for about a mile to shake that off.
On my second loop I felt more determined. I ran more than the first and when I had 2 miles left I decided to drain the tank. I felt extremely strong on those last 2 miles. So strong, I probably should have pushed more on the rest of the run. The only problem was....... I was beginning to get emotional.
I don't mean to TMI you guys but this has been a rough year, I know I know..... it's always awkward when any of us puts out there publicly that we're having a rough time with something because we're all supposed to be strong and show our best face on social media, take perfect make up selfies, and show nothing but the best, blah blah blah... but guys.. we're all human, we all go through the suck every now and then.... airing your dirty laundry in a drama mama manner on Facebook is one thing, but admitting you're life isn't perfect is okay. And hey, my life isn't perfect, it has some shit.
And rather than post our Khardashian-like lives (as gorgeous as they are and as much as I model my fitness clothing choices off theirs) I think we should all be a little more real with each other because many of us have more in common than we think. And if we could all just connect and support those common moments of trying and difficulty, rather than feel judged and ashamed.... we'd all be better off. I know from discussions with friends, acquaintances and patients that we are all very good at hiding behind what seems to be right in our lives and secretly harboring the junk that isn't. It doesn't have to be that way. We're all flawed. We don't have to be flawed alone. If I've learned anything from working with veterans, this is the message I want to drive home. None of us has to go through anything alone, whether it's as serious as grieving or as trivial as a big ass pimple on your nose on prom night. So this is me, sticking my neck out, and admitting my life isn't pristine, it's got some shit. And I invite you to admit to your own lack of perfection in your life.
One reason I don't find this embarrassing is because I find these moments to give life its uniqueness. Life isn't interesting without the mountains to climb and the deserts to traverse. Without struggle we aren't challenged. Perhaps that's why I seek out such physical challenges.
It pushed me to my limits -
a place I love to visit...