Triathlon is a funny sport. It is a lot like math (which is probably why I, a math teacher, love it so much). In math, 1 + 1 + 1 = 3 of course. But 1 lb. + 1 oz. + 1 ton doesn’t equal 3 of anything. Neither do 1 minute + 1 second + 1 hour. It’s all about the units… or, in the case of triathlons, the three sports. What I am trying to get at here is that being a strong swimmer, a great cyclist, and an awesome runner does not equal up to being an excellent triathlete. Sure, the ground has been laid. But as I learned during my first sprint triathlon last year, triathlon is simply not the sum of its parts.
This past weekend I competed in the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Ohio. Way back in summer 2015, it was announced that Ironman was bringing a race here to central Ohio. The buzz was huge; everyone who could swim, bike and run (and even those who couldn’t do all of these things) was psyched for the chance to compete in an Ironman race in our own backyard. I was very quickly swept up into the excitement, and not shockingly was one of the first to register for the race during the early registration period.
After my injury was diagnosed back in April, I did some Google-ing to determine how long I would be laid up. The situation definitely appeared to be mostly doom and gloom… most of what I read said that I’d be lucky to running again in 3-4 months. I never, ever gave up hope, though. Once I was given permission to walk without crutches, I started to envision myself completing the race by walking the half-marathon portion. Then, as I started to do run/walk intervals, I thought that maybe I could do intervals at the race. I signed up for a sprint triathlon in July to test out how this would go, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I loved the intervals, and didn’t feel embarrassed at all because so many others were intervalling as well!
I wasn’t super happy with how the swim and the bike went at the race, though, and knew that I needed some guidance in my training if I was going to be successful at finishing my first half-Ironman. I went to a 4-part triathlon clinic offered through Fleet Feet, and ended up hiring one of the coaches leading the clinic to get me to the starting line of my race. Betsy of Excel at All Three is a super-strong age group triathlete, and I had faith in the workouts that she gave me. Thus, after 6 weeks of following the plans that she laid out, I arrived ready to actually give it my all at Ironman 70.3 Ohio.
The weather-stalking was in full force prior to the race. Central Ohio has been hit lately by tons of storms, and riding in the rain was the one thing that I was very fearful of doing... not to mention that the race could possibly be shortened or canceled if there were thunderstorms. As the day approached, though, the forecast improved to the point of being almost perfect! High of 74 degrees, partly sunny… YES PLEASE! You don’t get days like this in central Ohio in August. Crazy enough, there was an actual tornado that touched down in Delaware (the site of the race) the evening before the race happened! It was maybe 200 yards away from where the 2000+ bikes were racked. We are talking $6 million in bike porn here… so yeah, let’s just call it LUCK that nothing was touched.
On to the actual recap, though! I woke up at 3:40 AM to eat (2 eggs, 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter and a banana), get my bottles of nutrition and water packed and head out the door. My training partner Megan’s husband Kyle was dropping her off at the race, and I decided that bumming a ride with them would be much more fun than trying to find a place to park myself. We arrived in Delaware shortly after 5 AM at T2 (Transition 2) so that we could set up our things for the run. This was a split-transition race, so after we laid out our race belts and shoes, we had to head over to the beach where T1 (Transition 1) was located—along with our unscathed bikes. Megan and I ran into my friend Christine, whose husband was going to drive her to T1. She offered us a ride, so instead of hopping on a shuttle bus, we accepted and were at Delaware State Park in 10 minutes. Then came the fun part—setting up T1. Checking our bikes, adding air to the tires (thankful for the borrowed pump from an athlete racked a few spots down from me!), lubing up the chain (Jen Peck was the one who helped me here!), and getting everything all set for when we would exit the water for the bike portion of the race. I had a great time finding friends and taking selfies!
In between selfies I ate a Clif bar and drank a bottle of water. I saw my coach Betsy at around 6:45 AM and she suggested that I get my warm-up swim in, just in case the swimming area was closed early for warm-ups. The water was a warm 79 degrees—definitely NOT wetsuit-legal, and it felt great upon entry. I felt really good during my warm-up. It was my first time in the open water in about 4 weeks, due to the bout of crypto that I contracted from either a pool or Buck Creek. I love the open water and was happy to be back in again!
I warmed up for about 20 minutes, watching the first few waves of swimmers start their races, and then got out and tried to keep warm before my own wave started at 8 AM (the air temperature was a good 10+ degrees cooler than the water!).
Megan and I decided on one last trip to the port-o-potties, and we saw a few more friends while in line.
Seeing friends at races always makes me feel more at ease! The lines took forever, and I got a bit antsy while waiting. I finally made it to the front at around 7:45, and then I ran my morning gear bag over to the drop area. I headed down to the beach, as, it was almost go time! I saw my friend Melissa again as we waited in line (we were in the same wave) and chatted about nothing important as we waited for our turn. In no time at all, wave 16 was told to head out to the water (it was an in-water start), and in just 4 minutes, the airhorn blew to signal us to GO!
It still unnerves me at the start of a race when others swim as well as me, or even faster than me. I am so used to training with friends who are not as strong of a swimmer as I am, that it just surprises me when others begin their races by flying by me. I was able to tell myself to relax, that it was all good. I quickly found some still water in front of me and got going on my race. I planned on taking the first 500 yards or so out relatively easily, but I was not surprised when I quickly caught the wave in front of me. I knew that for most of the swim, I’d be passing people, so I was mentally prepare to not let this bother me… at least not too much. I won’t lie; I did spend a lot of energy trying to get around people who were treading water or swimming breaststroke. As we headed around the first buoy, we were greeted by an unwelcome friend: Mr. Sun. He’d decided to make an appearance, and we were swimming head-on into the glare. NOT FUN. I had a lot of trouble sighting. It was then that I noticed that a fellow blue-cap swimmer was keeping pace with me. She had rainbow-mirrored goggles, and I decided that I would try to stick with her, as the pace was comfortably hard. I dubbed her “Rainbow Fish” and saw her several times during the remainder of the race. It comforted me to see her having to swim around other weaker swimmers as well. I would think in my head, “She’s not bothered by them. I won’t be either. Just find a way around or through.”
It was during this longer stretch of the race (from turn 1 to turn 2 it was around 800 yards) that my right eye started to burn really badly. It was quite painful and I quickly realized what was wrong: I must have not rinsed out all of the lens defogger that I had used the night before. OW! My eye teared up over and over again. It took all of my will power to not stop and take off my goggles to rub it. I tried to keep my mind off of it by focusing on “Rainbow Fish” and the swimmers we were passing. This seemed to work, and thankfully once I got out of the water, the burning sensation stopped.
I was super happy to round the 2nd and final buoy (about 1400 yards into the race) and head into the home stretch. A) Because I no longer had to sight into the sun, and B) because that meant the swim was almost over! I love to swim, but I was tired of using my arms and ready to move on to the bike. “Rainbow Fish” turned on her jets in the final 100 yards, which was a bummer as I wanted to run out of the water next to her and tell her how great it was to swim “together”… even though she probably didn’t even notice me during the swim. My split according to the IM website was a 37:25. I was hoping for anything sub-40, so I was pretty happy with this, especially after my eye issue and all of the passing that I had to do. I have no idea how many women were in my age group (35-39), but I was 10th overall in my division on the swim part and 62nd overall female. Pretty cool! I ran up the beach and headed towards T1, trying to jog but not hurt myself on the uneven ground as I did so.
I was able to find my bike easily (yay!) and my transition time was pretty strong (3:56). I exited transition and headed out on the roads of Delaware to begin my 56 mile trek through 3 counties.
I felt very relaxed at the start of the bike, even though my heart rate said otherwise. Betsy said to hold off on eating for the first 5 minutes or so, and I decided to wait until my heartrate went down a bit more. Around mile 3, I decided I needed a drink of water, however. I reached down to pull out my throw-away bottle, and heard a crack. OMG… my water bottle cage had broken! I looked down and realized that it was NOT a good thing. One side of the cage was completely broken off. I would never be able to put a bottle back in there, as it would fall out immediately. My mind went into overdrive. I needed water, not only for hydration, but to wash down my gels. I needed my other bottle (which was in my second cage), as it contained 400 calories of liquid nutrition that I was also counting on. Meanwhile, I was riding holding onto my throw-away bottle. I knew I couldn’t do that for long; I wasn’t able to shift or break while holding it. What to do???
I made a decision after about 30 seconds to dump the bottle of water with the next group of supporters who I saw. I prayed that a course referee wouldn’t see me, as it would likely be a penalty for littering outside of the aid station areas. I knew that I couldn’t ride another 9 miles to the first aid station holding my bottle, so I really had no other choice. I then began contemplating how I would get through the remainder of the race with one 24-oz bottle of Tailwind and 4 gels… but no water. I had planned on stopping once for water, at the second aid station (around mile 32), where I would throw my first bottle of water and get a new one. That plan needed to change, of course. I decided that I would ride slowly through aid station #1 at around mile 12-13, grabbing a bottle of water and chasing down my first gel that I would take right before got the aid station. Then, I would rely on my bottle of Tailwind to get me through the next 20 miles, drinking it for both hydration as well as nutrition. At aid station 2 (around mile 32), I would throw my beloved green Glass City Marathon water bottle (received at the finish of my first marathon in 2014), exchanging it for a bottle of water. I would do one more exchange at the final aid station (around mile 49), getting a final bottle of water.
I had to come to terms with the fact that I would be throwing my special bottle away, never to see it again. Luckily, I had a good long time to get used to this idea! The first 20 miles of the race sped by as they do on every ride. The roads were pretty awful… tons of potholes, very very shaky. I passed many many water bottles, as well as saddle bags and other bike paraphenelia that likely had fallen from fellow cyclists’ bikes during the bumpy ride we were all on. I heard “on your left” at least 50 times, and was passed at least 50 times without hearing a word (why can’t people follow the rules???). I told every single person who passed me during the first half of the race how great they were doing. I said the same thing to everyone who I passed—all 10 of them LOL. Seriously, I was not doing a lot of passing, but I reminded myself that I had probably passed about 100 people during the swim, and to just stay within myself on the ride. I felt so good and I wanted to push the pace a bit, but I knew that wouldn’t be wise, so I concentrated on keeping my heart rate low and riding comfortably.
Fueling went well (gel at mile 12, mile 32, and then one more at around mile 45). I was getting thirsty, though, but had to conserve water between aid stations. It was around mile 30 or so I believe that the headwinds started. It didn’t seem to matter which way we turned… the wind was there. Sometimes it felt like it would push me over, it was so strong! I commiserated with everyone who I rode by, or who passed me, including my physical therapist Kathy (loved seeing her on the course!) and my friend Macy. They are badass triathletes who had started 24 minutes after me. It actually inspires me to see such fast females, as it gives me something to aspire to in the future.
As if the wind wasn’t bad enough, the hills started with about 10-12 miles left in the race. There were some rollers, which I don’t mind. A couple of steeper hills as well, but I felt super-strong on them. In fact, I passed people… and even two cars who were on the course (they were SLOWLY tailing the cyclists and I didn’t want to slow down for them!). The wind and the hills made for a difficult final section, and I was more than ready for the bike portion of the race to end. I was also very apprehensive about the run. My legs felt pretty good, but running after biking was always so hard for me. The sun was shining, and despite the relatively cool August day, I was hot. I knew that the run course was hilly as well, but I had no choice but to dismount after my ride and head into T2. My bike split ended up being a 3:11:46 (average speed 17.5 mph). The first 32 miles were 17.0 mph and the final 24 miles were 18.1 mph. I was thrilled with this, as my “A” goal on the bike was 3:15. 46th in my division, 249th female. Yes, the bike is where I need to put in the most work for sure, but this split was definitely a good one for me. My average heart rate on the bike was 150, which was a good 10 bpm above where Betsy wanted it to be… but most of that was due to the initial 15 minutes of the ride, as well as the final hilly part. I tried to not stress about it during the ride, riding more based on how I felt (which was very relaxed).
T2 is a fast transition, as you just have to slip your bike shoes off and your run shoes on. What made it slow was how far my bike was from the transition entrance—I am awful at running in my bike shoes, so I basically just walked it. I didn’t want to wipe out in front of everyone! Other than that, my transition was quick (2:44) and I was soon heading out onto the run course. I bypassed the sunscreen station, knowing that I might later regret that decision, but not wanting to spend any extra time in transition.
The first couple of miles of the run were as awful as they always are. Legs are heavy and leaden, but body just goes automatically. It’s actually funny that most triathletes run their fastest in the first 10 minutes off the bike, even though these miles feel the slowest. I saw my friend Stuart about 2 miles into the race—poor guy was all locked up and not feeling great. My goal was to run the race and walk the aid stations, so I kept on going after a few encouraging words. I was living aid station to aid station. I was so happy to walk when I would encounter one! The course was a 1 mile trek out, then two 5.5 mile loops, then a 1 mile trek back to the stadium for the finish. The first half of the loop was in the sun and had some small hills. The second half was more shaded, but had one or two huge hills to climb. It was at around mile 5 that I started to chat with a fellow triathlete, Mike. He was just what the doctor ordered, and made the next 1.5 miles zoom by. I was bummed when I lost him at an aid station, but soon found my sweet friends cheering me on! Amy and Teagan, and then Tamara and Allison with their kiddos. SO MUCH HAPPINESS! I felt good and was running strong. Every aid station, I would pour two cups of water over my head and drink two. Then I would shove a handful of ice down my top and another down my pants. This was how I made it. The ice and walking at each aid station would lower my heart rate down to 145-150. It would slowly go up as I ran to the next station (up to 155-160), where I’d repeat the process.
The second loop was disheartening. The sun… the hills… I was so over the race. By the time I saw my friends again cheering on the second loop (Beth, Marion and Dani, and then Amanda at aid station #4), I was ready to be done.
I was never so happy to see the arrow directing me to the left towards the stadium as I finished loop #2. It was shortly thereafter that I heard my name yelled by an all-too-familiar voice—my husband! I had just ran by him and our four children! It was the first time any of them had ever seen me race. I knew he was going to try to make it for my finish, but I wasn’t sure where I’d see him. I was overjoyed and considered running backwards to give them kisses… but by that time, I had realized that I was going to be incredibly close to going under 6 hours. What the what??? My pie-in-the-sky goal had been sub-6:15. I trucked on, and with about 0.5 miles left, a female runner passed me and I told myself to not let her go. But then I told myself I really didn’t care, that I wanted to be done and didn’t even care about my time. I finally saw the stadium, entered the track (stupid UPHILL to get there), and thought it was finally over.
Nope! I had to run a half-lap around the track to the finish! I looked at my watch and checked the official race clock hanging over the finisher’s arch. They both aligned… 5:59… I decided I’d better book it to make this happen! I found a gear I didn’t know that I had (sub-7 min mile for the final minute of the race!) and sprinted past the woman who had passed me. I heard my friends screaming my name from the stands, and as I crossed the finish line, I fell into my friend Tracey’s arms. No cool finisher’s pose for me… I was exhausted and so very much DONE! Official time: 5:59:32. Insane. Just insane.
I knew my training partner Megan would be right behind me. She’d started 24 minutes behind me, but is a much faster cyclist and runner than I am. She ended up coming through about 7 minutes later, blowing her own goal of sub-6 hours out of the water as well with a 5:41. I embraced her and we had our picture taken together. So much awesomeness!
I finally found Joe, the kids, and all of my sweet friends. Lot of sweaty hugs, big smiles, and pictures!
I grabbed a hamburger (I was sooooo hungry) and picked up my bike. The trek to Joe’s car was never-ending. I think it was maybe a mile, but it took us at least 30 minutes. I was incredibly tired, and the kids were not happy about the walk either. Heaven was finally sitting down in the car and taking my shoes off.
Many people have post-race blues after a big race. They want to immediately sign up for another race. Me… I am so freaking happy that I did this. I am riding the wave of accomplishment and not willing to give it up! I haven’t been able to compete in a race that I have trained for in over TWO YEARS. Being able to not only finish the half Ironman, but to demolish every goal I had for myself… I can’t put into words what that means to me. So no, I’ve got no blues. I am loving every single second of “not training” going on right now. I started back to work the day after the race, and DOMS set in hard on Monday and Tuesday. It’s Thursday now and I finally feel pretty good again. I am starting to think a bit more about when I *might* want to actually go for a ride again, or meet some friends for a run. This fall brings the OSU 4-miler with Joey again, as well as pacing the Hot Chocolate 15K for Beast Pacing (my first race as an official pacer!). I have zero plans to run any races this winter/spring. Part of me wants to run in my beloved 15-miler in Granville in February, but part of me has no interest in the training involved for that.
I have a vision of my fall/winter/spring training going something like this: swimming a few days a week (maybe with a Master’s team), cycling a couple of days a week and getting some great intervals in on the trainer, running a few days a week with my friends just for fun (nothing longer than 4-5 miles on weekdays and 8-9 miles on weekends). This sounds just perfect to me. I want to set myself up for a super-strong summer in 2017, and I want to be ready for Ironman 70.3 Ohio round two next year!!!