Have you ever wonder what it’s like to complete a 70.3 triathlon? Or maybe wonder what was going through someone else’s head while you see them on the race course?
AMS member Elizabeth completed her first 70.3 this past June and give us the blow by blow of her race. Not every race goes as planned and not every athlete is able to complete a race without have issue.
Let me begin on how I started doing triathlons 4 years ago. My husband and I have always been active. One day we were talking about bucket list items, for me, I claimed proudly “I would want to run a 5K before I turn 40, and you?” He looks at me and says “I would like to do an Ironman”. Yes the difference in distance is quite big, too say the least. But that got me thinking, and believe it or not, that same night we registered for our 1st sprint (that would take place 1 year later). And so our path in triathlon started, baby steps…
Fast forward to this year we registered to do our first Half Ironman, which was Madison WI. We trained for several months, pulling each other, motivating each other, and sometimes playing hooky together. We read tri training books, we ran, we swam, we biked (we got lost, and took us forever to find our car, we fell from our bikes and showed up to work with bruises that lifted several eye brows), rinse and repeat. Leading to the race, we checked the weather report more often than we did for our wedding. I do not think we were concerned with weather for our wedding. But for the race… we were checking several sites, water temperature, wind speed, previous years forecasts… I think we had as much information as the Weather Channel. June 10th came by before we knew it. My parents went with us to WI. I had goosebumps when I went to the Ironman village, heard the orientation talk, and picked my package… I really could not believe it. It felt like graduation day. Everybody, Coach Marty, my crazy friend and “tri-soulmate” Jenny, and my husband kept telling me “trust your training, you put on the work, it will be fine.”
Race morning, I woke up anxious, ready to start, focus on my checklist of things to do. First thing: nutrition. My stomach decided that it was not going to collaborate with my eating, by that I mean I felt that my stomach was full and could not eat anything. I tried because I knew I could not go with an empty stomach, but I could only take a few bites of breakfast and that was it. We got our gear, knock on my parent’s door, and off we go.. Before I knew it I had my wetsuit on standing looking at the lake and the buoys Incredibly I felt calmed. I walked into the water, lower my googles, and got ready to swim… and that is when everything went wrong. I could not exhale, I could not release the air in my lungs… I stood up, calmed myself down, and tried again, and this was not going good at all…. I tried and little by little I move forward But by the time I was only 200 yards in, I was in full panic mode. It did not help to see that there were boats taking swimmers out of the water. I kept thinking “those are more experienced athletes than me and they are being dragged out of the water!”. To be honest, I did not know if they were more experienced, or first timers, or what… but my brain was having a meltdown of its own and taking my whole body down with it. I would grab to boats or buoys and rest, calm down, start swimming and panic again a few yards forward. My goal was to “swim” (did not care of style, gracefulness, or anything at that moment) from buoy to buoy (which were 100 yards apart). I was not able to do that. The water was cold and choppy, I did not know what was making me freak so much. It was a full blown panic attack, like I never had and it was not letting go. I started crying and you know what? When you are surrounded by water, having a panic attack, crying is not the best thing Tears are made of salty water which meant I now had water not only surrounding me, but in the inside of my googles. I felt like quitting so many times but I kept thinking of my parents waiting for me, and my husband, and my friends… so I kept pushing, taking breaks, and crying while screaming out of frustration. It took me 1 hour and 5 minutes to complete the swim, but I got out before cut off time. I saw my parents and I smiled, but I had no more energy in me… could barely walk to the transition area, my legs were made of spaghetti noodles, but made it.
Got my bike, shoes, helmet, and started biking… and slowly started smiling, just then did the panic started releasing its grip on me. Here we go, 56 miles of bike, that is it…. But in the back of my mind I was running every math algorithm I could to calculate time, speed needed, rest time… and God forbid, what if I got a flat? Now, do you remember those rules about how much space to leave between bikes? And how much time you have to pass someone on the bike? And if you you don’t you’ll get a penalty? Rules are very beautiful, keeps us all in order, but those rules do not apply when you are going up a hill. We were all tangled up, we look like drunks driving bikes, no one was going on a straight line, people were dismounting and walking. At that moment, all I could remember was how many people have told me in the past “Midwest is flat like a pancake” yeah right! That might be true for skiing, but bike this hills and then we will talk! “Flat as a pancake! Ha!” I wonder what kind of pancakes they eat.
I knew time was against me. Yes I know, in a race we are all running against time, but I did not have much time to spare. So I could not walk the climbs and my legs were begging me for some rest (and my butt was begging for some rest too). At one moment I started talking to myself , not at all weird, the concerning part was that I was talking to myself out loud, making faces and answering to myself… actually more arguing with myself, I noticed people looking funny at me, but that did not stop me, at one moment I went “Oh this is too hard, I am tired, and my legs hurt” and then I answered to myself “boo-f###ing-hoo! oh shut up! This is a freaking half ironman, it is supposed to be hard! Just shut up!”. So I followed my own advice and shut up, and said encouraging things to people passing by, and begged not to get a flat. Spectators were so nice! In the hardest incline, there was a couplewith speakers, playing very upbeat music and cheering all of us. Giving us that extra energy we needed to conquer our “Himalaya” (yes, I know, it is not the real one, but when you are tired, it felt like climbing Mount Everest). Eventually, 4 hours and 10 minutes later I was entering transition again. Now, I knew I was really out of time, I had a little over 3 hours to do a half marathon on wobbly legs.
I started “running” and I remember thinking “How did I ever run 13.1 miles! This is impossible”. It was very hot and humid, I walked the 1st mile, and still had no legs to jog. During the running portion I met a nice girl who did part of the 13.1 miles with me and she gave me some good advice. She told me walk the climbs, and run the portions going down and flat… but more importantly, ladies, listen up, when you get to the aid station, get ice, and put it in your bra, between your breast (sorry gentlemen, you cannot do this). This way you are cool from aid station to aid station. Got it! Get to the aid station, grab coke, water, and ice, put the ice in between the “girls”, and started running… and I listened and sounded like maracas… the ice was jiggling. I had my own sound effect while running, of course, people looked a bit concerned when heard my maracas and they saw me get my hand in between my bra, getting ice, and putting it in my head or my neck… but it helped! Aid stations and volunteers were amazing, they cheered on us, and sprayed me with more sun protection, because I looked like a lobster. In the back of my mind I had that clock ticking, I did not want to DNF, but my legs were begging for mercy and I was running on fumes, remember that I was barely able to have any breakfast, and I drank my “infinit” nutrition during the bike portion, and here I was holding myself together we half bananas and coke. But I continued pushing, almost there… at that point even 0.5 miles seemed like an enormous distance. But suddenly I see my parents and my husband cheering for me, with the cowbell and a sign, cheering and smiling, that gave me the extra push to continue, and suddenly, my dad, who is 82, started running with me, up to the finish chute, with a smile so proud… and that was all I needed to cross the finish line at 8 hours and 25 minutes since I started my race. I know, Living in the edge! But I made it. I crossed the finish line, can’t remember if they even called my name, they gave me my hat and my medal, and they tried to get my time tracking, but I felt my knees go weak, so they carried me over to the side and I went “oh wait, let me stop my garmin”.. well come on! How else was I going to brag, and know how many calories I brunt, and my stats otherwise? – Elizabeth (proud 70.3 finisher)