Sometime during the afternoon of Sunday, October 26th, a very respectable-looking older woman, standing behind the finish line of my first 70.3, took a few steps toward me in attempt to hang a finisher’s medal around my neck. My first thought was, “OMG, I STINK.” My second thought was, “Not a chance lady. If you even try to hang that 2 pound piece of ‘hell yeah’ around my neck no doubt my legs will buckle.”
So, it’s official. Four days ago, I crossed the finish line of my first half-Ironman. Am I proud? Yes. But as every endurance athlete knows… the second you cross the finish line you immediately start calculating what you could have done differently and/or better… and what you need to work on next should you decide to tango with the beast again.
But hang on… before I go crazy telling you everything that needs to change… let me first share a bit about my ‘I never thought I’d do this in my entire freakin’ life’ finish line.
This particular party started last Wednesday when Hubs and I loaded what felt like everything we own into the back of our 4-Runner to make the 975 mile trek to Austin.
Note: We drove for 2 reasons: 1) It would have cost about $1,000 to ship our bikes and 2) You spend the better half of year getting your bike dialed in so it fits ‘just right’ – you’d hate to give that up just because someone, somewhere doesn’t care as much about your 2-wheeled coach as you do.
Long story short, after two looooong days in the car we made it. And unbelievably, no one died and we’re still married thanks to books on tape.
70.3 Countdown: One Day to Launch
Around noon on Saturday, we drove to the event site for athlete check-in. While getting out of the car, I couldn’t help but notice the outside temperature on the dash read 88 degrees. (Note: That was the second indication I might be screwed on race day. The first was when a local meteorologist claimed Austin would be experiencing ‘record highs’ over the weekend.)
I won’t bore you with all the deets… but the one thing I will say is I thought I’d feel hugely intimidated being around the other athletes. (Like somehow I didn’t belong there.) Surprisingly, I didn’t. Upon closer inspection, most people at packet pickup looked just like me… a little freaked out, a lot in awe and mostly ready to put this b*tch in the bag.
70.3 Countdown: Race Day
Sunday morning, Hubs and I are up at 4:15 a.m. for coffee, breakfast and bathroom business. We then load our bags into the car and by 5:15 a.m. we’re zooming toward the Travis County Expo Center. In route, Hubs hands me a birthday card that reads…
“It certainly has been quite a journey to today. It’s going to be awesome… and then we CELEBRATE. I am very proud of you for sticking it out. I love you and Happy Birthday.”
[That was the FIRST time I got tears in my eyes.]
Once we’re on site, we grab our wetsuits, caps, and goggles and hop the shuttle to make the 1.5 mile trip to the swim entrance. When we get to shore, all that’s left to do is get dressed, talk each other off the ledge and pray like hell we’ve done enough.
Hubs wave starts at 8:05 a.m.
Mine starts at 8:15 a.m. (Which means I’ve got about 10 minutes to cozy up to the other women in my wave to see how ‘friendly’ they’re going to be in water.)
The first thing I notice is that every one of us treated ourselves to a pre-race pedi. (God love girls.) Two… the ladies who drove the bike course [the day before] were full of helpful advice. Three… my wave was small which meant less chaos at the start. And four… for many of us, this was our first 70.3 which means no one felt like the odd man out.
After waiting for what felt like an eternity, they finally call wave 11 into the water. After 5 minutes, the announcer booms,
“Three… two… one… ”
My head is down and I’m off. My goal is 45 minutes, so for the first 1000 meters I chant quietly to myself, “Find your all day pace, sister– no need to rush.” I didn’t get sucker punched or b*tch slapped, (thank you Jesus), but I did get jammed in the ribs, my legs and feet were grabbed multiple times and many-a-hand smacked my head and back. (With 2,707 participants making their way through the water that morning it was bound to feel like bumper cars.)
Through it all, I kept hearing my coach say, “No matter what happens out there, just keep moving.”
That’s exactly what I did.
I’d love to tell you I zoomed out of the water and flew directly to my bike but it takes a minute to get your wits about you. About half way up the chute there were strippers to my right, (peeps who help peel your wetsuit off), so I ran over, laid down on the ground, jutted my feet in the air and let them tug that b*tch off in one fell swoop.
Note: What I didn’t realize until much later is that I laid down in the middle of a mud patch – which means I spent the rest of the event looking like I crapped my pants.
The water was filthy so it took several minutes to get my feet clean and dry enough for socks and shoes. Once situated, I clipped on my helmet, slid my glasses up my nose and stuffed my swim gear into a transition bag. I then hoisted Black Betty over my shoulder and carried her to the [bike] start line.
At mile 5, it’s time to eat. So, I unzip my bento box and begin stuffing small bits of Clif Bar and peanut butter crackers into my mouth.
At mile 10 I think, “Hmmm… this isn’t so bad.”
At mile 20 I think, “Hell yeah, I’m almost half way there!” (More like a third but whatever… my math skills don’t make me $$$.)
At mile 30 I think, “OMG. WTF is it with these hills?”
At mile 40, I’m begging my soft tissue not to revolt. (My sit bones were chaffed + sobbing.)
At mile 50 I think, “This has to be the dumbest f*ing thing I’ve ever done in my entire f*ing life.”
At mile 54 I tear up and think, “OMG… I’m actually going to make it!”
At mile 56 as I dismount, I offer up one last prayer of thanks and think, “Holy Gawd Almighty, I just did that!”
As I dart into transition, I look left and see two of my Sole Sisters cheering from the sidelines:
I holler, “I’m kicking ass!” (To me, kicking ass is staying upright.) After a laugh, a wave and a few woo hoo’s, I move along.
I quickly find where I’m supposed to hang my bike and start peeling off my cycling gear. I then tug on my running shoes, slip my visor into place, fasten my Garmin and make a beeline for the run course. That’s when it hit me… “Oh sh*t… it’s a scorcher.”
Within the first mile I know I’m in trouble. (Not because of fatigue, but because of the heat.) At the first aid station, I drink 2 warm waters, down a shot of Perform, snag two wet sponges and shove them directly into my shirt.
I see Hubs at mile 2. We high five as he blows by. That’s also when he says, “I’m coming off the rails.” I say back gravely, “No worries, I am, too. Let’s just get this done.”
From mile 3 on… I’m in survival mode.
I switch to run-walk. I treat every aid station like it’s a picnic in my honor. I pour cup after cup of ice into my sports bra and chomp through every last piece on my way to the next aid station. (I counted ‘em up – over 11 miles I shoved 27 cups of ice between my boobs. Shameless.) I splashed 3 – 4 cups of water per station down the front and back of my shirt. I re-wet the sponges and kept them planted on my shoulders. I couldn’t bear to look down at my Garmin… I knew [without her telling me] I was running the worst half marathon of my life.
At mile 13, I sweep towards the indoor finish. Thinking only of the photographers, I ditch the sponges, empty my bra, pinch my cheeks and don my best 1000 watt ‘I’m a 70.3 finisher’ smile. I run as fast as my legs will carry me into Luedecke Arena and with tears streaming down my cheeks I throw my arms in the air and fist bump my way across the finish. (Again, shameless.)
Run: 2:29:58/Race time: 06:42:02
After parting ways with the world’s best cheer squad + loading 3 tons of tri gear into our car, Hubs drives us back to our rental house. The first order of business? A shower. The second? An overpriced pizza and a few more vodka tonics than I care to admit. (Great way to wrap a birthday don’t you think?!)
There are too many lessons to share here in this tiny little space, (and damn, this post is long enough), so look for my next post to be: 1001 Insanely Funny, “Oh sh*t!” Things I Did Wrong Training For My First 70.3. (I’m only kind of kidding.)
Many people have asked, “Was it hard? Will you do it again? How does it compare to a marathon? What’s next?” Honestly, I don’t know what’s next. (Okay, that’s not entirely true. I kind of know. But I’m not sayin’ ‘til I hit the submit button.)
So, for now, I’ll say this. Seventeen months ago I ran my first marathon. And I’ve gone on to cross some amazing finish lines since. But none of my adventures would have been possible had I not said, “Yes!” to the first.
And maybe that’s the biggest lesson of all. To simply say yes. To believe ‘it’s’ possible. To acknowledge you create your life. To pioneer your own damn path. And to know you can do anything you choose when you decide to show up.