We had plans to stay at my friend Tammy's in-laws place in Lewes, Del., about an hour and a half away from the starting line. This wasn't an ideal situation, but it was free accommodations and there wasn't a hotel within 50 miles of the race that had any open rooms. But, in an extraordinary stroke of good luck, Joanna had a nutrition client who booked an extra room and offered it to us. So on Saturday, I met Tammy and fellow dailymiler Patrick, in Media to start our trek to Cambridge, Maryland.
|I had no idea until I got here that Ironman was such a community event. Clearly businesses welcomed us.|
Once in Cambridge, we went to the race expo and packet pick up. There was a pro athlete forum that was going on while we were picking up our race packets. We stayed just long enough to take a blurry picture ...
... and pick up our race numbers. It was so hot and crowded.
|Packet pick up and expo|
Next stop was the transition area to rack our bikes and check out the transition area. We did some stalking while we were there... you know, killing time.
|Transition area with bikes racked|
|Yeah, so it's not every day I come within feet of Ironman Champions|
After checking into our hotel room, heading to dinner and packing, unpacking and repacking everything we needed for the next morning, we settled in at about 8:30 p.m. for our 4:15 a.m. wake up call.
|"Shuttle," AKA school bus, we took in the morning to transition. Patrick is pictured.|
I have to admit, I was not nervous about the race. I did have a few moments of anxiety, but generally I felt pretty confident that I was going to conquer this race.
|We quickly learned that if Patrick was anything, he was positive.|
We learned that for the first time in two years the race would be wetsuit legal, so my confidence was pretty good. The pros started at 6:45 and Tammy and I had an hour to walk around and wait for our wave start.
|Transition area set (sort of) and ready to go.|
At 7:40 exactly, our wave was ushered into the water. As we walked toward the water, volunteers handed us safety pins to put on our timing chips if our wetsuits didn't cover them. I thought this was a brilliant idea since at my last half iron, my timing chip fell off twice during the swim. Anyway, two minutes later, the blow horn sounded and we were off.
|Choptank River, not nearly as scary as described by athletes.|
I will admit that the stories of jellyfish, sharks and rough waters of the Choptank River (you can't make up that name), scared me a little prior to the start. But I found the waters to be cool and lightly salted. Not nearly has salty as the ocean. I had some trouble sighting because my goggles were super foggy (Patrick, the defogging stuff did NOT work) and the buoys were a little further apart than I'm used to in races. I stayed pretty wide and to the left throughout the swim because I did not want to get kicked in the head again. The first half of the swim I stayed calm and took my time. About half way through I remember that there was no reason to hold anything back today, and I picked up my pace. Before I knew it, I was coming into to the swim finish. I felt strong and ready for the bike. I finished the 1.2 mile swim in 44:49. In transition, I stripped off the wetsuit, took a long drink and hopped on my bike.
I pushed the entire time on this ride. The course was completely flat, not a single hill. We road through some scenic parks with a lot of trees. Of course there were stretches with nothing more than an open field, but my confidence was high. I was passing a lot of riders on the course and with little effort maintaining an easy 18-19 mph pace. Around the halfway mark, maybe a little further, I was honestly trying not to look at my bike computer and only watched the time, I hit some headwind that pushed me to a pretty steady 14 mph. That was a little harder to recover from, but I kept pushing. This was about the time I saw a woman throw up twice while riding. My first thought was, "That woman is hardcore." My next thought was, "I wonder why she's getting sick."
The last 6 miles seemed to take forever, but those last six miles is where I started to see the runners. Many were walking. No one looked happy. At the end of that 56 miles, which I did in 3:11, I walked my bike back to my transition spot. I was in no rush to start this run.
|Picture of the sun taken by my husband while waiting for me to finish the race.|
After putting socks and sneakers on and taking another long drink, I trotted out of transition and onto the course. Immediately my quads cramped. I tried to ignore it and took two Enduralytes, but the cramps coupled with a shooting pain on the right side of my right foot forced me to a walk. Less than a mile into the course Tammy caught up to me. I think I said outloud, "Oh seriously." She was in good spirits and walked with me for a bit. I encouraged her to keep running. A few feet later I met Dan, an athlete wearing a knee brace. He and I walk about 3/4 of a mile together until the first water spot. He walked through it and I stopped and strategically placed ice in my tri suit and wet my sun sleeves hoping to stay cool. After that, I walked/ran the entire course.
I stopped at every water spot and poured ice water all over myself. The temperature was 100 degrees and there wasn't a single patch of shade anywhere. Patrick described it as a death march and I can't think of a better description than that. I watched seasoned triathletes walking. Men and women who I am sure are much stronger and fitter than I am put their pride aside and simply walk. Where there were neighborhoods, many residents had tents out and sprayed athletes down with garden hoses. If any of them ever read this, THANK YOU!
After the first 6.6 miles, I realized my hopes of having a half iron in the 6 hour time range was not going to happen. I ate a snow cone, and the sugar helped push me the next 4 or so miles.
The last mile and a half was the absolute worst. I felt my body actually falling apart. I had been drinking water and electrolytes and taking Enduralytes like they were candy, but I wasn't eating. I would've killed someone for a pretzel or potato chips. I needed salt, I needed calories. I had three Gus in my pocket the entire run, but I couldn't bring myself to eat them. Probably my downfall. But the heat called for drinking, not for eating. With each step I took, I felt weaker. With one mile left, I choked down a Gu and it only served to turn my stomach.
With 400 yards left, a group of athlete sat in the shade encouraging, no, yelling at us to run. "There's only 400 yards left, one loop around the track. Run! Don't be weak," I heard them shout. So I ran. I ran and I have no idea how I did it. It was the longest 400 yards of my entire life. Each step was filled with pain. Every muscle in my body hurt, my feet burned and I was crying. I saw my kids right at the shoot and I lost it. Crossing the finish line I just bent over and sobbed. 3:09 was my run time. A medic came over to me and put a wet towel on my neck, held me up and asked me if I wanted to sit down. No, I wanted to see my kids.
|Hobbling toward the finish line.|
The entire time I was walking/running, all I could think of (when I wasn't in shock at how my body felt like it was falling apart) was all the time I had spent training. All the hours, all the effort, six months of training and nutrition and my half iron time was 4 minutes better than the last one.
After cooling off, eating and pulling myself together, I texted Joanna. I said, "Finished and getting ready to leave. That may have been the hardest thing I've ever done. Wow" She called me immediately. I don't know how I managed to not cry while talking to her, but she was nothing but encouraging. She knew my goal and I failed. I failed. She said, "I don't think you would've finished the race at all if you didn't train the way you did. You can't prepare for that heat. You did the best you could. I am proud of you." Those words meant the world to me.
The truth is that I didn't fail. I finished a race where many did not. I improved my swim time by 11 minutes and my bike time by 7. I took an extraordinary 6+ minutes in transition from bike to run this time and my run time was increased by 11 minutes from the last race. The heat was brutal, my nutrition fell apart and therefore my body fell apart. I have always been my biggest critic and I continue to be that critic.
|I did it!|
I walked away from the race with a few thoughts: 1) I will never do a half iron again. It's just not my race. Eagleman decided that. 2) I am strong. Those were two facts I held fast for the last two days as I've hobbled from one place to another. I held fast as I suffered through dehydration and the inability to keep food down for the last two days. I held this truth until I thought about my next race. When someone said, "So, what's next?"
Truth is, I will race again because I am racing against myself. Probably not this year, but I will next year. Actually, who am I kidding, as soon as I am able to train again I will probably find a race and shoot for it. I will not let this stop me from doing what I love. I am a triathlete. I am strong. I will reach my goal of a 6 hour 70.3.