Sitting at my desk on Monday … I can’t remember why last fall, sitting in my bonus room after a good week of marathon training did I sign up for the Raleigh Ironman 70.3. I know I was chatting with my sister on the phone, she was in the process of moving away from Raleigh to Georgia, and we decided it would be great to finish it together and maybe even train together virtually some.
So, in January I started training … I couldn’t swim 200 yards and nearly fainted at the thought of a 60 minute spin class. I had never owned a pair of bike shoes, never biked more than 20 miles, never learned to drink from a water bottle while biking, etc. So, I covered a lot of ground in six months yet somehow June 2nd snuck up on me. It arrived about 30 days earlier than I would have liked.
The smartest thing that I did was hire a coach. Andrew Jeffries helped me build a plan and is great at holding me accountable to meeting the minimums, showered praise when I hit the plan and offered caution when I went too far. He broke it down into small chunks that made the training manageable and offered up one-on-one time for specific skills development. Andrew got me to the starting line.
I had a lot of training partners along the way. To use the cliché, “it takes a village” would be appropriate here. The great thing about cross-training – I really expand beyond just my running circle … whether it was swimming at Finley, biking to Falls Lake or abs class … I got to know a lot more people and that was truly the highlight. I thoroughly enjoyed the training … it was the juggling of family schedules and the j.o.b. that got in the way!
I know it put my husband and my daughters through a lot … and I’m not just talking laundry. And, in the final days of May leading into race weekend … they had every right to throw me out of the house. I was anxious, nervous and frazzled. I can’t say I was paralyzed with fear but 70.3 suddenly seemed like an insurmountable task.
The biggest question of the weekend was over wetsuits. With the temperatures warming suddenly and quickly, the water temperature was hovering. On Friday, the race directors recommended bringing your wet suits just in case, yet by Saturday afternoon they told participants not to bother bringing them. In the dawn of race morning, the lake water temperature measured 76⁰ just one-tenth of one degree keeping it legal! When the director made the announcement, a wave of cheers went up. Several participants hadn’t bothered to bring a suit … but fortunately I had. It was a huge sense of relief to know I could wear the suit. I started feeling better about the race. I nearly exhaled.
I finally felt prepared. Just before the start my sister … cracks me up … used her diamond earring as a screwdriver to fix the bike computer – twice. She helped me with my Camelback (because I haven’t mastered lifting out a water bottle en route) for my bike. She helped ease me into the wetsuit covered in sunscreen and Pam cooking spray … yes, you read that right!
Swim 1.2 miles
The swim started in the lake promptly at 7:00 a.m. Mark, my brother-in-law, went in first with Rebecca and I following. I went into the water at 7:42 … in wave 12. Fortunately for me, wave 10 is when the snake swam through the swimmers gathered in the water. That may have been the fastest those ladies ran all day. The swim was good. I felt like I could get into a rhythm and the four open water swims I had done beforehand really helped my nerves. I only got kicked once really hard in the right eye. I veered off course a little and every time a kayak was there blocking my path and gently nudging me back on course. And, once Rebecca caught me and directed me back! The water got choppy after about ¾ of a mile but compared to the International Distance Tri at White Lake a month previously … this was nothing.
Bike 56 miles
I had a decent transition time and started off on the bike out through the country. My first hour was great and I was tracking faster than I expected. With a good breeze blowing, I was cool and comfortable. After an hour, I had a bonk breaker and washed it down with electrolyte/salt pills. My stomach cramped immediately. I never mastered grabbing the goodies at the aid stations so I’d pull over and unclip for a minute to eat/drink. I had my Camelback on and I went to use it … after Rebecca had helped me fix it earlier … and somehow pinched my lip in the valve … took a few seconds to yank that off of me as I went flying down a hill. As the miles turned into hours, I was clenching my toes on the hills. The clouds disappeared and the temperatures shot up. And, there were a lot of hills. I was kicking myself for never having made time to go out and ride the course. It was a hometown race and I should have done a better job taking advantage of that. I never knew that there are parts of western Wake County where they have clearly dug to the core of the earth to build a hill. There were lots of hills and a few steep ascents. If the race had been only a 35 mile bike, I would have fared much better. I was counting the miles by the end.
When I finally made it to the second transition to start my run, I was about 30 minutes off my predicted pace and really filled with self-doubt. My feet were throbbing, I was brutally hot. I enjoyed a Squenchers Popsicle that I had stashed at my transition in a personal cooler and doused my cooling towel that Nancy Zech had recommended. A volunteer brought me two oranges – full, not peeled or cut oranges, to eat … I couldn’t fathom how to peel one at that point so I carried them for a few blocks and threw it away. At the transition, I saw an old friend Scott Misner.
Run 13.1 miles
Scott was cheering me on but the look on his face made me wonder how bad I appeared. He looked concerned. The volunteers were all watching me closely. I took off walking pretty confident I wasn’t going to finish the 13.1 mile half-marathon. When I signed up for this … I thought this would be the easy part … I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I started walking toward the Capitol; I walked past Jeff’s office and to the aid station where Joanna Perry caught me. This was her first IM and she was also being coached by Andrew. Slowly we started running 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off … up Hillsborough Street away from downtown and without much shade … we struggled up through the campus of NC State. Rebecca passed us on her way back into town jogging strong and slow! Stopping at every aid station, we had water, pretzels and wet, cold sponges! We eventually made it to the Art Museum where we ran into the Jeffries family and my family.
As I saw Jeff, it was all I could do not to beg him to take me home. Directly. Home. I was done. We were at mile 6. We walked two little loops around the museum campus and he/Steph Jeffries (looking cool and refreshed in her polka dots and straw hat) offered praise and encouragement. They assured us that everyone was walking. Joanna took off again down a hill and that was the last I saw her. I kept walking. My stomach was cramping again. I was dumping ice in my shorts, rinsing my towel and using sponges on my head, back, etc. I ran a few hundred yards and walked … the entire way back to town. If you’ve ever thought about parking downtown and walking to the Art Museum … think again. I ran into Jean and Amanda from RunnerPeeps on my run/walk back into town.
By now I was really uttering my mantra … “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I was thanking God for a wetsuit legal swim and begging for more clouds to help get me to the finish. I spent a lot of time thinking about my training and all the fun I’d had getting to the race.
70.3 The Finish
Finally, I ran from the Capitol to the finish line. That was a crazy good feeling. The music, the crowds, the announcer … it felt awesome. Everyone should feel that sensation at least once. When I finished and they slipped that medal around my neck, it was all I could do not to sob like a baby. I was so excited and hot. Fortunately for me, it was Nancy at the finish line and she could see I looked rough. The volunteers quickly lowered me into a kiddie pool full of ice water where I cooled off and just relished the medal, the sensation of lying still and soaking it all in – literally!
It felt good to just sit! To let the tension off my back and shoulders felt like heaven on earth. My family was there smiling. My mother was on the phone before I even got out of the pool. I visited with lots of friends who had completed the race or were spectating and volunteering. Best of all, I devoured a slab of pizza without any shoes on!
I’ve come a long way since January and I certainly haven’t done it alone. It was great to participate in a hometown race where every mile I ran into someone I knew. It was a great first half Ironman. I’m not signing up for another one tomorrow … but I certainly am not ruling it out. I learned a lot about myself, I had the opportunity to make a lot of new friends this year and I feel good about the example I’m setting for my daughters. The training helped me sort through a lot of personal doubts about my physical, mental and emotional abilities.
This distance isn’t for sissies.
For now, I just want to enjoy some time at the pool lounging and paddling on my stand up paddle board surrounded by the same family and friends that were supportive of all the athletes this week. Thanks to you all and I look forward to the next adventure.