Ironman Kansas 70.3 — My First Half Ironman
Ironman Kansas 70.3 (June 6, 2010)
This story doesn’t actually start when I “toed” the starting line. It started in December when I made up my mind to do this race. But, that would make this story far too long. Let’s just say that after searching for a reason to continue my training and a goal to inspire me, I found myself considering whether I could do a half Ironman. Keep in mind that at the time I decided to do the Half, I hadn’t even raced the Olympic distance (0.9 mile swim, 24 mile bike and 6.2 mile run). But, I decided that with more than 6 months to go before the race, I could train and do the half Ironman distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run).
The training was anything but uneventful. There were many triumphs such as knocking off 7 minutes from my Memphis Mile swim time (simply because of my training) to finishing the Memphis in May triathlon (my first Olympic distance triathlon) without feeling challenged at all. And there were many tragedies too, such as being hit by a car during my 62 mile bike ride after making it only 57 miles, destroying my new bike and putting me out of training for 2 weeks.
But, with all of that in mind I set out to Kansas on Thursday, for a Sunday race. We stayed in St. Louis the first night and I was able to keep my mind off the race by doing some work with a client in St. Louis. We left for Lawrence that Friday night and arrived safely at our hotel without incident. I was still fine. But, that Saturday, we were required to check in our bikes so I put my bike in the car and off to the race site we went. When I got there, I found that it was really hot and the parking was miles away from the race site in this park. My concerns are already beginning to swell. Then, while getting registered, I hear that the water temperature today is 80 degrees meaning that the race wouldn’t likely be wetsuit legal, something that I had counted on. In fact, it had never even crossed my mind that I might have to do this race without the comfort and security of the extra buoyancy of my wetsuit. Even worse, we walk the mile from the bike to run transition down to the swim to run transition to see the water and check in my bike and I see white caps on the water. For those who don’t know, white caps are large waves, large enough to make the water turn white as it churns. Now, I’m absolutely horrified. I see Leslie Brainard from Memphis Thunder Racing and she is not concerned. She says that it will be nice and calm by tomorrow morning and it’ll be cool. But, I think to myself, that’s easy for her to say, she’s the swim instructor that teaches most of the Thunder members how to swim at master’s swim classes. The white caps are probably only a minor hindrance to her. Besides, it sounded only as if she was doing wishful thinking rather than stating her knowledge. I think, it is only noon, the water couldn’t be that different in only a matter of hours. I buy a speed suit just in case it isn’t wetsuit legal. At least that will add something to my buoyancy even if it doesn’t give as much as a wetsuit. The body normally floats anyway…doesn’t it.
I go back to the hotel and I’m trying my best to keep my mind off of the lake. But, it isn’t working. I have dinner late and don’t eat much and we go to bed. I don’t sleep well. Instead, I’m waking up every half hour to hour. I may have gotten 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep. But no more. The alarm clock goes off at 4:15 a.m. and I’m up and getting ready. We drive to the race and I’m still really nervous but getting better. I go take my gear to T1 and T2 and I hear that the swim is wetsuit legal. Whew…man I’m feeling better. But, my nerves aren’t clear. I still have to worry that the bike accident will affect my ability to ride the bike for 56 miles and still run a half marathon afterward. But, at least I know that the swim won’t be that bad, psychologically speaking, that is.
I was so focused on my own race that I walked right past the professionals, Andy Potts and Chrissie Wellington and didn’t even notice them. One of the other racers pointed them out to me. Unfortunately, I was still unconcerned (unless they would carry me along with them. Fat chance of that…).
The swim was a deep water start. I hadn’t counted on that either. The thought of that scared me too. Just think, I have to tread water for a minute or two while waiting to start a race. In case you didn’t know, treading water for me, with all of this non-floating muscle of mine, isn’t’ exactly resting. But, as it turns out, the deep water start was a blessing. It wasn’t long and I was able to float in the water without problem and without much effort. As a result, however, I was able to calm to my breathing before the race even started. In effect, this acted as a great warm up before the race. When the starting horn went off, I was already in perfect position and I swam in my groove, watching the pretty blue sky every time I came up for a breath. It was actually really great. Before I knew it, I was turning the corner to come back to the swim finish and I was at the finish before I knew it too. I has just swam 1.2 miles in a lake (the longest lake swim I had ever done). Now, on to the bike.
My bike start was uneventful until I reached mile 4 and was leaving the park. I dropped my food that I had brought for the ride. I still had Hammer Gel. But the cookies that I had to buffer my stomach, had just fallen out of my side pocket. I was not stopping. I’d have to do without it.
The ride was indeed challenging as the brochure says. There were many hills and lots and lots of long downhills with coasting at break neck speeds just to slow back down to a snail’s pace going back up the next hill. In fact, there was one hill that as we crested it we could see the next mile or two and a police car off in the distance. The problem was that the entire distance was all up hill. All I could do was get down into the aero position and keep pedaling. I just kept reminding myself that I would get to go down that hill on the way back. Then, at about mile 44, I dropped my Hammer Gel flask. It just fell right out of my pocket like the cookies. Luckily, I had picked up a couple of packs of power gel from an aide station and I took one of the power gels as I could feel my energy level waning. Then, at mile 50, the race officials threw in a cruel and inhumane hill. At my lowest gear, I still could barely do more than 9 mph. I think I could walk up that hill faster. But, at mile 50, even a speed bump would have looked like Mount Everest. But, I made it up the hill, realizing that this is the very hill I went down on the way out from the bike start. So, I was on my way back to the park. I would be finished with the bike soon. That really lifted my spirits.
Then, it was on to the run. Really, the run was uneventful. It was just sunny and hot. At least I had the foresight to spray on sun block before I left the transition area. The run had only one real hill but otherwise, it was flat. During the run, I saw most of my fellow Memphis Thunder Racing members. I saw Leslie again, her husband John, Chris and Sarah. Each one of them encouraged me as they were finishing their own runs. The run course was a double loop around the camping areas. So I actually got to pass my family, sitting at a camp site that I rented for Memphis Thunder Racing. They were sitting under the tent/gazebo and playing games and grilling hotdogs. I passed them 4 times and on the last time I told them I would see them at the finish line. I was only 0.3 mile from the finish. I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face. I had done it and I made it with lots and lots extra time to spare over the cutoff.
I don’t really have a way to sum up how I felt. The race itself was a challenge but not enough to break me. In fact, as soon as I was done, I was already planning what I would do next. I would recommend this to anyone. It really is a true test of your mental endurance. I saw many people walking and running the last leg and I truly understood that anyone can step up and do this. It just takes perseverance.
But, as Jeff Galloway has said about the marathon, “there will be times when you think that you can’t do [an iron man], but a lifetime knowing that you did.” I am an Ironman triathlete.