One word sums up my experience at the Amica Ironman 70.3 – HARD. Don’t let anyone fool you – 70.3 is no joke. It’s a hard race that tests yours physical ability, your training and most of all – your spirit. It kicks your ass from start to finish, and the only thing that gets you through it is yourself. Now having said it was, “hard,” I will also say I have never felt a bigger sense of accomplishment than I did yesterday as I crossed that finish line. I got so emotional I found myself in the medical tent, but more on that later. For now, I’ll give a detailed blow-by-blow of the race…
One of the many reasons I chose this race for my first 70.3 was because of the weather. It was supposed to be relatively cool – with very little humidity – and water temps low enough to allow for wetsuits. None of that held true on race day. Going into race week there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the swim. The swim venue was closed on Wednesday due to high bacteria levels, and it wasn’t reopened until Saturday. At the race briefing, we were informed that the water temperature was 84.1 degrees – boiling – so no wetsuits. I had a momentary freak-out because I had not mentally prepared for a swim without my security blanket. After I saw the swim venue in person, I calmed down. It was a very pretty – calm – reservoir. I decided then and there that I could do this swim and do it well.
On race morning, George and I woke up bright early at 3:30AM so I could eat some breakfast (half of a blueberry bagel with peanut butter and a cup of coffee) and we could catch the 4:30AM shuttle to the swim start. It was a fairly uneventful morning despite my nervousness. We arrived at the start around 4:45AM which gave me about an hour before transition was scheduled to close to set up my bike area, get body-marked and down to the water.
My swim wave didn’t go off until 6:55AM, so I had plenty of time to hang out and collect my thoughts. One thing I should have done (in hindsight) was eat something more substantial than a banana. However, my stomach was in knots and food wasn’t really an option. I watched 12 other swim waves get into the water before mine was on deck. The swim was a running start from a small, sandy beach into the Lincoln Woods Pond. You swam maybe 100m to the first turn buoy and then out for about 800 or so meters, around a turn buoy, another 800 meters and a turn into swim out for about 100 meters. I decided to hang towards the back of the pack as we ran into the water because I did not care to start my day out with people swimming over me. Our wave was pretty small so I knew I’d be able to find a clear path and pass a few people along the way without needing to swim over them. I also wanted to keep my breathing in check and get into a rhythm early. I was able to stick to this plan as the swim started. I found a rhythm, kept my breathing in check and I was able to steer clear of other swimmers. The only issue I had on the swim was the sun. As we swam parallel to the shore, the sun was directly in front of us. I couldn’t see anything – not the swimmers in front of me or the buoys. In fact, I very nearly swam directly into a buoy at one point. Having the sun in my eyes most definitely affected by sighting, and I’m sure I was swimming in a zig-zag pattern. Once we made the turnaround and started heading back, I was good to go. I was able to keep the buoys on my right and just swim. The second half of the swim was definitely faster than the first. I exited the swim just over 43 minutes. Not bad for a first timer.
T1 was pretty uneventful. I made the run down from the swim exit to the transition with no problem. My legs felt good, and I wasn’t experiencing any fatigue. I quickly put on my socks and cycling shoes, my helmet and sunglasses, my race belt, my cycling gloves and chugged some water before grabbing my bike and heading towards the exit. George, Jessica and Katie were waiting for me by the exit and they gave me a nice send off as I trotted towards the mount area. As soon as I got on the bike, I realized that my computer was not functioning properly. This was really irritating me, so I pulled over and turned on my Garmin. I really did not want to start using my Garmin during the bike because the battery life is pretty limited, but I had no other choice. I needed to keep track of my time, distance and pace. I was able to get the Garmin up and running pretty quickly, and I was off on the bike. My plan on the bike was to focus on my nutrition – drink every 15 minutes, eat every 20 minutes. For the most part, I was able to stick to this plan but there were a few a kinks thrown at me. And by kinks, I mean hills. Holy steep inclines, Batman – this course was HILLY! I swear to God, the first 30 miles of the course was uphill. Literally, one right after another. There was a hill so steep and ugly at mile 28, that people were getting off of their bikes and walking them up to the top. I refused to get off that bike, so I (slowly) made my way to the top. It was also around this time that I realized my cycling gloves were on backwards. Go figure.
After the monstrous hill at 28, I thought I was finally getting some respite on the bike. That was a fleeting thought because at mile 47 we entered a new kind of cycling hell known as the “no pass zone.” I’ve cycled on rough road conditions, but these streets were really bad. There were discarded water bottles and CO2 cartridges all over the place. I am sure there were many flats and downed riders earlier in the day. The no-pass zone lasted for about a mile, but the road conditions never really improved. The last 6 miles were a windy and twisty course through a not-so-nice neighborhood of Providence. We also had to ride over several railroad tracks. (Again, not so fun.) About a mile from the finish we encountered – yes, you guessed it – another hill before making a quick descend and turn into T2.
While on the bike, I managed to eat 4 Stinger Waffles, a package of Gu Chomps, some Jelly Belly Sport Beans and a banana. I also drank 1 bottle of Nuun, 1 bottle of Gatorade and 2 bottles of Ironman Perform. I thought that would be enough to get me through the 13.1 mile run, but I was sadly mistaken. Coming out of T2, my legs felt surprisingly good. No aches or pains. Making a left out of transition, we immediately ran down a hill (which I would have the pleasure of running up two times because the course was a double loop) and then another left onto a flat stretch of road. I made my way to the first aid station and was still feeling pretty good. I had some fluids and an orange, and I kept on going. The next thing I know, I tripped over my own feet or maybe there was a bump in the road and I was flat on my left side. Several people came rushing over to help me up. This is when my run just fell apart. The fatigue of the day and the embarrassment of falling down just got the better of me, and I had to fight back the tears. My breathing became really shallow, and it was hard to catch a breath (remember this for later), but I finally calmed down and started running – only to encounter another hill. This hill was steep, and it looked as if it went on forever. Most of the other competitors were walking, and I decided it was better to walk up the hills. So I started walking. From that point on, I walked up hills and ran down them and I employed a run/walk for the flat parts. The miles slowly ticked by, and I was incredibly hungry and tried and I just didn’t have the energy to run for long periods of time. The last thing I wanted to do was pass out on the course and not finish the race.
The run course consisted of 2 loops and being in wave 13 of 16, the last 6.5 miles were incredibly lonely. There was barely any crowd support the further you got away from the finish line, and the athletes that were left on the course were few and far between. Finally seeing mile marker 12, I knew that this long, long day was about to come to an end. I tried to pick up the pace as best I could, but I had to walk up that final hill. Just as I got to the top, I saw my friends and I was determined to finish the race running. Jessica ran with me with a few steps, and then it was just me in the finish line shoot. Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like a Lady” was playing over the speakers and the announcer said, “Here comes Emily from Alexandria, Virginia. Well done Em!” It was an absolutely awesome feeling. I finished in just over 7:42.
Remember how I had trouble catching my breath during the run? Well, that really flared up at the finish line. Honestly, I think it was the emotion of the day because I trying not cry and that just made me hyperventilate. The medics rushed over, and I had to spend some time in the medical tent as they checked my vitals and hooked me up to a heart rate monitor. Everything checked out a fine, and I was able to leave. I said goodbye to Jessica and Katie, and George and I headed back to our hotel so I could get cleaned up. Our flight back to DC was in just a few hours, so we headed to the airport and enjoyed Johnny Rockets’ cheeseburgers while we waited on our flight.
Hands down this was an awesome experience! Sure the race was hard and I struggled during the run, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It was the culmination of 7 months of hard work and determination. Would I have liked a faster time? Absolutely. However, I’m not going to beat myself up over it because I finished a HALF IRONMAN! How many people can say they’ve done that? One of my former Team in Training teammates, David, recently described one of his races with the following:
Perspective is important. Lots of people in this world wish to be able to do a triathlon and rare blessed enough to be able. We sometimes miss that.
Great advice. We should all keep that in mind when we race regardless of whether we have a good or bad day. Later this week I’ll compile my thoughts on how I’m going to take what I’ve learned at Providence and incorporate it into the remainder of my triathlon season. I have two more Olympic distance races and one sprint to tackle – no rest for the weary!