Three weeks ago from right now I was out of the water and already on my bike. It has been a crazy three weeks as I have been recovering from the Ironman, traveled to Italy and back, and tried to process all that happened on race day. I’m not sure if I am fully recovered from the race, or if I am tired from jetlag. My body feels relatively fresh, but finding the energy to get out for a run or bike ride hasn’t been there in abundance. I never liked swimming while training, so I never anticipated having a desire to swim now that the race is over! Overall, in the three weeks since the race I have continually found myself saying, “That was really cool.” I don’t have an ounce of regret and am still a bit giddy that it actually happened and that I really did cross the finish line.
Below is a bit of a recap of what happened on race day, and what was going through my mind during each of the segments of the race:
I came out of the water in 1:40, which was a little slower than hoped, but truthfully right on pace for what I think I am capable of. Seeing as how 6 months ago I got winded after swimming 50 meters, I am more than happy with a time of 1:40. I felt like I could not see for 95% of the swim. My goggles got a bit foggier than normal and for a massive portion we were swimming straight at the rising sun. That, plus a lot of spray from those around me, made my visibility quite low. For the most part I could generally see (or hear) a few kayaks in the water and could tell where the other swimmers were. I basically told myself to stay between the other swimmers and the kayaks, and I would be fine. Every so often I would hear someone in a kayak directing, “swim to your left” or “swim to your right” which was helpful to those like myself, unable to swim with much direction. I’m pretty certain that if you followed me from an aerial position, you would have thought I was swimming drunk. I was probably swerving left and right and making an S shape the entire race, but that’s fine with me.
I lost my form a lot because I was worried about breathing, and I recognized that while swimming. But, I’d rather not drown than try to finish 5 minutes faster. For the majority of the race I felt really calm and relaxed. I didn’t feel like I was pushing as hard as I could -and seeing as how I knew I still had A LOT of racing left, I could make up for any lost time there.
Toward the very end of the race I started to get very impatient. For almost 20 minutes I could hear the announcer calling out names as they came out of the water. With every stroke I knew I was getting closer, yet I didn’t feel like his voice was getting any louder. After a while I kept saying, “I should be there by now” but “now” wasn’t coming! Finally I could just about see the finish line and could hear the crowd roaring. The end was in sight! As I reached dry land, I got really disoriented when I came out of the water. I stumbled and almost fell over as soon as I stood up. For the whole run up the helix and into T1, I was feeling pretty loopy and disoriented. Kind of funny looking back at it, but kind of scary in the moment.
The bike ride was TOUGH. Down here in Florida I am lucky if I get 50ft of elevation change in a normal ride…race day had over 1,000 ft of elevation change. Down here I can cruise at 19/20 mph and feel like I am barely pedaling. While training, I set my watch to go off every 5 miles and my goal was to do a 5 mile chunk in 16 minutes – I think I only hit that mark once the whole race! I finished the ride in about 6:45, which was close to an hour slower than I hoped. The course was filled with so many rolling hills. I read about it a number of times but never really believed it would cause me many problems… boy was I wrong! I never felt truly comfortable on the bike. I never seemed quite able to get a comfortable speed going for any portion of the race.
My lower back and neck were in a lot of pain as I got off the bike. My back hurt more on the bike than it ever did in training. Around mile 70 I started to think to myself, “why did I do this?” But around mile 80 I saw my family and support crew for the 2nd time on the bike, and they gave me some much needed energy. I tried hard to pass them with a smile on my face, and some good looking speed. After being reenergized by them, I approached mile 90. With only 22 miles to go, I was just a training ride away. I commonly biked to/from my school which is 21 miles each way – therefore when I reached mile 90, I was able to visualize myself riding from school to home. I did that ride so many times that I knew my distances at virtually every street. A number of times in that final stretched I imagined myself along the route, which seemed to bring a bit more energy and joy to the ride.
Overall, the hills were just annoying. There is a real tough stretch that has the nickname “the three sisters” and… they suck. They said in the athlete briefing that Wisconsin bike course is among the most difficult in all of North America. This was my first Ironman, but I feel bad for anyone doing a bike course that is more difficult than Wisconsin.
Running is by far my strongest discipline. I actually thought to myself while on the bike, “When you’re riding you can rely on your expensive bike to help you out. When you’re running, all you have is your body, mind and determination.” I felt like I knew I could pass people on the run because running is not dependent upon any kind of equipment you can buy. I got through T2 pretty fast and was pumped to start running.
I crushed miles 1-7 and even hit 13 miles on my goal pace. I think mile 3 was a 7.35. I wanted to do the first half between 1.45-1.50 and then be able to break 4 hours with a 2.10 or 2.15 on the back half of the run. I think my first half was around 1.50, so I was well happy with that.
But then came the difficult stretch. Miles 14-19 were really, really hard. I’m accustomed to feeling fatigued during a normal marathon, but that generally doesn’t hit until mile 20 or 21. This time around, I was feeling that same fatigue at mile 14 and 15! The run wasn’t as hilly as the bike course, but a few ups and downs made it challenging. There was a big hill around mile 18 that I walked up – I ended up walking for nearly a mile straight at one point, a 15 minute mile! I was tired. I was sore. I wanted to be done.
I saw my dad around mile 18 and started softly crying and put my head on his shoulder and said, “I just want to be done.” I knew he would understand without me having to say much. He simply said, “I know. But you won’t stop. Just put one front in front of the other and keep moving. I’m proud of you.”
As I turned the next corner I saw the rest of my family and support crew. I got a hug and high five from my wife. My brother stepped onto the course for 25m to walk with me and talk. I honestly don’t remember anything either one of us said, but I know I was encouraged.
After seeing my family I was revitalized. It wasn’t any secret, any time I saw my family, I was pumped up with energy and enthusiasm. I wanted to do well for myself, but when I saw my family I wanted to do well for them. I wanted them to be proud and I wanted to give them something to cheer about. They have been involved in this journey from day 1, and I knew I wasn’t alone, it wasn’t just me out there on the course.
With as awful as I felt during miles 15-19, something incredible happened after that. I don’t know what, and I don’t know how, but I finished the final 7 miles around a 9.30 pace – only stopping at the aid stations but keeping a steady jog the rest of the way.
I finished around 4:19 on the run. About 20 minutes slower than I wanted, but I definitely felt better with my run than the bike.
All things considered, I felt really good in the final 6-7 miles. When I think of the day, I love thinking about the final 6-7 miles of the run. it was such a positive way to finish the race. I wasn’t able to smile much during the 15-19 stretch, but somehow after mile 19 a smile returned to my face. My body was in pain, but it was able to keep going. I was tired, yet I felt strong.
Overall a finishing time of 13:09. Slower than my original goal, but this was my first ever triathlon so I am not going to complain at all. In the days that have passed since the race, I look back and cannot help but smile. After the race my wife and I grabbed a pizza and headed back to our hotel room. For the rest of the night and the entire next day I would find myself randomly giggling and smiling, my wife would look at me a bit confused and then I would simply say, “we did it.”
And, I truly mean WE. I admit that training took a lot of discipline, time and sacrifice. But none of it could have been done without the love and support I was shown every single day. Most Sunday mornings my wife would wake up 30 minutes before I did, make some pancakes to get me some morning carbs. Then, as I did my long run she would bike right next to me carrying water, food, and a speaker so that I could listen to music and be hydrated along the way! She showed me that kind of support not just on Sundays, but every day, and I am grateful for it. We did it.