Happy Friday friends! It’s been almost a week since my first Ironman 70.3 and I still can’t believe I did it. I wont make you read a long intro as my race report turned into a novel. I was caught up in the moment, reliving the race as I wrote so, I apologize in advance for the length. I hope you enjoy!
Race week is an intense time for any athlete. I did my best to slowly take care of last minute things to avoid overwhelming myself the days right before race day. I checked the weather like a million times. Texas is hot right until about Halloween so I knew it would be hit or miss on race day. Sure enough the forecast showed rain the day before and cooler temps the day of. I had ordered a cycling jersey and arm warmers two weeks prior however, they in the wrong size (my fault). I FedEx’d them right back to the seller and re-ordered the week before my race and hoped they’d come in time. I must have refreshed my email and the weather every few hours for the entire week!
We originally planned to leave the DFW area on Friday night however, I completely forgot to confirm with the my in-law’s in the months prior to race day. Figures! My husband reached out to them a few weeks before the race and they had no idea we were still coming. Thank goodness they are kind and loving people! They were actually doing some home renovations, but invited us to come down on Saturday and stay for the race. I was a little worried about driving down the day before the race however, I knew that we could leave early and still have plenty of time for packet pick-up, athlete check-in, and bike check-in. 5 am sounded totally do-able! I started with check lists on Wednesday and as I used gear for last minute workouts I began putting them in small “Gear” bags so that I wouldn’t forget anything. I had little post-it’s attached to each one, “ Run Gear”, “Swim Gear”, “Morning Clothes”, etc.
I checked the weather again on Wednesday while at work and realized that the rain forecasted for Saturday was NOT going to go away. I started to panic and began googling bike covers for rain or travel and found a few that looked good. The only trouble was I didn’t have the time to order and ship anything at this point! I was able to find a really good deal on the Bell bike cover sold by Walmart.com. I called 5 local Walmarts before I realized it wasn’t sold in ANY store near me. On to plan B! I started calling local bike shops and asking if they sold bike covers for travel and luckily I found a store not far from my office. I don’t know what got into me, but I had this overwhelming sense of dread immediately after the call and decided I needed to go purchase the dang thing RIGHT THEN. So, I left on my lunch break and headed to the bike shop. When I got there I saw all the employees rushing around with frightened faces but I didn’t pay any mind, I just knew I needed my bike cover. It was going to RAIN Saturday. Aretha needed to be covered for the drive down to Austin! After securing the cover and going through checkout I heard sirens outside the store. Was there a fire? I clutched my bike cover and headed to the car. As I exited, I heard an employee by the front door say, “There he is! He’s here!” as she ran toward and approaching officer. What the heck was going on?! As they passed she told him of someone in the back who couldn’t breathe and was “turning blue”. Had I seriously been so focused on the cover that I didn’t notice someone in the store who needed emergency medical care? I felt ashamed! I hoped everything was ok.
By Friday night we started to pack clothes for ourselves and the kids. The nerves finally started making their way front stage. I found myself getting irritated and yelling about things like not washing my heart rate strap or still not having my cycling jersey and arm warmers that I’d ordered earlier that week or the fact that the dog ate all the cat food and now I’d have to go buy more. I couldn’t even remember what I’d put in each gear bag so I ended up dumping them and going through my check list another two times. I got myself packed, moved all my gear bags in the living room and tried to relax before bed. Wait! Were the kids packed? I jumped back up from the bed and yelled for them.
ME:“Did you guys get all packed?”
ME: “Do you have warm clothes? It’s going to be cold for most of the morning.”
KIDS:“We have jeans and shirts”
ME:“Do you have jackets or sweaters?”
ME:“ Do you have your tooth brushes?, Socks?, Shoes that cover your feet?, Do your clothes fit you? (yes I actually asked that) “try them on!”
They both rolled their eyes but did as I asked. When they finally brought their bags downstairs I got ready for bed, again. I set my alarm and surprisingly fell asleep rather quickly. I awoke to a swift elbow jab and opened my eyes to a room full of sunlight. We’re late! I’d silenced my alarm and slept right through it! I jumped out of bed and realized it was already 6:30am. Oh holy shifter, get up! We quickly gathered to kids and loaded the one million bags I seemed to pack for all my junk triathlon gear. We loaded Aretha on the back of the Jeep, strapped her down, and put her rain cover on, stopped by to pick up my brother-in-law and set sail for Austin.
It was so incredibly dreary that day! We did out best to make it work. The weather was cold and rainy the entire drive to Austin. I couldn’t help but fear what race day would be like. I never received my cycling jersey and arm warmers in the mail. That’s what I get for procrastinating! Now I was going to freeze my butt off on race day!
We arrived in North Austin just in time for the athlete briefing at noon. I remember pulling into the parking lot at the Travis County Expo Center and seeing a sea of cars with bikes strapped to the back and feeling like I’d arrived home. There were so many people! As we entered the expo center and took our seats, the briefing began and at last everything felt real. I was really here, about to race my very first half Ironman.
After the briefing we made our way to athlete check-in which reminded me of a heard of cattle being wrangled into a pin. It was a little chaotic.
We made one last stop at T1 and T2 which were actually a mile apart at this race. I set up my run gear and headed to T1 for bike check-in.
The buzz was that there would be more rain overnight so none of the athletes were leaving their T1 gear bags in transition. I was pretty uneasy with this idea, but I took my T1 bag with me and decided to set it up in the AM. After all, the swim start was just a few yards from T1, what could happen?
We ended the day with my in-laws just relaxing and enjoying family time. They us made a delicious dinner of spaghetti and meatballs….doesn’t it look AH-MAZING!
As 8am neared, I began removing the warm clothing and put on my swim cap and googles
The water was so choppy that day. Every time I turned my head to the side to breathe a wave slapped me and stole my breath. I was taking in a lot of water. I knew I had to get into a position out to the side of the pack but I feared moving outward would only increase the waves. I moved just behind a small group of women of about 3 or 4 and followed them around the first buoy. I expected to find myself alone at some point because I’m a fairly slow swimmer. Every time I lifted my head there were people around me. I could hear some stopping to cough after inhaling water and I could hear the waves still coming in. As I rounded the first turn buoy I began noticing men. The next wave had caught up to us! They over took the small group I’d been following and all of a sudden I was right in the middle of a man pack of strong armed swimmers. I knew I needed to get out of there so I veered to the left and found myself out on the edge alone. This began my zigzag swim toward the second and turn buoy. The back stretch of the swim was a lot calmer. There were less waves, but it felt like it lasted forever. We were swimming clock-wise right into the sun. Sighting became difficult and my hand started going numb on the right side. I finally reached the second turn buoy and the home stretch headed back into shore and fatigue set it. I sat upright in the water to catch my breath and I could hear the volunteers in the canoes surrounding us yelling “You’re almost there! Don’t give up! You did it!” I could see swimmers all around me holding onto the conoes for support, but I didn’t want to stop. I was so winded and my arms were burning, but I put my head back in the water and began swimming to shore. The closer I got the stronger the waves got. I began getting slapped in the face again and I could feel the waves lifting me up and lifting my head out of the water. My rhythm was lost at this point. I dug in and finished the last 500m strong. As I got to shore I could hear my family yelling! “Let’s go Zilla! You did it baby girl!”
Now, I had heard that this particular race course was a tough one. Austin is known for it’s rolling hills however, this was not what I trained for. The average hill I trained on was probably a 4-5% grade. Some of the hills mountains on this course were 7-8% grade….and they kept coming. Hill after hill, just like the waves in the water. Beating us up, accompanied by strong head winds. The first 20 miles or so were great, I felt energized, the sports legs caps I’d taken were really helping climb those tough hills. Then around mile 25 we hit farm country and some of the biggest hills I’ve ever seen in my life. I reached into my back pocket to grab two more Sports Legs capsules only to realize my wet tri top had melted the capsule!!! All I was left with was a pocket full of chalky clumpy powder. I knew I needed those capsules if I was going to survive these hills without my legs catching fire. So, I did what any respectable triathlete would do….I stuck my hand in my pocket and grabbed a handful of Sports Legs powder and began eating it. THAT’S RIGHT… I ate it!
As we passed through mile 25-30 there were people who came out of their homes to cheer us on. I passed a house with a tiny chihuahua who was the fastest little thing I’d ever seen! I don’t know if I was going that slow or if he was going that fast, but he was right on my tires, nipping as my shoes! I actually had to pedal harder to get away from him. Miles 30-40 were brutal. There were long stretches of road with no one and nothing. I was always near another cyclist, but there was nothing surrounding us. No cheers, no sights, nothing. Just farm land, grass, cows, and those d@*& “rolling hills”. I saw so many people stopped with flats. The roads were terrible. It had flooded a week earlier in Austin and loosened the gravel and created pot-holes everywhere. At one point there was a huge hill and at the bottom of the decent were some of the biggest pot holes of the race. I saw a few cyclist who had crashed from not being able to slow down fast enough. One was just sitting on the ground, I don’t even know where his bike went! Miles 40-50 continued on rolling, killing my legs. I felt a sense of relief when I hit the 50 mile mark, but little did I know what awaited me.
There are two huge hills around mile 50 or so. One right after the other. I came upon a couple of women who were ridding and talking. “One asked me, are you ok? Have you taken in enough salt?” The other said, “We’re almost there, just these two last hills” I asked, “How big?”, The women replied, “The first one is ok, but the second one is a bit of a pain in the ass”.
ME: “With a big fat burger”
HIM: “Filet mignon!”
ME:”With mashed potatoes!”
….and with that I threw my arms up in the air and entered the finishers chute. I couldn’t help but cry after it was all said and done. I was done! I’d raced Ironman 70.3 on one of the hardest bike courses, with high winds, as a beginner to boot. I did it! I could hear my family cheering for me and as I turned to run to them I shed a few more tears and hugged them all.
Priscilla is Dallas/Ft. Worth based nutritionist and blogger.