Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Half Ironman

About six months ago - Jen suggested that we do the racing for recovery half iron man in early June.  So of course without really thinking about it too much I agreed.  The way I saw it, the half iron man would give me a reason to keep getting up early in the morning to swim and since i was training for a marathon the run wouldn't be a problem - I'd put in some time once a week on the bike on the trainer and I would be able to get through it.  I didn't realize how how hard it would be to follow a marathon training program that was more aggressive than anything I'd done in the past - plus get the bike and swim in.  I quickly found I could only do so many two a days - and since I didn't want to drown the bike got put to the back burner.  Jen was really worried about me getting through the bike - i was more worried about drowning.

Flash forward to race morning - i have never gone from complete panic to complete calm so quickly and so many times.  When i was calm it was because i really didn't know what to expect and I didn't really have any expectations.  Sure - i had done the math - i was hoping to be sub 45 on the swim, around 3:15 on the bike and around 2 hours on the run - but i knew that would be on a good day and that it didn't matter because my goal was to finish.  I kept myself in control until we got into the water before the race - the cold water hit my chest and I pretty much had a panic attack.  I started crying and told Jen i couldn't and didn't want to do this - i felt like my wet suit was choking me and i could not get my breathing or my heart beat under control.  I looked pretty bad because Jen told me there was no shame in not doing it.  I knew if i didn't try I would always regret it and probably would never start another triathlon again.  So I went for it.

Part I - The swim

Ever wonder how long it takes to swim 1.2 miles while breast stroking at least half of it and hyperventilating?  Well for me it was approximately 48 minutes.  The course was an out and back into the lake and then another out and back along the shore.  When i got to the part along the shore i knew i was close to being able to touch the ground which helped - and I also realized that if I kept up with my hyperventilating breast stroke I was going to be too exhausted to finish the rest of the race - so i actually did get into a pretty good rhythm - resorting to breast stroking for spotting.  The whole thing was pretty ugly - my swimming has really improved over the last  year - and what i did in that lake did not reflect that at all.  But I was so proud of myself - i was deathly afraid of that swim - i had never swam that far with out stopping, i had only swam in a wet suit maybe one other time and had only swam in the lake a handful of times last summer.   That was a huge accomplishment.  I could have stopped there and been happy with the day.  I figured I would get on the bike and see what i could do.

Part II - the ugly ugly  bike

I hopped on my bike and quickly realized that I wasn't going to be able to hold 18mph like i had hopped - i was toast from the swim.  I unhappily settled into around 15-16mph and tried to see how far I could get before Jen came blasting by me.  It took about 10 miles til Jen came blowing past me I think I  yelled "that was the hardest thing I've ever done" and she yelled "I'm never swimming in lake Erie again."  The bike route was a mess - potholes and rough roads and it made it really hard to get into a rhythm and by mile 20 I was ready to be done with the bike.  My goal was to make it around the 3 loops with out getting lapped by Jen and her friend Paula.  I figured if they didn't lap me then at least i wasn't dropping the pace too much.  I think the first water stop was around mile 22 - i stopped and poured some water over my head and saw Steve and Matt and the babies cheering for us under a tree.  I yelled something about this not being fun and headed out for the second loop - i just kept telling myself to get through this loop.  The second time through the aid station - i skipped the aid station but stopped to talk to Steve and Addy.  This was around mile 34 - i was feeling pretty bad and it was getting pretty lonely out on the course.  I told Steve i was going to head out for the final loop - but i didn't know if i would finish this race today.  Somewhere on the third loop i decided i was going to stop after the bike.  I had to get through the bike to prove that I could - but it was so hot and i was burning so badly I decided it wasn't worth the sun exposure and that i would call it a day when i got back to transition.  Well then it got worse.  With 8 miles to go I stopped on the side of the road, sat down and I called my husband crying and asked him to come pick me up.  So logical Steve said "where are you" and i said "i don't know - on a very hot road somewhere - and I hate biking and triathlons are stupid and I'm not finishing this"  to which Steve replied.  "i have no doubt that you can finish this bike and the whole race if you want to - if you don't want to that is OK - and if you want me to come get you I will, but you need to at least give me a street name"  So I decided I would make it back.  And i did.  3 hours and 40 minutes later.  3 hours and 40 minutes!!!  I was one of the last people to finish the bike - the people on the run course were cheering for me - but you know they were thinking that no matter how bad they were feeling - at least they weren't that poor girl just finishing the bike up!

Part III - the run

When i got into transition i asked the race official if their was a cutoff time - I was so slow I didn't want to start the run if I wasn't going to be able to finish in time.  He said - there is but you are not there yet - you are fine.  Now Paula's husband was waiting for me by the transition.  He told me how far ahead of me Paula and Jen were which did nothing for my morale.  But he did say - come on this is the run - this is your thing - go do your thing.  So I slathered some more sunblock on (not enough) and headed out.  The run was two loops around a "shaded" lagoon.  It was so hot and sunny that I made myself a deal - if I threw up I could stop.  So I started running and then I would walk and I stopped at every water stop to throw several cups of water over my head and then I would continue on.  Well I started to notice that no one was passing me (that would be because there was no one left on the bike course - but even the faster people who were on their second loop weren't passing me)  - and  i was passing people - not just people who were on their second loop and nearing the end but people that i recognized passing me on the bike.  (Especially this one woman who passed me with about 10 miles left and then decided to weave back and forth to block me - seriously?  There are two of us left out here and you are worried that i might pass you!  ugh - i crushed her on the run btw)   So my attitude changed - i thought well if i can at least get around this loop once - I'll walk the second loop if i have to - but at this point I'm not going to have come this far without finishing.  So I started the second loop - running and walking and throwing water over my head.  Around mile 10 I saw Jen going the opposite way - it was nice to see a friendly face.  I also knew that I was going to finish - so i continued cheering other people on and continued to pass people - and i actually had fun.  I finished the run in 2:07 - not too shabby for wanting to  quit with 8 miles left on the bike, extreme heat and sunburn.   I was also really happy with that time considering how many times i stopped for water, to go to the bathroom, etc... it means that when i was running it was at a decent pace. 

The result: 

I finished in 6:43 - i was hoping for around 6 hours - but considering how close I was to quitting I'll take it!  I wasn't last in my age group so that's good too.  And I learned a valuable lesson - you can fake your way through a sprint triathlon - but a half iron man will find your weaknesses and make you pay for your lack of training.  In hindsight i probably should have dropped to the sprint given my lack of bike time and open water swim practice.... but I'm glad i didn't.  I always talk about how i don't have enough confidence in myself or my abilities and how weak i am mentally.  Well I tell you what: panic attack and crying cell phone call to my husband aside - that was the toughest thing I have mentally ever done.  When you are toast less than 2 hours into a race and you know you are in over your head - to mentally get yourself through 4 hours and 43 minutes more in the heat and sun - that to me is some mental toughness - and that is something  I will always take with me.  I told myself i had to finish because i was never going to do this again...

that was Sunday - today is Tuesday and I'm already wondering... what if i actually trained properly... or at least rode my bike further than 20 miles.... I'm not sure what mental illness I have but i'm pretty sure endurance events are the symptom...

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