After a tough winter and long season of marathon running, my first half-Ironman is complete! In the weeks leading up to the race, I was more than ready for this race to be over. I was irritable, exhausted, and basically just a hot mess. Although I couldn’t have picked a better course for my first 70.3, it couldn’t have come at a more terrible time for a teacher. It was the end of the school year, so things were pretty hectic over the past few weeks in all aspects of my life. Now that I’m on the other side of this whole thing, I’m sad to say it’s in the past. I’m sure there is another one in my future at some point, but I have no plans for another 70.3 at the current moment.
Emily, Cassie and I drove to Cambridge, Maryland on Saturday morning for the expo and bike drop off. Before we could head to our hotel, we had to make two stops. Our first stop was at Sailwinds Park for the expo. We got there in the afternoon and met up with a few other friends: Jon, Jeff, and Anthony. Since I’m pretty unfamiliar with Ironman events, the whole “picking up your bib” thing had some extra steps than what I’m used to. Just to get into the expo, you have to show your USATF card and photo ID. Once that all checked out, you head over to a table and tell the volunteer your bib number. Instead of being handed a bib, you are handed documents to sign your life away. One was a waiver saying you know what you are getting yourself into (hmmm, should I be signing that?) and the other confirmed your medical/insurance information. Once everything was signed, you headed to a second table to hand your completed paperwork off to another volunteer.
We visited a table to get our race bibs, and I knew that was much more complicated than running a marathon since I’ve done a few shorter distance triathlons. There was your traditional race bib for the run, but then there were stickers for your bike and helmet and a wrist band, all labeled with your bib number. Next stop was swag bags, t-shirts, and timing chips, which are worn around your ankle for the duration of the event.
Once we were done checking out the vendors at the expo, it was time to rack our bikes. The transition area was in Great Marsh Park, which was a few miles away. We unloaded our bikes, covered them with the provided stickers, and and headed to the transition area. As were entering, volunteers made sure the numbers on our bracelet matched the numbers on our bikes. The racks were clearly marked and I easily found my spot. It was conveniently located right next to the finish line for the swim and the starting line for the run.
The first thing I noticed? My bike looked way less cooler than everyone elses! I have a pretty basic road bike – a Specialized – and I really do love it. It looked pretty funny when I racked my bike next to some super fancy tri bikes. For a second, I was thinking “wait, what if my bike won’t make it 56 miles?” Haha! Nevermind that I’d just take in it on a 55 mile ride about two weeks ago. I actually really like my bike, as basic as it is, so I never really gave that another thought.
Once the bikes were racked, we met up with Jon to walk around and check out the water for the swim. There were a number of people in the water testing out the course and warming up for the race. It looked relatively calm where the swim ended, but then we walked over to the start and there were waves crashing up against the rocks. It looked very choppy and a little scary…but mostly fun! All of the buoys were out marking the course, and the distance looked crazy far. Luckily, I tagged along last weekend with Emily and her family to swim at Dutch Springs (a local quarry) and remembered that everything looks way further in the water and once you start swimming it goes pretty quickly. After checking out the whole scene and snapping a few pictures, we were ready to leave and get situated at our hotel.
Once we were done at the expo/bike drop off, we headed to the hotel to eat, prepare for the race, and sleep. Since we procrastinated booking our lodging, we ended up in a hotel that was in the town of Salisbury, about 35 minutes away. I was kind of sick of driving by that point in the day, but it ended up being nice to have a little drive in the morning to wake up and get ready for the race. Cassie and I headed to church, picked up a pizza and ate dinner back in our hotel room with Emily. After some last minute preparations and an Epsom salt bath, I was falling asleep by 8:30. I still really didn’t know what I was in for, and I wasn’t nervous. I had no trouble sleeping. Usually, I don’t sleep well the night before races but since I really had no expectations for the following day, I was out like a light.
Even with an early bedtime, 4am came way too quickly. Usually, I’m picky about pre-race foods because my stomach is very sensitive when I run, but I had a lot of activity to complete before getting to the actual run. Although we had to be there early, my wave didn’t start until 8:25am so I made my usual pre-race bagel, banana, and peanut butter to go. We got dressed, threw our stuff in the car, and headed to Mace’s Lane Middle School. This was the designated area where we could park our cars and take the shuttle to the start.
At the start, we entered the transition area and volunteers marked your body with your bib number and put your age on your calf. I found my bike and set up my area with all of my gear. Once we were had everything ready to go, we had to leave the transition area by the time the first swim wave began, which was at 6:45 am. We watched the first few waves start and camped out at the starting line, waiting for our wave to be called. I still wasn’t nervous (really, I think it was just my ignorance) and was enjoying hanging out with Emily, Cassie, and Jon at the start. Jon was the first in our crew to hit the water, and I was second. Emily was in the second to last wave, and Cassie started in the final wave.
The swim was technically on a river, but it feeds into the Chesapeake Bay so it was actually saltwater. Not like completely like swimming in the ocean, but definitely had higher salinity levels than straight up freshwater. It was kind of dirty looking and smelled pretty gross. I was in the 8:25am wave (females 30-34) and I lined up as soon as our wave was called. The girls in my age group were friendly and chatty, and everyone was so excited as we stood in the water to wait for our start.
Oh and that wetsuit I bought back in December? The one I only got to try out once prior to this race? It was useless since the water ended up being 76.5 degrees, making it not wetsuit legal (wetsuit illegal? I don’t know my triathlon vocabulary too well)! I didn’t really care so much because I’d never actually used a wetsuit in a triathlon and thought that it might actually slow me down since I wouldn’t be used getting rid of it in transition. Ended up not being a problem…I just wanted to use it since I went through the trouble of buying it. More motivation to sign up for another, I suppose.
I’m not a fast swimmer, but I know how to swim. I swam briefly in middle school and a little bit of my freshman year of high school, but it was enough that I walked away with decent form. That’s half the battle. I lined up in the back, but in the future I’m going to start towards the front. I spent a good two minutes just fighting my way to the front, and I finished swimming with the wave that started 10 minutes before me. Overall, it was a tough swim because the water was a little choppy, particularly on the way back.The water was pretty gross, but I felt really strong and enjoyed being in the water.
Another negative was towards the end – the water was shallow and people could stand. I was still two buoys away from the swim finish and people stood up and started to walk it in. WTF?! I was cruising along at a decent pace and people would just stand up – so now I had to worry about completely railing someone who was walking. I swam until my hands touched the ground, but the last 100 meters or so was spent dodging people wading through the water to the finish! I thought that was crazy. My goal was to swim somewhere between 35-40 minutes. I was pleased with how I swam, and the lesson I learned for next time is to start in the front. I may not be the quickest but I can hold my own, and I was fast enough to catch a good portion of the wave ahead of me.
Official Swim Time: 37:02
I came out of the water and jogged to where my bike was racked. As I ran my legs kind of felt stiff and tight, and I wasn’t thrilled – but I couldn’t worry about that since the immediate concern was getting on my bike as quickly as possible. Even though I exited the water with women from the wave ahead of me, I saw the vast majority of the bikes were still racked around my bike, confirming I’d gotten off to a good start. I got to my bike sat in the grass for a moment to catch my breath and put on my socks and bike shoes, my bib (even though it was unnecessary for the bike; I knew I would forget it later), chug some water, and dump the remainder of the bottle over my head to get rid of some of the nasty, dirty Choptank River. I grabbed my helmet, sunglasses and bike and headed for the bike out. I’m sure I could have been more efficient, but I didn’t know what to expect the rest of the day. I still had a lot of ground to cover.
Swim to Bike Transition: 2:58
The bike was the real wild card for me in this event. I put in some good time in the pool and out running on the roads, but I slacked on my bike training because I was always tapering for a marathon. Shame on me for doing so, because what an awesome bike course they had for us. Don’t get me wrong – I was completely pleased with my time and effort on this leg, but more preparation would have been helpful. As I clipped into my pedals and headed out, I took the first mile to continue getting my shit together. Adjusting my attire and getting comfortable in the saddle, eating some shot blocks to get some food in my system, and drinking some Gatorade to stay hydrated.
I’d say I was pretty uncomfortable for the first 5-10 miles. I’m sure part of it was that I was warming up, and that I just swam 1.2 miles before hopping on my bike. In my mind, I wanted to average about 16-17 mph. I thought that was reasonable and not much faster than I’d been doing most of my training rides. I use the Garmin 310XT and don’t have a bike computer (I know, I know, I really need to get one of those) and so I didn’t really know my pace until each mile registered on my watch. Before the race, I was trying to figure out how long each leg would take me. I was hoping for about 3:15 on the bike but thought that might be too aggressive based on my not so stellar bike training. 3:15 meant 17.2 mph. It meant that every time my watch beeped to indicate a mile had gone by, it had to say 3:29/mile.
Miles 1-10 were tough since I was warming up, but managed to average 17.13 mph through that point. I ended up taking in some GU (my favorite – Chocolate Raspberry Roctane) and fluids and started to feel really good. The next split time recorded was at mile 47.7, and at that point I was averaging 18.37 mph for miles 11-47.7. The last 8ish miles were clocked at 17.07, and I was starting to feel the distance and my lack of training. I don’t have the fanciest bike, and I was starting to get a little uncomfortable. I have a road bike and never put tri bars on it, and by that point my hands were going numb from being in the drops. My left groin was starting to ache pretty badly in a way that was unfamiliar. I think it was because it was a flat course, so I’m not used to sitting in the saddle and peddling for 3+ hours straight. There was no reason to get out of the saddle to climb, and no downhills I could recover on. It was straight peddling for 56 miles, and it was much harder than I’d anticipated. Here in the Lehigh Valley, we train on hills by default.
Other highlights from the bike leg? How about the huge black snake that slithered across the road RIGHT in front of my bike around mile 48? Yep – I seriously almost ran it over. It was pretty cool to see. Also, getting passed by my girls: Emily around mile 30 and Cassie around mile 45! They are pretty amazing cyclists and I knew they would be coming at some point. I couldn’t wait to see some familiar faces out there. Both of them came flying by me, all smiles and completely rocking the bike leg, as expected. Emily cranked it out at 19mph, resulting in 2:56. Cassie killed it with 20.4 mph and cruising into T2 with a time of 2:44. Being as the bike leg is my most challenging leg, this is seriously impressive to me. I can’t imagine breaking 3 hours for that many miles. As for me? I was beyond thrilled as I crushed my original goal and cruised into T2:
Official Bike Time: 3:07:19; 17.94 mph
Somehow, this transition was slower than my first one. I didn’t expect that. In any of the shorter distance triathlons I’ve done, T2 is always faster for me. I racked my bike, and (once again) took a seat in the grass to change my shoes and just take a breath. I grabbed a (now completely warm) bottle of water, chugged a little and doused myself with the rest, knowing that I had a pretty hot half marathon ahead of me. I hit T2 at 12:07 pm, and it was 83 degrees and sunny at this point. I made sure to take in some GU around mile 50 on the bike, so I really just put on my sneakers, put on a headband (I hate when sweat gets in my eyes) and got ready to run.
Bike to Run Transition: 3:28
The last six miles on the bike, all I could think about was how excited I was to go for a run. I thought I was ready to get off my bike and go…but as I took my first few clumsy steps, I realized I just wanted to be done. What the hell? This is the part I love and looked forward to, but instead I was kind of like, “I’m good, thanks.” I felt like I was moving soooooooo slooooowwwwlllyyyy, and made it about a half mile before my shoe came untied. I thought, “Oh well, I’ll stop and tie it” (like I had much of a choice in the matter – but I guess when you’ve already covered 58 miles or so, your thought process doesn’t make a whole lot of sense) and was just kind of relaxed about it. When I started running again, I felt like I was barely moving. I told myself that I would just try to keep the pace comfortable and not worry about my time. Besides, since I was using my Garmin in multisport mode, I wouldn’t know my pace until I hit each mile. So I just ran. I passed people, and I heard a spectator say “nice pace” but I really didn’t think they were talking to me. Until my watch beeped. I looked down. 7:45? What? I expected more like a 10 minute pace. I started to realize that I probably had no sense of pace since I was just moving at almost 18 mph on the bike. Everything was bound to feel slow compared to that.
It was really hot, so at every aid station I took cups of ice and dumped them down the back of my tri suit so it would melt slowly (or not so slowly) and keep me cool until I could get more. I’d grab cups of ice water to drink and douse myself with, and ice cold sponges to cool my face and neck whenever I could get them. The residents were out with their sprinklers and hoses, which was awesome. The course was an out and back, and I think it kind of made the whole ordeal a little easier. On the way out, I was pretending I had to run 6.5 miles because it sounded a whole lot better than 13.1. I caught up with Emily at mile four, and she was running strong and looking good. After hours of not talking with anyone, it was good to exchange a few words as we both were toughing out that last leg. I kept on going and as I was nearing the turnaround, I saw Cassie heading back towards the finish. I saw her awesome pace as she cruised by and I perked up again. It’s against the rules to use headphones and it is heavily enforced at these events, so my game to make it through the miles was to focus on someone in the distance and pass them. It worked. My overall pace was extremely consistent for the run – actually, I somehow ran a negative split! The first 6.5 I ran a 7:47 average, and the second was a 7:46 average.
Official Run Time: 1:41:47
The Finish Line
When I was about a quarter mile away from the finish, I could see it in the distance but it looked so far away. By the end of the run, I was ready to be done. It was a totally different type of tired than marathon tired. When I am at the end of a marathon, it’s like my legs are so done that I can’t take another step. At the end of the 70.3, it’s a different kind of tired. Like whole body tired. It’s a much longer event and you incorporate so many more muscles throughout the race.
Overall Time: 5:32:39
It was truly an incredible day, and it was such a humbling experience. I’ve gotten very used to straight up running races, and this took me out of my element and made me uncomfortable in a totally different way. Particularly for marathon training, I like being put in situations where I am expected to be comfortable with being uncomfortable for an extended period of time. I think it really helps train your mind to realize that you can accomplish whatever goal you are setting out to achieve. As for my friends, they all loved the course and kicked ass out there. Emily finished in 5:33:57 and broke three hours on the bike. Cassie PR’d by over 12 minutes and got close to the five hour mark, with a 5:07:53. Jon was just coming back from knee surgery and did not run, but completed the swim and bike. He cranked out almost 24 mph on the bike – something I can’t even comprehend.
Will I ever do another one? Most definitely. Actually, I noticed that they have a FULL Ironman on that same course in late September…
Oh, and the best part about 70.3? The amount of food you can eat afterwards.