Well, that shit was a lot more fun than I expected! I guess that whole “suffer during training so that race day is your prize” thing really works. Making a mental note of that for my future self.
Most of you that have willingly followed me since February or even those of you that have been forced to because of my relentless facebook posting, know that I signed up for an Ironman 70.3 without a bike, without knowing how to swim for sport and without really liking to run all that much. So, obviously, I had a lot going for me from the start. (sarcasm) I was going into this triathlon sport wide-eyed, naive and full of hopeful energy. A combination that would prove to be months full of shenanigans and mishaps, with some surprise milestones along the way. All that led me to a day I’ll never forget. Race day of my first (yes, I said first) half Ironman.
Here’s kind of how it all went down.
Race morning. My training buddies, Sonya and Sarah, met us at our hotel very early for Lynette to drive us as close to the transition area as possible. We walked out of the hotel where we were greeted with very dense and gloomy air and a heavy mist falling on us. Well, this was NOT what I was hoping for. Preparing for this day, I told countless people that I didn’t care how hot it was, how windy it was, or how humid it was, I just didn’t want rain because as luck would have it, I didn’t ride one training ride in the rain and I was hoping to keep this dry streak up. I am already an accident waiting to happen on wheels – I didn’t need slick roads to contend with as well. Unfortunately, I do not get to control the weather so onward we go. Lynette got us as close as she could to the transition area and we were off.
In the middle of setting up my transition space, an escalating argument was taking place right next to me over a free bike spot. It was one-sided and unnecessary and after the instigator walked away, I could see that the innocent one was visibly shaken up. A good dose of sarcasm and humor might help. I walked up to her and straight-faced told her that I would not only like to take the free spot from her as well but I would also like to ride her much-faster-looking-bike during the race. She laughed. I laughed. All was better. And later when I looked up her race results and the aggressive shit-starter’s race results, take a guess at who truly had the last laugh?
I was finished setting everything up and done with my final visit to the porta-potty (nerves on fleek, y’all – I don’t even know what that means but I hear Jillian saying something like it so…) and look around for Sonya and Sarah. With 2,700 athletes roaming around and not remembering their race numbers to try and find them, I sadly walked by my lonely self to the bus that was taking the athletes to swim start. Standing in the bus line, I kept thinking that there’s no way I would find them again. It was dark. I was anxious and nervous and now I had no one to joke around with to help calm me down. And right then, I look up at a full bus and see them sitting in a window right in front of me. YES! I started jumping up and down, yelling their names and waving my arms in the air (like I just don’t care). I managed to attract everyone’s attention but theirs. Luckily the guy sitting in front of them saw me and understood my gestures enough to get their attention. Their bus was full but they mouthed that they would wait for me once they got off the bus.
Back with my girls and all is right in the world. Now to find another bathroom and hand off our drop bags. Done. I had no phone so just as I was wondering if I would get to see Lynette before the race, she appeared. She gave me some last minute, reassuring thoughts, gave me a squeeze, and with that, I was calm and ready to go get it. I was in the first wave and they were calling our group to the starting line. I crossed my Mom, my brother, sister-in-law and my aunt on the way – got a bunch of hugs and smiles and it was officially go-time!
They played the national anthem, the music started pumping, we headed down the ramp and lowered into the water to wait for the final horn to go off. The water temperature was about 68 degrees – so a bit cold getting in but definitely manageable. We got the 1 minute warning and before I knew it, a loud canon went off and we were swimming. My wave was pretty small which was great. There was the usual bumping into each other for a little bit but once we got out about 100 yards, it was smooth sailing. I literally swam untouched for the rest of the swim. I was so grateful for this, especially knowing that the men ages 40-45 were coming in after our wave. I had a vision in my head for weeks that a giant mass of men would be approaching me like sharks and then, without warning, would be swimming on top of me. Nightmares, actually. This didn’t happen. And I lived to tell about it.
So, no men swimming on top of me. Wide open river. With a current. All was going great. Until my right calf cramped with about a quarter mile to go. Well, shit. There goes my “I never cramp” roll I’ve been on. Seeing that the angle of the foot when swimming is in the exact position to encourage more cramping, I made some adjustments. I pointed my foot towards the bottom of the river, stopped using my right leg and kept moving. And in 32 minutes and 48 seconds, I was out of the water. The spasms in my calf made trying to run up the boat ramp interesting. I immediately spotted my family and then Lynette and run-hobbled down the carpet towards transition.
Thank God for wet suit strippers or I might still be trying to pull that thing off. Still not being very efficient in my transition times, I was in and back out in about 6 minutes then got to see my girl’s big smile as I rode by heading out on my 3(ish) hour tour of South Carolina.
I started drinking tailwind (my bike nutrition) the minute I got into transition to take in some salt to try and help with my leg cramping. And I continued drinking, way more than I usually do, until about mile 10 when the cramping finally eased up. FINALLY. Now I could concentrate on more important things. Like the drizzly weather AND the crazy winds that were not working in our favor.
I was out there for 56 miles. I won’t bore you with details of each mile, rather, how about a highlight reel…
With about 20 miles left, the rain was coming down pretty good and the wind was picking up but the scenery was beautiful, I was still feeling good, nothing was hurting and I was still having the time of my life, even when some parts of it did kind of suck like that one guy said. The energy from the people along the route and my fellow athletes was contagious and by this point, I was coming back into town and pretty excited that even with the winds, I was coming in at 3 hours and 23 minutes. I was heading into the last turn before transition and there Lynette was again, smiling big and snapping photos. And then off I went for the last leg of the race.
The run took us up and down the streets of downtown Augusta for 13.1 miles. I normally hate looping or having to go up and down the same streets of any course, but today, it worked in my favor. The entire course was full of energetic crowds of people. The volunteers at the aid stations were incredible and the aid stations themselves had anything you could think to want or need along the run.
My run started off a little iffy. Because I drank more of my tailwind nutrition on the bike to try and play catch up with my cramping, I was having some major stomach issues for the first 4 miles. I could feel and hear the swooshing of the liquid moving back and forth in my stomach. Things were all working pretty good for me up until this point so if this was my first “push through it” moment, I guess I couldn’t complain. My family set up camp around mile 3 and because of the route, and without having to move from their spot, I was able to see them 4 times during the run. My brother jumped in each time to run alongside me for a minute to see how I was doing and, unbeknownst to me, during the first run at mile 3, he periscoped me saying that I almost sh*t myself. He’s awesome like that. Lynette popped up close to the 4 mile mark and gave me the great news that the next aid station had some solid food that should help settle my stomach. From the looks of it, I was having a great time despite my rot gut.
The pretzels, chips and coke at mile 4 saved my life. Lynette showed up again after mile 4 and then again around 6 and again around 8 and 10. She seriously covered more than a half marathon throughout the day and I was so grateful to see that face every single time.
A couple of things to note:
Ok, so back to running.
While having a great time during the race was what I most wished for, I secondarily wanted to finish under 7 hours. Once I reached mile 9, I got a second wind, knowing that I was so close to that finish line. If there were times that I wanted to walk or slow down, I thought about how I would feel if I missed my time by a couple of minutes and that kept me moving along. But I also had runners brain which meant that I was incapable of doing simple math. I kept trying to calculate what pace I needed to maintain the last 4 miles to come in under 7 hours and fluctuated from thinking I could basically walk the last 4 miles and be fine to panicking that there was no way in hell, even if I sprinted that I could make it and back to thinking I could stroll in with time to spare. I. Could. Not. Math. To be safe, I ran pretty steadily from this point on. Around mile 11, a spectator in an Ironman hat said “Running strong Candy. You’re almost there.” That was my last little push that I needed and at this point, I knew, unless my math was incredibly off (which it definitely could be), I should be coming in under my goal time.
I could hear the announcer calling out names so I knew that I was heading home – 2 short turns (half a block) to go before seeing that finish line – and “Bye Bye Bye” by NSYNC was blaring over the speakers. I entered the finishers chute, saw Lynette and the family again, and tried to just breathe it all in.
I was on the red carpet running towards an IRONMAN finish line. 6:55:28 staring back at me. I just DID that.
I’ve been across many finish lines, but this one definitely stole my heart.
My support team during months of training and my support team on the course and in life.
And no race is compete without a finish line photo shoot. My first IRONMAN 70.3. I got a medal AND won an Oscar.
What more could a girl ask for?!?