From 3 Miles To 70.3

From 3 Miles To 70.3

by Suzy C.

“We never truly know who we are unless we push ourselves beyond our known boundaries.” – Unknown

My journey began about 14 years ago.  I started running for weight loss in between the birth of my 2 beautiful daughters.  I joined the Life Time Fitness Running Club and began my regiment of running about 3 miles 3 times per week.  Over time, I became proficient in the art of talking while running, which eventually earned me the position of Social Director of the Running Club.  I made lots of new friends, including a guy named Joe.  Joe used to affectionately refer to me as “3 mile Suzy”.

During our runs and socials events, I remember listening to the stories the other athletes told about their marathons and triathlons.  I thought it all sounded crazy and like something that I would never even consider doing in a million years.  I thought, “I’ll stick with my 5K’s, thank you very much”.

In the early dawn hours of September 11, 2005, I found myself in a car heading north to Madison, WI to watch this guy named Joe compete in this race called the Ironman.  Other than knowing that I’d see Joe and the other athletes swim, bike, and run (a lot!), I had absolutely no idea what was involved.  What I saw that day changed my life forever.

I saw smiles, I saw tears, I saw determination and I saw pain.  The emotion of the day was completely overwhelming.  I knew I didn’t even begin to completely understand what was going on that illustrious day in Madison, yet something deep inside me told me that I needed to pay attention.  Something deep inside me told me that I needed to follow this path called triathlon and this leader who came to be known as Coach Joe.

In the fall of the following year, I hired Coach Joe, and I began my journey as a coached athlete.  Following the twists and turns of the road called life, I became very engrossed in the world of multi sport, and I eventually decided to make a career out of it.  With running races of every distance from 5K to marathon and a number of sprint and olympic distance triathlons under my belt, I found myself walking in to the cool waters of Lake Michigan at 7:48 A.M. last Sunday morning to begin my first half Ironman, Ironman 70.3 Racine:

Swim:  As we made the 1 mile trek down the beach from transition to the swim start in the morning, my pre-race jitters were calmed by Coach Joe’s comment on how smooth and still the water was.  YAY!  No huge swells to make sighting difficult and my stomach woozy from going up and down!  My warm up consisted of a very short swim shortly before my wave started just to calm the nerves, feel the water, and get a sense of the water temperature.  I positioned myself at the back of the pack and took it easy on the swim.  I chose to swim a little bit wide of the group, following the buoy line on my right (perfect for me since I breathe right).  The 1.2 mile swim was uneventful (just the way I wanted it).  It seemed I just kept going and going and going.  Was this swim EVER going to end?!  Finally I spotted the final turn buoy and I headed straight for it.  I knew it wouldn’t be long now before I got my first much needed dose of the ET cheer crew!  What an amazing feeling to hear my name being yelled out by what felt like every single spectator along the long journey up the beach in the sand on the way to transition.  The ET cheer crew was strategically placed along the way, and it really provided the energy boost I needed to start the longest leg of the race, the bike.

T1:  I didn’t take advantage of the wetsuit “peelers”.  In fact, I was so in the zone that I didn’t even notice they were there.  Plenty of Body Glide allowed me to rid myself of my wetsuit without much effort.  The thing that took me the longest was putting my arm coolers on wet arms…something I need to practice, or maybe consider wearing them under my wetsuit next time.  Helmet, sunglasses, shoes and bottles in place, and I was rolling.

Bike:  I was thirsty and ready to start drinking as soon as I climbed the hill out of transition.  At Joe’s suggestion, I waited until I got about 5 – 10 minutes outside of town a little bit, past the bumpy stretch of road at the top of the hill.  I’m happy to say that the hill coming out of transition is the only hill on the course, which made for a comfortable ride.  I followed what Joe told me to do on the bike:  don’t lollygag, don’t push…go somewhere in between and just hang on.  I drank and ate exactly what Laurie told me to on the bike.  I set my Power Tap on “distance” mode so I would know when I was nearing the end of my 56 mile ride.  I came back down the hill into transition with a big smile on my face…things were going exactly according to plan, and I was ready to run!!  🙂

T2:  I was in and out of there much faster this time.  All I had to do after racking my bike and removing my helmet was switch into my running socks and shoes and grab my hair band, and I was off and running!

Run:  I felt full power coming out of transition.  I had watched this race many times before, and history told me that I was about to get another jolt of energy from the ET cheer crew.  I felt like a celebrity again amongst the cheers and the clicking cameras!  My plan was to run as strong as  I was able to run that day, and get to the finish line, whatever it took!!  A quick visit to the port-a-potty, and my 13.1 mile journey had begun.  Once again I followed Joe’s advice and took full advantage of the ice they provided to keep my core temperature under control.  After my hydration at every aid station, plenty of ice went down the front and back of my tri suit, and a few cubes went in my mouth.  I poured water on my cooling sleeves every chance I got, and there were lots of hoses and sprinklers along the run course for those that wanted a little extra cooling.  The combination of these things helped me endure the run despite the mounting heat.  At Laurie’s suggestion, I took a salt tab between mile 4 and 5 and another between mile 8 and 9.  I was feeling great as I approached the turn-around point to go out for my 2nd loop of the run course, and I welcomed the sight and sound of the ET cheer crew with open arms (literally).  I knew the next time I saw them, I would be steps away from finishing my 1st half Ironman, and that gave me the energy I needed to forge ahead.  The 2nd loop of the run course was when I had my epiphany…”OH…THIS is when it gets HARD”!!!!!!!!!  About 6 hours into my race and well into the 2nd loop, I suddenly had the urge the visit the port-a-potty again, this time with a great deal more urgency than the 1st time.  My gut ache quickly became so uncomfortable that I was unable to run.  I kept putting one foot in front of the other in the hopes that I would soon come upon an aid station with a port-a-potty.  It seemed like FOREVER until I reached the furthest turn-around point on the run, which is where I finally found relief.  I was never so happy to see a port-a-potty in my life!  Business taken care of and it was time to put the ball in the end zone!!  I encountered one more rough spot a little over 2 miles from the finish line.  The heat was getting to me and I was starting to get a little woozy.  I decided to sit down on a curb for a couple minutes to give myself a little break before hopefully finishing strong.  A volunteer was quickly hovering over me to make sure that I didn’t need medical attention.  I simply said, “I’m 2 miles from the finish line and I ain’t pullin up now…all I need is a big cup of ice and I’ll get outta your hair”.  She found me a big cup of ice and I was on my way.  The next thing I knew I was approaching the finish line and I was once again enveloped in cheers that carried me down the home stretch.

“Suzy Cerra, you are an Ironman 70.3 finisher”, I heard the announcer say.  70.3 miles of watching elite and challenged athletes and a man in full firefighter garb do amazing things.  70.3 miles of being on the course with good friends and surrounded by a cheering section that carried me straight into the finish line.  70.3 miles of achieving something more than I thought I was able.

As we made our way back to Naperville, Joe turned to me and said, “3 mile Suzy is a half Ironman”!  Thank you, Joe!!  I could NOT have gotten it done it without your guidance and support, and I certainly would never have had the courage to start had it not been for you.

Congrats, Suzy, on your amazing day!  I’m so proud of you!! – Coach Joe

Enjoy all the Racine 70.3 photos at our Photo Gallery!

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  • Mike Mcaleese

    nice job sue nice job….

  • Anonymous

    WooHoo Coach Suzy! You are awesome and reading about your journey was uplifting! Thanks for being a great Coach and inspiration. You rock!

  • Cathy Obordo

    Suzy….CONGRATULATIONS!!!!  I know how hard it was to finish that day and you persevered and got it done!  Way to ROCK IT OUT!  I’m so proud of you and so happy I was able to share the experience with you.  

  • Maura ludeke

    Congrats Suzy!  You are truly an inspiration!!

  • Jeff P

    Yeah, Suzy!! Awesome story. Just as you learned something about yourself as you pushed beyond your comfort zone, we learned something about how amazing you are in crossing that finish line in those crazy conditions – way to go!

  • Ialmaz88

    All of us need inspiration at whatever level in life we are and in whatever endeavor we undertake.  Your story gives me such great motivation and lets me know that in just saying that we want to do it, we can look around us and find the great hearts and support to get us there.  Thank you for being my friend and inspiration!     ****irma

    • My pleasure, Irma!!!  So great to see you and visit with you before you returned to Paris!!!  Thanks for your kind words!!

  • Amybaugh1

    Great article Suzy! Proud of you and proud to have you as my coach!

  • Brian Vogelsinger

    Fantastic Suzy! Witnessing that 70.3 race was amazing. So proud of you!

  • Sarah F.

    Wow, Coach…..what an amazing story!!!!   I am SO proud of you!  =)  You really are such an inspiration, and you sure make Racine sound like a really cool goal to have!!  Thanks for sharing this story with us; it is fun to picture what the day was like for you all….maybe they’ll add an extra porta-potty in the run next year!?! 

  • Jim Levesque

    Congratulations Suzy!  Nice work crushing a 70.3!!!  What an awesome accomplishment!!!

  • Sarah V.

    What an accomplishment, and what a beautifully written description of the event!  Congratulations on an awesome accomplishment!

  • Jim Riga

    Your one amazing Ironman. Seeing you out there with a smile on your face and the determination to finish in your eyes was a true inspiration. Thanks so much for sharing your journey from “3 mile Suzy” to 70.3 Ironman.

  • Thank you to EVERYONE who commented on my story…every one of you has touched my heart! <3

  • I am so impressed and touched by your story! 

  • So impressed and touched by your journey!  Nervous and excited to experience this distance!!

  • Criga

    What a fantastic article-you are a true inspiration!  You set out to accomplish a “huge” task and got it done just like you planned with a smile all the way–   Being there “cheering” for you guys was quite an experience we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  You Rock!!