Reflections on My First Half Ironman
Once upon a time on my bucket list I said I would like to complete an Ironman. My husband sort of laughed it off and said, “You are a swimmer! Are you serious?” I let it go… We had young kids and I was overly committed to helping in classrooms and every other aspect of their lives that required a volunteer. But, I thought, some day… Fast forward 10 years and all three kids are in college. My good friend from masters swim said she had signed up to volunteer for the Ironman race and she was going to do it next year. I thought okay, perfect! So we volunteered at Ironman Wisconsin, had a total blast and were caught up in the electrifying atmosphere of the race day, seeing friends finish and enjoying the sites of Madison. We got up bright and early the following day to get our spot for next year’s race. Yes, I plunked down a huge amount of money and then went home thinking OMG, I don’t even have a real bike… how am I going to do this? That was just one of my concerns, along with I have no idea how to train for this and how am I going to find the time with working full time? My friend told me about Experience Triathlon and I thought I would check them out and interview a coach and see if it was a good fit. The answer was yes, it was a great fit and who knew how many changes I would see in seven short months. Coach Joe LoPresto, along with Muneer at Spokes Wheaton, helped me find the right bike for my budget. Coach Joe then continued to check in with me until my “official” start date of training.
We have a son who played college football and we tailgated every weekend all fall, so fall training on the weekend was not in the cards. I only did training I could do during the week. Fall turned into winter and we found ourselves headed to a national championship game but I had told Coach Joe my start date was January 1 long ago when I knew I was going to need a firm start date and never imagined we would be playing football into January. I stuck to the January start date. On my first run I thought I’m not sure I can get into shape and get this task done. I was sore for days. Onward I marched. My friend and old neighbor Russ once told me, “If you do everything Coach Joe tells you to do, you will cross the Ironman finish line.” You have no idea how many times I have repeated that line that has almost become a mantra for me.
I can so vividly remember Coach Joe and my first conversation during our initial interview- he asked me to trust him and the training. I promised him I would. I mean, after all I was a swimmer but I really had no idea how to put the big picture together. As I signed up for ET Computrainer classes during the winter, ET Run Club, to work with ET Team Dietitian, Laurie Schubert, and various other ET activities, I found such a great group of people. I also began to realize that I had been out of the triathlon circuit for some time and doing a couple of races before the big one might be a good thing to do. I signed up for the Route 66 half Ironman, but later discovered that was the weekend of ET Summer Training Camp so I had to pull out and decided to sign up for Ironman 70.3 Racine. All I had ever heard about that one is that the bike roads are a little rough and it is like “ba bump every 20 feet for the last 5 miles into town.” They were right! I was never so happy to get off my bike after all those ruts in the road. But overall the race is a great race and yes, I would do it again. I would also book a hotel much sooner than I did this year!
I remember going into the half Ironman weekend and suddenly thinking oh, no, I think I should have more questions, but I don’t even feel like I know enough to ask any questions. Coach Joe set up a conference time to chat, asked me to send him my goals and any questions prior to our meeting and we would go through them. I sent them over and he sent me a link back and asked me to read his article on goal planning and let him know if I wanted to change any of my goals after reading the article. Okay, so I made a couple of major adjustments. 🙂 We had our phone call and Joe was very reassuring and reminded me again I can do this and to trust my training. I mean after all we had done enough miles to qualify us as ultra bikers, swimmers and runners across America over the past seven months.
We got to Racine on Saturday and I got my bike racked and the tornado sirens went off. Oh great, is all I could think. This was not a good way to start the weekend… The storm blew threw and we sought shelter at Kohl’s because they are always practically giving things away and we could just wander around and not think about the race. My daughter and I each found something to take home with us. We were then off to the team dinner just across the street. What a fun night talking with people and meeting new ET friends. We sat next to a guy that told me he was competing after a serious bike accident and his mom was always asking him when he was going to give up this racing stuff and find a nice girl to settle down with. I enjoyed talking to him and really was inspired that he was going to do this race tomorrow. It was also fun to see my other ET friends that I had met along the way and spend a couple of minutes talking with them. In addition I think my family enjoyed meeting all the people that I spend more time with than I do at home these days. They could finally put a name and a face together when I talk about them.
Race morning we were up early as Coach Joe had told me get to transition when it opened so I would have plenty of time to set everything up. I accomplished that and was ready to go. Coach Joe took the time to talk to me one on one and encourage, reassure and calm my nerves prior to the hike down the beach. I left early for my hike and was surprised to find my ever-supportive hubby and daughter had already claimed a park bench at the start high up on the hill with a great view. The sun was glistening on the lake and I thought oh man, we are not going to be able to see anything until we get around that first corner buoy.
The start came closer and I found myself in the front row, waist high in water, praying please God let me have fun during the race and don’t let me get a flat tire. For me the easy part is the swim. I have done so many open water 5K swims I didn’t think anything about this part of the race. The horn sounded and we took off swimming. I found my pace and lucky for me I breathe to the right so finding the buoys was easy. The swim was over quickly and I was running up the beach for the bike. Thru the transition and onto the bike and up the hill I went.
The day before when I was talking to my daughter she said, “No iPod, no music for all those miles? What do you think about for all that time on your bike and running?” I guess I had never thought about it as we were always with groups of people riding and I was always trying to keep up with someone else or figure things out on my bike. I told her, “I don’t know. You look around and see things you would most likely never see if you were in a car and I am always looking for imperfections in the road to avoid.” But, I did find myself at some point thinking here I am all alone, I have no idea where I am and don’t even have a good song playing thru my head that at least I can hum one or two lines to. Onward I peddled. The race got fun when we were finally seeing people on the other side of the road. Then I thought that I could do this. But, as I mentioned before, the bumping gets to you and I was more than happy to transition off the bike to run.
At the transition my family was right there encouraging me as I took off running. And several hundred feet down the path I got my first glimpse of the World Famous ET Cheer Crew. Wow, that was cool. I didn’t set out at any fast pace but I decided I wanted to run the whole thing no matter how slow and not walk. “I can do this!” is what I kept telling myself. The great thing was there were so many people along the entire run course that kept cheering for “Go, ET!” I had no idea who some of them were but they knew me from the ET tri uniform I was wearing. Then I saw teammates along the path and it was nice to smile, wave or shout out, “Keep going, good job and see you at the finish.” I can remember coming into the last half mile thinking I am going to make this, I can do this. I was all smiles and thrilled to cross that finish line. So happy that I almost cried! I felt so accomplished and it was great to see so many months of training all come together.
It is so great to be part of a wonderful group like Experience Triathlon and have so many people cheering you on and encouraging you along the way. As I said on a recent Facebook post, my life has been touched by so many people that have encouraged, become my friend, laughed with me and just given me a smile or a couple of encouraging words when I thought I couldn’t do this anymore. I never could have accomplished this without the support of a village behind me. Team ET is like family to me.
Has this journey been easy? No, but I have found myself challenged beyond what I thought I had in me. I have run in negative temperatures, rain, wind, sleet and snow along with the heat and humidity. I have found so much joy in the sport, joy with the ET community and joy in completing a major milestone in my journey to Madison. Bring on Ironman Wisconsin!! I will be crossing the finish line with all my friends and with the World Famous ET Cheer Crew screaming like crazy! I can’t wait. 🙂
Enjoy all the pictures from Ironman 70.3 Racine on the ET Photo Gallery!