My first half-ironman triathlon

Many people have asked how my first half-iron experience was, so here it is….

In a nutshell: great fun. I’m so glad I did it. There were many times during swim practice this late winter where I repeatedly thought, “what the hell have I got my self in to.” This fearful feeling lasted for weeks and at one point, I really thought I should not be keeping my commitment. I’m so glad I did.

To me, there is nothing negative about training for a triathlon except for the awful feeling of getting anaerobic in the water.  It quite literally is the worst emotion I’ve ever had and one I don’t willingly like to repeat.

So I went into this event knowing I had the potential to have that happen and knowing that my DIY training would be my two biggest limiters. (I am NOT going to include my mid-life age NOR the fact that I have a beater road bike.) I had the benefit of some training with Lisa and Mike who graciously allowed me to jones in on their already highly evolved iron man training. I so appreciate them letting me “loiter with intent” and have enjoyed some great runs, rides, coffees, and conversation with them. I also deeply appreciate the last minute council of Jesse at QT2 Systems. (www.qt2systems.com) He made sure that I was not going to bonk at mile 5 on the run from my poorly conceived fueling plan. (Thank you each for your guidance — and for not fully laughing in my face.)

I learned I’m a much better sighter during the swim than others in my age group. It was very hard to find someone swimming “clean” to draft off, I finally gave up and just hauled it on my own steam. This in itself is a huge personal accomplishment for me. Swimming is brand new and my Holy Grail. Some day I will be a good swimmer. As Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book “Outliers,” it takes 10,000 hours to become expert at anything.  I’ve got 168 down and only 9,832 to go! I learned to swim in 2008 and love it. If I never did another triathlon, it wouldn’t matter. Swimming is a wonderful outlet and a fulfilling experience. I love the sweet, silent challenge of trying to get better.  Every couple of months some tiny little break-through occurs: one-second faster on my average 100 yd pace or an infinitely small improvement to my breathing technique. Tiny little moves that make this personal Holy Grail a life long process that I fully accept.

My riding was inferior for me, but what I should have expected, based on the lack of training so far this season. I’ve spent a lot of time swimming and running at the expense of the bike. It is what it is. The day of the event was very hot, dry, and by the mid-point of my bike, windy. I was worried that my skin was bone dry. I did believe it was the head wind and crosswind and not from a lack of hydration. (And gee, I really needed the bad wind factor to make me feel better about my poor miles per hour! That fake justification worked for about five minutes!)

I have to say, how deeply painful it was to watch some very healthy, strong young bucks suffer on their run. I ran past 100 people, at least 30 of them were walking. This statement speaks to the fueling plan recommended by QT2 and not to my ability. I was taking my sweet time on the run with the idea of busting a move at mile 9 or 10.  My run was easy and comfortable. I took every water stop, kept my sense of humor, and had the welcomed distraction of running in tandem with some guy for about 10 miles. I joked that we should hold hands as we crossed the finish line. But that was not to be, I saved a little gas in the tank for the end of the run and had the pleasure of “sprinting” (that’s not really the right word after all that mileage, but damn, it felt like a sprint to me) across the finish line.

Five minutes after finishing, I experienced my FIRST EVER muscle cramps and was amazed to see both sets of toes do the Macarena without any input from me. Thank goodness for the ladies in the PT tent who stretched me out and encouraged me to stick my sorry little self in an ice bath and eat a banana. It worked. Although an hour later I really had a hard time bending over to pick anything up — my hamstrings were toast. But I know why: my bike fit doesn’t engage my quads enough and my seat is too low. This is fixable. 

Not the most glamorous way to end the day, but my hamstrings were crying for ice!

I’m too old to learn through experience. I mean, literally, too old. I’m not wiser; I just don’t want to get hurt. It’s not because I dislike pain — I think it’s because I really like triathlon and would like to continue doing it. The age groups go past 60, you know!

Along the way in preparing for this event, a couple of tenets kept popping up and they really are true:

• MYOB. The event is about you; not the cute girl that just zipped past you on her tricked out tri bike with the gorgeous custom paint job; not the guy 50 feet in front of you who you know you can outpace. It’s you, here, now. So mind your own business, do what you think you can do, and try doing it just a little bit harder….

• Yes, it’s important to understand that the transitions are the “fourth sport,” but it’s even more important to understand that on long-course triathlons, nutrition and fueling is the critical “fifth sport.” Without owning that fact, you’re toast. It took me a little while to understand this during training, but to see it in action during the event was heartbreaking. Participants obviously worked so hard to be there and then were barely walking on the run.

• And maybe when I become more experienced I will no longer be conservative and embrace this revelation I had during the event: Stay comfortable, because discomfort can easily find you without you trying.  I didn’t go crazy, I didn’t suffer, I always kept a “little gas in the tank” expecting at some point to totally fall apart. It never happened and I’m so grateful.

I had the added pleasure of having my husband and daughter attend the event. It was so WONDERFUL to see Gabrielle’s BEAMING little face at every transition. I so appreciated Matt being there. He does not enjoy triathlon and he sacrificed time and energy to make sure I stayed safe. I hope I’m a positive example to my daughter. She gets to see if you want to do something, just get out there and do it. We want both our kids to understand there are no limits and their edges are only hindered by what they can dream up.