We did it!
We swam, we biked, we ran, and we crossed that finish line with HUGE smiles on our faces.
We’re officially Half Ironmen (again!) and even have the medal to prove it.
I’m not going to lie and say this race was easy; it was not. There were times I wanted to quit and there were times I questioned what I had gotten myself into. I set out without any expectations for this race because I was doubtful of my abilities and training. However, I learned a very valuable lesson today – turns out I’m stronger than I think I am and my body is capable of doing some incredible things. Those times I wanted to quit? I promised myself 5 more minutes (I can do anything for 5 minutes right?) those 5 minutes became another 5 minutes, then another, and another, and all of a sudden that tough spot was over. It’s can be hard to talk ourselves into 6.5 hours of hard work, but 5 minutes? That seems doable.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.
We stayed at a hotel about 2 miles from race start. Our wave starts weren’t until 7:35, but we had to have our transition set up by 7:00 and still had to worry about parking and marking. We ended up setting our alarms for 5:00. I had my standard bagel with peanut butter as we were getting ready and we loaded the cars by 5:45.
Parking wasn’t as big of an issue as we were expecting. We’ve learned over our years of racing that as long as you’re early on race day, parking is rarely an issue. We found a spot at the first lot we checked near the start and headed to the transition area to take care of business.
I pumped my tires, laid out my shoes + fuel (a whole box of chewy bars and gu chomps), and turned my Garmin on so I could just press the start button when I hopped on the bike.
We also loaded up on the sunscreen. LOTS of sunscreen!
We had just enough time for a quick potty break before it was time to head to the start and cap-up.
Kelly, Amber, and I rocked the blue caps, which represented the female 18-29 age division. I was so happy to start with them. The three of us took turns calming each other’s nerves and jumping up and down randomly with bursts of excitement – holy crap? are we really doing this?!
We were the fourth wave to start, which meant we didn’t have a ton of time to let anything sink before it was our turn. As soon as the pros went, we were ushered onto the dock, then after the pink caps ahead of us left, it was our turn to jump into the water.
The call was made that this would be a wetsuit legal race early this morning, but I heard a rumor that it only made the cut by .6 degrees or something. I opted out of the wetsuit, simply because I didn’t want to deal with it. We were swimming in salt water and I was hoping that would be enough extra-buoyancy to carry me through. Out of the 50 or so women in our wave start, I’d say less than a handful were wearing wetsuits.
The jump off of the dock into the water actually felt nice. The water was cool and refreshing. I followed the ladies to the start between the buoys, then we all proceeded to gradually float in front of the buoys. We were all told to back up, which was fun to try and fight the current before the start.
We had 4 minutes of treading in the water before the announcer gave a 15 second warning. I turned to Amber and Kelly and wished them luck. I reminded them that no matter what I’d see them at the finish line.
5-4-3-2-1 – GO!
The gun went off and it was a swimming free-for-all as every swimmer tried to break free from the group. My legs were grabbed, my head knocked by an arm, and my body pulled down, but I reminded myself no matter what to keep on swimming. The madness usually only lasts a couple of minutes, and thankfully I was able to break free and find my own rhythm.
The first part of the swim was amazing. We swam with the current to the far buoy before making a right. I felt strong and better than I ever have before in the water, I even managed to move up to the middle of the pack (instead of in the back where I’m usually at).
After the turn, we headed to the cruise ship (we were swimming in the bay where all the cruise ships park) and I got a beautiful view of downtown Miami in the rising sunlight on my right. This was probably one of the prettiest swims I’ve ever done for a triathlon, definitely the coolest location!
Right before I hit the far buoy near the cruise ship, I recognized my sister’s blue tri-suit next to me. I couldn’t believe I found her in the water! I attempted to catch her attention, but she was in her own little world (understandable 😉 ). And just as Kelly was coming up on my right, I noticed Amber on my left. They were swimming next to each other (I was told later they never even realized it!)
Once we passed the cruise ship, we took a diagonal path back to the shore that had us fighting the current. This was the part of the swim I had been warned about. I decided to busy my mind by concentrating on my stroke, just as I would in swim practice. I made sure my hand went deep, my wrists didn’t break, I followed through with the stroke, and kept high elbows. Repeat.
I also noticed dark green and lime green caps start to pass me. Crap. The men had caught up. To be expected, but that inspire me to move a little faster.
With our final turn, we were heading to the end and swimming with the current again (thank goodness!). As soon as I passed the last buoy before the finish, I started to hightail it and gave it my all in the final sprint to the stairs out of the water.
I saw our support crew and gave them a very excited thumbs up.
From what I’ve read, the run from the swim to transition is long and tedious. We walked it yesterday – and it felt long then – but for some reason coming out of the water it didn’t seem so bad. I think I was just happy to be out of the water. I grabbed a weird plastic thing of water that they told me to bite on to drink out of (has anyone seen these before?) and waved to my friend Amanda who lives nearby and had popped up in the crown (HI AMANDA!!).
I’ll tell you straight up that I’m horrible at transitions. The whole time I was in water I was thinking about all the things I had forgot during my set-up: I turned the Garmin on but I forgot to set it to bike, I didn’t untie my shoes, I need to remember to put socks on, etc – at least the swim gave me time to think .
I made it to my bike just in time to see Kelly putting her helmet on and taking off on her own ride.I wished her luck, then threw my swim cap down and grabbed my socks and shoes. I put the Garmin on, moved it to bike setting (p.s. I borrowed a Forerunner 205 for the race), shoved my Chewy bars in my pockets, grabbed my helmet, and took off.
The bike! Oh lord, the bike!
The course starts with lots of “fun” turns through Miami that took us over railroad tracks and through some not-so-nice area of towns. Then, right when we made our way out of Miami, the wind started. This is the part of the race where I almost threw in the towel. We rode right into the wind for TWENTY-EIGHT miles. No turns, no relief, just a straight-shot into the wind for TWENTY-EIGHT horrific miles.
I was struggling to hold 13 mph. Group after group passed me and I was starting to regret my lack of training on the bike. It felt like I was constantly riding uphill, my legs hated me, my shoulders hated me, and my head hated me. I found myself questioning why I was out there. What the heck was I thinking signing up for this? Is this really “fun”? Could I really finish this race? My ONLY saving grace was the HOPE I would have a nice tailwind for the ride back. (that’s where the “5 more minutes” began to kick in)
p.s. I was surprised with the amount of illegal drafting during this race! I know it was windy, but that doesn’t give anyone the excuse to cheat so blatantly like that.
Ben passed me at mile 11 and I was wondering why he didn’t pass me sooner – I was a snail out there. The other cyclists were amazingly upbeat and sweet. Several of them read my name on my bib when they passed and yelled “Go Meghann, you’ve got this!” Part of me cursed them for moving so fast, the other part was grateful they cared.
Just before mile 20, I saw a the same blue zoot suit my sister and I have on a cyclists up ahead of me. Then I saw the 25 on her leg and realized it was my sister. Holy crap, it’s KELLY!
I pulled up beside her and yelled “THIS WIND IS A BITCH” she looked over, acknowledged who I was, then proceeded to curse out the wind herself. She also cursed her seat. She just got a new bike that came with a hard seat that was not agreeing with her lady parts, when I found her she was ready to toss the seat and finish the ride standing.
We talked for a few miles, then I pulled ahead and Kelly stayed within eye sight behind me (without putting herself in a drafting position). Honestly, Kelly was the one who pushed me through that first part of the ride. Without her I’m not sure what I would have done (I might have just given up). She reminded me how strong I am and if she can do it, so can I.
I had a 1/2 a Chewy Bar every 5 miles on the bike and drank LOTS of water, gatorade, and Ironmanade (?).
The turn around came at mile 28 and it was like night and day with my riding abilities. That nice tailwind I was crossing my fingers, toes, and eyes for? IT WAS THERE! I couldn’t believe how much EASIER or how much FASTER the ride was on the way back. If the first half felt like I was going constantly uphill, this was all downhill. I was hitting speeds I’d never reached before unless I was going downhill – 20mph, 21 mph – it was amazing.
Suddenly my spirits were lifted and all that extreme doubt I had began to fade. Maybe I could do this. Maybe I could finish. I still didn’t pass a single person, but I didn’t care – I was going fast for ME and that’s all that mattered. This was my race, no one else’s.
With 10 miles left, Kelly began to really push – and i was tempted to keep up – but I didn’t want to trash my legs before the run. I let her go and finished on my own.
(Check out that difference in the splits. Crazy, right?)
I saw Kelly in transition. She took off on the run a little before I did and told me she’d see me out there. I changed shoes, took my helmet off, discussed how awful the bike was with my Dad and brother-in-law, then took off for my own run (accidentally leaving my gu chomps safely behind – doh!).
I started the run feeling GREAT. This was my sport, I was finally in my element! Bring it on!
The run consisted of two loops that took us over the same bridge twice (for a total of four “ups”) and around the arena. I didn’t love the course, but I didn’t hate it. The bridge SUCKED, but I enjoyed people watching during the run, it was also nice to know where you were on the course at any given point.
The entire first lap I kept a look out for my brother and didn’t realize until we hit an out-and-back portion of the loop that he wasn’t that far ahead of us. Ben was maybe 5 minutes ahead of Kelly and I was a minute or two behind Kelly. I was surprised how good my legs felt. I kept a great 8:30ish pace for the first 2 miles, then switched to a 60 second run/30 second walk up the bridge (something I continued for all the up portions of the bridge + when I was running into the headwind). I learned long ago it’s okay to walk, but I need to limit my walking time head of time (putting a hard stop at 30 seconds) or I might walk forever.
On the flip side, while going up the bridge SUCKED, going down was awesome. I rode the hill the whole way down and just enjoyed the boost in speed. Heading back over the bridge, I saw Amber (who looked strong and in high spirits) on her first lap. Go Amber!
I took each water station like an all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet. I developed a pattern: one cup of ice down my back, one cup of water to drink, one cup of water of my head, two orange slices, and switch off between a cup of powerade and a cup of water. I took a strawberry-kiwi Gu at the halfway point.
I saw our support crew at the halfway point, too. One lap down, one more to go!
At this point I could see Ben had slowed down a lot. At the next water station zig-zag, I heard someone shout “Go Meghann!” and looked over to see Kelly and Ben running together. I had a brief fantasy of trying to catch up to them and the three of us running the reminder of the race together and finishing as a threesome, but I didn’t have it in me to put in the extra energy to catch them, I had a good thing going and I didn’t want to push it.
Turns out I didn’t need to push it, I caught up to Ben a 1/2 mile later. He was walking, hurting, and told me his legs were cramping. Turns out the bridge wasn’t agreeing with him and he didn’t have it in him to fight it. Ben wasn’t the only one who breaking down. I was starting to pass plenty of people whose bodies were just starting to break down on them. They were walking, hobbling, and still determined to finish. If this is what the scene is like during a half ironman, I can’t imagine how a full is.
The final lap wasn’t easy for me either, but I continued to push. When I realized I was on track to beat my 2:11 marathon from Augusta, I decided to make that my new goal to keep me on track. I just let me legs do their thing and tried not to let my mind get in their way. I ended up leaving Ben at a water station and cheered him on as much as I could when I saw him on the remainder of the course. He was hurting, but he still looked like he had enough in him to finish this thing. I also passed Amber another couple of things and cheered her on – I was so proud on how well she was doing!
Before I knew it, I could see my family and the finish line wasn’t too far behind.
This is it. No matter what, I knew I gave this race my all. I pushed through, I never gave up, and I more than surpassed any expectations I might have had. I reminded myself I’m stronger than I think I am and to never doubt my body – it’s capable of doing some pretty amazing things if I just set my mind to it.
This race was for anyone who has ever doubted themselves. This race was for anyone who has ever been told they can’t do something. This race was for anyone who’s fought for what they wanted. The impossible is only possible if we “tri.”
This race was for me and I needed that finish more than I realized.
Final time 6:30:21 and I’m darn proud of every minute of that (even the ones I almost threw in the towel during).
I teared up at the finish line. I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my watch and saw 6:30. It seemed like a dream. This course was NOT EASY and I went in hoping just to make the cut-off times. Not only did I meet all of them, I freakin’ rocked them.
*please note I know these aren’t “speedy” times, but they’re speedy for me and I’m damn proud of them.
How did everyone else do? They rocked it too!
Kelly finished 40-ish seconds ahead of me in 6:29:43; BEATING her Augusta 70.3 time by 14 seconds. She said knowing I was right behind her in the run pushed her to not give up in the end. Nothing like some friendly family competition to push us to our goals.
Ben finished in 6:36:45. He had a killer swim and bike ride, but the run threw him in, in the end. He still had a solid finish and couldn’t be happier with what he accomplished on the course today.
Amber did AMAZING. She held her own in all three event and finished with a solid 8:07:36 for her first half ironman. I couldn’t wait to give Amber a big hug as soon as she crossed that finish line.
p.s. I’m totally digging having a future PT in the family. Stretch me good, Ashley. Stretch me good.
Immediately after the race I chowed down on a big bowl of fruit from the athlete lounge, then went back later for some chicken and rice. Derek and I stopped at Cracker Barrel on the way home and I had Mama’s Pancake Breakfast with scrambled eggs and country ham – yummy!
I need to give a BIG shout out to our support crew – Derek, Anthony, David, Ashley, and Dad. I’m not sure which is harder, spectating an 8-hr event or competing in it? We owe them times a million because without them, there would be no us. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
IronDad and proud.
Alright, that’s it for now. I’m going to do a follow-up post with a review of the Miami 70.3 course. Let’s just say I’m glad I did the race, but I will not be doing it again. (Kelly and I spent a good portion post-race talking about how we want to just keep doing Augusta over and over again 😉 ).
Derek and I made it back home an hour ago and, now that I’m all showered and decked out in comfy PJs, I can’t wait to curl up in bed and pass the heck out.