Holy smokes.

On this post half-ironman morning, I am sitting with my feet propped up in our hotel room after getting a good 11 hours of solid sleep.  And I may even go back to bed (where Mike still is…)

I have a lot of stories to share over the 7 1/2 hours it took me to cross the finish line.  So here goes.

I woke up yesterday morning around 4:15 a.m. to catch the shuttle bus to the transition site about 30 minutes away.  I think I may have seen 1 other woman sitting on the bus… the other passengers consisted of really toned and intimidating white men (for some reason, there isn’t a lot of diversity yet in this sport).  I sat beside one of these such men, and nobody spoke a word the whole way to our destination.  Not sure what their reasons were, but mine were from fear, excitement & anticipation.

Once we arrived, it was still dark outside and we started our 1/2 mile trek to the transition area where you could hear the heart-pumping music playing.  I made a stop along the way to a port-o-potty… and you do not want to hear about those on a race morning.  🙂  From the very beginning of my day, I had to battle with the thoughts of not being equal to the caliber of athletes that were there.  But, I continued on feeling confident… or at least acting like it.

Once I had my transition spot set-up, I headed over with my speedsuit to the swim-start.  The sun was just peeking over the horizon at this point, and it was very windy.  I looked over the water at my biggest threat for the day… swimming 1.2 miles in Lake Pontchartrain.  I took a deep breath, got in my suit, and talked myself into the water with the handful of other athletes already in there.  The water was warmer & clearer than I expected (but still pretty murky).  I practiced a few strokes while keeping my wits about me and thought, “I can do this.”   I looked out on the horizon of Lake Pontchartrain and all you can see is water as far as the eye can see… and what appeared to be a calm, swimmable environment.

As I was wading out of the water, I noticed that everyone else’s suits zipped up in the back, and mine was in the front.  Oh god, I had my speedsuit on backwards.  In front of 2,000 people.  I then scurried to the back of the crowd to turn it around.  This is also about the time I realized that I was one of the ONLY people not in a true wetsuit.  This may have been a fatal mistake.

The announcer started lining groups up… first the elite professional men, then women.  They took off with ease & force, a sight to see.  Then they moved to the age-groupers… with my group (women 30-34) about 6 groups back.  They started each group off with a loud fog horn that shocked my nerve system each time.  My heart rate started to get higher and higher as the inevitable start for our group finally arrived.  I made my way to the back of my group, my strategy since I wanted space in the beginning.  As the fog horn went off for our group at 7:36, we started wading into the water.  We had to wade a good 100 feet before the water got deep enough to swim.  Then something surprising happened… the girl next to me started to panic.  “I can’t do this, oh my god, I can’t do this.”  And I found myself in the unexpected position of telling her it was going to be alright.

Well, it wasn’t alright.  Immediately we were hit with 2-3 foot swells that you couldn’t see from the beach front.  Rough water caused by the high wind that morning, and possibly all the surrounding safety boats.  I started to panic too… but kept talking myself through it.  I couldn’t keep my head in the water, and started to “drink”.  That is a bad, bad sign.  I was almost to the half-way point of the swim when I had to call the rescue boat over.  I was done… I knew I was in danger of drowning.  They pulled me up on the boat as well as another girl who was already on it.  She was in tears saying “I can’t quit, I CAN’T QUIT!”  But the sheer terror in her eyes when she thought about getting back into the rough water made me think that the fear for her life was too great to finish the swim.  As we were being taken back to the shore, I saw several people clinging on to random things in the water waiting to be rescued.  The guy on our boat said he alone had pulled out 8 people already.  At this point, I thought my race was over and I was completely devastated.  But as a last hope, I asked if I could still complete the race.  They said yes.  The water conditions were bad enough to warrant this reversal in the rules.

As I was making my way back to my transition spot, I began to think that I was a failure and even questioning the point of continuing since I hadn’t even completed the first event.  But then I remembered the fact that I DID attempt it (and there were many who opted out of the swim at the beginning), and that was worth something.  And I would continue to try my best for the rest of the 69 .1 miles of the race.

Now that the swim was over and I had mentally committed to the rest of the race, I started feeling confident again as I started the 56 mile bike leg.  For the first 25 or so miles, I was feeling pretty good and eating well.  The only hills were bridges, and I think we crossed a total of 6 for the whole event.  Around mile 30 I could start to feel fatigue & hunger setting in.  Even though I was going at an even pace & eating good, it was starting to catch up with me.  This is also about the time that the sun started to unforgivingly pound down on all of us with little shade on the course.  One of the saving graces of the bike was that the entire first half was a small grade uphill, so that meant that the last half was mostly downhill.  You would think this would be a good thing, but I spent most of the second half making up for my speed deficit in the first half.  Several times I questioned my sanity for even entering this race, but I still pushed on & held my own.

As the end of the bike neared, I couldn’t even imagine getting on the ground to run 13.1 miles.  I had to take it one minute at a time.  I told myself that first I would change into my running clothes, and then I would decide if I could attempt it.  I am not sure what the exact temperature was at this point, but it felt effing hot & humid.  After I got my running gear on & reapplied my sunscreen, I talked myself into at least attempting it.  After all, there were event personnel everywhere along the course if I needed to stop.  For the first 3-4 miles, I fought some serious nausea.  Vomit was sitting right at the back of my throat from pure exhaustion & the amount of simple carbs and fluids sitting in my stomach.  It was at this point that I resigned to my saving grace, the run-walk strategy.  It was literally what everyone else around me was doing too.  I had to take the run mile by mile… I couldn’t even fathom looking farther into the future than that.

Then, mile 10 came.  Only a 5k left… I knew I was going to finish at this point!  I still couldn’t go much faster, but finishing finally became a reality.  There was also a surge in the amount of onlookers as we made our way into the French Quarter, which helped tremendously.  And shade!  What more could you ask for?

As I crossed mile 12 with a little over 1 mile to go, the tears started to fall.  My feet were all blistered & sore, but I had done it.  In my mind, I had already crossed the finish line.  We turned the corner onto the final road through the French Quarter and I felt more pride in myself than I had a long time.  As I crossed the finish line, I was in a full-on cry fest when I noticed that I had made it in enough time to receive a finishers medal.  That’s when I saw Mike, my amazing husband who always supports me in whatever I do.  His long-time friend, Ken, was also there and bought me a “Lucky Dog” hotdog… the best thing I have eaten in my life.  🙂

Upon reflection this morning of the race & everything leading up to it, I am extremely proud of myself and had the time of my life.  I can’t wait to try it again & do better! I would recommend it to anyone willing to put in the work for a reward bigger than you could EVER imagine.

When we return home this afternoon, I will be sure to upload the photos in a separate post!

Swim, Bike, Run!