First of all, I would like to say, I’m a HALF IRONMAN. (Or am I a “Half Ironman-er” since you don’t say “I’m a half marathon”…anyone?) Moving on. I registered for the Princeton 70.3 in December, after a little bit of peer pressure from some triathlon friends (hi, Joe and Baker). The main reason I decided to jump to triathlons – in case anyone forgot, because I forgot myself sometimes – was because I hurt my back again last September, about a year after my back finally stopped hurting the first time around. Although not totally convinced that running was the cause of my back pain, my back only hurt when running, so I figured a break from distance running (aka the marathon, in my mind) would be a good idea. I know myself well enough to know that the only way I wouldn’t sign up for a marathon would be to sign up for some other event. A triathlon seemed like a good mix of cross training and running, so away we went.
And since it’s go big or go home around here, a half Ironman seemed like a good idea. Most things seem like a good idea when you’re sitting on your couch nine months away from the event. I didn’t blog much about tri training because I wasn’t always sure what to say. To summarize, I would say that I learned a lot, faced a few fears (hello, clip in shoes and riding along Riverside), and pushed myself in new ways. I also had no idea what I was doing (thank you to readers for answer my random questions and Baker for everything in between). I printed out training plans and didn’t follow a single one – between working twelve hour night shifts, being new to swimming and cycling, and maintaining a social life and a long distance relationship, I never could figure out how to fit in a “typical” training schedule. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone does without giving up most of their life, but that’s just me. Anyway, this is my long way of saying that I don’t necessarily think I was the best trained for the half Ironman, but that was my own choice and that’s what I had to work with on race day.
Speaking of race day, let’s hop to it since this is supposed to be a race report.
saturday – one day pre-race
Okay, I lied – we’re still one day before the race. The convenient part about the race being in Princeton is that it is quite close to NYC. The inconvenient part about triathlons is that THERE IS SO MUCH GEAR. If I was running in Princeton, I would have had a backpack and a maybe a large purse – not so much with a triathlon. Eric came in for the weekend, and we ended up getting a ride with Mike (Joe’s brother), who rented an SUV. (Renting a car in the city is really expensive – ugh.) He picked us up, and we were able to fit two bikes and the rest of our gear in the SUV before heading down to Princeton. We got to the athlete check-in and the expo around noon-ish. Registration involved making sure the event had the correct medical information and emergency contacts, followed by bib and tshirt pick-up and the Ironman store. I went against superstition and bought a Princeton 70.3 tshirt, mug, and pint glass since I didn’t want to risk them running out.
After the shopping madness, we grabbed our bikes from the car and walked over to transition. In the transition area, they had guys from a bike shop to pump up tires or do final quick checks. I’m not the best at pumping my tires correctly (my pump doesn’t have a pressure gauge on it, so I’m pretty sure I’ve been riding with the wrong pressure…), so I stopped to have them pump my tires. Pretty sure the guy thought I was an idiot because I didn’t know how many psi I put in my tires, and they were both pretty flat, apparently. Note to self: learn more about bikes.
I racked my bike, which was located near the entrance from the swim and the run out, but was on the opposite site of transition from the bike in/out. But when you don’t have any idea what you’re doing, does it really matter? We headed down to check out the swim, which was the first time I realized how far 1.2 miles looks – swimming in a pool is a bunch of laps, but seeing it all laid out made me nervous. I knew the buoys were numbered and told myself to take the swim one buoy at a time.
Next up was some lunch (sandwiches, yum) before coming back to listen to the athlete briefing. Basically, we learned what would earn you a penalty – drafting, littering, unsportsmanlike conduct. Got it. With most of the questions answered, we headed to the hotel to check in.
Killing the prerace jitters included getting beers at Triumph Brewery and dinner at Teresa Caffe – both were delicious, and I hoped I was carbloaded enough for race day. Baker and Doug were all set to drink some more, but Eric and I headed back to the room to set up final race day stuff and get some rest.
With alarms set for 5:30am, I fell asleep around 11:30pm while Eric watched the end of the evening football game. Next up: race day!
Alarms went off at 5:30am, and I was up and moving – brushing teeth, braiding my hair, double checking that I had important gear. We met up with Baker, Doug, and Amy in the lobby – grabbed some hotel coffee, and headed over to Mercer County Park. After a rogue parking job by Doug to get close to transition, we headed to bodymarking and to put our stuff in transition. I wasn’t totally sure how to set up transition, but I just looked at what people around me were doing. Fake it til you make it.
Transitioned closed at 6:45am for a 7am elite start, but my wave (the second to last wave) didn’t go off until 8:18am. So basically, we had time to kill. We hung out by the swim exit, eating our breakfast and waiting for the elites to come out of the water. The first men ran out of the water after about 21 minutes – yikes! As more and more waves moved in, we made our final bathroom stops (perk of being near the end – no lines at the port-o-potties!) and walked down to the swim start. Baker and Doug were a few waves ahead of Amy and me, so we said our good luck and sent them off. I climbed into my wetsuit (borrowed from Jocelyn, thanks lady!) and tried not to get nervous.
Pre-wet suit classic Susan pose.
Soon enough, Amy and I lined up with our waves and made our way to the water. The swim portion was an in-water start – we had to swim across the lake to the swim start, so once the wave in front of you started, they would let you swim out to the starting area. The water was a good temperature (70F) in my unprofessional opinion, so that was nice. The other side of the lake had a shallow enough area where you could stand if you wanted, so I took advantage of that until 30 seconds left to go. I swam back over to the start and waited for the go signal.
the swim: 45:22
I don’t even remember what the signal was for the start, but pretty much right on time, we were given the signal to go. I lined up in the back of my wave, near other ladies who appeared to be doing the same thing. Once we were told to go, I waited for a second while the people in front of me put their heads down to swim…then I did the same.
For about three strokes. I picked my head up and did some breaststroke. I put my head back down in the water for more front crawl. Picked up my head up and did some breaststroke. Looked around to see a girl doing backstroke. Put my head back down. More strokes. Head out of water, more breaststroke.
I don’t really know what the right words are to explain how I was feeling. I didn’t panic in the water, nor did I ever have thoughts that I would drown or not make it through the swim. But for the life of me, I couldn’t get myself to just put my head in the water and swim. I tried counting my strokes – five strokes with each arm, and I’d be feeling fine. But then all of a sudden I needed to have my head out of the water. I felt very buoyant in the wetsuit, so sinking didn’t cross my mind. I flipped over on my back to do some backstroke and nearly ran into a lifeguard on a surfboard – decided not to do that anymore. I kept going with a combination of (mostly) breaststroke and some putting my face in the water to swim. The buoys passed oh-so-slowly. Oh. So. Slowly. I wondered how long this would take to get out of the water. At one point, I caught up to a couple yellow swim caps (the wave in front of me) and got caught by some pink swim caps (the wave behind me). I figured I might not be doing too terribly if I was catching some people. I did worry about making the swim cutoff because I didn’t have any sort of timing device on me and I felt like I was moving really slow.
I told myself just to get to the turnaround, which was ten buoys out. Two turns, then six buoys back and I’d be done. (It was shorter on the way back than on the way out.) I convinced myself to put put my head and down and JUST SWIM, SUSAN, but that didn’t work for long. I was so disappointed in myself. My attitude was awful, and why couldn’t I just put my head down and swim? I made good ground when I actually did that, but I couldn’t do it for long and would just stop. All I could think about was getting out of the water. I already thought that I wanted a redo. That this is why they tell you to do open water swimming before the race. To swim in your wetsuit before the race. I could feel the wetsuit on the back of my neck, and it felt appropriately tight, but I wonder if the tightness made me feel like I couldn’t take a deep breath and that freaked me out? I have no idea. I just told myself to keep moving, whatever it took to get out of the water, to get on with the race.
We finally took a right turn toward the swim exit – nothing moves fast in the water. I kept swimming, swimming, can I touch yet?, no, swimming, swimming, can’t touch yet, swimming…run out of the water! It felt a little weird getting out of the water, so I walked up a little bit before running over to the wetsuit strippers. I had taken off my goggles and swim cap and unzipped the back of the wetsuit. The guy basically told me not to do anything, and within seconds he had pulled both arms out and told me to sit to get the wetsuit off my legs. Amazing, people. I grabbed my wetsuit and ran up toward the transition area. I waved to Eric, looking way happier than I actually felt.
Probably just happy to be done…
T1 – swim to bike – 3:57
The benefit to my location in transition was that it was right near the swim exit, so I got to my bike quick. I ended up having to adjust my bun since it was too high on my head for my helmet, oops. I used a towel to dry off my feet (didn’t really work) and put my socks and bike shoes on. Turned on my bike Garmin (the 305), put it on my wrist, drank some water, and “ran” with my bike to the bike exit/mount area. Fun fact: It’s really hard to run in bike shoes. I don’t know what a good transition time is, but this seemed fine to me.
the bike – 3:22:38, 16.58mph
Just past the mount line, I climbed on my bike, clipped in, realized I didn’t have my travel pump with me (oops), hoped I wouldn’t get a flat on the ride, and headed out. I put the swim behind me immediately (still had no idea what my time was) and concentrated on the bike. The course left the park pretty quick, putting us on the streets of New Jersey. I hadn’t studied the course map too much, but I knew it was mostly flat with a couple small hills (nothing to write home about). Also, a one loop course. We went through a few busy roads before getting into…the country. My definitely of “country” is probably loose since I live in NYC, but there were farms, flowers, horses, and lots of land between houses.
If there’s one thing experienced triathletes told me about the half Ironman distance, it’s that I need to fuel on the bike. “Treat it like a buffet” is what Baker told me many times. I had two Clif bars and a package of PowerBar energy chews in my bento box (thanks again, Baker), and I made a point to eat a piece of Clif Bar every five miles. I started drinking within the first few miles, and started eating at about five miles. Get on track here, Susan.
I tried to ride by effort, attempting to ignore the people around me. I passed a few people, got passed by a bunch of relay people, and chugged along. I noticed my pace was faster than I normally ride – hanging around 17mph. I felt comfortable, but didn’t want to burn out. The beginning miles, up to about mile 20, clicked off pretty quick, and I was always surprised each time the five mile interval markers appeared. I continued to eat and drink, pass some people, hold my ground, and do some mental math about my pace.
Apparently most people thought the bike course was a little rough, with some tough spots on the road and potholes. We certainly had to be careful at some points, making sure to avoid potholes, to go over some railroad tracks, and being careful with the rough road. It didn’t seem to bother me, but I don’t have much to compare it to other than the awful streets in NYC which are full of potholes and moving things (cars, other bikes, people…). I was happy to be able to ride without stopping at a bunch of stop lights or worry about kids kicking balls into the bike path or people just not paying attention in general. My main annoyance with the course was the 48 turns – so many! Most of them were 90 degree turns, which required a fair amount of slowing down. Just when I started to pick up some speed, it was time to turn! So it goes.
I really did enjoy the bike – the halfway point came up pretty quick, and I focused on getting to the second aid station where you could switch out a bottle for a bottle of water or the Ironman Performance drink. I finished up my bottle of water (I had one with water and one with Gatorade), tossed it, and slowed down enough to grab a bottle of water on the ride. I was just happy I didn’t topple over! Thanks for the solid handoff, volunteers. I don’t remember too much else about the bike – I told myself to get to the 20 miles to go point, which would be an easy ride after that since 20 miles is the shortest ride I would typically do. At athlete briefing, they told us the course would be 1.5 miles long (for a safety reason?), but I wanted to trick myself into think it was 56 and just a bonus 1.5 miles…so I did all of my counting until 56 miles.
As I mentioned, the bike course wasn’t all that notable. A few horses. A dead deer on the side of the road. A few groups were out cheering, and some people had placed signs on telephone poles and such. The funniest sign that I saw was, “GO ____ (don’t remember the name), THIS IS YOUR HOUSE. LITERALLY.” haha. The bike is kind of lonely except for the volunteers and police, but I did all except one of my rides by myself, so I felt pretty good mentally. I dropped my gears on the slight uphills, made up for it on downhills, took a little rest from spinning a couple times, but picked back up and kept moving.
My Garmin died around mile 41, which wasn’t surprising since it has only been lasting about 31-35 miles on my training rides. I turned it back on a few times and squeezed out a few more miles, but I knew it was no longer accurate. Luckily, I was close enough to the finish that it didn’t change my mental game. I passed the mile 45 marker – just over ten to go. At the mile 50 marker – less than half an hour to go. By these two markers, I was really ready to get off the bike. I switched over to eating the energy chews instead of the Clif bars in anticipation of the run and made sure to get in some final hydration. The final seven miles crawled along, and at one point a lady said, “Only three more miles, right?” I told her I had no idea, but I hoped so! After a few turns that had me convinced the park would be in sight, we finally reached Old Trenton Road, which I knew led to the park. We got into the park, I put in my final pushes, and soon enough I was at the dismount line. I made sure to get my feet out of the clips a little early, stopped my bike, and hopped off as quickly as 57.5 miles on a bike would let me hop off.
T2 – bike to run – 5:47
I tried to run with my bike back to my spot, but it was all the way on the other side of transition, and it wasn’t so comfortable to run. I ran for a little bit then walked to find my spot. I wasn’t sure how to rerack my bike – do I need to put it the same direction as before? Put it up whatever way I want? I put it up the easiest way then decided I needed to turn it, so I flipped the bike around and racked it. I turned on my other Garmin (220) so it could get signal (again), took off my bike shoes, decided I wanted to switch my socks, put my running shoes on, fixed my hair, put on my visor, put my Garmin on, grabbed my bag of energy chews, and headed to the run out. I got to the run out where they yelled my number (I think to check off who was heading out for the run?), and a volunteer asked where my bib was. Fail. I ran back over to the my spot, grabbed my bib, and walked back toward run out while pinning on my bib.
And that is how you get a long transition time. Oops.
Eric was right at the run out area, and he started yelling my bike split at me, 3:22, which was nice since I didn’t know what my split was since my watch had died. He started to yell some other number at me, which I thought might be my swim split, which I had no desire to know at that point. (Whatever he was saying started with “6,” so I got nervous that the swim did take me over an hour…) He said something about a “giant hill” in mile 2 of the run, at which point I yelled at him that I didn’t want to hear anything and to stop talking. (Sorry…) But really, I wasn’t interested in numbers, and I thought the run course was pretty flat.
I took off running and felt pretty good. The run was a two loop course, and at this point I couldn’t tell who was on their first or second lap. (Newsflash: Most people were on their second lap.) A fair amount of people were out cheering, which was nice, and I had a good pace going at the start, so people would say, “Good pace, Susan, looking good!” which was nice. I also was passing a fair amount of people, which was a little annoying since the path wasn’t all that wide. This got even more annoying as the path had a few spots with runners running in both directions, so you had to move over into the grass to pass people. This part was nice because I got distracted by looking for people I knew – I saw Doug and Amy at one point!
I realized around mile two that I wanted to stop and use the bathroom – in and out quickly at the next aid station, grabbed something to drink, then moved on my way. The “hill” that Eric was telling me about ended up being just a bit of an incline, certainly manageable. I kept running, keeping an eye on my pace because my effort was pretty hard to gauge. Aid stations were every mile, which made the course seem to pass quickly, and I worked on just getting from aid station to aid station. I couldn’t tell what I needed in regards to hydration, salt, or fuel, but I knew I didn’t want any of my energy chews…they just didn’t seem appealing at all. I did a “salt check” (recommended by Baker), checking to see how much salt I had on my face. Rubbing my temples, I noted some, so I chomped on some potato chips at one aid station. Notably hard to eat, especially when they’re at the end of the aid station and you’re trying to get down water afterward. Oops.
I was definitely having a tough time and told myself just to get through the first loop, then I’d be halfway done. The final aid station on the loop was manned by a tri club, so they were super enthusiastic, and it’s also where I took my first cold sponge. Those things are heavenly, let me tell you. Eric was on the other side of the aid station, and I was walking when I saw him. I was certainly much more in pain than any picture would let on.
The second loop…oh, the second loop. It was rough. Any spectators that had been out on my first time around clearly had athletes who were ahead of me, as the path was lacking both runners and spectators. It was getting lonely out there. Alone in the woods in pain is not a good state to be in. I started the horrific run/walk (by that I mean…walk and play every game possible to get myself to run again) until the end. My legs felt like I was at the end of a marathon where I’d gone out too fast. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. I finally decided to start drinking Coke at the aid stations, hoping for any sort of boost. Can’t say it helped much, and my mental game was struggling.
Luckily (or not so luckily), most everyone out there seemed to be feeling the same way. Many people were doing the run/walk thing, and even people who managed to keep running weren’t moving too quickly. I had a pretty good pace when I would run (maybe I should have slowed down?), and people were motivational. Or when walking, people passing me would be encouraging. But I couldn’t wait to get to the finish. I was a little upset at how my run was going – the run was supposed to be MY sport, and there I was barely holding a 10 minute pace. I never run that slow. But I hurt so much. I’m not a crier, but I felt my eyes getting watery at some points – I just wanted it to be over.
With about 1.5 miles to go, we got out on the final street that led to the final turns. A woman who I had been going back and forth with passed me while I was walking and said, “We’re too close to walk now – you’ve been trucking, let’s go.” It took me a few seconds, but I picked back up running. She said she’d be chasing me the whole run (and after the finish she said she was pleased that she was 14 years older than me, haha) and that we needed to be strong. Knowing that we were reaching the last mile didn’t help at all. Finally, a spectator said half a mile to go and that you could see the finish from the next turn. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be close to a finish line, and my eyes filled with tears again after that turn. I told myself to pull it together – finishing was a happy time and I didn’t need to look sad!
I picked it up (not hard to do…) until the finish and passed some people. Emily recommended pulling up at the finish to get a good shot across the finish line, but I ended up a few steps behind the woman in front of me. Oops. BUT IT WAS OVER!
Thanks to Eric for the video!
after the finish
Eric was right at the finish line, so he got some good shots and it was nice to see him. I chatted with the woman I’d been going back and forth with on the run, and we got our medals and pictures. Amy came in right after me, so I caught up with her, got some food, then tried to meet up with the rest of the group. All I wanted to do was sit down, so finally we did. Thank goodness. Baker and Doug showed up shortly thereafter, and we had quick rundowns of our races. After some hanging out, we headed back to transition to get out stuff and start the trip back to New York.
Packing up my bike, the ladies next to me were talking about triathlons, and somehow I asked how hard a full Ironman is compared to a half Ironman (since a half marathon and a marathon are totally different)…one girl said that the marathon part of a full is basically a sufferfest. Sounds familiar, I suppose. I had my Berlin Marathon bag with me, so we chatted about that too before parting ways.
We packed up the cars and headed out pretty quick – I couldn’t tell if my stomach was upset (happens sometimes after races) or if I was carsick, but I didn’t eat much after the race. I’ve never been so happy to shower and eat something when we got back.
My division had 62 women, and overall the race had 1989, so I was basically right in the middle of the pack. Not too shabby for my first 70.3. Looking back, it didn’t seem like I was out there for 6:18, but I guess that’s what three sports will do to you.
I didn’t know what to expect this race. How it would go. What I would feel. It’s very different than any running race I’ve ever done, although the pain at the end was familiar. I know I set goals for myself in my last post – I was pretty close in the swim, better in the bike, and slower in the run. Overall? I suppose not too bad, especially for my first.
I didn’t love my attitude during the race. I couldn’t get it together in the swim, although I don’t really know why. Based on the fact that I did breaststroke most of the way, I would have a pretty good swim time if I actually put my head down and swam. But I was happy to get through the swim and know that I could do better next time. I really did like the bike, and I’m surprised that it was my favorite part of the race. Time flew by (except for the last ten miles!), and I ate appropriately and put out a good effort. The run was…ugh. I’m pretty sure the race just caught up to me, but I know the pain of a run and wish I could have pushed through better. Live and learn.
My body has been so tired since Sunday. I really just wanted to sit, and walking around made me tired really easily. My legs have been sore, and my right knee really hurt to bend or put too much weight on. Luckily, it’s mostly gone away by now (Wednesday evening), which is convenient since I went back to work today. I basically feel like I ran a hard marathon, which I’ve been told is about right.
Overall, taking on a long distance triathlon has certainly been an adventure, and I’m glad I tried it. I can’t tell whether I’m done with triathlons (training is…hard, and I need a little race amnesia to set in) or whether a fire was lit to improve on everything that didn’t go so well in the race. But for now, I’m a HALF IRONMAN.