About a year ago a friend and I were causally talking and she mentioned her bucket list included an Ironman Race. Now, I’ve never been a competitive athlete – I like adventure and fun but I am missing the drive/dedication to be a really strong competitor – but I DO like a challenge and will do most anything if there is a social component. So I agreed to join here on her mission. She, rightfully hesitant that I’d never done a triathlon, kindly recommended that I do a HALF Ironman first, to give me a feel for the race. So last August, I decided I would do a 70.3 this summer (2021).
It is probably worth noting that a half iron distance race is: Swim 1.2 miles, Bike 56 miles, and then run 13.1 miles. In August of last year my experience in those 3 disciplines was limited at best:
SWIM:I had not swam more than a few hundred yards ever, and never swam competitively (we’ll ignore the one season of swim team when I was in the 2nd grade).
BIKE: Kevin in hopes of getting me to bike with him had bought me a road bike in 2006… in the intervening 14 years I had put less than 50 miles on the bike… half of those were “riding it from one garage to a moving truck, and then from the moving truck to a new garage”. I was NOT a biker.
RUN: I hadn’t competed in running since high school (and I wasn’t a stand out athlete then). I had completed 1 half marathon in my life; (13.1 miles) the summer Ainsley was born, at 31 weeks pregnant, I wasn’t breaking any land speed records. I had run some Ragnar’s pretty consistently at about 1 a year, but those aren’t so much races as they are a tortuous way to get a finish line and a earn a beer.
So last August the only thing I really had going for me was that I lived on the river- which meant I could do swim training during a pandemic when the community pools were all shut down. I also had a road bike – And although I didn’t know how to use clip pedals, or shift gears, I did have the equipment (also helpful because bikes had become hot items during the pandemic and waitlists were LONG).
By mid-August I was feeling confident enough to try a sprint distance at our house (sprint distances: 750meter swim, 12.4 mile bike, 3.1 mile run). I finished and felt good! By September I was ready to try an at home Olympic distance (olympic distances: 1.5K swim, 24.8 mile bike, 6.2 mile run).
It was a gorgeous early September day, some good friends were here to cheer me on, and again I finished feeling like maybe I could do a 70.3 in a year. But now the weather was starting to turn and I was going to need a winter training plan.
We had acquired a stationary trainer for the bikes a few years ago- which got about as much use as my road bike did – and now I was going to put it to good use. I also bought a used set of bike rollers. If you don’t know what rollers are, that’s okay, I didn’t either. Essentially it is an aluminum frame that holds 3 large rolling cylinders, or rollers. The trick is to put your bike on the rollers and then ride – the rollers keep your bike from moving forward, but do nothing to keep your bike upright, that part is all core! Here’s a photo of the kids watching me learn to ‘ride the rollers’ in our hallway so I could catch myself on the walls as I learned to stay balanced.
We also bought a used treadmill- that story by itself deserves it’s own blog post! It was the first time in almost 9 months Kevin or I had set foot in someone else’s home because of the pandemic and was quite the experience- BUT it did get me an awesome treadmill.
So all winter I trained… well at least once a week? Mostly I thought about training… in the spring I signed up for a half-marathon (13.1 miles) with a friend. I wasn’t trying to win anything, just finish that distance not pregnant! We went, we ran, we finished.
I was happy, but now I needed to commit to a 70.3 race. COVID-19 cases were still pretty low, but I wanted a race I could easily drive to that wouldn’t have hundreds of out of town participants. I signed up for a small race in New Hampshire for the end of August- enough time to swim train in the river that as of mid-May was still too cold.
In May, I went to women’s cycling event hosting by the Adirondack Multi-Sport Club. The goal was to get more women comfortable with their bikes – they had experts teaching bike maintenance, etc. and I went on my first group ride- there were 3 of us, but it was a start.
June came and went in a blur. I got in the river some days, but the water was still cool. Near the end of June, it was starting to feel real- I was signed up to do a 70.3 mile race in a few short weeks and I was still swimming with my head above water, biking in 1 gear (I still hadn’t learned how to shift) and since my half marathon hadn’t logged many miles in my sneakers.
In early July, I showed up to a group ride organized again by the Multi-Sport Club. I didn’t know anybody, and barely knew how to ride a bike. They still let me ride along that day. They were kind when I was slow and offered some suggestions and etiquette tips for group rides. I was very grateful. They also informed me of another standing group ride in the area. Again, I showed up alone and was greeted with friendly faces and encouraging tips. For 8 weeks I rode 2-3xs a week with these “guys”, (there were a few women in the mix occasionally too but often I was the only lady on these rides). For 8 weeks these new friends held back their speeds so I didn’t get left behind, gave me expert advice, encouraged me to ‘be brave’, cheered for my successes, were gracious with my crashes, and genuinely made me a better cyclist.
By August the rains had started to subside and I was able to get in the water to swim more. The big kids were good sports with safety boating for me – I’d swim about a half mile up river and they’d paddle a kayak careful to stay an arms reach away if I needed a rest and yet far enough that I didn’t hit the kayak with my arms while swimming. On days the water was really high and swift, Kevin would safety boat for me. And while visiting in August my father-in-law graciously offered to safety boat for me.
Also, knowing that my crew would no be there to cheer me on for the BIG race – everyone came to cheer for me during a local time trial put on the by the Multi-Sport Club. It was so fun to have a cheering section.
On the weekends I would try to put in more training hours- but that meant large blocks of time away from the kids… or the kids had to train with me. So most Sundays you could find me running laps – each lap I ran a different kid would take their turn biking with me. Dillon was by far my most dedicated biker – he logged over 50 miles on his bike this summer while I ran!
Soon it was the week of the race – the weather on Thursday had a “Real Feel” temp of 107°! The workouts that week were brutal. Due to the pandemic I was going to do this trip solo. Which meant my biggest fans wouldn’t be there on Sunday to cheer me on. So before I left they painted my toes,
gave me a haircut,
and filled the car with good luck artwork.
On Saturday I loaded the car and drove to New Hampshire, that afternoon I drove the course so I wouldn’t get lost(!) during the race and so I would have a feel for the hills and road surfaces – especially important on the bike ride. Then settled in for an early night, as I had to be race side shortly after 5 am.
Race morning went smooth. Having never done a real triathlon before I didn’t have any personal experience to draw on, the USAT race official was very kind in helping me to get my equipment set up in the transition area. The race director gave us a quick pep talk and last minute instructions and at 6:30am I began my first triathlon, a half-iron distance 70.3 race.
After over 6 hours of racing including my longest ever bike ride!
I sprinted across the finish line near a pristine lake in New Hampshire. I had a blast. I wasn’t the first one across the finish line, although I did place 3rd for women. I absolutely had a fun race. Thank you to everyone who sent encouraging words in the days leading up to the race. Thank you to my family who sacrificed countless family meals with me, so I could get in some miles. A huge thank you to Kevin for buying me that bike all those years ago, for being super dad while I tried to be an athlete, and for always being willing to make me more food when I would come home STARVING well after the ‘kitchen had closed’ for the night.
I don’t know if I’ll do another 70.3 or if I will ever do the full Ironman (I’m not even sure that race is still on my friend’s bucket list!) but I am happy for the experience I had and the friends I made along the way.