Today I have something special for you all.
My friend Melissa recently completed her first Half Ironman! Her dedication to the sport was incredibly inspiring. I loved hearing about her training, her excitement, and even her fears. I have the utmost respect for Melissa, and every other triathlete out there. They put their body, mind, and spirit to the test-- and come out the other side a stronger person.
When Melissa said 'yes' she was willing to guest post at Unapologetically You I was elated :) I knew that if I was inspired by Melissa's story, so many of you would be as well.
Melissa tells a fabulous story. I found myself drawn in-- like I was by her side during the race. I even found myself a little teary at the end when she tells of crossing the finish line.
I am SO excited to share this story with you!
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” Sir Edmund Hillary
A Half Ironman has been on my bucket list for a few years now. I knew, with training, I could conquer the distance, but it wouldn’t be easy. I chose a flat course: Eagleman. No hills anywhere on the bike or run in Cambridge, MD. But race day (June 14) would have something worse than hills, possibly: heat and wind. My worst fear for any exercise or training or race event has always been heat. Because of the heat, I also feared completing the course in the allotted time (8.5 hours total).
Swim 1.2 miles
(or wade, swim, wade)
The swim portion was in the Choptank River (shallow and brackish), a rectangular course, with an in-water start. The race started at 0645, with waves by age group. My cap color group, light blue, gathered at the entrance to the boat ramp, were motioned to wade in around 0735, then swim out to the start line buoy. The stronger swimmers naturally went straight to the front; the slower ones saying “Please go ahead of me.” 0740: Gun shot. Start swimming! After maybe 50m I realized I could just put my feet down and probably run faster than I was swimming. I wasn’t the only one thinking this. After a little resistance running, we got back to swimming. I tried my best to calm down and get into my groove, but it was never possible. I was breathing with every other stroke, but still sighting well and keeping close to the buoys. I occasionally had other swimmers crossing over in front of me, kicking me in the face, all that fun stuff you don’t get in training. It didn’t take long for me to start telling myself “I can’t wait till this part is over. I’m not even half way yet. When is this going to end? Is it ever going to end?” Coming up on the first turn, I stayed close to the buoy and got caught up in the anchor lines. Again, I wasn’t the only one, but took a mental note to stay farther away at the next turn. The first thing I noticed after taking the first turn was the awful fish smell, then I hit the half-way buoy. Getting there. At least I’m making progress. Then I noticed the strong smell of gasoline. There were so many volunteers with boats out on the course keeping us on track that the smell was just overwhelming. “I just need to make it past the next turn. Stay away from the buoy.” Past the next turn, on the straight away to the swim exit. During this portion, I focused on keeping up with the only other two caps from my group that I could still see. As long as I stuck with them, I wouldn’t be the last out of the water. Then my fingers started scraping the sand. I looked up and everyone was wading in. I guess the swim part was over. Thank God! I ran up the sand hill, through the chute and into T1.
Running out of swim into T1
I found my bike in transition, no problem. First thing was to dry off, especially my feet. Socks on, shoes on, spray suntan lotion, gloves on, sunglasses on, helmet on and buckled, food in back pocket. Go! I heard someone yell “Bust it!” and I immediately started laughing. My husband had been standing nearby taking pictures the whole time.
Bike 56 miles
A little jog to the bike mount line and go! The guy next to me starting his ride said, “This is when the fun starts!” I laughed at him and said, “This is fun?” The 56 mile course was a single loop tour of Dorchester County and the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge (pretty in some parts, with water views; scary in other parts, expecting snakes to slither out in front of me).
Must have been early on because I was smiling!
The first 20-25 miles were great. I was keeping a good cadence and I felt good. Then I hit a wall and the heat started to rise up from the pavement. I was getting passed instead of doing the passing. At least I was hearing encouragement from the ones passing me (I’m still baffled by the girl that passed me at least four times saying “You’re doing great!” I couldn’t figure out where she kept coming from because I never saw her stop.). A guy rode up next to me and chatted for a while and another passed and said, “This road SUCKS!” That’s about all I remember. That and someone passing me saying “Pretty bike!” The bike portion is the longest and the most boring. For me, it was just about getting through it without going crazy. I guess I succeeded.
I look like I’m in pain; I probably was.
But I like this picture because there’s a line of cyclists behind me.
Toward the end of the bike course, where the road was shared with runners, I noticed a lot of people walking. Was this how all Half Ironman races were? So many people walking? None of them looked happy and I knew the toughest part was still ahead. I made it to the dismount line…finally off the bike and running into T2. It was HOT.
Run 13.1 miles
(or Zombie walk)
This was the part I had been dreading, the part that worried me, the part where I would either make it to the finish line in time or not. I hadn’t gone a mile yet and I was miserable. I heard some yelling off to the side of the road and looked up, kept running. Then I realized I knew them! I gave a grimace and stuck my tongue out and kept going. Later, I would feel so bad for not faking a smile and waving. My husband looked so disappointed. But I really was miserable. First aid station, first bathroom break in about 5 hours. I grabbed cold water and ice and kept going. About a half mile further I came up on a runner in the age group just below mine (because you know everyone’s age since it’s in permanent marker on your calf). I noticed we had the same shoes, so as I ran by, I said “Nice shoes!” It made me happy, just for a second. I ran a little further, then stopped for a walk break. At this point I was already doing 4 minute run/1 minute walk. Then I heard a voice come up next to me saying “Are you doing a run/walk? Can I tag along?” It was the girl with the same shoes. She became my run angel; we stayed with each other over the next 11+ miles and finished the race together. I have no doubt God answered all my prayers that day by sending her to run with me. Her company made it go by seemingly fast, we pushed each other, we got each other through it. And I wasn’t miserable anymore.
During the run portion is when I realized what amazing course support and volunteers this race had. They were encouraging, they were helpful, and they were probably miserable with the heat too. A little girl at the aid station just before and after the turnaround spot was just amazing. She was the only one that ever offered to put ice down my back and oh my gosh was it the best thing ever.
I have never run through so many sprinklers, put so much ice in my hat, down the front of my shirt, down my back, and poured so much ice water over myself. Ever. Those sponges in ice water were amazing too. I’ve run in pouring rain before, but I don’t think I was as soaking wet as I was during this run.
Coming up on the last mile, we planned strategy. We would take one more walk break, then start an easy run to the turn into the finish chute. When we hit the red carpet, we would sprint to the end.
Just before the last turn into the finish line. HAPPY!
After we turned the corner, I heard my cheering section. I was SO happy. I was going to make it! I choked back a few tears and started sprinting to the finish line.
Goal: Cross the finish line in less than 8.5 hours
Three weeks later and I’m still in disbelief that I finished that race. I read a lot of comments from other participants in the days right after and I’m surprised at how many people didn’t finish the swim before the cutoff time and/or didn’t finish the race in the cutoff time. It was hard for everyone. The swim had a strong current and the heat affected everyone on the bike and run. It makes me even more proud that I finished.
One of the keys to success in training is having a good support system. For 13 weeks, my husband had food ready when I finished a long brick or run, did the grocery shopping by himself so I could rest after training, and picked up the slack everywhere else so I could get done what I needed to. I also had the best training partner for all those long rides and runs. Jackie kept me accountable on the cold, windy, rainy days when I would have just said “I’m not training in this weather,” and on the miserable hot days when I had a hard time telling myself I could keep going. We did countless laps of the 10-mile base loop and braved it out on the roads and hills of St. Mary’s one day. I’m thankful I had her to motivate me and I’m thankful for all the time we had to bond.
Me and Jackie: happy girls with medals.
Training for a race like this will change you. Not only do you push your body to its limits, but you push your mind through limits you don’t experience with other activities. You will never again say “I can’t.”
Wow, anyone else get slightly teary reading this??
Melissa-- I am so proud of you! You rock girl! Thank you for sharing your story with us :)
Your turn! Have you ever completed a Half Ironman? What is one piece of advice you'd give to newbies?
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