Thursday, June 21, 2012


If someone had told me just 2 years ago that in 2012 I would finish my first marathon and then my first 70.3 triathlon, I would have stared in disbelief.  Then I would have laughed. Loudly. In the summer of 2010, the idea of running 13.1 miles was totally overwhelming, and really the only reason I was motivated to try that was because I wanted an excuse to go to Disney World.  Hello, my name is Heather, and my actions are motivated by the same thing as 7 year olds.

Nevertheless, after 3 seasons of sprint and olympic triathlons, the desire to try a longer distance (even without a Disney reward) became impossible to ignore, and last summer I decided I wanted to register for a 2012 half-ironman.  So what if I had just worked up to finishing an olympic tri and a half-iron is more than double the distance?  So what if I like to sleep in?  And lounge around on the couch?  Who cares that my training is inconsistent and I blow off workouts all the time?  I can totally do this.  Crazy, meet Heather. 

The first sign I had entered Crazyville?  On June 10th, the alarm went off at 3:55am.  W. T. F?  Insomnia or serious partying are the only reasons people should be awake at that time in morning, and neither of those involve an alarm clock.

Within 30 minutes Mike and I were out the door, and by 5am we were walking into Great Marsh Park in Cambridge, Maryland to join a couple thousand other crazies to participate in Eagleman 70.3

I should so be asleep right now

First things first--my rules for Eman:

1.  DRINK! DRINK! DRINK! While this rule makes me think of keg-stands at college frat parties, at Eman, chugging down water and electrolyte-filled sports drinks would be an absolute necessity.  A long distance race + 95 degrees + poor hydration = an all expenses paid trip to the medical tent instead of the finish line.

2.  It's not a race.  Most people will argue with me on this one, but after my failure to live up to an ambitious marathon goal, I really wanted to feel happy about just finishing this beast.  So no pushing too hard early and then crashing out for the sake of 2 minutes or one spot higher in my age group or something equally meaningless.

3.  Embrace the suck.  A popular phrase among triathletes.  It was inevitable that parts of Eman were going to suck--I had to be ready for it.

The time between 5am and 7:30am is a blur of setting up my transition area, eating, meticulously applying sunblock and body glide, and squeezing into my wetsuit. My nerves really went into high gear as my swim wave time approached.  The task in front of me seemed so daunting, and as I made my way into the water, my heart was pounding and my head was racing with worry about how I would hold up on the run.  Deep breath--one thing at a time.  Deal with the bike and run when the time came, but right now just focus on going for a swim.  No big deal, right?  Just out for a nice swim.  In open water.  With a current.  Surrounded by a couple hundred other people battling for position, and a distance I probably only swam once this year.  NOT HELPING, BRAIN!  Shut up, shut up, shut up--just SWIM! 

All of that panic was ridiculously silly because I love swimming in open water, and once I was warmed up and the pack had separated, the rest of the swim was smooth sailing.  I stroked until my hand hit the sand and before I knew it, I was out of the water and it was over.  Swim goal time was 45 minutes (yes, I did still have target goals despite rule 2), and I was thrilled when I looked down and saw 42 on my watch.  Official time: 42:09.  Onto the bike.

While I like to say that I suck equally at all three disciplines, biking is my true weak spot.  I've gotten stronger each year, but I have yet to embrace the love for 3 hours on a bike.  My legs were stiff to start but loosened up, and I was happy with the steady 18 mph pace I was able to hold for the first 30 miles.  Then I started to feel really tired.  And hot.  And cranky about my stiff back and chaffing shorts.  Yeah, yeah, cry me a river.  I was biking 56 miles--it's not supposed to be easy.  See rule 3.

Miserable, but still able to smile for the cameras
I kept my weariness in check until somewhere between miles 35 and 40 when  I felt ominous chills on my arms.  I was out in the sun and it was already at least 90 degrees, but instead of sweat I saw goose bumps on my arms.  Oh. Shit.  That meant I was dehydrated.  I admit I had a mini-panic attack when this realization set in.  I was on track with my fluids, salt, food, everything, and having never been in this situation before, I was lost.  How serious was this problem?  Was I going to hurt myself if I tried to run?  Should I finish the bike and then drop out?  I wonder where that chick in front of me got those cool yellow tires? 

I biked on for another few miles, seriously at a loss.  Then I gritted my teeth and decided to pull myself together.  I gave myself a little lecture right there around mile 45. No quitting.  Not yet.  You are tired and dehydrated, but you are not going to throw in the towel.  It's supposed to suck, remember?! I started drinking as much water as I could get down, took in some more food and salt and hoped that the fluids and calories might get me back on track enough to be able to run.  (Oh my god, I still have to run 13 miles!)  I counted down the last ten miles on the bike--which admittedly just makes everything seem like it is taking forever, but I couldn't get my mind to focus on anything other than mile 50--just 6 left.  Mile 54--2 miles, Heather, just 2 more miles!  I let out a big sigh of relief as I rolled back into the park and dismounted and made my way to rack my bike.  Bike goal time was 3:15.  Official time 3:13:31, average pace 17.4.  Damn, despite my problems, I was still rockin' those targets.

T2, I think I love you
I took my time in T2, mopping off my face and diligently applying more sunscreen.  Remember rule 2.  Saving 60 seconds is not worth a painful sunburn.  Instead of jogging I walked until I hit the timing mat at the T2 exit and tried to wrap my brain around the fact that I was about to attempt 13.1 miles. Dehydrated.  In 95 degrees.  After already enduring 4 solid hours of exercise. I was screwed.

And so I began the long hot run--the beast of Eagleman--13 miles  on blacktop with absolutely no shade. I had heard all the horror stories.  From his experience last year, also a day in the mid-90s, Mike described the Eman run as: Hades, running through a furnace, and pure misery  (gee, don't sugar-coat it for my sake).  I knew what was ahead of me.  It wasn't going to be pretty, but I was going to try.  Slow and steady--no problem. I jogged for maybe a quarter-mile before throwing that plan right out the window and dropping to a walk.  My calves were painfully tight--a common problem for me running after a long bike.  I stopped and tried to stretch them out and kept walking most of the rest of the first mile.  

See ya in 13.1
At this point I seriously thought there was a chance I was going to end up walking the entire 13 miles.  I wondered if I was going to be that person whose run split was actually slower than her bike time.  Okay, forget the 2:30 target, just come in under 3 hours.  I hit the first water stop, loaded up my sports bra with ice, drank a cup of water, chewed on some more ice, and then started my slow jog again.

I was able to slowly run the next couple of miles.  The course is an out and back, and I saw Mike running strong around mile 3.  I tried not to think mean thoughts despite my supreme jealousy that he only had 3 miles left while 10 more were waiting for me.  For the next 6-7 miles, I ran when I could, walked when I needed to, poured water and ice over my skin at water stops, and very slowly counted down the miles.  I was surrounded by athletes in the same boat.  We were all battling, and I tried not to think about the fact that we all paid money to do this to ourselves.  Yup, I was fitting right in with the locals in Crazyville.

Around mile 9, I heard a volunteer say, "they're dropping like flies", and I glanced over to see a couple of athletes on the side of the road getting assistance and a ride back to the finish.  I fantasized for a moment about joining them before snapping back to reality.  I was exhausted, the tendonitis in my feet ached, but I was okay.  One foot in front of the other.  A sign around mile 11 proclaimed "moving forward is a pace" and I smiled. I was walking when I saw it.

Still vertical = victory!
For most of miles 8-11, I was able to hold a run 3 minutes, walk 2 minutes pace.  By the time I hit 11, however, I was done.  I remember trying to do my 3 minute run and only making it 90 seconds before dropping back down to a  walk.  Eh, at this point, who cared?  I got a boost from some residents partying on their front lawn and made it to the mile 12 marker.  During that final mile it started to hit me that I was about to finish a race that covered 70.3 miles.  I tried to thank some clapping spectators and my voice wavered.  By the time I turned the corner into the finish chute, my chin was quivering.  I dug deep for that last bit of energy, picked up my pace, and threw myself across the finish line with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes.  Run(/walk) time: 2:47:03.

I grabbed my medal and rushed through the finish area.  I didn't even bother to grab water.  I staggered straight to Mike and fell into his arms.

Total race time: 6 hours, 51 minutes.

Am I thrilled with my performance?  Nah, but honestly, it was about what I expected.  I was undertrained because of tendonitis problems from the marathon, so I knew my endurance was lacking and the run was going to be a long grind.  So, thrilled with my time? No. Super proud of myself?  Hell, YES!  I had good for me swim and bike times, and even in a best case scenerio, I figured my time would be 6:35-6:40, and I'm not going to get bent out of shape over 15 minutes for my first 70.3.  Besides, I could have bailed on the race when I started having foot problems. I could have dropped down to the aqua-velo division and skipped the run.  I could have thrown in the towel when I realized I was dehydrated.  But I didn't.  I kept going.  I finished.  I am a half-ironman.

What's next?  A long break to let my feet heal and then I want to do it all over again.  Hand over the mortgage papers, I'm in Crazyville to stay.


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