First of all, a big THANK YOU to Megan for letting me a guest blogger! Thanks to her encouragement, I’ve also started a blog of my own ( This Spartan Will –that's the link, check it out!). AHEM, MEGAN AGAIN - GO FOLLOW HER, KTHANKS.
Megan asked me to talk about my experience of my first Half-Ironman triathlon – basically, the why and the how of this semi-insane event I got myself into.
Let me start at the beginning. I was born in 1976…oh wait, a bit too far back, huh? Well, maybe not…I actually have been involved in sports all of my life – my mom and dad have been avid, active runners for 25+ years, dragging me along the way.
I grew up on swim, soccer and lacrosse teams but really started running and biking about 6 years ago. I did a triathlon in the mountains near Vail, CO several years before that but saying I was ill-prepared is like saying Donald Trump’s hair is weird.
After that, I decided to focus on running; competing in races ranging from 5k to marathons (I’ve done 4 full marathons). My dad has always been my coach through all of these, and he puts my training plans together and helps me through to the finish line (usually biking alongside me during the race too!).
My dad started competing in triathlons a few years back and I did one with him in 2008 (honestly, I was afraid he would drown in Lake Erie on the swim!! Alas, he did not, which is always a good thing). I caught the bug. I loved it and wanted more.
2009 was an off year for me, as I welcomed our daughter Julia in July (Megan one more time: Julia and I have the same birthday, just sayin, it's a good day). Needless to say, no races for me that year (until Thanksgiving’s Turkey Trot 5k).
But in 2010, I signed up for 7 triathlons – all sprint distance (1/2 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike, 3.1 mile run, give or take a little). I loved every minute of them and actually did quite well – was top 3 in my age group in all but one and actually finished 3rd overall in one! I caught the bug big time and couldn’t wait for the 2011 season.
In January, I decided hey, I did well at the sprint distance, why not skip right to a Half-Ironman?! Um, excuse me, Erika? You realize going from about 15 miles in a race to 70.3 is a bit of a jump, right? Eh, no biggie – I’ll figure it out as I go! So I signed up for the Racing for Recovery Half-Ironman June 5th in Monroe, MI. I’ve done 3 tris there before and it’s a great spot to race – super flat, really nice course and I like the organizations that put the race on. Perfect. I signed up in late January and called my dad and said “it’s go time – you’re going to coach me through this, right?!” “Yep,” he said. “You can do it.” (Famous last words).
My dad provided me with a 16 week training plan from Triathlete Magazine, with a few modifications for me. I started the training in early February and tried my best to follow every day to the T. I learned quickly that is virtually impossible given daily life as a mom who works part time and travels for work (and for pleasure). But I did my best.
Each week, I would re-arrange days as needed based on my schedule. If I knew I couldn’t do a 2 hour bike ride on a Wednesday, I switched it to Friday. If I couldn’t devote time for a 9 mile run, I did the best I could. I kept track on a great app through Facebook called IronApp – it helped me keep track of all of my activity on a calendar and I loved it. It also helped keep me honest with myself by posting it on my Facebook wall!
Fast forward to June 5th. Wow was I nervous wreck – I was actually sick-to-my-stomach nervous all week! The day was here and there was nothing more I could do to prepare. I had packed my bag the night before and was ready to roll.
I got all of my stuff set up in my transition area and began wandering around towards the swim start with my friends (several women I’ve gotten to know raced as well so it was great to have familiar faces with me). As we waited at the start, my dad showed up as did my friends Dan, Dannon and Nancy. So great to have a support crew! My dad gave me some final words of encouragement, said he’d catch me on the bike and sent me on my way.Before the start with my dad
The swim started and I was out in front of the pack (it’s a small race, only about 50 women, and about the same amount of men). I could see one other woman with me the entire time as we went through the 1.2 mile course in Lake Erie. Lots of rolling waves, but I just kept focused on the buoys in front of me. I started to pass a lot of the men (who started about 3 minutes ahead of us) and kept pushing. I felt great during the swim, and heard my dad shout “You’re 3rd!” as I exited the water. Awesome – I’ll take it!
I got up to my bike, peeled off my wetsuit, put my socks, shoes and helmet on and I was off. I had prepared by taping a peanut butter and honey sandwich to my handlebars and had 2 bottles full of water and Gatorade. That was perfect fuel for me and I felt great. Luckily it wasn’t hot yet. The bike was basically 3 loops for a total of 56 miles. I kept a good cadence throughout the bike – not going too hard because I knew I still had 13.1 miles of running ahead of me. I got passed by several women (including the top 3 overall finishers, I would learn later) and 2 of my friends. That’s ok – I knew it would happen, as most of them are incredible athletes who have competed in full Ironmans or ultra-marathons.
My dad caught me on the bike around mile 35 or 40. Right after that, my husband Rob with our daughter Julia caught up to me in the car. Rob would drive ahead; get out of the car with Julia holding a sign and take pictures as I rode by. It was so amazing to have them there – really helped give me a boost towards the end. My friend Maureen passed me with about 10 miles to go on the bike and said “hey, that’s great that you have paparazzi with you!” And she was right. I loved it. I think I slipped to 8th place after the bike – which was a-ok with me.Rob taking my picture from the car with my dad in the rearview mirror!
As I got back to the park, I was ready to be off my bike. My neck hurt, my legs were sore and I was just tired of being on the bike overall. Into transition, I had a pack of friends waiting to cheer me on – it was so great. I changed into my running shoes, grabbed my number and my trusty Spartan visor (I won’t race without it – maybe it’s my superstition!) and I was off to tackle the 13.1 mile run.
I started off slowly to get my legs underneath me. I walked a bit after the first mile or so, just to try and get some fuel (via these great little gummies called Sharkies – they are like Gu except with consistency of gummy bears). I felt fine, but my legs were definitely tired.
As I passed through miles 3, 4 and 5, I started to realize I could do this. I walked through every water stop, ensuring I was hydrated enough. I did have a side stitch I was fighting, but I did my best to breathe through it. It never really went away so I just had to deal with it.
I came through lap 1 (around 6.2 miles) with no idea what pace I was going – I decided not to look at my watch which was probably better. My family and friends were there once again to cheer me on to my last leg of the race. I felt great and knew I was close to the end. I still walked throughout the 2nd loop but tried to run as much as I could. Once I saw mile 9, 10 and 11, I could taste it.
I glanced at my watch and saw that my goal time of 6 hours was more than feasible. I actually could do the last 2 miles in about 17 minute pace and still make it! Needless to say, I knew I had it. I had Britney Spears’s song “Keep on Dancing Till the World Ends” in my head most of the run – it has a great beat, by the way! I passed a few women along the way, but also got passed
The finish of the run is up a fairly long hill but I could hear cheering and music at the finish line. I ran as hard as I could for the last .25 miles and crossed the finish line with a smile at 5:44:18, almost 16 minutes ahead of my goal!
I was so thrilled as my friends and family greeted me at the finish. My dad was right there to congratulate me and make sure I was ok. I felt amazingly well and really the only complaint I had was sore feet (probably shouldn’t have worn racing flats, but rather my more cushion-y shoes) and tired legs. But I really felt great overall. I was just dumb-founded that I had finished it! 70.3 miles. Wow.
I didn’t stick around for the awards because I figured there was no way I was top 3 in my age group.
After waiting to see some friends finish, I got my bike and belongings and headed to my car and headed to get my post-race treat – a Diet Coke! I had been so excited about that!
And just like that – after 16 weeks of training and about 19 weeks of thinking about it, it was over. I was done. I got online later and looked at the results, and low and behold – I was 3rd in my age group! Two out of the top 3 women were in my age group so they are taken out of the equation so I moved up to 3rd and was 12th overall! I wish I could have been top 10 but hey, for my first race like this, I was beyond thrilled.
I truly loved basically every minute of this experience (well ok, some of the training sessions were brutal but you get my drift). I am tempted to do it again soon but we’ll see where life takes me. As much as I would love to, I doubt I’ll ever attempt a full Ironman. But who really knows…now that I have the 70.3 bug, we shall see.
I encourage anyone who has thought about doing a triathlon to sign up for a sprint near you! They are so much fun and you will love it. I have my next sprint tri on June 15th and I can’t wait!
Thank you again for reading and please contact me anytime with questions (Megan knows how to reach me).
Thanks a million to Erika!! If you have any qs, feel free to email me or meander over to her blog and ask her :)