In the car on the way home from this race I thought to myself, “I should just brain dump right now, go home and make a video and just talk about this race before I start to to forget things.” But instead when I got home I took an ice bath, then a hot bath, then a shower so I could wash my hair, then was in bed asleep before 9 pm. And now it’s over a week later, but here we go.
This is like the longest thing. You should go grab snack.
To begin, the entire week leading up to this race whenever I thought about it, I felt sick to my stomach with dread. I was terrified and so nervous that it would be too hard or I wouldn’t make the cut off time and they would ask me to get off the course. I was a total wreck.
The day before I decided to start panicking over silly things. I texted Chris “I think my bike needs new brakes.” (It didn’t.) And I somehow I suddenly owned zero pairs of sunglasses, so I made a Target run for a few new pairs and stopped at 7-11 for gatorade. The guy who rang me up asked, “So…are you going to the gym?” “Nope! Just really thirsty.”
By race day I’d sort of…I don’t know how to explain it. You can only maintain a state of utter panic for so long. When my alarm went off at 4:30 I thought, well, one way or another, in 12 hours it will all be over, and that will be a relief.
I’d set out all my gear the night before and prepped a smoothie. I managed to sleep a little, but shot out of bed, gear in the car, and we were out the door shortly after 5 am. We got to the park too early, the gates didn’t open until 6 am. Chris was a race day rockstar in many ways, the first being that he was definitely doing his best to keep me chatting and to try to distract me from being so nervous.
We had to sit stopped in the car for about 20 minutes before we could go into the park. We sang some songs but changed all the words to be about riding your bike up hills. We tried to come up with a triathlon related word for every letter of the alphabet. (A for awesome, B for Bike, C for Chip timing…)
I picked up my packet and got to work setting up transition. I was glad we got there super early and I had plenty of time because my brain was not working. I spent a lot of time just sort of staring at all my stuff. Should I drape my shirt over my seat? Put it on the ground? Guh. I…what do I do now?
We went down to the water and I commenced panicking. This is a picture of a girl who really feels like she’s about to puke. And then the crying started. Not full on, but quite a few tears slipped out while I was braiding my hair and then getting on sunscreen, body glide, and my wetsuit. It was kind of embarrassing, sitting on a picnic table, getting suited up, just quietly sniveling. But what can you do? I am a cryer. I cried into Chris’s shoulder a little bit and then tried to get myself together.
When the announcer called one minute until my wave started I could just feel my whole body vibrating with nerves. I tried to release nervous energy by shaking out my hands. It didn’t work.
But once I actually started swimming I felt amazing. For one thing, it felt so good to be actually doing something rather than standing around and fretting. On top of that, there is no time for nerves when you’re swimming. It engages all of your senses, leaving no room for anything else.
I love swimming. It’s my favorite way to work out and it’s my favorite leg of every triathlon. I love it so much, well, I decided to do a little extra swimming I guess.
The course was essentially an out and back, a long extended triangle. There was only one set of buoys, though, so the way back was pretty tough to sight. One the way back I found myself way to the right of the other swimmers. It took me about 24 minutes to do the first half of the swim and a little over 30 minutes to do the second half. Whoops.
I came out of the water and tried to be hardcore and run up the short hill to transition. But then I was like…I think this race is hardcore enough, thanks. I’ll just walk through the sand. Peeled my wetsuit off and darted into the Porta Potty.
The announcer was encouraging spectators to scope out transition techniques noting that some athletes would be in transition for less than 60 seconds. Meanwhile. I got tangled in my shirt.
The guy next to me had essentially overlapped his towel onto mine and the nice girl inside of me didn’t want to step on it so I kept weirdly leaning over to grab my stuff. Eventually I managed to get myself out onto my bike and out on the bike course. I only have one bottle cage on my bike so I wore a waist pack to hold another bottle. I had a veritable picnic in my sports bra with shot blocks and cliff bars chopped up into little pieces.
The first half of the bike course felt amazing. Really amazing. There was a slight downhill out of the park and then it was onto Quincy Road. Quincy Road is a crazy roller coaster of straight up and down hills but I had ridden this thing four or five times by now and I was ready. I pulled over for just a moment around mile 10 to open my shot blocks (I always forget to tear open the package ahead of time) and to tuck my shoelaces into my right shoe, a step I’d forgotten in transition.
After the up and down hills, we turned on Watson Road. Watson Road felt like cycling heaven. It was a long stretch of slight downhill. Not steep enough to be scary at all, just enough to allow even a slowpoke like me to cruise along above 20 mph. “I’m doing it!” I thought. I am a CYCLIST!”
After Watson we turned right onto Colfax. Not still in cycling heaven, but it was mostly flat with just some very slight uphills. I was approaching the hallway point of the bike and I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I was above the average pace I needed to be, and I was feeling silly for ever worrying this was something I couldn’t finish.
The second half of the bike course was my worst nightmare. If I had known how this would feel when I woke up that morning, I’d have stayed in bed. Honestly. It was terrible.
Around mile 30 we started to head uphill again, but with very little downhill or flats to break up the climbing for about ten miles. My pace slowed way down, and around mile 32 we turned onto a road with ridiculous wind. It was getting to be midday and the sun was out in full force. Riding uphill, in hot sun, with a nasty headwind, with 20 miles to go, I was losing all confidence. My pace slowed and the miles felt longer and longer.
I watched my average pace drop on my Garmin and watched as my goal time slipped farther and farther away. My legs ached, my head drooped, and I started to feel a little panicky. I think it was around mile 35 or 36 that I passed a girl in an ambulance. And I was so jealous. She was smiling, she wasn’t on her bike anymore, and she didn’t have to run 13 miles.
Along this tough stretch, I was passed by a white car a few times who was leapfrogging a racer so they could cheer her on. The first time I passed the car, a man and two little kids leaned out of the windows and started cheering their heads off “YOU CAN DO IT KEEP GOING DOING GREAT!”
Aaaand of course I burst into tears because I was not doing great and I wasn’t sure I could do this and I was so hot and tired and it felt like my legs were going to fall off.
But they kept leapfrogging, and as long as they were out there cheering for someone else they cheered for me, too. And it made me cry, but I called out the most sincere “Thank you!” I could.
At one point a woman passed me and commented “Ugh, this wind! This just feels endless.” And it did. That’s exactly how it felt. For those ten miles, it felt like I was going to be riding my bike for the rest of my days and that I was never going to turn onto Quincy and I’d never do anything again except ride my bike uphill in the sun.
I started bargaining. Okay, Mel. If you finish this race, I promise you will never, ever, ever have to ride your bike again. You can throw this bike into the dumpster when you get back to the park. And even, Okay…whatever’s up there. I don’t believe in this, but if there is a higher power out in the universe that can hear me, if you give me just one minute of downhill or heck, even flat, I will become a believer. (I actually did get a short downhill after that but I did not hold up my end of the bargain. Sorry, Universe.)
Eventually I turned back onto Quincy Road and, for the most part, out of the wind! I never thought I’d be so happy for those roller coaster hills, but at least scary fast downhill broke up the steep uphills. I knew I could do this, and I only had 16 miles to go. At this point the ride was still tough, but felt less like death. More like a bad cold.
I grabbed a water bottle from the aid station at mile 46 and squirted it all over me. That was probably one of the best moments of my life. I wish I had done that earlier, but I was only carrying and drinking Gatorade, and I didn’t want to splash that all over myself and get sticky.
In this last stretch, there was a race official on patrol on a motorcycle. He pulled up to me a few times and asked if I was okay and advised me to drink water if I felt dizzy. I put on my biggest, lyingest smile and said “I feel just fine, thanks! I’m just slow.” I didn’t feel dizzy or anything, but I did feel like the smart thing to do would have been to just stop.
Once I turned back into the park, I was so happy to be almost off the bike. The last three turns/uphills were brutal, though. They seemed suddenly much steeper than on my way out. It’s funny how your body really starts to protest when you know you’re almost done.
As I came to the end of the bike course, I saw Chris standing next to a volunteer, cheering his head off. Once again, I promptly burst into tears. At that point I didn’t even care. I wasn’t trying to smile or pretend I wasn’t sobbing like a baby. Volunteers were encouraging as I came into transition and shared some good news “You’re off the bike!” I managed a “Thanks” in between ragged breaths. I parked my bike, took off my helmet, and stood in transition for a solid 60 seconds at least, and just sobbed my eyes out.
I’m not a huge fan of the term “Lose my shit.” It’s crass. And not usually very descriptive. And I once knew someone who so overused the phrase that it’s still a joke in my household.
But guys, I lost my shit. Poor Chris is standing on the other side of the railing, “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” Sniff. “I’m fine.” Sob, sob. Chris was kind enough not to take pictures of this low moment, but I almost wish I had some. I just put my face in my hands and cried because I was so disappointed and so tired and hot and I was just sad.
I didn’t really think I had a run in me, but I grabbed my hat and some shot blocks and walked out of transition. Chris walked next to me for a few minutes and I blubbered to him “That was SO HARD. That was the HARDEST thing I have ever made myself do.”
“Do you want me to walk with you?”
Sigh. “No. I don’t know. I think I can do it. Okay. I’m gonna go run now.”
I tried to run a little but I mostly walked to mile one. I grabbed two cold cups of water, downed them, and realized I needed and wanted way more. I texted Chris and told him I wasn’t sure I could finish and asked him if he could bring me a full bottle of water.
I think he caught up with me around mile two. I drank water, filled him in more on how I was feeling, cried more for good measure, and then, realizing I had several hours ahead of me, that I didn’t really want to carry the gallon jug of water he had brought, that I was dehydrated, emotional, and very tired, I think I said something like, “I think I need you to stay with me.”
And that was that. He rode his bike slowly next to me for the rest of the race. (This is certainly not something that is allowed, but when you are that far in the back of the pack, they don’t really care. We actually saw another couple doing the same thing.)
I didn’t really decide I was going to finish until around mile 4. I was running for as long as I could stand it (maybe 2-3 minutes) and then taking a walk break. But by mile four it was like…even if I quit I have to walk back. So I can turn around now and walk back or I can go another measly two and a half miles and then turn back.
I felt stronger as we went along. I drank water whenever I walked and poured tons of water on my self to cool off.
I got to the turnaround right as they were taking it down. They actually were putting the cone away but put it back so I could run around it. I joked, “I don’t know why they give medals to the people who finish first. I’ve been at this for twice as long, that’s WAY harder.”
I literally would not have finished if Chris wasn’t hanging out with me. I wouldn’t have had enough water, and I’m sure I would have been way too much in my head. Having someone to talk to made all the difference in the world. I just took it mile by mile. I really didn’t even think of it as 13 miles. I never thought “I’m on mile 9.” I just thought of it as six miles out, a little extra to the turnaround, and then counted down on the way back, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
As we continued I felt better and just tried to run until I felt like I was going to fall over and then take a one minute walk break.
Company kept my spirits up, but it didn’t keep my feet from hurting. I ran as much as I could, but with three mils left I had stabbing pains in my feet and my hip was hurting again. At that point running didn’t really feel worse than walking so I tried to run for five minutes before taking a one minute break (my original plan for the whole run).
With two miles left I was feeling a lot of pain. Obviously I wasn’t going to give up with two miles to go, but I was done.
I was glad I’d done the Rattlesnake on this same run path, so I knew that the last two miles were deceptive, especially around the one mile mark. There are two spots where the finish line looks just around the corner but I knew there were wide loops and turns left before I was actually done.
As we approached the finish, Chris rode ahead to get some photos, and I geared up for the best sprint to the finish I could muster. The volunteers/staff at this race were awesome and they cheered me all the way in and put a medal around my neck.
And then I cried again. Less than I did on the bike, but it was an emotional day. Home to an ice bath, pizza, not even a quarter of a beer, and then bed.
And then I teared up as I wrote this, as I read over it again, and just a little now as I’m hitting post. I can’t believe I did it. I can’t believe it’s over. I’m so glad it’s done.
I will have more to say about this, but there it is. My first and only half iron man. I told Chris if I ever even think about signing up for another one he has my permission to squirt water on my face, grab my computer out of my hands, and throw it across the room.