Praise God for His grace and love because I am a flawed man! Yet, in God’s eyes, I raced a perfect race! What an experience! This was a loooong day…longer than I expected, but the journey is something I would never change. Before I really get into the race report, I remember asking myself, “Did I leave it all on the course or did I stay in my comfort zone?!” I left it all out there. I am looking forward to getting faster times but I am certainly NOT disappointed with my effort. Besides, this was only my second triathlon and only four months preparation before my first Half Ironman.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt
I can tell you exactly the moment I wanted to quit and go home! At that moment, I was standing on the edge of a cliff and quitting, well… it seemed like the only logical thing to do…
The day started super early. I went to bed the night before around 7:30 pm with the help of a sleep aid! I read too many horror stories of people having sleepless nights. Being Type A about this training, I, of course, used this sleeping aid two other times; once before a half marathon and once before a long bike ride. I wanted to know what I felt like after using this sleep aid. My alarm was set for 3:15 am and I was awake and alert by 3. Only the last hour of sleep I was a bit restless, but I really had the BEST sleep ever! No complaints! When 3 am rolled around I was alive! I wasn’t really nervous or super excited but alive and alert!
I was scheduled to leave at 4:15 am, but left at 4:30am instead. The car was packed and ready to go by 4:15 am, but I wasn’t. Let’s just say my stress manifested itself in another way! And let’s just say about ten times that morning it continued to manifest itself in that same way! UGH! So, 4:30 am we’re on the road to the transition area which isn’t that far away, about 6 -10 miles. Because of road closures we had to cut through Decatur Street which, apparently, is a HUGE party area of New Orleans even at 4:30 am! The music was loud, the people were drinking, and the transvestites were out and about! Unfortunately, so was traffic! Who would guess there would be traffic at 4:30 am.
After the delay through party city, the rest of the trip was uneventful. I made it into transition confident I had everything I needed. I was extremely excited to see my bike was still there! People joked that the safest place in New Orleans was the bike transition area. I believe it! That’s a rough city. I started organizing my gear in a way so I wouldn’t forget to carry anything out with me! Turns out it worked! I didn’t forget to take anything I needed out to the road with me on either the bike or the run. I will add, though, having a flashlight in transition would be extremely beneficial. It’s difficult to lay out your gear if you can’t see! I heard an announcement that the water was calm and the lake looked like glass! Oh yeah?! Just what I needed to hear!
And as I mentioned before, I made several more trips to the port-a-johns before the morning was over. At one point, I heard the announcer say transition was closing in ten minutes. I wasn’t really sure what that meant. I asked some random guys and they said everyone would have to be out of transition and in the swim start area. DOH! I didn’t have my wetsuit on! I thought I had plenty of time. My wave didn’t start for another hour and 15 minutes. I hurried back to my area, grabbed my bag that contained my goggles and other swim items. I quickly put on body glide to prevent wetsuit chaffing and grabbed my wetsuit. I went to the swim start and there is where I put on the suit. This was the first time I saw the lake that morning. Somewhere between 5am, when the lake was “smooth like glass” (the announcement said) and 6:40am, the waters had become a much rougher. The lake was moving. A lot more than my swims on Lake Norman and the practice swim on Friday!
I walked down to the starting area because the men’s pro start was about to go off. They played the national anthem and I heard the sound of people’s heart rate monitors beeping. You can set your monitor to go off if your heart rate peaks at certain beats per minute. Apparently these people were getting excited because the start was near. I’m sure I was too! However, I still felt pretty calm. I guess it hadn’t really hit me yet.
I walked back over to the swim chute and there were people standing around so I stood around with them. I heard an announcement, “pro men are wearing light purple swim caps.” I look up! DOH! I’m standing at the rear of the pro men! They looked like normal people! I quickly made my way to the side guard rails! I mean they weren’t doing anything special just standing around but I was a little embarrassed!
The pro men go out and it was quite the spectacle! Hilarious! Everyone is watching trying to see how these guys take on the start. They ran in the water for about 25 yards. A couple of pros tried to dolphin dive but they realized the water was still too shallow. Then ran/walked a little more before, finally, the swim! It was hilarious! The water depth seemed to go from deep enough to swim to shallow. You really had to get out there before you started to swim. I walked over to the swim exit and I saw KP standing there! That was really cool to see her standing there! I knew exactly where to look for her after the swim exit. Uh oh! Had to make another run! I asked KP to try to get pics of the pros as they were coming out if she could.
I ran back to the porta line and I saw the first pro running in. Andy Potts in 23 minutes! I knew he was the strongest swimmer in the group but that’s insane! 23 minutes! He didn’t look phased! Then I saw Macca chasing him shortly after. After my last visit I realized my wave was being asked to line up in the rear of the starting chute. I still wasn’t panicked, just calm, just praying. I tightened my goggle straps as tight as I could because they had leaked the day before. Today they kept getting fogged up while I waited!
The announcer counted us down…1 minute. Instant feeling of going up on a rollercoaster! You know that feeling right before you peak? You ask yourself, “Self, Why did I do this?!” I thought to myself, “At least I have a few meters to walk out into the water and get settled”…30 seconds. Heart is racing! “Go out easy. Steady strokes. You can do this.” I was concerned that the water looked a little too choppy this morning. On Friday at the race brief, the announcer told me the water always feels rougher than it looks. Well today it was looking pretty intimidating! I was unable to imagine what it would feel like. I had only done three previous open water swims in my life and one was on Friday.
1.2 Mile Swim:
THE HORN SOUNDS!
I walked out into the water feeling like a soldier going into battle! The horn was the battle cry. I wasn’t battling against the people in my age-group, but against myself! I was my only enemy this day. Me… and my demons.
The more I walked the more fearful I became; the more determined I needed to be. The water was waste high and I decided to make my stand! This is where my swim had to start. It is time!
I can tell you exactly the moment I wanted to quit and go home! At that moment, I was standing on the edge of a cliff and quitting, well… it seemed like the only logical thing to do…
I took one stroke and I went to breathe. That was the moment I wanted to quit! After my first stroke, I turned to breathe and I was immediately overcome with water! A swell had covered my entire face. The water was extremely rough! I panicked! I felt like I was drowning! It was the only time during my short 8 month swim career that I had felt like I was drowning. I was seriously picturing myself raising my hand and calling it! I have never been so afraid in my life. I thought I would die if I continued!!!
I stopped seriously with the thought of raising my hand. The moment I felt like I was drowning, I felt a huge adrenaline dump. The flight or fight feeling you get when you are afraid. I decided to fight! That would become the theme of the day! FIGHTING! The guy to my right was still able to barely walk in the water. The water was nearly chest deep. Instead of quitting, I thought, “Dude you just started! You just started! You better get settled and get moving!” So, I walked. When I saw him start to swim, I began to swim. He didn’t know it but there was some comfort in having another swimmer next to me. If he could do it, I could do it. I took my next breath and, Praise God, I could breathe! I was back in this fight!
I made the first turn and was starting to find my rhythm. I made it to the first big orange buoy which I thought was the turn around. I was happy dancing in my head! Man that was quick! Uhh Yeah… I was wrong! I saw people still swimming so I continued to swim. I managed to sight well and stay on track while swimming on the west side of the course. During this stretch of the course I was kicked in the head several times and elbowed in the eye. The next day I couldn’t figure out why my right eye was hurting. Oh yeah, that’s because I took an elbow! At one point, someone seriously swam over me! I thought to myself, “Did a kayaker just go over me?” This huge mass had just gone over me, but as it passed I was kicked, again, in the head! I thought, “Oh! No, that was a person!” as Dori would say in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming,”
I passed a lady who was having a rough time. She was there just floating on her back, taking her time! I was happy for her! She was still in it! I was happy for me that I wasn’t her! I prayed for that woman. I hope she made it. I passed a few people that were taking breaks. I just kept at it. Several times I would go to breathe and take in water! I had proved early on I could overcome that (the swim start) and so I just kept moving. I was breathing every two strokes. In the pool I would breathe every fourth. I felt comfortable that if I took in water I would be alright until the next breath. I can breathe bilaterally (breath on the right and left side) but just wasn’t comfortable doing it during this swim. I found what was working for me and I wasn’t going to change it.
I knew I was moving a lot slower than I could, but I felt comfortable in the water and I wasn't going to jeopardize my comfort for speed. This was my first open water swim in race conditions and enough chop to put Mr. Miyagi to shame. I had to find my groove and go with it. I did breathe bilaterally once or twice during the entire swim, but that was it!
Once I hit the turn around, I knew I was going to complete this swim! That is when things started to change. I could feel my calf muscles starting to cramp! My goggles, because of the choppy waters, were starting to leak. I didn’t panic this time. Smooth is fast! One thing at a time. Don’t panic, it’s game day! I took a second and pulled the left goggle strap as tightly as I could and I just kept moving. I had watched a YouTube video (love YouTube) of Dave Scott and he was talking about how people tend to cramp during the swim. He said to combat this, dorsal flex your feet and it should stretch out the calves a bit. I did that and it helped. Just Keep Moving.
I had only about 300 meters left! I could feel my body moving up and down in this unforgiving water! I was timing my breathing pattern with the water because at this point I had taken in water several times long the way! One time I almost got sick when the water triggered my gag reflex. After the turn around, the course seemed to change. I couldn’t see the buoys anymore. I was now swimming directly into the sun and could not sight the buoys. Desperate to just keep moving, I started sighting on other swimmers which I know isn’t the best thing to do.
Every time I tried to sight, I would have a face full of sun and not a single buoy in view. I heard other people complain later that the course could have been marked a little better. Since this was my first race, I don’t have anything to compare it to. I recall seeing people on the shore and just being jealous that they were on land and here I was still in the water. At that same moment, I realized I was one of many people putting on a show because I WAS SWIMMING IN A HALF IRONMAN!!! WOOHOOO!
A few moments passed when I realized I wasn’t getting the occasional kick or elbow. I thought, “Man did I get this swim figured out!” Then, each time I went to sight, I would hear a yell! It was a kayaker yelling for me to get back on course. I had gotten about 25 yards off course and had to swim back. About 5 minutes later, I was off course again! I just couldn’t see the buoys. As I approached the shore, I could see the “swim run-in” inflatable! Woohoo! I began to sight off of that. Yeah, but then there were the wooden posts in the water. I found myself on the right side of said posts and the exit was on the left. I had to swim back out then around the posts finally to the exit. That took me another 25 yards out of the way. I didn’t care! I was done with the swim!
I had just finished my first open water triathlon swim; my first Half Ironman swim. The scariest part of the race was over!
Body scan….heart rate elevated, but manageable…calves cramping... no big deal. Are you ready to ride? Oh yeah!
One down, two to go.
Swim: 51:33 Minutes (goal 43minutes)
I run up the chute and I see KP! She looked as happy to see that I made it through the swim as I was to finally have it over with! I’m sure that was a difficult time for her as well, watching people being pulled out of the water and not knowing exactly where I was. I didn’t run up the chute. I didn’t see any reason to. I just walked silently! I didn’t have much to say, or couldn’t talk if I wanted to, Lol! I just looked at KP, smiled, and gave her thumbs up to let her know I was still in this race! She didn’t know that just 50 minutes ago I was in a tough spot and wasn’t looking good. She didn’t care that I wasn’t first out of the water or the fastest person swimming. She was just happy to see me! And me her!
I made it to the wetsuit strippers and I knew what to do from watching YouTube Videos (again)! Lol! And who said YouTube isn’t educational? I unzipped my suit, pulled it down waist high, and had it ripped off by a stripper. (Wetsuit stripper, that is hehe). When he pulled it off I felt pain in my cramping calves and almost screamed out! That would have been super awkward. Some guy standing over me with my legs in the air and me screaming….yeah, uhh… glad I didn’t scream! HA!
I walked over to my bike and transitioned the way I had visualized in my head so many times before. It was a smooth transition, nice and slow. I didn’t want to forget anything important. As I walked the bike out to the mounting line, the aero bottle slid forward. Whoops! I forgot to lock it down this morning during prep. I got it secured and I was on my way for the easiest part of my day! (or so I thought).
56 mile Bike Ride:
I was a little nervous riding in this race because the aero position is still very new to me. On the way out, I was getting passed, it seemed, by everyone! My heart rate was up and I was trying to cycle at a speed that would bring me back into my zone. The road was super flat minus a few climbs around the bridges. The wind on the other hand was extremely unforgiving! It was the invisible enemy! I was only averaging about 15 mph. In training I was up around 18-21. I’m not yet a fast cyclist (or swimmer, or runner, Lol!), but I’m faster than 15mph! At one point, I thought to myself, “My bike computer must be broken.” When I hit some of the mile markers, I realized it wasn’t. I was struggling on the bike. Not physically, but more mentally. Why wasn't I going faster?! I wish I knew what it was! Was it the tough swim I just completed? Was it the killer headwind? Was it me trying to be super conservative to save some for the run? Was it the cramps I was experiencing from the swim? I wish I knew! Well, going forward, I think I will talk to my coach about what was happening on the bike.
With all the planning I had in mind for transition 1, I turned on the Garmin, but never started it so we don’t know what my average heart rate was for the bike. Ugh! For the most part, my heart rate was between 137-140 bpm.
I was hydrating well on the bike; one 24oz water bottle of Perpetuem per hour. Because of the heat and my issues with cramping, I decided I was going to use two SaltStick capsules per hour. Feeling bold, I was able to grab two SaltStick Capsules from my bento box and ingest them! (Progress! hehehe) As expected, I did have to pull over on the side of the road to refill my water bottles and take in nutrition. I stopped once on the bike for a restroom break. In all there were 4 stops in total.
On the way out I was able to see the pro males on their final stretch of the bike course. I don’t recall who the leader was at that point, but they were fast! It was a sight to see for sure.
The first few miles of the bike were really congested with riders. I wanted to be in the aero position but just didn’t feel comfortable. Some of the people passing were real jerks! REALLY! They would ride up really close to my rear tire, pass, and then cut me off about 6 inches to a foot in front of me. Sometimes, there would be a double pass where one person was 3 feet away on my left side, which was great, except another cyclist would squeeze in the middle of that three foot gap to pass! One good thing was that we had the entire road! Four huge lanes for cycling. Two lanes outbound and two lanes inbound. If they needed to pass they had plenty of room to do so. Not to mention I was as far right as I could be. It just did not make for a comfortable ride.
I wondered what would happen if our tires clipped one another. A few more miles up the road, I saw what the results of unsafe cycling were. I saw several riders being treated by Medic and one person was being transported. I just don’t know why people ride with their egos and not with safety. Finally, I decided to buckle down and I began to ride in the aero position. If someone was going to crash into me because they wanted to pass too closely, so be it! I came to race too! Maybe I’m just a newbie venting, but I just think we need to be safe. There was plenty of room to pass safely. I will get off my soap box now! I will say, however, in my next race I am going to put my head down and ride my race. Whatever happens, happens.
I recall while on the bike how quickly time seemed to fly. The first hour went by in no time. Then the second, and third. It didn’t seem like I was out there that long. After the turn around, the road seemed lonely and quiet. There weren’t as many cyclists because they had all already passed me, Ha! Before the turnaround I could see cyclists on the opposite side of the road heading in. Afterwards, there was the occasional rider. The closer I made it to transition, the less I would see until there was nothing. It was a LONELY ride. To entertain my mind I just kept repeating I just swam 1.2 miles in a Half Ironman! I would have this huge smile on my face every time I thought about it.
I also expected once I hit the turn around, I would be able to take advantage of a tailwind heading back and make up some time. Ugh… about that… NOT! I swear I felt like I was hitting a headwind coming back. On some of the boards I heard a couple of other people in the later waves say they felt like they had hit a head wind coming back as well.
About ten miles to go, I hit the final aid station. I, of course, had to stop to be able to turn and grab my nutrition. As I was about to pull out, I nearly crashed into another rider. Ok, I’m exaggerating. I didn’t see her and was getting ready to pull out when I saw her. I apologized fervently. I was so apologetic! She was understanding and said no problem. I jumped on my bike and began the final leg. The female was off to the side of the road and I could hear her brakes engaging. I was about 30 feet down the road when I heard the clink of metal and a *THUMP* Somehow, that sweet girl wrecked. I felt responsible, even though I knew I had nothing to do with it! I was 20 feet down the road but I felt so bad for her! There was nothing I could do. I hope everything worked out for her!
I could finally see the UNO campus! The transition area was in sight! Oh yeah! The excitement! 2 down 13.1 miles to go!!!
56 mile bike ride 3:34:09 (goal time= 3:18:00)
When I hit transition, there was no large crowd, no announcers, and no KP! I looked for her and figured she had to get moving in order to make it to the points on the run that we had planned for. I didn’t expect to feel the way I felt after the bike. I was in need of some external motivation. I would have to make it to mile 6 before I would see her.
This transition was slower than the first. I performed the necessary functions and, in addition, I mixed Perpetuem for the Fuel Belt. I made it to the run-out exit and realized I was in trouble.
13.1 Mile Run:
When I made it to the run out I has planned to run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute. I immediately knew I wasn't going to be able to make this run walk combo. My legs felt dead! Like really dead! I was concerned that I wasn't going to make 3 miles much less a half marathon. I made it to the first mile marker, but unfortunately, started the run way too fast. The run, much like the bike, seemed quiet there in the back of the pack. On the way out, I saw this guy shouting, “The run will come to you! Let the run come to you! It will get easier!” “Thanks sir”, I shouted back. Oh HEY! That’s ANDY POTTS! I realized then he must have won the race! That was really cool that he was there with the back of the packers cheering us on!
Getting to the second mile marker proved as difficult as taking that first swim stroke. At about a mile and a half, I was beginning to get a headache and feeling a little light headed. Shortly thereafter, my stomach turned and I got sick in some poor person’s yard. “There! Now I have a reason to quit! I made it through the swim and the bike, but now I got sick. I can quit now. No one will question that! You got sick!”
I was fighting another battle! Greater than the 12 miles that lay ahead. It was the battle I came here for. Man versus himself. I was ready to quit again. It was extremely hot and the air was humid. My legs were dead and could barely conjure up a walk much less a run. I then remembered an Ironman video I had seen. It warned that during these events, your body will give you a thousand reasons to quit but there is always one reason to keep going. At that point my reason to keep going was so that I wouldn’t be quitter! One foot in front of the other… just keep moving. I made it through mile two and then mile three. There were people in front of me. I told myself I just had to keep them in my sight. Don’t let them get too far ahead. Mile 4…they were gone… my battle raged on.
I began to tell myself, “If you are going to qui,t do it at mile 6”, knowing, of course, that KP was at mile 6 waiting for me…there was no way I was going to quit in front of her! I just kept moving. Every step quieting those demons that once yelled at me to quit early on in the swim. I wasn't counting mile markers anymore. I was counting oak trees in the park. Just run from here to the third oak tree. Sometimes I would make it; other times I wouldn’t. I could feel the lactic acid begin to build in my legs like poison. My mind was in this battle and it was dragging my dead body along for the ride. Other times, I would succeed and it felt great. Lots of small battles were won in this Half Ironman! The more I ran, the better I felt. The more time passed, the more I wanted desperately to run.
The New Orleanians (is that right?) were out spraying runners with garden hoses. Some turned their sprinklers on and pointed them toward the road for runners. Cold water against my body had never felt so great! Children with squirt guns would ask to squirt us as we passed. I don’t think anyone said no! The children couldn’t refill their guns fast enough!
As I approached mile 6, I was looking for KP. I saw her car parked and next to it a Medic. I started freaking out. “Where is she?! Where is she?!” I turned right and in the distance I could see the steady flow of runners and volunteers. As I moved closer to the chaos, I saw a woman dressed in black. I didn’t immediately recognize that it was KP. My mind seemed to go blank out on the course. This unidentified person then starts jumping up and down like a mad woman! It was KP!!! She ran alongside me and said, “Babe, you’re doing it. You’re doing it! I’m so proud of you! You’re looking so good!” All I could say was, “Stop, you’re gonna make me cry!” LOL! Well, she was! I ran a little further before I had to walk again. Thoughts of quitting, interestingly never crossed my mind at mile six!
The way the course was designed, I would see her again around mile 9. I continued to run from tree to tree and lamp post to lamp post. I came across a group of people that were running from bicycle lane marker to bicycle lane marker. They were getting it done and moving a lot faster than I was. I accepted I wasn't going to have a stellar half marathon time. I just wanted to finish at this point. I was running out of things to give this course.
By mile 9, I remembered I was going to see KP again! She always asked that when I passed her for me not to look like I was hurting. I tried this time to look strong. I couldn’t do it. I had to walk to her this time. At least I was able to talk and show her I still had good spirit! She cheered for Julie Ammon as she passed by us. Julie is a lady I had met along the way. Julie finished her first half Ironman 30 minutes past the cut off. Today, she was turning that around! She knocked 25 minutes off her time this day. Good Show Julie!
Soon after I left Julie to her battle and said goodbye (for now) to KP, I met up with another group of people finishing their races. One was a guy in the 28 year old age group. He was having a tough run, too. Together we made it to Mile 10. Mile 10 is always the marker I look for on my half marathons. If something bad was going to happen, it has historically happened at mile 10.
I was feeling good! Talked about running the whole last 5K in. “It’s only a 5k”, I would think to myself. In actuality it was mile 67 of the half Ironman at that point. I prayed that I had unknowingly kept some secret energy in reserve. That by some miracle of sheer will, I could run it in. I tried to run the last 5k. I likely made it a half mile, the longest I had run all day, before I had to walk/ run again. I was steady though, all the way to the last turn.
I could see the finishing chute. It was less than a half a mile away! I could hear the crowd. I tried to run it in twice before my legs gave out. The last ¼ mile I just gave what little I had left.
It all seemed surreal. So many thoughts were running through my head. I thought, “I’ve dreamt of this moment and now here it is!” I also thought, “Here is this kid from the projects, this guy who used to be overweight and is a recovering alcoholic, running down the finish of one of the most challenging endurance events around.” Thank you Father for your love! At the finish line I, of course, gave it up to God! I know why I’m here (smile)! I saw KP and my cousin Jason just before I hit the finish! I never saw someone as happy to see me as KP was as I approached that line!
Half Marathon 3:08:20 (goal= 3hours)
I saw my time and it didn’t matter! I was so happy to be done with this race. I had just completed a half Ironman! Everyone wanted to talk at the end of the race. All I wanted to do was sleep, Ha! My brother called and I talked with him for a moment. He apparently tracked me the entire time! I am so grateful he did that! Those lonely parts of the race weren’t so lonely after all. He was feeding information to KP to tell her where I was in the race. This gave her an idea of where I was and how much time she had to get from point to point.
I especially didn’t want to hold the phone to talk to anyone lol! It was waaaay too heavy. Kp looked at me and said, “You did it! I knew you could do it!” I just lost it! The tears just fell down my face. I think I finally realized what I had just done! The truth is I wasn't so sure I could do it and I did! My brother said, “Your demons screamed at you to stop from the very beginning and you didn’t. When you were at the finish, what the hell were your demons saying then? NOTHING!”
Swim: A choppy swim is nothing to be afraid of! It just takes more courage to accomplish.
Bike: Conditions dictate your race. Get stronger on the bike and learn to take from aid stations while still in motion.
Run: The first couple of miles you should start off easy. No need to carry Perpetuem on the run. Water, gels, and SaltStick capsules seemed to work fine. Mixing the Perpetuem at the transition just takes too much time and effort.
As you can see, I didn’t hit one goal time. In a couple of years, I probably won’t remember my times. I may not have hit desired times, but what I did achieve was completing my first Half Ironman! I learned what it means to not quit and get through the tough parts of a race and of life. Would I have sacrificed the fun I had in order to hit times I thought I was capable of? Glad I don’t know the answer to that. I had fun during this race! When it hurt, I embraced it. When it hurt more, I tried to smile. I’m glad no one was around to see what my attempted smile looked like! More importantly, when I wanted to quit, I didn’t! The times will get faster, the training tougher, but I will always remember my first Half Ironman!
P.S. I am so ready to get back into training! Beast Mode for Ironman Cozumel! The harder I work now, the shorter my day will be in November!