The Third Buoy (Lessons from My first Half Ironman)

It is done. The first big one. My first Half Ironman …well, I guess with my knees, they’ve all been big. But this was the first big big one. 70.3 miles. 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 half marathon run. Done in 6 hours, 5 minutes. …I. Feel. Incredible.

The Third Buoy (Lessons from my first Half Ironman)

So, I wanted to do a little recap of course. Triathletes scour the interwebs for tidbits of advice, and with this little platform of mine… I’m sure you understand 🙂 I’ll have the post-triathlon splurge recipe next post!

The race I chose for my first HIM was the HITS triathlon in Naples, Florida. I chose that race for 2 reasons: I wanted a wetsuit-assisted swim and a flat bike course. Naples has both. I did the HITS tri in Ocala, FL, last year at the Olympic distance (1500m swim, 26 mile bike, and 10k run), and the bike course there is hilly and the run is on a trail. No bueno …although I am registered to do the HIM there in March because, well, I’m me. But Naples looked like a good race for my first go at 70.3.

…and I was right on that. The bike course was perfect – nice, long, flat …and a good, safe bike lane the entire way. HITS Ocala will not be like that – it’s much more treacherous. Also, I have to give a huge shout-out to the Naples police. I have never seen such outstanding traffic control in a tri including lots of large, busy intersections.

The Third Buoy (Lessons from my first Half Ironman)

So, before I get into the particulars …the swim. This swim was the worst. Terrible. God awful hell. As in, in the first 5 minutes, I nearly turned back to shore to quit. I have never had that strong a feeling to quit. In triathlons I’ve done, we start the swim in nice little “waves” defined by age or sex. Not this one – all 200 of us charged in at once in one of those crazy starts I had only read about. I ended up in the middle of a pack of hungry wolves swimming right over me. And it was dark – the sun wasn’t up yet. I had the wrong goggles. I had my tinted goggles, perfect for the clear pool on my sunny afternoon swims. Absolutely the wrong goggles for an ocean swim in the dark. And the first leg was against the current. …I spent the first kilometer mostly on my back just trying not to panic completely.

…until the third buoy.

I got to where I thought might be half way (it wasn’t, it was maybe a third of the way) and all the sudden I got angry. Really angry. I had worked too hard to be doing it like this. That anger was stronger than the panic. So I flipped over and started to swim and there it was. I felt the switch flip. And I was fine.

Besides, this is what was waiting for me on the beach, cheering me on…

The Third Buoy (Lessons from my first Half Ironman)

My goal was to do the race in 6 hrs 30 min. I hit my goal swim and run times almost to the minute, and I was faster on my bike than I expected. So, in addition to having the amazing feeling of just finishing, add on that I did better than I thought I would. That’s the clincher right there – that’s how triathlon sucks you in and keeps you. Because you do better than you thought you would. So you want to do even better than that. …so in March at Ocala, I am now aiming for a sub-6 hour race.

The Third Buoy (Lessons from my first Half Ironman)

Alright, here are my little tidbits of learned wisdom from this race…

1. HEED early and HEED often. Gatorade has really pissed me off. Every race, by the time I finish, I am just sticky. And so much artificial coloring! From their website “The colors in Gatorade provide visual appeal and help reinforce the flavor perception.” Bullcrap. In a race, I don’t give one single crap over the visual appeal of my drink. And the sicky sweetness is too much. So, I recently (as in last week) switched to HEED from Hammer Nutrition. HEED definitely has a different, kinda medicinal flavor that I actually really like. It’s from having more salt – another reason I switched. And it’s not so sweet. During this race, I was supremely happy with my HEED and felt good and hydrated the whole way.

2. Gu waffle waffle Gu. Before races, we put a lot of planning and practice into the nutrition. Half the race is getting the nutrition right. It’s complicated crap – you want 30-60g carbs per hour, you want enough salt but not too much or you’ll get the poops, you want to tolerate everything or you’ll get the poops, you want enough so you don’t bonk but not too much that your digestive system is using energy that should be going to your muscles, and not too much fiber or, again, poops. We don’t eat during the swim, and we stick to gels and sports drink for the run, which leaves the bike as the time to eat. There are different schools of thought – some have themselves a little buffet on the bike. I kept it simple. After the swim, I got out on the bike and let myself settle into the rhythm. Then about 15 minutes in, I took a gel (I like Gu brand vanilla bean). An hour later, I had a Honey Stinger waffle – easy to eat and super tasty. An hour later, another waffle, sipping HEED the whole way. And 15 minutes before returning to transition, I popped another gel so those calories would be available when I started the run. This plan worked completely and I felt great the whole ride.

3. So many gels! So where I kept it simple and effective on the bike, I went overboard and complicated on the run. I packed 7 gels on my race belt. Seven!!! One for every 20 minutes and 2 extra just cuz. Also, I planned to alternate Gu gel with caffeine and Gu Roctane Ultra Endurance gel which has twice the salt. My thinking was to alternate caffeine and salt which I think was sound, but I felt silly carrying that many gels. Someone even yelled at me “look at all those gels – you must run fast.” Ugh. Anyway, I took gels at 2.5, 4.5, 6.5, 8.5, and 10.5 miles and took HEED and water at each aid station. I felt mentally focused the whole time, telling me my blood sugar stayed good.

This photo was taken the moment the guy yelled at me about all the gels on my waist…

The Third Buoy (Lessons from my first Half Ironman)

4. Baby powder …everything. This one is simple but very important. During a triathlon, you are never dry. From the swim or the sweat, getting shoes and socks and jackets and stuff on requires priming with baby powder. I did this for my socks and shoes as I always do, but this was the first time I put on my snazzy-new-super-cute bolero for the bike. I neglected to baby powder it. Consequently, getting it on took time. And I looked a little silly in the process.

The Third Buoy (Lessons from my first Half Ironman)

5. Shave …everything. Ladies, just do it. Just trust me.

6. Body glide …everything else. After the race, I could not walk around wearing my medal showing off like a boss because my neck was rubbed raw by the wetsuit. If I trained in the wetsuit anytime at all before the actual race (no, I am not good about this) I would have known to do this. Body glide around the collar of the suit would have prevented this.

7. There will always be wind. Every bike ride, it happens. Wind. Sometimes with you, sometimes against you, sometimes sideways. But there is always wind. It sucks. And it used to freak me out, especially crosswinds hitting my bike and making it swerve. But I am very happy to say I am over that – I have trained and built confidence enough, and this was the first race where I did not freak out from crosswind whatsoever. “The bike wants to go straight.” Yes, it does.

8. Pee! Mile 28, there was the turn-around ahead of me. Refill HEED – check. Water – check. Eat a waffle – check. Go potty? Nope. Gah that was a mistake. That was my one opportunity to go during the bike, and not long after that it hit me. I really had to go. As in, every push of the pedal, my leg would come up and push on mah belly and …you know the feeling. The last miles of the bike were miserable, and I wasn’t able to go until the start of the run.

The Third Buoy (Lessons from my first Half Ironman)

9. Bring the right goggles. I already covered this. …now I know what I’ll be spending that Christmas gift card on Mom!

10. Embrace the suck. I know this term from when I was in the Army. I also saw it written on someone’s trisuit backside in this race. Embrace the suck. You have to or you won’t make it. This was my 9th triathlon. At Sprint and Olympic distances, you see pros and badasses seemingly breeze through the whole thing. Not 70.3. HIM is no joke – it makes everyone hurt. I didn’t see anyone not feeling it. It’s hard to explain the feeling – you hurt but you take that and own it and use it to keep going. And because everyone is feeling it, it creates a kinship. There is constant encouragement – “hang in there”, “you got this”, “looking strong”.

…At about mile 8 or 9 of the run, I was plodding along and I passed a man with one hand. And he said to me “Looking great!” How can someone not be affected by that? No matter what obstacles I have overcome, there’s always that inspiring someone who has overcome more. So I have no excuse.

And 11. Finish like a boss. Always.

The Third Buoy (Lessons from my first Half Ironman)

So that was my first Half Ironman! I’ve got another at the end of March. I think the first thing I said to my husband when I finished was something like “never again” or “that really sucked” or “no f***ing way am I ever doing a full Ironman”. Something like that. …but now 2 days later, I’m looking at the calendar and thinking “hmmmm.” So we’ll see. But I do know that it was more than worth it. The pride from my kids and family, the strength I found along the way, the discipline it took to get there. Totally and completely worth every mile.


The Third Buoy (Lessons from my first Half Ironman)

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