The beginning of 2014, Peter and I talked about doing a half iron triathlon. Peter searched races for the 2014 season and found one in Kentucky, only about 1.5 hrs from our house in Laurel Lake. When the early registration date approached, I decided to go for it and sign up. The race date was July 12, certainly not the coolest month in Kentucky, but the close proximity to Lexington and small race since it was the first year for the race won me over. Peter still had thoughts of signing up, but was working through a knee injury and held off.
So swimming at the Y became a weekly workout, I ran with Run This Town (a mentoring running program that gets kids running and working toward a 10K race) a couple times a week in the spring and biked now and again. I did not follow a prescribed workout plan. I mentally had an idea of how I wanted to workout and I pretty much stuck to it. Each week adding a mile to a long run or hike from the 10K race in May, biking to the Y to swim or run or yoga each week and participating in local supported bike rides (Red Bud Ride and Preservation Pedal).
Many journeys have a crisis of faith moment and mine occurred on June 29. Peter and I drove to Laurel Lake to participate in a group ride of the bike course. The group was small and at a fitness level much higher than mine, so needless to say I worked really hard to keep up with the group for the first 7 miles or so after which the routine then became to ride at ones own pace and regroup at turning points. The bike route was challenging with three decent-sized hills and by the end I was hurting – both mentally and physically. The plan was to run a couple miles after the bike. Peter and I switched our bike shoes for running shoes and off we went, well kinda. My calves seized up immediately and then I had to pee real bad and I was mentally beat down from the bike ride and it was all I could do to hold myself together. We muddled through 2.5 miles and I was having some serious doubts about this tri in two weeks. I spent the afternoon at the pool, swam 1.25 miles and relaxed with some friends. The next day I did a night run of about 11 miles. Covering the distance in two days that I would on race day helped give me some confidence back. Also some great advice from a friend and reminding myself that my goal was always to finish grounded me and subdued my mental doubts.
Race weekend came and I was surrounded by the best cheering section I could have ever imagined. Friday evening dinner and s’mores were enjoyed before a night’s sleep listening to whip-poor-wills sing all night. I am sad I do not have a group photo of my cheering crew, but Peter, Pablo, Steph, Garrett, Pogo, Royden, Dorothy, Summer, Ryan, Anna and a quick stop by Mr. and Mrs. Church made me feel like a rock star during this race. Thank you to these awesome folks for braving the sun and heat to support me. It meant so much and was so encouraging throughout!
The morning of the race, I headed to the transition area to ready my items, take some before photos and get a bit nervious. As 7:30 approached, fog rolled in over the lake, to the point the buoys disappeared. But off we went at 7:32. I simply followed the swimmers in front of me praying they were going the right direction. Once I rounded the fourth buoy and headed back in the direction of the shore, visibility was much better. Turns out the first few swimmers missed the last buoy and well, there was no changing the masses, so the swim was a skosh shorter. The temperature of the lake was perfect. Probably 80. It felt great.
The water felt so great, I was sad for the swim to end. Out of the water in 52 minutes and to the transition area. Steph and Garrett definitely recorded the transition for me! The day was sunny with no clouds. The high ended up being 95 maybe. Although those temps would wait for my run leg. At the top of the hill out of the transition I spotted the Kern family who sent me off on the killer bike course I rode two weeks earlier. I had a slower mph pace the first 10 miles compared to a couple weeks ago. It showed me how hard I worked the first time I rode this course. Going down the first big hill, a biker in front of me sprung a leak in his back tire. I immediately started praying protection over my bike. I really do not know what I would have done if I had mechanical issues with my bike. That same biker passed me numerous miles later with a new tire. I was glad to see him back on the road.
Peter worked the bike aid station and I stopped on the way out to top off my water bottle and remove an insert from my right shoe. I wore two inserts in my bike shoes hoping to avoid pain on the outside ball of my left foot that I have experienced on bike rides that are more than 40 miles. I found my right foot was getting tingly and since the pain was mostly on my left foot, the right insert had to go.
Then off for a nice out and back bike ride and it was nice. I felt good and had conversation with some other athletes and cheered on bikers that were headed back. The leader passed me when I was only at mile 17 – those pros are impressive! On the way back I came up to the aid station and saw a huge cheering crew – Peter, Pablo, Steph, Garrett, Mr. and Mrs. Chruch – it was awesome! Thanks guys. I stopped for a water bottle refill and to eat a snack.
I tackled the last big hill and it was not nearly as painful as the first time. With about 6 miles to go, my left foot started hurting and I started praying over and over and over again for God to cushion my foot and dull the pain. The pain never increased to the level I felt two weeks ago when I rode the course. I made sure to stretch my calves out at the end of the bike before entering the transition area after the 4 hour ride. I didn’t want my calves seizing up again. I took my time at transition. I knew this next leg would be the toughest for me. I drank and ate, changed shoes, reloaded with snacks and stretched. Then off for what Dorothy said was “just a little run.”
Steph accompanied me on the bike until the woods. It was hard to get in a groove and I walked some to continue to stretch out my legs. I was happy to get to the woods and into the shade. The run was two loops and the first loop is a bit disappointing when you see the mile markers and you know the 3 mile sign is for you rather than the 7 mile sign, but I keep plugging away, jogging the downhills and level stretches and walking the uphills. An aid station was a great surprise in the woods as I was getting pretty thirsty and on exiting the woods I was greeted by Steph!
Then up a long hill where I saw Peter and Pablo at the top. Next back onto a trail and the next aid station had a port-a-john, which I took advantage of, as well as the cold rags in a bin. I am telling you those aid stations were fantastic! As I ran on the road toward the woods for the second lap, I realized how grateful I was for the trail run and the shade it brought. The second time through the woods the higher mile signs were for me! About mile 9 my body was starting to tell me I was crazy. My hips and knees started hurting, but I was almost done. I pushed through the woods telling myself I would walk up the long hill of the marina road. I caught up to a Corbin woman at the exist of the woods and we walked up the hill together chatting about our race thus far. At the top of the hill I saw Peter, Pablo and Garrett. It was a nice pick-me-up and back into the woods. I saw Peter, Pablo, Garrett and Pogo two more times before the home stretch.
Steph accompanied me the last mile, distracted me and helped the time pass. She also got to hear my complaining about the last 0.1 miles being long and tough! Jogging down the hill to the finish line I was so grateful – grateful to finish, grateful to have so many friends with me, grateful for the encouragement both in physical presence and notes and words of encouragement in the weeks and months previous, grateful to conquer this feat both physically and mentally and very grateful to have a lake to sink into to cool off after working hard for the last 8 hours and 15 minutes.
I have been asked “what about an ironman?” My answer is not a “no”, not a “yes”, but rather a “not yet.” I am not ruling it out, but I want to enjoy finishing a half iron for quite some time before considering my next tri challenge. I am certain numerous other goals will be set and conquered before I seriously consider an ironman distance. Until then, I will enjoy the fact I finished a half iron on a hot, sunny day on what other seasoned triathletes say was a very tough course!