Sunday morning, I’m standing with the other 40-41 year-olds before the race. We joked with each other about the course, our training, and water temperature. Then at the 10-minute warning, one triathlete casually asked: “why do we do this?”
No one answered.
The question haunted me during the entire swim. Even though I had done the training, put the time in, and worked hard, I still had doubts about the entire event. I’ve been wondering since Friday when I arrived why I had decided to this. Why did I put all the time and energy into something like this, why was I doing this to myself?
At the same time, I found myself dealing with questions and doubts about my ability to complete the 70.3 miles on Sunday let alone the 140.6 miles in November. It all seemed so difficult and painful and I couldn’t find a reason why I was doing it let alone why I decided to do it. I knew that there were reasons of personal challenge but I couldn’t feel them, I couldn’t understand them.
And so I began the event. My goggles kept fogging up which forced me to stop every 25 strokes and try to clear them up. My pace was good, but my mind could not stay focused on the moment. All I wanted to do was get out of the water. All I wanted was for the day to be over.
But I kept going. I finished the swim as was out of transition within the hour, exactly as I had planned.
The bike began quickly but the sun was not out. I dressed for hot weather but instead it was overcast and cold. There was a slight mist that kept me from ever getting dry and my skin from warming up. My legs were warm within minutes, but my upper body and arms would not warm up. At the same time, my left hip decided to tighten up and would not stop hurting. It would become a pain that would stay with me the entire ride.
The first 6 miles of the ride were flat and fast, but that was the last time the course would ever feel that way. I found myself wishing I had my road bike with me by mile ten. The course undulated up and down, it was difficult to find a rhythm and settle into a pace. Every time I thought I could settle down, another hill appeared. Some were fast inclines, others forced me to downshift quickly. At the same time, my rear derailleur decided to start slipping in the middle gears. So I had about two good low gears and two good high gears. As a result, I found myself either spinning or powering up hills, which did not help my pace.
My heart rate would not settle down either. Instead of a 153 heart rate, I hovered around 165. I was unsure if I could maintain such a high rate for the entire 56 miles and still have enough energy to finish the 13.1 miles of running. But I kept moving.
I found the first aid station at mile 18. I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade and made a quick bathroom break. I stretched my hip as best as I could standing up. I gathered myself and told myself that I was just over a quarter of the way down.
It was a strange moment, around mile 20. I was moving fast, I felt strong, but most importantly, I felt a fire in heart, a fire I had felt for a long time. I felt a source of energy that was familiar and a heard a voice that told me to keep going. It was exciting for me. I started to remember why I was doing this. There was no logical reason behind all this. This was not a mental challenge as I told myself it was. It was to fulfill a desire deep within my spirit.
I longed to travel far, to move fast, to discover how far I could go. I had to find out what I had within me, what kind of strength lived within me, prove to myself that I could keep going even when I thought I couldn’t.
And from mile 20, until mile 70.3, I never had a moment of doubt. I grew weak at times, I grew tired, I hurt, but I never stopped. I never questioned myself. I knew I could do it. Maybe I could not go as fast as those around me, but I could go.
The bike never got easier. The wind increased and the hills got longer. Everyone talked about the hill at mile 42, but either my odometer was wrong, or there was a second hill at mile 45 that was extremely hard. I had to dismount and walk up the hill. It was the only way to avoid blowing out my legs. The fact that I had to walk up the hill infuriated me, but I used that sudden anger to power me through the remaining 11 miles. I also realized that I was going to finish the bike course nearly 30 minutes sooner than I planned. This meant that I would have more time to finish the run, which is my weakest sport.
The remained 11 miles were fast. I dropped into the aero position and pushed the bike as hard as I could. It responded quickly and inspired me to try harder. Before I knew it, I pulled into T2.
The problem with doing an 8-hour half-Ironman is that when you pull into T2, there is already a large group of people who have already finished the race. It is difficult to pull yourself into the run when you look around and see others walking about with finishers medals. I tied my shoes, took a deep breath, and started running.
I decided that a 2-minute run and three-minute walk interval pace would be just enough to propel me forward and allow me to keep a 15-minute mile pace, leaving me with a 3.25-hour half-marathon. It would not be the fastest run, but it would be fast enough.
It was an out and back run, so I told myself that all I had to do was get to the turn around and make my home. It was not going to be a 13-mile run for me, but rather two 6-mile runs.
I never stopped smiling during those 3 plus hours. I knew I was going to finish before the 5pm cutoff. I knew that I would finish under 8 hours and 30 minutes. I knew that it would be a success.
I’m not going to lie and say that the race was easy. It was not. It was the hardest bike course I have ever ridden and the hardest run course I have ever done. I questioned my training and my weight lifting, but here I am the next morning, feeling strong even if a little sore. My walking is slow but not painful. In the end I finished strong.
And I’m ready to do another one already.
Final time: 08:21:51.