Zero To 70.3

This page is a chronology and overview of the inspiration for starting this website. When I was going through my training I found myself frequently scouring the Internet for personal experiences of people who had completed or were preparing for a Half Ironman. Some of the information I found was invaluable and some of it gave me great peace of mind that I could make this happen. I am especially motivated to share my experience due to the fact that I am not very fast at all. Many of the triathlete forums are filled with anecdote, opinion and perspectives of top age groupers which can make a daunting challenge even more intimidating. I also learned A LOT in this process (with much left to learn) and want to share my findings in case they can help someone else. My hope is that anyone who visits my site can find just a little nugget of information or inspiration that helps them reach their goals.

The First Race

Lake Mills Triathlon - Bike
Blissfully ignorant starting the bike leg of my first triathlon.

All I ever set out to do was finally learn how to swim and used triathlon as a perfect incentive to do it. So, I researched races to find the ones that were close enough to home and had the shortest swim distance possible. I found the Lake Mills Sprint Triathlon in Lake Mills, Wisconsin with just a 400 meter swim! Perfect! They even had a novice division open to those with 3 or fewer triathlons completed. Looking back today, it would be just another weekend workout, but, at the time it was a nearly insurmountable challenge. When I signed up for this race I literally could not swim one length of a 25 yard pool.

6 months later, with my brand new wetsuit, 20 year old mountain bike, borrowed helmet from my kids and worn out running shoes, I headed out to Lake Mills to start what I finished though I didn't realize it was really just the beginning. I was absolutley terrified waiting for the swim start and the course looked like it streatched for miles. When the horn sounded and we finally got in the water I quickly learned that I wasn't the only one new to swimming. There were bodies everywhere going every which way except straight. Some lying on their backs to catch a breath just a 100 yards in. All of this was odly comforting as I realized we were all in this struggle together. After 11 Minutes and 27 Seconds of mostly breast stroke, I came out of the water completely exhausted, out of breath and elated that I just swam 400 meters in open water and did not die doing it.

So, I naively headed out on the bike, without any water, as I thought there would be a fill station out on the course.... Nope! There was quite a bit of suffering over the next 1 hour and 12 grueling minutes as tri bikes with carbon wheels whizzed past me the whole time as I was dying of thirst. Lesson learned, always have water.

With the bike complete, the rest was a piece of cake. I had been a runner for years, so, now I was the one doing the passing and finally felt like part of the race. Crossing the finish line I narrowly acheived my ultimate goal of finishing under 2 hours at 1:58:58. Wow, no better feeling in the world and I was elated for the next couple of days.

However, the celebration quickly turned into a question of, "Okay, what do I do now?". My motivation to build my fitness over the last 6 months was my race. It consumed my thoughts day and night and my entire weekly workout schedule was structured around it. I was lost without a race on my calendar, so, naturally, the only solution was to put another one on the calendar and thus the cycle has been repeating.

A Bunch of Sprints

Realizing that I actually had the ability to complete a triathlon, I was very excited to use my new found skill and looked for interesting races to compete in with hopefully lower times. I felt that I earned the right to upgrade from my 20 year old mountain bike to an actual race worthy road bike. On a side note, I don't think I made a bad choice, but, knowing what I know now, I would not have purchased the same bike. For more information see my pages on bike fit and bike selection.

With my new bike I was now ready to conquer the triathlon world and had a very enjoyable Summer competing in the USAT Sprint Nationals, Mission Bay Triathlon in San Diego and Tri-Rock Lake Geneva.

Decision to Sign Up for Half Ironman

At the end of my first season I was happy and content, looking forward to enjoying the next year with a few sprints and Olympic distance races. Content until a fellow triathlete suggests that we compete in a Half Ironman the next year. I rejected the thought as crazy, but, in the following days, I couldn't get it out of my head. Thoughts of "how could I ever do that" turned to "how could I not try". I had full support from my family, so, I signed up and then realized what I had done and the stress came crashing in.

Lots of Rain An Cancelled Swim

Any triathlete and countless articles will tell you that races and training never go according to plan and you need to be adaptable. At the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon in Pleasant Prarie Wisconsin is where my carefully laid plan started running into some bumps in the road. I had never competed in an Olympic distance triathlon and needed to get one under my belt before my attempt at the Half Iron distance. The area I need the most work was the swim, especially since my swim was seriously lagging behind. Of course race day brought threats of storms and water temperature that was barely wetsuit legal (77.9?). Just as we approached the swim start, a 1 hour downpour moved in cancelling the swim and delaying the start of the race. With everyone in their wetsuits, we all headed back to transition for a run - bike - run format. Great day, great race, but, now without a swim in competition, my HIM swim would be my first race swim of the season and almost 3 times as long as any I had raced previously.

Racine 44.5

Ironman Racine 70.3
North Beach day before Ironman Racine 70.3

Well, you can guess where this going by the heading of the section. Race weekend in Racine. Ready or not, the day I had been training for was almost here. Heading out to Racine the Saturday before race day, it was a beautiful, sunny picture prefect day. Picked up my packet, racked my bike and attended the athlete briefing. All was left was to wait.

Sunday morning brought high winds and a line of storms moving in. With my eyes glued to the radar I made my way to Racine with a deeper feeling of dread with every minute that passed as it became more apparent that there was no way we would avoid the storms. Once again, a rain delay turned into a cancelled swim and eventually a shortened bike followed by the full half marathon (Ironically the sign pictured to the right is where the swim exit would have been.). What a horrible feeling. I had been preparing for months, was fully tapered and ready to race, and now, I would never realize my goal of completing a Half Ironman, or at least not today. About a third of the athletes decided to pack up and call it a day, but, the rest of us decided to run the race we were handed.

Sevearl hours late, in what was now a picturesque day, we started with a rolling bike start for a modified 31.4 mile course. 4 hours and 27 minutes later I crossed the finish line of the most bittersweet race of my life. I received my finisher's medal and hat and had the satisfaction of finishing the longest race of my life. However, it wasn't the plan or the race I had trained for. I still was not a true Half Ironman despite having the finisher's medal with 70.3 on it. Soon, I realized I had no choice but to give it another go in Benton Harbor Michigan 4 weeks later.

At least I found some solice that Lionel Sanders had a rough go at it as well. You can read his blog post here.

New Plan, Ironman Steelhead 70.3. - This Time It's For Real

Ironman Steelhead 70.3
Finishing Ironman Steelhead 70.3.

So, here is where all the plans, all the training and careful calculation went out the window. I was stuck half way between recovery and "we need to start training again". So many questions and so few answers, just the thought that I had to figure out a way to pull it all together and prepare for another race when I was hoping I would relaxing and winding down my season with some shorter races. I was even leaving for New York 3 days after the race for my 20th anniversay and instead of feeling releife I was now stressed out as to how I would get back training again. Making matters worse, I throw my back out in New York which makes walking and sitting excrutiating, let alone training for a long race.

Despite the challenges I cobbled together a short stint of training and tapered back down for the race. I actually felt pretty good, much better than I thought I would, and much less nervous the second time around.

Race morning arrives and I am feeling confident. Benton Harbor is a beautiful setting for a race and really had the full Ironman feel to it, so, was almost happy that Racine was screwed up so I could come hear.

Alas, these feelings are short lived as I receive the news that the water temperature went up over night and the swim would not be wetsuit legal (You can still a wear a wetsuit, but, would not be eligible to podium for your age group. Not remotely a concern for me.). Who would think that Lake Michigan would ever be too warm for a wetsuit? For a newer swimmer as myself a wetsuit is tremendously helpful, not to mention, it is a whole lot harder to drown in one, so, I opted to compete in the "wetsuit wave" tacked on the back of the swim start. Turns out that several hundered of us dare not swim sans-wetsuit and it was a very crowded wave.

It was a very difficult day that I detail in my race report, but, I managed to finish with a time of 7:47:32, which was 47 minutes and 32 seconds longer than I had hoped.

I was elated, I was exauhsted, physically and mentally. It was by far the hardest thing I have ever attempted but just a few short days after, the high wore off and I was only left with the question, "Okay, what's next?"