Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ironman 70.3 Florida Race Recap

This past weekend, M and I headed to Florida for 70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running.  On Sunday, we crossed the finish line of our first Half Ironman.  Since this was a huge day in both of our lives, I wanted to document each and every detail of our journey so we'll never forget it!  

According to my training log, we've logged somewhere around 1100 miles over the last 18 weeks of training.  I'm not sure I want to add up the number of hours but I'm certain that it was a significant chunk of our early mornings, evenings, and weekends.  Overall, training went pretty well.  Training thru a Vegas winter and spring was ideal as the weather was always cooperative (well, besides some crazy winds that would prove to be helpful preparation come race day).  I was sidelined with IT band issues in early February and with about 6 weeks to race day, I was unable to run more than a quarter mile without stabbing pain in my knee.  I finally got help from a sports medicine chiropractor and signed up for Graston treatments (aka the most extreme pain ever) and was slowly able to increase to running twice a week with one "long" run of 7 miles.  Definitely not ideal training for the half marathon portion but I told myself learning to run on exhausted legs was more important than mileage anyway.  Aside from the running, we hit all our distance goals during training and were very well prepared for race day.

We landed in Orlando late Friday night and had a few hours of panic as Southwest failed to locate our bikes.  During our time in the lost baggage office, we learned that they had no idea where they went and no clue how to locate them because they had not been scanned in anywhere.  They said we should just hope they show up on the first flight arriving from Vegas on Saturday... at 4pm.  Not okay.  We eventually decided to just get our rental car and try to get some sleep at the hotel.  (The rental car girl asked why we got a big van for two people.  Cue the tears and lost bike story.)  Luckily, as we were driving we received a call from the airport that they identified two large cardboard boxes at offsite shipping cargo and they'd bring them back to the airport if we wanted to come see if they were our bikes.  After a long wait and growing skepticism, two bike boxes came out of the chute.  Crisis averted!

On Saturday, we assembled the bikes, my Mom arrived, and we all drove out to the race site in Haines City, FL.  

Lake Eva

We checked into the race and received our race swag.  Ironman does a pretty awesome job with gear but I guess that's what you get for $300 registration fees.  The gear store tent was awesome.  It's amazing the things you have to have once they stick a little M-dot logo on it.  I tried on the finisher shirt for size and instructed my Mom to run and buy it as soon as I gave her the thumbs up on the run course.  I didn't want to jinx anything by buying it too early... 

finish line already setup.

Once we'd checked in our bikes, the rest of our day was spent swimming in the hotel's lazy river and eating lots of carbs.  

Saturday's sleep was awful.  I laid there with my heart pounding and eyes wide open till way after midnight.  Sunday morning arrived really early (a 3:30am wakeup call is 12:30 Vegas time...) but the excitement at the race site woke us up pretty quickly.  We had to be done setting up transition by 6am, which left us plenty of time to watch the pros start and get into our wetsuits.  

race time! last time I'd see this boy till the finish.
My age group start time was 7:18 and Mike's was 7:50 (the last of the day).  When water temperature was released a week out as being considerably cooler than predicted, we ordered last minute wetsuits.  The lake temperature was 74 degrees on race day which was perfectly comfortable while wearing a wetsuit. 
ready to go!
1.2 mile swim
I joined the massive group of green capped girls a few minutes before my start time.  We had several minutes to hang out in the water before our gun went off and the madness began.  

My plan was to stay out of the way of the more aggressive swimmers by starting towards the back and off to the side.  Unfortunately, with so many people starting at once, it was like a war zone of grabbing and kicking and getting knocked in the head.  Not fun.  After 5-10 minutes I was in a full on panic, gasping for air, swallowing way too much lake water and just surviving with doggie paddling and side stroking.  I couldn't swim a single stroke without freaking out so I located a kayaker and made my way over in tears. Thank goodness for an awesome volunteer who gave me just the pep talk I needed when I was ready to give up on a 7 hour race after just a few minutes in the water.  After catching my breath, I managed to find a spot and get in a rhythm.  I just focused on staying calm and counting my strokes between sighting.  It was a bummer to have to ignore all of the techniques I worked on in the pool to be faster but I was just happy to be surviving at that point.  Especially when the men who started a few minutes behind us started catching up and there was more getting knocked in the head and swam over. 

I exited the water with a big smile on my face and was thrilled to be done!  I saw my Mom cheering as I ran out of the water and gave her two thumbs up to let her know I was okay.  
I'm alive!
Running into transition I was so surprised to see most of my waves bikes still there.  A few of the girls there were talking about how terribly crowded the swim was and I was happy to know I wasn't alone! 

M exiting the water after a good swim

Official swim time: 43:18, Pace: 2:14/100m
T1 time: 6:50

Mike's official swim time: 39:44, Pace: 2:03/100m
Mike's T1 time: 5:52

56 mile bike
The bike start was interesting.  The timing of the swim waves meant all the fastest of the men 30-34 age group were getting on their bikes around the same time with the others following not far behind.  The first couple miles were crazy crowded and it was hard to get into a groove.  These were also the miles where I learned that my gear cable had been stretched during the flight and only my top and bottom gears would hold.  I was praying my chain would stay attached for the duration of the race as I have absolutely no bike repair skills!  After a couple miles, things thinned out a bit and I was able to enjoy the ride.  I tried to think of it as just a long, casual bike ride.  The first 30 miles were very flat and went through orange groves and cow pastures.  I focused on taking in as much liquids and calories as I could and not going out too hard.  It was easy to get caught up in the high speeds possible on flat ground (since we have none of it in Vegas) and the crazy fast men that were passing me on their ridiculously expensive bikes but I knew the hills were coming. 

Most people on the course were super friendly.  Having my name on my bib meant that many of the guys passing me would offer encouragement.  It was fun hearing my name in so many different accents as the race had athletes from all over the world.  After mile 30, the wind picked up and the hills began.  Even though I'd heard the hills in Clermont were rough, I didn't guess they'd be quite as extreme as they were.  Luckily, our normal route at home is full of insane hills so I was prepared and just took them one at a time.  The wind was the toughest part at this point and kept you furiously pedaling even on the downhills.  It did help with the rising temperatures though and I never felt too hot.  The last 6 miles or so were pretty flat and I noticed myself passing a ton of people who had been burned out on the hills.  It was kind of fun passing guys on $5000+ bikes while on my aluminum road bike with no aerobars. 
downhill to the finish

M coming into the bike finish
As we came into the last turn on the bike, the crowds cheers were so loud.  I saw my Mom and our friend's parents cheering like crazy.  I couldn't believe it when I realized I'd finished the 56 miles way ahead of my 4 hour goal.  Coming off my bike was the first time I'd get choked up as I knew at this point I would finish the race. 

M running through transition
Official bike time: 3:26:13, 16.29 mph
T2 time: 5:56

Mike's official bike time: 3:22:00, 16.63 mph
Mike's T2 time: 6:10

13.1 mile run
As you run out of transition and onto the run course, you pass through a long sidewalk that's completely packed with spectators going crazy.  The run is a 4.4 mile loop that you run 3 times before turning down the finisher chute.  This setup meant that you were always running with people in different stages of their race which I thought was awesome.  At this point in the day (~noon), it was HOT.  There were no clouds, no shade and the wind had died down.  I knew keeping my body temperature low would be crucial in surviving the run.  At each aid station, I dumped 2 cups of ice water on myself and drank one.  Running through neighborhood streets was awesome because SO many people were out in their yard with hoses and even shower heads setup in the street.  The goal was to keep soaked to stay cool.  
running through the crowds.

The run course was sort of crazy in that the first 1-2 miles were... vertical.  Aside from being an insane hill, the road was also closed so we were forced to all cram onto a sidewalk that had segments made of gravel and sand.  This part was pretty much a single file trudge to the top.  My first time up it, I laughed at how absurd it was.  But, after the first lap, I actually looked forward to it a bit as I knew it was a guaranteed excuse to slow down after the speedy run through the race site where everyone is cheering so loud you can't help but run hard and smile for photos.  When I saw Sharon (aka Mama Cobb) after my first lap, she told me Mike was doing great!  Yay.  I was so happy to have an update on him and knew with the timing that he must have had a good bike to be already on the run.  I spent the next 8 miles looking for him on all the out and backs but never saw him.  Based on my time estimates, I expected him to catch me about mile 11 or 12. 


Overall, my run went as good as could be expected.  My legs felt strong from the beginning and I knew my training had served me well. The IT band issue didn't act up until the second half and was never so intense that I couldn't keep moving (although I was definitely needing some ice and cursing my strap forgotten at transition about mile 10).  My stomach was an issue as expected so I was forced to give up on food and just tried to get enough calories from the Ironman Perform drink they were handing out on the course.  I saw so many people stopping from cramps and dehydration and I was thankful to not be having these issues.  The novelty of the race and the adrenaline of the day kept a smile on my face for the whole 13.1 miles.  Constant calculations of pace and estimating finish times had me realizing I would definitely beat my goal of 7 hours and maybe even break 6:50.  I kept thinking how freaking excited I was to be able to be completing this race.  Each mile on my Garmin after 57 represented a new distance record for me and I was amazed with what our bodies will do if we just try.  I know it was cheesy but it kept me going so I wasn't fighting it. 

As I hit the last half mile, I actually found it in me to run out the finish.  Running down the finishers chute to so many people screaming was incredible.

finishers chute!
thanks Mom for catching this! :)


I saw my Mom right at the finish and was so happy I couldn't help but cry.  I made my way over to her and asked where Mike was and she said he just finished less than a minute after me!  I knew he had to be close behind but couldn't believe we were within a minute and didn't get to finish together!  I found out later he'd seen me about 2 miles out and tried so hard to catch up but didn't want to yell and have me slow down for him. 
so happy. so proud of him.
Official run time: 2:18:55, 10:36/mile pace
Official race time: 70.3 miles, 6:41:12

Mike's official run time: 1:56:25, 8:53/mile pace
Mike's official race time: 70.3 miles, 6:10:11

After we'd received our medals, we relaxed under a giant oak tree and tried to refuel and recap the day.  Unfortunately, my stomach refused to take in or keep down any calories for several hours post-race which left me feeling pretty crappy for awhile.  We eventually packed up all our stuff, waved goodbye to the race site we'd never forget and drove south.  Thankfully, by the time we reached Englewood beach later that evening, I had no problem polishing off most of never-tasted-so-good Hungry Howies pizza.  The next two days were spent relaxing with boat rides, beach time, family time and sooo much incredible food (thanks MIL and FIL!).  Recovery was surprisingly easy and not much worse than a normal half marathon which was great. 
oh florida. you're amazing.
Overall, the race experience was nothing short of amazing.  It was crazy hard and it hurt like hell but I was on a runner's high for the majority race and so, so happy.  I said afterward I never wanted to do another 70.3 because I didn't want to mess up my perfect race story.  It was the exact experience I hoped to have and I want to hold onto it forever. 

Mike and I both want to say a huge thank you to my Mom for supporting us all weekend with little sleep and lots of patience, our race cheerleaders and photographers, Mike and Sharon, and to those of you who flooded our phones with good luck wishes, updates, and congratulations.  You guys sure know how to make us feel loved :)

Sadly, it feels a little like a wedding or other big event that occupies all of your time and thoughts for so long and then is suddenly gone leaving you wondering what's next.  As much as I swore never again, I keep finding my computer on the Ironman 70.3 Silverman (in Henderson!) page.  Luckily it's listed as one of the most challenging courses in North America (often the site of the world championship) and Mike is still pretty firm on the "not again" stance.  Hopefully when I've adjusted to a normal, non-training schedule again and the Vegas summer heat has arrived, I'll be able to ignore that pesky registration button... :)


  1. I love it! You are amazing. Reading your experience made me cry. I'm so proud of you both.

  2. It's been good reading the whole your blog..this will inspire a lot of others.

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  3. Thank you for this awesome and real recap! My boyfriend and I are heading to Haines City this April to tackle our first 70.3 so I'm trying to get as much information from those who have come before me.