I am [Half] Ironman!!

To put it simply, this past weekend was really, really long. Everything about it was long. Waiting for the race was long. The race itself was long. Waiting to write this blog post was long. The only thing longer is now waiting for the next triathlon season to start. Really. I am still feeling the aches and pains of having just completed a half Ironman, and I can't wait for the next one.

Going into the weekend, I was super excited about the race. It was like waiting for Christmas to come. This was what all of my training and hard work was all about and I couldn't wait to finally put it all together. We drove up to Gilford, NH on Friday afternoon, checked into our hotel and then headed over to Gunstock to pick up our swag bags. Of course, no swag bag pick-up is complete without perusing, and ultimately shopping, at the race "festival", if you will. Normally, we don't buy anything and just grab all the freebies we can, but this time, because of the enormity of the race (its not just any half Ironman distance race...it is A half Ironman race), we went shopping. Unfortunately for Benny, whose clothing size is usually in limited quantities anyways, a good number of people had already gone through the race shop. However, he did find a sweatshirt and socks that fit him. I got a sweatshirt, t-shirt, socks and a shot glass (I collect shot glasses...plus something about a shot glass with the Ironman logo on it amused me). Following our shopping spree, we went to a local Italian restaurant where we were going to meet up with some people that Ben had met through Beginner Triathlete, but he failed to get any contact information including names of any of the people we were meeting there. In the end, we went to another Italian restaurant where the wait was far less than 1 hour and followed it up with ice cream at the local shop by our hotel called Sawyer's. Ben was unsure of eating ice cream this close to race day, but it turned out that I wasn't the only triathlete with an ice cream addiction.

The calm before the storm

We focused on ultimate relaxation on Saturday. We went to a small diner for breakfast. Afterwards, we drove up to an outlet mall. On the way, we stopped to play mini golf. Despite my various putting strategies, which included walking up to the hole and deliberately kicking or dropping the ball into the hole, I still lost.

I got a little Captain in me.

Once at the outlet mall, we were both thirsty and decided to get some smoothies from Starbucks where we met some of our teammates who had just gotten into town for the race. I did some more retail therapy (got a Coach card holder for $20), and we headed back to Gunstock for a pre-race presentation for newbie half Ironman racers which was shortly followed up by the mandatory meeting for all athletes. It was at the presentation for newbies where I really started getting nervous. The speaker spoke of choppy waters, a hilly bike course, and a double loop run course (how I didn't know it was a double loop course before is beyond me). The "mandatory" meeting was to go over the rules of triathlons *Zzzzz....* After our nap, we dropped off our bikes in transition and then met up with our team president, Sunny, and her friend for the spaghetti dinner that was provided by the race organization.

That night, we went to bed early in anticipation of our 4AM alarm. I wasn't too sure about this whole getting up early to have a really long workout thing, but I went with it. It wasn't until we arrived at the course when we saw the people in the car parked next to us drinking Bud Lights that I knew I had the wrong idea about what I should be doing at 4AM. Since it was still three hours till race time, Ben and I ate breakfast in our car and got our stuff ready for the race which including slapping race numbers on everything. At 5AM, transition opened and we went over to get body marked. After getting our temporarily permanent tattoos, we grabbed our stuff and set up our transition areas. Everyone in my area was also in my age group. It was comforting to know that most of them had not ever done a HIM before either. After finishing up my area, I went over to check on Ben, who was unfortunately disorganized all weekend. We walked back to the car to pick up my wetsuit and to do our last pees (its like the last supper, only more nerve wracking because you know you'll have to go in five minutes anyways). We paused slightly on the way to watch my idol, Chrissie Wellington, set up her transition area. She is gorgeous in pictures, but even more so in person. And we weren't the only ones gawking. Everyone was stopping to take pictures.

Reason #3071 why triathlon is the best sport ever...what other sports have pros and weekend warriors alike competing in the same event at the same time?

After much waiting, and nine months of training, the time had finally come to start making the walk to the starting line. One by one, the waves started going off. First, the pro men went, then the pro women, then three age group waves, and then finally my wave. They let us into the water five minutes before our actual start time. It was the longest five minutes. At least during the wait, I got to become acclimated to the water temperature and was able to lessen my nerves some by goofing around with some of the girls in my wave (of which there were fewer than I thought there would be, maybe around 60 people?). I was glad to find out that I was not the only one with "survival" as my main goal for the swim. Shortly after the start, I needed a quick break to regroup my mind as I did not mentally adjust to the chop very well. After a minute of hanging on a noodle, I was off and quickly (much to my shock) passing people I had started with. I'm glad I took the time to adjust my thoughts on the chop as it only got worse the further out we got, and the more people that took to the water. The swim out was by far longer than the swim in. By the time I had turned towards home, I had become so comfortable in the water, even with hundreds of people trying to karate chop my feet, that I actually tried to swim more for speed than survival. My time goal for the swim was 55 minutes, so I definitely did not shake my head at the 57 minutes that I did put up.

Like I had planned, I took my time in transition, making sure I was really ready for the next stage. My goal time was 5 minutes and my actual time was 6 minutes.

Once on the bike, I mentally chopped up the course into 4 pieces of 14 miles. It worked out perfectly as I wanted to finish the course in 4 hours. Going into the first piece, I knew that this would be one of the hardest parts of the race due to hills, so my goal was to just take it nice and easy. As I was going up Marsh Hill, which is notoriously the hardest hill on the course, we saw Andy Potts going down on his way back. By the time I hit one hour in, I had only done 12 miles, but at least the hardest part was over. From there until the turn around at mile 28, there would be a gradual downhill. It was the best part of the race for me as I was able to maintain speeds of around 20 miles an hour for the whole piece (which is unheard of for me). I got to the turn around at 1 hour and 45 minutes, and so I promptly rewarded myself with a quick bathroom break. The third piece had us going back up the gradual downhill. It was then that I found myself considering quitting multiple times. It was so deceiving because the course appeared to be flat and I was working really hard and was only able to go between 14 and 15 miles per hour. I finished the third piece in 2 hours and 50 minutes, which gave me an hour and 10 minutes to do the final and yet another hilly section of the course. The more I biked the fourth piece, the closer my time was getting to 4 hours. I was nervous that my time might be slightly over, but to my benefit, the final stretch going back into transition was downhill. My actual bike time was 3 hours and 54 minutes.

After another restful transition and potty break, lasting six minutes, it was time for the final event. Running is by far my most favorite event, but considering my recent knee problems, it was the one I was most unsure of going into the race. I decided to just start with a nice easy jog and see where it takes me. Much to my excitement, my knee did not hurt much at all and I was feeling amazing. I made sure to stop at every aid station and fuel up on fluids. As I was finishing the first lap, I saw Ben starting his, so I made it my goal to catch up to him and walk with him a while. I finished my first lap in 1 hour and 5 minutes which was much faster than I was expecting. However, by the time I caught up to Ben, the 64 miles that I had already completed were finally starting to catch up to me and my knee. I walked with him for a while before continuing to run/walk at a rate of 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking. By the time I reached the turn around for the run, I was just flat out exhausted. I started running one minute and walking one minute and walking up all the hills. I can't tell you what a welcome sound it was to hear the announcer's voice getting louder and louder as I got closer to the finish. Finally, I was almost there. I was really going to make it. No matter how tired I was, I was going to run the last 0.1 mile. Before and during the race, I had tried to come up with a celebration dance to do as I crossed the finish line, but by the time I actually got there, I was so tired, I couldn't even think anymore. I just smiled and raised my hands above my head, making sure of course not to slip on the rubber mats as it had been raining for the better part of the second half of the race.
How not to end a race...

My goal run time was 2 hours, 30 minutes and my actual time was 2 hours, 29 minutes. My goal time for the entire race was 7 hours, 35 minutes and my actual time was 7 hours, 33 minutes. Holla!

The biggest tease of all time

After receiving my medal, I went back to transition and packed up my area while waiting for Ben to finish. I knew it would be at least another hour. I headed over to the food area in an attempt to eat something. I have GI problems when I participate in longer events or workouts and have really bad nausea making it difficult to replenish everything I lost. I was able to eat a couple spoonfuls of chowder, a small yogurt smoothie and a quarter of a banana. I tried drinking some Coke, but only got about two sips in. If anything, I definitely was not thirsty. My belly had so many fluids in during the second loop of the run that it had been sloshing the whole time. I then changed into my dry, not sweaty clothes and headed over to the team tent. I hung out with Sunny and Stephanie for about half an hour when I got a text from my mom. I was about to respond to her, letting her know that Ben should be finished any minute when I hear my name over the sound system, "Rachelle Berry, please come to the announcer's podium." My heart stopped. I immediately thought the worst. What was it? What happened? What am I going to do? I ran up to the announcer's podium and nervously said, "I'm Rachelle Berry." Another woman had also been called to the podium, and she was clearly as nervous as I was. The announcer told us to go over and talk to the man in the blue hat and rain poncho. We both ran over and the man quickly told us that they were beginning to close down the race course. Of course, then my thoughts went to, "Well, at least Benny is ok, but are they not going to let him finish?" The man continued to tell us that our husbands would be the last two competitors that they would let finish the race and that they wanted us to present them with their medals. I felt so relieved and so happy. I didn't even know that they allowed family members to present medals. The man ushered us to the finish line area and handed us the medals. It seemed like forever until we finally saw our husbands coming down the finishing chute escorted by one of the race personnel, but it was so amazing (I'm glad I had my camera as it was probably a once in a life time experience). There may not have been many people left to cheer them on, but we were the loudest people all day, I'm sure of it.

Post Race/Pre-shower picture

There are a bunch of people who made Sunday amazing. Obviously, the Ironman organization. Not only do they put together a good race, but they make the race more than just a triathlon. They make it about the people and the competitors. They realize what a big deal this is to everyone who participates and actually finish, and they make it possible for the athletes and families alike to enjoy the moment.

The volunteers and all the family, friends and neighbors that showed up that day. They were all fantastic and the cheers definitely helped to keep away a lot of the doubts that tend to creep up during events like this. It was amazing especially to have random people cheering on you specifically as you went by and to see them there all day. Thanks in particular to all of the people in the neighborhood who set up sprinklers for the athletes. You are amazing!

Thanks a lot to our families and friends for putting up with us and for sacrificing precious family time so we can get in our workouts. Thanks for cheering for us from afar. Just knowing that you were watching is hugely motivating. When all is said and done, there is nothing worse than a disappointed parent.

And there is one group of people we would like to apologize to...the beer companies. We know that we haven't quite been doing our fair share of drinking, but we promise to work extra hard now that the season is over.

Edit: Thanks also to the Wheelworks Multisport team. Ben and I could not have done it without you guys. You're awesome and we're looking forward to cheering you guys on at Cranberry next Sunday!


Barb said...

Congrats! Such an awesome accomplishment! Hope the knee heals quickly.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on finishing Timberman! Sorry so belated. I think I may have seen you on the run, but wasn't sure. I found your blog through Ben's and have been reading since the beginning. Finally delurking... can't wait to read more.

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