My first Half Ironman – Expect the Unexpected

I did it, I completed my first Half Ironman Triathlon! A Half IM includes a 2Km open water swim, 90Km bike, and a 21.1Km run (a half marathon). As expected, the race was both physically and emotionally draining, but for the first time in a race I experienced both incredible highs and humbling/miserable lows.

As my longest endurance race, a major part of my preparation for the Great White North Triathlon (GWN) involved educating myself on my body’s energy systems, and how to effectively supply my muscles with glycogen (from carbohydrates) and oxygen. Thankfully I have a number of friends who are experienced in endurance running and triathlons, and I was able to pick their brains on nutrition and training. My friends also provided some great race strategy advice. Not knowing for certain how my body would handle the distance, I took the conservative strategy where I would complete the swim, bike, and 3/4 of the run at a moderate pace, in order to save my energy for the last 5km of the run, with the hope that I could sprint to the finish line.

On the morning of race day I was relaxed. I had done the work, now it was game time.

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I had done a mass open water start the previous year, but what made me nervous this time was that I would be swimming with about 500 athletes, more then double last year. But sticking to my plan I entered the water at the back of the group, which allowed me more space between athletes and prevented any panic in the water. This strategy plus the hours spent training in the pool paid off. I felt relaxed, confident, and strong throughout, resulting in setting a personal best pace!

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The Bike portion of triathlons has always been my weakest discipline. I’ll admit I sometimes struggle with staying focused and maintaining a high intensity. As well, I tend to hold back because of concern for the run and ensuring I have enough gas left to finish strong. The GWN was no different for my bike, especially because it was my first time at this distance and not knowing what to expect. That being said, I am happy that I stuck with my game plan and aired on the side of caution, because the bike ride felt great and I hit my estimated goal time. Other then some minor pain in my trapezoids, my body felt great and was ready for more. The run was going to be great, I was pumped!

My strategy for the run was to maintain a conservative pace, stay hydrated, and keep my heart rate around 160bpm. Running above 160bpm could result in an oxygen deficiency where my muscles are demanding more oxygen than my heart and lungs can supply, running the risk of a lactic acid build up and then muscle failure.

The game plan was going smoothly until around 6 to 7km into the run, when a small pain developed at the bottom of my left kneecap. At first I did not think much of it, but the pain slowly increased to the point where I had to do a run/walk combo. I was in disbelief that this new pain had sprung up, and my excitement for the run quickly extinguished because I knew this was going to be a slow and painful finish, with no chance of a sprinting finale. At this point I began going through a number of different emotions. I felt angry at my knee and how it had ruined this race, scared that I was causing long term tissue damage, and disappointed in myself as I watched so many runners pass me as I continued to slow down. That should have been me, the run has always been my strongest of the three disciplines, and I have always been able to dig in at the end and sprint to the finish line. This kneecap pain caught me completely off guard; in fact my left knee has always been my ‘good’ knee, as I have had issues with my right IT band for the last 5 years. Now I was just hoping my right leg could hold strong and carry me to the finish. The last 5km became a race of mental toughness, and quitting was not an option. With 2km to go my knee had completely seized up and was in unbelievable pain, but I just wanted the race to be over. It had now been over 6 hours since the start of the swim. So I put my head down and began doing a pretty pathetic limping jog, relying entirely on my right leg and swinging my left like a peg leg.

With less then 500 meters to go, it began to sink in that I was minutes away from finishing a Half Ironman. Regardless of my time, a sense of immense pride came over me, I think I even smiled, and it gave me an extra push to continue. Coming to the 200m mark, I looked up and saw my husband, I was so happy to see him, I felt like crying. Then I saw my Mom and Sister, and once again wanted to cry. It meant so much to me to have them there cheering me on. Then I saw the finish line! I tried to run, but my knee could hardly bend, so I made a final push (still limping) and crossed that beautiful finish line! It wasn’t pretty, but I did what I set out to do, I finished a Half Ironman!!61086494-750_8563 - Copy

I came into the Great White North Triathlon with a plan and vision of how the race would go, but I often say that no race goes exactly as you plan, and this one was definitely no exception. It took some time for me to stop focusing on how I finished, and just be proud of what I accomplished, because that was my real race strategy – to finish.

But I think I may still need to do another Half Ironman for redemption…

 

(A follow up on my knee injury: I went to my Physiotherapist the next day to check out my knee. I had aggravated my patella tendon, but thankfully I did not cause long term damage. My knee was still swollen and stiff, but with rest, ice, and some ibuprofen I would feel better the following week.)

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