A year ago I trained for and completed my first half Ironman in October 2021. My goal last year was to see if I could finish without missing any cutoffs, then decide if I wanted to do another one or not. Going from not being able to run a mile and not owning a bike just three years earlier, this was an ambitious goal! Well, I survived and I managed not to miss any cutoffs. And the good news is I had plenty of room to improve if I ever did another one. I finished at 7 hours and 50 minutes, well in the bottom 10%.
Just three weeks after I finished that first half, I signed up for my second. Panama City Beach 70.3 in May 2022. I wanted to see how much I could improve, then decide if I wanted to do another one or not. Well let’s just say, that one was a bust. The swim got canceled due to weather for only the second time in its 40 year history, and I failed to adjust my fueling strategy appropriately (or at all) and ended up sick on the run, walking most of it. I knew immediately this would not be my last half, and started planning for my next race.
I chose Memphis the same way I chose PCB… FOMO (fear of missing out). My team (One80 Multisport) had a good size group going. I can do hard things, but I prefer to do them with other people I know who are doing the hard thing too. Plus, this is the same course I completed my first half on one year prior, so I could get a true year over year comparison. I’m a bit of a data geek, so this was also a major selling point. The venue on the other hand is not the most spectator friendly, with nothing really for family to do while waiting all day, so we decided this would be a good one for Jeremy and the kids to sit out. I would have plenty of company there, including my coach and around 20 teammates.
I rode with some teammates, and we went a day early to tour Graceland on Thursday. Last year Jeremy and the kids went on Friday while I was doing race prep, so I missed it. If you’ve never toured Graceland and you find yourself in Memphis with a half day to spare, you have to do it. All I can say is… all… that… carpet. Then we met some more teammates for athlete check in and packet pickup so we could be racked together, and an early dinner and bedtime to try to bank some sleep.
Friday was race prep day. We did the practice swim in the morning followed by a team run. We realized it was going to be super cold race morning, and none of us were prepared for that, so a teammate went to REI to pick up toe covers and full finger bike gloves. We took naps and then did a quick gear check in the parking lot of the hotel and took our bikes for bike checkin and athlete briefing. Normally I would want to drive the bike course to familiarize myself with it, but since I have done to course before I didn’t bother. We grabbed takeout and headed to the hotel lobby for early team dinner. The staff at Hilton Memphis were great, and the huge lobby was perfect for our 40 or so team and support to gather casually. After dinner, I prepped all my hydration and nutrition for race day, put them in the mini fridge, and turned in for early bedtime.
Race day! Alarm goes off at 3:30 (oof). I drank coffee while getting dressed and anti-chaffed. I heated my protein waffles in the hotel room microwave (Kodiak Thick and Fluffy Buttermilk Vanilla frozen waffles are my favorite), ate a banana, and grabbed some granola bites for a little later. We loaded up and headed to the race venue at Shelby Farms Park. It’s about a one mile walk from parking to transition, and it was freezing. I wore layers, but forgot about extra socks so I was just wearing my throw away slides. We hung out for a few minutes waiting for transition to open, then got everything set for transition. I sipped 20 ounces of pre-race hydration/nutrition (the same custom Infinit Nutrition mix I use for my bike leg) in the hour or so ahead of race time.
1.2 mile SWIM… last year 1:00:16; goal same-ish; actual 59:29
The swim was wetsuit legal (last year it was wetsuit optional and I chose to wear mine so I had a chance to make it under the cutoff). Swim is not my strength. I can swim far, but not fast, and I hadn’t gotten as much practice as I would have liked. I honestly was a little worried about the cutoff. I waited in line with my teammate closest to my swim speed towards the back and proceeded to make small talk with those around us. I felt good, not really nervous. Once we got into the water, I took a few breast strokes to acclimate and then began my freestyle, counting strokes which soothes my OCD and gives me mini milestones. I can focus on 50 breaths at a time and then backstroke or sidestroke if I need to (though I usually don’t, just knowing I can helps me). The water in this lake is SUPER murky, so I couldn’t even focus on bubbles coming off my fingers. Instead I just kept telling myself “just keep swimming” like Dory. I had my watch set to alert me every 500 yards so I could see how I was pacing, and I knew I wanted to be around 14 minutes each and had to be under 16 minutes each. When it buzzed for the first 500, I was under 13 minutes… the second one took me close to 15 minutes, and then I started adding kicks to my stroke for 50 on, 50 off. By the end I was kicking pretty good. The swim course has plenty of space to go a little wide and avoid other swimmers until about the last 500 yards or so when it narrows considerably and everyone was on top of each other, which also slowed me down a bit as I kept coming up to look around. But when I made it out of the water and checked my watch I saw I finished in under an hour and was so excited! My goal was to not take longer than last year so I could try to cut off 30 minutes across the rest of the day and not start in a hole vs last year.
T1 transition… last year 12:23; goal under 9; actual 8:51
My transitions have been improving more than any other discipline, so I was expecting decent improvements. Plus, last year it was raining so transition was a huge muddy mess. This was my first experience with wetsuit strippers, and that was awesome. Wetsuit was off in a flash and I took off at a light run into bike transition, which seemed like it was about half a mile away. Once I made it to my bike, I quickly completed the steps just like I had rehearsed in my head. Wipe feet, socks and bike shoes on, long sleeve run shirt on, hydration pack on, sunglasses and helmet on, bike gloves on (which took longer than I anticipated with wet-ish and freezing cold fingers), grab bike from rack and head to bike out. It’s probably worth noting that I have ADHD and transitions of any type are hard for me. I often find myself sitting in my car for several minutes when I arrive somewhere, checking my phone and sometimes just sitting for a while spacing out before I go in. I had a mental block and pretty negative self-talk around triathlon transitions for my first year or so. I still get a bit of anxiety over them, but I have found that writing out all the steps and then visualizing them and mentally rehearsing them while I talk through them has helped me tremendously - plus not having any “optional” gear or extra things to decide. Maybe that’s self-evident to most triathletes, but it’s been a game changer for me.
56 mile BIKE… last year 4:01:27; goal 3:45:00; actual 3:52:05
Oh the bike. Not really a fan. There, I said it. I don’t mind it on the trainer, but roads are another thing. My watts have improved so much, and I know I’ve gotten stronger. I really expected some big time improvement compared to last year, especially since it rained the WHOLE time last year. But alas, no. This is quite a technical course, plenty of turns and several hills but nothing crazy. What is crazy is the road surface. It was so rough in spots I felt like my eyeballs were going to shake out of my sockets. I’m not super comfortable in my tri bars anyway, but I really barely used them. That said, it really is a beautiful bike course. I stopped for the restroom at the seconds aid station, and stopped for a stretch and a banana at the third aid station. Clearly I need more bike practice on the road. I did great on my nutrition/hydration, with three bottles of my custom Infinit mix in my hydration pack and one on the bike, plus a water bottle on the bike. I made it through most of it. Around 40 miles in, I caught up with my teammate that I started the swim with, and we cheered each other on for several miles. That was a huge boost to my spirits.
T2 transition… last year 7:59; goal under 6; actual 5:02
Same routine… say the words to myself as I’m doing the actions. Rack the bike. Helmet off. Hydration pack off. Bike shoes and socks off. Run socks and shoes on. Bib holder on. Race belt on (preloaded with gels, salt tabs, and ibuprofen if needed). Cooling towel on. Run visor on. Run hydration water bottle in hand. Run out. Check time… yay!
13.1 mile RUN… last year 2:28:26; goal 2:20:00; actual 2:20:02
At this point, I do some quick calculation and know I have taken about 17 minutes off of last year’s time. I came in slower than I had hoped on the bike, and if I wanted to hit my goal of 30 minutes improvement I’m going to have to beat my goal run time. If I can average 10 minute miles, I’ll be good. It’s possible, but it won’t be easy. First few miles were under 10 minute pace, and I felt pretty good. Every aid station I took a cup of Coke and dumped it into a cup of water and took a couple big gulps, filled my bottle with more ice if I needed it, dumped some ice in my sports bra and kept going. I sipped from my run bottle between aid stations. I focused on my cadence and my breathing, and I was making good progress. Not crazy fast by any means, but passing plenty of other runners and encouraging them along the way (my favorite). Halfway through the run I was on pace to hit my goal, but I just couldn’t quite keep up the pace. I started walking the uphills, and it all went downhill from there. I ended up hitting my run goal, but not making up any of the time I would have needed to hit my overall goal. My team was at the tent just a couple hundred meters before the finish line. It was so great to get to see them each time I passed by and hear them cheer me on. It definitely gave me a boost.
Overall, I finished in just over seven hours and 25 minutes, a 25 minute improvement from last year. In case you are wondering, the average finish time is closer to 6:30. I came in the top 78% and placed 65th in my age group. My run was in the top 46%, so I made up a lot of ground there, considering my swim and bike were both in the bottom 5%. Overall I feel good with the results, given where I am in my fitness journey.
The day after the race, on our drive home, I signed up for my next one… Chattanooga 70.3 in May 2023. Last year this was something I was going to see if I could do. Now, I guess this is something I do. I’m not sure how I feel about that, to be honest. I guess that’s one more thing for me to talk with my therapist about, ha!